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Posts Tagged ‘novelty’

Despite all the feature-rich games out there for the Windows platform, the #1 played game in the world is by far Solitaire. That’s because most of us aren’t gamers, so we’re happy to play with the simple games included as an occasional distraction. The games aren’t all that great, but what do you expect for nothing? The same goes for Ubuntu: you get some similar basic games,but don’t expect much if you’re a gamer!

The difference is that with Ubuntu, you can open up Synaptic and have a browse through the Games and Amusement section, then mark a whole lot of free games for installation! You can also search for specific types by using terms like “RPG” and “strategy game“. And if you know the names of some games, it makes it even easier, as you can just type them in the Quick search field.

One of the little gems that I have seen many vote as the best game in Linux is Frozen-Bubble. It is certainly a cut above the others in your Games folder, yet simple to play, with appeal for all members of the family. The object is simple: fire your coloured balls to get 3 or more in a row, in order to dislodge that row and all beneath it. The platform they’re suspended from keeps moving down, so you need think ahead and aim well, as you’ll be adding to the balls coming towards you!

Frozen-Bubble: Possibly the most addictive and widely played game in Linux!

Levels get progressively harder and faster, and you may soon find yourself joining the millions who are addicted to this game. It’s certainly better than playing Solitaire while you wait for something to download or whatever, so install it now and have some fun trying to keep your balls from being frozen!

Just look for frozen-bubble in Synaptic, or paste the following into a terminal:

sudo apt-get install frozen-bubble

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Here is funny way to turn your computer into a baby rocker, using your disc tray! What the following command does is continually opens and closes the CD/DVD tray, so you can either move the rocker in close so it ends up getting pushed a little each time the tray opens, or tie some string from the rocker handle to the tray.

while :; do eject ; eject -t ; done

You can check out a YouTube vid of it being done via the latter method (though the guy uses his own script). Don’t forget that if you would like to download this video clip, copy the url and paste it into QtTube for downloading to your Videos folder.

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Find out when you turn(ed) One Billion Seconds old! Completely useless, but fun nonetheless. Replace 12/31/1970 with your birth date (note it uses American dating, not what the rest of the world uses):

date -d12/31/1970+1000000000sec

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This guide will show you how to have your wallpaper changing automatically using a program called Drapes. Either search for it online and install it via directions given, or open up your package manager (like Synaptic) and search for drapes, then mark it for installation (or sudo apt-get install drapes in the terminal). Once installed, don’t be surprised if you don’t find a launcher for it anywhere; this doesn’t matter as you can start it via the terminal, configure it, and have it load each time Ubuntu does.

Once installed, open a terminal, type drapes and hit Enter. You will now see a little icon near the system tray clock (should look like a monitor with curtains). Right-click that and choose Preferences.

In the first tab, Display, you will see you can +Add and -Remove wallpapers, so browse to any folders with wallpapers and select those you want included. To select all in a folder, click on one and then Ctrl+A to select all. To make building your list easier, you could even create a new folder just for these, then browse all your pictures and wallpapers folders and copy your favourites into this new folder, then just import all those in the one folder to the list in Drapes. Not only does doing this beforehand make it easier for adding the wallpapers all at once, you can also get Drapes to check for changes to a folder, so it makes sense to have a folder for this purpose.

While you are on the Display tab, you will also see that you can change the Style via a drop-down menu. These display modes are Centered, Fill Screen, Scaled, Tiled, and Zoom. You may want to play around with this if you have many pictures that aren’t exactly your screen size and shape (especially if you have a widescreen display).

In the second tab, General, you will see Startup options, and you select “Switch wallpaper on start” if desired. You will also see the autostart option “Start Desktop Drapes on start“, but if you check that don’t be surprised if Drapes doesn’t load by itself on the next reboot. But don’t worry, as a built-in feature of Ubuntu makes it easy to add anything to the boot process. But for now, we just need to configure Drapes before shutting it down properly (as closing the terminal will close down Drapes but not save any of the new settings).

Now, you’ll see you can change the “Timing selection“, which means the interval between changes. The default should be 15 mins, but you can lower it to 5 mins or as high as 2 hours.

At the bottom you will see “Wallpaper search directory” where you can check “Monitor this directory for new wallpapers“. If you check that, you can then browse for your wallpaper folder and select that; after that, you can just add new pictures and wallpapers into that folder, and you won’t need to import them manually (new wallpapers might not get noticed till the next reboot).

To make sure everything you’ve just done is saved, you will need to manually exit. Right-click the Drapes icon in your panel and choose Quit. If you close the terminal first, the settings will be lost; once you’ve quit properly, you can close the terminal (you will note it says the settings have been saved).

Finally, to have it start with each boot, go to System > Preferences > Startup Applications, click the +Add button, and fill in the info (for Name, you can put Drapes; the Command is simply drapes, and for Comment you can put Wallpaper Changer).

Upon your next reboot, Drapes will load and continue to do so until you disable it.

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A little-known Linux command that comes with Ubuntu is espeak (and just in case you don’t have it for some reason, it is readily available in the repositories). No, it’s not a mind-numbingly useful command that will suddenly replace the need for seven of your GUI apps, but more of a novelty (that I don’t doubt could actually be put to some serious applications).

It is simply a command-line tool that will give you audio output in a robotic voice to whatever you type after espeak in the terminal. Like I said, nothing earth-shattering, and OK, you could probably get bored of it fairly quickly. But the purpose of this post is just to bring it to the attention of those who don’t even know it is on their system, and to give some tips on its use.

Now, if you enter one word after the command, it will of course just say that word. But if you type in a bunch of words without quotes, it will still only say the first word it finds. Also, it will say words at an even (yes, robotic) pace, and while it will add pauses according to punctuation, you can do a little more to add a more human feel to it. What this means is that while adding commas and periods as you usually would results in expected pauses, sometimes in speech we add slight pauses for emphasis that would be grammatically incorrect if transferred to written (or typed) word. Basically, what I do is type/paste as I would write it, and for added pauses I use a hyphen (-).

Also, just as you would end a question with a question-mark (?), do so with espeak and the robotic voice will have a querying inflection. So here and there you may even want to add it to words mid-sentence, which you wouldn’t dream of usually. For example, “Oh why, why, why?” will sound quite different from “Oh why? why? why?“. And sometimes adding a ? to the end of a question just doesn’t sound right, so needs to be replaced with a period. Just play around with things like this till you get it sounding as you want. And remember, you don’t need to retype it each time – just hit your UP arrow key on your keyboard and the previous command will appear in the terminal (and you can then use your other arrow keys to get to characters you want to use the Backspace or Delete key on before inserting new characters).

So here is an example you can copy then paste into a terminal:

espeak "Oh why? why? why the hell is my house on fire? I think I better call the fire brigade. Uh – oh! It looks like its going to explode"

Note the incorrect grammar of its, as it’s ended up sounding like a quick it is. And try it with the hyphen removed from Uh – oh! and see what a difference it makes!

Also, while you can see that in the middle of the command an exclamation mark (!) is fine, if you end the string of text with one, you will likely encounter this error:

bash: !”: event not found

Once you’ve had a play around with espeak, you can always find clever ways to utilise it, like add it to alarm scripts and whatever else you can think of. And let’s not forget you can actually get it to read text files out aloud for you! Just enter in the terminal:

espeak -f text.txt (replacing text.txt with the actual filename, and adding the path to it if you didn’t open the terminal in that folder).

Have fun!

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Did this information make your day? Did it rescue you from hours of headache? Then please consider making a donation via PayPal, to buy me a donut, beer, or some fish’n’chips for my time and effort! Many thanks!

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I’ve been into computers since the early 1990’s, and while things have come and gone in that time (like the doomed “NetPC“), one thing that has remained is the war between the Windows and Apple Macintosh worlds. OK, so it’s never really been a war, but more like a friendly feud, but it still goes on to this day. Each side has had its valid arguments, but those of old that are still oft repeated make less and less sense as technologies evolve.

For example, there was a time you could get away with stating as fact that Macs were better for heavy-duty tasks like video editing, since the RISC-based processor was optimised for multimedia. Even as Intel‘s processors (and those of other IBM-Compatible manufacturers) evolved throughout the ’90s, Windows users had to admit their systems were business (or “home office“) computers while Macs were multimedia computers. And let’s not forget the graphic design and publishing worlds, where legions of Mac users created the bulk of the world’s magazines using expensive industry applications like PageMaker, PhotoShop, and QuarkXPress. Desktop publishing was invented for the Mac in 1985 (the first program was PageMaker), and even into the mid-’90s IBM-Compatibles trailed behind. But before long, every app previously only available for serious users (ie: Mac owners) made it onto the Windows platform.

By the beginning of this millennium, IBM-Compatibles (now being referred to as Wintel machines, even if based on processors made by Intel’s rivals like AMD) were not only seriously being used for desktop publishing, but also for audio editing. As Wintel technology progressed, video editing became another task Windows users could successfully achieve, meaning even less reason to fork out for the much more expensive Macs. Especially as the bulk of the world’s software was now only available for Windows.

If you’re starting suspect that I am a Windows fan-boy, I’m just stating the facts. And I’m not for a second suggesting that while the Windows world caught up with the multimedia capabilities of the Mac, that the latter was no longer superior – I’m sure for many processor-hungry tasks it was. But what about now that Macs have moved away from their PowerPC architecture and embraced Intel technologies? Would you dare try and convince me Macs are still better for multimedia now that they have the same guts as their Wintel counterparts?

You could get away with saying Macs come in some pretty classy packages these days – there is no denying that since the iMac, Apple’s machines have continually progressed in aesthetic design. You might get away with saying Mac OS X gives a much more stable environment than Windows for heavy-duty multimedia tasks. I can’t really comment, as I don’t use a Mac (call me whacky, but I’d rather build my own PC for a grand rather than pay three for the same specs in a Mac).

One thing I can tell you is that while over the last few years I’ve done some pretty demanding tasks in Windows, like video editing, sometimes it’s been less than perfect, and – yes – there have been stability issues as well. And let’s not even get started with all the security issues plaguing the Windows world! So while I’ve never seen the need to fork out for a Mac (especially since I’ve always actually preferred the Windows interface to that of Mac OS), I’ve become increasing disappointed with anything made by Microsoft, and at time much of what runs on its OS.

So while I was happy building my own PCs, it became apparent that I needed to go the next step, and build my own operating system! Now, installing a Linux distribution (or “distro“) might not be like building your own OS, strictly speaking, but considering you can generally remove any part of that system and truly customise it to your needs (in a way you could only dream of in Windows!), it’s pretty damned close. I mean, just try uninstalling Internet Explorer from your system (at least from Vista or XP backwards, as I hear you may be able to do so in Windows 7). Or make another file manager the default instead of Windows Explorer. Or perhaps see how long you can surf the web with your internet security suite switched off before you break into a cold sweat and re-initiate it!

Now, a while back, you could get away with saying Linux was only for technically-minded geeks,  but these days many distros are actually easier to use than their commercial counterparts. Most distros are totally free, get regular free updates, and have available thousands of free open source programs. In the Windows and Mac world, you pay for your software (or break the law if using pirated versions), or put up with crappy freeware created by bored students (OK, so some of it is OK, but most is rubbish). In the open source world, you have everything from tiny little programs made for a single basic task through to powerful programs like the OpenOffice.org office suite. Yeah, OK, so some of the open source apps out there are also made by bored students and, hence, either useless or unstable, but the majority is pretty impressive. And it continues to evolve at an equally impressive rate.

If you’re wondering how it could be that open source software – created basically by volunteers – could be evolving faster than commercial ones – which are made by people doing it for money – all I can say is this is how the open source world is. I mean, if you’ve ever prayed for features to be added or fixed in your paid-for programs, and have even tried contacting the companies involved and expressed your wishes, all to no avail, then you would probably be pleasantly surprised with how the open source world works. For example, I thought of a cool feature that could be added to an app I use that deals with ISO disc images, and a week later a new version came out with that feature added! I had a bug with Wine (Windows emulator) that suddenly prevented DVD Shrink from running as smoothly as it had in Ubuntu, and within 2 days of reporting this, a new version of Wine came out that addressed this! OK, so some of your requests and bug reports might fall on deaf ears, but probably a lot less than from commercial companies from whom you bought their software. And no, you won’t get charged for anything other than installation problems, hehe!

So, if you want to take the plunge into the open source world, I’d thoroughly recommend my main OS, UBUNTU (“Linux for Human Beings“). The vast majority of users out there these days just need their computers for tasks like web browsing, email, chat/networking, and multimedia (ie: playing audio and video clips, not so much editing). However, as a fairly advanced computer user, I can tell you Ubuntu not only compares with Windows for more demanding tasks, but actually surpasses it in some! Now, I’m not even talking about some of the basic differences that make Linux distros like Ubuntu shine in comparison to Windows, but we’ll cover a few of them first.

Besides the fact that Ubuntu is free, installs in less than half the time it takes Windows to do so (and installs on Macs!), and has no viruses or spyware/adware, there is the sheer glory of Package Management! In the Windows world, you are used to programs, many of which install things like libraries (.DLL files etc) throughout your system. In Linux, everything is a package, so a program could actually be comprised of one or more core packages plus a few dependencies. Yes, this means a program will not work unless all dependencies have been satisfied, but don’t run to the corner and cower in fear – this is all actually easier than what you’ve been used to!

In Windows, you would go search online for an app for your needs, perhaps eventually find, download and install some piece of freeware, or you’d find the website of a commercial program, purchase it (usually after having to go through an annoying registration process before you could even do so!), download it, and install it. In Ubuntu, you just fire up your favourite package manager (the default is Synaptic Package Manager), either look through the categories on the left hand side and pick apps for installation, or simply type the name of the app (if you know it, of course) or a phrase (like “DVD burner“) and choose from the results displayed! Any dependencies will be presented to you before you can proceed, and simply clicking OK to the message will install all of those as well! And you can sit there for hours adding games and apps, and when you’re ready, hit Apply and it’s all done for you! What’s more, many of those dependencies are libraries already on your system, so unlike in Windows where exactly the same DLL has been installed 10 times in different places by different programs, each app will use the same library when it needs it. And the icing on the cake is that package management and updates are tied in together, meaning that since everything is in effect a package, not only do parts of your system receive automatic updates as they are released, so do all your programs! Yes, that means free upgrades to all your software!

Ubuntu comes with a whole bunch of cool apps for many tasks, including a full office suite, but as you’ve seen, you can easily and quickly install a whole lot more. And I can tell you they will take up a lot less space on your hard drive than you’ve been used to. And some will impress you so much you’ll never go back to their Windows counterparts again. And because Ubuntu has integrated many great open source apps into their system, you’ll find it hard to ever go back to Windows again.

For example, if you’ve ever worked with ISO disc images in Windows, you’ll know that unless you already have burning software than can handle them, you’ll have to go out looking just to be able to burn them to disc. And if you actually want to create or edit ISO images, you’ll need to buy (or illegally download) something like PowerISO, since there is not much in the way of freeware. In Ubuntu, you just double-click the ISO file (or right-click and choose “Write to Disc“) and away you go! What’s more, you can just right-click it and choose to open it with an archive manager if you want to view or edit the contents rather than rely on a commercial alternative like PowerISO.

Speaking of discs, now only self-deluding Windows fan-boys will have the audacity to claim Windows comes with the ability to play DVDs “out-of-the-box“. Yes, you paid for Windows, but you didn’t pay for things like proprietary codecs needed to play some copyrighted media types… and even DVDs you created, let alone copy-protected retail ones. Try playing a DVD in Windows Media Player (WMP) on a freshly installed system and see how far you get. It’s when you’ve either bought software or installed what came with your burner that Windows suddenly gets the ability to handle video DVDs.

While Ubuntu is free, it also respects proprietary issues, so also ships without the ability to play DVDs. The difference here, and it is a major one, is that all you need to do is fire up Synaptic, type in ubuntu-restricted-extras in the Search field, hit Enter, and once you’ve marked it for installation and hit Apply, you’ll not only be able to play copy-protected DVDs, but basically any other media type out there in the whole frakking universe (“So say we all!”)!

So that means that while you need to find and install special players in Windows for media types like MKV, MP4, FLAC, and FLV (YouTube clips), in Ubuntu any of your installed media players will be able to handle them. In Windows, even with two different codec pack launchers pumping codecs into WMP, I still can’t play a good portion of clips I download these days. In Ubuntu, every one of them plays, and I can pick and choose between the players I have. And guess what: since you installed all the codecs via one metapackage (collection of packages rolled into one, basically), any time a codec is updated or created, you get it with your updates! So not only should you be able to play all those clips you thought must be duds back in Windows, you’ll be able to continue to do so without ever worrying if you have the latest codecs or not.

Media players abound, and you can choose from the more minimalistic to quite flashy ones like Amarok. WMP might have some visual appeal, but it also has useless features that can’t be disabled (like links to stores, etc), so there is wasted space and it all ends up not as intuitive as it could be. In Ubuntu, the default audio player is Rhythmbox, which might look less flashy, but has many more useful features (so is in effect more powerful than WMP). I’ve found it much better to work with devices like USB players, and you can do things like directly editing tags of MP3 files.

While we’re on the subject of multimedia, let’s not forget to mention editing capabilities. For audio, there are great sound editing apps like Audacity for working with sound files, Sound Converter for converting between audio formats, and all the way through to a bunch of composition and recording apps for musicians. For video, there are user-friendly programs for DVD authoring like ManDVD, video editors like Cinelerra and Open Movie Editor, and powerful video converters like tovid GUI.

In fact, it was with this last program that I noticed some stunning differences in performance compared to expensive commercial counterparts in Windows. On certain clips I needed to convert to DVD-compliant MPEG format, I would end up with a slight (or sometimes more than slight) lag in either the video or audio. Often I suspected it had to do with things like crappy formats like WMV (which would sometimes crash my converters), and just had to live with it. So when I started using tovid GUI, I was amazed to receive perfectly-synced outputs from those that had given me trouble in Windows (one had ended up with over 20 seconds of lag using one of the best apps out there for Windows, but with its Ubuntu counterpart it was perfect!).

So, for the average user, Ubuntu comes with basically everything you could need out-of-the-box, like the ability to copy and burn discs, Firefox as the default web browser, a powerful PIM and email client (Evolution, which Windows and Mac users also use), OpenOffice.org office suite (also used by millions of Windows and Mac users), GIMP (a powerful image editor almost in the league of Adobe PhotoShop), and a handful of media players.

After a few minutes of searching for things in Synaptic, you can easily install all the codecs you’ll ever need, as well as install some new apps for your other needs, such as aMSN (MSN chat client), Azureus/Vuze for bittorrent filesharing, Downloader for X as download manager, Opera (as another web browser if you want to be able to save complete web pages into one MHT archive like with Internet Explorer), QtTube for downloading YouTube clips directly from the web pages (so you can play them back at any time with your media player), and perhaps some fun games like the ever-popular Frozen-Bubble (anyone can play this, and it’s addictive!).

As for those who use their computers for more complex tasks, well, I’ve covered multimedia a little, but whatever your needs may be, I’m sure there is an app out there for it. Just remember that not everything is always available in the repositories (the official list of Ubuntu packages), so you may need to do some more of what you’re already used to, being some Googling till you find what you’re looking for (some developers don’t bother to submit their programs to the repository, but offer their apps for download from their web sites).

And once you’ve done with installing some programs, go to your System menu in the top panel and into Preferences > Appearance and spend hours (I mean quite literally hours!) tweaking the look of your system like you’ve only ever dreamed of doing in Windows, or Mac OS for that matter. Ever seen pics of people’s systems where the file manager windows look like they’ve been made with polished wood, or everything is dark and looks like it’s moulded from black plastic? Want to be able to change the rather basic default icon theme to one with icons that look like they’ve been cut from glass? Or to initiate those stunning Compiz-Fusion desktop effects you saw YouTube clips of? Well, you can do so in the Appearance Preferences window. What about that cool cursor set you downloaded that mimics the cursors in your favourite game? No worries! And of course, you can save all the changes as your own custom theme(s), to change between at will.

Finally, here are a few more things for your consideration. In Ubuntu, you can access everything on your Windows drive/partition with no problems; in Windows, the system does not even recognise there is another drive/partition attached. And talking about drives, Ubuntu comes with the superior EXT3 (and now EXT4) filesystem; Windows has NTFS, notorious for file fragmentation and data corruption. With Ubuntu, new hardware technologies and interfaces (for example, eSATA) usually present no problem, since you get support for those with system updates; with Windows, you usually need the driver disc, and some basic support that should be part of the OS just isn’t there (like trying to get an eSATA drive recognised in XP). In Windows, the supplied firewall is notoriously useless, and even the decent commercial ones can let you down; in Ubuntu, built-in IP tables and the very structure of Linux mean you don’t even need to install a firewall (though you can of course choose to do so, and for that I recommend Firestarter). In Ubuntu, you might be amazed how much of your Windows software that you just can’t live without will run fine under Wine; in Windows, you’re dreaming if you think you’re going to get any Linux apps to work! In Ubuntu, if you have the knowledge, you can not only tinker with any program or part of the system, you can even package it for others’ use under your own name; in Windows, if you tinker with any part of Windows, even just on your own system, you are open to prosecution from Microsoft (and the same goes for those programs you paid for!). And last but not least: with Ubuntu, you get a system for free, and it is yours to do with as you please; with Windows, you pay hundreds of dollars just to lease their OS (um, read the license agreement if this has shocked you into disbelief)!

Hopefully this introduction to Ubuntu has been helpful, and maybe even inspired you to try it, or any other Linux distro for that matter (Ubuntu is a good place to start since it has such a huge community). I’ll be posting occasional Ubuntu tidbits and further (shorter) comparisons between it and Windows in the future. Sometimes the cool little tricks I find in Ubuntu are hard to contain, and when I find a major difference between it and Windows, well, that really just needs to be shared.

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