Making Wallpapers!

Yeah, I know, it’s the ultimate sign of a procrastinator, but I’ve been making wallpapers from icons again like here and here, and not working much.  I’ve also been playing WideLands, an amazing open source clone of Settlers (round about Settlers 2-ish).  So I made a wallpaper for when I can’t play, it makes me think I’m playing!

These were created using a combination of SmillaEnlarger, GIMP, and Inkscape.

Firefox!  Who doesn’t love Firefox!

Firefox Wallpaper

1024 x 768

This is another icon turned into a wallpaper.  I look at them, and I think, wow, that could be a wallpaper!  This one’s actually rather nice as a wallpaper.  I blurred it a bit to create depth and stop the foreground distracting.

Gnome Icon Wallpaper


This is a beautiful image as an icon, I don’t think I did it justice.  Still works really well as a wallpaper, with the right kind of theme…

Wallpaper made from icon by Gion


This next one turned up on Wikimedia.  It was part of an image stack icon.  This is an icon for a middle-wheel animation on  It’s a slice of anatomy of some kind.  I’m not a medicalologist 🙂

From an icon on Wikimedia Commons


This is flowers and a hot air balloon.  The balloon is made of vectors, and the flowers are real.  It’s such a great perspective and makes a great summer wallpaper.

Hot air ballon and flowers.



There are two icons I currently seek the SVG for, or a large PNG file.  If you know of any, please get in touch!

There is one that is a Tango style icon, with a bright seascape and a sillhouetted bird flying across it.  There is another, a Nuvola icon by a guy called David Vignoni, with a cityscape style thing on it.

A nice potential wallpaper for me 🙂

And the other…

There should be a sax playing somewhere in the distance…

These icons, though they exist purely as functional pictures, are actually capable of being beautiful and serene artworks.  Keep up the good work!

Lastly, here’s my WideLands wallpaper.  I can’t stop playing.  I think it’s becoming a problem…

Procedure:  Play WideLands.  Take screenshot.  SmillaEnlarger to ridiculous size.  Play with colour levels a little in GIMP.  Crop and size.  Make Layer Mask with linear gradient between a normal version and a heavily blurred version.

Widelands Wallpaper


Let me know what you think…

More Theming of LMMS

In order to create a nice Linux Mint looking theme, I took a look at the style.css file in the theme folder.  I couldn’t find the bit that themed the main menu.  I turned everything red or blue to see what would work, and nothing did.  I’m a bit in the dark here…

So I Googled a few of the names of things.  QMenu and all that.  The whole thing is run by QT, of which I have no experience.  So I’m going in to have to read a bit about it.

Meanwhile, I did find the top menu, anyway.  I’ve styled it slightly so it’s getting there.


So far, so silvery…

If anybody is interested in helping with this, you’re welcome – just get in touch.  I’m warning you, I don’t know much about this stuff though!

Edinburgh SkyLine – A Gondola Lift in Edinburgh

A green, tourist-friendly, independent form of public transport which is both expandable and non-invasive.

Problem – Haymarket to the Airport

In Edinburgh, we have a nice little train station called Haymarket.  It’s ten minutes away from the town centre.  We also have a nice little Airport at Turnhouse (not many people know that!)

The problem is that these two places are about half an hour away from each other by car.  We do have a nice Airport Bus service, but it can be cramped and unreliable at peak times.

Why Not Trams?

Edinburgh has a long, fine tradition of starting grandiose public projects.  Like the replica of the Parthenon on Calton Hill, which has and always will be half-finished.  Like the parliament, which was finished, but only by throwing at it more money than the human mind can comfortably conceive.

Then we have the tram proposal.  Now, I like trams.  Some beautiful and efficient tramways exist in Europe and around the world.  But when your problem is congestion, you don’t need more vehicles on an already existing road.  A little bit has been done to skip roads on the way to the airport, with a temporary guided bus lane, but mostly the tram development has been plagued with unpopularity, spiraling costs (surprise, surprise), and will cause more problems than it cures.

Cyclists hate the tram tracks for being exactly the right size to get caught in.  Commuters and residents hate the roads being dug up.  Taxpayers hate the ridiculous escalating costs.  Is there something we can get behind?

Incidentally, there was a proposal to build a rail link to the airport.  It was binned last year.

Ok, Hear Me Out…

So what’s the solution?

In my life I’ve been to a few places.  Canada, the Cairngorms, Butlins, Alton Towers…  In these places happen to be my absolute favourite form of transport (apart from airships, which I’m not likely to ever travel in).  Cable lifts.

Cable cars, gondola lifts, aerial tramways.  One big cable connecting A and B.  Flying effortlessly and silently across the landscape in your own little cabin.  No digging up of roads, no extra traffic.  Peak times, commuters.  Off-peak times, tourists.

London is currently being furnished with a cable car across the Thames.  It’ll be the first mass-transit cable lift in Britain.  I think we can have one in Scotland, too.

The Medellin MetroCable

This is what I imagine the Haymarket to Corstorphine bit will look like (Image from Wikipedia)

Edinburgh SkyLine – How Will it Work?

First off, you need an infrastructure.  Towers, stations, cables, and engines.  These could be quite low round the airport as it’s mostly countryside, rising higher up over urban areas.  The areas around Haymarket and Turnhouse could be stations.  A tower could be placed at Corstorphine Hill (or even a station, as it would serve the zoo and the hospital), and just past Gyle, descending across the fields (to avoid air traffic!) to end up at Ingliston.

The second part of the plan is the simplest.  Since this system could utilise  detatchable gondolas, anyone could rent SkyLine cable-time, from Lothian Transport and First Scotland to Virgin.  There could be police gondolas, royal and papal gondolas, and even goods transport gondolas.

So imagine you work out at the airport.  You’d take your bus pas, join the queue at the Lothian Buses gate, and bleep your bus pass or pay the man.  Then you wait for the next Lothian cabin, and hop in, reading your Metro as you skip above the rooftops.

Or you’re on an all-expenses-paid Virgin business trip.  You catch your Virgin first-class train to Haymarket Station.  You then wait at the Virgin Gate of the SkyLine station.  Your pre-booked first-class Virgin cabin is hooked onto the SkyLine cable, and you’re off, playing with the free wi-fi while you speed elegantly to your first-class Virgin flight.  To the Virgin Islands, perhaps…

Where to From There?

Well, anywhere.  The trams were originally intended to connect Leith, Newhaven, and the new developments along Granton with the Town Centre and the Airport.

By correct placement of towers and stations, a scenic route to the coast is possible.  A lift across the Forth to alleviate bus traffic on the road bridge might be the next option.

Depending on the flow of passengers, different gondolas could be deployed.  In quiet times, 2-person gondolas, and in busy times, 8-person cabins.

Dragondola Japan

This 8 person gondola lift travels at 6 metres a second. Looks good, too…

All in all, I think it’s a great idea.  It will obviously cost a few million pounds to build, but couldn’t be anywhere near the cost of the tram system they’re attempting to justify at the moment…

GNU/Linux from Noob to Pro

Since I discovered Linux and open source software in general, I’ve been wanting to get to grips with it.  Really learn it.  So I wrote myself a road-map, a step-by-step lifestyle that would eventually get me where I want to be.

You don’t have to follow this advice.  It’s mine.  I’m only really putting it up because I had to do all this without the benefit of a University education, funding, or even much spare time, and thought it might help somebody in the same boat…

Stage 1 – Scope it Out

A great place to start is Wikipedia and Google.  Simple searches like UNIX, Linux, GNU, Open Source, Free Software, and all the links those pages will bring will teach you enough to get started.

Watch the movie Revolution OS – it’s available all over the web.  It’s a documentary looking at the rise of GNU and Linux round the world, interviewing some of the main characters involved in the development of the Free Software and Open Source movements.  It’s a great introduction.

Watch a few tutorials on YouTube of open source software.  Just type, for instance Blender and watch a few demos and tutorials.

Stage 2 – Dip Your Toes

The world of Open Source software is vast and varied.  If you’re used to using Internet Explorer for your browser, try out Firefox.  You might like it, you might hate it.  Download and install other software.  GIMP, Inkscape, MyPaint, Blender and Pencil for graphic stuff.  OpenOffice and LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office.  Try using VLC for watching DVD’s.  Like making music?  Give MuseScore, LMMS, Audacity and Traverso a whirl.

Check some of the amazing educational software like Celestia and Stellarium

There’s also tons of other software.  Look round Sourceforge.  Can any of this stuff replace your everyday software?  If so, that’s groovy.  You can move onto the next stage.  If not, before you simply say “That’s rubbish, never again!” please think about what it is exactly that it lacks.

GIMP, for example, has limitations that make it useless for certain professional photographers.  So most simply go back to Adobe’s Creative Suite.  Now, Adobe sells it’s CS for between hundreds and thousands of pounds.  If, say, a collective of one hundred photographers (who would otherwise have paid £500 for Photoshop) put their money together (making £50,000!) and hired a developer, they could have a GIMP plug-in or fork ready in a few months.  That’s the beauty of open source.

Sadly, most users fail to see this amazing advantage, and would happily fork over thousands of pounds for the license of a software title with the same feature they could have had created for now and all future users of the software, for the same money.  Sad, really.

Stage 3 – Go Paddling

So, assuming you’re happy with the amazing range of open source free software out there, it’s time to start taking a look at a GNU/Linux system itself.  You’ll need a stack of blank CD’s and DVD’s.

What you’re looking for is an ISO file.  This is simply an exact copy of what goes on a CD or DVD.  Most burning software can handle turning an ISO file into a real CD.  Just make sure you’re burning an image, not just burning the ISO file onto a CD as ordinary data.  You’ll know it’s worked because when you look at the contents of the CD it will have loads of stuff on it.  If the contents of the CD is a single ISO file, you did it wrong!

You will need to pick the CD that is right for your PC.  If you have a 32-bit system, don’t pick a 64-bit version (although it works the other way, so if you’re not sure, choose a 32-bit).

You will be running these straight from the CD.  Nothing of your computer will be changed or broken.  If you’ve ever used a Windows Recovery Disk, you’ll be fine.  Once the CD is burned, leave it in the drive and reboot the PC.  On reboot, you should be in Linux.  If not, you might have to choose in the BIOS or boot menu to boot from CD first.

Some live distros to try out: Knoppix, the daddy of them all.  Puppy and DSL for if your computer is a dinosaur.  Check out Slax, and Fedora Desktop.  The various Ubuntu flavours, like Lubuntu, Xubuntu and Kubuntu all have live CD’s.  All the Linux Mints.

Running a computer from a CD or DVD is a bit slower than running from a HD install (except for Puppy and DSL!) but even so, just playing around with all the different liveCD’s will give you a good idea of what to expect from GNU/Linux.  Surf the web, try out all the menus.  You can’t break anything because it will all disappear when you shut down the PC.  Windows will boot back when there’s no CD in the drive.

Stage 5 – Soft Install

Okay, so you’ve been messing with your live CD’s, trying them all out.  It’s a confusing and complicated universe, isn’t it!  Now you’ve seen the variety out there, it’s time to settle on one variety and get a bit used to it.  If you’re not entirely sure if you really want to have Linux as your main OS, you can Wubi it.  A Wubi-based distribution is a flavour of Linux that you install on Windows as a program.  You don’t need to partition your disks, or worry about ruining your Windows intallation.  It’s all fine!  Linux Mint has the same thing, it’s called Mint4Win and comes on the install DVD.

You install the distro like any other Windows program, and reboot your PC.  When your PC starts, it will give you the option to boot into Linux or Windows.  If you choose Linux, it takes it all from the installation on the Windows disk.  If you need to un-install it later, it’s as simple as un-installing any piece of software.  Magic, eh?  Again, because it’s Open Source, anything that can be done, usually will!

So you now have the option to take Linux for a whirl.  Get used to how it works, how software is installed, and whether it works on your hardware or not.

Stage 6 – Install Proper

It’s time to take the plunge and install the OS.  If you have Windows on your machine, you can dual boot it.  Start by defragmenting your Windows drives.  Insert your Linux Mint DVD and reboot the PC into Linux.  Click the “Install Linux Mint” icon, and you’re away.

If you need to keep your Windows installation, you will choose the Guided Installation that automatically resizes and partitions the hard disk for you.  When it’s done installing, take out the DVD and boot to Windows.  Windows might be shocked and confused at the resize so it might take a minute to check it’s data.  Once it seems fine, you can boot into Linux.  You can choose Windows or Linux when you start the PC up.

If the PC has no operating system, or you really want to get rid of your Windows, choose the Use Entire Disk option.  You now have a bona fide Linux box!

Work with it every day you can.  Read around the forums.  Try out a few simple command line things, like wandering around directories, or installing software.

Stage 7 – Distro Hopping

This simply means trying one Distribution of Linux out after another, until you’ve seen a few.  For my purposes, I don’t want to learn everything, just enough to make me feel as confident with my Linux Mint as I do with my Windows.  To distro-hop properly, try each one out for at least a week (rather than a day or hour or two), if you possibly can.

Linux Mint itself has some nice flavours to start with.  They have a KDE version, an LXDE version, Xfce, and a “GNOME” version which these days is really just Mate and Cinnamon.  They also have a version based on Debian proper, which is for slightly more advanced users.  Try it anyway, what the heck.  You can always install something else over the top of it…

The main releases of Linux Mint are based around a distribution called Ubuntu.  Ubuntu comes from space-tourist billionaire Mark Shuttleworth’s company, Canonical.  It comes in a few desktop flavours, like Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, and so on.  Pick one to “live in” for a while.  Ubuntu takes a little more time to set up right, but that extra knowledge is valuable, so worth it if you want to learn.  Ubuntu’s tagline is “Linux for Human Beings” so don’t use it if you’re a basket stinkhorn, hyrax or marshmallow plant.  Otherwise, hit the forums and FAQ’s…

Onto Debian.  Ubuntu takes most of it’s stuff from the Debian distribution.  In fact, there’s a bit of a joke going around the Internet that Ubuntu is an African word meaning “Can’t configure Debian”  That’ll give you a little glimpse of the world you’re about to enter.

A word of caution:  The Mint and Ubuntu forums are filled with a different kind of people, doing different things than the Debian people.  Debian is for experienced users, and users should fill their heads with forums, FAQ’s and man pages before they even think about posting.  If all else fails, Debian forum members are very friendly, and always keen to point you in a learning direction if you don’t know where to begin.  Get their “Stable” version to start off with.

Stage 8 – Dig Deeper Down into Debian

It’s easy enough to use an operating system when it’s full of graphical settings management and tools.  But are you learning enough about the insides?  Linux user settings from boot-up to desktop environments are mainly held in text files.  Learning to set these up manually from the command line will give you a massive boost to your Linux confidence, and you’ll know what to do if something goes nasty with your settings.

For your first step, I recommend a Debian Netinst CD.  If you have a blank PC to play with it really helps.  All that gets installed are the GNU userland, the Linux kernel, and the apt-get command.  From there, you go superuser (su), then apt-get install anything you want.  I recommend learning the Vi editor, just to say you can.  Mutt email works seamlessly with Gmail after a bit of Googling, so give that a go.  Midnight Commander (mc) for file management, the Lynx browser, MP3 players, and even a command-line ASCII-art movie player can be found.  The trick is to give yourself a good grounding in commandline-land before you install X.  What’s the most you can do without needing a mouse or windowing system?

Once you’re sufficiently sick of a text-screen, you can apt-get install X, Fluxbox Xterm and Leafpad, the Worker file manager (I love it!) and any of the other stuff you use, like LibreOffice, GIMP and Firefox.  The startx command can be replaced with a display/login manager when you get the hang of customising your desktop…

To get a modern experience out of an ancient laptop I own, I used Debian Netinst, with TinyWM so I could fit Chromium and Thunderbird.  Seamless Youtube on 128Mb RAM?  Yeah…

The other great thing about a Debian Netinst build is that you can take your time, adding little bits once you’ve got the hang of the last.  Get the hang of command line, then install X.  Get the hang of configuring and starting software from the command line, and then install a window manager.  Try a few different window managers out, and learn to configure your favourite.  Do the same with desktops, file managers, and all the other stuff you use.  Add a bit, learn it, configure it, add a bit more.

Stage 9 – Compile Programs from Source!

No, you don’t have to be a programmer – that’s been done for you!  You just need to learn to run a few simple commands, and get to grips with why it’s done like that.  Google for “Linux GCC Hello World” or “compile C beginner linux” and try it out.

You can do this from a terminal window in Linux Mint, or in your command line environment.  Take a piece of software (I like BeebEm and SmillaEnlarger), grab the source code, and make it into an application.  Most of the time there will be simple install instructions on the developers’ website, even if they’re weird and complicated-looking – the instructions, that is, not the developers (who invariably will be) – doing the steps one by one will result in working software.

For a few distros like Arch and Gentoo, this is the normal way to install software.  If installing from source feels okay so far, it might be time to try one of these out.  If any time you have any problems, remember there are countless forums, mailing lists and documentation to help you.

Stage 10 – Compile Linux from Source!

Yes, it can be done.  The Linux from Scratch distro isn’t really a distro.  It’s more of a book.

80’s 8-bit micros used to have software you could buy in a book and type it all in yourself, save to tape, and you’d have an adventure game!  This is in the same spirit, I think.  Except you’re just compiling, not actually programming, and the book is online, as is all the source code you require.

At the end of a few days of headaches, palpitations, agony, and ecstasy, you’ll have the equivalent of a Debian Netinst.  Just Linux and the GNU basics.  Beyond LFS will expand that, helping you compile all the extra bits and bobs you might want on your machine.  You could never learn Microsoft Windows this well!

Another great thing about an LFS install is that every component has been compiled specifically for your system.  You don’t need all the extra compatibility stuff that goes into a normal distro’s CD or DVD.

Stage 11 – More Distro-Hopping

Debian is the largest community distro out of the Big Three “Godfather” distros (Debian, Red Hat, and Slackware – most of the others are based on these).  The largest commercial distro is Red Hat.  If anyone has any doubts that money can be made from Free Software, they should take a look at Red Hat’s one billion dollars worth.  Fedora is Red Hat’s community release, and CentOS is a free Linux system that aims to work like Red Hat.  If you’re learning Red Hat for college or work, having CentOS on your own PC will help.

Another commercial distro, if you happen to be wandering into the Linux support world, is SUSE, is run by Novell.  OpenSUSE is the community edition.  It uses the same package manager as Redhat (the RPM), so you’ll be at home if you’ve used Fedora.  SUSE is the oldest commercial distro (1993 – about ten years before the first Red Hat distribution).

A company called Software und System-Entwicklung (Software and system development) released a Linux package called Softlanding Linux System.  SuSE went on to release it’s own distribution, and become the international company SUSE, mentioned above.  The SLS distribution also inspired our next hop – Slackware.

They call Slackware the “most UNIX-like” of our three “Godfather” distributions.  They also say: “If you use Ubuntu, you’ll learn Ubuntu.  If you use Debian, you’ll learn Debian.  If you use Slackware, you’ll learn Linux”.  I don’t know who “they” are, and I’m probably misquoting, but it gives you an idea of why Slackware is such a popular distribution for Linux-heads and hacker culture (not to mention all those Subgenius references!).  If you want to start with a user-friendly version, go with Vector Linux.  It’s based on Slackware but is intended to be easy to use for newcomers.

Stage 12 – GNU’s

I dream of a day when all software is free software, all hardware is open source, freely 3D-printable, or commissioned from crowd-sourced funding.  I would like a nice open standard binary internet, (Not Flash or Java!), free software BIOS and hardware makers to release the specifications for open drivers to be created.  It’s not going to happen today.

Proprietary software is the jungle we must live in and work with.  That’s why copyleft exists.  Ghandi said “You must be the change you want to see in the world”, but it’s tough when your kids are moaning that they can’t play Flash games, or use the 3D bits of the No-Videa graphics card, your web designer girlfriend complains that she can’t check her sites on Internet Explorer, and all your photographer friends say they need Photoshop for it’s 16-bit image support, CMYK, Pantone’s special colours, and the latest “Do The Work For Me” filter.  Proprietary software is here, there’s no getting around it (note that I did not say “here to stay” – that would be presumptuous).

Still, the completely free distributions have a lot to offer.  GnewSense is based on Ubuntu, it just has any software or kernel modules that aren’t free stripped out and banned from the repositories.  BLAG is the same, but based on Fedora.

Even if you absolutely need your 3D graphics drivers, your Flashy websites, and the other proprietary blobs you have lying around on your system, it’s a good thing to have a look at the limitations and at least try and work around them.  Simply saying “it doesn’t work”, er…, doesn’t work.  It’s best to say why, how, and to somebody who can change things.

Stage 13 – Beyond Linux

Linux isn’t the only free UNIX-like operating system.  The code of Berkeley UNIX (from California University) was released as Free Software not long after GNU/Linux happened.  Actually, Berkeley UNIX has been kind of open source since 1977, but due to trademark, copyright, and other reasons, had trouble releasing it under a Free Software license.  They don’t call it UNIX (for the aforementioned reason), they just call it the Berkeley Software Distribution, or BSD.

There are a few flavours you can try, and FreeBSD is probably the most popular.  Because it has a more permissive license than GPL, code can be included in proprietary software without releasing the source.  For instance, the internet stack code has been used in MS Windows, and the kernel is an important part of Darwin, the free bits of OS X.  Their Secure Shell remote terminal software (openSSH) is everywhere, from Linux to OS X.

Also, ReactOS.  If GNU/Linux and FreeBSD are free software alternatives to UNIX, then ReactOS is the same for Windows NT (Which is 2000, XP, Vista, and 7).  Go and give these guys some love.  Or, better still, some money.  They’re finally prioritising their development funding, so expect some good things to come out in that area soon.  I think it’s incredibly exciting and really hope they make it.

Stage 14 – Back Home to Mint!

You might find that you prefer a Linux-Libre system, or a Gentoo install after you’ve been through this stuff.  Personally, I like that Mint does everything for you.  A ten minute install from LiveCD and everything’s set up.  Every distro has it’s advantages and disadvantages, but by creative distro-hopping and a grim determination to work with limitations, you can be comfortable in all areas of your Linux, whichever you end up using.

For me, I have a family computer.  That gets Mint.  I also have my own PC –  it runs Mint Debian Edition.  Then I have an ancient laptop with a Debian Net Installation.  A spare computer has a Peppermint OS (think Mint for old PC’s), and I try to dual-boot with other OS’s just to keep me fresh.  My partner’s web development PC is Windows 7, but she uses entirely Free Software on top of it (apart from the different browsers you need to have!).  Notepad++, Inkscape, Thunderbird, GIMP, XAMPP, and so on, and they all come in portable pen-drive versions so she’s never stuck!

If you’ve gone through the Linux From Scratch book (even if you failed and had to re-install Mint!), you’ll appreciate the complexity of your Linux install, and will probably have learned some shell scripting along the way, through setting up the more advanced distros.

This is a long and frustrating project.  You have to try to live with a particular distro for a while, to be able to set it up properly how you like, and by then it’s time to move on!  But at the end of it, you’ll have a good grounding in Linux, and will appreciate all the hard work that goes into making a distribution like Mint.

From here, you could relax and just get on with the rest of your life.  Alternatively, you could also learn more than just compiling – learning to program in Python or C will give you a huge boost.  Even if you’re just wanting to get on with your work as a writer, graphic designer or whatever, learning to write simple scripts for software like GIMP can increase your productivity immensely.  The very essence of computers is automating boring tasks you do over and over again, so give it a try, at least.

Of course, you could also get yourself a prototyping kit and some transistors, learning how to build yourself logic gates, adders, ALU’s and the likes from scratch.  This will give you an incredible insight into how computers work.  Grab a Raspberry Pi and relive the spirit of 80’s DIY programming on a modern machine with Internet (that fits in your hand and plugs into a TV).

Go Now, Understand Linux

Why I Got Into Linux

I’ve always been into computers.  I love them.  I think they’re the pinnacle of human achievement.  Unfortunately, I’ve always been on the sidelines.  I could never afford a computer.  I took computing at college just to get to play with the things.

Nowadays, I have a bunch of computers always working, I do IT for my partner who is a web developer and I always like my own computer to be running a nice GNU/Linux/X system.

Socially Awkward Penguin

My first computer was an Acorn Electron.  I used it to program little games in BASIC, we even used it to fool a friend’s mum into thinking we’d “hacked into” some bank and freaking out:-

120 PRINT “The police have tracked this address and are on their way…”

Funny stuff!  Anyway, that was the only computer I had for years.  The school had the standard issue Econet of Acorn BBC’s, so I was at home there.  They evolved into Archimedes’ with a mouse and everything.  This was high school!

College Dropout

But at college, I really got to grips with Windows 3.11, even their dodgy program groups nonsense (being on Archimedes’, I was used to a directory actually being a folder!)  Sure, there was a bit of UNIX and Pascal stuff, but I was finally playing with what I considered the real thing, DOS and Windows.

For some time after I dropped out, I was an internet café head.  Surfing the web on Windows 95 for £2.50 an hour every so often was all I could do.  From the links in the locally hosted homepage.

Then later, I took a course in web design (three months) and got to play with some sort of Apple computer and Photoshop 3.  I don’t know which Apple, but the CD’s had to be put into cartridges and inserted into the front.  The web was on dial-up through Netscape Navigator via Altavista.

Family Man

I moved in with a girl who had a PC.  And a hideous AOL dial-up package.  Still, it was to a freephone number, so it was as unlimited as you can get on a phone line.  I discovered Morpheus, and unlimited MP3’z, gamez and various software titlez…

Eventually I got sick of corrupted downloads, malware, and all the other crap that goes along with that side of the internet.  I looked for good freeware and demo/shareware alternatives.  There was some good stuff – music, graphics, even 3D modelling and animation (thanks, anim8or!).

One day, after another corrupt Windowz install, I looked for a decent freeware alternative, not expecting to find anything much in particular.  The search results were full of this one word I’d never heard of.  Linux.  Looking closer, my world exploded.

Free Software!

This wasn’t pirate stuff.  This wasn’t shareware, demoware, or anything like that.  This was Open Source.  A worldwide community effort to make software, not just better, but free to use!  Although I didn’t have the skills or confidence to Linux my box, as it were, I started filling my Windows PC’s with Firefox, OpenOffice, GIMP, and all the other open sourced software – this stuff was amazing!

At first, Linux to me was all command line, Debian, Slackware, and co.  Much too difficult.  Partitioning drives?  BIOS?  Yuck.  Linux, while a nice thought, was much too scary for this noob.  Mandrake changed my mind for a while.  It was friendly, usable, beautiful, and then they were gone.  You had to pay.  Stuff that.  With the rise of Ubuntu, my new best friend, I found a new lease of life for my PC’s.  Easy partitioning, guided dual-boot, and a nice desktop.  What could be better?

Linux Mint.  These days I could let loose my mum on a Linux install.  Insert CD, click install, surf web while install happens.  Genius.  Reboot the PC, and go straight to YouTube.


I love my Linux.  And I love my hippy stuff, like music, art, anthropology, and community.  it had never actually occurred to me that software, the realm of the corporation, could ever stimulate my granola glands in such an exciting way!

Researching the history of Linux, I came upon this GNU thing.  This is where it had all begun.  One man’s dream of making software a free-for-all.  If it’s useful, and can be freely copied, then it absolutely should be free to use, modify, contribute to.  A nice, hippy idea, but amazingly, it proved fantastic, but not just for the beatniks, punks, crusties, and ravers who want to stick the proverbial “it” to big business, corporate-run government and the “man” in general.

It was also an effective development model for those same big businesses to make the software tools and technologies to make their millions of monies with.  Google, Amazon, Facebook, all running from this open source software.  The RedHat company makes tons of cash from helping companies make good use of this fun, creative stuff.

Think about it.  When was the last time you got onto Coca-Cola and asked for a sweeter, or less sweet version, or an easier ring-pull, or a bacon flavour?  Or volunteered to design their logo or advertising literature?  You just don’t!  Coke isn’t a community effort, it’s a corporation.  The only communication between company and customer is in market research surveys, ad campaigns and, transversely, sales figures.

GNU/Linux, Free Software licenses and Open Source development blows that away.  There are Github and Sourceforge if you want to help develop, there are forums and mailing lists where designers and writers put in their input, and forums full of non-technical users griping, praising, and requesting – and they’re being listened to!

Free Software is important to us.  It’s as important as Free Science.  There was a conspiracy theory going about for a few years that water-powered cars were already invented, it’s just that the patents were all held by car and oil companies…

Now, I know it’s a bit of a leap, but there’s still a little truth in that.  Medicine companies patent and copyright their chemicals as much as they can, even though the free copying of those chemicals could save millions of lives round the world, they want the money.  If science and technologies can be used to improve our lives, they should be available to anybody.  That’s why Linux and it’s family is funded by large companies and pocket-money donations, and developed by professional, paid developers and amateur hobbyists.

It’s the ultimate hippy dream, melged with the ultimate capitalist dream.  It stimulates both sides of my brain, and my heart as well as my mind.  If you provide a service, make some money.  If you have something you can give to the world for free, give it.

Some say it’s a mess of too much choice, too many filesystems, window managers, distros etc to choose from.  I actually prefer using GNOME on Mutter on X on GNU on Linux on my Mint from Ubuntu from Debian.  I like that my Mint comes from Ireland, using a distribution based in London, from an American Distro.  Although Mint is a beautifully packaged thing, you’re never far away from the sense that millions of units of love, dedication, hard cash and man-hours, both paid and voluntary, have been poured into it from all corners of the world, via hundreds of individual projects.

And they want you to have it.  For free!

If we can start with software, do similar things with hardware, from open design GPU’s to printable garden tools, we can take this attitude of freedom of information into medicine, engineering, town planning, and education, we could really get things going here on planet earth.

And I might be able to afford it…

Theming LMMS

I’m trying to theme LMMS to look more like GIMP on my Linux Mint 12 (Mate) desktop with default theme.


…is what GIMP looks like.  Here’s how far I’ve got with LMMS:-


So far so good!  I now need to locate the rest of the colours to sort all the other stuff out, like rulers and the expanding left menu and it’s bar.  Also the main menu.

LMMS is a chocolate factory of delight.  Every sample, every effect, every preset and every knob you can turn is a whole new playground waiting to be explored…


Why You Should Go Commando!

Click, drag, drop, move, scroll. We’ve all got used to using a mouse to talk to our PC’s. The command-line interface seems primitive and obsolete sometimes, useful for technical stuff, but not really part of the everyday use of a PC.

Not to me. I love it. I actually think using words and logic is less primitive than pointing at pictures. That’s not the main reason why I like the command line, though.

I also am well aware that command line interfaces are more powerful. I know my way around a Unix shell-script, a DOS command batch file, and a Powershell applet, so I know it’s amazing for automation. That’s not why either!

I remember a conversation with my Gran once. About the difference between radio and television. As a child, she said, she used to sit around the radio with her family and listen to the programs. She said it was better than TV. Her reason why? The picture’s better.

I’ve heard similar things about other media comparisons, too. Do you prefer books because they have “better special effects” than movies? I’m the same.

When I was a kid, there was a kind of computer game based entirely in text.

“You are in the forest,” it would say. “There are exits north, south, east, and west. There is a troll here.” Upon which you would type “Kill dwarf”, or “Go north” or whatever. Sometimes it could get pretty evocative.

“You are in the catacombs. Ghostly voices echo through the walls…” I loved it. When people asked me what was so good about those games, I would smugly reply:

“The graphics are better.”

I still think of those games as a ground-breaking new form of novel, rather than a primitive video game, similar to the books I had which said things like:

“To escape through the window, turn to page 247, to escape through the door, turn to page 12. To wait for the gang to return, turn to page 95.”

The first computers I used seriously were Acorn Electron and Acorn BBC, DOS PC (called IBM compatible in those days) and UNIX. These all had text-based interfaces. Of course, I was right at home in all of them.

Being in a command-line environment was like being lost in the adventure all over again:

“You are in your home directory. You can go ‘up’,’documents’, or ‘misc’. There is a file here.”

The human imagination is a powerful thing. Well, for me, anyway. When I listen to The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio play, I see things in my head that no TV costume expert could do. When I read a book, I’m there. I smell the smells, feel the tensions and live the experience.

In fact, the more you leave to the imagination, the better the experience becomes.

Then DOS became Windows. And the Acorn BBC turned into the Archimedes and A4000 with a mouse and WIMP interface (do the kids still call it that?)

It wasn’t the same. All my imagination of what it “felt” like to be in a directory was gone. Replaced by 8-bit windowpanes and icons. Rubbish. Before, being in my home directory felt like being home. Now it feels like being in a home. Like in the phrase “retirement home”, where everything is impersonal, carries no emotional attachment and is generically decorated.

As a bit of a Linux hobbyist, I understand the command line is more fundamental and powerful than the GUI. As a Windows user, I appreciate Powershell and Command.exe. I also know that Windows and Unix/Linux desktops have come a long way since the 80’s. My personal reasons for loving the command line and shamelessly proselytising it goes beyond power-using and scripting abilities.

The graphics are simply better.