Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Quick Tip - Minification In Linux

Often, when building and testing a website, you may be working with two or more style sheets. However, before uploading your site it's best practise to merge your css files in order to reduce any lag between request and response. There are several tools available to achieve this but Linux has its own command line tool, cssmin.

To install cssmin, open a terminal and:

sudo apt-get install cssmin

Enter your password and allow the application to install. To merge your style sheets:

cat file1.css file2.css file3.css | cssmin > output.min.css

Where filen.css are the source files and output.min.css is the output file. Obviously, you will need to link your html files to the new style sheet.

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Saturday, 23 August 2014

Wallpaper of the Month - Inspiron 6400

You probably already know that I change the desktop backgrounds on my computers regularly - time for a change on the Inspiron 6400!

Another of my own compositions taken from (roughly) SJ 177 398 between Y Foel & Vivod, looking east. This is another photo taken on my mobile phone; a Samsung Galaxy Advance S4.

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Friday, 22 August 2014

More On Win98 & Ubuntu

Last year I built a bespoke system in order that a customer could run Win98! My solution was to build a modern desktop running Ubuntu and virtualize the legacy system using Virtualbox. Despite my business having long since failed, I've remained on friendly terms with my erstwhile customer and was happy to help him upgrade Ubuntu 12.04 to 14.04LTS.

I've always preferred clean installs rather than the in-place upgrades and I partition my drives accordingly (and did so on this build also): so, I decided that I would do a fresh install on the Win98 host machine and didn't anticipate any difficulties getting Win98 up & running. How wrong I was!

Installing the latest version of VirtualBox & the extension pack was simple enough, but whilst Windows ran inside VirtualBox without any drama, it positively refused to communicate with any of the hardware: this meant that there was no USB support so neither the dot matrix printer (a deal breaker) nor USB pen drives would work. It turns out that I'd missed a couple of key (but simple) steps to getting the virtual machine operating effectively.

The first was to add the user's account to the vboxusers group. This is straightforward in Ubuntu & its derivatives, simply add the gnome-system-tools package from the Software Center. You can access the utility from the Administration menu (Mint) or search via Unity (Ubuntu).

The second is to make sure that the USB controller is selected in the virtual machine's settings but that the USB 2.0 (EHCI) controller is deselected.

Once these two issues were rectified, Win98 was once more doing its thing!

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Munich To Reverse Decision On Linux?

The Register is reporting that Munich, the city that adopted Linux for its municipal operations, is considering returning to Windows.

The reasons are not entirely clear but El Reg seems to believe that it is the lack of an integrated personal information manager à la Microsoft Outlook. If this is, indeed, the reason, it seems more likely that this is an implementation issue rather than a shortcoming in any given Linux distro: Thunderbird gives me integrated email, contacts, and calendar (albeit by installing plugins) & I can even sync with my Google Calendar (so that those nice people at the NSA can see what I'm up to!). Thunderbird is not the only option when it comes to PIM on Linux.

I think it would be a shame if this ten-year project were abandoned on a political whim. Whilst I've no beef with Microsoft, politicians have a duty to be parsimonious with tax payers' monies & paying huge sums to private corporations when there are free alternatives is outrageously extravagant.

As an illustration of the sort of money that Microsoft can earn from bulk licensing, consider Cardiff Councils response to a freedom of information request: in 2011, the Council acknowledged having nearly eleven thousand MS Office licences at a cost (to the taxpayer) of £2,158,696. If one extrapolates this cost over the 27 county councils in the UK, that's a staggering £58,284,792 & there are another 400 principal authorities in the UK! Given that the implementation costs of OpenOffice would be broadly similar to MS Office (& hence, irrelevant to our calculations), abandoning only Office in only the county councils would save every man, woman, & child in the UK, £1!

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Wallpaper of the Month - Mint 17

After work and a walk in the hills, I finished up configuring Mint 17 on my Dimension 8400. If runs like a trooper: not the quickest pc in the world (it is ten years old!), but stable and beautiful!

So, to christen my new OS on my old machine, here's a new wallpaper. The bundled backgrounds in Mint 17 are fabulous, but I've been missing Snowdonia of late so I thought I'd use one of my own compositions.

This is Llyn Dulyn in the Rhinogs: one of the most beautiful places in Snowdonia. Taken in September '12, the photo is snapped from Diffwys looking North towards Y Llethr & Rhinog Fach.

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Monday, 11 August 2014

Mint 17 Cinnamon & The DELL DIMENSION 8400

This month (August), my DELL Dimension 8400 is ten years old & it's getting a birthday present - a new operating system!

"I'm constantly amazed at how well Ubuntu runs on older equipment."

I had been running Mint 16 on the old box, but as this is no longer supported, it's time to see how well Mint 17 will run.

Installation was, as always, painless, although I can't install from a DVD on this box (it has to be a USB). I've also taken the opportunity to encrypt the /home directory & change my password. Now I've got to:

  • Install Samba & Winbind
  • Enable UFW
  • Install my Photosmart 7600 (yes, a 7600!) local printer & my Photosmart C6280 network printer
  • Install Chromium
  • Install Bluefish
  • Install Cairo-Dock

...well, you get the idea!

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Sharp End of the Pencil - Wireframing On Linux

More on the subject of Windows alternatives.

I have some elementary skill in coding with html but, like everything else, I'm more jack-of-all-trades than expert. Nonetheless, I've never been frightened to have a go, and recently I've been exploring the concept of responsive web design for a project that I'm working on.

The key to success is planning the layout for different platforms before building your style sheet and it's handy to be able to visualize the site on each platform using a wireframe tool. There are several online offerings (for instance, codiqa & balsamiq), but is there a local software alternative for Linux?

There is and it's called Pencil!

In fairness, Pencil is available across all three major platforms (Win, Mac, & Nix) so it doesn't really qualify as a genuine alternative but it does meet the criteria for free software in that it is both free of charge and open source. It's also remarkably comprehensive and simple to use so, if you're into web design, head on over and download the flavour of your choice.

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Sunday, 3 August 2014

Migrating From XP - Outlook Express to Thunderbird

More on the theme of migrating from Windows XP to Linux. As always, my focus is on Ubuntu and its derivatives, but I suspect that the following process will work for any Linux distro.

One of the concerns that I've encountered when trying to encourage XP users to try Linux is that of migrating data from one OS to another. Usually, this isn't for any utilitarian reason, it's because the user doesn't have a current backup and is (ultimately) terrified of loosing years of work! However, moving (and using) data from Windows to Linux is relatively painless, but what about all that email that's accumulated over the past ten years?

I was recently asked how a user could move all of their email and settings from Outlook Express and use them on Linux. If you're using Thunderbird on your target system, migrating all of your Outlook Express data and settings is fairly easy. Although it's not exactly straightforward or intuitive, it is simple. I've tested the following instructions using a virtual WinXP system and Mint 17 and it takes longer to record what I did than actually do what I did! (if that makes sense!)

The problem is that you can't simply dump all of your Outlook Express data into a file and import it into a new machine: you have to import the data into Thunderbird and then copy your user profile to the target PC. So, the first thing we have to do is download and install Thunderbird on your Windows XP machine. A standard installation is all that's required.

Open Thunderbird and skip the New Email dialog (just click the I think I'll configure my account later" option). If the Menu Bar is hidden, click the menu option (just to the right of the search dialog), hover over Options & then click Main Menu.

From the Main Menu, click Tools & then Import... When the Import dialog appears, ensure that the Import Everything (default) option is selected and click Next.

Select the Outlook Express option is selected and then click next. When the import process is complete, close Thunderbird completely.

Now copy your new Thunderbird profile directory. This can be tricky to locate, but you should find it in:

C:\Documents and Settings\User Name\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles.

Your profile will have a random eight digit alpha-numeric string followed by a period (full stop) and the word, default: copy this directory (file) to a USB stick or other portable medium.

If you're changing operating system on the same PC as your Windows XP rig, safely remove your external medium and continue with your installation. If not, just plug your USB stick into the PC to where you want to migrate your data. If your target pc does not have Thunderbird installed, install it from the Software Center (assuming Ubuntu or derivative) or from the Mozilla Downloads page.

Make sure that Thunderbird is closed and that you have selected the Show Hidden Files option in your file browser. Plug in your removable medium (assuming that you haven't already done so) and copy the contents of the WinXP profile to your new Thunderbird profile on the target PC. You'll find the relevant directory under:


DO NOT substitute the parent directory from Windows for the parent directory in in .thunderbird: this will cause an application error. Only copy the contents from the old directory to the new directory, overwriting any existing files in the new location. Now open Thunderbird: in the System Integration dialog, select the Set as Default option and you're good to go!

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