News summary, May 2012

This is a summary of various news which caught my attention during the last month.

Games

  • Valve’s Steam, Left 4 Dead 2 and probably some of their other games will be ported to Linux. This is great news, I love you Valve!
  • CD Projekt RED released a free upgrade to the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher 2 which provides 10 GB (!) of new content. Other developers such as Electronic Arts are run by people who care most about making money, but this developer is run by true artists who want to deliver a great game besides making money.
  • The long-awaited Black Mesa: Source mod is still alive. I was disappointed in the lack of news but recently they have started communicating again. According to an interview (part one and two) the reason for the delay is that they have very high standards for their work and weren’t satisfied with the game yet. I’m looking so much forward to the final product.
  • Another free game made by volunteers is Wing Commander Saga. It has been released recently and looks quite impressive, I haven’t tried it yet.

Hardware

Dell is working on Project Sputnik which aims to produce a laptop for developers. It’s based on Dell’s XPS 13 ultrabook and Ubuntu 12.04. This is great news, because the two companies that I know of which ship notebooks with Linux – System76 and ZaReason – don’t offer ultrabooks. The smallest they have to offer are 14 inch models weighing two kilos. Also, I appreciate the design of the XPS 13 more, the only disadvantages are the glossy screen and the lack of an Ethernet port.

As I wrote on this weblog earlier, under Linux my Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371 initially didn’t have suspend working. It still consumes more power and its fan turns noisy much more frequently than if Windows were used. It would be great if Dell’s laptop would have everything working out of the box. However, I have one important requirement: it should work just as well with other Linux distributions as it does with Ubuntu. That means there should be no special software or drivers tailored to make everything work with the Ubuntu version shipped with the laptop. If they can realize that, count me in.

Software

We have a choice of two open source Linux-based operating systems for smartphones, Android and more recently Tizen (which has not been shipped with any smartphone yet). Fortunately Mozilla has introduced a new contender: Boot to Gecko (B2G). While Android is open source in name, I feel that Google exercises too much control over Android and has become too powerful. I don’t trust them with the personal data they gather from me.

Mozilla on the contrary is a party which I do trust. B2G has more credit for openness and has a great vision behind it which distinguishes it from the competition. Additionally, B2G is far less demanding on the hardware, so it could run on much cheaper smartphones. I can’t wait to get my hands on a smartphone which uses B2G.

Additionally, if you buy an Android phone you contribute to Microsoft’s profit because they are extorting manufacturers of Android smartphones with patent threats. I don’t want to pay for a smartphone if even one cent of the manufacturers income is spent on royalty payments to that immoral company. Motorola, which has been acquired by Google recently, is fighting back. In May Microsoft won a legal case against Motorola because Motorola infringed on one of Microsoft’s patents on generating meeting requests from a mobile phone. Read the parent’s description to see how ridiculous and trivial this patent is. Once again I’m glad we don’t have software patents in the EU.

Politics

  • The Netherlands is the second country in the world to adopt net neutrality. I consider this very important for freedom on the Internet and I praise our politicians who decided to impose it.
  • As I wrote in my second to last post, I was worried that the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy isn’t protective enough of freedom and privacy, especially on the net. Thankfully I’ve been proven wrong now that they voted in favor (article in Dutch) of canning ACTA.

My personal alternate style for Tarski

As you regular visitors might have noticed, I’ve finally decided to switch themes. As I wrote almost a year ago, the K2 theme I used previously is unmaintained. I didn’t want to keep using it in combination with all the new versions of WordPress because I feared might cause compatibility problems and not allow using certain new functionality. So I decided to start using the Tarski theme. However, I didn’t like the default looks of the Tarski theme, so I made my own alternate style for the theme. You can see the CSS code for my theme below, thanks to the SyntaxHighlighter Evolved plugin.

/*
avlmod.css
Alexander van Loon's style for the Tarski theme - http://tarskitheme.com/
Designed by Alexander van Loon, http://alexandervanloon.nl/
*/

/* Tables */

table {
    background: none repeat scroll 0 0 #F9F9F9;
    border: 1px solid #AAAAAA;
    border-collapse: collapse;
    margin: 1em 1em 1em 0;
}

table th, table td {
    border: 1px solid #AAAAAA;
    padding: 0.2em;
}

table th {
    background: none repeat scroll 0 0 #F2F2F2;
    text-align: center;
}

/* Body */

body {
    background: #F7F6F5;
}

/* Wrapper */

#wrapper {
    box-shadow: 0 5px 18px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.3);
    background: white;
}

/* Header Image */

#header-image {
    margin: 0 0 -50px 0;
}

/* Title */

#title {
    border-bottom: medium none;
    margin: 0 0 0 40px;
    position: relative;
    top: -70px;
}

/* Blog title */

#blog-title {
    color: white;
    font-family: "Trebuchet MS",Verdana,Sans-Serif;
    font-size: 2em;
    font-weight: bold;
    text-shadow: 0.1em 0.1em 0.2em black;
}

#blog-title > a {
    color: white;
}

/* Tagline */

#tagline {
    color: white;
    font-family: "Trebuchet MS",Verdana,Sans-Serif;
    font-size: 0.9em;
    font-style: normal;
    font-weight: bold;
    text-shadow: 0.1em 0.1em 0.2em black;
}

/* Navigation */

#navigation {
    border-top: 1px solid #CCCCCC;
    margin: 0;
}

/* Post title heading */

h2, h2 a, h2 a:visited {
    color: #444444 !important;
    font-family: "Trebuchet MS",Verdana,Sans-Serif !important;
    font-size: 20px !important;
}

Developing my own theme wasn’t easy, it took a lot of trial and error, searching and reading to figure out how CSS works. Because there were some things I didn’t understand I posted a topic at the WordPress.org forum, while it didn’t provide me with the help I expected I did get the very good advice to use Firebug. Fortunately a nice colleague at work helped me out.

Yet, I still have little idea of what I’m doing and if my code is any good or an ugly hack. Take the last paragraph of code for an example, it seems the !important is necessary to overrule some inheritance to make it work. I don’t think this is the right way and I’d like to know how to do it without using !important. Also the border above the navigation bar (with “Home” and “About”) is placed just below the header image in Firefox, but on Chrome (and other browsers using WebKit) the border is placed over the header image.

To make my theme I borrowed some CSS code of other websites I examined, to get an idea of how others do it. The table code is borrowed from Wikipedia and already features in the child theme (alternate style) I made for K2. The background color and the box shadow in the background were borrowed from OMG! Ubuntu.

I like what I have now, while my original goal was to mimic K2 as close as possible I’ve made some different changes which I like. And even if I’m still  a newbie, I like the fact that I know a bit more about CSS now. What I’m still missing is K2’s rolling archives slider bar, which also stays on top along with the search field as you scroll. Copying that to Tarski would probably involve quite some time and advanced skills, which I don’t have.

My opinion on GNOME 3

After working for a few months with GNOME 3.2 on Fedora 16, on both my desktop and notebook, I think it’s time to give my informed opinion about it. To summarize, I like GNOME 3. Unlike KDE 4, the GNOME developers decided to think outside the box and to live with the criticism they received for their unconventional choices. I don’t intend that as criticism of KDE 4, I still like using that too, but right now GNOME 3 impresses me more. Some of the most important changes include removing the taskbar and removing the minimize button for windows. My experience was that regardless of these fundamental changes, it was relatively easy to adapt. Not only for me, but also for my mother who used KDE 4 and Windows previously.

If you want to switch windows, it’s easy to move the mouse pointer over to the Activities menu in the top left corner. This is a relatively small change, but very smart: you don’t even need to click (but you still can if you want) and you require almost no accuracy to reach the top left corner. Of course, it’s even easier to use the Windows key to show the Activities menu instantly, or to use the Alt + Tab key combination to switch windows. This and more advice to make working with GNOME Shell more productive can be read in the GNOME Shell Cheat Sheet. With GNOME Shell I never use the minimize button because it makes no sense without a task bar, so I don’t miss it at all. I either have my windows maximized or tiled (see the Cheat Sheet) and in the rare case I do want to maximize or return windows to their previous size I double click the title bar.

The visual design of GNOME 3 is minimalistic yet beautiful. I guess GNOME 3 has also cut down on the amount of options and simplified them. When GNOME 3’s System Settings is compared to KDE’s System Settings you see they are as different as night is from day. KDE offers a lot more options which is nice if you want to control everything I guess, but there’s only very few options I miss in the GNOME System Settings. I only used GNOME Tweak Tool for two things: slightly decreasing the font size and changing the font. I didn’t install a different theme, but I imagine that if options for changing fonts and themes are added to System Settings nothing would be missing. As far as I know that is probably going to happen in the future because the designers didn’t have time for it yet.

Another interesting thing to note is that the designers and developers have a concept of core applications through which they intend to integrate important functionality into GNOME 3 itself. Most of these ideas are still work in progress, but we can already see how well instant messaging is integrated in GNOME 3. Personally I haven’t been using instant messaging for a long time because it doesn’t really interest me any more, but the impression I have of the design is that it’s very ingenious, something which hasn’t been done by other operating systems and desktop environments as far as I know. I especially look forward to the Music core application because Rhythmbox could use some improvement. It’s also very encouraging to see the amount of work going into Web, the former Epiphany. What is great that they intend to save as much vertical space as possible, so they moved the Application Menu and display the options contained in that menu through other means. This change is also on the menu for other applications. For me it’s essential to have as much vertical space as possible in this age of widescreen monitors.

To finish, what are my most important problems with GNOME 3? The problem with the first priority to fix should be the omission of the Power Off option in the user menu. It took me a while to find it, but you can read all about it in bug #643457, which has over 100 comments. It surprises me that the developers and designers haven’t returned the Power Off option after all the outrage of the users. I’m not sure what their motivation is, maybe a desire to fix it properly? But all that doesn’t matter when the end result was that I had to use Google to figure out how I could shut down my PC with GNOME 3. Let alone my mother who wouldn’t have any clue without the extension to place the option back in the menu. Breaking with conventions can be a good idea, but breaking with this convention was a bridge too far. The fact that distributions such as openSUSE install such an extension by default shows there is a consensus against this decision. I hope this will be fixed in GNOME 3.4, the fact that it remains missing in GNOME 3.2 was something I didn’t expect. Another issue is that searching for applications after having opened the Activities menu gives a lag of a few seconds before it returns the search results, for example if I search for the Terminal application. As far as I know this has something to do with icon caching, but I can’t find a bug report or other explanations for this yet.

I’ll be using GNOME 3 as my primary desktop environment as much as possible from now on. I’m still having serious problems with Evolution, but I’ll save that for another post. At least Evolution does a better job than KMail at this moment. I’ll probably still check out KDE now and then. With all these upcoming improvements to GNOME 3 exciting times are ahead.

My post-installation guide for Fedora 16

Because problems with KMail and Plasma’s crashes were driving me mad I decided to kick Kubuntu off my desktop PC and install Fedora 16 after being impressed with F16 and GNOME 3.2 on my laptop. As I said earlier, I might not have experienced as much problems with Kubuntu 11.10 if I had chosen to do a clean install instead of a messy trajectory of updating from 11.04 (or 10.10?)  through development releases, but I like to distro hop once in a while.

However, a lot of work needs to be done to change the brand new installation of any Linux distribution from its state of tabula rasa into something which is customised to your own taste, has all the software you need and lets you work efficiently. A quick search with Google revealed to me that there are more of this kind of guides, like these. But I feel most of them contain too much unnecessary stuff or miss things and wanted to create my own, which I share with you.

Right after the installation I decided to download all 251 updates first, through Activities → Applications → System Tools → Software Update. Meanwhile I set Nautilus to use single click to open stuff, the default setting is to double click which I feel is unnecessary. Having worked with Dolphin for quite some time which also has single click as the default setting contributes to that. I’m also used to delete selected files in a file manager with the Delete key, but someone thought it was a good idea to change this and let the Delete key do nothing. Fortunately the behaviour is easily changed. I set search keywords in Mozilla Firefox for the Google and Wikipedia search engines, so that entering w <search term> in the location bar searches for that search term on Wikipedia. I added some extensions for GNOME Shell to address some issues I have with it. These include an extension to show the option to power off the computer in the status menu and an extension to hide the accessibility menu.

After the update I decided to download the proprietary drivers for my Nvidia GPU. Unlike Kubuntu, Fedora doesn’t want to ship certain proprietary stuff and it doesn’t provide any means to download them automatically. So you have to do it yourself, for which the RPM fusion repository can be used. There are easy instructions on how to add the repositories. Then the instructions here need to be followed. The free software nouveau driver doesn’t implement power management completely, so the fan on my GeForce 7800GT kept making noise like a vacuum cleaner. The proprietary drivers keep it quiet, so the this step is quite essential as nouveau is not an option for me. Of course you can also get the proprietary AMD drivers if you have one of their GPU’s.

After this I installed all the extra basic software I need. LibreOffice is probably too big to include on the GNOME Live CD. The missing GStreamer packages which are required to play non-free audio and video formats are proprietary so they’re not shipped by Fedora, but are included in the RPM fusion repository. Flash is also proprietary (free alternatives like Gnash aren’t good enough) and can be downloaded from a repository provided by Adobe, for which instructions can be found here (just installing the flash-plugin package sufficed, the other packages mentioned in the instructions were not necessary for me). The GNOME Tweak Tool is useful to change the font and decrease the font size used by GNOME, which is too big for me by default. I like the Google Droid fonts more than the default fonts used in GNOME. Because some websites need Java I need the IcedTea browser plugin. The mozplugger package is necessary for me because Blackboard, the VLE used by my university, wants to embed PDF documents in its pages. With mozplugger you get an option to download them instead of an error message complaining that a plugin is missing.

yum install libreoffice libreoffice-langpack-nl gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-bad-nonfree gstreamer-plugins-ugly gstreamer-ffmpeg flash-plugin gnome-tweak-tool google-droid-sans-fonts google-droid-sans-mono-fonts google-droid-serif-fonts icedtea-web mozplugger

Fedora’s default font rendering can be vastly improved by installing the patched freetype packages of Infinality. A Fedora package repository is provided with instructions on how to add it there.

LaTeX with XeTeX support, the Memoir document class, the biblatex package for bibliographic facilities with support for the APA style and the Linux Libertine font is a must have for me. However, again it is better to add a separate repository to get a more recent version of TeX Live 2011 with the most up-to-date packages instead of TeX Live 2007 which ships with Fedora 16. Take a look at the info here on how the repository can be added. I installed the whole texlive-collection-xetex package, which downloads 251 packages worth 90 MB. That way you probably won’t miss any useful packages, but you also get a lot of useless stuff like Thai fonts for example (unless you need support for Thai fonts, but I don’t). Installing just the package texlive-xetex and texlive-memoir would have probably pulled in all necessary dependencies without the bloat. After having installed all this my LaTeX documents compile without problems, so no need to install packages manually because that package is not packaged for Fedora 16 or because the packaged version is to old. This is not like Kubuntu where I did have to hunt for the latest version of specific packages. Jindrich Novy who is working on packaging TeX Live 2011 and wants to introduce it to Fedora 17 rocks!

yum install texlive-xetex texlive-collection-langdutch texlive-memoir texlive-biblatex-apa texlive-libertine

I have taken a look at other GTK 3.x and GNOME Shell themes on GNOME-Look.org but none of them were better than the default in my opinion. At the moment installing themes is troublesome not only because there’s no option for it in GNOME 3.2 (yet), but also because some key applications still use GTK 2.x and have not been ported yet. These include LibreOffice, Mozilla Firefox and GIMP. This means that if you want to install the popular Zukitwo theme for example, which has matching GTK 2.x. themes, you need to install additional theme engines. This is an extra hassle. Yet after doing all this, I’m not entirely satisfied because GNOME needs more work in general (in bringing back certain options) and Evolution is frustrating to use, but more about that later.

My issues with Fedora 16

After testing the beta of Fedora 16 a while I decided to do a fresh install of F16 on my laptop instead of simply updating everything because I wanted to keep it ‘clean’. It is my experience that bugs from the alpha or beta versions can spill over into the stable version if you update to that. This in turn would make reporting bugs more difficult because you might encounter bugs which might not have occurred if you would have done a clean installation instead. The extent to which it can make a system dysfunctional is illustrated well by the Kubuntu 11.10 installation on my main PC for production use, I was inpatient while 10.10 was still in alpha status and upgraded months before the stable version of 10.10 saw the light of day. As a consequence Plasma throws error messages when I want to shut down my PC more often than not. These error messages prevent the execution of the shutdown, so every time I shut down I have to watch and verify it gets turned off, or else click the ‘OK’ buttons on the error messages to make them go away.

That aside, the fresh installation of F16 gave me a motivation to get bug hunting and reporting. It seems that F16 is plagued by some minor but very annoying issues which are easy to notice, which makes me wonder how the issues were not noticed by Fedora’s QA. And Epiphany is still not usable as an alternative to Firefox, which is a pity considering all the good work that has gone into it. I’m not very confident in the developer’s attention for bugs because a bug report I filed a few months ago during the alpha stage of F16 about the corruption of the Yum database (doesn’t occur anymore) was never even triaged. Yes, that happens often with some other free software projects too, but it still bothers me. One more thing I don’t get is why they can’t fit LibreOffice on their GNOME Live CD, if Ubuntu can do it why not Fedora?

  • Bug #757487: the grub menu shows up even if Fedora is the only OS which is present, which is unnecessary.
  • Bug #732058: after pulling in a new kernel through the updates, grub kept booting the old kernel which came with the installation.
  • Bug #742584: a minor feature request because it would make more sense to encrypt the entire system, but it would be nice if the /home partition could be decrypted when the user logs in. I.e. without an extra passphrase if that’s the only encrypted partition, which is how Ubuntu does it AFAIK.
  • Bug #742584: the Java plugin doesn’t work with Epiphany.
  • Bug #664285: thanks to Adobe the Flash plugin doesn’t work in Epiphany because they haven’t ported it to GTK+3 yet.
  • Bug #664915: Epiphany uses wrong fonts to display websites, but I’m not sure if this is a bug in Epiphany or in Fedora.
  • Bug #638117: I constantly have to turn off the Bluetooth hardware in my notebook because it’s enabled by default as soon as I log in to F16, unlike other distributions I’ve used on my notebook.

Some news regarding my TravelMate 8371 notebook

A while ago my Acer TravelMate 8371 notebook’s monitor developed a darker spot in the lower right corner. The problem was annoying at most because it did not let through as much light as it had before, but sufficient reason to send it for repairs. After coping with the problem for some months, I decided to send it to Acer for repairs a few weeks ago in September. Had I waited any longer, the two year warranty period would have passed.

I had very negative experiences with Acer’s customer service, as you can read in the archive of my weblog, and when I requested the RMA I again feared for the worst. The person helping me asked if the Windows installation on my notebook was Dutch or English. I answered that I had installed Linux after I had been given a refund for my Windows license. Apparently Linux or anything different from Windows was not an option in the script of the rigid call centre agent or the RMA process used at Acer, so she concluded it was an English Windows. Fortunately my fears proved to be unnecessary when I got the notebook back a week or so later. It had been sent on long trip to Acer’s repair centre in the Czech Republic and I noticed the monitor was replaced and everything was fine.

Meanwhile, bug #240802 in KDE’s bug tracker which I filed because something in KDE prevented the audio device on my notebook from switching to power saving mode no longer occurs on the latest development version of Kubuntu 11.10. It was probably accidentally fixed. The other bug, bug #15612 in the Linux kernel’s bug tracker (currently down due to security problems), has been fixed by very helpful developer. It took quite some effort on my part because I had to learn myself how to compile my own kernel after applying a patch to the kernel source with the help of documentation on the internet, which was an educational experience. The catch is that the developer is not going to implement the fix before it has seen wider testing, which has yet to happen. That’s understandable, but on the other hand frustrating because owners of my notebook still have to implement the workaround to fix suspend.

At the moment I have the Fedora 16 beta installed on my notebook because I wanted to check out GNOME 3.2. I’m pleasantly surprised with the power consumption, which is around 8,3 Watt according to PowerTOP while idle with WiFi enabled. That’s a lot less than the values I encountered with my previous tests which I wrote about in my previous blog posts. The latest Kubuntu 11.10 development version sucks 10.2 Watt under the same conditions. Not sure if this is caused by differences between Ubuntu and Fedora or the difference between GNOME and KDE, to figure that out I’d have to test with Fedora’s KDE spin. 8,3 Watt is still a far cry from the figure of 5,9 measured on Windows Vista for my notebook, but it’s acceptable because it prevents the fan from becoming audible. I hope to learn some tricks to decrease power consumption on Fedora 16. Also, because Fedora 16 does things different from Ubuntu you have to apply the workaround for the suspend fix as follows: the grub configuration file to be edited is located at /etc/default/grub and then the command grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg should be executed to make the changes take effect.

Visited the Desktop Summit 2011 in Berlin

A year ago I visited the GUADEC in the Hague. This year however GNOME and KDE decided to join forces for the second time in organising their conferences, and organised the Desktop Summit as a joint conference for both organisations in Berlin this year. Berlin is relatively close by for me, so I decided to take the train to Berlin to visit the conference. I decided to stay only for three days because the conference started with three days of presentations, for the rest of the week the programme provided for opportunities for contributors to collaborate on the work they do. That part was not interesting for me because I work on the Commit Digest and we don’t have much to discuss. I did meet one other person who also works on the Commit Digest, Marta Rybczyńska, on the conference however. It’s good to meet the person behind the name appearing on the messages received through the mailing list we use to collaborate on the Digest for the first time. Unfortunately others working with us were not there, but I hope to meet them on a future conference, the GUADEC/Akademy/Desktop Summit are held every year.

The journey with the train takes around six to seven hours from Utrecht Centraal to Berlin Hauptbahnhof. I was annoyed by the expense of a ticket, the cheapest return ticket cost me € 128. Yes, a car would have been more expensive, but a flight from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to Berlin was just a few euros more expensive. In my mind I can’t justify paying more for a train journey than a flight because the train is much slower and should have lower operating cost. Another Dutch KDE contributor I met at my hotel. Niels Slot, lives in Amstelveen close to Schiphol and decided to take a flight. When I went to visit London discounts for the train were not available so a ticket for the train was much more expensive than a flight. We decided to take a flight to London so we could get there a lot faster and cheaper. The pricing of train tickets should get back in touch with reality. Once I was in Berlin I started to miss the Dutch OV-chipkaart and London’s Oyster Card, but other than that Berlin’s rapid transit system works nicely and fast.

First I went to my hotel south of Berlin’s centre. I had booked a dormitory for € 11 a night because I thought the train ticket was expensive enough already. This dormitory had eight beds and it turned out that my roommates were four French women, probably a few years younger than me. I didn’t talk with them much and they were okay, except for the mess they made and their sleeping habits which were a total opposite of mine. Their belongings were spread all over the floor instead of in a locker, so I had to watch out for stepping on one of their bags. They were probably partying all night long and would go to sleep at 7:00 in the morning when I woke up. Later they were joined by two other French women, they had a normal sleeping pattern and they studied Archaeology so we had a lot to talk about. Seems like I’m a lucky man to receive such company again after my experience in Nepal. The last roommate was another guy, when we talked for a bit he turned out to be a Kubuntu user just like me .

After dumping my stuff in the room I went to the centre of the city again, to the museum island where the Pergamon Museum was to be found. Besides this museum I wanted to see more of Berlin, but it turned out there was not enough time for that, so I’ll return to Berlin another time for a proper visit. The Pergamon Museum was certainly worth my time, the very large structures rebuilt in the museum were amazing. After the museum I went to the pre-registration event and party.

The three days of conference were great, lots of interesting presentations, and because four presentations are often held concurrently I hope to download some of the video recordings of the presentations I have missed soon. Especially the presentations on the third day in room 3038 interested me because those focused on the usage of free software by large organisations. I think that subject is important because free software has a lot to gain in adoption there, it’s very important for expanding the market share of free software. I especially liked the presentation of Gijs Hillenius which had the adoption of free software by public administrations in the EU as it’s subject. The notion that interoperability is not as important as a reason to switch to free software, but that instead the greatest advantage is that free software enables vendor independence is noteworthy. On the other end the presentation delivered by Thomas Thwaites was one of the funniest I’ve seen for a long time. Apparently in some presentation related to GNOME which I didn’t witness a Downfall parody was shown making fun of the transition from GNOME 2 tot version 3. This caused quite a stir, personally I wouldn’t have done it, certainly not considering the conference was in Berlin, but I think the parody is quite funny.

I was present at the presentation about Marble. I had read about the search for voice actors to make native language voice commands available for Marble before visiting the conference. I expected that with so many Dutch people contributing to KDE that some would soon record their voice and submit it, but during the presentation I learned that a Dutch voice was still missing. The reason I didn’t volunteer in the first place is because I think that my voice isn’t pleasant to hear at all. When I hear a recording of my own voice I even think it’s a horror to my ears, but that might be because many people are inclined to dislike their own recorded voice. Anyway, I thought my Dutch voice is better than no Dutch voice at all. At the Desktop Summit Torsten Rahn, who gave the presentation on Marble, had arranged for a recording room. So together with some people speaking other languages I recorded my voice. I think my performance could have been better, because I tended to employ an undesirable emphasis in my voice commands when I did it for the purpose of recording them repetitively instead of speaking the sentences as a part of a normal conversation. Now all I need is a smartphone running Meego (possibly the N9) and a future version of Marble running on it to enjoy hearing my own voice commands.

K2 theme unmaintained, looking for alternatives

The K2 theme which is used on my weblog powered by WordPress is unmaintained for quite some time now. The last new version was a release candidate for 1.1 which was released a year ago, and there is no final 1.1 release yet. I wrote theme, but the K2 developers describe it as an ‘advanced template’, which is probably more accurate given that it is quite comprehensive and does a lot of things differently compared to the standard WordPress theme. Because this makes it so different from many other WordPress themes which don’t modify so much things, this means that maintenance is required, as in new releases, to make sure that it keeps working nicely with the WordPress internals. The development team of WordPress continues cranking out new versions and with K2 not keeping up with those changes some of it’s features no longer seem to work. For example, after many updates of WordPress the search field of the K2 theme which used to be automatic now requires pressing the ‘Enter’ key, and after doing so you see the input of the field overlaid on the ‘Search’ text placed by default in that field.

So I guess it’s time to look for a new theme then. That’s unfortunate, because I really like the default layout of the K2, I like the simplicity of it. I changed nothing, all I did was upload a custom header image and add a child theme which adds some CSS so that tables get the same layout as tables on Wikipedia. By now, the default theme of WordPress is Twenty Eleven, which I dislike very much. As you can see on the demo page of the theme which I just linked too, at the top is a large text header with a lot of blank white space around it. Then comes a colossal header image, which is 1000 pixels wide versus 780 pixels for the K2 header image. Half of the page is occupied by this combination of headers while the K2 header occupies little more than a quarter. Also notice that the font size in the Twenty Eleven theme is a lot larger, not only compared to K2 but also compared to the average font size of most other websites. The large font size makes it stand out in a negative way and it means it needs more space for less text. We’re told that the large font size was chosen to make it ‘really readable’ and that anyone who thinks otherwise can make their own child theme. Yes, of course we can edit it to our liking, but not everyone possesses good knowledge of CSS or wants to invest the time in customizing it. It’s all about sane defaults, K2’s defaults are excellent while Twenty Eleven’s are ill-chosen. It should be the other way around, that minority (my assumption) which wants such a ‘readable’ theme should make child themes so that the average user shouldn’t be looking for a different theme. Even better, the developers could make some changes to the WordPress Default 1.6 theme (the Default 1.5 theme is so unappealing it should be dumped outright) which is still shipped with WordPress to freshen them up and make them viable alternatives for dissatisfied users.

I’ve been looking for alternatives to Twenty Eleven in the free themes directory of the WordPress website, but to no avail. I simply can’t find any theme which looks similar too, or as attractive as K2’s theme. Many simple themes do not feature a header image, and if they do they don’t feature text ‘floating’ above it like with K2. So maybe I should start making my own child theme for Twenty Eleven after all? At least I would learn more about CSS then, even if it would be very time-consuming and annoying. Secretly I’m hoping the dear Lazyweb, a.k.a. you, the reader of this blogpost, might have some good advice for me.

Another issue is that WordPress still doesn’t include features which I, and I assume many others, consider useful. Support for OpenID for example. Another issue is that WordPress doesn’t have a nice way to show photos, for example when you click images on the Twenty Eleven demo website, they are loaded in a new page to display them full screen. To fix that problem I’ve been using the NextGEN Gallery plugin, but I’m not totally satisfied with it. Not only does it get a lot of updates (making me update more often than I’d like), it offers many features which I don’t need and most importantly it reinvents the wheel. It doesn’t use the standard functionality for managing uploaded images in WordPress, the Media Library. Instead, it uses it’s own facilities through which you upload images. Even though this plugin works nicely, I’m looking for something simpler which works with the WordPress Media Library. Besides that, all the functionality I really need is that it displays photos using LightBox or similar scripts such as Fancybox, just like NextGEN Gallery does but without all the bloat. It looks like plugins such as Simple Lightbox, Lightbox Gallery or Fancybox for WordPress would be more suitable for my use case. However, just like hacking up my own child theme for Twenty Eleven, migrating all my photos uploaded with NextGEN Gallery to the WordPress Media Library would be very time consuming. I’m lazy, so I’ll probably procrastinate this to eternity, certainly while my current setup of K2 and NextGEN Gallery work okay. I should probably ask on the WordPress forums to decide on the best course of action.

Oh, and I have one more gripe, with the WordPress.com Stats plugin. it requires that you use the evil, proprietary Flash plugin to see the chart of visitor numbers drawn by this plugin. Fortunately, a search I just performed revealed that this plugin already uses JavaScript for blogs hosted on the WordPress.com weblog service. An update implementing this for self-hosted blogs using the plugin should arrive later, said the post announcing this on 30 September 2010.

Helping with the Commit Digest

By now I have been writing for the KDE Commit Digest since the end of last year. The KDE Commit Digest is a weekly publication which reports on all the commits (changes to software code) made to the KDE software made in the last seven days. News of new Commit Digests is also posted to the KDE.news website, which is read quite often by those interested in the KDE community and software. In October 2010 the KDE Commit Digest was revived by Danny Allen after a period of dormancy. Previously he worked on the Digest all alone, and understandably it was too much work for one person. He worked on a platform called Enzyme to make producing the Digests easier and sent out a call for help to volunteers who could help him with the job. Even though the KDE Commit Digest is a very popular publication, Danny reported that he didn’t have enough volunteers yet. I really wanted the relaunch of the Digest to succeed so I decided to apply myself. So far I had always been testing free software and reported bugs, I made a failed (incomplete) attempt to rewrite the old documentation for Abiword and I translated the biblatex LaTeX package to Dutch. I felt I should contribute more to return the favour to the great KDE community which produces the software I use so often.

Over the course of the last few months I have collaborated with the other volunteers helping Danny over the mailing list for the Digest. I’m quite satisfied with how the collaboration is going even if not everyone, including me, has enough time to contribute an equal amount of work every week. Even if we can manage the workload right now, I think a few more volunteers who could help out would be very welcome. Even though I have been collaborating with these people for months it’s a pity I barely know them, but that might change when some of us could possibly meet at this years Desktop Summit in Berlin. Working on the Commit-Digest itself isn’t a very satisfying experience because it’s not work I enjoy, my motivation is rooted more in a sense of duty than enjoyment. It’s primarily the idea that I can return the favour and contribute back to a great organisation producing free software, aid in it’s promotion and the fact that the Digest is read by many people with much interest that is rewarding.

Removing section numbers when using LaTeX with memoir

I have some short advice for those who write short articles with LaTeX and the memoir class. For short articles I always use the the article class and I use only sections as the highest level of headings. Because a table of contents is almost always not used in these kinds of documents, section numbers serve little use. To remove them, the following code used to work:

\setcounter{secnumdepth}{0}

However, using that code with the most recent version with memoir doesn’t work and gives an error message when you compile (I’m not sure at which version it stopped working). Searching with Google didn’t provide me with a solution, but reading the manual of the memoir class did. It’s explained on page 145 of the manual which was dated on 19 september 2010, but it’s not easy to understand. You need to use this code to get section numbers removed:

\setsecnumformat{}