Choosing an OS

I'm planning on hosting some websites on the server running in my back room at home. If I do that, then I'm going to have to stop using it as my desktop workstation. That means that I'm in the market for a new computer. At the moment I'm really torn about what operating system I want on my new computer. I've been using Linux at home for a few months now, but a Mac would be nice for doing more multimedia. And there's always Windows, too. So, I'm going to do some thinking out loud (er . . . in writing) and I would love to hear what you think.

The first question that needs to be asked: What am I going to do with my new computer?

  • Regular websurfing
  • Web design
  • Digital photography and a little graphic design
  • Maybe some gaming
  • Audio production
  • Video editing (maybe)

Here are the factors that are going to come into play: Cost, hardware compatibility, available software, ease of use and security.

Cost
Linux is the clear winner here. The OS itself is free (Ubuntu is my distro of choice) and almost all the applications you can get for Linux are free. Windows would come in second. The OS comes bundled with a new computer, but it does add something to the cost. There are some free apps for Windows, but commercial programs are the norm. Apple is the worst in terms of cost. You can only get the OS by buying a computer from Apple, and they are notoriously expensive. Mac OS X does come with iLife, a very cool suite of software. Windows and Mac OS charge money for upgrades, so there's more than just the one-time cost to consider. If I pay $200 for Windows XP today, will I be paying another $150 for Longhorn next year? Like I said, Linux wins this round.

Hardware
Windows, which works with just about anything, would have to be the winner here. If I shopped carefully I could build a computer that works fine under Linux. The printer would be the tough part. I have two printers at my house now, and neither of them has drivers for Linux. A Mac requires Apple hardware.

Available Software
This is a tough one. It really needs to be broken down into some sub-categories: multimedia, gaming and everything else.

Multimedia
The Mac wins here. Right out of the box you have some cool tools for creating audio (Garage Band) and video (iMovie). And it would just work. I don't have a video camera now, but I could be confident in plugging one in and being able to edit video without a lot of trouble. Most of the good podcasters are using Macs to create their shows. Windows can do most of the same stuff, but it requires you to buy some software. (The only bundled software that MS has added to Windows since version 3.1 is a free trial of AOL). Linux is a big unknown here. There are free programs available for all of this stuff, but I'm not sure if it would Just Work. My current soundcard won't record from a mic in Linux. If I go with Linux I can't be sure whether a video camera would work with it. On the other hand, the coolest drum machine program I've ever used is Hydrogen, a free Linux app.

Gaming
Not much to say here. Game companies make versions for Windows and that's about it. I've tried running Starcraft under WINE, a Windows emulator. It's supposed to work, but I've never got it to. But, I don't do that much gaming and when I do go to a LAN party it's not that hard to find an extra machine.

Everything Else
Then there are always those programs that come up randomly. Shockwave animations won't work in Firefox under Linux. Gcompris, a kids' game that Emma loves, is built for Linux. But I can do 90% of what I want to do in Linux using Firefox, GIMP, Skype, Audacity and Bash.

Ease of Use
This category should probably go to the Mac. Things just work in a Mac. Linux is harder to use in many cases. When I plug in my card reader or my thumb drive, does it just show up as a drive? Wouldn't that be nice. I have to go to the command line and try to find out what /dev label it was given by the kernel, then I have to issue a command to mount it in my filesystem. Only then can I use the device. Windows is getting good at this kind of thing, but Windows annoys me in so many other ways that I can't really call it easy to use.

Security
I suppose that Mac and Linux tie for first and Windows finishes a very distant third place. I'm so sick of worms, viruses, spyware and adware. My Windows machine at work runs pretty clean, but it takes a lot of work. Everyday I'm updating antivirus software, scanning, checking for Windows updates, etc. Linux and Mac are both practically virus-free.

Conclusion
So, I'm very torn. I haven't decided whether I want a laptop or a desktop, either. The Mac seems like a good choice, except that it costs more and I have virtually no experience with the Mac OS. I would love to hear what you think about any of this.

GIMP tutorials

DBC ButtonThanks to StumbleUpon, I found another very cool website: GIMP User Group Tutorials. I've talked about GIMP before. It's a free and open source program that is similar to Photoshop. I've been using it some, but I don't have any real skills with it yet, so these tutorials should be a big help. I went through this one and it helped me create the graphic on the left. If anyone does another tutorial and makes something cool, then email me the picture and I may post it.

Update:
There are also a bunch of good tutorials on the official GIMP website.

Stumbleupon.com

After going 5 days without posting last week I decided that I needed some way to find new stuff to talk about. Brendan has been using Stumbleupon for years now, so I thought I would try that. Basically, you sign up and download a toolbar for Firefox (other browsers are supported, but why would you use another browser?). When you sign up you tell them some of the things you're interested in. On the toolbar there's a button marked "Stumble!" Click it to get a random page from your chosen categories. The toolbar also has thumbs up and thumbs down buttons, so when you're on any web page (whether you stumbled to it or not) you can give it a positive or negative rating. It's a good time waster because you can keep clicking Stumble! until you find something interesting. You get a profile page (mine, Brendan's) that shows what you've said about pages you rate and it shows links to the pages that you liked. It also creates an RSS feed of links that you like. That way your friends can see what kinds of things you're stumbling upon. I included my feed here on Danny's Blog Cabin. You can see it on the right under the heading "Recent Stumbles." So, even if you don't decide to sign up, you can come here when you're bored and find some fun links.

The Office

The OfficeThere's a short list of shows that Sara and I never miss. NBC's The Office is the newest addition to that list. It's on Tuesdays at 9:30. You can read more about it at the official site and at TV Tome. It's based on a British sitcom of the same name. I haven't seen the original, but the American version is very funny. Steve Carell, former Daily Show correspondent, plays Michael Scott, the obliviously incompetent supervisor of an office of paper salesmen. He plays the part so that you can actually feel how uncomfortable it would be to work with him. The rest of the ensemble cast is excellent as well. There's some good talent behind the camera, too. Greg Daniels, creator, writer and executive producer, has worked on Seinfeld, The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Saturday Night Live. Give this show a try. The upcoming episode is the season finale, but they may be repeating the other episodes in the coming weeks. And if you already like the show, then you can go here and vote for it to prevent it from being canceled.

The Screen Savers

G4TechTV was renamed to G4TV and The Screen Savers has been renamed to "Attack of the Show." This is a good thing. The crappy network will no longer be associated with the good network that it destroyed. And the The Screen Savers, one of the best shows ever, will no longer be associated with the commercialized, dumbed-down freak show that it had become. AOTS is a stupid name for a stupid show. But take heart, my geeky friends . . .

A new podcast has begun: Revenge of the Screen Savers. It's a weekly podcast featuring a rotating cast of former TSS stars. The first episode was a half hour of chat and tech news from Leo, Kevin, Robert and Patrick. It was almost like the old days. If you want to get the show, then subscribe to the LaPorte Report podcast feed.

On the first episode, Kevin Rose discussed a new project he's working on called Systm. It will be a downloadable tv show that covers tech like the Screen Savers used to.

Google Sightseeing

There have been quite a few sites spring up that are dedicated to the most interesting finds from Google Maps' satellite images.

This image in Dallas shows where two different perspectives meet and overlap. One building leans right and one leans left.

Here is a huge triangle with circles inside. I think it's some kind of bombing target for an air force base.

Who knew that Arizona farmers liked Oprah so much?

The Space Needle in Seattle, WA.

Mount Rushmore.

Area 51. Though everyone knows that the interesting stuff there is underground.

There are several instances of large words spelled out in fields, but none are as large as this one.

And now some sites where you can do more Google sightseeing:

shreddies.org/gmaps
gmaps.nicj.net
returnofdesign.com
del.icio.us/knodi/google_maps
perljam.net

DSL Upgrade complete

DSL speed before upgrade:

Download: 322.87 kbps, Upload: 311.21 kbps

DSL speed after upgrade:

Download: 2.525 Mbps, Upload: 411.52 kbps

I ran the speed test here. I was led to believe that my upload speed would increase more dramatically than that. But, before the upgrade I was only supposed to be able to upload at 128 kbps.

Planting a garden

A couple of Saturdays ago I built a garden box, hauled a truckload of horse manure and mixed my soil. For the next several days I watered the soil and turned it until it seemed ready to be planted. I used some string and nails to divide it into 16 1'x1' sections. I numbered them in a notebook so I could keep track of what's planted in each square. The grid below shows how the garden is layed out. The north side is on top, and if you look at the pictures you can see the school in the background. The school is to the north of us.

1234
5678
9101112
13141516

And here's what I have in each square:
1. I'm planning on putting a tomato plant here.
2. Planning on cucumbers here. Both of these will be climbers, so I need to build something for them to climb on.
3. No plans for this square yet. Any ideas?
4. Planning on putting a pepper plant here.
5. India Mustard.
6. I hope to plant marigold seeds this weekend.
7. I put in four basil plants from the greenhouse yesterday.
8. Parsley (from the greenhouse).
9. Carrots
10. Butter crunch lettuce.
11. Onions (from sets.)
12. Oregano (from the greenhouse).
13. Seeded Simpson lettuce.
14. Bloomsdale spinach
15. Chives (from the greenhouse).
16. Planning on planting nasturtium seeds. The leaves and the flowers are edible, so it will be a fun one for Emma.

So far it's been fun and relaxing to come home from work, look things over, water a bit and pull some weeds. The onion sets sprang right up, but the carrots I planted a week ago are a little slower. This picture may show them finally sprouting, or maybe those are weeds. I really have no idea. When I was putting out the parsley yesterday a sprig broke off, so I took it inside and when I cooked some ground beef for dinner I added some chopped fresh parsley. Emma usually hates little green things on her food, but when I told her what it was she said she loved it.

Inkscape: open source vector drawing

If you like the GIMP, the open source replacement for Photoshop, then you should try Inkscape. It's a vector drawing tool, like Adobe Illustrator. I've been playing with it, and it's pretty fun. Here's a drawring I made:

Ubuntu 5.04

I've already talked about how much I like Ubuntu Linux. Last week was the release of the new version, code-named Hoary Hedgehog. I had been using Warty Warthog, the version that came out last fall. Upgrading was easy. I didn't have to download a new cd. Shoot, I didn't even have to reboot. I just told it to pull software from the new repositories and then typed "sudo dist-upgrade" on the command line. It took a few hours, but it worked great. When that was done I switched to the KDE desktop, which is a new addition in this version of Ubuntu. It's so pretty. If you want a little taste of KDE, then you can use this theme for Firefox, which is based on a KDE theme. Shiny.

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