Monthly Archives: January 2011

Which Widgets Watch Weather and Whether Watchers Care

Have you ever noticed we’ve become a bit obsessed with the weather in the Internet age?

If I had a nickel for every weather app out there for Windows, Mac, or Linux systems, I wouldn’t have to slave away at this keyboard making the measly $4.81/word that Chris P. pays all of us. Oh, shoot! I’m not supposed to divulge that information. However, I don’t want to backspace and delete that much money; the Jag’s in the shop, after all.

Back to the topic at hand though…

I remember ages ago how neato I thought it was when I installed an app called WeatherBug on my old Windows 98 system. Man! That thing was the weather cat’s meow. It did all sorts of stuff. Another really cool thing was back in ’04 here in Tampa I was able to experience my first real time online hurricane.

As some of you may remember, that was a bad year for hurricanes in and around Florida. I had a few near misses here in Tampa that summer/fall. What was cool, though, was watching and tracking those storms on the Internet as they were happening. I no longer had to depend on that talking head weather dude on TV. I had all the same info he had at my own fingertips. How cool is that?

I guess that was the beginning of my weather addiction. I’m a regular visitor to NOAA and Weather Underground these days. Coffee and the day’s forecast are a morning staple. I don’t really care what the weather is going to be like. I’ll find out eventually. I just enjoy the information and other fun stuff on those sites.

I even have another tab open right now with Weather Underground’s radar for my area as a big, nasty winter cold front is moving down across the Tampa area right now. I can hear the wind gusts and the rain pattering against my windows as I type this. Hmm… better save a draft in case the electricity drops on me.

Weather is cool. Check it out sometime. I don’t mean looking out the window. I mean looking at some really cool websites and stuff. You could even install a couple weather apps on your system (like you don’t already have two or three installed). I don’t use WeatherBug these days, but I do have a weather applet in my Xfce panel. It gives me the basic info. For the really in-depth stuff I go to the Internet.

Wherever you are… enjoy your weather.



The PATH to /home/timmy/grannys_house

Back in the old days, when Timmy wanted to visit granny’s house, all he had to do was have Lassie lead him there. In today’s more complicated computer world, it takes a bit more understanding.

We’re going to learn a bit about a very important subject in Linux. It’s called PATH. The path to a file or whatever on your Linux operating system is something that you need to understand when manipulating files from the command line. Another term we’ll look at briefly is the working directory.

When Timmy, as a regular user, opens his terminal from his GUI or from the post login command line (Run Level 3 – multi-user, no X running), his working directory is in /home/timmy. Whichever directory you are in at the time is known as the working directory. Timmy may navigate to another directory using the cd command. Let’s say he navigates to /usr/bin. At that time, his working directory becomes /usr/bin. See how this works?

Think of the Linux file system as a multi-room house. If you’re in bedroom4 right now, your working directory would be /house/bedroom4. If you walked out of that room and down the hall to bathroom02, then your working directory becomes /house/bathroom02. At that time, you may then use the command micturate. Heh! A little bathroom humor there.

OK, so now we know all about the working directory, right? Moving on…

Let’s say that Timmy wants to copy a .jpg that is in /usr/share/wallpaper over to the /home/timmy/grannys_house directory. He would open his terminal, which would then be sitting there with that blinking cursor waiting for Timmy’s next command:

timmy@lassies_machine~:$ |

Timmy’s working directory at this point is /home/timmy, as designated by the command line shorthand character ~ . If Timmy wants to copy the .jpg without actually going to the directory that it’s in to copy it, he must provide the proper path in his command.

timmy@lassies_machine~:$ cp /usr/share/wallpaper/cabin.jpg /home/timmy/grannys_house

The above command, using absolute path names, directs the shell (command line interpreter) to copy the cabin.jpg image from the /usr/share/wallpaper directory to the /home/timmy/grannys_house directory. If Timmy wanted to just make a duplicate of a file in his /home/timmy directory, then he could leave off the / character when showing the command line the proper path. This can be done because he’s already in the /home/timmy directory. It is his working directory. He can now use a relative path to direct the shell to make the copy.

timmy@lassies_machine~:$ cp cabin.jpg cabin.jpg_backup

In the above example, notice that there is no / being used. Timmy is simply making a backup copy of cabin.jpg. Both files are relative to his working directory, so the shell understands that Timmy just wants to make this duplicate right there in that same directory.

It’s really not rocket science, to use that worn out old cliché. The command line can be pretty simple once you get the hang of it folks. You know what I always say… Don’t fear the command line. I hope you’ve learned something here today. Remember to click the links within the article. You’ll find some more useful information and a few definitions for you there.



Further reading:

Unix Commands @ Wikipedia

Paul Sheer’s Rute Users Tutorial and Exposition

Image credits: Timmy (Jon Provost) and Lassie image owned and copyright by Classic Media

Xfce 4.8 – The Little Mouse That Roared

It’s here, folks. We’ve been patiently waiting for this one… version 4.8 of everyone’s (mine, anyway) favorite desktop environment –> Xfce!

There have been many improvements, judging by the release notes. Read more about it here –> It may be a bit before you start seeing this in your distribution’s repositories, but you can always attempt an install from source, if you know what you’re doing.

For you Slackers (users of Slackware Linux) out there, Robby Workman has a Slackware Package of 4.8 on his server. Don’t forget to read his NOTES and install the dependencies (which he also provides for you) in the order he suggests. Of course, install at your own risk. If you have an experimental installation of Slack, as I do, it might be better to play with it in that installation rather than your primary OS… just in case, you know.

Ever since KDE4 became a fat, over-bloated MS Windows-like clone, Xfce has been my primary desktop environment. Aww, shucks! I’m just kidding about KDE. It’s fine too, as long as you have 12Gig of RAM and a water-cooled, over-clocked quad-core processor… and don’t mind the occasional system crashes.

Anyway, watch a repository near you or take the bold approach and install from source. Either way, you’ll come to love that little mouse.



Image credits: Xfce logo Copyright 2003-2011 Xfce Development Team

Out With the Old…

… in with, well… nothing, actually. I spent the day today out in my shop weeding through boat anchor computers trying to put one good one together.

Nothing panned out, unfortunately. I ended up stripping an old Pentium III Compaq, an old Duron HP unit, and my old ericsbane02 machine. Each one had different problems but incompatible parts, so I couldn’t cannibalize to make one working unit. I kept the case and mobo from ericsbane02, but the other cases and mobos went to the curbside, where they were promptly scarfed up by the neighborhood scrap metal vultures.

My whole project aim was just to put together one machine to use as a shop system. I was focusing on ericsbane02, an AMD Athlon XP 2600+ based unit, because it was the most modern out there. Sadly, I think there is a mobo issue with that unit. I could have sworn it was working when I put it out there, but I have since taken most of the goodies out of that case. The replacement stuff I put in there today may have actually caused more issues.

It’s a project to return to another day.

At least I did make some room on the shelves by getting rid of those old dinosaurs that I had sitting there. Sheeeesh! One actually had a 10Gig hard drive. I remember paying $100 for that drive to upgrade my Pentium I machine back in 2000. A hundred bucks for 10 stinkin’ gig, huh? We’ve made some hardware progress since then, thankfully.

Well, enough rambling for this evening.



GIMP Inadequate? Say It Ain’t So…

I was reading here and there online today and ran across this interesting viewpoint on The GIMP from blogger Troy Sobotka.

It was an good read. I’m a big fan of The GIMP. I don’t use nor have I ever even seen Photoshop in action. And another disclaimer: I’m no artist. I’m a very left-brained person. I often wish I had some creative talents, but that ain’t the case. I’m hardwired, technical, and literal. Enough about me, though…

The GIMP has been my image tool of choice ever since coming to The Light (Linux) back in ’06. Previous to that, I used MS Paint, PaintDOTNet, and other amateur tools such as those. I’d be lost in Photoshop. Reiterating… I’m no artist. I use these graphics tools to manipulate existing images or create relatively simplistic images of my own. You can see an example of my talent in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1

While the points that Mr. Sobotka makes regarding The GIMP are probably quite accurate (much too art-technical for me to be concerned with, though), the application works well for me. I only hope that it continues to be a viable application and is updated and improved as time goes by. I’d hate to see the end of The GIMP. What would we amateur image manglers use as an alternative?

Well, anyway…



Technology Aiding and Abetting Hatred?

Back in the good ol’ days, hatred was pretty much a local phenomenon. It was cellular in nature. It started out in families and grew to communities.

Nowadays, though, hatred has to potential to be world wide within seconds of being spewed forth from someone’s mind. Sure, men have hated and hacked each other to pieces for thousands years already. However, that was on a smaller scale and usually took much more time back then than it does now to accomplish.

In the modern world, it’s much easier for some megalomaniac with a small penis, who happens to be the glorious leader of half a billion starving and oppressed people, to press a button or two and obliterate 250,000 of his most hated enemies. A couple thousand years ago, even the massive Roman Legions would have taken quite a bit more time and effort to achieve the same outcome.

So, what’s changed about the spread of hatred? Well, hatred is a very local thing for starters. It begins in one’s heart. It then spreads to one’s family and friends; eventually engulfing the community. Hatred began its rise to today’s level with the advent of better transportation; and then later on, improved long distance communication. With today’s instantaneous, very cheap world wide communication, hatred is having a field day.

What does this mean? Bluntly put, it means that the asshole who spread his vitriolic political, religious, or racial views to his local community in the days of yore can now spread that acid around the world in a matter of seconds. The racial joke spread between family and friends now becomes the mass email that hits 10,000 inboxes in a day. Or said asshole may choose to have his own hateful website where all the whack jobs can congregate and fulminate.

Hate is spread like a virus. It’s highly infectious. The only safeguard against it is education. The more ignorant one is, the more likely they are to hate. Sadly, their ignorance does not keep them from using technology to spread hatred further. That hatred results in little nine year old girls being shot to death by misguided, mentally unstable youths.

Is technology an aid to the spread of hatred. Damned right it is. However, it can also be an aid to education, health, joy, happiness, kindness, friendship, love, etc. As with most things, it’s not exclusively bad or good. Technology is like any tool that mankind has at his disposal. It can be use to help or harm. We need to learn to utilize our tools in more positive ways. I don’t foresee an end to hate. I just wish it would take some time off.



Image credits: No Hate – courtesy of Miami (of Ohio) University No Hate Initiative

California Wants to Read Your Text Messages

In another of our ever-increasing losses of personal liberties in exchange for security, the great State of California is now going to be accessing your cell phones without a search warrant.

How did this come about? Well, the CA Supreme Court honchos ruled that there’s no need for the a search warrant to access the cell phone goodies of folks arrested in that State. This means YOU. Even if it’s a minor infraction of some sort; if you’re arrested, all your cell phone data is open to scrutiny and use against you in a “court of law”. Cool, huh? So, now you don’t even have to say a word to screw yourself. All it’ll take is one text message from your cousin Lenny joking about blowing up the Governor’s mansion.

Bob Sullivan of The Red Tape Chronicles on MSNBC writes in his article* Court: no warrant needed to search cell phone:

The ruling opens up disturbing possibilities, such as broad, warrantless searches of e-mails, documents and contacts on smart phones, tablet computers, and perhaps even laptop computers, according to legal expert Mark Rasch.

Damned straight it’ll open up disturbing possibilities. Don’t these type infringements on our civil liberties usually do just that? I’m no criminal. I don’t associate with criminals. However, I associate with regular folks; citizens of this great country, where we place a high value on our privacy and civil rights. Regardless of the good intentions of assisting law enforcement and the courts to curtail criminal and terrorist activities in our lovely cities and towns, this just ain’t the right way to do it.

Every year we lose more and more of our civil rights and our privacy in the name of security and enforcement. There will come a day (not too far off) when we will be afraid… very afraid. The law enforcement community and the justice system in this country are supposed to be there to protect and serve us, not tyrannize us with random house searches or highway stops. They’re not there to sift through our underwear drawer or read our mail.

Granted, California is often ahead of the curve (read as totally whacked out) when it comes to most anything, but this is coming to a state/city/town near you too, folks. I guarantee it. Pay attention. Read your local paper. Watch the news. Be aware. This is stuff that affects YOUR life. Be involved. Write to your Senators/Congressmen, newspaper editors, etc. Protest how you’re being treated. This is YOUR country. It’s what your fathers and uncles and grandfathers fought and died for.



*Thanks for the heads up about this article from alert fan Mike G. in Holiday, FL.

Image credit: Statue of Liberty – Arthur’s Clipart

Grep This!

When a problem comes along
You must grep it
Before the cream sets out too long
You must grep it
When something’s goin’ wrong
You must grep it

I say grep it
Grep it good

*My apologies to Devo.

This is another in our continuing series of articles where I try to get you to not be so fearful of the command line. Remember, the command line is your friend, like Google. So, what is grep and how do we use it, hmm? Well, grep is one of the most popular Unix/Linux commands of all time. It’s used to search for patterns in files using regular expressions. What’s a regular expression? Well, that’s just words like you see right here… Bill loves ice cream or Mary is a brunette.

When you want to search for something in a file but you can’t quite remember exactly the part your looking for, grep can help. You can search for partial phrases and wildcards too. A wildcard is usually signified by the * (asterisk) character in commands. It works with grep also. Let’s see a couple examples, shall we?

Example 1

In this example, you’re trying to find a paragraph in a large file (your Ph.D thesis on frog flatulence) about bull frogs and their ability to communicate with their flatulence. You’re pretty sure it’s in chapter 13. That’s all you can remember.

$ grep ‘bull frog’ /home/you/thesis/frog-flat/chapter-13


chapter-13:bull frogs have been known to communicate by modulating

chapter-13:while bull frogs can be muted using Beano supplements in

chapter-13: censoring bull frogs in this way has been known to reduce

As you can see, each line containing the regular expression ‘bull frog’ has been output for you by the grep command.

Of course, grep has the usual panoply of helpful options like:

-h    – if you search more than one file at a time, the results contain the name of the file from which the string was found.

-n    – precedes each line with the line number where it was found

-i    – tells grep to ignore case so that it treats “the” and “The” as the same word

-l    – displays a list of files that contain the string

-w    – restricts the search to whole words only

What if you wanted to exclude some word or phrase from your search of a certain file? Well, the versatile grep command can do that too.

Example 2

In this example, you want to do the opposite of what you did in Example 1. Instead of searching for lines within the file with the phrase ‘bull frog’, you want to exclude them.

$ grep -v ‘bull frog’ /home/you/thesis/frog-flat/chapter-13

The above command would now show you all the lines in the text file except those that have the phase ‘bull frog’ in them.

The first place to start with your grepping adventures would, of course, be its manual page.

$ man grep

Grep is another very useful tool in the command line arsenal, folks. Get out there and grep something. It won’t hurt you none.



Further reading:

Grep Man Page

Grep Tutorial

How to Use the Grep Command

Tips for Linux – Grep

What Is Grep?

Available @ O'Reilly Media, Inc.