Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rediscovering KDE

I'm just going to face it, Ubuntu and I are going our separate ways, sort of.  When 11.04 came out, I was appalled at Unity. It didn't work at all for my style or work flow.  Embracing the one size fits all mentality, Unity is a netbook user interface with delusions of grandeur.  Trust me, it doesn't work on a large monitor at all.  Suddenly a mouse has to travel has to travel hundreds of mouse-miles just to get to the icons and menus.

When I first started using Linux, I used the Suse distro.  I enjoyed KDE a lot, we got along well.  Then came the version of Suse with the first iteration of KDE4.  I hated every second of it - all my cool customization didn't work anymore.  I dropped KDE for Gnome.  Gnome seemed like a step down, but I got used to it over the next few years.

Now I'm looking back to my old friend KDE, now at version 4.6.  It's had some time to mature and they seem to have restored most of what was lost in the jump to 4.0.

I'm going to log my experience as I re-adopt KDE.

First impressions:  the aqua colored "Horos" design plastered on the default backgrounds is really ugly.  That was the first thing I replaced.

I'm really impressed with the how configurable the UI is.  There seem to be settings for everything and nearly everything can be customized.  So the initial default look and functionality of KDE, like the other modern GUI shells, is really pretty awful. Fortunately, it seems that everything in KDE is configurable. 

Once I got the hang of it, I completely swapped out almost every default behavior and look.  I thought that default half-assed file browser with the giant icons plastered across the default desktop was ugly and useless.  I got rid of it.  Through the amazingly configurable UI, I was able to reproduce the familiar look of Gnome 2.x that I've been comfortable with for years.  Many features are superior to what I've been using in Gnome, and several I've found to be jaw droppingly clever.

I've been a fan of multiple desktops since my days of using an extension for Windows 2000 (can't remember the name).  KDE has taken the idea into another dimension.  Activities are sets of desktops.  They're intended to be used as a common work environment.  For example, I'm using an activity for work.  It contains six desktops with my work tools: my IDE, clusters of shells, a vagrant virtual machine and an IRC connection.  I've got another activity for general use: Firefox and Opera live there along with my sys admin tools.  Yet another is for my small business: a virtual machine running QuickBooks and several spreadsheet projects.  Call me a man of excess as I now have eighteen desktops in three activities.  Each one has custom colors, style and desktop icons.

I'm intrigued by several clever features.  Everyone is familiar with the GUI file browser.  Dolphin, at first, seems pretty much like all of them.  I inadvertently stumbled on to a really cool feature: a shell session in a panel on the bottom of the graphical file browser.  Even better, the shell session tracks the current position within the browser.  It's easy to drill down to a deeply nested directory with the mouse and, on arrival, dropping down to the shell panel to invoke vi, grep or tail.  I'm finding all sorts of uses for this.


I often work with a half dozen shell sessions tiled on the screen.  Usually three or four are active while the fifth and sixth are spares.  I with the "Window Groups" feature, I can have completely different programs appear to share the same window.  I take one of the lesser used shells and group it with an instance of Firefox.  The title bar becomes two tabs, one for the shell and one for Firefox.  Now I can continue my work in the other shells and be able to temporarily toggle the spare window between the two as I need them.

Here's Firefox, Reconq and Opera all sharing the same window.  Notice how the title bar has been broken up into tab-like sections for each app.



There's a lot I'm liking in KDE.  There are some rough spots, too.  I'll probably whine about them at a later date, but for now, I'm a happy camper.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sprint has ripped me off

Yeah, I know that everyone already knows this, but the cell phone companies rip people off with impunity.  My dispute is with Sprint and their third party retailer, S Wireless NW, Inc.

I had been thinking about getting a mobile wireless hot spot for several months, I finally decided on Sprint because they had 4G in our area and no broadband caps.  I went to our local Sprint store, and on speaking with their sales person as well as their regional manager, I settled on a MiFi.

I'm a heavy broadband user.  I wanted this service to supplement my wired broadband service when it goes down.  Because of my work as a software engineer, uninterrupted connectivity is vital for me.  I download Linux distros, at about 0.6G a pop, several times a month.  And then there are those OS/X updates that weigh in at 1.4G.  Unlimited 4G service was the primary selling point that attracted me to Sprint.

My first two weeks with the service were very good.  It performed exactly as it was sold to me.  The trouble began when I stumbled on this stealth announcement from Sprint: http://support.sprint.com/support/article/Mobile_Broadband_Plan_and_Mobile_Hotspot_Addon_Changes_starting_November_2011/case-uh277325-20110927-142416/?ECID=vanity:servicechange This tells me that a mere two weeks after I started service, they were eliminating the very feature that convinced me to buy their service. 

I went to the store that sold me the service, and they assured me that it wouldn't apply to me, as I would be grandfathered in.  I didn't trust that declaration and called Sprint customer service.  They confirmed that I would indeed be limited by the bandwidth caps in their new terms of service.  I returned to the store and they called customer service and got the same confirmation that I did.

I decided to cancel my service. Unfortunately, I was 24 hours beyond the fourteen day no questions asked return policy.  Sprint would not allow me to return the device or cancel the service without charging me the early termination penalty.

At the store, they're saying that they never should have sold me an unlimited  plan, because such plans don't exist.  That is in direct contradiction with what both the original sales person and his regional manager said at the time of the sale. Ironically, on looking at the Sprint Web site about my usage, it confirms that I have unlimited service.

So I'm stuck with a two year contract for a service that I don't want and does not meet my needs. 

The reseller, S Wireless NW, says their hands are tied, this is Sprint's problem.  Sprint seems to only care that they pulled in another sucker with a "bait and switch".  It is my intent to write to the Oregon Attorney General, as well as the Better Business Bureau.  I will refrain from picketing the store front.

So what can I do?  I feel that Sprint, in collusion with S Wireless NW, has ripped me off.  I strongly encourage everyone to avoid both companies.  I'm ashamed to admit that I'm a shareholder of an unethical company.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The neighborhood fossils

There's a new subdivision being built on the hillside west of the farm. They've had to construct quite the canyon to create a road under a ten percent grade. After pushing off the deep clay layer, they encountered rock: sandstone, mudstone and shale.



The mudstone/shale layers are shot throughout with fossils. I wish I knew about the age and origin of these fossils. They're not too old because most retain their original three dimensional shape. Well, at least I think that out mean they're not absurdly old. The Coast Range is mainly solidified ocean flood mud shoved up onto the continent, but we're fifty miles inland.


We first noticed suspicious impressions in the broken rock.  We weren't sure they were fossils until we spotted the other side:




That seemed to open our eye.  Suddenly we were seeing them every where we looked.



Check out the entire gallery of fossil photos:

2011-10 the neighborhood fossils

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

test posting of no importance

just testing to see if there is any integration between blogger and google+    does it exist yet?