Sick of WinDOH!s? Try Ubuntu “Karmic Koala” & Free Yourself from Micro$oft!

October 30, 2009

The latest version of Ubuntu (“Linux for Human Beings”) – 9.10 “Karmic Koala” – came out just after midnight, and I’m burning my first batch of discs for eBay customers who pre-ordered it. But just so you know, Ubuntu is totally free to download – I sell it at for a nominal fee so those with slow dial-up or small download limits on broadband can get it quickly and easily. Also, some are cursed with downloads getting corrupted somewhere down the line, while others simply can’t turn the ISO image they’ve downloaded to a bootable disc.

Ubuntu "Linux for Human Beings" - ANYONE can use this great OS!Besides the bonus disc of themes and goodies for Ubuntu that I offer, many are simply enticed by my rather large but very informative ad that presents them with lots of screenshots of this great OS in action. I’ve had many who were scared to try any Linux distro, and quite a few who hadn’t even heard of Linux, sold on the idea simply because of that ad.

While it’s great knowing I am helping spread the word, the real bonus comes in the form of feedback, from which I can easily see that the hundreds of people I have helped convert are totally stoked with Ubuntu. I also get emails from customers who tell me they no longer dual boot – everything they could ever want is in Ubuntu, so they wiped their Windows partition.

Check out my Ubuntu ad to see how easy it is to use, how it comes with heaps of useful software – like even a full office suite – and how you can customise it to be your OS in ways you can only dream of in Windows and Mac OS. When you’re ready to give it a try, go to the Ubuntu site and download it. The “i386” version will work on basically all Wintel machines (ie: Windows PCs) and Intel-based Macs (with a “PowerPC” version for older Macs), but if you have a Dual or Quad core, you should consider getting the most out of your hardware by using the 64-bit version (“amd64“).

Just remember you don’t need to install it to try it – simply reboot your computer with the “Live CD” and you will end up at a fully-functional “live” desktop running straight off the disc, with just your RAM being used, and nothing being cached to your hard drive (ie: it won’t touch your Windows or Mac OS in any way!).

When you decide to install, it will give you the option of taking some of your Windows or Mac OS partition, choosing another drive attached, or taking the whole drive (if you wish to get rid of the disaster of an OS you were previously running). So why not download the Live CD and give it a test run? You never know: you could end shaking your head in disbelief that you didn’t do it earlier. I now know of hundreds of people who never dreamed they’d be getting rid of Windows altogether, so funnier things have happened!

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Breaking Bad: Confronting Yet Amusing Look at the World of Crystal Meth

October 24, 2009

I’m what you call super-mega-fussy about the shows I watch. I’m likely to watch about one or two hours of TV a week, excluding the news, and often there is nothing at all that grabs my attention. So besides trying to find a few good DVDs to view, I rely on the “OMG Factor” when picking a series to watch. And by that I mean whenever I come across people with similarly fussy tastes saying “Oh my God, have you seen…” I tend to take notice.

Breaking Bad

From the first few seconds of Breaking Bad, I knew I was going to like this show. In what obviously seems to be a flash forward, it starts amid frantic action as a camper-van flies along a dusty desert track, ending with a clearly distressed middle-aged guy in his underpants standing in the middle of the road pointing his gun at the sound of approaching sirens, and that’s after leaving a farewell message to his family.

Then it goes back 3 weeks and, besides showing what led to this sorry state of affairs, lays the ground for what this series is about. This is the story of Walter White, a chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, just turned 50, with a beautiful wife and teenage son with cerebral palsy, who finds out he is dying of lung cancer. Besides the shock of facing his own impending mortality, he begins a morbid obsession with not being able to leave his family with enough money to survive without him, especially since he learns his wife is pregnant with a daughter he may never see.

Unable to tell his family the grim diagnosis, he suddenly sees the possible answer to the other part of the problem when his brother-in-law – a D.E.A (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent – exposes him to the lucrative world of crystal methamphetamine.

When riding along on a drug bust, he is the only witness to one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman, fleeing the scene, so later he visits him with a business proposition. Using his superior knowledge of chemistry –  since he used to be a lot more than a mere chemistry teacher – he would start manufacturing the purest crystal meth anyone had ever seen, with Jesse handling the distribution side of things.

Breaking Bad: Cooking Crystal Meth can be a Bitch!What follows is a series of disasters and triumphs, both hilarious and disturbing. A man driven to protect his family can be a mighty force, so you will see a usually timid and definitely respectable Walter to do many dubious things to ensure he can provide for his loved ones before he departs. As for Jesse, a drug-addled and majorly stressed-out loser, usually too concerned about his own pathetic life to give much thought to others, he too evolves throughout the seasons, but sometimes in a more positive light.

This truly is a gem of a show, definitely worthy of cult status, so if you want some engrossing crime drama – seen through the eyes of the perpetrators – with lots of hilarious moments, as well as a few confronting and emotional ones, do yourself a favour and check it out.

Besides watching series of events inevitably lead to disaster, other side-splitting moments are watching Jesse (who reminds one of a stressed-out version of Ryan O’Reilly of OZ) freaking out massively when things go bad. Then your smiles will turn to grimaces of discomfort as you watch Walter awkwardly trying to convince his family nothing is going on, even though he’s cooking meth and starting to mix with some pretty shady characters.

Quite unique and thoroughly entertaining, Breaking Bad is currently 2 seasons old, with season 3 starting on cable in the US in 2010. Check it out at your local DVD store.

Outrageous Fortune: Hilarious Crime Family Drama Series from NZ

October 22, 2009

We Antipodeans make some pretty good TV series, and eventually the rest of the world catches onto them. But besides shows like Underbelly, I’m actually somewhat embarrassed about what comes out of Australia. I’m thinking Neighbours and Home & Away, but then nothing of late has grabbed my attention. But our cousins across the Tasman have created a show that not only should be aired in Australia (at prime time) for all to enjoy, but should end up in the cult classics section of your local DVD store, whatever part of the world you’re in.

The West Family from Outrageous FortuneOutrageous Fortune from Aotearoa (or “New Zealand” for you Pākehā) is a far cry from being your average soap, and masterfully blends comedy – often of spoof-like proportions – with hard-hitting drama. It revolves around the Wests, a West Auckland family notorious with the police for generations, and the various dubious characters associated with them.

Wolfgang WolfWest (played by Grant Bowler) is a career criminal who believes in the old code, and lives by certain rules like no violence and no home invasions (at least while there’s anybody home). And of course the family rule is never, ever lag/rat/dob/snitch/dog on anyone, no matter what the reason. He is the undoubted boss of the household, but his dominance over the family is soon to be questioned.

His wife Cheryl (Robyn Malcolm) is the rock of the family, and in the first episode her strength is tested as Wolf lands in jail yet again, and for a much longer stay than anyone anticipated. Faced with a family spiralling out of control due to the nature of their lifestyle, she makes the decision that from then onwards their family would so straight. Met with disbelieving horror by her children, and hearty laughter from her imprisoned husband, Cheryl’s efforts to see this through form the basis of this thoroughly entertaining show.

Humour abounds as Cheryl tries to guide her family down the road to redemption, from out-of-control sibling squabbles to generally poking fun at stereotypes, from witty one-liners through to hilarious series of events leading to catastrophe. But this isn’t a sitcom, with plenty of serious drama in the mix, and more than a few heart-wrenching scenes as the story unfolds. And for a largely-unknown show funded by NZ on Air, it has some pretty damned good acting in it too.

This becomes immediately apparent when you meet the oldest of the West kids, identical twins Jethro and Van – wildly opposing personalities actually played by the same award-winning actor, Antony Starr. Jethro, the oldest by minutes, is by far the smarter of the two, and is white sheep of the family, as he is just about to be accepted to the bar as a lawyer, much to Wolf’s dismay.

Van, who is nowhere near as cultured and intelligent as his sibling, is proudly following in Dad’s footsteps, so is of course involved in all sorts of petty crime. Unfortunately, while his heart is in the right place, Van often bungles things, usually with side-splitting consequences. No-one is sure whether it was the hip flask of Jack Daniels he consumed when a toddler, or the four hours trapped in a freezer during a game of hide-and-seek, but his physical and mental ages aren’t exactly in sync. Yet any guy would tell you he is a true mate, and none of his shortcomings matter to the ladies.

Next in the family is tall, blonde and beautiful Pascalle (Siobhan Marshall), fashion junkie and self-confessed slut, who at 18 is distressed that she still hasn’t broken into modelling, since her idol, Rachel Hunter, had become a star at 17. None too bright, and often quite snappy and nasty, her dimwittedness and emotional instability are a joy to behold.

Last but certainly not least is 15 yo Loretta (Antonia Prebble), a would-be film director whose tomboyishness has the rest of her family convinced she is a lesbian, even though she sees sex of any kind as an abomination. Undeniably clever and devious beyond her years, this little lady is pure evil, and a wonder to observe. Skilfully she manipulates all around her, yet not everything goes as she plans, and her reactions to realising she isn’t bulletproof are often as funny as the disastrous outcomes themselves.

Oh, and let’s not forget Ted, a.k.a. “Grandpa” (Frank Whitten), who comes to live with the family at the beginning of the series. Theodore West, the finest safe-cracker of his generation, still has a keen mind, at least when he isn’t suffering bouts of dementia. He is basically the only person Loretta feels understands her, so they have a close bond, but he is less than friendly to other members of the clan, most notably Cheryl, whom he calls “Slutty Pants”.

Many other characters come and go throughout the seasons, but the main players are Munter (a simple but likeable Māori, and Van’s best mate since childhood), Falani (a friendly but sneaky Samoan who deals in stolen goods), Eric (who works for Wolf while continually trying to sleaze onto Cheryl), “Sparky” (a speed-addled professional pyromaniac who gets way too much enjoyment from it), and Det.Sgt. Wayne Judd (the “D-Sarge” who makes the Wests’ life hell).

So if you’re into crime-related drama, like a few good laughs and plenty of surprises, and appreciate watching the evolution of characters (who are played by talented actors), you really should check out Outrageous Fortune. And ladies: there are quite a few heated love scenes, which apparently you get into more than us guys, who generally prefer the crime and “mateship” aspects. Whatever your reason for checking it out, I’d be surprised if you don’t get hooked, so grab Season 1 and join the West family on the crazy ride that is their life.

Outrageous Fortune Seasons 1 – 5 are currently available on DVD.

So you think Your Kids Don’t Listen to Opera?!

August 27, 2009

You don’t even need to be a golden oldie to lament the cultural abyss that has opened up before the youth of today. As sad and frighteningly horrid as it may seem, there are even genteel supremacists in their 30s (and perhaps younger) scoffing at the lack of musical sophistication in the bulk of their peers. And while these people are generally the Nazi-like bad guys in your typical American Poor vs Rich movie, they do have a valid point.

It is a well-documented fact that only about 3.3% of humans have a brain worth the space it takes up in their skulls, which accounts for the travesty which is referred to as the Top 40. I often wake screaming from nightmares of aliens finally coming down to communicate with us, to exchange culture and knowledge, only to fly away laughing once they’ve heard what the bulk of humanity calls music!

While it’s a bit of a hard ask to expect most people these days to get into classical music, let alone opera, there are people – even teenagers – who actually listen to a great deal of both! Just don’t expect any of the 96.7% who listen to mainstream radio to be among the new cultural elite! As incredible as it may seem, they actually think of themselves as too refined and cultured!

Symphony X - Symphonic Power Metal at its Epic best!You see, it is actually in the world (make that universe!) of Heavy Metal that classical and opera are actually making a huge comeback! There are parents out there who listen to music nowhere near as sophisticated as their long-haired teenage kids, as easy listening music by definition means unexciting and uncomplicated. Yet, their kids are listening to a complex, anthemic blend of classical and opera with various genres of Metal. While the rest of the world listens to mindless dance music, boy bands and black American female singers pumping out the same old songs with different titles, and other rubbish pop, there is now an underground movement of youth who listen to today’s musical virtuosos!

So, for the benefit of those who want to know more, especially for older people who would actually like to check out some of the more inspiring music of today, I’ll give a brief outline of the genres and bands to look out for. The influence of classical and/or opera can vary from quite slight to rather intense, and the Metal at its base can range from melodic to extreme. So I’ll start with the melodic genres, and finish off with the more extreme. It’s not much different from comparing, say, the more serene movements from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Wagner or “Mars” from Holst’s Planets.

Nightwish - Divinely Operatic Symphonic Power Metal

Symphonic Metal, Opera Metal, or Symphonic Goth

Tristania - Symphonic Gothic Metal with superbly Operatic VocalsNow, while many bands fall pretty much neatly into genres like Symphonic Power Metal and Symphonic Black Metal, a great deal fall loosely into, well, whatever you want to call the genre! Now, Symphonic Metal is a good general term for Heavy Metal inspired by Classical Music, while Opera Metal or Operatic Metal would describe those, obviously, with vocals similar to that of opera. The term “Goth” is such a broad one, meaning anything from agonisingly-slow melancholy music through to really bad electro-dance stuff (which is still, somehow, Goth?!), but often is added to describe bands that have elements which are attractive to “Goths” (like a sense of melancholy, or a blending of traditional folk music elements). The reason I include this here and not separately is because this is not a term the bands usually employ, and they are often surprised to hear they are referred to as a “Goth” band.

Apocalyptica - 4 Metalheads on Cellos!

Symphonic Metal bands can vary quite a bit, from heavy bands who do very “symphonic” music, through to guys on cellos playing Heavy Metal songs! Within Temptation - Symphonic Metal with Gothic sensibilitiesBroadly speaking, many bands either lack a vocalist, or have a woman with incredible vocal ability at the helm. If the singer is female (which is almost a signature of this genre), she will either sing like a diva, an opera singer, or perhaps even like an Irish folk singer. Bands that appeal to Goths might also have a male backing vocalist who sings “gruff” as a contrast to the female lead-singer’s “clean” vocals. Some bands won’t be too far off Symphonic Power Metal in tempo, while others prefer a more reserved pace. Some have a single singer, while others sound more like a choir. And more often than not, a lot of the bands will do a bit of all of the above!

So I’ll try to split them up a little, and offer some bands you should check out, as well as an album of each to listen to. Since the term “Goth” is subjective and more like a tick of approval from Goths than an actual genre, I won’t list that separately, but note which bands have “Goth appeal“.Epica - Symphonic Metal with Classical Instruments & Operatic Vocals And I won’t even split them up based on which are operatic, since many of the vocalists can actually alternate between diva-like vocals and the more opera-style; and some bands might occasionally add operatic vocals and shouldn’t necessarily be labelled as such. I’ll just split them up according to which are more your average modern electric band with symphonic elements (usually with keyboards), and those that actually have classical musicians in them.

Symphonic Metal:

  • Within Temptation (“Mother Earth” – beautiful folky vocals of Sharon den Adel make them a major Danish export; major Goth appeal)
  • Nightwish (“Once” – sublime operatic vocals with faster-paced music often approaching Symphonic Power Metal)
  • Tristania (“World Of Glass” – classy operatic vocals, folk elements, and gruff male vocals make them a Goth favourite)
  • After Forever (“Decipher” – Arabic and Oriental influences, operatic vocals, and orchestrated elements; Goth-approved)
  • Edenbridge (“My Earth Dream” – bombastic music of all tempos with graceful female vocals)

Therion - Dark Symphonic Metal big on Orchestrated sound and Multiple Vocals

Symphonic Metal (with Classical Instrument players):

  • Therion (“Vovin” – female sopranos, choirs, classical musicians and heavy music make for an aural feast! Goth appeal)
  • Apocalyptica (“Plays Metallica by Four Cellos” – that says it all! Now they have added a drummer and write their own acoustic Metal!)
  • Epica (“The Classical Conspiracy” – this very much modern classical music with electric instruments added for dynamics! Mostly instrumental with operatic vocals. Great Vivaldi covers!)

Within Temptation - Sharon den Adel's voice is the pride of Denmark

Symphonic Power Metal is just Power Metalsmooth but fast-paced Metal characterised by good musicianship and impressive clean vocals (usually male) – with a noticeable Symphonic element. Lost Horizon - Inspirational Epic Power Metal with Symphonic elementsThis is usually achieved through adding classical aspects to the dynamics of the songs, a liberal use of orchestra-like keyboards, and soaring vocals. The songs can often sound like anthems, and the lyrics often sing of outdated concepts such as honour, the joy of peace, the glory of battle, the horror of war, the mystery of God and the universe, and pretty much anything that probably inspired all the great classical music and operas of the last few centuries!

This form of Metal can, depending on the bands, be quite bombastic, which is why those into more extreme forms laugh at it and call it corny. But not all teenagers into Metal are into the extreme stuff, and there are plenty who absolutely love the symphonic and highly-technical elements of this genre. The singers can out-sing any of the world’s most commercially-successful vocalists, and guitarists you’ve never even heard of make the guitar “virtuosos” you listen to sound like beginners! So here are a few bands (and recommended albums) you can check out if this sounds interesting:

Rhapsody - Italy's Epic Symphonic Power Metal legends (now Rhapsody Of Fire)

  • Symphony X (“The Odyssey” – concept album telling the story of Odysseus/Ulysses)
  • Rhapsody (“Rain Of A Thousand Flames” – the title song is a good example of Hollywood Metal, as it has been referred to)
  • Kamelot (“The Black Halo” – ranging from slow, haunting songs to sophisticated faster ones)
  • Dark Moor (“The Gates of Oblivion” – epic & majestic, with female diva vocals [they now have a male vocalist])
  • Sonata Arctica (“Ecliptica” – fast, anthemic songs with passioned singing and wild keyboard solos)
  • Lost Horizon (“A Flame to the Ground Beneath” – songs like “Pure” rely more on guitar than keyboards to give it a majestic feel)

Kamelot - Polished Symphonic Power Metal with commercial feel & "crooner" style vocals

Symphonic Black Metal is, put simply, the greatest horror music the world has ever heard. Lordly, spooky, divine and menacing, it truly is one of the most unique musical genres ever devised by man. Dimmu Borgir - Norway's legendary Black Metal bandIt is a combination of Norwegian Black Metal of the 1990s (now often referred to as “Old School” Black Metal, or just Black Metal) and, of course, symphonic elements. Black Metal started in Norway as a mix of various Metal (and even Punk) influences, and became noted for its brutally unique sound and corpse-paint whitened faces. You may even remember that it also became infamous for a plague of church burnings throughout Norway, as well as a couple of murders!

Musically, Black Metal is definitely an extreme form of Metal, and I suppose the way you would describe it is how I would explain the difference between it and Death Metal (which is, of course, one of the most extreme forms of Metal). Cradle Of Filth - Britain's Symphonic Black Metal maestrosWith Black Metal, not only would be drums be going overtime and guitars being savaged at a frantic rate, like with Death Metal, but you would note (if you actually listened) that each song has an underlying riff (or melody) that is akin to some of the more spookier or melancholy pieces of classical music. Also, generally speaking, the lyrics would be more screeched than growled like with Death Metal. And speaking of lyrics, Death Metal is called that because more often than not, the lyrics deal with death. With Black Metal, it usually deals with the battle between Good and Evil (which is why, along with the anti-Christian church burnings, Black Metal also became known as Satanic Metal).

When some bands in the late ’90s started adding keyboards and creating a more atmospheric orchestrated sound, it opened up Black Metal to a whole new audience. Old Man's Child - Epic Norwegian Black MetalBoth the music and stage presence of Symphonic Black Metal bands these days is quite theatrical, and despite the extreme elements, can be just as bombastic as the other genres. And as I said, it has evolved to what I can only (and truthfully) say is the best horror music ever. Not every song is fast and brutal, and often albums will feature a purely orchestrated song (actually, many albums will have a piece of classical music as the first song leading into the album!). The music, while heavy and modern, blends wonderfully with the spooky classical feel (Baroque is often a big influence), and topped off by eerily-screeched lyrics befitting the term Horror. Some of the main acts you can check out are:

Dimmu Borgir - Bombastic Horror Music at its best!

  • Cradle Of Filth (“Midian” – listen to the haunting “Her Ghost In The Fog” and read any lyrics of this British band and be amazed!Features female operatic backing vocals)
  • Dimmu Borgir (“Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” – one of Norway’s biggest exports, their music is true art!)
  • Emperor (“IX Equilibrium” – Technically-complex and unique Progressive Black Metal with symphonic elements)
  • Old Man’s Child (“Vermin” – divinely moody and menacing music from this Norwegian band)
  • Limbonic Art (“A Legacy of Evil” – from the operatic “Lycanthropic Tales” to more extreme offerings)
  • Hollenthon (“With Vilest of Worms to Dwell” – maybe more Progressive Death Metal, there are many symphonic elements, and you’ve never heard anything like “Y Draig Goch“!)

Cradle Of Filth - Eerie & Extreme Symphonic Metal to chill the soul!

So there you have it – hopefully a short but informing introduction to those who like classical and/or opera, but had no idea just how big the Heavy Metal universe is, and that their cultured tastes could find new musical delicacies to savour there.

Windows or Mac?? NEITHER! Try UBUNTU!

August 16, 2009

I’ve been into computers since the early 1990’s, and while things have come and gone in that time (like the doomed “NetPC“), one thing that has remained is the war between the Windows and Apple Macintosh worlds. OK, so it’s never really been a war, but more like a friendly feud, but it still goes on to this day. Each side has had its valid arguments, but those of old that are still oft repeated make less and less sense as technologies evolve.

For example, there was a time you could get away with stating as fact that Macs were better for heavy-duty tasks like video editing, since the RISC-based processor was optimised for multimedia. Even as Intel‘s processors (and those of other IBM-Compatible manufacturers) evolved throughout the ’90s, Windows users had to admit their systems were business (or “home office“) computers while Macs were multimedia computers. And let’s not forget the graphic design and publishing worlds, where legions of Mac users created the bulk of the world’s magazines using expensive industry applications like PageMaker, PhotoShop, and QuarkXPress. Desktop publishing was invented for the Mac in 1985 (the first program was PageMaker), and even into the mid-’90s IBM-Compatibles trailed behind. But before long, every app previously only available for serious users (ie: Mac owners) made it onto the Windows platform.

By the beginning of this millennium, IBM-Compatibles (now being referred to as Wintel machines, even if based on processors made by Intel’s rivals like AMD) were not only seriously being used for desktop publishing, but also for audio editing. As Wintel technology progressed, video editing became another task Windows users could successfully achieve, meaning even less reason to fork out for the much more expensive Macs. Especially as the bulk of the world’s software was now only available for Windows.

If you’re starting suspect that I am a Windows fan-boy, I’m just stating the facts. And I’m not for a second suggesting that while the Windows world caught up with the multimedia capabilities of the Mac, that the latter was no longer superior – I’m sure for many processor-hungry tasks it was. But what about now that Macs have moved away from their PowerPC architecture and embraced Intel technologies? Would you dare try and convince me Macs are still better for multimedia now that they have the same guts as their Wintel counterparts?

You could get away with saying Macs come in some pretty classy packages these days – there is no denying that since the iMac, Apple’s machines have continually progressed in aesthetic design. You might get away with saying Mac OS X gives a much more stable environment than Windows for heavy-duty multimedia tasks. I can’t really comment, as I don’t use a Mac (call me whacky, but I’d rather build my own PC for a grand rather than pay three for the same specs in a Mac).

One thing I can tell you is that while over the last few years I’ve done some pretty demanding tasks in Windows, like video editing, sometimes it’s been less than perfect, and – yes – there have been stability issues as well. And let’s not even get started with all the security issues plaguing the Windows world! So while I’ve never seen the need to fork out for a Mac (especially since I’ve always actually preferred the Windows interface to that of Mac OS), I’ve become increasing disappointed with anything made by Microsoft, and at time much of what runs on its OS.

So while I was happy building my own PCs, it became apparent that I needed to go the next step, and build my own operating system! Now, installing a Linux distribution (or “distro“) might not be like building your own OS, strictly speaking, but considering you can generally remove any part of that system and truly customise it to your needs (in a way you could only dream of in Windows!), it’s pretty damned close. I mean, just try uninstalling Internet Explorer from your system (at least from Vista or XP backwards, as I hear you may be able to do so in Windows 7). Or make another file manager the default instead of Windows Explorer. Or perhaps see how long you can surf the web with your internet security suite switched off before you break into a cold sweat and re-initiate it!

Now, a while back, you could get away with saying Linux was only for technically-minded geeks,  but these days many distros are actually easier to use than their commercial counterparts. Most distros are totally free, get regular free updates, and have available thousands of free open source programs. In the Windows and Mac world, you pay for your software (or break the law if using pirated versions), or put up with crappy freeware created by bored students (OK, so some of it is OK, but most is rubbish). In the open source world, you have everything from tiny little programs made for a single basic task through to powerful programs like the OpenOffice.org office suite. Yeah, OK, so some of the open source apps out there are also made by bored students and, hence, either useless or unstable, but the majority is pretty impressive. And it continues to evolve at an equally impressive rate.

If you’re wondering how it could be that open source software – created basically by volunteers – could be evolving faster than commercial ones – which are made by people doing it for money – all I can say is this is how the open source world is. I mean, if you’ve ever prayed for features to be added or fixed in your paid-for programs, and have even tried contacting the companies involved and expressed your wishes, all to no avail, then you would probably be pleasantly surprised with how the open source world works. For example, I thought of a cool feature that could be added to an app I use that deals with ISO disc images, and a week later a new version came out with that feature added! I had a bug with Wine (Windows emulator) that suddenly prevented DVD Shrink from running as smoothly as it had in Ubuntu, and within 2 days of reporting this, a new version of Wine came out that addressed this! OK, so some of your requests and bug reports might fall on deaf ears, but probably a lot less than from commercial companies from whom you bought their software. And no, you won’t get charged for anything other than installation problems, hehe!

So, if you want to take the plunge into the open source world, I’d thoroughly recommend my main OS, UBUNTU (“Linux for Human Beings“). The vast majority of users out there these days just need their computers for tasks like web browsing, email, chat/networking, and multimedia (ie: playing audio and video clips, not so much editing). However, as a fairly advanced computer user, I can tell you Ubuntu not only compares with Windows for more demanding tasks, but actually surpasses it in some! Now, I’m not even talking about some of the basic differences that make Linux distros like Ubuntu shine in comparison to Windows, but we’ll cover a few of them first.

Besides the fact that Ubuntu is free, installs in less than half the time it takes Windows to do so (and installs on Macs!), and has no viruses or spyware/adware, there is the sheer glory of Package Management! In the Windows world, you are used to programs, many of which install things like libraries (.DLL files etc) throughout your system. In Linux, everything is a package, so a program could actually be comprised of one or more core packages plus a few dependencies. Yes, this means a program will not work unless all dependencies have been satisfied, but don’t run to the corner and cower in fear – this is all actually easier than what you’ve been used to!

In Windows, you would go search online for an app for your needs, perhaps eventually find, download and install some piece of freeware, or you’d find the website of a commercial program, purchase it (usually after having to go through an annoying registration process before you could even do so!), download it, and install it. In Ubuntu, you just fire up your favourite package manager (the default is Synaptic Package Manager), either look through the categories on the left hand side and pick apps for installation, or simply type the name of the app (if you know it, of course) or a phrase (like “DVD burner“) and choose from the results displayed! Any dependencies will be presented to you before you can proceed, and simply clicking OK to the message will install all of those as well! And you can sit there for hours adding games and apps, and when you’re ready, hit Apply and it’s all done for you! What’s more, many of those dependencies are libraries already on your system, so unlike in Windows where exactly the same DLL has been installed 10 times in different places by different programs, each app will use the same library when it needs it. And the icing on the cake is that package management and updates are tied in together, meaning that since everything is in effect a package, not only do parts of your system receive automatic updates as they are released, so do all your programs! Yes, that means free upgrades to all your software!

Ubuntu comes with a whole bunch of cool apps for many tasks, including a full office suite, but as you’ve seen, you can easily and quickly install a whole lot more. And I can tell you they will take up a lot less space on your hard drive than you’ve been used to. And some will impress you so much you’ll never go back to their Windows counterparts again. And because Ubuntu has integrated many great open source apps into their system, you’ll find it hard to ever go back to Windows again.

For example, if you’ve ever worked with ISO disc images in Windows, you’ll know that unless you already have burning software than can handle them, you’ll have to go out looking just to be able to burn them to disc. And if you actually want to create or edit ISO images, you’ll need to buy (or illegally download) something like PowerISO, since there is not much in the way of freeware. In Ubuntu, you just double-click the ISO file (or right-click and choose “Write to Disc“) and away you go! What’s more, you can just right-click it and choose to open it with an archive manager if you want to view or edit the contents rather than rely on a commercial alternative like PowerISO.

Speaking of discs, now only self-deluding Windows fan-boys will have the audacity to claim Windows comes with the ability to play DVDs “out-of-the-box“. Yes, you paid for Windows, but you didn’t pay for things like proprietary codecs needed to play some copyrighted media types… and even DVDs you created, let alone copy-protected retail ones. Try playing a DVD in Windows Media Player (WMP) on a freshly installed system and see how far you get. It’s when you’ve either bought software or installed what came with your burner that Windows suddenly gets the ability to handle video DVDs.

While Ubuntu is free, it also respects proprietary issues, so also ships without the ability to play DVDs. The difference here, and it is a major one, is that all you need to do is fire up Synaptic, type in ubuntu-restricted-extras in the Search field, hit Enter, and once you’ve marked it for installation and hit Apply, you’ll not only be able to play copy-protected DVDs, but basically any other media type out there in the whole frakking universe (“So say we all!”)!

So that means that while you need to find and install special players in Windows for media types like MKV, MP4, FLAC, and FLV (YouTube clips), in Ubuntu any of your installed media players will be able to handle them. In Windows, even with two different codec pack launchers pumping codecs into WMP, I still can’t play a good portion of clips I download these days. In Ubuntu, every one of them plays, and I can pick and choose between the players I have. And guess what: since you installed all the codecs via one metapackage (collection of packages rolled into one, basically), any time a codec is updated or created, you get it with your updates! So not only should you be able to play all those clips you thought must be duds back in Windows, you’ll be able to continue to do so without ever worrying if you have the latest codecs or not.

Media players abound, and you can choose from the more minimalistic to quite flashy ones like Amarok. WMP might have some visual appeal, but it also has useless features that can’t be disabled (like links to stores, etc), so there is wasted space and it all ends up not as intuitive as it could be. In Ubuntu, the default audio player is Rhythmbox, which might look less flashy, but has many more useful features (so is in effect more powerful than WMP). I’ve found it much better to work with devices like USB players, and you can do things like directly editing tags of MP3 files.

While we’re on the subject of multimedia, let’s not forget to mention editing capabilities. For audio, there are great sound editing apps like Audacity for working with sound files, Sound Converter for converting between audio formats, and all the way through to a bunch of composition and recording apps for musicians. For video, there are user-friendly programs for DVD authoring like ManDVD, video editors like Cinelerra and Open Movie Editor, and powerful video converters like tovid GUI.

In fact, it was with this last program that I noticed some stunning differences in performance compared to expensive commercial counterparts in Windows. On certain clips I needed to convert to DVD-compliant MPEG format, I would end up with a slight (or sometimes more than slight) lag in either the video or audio. Often I suspected it had to do with things like crappy formats like WMV (which would sometimes crash my converters), and just had to live with it. So when I started using tovid GUI, I was amazed to receive perfectly-synced outputs from those that had given me trouble in Windows (one had ended up with over 20 seconds of lag using one of the best apps out there for Windows, but with its Ubuntu counterpart it was perfect!).

So, for the average user, Ubuntu comes with basically everything you could need out-of-the-box, like the ability to copy and burn discs, Firefox as the default web browser, a powerful PIM and email client (Evolution, which Windows and Mac users also use), OpenOffice.org office suite (also used by millions of Windows and Mac users), GIMP (a powerful image editor almost in the league of Adobe PhotoShop), and a handful of media players.

After a few minutes of searching for things in Synaptic, you can easily install all the codecs you’ll ever need, as well as install some new apps for your other needs, such as aMSN (MSN chat client), Azureus/Vuze for bittorrent filesharing, Downloader for X as download manager, Opera (as another web browser if you want to be able to save complete web pages into one MHT archive like with Internet Explorer), QtTube for downloading YouTube clips directly from the web pages (so you can play them back at any time with your media player), and perhaps some fun games like the ever-popular Frozen-Bubble (anyone can play this, and it’s addictive!).

As for those who use their computers for more complex tasks, well, I’ve covered multimedia a little, but whatever your needs may be, I’m sure there is an app out there for it. Just remember that not everything is always available in the repositories (the official list of Ubuntu packages), so you may need to do some more of what you’re already used to, being some Googling till you find what you’re looking for (some developers don’t bother to submit their programs to the repository, but offer their apps for download from their web sites).

And once you’ve done with installing some programs, go to your System menu in the top panel and into Preferences > Appearance and spend hours (I mean quite literally hours!) tweaking the look of your system like you’ve only ever dreamed of doing in Windows, or Mac OS for that matter. Ever seen pics of people’s systems where the file manager windows look like they’ve been made with polished wood, or everything is dark and looks like it’s moulded from black plastic? Want to be able to change the rather basic default icon theme to one with icons that look like they’ve been cut from glass? Or to initiate those stunning Compiz-Fusion desktop effects you saw YouTube clips of? Well, you can do so in the Appearance Preferences window. What about that cool cursor set you downloaded that mimics the cursors in your favourite game? No worries! And of course, you can save all the changes as your own custom theme(s), to change between at will.

Finally, here are a few more things for your consideration. In Ubuntu, you can access everything on your Windows drive/partition with no problems; in Windows, the system does not even recognise there is another drive/partition attached. And talking about drives, Ubuntu comes with the superior EXT3 (and now EXT4) filesystem; Windows has NTFS, notorious for file fragmentation and data corruption. With Ubuntu, new hardware technologies and interfaces (for example, eSATA) usually present no problem, since you get support for those with system updates; with Windows, you usually need the driver disc, and some basic support that should be part of the OS just isn’t there (like trying to get an eSATA drive recognised in XP). In Windows, the supplied firewall is notoriously useless, and even the decent commercial ones can let you down; in Ubuntu, built-in IP tables and the very structure of Linux mean you don’t even need to install a firewall (though you can of course choose to do so, and for that I recommend Firestarter). In Ubuntu, you might be amazed how much of your Windows software that you just can’t live without will run fine under Wine; in Windows, you’re dreaming if you think you’re going to get any Linux apps to work! In Ubuntu, if you have the knowledge, you can not only tinker with any program or part of the system, you can even package it for others’ use under your own name; in Windows, if you tinker with any part of Windows, even just on your own system, you are open to prosecution from Microsoft (and the same goes for those programs you paid for!). And last but not least: with Ubuntu, you get a system for free, and it is yours to do with as you please; with Windows, you pay hundreds of dollars just to lease their OS (um, read the license agreement if this has shocked you into disbelief)!

Hopefully this introduction to Ubuntu has been helpful, and maybe even inspired you to try it, or any other Linux distro for that matter (Ubuntu is a good place to start since it has such a huge community). I’ll be posting occasional Ubuntu tidbits and further (shorter) comparisons between it and Windows in my Ubuntu blog in the future. Sometimes the cool little tricks I find in Ubuntu are hard to contain, and when I find a major difference between it and Windows, well, that really just needs to be shared.

Putting the Fun back into Metal with Steel Panther

July 15, 2009

Only heathens don’t like at least one of the 753 different genres of Metal. Only sad-sack religious zombies and evil politician types don’t like to have fun. And Communists. And only those too in denial to admit man’s folly, and too weak to stomach the horrors of history we created, could deny that back in the ’80s, “Hair Metal” ruled the charts supreme.

If it horrifies you to think that we possibly face a comeback of “Hair Metal”, rest assured that bands like Steel Panther will keep you laughing through the tears. While actually playing some pretty decent music (as far as that genre goes), they are an absolute crackup to listen to. If you like comedy music like The Lonely Island’s “Jizz In My Pants”, you’ll love these guys, even if that ’80s style of melodic metal makes you retch. Complete with pouts and spandex, these guys are all about tradition, ie: Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll.

While songs like “Asian Hooker” are pretty much in your face, other songs from this Californian “Hair Metal” parody band have a much more subtle approach. Check out this snippet of their awesome love power-ballad “Community Property” and you’ll see what I mean. It seems to be the a classic soppy Metal love song worthy of the top of the charts back in the day, until you get to the last line (which explains the strange title). Here are the opening lines of that song, to give you a sample of their whacky lyrics:

I would give you the stars in the sky
But they´re too far away
If you were a hooker you´d know
I´d be happy to pay
If suddenly you were a guy
I´d be suddenly gay

Anyway, check out the clip – it’s just one chorus – and if you want to have a good laugh, listen to their 2009 album “Feel The Steel“. But any scaredy little pussies reading this – you know, those annoying easily-offended holier-than-thou cretins the rest of us want to strangle – please don’t listen to them if you’re likely to give yourself an aneurysm hearing “offensive” (that word is so subjective) material mostly related to the acquiring of female genitalia. It would break my little heart if something were to happen to your punk bitch ass. (Die! Die!! DIE!!!)

Steel Panther

Raise the Metal fist! OzzyFrank

How can I Support International Terrorism when it’s So Damned Trendy?!

July 15, 2009

International Terrorism is WAY too trendy these days. And because I never follow the herd, at least not blindly, I refuse to support it. Or at least I am not going to wear a Che Guevara t-shirt like everyone else. I did go looking for an Osama Bin Laden t-shirt, but all I got was somewhat horrified (and occasionally petrified) stares from the shop attendants. But ask for a Che Guevara top, and they’ll show me the 4 different varieties they stock. Go figure.

But I shouldn’t be surprised, as when I go up to people in the street wearing Che tops and give them a hearty “Woo hoo! Go International Terrorism!“, they usually look dumbfounded, even shocked. Same thing when I just quietly say, “Yeah, Che’s awesome! Osama’s my hero too“. Someone tried to tell me that Che was good, but Osama is bad, since Che was not in fact a “terrorist” but a “freedom fighter”. And apparently Osama has nothing like freedom to fight for, so is therefore a “terrorist”. Wow, some people really should get into professional debating (but pray they don’t get into politics!). And of course, no innocent people have ever been killed by Che and his mob, because he was like a modern-day Jesus with a beret. He didn’t help bring down a government using misery and bloodshed so much as help usher in a glorious new era of Communism. I am guessing the Pope is fast-tracking Che’s canonisation as I write this.

Anyway, I’ve been looking all around for anything but Che, like a nice Baader-Meinhof t-shirt or something, so now I’m gonna search online for some cool t-shirts of the most popular dictators. And then I might do some Googling to try and figure out what this is all about: why Che is cool, but Osama isn’t… why Cuban communism is awesome, but that in China and the former Soviet Union is less than so… and why people are so damned picky about the terrorists they support.

Asalam alaikum. OzzyFrank

Hello Mortals!

July 15, 2009

Hello. My name is Frank, and I am Human. And on top of that, I am a Human who is not a pervert. To prove this, I have started this blog, because – as we all know – in this day and age only mutated alien-hybrid freaks, and those of dubious moral character, don’t have at least one blog going. It is our God given right. And by “God” I mean, of course, the One True God – Cthulhu. And in case you’re religiously sensitive and are offended by that remark, like if you’re one of the plethora of Dagon worshippers out there: Come one, we’re splitting hairs here; I mean “The Great Old Ones”, the “Deep Ones”, etc, it’s all basically the same thing! Besides, while Dagon is horribly hideous and certainly worth worshipping, Cthulhu is bigger. But I digest, or regress, or whatever…

Anyway, as you can see I am just your average, ordinary person like you (and by “person” I stress this means “human” – I just want to be clear on that). I’ll be posting my thoughts on here fairly regularly, and occasionally they will even be lucid. But be warned: my starkly honest opinions and horrifyingly revealing insights into Life, the Universe and Everything will almost certainly be soul-crushing to the weak of spirit, so read at your own risk!

May a thousand llamas inherit your underpants. OzzyFrank