Sunday, 22 February 2015

Xubuntu webcam fun

My configuration of my MSI Wind notebook as a Xubuntu based machine is coming along quite nicely. I still don't have an answer to offline blogging, but yesterday I added skype and dropbox, dropbox so I can access all my files, and skype so I can call home.

Dropbox just installed. Skype needed a dpkg -i command but installed without issue - or so I thought until I tested it.

No webcam.

So I tried cheese - again no webcam device detected. I assumed (wrongly) that the device driver was missing or incorrect and set out on a hunt for the correct driver.

Luckily I didn't find one.

Instead I found a slew of posts from people with similar problems and no answer, and finally a post with a reply that fixed the problem.

And it was a facepalm moment.

Apparently the MSI has privacy switch controlled by the F6 key to disable the web cam, and - you guessed it - the default startup state is off.

Hit the key, the webcam is enabled, and everything works. Colours are bit crappy, but it's a webcam.

I can live with that ...

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Experience atlases ...

Last night I came across the concept of the ‘experience atlas’.

It comes out of the HR world but despite taht it’s quite an interesting idea. People’s job titles often don’t reflect what they do, especially if they work in a fast moving field, and they’ve been in post for a few years.

A recruiter looking at someone’s resume might just look at the job titles and qualifications and take a very narrow view of someone’s experience and allow their pre-conceptions to guide them as to the usefulness of someone’s experience.

For example between 1984 and 1986 (I’m deliberately choosing an episode a long time ago as it doesn’t matter either way) I was employed as a ‘Computer Officer’ at a field research station.

Officially I looked after the computers, provided enduser support, some help with data management, data analysis,  liaised with the parent computer centre and bought things.

Nothing remarkable there, and I did do all of these things. But I also did a whole lot of other things.

For example, as I’d previously held a Medical Research Council studentship, and knew about ethics approvals and experimental protocols, I ended up managing botanical survey teams.


Well you had to have procedures in place about what to do if someone was chased by a bull or in a traffic accident while they were out doing their work, and that looks a hell of a lot like an ethics approval for experiments on human beings.

There were also rules and compliance requirements regarding rare plants, and indeed if the surveyors accidentally came in contact with rare animals.

I also did some work with insectivorous bats at the time - which again involved obtaining clearances and approvals, as bats are scheduled in the UK and only people holding an appropriate clearance can handle them.

For example, anyone can watch bats fly out of a medieval church, but if you want to catch tag and release some to track movement between colonies it’s got to be done by approved people with appropriate clearances - ie it takes you to a whole new level of management and paperwork.

And the medieval example is appropriate - wildlife people might have one view of the presence of the colony while heritage people might well have another view, and the local vicar usually just wanted to get on with his pastoral work and not have to deal with things, meaning that you could well end up trying to negotiate and reconcile matters between who we would now call stakeholders. And you can’t contribute usefully unless you know about what’s involved - so having an interest in history and archaeology was a plus.

Now, I don’t want to exaggerate what I did, but instead make the point that this is valuable experience that’s not reflected in my cv.

Likewise when you come to annual reviews, basing you next year’s kpi on your resume is often narrow and inappropriate - an experience atlas gives a broader view of someone’s competences and capabilities.

The downside of course is that they’re a pain to compile - too much information, but a structured format with defined questions to build up a portfolio might be a way forward ...

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Linux replacements for Windows Live Writer ... (not)

When I upgraded to Xubuntu, one of the downsides was that I lost the use of Windows Live writer, a free and nifty offline blogging client from Microsoft that plays nicely with both blogger and wordpress.

Given that my xubuntu machine is used while travelling, offline capability is useful as it lets me blog in these moments while waiting for something to happen, or while travelling on a train or plane.

Now the real usefulness is that once you get to somewhere with internet you can simply click on ‘Publish’ and it’s published.

The obvious workaround of writing the draft post in an editor and cutting and pasting it into a blog window on the web isn’t quite so slick, especially if you have links or some complex formatting like a table.

Yes it can be done, but it can be a little more time consuming.

So this lunchtime I did a bit of googling, and there’s certainly clients out there such as Drivel and Blogilo but they have a set of problems - basically there’s not been a lot of development of these applications in recent years, which means that they havn’t kept up with api changes for example QTM looks promising, but actually can’t post to a recent Wordpress install.

In fact I had a happy hour building and testing those that looked promising, and basically none of them really did the job.

All very frustrating, but basically it means writing the text in an editor of your choice (and exporting the file as html if there’s any complexity involved) and pasting into blog site ...

Monday, 16 February 2015

Netbook Xubuntu ....

Long term readers will remember that I bought myself a Windows 7 netbook back in 2012 to replace my Linux based Eeepc as lightweight machine to take travelling.

I won't rehearse why, but I still find that while tablets are good there are some things that just work better on a 'normal' computer.

However, increasingly I’ve grown dissatisfied with the performance of my Windows 7 netbook. Just too slow to boot, start a browser etc.

The original rationale was to have a windows device and use it with a 3G stick while travelling but I’ve kind of circumvented that by buying a portable 3G wifi hot spot. The other advantage was to have a recent version of skype, as the linux version was always several releases behind, but these days I can always circumvent that by packing a tablet.

The only other things I would lose that I actually used were the quite nice Windows Live offline blog writing tools, the nice Postbox application for Gmail, and Evernote.

While Nixnote works well enough it’s never been a substitute for the Evernote desktop client, but more recently Evernote’s web client has improved vastly in terms of user experience, even if the splash screen seems to feature slightly freaky looking people who have just been struck by some form of divine rapture.

Evolution will certainly substitute for Postbox for offline mail composition. The Microsoft web tools are a little more tricky, and I don’t have an answer other than Focuswriter or Retext with a bit of pandoc plus some cutting and pasting.

Other applications don’t really matter - I always used abiword as a word processor anyway, and everything else can be done via the web, and there’s quite a nice dropbox client for linux should I want to sync and share content.

But which distribution?

It’s a netbook with only 1GB of memory so the full standard Ubuntu might have been too much of an ask. I could have used Crunchbang, which I’m very happy with on my revived Eee, but development has recently ceased, so it looked like a lighter weight version of Ubuntu might be the goal.

I couldn’t decide between Lubuntu and Xubuntu, so I built myself a couple of VM’s to see if I really disliked either of them, and I found myself marginally more comfortable with Xubuntu, which I’d used a long time ago when I used an old ppc based imac with Xubuntu 6.06 as my main desktop machine at home.

Next, I made myself a bootable USB and then tried Xubuntu on the machine in ‘live CD’ mode to make sure that everything worked and that performance was adequate.

It was, so a sticky Saturday afternoon, I installed Xubuntu. I chose not to keep my Windows 7 home basic install reckoning that I’d probably never use it, and there was no content on the machine that wasn’t synced elsewhere.

Installation took a couple of hours - really because I also needed a slew of post install system updates, plus I wanted to install my extra apps. But at the end I had a working machine.

Speed and responsiveness is pretty good, and it doesn’t seem to swap excessively.

As always with new builds it takes time to get a feel for how fast (or slow) the machine is but it certainly seems more than reasonable ...