Tuesday, October 31, 2006

JoJo - Too Little Too Late

I want to avoid sounding like a derganed teenage JoJo fan but I have to admit that JoJo's new single Too Little Too Late is pretty catchy pop and sounds remarkably similar to her original single, Leave (Get Out).

You can watch the video as linked off her website. Will buy the track once it comes out here.

On the other hand, I dislike all her other songs as they have too much of an R&B feel to them. So no, I'm not one of those diehard fans :)

Rent movies, don't buy them

In Sydney, a movie DVD costs about $US15 to $US22. A rental for a week costs about $US3 to $US5.

Therefore, unless you intend to watch the same movie on, at least, 3 separate occasions - each spaced at least 1 week apart - it makes no sense to buy that movie. But who actually watches a movie that many times?

Therefore, it makes no sense to buy movies instead of renting them.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A way to reduce stress

1. You carry a mobile phone in your pocket.
2. You spend too much time checking your watch to see if you have to be at your next appointment, and this causes anxiety.

1. Do not wear a watch.
2. Set alarms on your mobile phone to warn you of appointments.

1. As reaching into your pocket to check the time on your phone is highly inconvenient, you will check the time less often, compared to wearing a watch.
2. You no longer poll for appointments - your mobile phone alarm generates interrupts instead. This is far more efficient and no polling (i.e. no checking of the time) reduces stress.

Auxiliary Benefits:
* You do not have to buy a watch!

If there is something else in the room that displays the current time (e.g. wall clock or computer's taskbar applet), the effectiveness of this method is reduced. However, you still get the benefit of being more relaxed as you have the knowledge that the phone alarm will always warn you about your next appointment, in time.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

KDE's 10th birthday

The Dot story tells all.

KDE's certainly changed my life in more ways than one:

A. I get a highly-configurable desktop that - apart from hardware integration and software installation issues - absolutely kicks Windows or Mac OS X in the face:

Konqueror is an incredible web-browser that loads, responds and renders far faster than Firefox/Linux and actually integrates with the desktop. In fairness, I do still use Firefox/IE for those more stubborn websites.

KMail is my email client of choice - friendly and does threading correctly, which I cannot say about Outlook.

KWrite is the model of how UNIX text editors should be - easy-to-use, while still having power features like syntax highlighting. None of the ESC, beep, colon, w, oops I left caps lock on, behaviour of ViM. And none of the Emacs operating system's crazy shortcuts, nor games (yes, literally; I used to spend far too much time talking to psychiatrist app they had in there :)). My favourite productivity boosting feature has got to be "View / New Window".

Konsole and its tabs and convenient Shift + {Left, Right} for switching tabs and Shift + {Up, Down} for scrolling by one line go well with the UNIX terminal's Shift + {PgUp, PgDn} for scrolling. The power of the UNIX command line is the perfect complement to the ease-of-use of the KDE GUI.

But my favourite app would have to be KTimeMon, the only clear and concise system-monitoring taskbar applet in existence.

And, Amarok, a media player that actually cares about playlists and gives context about the current song or artist. Having said that, it is a bit unstable at times and I wished it played video (else it's not a "_multi_media" player).

And of course, KMix.

Most importantly, it's all opensource and free (in terms of speech and beer) so it will always be around.

B. On the developer side of things, hacking on KDE over the last 5 years has taught me more about developing software - heavier C++ than I was used to, revision control, listening to users, UI design bug management, organisation, release processes, highly collaborative and distributed development, support, effective email communication, team management, the list goes on - than I have learnt anywhere else, even university. I still see closed-source companies that do not understand any of the above.

KDE is wonderful because it brings together the best software development practices and the most passionate people to create a kick-arse, opensource desktop environment that users love and a community where people meet, learn from each other and develop all kinds of skills.

It's a bit scary that I've been hanging around for half of KDE's existence. I started with KOffice filters and remember how friendly people like David Faure and Nicolas Goutte were in helping to get me up to speed. I moved on to write KolourPaint, touched other bits and pieces in KDE but became relatively inactive due to university commitments. But every minute I've been there, KDE's been one of the most rewarding things I've ever been involved in. As bonus, next year I'll be graduating and only working part-time after that, so I should have plenty of time to work on KDE.

Finally, congrats to everyone who has contributed to KDE's success and I'm sure KDE will only get bigger and better. Cheers!

OpenOffice.org for documents

I'm writing my thesis in OpenOffice.org. I vowed a few years ago never to learn LaTeX because the whole idea of spending time writing formatting commands, rather than document content, is so last decade (or maybe the one before that?). Yes \{to_you_too.

For a while, I had used LyX which, apart from having been started by KDE founder, Matthias Ettrich, is a WYSIWYM ('M' means "mean" i.e. document structure not formatting) document editor, that importantly generates LaTeX. The great thing is you can have your cake and eat it too - have the benefits of interactive WYSIWYG editing but also produce nice-looking LaTeX.

I found the interface to be a bit clumsy (e.g. "Edit / Paste External Selection" and the overly fast scrollbar) so resorted to writing all the text in KWrite before dumping it into LyX for formatting. But after a while, things just got too irritating - like the lack of a key shortcut for the "type of text" (e.g. "Standard" or "Section" or "Subsection") or when it generates uncompilable LaTeX (when I tried to force blank lines or add images). And if I changed the text in LyX, I'd have to synchronise the .TXT too.

So I retreated back to OpenOffice.org Writer. LaTeX people scoff at such WYSIWYG editors but with paragraph, character and page styles (Format / Styles and Formatting (F11)) available with just a double click (or none at all, if you've setup "Next Style" correctly), I don't see why. You also get the benefits of WYSIWYM, a reasonable user interface and importantly, an easy way to override the formatting if necessary (use RMB / Default Formatting to revert an override). It doesn't generate LaTeX but the output is good enough for me.

Another really handy feature, if you use headings, is the document outline viewer (Edit / Navigator (F5)).

Of course, the binary .ODT is no good for meaningful SVN or CVS diffs. Unzipping it won't help since the XML for the whole document is on, like, 2 lines. So what I do before I commit is I always save a .TXT version for diff'ing purposes. Works great except that the diff won't show formatting changes. Also, it's important after saving to .TXT to immediately resave back to .ODT before you forget and lose your next set of changes.

Yes, it's slow. Yes, it crashes at the most importune times. But it's opensource, its feature set is sufficient for all of my document editing and the .DOC filters are pretty good. And I just submitted my 106 page thesis draft on Friday. Saves me from learning LaTeX, thanks :)

The fastest way to quit acroread under Linux is...

... killall -9 acroread OR Ctrl+Alt+Esc. It's instant.

On the other hand, File / Exit, when a large document is open, takes forever and drives the disk light nuts for maybe a minute - like most laptops, this one has a really slow hard disk. I don't know the exact amount of time but given that Linux performs extremely badly when the disk is being accessed, it's too slow for me to want to try to reproduce it again.

As far as I can tell, no data is lost this way (maybe config settings but I don't mind) so it brings into question the purpose of writing teardown code if it performs so badly.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Page Styles in OpenOffice.org Writer

I'm writing this while waiting for my document to print...

Changing the current page's Page Style by double clicking the style name in the "Styles and Formatting" window (F11) does not work. It stubbornly insists on using the previous page's style's "Next Style" (RMB / Modify... in the F11 Window).

A solution is to force a page break (you think they'd call it a "Page Style Break") i.e. the "Insert / Manual Break..." menu item. Set the "Type" to "Page break" and the "Style" to the one you want. Then manually delete the blank page it creates (after all, it is a page break).