Living With Linux

Linux is an open source operating system that appeared back in the 1990’s possibly earlier. I’ve been using Linux in one form or another off and on since about 1993. In the early days it was just a command line system much like MS-DOS was around about that time before the days of Windows 3.1… yes computers haven’t always had a graphical user interface!

Back in the 1990’s I used Linux to run my amateur radio packet radio mailbox system a fairly niche application but at the time given the technology available it worked well and it supported all the different protocols I needed. I ran the mailbox until late 2003 and then due to a decline in users on the system coupled with a change to our house layout I closed the system down and more or less forgot about Linux. During my year off work in 2004/2005 I revisited Linux, by this time using Ubuntu with a full graphical user interface. Wow.. this is so much easier to install and use compared to the old systems I had been using.

I had bought an old PC with a small size hard disk fitted and I used it as a bit of an experimental machine, learn by my mistakes. If it went wrong then there was nothing in terms of data I was going to miss. So it was a great work horse to rediscover things on.

When we moved to France I had a big clear out of old PC’s that had been cluttering up the garage, I find it difficult to get rid of old working things! But I managed to rationalise what to keep and what to recycle, removing the hard drives and any memory and then cycling what was left.

Having cut my teeth on my old desktop machine and learnt how to set up Ubuntu  I thought time to look at the remainder of the old machines we had. All Windows XP machines, all getting a little old and slower and slower. I picked the worse culprit… a Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop we had bought this machine in early 2005, but by 2009 it had almost become unusable on a daily basis, 20 minute plus boot times and running at a snails pace afterwards. We had both bought small lighter netbooks so the Dell sat in it’s carry case not doing anything.

I pulled it out and cleared any wanted data off it. Dropped an Ubuntu CD in to the drive and rebooted the machine. Tested it out first Wifi worked, Bluetooth worked, the trackpad and keyboard all worked so I carried on and did a full install of Ubuntu clearing the hard drive completely. The machine was instantly transformed in to a useable machine again. I don’t carry it around alot it tends to sit in our lounge and I use it whilst watching TV, but I use it on our longer trips back to UK, the bigger screen helps when editing documents. As you might expect the battery life isn’t anything to boast about, but the machine all works.

I’ve recently installed Ubuntu on another redundant desktop machine, this one was a bit more powerful, this time I installed it as a dual boot system, retaining XP on the machine and adding Ubuntu. When the machine starts you choose which operating system you want to use and off you go. All of my previous installs have been a complete install over the top of the previous operating system.

Getting Started

So how do you get running with Ubuntu?  Well you need a PC obviously, ideally not your main machine, if you are a beginner then anything under 10 years old will be suitable It needs to have at least 5GB of free space on the hard drive if you are going to dual boot the system, 500MB of memory is the minimum recommended specification to run Ubuntu comfortably, more helps of course.

Download the software from the Ubuntu site, it’s free, but you can make a small donation if you wish. You can then create a bootable CD or USB drive The USB memory key needs to be about 4GB in size to work.

Put the CD in or plug in the USB memory key and start up the machine, if it boots in to the existing operating system you might need to start again and go in to the BIOS settings (F10 typically) to make sure that booting from CD or USB is enabled.

Wait a short while for Ubuntu to load and then you will be offered the chance to run Ubuntu or install it.

You will be running it from the CD if you pick the first option, it might be a little slow but it will give you some confidence that the machine is working and all the interfaces are working before you take the big leap and install Ubuntu.

So are there any disadvantages to using Ubuntu? Nothing really I can do most things without any issues, the installation includes things like Thunderbird, Firebox, Libre Office and a loads of other applications. Other applications are easy to install from the software centre. With the Dell I have a reasonable amount of memory installed (2 GB) and a reasonable size hard drive (only 80 GB) but if you have something bigger or more powerful naturally you will benefit.  Plugging in my digital camera I was able to download the pictures off of it without needing to add any additional software.  I can send emails and browse the web in exactly the same way as any other machine in the house.

The user interface is a little different, but with a few tweaks to the system it becomes second nature and you don’t have to remember or think ‘oh this is Ubuntu, how do I do this’ you just use the machine in much the same way as I do my iMac or a Windows XP machine.

I added some more memory to the desktop machine I recently converted to dual boot and it’s a very handy machine to have along side my iMac I use XP for a few legacy systems which I’m still in the process of getting working on Ubuntu. But the Ubuntu side of the machine is working well and it’s very quick.

If you haven’t tried Ubuntu yet you should give it a try…

Old School Drawing Tools!

I loved technical drawing at school. In my training I spent a couple of months in the drawing office updating building plans and the like. I remembered the other day my Rotring pens and stencils

I discovered them in one of my cupboards along with the drawing arm attachment. I bought all of these when I was working in Cyprus about 30 years ago. Surprisingly the ink hadn’t gone solid! I put some ink in one of the pens and gave it a try… it worked.

I was a little rusty as you can see about how to get the spacing right on the letters, but it was fun trying them out again.

I can remember in the late 1980’s using these stencils to label some Filofax dividers… none of your fancy labelling machines!

Last night I did a quick search for Rotring drawing instruments, the Isograph 2000 pens are still available, but gosh I was surprised at the price, they don’t appear to sell the same ‘8 pen set’ I have.  They don’t appear to still make the A2 drawing arm attachment, but mine still all fits together ok.

Protopage Update

This was originally posted in June 2011, but with the recent announcement of the demise of Google reader and iGoogle having already disappeared, then Protopage is an excellent alternative. I’ve no connection with the firm, I’m just a long standing very satisfied user of Protopage.

I guess a lot of people use something like Google Reader or iGoogle. I’ve used both in the past, but back in about 2004/5 I came across Protopage and I’ve not used anything else since. It’s a free ad supported service.

I have Protopage set as my home page in every browser on all my machines around the house. Why? Well I then have all my feeds and bookmarks on every machine, without having to copy bookmarks across or using the sync capability of modern browsers. I can also use the mobile version of Protopage on my iPod Touch.

And here’s what mine looks like: [Click on the photo to see it full size]

Of course it’s infinitely variable in terms of layout, mine is built up over many years, I do change things around every so often, but it generally stays like this.

So I have bookmarks as well as RSS feeds grouped together in to topic areas, news feeds in the center, a weather feed for Thouars. A Flickr feed for new photos as they pop up.

Along the top you will see other tabs for different pages again grouped by interest/topic. You can shuffle your panes (widgets) between tabs just by dropping them on the tab, then going to that tab and moving the widget to where you want.

Each tab can be set up as a number of columns or free form. Each widget you can resize too or have them automatically minimise, although with my big iMac I don’t need to do that so much.

In the top right hand corner there is a drop down of different search engines, these can be configured a lot as well. So I have Google (UK), Amazon UK, Amazon France, Ebay(UK), Wikipedia etc etc.

Here is my Weather tab, which also has my travel book marks and world times. The ‘Weather Station’ is in fact part of a web page that I feed on to the page and then using the x y off set I exclude the parts of the original original webpage I don’t want to see. The weather station is at Bewl Water Sailing Club in Kent, not far from where we used to live. I need to find a similar feed for here! If you click on that link you will see the page in full. [Click on the photo to see it full size]

Here are some of my settings screens so you can see how I’ve got it set up. This is the news feed . Other common formats for most feed addresses are as follows:
Wordpress –
Blogger –


This is the Flickr Feed:


This is the settings for the overall Protopage

If you haven’t tried it give Protopage a try, it’s free, it works on every browser and OS I’ve used it on and I do use quite a few !

You can see how I use one of my Protopage tabs to monitor a large number of blogs for new posts for a twice weekly feature on the blog Philofaxy which is a guest post I wrote for the Well Planned Life blog


Music in 2012

Here is a list of the top 25 tracks I listened to in 2012… at my desk, in the car or just wandering around on my iPod. Quite a varied list…yes no?

Name Artist Album Year Plays Last Played
Sunlight Moon Bruce Hornsby Spirit Trail 1998 63 19/12/2012
Sorrow Pink Floyd Pulse 1995 60 18/12/2012
Hole in My Pocket Sheryl Crow C’mon, C’mon 2002 55 18/12/2012
Aja Steely Dan Aja 1977 55 22/10/2012
Lady With A Fan (Live) Bruce Hornsby Here Come The Noise Makers 2000 52 01/12/2012
Life Des’ree Supernatural 1998 52 17/12/2012
Heathaze Genesis Duke 1980 52 20/12/2012
Listen To The Music The Doobie Brothers Listen To The Music 2000 51 22/10/2012
Something In The Way She Moves James Taylor Greatest Hits 51 22/10/2012
Ramblin’ Man Lemon Jelly Lost Horizons 2002 51 29/12/2012
Addicted To Love Robert Palmer Addictions, Vol. 1 1989 51 22/10/2012
It’s Only Love Stevie Nicks Trouble In Shangri La 2001 51 21/12/2012
Rudy Supertramp Crime Of The Century 1974 51 22/10/2012
Highwire The Rolling Stones Flashpoint (Live) 1998 50 22/11/2012
Fire And Rain James Taylor Greatest Hits 49 06/10/2012
Children Say Level 42 The Ultimate Collection 2002 49 13/11/2012
Ventura Highway America History: America’s Greatest Hits 1973 48 03/11/2012
Across The River Bruce Hornsby A Night On The Town 1990 47 05/11/2012
Mexico James Taylor Greatest Hits 47 23/10/2012
Ain’t No Sunshine Lighthouse Family Notting Hill 1999 47 01/12/2012
Clocks Coldplay A Rush of Blood to the Head 2002 46 08/11/2012
Hotel California The Eagles Hotel California 1976 46 19/11/2012
Arose Thomas Newman American Beauty (Original Motion Picture Score) 2000 46 17/12/2012
You Gotta Be Des’ree Supernatural 1998 45 13/11/2012
It Comes And It Goes Dido Safe Trip Home 2008 45 21/12/2012

What are you listening to?

My month in pictures

I was reminded today that I don’t really share many of my photographs on line these days.

In the past I have been an active contributor to DeviantArt and a few other sites, but I have never really found a site I have got on well with for one reason or another.

So I have decided to do a post on here each month of a selection of my pictures from the last month with some text explaining the background to them.

Be warned though some months I do take lots of photos of either houses for LTPS or photos of Filofax organisers for Philofaxy!

I hope you enjoy this new regular feature.

Philofaxy All Stars Guest Post – Susan – Philofaxy Web Finds as Organizational Tool

Philofaxy Web Finds is a great feature.  Recently, we learned how Steve manages to put the web finds together.  There’s quite a science to it!  Come Saturdays, and now mid-week as well, readers across the world sit down with their cup of coffee/tea and settle in for a relaxing reading of posts and a viewing of videos of all things Filofax.  Readers read each post, one by one, savoring all of the planner goodness.

I don’t do this.  Yes, you read that right—I do not sit down to read all of the Philofaxy Web Finds posts (gasp!).  Rather, I use the list as an organizational tool to update my Favorite Places links, my Google Reader feeds, and to catch up on any posts created on new blogs.

So what’s my system?  Let me explain…

Normally, when new posts appear in Google Reader, I browse through the list and star (save) anything that appeals to me.  For the most part, I save anything that is Filofax/planner/productivity related.  For anything else, I save only those posts that appeal to me (for whatever reason).  I apologize for this, because here I’m admitting that I don’t read every post that is published on every blog.  I just can’t.  There are so many wonderful blogs out there and I would love to read every post from every one.  But the reality is that there just isn’t enough time (I barely have the time to keep up with the posts that I want to get to).  I do have a few “favorite” blogs—they aren’t my favorites because they are necessarily better than others, rather they are favorites because I have read them from their inception (back when there were only a few Filofax-related blogs) and I have so much emotion invested in them that I just can’t skip any posts.  And of course, I never skip a Philofaxy post.

A few times a day I’ll open up Google Reader and save anything that I want to read later.  When I have time (usually on my lunch break), I’ll read through my saved posts.


Philofaxy items are always read first, mainly because by the time I get to them, my friends in Europe and beyond have already read the post and commented.  If the opportunity presents itself, I want to be able to comment before everyone has moved on to the next post.  From there, I usually head to the oldest post first and continue up the list until I run out of time.  The process then starts again when I have time.

For anything I want to comment on, I email myself the post.  Having set up a filter in Gmail, anything that is sent from Google Reader automatically gets a label of “Review.”

Using the various Gmail stars, I know what needs to be answered (red exclamation point) versus looked at (orange arrows) versus updated (yellow exclamation point).


When I get time (usually later that evening or the next morning while I have coffee) I will post my comment, subscribe to the post via email for any follow-up comments that may appear, and then delete the email once I’ve done so.  This way, I rid my inbox of virtual clutter.

It may take me a long time to get through my list, and while I would love to be able to get completely caught up from time to time, I know that it’s not realistic—I very rarely get caught up, and even when I do, it’s only a few hours before my list starts growing again.

When I know I will be travelling, I will save any unread articles to the Instapaper iPad app.  This app allows you to save an article or blog post so that you can read it off-line at a later time.  Since I don’t have wireless for my iPad on the go, this comes in handy.  And when I’ll be travelling for a few hours, it allows me to catch up on all those unread blog posts.  I have a folder where I keep anything I want to comment on, and when I have wifi again, I will do so.

With Web Finds, however, the process is different.  As soon as I see the post, I email it to myself.  When I have time, I go through the web finds posts and pick out any blog that is currently not on my list (lately there are usually three of four each week).  I don’t read the highlighted post.  Rather, I look at the entire blog to determine if it really is (for the most part) Filofax or planner or organization related, or if the main purpose of the blog is something else entirely that just happened to have a post or two on those subjects.  If it is indeed a related blog, I add it to both Google Reader and my Favorite Places list on my blog.  If not, I won’t do anything with it at that point (sometimes a blog will reappear in Web Finds because more and more posts are subject related—at that point, I will add the blog to both places).  If and when a blog gets added to Google Reader, the last 10 posts will appear as unread.  I will go through and save anything that catches my fancy.  So eventually the post that was originally highlighted in Web Finds will be read.  From there, all future posts will be part of the blog post saving/reading system as described above.

After I have added the new blogs to my lists, I go back to the Web Finds post and watch the videos.  Getting through them all may take a day or two, and if they’re longer than 5 minutes, I often skip through so that I can get a taste for the entire video rather than only being able to watch the first 5 minutes—I hate to stop mid-video.

Since so many blogs get started and fizzle out after a while, I do need to weed through my list every now and then.  Currently this is done on an annual basis.  Every year (usually at the start of the year), I will go through the Favorite Places list on my blog.  I will look at each and every blog (skipping those I know update frequently) and remove any that have been shut down or have not posted within the last year.  Yes, I may remove blogs that have relevant content, but chances are, if they haven’t been updated in a year, it’s pretty much a dead blog.  This wouldn’t matter so much if there weren’t so many blogs to begin with.  But seeing as I’m adding to the list every week, I need a system for weeding out old content, as good as it may be.  And since the Favorite Places list corresponds to what I subscribe to via Google Reader, this weeding process also allows me to unsubscribe from dead blogs, keeping my Reader list to only relevant blogs.  Again, it’s ridding myself of electronic clutter, which to me, is just as important as ridding myself of physical clutter—if I don’t see it, I don’t have to think about it, allowing me to eliminate it from my mind so that I can concentrate on more important (and active) things.

I hope I have described my Web Finds and general blog reading system without causing too much confusion.  Please let me know if you have questions regarding my Web Finds process.

Thank you to Steve for hosting my babbling guest post!

All Stars Guest Post – Ray – Keeping in Touch

Today I would like to introduce you to Ray. I met Ray through Philofaxy and together we have developed a suite of diary inserts for Filofax organisers.  Ray recently joined the ‘Philofaxy All Stars’ a team of bloggers that are touring around different blog sites, posting a varied menu of posts on various topics, not just about Filofax. 

Please visit Ray’s blog – My Life All in One Place

How many people are there in your life who you’ve known well at some point, but drifted away from or out of touch with? If you’re like most people, you will have many lost friends and lost acquaintances, many of whom you now miss.

Perhaps your job involves managing relationships and there are customers or business partners you know you have neglected from time to time.

Whether we want to keep in touch with people for personal or business reasons, it’s really easy to let people slip away from us. The main reasons are apathy and lethargy; we don’t care enough, and we’re too lazy. Paradoxically, the more secure we feel about a person’s friendship (or a customer’s loyalty), the less effort we’ll take in staying in touch when distance divides us.

Eventually, we’ll realise we’ve drifted away from that person, and we’ll feel sad or business might suffer. But by then, it is difficult and embarrassing to suddenly call or write again after all this time. Furthermore, the person may have moved somewhere else. Perhaps they’ve been so upset about our heartless treatment of them that an approach now would be unwelcome. It would be even more tricky if it were a business contact we’d neglected for all this time, and the reason we now want to get in touch is that we need their help.

If this is starting to ring a few bells for you, then you need to take action now in two directions. Firstly, you need to design a KIT (‘Keeping in Touch’) system to make sure this doesn’t happen in future. Secondly, you might need to plan an ER (‘Emergency Repair’) strategy to re-establish contact where it has already been lost.

Let’s look first at the KIT system. To operate it effectively, you’ll need one of the following tools:

a) a Filofax or other organisation system; or
b) a computer with a personal organiser programme; or
c) a card-index system with diary tabs or desk diary; or
d) a pocket diary and address book.

Whichever tool you use, you’ll first need to sit down and list all the people you want to stay in touch with. When you’ve done that, decide for each person how often you think contact would be appropriate. When I say ‘contact’, this could be any form of communication, such as:

  • a phone call
  • an email
  • a postcard or letter
  • a greeting card
  • a face to face meeting

For some friends or business contacts you might feel that once a month is the right amount of contact; for more peripheral acquaintances you might settle on once every quarter, or every six months.

So, now you have a list which might look, in part, something like this:

  • Judith Lane 1m
  • Kerry Leaver 6m
  • John Marshall 1m
  • Sam Masters 1m
  • Jill Merry 3m

Now, you simply have to make up a diary entry for each person on the list. Spread the names out widely, so that the first contact for each of them happens within – say – two months. Put no more than 3 or 4 names down for any one day, and try to keep one or two days every week free. This means that keeping in touch won’t become too arduous, and the free days mean that if you miss day or two, you’ll have put time aside to catch up.

If you have a PC or personal organiser with a repeating to-do function, you can programme in the monthly repeat or six monthly repeat automatically, but if you are using a paper system, make your entry look like this:

  • NC: Judith Lane (1m)

‘NC’ stands for ‘Network Contact’, and this prefix makes the entry stand out from other appointment data or to-dos you may have in your diary. After the name, in bracket, remember to put the frequency of contact you chose for this person. This way, as soon as you have initiated a contact, you can cross through the entry, and make a new one in one month’s time which looks exactly the same.

I use a Filofax diary for this purpose and write my entries on Post-It Note index tabs, which I can move easily from one period to the next as I complete my KIT activities.

Depending on the nature of the ‘contact’ you make, it might be advisable not to delete the entry or move the sticky just yet. For instance, if you telephone and leave an answering machine message, you might not want to get rid of this month’s NC entry until the call is returned or until you try again another day and actually make contact.

And do try to vary your KIT activity. If you call a person this month, then when the NC record next appears for that person, send a card or an email instead.

When you get to an NC entry where you have recently spoken to or received a call from the person, feel free just to rediarise without initiating another contact. The purpose of this system is to keep in touch, and if that is happening already, then there’s no need to go overboard!

When you start working your KIT system, you will notice that strange things start to happen. Before long, people will be calling you more regularly, meaning you need to undertake less contact activity yourself. Also, you will find that when you call people for no real reason, they often say, “I was just thinking of you, because…” and then relate some opportunity that you can benefit from. If you hadn’t have called, you’d never have known.

So, with your KIT system in place, you might want to consider an ER strategy, to rescue those atrophied relationships. One thing to remind yourself straight way is that it takes two people to lose touch, so don’t shoulder all the guilt.

The only effective way to re-establish contact is to get on the phone, pick up a pen, or go to the computer and be honest. Say or write something like this:

“I feel bad that we haven’t spoken so long, and I miss your friendship. I’d really like to re-establish regular contact.”

What can sometimes smooth the way is to add an apology, like this:

“I am so sorry I haven’t tried harder to keep in touch with you these past years.”

Don’t make an excuse at this point, just offer the simple apology. Almost without fail, your contact will respond with a similar apology and insist on shouldering his or her share of the blame.

Once this is out of the way, it’s time to set the foundation for ongoing contact. The easiest way to do this is to get the other person talking, and you might ask:

 “So, what’s new in your life since we last spoke/met?”

Before long, you’ll be chatting just like in the old days.

Earlier, we spoke about the situation where you’ve lost contact with a business contact, but now need their help. However dire your need, don’t ask for that help at the first contact call, or you are likely to be labelled a user cut off forever! Try to leave it for the second or third contact, but if it really is very urgent, call a couple of days after first contact.

So that’s the system. Using KIT and ER together will ensure you can maintain a wide personal or business network without it feeling like a lot of work.

Thank you Ray, some very useful tips for all of us I’m sure. You can catch up on the rest of the ‘All Stars Tour‘ here. 


Digital SLR simulator

So you have bought a new digital SLR and you want to get the most out of it. But to do this you have to understand all about the various settings. So how about this simulator I came across on the web.

There’s a useful explanation on the website and there are also apps for the iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad, very handy…