GNOME 3.0 Beta v0.0.6 Impressions

GNOME 3.0 is due for release April 16 and I’m pretty excited by it. So I finally decided to check out first-hand how it’s progressing. My perspective is that of a GNOME 2.X user, but like many people, I was a little skeptical of the changes in 3.0. I tried the 0.0.6 image from the GNOME3 website and ran it off the USB key.

The Good

  • It’s pretty. And minimal. Love the new font.
  • High quality and scalable graphics and interface – tried it on both a 10″ netbook and a 23″ monitor with success. Large title bars and close buttons – easy to hit.
  • All the updated core GNOME programs! I especially like the progress with Nautilus, the file manager. Instead of using a status bar, it uses a floating alt-type yellow info box to display info. Plus it seems much faster.
  • Single stroke exposé-like effect that reveals all windows, scaled and tiled. This is bound to the Windows (Super) key, which actually makes it more appropriately named for GNOME3 than any version of Windows. Note: It can also be reached by clicking Activities in the top-left corner. From here, you can use your mouse to switch to a window or quickly close windows, launch/switch-to a program from the left sidebar, or you can start typing a substring of a program to run, or a string to search using wikipedia or google (these options appear after you type something… OR you can browse applications by clicking Applications. Additionally, on the right, you can manage workspaces. With the smart launcher and window manager functionality tied to a single key, I found myself actually starting to heart the windows key and its prime keyboard real estate.

  • Don’t worry, you can still alt-tab! 🙂 And it’s improved, with mouse input, and grouping instances of the same program.

  • Integrated chat with notifications is great.
  • Modal windows are now attached to their parent window (by default, this can be changed).
  • Slick animations with meaning. Like the modal windows that slide out of the parent window’s title bar. I think OSX does something like this….
  • Yelp, the Help browser is about a billion times faster. Seriously. This is largely due to the shift from gecko to webkit, I believe.
  • No more minimize/maximize buttons. At first, I wasn’t sure about this and thought I wouldn’t like it, but the way the new desktop is designed, I don’t miss them. You can add them back, if it’s a concern. And all the old window shortcuts still work: [Alt+F9] = Minimize; both [Alt+F10] and [double-click title bar] = Toggle Maximize; [Alt+right-mouse-button] = window menu.

  • GNOME is just much leaner than it has ever been before. Instead of starting 3 different programs at login (nautilus, gnome-panel, metacity), it simply starts gnome-shell.

The Bad

  • Requires 3D support. Unfortunately, this is not always a simple request for us Linux users. Tried it on my netbook and failed. Couldn’t run it and probably never will thanks to the terribly supported poulsbo integrated graphics.
  • And not just any 3D support… Tried it on my desktop, also with integrated graphics, but a better supported ATI x1250 – performance wasn’t stellar, but it was usable.
  • Not very mature and not very customizable (yet). Panel Applets in prior versions of GNOME are extremely popular. Now we have this huge piece of space we can’t do anything with. But I’m sure something like panel applets will come eventually.
  • It’s really hard to train myself to look to the middle of the top panel for the time/date… I keep looking at the top-right. 😛
  • Some of the changes had me fishing for functionality. Like, where is the control-center? It’s not in the Applications list under the Activities window. It’s under the user menu, under System Settings.

    And once you’re in the System Settings, you often want to change many things. At first, I was opening System Settings, selecting a component (they’re called Panels) to adjust (Background, for example), making changes, closing, repeat. When you open a panel from the System Settings window, that panel replaces the contents of the System Settings window. I didn’t notice the All Settings button that replaced the search entry in the dark grey area! After realizing that, it wasn’t so bad. 🙂 And to be honest, I think the theme or something is not quite finished. Looking at other screenshots on the web, the button is much more noticable.

The Ugly

  • BIG change in the way it expects people to use it. This will likely cause lots of frustration.
  • Doesn’t quite seem ready for prime time. I guess that makes sense, it’s still beta.
  • Some odd input lag every now and then. Visual artifacts. For both of these, I point my finger at my integrated graphics. Just a general lack of polish. But that’s to be expected with alpha/beta software.
  • Bold, black window titles with same-colour shadow. Ugh… I expect that will change soon. 🙂

After trying Shell, I’m actually more excited for it. It still lacks polish in areas, which is expected at this point, but I love the direction GNOME3 is taking GNOME. I’m hoping I can get by on my integrated graphics, but I’m probably willing to purchase a low-end video card to get better performance. Anyway, I’m really interested to see how Canonical’s Unity and GNOME Shell will evolve side by side. Now I have to try Unity, I guess….

Japan Disaster

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/03/massive_earthquake_hits_japan.html

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/03/massive_earthquake_hits_japan.html

As you no doubt already know, Japan has been devastated by a monstrous natural disaster. On Thursday March 11th, at 2:46pm, Japan experienced a massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake originating just a few hundred kilometers north-east of Tokyo. The quake caused a giant tsunami which actually caused much more damage than the original earthquake. I’ve been constantly glued to the news.

An effort to summarize some key events follows…

At this time:

  • Over 3000 confirmed dead, many more expected (upwards of 10,000)
  • Thousands still missing
  • Complete cities destroyed, thousands made homeless.
  • A nuclear power plant in Fukushima was damaged from the quake. People near the plant were evacuated and fears of a meltdown are growing as the plant grows more unstable.
  • Aftershocks are expected to continue for months, most recent one was magnitude 6.1.
  • To provide power to the eastern part of the country, all Kanto regions have cycling blackout periods, which apparently also affects hospitals.
  • Food and gas are running out and being rationed. A friend of mine, in an area largely unaffected by the quake and tsunami, says it takes 2-3 hours to get to a gas station.
  • In the areas hit hardest, it has become colder and snow is expected, lowering chances for trapped survivors.

Vivid Images at Boston.com: 1 (source of image above), 2, 3, 4

News Coverage: BBC Live. BBC has been my primary source for the above information.

If you are able, you may want to consider donating to relief efforts. Donate to the Canadian Red Cross. Or, take a look at some other well known charities listed at the CBC.

Japan is special to me. Having lived there for a year, I fondly consider Japan to be a second home. I have many friends and acquaintances in Japan. Fortunately, everyone I’ve contacted, so far, is safe. I still can’t believe the destruction. My heart goes out to all of Japan….

I encourage you to leave links to images, videos, news updates, and corrections in the comments.

Beware of Snoctopus Man

Snoctopus Man says this blog is not dead. …It’s just on holiday.

Mother’s Day Lunch and Knife 4 Life

I made a late lunch for my mom on Mother’s Day.

Yup. There’s that omelet again! My mom wasn’t here when I made it last weekend, so naturally, I had to make it again. 🙂

I stuffed these with a lot of onion and mushroom. Not a bad thing, at all, but it certainly prevented them from being sealed. 🙂

And I think I’ve finally found the right pans. It’s funny, I kept trying to do it on non-stick pans, and low heat. Well, it works much better on buttered steel pans, over high heat. (Bit-a-butter-makes-it-better?) Plus, it’s way quicker! You just have to be careful not to burn it, or overcook it.

Also on the weekend, I got myself a new chef’s knife. I will have this knife for the rest of my life. Using it is an absolute pleasure.

Gourmet

Yes, I’m alive. And I’m well. It’s been a long time since I posted anything…. I have 6 posts categorized as drafts, so it’s not like I’ve completely ignored blogging. ^_^ But wow, it’s been a while. This post will basically be some pictures, since it’s not hard to put together. I took some casual cooking classes, a while back, in November. It was lots of fun, met some great people, and learned quite a bit. My interest in cooking, food, and the kitchen has only increased. But cooking… I’m still just starting.

On Friday night, I had the house to myself and made myself a nice meal: inside round steak on top of spinach, red pepper, asparagus, green beans, carrot, mushroom. Cooked and paired with some cheap pinot noir. 🙂

Still practicing cooking meat. I like medium-rare. As I get more confident, I’ll buy nicer cuts of meat. 🙂 And the great thing about steak? It’s super quick and easy!!

Saturday afternoon, I made a French-style omelette for myself and two homestay students. In hindsight, this was slightly overcooked and the pan I chose was not the best for the job… but at least it wasn’t browned and I know better for next time.

I’ve attempted this elusive French omelette a few times, but I don’t normally put that much effort into the rest of the plate. I had some fresh spinach from the night earlier, and I thought tomatoes and lightly fried zuchini would go well with everything. Sprinkled a bit of olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, grated cheddar and mozzarella….. Inside the omelette was sautéed onion, mushroom, red pepper, garlic, spinach, and melted cheese.

There was certainly a lot of work put into this single dish, but man did I enjoy it. Everything. The preparation, the cooking, and the eating. 🙂

Gourmet couch candy

I’ve really been enjoying these shows: Good Eats, Chef at Home (though I hate the theme music), and Posh Nosh.

DIY Wireless Booster

To access the Internet on my desktop computer, I must use wireless. Unfortunately, it’s about as far away from the access point as possible: opposite corners of the house and different floors. And the wireless card I’ve got in my desktop is a little old and pretty cheap. Basically, I’ve had to battle with a poor connection for years. Often, I would have to manually move the antenna an inch this way or that, try reconnecting, and repeat. I vented to my friend, Shirley, about my connection, and she said her friend was having similar issues, so Shirley recommended she make a signal booster. That’s something I’d been thinking about doing, and thought it was about time. I googled how to make a booster. Enter the Parabolic Reflector available here. I’m sure there are lots others, but this is the one I decided to try out.

Desktop antenna with booster

I made 3 of them. the first was made entirely with paper and tinfoil and it worked fine, but I figured I would try making a couple more with different materials: 2 different strengths of card. It’s good I did that too, as I ended up using 2 of them and giving the paper prototype to Shirley’s friend who most likely has better things to do than build paper parabolas. 🙂 (I, on the other hand, do not.)

Gluestick?  Check.  Scissors?  Check.

Access point hidden away, with booster pointed down slightly (towards my room)

What does it do? It turns your omni-directional antenna into a directional antenna with a stronger signal. The tinfoil does the radio wave reflecting and the shape (the parabola) just happens to be an efficient way to do that. Using this new direction, I’ve “pointed” the antenna on my wireless router towards my room – even on a bit of an angle through the floor. In my room, on my desktop PC, I’ve just pointed it horizontally in the direction of the access point.

Wireless signal strength over a few days

The results have been great. Without any home-made boosters, I received 25-35%, with one on the access point, i received 35-55%, and with one on both the access point and my desktop antennas, I’m receiving a pretty steady 62-68% (see the graph, above). I still receive disconnects, but it’s now much easier to reconnect… usually happens automatically on the first try – I don’t even have to do anything!

So if you’re having wireless issues, give it a shot! It certainly doesn’t cost much. 🙂

Happy Halloween!

Did this FlipNote animation on the bus, yesterday.

The pumpkins, this year:

unlit jackolanterns

lit up jackolanterns

I did the one on the left (least effort!). ^.^ And it should resemble the pumpkin in the FlipNote animation, above. 🙂

Happy Halloween!

New (Used) Car: 1993 Honda Accord EX-R

Last weekend, I finally got a car. I’m not a car guy and know next to nothing about them, so I just mentioned some criteria to the car people in my family and asked them to tell me about it if they figured it was a good deal and fit my criteria. My primary criteria was this:

  1. Get me to the mountain (Cypress) and back with snowboard gear and maybe friend or two +their gear.
  2. Doesn’t consume too much gas doing #1.
  3. Doesn’t beg to be broken into. I want to be able to leave it places without being paranoid.
  4. Isn’t huge. I hate parking huge vehicles. I don’t even like driving them very much. I don’t need a huge vehicle. (More than 2 seats would be nice, however….)
  5. Doesn’t cost a lot to insure.
  6. Doesn’t cost much in any regard, really. ^.^ CHEAP. But works.
  7. I’m not looking for an investment. I may only insure it for the ski season, and sell it afterward, depending on circumstances.

Basically, I wanted a cheap, reliable car so I could go snowboarding whenever I wanted. I bought a discounted (due to the 2010 Olympics) season’s pass to Cypress Mountain this year and plan on using it intensely.

I received a few suggestions from everyone, but they were either a little too expensive or not quite what I was looking for. But then my uncle came across this 1993 Honda Accord EX-R with 193,000 km that was in great condition. Long-ish story short: I bought it, last weekend, Saturday October 24. 🙂 It’s not super sexy, but it drives great and was a good deal ($2500 before tax). Actually, I do find it pretty hot….

The things I love about it: 4 cylinder (good on gas) yet seems to have very decent acceleration, back seats fold down to easily accommodate snowboard/ski gear, it’s manual and front-wheel drive to give better control in snow, and it just feels great to drive. The one problem with it, which is really more of a nuisance: the ignition alarm on the driver’s side that indicates you still have the keys in the ignition when the door is open, goes off even when the keys are not in the ignition (getting in/out of the car). My dad and I poked around in the fuse box to see if we could cut it off, but it was connected to the interior lights, so I’ll live with it for now. In the process, however, we disconnected the stereo from the battery, which activated some kind of anti-theft mechanism. Now the stereo requests a 5-digit code before it will start working again! I managed to find the code hand-written in the manual, and tried entering it many times, but I couldn’t get it to work. So I drive in silence, for now. ^.^ It’s not so bad, as the stereo only has a radio and a tape deck; one thing I wanted to upgrade soon, anyway. We actually have a spare car stereo (doesn’t everyone?), I just need to find someone to install it.

Anyway, except for a couple little things, I’m very happy with my first car. Yay 🙂

Baking Powder Biscuits

Another potluck lunch at the office, and I took another easy way out. But these really are great, and ridiculously simple.

Cheddar Cheese Baking Powder Biscuits!

Ingredients

  • 2 c flour
  • 4 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t cream of tartar
  • 2 t sugar
  • 1/2 c shortening
  • 2/3 c milk

Instructions

Sift the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening. (Optional: Add grated cheese.) Stir in milk. Knead. Pat out to 1/2″-3/4″ thick. Cut with floured cutter. Bake at 450F (230C) for 10-15 minutes.

Makes 6-16 biscuits, depending on size. (This recipe would probably only make 6 of the large pictured biscuits).

Broken Water Pipe

Had a bit of excitement on the way home, today. As I was walking home from the bus stop, after work, I noticed a lot of muddy water bubbling up from the street. A water pipe had broke. I must have just caught it in the early stages. Went home, my mom had already contacted the municipality, and went out later to check on it. The bubbling puddle had become a lake. Some neighbours were directing traffic around the hole initially, and then eventually telling people to take the long way around. We couldn’t use our water for a while, and now it’s a little brown, but at least we can use it!! Just don’t plan on drinking it for a while. Hours later, people are still working on it. Not quite sure what the status is.

Lake Strathcona

Driving across the lake