Struggling with the distraction of web feeds

I use the Feed Sidebar extension for Mozilla Firefox, which makes it easy to follow all the web feeds you’re subscribed to. It uses the built-in Live Bookmarks feature of Mozilla Firefox, but presents it better by displaying all feeds in a sidebar, so you can quickly see all new content in the blink of an eye. I like this extension because it saves me so much time, no longer do I need to visit every website individually to read news, but I can simply view the sidebar.

However, this convenience also has it’s shadow side. I find myself spending way too much time on reading web feeds. I’m subscribed to the following websites, in the Dutch language as well as in English:

All those websites produce quite a of lot new content each day, but to satisfy my curiosity I read most of it. Sometimes I can spend many hours a day just reading web feeds, especially if I want to catch up because I didn’t read my feeds the day before.

I want to spend my time more productively, procrastinate less and prioritize the tasks I should execute better. Reading less web feeds immediately crossed my mind. I think I should take certain measures to reach this goal.

  • Check web feeds only once a day, not multiple times.
  • Stop being too curious, only decide to read content if it’s really interesting.
  • Consider to cancel some subscriptions, there seems to be quite some overlap between the three hardware news websites and the two generic technical news websites I’m subscribed to.

I was wondering if others recognize this behavior? Do you think you waste too much time on web feeds as well?

What’s holding me back from switching from GNOME to KDE in the near future

Recently I’ve been testing the beta version of the coming 9.04 release of Kubuntu, to see how KDE is progressing. I agree with the position taken in this article, that KDE (KDE 4) has the evolutionary advantage over it’s colleague (or competitor depending on the point of view) GNOME. KDE has a vision, and GNOME isn’t making much progress at the moment. The innovations in KDE 4 are considerable, and I intend to switch in the near future. However, I want to wait a little bit longer before switching because some problems are holding me back.

Possibly the most serious problem in KDE 4 is the Konqueror web browser. Konqueror uses the KHTML engine, which unfortunately gives compatibility problems with certain websites. As a consequence, many KDE users use the Mozilla Firefox web browser, which is a necessary evil because it doesn’t integrate as well in KDE 4 as Konqueror. Many think that a web browser using the WebKit engine should be created for KDE to give a better web browsing experience. I agree with this, and because efforts seem underway to solve this in the near future, I will wait with switching until this problem is solved.

Currently OpenOffice, just like Firefox, doesn’t integrate well in KDE 4 while it does better in GNOME. OpenOffice is the single office suite in the free software world which is usable, while I think it’s quality disappoints there is no alternative. I’m looking forward to KDE’s competitor for OpenOffice, KOffice, but unfortunately there is no stable KOffice 2.0 release yet. At this moment sticking with OpenOffice in combination with GNOME seems a better option.

Banshee is a music player which I’m using in combination with GNOME, and which I appreciate highly. I especially like it’s no nonsense user interface, which is efficient and simple. If I’d use KDE I’d want to use a music player which would integrate better in KDE. Amarok is the most popular and the subject of much praise, but the interface is a world of difference with Banshee. Amarok is completely bloated and the user interface looks like a mess, far from the clean looks of Banshee. JuK would looks like a better candidate to replace Banshee as a simple music player, but I fear it can’t compete with Banshee either. I haven’t given either Amarok or JuK a serious try yet, so I can’t make a definite judgement.

I’m not up to date with the state of Kopete, but as far as I know development is still being done on overhauling Kopete to use the Telepathy framework. In this respect it seems to lag behind GNOME’s instant messenger, Empathy.

A less important issue is that Konversation, KDE’s IRC client, has not been ported to KDE 4 yet. Apparently Kubuntu will use Quassel as it’s IRC client to bridge the gap. Quassel seems inferior to Konversation, certainly when it comes to integrating in KDE. I don’t use IRC much, but it’s another reason to hold off switching.

The dangers of content protection

I already read about two campaigns of the Free Software Foundation in the past, BadVista and Defective by Design. I agreed with the ideas behind these campaigns, but it is only since I’ve read the document “A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection” that I realize the grave consequences of content protection.

Quite alarming that Microsoft and the music and film industry can pull this off. Again this is more proof that Microsoft’s monopoly is dangerous.

Filtering on IMAP accounts broken in Evolution 2.24.2, fixed in 2.24.3

Since I’ve been using the latest Ubuntu 8.10 release and modified the e-mail filters in Evolution I noticed that the e-mail filtering didn’t work anymore. Filtering is quite useful to me, I use it to separate automated messages of bug tracking systems where I file bug reports from the other e-mails I receive. I visited the IRC channel of Evolution to ask if there was a solution, and I was told I was affected by bug #562708. The bug is fixed in version 2.24.3 of Evolution, which can be found in the intrepid-proposed repository. As far as I know it will take some more time before the new version will land in the intrepid-updates repository. If you don’t want to wait like me, you can get it from the intrepid-proposed repository by enabling that repository for use. Do so by choosing System → Administration → Software Sources. Then choose “Updates” and enable the repository.

Fixing a minor OpenOffice annoyance

I’ve been experiencing a minor, but rather annoying problem since I used Writer to create a complex document a few years ago. It was difficult to figure out how the problem could be fixed, but after spending a lot time on Google to refine a precise search term, I finally found a solution to this problem.

Let me explain the problem. Apply a paragraph style which places spacing above the paragraph (like the “Heading 1” style for example) to the first line of text on the page. Even though it is the first line of text on the page, Writer still applies the spacing above the paragraph. This adds unnecessary space to the already existing page margings, which will look strange. It will also look inconsistent because the spacing won’t present on the next page if a paragraph continues there on the first line, for example. Your only option is to remove the spacing above the paragraph from the style, but that means you will have to use the Enter key which is supposed to start a new paragraph to create spacing manually. This is not good, so I searched for an explanation as to why it’s not’s default behaviour to ignore the spacing above the paragraph if the style using it is applied to the first line of the page.

I found this topic on the forum. Apparently this illogical behavior of can be disabled by disabling the option “Add paragraph and table spacing at tops of pages (in current document)”. You can navigate to this option through the menu options “Tools” → “Options…” → “ Writer” → “Compatibility”. According to this page on the Wiki this option is enabled (by default I assume, at least it was in my case) specifically to ensure compatibility with Microsoft Word.

While it is a good thing that tries to be compatible, it’s not good if I’m only using without importing Word documents. In that case this option is quite obviously working against me. On top of that, it was very difficult to figure out how to disable this behavior. The question is, can’t the option be disabled by default, and temporarily enabled on-the-fly when a MS Word document is opened? I wonder what the developers think. I filed a bug report, issue #97951.

File sharing with gnome-user-share

Some months ago I wrote about using OpenSSH in combination with GNOME to share files. I advertised it as an easy method, but easy is relative, and using OpenSSH to do the job is still not easy enough. It’s quite a hassle to create a different user with stripped privileges to create a safety measure. That’s why I continued searching for a better method to share files. I found gnome-user-share, which can be found in Ubuntu’s package repository. To install it, just open Applications → Accessories → Terminal and then enter sudo apt-get install gnome-user-share there.

After it’s installed, you can open System → Preferences → Personal File Sharing to access configuration options. It uses a WebDAV to share the ‘Public’ directory in the user’s home directory over the network. It uses Avahi to publish the WebDAV server to all computers on the local network, so no configuration is necessary to allow other computers to access the server. So all you need to do to access the server is open Places → Network, where it should be visible. Additionally, it can also use ObexFTP to share files over Bluetooth.

However, even though gnome-user-share is really easy, it does come with it’s disadvantages. It doesn’t feature configuration of permissions, so you can’t protect your files. It doesn’t integrate in Nautilus. But most of all, it’s only possible to share the ‘Public’ directory, it’s not possible to share other directories. A feature request to implement this already exists in the GNOME Bugzilla – bug #500738 – but so far it hasn’t been picked up yet by the developers. Once this application is more mature, it should definitely be included in GNOME to make file sharing easy. Right now it’s hard to find as a separate application.

Easy file sharing with OpenSSH and GNOME

In my home I have three computers running Ubuntu connected to a router, which form a network. It’s useful to be able to share files with my brother’s PC, and Ubuntu uses Samba as a solution for file sharing because Samba can easily share files with Microsoft Windows. However, in my experience Samba often doesn’t work as it should. When I want to access a Samba share on a remote PC it often starts whining about permissions and refuses access. I don’t know where to start to figure out a solution for this. And in principle, why should you use Samba which reverse-engineered the Microsoft SMB protocol? Shouldn’t there be a better solution which works flawlessly? I started looking around for other methods for easy file sharing, and I found OpenSSH. Using it is surprisingly easy, and you can share files fast and flawless. So that’s why I’m posting a guide to give easy instructions on how to use OpenSSH in combination with GNOME for file sharing.

Because the username and password of your system are used to log in to a computer with SSH, anyone who will be able to log in will have all the privileges that user has, like becoming root. I chose to create a new user account on my system so that I could use that user instead of my own user to log in with SSH, while also stripping this user of any privileges. Then I changed permissions of my home directory to allow read-only access to Others. This can be done by opening System → Administration → Users and Groups. Enter the details for the account, and then disable all the privileges. Now open your /home directory in the Nautilus file manager. Right click your home directory, go to Properties, go to Permissions and set Folder access for Others to Access files. Of course you should solve this differently if your home directory contains privacy sensitive information. Possibly a better solution would be to keep read access to your home directory disabled, while you use the home directory of the new user for writing files. You also place links (create a link to a directory by right clicking the directory and choosing Make Link) to a few directories inside your home directory which contain the files you want to share and for which you have enabled read access for Others.

To log in to a computer with SSH, you need to install the OpenSSH server package first. You can do this by opening Applications → Accessories → Terminal and then enter sudo apt-get install openssh-server there. Then you need to look up the IP-address of the computer you want to log in to, which you can do by opening System → Administration → Network Tools. In my case, I chose to select the Ethernet Interface (eth0) as the network device here. Then you can see the IPv4 IP address, which is what we need. Now use another computer in your home network, and open Places → Connect to Server… and select SSH as the Service type. In the Server field, fill in the IP address of the other computer. Leave the Port field blank, in the Folder field enter the path to your home directory (e.g. /home/alexander) and in the User name field enter the user name you use to log in to the computer. Enable the option to add a bookmark, and give it a name. The bookmark will appear in the Places menu, and in the Nautilus file manager. Then press Connect. You will then be notified that the identity of the computer you are connecting to is unknown, but you should ignore the message and connect anyway. Now you enter your password for the username you entered previously. You have options to forget or remember the password, I chose to remember the password. Now Nautilus will open and display the home directory of your computer. You can start sharing files now. For me this works a lot better than Samba, even though it’s still not the best solution for simple file sharing. This was merely a quick guide, and more detailed documentation is available here on Ubuntu’s documentation website.

Installing Ubuntu from a USB flash drive, continued

A while ago I posted about installing Ubuntu on USB flash drive so that you no longer need to throw away CD’s. I wrote that the process should be made easier for inexperienced users. When I investigated what options there are for installing other distributions on a USB flash drive, I found an application for Fedora called liveusb-creator. This is exactly what I was looking for. I proposed an idea to copy this application for Ubuntu in Ubuntu Brainstorm, but apparently an application to do this is already being developed for Ubuntu 8.10. It’s still experimental work, but this is good news. Certainly this is essential for netbooks which don’t have a built-in optical drive.

EDIT: a specification for USB installation images has recently been approved for the next release of Ubuntu.

Installing Ubuntu from a USB flash drive

Practically every Linux distribution, including my favorite Ubuntu, can be downloaded as an ISO image. Traditionally these ISO images are then burned to a CD recordable or a DVD recordable. When that is done, you load the CD-R in the optical disc drive of the PC on which you want to install the Linux distribution and you restart the PC. The optical disc drive is then used as a boot device, and the Linux distribution can then be installed. In Ubuntu’s case, the installation is started after Ubuntu itself is started, because Ubuntu is a Live CD in case you download the Desktop CD version.

These times USB flash drives are quite popular, and they have some advantages compared to CD’s and DVD’s. The most important advantage in my opinion is that USB flash drives are reusable while CD and DVD recordables are not. Other advantages are portability, performance, reliability and ruggedness. I often have to throw away CD recordables which contain old versions of Ubuntu, I’d like to avoid wasting CD’s. Fortunately, it’s also possible to use USB flash drives for installing Linux distributions.

I have found instructions on the Internet. Because Ubuntu’s ISO image is supposed to fit on a CD it’s file size is approximately 700 MB, so you need a USB flash drive which has a capacity of at least 1 GB. If you are using Windows, follow these instructions. If you are already using Linux, follow these instructions on the Ubuntu Wiki and use the script. These instructions are very easy to follow. But I’ve experienced that these instructions fail to mention an important step, to be able to use the USB flash drive as a boot device I had to change a setting in the BIOS of all three PC’s on which I have booted from a USB flash drive.

You need to set the USB flash drive as the first hard disk drive which is going to be used as the boot device. By default the USB flash drive is set to be the boot device after the hard disk drive(s), and then it will not work because the PC will boot from the hard disk drive. There are several different BIOS manufacturers and the way to do this is depends on which BIOS is used by the PC. On the PC’s I have tested, I have encountered two different BIOS versions, one computer had an Asus A8N-E motherboard which used a BIOS produced by Phoenix Technologies (Award BIOS), the other two computers used motherboards manufactured by MSI and used a BIOS produced by American Megatrends (AMI BIOS).

To access the BIOS, you need to press the Delete key soon after starting up the PC. In the AwardBIOS you need to go to the “Boot” menu, then choose “Hard disk drives”. Then you should see the name of the USB flash drive below the hard disk drives in a numbered list. You need to place the USB flash drive on the top of the list with the “+” key, and then press F10 to save the change and exit the BIOS. In the AMIBIOS you need to choose “Advanced BIOS Features”, “Boot Sequence”, “Hard Disk Drives”.

After I had followed these steps, everything worked perfectly. Unfortunately, this information isn’t found on Ubuntu’s website, but on other websites. The instructionson the Ubuntu Wiki don’t count, because those are “hidden”, i.e. you won’t find them unless you search for them well, this way the average user will never find them unless they are on the website. Notice that when you choose the links “Get Ubuntu” and then “Download Ubuntu” on the website, you will arrive at this page after choosing a download server? Here you can find links to pages explaining how you can verify the MD5 sum and how to burn the ISO image to a CD recordable. Exactly this page should also contain a link to a page explaining how to install Ubuntu from a USB flash drive, instructions for doing so should be made more accessible to users. Even if the instructions I linked to are relatively easy, some people which lack knowledge might be put off by it’s seeming complexity. Perhaps an application with a graphical user interface could be created, which would enable the user to select an ISO image and a USB flash drive, and which would then automatically copy the files to the USB flash drive.