More waiting on updates…

A recent update “did something” to my printer driver, or the network that my printer is connected to — or is supposed to be connected to. I suddenly couldn’t print. And I had a very important print job waiting. A recipe for a five minute chocolate cake that I wanted to try. I ended up writing the recipe on a small notepad, and left out the line about the milk. I made the cake without the milk because I couldn’t get my printer to work! It tasted fine — it’s hard to ruin a chocolate cake, after all. But still.

This is when I really feel a serious lack of tech savvy. Maybe I could have gotten around the network that wouldn’t connect if I knew more about how to nuts and bolts program. But I don’t. I just had to assume that someone else (who could work on the program) would have the same issue and would write a patch, and I would get an update shortly that would make everything shiny again. And so it came to pass.

I just love my Ubuntu.

Saved by the Banshee

Yesterday as I was browsing the Linux links, I stopped and read this article on Ubuntu User about the next release of Ubuntu including the Banshee media player as the default player included with the download. I was curious enough to go to the Banshee site to see what kind of features it included. As soon as I saw the line about “Sync your music and videos to your Android, iPod, iPhone, or other device – or import its media,” I thought it might be the answer to the issues I’ve been having with my iPod Nano.

When I installed Xubuntu, the default music player was Exaile. It is a nice enough music player, but it took me a while to figure out how to import my music files, and I never could get it to import from a CD. If you visit the Exaile site, you may find, like I did, that the descriptions of its features are written in code. I don’t mean machine code, exactly, but for a non-techie like myself, it might as well be. The wiki for the player is not much more helpful. But at least I was able to use it for the music files I had. Later I found another application that I could use to copy my CDs to my hard drive. From there I could add them to my Exaile collection. Extra steps, involving extra apps. Not cool. And I still couldn’t sync my Nano. The software I had downloaded for that didn’t work — I suspect because my iPod was, in fact, a Nano, and not a standard issue iPod. So I had three separate programs to handle my music, and not well, at that. I decided to give Banshee a try.

Because I have a handy service in my Applications folder called Ubuntu Software Center, I didn’t have to download the app from the Banshee site. I just found it on my list and clicked “install.” And spent most of yesterday test driving it. It did everything as advertised — charged and added music to my Nano and my old Shuffle, imported music from some new CDs with no problems, and generally gave me no reason to regret giving up iTunes. It definitely gets my vote for media center of choice.

A few of the drawbacks

Although I don’t think I’ll ever have reason to regret making the move from my previous operating systems (I include Mac OS, too, because I used an early-generation iMac for years before I traded it for my iBook, and thought I’d never use anything but Macs), there have been some significant stumbling blocks. One reason, I think, may be that I resist the temptation to use all the patches to Linux that make it possible to use the authentic windows programs. I don’t know if doing that would solve all of my incompatibility issues, anyway.

For starters, I only recently got a Blackberry phone, but I can’t use the software that came with it on the CD because my computer won’t open any of the files on it. I have looked on the Blackberry website to see if they have a download for Linux users. Nada. Same story with my new camera. At this point it is fortunate that my brother has a computer with windows on it so that I can download my photos onto a flash drive and then put them on my computer.

And my iPod Nano is in a holding pattern. I can’t add any new music or photos, and I can only recharge it from my old iBook. I can’t update the iBook to a MacOs more recent than Leopard, which means I can’t add iTunes 8 or later, which I would need to sync my Nano. And I can’t find a Linux app that will sync it, either, without having to know a lot more than I do about using the command line. All I can hope for is that future updates will include those patches. It has happened with other programs I thought I was going to have to do without. I started out my Linux life unable to watch video clips. I couldn’t watch the YouTube clips of puppies on the “I Has a Hotdog” site, or TED videos, or the replays of NCIS episodes if I had to work on Tuesday night and missed one. Then a few updates later, I was able to install the Flash player for Linux and was back in mindless-video-viewing business. And I have to say that, at least as regards watching NCIS replays, this player is better than the one I was using on the windows version… running away better.

So I’m hoping that a future update will include the features that I need for all my electronic toys. In the meantime I keep telling myself that things could be a lot worse. I could still be using the old windows xp that wouldn’t let me have more than one window open at a time without freezing up and requiring me to reboot the whole thing. That shit just doesn’t happen anymore. FTW.

A noteable accomplishment

Although I’m not doing the Postaday2011, I’m subscribed by email to The Daily Post blog where they are posting topic suggestions every day. Today’s is: Best accomplishment of 2010? And I thought I could actually do something with that, relative to the theme of this blog, because deciding to erase the windows operating system from my laptop and install a Linux OS, all on my own, was a pretty big deal, considering I’m not an uber-geek. Of course, I’m no stranger to making rash decisions and taking rash actions, but I try to limit them to only a few a year or so.

It has been almost six months since I made the transition, and I’ve had no reason to regret my decision. I think using Ubuntu/Linux will allow me to get a lot more use out of this laptop, and I won’t have to deal with it taking longer and longer to perform some operations trying to open new documents and new web pages with an old worn out OS.  Life in open source is not completely frustration-free, however. To get photos from my new camera onto this computer, I first have to download them to my brother’s computer, because the transfer software is not translated for open source systems — yet. I’m waiting, uber-geeks.

Journey into Linux, Part Two

Sometimes it’s the things you don’t expect to be doing in life that end up being what you do… in life. Or something like that. When I started down the path to adulthood and the working world, my “plan,” if you can call it a plan, was to spend my life “saving endangered species.” Sound a little vague? Kind of hard to achieve a goal made of such filmy, flimsy stuff, y’know? First I thought working at a zoo was the end zone. Then after a few years working at a zoo, I thought getting a graduate degree in genetics and “managing captive populations for preservation of genetic variation” was what I was after. Then after I finished the coursework for my master’s degree and ended up working in a lab doing race-horse parentage testing, I thought… well, I sometimes thought I’d just go crazy. But I went to work every day, ran tests, entered all the results into the computer in the lab — into a Foxbase program. All I knew about it was the name. I could say words like “dos,” and “asky,” and knew one had something to do with running the programs, and the other was a type of file. And I wasn’t much interested in knowing more.

Oh, how far I’ve come. Considering my initial lack of interest (if not downright resistance), it’s remarkable that I managed to learn anything at all about computer programs — even enough so that now in my current job as a college testing center administrator and sometime tutor, I’m being sought out to help students taking beginning web design classes because I’ve had some HTML training. Life is sometimes too strange for fiction.

For me, the transition from a line of code in a text file to something cool appearing on a web page has an element of the magical about it. And it is FUN to work magic. After I discovered the magic of HTML through some workshops I took as an employee with the State of Kentucky (after I left the race-horse lab), I realized how much enjoyment I could get out of using a computer as a creative outlet, when it wasn’t frustrating me to distraction with balking over every request I made of it. This was especially true when I switched from Mac computers and laptops, to an IBM ThinkPad with Windows XP-Pro installed on it. Everything seemed to make the thing hang up. I suppose I’m lucky in that I never encountered the “blue screen of death” that I’ve heard other people talk about. My computer was just massively slow. It may well be that a laptop is not an ideal place to install some types of software.

Which brings me to Ubuntu. As I said in the previous post, I had not known what to expect from using a Linux operating system on my computer, but I was determined to learn, or re-learn, whatever I needed to so that I could use it instead of Windows. When the Ubuntu distribution of Linux was recommended to me, and I checked out the website, I was surprised and delighted by what I saw. It looked easy! It was just a different looking desktop, but seemed to have all the usability features that we’ve all grown used to from using Windows and Mac OS. I thought, “this’ll be a snap.”

Journey into Linux, Part One

When I started thinking about switching to Linux, I really didn’t know what I would be letting myself in for. I didn’t really know if I’d be able to use it, if I’d like it, or if I would decide after checking into it to just forget the whole venture as a bad idea. Then I did it anyway. Kind of like when I bought the clipper set with all the comb attachments with the idea that I could start cutting my own hair — just shear it all off at one inch in length and see what would happen. Would it all stand straight out from my head, or would it still curl? Would I be able to wear it in spikes? Would I have to wear a bag over my head for six months until it all grew back? (None of the above, as it turned out, but I liked the results enough that I have continued cutting my own hair almost ever since.)

What I found out when I started researching Linux, was that there was a thriving community of programmers devoted to the cause of open source software who were making Linux user friendly to everyone — kind of like a Labrador Retriever puppy. And who could not like a Lab puppy, I ask you? On the other hand, proprietary software can be more like a cranky old skunk — do something it doesn’t like and it will leave a stench on you that you may never get washed off.

But, back to the beginning. I’m not exactly your typical computer geek/nerd/whatever. I’m from a much earlier generation. There were no home computers when I was growing up. No cell phones — not even any cordless phones. No play-stations — or color televisions. Just to put things in perspective.

My first computer actually belonged to my first ex-husband. It was a Commodore 64 that he bought (in 1983) so he could take a junior college course in computer programming, thinking he would “go into” that line of work. But he didn’t like it. I learned how to use a little word-processing program on it, and I never looked back.

A brand new world

Since I started using Linux on my laptop, I’ve thought of a lot of things to say about Linux on my regular blog, Crazybasenji.com. I started off with a post about how I decided to try Linux, and some of my first experiences with it. However, some of my readers might not be interested in reading so much about computer stuff, especially if they primarily read my blog for the basenji stories. So I decided to start a spin-off blog (kind of like how CSI spun off CSI Miami, and then CSI New York, etc.). So stay tuned.