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GET OUT OF MY WAY DESKTOP!

I'm going to preface this post with a confession. As a GNU/Linux user of nearly 14 years, I have never really identified with GNOME 2. My past self would have said, "Sure, it's use-able, but it doesn't excite me - except maybe with Compiz turned on."

But lately, I find myself in a situation where my hardware isn't up to the task of running GNOME 3 or KDE 4 smoothly and I don't want to invest in new hardware at this point. That in and of itself wouldn't be enough to deter me from using them if they improved my productivity greatly, but I've run them both and although more beautiful than their predecessors and other desktop offerings, that's about all I can say about them. Well, OK, I can give one compliment - the overall view of multiple desktops and whats running in them in GNOME 3, UNITY AND KDE 4 is handy, but let's get back to what bugs me.

To give some examples, in GNOME 3, the handling of new workspaces created on the fly on the right is odd and doesn't feel like an improvement. The hotbar again while providing a cleaner environment doesn't offer any speed improvements and the ALT-TAB behaviour with regard to programs with multiple windows or files opened in the same program while cleaner again provides slower task switching. I understand you can use plugins to change these behaviours in some cases, and I have done so but I don't want to fight these defaults.

More and more, I want a desktop environment that just works and gets out of my way so I can get things done and I think I've found that in the MATE Desktop Environment.

The MATE (pronounced like the tea) Desktop Environment continues where the GNOME 2 Desktop left off, providing "A simple, configurable and comfortable desktop environment." I have to agree. While GNOME 2 was starting to look dated, the overall usability was good and I think that's why it became so popular. If you are curious to learn more about the MATE project, a good place to start would be to watch the talk Stefano Karapetsas gave at FOSDEM explaining the origin of the project and differences between it and other GTK based desktops as well as a review of the changes to MATE since forking from GNOME 2.

I've held off on posting this because I wanted to live in MATE for a while, but I've been using it over a week now and I feel pretty comfortable in saying that I'll be using it for a while.

If you haven't tried MATE and you are a Linux user who is unsatisfied with the current desktop environments, why not give it a try - you may find it's what you've been looking for.

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Red Racer Spiced Pumpkin Ale

Here I sit, listening to The Pixies and sipping Central City's Red Racer Spiced Pumpkin Ale. I'm not sure what a monkey going to heaven has to do with drinking pumpkin beer but its sounding and feeling pretty alright and Tonight, that's good enough for me.

I've tried a number of Pumpkin beers so far and I think this is probably my favourite at this point. I'm not surprised by this at all. Central City makes one of my favourite 6 packs for any day drinking, Central City Red Racer Extra Special Bitter. The brewery has won awards for several of their brews and they also have a very fine brewpub on site. You can learn more about Central City brewing and what they are all about by clicking here.

The beer pours copper with the head taking on a bit of the pumpkin hew being slightly off white. It has a delicious spicy aroma. I think where they went right on this is they didn't over stress the pumpkin, instead they've gone and done a very nice job on the fall spicing; it brings me comfort just smelling it. If you can imagine the feeling of being outside on a brisk fall evening - cold enough to see your breath. In your hands you cup a perfectly warmed mulled wine. You bring your nose close up to the lip of the mug, close your eyes exhale and slowly inhale with all your sense open, completely taking in all the rich spicy goodness. That's where I just was - almost. ;)

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OK, let's sip.

Delicious.

I'm waiting for Gordon Ramsey to pop out and say "A Stunning Pumpkin Ale'... I know I'm watching too much Master Chef. Seriously, there has to be a drinking game out there based on the words Stunning, Scallops, All of You, Piss Of... Sure enough, I'm not the only one, Google is full of Gordon Ramsey Drinking Games...

OK let's get back on track. This beer is very fine. I feel I will have no problem making my way to the end of this bottle on my own. In fact, this is the first of the pumpkin beer batch that I can give repeat buy status.

I would recommend this one as a good fall beer to try, it's not going to knock you over the head with pumpkin or spice, but you're not always looking for that. Sometimes you're looking for a nice easy drinking well balanced, spiced holiday beer, and for that, this fits the bill very nicely.

Cheers!

Have you tried a delicious Pumpkin Beer? If so - tell me about it in the comments!

Happy Jack

It’s a bit of a gloomy Friday and I admit upfront to battling a cold, but nonetheless I’m going to soldier on. Continuing from my last post I’ve got a number of pumpkin beers to sample and what better time to do so than a Friday night after a grueling work week.

Today’s beer comes from the Russell Brewing Company entitled Happy Jack Oak Spiced Pumpkin Ale. The brewery is located in Surrey BC Canada and has been brewing quality unpasteurized beers since 1995. Something I didn’t know about them is that Russell Breweries Inc also owns a sister brewery in Manitoba that has been brewing original beers since 1930! Given that most of the smaller breweries were wiped out from that time period by the mass produced beer companies of the day, it’s comforting to know that in a few pockets of the country, there were brewers still fighting the good fight campaigning for real beer in the face of mediocrity and that spirit lives to this day.

I’ve had a few beers from Russell , one of which is a favorite of mine - their Wee Angry Scotch Ale, so I’m hoping for good things from Today's selection.

The Happy Jack Stats: 25 IBU/ 650ML Bottle/ 5.5% Alc per Vol

Ok, I’m going to go off on a tangent here. IBU stands for International Bittering Units. A quick laymans guide to IBU can be found here. A more technical guide to measurement values on beer is on wikipedia, and finally, the software industry geek in me stumbled upon this. Legit there is an XML standard for exchanging beer recipies and sharing brewing data!! How cool is that? ;) Ok, were’ getting distracted here, let’s get back on track.

Let’s take a look at the bottle.

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I must say it looks pretty cool, they’ve leveraged the brown coloring of the glass bottle as a fall colour, splashed a cool pumpkin man on the front and added spooky ghost font writing. What say you?

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The beer pours a deep amber with minimal head. I’m typing this as I go and I can smell the beer 2 feet away from my laptop, it smells delicious, I’m catching pumpkin, oak, malt and spice.

Let’s taste:

Mmmmm, now this is what I’m talking about. There is indeed a possibility that I can be a fan of pumpkin beer. Far from being overly heavy, rich or overbearing, this beer is well balanced and light in mouth feel. Instead of going thick, rich, and liqueur like, they’ve managed to turn this into a refreshing beer with pumpkin and spice, with the bitterness of the hops arriving on the finish.

Overall I’m quite happy with this one and would buy it again. Have you tried Happy Jack? If so - what did you think about it? Cheers - until next time.

Return of the Pumpkin!

Well folks, it's officially fall, love it or hate it, it's here and there's no escaping it... Well, unless you've got money and a plane ticket to Hawaii, but for the rest of us working class folks, we have to tough it out and make the best of it.

Fall to me means all sorts of things, back to school, the beginning of bundling up, a time to to be introspective, maybe cozy up with a nice hot tea or cup of cocoa... OH! And also the return of pumpkin beers!

I'm not sure I'm a pumpkin beer fan as yet, but I'm about to find out. You see, Today I start my arduous task of sampling as many pumpkin beers as I can find at my local beer store. I know, I know. you're thinking, Steve, why must you subject yourself to such treachery. Well friends, I do it all for you... For the quest to find the most perfect pumpkin beer a brewer has ever brewed. Oh, and maybe just to unwind from a hard days work, but enough jibber jabber, let's get crackalacking.

The Pumpkin Beer of the day is Nelson Brewing's Organic Pumpkin Ale. Nelson Brewing is situated in, you guessed it Nelson, BC, Canada. They've been brewing beer since 1991 and received their Organic certification in 2006. You can read more about them and their offerings here

The beer comes in a 650ml bottle and weighs in a 5.0% alc/vol. The artwork is fairly humble, fall colours with a pumpkin and the NBC logo, nothing to shocking here.

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Lets open the bottle and give it a pour shall we.

The beer pours with minimal head- you won't need to be overly careful but I always am when I pour. I blame the Belgian beers for that. ;) OK thumb of head, it's fairly bubbly actually overall. I could say it's a more coppery orange ale but that could be the power of suggestion.

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Let's check the aroma... WOW! Serious pumpkin. Awesome. ;) I'm catching nutmeg and ginger as well. I find myself wondering, is this going to be a sip of Pumpkin Beer Pie???

Let's find out.

Insert dramatic pause

Hmm, sort of.

It's a little tamer than expected and strangly not very carbonated despite looking fairly active in the cup. It turns out that while this beer has a fairly strong spicy pumpkin aroma, it's more mild in the mouth. The interesting part is most of the pumpkin flavour and spice reveals itself in the finish, I was expecting it up front. Not what I expected but pretty decent actually.

When all is said and done, this is a decent beer that I would drink again. Does it stand tall amongst the other pumpkin beers? It's impossible to know until I've had more Pumpkin Beer. All I can say at this point is stay tuned...

Making Custom Ringtones

One of my rainy day tasks was to make some ringtone and notification sounds and put them to use on my phone. Well, I finally got around to doing that this weekend and I'm sharing my findings below.

The How and The Results

I gathered my usual weapons of choice. My Fender Classic Vibe 50's style Strat and my Fender Mustang guitar amp, busted out the laptop, fired up the DAW and Drum Machine and went straight to work. My approach this time was to make sounds that I wouldn't likely be sick of in a week. After doing some recording, I exported the riffs as WAV files and converted them into MP3 files. I then connected my Phone to my Laptop and copied said mp3 files into the Ringtones folder. From there I was able to choose them and assign them to events.

I've uploaded the mp3 files to Soundcloud where you can give them a listen. Feel free to download and use them yourself if you are so inclined.

Let me know what you think. :)

Oh... And next time - I think I'm going to take the complete opposite approach. I am going to write the catchiest things I can and use that to see if my longevity assumption is correct.

Cheers

  • Steve

How I Turned My Raspberry Pi into a Baby Monitor

Now I have to preface this post with the following. This is not a cost effective way of creating a baby monitor unless you already have these items sitting idle at your place of residence.

Considering the fact that you can buy a baby monitor in Canada for around 20-40 dollars (audio only) or 70-120 dollars (audio and video) it seems rather silly to do this however, I am a geek, and my Raspberry Pi was in need of a project/purpose since the Google Chromecast has taken over as the media streaming device attached to our TV.

Let's take a look at the ingredients:

1 Raspberry Pi

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1 Zoom H1

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1 Unused original Asus 700 4G eeePC looking to be of service

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1 Speaker

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Directions

Put these all together with some power adapters, Ethernet cables, a USB cable and a male to male 1/8 inch headphone jack and you have yourself a streaming media platform that delivers maximum parental peace of mind. Sure it's like throwing a anvil at a nail in terms of problem solving, but its working and sounding great!

So I've explained the hardware involved, now let's investigate the software stack.

Most of the magic happens on the Raspberry Pi. The Pi is running Arch Linux headless. As soon as the power is connected it boots and starts up the Icecast streaming media server. After Icecast has loaded, it then runs up the Darkice audio streamer. The Darkice streamer takes the input from the Zoom H1 and spits that out to the Icecast server on the PI.

Now all that remains is for a client to connect to the Icecast server. In the beginning we were using our phones but the volume was fairly low and we needed to boost it. I had an old Asus eeePC 4G which was sitting idle so it made sense to put this low powered device to good use. I already had it acting as a file server at one point so all I needed to do was install Mplayer and point Mplayer at the Icecast server running on the Raspberry Pi. I then plugged in the 1/8 inch male to male headphone cable from the audio out on the eeePC and into a large speaker we have in our main living room and Presto! I hear our little guy perfectly and I don't worry nearly as much about whether he's doing OK.

Switching from Debian to Arch Linux

I've recently switched my main laptop install from a DEBIAN derivative named CRUNCHBANG LINUX to ANTERGOS LINUX based on ARCH LINUX.

Why did I do this you ask?

  • I no longer do as much specialized media production as I once did so using the KXStudio repos was no longer necessary
  • I wanted the latest software without needing to reinstall my OS
  • Pacman is a much faster package manager than Debian's apt-get
  • I wanted to get the most out of my aging hardware

So how has it been going?

So far so good.

My Desktop

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I'm enjoying having my OS and all the applications I use just update as a new version is available from upstream. I think where this will become very interesting is say in a few years when I sit back and think to myself, I haven't reinstalled on this system in years.

Now I know what you're thinking... You're thinking, what kind of a Debian user were you Steve... Don't you know Debian has a form of a rolling release in the Debian Testing and Debian Unstable repos? Yes, I am aware of those and have run them. The reality is they just aren't as current as Arch Linux and likely never will be. That's a truth I think even the most die hard Debian fellow would not refute.

And I had to ask myself this question. As a Linux user, what was the most fun I had coming up with Linux?. I have to say it was the new stuff, remember when Beryl and Compiz joined forces? Remember when Pulseaudio first came out and was kind of iffy? Remember when a new version of software came out with a killer feature? That's a big reason I reinstalled something newer and with Arch, you don't have to. You just get it when it comes out. For me at this point, on a server I'll want something stable like CentOS/RHEL/Debian/Ubuntu LTS, however on my laptop, I want to take chances... What is BTRFS like... Is it ready for prime time use? What does the latest Kernel have to offer? What is Wayland like? With Arch, all of this is at my fingertips.

I won't say its been all roses. I have noticed the odd pang of nostalgia for Debian stable but it hasn't lasted long. Nope, so far Arch has treated me well and has delivered on all it has advertised. In fact, I've also got Arch running on my Raspberry Pi and it's running very nicely and the Pi is finally performing an important task. What task is that you ask? That my friend is for another Blog post...

Until next time. Be well.

Steve

HPR Episode on using the Static Web Site and Blog Generator called Nikola

http://hackerpublicradio.org/images/hpr_logo.png

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is Hacker Public Radio.

Hacker Public Radio for those that don't know is a community podcast network where the listeners are also the content creators. Shows are released Monday to Friday all year long and the only criteria is that the shows be of interest to hackers. The term hacker isn't just applied to computing topics. There have been episodes on wildswimming, fertility, bitcoin, cycling just to name a few, so the topic range is quite broad.

I just finished recording an episode for release on HPR on using Nikola the python based Static Web Site and Blog Generator. I will link to that in the comments once it is released. If anyone has comments on the show - omissions, suggestions etc, please feel free to comment below.

Until then, why not check out HPR yourself.

Will the Mellow Moon Make Me Swoon?

It's been a while since I had a beer from BC's own Tree Brewing and I'm already looking forward to it. It's a hot summer evening - Friday night to be exact and I have to admit, I'm staring, longingly at the beer which now out freshly of the fridge is beginning to sweat as it adjusts to the hot climate that is our apartment.

I haven't been mowing the lawn, nor have I put in a solid day of physical labour. No - aside from some longboarding, I haven't earned the right to feel this way about this beer, nonetheless I am fighting the urge to grasp it, place it against my forehead, feel the cold condensation drip down my face and then quickly crack it open and make short work of it. Steady on Steve... Let's not be hasty. This beer deserves a fair chance for evaluation. Let's grab ourselves a glass from the cupboard, pull out the camera and find out what this beer is all about.

THE SPECS:

Beer: Mellow Moon Pineapple Hefeweizen by Tree Brewing Co:.

  • 355 ml can
  • 5.0 % Alc/Vol
  • 20 IBU
  • Hops - Perle Tettnang
  • Malt - Pale, Wheat, Munich
  • Body - Light

THE TASTEDOWN:

The artwork is simple understated. Nothing says Hefeweizen like a yellow can of beer. ;) Alrighty. Not much else to report. Here's a shot of it pre pour.

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And here's a shot of it, post pour.

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CRACK

The Pour:

ACK! FLOATIES!

Is this beer unfiltered?

The flies must smell the pineapple - they are threatening to dive bomb my glass. OK, we better make this happen. The beer pours with minimal head. The lone floaty now seems to be hiding somewhere in the translucent yellow brew. Not to worry - floaties won't kill you.

The Aroma:

Ohhhh I like this! It really does smell like pineapple - maybe every beer comes with a pineapple chunk as a treat?? OK, I'm being silly. I'm liking where this is going.

Let's Taste:

Mmmmm, this is a very nice summer beer. Not overly sweet, not overly bitter, this is a mildly spiced Hefeweizen. I can see where the mellow comes in. I envision this to be a fine easy drinking summer patio beer, perfect for sipping before a meal. Very nice indeed.

Speak of restaurants... Some establishments will serve a Hefeweizen with a slice of lemon. This beer wouldn't benefit from treatment, it's already got a citrus like aspect.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This beer is a repeat buy. It's a nice, easy drinking Hefeweizen that isn't going to scare anyone away. All in all a nice showing from Tree Brewing.

Until next time... CHEERS!

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