Saturday, October 31, 2009

Google Chrome

Having tried out Google Chrome in its semi-native version (Windows 7 beta in VMWare Fusion on my Mac) I decided a few weeks ago to try out the Mac dev version. It installed fine and is fast and stable and has worked well for most although not all web sites. Today I decided to get the Linux version and after checking for a package with Synaptic - not there, as I suspected would be the case - I found a direct download at Google of a .deb file. It was one of the many cases of a Linux install being just as easy as in OS X: click to download, enter the system password when it's finished, click a few buttons and it appeared in my Applications->Internet menu. So far it seems fine (unlike Firefox, it works with the web site) and it's nice to have yet another browser to choose from.

The one problem was in importing bookmarks. Today I also finally got around to installing Xmarks and signing up so I could merge and synchronize my bookmarks on my two personal machines. That eventually worked out fine, but I wasn't able to find where bookmarks were stored on my Jaunty machine. Both bookmarks.html files I found included only the handful of default bookmarks that came with the basic installation. I still have no idea where they are, but I eventually learned that by going into the Firefox menus in Bookmarks->Organize bookmarks... it's possible to export them as a file and then import them into Chrome.

I'm not giving up Firefox as my default browser, but Chrome is an attractive fast alternative.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary

Thanks to A Third Way the old but comprehensive Lewis and Short Latin dictionary is now available in two more forms: both through a web interface and as a stand-alone Adobe AIR desktop application. The web interface joins Perseus at Tufts University, Perseus under Philologic at the University of Chicago, the Archimedes Project at Harvard, and the stand-alone joins the cross-platform Diogenes application.

I tested the web site with Firefox on my Mac (OS 10.5) and with Opera in Ubuntu Jaunty and the AIR app on both machines and it installed and ran flawlessly. Although it doesn't work with inflected forms, it provides a list of the ten entries before and after your entry so as long as the word you're looking for begins the same odds are good you'll find what you're looking for; when an entry for an irregular form is provided (e.g., tuli, lātus, the third and fourth principal parts of ferō), if the original dictionary includes a cross-reference it's provided, but not as a link. As with the other electronic versions and the print, macrons are shown for the main entry but not in the quotations. Search terms cannot include macrons (and in fact the not-found mālum was located at the very end of the M section in the context list of 20 rather than among the ma's), but entries without them generate results for words both with and without.

This is a 0.2 alpha version, and they write of their plans:

We are busy cataloging every word in the dictionary as to its part of speech, declension or conjugation, gender, and other grammatical information. In the future, this will allow searches for "every first declension word that begins with R" or "every third conjugation verb that's deponent". We will also be adding maps for the geographical entries, pictures of items where appropriate, and updating some of the less-than-modern English Lewis and Short sometimes present.

My thanks to Terrence Lockyer, who kindly posted about it to the Classics list.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Three Successes, Two Failures with Jaunty

After reading about the browser Arora and being of the mind that one can't have too many browsers, I decided to try it out on my Jaunty ThinkPad. I found it easily enough via Add/Remove Applications, but was disappointed that the version in the repository was 0.5 and the web site offered 0.8, which is presumably 60% better than the older version. After doing some research I downloaded the source code, but although it unpacked into a large number of files and folders that looked like they would turn into a browser, I wasn't able to figure out how to get it to run.

I was more successful (eventually) with Adobe Reader and Foxit Reader. I have a .pdf that looks perfectly fine in Preview and Adobe Reader in Mac OS X, but in the default .pdf reader, Evince Document Viewer, it's converted to a hideous sans serif font with striking kerning errors. I decided to check other options, and even though I'm not fond of the time it takes Adobe Reader to start on OS X I decided to download it. It's available as a .bin file and although my first attempts to turn it into an application failed, finally following the instructions here, including the use of chmod 700, I succeeded with the minor quirk that it took me a while to figure out what to do to get it to run (double-click on acroread in Adobe Reader->Adobe->Reader9->bin; who would have suspected?). As I'd hoped, it looked fine.

Lifehacker just had an article on the best .pdf readers and that reminded me that Foxit is available for Linux. I downloaded that and successfully installed it and it renders the file as well as Adobe Reader, which is particularly nice in light of the exploits for Adobe programs that seem to crop up on a regular basis.

Although I wouldn't want to look at ugly output on a screen, my plan to was to print two pages of this .pdf and since I hadn't tried printing from the ThinkPad before I didn't know what to expect. I connected it to an old Epson Stylus Color 740 inkjet printer, hit the Print command, and ... nothing. Not entirely unexpected, but a mild disappointment. After a brief false lead in System->Preferences->Default Printer, I found System->Administration->Printing: pretty straightforward. Adding that printer was also straightforward; it asked if I wanted it to look for a driver, and after I approved and it found and downloaded it I printed a test page and then my two pages without a hitch. My even more ancient laser printer (an Apple LaserWriter 12/640PS) was seen by the computer but I unfortunately wasn't able to get it to work despite several attempts both using Add Printer and localhost:631; I kept getting a "bad device-uri" error even though it appeared that there was a driver for it.

So, installing Adobe Reader and Foxit and printing with the Epson inkjet worked with little difficulty, but running Arora and printing to the LaserWriter didn't. Sixty percent success in this recent batch of experiments isn't bad, I suppose, but I do with it all Just Worked. I'm reading Keir Thomas' Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference and I have some hope that with its help I'll eventually be able to figure out more useful things than how to switch screensavers.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wine, Lunascape, and IE in Ubuntu Jaunty

My most recent explorations in Ubuntu have involved Wine (a translation layer that allows you run Windows applications on Linux and other *nix platforms) and a couple of Windows browsers.

I had thought Wine was installed by default in Ubuntu but found I was incorrect. Downloading and installing it was quick and painless, thanks to Applications->Add/Remove.

Now for some Windows applications to try it out on.

I recently read about Lunascape, "the world's first and only triple engine browser," which uses the rendering engines underlying Internet Explorer (Trident), Firefox (Gecko), and Safari and Chrome (WebKit); Opera's Presto was not included, nor were a handful of other lesser-known engines. Intriguing, eh?

I downloaded and ran the set-up .exe file with no problem by right-clicking and selecting "Open with 'Wine Windows Program Loader'," but unfortunately several attempts to run it resulted in at best a browser window that darkened after about 10 seconds, after which a warning box opened notifying me that the application was not responding; and at worst, nothing. Further attempts to uninstall and reinstall didn't help and it's unclear how I can remove Lunascape from my Wine programs menu (except possibly by un- and reinstalling Wine itself?) but a bit of research turned up instructions here to remove it entirely after uninstalling it from the Wine menu. I had to use ls to get the official name of the Lunascape folder and rm -r to get rid of it, but I'm getting better at that than I was.

Internet Explorer was more of a mixed bag. By following these instructions I was able to get IE 6 installed and running, but neither the XP nor Vista versions of IE 8, downloaded directly from Microsoft, would open with Wine. The interesting thing about the IE 6 installation is that it requires using the command line to start it: /home/john/bin/ie6, although reinstalling ies4linux created a desktop shortcut to it. I think I'll get rid of the shortcut and just try to remember ~/bin/ie6. That shouldn't be too hard, should it?

At some point when I feel very brave I might try VirtualBox with some of these Windows apps.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two Ubuntu Challenges Faced and Conquered

I've been enjoying my experiments with Ubuntu and so far I've been able to do most of what I want to without much trouble. I've been particularly pleased with the similarity of some helpful little touches to Mac OS X, but the most recently discovered trick I would have preferred not to have had to use.

When the new 3.5 version of Firefox was released I downloaded it later that same day on my OS X machine by using the "Check for Updates" menu command. I was distressed to see that option grayed out in my Ubuntu Firefox, and even more so when I did some research and found that it was not expected that the new FF would be available in an officially sanctioned form until October's release of Karmic Koala. Almost immediately there were workarounds posted but most were quite intimidating. Fortunately, there are apparently a number of ways to go about it and I ended up using the instructions here, following the easy (fairly easy, anyway) instructions provided by Pritam P. Hans. They worked flawlessly and now the default browser is Firefox 3.5.

The other challenge was more esoteric. Although I'm the only person using this computer, I was curious to see if I could install a new font at the system level, as I do with my OS X computer. Junicode has just come out in a new version and since that's the font I'm using in my on-again off-again Hyginus Fabulae book and I'm hoping to be able to work on it on this computer too, keeping the file synchronized across machines thanks to Dropbox, I need to have the font here locally for XeTeX (actually XeLaTeX) to use. With OS X it's a simple matter of dropping the unzipped fonts into /Library/Fonts, but when I tried that with Ubuntu I was informed I didn't have permission. I ended up using Terminal and sudo mv, and it was here I made my happy discovery of an OS X trick: it's possible to drag an icon into Terminal and have it turn into a path. In fact, I was able to drag all 4 fonts into Terminal and making their destination (as I discovered) /usr/share/fonts/truetype. I was amused with myself because the first time I tried I used mov, which understandably puzzled Terminal since the command doesn't exist, and the second time I forgot sudo and so permission was denied. sudo is the computer's "Simon says," I realized.

In retrospect I realize that it's actually A Good Thing that the system is trying to protect itself by requiring a password before putting anything above the User level and I wonder why OS X doesn't, even for fonts? But I still don't understand why something as basic and desirable as Firefox 3.5 wasn't available to Ubuntu systems via the FF "Check for Updates" feature.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Trying Out Ubuntu

For the last year or so I've been interested in trying out Linux, and last Christmas asked for and received a copy of VMWare's Fusion for Mac OS X. Although it worked adequately to get a sense of the OS, it was slow and laggy and I suspected that running Linux as a guest wasn't giving it a fair shake. However, as a combined wedding anniversary and Father's Day present, at my suggestion my wife got me a refurbished IBM ThinkPad T43 that had on special. It's by no means a powerhouse, but for about 1/5 the price of the lowest-end 15-inch MacBook Pro it's quite a good machine, with adequate RAM and hard drive space for my purposes, wireless, and an optical drive. It came with Windows XP Professional pre-installed (no discs for it included), but as soon as I set up and registered Windows — which warned me of the dire danger of not installing protection from malware — I pulled out the CD I'd burned with an ISO of 32-bit Ubuntu and installed it, and found the procedure easier than getting started with Windows (although admittedly a little more time-consuming because of having to tranfer the OS from the CD to the hard drive.

One of the things I was curious about was how close Ubuntu has come to becoming as user-friendly as Mac OS X. I found out pretty quickly that for a beginning user it's as easy or possibly even easier that OS X to use the basic installed applications, but once past basic uses there are ... not pitfalls exactly, but procedures which although not particularly difficult are not as just-works-ish as in OS X.

One good example is producing accented characters. A friend of mine who's moving to Mississippi gave my wife and me a stack of CDs which included the wonderful recording of the Irish accordionist James Keane With Friends Like These. For some reason Banshee — the installation of which was another example I'll write about next — wasn't able to find the album's metadata and I decided to enter it manually and came to a track with the tune "Paidín Ó Raifeartaigh" on it. Acute accents are a breeze in Mac OS X once you know the dead-key combinations (Option-e puts an acute over the next letter, for example).

It turns out that in order to get accented letters it's necessary to specify a Compose key in System->Preferences->Keyboard->Layouts->Layout Options; I still don't know what key or keys can serve to substitute for the AltGr key discussed in this article on accents in Linux. I discovered the Character Map (Applications->Accessories) and it's very similar to OS X's Character Palette, but it's not the easiest way to insert characters. What I find puzzling is that searching the on-line help (i.e., the big blue question mark at the top of the screen) for "accents" leads only to a link to the GIMP manual, and only to the entire work, not even to a particular page of it. This seems like a basic enough question that it shouldn't require as much time to figure out as I've put into it.

Now, for Banshee, I refer the curious to these instructions. I had no trouble following them — in fact, I used apt-get as an experiment and had no trouble at all with it — and I'm very happy with the application, but compared to simply clicking a download link and then double-clicking a .pkg file or a .dmg file and dragging the resulting application to the Applications folder is a lot less scary for the inexperienced.

On checking further I see that it's possible to get Banshee via Applications->Add/Remove Applications, and that's a lot simpler process. I've learned a lesson from this: check that option before downloading it from the website of the developer.

Heaven knows even Macs are not entirely intuitive, but Linux, even a Linux as comparatively easy to use as Ubuntu, is more opaque. That said, for people who aren't going to be installing applications not included with the distribution or who are prepared for a varied experience in ease for ones they do download, I think it's a good potential fit.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Yiddish Literature On-Line

Although I don't know any Yiddish, I was happy to see this morning in Friday's New York Times (courtesy David Meadows' Explorator):

More than 10,000 works in Yiddish — perhaps more than half of all that was ever published in the language — are now accessible online as part of a joint project between the National Yiddish Book Center, based in Amherst, Mass., and the Internet Archive in San Francisco, the two institutions announced on Friday. The scanning began more than 10 years ago as part of a $5 million effort to create the Steven Spielberg Digital Library, said Aaron Lansky, founder and president of the book center.

I was interested to see that those responsible recognize that some people prefer print, because the page linked above adds:

In addition, we can provide you with used copies and reprints of most Yiddish titles at nominal cost. To check availability, please email us at, or phone us at 413-256-4900, x196.

I probably would have seen notice of this on Friday except that due to AT&T's poor service my Internet access had been out for most of the last two weeks until Friday afternoon and I had a great deal of catching up to do. I'm in the process of switching all my announcement and discussion list addresses to my Gmail address in the expectation I'll switch providers if it happens again.