MacBuntu on a white macbook

So I’m playing around with my old white macbook. It’s a 2008 macbook with a DVDRW and maxed out memory (I think). It was running Snow Leopard up until last week when I tried out Ubuntu 14.04.

The objective is to work out if I can do my work on this MacBuntu machine instead of the Macbook Pro which has been the bane of my life since I bought it a couple of years ago.

It’s not a simple transition though.

I need to have several things:

email (duh), but one is an exchange account.

TeamViewer – there’s an app for that!

Google Drive – There’s no app for that from Google, but there’s a couple I’m trying out right now, both of which cost money.

CD/DVD playback – that wasn’t too difficult, but it doesn’t work “out of the box” because there’s licensing issues which is just tiresome.

VLC – haven’t quite got this working yet; doesn’t like one of the file types I can use without issue on my mac. Not sure why right now

Partitions – there’s three partitions for some unknown reason on this machine. I set Ubuntu up to use the standard install, but for some reason it’s jammed the OS into the smallest partition there is. Would be nice to get one big partition and have done with it. Think I need The Guru for this one.

Stop that fan running at a bazillion miles an hour – not sure why this happens, but it’s like being in a bloody wind tunnel when it goes off. Also, it kills the battery very quickly which is sub-optimal.

So, I’ll write updates when I fancy and might just have a nice alternative machine to be playing with soon.

 

Vampire Mac

My Macbook Pro is a vampire, and has sucked every little bit of love I had for Apple out of me. All that remains is a sense of disappointment and loss.

I’ve loved Apple since my father brought home our first computer, the Apple ][ europlus (the ][ plus for Europe). It was a thing of beauty, and held its own against the Vic 20, Commodore 64, Atari games boxes and just about everything else that popped into existence at the time.

Even when we moved over to a PC, there was still a feeling we’d traded down, not up. Beige boxes were hardly the things dreams were made of.

I regained the love back in 2001 with my first ever Mac, the aluminium PowerBook, 11 inches of screen, lovely small keyboard and a general sense of well-being in the face of the abominable Windows variants.

Everything was easier, simpler. More streamlined.

A friend once remarked: You buy a PC if you want tech support, you buy a Mac to do work.

And over the years I bobbed between different Macs, a bubble iMac g3, a G4 PowerMac (two actually), a clamshell iBook (a laptop with a handle! What a useful little machine! And even though it was nicknamed the “toilet seat”, I could build magazines, do writing and even a little graphic design on this baby), and a white iBook too (less impressive in the handle department, but still a nice piece of kit). Never once did I think of going back to the worrying world of PC. Every subsequent version of the Mac OS improved things, streamlined and kept things clear and easy to use. Every subsequent version of Windows, that I could see, turned peoples hair whiter and whiter, and apoplectic rage ruled the day when trying to network the damn things together.

I remember a moment with some friends in my car. Four macs connected within seconds creating their own wireless network. To this day, Windows can’t do stuff like that.

A couple of years ago, I dabbled with Ubuntu 12 on a machine I found on the side of the road, but it had no utility; everything it could do, my Macbook could do better. It was a white one, purchased in 2008, and had run 10.5 (the first operating system I’d ever bought), and 10.6. And it worked well and kept me going for seven years.

Over time, I found Apple’s own software was becoming bloated (iTunes and iPhoto were the main contenders for The Biggest Loser). They’d started out as such innovative, simple ways to manage music and photos and became feature-heavy and difficult to use.

So I investigated alternatives and got out of using pre-packaged software in favour of open source which lightened the load. VLC was a great alternative to iTunes, and I found a piece of software which would do everything iPhoto could, but wouldn’t hide my photos under endless metadata. The only thing iTunes did which there is no alternative for, was the music and video store. To this day I’m unsure of how to substitute this, and I expect I’ll have to use iTunes in an emulator.

But I digress…

The Macbook wasn’t perfect though. Trying to plug in the DVI output to an HDMI TV was an exercise in extreme frustration; I ended up finding out the on-board video card in Macs had some kind of handshake issue where it wouldn’t bother communicating with the HDMI on the other end, and so picture and audio would just disappear. But this was overcome with Plex media server and an ethernet cable, so it was all tickety-boo again.

But upon purchase of the new 2012 Macbook Pro, things took a nosedive.

Prior to purchase, I upped the hard drive capacity and maxed-out the memory. And to this day it is sluggish as hell. Upon unpacking, I made a fatal mistake: I upgraded the operating system – as recommended in the App store – to Mavericks. This was a sub-optimal decision. It failed twice on install, and the mac was never quite the same again.

Mavericks introduced some irritations which I was sure I’d pointed and laughed at in Windows Vista. Why the hell was I being prevented from using software I’d downloaded? Turned out I had to go to Finder and right-click>open on the application then choose deliberately to open before the system would allow me to use it.

But the hardware was the bigger issue. Apple was kind enough to replace the logic board, but it didn’t solve the majority of the problems.

It was the sleep issue which drove me to despair. You know on older Macs when you close the lid and you’ve got a sliver of red on the battery indicator and ten seconds before the whole thing powers down? Then when you open the lid again, and plug in the power, it’ll restore from a hard drive backup, slowly becoming clearer on the screen while the status blobs illuminate? Well I have this on my brand new fully charged Macbook pro, all the bloody time. And even when the screen comes back, it takes another minute for the mouse to become active. Mac experts and service people repeatedly told me there was nothing wrong with the machine.

It’s only recently I’ve discovered this is, in developer parlance, a feature, not a bug. It turns out because of some European directive, computers have to deactivate fully while in powered sleep mode, rather than staying on standby. That Mac rolled this out across the board is logical from a purely business standpoint – why have Macs that operate one way in one region of the planet and operate differently everywhere else? – it’s really painful to have a fully charged computer and have to go off and make a cup of tea while the damn thing wakes up. It’s like I’m using a 386 computer running MS DOS.

Alone, that would be a poor excuse to cut ties with the company that I’ve enjoyed for so long. However, the operating systems and software though provide a more than ample excuse.

If Mavericks was a step backwards, Yosemite had a shovel and started digging.

The UI looked very snazzy, but it seemed less than the sum of its parts. It was like by flattening the icons and display, the experience of using the software was similarly rendered two dimensional.

And where the hell did the scrollbars go (another hunt through Google to find how to turn them back on again)? And why when I upgraded, did some of my software stop working? Well, it was because Apple engineers had introduced a new security feature (again, very Vista-like) which I had to research online and actually go in as an administrator and hack the bloody system.

Copying from external hard drives is similarly vexing. Partway through a copy, Finder will conk-out and declare the destination drive is full (it’s not. It’s got Two Terabytes on it, ninety percent of which is EMPTY!). And it does this over and over again. Doesn’t matter how the drives are formatted, whether they’re connected directly to the computer or networked over wi-fi or Ethernet, the same damn message happens. I’m now at a point where I’m copying individual files and hoping for the best.

(And before you go on about Time Machine, and other solutions, this is for a NAS I’m setting up, and the drive connected to the router must be a specific format, which Time Machine doesn’t accept, because “Reasons”. I could also use Terminal commands to transfer from “A” to “B”, but my point is that This Shouldn’t Be Hard.)

Now occasionally upon Restart, the screen alternates between a blank white screen, a world icon, to the apple icon, to the folder question mark and back to the apple icon. I think it’s dying and I have to say if it were an animal, I’d put it out of its misery. And given the annoyance and despair this Mac has invoked in me, it’ll be with a hammer.

As an experience, an overall sense of usability and utility, it feels to me that this isn’t Apple any more. You know, the company that ran the “I’m a Mac” ads a decade ago. But rather than becoming stodgy and conservative business-computers, it’s become an obscene fashionista. Don’t get me started on the $10,000 iWatch. This is what luxury brands like Dolce Gabanna or Louis Vuitton would do. Apple is no longer the cool kid with the edgy, interesting, innovative approach to computing, music and video. It’s entered parody-space, where four or five versions down the track, an Apple computer will have two buttons to encapsulate the entirety of Human expression.

And to add insult to injury, I feel like one of those music fans who eternally pines for the “old stuff”, the stuff that the band made before they got Really Big. I used to roll my eyes at people like that, but now I’m one of them.

Sick rabbit

I bought a new rabbit this week, found it all alone in a big old shop in Brunswick.

The Violet Nabaztag electronic rabbit
The Violet Nabaztag electronic rabbit

So, FYI, this isn’t a rabbit of the white fluffy variety. It’s an old bit of kit from a French firm called “Violet” (pronounced Vee-o-lay. Why? Because we’re French you son of a stupid person!) Continue reading “Sick rabbit”

Booklet printing using a Mac and a fujixerox docuprint cm 305 df

Too Long, Didn’t read (TL;DR)

Don’t bother. Get a cheap single side printer and manually feed the pages in (instructions at the bottom).

Long version

I’ve spent almost three hours trying to get my mac and my Docuprint CM305DF printer to print out a double-sided booklet.

The Perpetrator

This was supposed to be a one-step process. Continue reading “Booklet printing using a Mac and a fujixerox docuprint cm 305 df”

What to do if you haven’t backed-up Delicious Library 2

I’ve had some issues with my Mac and had to do a reinstall of Mavericks this weekend, thanks to Khan at the Chadstone Apple Store who was extremely helpful.

I’d backed-up my hard drive before I went, to conserve my happy data, and decided not to restore anything, just to manually move files from the backup I’d taken.

This was a decision I took to avoid importing anything that might have been interfering with the computer; I’d installed and removed a lot of software in my quest to find alternatives to iTunes and iPhoto in the preceding couple of months and it just seemed simpler to do things this way.

Also, because I’d taken great pains to get off of proprietary file formats and have most of my files in the cloud using Google Drive, Dropbox and Ubuntu 1, I didn’t have that much to shift.

However, one thing I didn’t do was export my Delicious Library 2 database.

What’s Delicious Library 2?

So, what’s this great application of which I speak? It’s an inventory of DVD’s, CD’s and hardware that I have. Delicious Library 2 cost me just over $10 on the Apple App Store. Version 3 is also available, but I wasn’t in that financial bracket at the time. I decided on this method of recording my stuff for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve lent things out in the past and never got them back
  2. I want to keep a track of things I’ve lent out
  3. I’d like an inventory of my movies, DVDs, books, software and hardware. It’s useful for insurance purposes and to feel important!
  4. I’m getting myself organised; Google calendar keeps me straight in the outside world, Google Drive keeps my writing straight, and other software (VLC for audio/video, and Photoscape X for photos) keeps media straight. Why not my physical stuff too?

I spent about 4 hours scanning and putting my stuff into the system a couple of weeks ago, added peeps who I’d lent things to, and have now got a handle on who has what.

Couldn’t I just restore from the export I did?

Delicious Library likes you to export and import things using its system which I totally forgot to do.

But there is a workaround if you need to transfer to another machine, or from one that’s been fragged due to a dodgy OS, Hard drive or other hardware.

Before you begin

The first thing you need is a backup. From here all things flow. If you have no backup, you’re doomed. If you have one, proceed!

Also, this set of steps presupposes you have Delicious Library 2 installed, that’s it’s a licensed copy (as unlicensed ones limit the items you can add), and you have already created a blank library. You can create a blank library by firing-up the application and telling it to create a library.

Before you attempt this task, make sure anything you’re doing in the Finder, such as copying files, is complete. Performing these steps will force-quit the finder, which means it’ll restart and dump whatever you had it doing.

First, find the files

On your backup drive, you’ll find the Delicious Library data files in:

[Your User] > Library > Containers > Com.Delicious-Monster.Library2

Two items will be there:

Container.plist
Data
delicious-library

Second, make sure you can see the folder on your new install

On Mac’s über new operating-system, Mavericks, I couldn’t find the aforementioned folder. This necessitated some mucking-around in the Terminal window.

The Terminal window allows you to use the Unix command-line.

You can get to it through the search at the top right, by typing Terminal at the prompt.

Then once the black window arrives, and you have a prompt, type in:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles 1 && killall Finder

Then press enter.

The Finder will start-up once again, and the folder will be available. Also available will be every single hidden file.

DO NOT DELETE ANY OF THEM! 

Seriously, hidden files are that way for a reason: they’re needed for the smooth operation of the system. We’ll hide them once again at the end of this procedure. In the meantime, as already noted: Don’t Delete Anything!

Next, copy the files

If you’ve got an existing library, please note you’ll lose it if you perform this task. I’m assuming you did what I did and fired-up Delicious Library, and told it to create a blank library.

If you’ve added things to the new library and perform this task, you’ll overwrite the work. BE WARNED!

I find opening a new Finder window best for doing things like this.

One Finder window has the backup, one has the new folder.

Remember, you’re looking for:

[Your User] > Library > Containers > Com.Delicious-Monster.Library2

From the backup folder, drag and drop the two files to the new folder. The files are:

Container.plist
Data

When prompted, choose Overwrite.

Penultimately, fire-up Delicious Library

When you fire-up Delicious Library 2, the application will click and whir for a few moments as it re-integrates the new files into its system. It’ll take a couple of minutes.

But once done, if all goes well, you’ll have your library back.

Finally, back to the Terminal to turn off Show All

There are lots and lots of hidden files and folders on a Mac (as with any computer operating system). You don’t need to see them at all times, and, frankly, unless you know what you’re doing, it’s best not to muck around with them.

The best thing to do now is to reverse the Show All.

So, in your Terminal Window, type the following:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles 0 && killall Finder

Finder will restart, and the hidden files will be gone again.

At this point you can close the Terminal Window and now worry about it anymore.

In conclusion

As long as you have a backup, you can do most things if-not easily, then perhaps with a little grunt-work. In their absence, you’re in serious strife.

The take-home message for today:

Always Make Frequent Backups

Now make yourself a cuppa to celebrate.

Using a website as an image portfolio

Online content management software will do a lot with the images you upload. However, in the interests of making things easier for yourself, and the visitors to your site, you need to do some things before uploading.

These can be roughly broken down into:

  • Reducing the file-size
  • Reducing the dimensions

It’s all about what you want to show the world.

Images have a lot of information in them

Digital camera images are more than a pretty picture, they also have additional information embedded within them which will reveal interesting detail for those who value these things.

Exif, or Exchangeable Image File Format, is a standard which is used by image, video and sound recording devices to encode information in the file. This is a subset (that is, it is contained within) of image metadata, which is information that is held in the image and includes all sorts of additional information encoded on the image by the camera.

This information can be useful to display to give information like exposure levels, f-stop and even location details. Basic information such as copyright, name of the photographer and time and date is also encoded when you take a photo.

You have to pre-process

RAW images can be absolutely massive, and other file formats aren’t necessarily far behind. It might make you happy to upload a 18MPX image that’s the size of a wall, but the trouble is that viewing it will take forever, eat bandwidth (how much upload and download a person has) and be impossible to view without endlessly scrolling from one end of the screen to another.

There’s a relationship between the number of dots per inch (dpi, mpx) and the file-size (kb, mb). The bottom-line for the web is that you should have small file-size in order to make your website work better.

Click to see the relative file size versus the megapixels.

Reduce the file size

As already stated, an 18MPX image might look fine on your computer, however, expecting an online application to deal with it is asking a lot.

 

Any image with a file size in the megabytes needs to be worked on. In an ideal world, the image will be nnnn KB, where nnn is a number, and KB is Kilobytes. It takes 1,000 (well, actually 1024) KB to make 1 MB or Megabyte.

You can reduce file size in a number of ways and several applications offer web-ready save options.

You can begin by reducing the dpi. Dots per inch is a measure of how dense the image is with dots. A higher dpi will look similar to a lower one on a computer screen. The difference will be the file size and whether the image can be made bigger. That’s why printers ask for images as 300dpi so they can be manipulated easier. Hand someone a 72dpi image and ask them to make it bigger and you get pixelation which is no good at all. But an image which is 72dpi on a computer screen, yet is the width OF that screen will look fine!

Reduce the dimensions

A computer screen is a good measure of how big to make an image. At the time of writing, the highest resolution computer screens were 2560 x 1600. Computer monitors use the points-per-inch measurement rather than dpi which is more for printing, which can become confusing, especially when mixed with the term “resolution”.

The bottom line, however, is that you can still have a really great looking image that has a far smaller file size. And that’s what the web needs!

Doing all this on a mac using Photoscape X

There are doubtless a bunch of easy ways to process images to put them online, and I’ve worked with a number of them, including Photoshop and iPhoto. I’m pretty sure Apple’s Aperture  and Adobe Lightroom will also do this.

My image application of choice is Photoscape X, which I chose based on its use of straight-up file folders rather than wrapping my images up in other ways. It does everything I need it to do and includes a bunch of processing features.

Copy the image, don't move it!
Copy the image, don’t move it!

First, make copies

Always make a copy of your original images to work on. This is so if you make a mistake, or want to create a different sized image for a different purpose, you still can. This is true of just about anything on a computer, from Word documents to code. Make sure you at least have a viable original before making modifications, for if something goes wrong, pain can ensue.

I’ve got a folder set-up in my Photos folder called 01 – processing.

In PhotoscapeX, I find the images I want to work on, and drag and drop them to 01 – processing. When asked, I make a copy.

Second, work on the images

If I want to play around with the image, with colour balance, curves and levels (among others), I click the Editor tab, select the image and have at it. Resizing the image is also a must, because if I’ve taken a photo on the DSLR, it’ll be massive. The idea is to make the image a reasonable size for a computer screen. For example, my computer monitor is 1280 x 800. 

Make sure when you do this, that you keep the preserve aspect ratio ticked, as it will make sure there is no squeezing of the image.

Cropping the image to remove things you don’t want can also improve your photo, and Photoscape offers a bunch of different options as well as a drag-and-drop crop tool.

When that’s done, I click Save, and choose the Jpeg Quality (set as high as possible) and DPI (72dpi at most).

I should note at this point that Photoscape X is really good about originals and it’s here you can save an original copy of the image. I prefer to maintain the original images in their original folders, it seems neater to my mind and less likely to lead to mistakes. However, if you don’t want to work this way, make sure you choose the Save a backup option!

Next, the upload

Whatever online tool you’re using will hopefully allow you to upload your image, otherwise, what’s the point?

I’m using Piwigo on a self-hosted website. I dabbled briefly with Flickr, and thought Smugmug and 500px were pretty good. Picasa is another service, which has an app you can download from Google.

But whichever service or option you choose, it’s good to find something which will meet your needs as a photographer (either amateur or professional).

My shopping list includes:

  • Editing Exif data to include copyright and other information
  • Adding watermarks for downloaded images
  • Adding tags to images
  • Easy use of albums

In this way, I’ve found Piwigo pretty good so-far.

But if you know of alternatives, like Gallery for example, let me know in the comments below!

WordPress vs Piwigo for photoblogging?

For five years, WordPress has been my website development tool-of-choice. I’ve built literally tens of websites using the system for friends and clients alike. I’ve maintained other people’s sites in the WordPress CMS as well.

I’ve recently gotten into photography again, and thanks to the help of a good friend (Hi Greg!) I’ve started using the Manual settings. This has been a lot of fun and like everything, the more you do something, the easier it becomes.

After upgrading to a very nice Canon camera last week, I came to the conclusion that I’d like to get my photos out there into the big wide world. I’ve been on instagram for a while of course, but I wanted to join-in with the other social ways of sharing photos (with the associated theft problems this might entail where peeps lift photos willy-nilly; but I digress).

I started by creating a Flickr account, against my better judgement, and loaded a bunch of photos there. The aforementioned friend mentioned some issues he’d heard of from other photography buddies with Flickr, so I made the decision to go freelance. To that end, I created the sub-domain photos.gotheek.com.

So I thought WordPress would be a perfect solution for my quest for a Flickr alternative.

WordPress is not ideal for a photographic portfolio

I hate to say this, because it’s great for everything else, from blogs, to full-blown CMS websites, to Shopping carts, to just about anything you can name.

But IMO, it’s sub-optimal for photography.

The issue I have is a non-starter for any other website purpose. WordPress imports images just fine. When it does this, it creates several sizes of image for display by the system. This is so that the site doesn’t grind to a halt when someone clicks your 18MPX image you’ve taken which will cover a wall if printed out.

The web needs lightweight, optimised images; it needs images that measure in the kilobytes, not megabytes. It needs images which will display on standard screens, not take half an hour to load, killing bandwidth and the website in question.

Therefore, what WordPress does is a VERY good idea.

It’s all about the metadata

The trouble is that by creating copies of the original image, it strips out the exif and other metadata. Exif, or Exchangeable Image File Format is the standard for encoding useful information into images by digital cameras. Information such as copyright, date, aperture and exposure area all useful to be displayed with images in photo blogs.

Ordinarily you can get this data to display, on the original image, with the Exifography plug-in. But it’ll only display the data if it’s there.

Indeed, the only way that WordPress will display this information is on the original image, which creates a bit of a conundrum; how much pre-processing do you want to do on an image before you upload it?

Certainly, you can set the image sizes in the Settings > Media tab, but it’s a case of having then to make a choice; do you upload three images and hope WordPress won’t create the same ones as the different sizes, or do you take a punt and hope the one you have uploaded won’t be resized and therefore lose the data?

WordPress lists a bunch of plugins and scripts to use if you do want to use it as a photoblog site though. I tried a number of them, but the aforementioned issues prevailed: Exif is only available on the original image, not the copies.

So what’s the alternative?

I uninstalled WordPress after about 6 hours of frustration. Really, I needed something designed for the purpose of displaying images out-of-the-box. Again, I have no ill-feeling toward WordPress. It handles images in a totally logical and reasonable manner, and optimises the site accordingly.

I’m with Dreamhost, and among their one-click installers, they’ve got two photo website solutions: Gallery and Piwigo. Both these were appropriate for the job. I’ve had a fiddle with Gallery before, so chose Piwigo just to see how it worked.

Piwigo works for me

Piwigo is open-source, free and maintained by a community of developers. Once installed, there are skins and plug-ins which you can choose from to make your site look snazzy. There’s even an iPhone (or Android) app which you can use to upload your images straight to your site.

Like every site, there’s a little set-up. For example, setting albums for your images (which are like Flickr’s “sets”) is a must. You can have tags and with some plugins, add copyright and other information to batches of images.

I’ve chosen the Stripped theme for my site, which makes the albums and images initially look like little slides, which is nice. It’s dark, but that’s okay I think.

In fairness, WordPress isn’t the problem

Here’s the thing: WordPress is a great tool for images and other content management. It has lots of different plug-ins which can allow you to extend the framework beyond the basic setup.

I wanted WordPress to do one thing: display Exif metadata. In 6 years of use, this is the first time I’ve found it couldn’t do something. And WordPress only couldn’t do this because of a reasonable, logical design decision by the developers which may one-day be overcome. It’s possible to copy metadata to copies of images using current technology.

But I wanted this feature now. So I chose a different tool.

You be the judge, but perhaps, it’s better to use something designed for a specific purpose?