When I first started blogging I built my web site on Moveable Type. After a couple of false starts I finally joined the rest of the blogosphere on WordPress. I have been nagging @n33co (aka AJ) to finish the WordPress templates he is working on that match his outstanding html5 site templates. AJ suggested that I could wait until he has time to finish his WordPress templates or I could try Jekyll, a static site generator (SSG). Jekyll looked like more work to set up than I was willing to do. Further investigation led me to Hugo. Hugo looked so simple I decided to give it a try.

Hugo claims to make web sites fun again, shifting the focus away from convoluted configuration of complex content management systems, back to html, css and the creation of content. Installing Hugo on my Kubuntu 14.10 laptop took less than 10 minutes. Getting to the place where I was learning how Hugo worked took another 5 minutes. So far it has been very simple, very fast, and very light weight.

I have been using Hugo for an hour or so. I like the simplicity; I like the idea of being able to produce my entire web site, blog included, using only basic tools instead of a complex php/perl based web application. The Hugo engine resides on my computer. The only thing that needs to live on the web host is the html, css, and javascript that drives the site. The resulting web site is extremely fast, regardless of the device being used to access it.

Next I am looking forward to incorporating Hugo into AJ’s miniport web site template which will finally bring my blog into the same design as the rest of smittie.com.

[The Hugo site is here.]

A month down the road with the System76 computer and Kubuntu. We’ve learned some lessons. I have a stable, usable system but there were some adjustments in getting there. I am still very much looking forward to purchasing a System76 laptop.

The biggest issue was dealing with the instability of Kubuntu 13.04. On a clean install Krita is unstable and unusable. At the time we thought Krita was the focal point of the graphic design system for my wife. I filed KDE bug #320094 which is being worked on. As a software QA professional it was satisfying to be able to file a bug for the issue and contribute to getting the problem fixed. However, the crashing bug made the system usable. So, I had to find something that worked.

My first thought was to install Kubuntu 12.04 LTS which is the long term support release. A more stable release that has had a year of testing and bug fixes. I installed 12.04 and discovered that there was no support for Logitech’s wireless technology. After a brief attempt at finding the software needed to make Logitech work on 12.04, I upgraded to 12.10. I was surprised to find that everything worked. Cool! So now we live on Kubuntu 12.10 which works really quite well.

We added GIMP and Inkscape to the graphics software collection. My wife is finding that GIMP is more capable and robust than Krita with the exception of actual painting type graphics work. She hasn’t yet worked much with Inkscape and there are a few other graphic applications that are probably worth a look.

I have imported about a tenth of the family photos into digiKam. I still find digiKam to be much better than iPhoto. Each account on the system has two repositories, libraries in iPhoto terms, one is user specific and the other is shared among all users. Importing photos into one or the other is easy. Meta-data is written to the image file so it is shared across all users. The images are stored in a standard Linux directory structure and are therefore accessible without digiKam, including all of the meta-data. Now that I have a working infrastructure set up, I will import the rest of the photos.

Still have not quite worked out the music software. I have been trying to make Amarok work. It has a lot of features that I like but the basic playback UI is really clumsy and confusing. You cannot just click on a song and have it play. There is this awkward playlist concept that is not really very intuitive. Clicking on song titles does not do what you expect and oftern you are not really sure what it did at all. So, still looking on that front.

I have found Amazon to be a very viable and capable replacement for iTunes. First, Amazon has a concept they call Auto-RIP. I prefer to own the physical CD. It gives me some security knowing that I have my music on physical media. However, I always rip the CDs as soon as they arrive. With Amazon’s Auto-RIP, once I have purchased the CD I can download the mp3 tracks immediately. The CD arrives later. Very nice, I like it.

Amazon also provides a cloud player service that allows users to upload their own music and then play it through the Amazon Cloud Player (available on most mobile devices and Roku). You can upload 250 songs on the free account. For the same price as iTunes Match, $25 a year, you can upload 250,000 of your own songs. According to my understanding, digital music purchased from Amazon does not count toward that 250,000.

It hasn’t been without its frustration but I am still very pleased with the transition away from Apple and Mac OS X and onto Linux. Ubuntu’s efforts in making a simple, user friendly install and update experience coupled with KDE’s elegant desktop environment really makes a very viable option.

My wife and I are 25 year Mac users. We have about 5 or 7 Apple computers in the house. Everyone in the family owns at least one iPhone. Since 1986 I have been a self-confessed Apple Fan Boy.

This week I set up the first non-Apple computer we have had for regular use, a System76 Ratel Performance. Bottom line up front (BLUF): I am surprised at how good the experience has been. I cannot wait to order my laptop from System76.

In addition to the computer I bought a Logitech K360 keyboard, a Logitech M325 mouse, a Wacom intuos 5 touch medium tablet and a Dell U2412M monitor. I also planned to install Kubuntu 13.04, replacing System76’s supported Ubuntu OS. I had everything working in about 90 minutes, including the OS install and updating.

Everything was plug and play. The keyboard, mouse, and tablet worked right out of the box with both Ubuntu as it was installed on the Ratel when it arrived and again on Kubuntu once I completed the install. Additionally, the Epson Workforce 600 that we already had worked without modification, printer and the scanner. When I say everything was plug and play, all of the drivers were already there. I did not install drivers, the OS did not hit the Net to find and install additional software. It was all there.

There are a few things I would do different. The Logitech peripherals use the Logitech Unity wireless protocol. Ubuntu does not appear to provide the software tools need to add devices to a Unity dongle. In the future, I will probably replace the Logitech Unity devices with Bluetooth devices so that I can manage them entirely through Ubuntu. I had to connect the Unity dongle to my MacBook to get the keyboard and mouse working on the same dongle.

I would get the Asus PA246Q instead of the Dell U2412M. They get pretty equal reviews and the Asus has an HDMI connector which should provide a better video signal.

While I am very happy with the System76 computer, System76 sales question responses were not terribly helpful. Their answer to every question I asked started with disclaimers. I asked if the Ratel could be expected to work with the Dell U2412M monitor. “While we do not test individual monitors, I would expect the monitor to work as you’d expect.” However, I have been using a System76 Meerkat NetTop at work for 2 years with excellent performance.

 

Since its inception, I have really wanted to like Google’s Nexus phone. I really like the idea of an affordable smartphone purchased independent of my cellular service provider. This would allow consumers to buy a phone on the merit of its features and subscribe to a cellular service provider based solely on its coverage, service and price. $299 for a top tier smartphone should be awesome but, as always, the devil is in the details.

The Nexus 4 is really a very nice phone. The hardware is made by LG. Hardware geeks can check the specs here. The Google Nexus line of products comes with the latest version of Android unadulterated, exactly as Google intended. The Nexus line is always first up to get the latest Android OS up date. Perfect. Sounds great. Buy a Nexus 4, dump the contract with the cell provider and jump on whoever is offering the best pay as you go service.

The Nexus 4 is effectively limited to two cellular networks; AT&T and T-Mobile. This is due to the transceiver used in the hardware and some peculiarities of one cellular technology. The Nexus 4 supports GSM and HSPA+ (the chip in the phone can do 4G LTE but Google disabled it). Those are the technologies used by T-Mobile and AT&T. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. Because the Nexus 4 does not support CDMA, it is currently a non-starter on Verizon networks. If Google were to add CDMA support to a future Nexus phone, it would still not be as simple to move it onto the Verizon network.

GSM networks use a SIM card. Insert the SIM card into a GSM phone that supports the appropriate frequencies and the phone joins the network. CDMA requires that the cell provider activate your phone on their network and link it to a phone number. Verizon has a sordid history of disabling hardware and software features that devalue for fee services Verizon provides. Verizon’s trustworthiness notwithstanding, switching an unlocked phone onto their network is not hassle free.

The purchase a Nexus 4 gives me the option T-Mobile or AT&T. T-Mobile coverage is pervasive east of the Mississippi but more restricted to metro areas in the West. This makes T-Mobile pretty unattractive to anyone who does any rural traveling west of the Mississippi. Which leaves AT&T. Which means I will probably stick with iPhone for another rev and AT&T for another two years.

I was first introduced to computers in 1986 in Japan. In an odd turn of events that can really only happen in Japan, I got a job that required me to know Macintosh computers. I was given a Mac Plus with a 20 megabyte serial hard drive. Since then I have owned a number of Macs. Through the 90’s when the Apple product line was a complete disaster I bought Macs. In my house today there are four Mac , three iPads, four iPhones (2 of them iPhone 5s) in daily use. For years I have managed my music and video collection in iTunes and my photos in iPhoto. I am the only one in my family that does not still use an @mac.com email address, although smittie@mac.com does still land in my inbox. For twenty five years I have been a proud, self professed Apple fan boy.

Steve Jobs was the visionary and guiding force of Apple. Steve was the reason that Apple products were different. Steve made things insanely great. Without Steve Jobs, Apple needs to find some one else who is crazy enough to provide the vision and design that differentiates Apple products. As evidenced by the Apple Maps debacle and the recent iTunes makeover, Tim Cook is not the man to do that nor has he yet managed to put a team in place that can. Apple Maps is terrible. The new iTunes looks like something Microsoft would release, the user interface now a convoluted mess. Professor Peter Morici very accurately defines the problem that Apple faces in this article.

When I joined Roku (you’ve seen Roku3, right?) two years ago, I asked if I could get a Unix based computer instead of the standard Windows laptop. They told me to pick one out, they would order it. I had used Linux before and wanted to support the Linux community so I looked for a system that came pre-installed with a Linux distro. I discovered System76. I ordered a Meerkat which has worked out really well. It came with Ubuntu 10.04 installed. My computing life was wonderful. With Ubuntu 11.04 and the Unity interface (which I still hate), I switched to Kubuntu. This was a real ah-ha moment. The KDE user interface is elegant, fun and kool. I enjoyed using it. Even more than I enjoyed using Mac OSX.

For a long time Open Source software offered a free alternative to commercial software but it came at a cost. It was typically more complicated to install, never quite completely compatible and always a lot uglier to use. OpenOffice was, and possibly still is, the typical example. It does work. It does offer the basic Office components. The user interface is ugly and under-developed. The functionality offered in the spreadsheet is short of Excel et al. Calligra offers an elegant, functional free open source solution that, so far, seems very plausible as an Office suite replacement. LibreOffice puts an elegant face on OpenOffice and improves the functionality making it a very viable replacement to Microsoft Office. In the graphic design world Inkscape replaces Adobe’s Illustrator. Krita is a digital paint program that replaces Corel Paint or Adobe Photoshop. Open Source software has matured to the point that I think it is completely viable as an alternative to the Apple/Microsoft/Adobe commercial software. The communities that have built up around these open source products are knowledgable, helpful and friendly. And the software is free.

My wife’s next computer will be a System76 Wild Dog Performance. My next computer will be a Lemur Ultra. The cases are not as nice as Apple’s hardware but I like the software better than what Apple has been producing lately and I definitely like the price a lot better. For my next smart phone, I am looking at Google’s Nexus 4. $300 to own an unlocked phone with no contractual obligations to any carrier. And if I get deployed again, it will work there too.

I used a number of geeky gadgets for running over the past year. I started the year using a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch with heart monitor. It worked well but I did not really like the user interface on the watch during my runs. The small screen real estate makes it a challenge to layout the display of information. The watch eventually stopped recharging. Garmin wanted $75 to look at the watch. I thought that was motivation enough to look at alternatives.

The Runkeeper iPhone app was the most popular run tracker app. My daughter was already using it so I tried it. For free. And never looked back. I now carry my iPhone with me in my hand when I run. A lot of folks I talk to do not like that idea. However, Runkeeper has a really good dashboard that shows distance, time, and average pace, the information I want most during the run. When the run is complete, the Runkeeper app uploads the data to the Runkeeper web site which provides tools for tracking your running (as well as walking or biking) over the long term. Runkeeper app on the iPhone replaced the Garmin Forerunner. For Christmas, I got a Wahoo Blue HR Heart Rate Strap which integrates with the Runkeeper app so that I can monitor heart rate during my run again. Great set up.

More recently, I’ve been trying a new iPhone app, iSmoothRun. iSmoothRun has some features that I really like. The dashboard is layed out better than RunKeeper with larger text that is easier to read on the run. iSmoothRun exports to more web sites include raw data to Dropbox. iSmoothRun has an Recovery Heart Rate calculation function – which they call HRR – that I really like. However, after several uses I have found iSmoothRun quirky and not as reliable as RunKeeper. iSmoothRun user interface is a bit confusing, getting things turned on or off. Using the HRR calculator requires turning on the auto-pause feature, stopping long enough to trigger auto-pause, and then going into settings and turning on HRR. The HRR does not appear in the settings list unless you are auto-paused during a run. And apparently, you have to do this sequence each run. Why can I not just tell iSmoothRun, always calculate HRR? And why isn’t HRR labelled correctly as Recovery Heart Rate (RHR) rather than misusing the Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) abbreviation incorrectly?

So, my currently geeky gadgets for running are Runkeeper running on a iPhone 4S connected to a Wahoo Blue HR Heart Rate Strap. My run data is uploaded to my RunKeeper Profile but you will need to sign up for your own Runkeeper account to view any details.

–Smittie

Bible

I started using this app a few months ago. It is the best bible on the iPhone that I have found. All the major translations of the bible as well as a lot of lesser ones. Lots of different languages. The text is well displayed and easy to read. The app has day mode and low light mode.

It was actually this app that inspired (or maybe persuaded) me to read through the bible in a year. The app popped up a suggest in the end of December.

“A new year is starting, how about starting a reading plan in the new year,” says Bible app.
“OK, what have you got?”

Bible has quite a few plans, divided into five categories; devotional, partial bible, topical, whole bible and youth. I was looking for a plan that would get me through the whole bible. At the head of the list is Bible in 90 Days. Now, while I am quite literate, have a fairly respectable vocabulary, I am not a very fast reader. In fact, I am pretty slow. According to the description, it works out to about 12 pages of Bible a day. Next. A plan titled Chronological. Read through the Bible in the historical order in which events occurred, according to current research.

So far, the reading plan has me going through 3 to 4 chapters a day. I started in Genesis, Adam and Eve, beginning of the world, right? Read in Genesis through Noah’s boat ride. I am currently reading Job, apparently he was next.

Bible is made available by LifeChurch.tv for free. I have had no problems with the app. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in a good Bible on the iPhone.

I have used Movable Type installed on my own webhost for 5 years or so. After several false starts on WordPress I decided to make the switch. Maybe.
For several years I really liked Movable Type. I could manage the design of my web site using html and css. Movable Type took my html and css as templates to produce the final product with all of my blog entries incorporated automagically. Movable Type even permitted text files to be linked so that one could avoid the Movable Type editor altogether. The system was relatively clean and straight forward to use.
Then came Movable Type 4.2. Six Apart made some fairly radical changes to the template structure which broke existing templates during upgrade. The new template structure fragments the html into blocks – header, body, footer, sidebar, etc. It might be possible to work with the new structure in order to implement the old. I have not yet taken the time to sort it all out. 4.2 came just as I was about to head out on a military deployment to Iraq. I didn’t have time to figure it all out then. By the time I returned, I’d lost interest.
I’ve been watching WordPress for several years. Twice I made attempts to move my blog to WordPress and then changed my mind. After I returned from deployment, I started looking into what I wanted to do about my blog. For several years I’ve been watching all kinds of cool widgets and themes coming out for WordPress. The bit the really got my attention was the iPhone WordPress client. I figured Six Apart would surely make one as well. Not so far. That finally motivated me to move my blog over to WordPress and see what it is really like.
Movable Type is definitely an industrial strength weblog content manager. From a single install of MT it is relatively painless and instantaneous to set up multiple blogs with multiple users of varying access privileges. That part did indeed work very well. Up until 4.2, managing the look and feel of the various web sites on which the multiple blogs existed was also fairly simple. There was one html template for each view (main index, archive index, comment input, etc.) associated with the blog. Movable Type included some advanced features that made it really simple to reuse common elements across multiple templates. The style of the entire weblog could be managed from a single style sheet. Multiple style sheets could also be used from within the constructs of CSS. 4.2 made some radical changes to the template structure which complicated the construction and management of the html significantly, at least in my opinion. I’m sure that the folks at Six Apart are convinced that the new architecture is a vast improvement.
What then of WordPress. Facebook integration is available through a widget. Digg integration into one’s blog is available via a widget. Mobile device specific layouts that are triggered automatically are available through a widget. Flickr integration in a manner more meaningful and elegant than the gawd awful Flickr badges is available in the form of a widget. Having watched with envy as my buddies running WordPress blogs kept getting all the cool gadgets and toys I decided it was time to get it a try.
Wordpress sets up more quickly and easily than Movable Type. The SQL setup is pretty much the same for both but installation of the WordPress software is easier. Customizing WordPress is both easier and significantly harder. Simpler because so many things can be customized simply by installing a widget. If the customization you want is available in a widget, adding that customization to your weblog can be done in minutes. Likewise if the customization you want is available as a theme. Most things that can be handled in modifying a style sheet are also fairly easy provided that you have a working knowledge of CSS.
Anything that does not fit into the categories mentioned above falls into the significantly harder class. Customizing the header of you blog, which is a fairly simple html and css task in Movable Type, is more complicated in WordPress. It requires mucking around with the WordPress php code. When I’m wearing my web designer hat, I’d really prefer to only have to work with html and css. JavaScript, php, perl and all the other languages of the web are great but it should not be necessary to fiddle with php in order to insert or change a graphic in the page layout. That’s crazy. But that is what is required to peak, tweak and/or modify in any significant and meaningful way the page layout of a WordPress weblog.
I know that there are a lot of business and corporate blogs that run on WordPress. However, in my mind, WordPress is excellent weblog software for non-technical to moderately technical non-professionals who want to run their own blog. I honestly believe that most of these people would be a lot happier on Squarespace or similar. But, if you really want to install and maintain your own blog software, WordPress is a decent choice.
For web world professionals who maintain blog sites for clients I think there are better solutions available. Movable Type is an industrial strength blog engine. Once you get your head around the template architecture that they use the page layout that Movable Type can support is limited more by the skill of the designer than Movable Type.
I’m not yet ready to go back to Movable Type. I like some of the things I’ve been able to do with WordPress but I do not like the hurdles involved in customizing a WordPress layout. So, I’m exploring other weblog management systems looking for something lightweight, easily incorporated into an html CSS web site. MODx maybe. Any suggestions?

In my review of the Remington Shortcut, I mentioned that there’s a reason why they won’t ship it outside the United States. Well, it is because the power supple is 120 volt and does not work in most of the rest of the world which uses 220 volt electricity. In the room where I stay, we have a converter that drops the 220 to 110. So, I figured I would just make sure I always plugged it in there. Yeah. The second time I went to recharge the Shortcut, I plugged the power supply into the wrong outlet and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t charging.

Amazon to the soldier’s rescue once again. I found a universal power supply that is very handy for deploying solders and travelers in general. The Velleman Compact Universal AC Adapter Power Supply can be used in place of most power supplies. It can be plugged into 110 volt or 220 volt which is what I needed. It comes with a number of tips that attach to the cord. And, the output voltage is switchable to match the device you are trying to connect it to. It is important to get Velleman part number PSSMV1 and not PSSMV1USA if the 110/220 capability is important to you. PSSMV1USA only does 110.

It sounds confusing, right. It’s really not. Use the selector switch on the side to select the output voltage. Check the device you plan to plug it into which should have the input voltage clearly labeled. The Remington Shortcut requires 4.5 volts of DC.

Select the tip that fits into the device. This is pretty straightforward, it either fits or it doesn’t. Match the polarity. Check the device you plan to plug in, in the same location where you found the voltage there should be an illustration; a dot, a circle and two lines. This illustration tells you whether the center pin in the plug should carry positive or negative electricity. Each of the tips that comes with the power supply has CEN marked on one side. The output plug on the power supply has a ‘+’ symbol on one side, a ‘-‘ symbol on the other. Make sure the CEN is on the side indicated by illustration on your device and you should be good to go.

I currently use the Velleman to charge my phone and the Remington Shortcut. It works great. I think it is important to note that if the device you want to plug into the Velleman power supply requires any kind of special plug, most electric razors and modern cell phones for example, the Velleman will not work. I’m very happy with it at this point. Does exactly what I need it to.

For a long time out here on FOB Hunter, we had no barber. That did not preclude us from adhering to military grooming standards. There are a number of barracks barbers on the FOB with varying degrees of skill. The most common approach is to simply get a “butch” haircut, one in which the hair is a sixteenth of an inch all over. I really hate the way that looks on me but not as much as I hate really bad haircuts. I decided to look at the options out there that would allow me cut my own hair in some reasonable fashion. Amazon to the soldier’s rescue.

A search on Amazon turned up a few possibilities but the only one that got decent reviews was the Remington Shortcut. When I tried to purchase it through Amazon and have it shipped to my APO address, Amazon would not allow me to order it using that ship to address. Turns out, there was a reason for that. I had it shipped to the house and asked my wife to forward it to me out here. That made it take a while longer but it did finally arrive.

The Shortcut comes with two comb attachments. One is apparently for doing butch haircuts. The other used in conjunction with the dial on the Shortcut lets you adjust the length to which the hair is cut. This was the feature that I wanted. I like my hair cut nearly skin tight on the sides but I like to have about quarter inch or so on top. Having read the reviews on Amazon which made it very clear that reading the instructions was important, I read the instructions before I used the Shortcut for the first time. Sounded pretty straightforward.

I started on the sides with a setting of 1. The Shortcut does require that you go over an area several times in order to get all the hair cut. It’s a lot like brushing your hair. After the sides were done, I set it to 1 1/4 and went over the curve from the side of the head to the top to give a reasonable transition to the longer hair on top. Last, I set the Remington Shortcut to 2 and trimmed the top. Once I was done, I got into the shower to get all the hair clippings off.

I now do this once a week. Friday morning is my haircut, right before I jump in the shower. It works great. My hair always looks decent. It’s not the flat top that I where at home but my hair meets Army standards and I don’t cringe every time I catch a glance of myself in a mirror. I have to say I’m quite happy with the Remington Shortcut. At less than $40 if it lasts the entire deployment I will have gotten my money’s worth out of it. I’ll put it in the deployment box when I get home and probably not use it again until my next deployment.

For the complete details of what comes in the box and the specifics on how to use it go to the Remington web site. My only intent here is to let people know how I use it and that it does a great job for what I need.

[Update: 24 Apr]
The Shortcut is a great idea. The implementation, not so much. The device requires approximately 20 hours to charge and then lasts for about 3 to 5 minutes of run time. Long enough to cut my hair but only just. Very disappointing. I am now looking for a similar device from a maker other than Remington.

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