Archive for April, 2011

This is what we are

It’s Easter Sunday. We’re all chilling out this morning after enjoying some gorgeous weather (70 degrees, sunny) and outdoor activity yesterday.

The new puppy Ella has fit in wonderfully with our family. She and Max (our other older dog) are having a riot together. After some initial problems with Max not knowing how to react to this little upstart chasing him and nipping at him, Max has finally, and with amazing gentleness, put her in her place. They’re now having a great time chasing each other around the yard and playing tug-of-war with the rope toy. Max always loved tug-of-war with me, but now that he has another dog to do it with he’s very happy! He’s like a puppy again himself and getting more exercise than ever.

Arthur and I went on a rock-gathering excursion yesterday in some woods near the railroad tracks. We hung out by a burbling stream that is much wider than usual after all the rain we’ve had. Tiny green leaves were beginning to burst out of their buds. New life is everywhere! When we got home I felt so good to be digging in the earth again, putting new rocks in the gardens and transplanting a shrub.

On Friday Arthur went off to the Buffalo Science Center with a friend and Stephanie and Fiona went to Batavia. So I got to go wandering all by myself  through the fields and forests that I’ve wandered in for forty years.

Wearing my waders, I sloshed back into the deep, swampy parts of the wood that are usually inaccessible. Over ancient stone walls where deer scampered from my sight. Through thickets brimming with new buds and fields flowing with green through winter’s faded brown husks. It was glorious! Birds chirped and sounds of woodpeckers echoed through distant galleries of vine-tangled trunks. A great Blue Heron took flight and glided past me deeper into the gray veil of the forest. I even heard the first Spring Peepers chirping off in the far swamps. And all the while, the sounds of honking geese drifted from the distance. I just LOVE this brief moment of the year, when new life is in the process of emerging.

And as my consciousness is immersed in the sensations of life all around me, the wind picks up. It fills my nostrils with wonderful wet smells; the far-off aroma of manure spread on a field in anticipation of the plow. I’m standing on the far side of the forest staring across distant meadows and tree-lines and cloud-tossed light. The sun peeks through and I think, this is what we are: dark earth and rippling water, the warmth of sunlight and a fresh spring wind.

My sense of self has gradually dropped away. Once again I have melted into everything around me until only nature is real. I am Life and this is Life all round me, in me. I guess this is why the Ancients distilled it all down to Earth, Water, Fire and Air. The basic elements of Life. When I strip away every idea I have of myself, this connection I feel now in nature is really what I am. This ebb and flow. Life.

Happy Easter!

Categories: Nature

The passing of Elisabeth Sladen, aka Sarah Jane Smith

I just learned this morning that British Actress Elisabeth Sladen died yesterday from cancer.

Elisabeth is most famous for portraying Sarah Jane Smith on the ‘Doctor Who’ television series over many years. She also starred in ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures‘ for the past four years on the BBC, a successful and delightful spin-off from ‘Doctor Who’. She is probably the most popular of The Doctor’s Companions since she first joined the Third Doctor in the early 1970s. Famous for her blood-curdling screams when menaced by aliens and monsters, the character of Sarah Jane was also stubborn, inquisitive, quick-witted and equally famous for putting The Doctor(s) in their place when needed. As one article below stated, previous traveling companions on ‘Doctor Who’ were referred to as ‘Assistants’, but the Sarah Jane character was the first to be truly called a ‘Companion’ (well, maybe besides the First Doctor’s niece Susan when the show first aired in the sixties) and she shared adventures with four different incarnations of the centuries-old Time Lord.

Even though I never met Elisabeth Sladen, I still feel like I knew her in a way from her wonderful portrayal of Sarah Jane Smith. And from what I’ve read, she was as warm and wise and inspiring as the television character she immortalized. I’m so glad we got to see more of her over the last few years on ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’. Our kids loved her show, too, and we’re all very saddened to hear of her untimely passing. She was one of those people who just got better with age. She was a truly beautiful person.

My heart is heavy for her family and loved ones. Elisabeth will be missed by millions on this sad little planet that Sarah Jane Smith helped save more times than I can count.

Elisabeth “Sarah Jane” Sladen, Queen of Companions, RIP

Elisabeth Sladen dies aged 63

Remember Doctor Who’s Elisabeth Sladen with 4 fantastic moments

Elisabeth Sladen: IMDB   –   Elisabeth Sladen: TARDIS Index File

Doctor Who: Hanging by a Moment (Youtube Video)

The Fantastic ‘Fringe’

Just a brief blog post today about my favorite science fiction series on television right now. Fringe just keeps getting better and better since its debut three years ago. And it’s been renewed by Fox for a fourth season. Considering the Fox network’s record  for canceling thought-provoking, original and creative series in the past (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles) I cannot be happier!

Last Friday’s episode was another emotional, intense and hilarious excursion into creative television which is rarely seen these days, especially on a commercial network. And what an interesting use of animation! For those who have not seen Fringe, I don’t want to go into a full synopsis (though I have links below that will) because you really must watch the first seasons of this show to appreciate the wonderful characters and storytelling. So please, PLEASE go check it out on Netflix or buy the DVDs of the first two seasons of Fringe! And when season three finishes in three weeks go watch that when it becomes available, too!

The acting, the writing, the character development of this show is truly remarkable. I’ve recently started watching some of the first episodes from season one. And though I didn’t feel the show moved into the realm of greatness until near the end of season one, I find that even the pilot episode was quite phenomenal in retrospect. By the second season Fringe went from being a ‘bizarre event of the week’ structure into focusing more on the overall series narrative about the alternate universe, the Observers and Walter’s role in all the ‘Fringe’ events. I love the way that little events from the early episodes are connected to the whole picture of what is happening now and in episodes to come. And I just love the way this show has gotten me so emotionally involved with the character’s lives, even some of their counter-parts in the other universe (Fauxlivia, Walternate). I sincerely care about these people! The writers of Fringe have taken characters who seem to be the ‘bad guy’ initially and actually allowed us to sympathize with them by seeing their perspective. Despite some of the wacky story-lines, they’ve made this show feel more ‘real’ to me than many main-stream TV series. I’d say that’s quite an accomplishment!

And unlike ‘Lost’, I believe the writers of Fringe actually know where their story is going and how all of the pieces will eventually come together.

Fringe has something for everyone; mystery, science, horror, romance, (with a bit of soap opera thrown in) and some of the funniest moments I’ve seen on TV! That’s all I have to say for now.

Fringe Spoiler Alert: Apocalypse, Sex and Doomsday Devices – Oh My!

‘Fringe’ Friday: Fox gives you props

Leonard Nimoy really did take too much LSD on Fringe

Anna Torv: The season finale left me speechless

My First Impression of Gnome 3 and Unity for Linux

April 13, 2011 6 comments

There’s been a lot of hype and angst and discussion in the world of Linux lately. Actually, for several months; since Mark Shuttleworth announced that when Ubuntu 11.04 is released at the end of April it would use Unity as the default desktop manager, instead of Gnome 3. And we’ve also been gearing up for the release this week of Gnome 3, and Gnome Shell, which is the new GUI for Gnome.

It seems a lot of people aren’t too crazy about Unity, and would like to stick with the familiar Gnome 2.3 that we’ve been using for several years. They feel that Unity, which was originally the netbook interface for Ubuntu, is not yet ready for use as a desktop computer interface. And Gnome 3 has also got some Linux users wanting to stick with the old Gnome (or switch to KDE), saying it’s too limited in user configurability and too similar to Unity.

For me, I’m very happy that the new version of Linux Mint, to be released into the wild in May, is going to use Gnome 3 but stick with the familiar Gnome desktop layout. Here’s a quote from a recent post on Linux Today: “Linux Mint Founder and lead developer Clement Lefebvre has announced that the next major release of his Ubuntu-based Linux distribution will feature the GNOME 3.0 desktop environment, which is expected to be finalised on the 6th of April. According to Lefebvre, unlike Canonical’s Ubuntu, Linux Mint 11, code named “Katya”, will not use Unity, instead opting for GNOME 3 “using a traditional desktop layout” without the GNOME Shell.”

This has had me confused for a while, but it seems ‘Gnome Shell’ is the interface, ‘Gnome 3’ will be the actual desktop environment and will have updated features (I guess; I still don’t really understand the difference between ‘Gnome 3’ and ‘Gnome Shell’. Can anyone help me out here?) As long as I have the familiar Gnome panel(s) and menu structure, as well as the very useful ‘MintMenu’ and other Minty goodness, I’ll be happy. And on my other computer (laptop) I’m very much enjoying Bodhi Linux with its Enlightenment desktop.

But… because I’m ridiculously intrigued by new ways of doing things, I’ve downloaded a Gnome 3 Live CD and the beta of Ubuntu 11.04 with Unity to see what all the fuss is about. And here are my average computer user impressions from running the Live CDs, without installing them on my hard drive:

Gnome 3 with Gnome Shell: So I downloaded the Fedora version of Gnome 3 here and burned it to a CD and booted my 6-year-old Compaq from it. It worked well. The desktop looks nice. It’s colorful and polished-looking, (dare I say more Mac-like?) with a dock-like thingy on the left side (much like Unity) and smooth notifications and animation effects without Compiz enabled.

There are tons of keyboard shortcuts which would make mouseless navigation easier, but I didn’t take the time to learn them, except using the ‘super’ key for invoking the ‘activities’ view. One thing I  liked was when you press the ‘super'(Windows) key and start typing, the search function immediately brings up results. It works very fast! And by typing the first few letters of an application, document, web page or whatever and hitting enter, it opens. Like Gnome-Do or Synapse on steroids.

The application icons are big and I was able to access a control center dialog box, but there weren’t a lot of settings there to control. After twenty or thirty minutes messing around I discovered that this desktop is much less configurable than Gnome 2. You can’t configure the new Gnome panel by right-clicking any more, and I couldn’t figure out how to add or change anything in the panel. My major impression (in that short time) was that Gnome shell looks nice but seems a bit ‘dumbed down’ compared to the Gnome I’m used to. And after twenty minutes, if I can’t figure out how to access advanced preferences or settings that I’m used to, I’d say the heck with it!

Unity in Ubuntu 11.04 beta was a strangely similar experience. It looks pretty, but I found it impossible in a reasonable period of time to find access to any advanced settings or preferences. It seemed even less user-friendly to me than Gnome Shell. I couldn’t find any way to check my monitor resolution, for instance, or even to change window themes. It’ simple but certainly not easy to get information on your system. I couldn’t find any kind of ‘Administration’ or ‘Preferences’ menu, control panel, or whatever. When compared to the Mandriva/PCLinux OS Control Center, or MintMenu or the previous Ubuntu system menus, this seemed to me to be quite difficult to use. I was left with that feeling of appearance over substance. It seems that both these desktop managers are about using applications, but not a lot else.

That’s my first impression. And it doesn’t leave me with much desire to look further. The Linux Mint desktop I’m using right now is beautiful and easy to configure. And my Bodhi Linux computer is almost too configurable, while being light-weight and looking gorgeous. But for me that’s what Linux is about; user control and having many choices as to how things are done.

It will be interesting to see how Unity and Gnome Shell evolve in the coming months. I’m thinking I might try Gnome Shell again, but not right now. And with any Linux distro there is still the choice with Ubuntu (or Mint) to use a different desktop manager than the default. Choice is good.

Addendum: This is the next day, and I’ve discovered Ubuntu 11.04 Beta 2 has been released. I downloaded it and just tried it again on my upstairs computer (HP Compaq). And I have to say I think I was a bit hasty on my test run of Unity. Or maybe I was just tired or a little spaced-out. Or they made some nice changes since the Beta 1 I used yesterday. I complained earlier about not finding the Control Center (System Settings), but today I noticed there was a Dock icon for it. Or by hitting the super key and typing ‘Control’ it popped right up in the results. I’m pretty sure I searched for that yesterday and came up with no results(?)!

So I played around some more with the Unity interface and found it nicer to use than I previously stated. I’m still miffed that I can’t right-click on the Gnome panel to change anything. And I have no idea how you access the Dock preferences. No right-click there. How do you change the size of those big icons, for instance? I must Google a bit to find out.

More Links:

Ubuntu Unity vs. GNOME 3: Which is Better?

10 Things I Love About GNOME 3

Unity personalization: how much can you really do?

Unity and Me

Categories: Linux Tags:

Green Porno

April 11, 2011 2 comments

A while ago I heard of this wacky video series called Green Porno that was made by Isabella Rossellini about the mating habits of insects and other animals. Actually, I first saw some photos from the series and thought to myself  ‘Isabella is either nuts or amazingly cool’ (see above). But that was over a year ago. Then yesterday on the ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ TV show they had an interview with Isabella and talked about her work with training guide dogs (she’s quite an animal lover), and about Green Porno. It was fabulous! And it prompted me to check out the Sundance Channel website to watch some of the videos from the series. And there’s also a new series by Isabella along the same lines called Seduce Me.

I always liked Isabella Rossallini, especially after seeing Blue Velvet. That movie was amazingly disturbing! Probably my favorite performance by Dennis Hopper, too. She looks so much like her mother, who I fell deeply in love with as a kid. And she’s always seemed like such a creative person with many diverse interests, besides being a model and actress. I saw her on 30 Rock a few months back and she was delightful. Isabella seems like the kind of person who’d be tremendous fun to hang out with. I wonder if she’d visit us for dinner sometime? She lives somewhere in New York State!

So check out the videos. They’re short but incredibly entertaining, educational and funny as hell. I especially love this one on earthworm reproduction. It’s a bizarre coincidence, but after watching it last night we came down to let the dogs out this morning and there were worms all over the yard doing the exact same thing! Life is such an education!

I may never look at another earthworm again without thinking of Isabella Rossellini.

Next time, we look at the ever-changing world of Ubuntu, Unity and Gnome 3 for the Linux desktop…

Backing up your data in Debian/Ubuntu derived distros

Today I want to discuss backing up your computer in case of major problems or when your hard drive conks out. Because ALL hard drives will eventually fail, often without much warning. Backing up your computer data (photos, music files, documents), system settings and software preferences is something we should all do on a regular basis so your information and precious memories aren’t lost. And if you like to install different operating systems from time to time like I do, or just to do a clean install of a newer version of your operating system, having a recent back-up is indispensable.

When I started using Linux-based operating systems a few years ago (Ubuntu and Linux Mint) I looked around for easy to use back-up software with a graphical user interface (GUI). I’d had a Mac up until that time and was using a great application called Super Duper for OS 10.4. Silly name, but it worked beautifully! It Had a very easy to use GUI and explained everything that would happen depending on the options selected. With Super Duper I could clone my entire operating system to an external hard drive, including all my personal files. Then I could set it to do automatic incremental back-ups (only copying files to the back-up that had changed since the last back-up) at a certain time and day each week. It was really simple! And when my hard drive began making scarey noises after about seven years, I bought and installed a new hard drive and in less than an hour I had my entire system copied over to the shiny new HD and running like nothing had happened.

So I searched around for back-up software for Linux, and as usual I found many different options for saving my data. Too many, in fact. Because in the world of open source software there are a tremendous variety of methods for doing most anything, including back-ups! Some were a bit confusing; some were very geeky and involved lots of command line configuration. But there were also (and more so today) several point-and-click user-friendlier applications for running back-ups. So here’s a run-down of a few of the many options available for Ubuntu and it’s derivative distros, plus a couple for Windows and the Mac:

For doing a complete clone of your system there’s the ever-popular Clonezilla, a Live CD you can run to make a bootable copy of your OS. There’s also Remastersys, a command line utility that also has a GUI version for backing up your entire system, or even to create a bootable Live CD from your own system that allows you to save all your system settings and installed software to share with others (without your /home user data). The link is for a tutorial on using the GUI for Remastersys that includes another link for installing it. Last week I used the latter ‘Dist’ option in Remastersys to copy all the software I’d installed and tweaks I’d made to Bodhi Linux on a desktop computer. I then installed it onto my old laptop from the CD I made. It worked beautifully, saving a lot of time not having to reinstall all the packages from my original Bodhi installation. Many people use it to create their own Linux remix distros to share, or just to have a portable, bootable copy of your OS.

Another free and open source backup utility that works with Ubuntu and Windows is RedoBackup. I have not used this, but it looks really good. And I think I need to add something FREE that works for you Windows users, too. If there are any Windows users reading this, that is! Another popular option is Back in Time, a Linux snapshot tool that is similar to Apple’s Time Machine backup software.

But when it comes to the tried and true backup and data syncing utility for GNU/Linux, Mac OS and Windows, and one that comes with all Linux distros, it is Rsync. It seems from my readings that rsync is probably the most popular and longest used utility for this purpose, whether it’s for synchronizing files on multiple computers or creating a full backup. Originally I used rsync for backing up Ubuntu, after much research on the internet and in user forums. But now I use the much easier (’cause that’s what I’m about) Graphical User Interface for rsync called Grsync.

The interface is pretty simple to use. Here’s a sample of mine:

It works quite well, only copies what has changed (after the initial backup) and deletes files on the destination that have been deleted on the source. Plus you can create a document telling it what folders or directories to exclude from the backup, like my giant music folder that I already sync to another external partition. It also backs up to an external on-line source (gotta love ‘the cloud’) or using SSH shares, though I’ve never used that option. I just copy files to an external USB hard drive. So when I install a new OS, or newer version of my preferred distro, getting up and running again is very quick and easy.

So that’s my spiel (shpeel?) on what I’ve learned about back-ups with Linux. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s available. Just do it often! You never know what disasters might befall your computer. I guess that’s why backing up on-line or to removable media that’s kept off-site is the best insurance against losing your valuable digital stuff!

Here’s a few more useful links:

10 outstanding Linux backup utilities

It’s World Backup Day: Here’s How to Avoid Inevitable Disasters


The New Pup

Our new dog Ella moved in with us on Friday night. After not quite two days living here we are all (except maybe Vivian the cat) thoroughly enjoying her presence. Vivien has been checking her out, but after Ella got a little too frisky Vivien’s been hiding out more today. Though she seems nicer to our other dog Max, who she’s never been too friendly with. Apparently compared to the puppy, Max is looking much more tolerable!

Ella is incredibly well-behaved for a puppy of barely 4 months of age. She’s been sleeping in her crate in our bedroom at night, and doing fabulously. She very quietly awakens us about 4 or 5 in the morning to go outside, and the rest of the time she sleeps like a log. Of course, during the day she’s been pretty busy playing outside with the kids and exploring her new territory. We’ve all been enjoying the great weather this weekend to get some yard cleaning work done. It’s fifty degrees and sunny with high, thin clouds right now. I was amazed to hear yesterday that New York City and New England has been getting dumped with snow!

That’s all I have to say for the moment. But I have a few entertainment links to share:

Full-Length Trailer for the New Season of Doctor Who

More info on Jon Favreau’s Movie Cowboys and Aliens

Antonio Banderas’ Big Bang trailer exposes us to subatomic particle sex magic

The Amazing Green Lantern Wondercon Footage

Official Hobbit Movie Website

Next time, information on backing up your data in Linux-based operating systems… and probably more puppy pics!

Categories: Animals, Entertainment