New website!

I’ve bought an actual domain name, so you can now find me at http://www.tsmacdonald.com!  (Before you ask, I wanted tmac.com and tmacdonald.com, but they were both taken (and didn’t even have content. Lame.))

In the same vein, this blog will now be at http://blog.tsmacdonald.com. It’s still having a few issues–namely an uncontrallable sidebar, idiosyncratic CSS, and no ads*–but I want to start posting there, and none of the issues are very serious.

What’s more, I can move with satisfaction–since this blogs creation four months ago, I’ve had 2,894 visitors, with 1,003 coming from StumbleUpon**, 770 coming from Reddit, and  379 being cool enough to just come here directly. Cheers.

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* Yeah, on ads: I want some opinion. Are you a)Distraught that I have ads at all, and wish I would bag them at once. b)Don’t really care about ads, but wish that I would have more/less, and have them in the sidebar/at the top of each post/in the footer/in the feed/specifically not in one of those locations. c)Really don’t care, as long as I write well.

The thing is: Happy readers are much better than a little bit of extra cash, so I wanna know. On a similar note, if you have any opinion about the content, level, length or frequency of the posts, please say so.

** I had a goal to reach 1,000 from SU.

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Google Linux?


In case you don’t follow Digg (I congratulate you), this came up.
In short: Some random hackers figured out how to port Android onto a netbook, and it turns out that there was a folder in Android that had plans for “Mobile Internet Devices”–like netbooks–anyway.
This is pretty cool, but I’m left with one pessimistic thought:
What can Google add to a Linux distro that Canonical, Novell, RedHat or the general Linux community can’t?

Apps? Not really–unless you count Chrome, which is going to be ported to Linux anyway.

Quality? I can’t think of how…

The only thing I can come up with is publicity–if Google, the all-powerful, quite-famous Google starts marketing an OS, it’s going to put Linux in the spotlight, big time. Even if people don’t explicitly use a Google OS, it’ll raise awareness about Linux in general, and suddenly Ubuntu Bug #1 is looking a lot less problematic.

However, we’re all totally jumping the gun–basement hacking does not a mainstream OS make, which is the current situation.

…but basement hacking with some help from one of the largest tech companies in the world does. I’m excited.

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The Problem with Freeware…and Spider Solitaire

The other day, I was playing Spider Solitaire on an XP box. To be honest, it was pretty fun. Then, I ran into a problem:

(OK, OK, I couldn’t resist the “Fail” in there, I’m sorry)

Now there’s two ways of looking at this. One is that I was too dumb to think ahead, and save enough cards to fill up all the spaces, and proceed to the next round.

The other way is to say “What the heck? What idiot would make a game with an impossible situtation like that!? One in which, if you do too well, you can’t win!?!?!”

Anarchist that I am, I picked the third way, which is: On a game designed to be simple, easy and fun–one that you’re not even supposed to take seriously, couldn’t somebody’ve had the grace to add the few extra lines of code which would go something like:

if active_cards < spaces
{
    fill_spaces_to_proceed = 0; //Disables the requirement to fill up all the spaces
}

OK, OK, I’m sure I’m oversimplifying it (and don’t even say a word about my C skills…or lack thereof). But the point remains–simple error-catching would’ve made me, a paying customer, a happier camper.

Just for fun, let’s contrast this to OpenSpider, a fictional open source clone of Spider Solitaire. If I discovered this bug while playing OpenSpider, I’d pop over to the developer’s website, and send a polite email saying that I really thought it’d be better if it was the other way. Better yet, if the guy had Bugzilla installed, I’d just file a bug.

What you’re probably thinking now is that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, and that it’s just a minor irritation in a very minor game (what’s more, I’ve been playing it for years, and this is the first time it’s happened to me). However, I think it serves as a good microcosm for one of the differences between free software and freeware.

With free software, the developers are legitimately interested in making a good product. I could expand on that a lot, but that’s really what it boils down to in this case.

With freeware, there’s always some kind of a catch. A lot of freeware is merely some kind of stunted trial version, and the developers are hoping you’ll spend some cashy money on the full/professional/etc. version. In other cases, like this one, freeware is a way of binding you to something. If Spider Solitaire was open source, there’d be a Linux/BSD/Mac/Solaris/… port in days. But since it’s proprietary, only Microsoft can have it, and only people who pay through the nose for Windows can play it.

Granted, Microsoft is doing a terrible job on providing free Windows-only perks. The few games, Notepad, Wordpad, Calculator…there are better open source versions (AisleRiot, gedit, gedit/OpenOffice, any one of a number of calculators…) If Microsoft was playing more aggressively, they’d include stuff like a dumbed-down version of MS Office–not a 60 day trial, but a fully working, limited-feature freeware version, to strengthen the chains between people and Windows. (Un)Fortunately, they’re too interested in the revenue they get from selling full version of Office to try such a stunt. Enter OpenOffice.

Now let’s take a look from the other side of the aisle–what if all Linux distros, and everything that came with them, were GNU/Linux-only freeware?

Some people would switch to GNU/Linux because of Firefox alone (OK, so maybe it’d be a dual-boot, but there’s no shame in that). Once you throw in OpenOffice, Thunderbird, Pidgin…the Ubuntu servers would go down with .iso downloads, and ShipIt would close up shop.

Now obviously that’s not happening–there’s enough open source zealots out there (for example: myself) to make sure it never does.

And that makes me feel a lot better about losing a Solitaire game.

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The Top 8 of ’08

Happy New Year!

To celebrate, I’ve compiled my top eight blog post (according to hits, not my opinion) to remind myself how the year went.

  1. My Last Whine About Google Chrome: I really didn’t expect this to get number one–it’s just a little rant about all the fallacies Chrome should’ve fixed by now.
  2. Chrome, Chrome, Chrome: This is my first (and non-ranting) review of Chrome, where I point out the “Five Usability Fails.”
  3. An Open Letter to Hob–I mean, Microsoft: I’ve known for a while that I had problems with Microsoft–ergo my switch to Ubuntu. But once I saw what the other side had to offer, I realized how Windows could improve a lot through simple improvements, such as built-in workspaces.
  4. Word Procesors continued: OpenOffice.org Write vs. MS Word vs. Google Docs vs. Zoho Writer vs. Abiword: Yeah…this was one of my first posts, back when I didn’t know how to write or research. It’s just notes on my first impressions of a slew of word processors, and for whatever reason StumbleUpon really liked it.
  5. Schematic: Microsoft’s Problem: A pretty little picture that illustrates how Linux is gradually killing Microsoft. (And anything that includes three pictures of Tux in different outfits is sure to be a success :) )
  6. Themes for GMail: A Ecstatic “Darnit!”: Why I love, and hate, GMail themes.
  7. Another Open Letter to Microsoft: Number three let me vent my anger at an up-and-running Windows. This one let me vent my anger about the ridiculous installation process for Windows XP. Especially when compared to Ubuntu’s.
  8. Browser Startups: A little speed test between the IE7, Firefox 3 and Chrome…with kind of unexpected results.

Hope you have a totally awesome 2009!

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Compiz Fusion: Lighter Than You Think

For the past six months, I’ve been avoiding Compiz Fusion like crazy. My little laptop is very loved, but is still kind of old (~5 years), and I didn’t want to learn too much about something awesome I couldn’t have. After all, a lot of it is functionless eyecandy, and the faster my system runs, the happier I am.

But for reasons unknown (I blame the caramel-filled brownies I had yesterday), I suddenly had an itch to try it out.

So I read this excellent (if lengthy) guide, turned on a whole mess of stuff and…

…am very happy I did it. Wobbly Windows, Annotation, random little effects I’m still discovering, FIRE (sorry, sorry, I’m a pyro). And the best part? My system handles it like a champ, and I have yet to witness a decrease in speed.

So I encourage you reluctant people to try it out. The worst thing that can happen is that it drags, and then you can easily revert to your previous settings, and come one–who doesn’t want to set their screen on fire?

—–

System specs, before you ask:

  • 512MB RAM
  • 1000mHz Intel Centrino processor
  • Intel  82852 Graphics Card (learn more here, I'm terrible at hardware)
  • 1024x768 LCD screen

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Sights Seen Whilst Christmas Shopping

Yesterday I went out Christmas shopping, which is a fairly normal activity this time of year :)

There’s nothing serious to say, but here are two pictures I snagged with the dinky 1.3MP camera in my phone:

Tux: He's everywhere, even music stores (who probably thought that penguins were just a really popular animal for some reason)

Tux: He's everywhere, even music stores (who probably thought that penguins were just a really popular animal for some reason)

WEDDING FAIL!!

WEDDING FAIL!!

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Google Moderator–New in Labs

Google’s released a new Labs product called Moderator. It’s a “collaborative Q&A” tool, and is available here: http://moderator.appspot.com/
I don’t see myself using it much, but I just always get excited when there’s something new in Labs.

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Lightweight Media Distro, anyone?

Sitting in my basement room, there’s a beautiful, ancient Gateway laptop (circa 2000). It came with Windows Mistake Edi–I mean, Millenium Edition, has a Pentium III Celeron processor, and a whopping 64MB of RAM.

When I got it a few years ago, I was really excited–it’s my first personal computer. Since then, and two laptops later, it’s fallen a bit out of favor (seriously–what can you do in ME that you can’t in XP? If it was 98 it would be a DOS gaming station. But ME?) But now that I’ve learned about Linux, and started reading KMandla, I know that it’s good for quite a few things. So I’ve decided to turn it into a Jukebox–load up a lightweight distro, fill the HDD with music, and rock out.

But I really can’t make up my mind about the distro. Xubuntu, Fluxbuntu and Puppy all want too much RAM. Ubuntu GTK 1.2 Remix‘s installer isn’t quite…stable…Does this leave DSL, and DSL alone?

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My Last Whine about Google Chrome

OK Google.

Game’s up.

I tried. Then I tried some more, and after that a bit more, but now it’s over.

The purpose of a web browser is to make life easier, not to waste my time making me try to love it.

Chrome does not make my life easier.

So I will not be using it for a while.

A History: Timmy and Chrome

First, Windows wouldn’t work, and I couldn’t use it. I was getting really excited though–there was the comic (which came out of the BLUE!). Then the Ubuntu Forums thread. Then my friend’s one and only blog post, a positive (but well-supported) review. Never mind the general internet buzz surrounding it–that’s a given.

Then Windows was restored, and I actually tried the thing. I kinda hosed it, but I was trying to be optimistic. It was new, it was unextended, heck–it was still in Beta! So even while while completely slamming it, all I could think of was, “Don’t worry–it’ll improve.” And I was sure that it would…eventually.

A few months later…

In just 100 days, we have reached more than 10 million active users around the world (on all seven continents, no less) and released 14 updates to the product

So I think the time has come to stop coddling Chrome, and instead make it play with the big boys. You know where I stand on Chrome vs. Firefox. Comparing it with IE is trickier–one’s an awesome presentation of a terrible idea, the other’s a terrible presentation of an awesome idea. Opera and Safari users are too ingrained into their browser choice to care (ditto for Flock) and Epiphany, Konqueror, Kazehakaze, Dillo, et al. are *nix-only. Has Chrome gotten a victory in that? No.

So hopefully Google, geniuses that they are, will make a totallyawesomepieceofsweetness for Chrome 2, and the Browser Wars will turn into a pair of great, open source browsers taking potshots at an overly competitive old guy, with the browser equivalents of the Green Party flitting about in between (Opera, etc.)

Unfortunately, “hopefully” is nowhere near the same as “currently” :( So I’ll catchya later Chrome.

Much later.

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A Difficult Decision (aka “Bad News”)

I’ve been pondering, and have made the following Difficult Decision:

This blog is going on hiatus for an indefinite period of time.

Before I get comment-lynched, let me explain myself:

  1. If you didn’t know, I’m taking several difficult courses independently. This is what they call “not-fun,” and requires a lot of work. Yes, I manage to find some free time, but my brain is in no condition to make intelligent posting.
  2. I have been offered a job (as in contract, not as in career) writing a website in Python. When I finish, I’ll get paid cashy money, and quite frankly–who doesn’t want to write a website in Python?
  3. To be perfectly honest, my list of things-I-want-to-write-about is showing it’s ugly backside. I almost wrote a post on Mnemosyne, but in doing research, I realized that any article I wrote right now wouldn’t do it any justice. I’ve also thought about pieces on VirtualBox, the command line, Python…but everybody and their dog has done articles about that.

All of that said:

  • I will leave everything up–I just won’t post (and the archives seem to be helping some Googlers…)
  • I plan to come back to this once life is a bit more tranquil.

So thanks, everyone, for your somewhat-pathetic commenting and the juicy altitude of my site traffic graph. To finish, the Python code for this blog:

import time as t
print "</blog>"
t.sleep(A_few * 60 * 60 * 24 * 31) #Multiplications convert from seconds to months
print "<blog>"

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