Monday, November 30, 2009

Writing a novel with online tools

One thing I left off my last post on where to write was online tools.  Online tools as a category have several benefits and different ones bring different benefits.

I don't tend to write on one computer.  Often I will write during my lunch break, instead of leaving the building.  I can bring the document I'm working on a thumb drive, but most employers frown on using personal memory sticks on a work computer, for several reasons.

Google Docs is one place I've thought about.  It does have the benefit of allowing me to access it wherever I am, as long as I'm near a computer.  I can also share a read-only copy with my first readers, but they would have no way to comment in the same document.  That would be good or bad.

Google Wave offers some promise.  It has many of the same features as Google Docs.  The one drawback is sharing with first readers. There is (currently) no way to restrict another participant in a wave to prevent them from updating the original blip, or preferable, marking their updates (i.e. margin comments).  I could get around this by writing in one wave, and then cloning that wave for the first readers to be able to edit.  The other drawback is there is currently no way to print (that I've seen) from Google Wave.  Since printing it in a specific format is the final outcome (publisher have guidelines for this), this can be a big drawback.  I can probably get around this by cutting and pasting the entire document into a OpenOffice document.

One drawback I have not mentioned for online tools is the chance of it being stolen.  Frankly I don't worry about it much.  It's just as likely someone would steal a printed copy someone left lying around.  If someone steals the idea and makes a better story (or actually finishes a story, which I have yet to do), good for them.  Ideas are not copyrightable.  Plagiarism is another story, and I don't think that often ends well for the plagiarist or their publisher.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Where to write

I'm starting a new writing project, and once again I'm stumbling on where to write.  In the past I used straight text files, TeX, HTML, Word, and Open Office to start a project.  They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

I dislike using word processors for the act of writing because I feel that a) they get in the way too much by being too helpful (auto spelling corrections, auto capitalising, grammar checking, etc) which really distract from the act getting words on the screen, and b) I don't like the large files, mostly binary, that they generate.  For formatting the final result for sending to a publisher, they can't be beat.  I know I've tried.  HTML has the spec for headers and pagination that would solve that problem, but no (free) browsers I know of implement those tags.  Also, moving it to something that I can put online becomes harder.

TeX is just too hard to use unless I am doing it all the time.  I keep have to relearn how to do even some basic stuff every time.   And to be completely truthful, I can't stand the fonts.  I keep reading that you can change them, but have never read anything that says how.

HTML I've kinda touched on.  I do get tired of writing the tags, but my main issue is it is impossible to format the final project with the correct headers (especially the first page) the way current browsers are implemented.  It's kinda nice though that the format is an afterthought.  For example, I can label something and if I leave the formatting alone, it'll be bold.  Or I can change the css file I set up to make it 1 pt larger or all caps, when I'm ready to print.
Straight text has no formatting by definition and sooner or later I'm going to want to make something bold or italics or indented or something I can't do with text.

So does anyone have suggestions?

A week with Ubuntu

So I've been on Ubuntu for  nearly a week.  Here are my thoughts and progress so far.

First I'm going to through out my dislikes.  Things that just have not gone right.
  • Tweetdeck will not run. I get an error that says that I have one of the few machines that Air does not like, and they are working with Adobe on it.  This could have more to do with the machine than Ubuntu, but I'm sure it would work under that commercial operating system.
  • It has locked up on us three times now.  Seems to be something with X. The computer keeps running, and at least once I was able to recover without rebooting.  May have something to do with having multiple people logged on at the same time.
  • Lost the sound a couple of times. Have not figured this one out.  Playing around with the sound settings has gotten it back.  This also may have something to do with multiple logins. At least once, I've gotten sound back by switching to another user and turning up the sound on that login.
  • Wireless network was not setup right out of the box.  It did not work at all under OpenSolaris, so it's not something I can't do without in the short term, but I would really like to  get working.

Successes or just things I've liked.
  • Installing VirtualBox was easy and straight forward and ran the Windows images I've created under OpenSolaris just fine.  This was probably my biggest worry as I did not want to have to redo this up just now.  I've got some work to do in those images starting next week.
  • Gnucash installed directly and reads the gnucash file from the old system.
  • Guest user allows my daughter to access Facebook, etc while I'm on without messing with whatever I'm working on.
  • Switching allows other family members to access there side, once again without disturbing whatever I'm working on.
  • My wife plugged the digital camera in, in her word's "something for photos turned on when I hooked up the camera. I don't know what I did exactly, but I got the pictures posted". That's what I'm looking for in a family computer.  Yes Mac OS X has a better experience there, but I don't currently have a Mac, now do I?
  • Went to set up the printer, only to find that Ubuntu had done it already, without even telling me or better yet asking me any questions about it.
  • Can finally use Chrome natively at home. Although it's not nearly as polished as the Windows version.

I installed Java and Netbeans, but have not had much of a chance to work with them.  That will change this week as I have to update an application for doing Knights Marshal reports.  MySql seems to have installed fine, but same issue.

I installed Netbeans from the download from Sun.  Java I installed from Ubuntu's Software Center.  I was a little unhappy is was a minor version behind, but not enough to do a manual install.

At this point, I need an operating system that I can use without having to work with it too much.  Like the printer issue.  It took me days to finally get enough information together to install it the first time on OpenSolaris and hours on FreeBSD.  I like the research and like geeking around with the system, but don't have the time right now.  I need something that is going to cause me less problems.  And, in case someone brings it up, I always have problems with Windows.  My work machine runs mostly fine because the IT staff there has it locked down.  I don't want to run like that here.  Yes a Mac would be great.  Let me know when you can send one over.  Otherwise, I will have to wait until I can afford one again.

Right now it's too early to know if this will be a long term success, but short time certainly has been.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Moved to Ubutnu finally

I've mentioned before that I have never had a chance, or desire, to run Linux in any long term way.  I've played with both Ubuntu and Mandrake (before the owners of the comic got it's name changed), but I've mostly run FreeBSD at home and the last year and a half I've been running OpenSolaris.

Last night, after much frustration, I finally got Ubuntu installed next to the metal on my laptop.  I say next to the metal, because I have been running it in Virtual Box for about a year.  The frustrations have mostly been around backing up all my data, and then I found out I had downloaded and burned a cd with the i386 version of Ubuntu, which would not boot.  It took me a while, but I finally found the amd64 version.  After that, things went really well.

So far, I've gotten everyone a login, setup NFS to the FreeBSD box so I can copy files from the backup, and gotten access to my email, etc.  My first impressions are that it is much nicer looking and that it feels faster.  I say feels, because I don't think it actually is faster, but the interface has a snapper feel.  I worry that the UI is optimized to the detriment of the stability of the system. I.e., does it cache a lot of data in member instead of making sure it makes it to the disk.  In that case, what happens if the computer crashes (a worry I have because this Gateway laptop overheats a lot).

Tonight I'll install a Java development environment and really customize things the way I want them.  So far, I'm really pleased.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Moving data to prepare for opsys change

I have a lot of data to move off my laptop before I change operating systems from OpenSolaris to Ubuntu. I had finally figured out how to format an external (usb) drive to fat32.  My plan was to tar the data and copy it to the dos partition, then copy it back when I changed systems.  I immediately ran into the problem of the file size limit being 4g. 

So, I took about an old iMac that had died in the last power spike we had.  I took the hard drive from that and put it in my 10 year of Dell that had been running FreeBSD, and put FreeBSD back on it.  I moved the external drive over to it and formatted all but 60g to FreeBSD's file system.  Backing up the home directories off the laptop took just short of 24 hours.  This was because of a combination of some large files, including 3 nearly 20g virtual box images, a very old and slow network card on the Dell, and slow (by today's standards) usb on the Dell.

The data is finally backed up, so tonight I will change to Ubuntu.  Then I will setup automatic backups to the FreeBSD box, so if I decide Ubuntu was not the right direction, I won't have to go through this again. 

I may also begin looking around for a newer, old computer to replace the Dell.  I should be able to get something with faster usb and a faster network card for not a lot of money.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gluten Free at Bo Lings Chinese

I've enjoyed eating at Bo Lings for a while, and after this will very much continue to.  I contacted them to see  if they could publish a gluten free menu.  This is the great and very helpful response I got:

Thanks so much for your inquiry regarding gluten free options at Bo Lings!  Soy sauce does have traces of gluten in it, so depending on the severity of your allergy, you may or may not be able to tolerate some of our menu items with soy sauce in them.  Since you are able to have the Gong Bao Chicken, most of our other stir-fried dishes should be alright for you.  We do however, offer a wide variety of menu items that do not have soy sauce in them!  Any of our entrees that are made with "white sauce" will not have soy sauce in them, nor will they have any flour.  These are chicken stock-based sauces thickened with cornstarch.  A few of our "white sauce" entrees include Sauteed Chicken with Vegetables, Shrimp with Cashews, Jade Shrimp, and Sauteed Mixed Vegetables.  Also any of our Fried Rice dishes cooked without soy sauce, such as Fresh Vegetable Fried Rice, Young Chow Fried Rice, or Chicken Fried Rice cooked with white rice, will be gluten free.  Please just let your server know about your allergy, and he or she will work with the manager to make sure your meal is prepared properly!
I had been avoiding the white sauces because I didn't know what was in them.  The next time I'm there, I will be trying one of them.

So, whether you are Gluten intolerant or not, please go and have some great Chinese food and keep them in business (actually they are really good and I don't think are in any danger of going out of business, but you will enjoy their food, so go).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where'd all that data come from?

Backing up my laptop so I can move over to Ubuntu over the weekend was an epic failure.  If it were possible to roll below a 1, I would have (D&D reference for you non-gamers).

Between the iMac that died a month ago, which I have the backup data on an external drive, to the data I have on the laptop itself, it's huge.  I gave up on the idea of burning it all to cd's.

I have an external drive with about 200G.  60G is formatted to zfs.  About 40G is BIG-DOS (I thought it was fat32).  The rest is a leftover from when I had FreeBSD on it.  I tried to reformat the rest at fat32, but could find no way to do that under OpenSolaris; the existing dos partition was created either under Windows, which will no longer format a disk that size in fat32 or FreeBSD.  I tried to format it with a Windows laptop I had access to, and somehow made the original 40G partition (slice?) unusable. 

At that point, I pretty much got frustrated and decided to work on the backup sometime this week.  There really should be a good way to backup files and reload them under a different operating system.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ubuntu or bust

In a previous post I talked about how I was frustrated with my current operating system and ready to replace it.  I'm going to try to get that done this weekend, although I will be out of town Friday and Saturday, which leaves me Sunday afternoon.

From the title you can tell what I'm planning on installing, but let's go through my reasons.

I've not been a GNU/Linux fan in the past.  My first *nix work experience was with Solaris in the late '90's.  My first home *nix experience was with FreeBSD, which I've run for almost 10 years until the computer it was running on died a couple of months ago.  So why did I decide on Ubuntu instead of a BSD system like PC-BSD? Let's look at my requirements and wants.

Primary, must haves:
  • Compile and Run Java applications
  • Ability to run Windows on a virtual machine, especially to compile and run Java applications that require Windows and possibly C# down the road.
  • Features for the family, which for now shares this computer (video, music, facebook, email, etc).
Secondly, really want:
  • Being able to logon as another user without having to log out myself.
  • Wireless networking.
  • Ability to run Gnucash without a virtual machine.
  • Different formats of music and video to work more or less out of the box (mp3, asx, etc).
  • Ability to update iPods.
There are some other features I'd like, such as being able to run Conky and TweetDeck. I also prefer Gnome to KDE (personal preference, don't get snippy with me).

I'm running Ubuntu in Virtual Box and it seems to give me much of what I need and want to do.  I looked at PC-BSD, and was a little turned off by the fact it runs KDE.  Also, I've used FreeBSD as a development platform before.  Yes, it will run Java, but it is difficult (or at least time consuming) to setup.  Virtual Box is relatively new for FreeBSD, but Sun has a Linux version.  Also, I've never been able to run a vmware image on FreeBSD, and I may have to do that at some point for a project coming up.  Finally, I really like the look of the newest version of Ubuntu.  They have done a really good job on the look and feel.

So, Sunday, during the game, I will start backing up all the data on my computer.  If that goes well, I hope to install Ubuntu.  Next week, it's back to making this machine earn a living.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Frustrations with OpenSolaris

I'm honestly frustrated with OpenSolaris right now.  I love the operating system.  I've been running it on my laptop since I bought it a year and a half ago.  Windows ran on it for less than a day, and then I wiped it and loaded OpenSolaris on it.

It was a choice between OpenSolaris, FreeBSD, and Ubuntu.  I had been reading a lot about OpenSolaris, and it sounded interesting.  I decided on OpenSolaris because I was, and still am, doing Java programming.  It's what I bought the laptop for.

I've been frustrated since I loaded it that the wireless network card doesn't work, the built in camera doesn't work, and the audio drive is really terrible (if I change the volume, I lose the left channel).  I just recently got mp3's to work, and still have to use mplayer for other media.  I've never been able to run the latest version of Gnucash on it (I run it in vbox on a Ubuntu image).  Now, I've not been able to update the os for a couple of months now because of a kernal panic (or some such) when booting.  I was waiting on the latest update, because it was apparently fixed, at least on other systems.  I posted a message on the help forum, but I need to put the kernel into debug mode during booting to find out why it's forcing a reboot during the boot cycle.

Ok, may be I need to move on.  If the contract I'm working on does not have anything for me this weekend, I may spend the weekend moving to either Ubuntu or PC-BSD.  Or may be I'll split the drive and dual-boot between the too.

The main thing that is stopping me is Windows.  That's very frustrating for me.  I run Windows under VirtualBox and use it because I'm currently working on a project, in Java, that has to be run under Windows (it uses a native engine for it's core function).  I worry that the vbox images will not work under Ubuntu or BSD.  I suppose I can recreate everything, but that could take the entire weekend by itself.

If I don't have the time, I hope the next version of OpenSolaris fixes this issue, but I still would like to get the wireless networking and other issues working.  Especially since the whole family is now using it.

I won't walk away from OpenSolaris completely.  It is still my intention on building a computer from the components and it will be geared towards OpenSolaris.  Primarily because of ZFS, but also on how well it runs VirtualBox.  I want something I can run multiple operating systems on, for different functions.  But for now, I don't think it's perfect for the computer I'm currently using.