Sep 29
Some Ubuntu resources for beginners
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Linux, ubuntu | icon4 September 29, 2009| icon33 Comments »

Ubuntu Logo Cristal

I’ve already done a post on Some Linux Resources for Beginners so I thought I’d round up some great resources specifically for those starting out with Ubuntu. I haven’t included many blogs here where posts are put up regularly, only if they’ve mentioned a good Ubuntu resource in a blog post. Mostly these are just Ubuntu reference/resource sites with tutorials, guides, how-tos, forums, etc.

General Ubuntu resources

Going Ubuntu: Getting Started

Ubuntu Guide

Ubuntu Documentation

Ubuntu Linux Resources

Hardware Support

UbuntuHCL: Ubuntu Hardware Compatibility List

Gnome-Look: Eye Candy for your GNOME desktop

Ubuntu Brainstorm: submit your ideas for inclusion in future Ubuntu versions

Ubuntu FAQ Guide

Ubuntu Installation Guide: One of the most comprehensive guides on installing Ubuntu I’ve seen

Ubuntu: search resources

Ubuntu Search Engine

Ubuntu Search

UbuntuWire Search

Ubuntu cheatsheets and shortcuts

Ubuntu Linux Cheatsheet

Useful Shortcut Keys in Ubuntu

Ubuntu ebooks

Download Ubuntu Installation Guide and Cheatsheet Now

Ubuntu Linux Bible

Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference

Ubuntu forums

Ubuntu Forums

Ubun2

Ubuntu how-tos and tutorials

Ubuntu Geek: quick tips and how-tos

Ubuntux: a community for beginners and experts

Ubuntu Linux Help

Useful Links for Ubuntu Beginners

Learning Ubuntu

Addictive Tips: Ubuntu Linux

Ubuntu Tutorials

Ubuntuts

Useful links: Ubuntu post-installation tips

Ubuntu software

GetDeb

SourceForge

Ubuntu Software and Tweaks: The Best List Ever

Ubuntu magazines

Full Circle Magazine: free downloadable magazine

Ubuntu User: subscription magazine

This is just the tip of the iceberg and I’m sure I’ve missed many important Ubuntu resources here. Just drop a comment below with any you’ve come across that you find really useful and I’ll add them.

Related posts

Great Ubuntu and Linux blogs for beginners

Photo credit: k40s


Sep 22

irfanview

Really quick one today but it may help someone out. A friend recently sent me a jpeg she couldn’t open on her PC. I went to my free graphics editor IrfanView and tried to open it. It prompted Warning! The file xxx.jpg is a TIF file with incorrect extension! Rename? Once it had renamed it with the tif extension, there was no problem opening it and then saving as a jpeg. I learned today on Twitter (@WollemiPine) that this also works if a jpeg is really a bmp file with the wrong extension.

tweets on irfanview

So if you’re having problems opening a jpeg or indeed another graphics file format, and you haven’t tried IrfanView, download it and see if in fact it’s been saved with the wrong extension. It won’t always work – you may not be able to open your jpeg because of a corrupt header for example.


Sep 21

Money what money

In Part 1, I mentioned some factors which we considered important when buying a laptop for college work. Now to install Vista and some software. As I already mentioned, my son’s Dell Inspiron 1545 came with Vista Home Premium and he’s entitled to a free upgrade to Windows 7 Premium in October, so with that in mind, we’ll probably do a fresh install when the new OS arrives. So I didn’t want to load up the machine at this stage, just install a suite of applications to see him through until Windows 7 arrived.

As I run Windows XP or Ubuntu on my machines, this was the first time I’d installed Vista so I was pleasantly surprised at how painless it was. In all, it took about 20 minutes to install the OS. Dell used to have a reputation for installing a fair amount of trialware and junk along with the OS – don’t think they’re as bad as they were, but anyway, the first thing I downloaded and installed was PC Decrapifier to remove all the applications and trialware we just didn’t need. Here’s a list of the stuff it can remove. Having removed the trialware security suite, I then added the free antivirus program which has served me well over the years, AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 8.5 and the spyware remover SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition. Adobe Reader came installed so I removed that and added my favourite pdf reader, Foxit Reader.

List of apps we installed

Firefox: my favourite browser

Firefox Plug-ins: Adblock Plus, All-in-One Sidebar, LastPass (this one’s absolutely essential)

SpeedyFox: to clean Firefox’s SQLite databases and help prevent it slowing down

CCleaner: an essential utility for PC maintenance

Recuva: to recover accidentally deleted files

Revo Uninstaller: for completely uninstalling apps

Skype: so we can keep in touch

PC Wizard 2009: for PC information

CD Burner XP: to burn CDs and DVDs

FastStone Image Viewer: for managing and quick editing of photos

Serif PagePlus: DTP app; the link is to the free version of this commercial app

Rainlendar: a nice desktop calendar with reminders and a to-do list

Microsoft Office: this is the only commercial software in the list; for a free office suite, OpenOffice is excellent

Change Caps Lock to Shift Key: remap the annoying Caps Lock key to a Shift key

The only additional things were to set up a GMail account for him and place a small batch file on the desktop for one-click backup of everything in the Documents folder to a USB stick and impress on him the importance of using it. I’m still looking into laptop security/theft apps such as LocatePC, Prey or LaptopLock and will update this post when we decide on one.

Finally, I thought for completeness, I’d throw in a couple of links to some excellent posts on web apps and services for students I’d bookmarked on Delicious:

Notely Helps Students Get Organized Online

The Ultimate Student Resource List

Best Web Applications and Resources for College Students

Back to School: 15 Essential Web Tools for Students

So which applications would you put on a student’s PC? What about web apps and services? Drop a comment below.

Image credit: stuartpilbrow


Sep 19
A laptop for a student – Part 1
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Hardware | icon4 September 19, 2009| icon3No Comments »

My son is going back to college just now and needed to buy his first laptop so I tried to help out along the way. The first decision was straightforward – he’d used the Windows OS for years and was familiar with that, so it had to be a laptop with Windows. Not a MacBook because, even with student discount, this was beyond his budget and not a Linux OS because, well, because if you’re familiar with Windows it’s easier to stick with what you know, especially if you’re not tech minded. I’m just learning Ubuntu and would still struggle to help him out, especially away from home. Besides, buying a laptop with Vista Home Premium at the moment entitles you to a free upgrade to Windows 7 Premium, which by all accounts promises to be a great OS.

So off down to our major PC retailers to see what was on offer. First surprise, no Toshiba laptops in either retailer we tried. My daughter had bought a Toshiba laptop 2 years ago and we were all quite pleased with it. Ah well, so we had a choice of Acer, HP, Compaq, Packard Bell, Sony, Dell, Advent, etc. It was now that my son really surprised me. The first things I would look at when buying a laptop are hard drive size, amount of RAM installed, processor type, monitor size, but his first priority was build quality and design – the feel of the keys, the feel of the touchpad, rigidity of the case, etc. Some of the laptops had what I can only describe as bendy keyboard platforms which visibly sagged as you touched the keys – he didn’t like that, nor keys which seemed to be mounted poorly. He checked the feel of the keys as he typed. He also preferred a grainy-feel touchpad rather than the smooth ones. He pointed out that when his thumb or fingers were sweaty, they would stick on the smooth surface touchpad but were fine on the rougher surface. He also didn’t want the largest screen size laptops as this wouldn’t fit in his backpack and would be less portable.

dell_inspiron_1545

So, at the end of the day, with all these points in mind and with a budget to stick to, he went for the Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop. Nice build quality, 15.6 inch screen, and 4GB RAM. The only slight downside was that the hard drive was only 160 GB. However, my daughter’s Toshiba has the same size and she manages fine – it forces you to be more organized and not hoard a lot of stuff. In any case, we spotted Iomega 1TB external hard drives for around £70 so that’s an alternative for storage when the time comes.

We then steadfastly refused all offers of Microsoft Office Home & Student, Norton Security, after sales help and insurance from the dogged salesman, paid up and left quite happy.

So what software should we put on it? Well, that’s coming up in Part 2 which I’ll publish in the next day or two.

What do you look for when you’re purchasing a laptop? Is build quality important or do you go for specs… or even looks? Let me know in the comments.


Sep 8

A few days ago, I noticed that some links in my blog posts were not clickable, or at least were only part-clickable. These were all near the right margin of the content column next to the sidebar on the right. Here’s an illustration of what was happening:

Clickable1 Clickable2

As I moved the cursor from left to right over the link Life Rocks 2.0, it would change from clickable (as indicated by the hand symbol in the top panel above) to unclickable (as indicated by the arrow in the lower panel above). Because it was near the right margin of the content column and next to the sidebar, I guessed the problem was something to do with the sidebar margin. Unfortunately, I have very little knowledge of css and php and most of what I’ve learned so far in tweaking a free WordPress theme has been through good old trial and error – keep messing around until you get the desired result. I figured that there must be an overlap of the sidebar left margin onto the content column and this was affecting links near the right margin of the content column. Perhaps someone will put me right here.

Unlike previous tweaking, I got a result pretty much straight off. This is what I did. I opened the theme’s style.css file and tried changing the width of the content-wrapper and sidebar-wrapper until things worked.

Here’s the relevant section of code before:

#content-wrapper
{
width: 60%;
float: left;
}
#content
{
float: left;
padding: 0 0 10px 30px;
}
#sidebar-wrapper
{
width: 35%;
float: right;
}
#sidebar
{
float: right;
padding: 0px 15px 10px 10px;
width: 210px;
margin-right: 15px;
margin-top: 0px;

and I changed this to:

#content-wrapper
{
width: 70%;
float: left;
}
#content
{
float: left;
padding: 0 0 10px 30px;
}
#sidebar-wrapper
{
width: 25%;
float: right;
}
#sidebar
{
float: right;
padding: 0px 15px 10px 10px;
width: 210px;
margin-right: 15px;
margin-top: 0px;

So changing the width of the content-wrapper from 60% to 70% and changing the width of the sidebar-wrapper from 35% to 25% made all the links near the sidebar completely clickable as shown below:

Clickable3

Very satisfying when you get a quick result.

So, I’d suggest you have a quick look at any links on your blog near the right margin with the sidebar and see if they’ve been masked by the sidebar margin. It may be just a simple fix in the style.css file.

Any css experts care to comment on what’s happening here? Is there any other tweak I could have used to sort out this problem?


Sep 7

frustration

Ever been sent a file you can’t open? Or a friend has emailed a file to you that they are unable to open and hope you might be able to help? It happened to me yesterday. A friend had been sent a file which she couldn’t open and asked me to have a go. First impressions weren’t good – I didn’t recognise the extension – it was a pzf file – no, not a pdf! Double-clicking wouldn’t open it. However, I was eventually able to open it and save it as a pdf or a jpeg. The process I went through on a Windows system might be instructive so I’ve set it out here.

What kind of file is it?

Well, I could have googled ‘pzf’ but I already knew about the website FILExt, a site which lists file extensions and what possible programs can open them, so I went straight there. Turns out that pzf is most likely a GraphPad Prism file, a scientific graphing program, although FILExt did indicate another less likely possibility as well. Ominously, the site said that pzf files could only be opened by Prism, which I didn’t have.

Can I convert it?

I googled ‘pzf file conversion‘. Apart from professional data recovery services, there didn’t appear to be a freeware app which might convert this file type. I had a look at my Delicious bookmarks. For online file conversion, I found File2.ws which claimed to be able to convert virtually any file into a public online web page, but alas, it didn’t work for pzf files (but it might work for your file). Convert.Files and Zamzar also didn’t support this format. I had a quick look at the free file conversion applications on my PC – SUPER and FormatFactory but both were for media files and again didn’t support pzf format.

format factory

Look for a free file viewer

I then had a look at free file viewers. Universal Viewer and its plug-ins can open many different file types but not pzf (again, it might work for your file). I also tried Irfanview but again even with its plug-ins, still no luck. However, proprietary software occasionally have free or trial viewers and in this case, the FILExt website indicated that the free Prism Viewer was available to open GraphPad Prism files. It’s possible to view or print the file with this utility but not make any changes. Another file viewer you could try is Explorer View which has a 30-day free trial.

Save the opened file in a different format

Now that we can open our file to view it or print it, it would be nice to be able to save it in a more useful format which can be opened by everyday free apps so we can refer to it again without any trouble. doPDF Well, once opened, you can easily save a file in pdf format using any one of a number of virtual PDF printer drivers. I use doPDF – I’ve mentioned it before in my Miscellany of Tech Tips. After installation, this appears in your Print menu so, in any app you can print from, you now have the option to print to a pdf format file. To convert to pdf format, you just have to print the document to doPDF rather than to your printer.

Now that your document is in a familiar format, you can convert it to another format if necessary, e.g. JPEG, PNG or GIF. However, I found it hard to track down a freeware pdf-to-jpeg converter. Some applications are trial only and leave a watermark on your output jpeg file, others require Adobe Acrobat to be installed first. However, there are online file conversion sites like Zamzar that will do the pdf-to-jpeg conversion for you. What I also discovered was that, if I opened the file on my PC in my preferred free pdf viewer, Foxit Reader, I could choose the Snapshot tool (Tools, Snapshot), and outline an area to save to the clipboard. Now open an image viewing program like Irfanview, paste in your snapshot (Ctrl-V) and click File, Save as to save the snapshot as a jpeg file.

So, given a file you can’t open, it should be possible to convert it to a more familiar format using the process I’ve outlined. How do you open an unusual file format?  Any formats that have completely stumped you? Any tips to pass on? Drop a comment below.

Image credit: Lazurite


Sep 4
Reddit drives traffic!
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Blogging, Web services | icon4 September 4, 2009| icon31 Comment »

reddit

I had a phenomenal response to my Firefox tips post yesterday thanks to submitting a link on the Technology board at Reddit. Yesterday was my first attempt at promoting this blog on Reddit and I’m amazed at what happened. I submitted a link to my Firefox tips post to Reddit around 2pm BST (British Summer Time) (9am EDT, 6am PDT) and over the next 24 hours, I’ve almost doubled my RSS feed subscribers adding about 350 to reach about 830 subscribers.

The link  stayed well up the first Reddit ‘What’s Hot’ page over the first 9 hours:

First Reddit post2 - ellipse

In hindsight, I’m actually in the wrong category on Reddit. Should probably have been in the category Software, but I was exposed to 145,000 subscribers on the Technology board.

Looking at my blog stats in Woopra, there was a huge increase to over 4000 visits and 10,000 page views yesterday. I originally published the Firefox post on my blog on Sept 2 and you can see a small effect there from previous RSS subscribers, Delicious and Twitter, but nothing compared to the Reddit effect on Sept 3.

woopra1

Naturally, as the post was about Firefox, most visitors were Firefox 3 users, with Chrome the second most popular browser.

woopra2

The plot below shows that Reddit and StumbleUpon were the best referrers by some considerable margin:

woopra3

interestingly, with Twitter, Digg and FaceBook further behind:

woopra4

I’ve never gone after bulk adding followers in Twitter but have just gone for organic growth – letting followers find me first, but clearly most of my 600 Twitter followers don’t seem to be interested in Firefox tips. I’ll keep a closer eye on referrers in future – quite easy to do with Woopra on my blog.

So, in summary, Reddit really drives traffic to your blog and it’s well worth registering and submitting a link to your blog posts there. I’ll try and get the correct category there next time, and doubtless I’ll reach a lower subscriber number with future posts – unless I start posting about technology. Still, it’s nice to have added a substantial number of new RSS feed subscribers.  I’ve just got to hold onto them now.

How do you promote your blog? Drop a comment below.


Sep 2

firefox

A search for slow firefox on Twitter shows that there is a virtually constant stream of tweets complaining about Firefox being slow. I don’t find the current Firefox (Windows) release any quicker or slower than previous versions yet many people are under the impression that it is. I do find it’s still a memory hog – for me, currently around 230MB with 5 tabs open, about 20 plug-ins installed and 3 Greasemonkey scripts enabled – so probably about a typical set-up. Before you start, it may be worth checking that you’re not blaming Firefox for what’s just a slow internet connection. Check your connection is up to speed by visiting SpeedTest.net and testing the speed of your connection. So is there anything that the typical user can try which might help speed things up before throwing up their arms in disgust and moving to Chrome or Safari? Well I hope this list of tips might help:

Some tips to speed up Firefox

1. Uninstall the latest buggy Skype plug-in: If you are experiencing that Facebook, GMail or Google Reader are really crawling and you’ve recently updated Skype to version 4.1 and installed the Skype plug-in for Firefox, try uninstalling the Skype plug-in, but leave the main Skype program installed. That should help. Hopefully, Skype will update this plug-in soon because, reading the tweets on slow firefox, it’s certainly responsible for driving a number of people away to other browsers, particularly Chrome.

2. Check how much memory Firefox is using: Bring up Windows Task Manager with Ctrl-Alt-Del in Windows XP or Crtl-Alt-Esc in Vista and go to the Processes tab. Look for the process called firefox.exe and check the memory usage: for example, 230,000K is 230MB. Try cutting back on the number of tabs you have open and uninstall any plug-ins you really don’t need and see if this brings down memory usage. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have installed plug-ins which seemed a good idea at the time but which you now rarely, if ever use. Uninstall them.

Edit (13 March 2010): From Creoffblog, if you have an antivirus anti-phishing toolbar add-on, try disabling it as this may be causing the slow down.

3. Do some maintenance: Use a program like CCleaner (for Windows) or BleachBit (for Windows or Linux) to clear your browser temporary files, internet cache and browser history regularly.

4. Modify the Firefox config file: Here’s some tweaks which involve modifying the config file for Firefox. I’d heard some of these a while ago on the Mike Tech Show podcast, also at Life Rocks 2.0. It’s not difficult to edit the config file. Just type about:config in the Firefox address bar and press enter. Then type network.http in the filter field. This will filter the list down to only those with network.http in the name. Now make the following changes:

  • Double click on ‘network.http.pipelining’ and set the value to true (double clicking toggles the value between true and false).
  • Double click on network.http.pipelining.maxrequests’ and in the dialog box enter a value higher than the default value 4. According to Mozillazine, the maximum you can use is 8.
  • Double click on ‘network.http.proxy.pipelining’ and set the value to true.
  • Again in the filter field enter ‘browser.sessionstore.interval‘ (without the quotes), double click on the entry and change the value from 10000 (10 secs) to 120000 (2 minutes). This adjusts how frequently Firefox creates session restore save points. Firefox will now take a snapshot of your browsing session every 2 minutes instead of every 10 seconds.
  • Right click on the page and select New->Integer. Enter the name nglayout.initialpaint.delay and then click ok. Set the integer value of this to 0 and click ok.

You can find additional great config file tweaks at Technically Personal.

5. Disable Firebug: If you’re using Firebug, it can slow Firefox to a crawl.speedyfox

6. Optimize Firefox’s SQL database: Firefox uses SQLite databases to store lots of its settings. With time, the databases grow and Firefox slows down. Use either Vacuum Places Improved, a Firefox add-on, or SpeedyFox, a stand-alone app to compact these databases without losing any data. I prefer SpeedyFox as I like to keep the number of Firefox add-ons to a minimum.  Only works in Windows at the moment though. Thanks again to Life Rocks 2.0 for this tip. I also use the portable version which doesn’t modify the Windows registry.

7. Try Memory Fox, a memory optimizer for Firefox 3. It constantly flushes Firefox’s memory usage. At the moment it’s only for the Windows OS. There’s a full write up on ghacks.net.

8. If you’re still not happy with Firefox, there’s a terrific Firefox Troubleshooting Guide over on MakeUseOf.com. And have a look at this post at Dedoimedo for more suggestions.

9. And if you’re still not happy, try Google Chrome – it’s a worthy alternative to Firefox.

Do you have any tips for speeding up Firefox? Drop a comment below with your tweaks.


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