The Lenovo ThinkPad L530 laptop

Recently my brother was looking to buy a new laptop. He moved out of my parent’s house recently and wanted to replace his PC with a laptop to use both privately and for his job. He wanted a 15 inch laptop because his work involved some traveling, so a larger desktop replacement was not desirable. But he didn’t want a smaller laptop either because he wanted a large screen. The only game he plays is League of Legends, which can be handled adequately by the integrated graphics chip in recent processors.

Considerations

Nowadays you can get 15 inch laptops for little more than € 300, but if you buy cheaply, you pay dearly. Most of those cheap laptops have relatively low display resolutions (with 1366 by 768 pixels being most common) and because they’re meant for consumers they almost always have glossy displays. Build quality often isn’t good either.

That’s why it’s smart to buy more expensive laptops which are more sturdy, often the models intended for business customers. These also have matte displays, which don’t turn into a mirror if there’s a lot of sunlight. But most importantly, if you’re willing to pay a premium, you can get a high-resolution display of 1600 by 900 pixels or even more. Quite a difference in screen real estate.

The choice for the L530

A few weeks ago, one of the cheapest 15 inch laptops available in the Netherlands with a 1600 by 900 pixels display resolution was the Lenovo ThinkPad L530 for € 752. Even though this is “budget” in terms of ThinkPads and this model has an ordinary plastic case, the reputation these laptops have for good build quality still stands. And it has a matte screen. As an added bonus it also came with Windows 7 instead of the disaster that is Windows 8. My brother was discouraged by the high price compared to the usual low-end consumer notebooks, but I managed to convince him.

I won’t review the laptop in detail because that has already been done by NotebookCheck. Like they say, you shouldn’t expect it to be as sturdy as the premium ThinkPads with its plastic case, but it’s certainly a good deal for € 752. After buying and unboxing the L530 however, we were surprised to find out that the touchpad had a problem: the mouse cursor moved like a person stuck in quicksand.

When my brother read the review on NotebookCheck again, he noticed they had also experienced a “major problem with the touchpad’s responsiveness”. They assumed this problem was restricted to their test laptop. Curiously, I couldn’t find anyone else experiencing the same problem on the Internet. It was time to contact Lenovo and get them to fix the laptop.

Lenovo technical support

The first impression wasn’t so positive. We had to sign a form to give them permission to re-install Windows 7 if necessary and some other trivial matters, but this form had many Dutch grammar and spelling errors. I still remember my ordeal with Acer’s helpdesk, but expected Lenovo to do better. Apart from the form though, Lenovo did its job properly: when the laptop was returned the touchpad worked fine.

Only the reparation report raises some eyebrows. It claims they replaced the display and the “kbd (keyboard?) bezel”. I have no idea what those have to do with the touchpad.

Using Steam on Fedora 18 64-bit

Since it was announced nine months ago I’m now running Steam on Linux and playing Counter-Strike: Source. and Team Fortress 2. Both work very nicely, the only thing I’m still missing is that the Linux port can’t use my 5.1 speaker set. On the other hand Serious Sam 3 gives me a disastrous frame rate and crashes, but that will hopefully be fixed. Getting Steam up and running was no easy feat. At the moment it is still in beta and they only support Ubuntu. You have to pull some tricks to get it working on Fedora. Because it isn’t easy to figure out how to do it, I’ll share some advice.

Steam has been packaged for Fedora too (albeit not by Valve) so the most convenient way is to add the repository for it as instructed here. Because these instructions for Fedora 17 are slightly outdated I stopped following them after the yum install steam command. The more recent Steam package from the repository pulled in all of the dependencies needed to get Steam itself running. But while Steam itself might run, the games did not run for me without some more effort.

Some more dependencies are needed. The problem is that Steam is 32-bit, so if you’re on the 64-bit version of Fedora you need to download a lot of 32-bit packages of which the 64-bit equivalent is already present on your system. The first step is to install the 32-bit version of your display driver libraries, which I did with yum install xorg-x11-drv-catalyst-libs.i686 (the i686 suffix tells yum to get the 32-bit version). That’s for people who have AMD video cards, those with NVIDIA video cards should use the yum install xorg-x11-drv-nvidia-libs.i686 command.

After doing this my games would start, but I didn’t have sound. To get that fixed I simply installed the 32-bit versions of all packages which I thought to be audio-related. From this topic I came up with the command yum install pulseaudio-libs-glib2.i686 libao.i686 esound-libs.i686 alsa-oss-libs.i686 alsa-plugins-oss.i686 alsa-plugins-pulseaudio.i686 audiofile.i686 which fixed the problem for me. But before entering this command I had downloaded some other packages I don’t remember anymore. Not sure what’s exactly needed, for me it was a matter of a few Google search queries and trial and error.

Hopefully someone else can clear this up or the package could be made to pull in all the necessary dependencies. Preferably Valve will support Fedora 18 officially soon and make a 64-bit version. Valve is totally awesome for porting Steam to Linux. Maybe I can even remove my Windows 7 partition completely in the near future, since the games are the only reason Windows 7 is still on my hard disk drive.

Bugs in Evolution 3.6.2

I mentioned in the previous post that I have encountered quite a few bugs in the Evolution personal information manager, which I use daily for reading my e-mail. I think Evolution works nicely for me, but there is a lot to fix and improve before I’ll consider it the ultimate Microsoft Outlook killer.

I don’t expect the improvements I’m hoping for will arrive soon because Evolutions suffers from a shortage of developers. But at least I’ve filed bug reports for everything which bothers me now. You can’t criticize free software without bug reports.

I haven’t reported all bugs I have experienced: bug #687360 for example has already been fixed for 3.6.3 apparently, but that version hasn’t landed in Fedora 18’s updates yet. I noticed some nasty bugs with editing contacts in address books too. In some cases the name in the “File As” entry would change without my input upon saving a contact when using the older Evolution version in Fedora 16. But I haven’t been able to reproduce this in Fedora 18.

  • Bug #692531: dialog appearing for invalid SSL certificates isn’t pretty
  • Bug #692533: Edit Rule dialog has drop down menus with a lot of blank space
  • Bug #692535: option to have filters active on an account should be enabled by default
  • Bug #692541: tab widget in Preferences dialog looks wrong
  • Bug #692542: never loading images in HTML e-mails is a bad default setting
  • Bug #692555: “Personal” address book does not appear in birthdays calendar by default
  • Bug #692557: sorting by date descending disrupts thread view of messages
  • Bug #692558: language detection for spelling checker
  • Bug #692572: “Messages” column should use space more efficiently
  • Bug #692573: use vertical view as default instead of classic view
  • Bug #692574: remove status bar
  • Bug #692576: use list view as default instead of address cards
  • Bug #692577: list view shouldn’t have columns for faxes by default
  • Bug #692578: display “File As” column by default in list view
  • Bug #692579: make view settings apply to all address books
  • Bug #692636: doesn’t delete certain contacts
  • Bug #692713: calendar widget arrows don’t look correct
  • Bug #692716: all calendar items of an icalendar file disappeared
  • Bug #692743: e-mail shows preformatted lines which do not word wrap if replying

Post-installation guide and experiences with Fedora 18 and GNOME 3.6

Until yesterday my computer still used Fedora 16, today it uses Fedora 18. Just like I did with 16, I’m going to give a guide on steps to take after the installation and which bugs I’ve encountered. So far I really like 18: finally LibreOffice is included by default, it starts up a lot faster (16 became really slow for me after all the updates) and you don’t loose the graphical splash screen at start up as soon as you install the proprietary AMD (no idea if this also applies to NVIDIA) display drivers.

Fedora 18 hasn’t been received well by some. A review of the KDE spin of Fedora 18 has been quite negative and the same reviewer is also very critical of GNOME 3.6, I didn’t try the KDE spin but I’m quite positive about the GNOME spin. I did a fresh installation, not do an upgrade.

Installation

This release was postponed multiple times because the redesign of the Anaconda installer wasn’t ready yet. It is still problematic in the final release: as soon the live desktop had started up and I chose to install to the hard drive to start Anaconda, it crashed. I suspect this happened because a connection to my router was established just while Anaconda was starting up. I had already witnessed a similar crash when trying the alpha versions on my laptop.

It wouldn’t start again so I had to reboot, after which I waited for the network connection to come up before starting Anaconda. This time everything went fine. Maybe I’ll try to reproduce this later so I can file a bug report. I agree with those who think Anaconda still needs a lot of work. But I also think the new design is a step in the right direction, it’s a diamond which still needs polishing.

Post-installation guide

First of all let Fedora download the latest updates and then add the RPM Fusion repositories. I wanted to get the proprietary AMD drivers first, there are instructions for that here. Take notice of what I wrote there in the comments. You need to follow the instructions here and add another repository because RPM Fusion apparently doesn’t have the package for the Flash plugin anymore. However, only install flash-plugin, the rest is not necessary and nspluginwrapper – while necessary if you want Flash working with GNOME Web – drives SELinux crazy. Also read these instructions to get the FreeType patches so you get better font rendering, this involves adding one more repository.

After all this I use one more command to download all the remaining stuff. This command downloads the GStreamer packages you need for proprietary audio and video formats, the GNOME Tweak Tool, the GNOME Web web browser, the GIMP and the Google Droid fonts (with GNOME Tweak Tool I change my default, document and monospace fonts from the default Cantarell, Sans and Monospace to Droid Sans and Droid Sans Mono, I also the font size of all fonts from 11 to 10):

yum install gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-bad-nonfree gstreamer-plugins-ugly gnome-tweak-tool epiphany epiphany-extensions gimp google-droid-sans-fonts google-droid-sans-mono-fonts google-droid-serif-fonts

To download the XeLaTeX packages I need (which include support for the Dutch language, the APA style and the Linux Libertine font) I give the following command:

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

Bugs

Here’s a list of bugs in either the Red Hat or GNOME bugzilla, for which I found an existing report or filed a new one:

  • Bug #893218: Anaconda crashes when it starts
  • Bug #854201: Ask users for Country / Language / City to determine the correct locale settings
  • Bug #690750: System Settings doesn’t change locale completely
  • Bug #904000: free ati driver not enabled with HD7850 after installation, uses LLVMpipe instead
  • Bug #692518: processes can use more than 100% CPU according to System Monitor
  • Bug #904014: Anaconda doesn’t ask for host name
  • Bug #878433: Removing default English keyboard layout doesn’t have effect in the installed system
  • Bug #904052: Shotwell should not be the default application for viewing images
  • Bug #904055: only root can mount an external hard disk connected through eSATA
  • Bug #692519: hidden drop down menus for keyboard shortcuts difficult to discover
  • Bug #692520: graphical corruption if taking screenshot of single window
  • Bug #905103: Firefox occasionally freezes unpredictably and takes out X with it
  • Bug #692923: no unlock button for hostname in “Details” (System Settings)
  • Bug #693057: implement options to change font and font size
  • Bug #693058: option to suspend a desktop computer should be visible without Alt key

There are more bug reports I have to file for Evolution, but that would make this post too long.

What is a sustainable level of meat consumption?

I already wrote about this topic more than two years ago to state my concerns over the level of meat consumption in the (Western) world. Back then I already explained why it’s detrimental to our environment so I won’t go into detail here. The Wikipedia articles on the environmental impact of meat production and environmental vegetarianism explain it nicely, so read those.

Since then I’ve lowered my consumption of meat, but it was not an issue for my family. They think they don’t eat it much, while I do. Because I wasn’t motivated to make my own vegetarian food when my mother prepared non-vegetarian food for the whole family, I used to eat along.

Recently I changed my behaviour because I thought I was lazy. Being served non-vegetarian food by others was no reason to stray from the virtuous path of sustainable living. This led to some discussion at the dinner table, giving rise to the question: at which quantity is meat consumption sustainable?

Statistics and some assumptions

The Economist has statistics on meat consumption per capita for 2007. In the complete data they also provide the world average, which is 38,7 kilo or 106 gram a day.

I make two premises. The first is that everyone should not consume (much) more than this average. If you look at the statistics you see the developed world consumes a disproportionately high amount of meat while most of the developing world consumes very little. This means the developed world puts the greatest strain on our environment. I don’t think we have more right to burden the environment than the developing world, so what we are doing now is unethical.

The second premise is that no further environmental degradation should occur. If that is what we want, we should not increase our total meat consumption above the 2007 average. However, I’d say that even in 2007 the global environmental damage caused by meat production was already too much, and it needs to be even lower. I’d say an arbitrary number such as 30 kilo a year seems acceptable.

Solutions

Ultimately, reducing meat consumption is not going to happen with a growing world population. At a certain moment meat prices will increase because of supply and demand, but when that happens the environment has probably gone to hell already. I’m sure many people are not as concerned over this issue as I am, so they’re not going to change their behaviour out of their own motivation.

This means government has to intervene. The best solutions would probably be taxing meat (just like we levy an excise tax on petrol in the Netherlands because of its environmental impact) and drastically reducing the world’s population. But if you want to change the world you should take responsibility and start with yourself.

How much do i and my family consume?

According to the statistics the average Dutch person consumed 71,3 kilo meat in 2007. I think my family is probably below this average, so in that regard they are probably right when they say they don’t consume much.But I suspect my family may consume more than the global average of 38,7 kilo.

But this is something which needs to be measured. I will do so by calculating the total weight of all meat products appearing on our supermarket receipts for one month and then extrapolate that to a year. I estimate my own consumption is probably no more than 21 kilo a year (based on 400 gram a week), but this is also something I will measure.

Update 14 February

After measuring the meat consumption of my family for 19 days and extrapolating that to a year, it turns out we consume far less than I expected. I consume 19 kilo a year, the rest of my family 22, 29, 31 and 34 kilo. All far below the average for the Netherlands and below the world average.

Quitting Facebook

I still remember well when I created a Facebook account on 3 March 2010. It was because I wanted to add an attractive woman I knew from the sports center as a friend, that way I could figure out from her profile if she was single (she wasn’t). Initially I asked if she had a Hyves account and I was surprised to hear that she only had a Facebook account.

Back then Hyves was still the most popular social network in the Netherlands. It had twice the number of unique visits compared to Facebook in those days, and it was only in August 2011 that Facebook passed Hyves. It’s decline in popularity hasn’t stopped since then.

If I remember correctly I also had a Hyves account, even though I hated it. It was almost like there was a competition to create the most ugly and unreadable profile page because Hyves allowed for so much customization, unlike Facebook. I loved Facebook then for its clean design, and my family and friends also created accounts not long after me.

But now the time has come for me to say goodbye to Facebook. On Monday 28 January I will remove my Facebook account. I’ll elaborate on how I’ve come to this decision.

Facebook does not use an open standard

Anyone can set up an e-mail server. E-mails can be sent to anyone on any server because open standards are used. This is quite different for Facebook: it’s under the control of one company. If I’m on a different social network I can’t add people on Facebook as friends or even send them messages. Because we don’t want to be active on more than one social network, people flocked to Facebook because everyone started using that.

As a consequence of this incompatibility between social networks Facebook has been able to lock people into using its product and establish a very powerful position. Because of the incompatibility competing with Facebook is difficult. Of course there are competitors like Google+, but they feature the same incompatibilities as Facebook.

I don’t think a lack of competition is a good thing. What if e-mail was under the control of a few big companies? It wouldn’t be acceptable if users of e-mail provider A wouldn’t be able to send e-mails to users of provider B now, would it? Then why do we accept this from social networks?

I think the solution lies in distributed social networks such as Diaspora. Another example is the microblogging service identi.ca which is an open variant of Twitter. The software which runs them is open source, anyone can start a server and users can communicate with users on other servers. There isn’t a single large company which is in control. Just like e-mail.

Maybe I’ll give social networks another try if or when these distributed social networks take off. But I don’t just have an issue with Facebook, I have a problem with social networks altogether.

The (dis)advantages of facebook

What annoys me about social networks is that many people write things which are plain uninteresting. They’re stuck in traffic jams or they ‘like’ a company which I don’t care about. This wastes my time and is the aspect of Facebook I certainly won’t be missing. Facebook and especially Twitter are meant for very short messages, which makes their content superficial. Contrary to blogs, which stimulate more reflection.

On the other hand I enjoy seeing the travel photos of people, even if I haven’t met them in person for years. Or reading about how they’re doing in life, in case what they’re doing is interesting. It serves to satisfy my curiosity. A study on Facebook users by Bumgarner (2007) reveals that voyeurism is indeed an important motivation to use Facebook.

Regarding my own behavior on Facebook, I use my blog to share my experiences anyway. My Facebook account merely serves to see what others share there while I share a minimal amount of information myself. So people won’t be missing my presence on Facebook much I guess.

Apart from these more basic desires, Facebook turned out to be useful to find old classmates. I still need to get into contact with some of them, that’s why I’m postponing the removal of my account.. It might be useful for that in the future too, but that’s too bad then.

Life without facebook

But even if it’s difficult, doing the right thing is most important. From now on I’ll be collecting e-mail addresses, weblog addresses, phone numbers and home addresses of everyone I might need to contact in the future. Since my stint in Nepal I know people from all over the world. Even if I don’t write them often I think it would be fun to meet up with them if I happen to visit their countries someday, so I don’t want to lose their contact data.

From 28 January onward I’ll be going back to the old ways of using e-mail and phone calls. My self-imposed exile from Facebook should be no problem for my family and my closest friends. No longer will I be the fiftieth person to write ‘congratulations’ on your profile when you celebrate your anniversary, I’ll just call you or visit your party instead.

Couldn’t go to Pune

Last Thursday 3 January I arrived at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and handed over my boarding pass and passport at the bag drop. To my surprise the British Airways employee asked me if I had a visa for India, which I didn’t have. After making some calls, they told me I couldn’t board my flight to Mumbai from London Heathrow without a visa.

Forgot the visa

During my planning it never even occurred to me that I might need a visa. I might have gotten too accustomed to all the visa-free traveling in the Schengen Area. Certainly the fact that Nepal grants tourists a visa on arrival made me assume that India would be no different. Because Deep Griha Society never even mentioned visas in its volunteer handbook I assumed I didn’t need one (the organisation I worked with in Nepal, VSN, did mention it on its website).

Nevertheless, I have myself to blame for this the most. I feel like an idiot for not considering the visa requirement during all the weeks I’ve been preparing for the trip. Nevertheless, it was possible to rearrange the departure and return dates for my flight for an approximate fee of € 380 (bye bye cheap flight). Getting a tourist visa for India would likely take no more than five working days, so I decided to get to it ASAP so I could still go in the second half of January.

Because you need a passport which is valid for at least 180 days to apply for a visa I had to get a new passport first. On Friday I paid double the normal fee of € 50 to have it ready this Monday. Today I picked up my passport, went back home to fill in all the visa application forms. After answering some strange questions about my religion (which should be none of their concern) and if I had Pakistani grandparents I drove to the Hague to submit my visa application.

No volunteer work on a tourist visa

After waiting one and half hour for my turn I handed over the forms and was asked some questions by the VFS Global employee. When she asked for my purpose of stay and I answered I would do volunteer work with Deep Griha Society, I was told this was not possible with a tourist visa. I would need an employment visa, which would ten workings days to process. And I need an invitation letter from Deep Griha Society.

I blame VFS Global for being unclear, on their website they write a tourist visa is suitable for “those visiting India for tourism or other non-business related purposes”. An employee visa is described as being necessary for those employed by a multinational or Indian company in a for-profit context. I would consider volunteer work a non-business related purpose. I don’t have an employment contract with Deep Griha Society, so how should I have known I would need an employment visa?

If an employment visa would be necessary, I assume Deep Griha Society would have known and sent me the required invitation letter in advance. The fact that they didn’t can mean only two things: either they are negligent, or the Indian Embassy in the Netherlands has a visa policy which is different from the one implemented by Indian embassies elsewhere in the world.

That was the limit

Right now I’ve had enough of this turn of events and I’ve canceled the plan. I can’t take it anymore to wait passively at home for another ten working days plus the time it takes to wait for a flight before I get to India. It’s a shame I had to postpone my search for a full time job since my graduation in August until my return from India. All that time has been wasted. I had been looking forward to this so much, but it’s better for me to move on now. Both me and India loose in the end if I’m not able to spend my money there. The only winner here seems to be British Airways.

How India should improve its visa policy

Take a look at the Wikipedia article on India’s visa policy. What bothers me is that if I had a French or German passport they would have given me a visa on arrival. Only tourist visas valid for thirty days, which wouldn’t have helped me, but that’s not the point. The choice of countries for the visa on arrival policy seems rather arbitrary, they include Russia which has an Islamist insurgency going on within its borders but they exclude many member states of the European Union?

France, Germany and Russia were included in the policy only quite recently to increase tourist inflow. If that was the reason there should be no difficulty in including many other developed nations. Even the security conscious USA has a more lenient Visa Waiver Program. India should take an example to Nepal’s visa policy, which grants visas on arrival to tourists of almost every nationality for up to 90 days. And in Nepal doing volunteer work on a tourist visa wasn’t a problem.

When I look at the visa requirements for Dutch citizens I think I’d rather visit South America as an alternative to India. I won’t be going there any time soon after this ordeal.

Update 11 January

It turns out that all volunteers of Deep Griha Society work there on a tourist visa. An employment visa takes a lot more time, so effectively I should have lied at the visa center about my purpose of stay. They did not tell me this before I went to the visa center because they assumed I would know.

Volunteer work in Pune for ten weeks

Almost two years ago I decided to work as a volunteer in Nepal for ten weeks. It was a good experience which left me desiring for more. When I graduated for my master’s program in August the opportunity arrived to arrange for volunteer work a second time. As a consequence I had to postpone my search for a full time job until I would return home, but I think it is worth it.

Where I’m going

This time the choice has fallen on Pune in India. I’ll depart on 3 January and return on 15 March. I decided to go there because Deep Griha Society (DGS) operates in that city. I first learned about this organization from an American volunteer who I met in Nepal, she had worked there as a volunteer herself and was positive about the work done by DGS. After considering the alternatives I decided to work for them.

Actually there weren’t much alternatives because it was surprisingly difficult to find Indian charitable organizations. I was looking for organizations similar to Volunteer Society Nepal (VSN) which I had joined in 2011. They provide good assistance to foreign volunteers, and that’s what I was looking for in other organizations.

I considered Netherlands-based travel agencies offering volunteer work such as Het Andere Reizen and Kilroy, but I prefer to deal with local organizations directly. Finally, the fact that the American volunteer recommended this organization convinced me.

Besides the volunteer work I also intend to travel in India. I might reserve the two weeks of March to do this, so my volunteer work could take eight weeks instead of ten. I’ll make definite plans later. The American volunteer also travelled India, I asked about her experience. Based on her recommendations, I’m tempted to visit the state Rajasthan, but I might also go south to Kerala. And there is plenty to see in Maharashtra, where Pune is located, too.

How I’m going

Pune has its own airport, but for international flights Mumbai’s airport seems to be the best option. I remember my flight to Nepal (with two transfers) which cost me more than € 800, but once you pay € 50 for a flight from Eindhoven to Trapani you don’t take it for granted anymore that tickets cost a fortune.

After some searches on CheapTickets.nl steep fees of € 700 to € 800 were presented to me initially, but after digging through the options for flight on other dates I finally found a cheap flight with British Airways. First I depart from Amsterdam and have a short transfer on London Heathrow for a direct flight to Mumbai. Somehow it was not possible to book this flight for the same price on the website of British Airways itself.

When I proceeded to pay, I didn’t like how CheapTickets.nl started adding administrative fees to the ticket price. I also remember how they screwed up a booking with Ryanair for my father because they e-mailed a wrong check-in code. I decided to search for cheaper alternatives, it turns out that CheapTickets.nl is just one of the websites who use the same ‘engine’ for bookings. Vliegticketszoeken.nl is another one and their fees are € 5 cheaper.

The flight set me back € 545, which is quite a good deal I think. Pune isn’t far away from Mumbai, it should take four hours to get there with a train.

Why I’m going

When I look back at the post I wrote about my plans to work as a volunteer in Nepal, my motivation is still partly the same. I want to experience life in a foreign country with a very different culture. Just travelling in a country as a tourist doesn’t cut it for me. My failure to find hosts for CouchSurfing in Sicily was one reason I didn’t enjoy that trip as much, I want to get to know local people.

If I really wanted to see more of the world I should have probably gone to Africa or South America because I haven’t visited those yet, but the reason I’m attracted to India in specific is because I love its (vegetarian) cuisine so much. I hope to pick up some more culinary skills during my stay there.

The most important reason is that I want to help. I feel that I have a privileged position as a highly educated citizen of the Netherlands. This gives me an obligation to help the less fortunate. Were I born in a slum in Pune, I’d hope for solidarity from those who are better off too. But this time I’m giving more emphasis to this goal than in Nepal.

Since I returned from Nepal I’ve been concerned about voluntourism. This article in The Observer describes it well (and more extensively here). While I’m convinced that VSN had good intentions and I don’t think my presence there has done harm, I question the benefit of my work there.

I was put in front of a class of children alone without being a qualified teacher and having no knowledge of the curriculum. With some improvisation I certainly managed to teach the kids something, but I was in over my head. A qualified Nepali teacher would have been better.

Concerning the orphanages, a stream of volunteers staying for a short time to help the children is not ideal. I don’t think it’s necessarily damaging the children, all orphanages I’ve seen had loving, permanent caretakers. Volunteers can be beneficial for funding, but the sustainability of orphanages being financially dependent on volunteers can be questioned.

I want to avoid falling in the voluntourism trap. I have confidence in DGS in this regard because in their opinion volunteers should support staff and not replace them. I think I will be able to make a meaningful difference with my skills. I intend to help with teaching English and my ICT-skills. No more orphanages. Possibly also other things which might cross my path and where I’m able to contribute.

Finally, I deliberately chose to stay in India in January and February because these are the coldest months in the Netherlands. Of course it never gets really cold in the Netherlands, but I do get tired of the constantly overcast sky. Compared to the Netherlands the climate of Pune is like a paradise with 30 ℃ and sunshine in abundance.

Why e-books still suck

I like reading the books of the Oxford World’s Classics imprint. So far I’ve bought the paper versions through the British Internet store The Book Depository because of the fixed prices for books in the Netherlands, but I’ve been considering to switch to e-books. Recently e-book readers have been getting cheaper, costing less than € 100 now. However, the e-books of OWC titles themselves are only available with DRM, which is a barrier to adoption for me.

DRM is simply unacceptable to me because I value my freedom. DRM enables companies like Amazon to limit my freedom, even giving them a kill switch to do so. The publishing industry doesn’t seem to understand that DRM doesn’t help. Apple already stopped using DRM for music in iTunes back in January 2009. Some have seen the light already though, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is available without DRM for example. I can only hope the rest of the publishing industry will follow suit soon.

I’d like to use an e-book reader, obviously it’s much easier to take along if you travel than paper books. Paper books are damaged easily, while e-books don’t. The only disadvantage is that you can’t ‘impress’ people with a filled bookshelf anymore. But I’ll only buy one when there is a sufficient amount of titles available without DRM.

Windows 8 sucks

We have a shared desktop PC in our house, to be used by us all. Because I, my brother and my sister all have our own PC’s or notebook, it’s primarily used by our parents. Recently my parents decided to replace it with a new notebook. Not because the old desktop was no longer up to the task, but because it is more aesthetically pleasing and saves much space and wires. And of course a notebook is more mobile. I decided a 17 inch notebook would be a good idea as they primarily needed a desktop replacement which isn’t moved often.

The new laptop

My choice fell on the Dell Inspiron 17R. It has a monitor with a resolution of 1600 by 900 pixels, which is a huge benefit. Unfortunately many 17 inch notebooks still ship with lower resolutions. Another advantage was that it had the latest hardware, the Intel Core i3-3110M CPU of the Ivy Bridge generation. Its very reasonable price of € 530 sealed the deal, as the budget was important.

Having used it for a while now, I like the looks, but it’s not very sturdy as is to be expected for this price. Maybe more on the notebook itself later, because the reason I’m writing this is that it ships with Windows 8.

Bad usability and a push for the Microsoft account in Windows 8

Windows 8 is an absolute disaster, worse than Windows ME. Windows 7 was good for a Microsoft product, but its successor is the opposite. A more extensive argument against Windows 8 has already been written by a usability expert, so I’ll be brief here. I think they tried to design an OS for both tablets and desktop use, which proved to be detrimental to desktop use. Jack of all trades, master of none as they say. Tasks which were done quickly in Windows 7 are much more tedious now.

After starting up and getting rid of all the bloatware shipped by Dell such as trials of McAfee and Microsoft Word, I noticed that you need a Microsoft account for the Mail app and many others! Had this been optional this would have been okay, but all I want to do is to retrieve e-mails from the IMAP server of our Internet service provider. Requiring users to use a Microsoft account for that is ridiculous! Microsoft doesn’t care about privacy, it’s either their way or the highway. I immediately downloaded Thunderbird along with Firefox and LibreOffice.

Bugs in Windows 8

Even worse is the fact that Windows 8 is affected by some serious bugs. The connection with the WiFi router would often go down for no reason. I’m sure it’s either the laptop or Windows 8, because my own laptop with Fedora Linux and my sister’s laptop with Windows 7 don’t have this issue.

Dell technical support advised me to use an UTP cable, which was no problem and gave a reliable connection. They advised to check if the problem also occurred on other wireless networks, but without opportunity and willingness to test that I guess we’ll stick with the cable.

Another issue is that even if the printer connected to the Windows 8 laptop has been set to be shared on the network, the printer still can’t be found on the Windows 7 laptop of my sister! Previously on the old desktop with Windows 7 this hadn’t been a problem. Right now my sister is forced to copy documents over to a USB flash drive and take those to the Windows 8 laptop to print them there.

the comparison with Linux

The Windows 8 designers were fools and I hope the discontent of the their users will bite Microsoft in the ass. I hope this will lead more people to try Linux, but I’m not optimistic here. The reason Windows 8 is installed on this laptop is because my mother asked for it, after using Fedora with GNOME 3 for a year or so.

This was decided because other family members complained that they can’t help my mother if she encounters problems because they are not familiar with Linux. They are very reluctant to try something new, which is why their addiction to Windows is difficult to break.

While my mother was reasonably capable of using GNOME 3, she had some problems with using the Evolution e-mail client and especially the Shotwell photo management software. The Evolution issues are relatively minor and should pose no difficulty for family members not familiar with it, but Shotwell has a greater need for improvement.

Shotwell versus the Windows 8 Pictures app

My mother often receives photos over the e-mail and doesn’t keep track of where she saves them so that they get lost. Arguably this is more a matter of adapting to the right workflow as a user, but it’s also an issue which might be fixed by improving usability.

The issue has two aspects: First, Evolution doesn’t have a clear option to import photos with the default photo management application, you can only open attached photos with the Shotwell Viewer. Second, Shotwell has an option to import photos and by default stores them in the Pictures directory in the year/month/day subdirectory format.

This is not useful as subdirectories with names of months and days are not descriptive enough for me, so I’ve enabled the option to watch the Pictures directory for new photos copied there manually, without Shotwell’s importer. This way I can copy the directory Sicily to Pictures/2012 and have Shotwell detect those new photos automatically. I tried teaching this workflow to my mother, but it didn’t stick. Shotwell should help the user to adopt this second workflow by default.

I regret that I’ve never systematically noted down the issues encountered by my mother so that I could file bug reports for them, but I doubt Windows 8 will do better. Thunderbird is a little bit more user friendly than Evolution, but this has nothing to do with Microsoft.

The Pictures app used for browsing photo’s on Windows 8 simply presents directories in the My Pictures directory with huge thumbnails containing a slide show of photos, so in effect that’s similar to the second workflow for Shotwell I described, even if the Windows 8 app is grossly inefficient compared to Shotwell. I simply copied over the directories of the years from Shotwell’s Pictures directory to My Pictures on Windows 8. This seems to work for now, but I wonder what will happen if my mother needs to add new photos to the My Pictures directory.

And you can say about GNOME 3 what you want, but it is a fact that getting familiar with Windows 8 was a lot more confusing for my mother, myself and my other family members who only used the previous versions of Windows.