Moving window controls in Ubuntu 10.04

When it comes to computers, I like my operating system to look pretty.  I have always loved Mac OS for its clean lines, sensible visual layout, its strong adherence to usability standards and conformity, and in the latest versions its sheer functional beauty.  Windows 7 brings a level of maturity to the Microsoft’s offering, but it’s taken until the latest versions of Ubuntu for me to take them seriously from a GUI perspective.  Until now it’s always seemed… half hearted.  Like an old Windowblinds skin that was knocked up in an afternoon and never really caught on.  Ubuntu 10.04 is a bit of a game-changer in this respect – it looks really good, even by today’s standards.  Maybe not quite the polish and shine of its competitors, not yet anyway, but it at least beats Windows XP and equals Vista in my opinion.

What does grate against me slightly is the decision to put the window controls in the top left corner.  That’s the way Macs do it, and they’ve always done it that way, and that’s fine, but Linux doesn’t.  Linux has always been top right, like Windows.  Moving them in this version seems unnecessary, gimmicky.  So I had a look around to try to find a way to put them back where I think they belong.  Thankfully, a post on HubPages pointed me in the right direction.  You can follow the instructions over there, or alternatively stick with me and I’ll show you myself.

Samsung Tocco Lite review

samsung-tocco-lite-trioAbout a month ago I bought a brand new Samsung Tocco Lite, otherwise known as the S5230.  I’m ashamed to admit that it was bought from Phones4u, against my better judgement, but I guess we all make mistakes every now and then.  I had actually only gone into the shop to have a look, and hopefully try it out for real rather than just watching YouTube videos and reading the specs, honest.

Phones4u aside, the phone is mostly fantastic.  Jumping on the touchscreen bandwagon, the Tocco Lite is an iPhone for plebs like me who can’t afford the real thing.  My previous phone, just for reference, was a Motorola L6, which was gorgeous, but was beginning to show its age a little (not in performance, just in a few cosmetic scratches to the case, which turns out to be more plastic than metal, despite appearances).  The Tocco Lite has a comparatively enormous screen, is more or less the same size, and is actually fractionally lighter.  That’s good, because it means it’ll sit in my pocket nicely.

Touchy-feely, shiny-sparkly

072750_L_1On Monday it was my wife’s birthday.  Part of my present to her was tickets to see the ballet Giselle at the Bristol Hippodrome in a few weeks’ time, but as the tickets haven’t arrived (and she was sat next to me when I booked them) it wasn’t something I could wrap up for the big day.  So instead I gave her two boxes – one was a box of Matchmakers chocolates which she was eyeing up in Tesco the other day, and the other was something a little more special.  A delicate little pink box, inside which were nestled a couple of shiny earrings.

Well, sort of.  In actual fact the box was a hand-made creation, the template for which I had made on my computer and printed onto card, constructing quietly and surreptitiously in the study so she wouldn’t notice.  Fairly simple, but it had a sticky tape hinge, our wedding logo on the top half, and the clasp was made with two split pins and a tiny elastic band.  It was quite ingenious.  Inside, the earrings were actually just a printout from a web site, which could have been a let-down, were it not for the explanation – I was taking my wife to Cribbs Causeway to buy her the real thing.

The intricacies of synchronisation

(Below is a solution for getting iSync to sync iCal’s “delegate” calendars from Google Calendar onto a mobile phone.  Feel free to skip all the blurby bit at the top if you’re not interested in my life story.)

My job means sitting in front of a computer all day, playing with the internet.  There are of course times when I leave my desk, or need to use a different computer, and then it’s nice to still have the same tools to hand.  So I’ve put my diary onto Google Calendar, so that it’s available wherever I am.  Nice.

Oh no, wait a minute.  I also need that same calendar on my mobile phone.  So far there is no bridge directly between Google Calendar and my Motorola L6, unless I load up Google Calendar on my phone’s browser – but that costs me money because I’m on a PAYG tariff and I don’t get any free data, so that’s out of the question (not least because it’s far from instant, even using the incredible Opera Mini browser and its clever servers).  So, that means having the calendars on iCal as well, so that I can use iSync to copy everything across.  And here’s where it all gets rather complicated.

Beware of exclamation marks

motorola_l6My friend Phill recently bought a new mobile phone.  Apparently it’s shiny.  Last Christmas I bought my wife a new mobile phone.  It too is shiny.  My own mobile phone, on the other hand, was shiny and new in 2005, and is now considerably less shiny than it used to be thanks to my keys rubbing a lot of the silver off the bottom of the casing.  No wonder, then, that I felt a few pangs of jealousy this week.

Unfortunately I just can’t justify buying myself a new phone, since my Motorola L6 does actually work fine.  So rather than get depressed about the situation I decided to have another go at revitalising my phone and getting the most out of it.  A little research got me Opera Mini 4.2, which is a sleek and feature-filled web browser for my phone.  Not only is it infinitely nicer to look at and use than the built-in one, it’s also miles faster thanks to a proxy compression that Opera provides – basically every web page my phone requests is sent via the Opear server, compressed until it’s tiny and then sent to my phone, which speeds up download times considerably.  The result is that my phone is now capable of checking e-mails and looking at web pages without a century passing between pages.

Then I started downloading yet more stuff.  

Playing silly games

C is for Cars and Carriages

Now, it may appear from this post that I have nothing better to do with my time at the moment than waste countless hours sat in front of a screen twiddling knobs and tapping incessantly on keys without really achieving anything productive.  And they may be a modicum of truth in that hypothesis.  However, I can assure you that the time I have spent playing has been (for the most part) well-chosen and has not adversely interfered with the normal running of my life.  It has of course been lots of fun.

First of all, I recently acquired something I have wanted for years – a steering wheel.  No, not for my car, but for the computer.  And since all my games are now on the PS2, it had to be one that I could plug into that.  An hour or so on eBay and a handful of reviews culminated in a purchase of a Logitech Driving Force EX steering wheel, which was plugged in and tested as soon as I was able (i.e. the evening of the day it arrived – see, I didn’t skip work for this), driving my current favourite game: Gran Turismo 4.

Windows Vista: “I’m shiny too!”

vista2What follows is my first review of Windows Vista, following my recent purchase of a new laptop.   Yes, I am aware that Vista has been out for ages, I’m just slow on the uptake.   But first, a few important points worth getting out of the way at the outset:

  1. This is a nerdy post.  I’m not even going to try hiding that.   Apologies to readers who are not even slightly interested in nerdy posts.  I promise to write something less nerdy next time.
  2. I am primarily a Mac user, and I fully expect this to influence my opinions to a certain extent, despite my attempts to be unbiased.
  3. I am using Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 on an HP laptop with a 2GHz dual-core AMD processor and 3GB RAM.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into what, for many people, is probably old news.  Vista has, after all, been around for some time now, despite its monumentally slow and cautious uptake (mainly due to the shocking support for old hardware and software).  It’s worth putting it all in context though, and consider what other products Microsoft brought out before and what their competitors have been doing.

New laptop!

hp-laptopYes, I’ve bought myself a laptop.  A brand new laptop, no less.  Running Vista.  Am I mad?  Well, no more than usual, it seems.  Because despite the overwhelming evidence supporting the idea that I was just jealous because two of my friends had also bought new computers recently (and my wife has a better mobile phone than I do), I have a sound and reasonable reason for needing a laptop.

I’ve not actually owned a laptop since my first year at uni, which was when I bought my very first computer – a bottom of the range Novatech notebook with a 366MHz AMD processor, 32MB RAM, Windows 95, and very little besides.  It was £600 too, which on reflection wasn’t actually the bargain I thought it was at the time.  Still, I got a good year of use out of it, getting it to do all sorts of things it wasn’t supposed to be capable of, like running all sorts of Windows 98 programs and running a skinning addon that made it look like Windows XP (which was very new at the time).  Since then I’ve only had desktops, and most have been Macs.

This new laptop (which I’m writing this blog post on, sat in my lounge on my comfy sofa), achieves two primary uses, plus a few other smaller ones. 

Into the realms of now

I wouldn’t say I was backwards, exactly, but I do have some very old technology sitting in my study, some of which is still in regular(ish) use.  To take an example, I have a PC sitting on my desk that is almost 7 years old.  Granted it’s only used for testing web sites, but it’s got to the stage where it’s struggling just to do that, and that’s taking into account that I reinstalled everything fairly recently too.

I also have an old Palm m125 which I’ve been carrying around with me to act as my diary, syncing it to my Mac when I remember to.  It does the job, just about, despite being older than the PC (it would have been new in 2001).  I say it does the job, actually it’s been throwing tantrums just lately, refusing to switch on and then losing everything in memory and thus any changes I’ve made since the last sync.

Then there’s my mobile phone, a Motorola L6.  Granted, it’s nowhere near as old as the aforementioned relics, but I did buy it back in 2006, so it’s a few years older than your average mobile.  I still reckon it’s got at least another year of use in it though, despite the paint coming off the bottom, a dodgy battery connection (sort of fixed by stuffing some paper between the battery and the cover) and a dead camera.

My Mac Mini Media Centre

mac_miniAbout a year ago I bought myself a cute little Mac mini to replace my Blue&White G3 that had died.  Around six months later I ditched the Mac Mini in favour of a more powerful and capable G5 tower which now acts as my primary computer.  Since then I’ve been at a loss to know what to do with my Mac Mini; I tried selling it to people I know, but no one was interested – I had bought it second hand and it just wasn’t new enough or powerful enough to be of interest to anyone.  So it sat in a bag on the floor in the study, feeling sorry for itself.  Until yesterday.

Having bought my wife a new mobile phone I found myself thinking about technical things (to try to quash the feelings of jealousy at her having a nicer phone than me), and after much research I found I could actually make use of the Mac Mini for very little additional cost.  We don’t watch much TV, so it wouldn’t actually be of any benefit to us for me to install a funky internet TV system, but watching iPlayer and YouTube on the telly sounded like a cool idea – much more comfortable than several people trying to cram into the study to watch stuff on my computer.

This, then, is not a detailed tutorial on how to create a media centre, but rather an explanation of what I have done to create my particular system.  It might not be what you need, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers to every question you could possibly have on media centres.  But I will be including screenshots to explain stuff, and hopefully someone will find at least some of this useful, or vaguely interesting.