Category Archives: computers

Call for help

On Boxing Day, Tech TV ran a Call for Help marathon. Call For Help is hosted by my friend Chris. His wife, Gretchen, asked me if I would call in to the show and be part of the madness.
So I did.

Trek XI

Fark had a photoshop contest yesterday. The theme was to make a poster for the next Star Trek movie.
Currently leading the voting is the following poster, brilliantly designed by Reisende. Thanks, man!

Haw, haw! /nelson muntz

Just read this at boingboing:

Spam-king drowning in snailmail spam
A spammer whose gleeful interview — where he revelled in the money pouring in from spamming — was Slashdotted is now drowning in catalogs and other junkmail. Slashdotters have submitted his name to every direct marketer on earch.

“They’ve signed me up for every advertising campaign and mailing list there is,” he told me. “These people are out of their minds. They’re harassing me…”
“Several tons of snail mail spam every day might just annoy him as much as his spam annoys me,” wrote one of the anti-spammers.


If you sent me an important email in the last three weeks, you may want to resend it.
I was trying to build a shell script to automatically get the nightly build of mozilla, and, uh…well, I managed to delete all my mail.
Serves me right for trying a new mailer (mozilla) without keeping my backups current. Back to Kmail for me.
I lose major geek points for this, don’t I?

Penguin Time

Penguin Time…it’s like Goonie Time, but without the pirate ship and the Truffle Shuffle.
When I made the switch to Linux last month, I said that I hoped to someday become the world’s number one Linux cheerleader. This was sort of misquoted, and I’ve read in numerous places that I proclaimed myself “The world’s number one Linux cheerleader,” which has caused me a little bit of grief…I mean, I can’t consider myself the world’s number 6000 Linux cheerleader if I haven’t even recompiled a kernel yet, or built a LAN…but I’m working on it. =]
Anyway, I’m going to spend a little time this morning cheerlead^H^H^H^H^H^H^H talking about my adventures in Linux, thus far, so if you’re here for the nude pictures, you should head elsewhere today.
When I made the switch to Linux about a month ago, I knew that I was entering a Brave New World, and I did it with a little bit of trepidation, but a great sense of excitement, as well. As I wrote back then, “The Open Source movement really appeals to my anarchistic and individualistic tendencies, and everyone I know who uses Linux tells me that I won’t miss Windows at all. I don’t really use any software that’s windows-specific, except Dreamweaver, and I’m told that I can run that under WINE, or find a comparable OS editor.”
Since then, I’ve discovered both the Quanta and Screem editors, which have shown themselves to be fine replacements for Dreamweaver, and the only time I ever miss Windows is when I get the urge to play some games…but a quick trip to the PS2 takes care of that, until I can upgrade this machine with more RAM and a big old video card so I can run WineX 2.1.
Oh, I should have warned earlier: this article will be a little propeller-headed, so if you’re not into that, again, you should really go play somewhere else today.
Before I get to the details, I should address something that I think everyone who makes the switch feels: Fear.
We feel afraid, because even though we’re pretty sure that everything is going to work out fine, we’ve existed on a steady diet of FUD for many years. Maybe we tried to install a distro a few years ago, when Linux wasn’t as newbie-friendly as it is now. Maybe we’re just a bunch of pussies.
I’ll admit it: I was nervous.
Nervous that I was going to do this install, and my magical connection to the largest library of free porn on the planet would cease to exist. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to use a word processor that was as reliable as MS Word had always been.
I was nervous, but also excited.
Excited that I was taking the first step towards joining a global movement based on ideals with which I strongly agreed. I was excited because I know that lots of people read this lame website, and if a lameass like me could make Linux work, that would dispell a great deal of FUD, and maybe empower some people who, like me, suspected that they could live MS-free, but weren’t sure if they could hack it. (“Hack it.” Har.) I was excited because I felt like I was taking a chance, accepting a risk, and anticipating great rewards.
And I had a hole-card. If I managed to completely break everything, I knew that I would be able to format the drive, reinstall the old OS, and wait for a LUG install party.
Grab a cookie…here we go!
The install was shockingly simple: Open the CDROM, shut down the machine, turnthe machine back on, wait for the Mandrake screen to appear, hit return, watch the fun.
This nice, friendly, graphical install is perfect for newbies. Mandrake asked me if I wanted to use an existing partition, or wipe the whole drive. I opted to format the whole drive, let Mandrake build the partitions for me, and get on with the install. A few minutes later, I got a screen where I was asked what packages I wanted to install.
I was presented with a very easy to understand screen, where I could select options like “Game Station,” “Server,” “Office,” and the like. I was asked if I wanted to run services like ftp, ssh, and a firewall. Finally, I was given the opportunity to choose which desktop environment I wanted. I chose both KDE and Gnome, because I knew from previous experience that there were apps from both environments that I liked.
After selecting my packages, I swapped some CDs, added some users, set some passwords, and got to the part that really had me the most afraid: configuring the network so I could get online.
The last time I tried Linux, it was Red Hat 5.2 and I was on dial-up. Getting that bastard to connect was about as easy as getting laid in a convent. There were all these config files I had to edit, and all these strange text commands I had to type in, just to get the modem to turn on…getting it to connect was another problem entirely. For someone who was coming from Windows 95, this song-and-dance to get connected was simply unacceptable, and ultimately it was the main factor which drove me back to Windows.
Boy have we come a long way, baby! Mandrake did this super-cool autodetection, where it found my NIC, used dhcp to get my IP address, and built my network connection for me. This entire process took about 3 minutes.
Somewhere in there Mandrake autodetected my printer, too. The only thing I had to tell it on my own was that my mouse had a wheel!
Finally, I got to a screen where I was asked if I wanted to check for updates to the packages I’d installed. I said “yes,” and walked away to get a drink of water. When I came back a few minutes later, nothing had changed…so I sat down to play some GTA3 while it continued downloading. About 30 minutes later, nothing had changed, and my hard disk had spun down.
This wasn’t a good sign. All that excitement I’d been feeling was completely overwhelmed by the nervousness I’d had, and I felt some panic beginning to rise.
I cursed, kicked, gnashed and paced.
I decided to start over, and when I got to the “do you want to upgrade?” part, I said no. The install finished perfectly this time. I restarted the machine, and was logged into Gnome in about 2 minutes.
First Time
I was immediately impressed with the spiffy desktop. It was enough like Windows to give a sense of familiarity without making me feel like I was running some oddball derivative of W2K.
I poked around the menus for a little bit, and was drawn to a menu which said, “What to do?”
What a great question! This was exactlky what I was wondering, and here was a friendly menu to help me out. It contained sub-menus like, “Enjoy Music and Video,” and “Use Office Tools.” There was aslo “Use the Internet,” and “Administer Your System.”
I thought, “Hmmm…’Administer Your System,’ eh? Okay, I’ll take a look.”
Sitting in that menu were options like “Add or remove programs, Configure Gnome,” and “Download and install Mandrake security updates.”
Ah-hah! I clicked on “Download Mandrake security updates,” and followed the prompts. This started a really cool “Mandrake Update” utility, which is sort of like a non-intrusive version of Windows Update. I was presented with three options: bug fixes, normal updates, and security updates. I selected all three, and clicked “install,” eager to watch…the damn thing spin.
I realized that the reason the install had hung the first time was related to this spinning…the default update site wasn’t responding. I guess there was no timeout set for the normal Mandrake install, which is why it hung before. Far be it from me to tell Mandrake how to do things, but this seems pretty silly to me. A simple “Site isn’t available now, but here’s your system anyway, Jerky.” message would have been nice. Fortunately this time I was able to just cancel the connection, define a different source, and about 20 minutes later my system was up to date.
I spent the rest of the next hour or so exploring the system.
Getting Comfortable
I was eager to make the switch to Linux because mostly I use my computer for 3 things:

  • Internet
  • Email
  • Word Processing

I had done lots of research about Linux, and the impression I had gotten was that if your primary computer use was for these three things, the only thing you’d miss about Windows was the daily reboot.
Let’s take a look.
The browser that ships with Gnome 1.4 is called “Galeon.” It’s based on Gecko, from Mozilla, and it’s really, really cool. I mentioned the other day that I’m using the latest Mozilla build more and more, but as soon as Galeon catches up with Moz, I’ll probably be back with Galeon, for the bookmark editing alone! Although many people’s experiences with Linux will surely vary, I can say without a doubt that once you use Galeon or Mozilla, you’ll be stunned that you ever liked IE. The KDE desktop has it’s own browser also, called Konqueror, but I really don’t like it as much as I like Galeon or Mozilla…but anything is better than IE, and you can quote me on that.
Back when I was new to the internet, and I was getting dial-up shell access from netcom, there wasn’t such a thing as the World Wide Web, unless you were on a connection fast enough to use NCSA Mosaic. Since the ‘net was just text back then, I used it for MUDding (just say no, people!) ircing (mmm…floodbots) and email. The email client I used was called PINE, and it still ships with Linux. I really liked PINE. It was easy to understand and use, even if you were a lamer like me, and I still use it from time to time today.
However, since the Internet is bigger and badder these days, people want bigger and badder email clients, and Linux is happy to oblige. When I was running Windows, I used Eudora, because I hated Outlook’s interface, and I’ve always felt that Outlook’s handling of email is secondary to it’s primary purpose: spreading worms and virii. Now look, I’m not cracking on Outlook users, okay? As a matter of fact, I wrote a great new game just for Outlook users! It is my first try. I wish you would like it.
Seriously, if you like Outlook, you can use a Linux client called “Evolution” from Ximian. It has all of the things you like about Outlook, a better summary screen, and a really cool calendar. It will interface with your Pilot, and it won’t spread worms and virii like Outlook. You can even set up the summary page to load headlines from WWDN, and see if I’ve gotten off my lazy ass to update the site recently.
Personally, I use KMail, which is part of the KDE desktop. Although I am primarily a Gnome user, KDE has numerous features I like, including the calendar, the tea-timer (a silly little applet that sits in your panel, which is the Linux equivalent of the taskbar,) and KMail. KMail is a mail client which is much lighter than Evolution. KMail looks and feels a lot like Eudora to me, handles filters the same way, and deals with different accounts and protocalls nicely.
Both solutions are very, very easy to install and configure, and if you know things like your POP server, SMTP server and stuff, it’s certainly no more difficult than the other clients available for Windows or Mac.
Mozilla also has it’s own email client, but I haven’t used it. I’m sure that, just like everything else Mozilla does, it’s really cool.
This is a place where the FUD really has a firm hold. They’d have you believe that things you author on Linux won’t be readable by Word, with the converse also being true.
Well, it’s simply not true. At G4, everything is written using Word. I do most of my writing from home because it’s easier to concentrate in my quiet home office, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to send files to work if I authored them under Linux. Well, I haven’t had a single problem. I have written 6 episodes since making the switch, and turned in countless rewrites, and the conversion from OpenOffice to Word is seamless.
Mandrake ships with StarOffice, which is put out by Sun Microsystems. It’s a very nice alternative to Word. Each time I looked, StarOffice had the familiar Word command, or it’s equivalent. The only thing I had trouble with was tables. It was grumpy about having a table wrap to the next page, a problem I also encountered in OpenOffice. A few tweaks in the preferences solved this mildly annoying problem.
Having said all that about StarOffice, I don’t use it. I prefer OpenOffice, from In my experience, it loads faster than StarOffice, and I just like the interface better. It doesn’t come standard with Mandrake 8.2, but it’s easily downlaoded and installed, and can be set as a default word processing application with minimal effort. does come with Mandrake 8.2. It didn’t install as part of my default installation, or at least I didn’t see it, so I assumed it wasn’t there. Thank you to everyone who pointed out this amazingly lame error.
Freedom of Choice
These three examples bring up a very important distinction which sets Linux apart from Windows: You are not limited to one word processor, or one desktop environment, or a small set of applications. Linux is all about choice, and putting the power to make decisions about the computing experience into the hands of the users. If you’re anything like me, you’ll live the all the defaults for about 2 weeks…and then the tewaking of things will begin: the adding and removing of things from the panel…the moving of the panel…the downloading of things from freshmeat and sourceforge…and the inevitable breaking of something. Here is the only real “advice” I’m going to give the reader: If you like to mess with the nuts and bolts of your computer, and you like to try out all kinds of new programs and toys which are still technically “beta,” do yourself a favor and set up a “development” box. This means investing 50 bucks or so in another drive, and putting Linux on it, and doing all of your fixing und breaking in it, while keeping your main install safe and reliable.
Day to day use
Some people will suggest new users do what’s called a “dual boot” system, where you keep your Windows environment on one partition, and run your Linux partition on another. The advantage of this is that if you mess something up in Linux, you can use your Windows install to get online and get help. It also means that you can access some Windows features through Linux, which is important for some people. The disadvantage of this is that having the “crutch” of Windows will prevent many users from fully enjoying everything Linux has to offer.
When I switched, I did it 100%, and I haven’t looked back since. I am really glad that I did it this way, because I’ve learned something new each day, and grown more secure in my abilities to administer my system. I’d suggest that, unless you’re a hardcore gamer, you do the same.
Which Distro is best?
There are numerous holy wars about Gnome v. KDE, Mandrake v. Red Hat, Red Hat v. Debian, Debian v. Slackware…it goes on and on, and I won’t take a side in these wars. Instead, I will say what I always say about computers: The operating system for you is the one that works best for you. If that’s Windows, or Mac, or even an Atari 800, go nuts. I think that this holds true for Linux, as well. The distro which is “best” is the one that works best for you. Over time, what is “best” for you will probably change, and maybe you’ll want to change your distro. Right now, I’m using Mandrake 8.2, and I’m excitedly looking forward to 9.0, which should be out very soon. Maybe someday I’ll switch to something else…but that’s the beauty of Linux…you get to choose for yourself what you want to use, instead of having The Borg choose for you.
Okay! I’ll switch! Get off my back! Now what?
Well, for the Newbies, I suggest something with a very easy install, and good community support. I have found this in both Red Hat and Mandrake, which is not to say that it doesn’t exist elsewhere. I just know about the support for Mandrake and Red Hat first hand.
Once you’re up and running, join a Linux User Group, where you can get help with problems, answers to questions, and a warm fuzzy feeling that comes from being around people who are nerdier than you are. You will also learn very quickly to love the O’Reilly publishing company. Their Linux books are nothing less than required reading for getting the most out of your system.
There is a lot of specific information I’ve left out here…after all, I would like to spend some of Saturday with my family…I didn’t talk about games because I don’t play games on this box. I didn’t talk about Spreadsheets because I don’t use them, either. But I know that you can do both under Linux. Try Google for some examples. There is also a really cool desktop environment which Ximian makes, built on top of Gnome. I’ve used it, and found it to be really, really cool.
I have had a few problems, which I try to view as challenges. Most notably, I couldn’t get audio to work on this machine…but a quick call for help online yielded the answer to the challenge in about 15 minutes. I currently can’t get this box to see my router, but I’m closing in on a solution to that problem daily.
One of us
I will close with what I think is the best benefit from running Linux: when you run Linux, you join a community which is global, and ever-growing. This community is self-sustaining, nurturing, and always welcoming in new members. How much you get out of this community depends on how much you put into it, and it is very rewarding, indeed.
Come on in…there’s always room for one more.

Everybody wants some

If you haven’t wasted half a day at the Wikipedia, you haven’t wasted half a day.
It’s a cool idea: make a HUGE online encyclopedia, sort of like E2, and K5.
I really like this idea of letting anyone contribute or modify information about, well, anything. It’ll be interesting to see if the goddamn trolls can get past what my friend Eric calls “the basic human desire to destroy” and let this project flourish.
I won’t have time to update again until the end of the weekend, so I here’s wishing everyone a good one. Just remember to keep your hands and arms inside the mixer at all times.
I walk the thinnest line.

The Type Ahead Find

Is anybody else using the newest version of Mozilla?
I installed 1.2a last week, thinking that I’d play with it a little here and there, but it’s quickly replaced galeon as my browser of choice. Now, don’t get me wrong. Galeon is a fine browser. It’s a fine browser, Stuart, does lots of spiffy things, but it doesn’t have the type ahead find, Stuart.
You know that Jonny Wurster kid, the kid that does the backend for that other website? He’s a foreign kid. Some of the neighbors say he smokes crack, but I don’t believe it.
Anyway, for his tenth birthday, all he wanted was a Burrow Owl. Kept bugging his old man. “Dad, get me a burrow owl. I’ll never ask for anything else as long as I live.” So the guy breaks down and buys him a burrow owl.
Anyway, 10:30, the other night, I go out in my yard, and there’s the Wurster kid, looking up in the tree. I say, “What are you looking for?” He says “I’m looking for my burrow owl.”
I say, “Jumping Jesus on a Pogo Stick! Everybody knows the burrow owl lives. In a hole. In the ground. Why the hell do you think they call it a burrow owl, anyway?” Now Stuart, do you
think a kid like that is going to know about the type ahead find?
You know what, Stuart? I like you. You’re not like the other people, here on the Internet.

Found on Usenet, authored by O.Deus:

A crowd has gathered outside a dumpster, current residence of the reel
of film featuring Wesley Crusher, at the news that Will Wheaton’s
apperance had been cut from Nemesis.
“First they let him go from the Next Generation and now they cut him
from Nemesis alltogether?” Wanda Killgorne 39, one of those holding a
silent vigil at the dumpster. “It makes no sense. The producers never
realized what they had with Wesley. The show went downhill the moment
he left and they’ve been too arrogant to do what it takes to save Star
Trek. Bring back Wesley as a Starship Captain with Godlike powers.
He’s the only one that can save Star Trek.”
At those words the crowd began chanting, “Bring Back Wesley. Bring
Back Wesley. Bring Back Wesley” but it was clear that their hearts
just weren’t in it.
“Some of us are here because we’re off our medication. Others are here
because Wesley Crusher gives us a reason to live.” William Johnson 56
said delivering an improptu speech from the vantage point of standing
on a stained milk crate. “Still Others because due to our homoerotic
crushes on Mr. Wheaton, orders of protection prevent us from going any
closer to him. Still we all united in our veneration of this lost
Saying this Mr. Johnson reached into the dumpster and pulled out a
reel along with several roaches living in the reel.
“Behold the Reel of Wesley.” He shouted as the crowd fell to its knees
before the reel and then rose one by one to kiss the reel and return
back to the private and state facilities from which they had come as
the sun set over the tall buildings, indicating that curfew was almost

This made me laugh out loud.
It sure was strange to see something on Usenet about me that didn’t involve Klingon gang rape.

Crossing Over

Boy, I just don’t update these days, do I?
I was thinking about that on my way home from work today, moving along a few feet at a time on the 10 freeway.
I think a big part of it is that it’s summer, and I’d much rather be outside, and I’ve been travelling A LOT since the middle of July. I’ve been to SLC, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Vancouver, Alaska, Sacramento (twice) and I’ll be heading to San Francisco next week for the EFF event.
So when I have some “free” time, I’ve been giving it to my wife and family, and when I have some creative energy, I’m giving it to Arena.
It’s not like I don’t have stories to tell…there’s the trip to Alaska, the trip to Chicago, Camping with Anne and the boys last week….and boy do I ever have NEWS!
I’m going to give the news items their own entries over the next couple of days, because we just finished 2 episodes of Arena and I’ll have time while Anne’s at work (the boys are with their dad for his part of summer vacation.)
However, here’s a very exciting New Thing In Wil’s Life(tm):
A few weeks ago, my computer blew up. Smoke and everything. So I freaked…and just as I was about to go run the damn credit cards up to get a new machine, one arrived in the mail…this cool Sony VAIO thingy, that has a cool story all it’s own, that will get told later on, too. Trouble was, it wouldn’t start up. Or more correctly, it wouldn’t load Windows. It’d just choke.
So as I was starting to freak again, another computer arrived in the mail. This time it was a gift from many, many people, who all pooled their resources together to replace the old POS 5000 that had recently blown up.
This new computer was a gift, and it worked as soon as I plugged it in, internet and everything.
The thing is, it was running Lindows.
Now, I’ve been toying with dumping Windows for almost a year. The Open Source movement really appeals to my anarchistic and individualistic tendencies, and everyone I know who uses Linux tells me that I won’t miss Windows at all. I don’t really use any software that’s windows-specific, except Dreamweaver, and I’m told that I can run that under WINE, or find a comparable OS editor.
So I’m running this Lindows for about 3 weeks, and a couple of days ago, I break it. 100%. I messed up some dependencies, and even with the help of some really smart propeller heads, I just couldn’t fix it.
So last night, I crossed the rubicon and installed Mandrake 8.2.
This install was the easiest thing I have ever done, and there wasn’t one single problem. The only glitch came when I was trying to get my soundcard to work, which was hammered out quickly and painlessly, thanks to the monkeys in the soapbox.
I’m using Gnome, and I’ve never been happier.
I am now going to become the world’s number one Linux cheerleader.
I’m off to Think Geek to get a sticker for my car, and a T-shirt for my huge pectoral muscles.