Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ubuntu for phones, thoughts and opinions

I've been thinking about this since I listened to a podcast today (FLOSS episode 252 where Jono Bacon talks about Ubuntu for mobile phones).

When Android first came out, it was strange and new. Being in South Africa we have excessively high mobile data charges and people were getting slammed by the mobile phone operators for high data usage. At that point the HTC Dream phone was the only phone running Android, I worked as a Customer Service Agent at a mobile phone store selling contract phones. A friend bought one of these phones and managed to install something that totally bricked his phone, he sent it in for repairs and ended up waiting almost 6 months for HTC to send it back. I was NOT going to recommend this phone or the Android brand to clients.

Fast forward 2 years, Samsung had launched plenty of phones running Android (Gingerbread the then current flavour) and the platform had matured a bit. I started to get to know how it works and how to stay out of trouble. Fast forward to today and there are many communities that will help you get the right software tools, advice and ROMs needed to customize your phone. 

Why is this relevant? Because we are at the point of Ubuntu phone being launched. It's still a work in progress, but if you listen to FLOSS #252 you will see the passion that these people have for the new platform. Ubuntu One will play a crucial role in everything as you can sync your files across phones and computers, buy and stream music and sync your contacts to it (among other things). 

When comparing Ubuntu One to its greatest competitor, Dropbox, you will notice that Dropbox is more polished. Dropbox probably has more money invested in its service than Ubuntu One though. 

It's not really fair to evaluate a new platform that's still being built. I mean, the first iPhone could not send MMS messages and iOS 7 has now only caught up with Android as to having live wallpapers. But Android wasn't perfect either when it launched, it's going to take Ubuntu a while to catch up to the competition, and they aren't the only one's trying to get a slice of the action. Nokia and Blackberry and trying desperately to make their platforms a success again, while Firefox OS has beaten Ubuntu phones to market (who knows if they will become a mayor player?). 

The future is uncertain, but I wish the Ubuntu phone team every success with their endeavour. I'm not a fan of using Unity on the desktop and I may not like how their phone OS turn out. They have a lot of hard work ahead of them. Google (with Android) proved that it is possible to come out of nowhere with a new phone OS and become a dominant player within 4 years of launching it, so anything is possible.

So I got tired of double clicking

Computer mice have been around for a while now, I have used a lot of different ones in my time. This morning I started thinking about double clicking again. I've been double clicking, because that is the Windows default way of doing things (single click to select) - but I don't have to. So I enabled single click on Peppermint.

Here's how to do it:

  • Open PCManFM
  • Click on Edit
  • Click Preferences
  • Click on Open files with a single click

These instructions are specific to LXDE, which uses PCManFM as it's default file manager.

Other desktop interfaces:

To do this in KDE: (if it's not the default)

  • Click "Start"
  • Go to System Settings
  • Open Keyboard and Mouse
  • Click the Double click to open files and folders radio button
  • Confirm if you have to, or close the window

To do this in Gnome 2:

  • Open your file browser (Nautilus)
  • Click on Edit
  • Click on Preferences
  • Click the Behaviour tab
  • Click the radio button for Single click to activate items
  • Click Close

To do this in Gnome 3:

  • Open your file browser
  • Click on File (top left)
  • Click Preferences
  • Go to the Behaviour tab 
  • Click Enable single click
  • Click Close

To do this in Unity:

I found a tutorial on this, click here to check it out.

Friday, July 26, 2013

I meet an old friend! PDFTK

I have used PDFTK in Windows as a portable app (thanks Portable Apps!) and today I needed to combine a few PDF's again. A quick Google search got me onto PDF Shuffler, which in my experience, does not work on Peppermint 4 (or Ubuntu according to an article I read).

My next option was PDF Chain, a GUI for PDFTK (which I really love). This program has helped me combine hundreds of PDF's into 1 file, place watermarks onto PDF's and split and recombine PDF files. It is an amazing piece of software and every printing shop needs to have this (I used to work in a printing shop and this came in real handy at times).

It can join (concatenate), split, stamp and even rotate PDF files.

Let's install PDF Chain:

  • Open a Terminal (Click Menu >> Accessories >> Terminal)
  • Type in sudo apt-get install pdfchain , press <ENTER>
  • Type your password, and press <ENTER>
  • Confirm the install

It is now installed in the Office section of your Menu.


Monday, July 22, 2013

2 Android apps to try

I don't regularly review Android apps here, but these 2 I have to mention.

To me this is the most useful app for Android. Being reminded every few minutes that I missed a call or SMS is very important (to me at least). Last Friday I spoke to someone who was also needing something like this and I was overjoyed to have found this app.

Going to be recommending this app to everyone I know who has an Android phone.

It's a free app.

I don't know many people who feel as strongly as I do about podcasts, but if you do - you will probably love this app.

You can download via WiFi only, and set podcast subscriptions to download automatically when using Wifi - which is great. I like the subscription tool, which can add rss links, search for a theme or podcast name or subscribe to one of the featured podcasts. Easy to use and very useful.

There is a free version and a donate version. Install the free version first. The free version is not limited, it does have adds though. Consider donating to the project if you like it, as it is cheap and very useful.

Found a great Android app recently? share it is the comments below.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Do you miss the classic Windows look?

I was browsing though and came accross the Classic 95 theme.

If you install it, your Linux looks like Windows 95 (which is good for a laugh and you can easily undo it).

Here is how to do it:

  • Head over to this page
  • Click download, to download the file (Classic95-0.8p1.tar.gz)
  • Click for the slower (free) connection
  • Wait 14 seconds for timer to run out
  • Click the green download button again
  • Click on Menu -> Preferences -> Customize Look and Feel
  • Click the Icon theme tab
  • Click Install (bottom left)
  • Navigate to your Downloads folder and double click the Classic95 file
  • The program closes (which might not happen to you, if it does not close skip the next step)
  • Click on Menu -> Preferences -> Customize Look and Feel -> Icon theme tab
  • Click on Classic 95 in the list
  • Click Apply

Enjoy the nostalgia that was Windows 95, where dialup modems were cool and folders were yellow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Don't hate on Ubuntu

I love listening to podcasts, one that I recently started listening to is called "Linux for the rest of us". It is hosted by Stephen McLaughlin (the Door to Door Geek) and Cody Cooper (Super Coop). In Episode 137 Stephen had a soap box moment where he told people not to hate on Ubuntu, especially if you are using Mint, Peppermint or any other distro that has Ubuntu somewhere in it's roots.

I think he has a point, I myself use Peppermint 4 because it runs well on older hardware and I like the LXDE interface. I specifically don't use Ubuntu because of Unity, I might not like everything that Ubuntu is doing or the direction they as a company have taken - but I use a distro that's had a strong influence from Lubuntu and Mint, which ultimately have Ubuntu as their ancestor.

We should not bash one distro (you don't have to wear an Ubuntu tshirt 24/7), but you don't have to hate on it because it uses a desktop interface that may or may not be your first choice. The Ubuntu team have put a lot of "elbow grease" (as Stephen calls it) into Debian to make it easier to use, and it is very hypocritical to hate Ubuntu and rave about how Mint is the best Linux ever.

I hope I have made some sense today; if not then I need help, or a cookie, or both.
You can respect what Ubuntu has done - while using another distro.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Raspberry Pi week ends

Here are some things that I noticed while using the Raspberry Pi, that might make your life easier:

  • If you are using RC leads, get a set that has a 3.5mm audio plug on the one side and a Red / White plug on the other. This way you can use the audio in the TV, instead of connecting it to speakers.
  • Get a powered USB hub. 2 USB ports is not enough (for me). Put the 4 port hub underneath the Raspberry Pi and use it to power it (if you have a nice, short Micro USB cable). Having a powered HUB means that I could use my USB hard drive (that has only a USB cable for data and power) with it. I had to use my brother's HDD, which has a USB cable and a power adaptor. Having extra USB ports means that you can connect a WIFI dongle, etc. as well.
  • Get a fast SD card. Running an operating system off a Class 4 card is very slow. Get at least a Class 10 (or higher) card. 
  • Get at least a 4 GB SD card. Although you also get smaller Linux distro's for the Raspberry Pi, having a 4 GB or larger card gives you more options.
  • Get a few SD cards. Having a few cards, means that you can load one card with Pidora, another with OpenELEC and a third with Rasbian. It's no fun having to reload the same card over and over. This is one of the greatest things about the Raspberry Pi, it can go from one use to another in under a minute. 

These are just a few things that I discovered in my short time with the Raspberry Pi. Feel free to share your experience and tips in the comments.

NOOBS for the Raspberry Pi

When the Raspberry Pi first came out, there was only the long (complicated) way of loading software onto it. This proved difficult for some younger and less Linux experienced users. Enter the (sometimes controversial) NOOBS or New Out Of Box Software available from

It's controversial because some users feel that it's now "too easy" to load up your SD card; while others feel it's great for first timers and are all for it. Regardless what you feel about it there are people who appreciate it.

How to use NOOBS:

  • download a 1.1 GB zip file from here
  • formatting your SD card with this tool
  • check that the SHA-1 checksum of the download is: bdb61930b077dcefd22b36caaa9698bdf76b290d
  • (if you don't know how to, click here)
  • Unmount the SD card (open File Manager / PCManFM (LXDE distros), click the eject button next to your SD card) 
  • put it in your Raspberry Pi and boot into the graphical user interface
  • follow the prompts
Have you used NOOBS? Are you for or against it? Leave a comment and share your opinion with the world.

Monday, July 8, 2013

OpenELEC and the Raspberry Pi

So while on holiday in Jeffreys Bay, a friend offered to borrow me her Raspberry Pi. I was overjoyed, though this was a working holiday - I did find the time to install OpenELEC on it.

The Raspberry Pi is the size of a credit card, it was created with the goal to promote computer programming among school children. Although a lot of users are older than that. It's not a super powerful computer, but that was not the purpose. The Pi can and has been used for several different uses: from robotics, to running a PABX system, to running a home security system and home automation or a media center.

The Raspberry Pi uses a SD card instead of a hard drive, so if you have multiple SD cards you can install a different operating system on each and swap them as needed.

I had an 8 GB SD card, but left my ADSL connection at home. On holiday I have a 3G connection, which here in South Africa is very expensive to download large amounts of data on. I was now searching for a small operating system to load onto my SD card. Rasbian and Pidora where too large for my budget, so I kept looking. I settled on OpenELEC, which transforms your Pi into a media center for watching videos, listening to music and looking at photos.

 Then I loaded a 100 MB bundle on my Samsung Galaxy Pocket (cost me $3) and downloaded OpenELEC. Downloaded OpenELEC from here. Now my problems started. The downloaded file had no extension, and even though I renamed it to have the .tar.bz2 extension - the file could not extract :(

My friend was kind enough to let me use her Internet connection to download it and this time there the file worked, yay! Now I need to install it. So I went to their wiki. Ok, now I had another problem. I often remind people about my limited knowledge about Linux and how little things can still stump me.

Extract the archive:

  • Go to your downloads folder
  • Right click the file
  • Left click on Extract here

  • Then open a Terminal window and navigate to that folder:

  • cd /home/batman/Downloads/OpenELEC-Rpi.arm-3.0.6

(substitute batman with your username, also remember that Linux is case sensitive, so you need to type it exactly right or you will get an error message).

  • Next insert your SD card and type in: dmesg | tail and press <ENTER>

This will tell you what the drive name of your card is, mine is sdb1 (be careful in the following steps, if you enter the wrong drive details you may wipe your hard drive. Don't type a number for the drive, just the name: sdb instead of sdb1 - otherwise you will also have an error message stare you down).

  • Next type sudo ./create_sdcard /dev/sdb and press <ENTER>

This will install OpenELEC to your card. Eject the card (open your file manager (PCManFM in my case) click the eject button next to your drive name).

You can now insert the SD card into your Raspberry Pi, connect it to a monitor using RC or HDMI, connect speakers and a keyboard and you are good to go. Connect a flash drive or USB hard drive to it and you can watch or listen to your media in the living room or bedroom.

To recap: Requirements

* A Raspberry Pi
* A SD card (the higher the class, the faster the drive. Try to use at least a class 10 card)
* An Internet connection
* An HDMI monitor & cable or RC cable and capable TV
* Speakers
* USB keyboard

My impressions of OpenELEC:

I found it easy to use and very capable. The interface is easy to navigate. OpenELEC also supports adding a remote, instead of depending on your trusty USB keyboard.

Video and audio playback was smooth and I found using OpenELEC to be pleasurable experience. I would definitely recommend that you try this if you have  a Raspberry Pi.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Raspberry Pi week kicks off - First impressions

While you can read an entire manual on the subject, I would like to share my experience with you.

The first time I held a Raspberry Pi (more or less August 2012), I was amazed by how something so small could do so much. In South Africa, there's a long waiting period from most suppliers when you order. A friend of mine, who owns a computer shop ordered a few for clients - and he ended up waiting months to get them.

I've never agreed with the press that the Raspberry Pi received regarding the price: it's not a $35.00 computer. When you factor in a class 10 SD card, a USB mouse & keyboard, a micro USB size charger (all of which that you may be able to pilfer from your computer supplies). Getting a HDMI monitor or a TV adds a lot of money to your startup costs. If you have a TV or HDMI monitor then it's not a problem. At the moment, I own neither.

The first day I saw a Raspberry Pi in real life, I ordered one; then cancelled my order later that day. It seemed like a great thing to buy, but I had no idea what to do with it (at that time I was running Peppermint 3 on a EEEPC 704G, and it has a screen, keyboard, etc. and was easier to use than setting up a new machine). I've seen a KindleBerry Pi and many other strange things that people have used their Raspberry Pi's for - but what would I use it for?

This article seems a bit negative, sorry for that.
My first impressions may not have been overwhelmingly positive, but I really did enjoy having the opportunity to try out a new gadget last week. Next time, I share day 1 with the Raspberry Pi.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A quick filler post - Downloading websites

Perhaps you need to download a website for offline use because you are going somewhere with no Internet connection, or perhaps like me, you just like to be thorough.

When you find a website with a user manual (that's not in a PDF that you can easily download), you may want to download the entire guide, just in case; or to look through even when you are not near an Internet connection.

If you were using Windows, you could install httrack (which I have used in the past and which worked great), but I want to use Linux as my primary OS so I wanted to be able to do it here. Enter wget, a great way to download websites.

If you don't have it installed, open a Terminal window and type in:
sudo apt-get install wget
enter your sudo password, press <ENTER>

Decide on a website to download, then navigate to where you want to download it to (it should be)

cd Downloads <ENTER>
mkdir test <ENTER> (I'm using test, you can call it something else)
cd test <ENTER>

To download the website to your test folder located in Downloads:

wget -r (replace with the website you want to download)
the -r will make it download the entire website, if you leave out the -r you can download a single page, for example:

will download only that page (tip: copy the url from your web browser, then in the Terminal, type wget
then right click next to it, then left click on paste. Now you didn't have to type out the entire url).

Just please don't type:
wget -r <ENTER>
This will download the entire Internet onto your computer! You have been warned!

I hope this helps someone :)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Raspberry Pi week coming soon!

I've been on a working holiday in Jeffreys Bay this last week and a friend borrowed me her Raspberry Pi.

I was very excited, and have started working on a few articles to highlight my experience with the Pi.

Tomorrow I'm travelling back to East London - then I need to catch up on work there; so hopefully I will be able to start posting in this series from Friday.

Do you have a Raspberry Pi? Share in the comments what you use it for.