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Sun, 27 Mar 2011
Debian Update
# 14:47 in ./tech

A short while ago I mentioned I'd switched my laptop to Debian Testing (from Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meercat").

That's not quite true anymore. Having done a bit of research, it turns out that Debian Testing is probably not the right version of Debian to use, primarily due to the slight delay on getting security updates out to it (there's a week or so delay often, sometimes more). This seems to be "as designed", and the way the process works.

So, taking the bull by the horns, I wiped Testing and stuck Stable on my Thinkpad X60s. Everything seems to work still and I'm happily using it. Looking back on the history of Linux, Debian and laptops, this is definitely something worth celebrating. We've come a long way ....

Fri, 25 Mar 2011
# 09:06 in ./general

Last autumn I decided to try and lose a bit of weight and get a little healthier. Mainly by sorting out my diet. That meant cutting out processed food, a lot of carbohydrate and sugars (including beer). I'm generally good at avoiding temptation, and temptation is all around. The following two shop windows are right below my place of work :

On the left, the Hummingbird Bakery. On the right, L'Eto Cafe.

Getting to work is a minefield of cup cakes and layer cakes ...

Sat, 19 Mar 2011
New Camera - Olympus XZ-1
# 17:28 in ./general

In the old days (20th Century), people took photos with a camera. Nowadays, many (perhaps most) people use their mobile phone. Because many mobile phones build a fairly decent basic camera into the phone, many people have a camera with them at all times. This is the reason I started taking more pictures again.

My current mobile phone (HTC Desire) hasn't got as good a camera as my previous one (a Sony Ericsson W910i), so I decided to buy a proper camera :

Olympus XZ-1

Being a lovely sunny day today, I took it for a spin with a walk down the north side of Clapham Common to the Junction. The picture quality is leaps and bounds better than the phone.

What this means for the artistic quality of my photographs remains to be seen. The camera can take pictures as big as 4K pixels .... so if the pictures aren't good, it will be hard to hide :-)

Weeping Willow on Clapham Common North Side.
Click for large version.

Fri, 11 Mar 2011
English Countryside, Rain and Clouds
# 20:39 in ./general

Some absolutely beautiful photographs taken by Kris Dutson of various parts of England. The landscape and the weather have never looked so good.


Why a Switch to Debian from Ubuntu?
# 14:26 in ./tech

I've been a happy user of Ubuntu since Hoary Hedgehog (Ubuntu 5.04). So why am I considering a switch to Debian?

It's a combination of things really :

Ubuntu seems to be going its own way with the desktop - Unity, Ubuntu One (and Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud), global menus for applications, window decorations etc. I'm not worried about a lot of this (and all power to Canonical trying to make a business) but it might start to negatively impact my desktop. It's also a bit of a hard sell when I have to ask people to "unlearn" some desktop interaction painfully learned only recently (e.g. my Mum).

In addition, Canonical (the commercial entity behind Ubuntu Linux) seems to be taking a more active role in trying to monetise the distribution. There's nothing wrong with this per se, but they've been a bit cack-handed recently (e.g. Banshee) and this has left a bit of a sour taste in people's mouths, including mine. Ubuntu has gathered a great community around it, with Mark Shuttleworth as the "benign dictator", but it is a lot more of a closed community than Debian. For good or bad, I prefer the Debian way because it gels more with the free software ethos.

Why not Fedora? I used Fedora a long time ago, only stopping when yum became unbearable (slow mainly) and I got tired of breakage on the (constant) updates/upgrades. But it's better now and yum works very well - as well as Debian's apt. We also use Fedora at work as both a preferred desktop for some engineers and a buildbot master/slave system. I'd be perfectly happy using Fedora and it matches Debian's fee software and community ethos.

But I know and understand the Debian way better now. So, let's see how things go. Long live Ubuntu. Long live Debian. Long live Fedora!

Wed, 09 Mar 2011
Testing Debian Testing
# 10:58 in ./tech

I've been using Linux a long time (1994/95) and the Debian Linux distribution's been around for longer (1993). But back then, Debian could be painful to install and these were the days that installs were floppy disk based and modem's were slow. That was if you were on the internet at all. I managed to hop on the information "superhighway" in 1995 or so, at a blazing 9600 baud. One thing I do not miss is trying to configure PPP options and chatscripts!

So, I was a happy user of Slackware for 2 or 3 years, the days of compiling pretty much everything bar X from source (this was a 486 and 64MB RAM, so things took time ...). Then working through the original Redhat (3 or 4), up to version 8, switching to Fedora Core 1, then 2 and then ... bailing on that and jumping to Ubuntu for the hedgehog, where I've been ever since. In all that time, I tried a few other dists as well. However, Ubuntu got it right for me, at the right time and things just worked much better out of the box.

My Mum uses Ubuntu for heaven's sake. What a change.

I am already running Debian Lenny (old stable)) on various servers but took the plunge at the weekend on my laptop by installing (feeling brave) Debian Testing (codename: Wheezy). It's not diverged too much from Squeeze (stable) yet, so I thought I'd give it a go. The laptop is the most complicated "desktop" I have, given wifi, 3G dongles, suspend etc. So far, it is working wonderfully - even the 3G dongle ("3" via Network Manager).

The laptop is a Thinkpad X60s

Hopefully, I'll manage to stick with it and switch away from Ubuntu on the desktop. I'll detail my reasons why in the next post or so.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011
Watercolour Exhibition at Tate Britain
# 15:57 in ./general

The Blue Night, Venice 1897
by Arthur Melville

Pricey (£14) but a good exhibition and worth seeing.

I think my favourite pictures were some of the tiny miniature portraits from the 16th and 17th centuries. These are small oval paintings about 3-4 cm in size, and usually the head (and perhaps shoulders) of the subject (the subjects being nobility in general). A few of the paintings were good because they used subtle facial expression and detail to make the subjects come to life as real individuals (something Hogarth does on a much grander scale elsewhere in the gallery).

The Vale of the White Horse c.1939
by Eric Ravilious

The exhibition covers five centuries, all the way to very recent works. There are also a few Turner watercolours, and we can see how closely his more famous oil paintings are mirrored in the watercolours he did. The way the colours wash into each other is his signature and he achieves a very "watercolour" effect even in oils. Turner's a "star" but other land, sea and town-scapes also stood out and show how versatile watercolour is.

The White House at Chelsea 1800
By Thomas Girtin

One thing that I wish I had was a small notebook, so I could note down the pictures and artists I was most taken with. Using the mobile phone to do this seemed to much trouble. I wish the free booklet given out had thumbnails of all the works displayed. Unfortunately, I can't remember many or would link to them. Google helps a little though.

Tate Britain 16 February – 21 August 2011

More pictures and comment here :

Wed, 02 Mar 2011
Glasgow Boys - Review at Social Affairs Unit
# 13:30 in ./general

A short review of the exhibition was on the Social Affairs Unit blog. The strap is "A minister's egg of an exhibition but parts of it are excellent".

I had to look that phrase up and discover that it's more often written as "a curate's egg ..", from a famous Punch cartoon.

So, overall, much more critical of the artists ("way behind the Impressionists and their successors") and therefore definitely at odds with my opinion. The potshots at Scotland and Glasgow are unwelcome as well ... being half-Scottish.

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