Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Picasa 3

I have a LOT of photos on my computer (approx. 23,000). They range from family snapshots to references for various art projects to charts and diagrams relating to topics that interest me and so on. I currently use Windows Explorer to sort out my images, and as of yet, I haven't found anything that works better. If explorer had tagging or virtual folders or something, it would be all I needed. All of the programs that DO offer those things do so in a poor manner or are seriously lacking in the stability / usability areas. I tried Picasa when Google first bought it, and found it wanting in a number of areas, but uninstalled it because it was unstable and caused my computer to crash. Now that Picasa 3 is out, I thought I'd give it a try. My thoughts, and a wish-list:

The Good

It's stable now! I've added all my pictures, and it still runs. I can't add hundreds of photos to the photo-deck thing without it getting pretty slow, but i can offload them fairly easily.

The collage maker is awesome, and I used it to create the back of a calendar yesterday, and it was great. The only thing that would make it better would be to allow you to individually move the photos around, rather than relying on "Scramble" to put them in the right place.

The thumbnail view is pretty good, the slider bar on the right takes some getting used to, but it's cool when you do.

The Okay

The User Interface has a lot to be desired, but once you find what you are looking for, most tasks are easy and straightforward. Exceptions will be covered in a sec.

The Bad / Annoying

When you're importing your initial collection, you cannot import a single set of folders, sort them into albums then add a second set of folders and still be able to easily see what you just added. You can sort by creation date, but when you have such a variety of images that isn't helpful - new folders appear randomly in the folders list. The same goes for all of the folder sort options. You can sort albums by when you added them to Picasa, but not folders.

Albums are great, but you can only place them in the Album collection, not in any user created collection. This is my biggest beef with Picasa - collections AND albums are both virtual organizers, why do they not work together? If this was added, I think it would finally do the one thing I want a program like it for: to organize my photos.

You also cannot place a folder into more than one collection! This means that there is no way for me to put a collection of photos in more than one place. What if I want to put my photos from a Grand canyon trip with other photos from that year, with other photos of my family and with pictures of the Grand Canyon. Currently, there is no way to do this efficiently. Either, I have to create an album for each subset of images which multiplies quickly and gets to be too much to deal with (remember, I have 20k photos) OR, create collections and choose one collection for each folder. Since there are no other sub folders, this also multiplies fairly quickly.

If I could only add photos to Albums, with a way to have subsets IN the albums (even if it just kept track of which folder it came from) and then add those to my custom collections.

After adding all my photos to Picasa, I ended up with 500 folders that got stuck into the Other Stuff folder. There is no difference (for me) between these photos and the ones in the Folders collection, so, I want to move ALL of them to the main Folders collection. There is NO way to move more than one folder to a new collection at the same time. It might work well for five or sic folders, but I don't want to individually move 500 folders (right click, choose move to collection, choose Folders from a list, repeat).

How does Picasa decide what gets imported into Folders and what gets imported into Other Stuff? About a third of my folders went into the Other Stuff collection rather than the Folders collection. I looked it up on their website, which told me that these are folders which have other types of content in them. But, I looked at the source folders, and many of them are all JPGs - I think this must be a bug.

The Missing

I wish I could select multiple photos between folders. I know I can push-pin them into the "shelf", but this gets annoying, and it's easy to forget that you are required to do so. It's also easy to forget to empty the shelf after moving them somewhere.

Currently you can only email photos with a Gmail account or Thunderbird. I know why, but it would be nice to be able to send with other clients (hotmail, yahoo, outlook, etc)

I remember tagging was a big thing in the older version of Picasa, but it conspicuously hard to get to without using CTRL-T or CTRL-K - and you can't see them either, or look at a list of tags or ... I think they are trying to phase them out, which is too bad - a well designed tagging system can be used for almost anything - which is what a good app can do. It's like a food processor that can only accept foods that are a certain size or shape or color. It seems arbitrary to the people who are trying to use it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

AwesomeBar and Me - Why I've left Firefox.

I upgraded to Firefox 3 back when it was in beta. Then, I uninstalled and went back to Firefox 2. I tried it again a few weeks later. Then, I uninstalled and went back to Firefox 2.

This was quite a while ago, but I will explain how I felt at the time:

Something was lacking in Firefox 3 that made me uncomfortable, and unable to be productive. Namely, the address bar, which had been replaced with something called the AwesomeBar. My main beef with the AwesomeBar actually isn't its ugly look, or the fact that it retrieves bookmark results, but rather, the fact that it requires visual interaction to be used effectively. The address bar was reliable. I knew what it would do when I typed. Its algorithm was something that could be fully comprehended in my head. I knew if I had cleared my history before starting, and had gone to calendar.google.com once, then visited ubuntu.com and apple.com and microsoft.com that I could simply press Alt+D "c" down enter to go back to calendar.google.com. Furthermore, it was the same knowledge I used to operate the old Start->Run dialog back in Windows, and the same knowledge I use to operate every autocomplete field in every website and every dialog box in both Windows and Linux.

With the AwesomeBar, my absolute and complete knowledge of the data being searched was taken away. Sure, I know which types of things it searches, but I don't know what data was present (in page Titles, for example) The extra steps are that I would have to press Alt+D, type, then look at the results and determine if there was an error, if so, I would have to arrow to the desired result before pressing enter. The developers of Firefox knew this, that's why they redesigned the widget visually to try to create enough visual distinction so that it could be scanned quickly. The problem is, I don't want to visually scan it at all. That isn't something I have ever been accustomed to doing and it slows me down and takes my focus away from the page I was browsing.

Since that time, I have continued to use "good old" Firefox 2. However, for whatever reason, my Firefox 2 installation began to become unstable. It would freeze up requiring restarts quite often, usually when I click on a javascript-based link. I finally got irritated, and decided that maybe it would be time to update or switch.

First, I tried Crossover Chromium. It is goofy because of its dependence on wine. I will give it another chance when it has been ported natively to Linux.

I searched through the Firefox add-ons/extensions to see what has been created, and found both "oldbar" and "Old Location Bar" - I had tried oldbar before, so I decided to go with "Old Location Bar," bit the bullet, upgraded to Firefox 3, and installed the extension. I didn't read carefully enough, and I presumed Old Location Bar would do what I wanted, as people were praising it for being better than oldbar. I was disappointed with Old Location Bar. It still didn't solve my problem at all.

Firefox 2 is freezing up. Firefox 3 is not efficient. I decided to go "old school" and switch to Opera.

I installed Opera 9.27 from the Hardy repository. Just a little ugly feeling in the menus, but the toolbars are not too bad. I can live with this. Alt+D doesn't work! Dang. So, I did this:

Tools -> Preferences -> Shortcuts -> Keyboard setup - Opera Standard -> Edit.

The one under "Browser Window" that says "Focus address field | Focus message list" I clicked, and changed to "d alt", clicked OK, and clicked OK again. Alt+D ... works!

Now I did some experiments with the address bar. It works!

I realize I'm not using the latest release of Opera. I may try upgrading and see if it still works. But, as long as it does what I need, maybe this older release is fine.

As I save this post, regrettably, I will change my default browser to Opera and uninstall Firefox 3. It isn't because I wanted to. It's because I was forced out. If I knew how to fork the Firefox code and reinstall the genuine old Address Bar, I would rather do that.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Firefox 3

After using FF3 for a while, it's time to give a review.

Smart Location Bar, AKA the Awesome Bar

It's not really fair starting with the worst feature in the new Firefox, but I'm not the one who named it the awesome bar, so I don't feel too bad.

This is the only new feature that actually HINDERS my use of the internet. I have a few different early extensions installed to try and revert it back to usefulness, but alas, it's still broken. Instead of the old, type what you want to get what you want, now the procedure is much more arcane. Firefox tries to guess which sites you would like to visit by looking in your history, favorites and so on. If I am typing in the address bar, I am usually typing an address, rather than fumbling around trying to find a site I have been to. If I wanted to open one of my favorites, I would ... use my favorites! If I'm looking for a site I visited last week, I would search through my history.

I'll use a visit to Firefox.com as an example of the new process. in FF2 if I wanted to go to firefox.com, I would type firef in the address bar, and by that time, I would be able to pick firefox.com off of the drop down list by pushing the down arrow once or twice and then pushing enter.

Now, however, when I type in firefox, I get every website that has firefox anywhere in it's address, title or even a keyword I added to one of my favorites. I have to either, type the entire address out, or search though a lengthy list in order to reach my destination.

I am just waiting for the perfect extension that will fix my complaints.


I was very excited about adding tagging to firefox, but it was fairly poorly implemented, so .... more waiting for the bugs to be worked out.

I have a complex bookmark sorting system involving 200 folders, sub folders and sub-sub folders. Firefox doesn't give you a way to know what tags you have already used. In huge multi-user systems, letting each user tag items and then reaping the combined efforts of the masses is a great idea. But, the individual needs a concrete way (or ways!) to stay consistent and organized. After all, that's the point of having bookmarks in the first place - finding them again.

There were quite a few bugs involving duplicate tags, blank tags and so on. There is no way to tag a bookmark when you add it through the menu, nor can you add tags when you right click a bookmark in the bookmark menu.

That said, I can happily ignore the tags until they fix them, unlike the awesomebar, which broke a feature I use(ed) regularly.


I don't care all that much for the default XP or linux themes, and winstripe, the theme I was using on FF2 (since I didn't like its default theme either) isn't going to be updated to FF3.

I've been using Qute, but it's a bit too bubbly and soft for me.

Memory Leaks

Nope, still leaky. It might even be worse now. A few minutes ago, FF3 was using 300,000 K .. after a restart, it's using 137,000. I believe that FF2 only used about 40,000 while running.

Anything good about it?

Yes! There are a few nice things about the new version. Animated PNGs! I haven't tried any out yet, but as a web developer, this is a step in the right direction.

FF3 seems more stable than 2, less crashes and firefoxen running after you close them.

Most extensions are being ported over to FF3, so I won't have to leave much behind.

Over all, I am disappointed in all of the new features, but only one of them has made my life difficult so far. I feel that the Firefox team was rushed, or they are getting to large, or something and inefficiency has crept in. Either way, FF3 was released before it was really ready for all of the fans. So, I guess I'll be waiting for 3.1

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ubuntu Hardy Heron is Unstable

I've been running Hardy now for quite a while, and I've come to the conclusion that it isn't stable. I will probably be downgrading to Gutsy very soon, however much I dislike the idea of doing so. To me, downgrading doesn't feel like I'm being part of the solution, but rather that I'm just bypassing the problem.

Here are the things I've been having problems with so far in Hardy. And, for the record, I've tried all of these things with compiz disabled as well, with no improvement:
  1. On occasion (sometimes as frequently as once an hour), gnome-terminal will open with a blank (frozen, not invisible) window, there will be a grey bar where the menus should be, and I have to terminate the process. I've tried waiting it just stays there blank. Once this happens, nautilus, gedit, and even some of the file-related dialog boxes, and possibly the pop-down calendar from the gnome panel all crash in the same way, creating a blank box, and in the case of anything associated with the gnome panel, freezing the panel entirely. Restarting GDM doesn't help. I've tried everything. There seems to be nothing logged showing that there was any problem. Rebooting is the only solution.
  2. Firefox 3. Not only is it annoying (due to AwesomeBar), but it feels less polished than Firefox 2. My Firefox 2 did crash every once in a while. I finally decided to reinstall Firefox 2, and give it a try. Firefox 3 unfortunately did things to the configuration which makes Firefox 2 suck as well, since it tries to run off of the same settings. I deleted the extensions.rdf file and start FF2 and everything seems almost OK. But, if I ever run FF3 again, it ruins FF2 (removes all extensions, mostly.) This means I cannot ease into FF3 while still using FF2 for my day to day work. I will thus be uninstalling FF3.
  3. Random lock-ups. I haven't had this problem as much as some people have been reporting, but I have had some unusual lock-ups. One of them involved my screen suddenly appearing scrunched left-to-right and streched up-and-down with big black bars on either side and everything completely frozen (including the mouse pointer) requiring a hard reset.
  4. Thunderbird is barely usable. I use Thunderbird with an IMAP account. Previously, it has worked like a charm, but now all of a sudden, it routinely crashes without an explanation. It seems to crash in two different ways. The first way will be, while checking my inbox, new messages will appear, but the program is still catching up (not usable yet), and all of a sudden the entire program will just disappear. Messages, and the main window, poof, they're gone. No word as to why. This happens about 1 in 5 times that I open Thunderbird. The other one happens about 3 out of 5 times that I open thunderbird, and it involves clicking on my Inbox and the program immediately going comatose. When compiz is on, the window dims to a dark gray to show me that the program isn't responding, and no matter how long I wait, it never wakes back up. I have to kill the process (or click the X and force quit it) in order to try again. Yes, that adds up to 4 out of 5 tries that Thunderbird doesn't work. Every once in a while I am lucky and it will work, in which case it is usually stable for the entire session until I close it.
I'm a web developer. Browsing the web, using SSH through a terminal, and checking my email are nearly all that I do on my computer, and Hardy Heron isn't ready for ANY of those tasks. Gutsy Gibbon worked perfectly with all of them. I will probably be moving back to gutsy, but I'm afraid of what a downgrade might involve as far as my user configuration files are concerned. I guess I will be making backups before downgrading.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Using a dark theme in ubuntu

After installing a dark theme on my "new" laptop the other day, I've been adding quite a few tweaks in order to make it render correctly with the rest of Ubuntu 08.04 - Hardy Heron.

Theme installed: Darklooks - you can find it in Synaptic Package Manager (gnome-themes-extras).

Edit the theme file:

cd /usr/share/themes/Darklooks/gtk-2.0/

edit gtkrc, changing lines 181 and 182 from:

bg[NORMAL] = @tooltip_bg_color
fg[NORMAL] = @tooltip_fg_color


bg[NORMAL] = @tooltips_bg_color
fg[NORMAL] = @tooltips_fg_color

This will keep the theme from crashing, I have yet to change the notifications and tooltips to be a dark color rather than yellow.

Enable the darklooks theme for gnome.

You can test it by opening firefox. If you have done the last step correctly, the theme should stick. Otherwise, it will revert back to a blocky theme.

Now for specific Apps, these tweaks are not theme specific - they should fix most dark themes.

The biggest concern for most people will be Firefox:

First, make a backup of your .mozilla profile folder (in your home folder)
uninstall firefox-3, and then install:


Why are we doing this? Firefox 3 has automated gtk integration - but, all those large dark widgets on top of light colored sites ... not very pretty. Firefox 2 has a way to get around this, but as of this post, Firefox 3 has disabled that option. You can write to your nearest Firefox developer and ask for this to be added back in!

Once you have firefox 2 up and running, merge your profile data back into your new .mozilla folder (bookmarks, add-ons, etc)

Go into the firefox preferences Edit > Preferences , and choose the Content tab. Click on the Colors button, and make sure 'Use System Colors' is unchecked. Save your changes and close that window. Next click on the Advanced fonts tab, and change the monospace font size to 14. Save and close all the way.

Download this archive, and extract it to a convenient place.

go to: /home/**/.mozilla/firefox/**/chrome , replacing the ** s with your user name and the correct profile code.

If you want to keep the ugly firefox 2 widgets, move the 'userContent-restore to firefox defaults.css' file into this folder, and remove everything after Content.

If you want prettier widgets, move the 'userContent.css' file into the chrome folder. You will not need to change its name. Next, go to /usr/share/firefox/res , and make a backup of your forms.css file. This folder belongs only to root, so you may have to do this in terminal.

sudo mv forms.css forms-backup.css

or some other such name. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! you should always make a backup when changing system files. Now, move the form-widgets folder, again using the terminal:

sudo cp -r where/ever/you/extracted/the/folder/form-widgets /usr/share/firefox/res/form-widgets

You should be done! You can use this page to test with.

If you know css, you can edit any of the .css files to change anything you like. You can also change the way the widgets look by opening them in your favorite image editing program.

These are the web pages that I visited in order to put all of these files together (along with a lot of my own tweaking):

Firefox Widgets
Instructions for FF3 I found this after I uninstalled FF3, according to a comment, it only works for FF2 ...
the stylish style referenced above
the unhelpful mozilla page
specific Darklooks theme problems
ubuntu forum thread with some helpful links
a possible fix for the auto complete bar in FF3
some good info

Things to fix still:

When you search for a word, it still uses a minty green color
The address bar on a secure page clashes, but is readable.
In the built in firefox boxes with hint text (like the search bar on the top right), the text is too dark to read easily.

One more thing! If you want to, you can install the stylish firefox extension, and then install a dark google theme, that way it will feel more like the rest of your desktop.

Open Office:
I haven't opened up anything but Writer, so, I don't know what else needs fixing yet.

Download this archive (7.7mb) and move the images_tango.zip file into /usr/lib/openoffice/share/config/ Don't extract it.

To change the icon theme so that it matches better (unless you like orange of course), go to the Tools > Options menu. Under the OpenOffice.org section, choose View. Change the icon size to small (if you think they are too large), and set the style to tango.

Next, to change the page background color from dark gray to white, choose Appearance from the left. Change document background to white, and font color to black. As you run into any other glitches, you can change them here.

First, make sure you are running the new pidgin, it should be 2.4.1 or higher. If you have Hardy Heron installed, you are good to go.

In the Tools > Plugins menu, turn on 'Conversation Colors' and set Sent and Received Messages to #ADADAD (you can go lighter or darker, at your preference).

Next, turn on the 'Pidgin GTK+ Theme Control', and set the hyperlink color to #576BBE , the Sent Message Name color to #8496DD , and the Received Message Name color to #EA987D . Again, you can change these as you like, but this is a good starting place.

If you have a smaller screen (1024x768), you won't be able to see the save or close button. Click tab until you get to the re-read gtkrc files, then click tab again, and push your [ENTER] key.

Open Gedit, \go to the Edit > Preferences menu, and choose the Fonts and Colors Tab. Change the theme to Oblivion. This theme is not ideal, color wise, but it's readable!

Open up your terminal, go to the Edit > Current Profile menu, choose the Colors tab, you can try using the colors from the system, or change the scheme white or green on black. Whichever suits your fancy. You can also change the colors individually if you like.

That's it for now, as I use the theme, I know I'll run into more things that need fixing, and I will either add them to this post, or make a new one.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Curious Photo

This is what the sprinkler head looks like in a room at the Holiday Inn.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ideal Compiz Settings

My friend Mike asked me to post a tutorial explaining how I configure my Compiz and why I make the choices I do. I'm not going to explain how to install compiz, as there are plenty of other sites out there explaining this process already.

My choices are intended to leverage Compiz to improve the level of usability, while at the same time remaining visually impressive. A lot of thought has gone to my keybinding choices to make them logical and optimal. Window Manager tasks will be performed using the Super (Windows) key as a modifier. This includes commands to launch a new window. Desktop Cube tasks will be performed using the Control+Alt modifiers. Control and Alt (when used individually as modifiers) are left for controlling applications. As you set some of the keys below, you'll run into some conflicts and need to choose something like "Set Anyway" but we will change the conflicting keys as we proceed further into the setup.

To get started, the first thing you need to do is install the preferences panel for "Advanced Desktop Effects Settings":

sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager

Lets begin by configuring the General Options. Enter all values excluding the quotes.

General Options

"Command line 0" = "/usr/bin/gnome-screensaver-command --lock"
"Command line 1" = "gedit" Or the graphical text editor of your choice.

Desktop Size:
"Horizontal Virtual Size" = 4
"Vertical Virtual Size" = 1
"Number of Desktops" = 1

Display Settings: These are fairly ordinary, but I repeat them here because having them properly configured will ensure a smooth display.
"Texture Filter" = "Good"
"Detect Refresh Rate" = Checked
"Lighting" = Checked
"Refresh Rate" = 60 (Or your screen's redraw Hz at the current resolution.)
"Sync to VBlank" = Checked
"Detect Outputs" = Checked

Actions: I'm only listing the ones I changed from the defaults.
"General: Run Dialog" = "r"
"General: Hide all windows and focus desktop" = "d"
"General: Toggle Window Maximized" = "x"
"General: Toggle Window Shaded" = "Up"
"General: Open a Terminal" = "c"
"Commands: Run command 0" = "l"
"Commands: Run command 1" = "e"

Now I will cover each and every plug-in which I have enabled. I recommend disabling all the other plug-ins by removing the tick from the check-box, unless you have a specific use for them.


ADD Helper
ADD helper is a quick way to subdue all the windows except the one currently focused by fading them out to dark gray.

Misc. options:
"Brightness" = 30
"Saturation" = 50
"Opacity" = 100

"Toggle ADD Helper" = "p"


Being a true geek, I often use my computer at night, sometimes while other people are trying to watch movies which aren't interesting enough to keep my attention. Negative is great when computing in the dark, to reduce eye-strain and to reduce the amount of light emitted from the screen which may disturb others.

"Toggle Window Negative" = "n"
"Toggle Screen Negative" = "m"


Desktop Cube
This is the foundation for perhaps the most famous eye-candy provided by compiz.

"Mipmap" = Checked

"Inside Cube" = Not Checked
"Acceleration" = 4.0000
"Speed" = 1.5000
"Timestep" = 1.2000

Transparent Cube:
"Opacity During Rotation" = 75.0000
"Opacity When Not Rotating" = 100.0000
"Fade Time" = 1.0000
"Transparency Only on Mouse Rotate" = Checked.

"Unfold" = "space"
"Next Slide" = "space"
"Prev Slide" = ""


"Reflection" = Checked. I like the look of this plug-in better when the reflection is enabled, but if it runs slowly, you can turn it off.

"Expo" = "Down"

Rotate Cube
Here we make some minor adjustments to sweeten the animation.

"Edge Flip Move" = Checked.
"Edge Flip DnD" = Checked.
"Flip Time" = 350
"Pointer Sensitivity" = 1.0000
"Acceleration" = 1.0000
Snap to Top Face = Checked.
Speed = 2.0000
Timestep = 1.0000
Zoom = 0.0000

"Initiate", Key = "None", Button = "Button1"
"Rotate Left" = "Left"
"Rotate Right" = "Right"
"Rotate Left with Window" = "Left"
"Rotate Right with Window" = "Right"


Fading Windows

Window Decoration

I will finish this post soon and revise it. I wanted to post it now because it is useful even as is, and the new compiz settings manager (available in Ubuntu Hardy Heron) is slightly different so I need to go back through and update it for that.

Windows+L to Lock Screen.

Aka L or L. For the past several releases Gnome/Metacity have an issue with setting certain keyboard binding shortcuts involving the WinKey.

There are really normally two bugs involved. The first bug is that Gnome doesn't think the Win key is a modifier, so it registers as Super_L (meaning the Left Super Key as a standalone) whenever you try to bind a shortcut using that key. This can be fixed through System -> Preferences -> Keyboard -> Layout Options -> Alt/Win Key Behavior. Choose the option labeled "Super is mapped to the Win-keys (default)" Yes, I know it says default, but it isn't really. You'll notice that one or two other options in the same series are also labeled default.

The second bug is that there are two separate shortcut managers, metacity and gnome-settings-daemon, and one of them (gnome-settings-daemon) happens before gnome does its magic modifier mappings, the other happens after. Basically this means that when you set the key bindings under Keyboard Shortcuts in preferences, you are using a certain key layout when you make your selection, but when the keys actually get interpreted, they are using a different (and defective) layout, which lacks certain keys -- such as the Windows key. So far, there's not really a good way to fix the problem, but there is a way to work around it. Instead of letting gnome-settings-daemon handle the task you are trying to assign, find an alternate way to perform the task using metacity (or compiz). Open up gconf-editor from a terminal, then go to /apps/metacity/global_keybindings where you will find a series of run_command_X options from 1 to 12. Fill in one of them with the value l (you actually type it like that, with the angle brackets, etc.) then fill in the corresponding command_X item in /apps/metacity/keybinding_commands with the command you are trying to launch, which - if you are trying to bind Windows+L is most likely:

/usr/bin/gnome-screensaver-command --lock

This will launch the gnome screensaver and lock the screen.

I know this isn't perfect, but a workaround is better than nothing. I hope it was helpful!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Desktop Diet!

A great presentation by Rasterman, the head coder of Enlightenment.

I tried out E17 the other day, and it's not as good as I hoped it would be. Ah well!