Hacking the Asus MiniBook – or Having some programmer fun.

I’ve been playing around with my new Asus miniBook and thought I’d share a few tips with you:

Tip 1:
This is basically a Linux build, so it must have a command line interface… and it does. Just press Ctrl-Alt-T to get it up.

Tip 2:
So if it’s Linux were is the interface then? It’s there you just need to install a few apps to see it. It will only use an additional 6 Megabytes, and you can always set it back later. Make sure you have internet access too – if you use a proxy server you’ll have to enter that before attempting this.. So: Open a command line (Tip 1) and type:

  • “sudo apt-get update” – To update your repositories of software to the latest ones
  • “sudo apt-get install kicker” – To get the first little app you’ll need, press ‘Y’ when asked.
  • “apt-get install ksmserver” – For the second little app, again press ‘Y’ when asked.
  • “exit” – to leave the screen.

Now if you press the power button you’ll see another option on the left, click this to boot into full mode. (Note, that it will only boot into full desktop the next time you start the machine, normally it will boot into the simple interface, this shouldn’t be a problem because it literally takes seconds to boot anyway)

Tip 3:
The camera. The built in camera is actually turned off by default to save battery power. Some software will realise this and turn it on automatically but others won’t and you’ll have to do it yourself. A quick way to turn the hardware on is with a quick text command, open a command line and type:

  • “sudo echo 1 > /proc/acpi/asus/camera”

Replace the ‘1’ with a ‘0’ (zero) to turn it back off.

Tip 4 :
Skype Video. There’s currently a beta version of Skype available for the Linux system, you’ll have to upgrade to this one to get video calls as the currently installed one doesn’t have it. You can get it from here:
select the xandros edition.

UPDATE: There is now a released version of Skype with all the video goodness already included. Get it from here:

When you’ve downloaded this installer (It should be in your “My Documents” folder) run it using the File Manager or through the command prompt. Now you can launch Skype from the same place as before. Don’t forget to turn on the camera (Tip 3) before you run it though.

If I think of any more I’ll post them here. If you have some of your own, please let me know.

Photo Websites – Photobucket, DropShots, Webshots and Flickr

I’ve been looking into photo websites so I can stick my photos up for the world to see. I decided the easiest way to pick was to try several out at once to see which ones I like.

I’ve been using Webshots for some years but not quite happy with it, so I decided to test these three Photo Websites (in alphabetical order):

  • DropShots
  • Flickr
  • PhotoBucket

To compare each I signed up for a free account, and therefore the information here is based on the free account. You can see each of my accounts here:

My Favourite
In the end I felt Flickr was the one for me. I’ve detailed why below.

Flick is one of the most popular photo websites and is populated by people who really take photos seriously. The free account gives you a good feel for all the functionality the payfor account does, unfortunately the free account restricts the amount of data you can upload per month to just 100 Mb – a visit to the local zoo would soon use this up – so this makes the free account mostly unusable, photobucket has the best free account, if you don’t mind the speed and all the ads.

Flickr does have some nice features though. You can tag your photos with words but or by position on the Yahoo world map (called “Geo tagging”) and all with a rather nice and simple drag and drop interface making it easy to organiseyour photos (none of the other websites are this easy). You can also divide you photos in to numerous sets (which are like folders) and the same photos can be placed in more than one set – for example: Your zoo outing could be one set with the inevitable animal shots also being dropped into your “Wildlife” set too – (You only get a total of three sets in the free account). There’s also collections, which Flickr says are like “Sets of sets but better than that” but these aren’t available in the free account. Basically, it allows you to collect together groups of related sets, and groups of other collections. (This again is unique on Flickr, the other websites only have single sets.)

The web upload is pretty basic with a few text boxes which is a shame as you could feasibly use this a lot if you upload on holiday. (PhotoBucket excels here, with easily the best online uploader – although it technically it downloads and runs a program inside your browser) The installed version Flickr’s upload program is quick and simple to use, very similar to all the other websites.

One thing that Flickr excels in is its great API – this, together with its many uses, means that many applications, both online and off, have been created to use your photos – check out places like FaceBook or download a screensaver for your computer. It also means you can write you own unique photo app and from experience they have made it very straight forward.

One negative is it’s lack of video, this goes against all the other websites. I think this is mostly due to them trying to concentrate on the Photos and not wanting to become another YouTube, it would be good to store my holiday videos right next to my holiday photos. (Note however, that Flickr has said it will soon be doing this… I’ll update when know)

Here’s a quick list of the good and bad points for each.

Good: Simple unique timeline interface, quick, ad free, video, drag drop interface.
Bad: Basic features, single sets, free account limited, no api.
Recommend: For beginners or people not to confident with photo websites.

Good: Multiple sets, Installed upload, geo tagging, api, drag drop interface
Bad: No video, online upload, free account useless.
Recommend: For people series about photos, people who what to do a lot with their photos, programmers and people with a fascination with categorising everything.

Good: Free account unlimited photos, video, geo tagging, online upload excellent
Bad Slow, Full of ads, single sets, no api.
Recommend: For people who don’t want to pay anything and just want to show them off but have a ton of photos.

Good: Free account useful, video, upload useful. Good screensaver/desktop changer
Bad: A few adverts, single sets, no open api.
Recommend: For people who want a free account but don’t like tons of adverts. Also has a very nice screensaver program.

Let me know…

… which ones you like, hate, recommend and stay clear off.

Top 10 developer tools or "What every developer should have installed and bookmarked"

I never seem to program enough at work and as such I’ve needed to collect a whole toolkit full of apps to help me with all the other things developers seem to have to do.

So here’s a list of some of the type of apps that you’ll want to get hold of, these should really help you with all those none programmer tasks.

Here’s the list every good developer should not be without, in not particular order:

  • File and folder comparer
  • Source control
  • Archiver
  • Browser (and search engine)
  • Office Suite
  • Paint Package
  • Text file reader
  • Calculator
  • FTP Client
  • Bug tracker

And here’s some quick recommendations:

File and folder comparer
Essential when you’re not quite sure which version of your program is the newest, or which file is missing from a long list.

I’d recommend: Beyond Compare. I find it to be an excellent comparison tool which can be extended to include image comparison and others. It’s one of the few pieces of Software I don’t mind purchasing – remember to also download some of the enhancements like the image comparer. You could also try WinMerge, or TortoiseMerge.

Source Control
Not just for your application creations, source control can be used to keep track of all files. Keep track of your documentation or website, or keep a log of all the changes you’ve done in the novel you keep trying to write.

I’d Recommend: Subversion. A free open source’ source control, very useable and out performs many expensive packages you might have. I’d also recommend TortoiseSVN which complements Subversion nicely. You could also try SourceSafe (if you like punishment) or Perforce.

Transporting files is always easier when they are zipped up, and software always needs backing up and the easiest way to do both of these and save upload times and disk space is to archive them.

I’d recommend: IZArc. It opens up lots of archive formats, even allowing direct editing of things like Google Gadgets. It also allows zipping up with the 7z format, my archive format of choice (much better compression than zip and open standard). You could also try WinZip or 7Zip.

Browser (and search engine)
Findng how to copy a file or reorder an array has never been easier. Just open your browser and type in the questions.

I’d recommend: Firefox. It’s a great browser which can be enhanced just about anyway you want. (Try the FireBug extension, and see FTP below). You could also try Opera, or Internet Explorer.

Office Suite
At some point you’ll need to write some documentation, either before during or after any project you’re working on. And you know you’ll have to create a report in a spreadsheet, maybe with some nice graphs that don’t mean much but look pretty.

I’d recommend: OpenOffice. It does everything you’ll need and comes to you free of charge. It contains the full suite of apps you would expect in an office collection. You could also try StarOffice (Although almost identical) or Microsoft Office.

Paint Package
At some point you’ll need to include a picture or too in your app, but you can pretty much guarantee that !. It will be the wrong size and 2. It will be the wrong format. In these cases you’ll be glad you’ve got your own tools to sort them out quickly avoiding another game of email tennis.

I’d recommend: Paint.Net. This was a hard one to decide as actually Paint that comes with windows usually does the job well enough with out anything else. However, occasionally you’ll want to do a bit more than just change Size and Format, and in these cases you’ll want something a little more powerful. You might also like Paint (as previously stated) or GIMP (Which I use to manipulate my photos but don’t use much at work)

Text file reader
Files are either binary or text, if it’s text then you’ll need a good app to edit the numerous types there is (e.g. txt, javascript, ini, bat, xml, cpp, html).

I’d recomment: Notepad++. It’s a tab based edited, but with all the usual enhancements you’d expect like drag and dropping of text and auto formatting of different programming languages. You could also try, Notepad2(which is actually based on the same engine ans notepad++, but slightly different interface) or WordPad (Free with Windows)

Programming is adding up, that’s all it really is in the end. If you can’t do Maths then don’t bother trying programming. However, just because you can add up doesn’t mean you want to be working everything out in your head…

I’d recommmend: Casio FX 85 ES. Yes that’s a real calculator! You can’t beat a really calculator sitting on your desk for ease of access and use. However, if you really need a software one then the free microsoft one is pretty much all you’ll need, it’s got a useful conversion of hexadecimal, binary and decimal (Though I don’t know why anyone outside of programming land would want that). There’s a google gadget scientific calculator you could also try.

FTP Client
A good ftp client can save you a lot of trouble and there’s no doubt you’ll have to send someone a couple of files, or upload to a web location, or download a new patch for the website you’re looking after.

I’d recommend: FireFTP. It’s actually an add on to the Firefox browser. It does the job as good as any other ftp client I’ve used. SmartFTP is rather good although not free and you could also FileZilla.

Bug tracker
And finally. It may not be the most interesting item on here, but it sure helps when you’re creating software, you’ll know you’ll need one eventually as no one’s perfect, and certainly not any ones code.

I’d recommend: Bugzilla. It’s used by thousands of projects because it’s easy to use and very accessible. You could also try Mantis or (if your rich, have a huge tester team and someone to keep it all running) TestDirector.

And that’s the lot
I’ve only recommend the ones that I have used quite considerably. I’m quite picky about the software I use and usually end up trying a dozen different apps to find the right one. However, not doubt your tastes will be slightly different, so I’ve also recommend some of my second choices.

Let me know…
…your favourites and your essential tools.

Visual .Net's most useful enhancement.

Just a quick one. And really simple.

If you’re like me you’ll always be routing through the folder structures to fin where the project is you’re currently working on. Well no more, this is something I added in to my Visual Studio back in the old ages, but it’s one of the first things I do when I install a new version.

Go to the Tools menu and select “External Tools…”, then set up a new item as below:

If you can’t see the image: Set Title to “Project location” (or whatever you like), set Command to “Explorer.exe” and Set arguments to “$(ProjectDir)” (That’s a build in variable that stores the position of you project folder – try the arrow button at the end for other locations)

And that’s it. Just click it when you need to get to your files.

Top 8 exciting software (or "A list of software programmers want to work on")

Here’s a collection of some of the best (non-secret!) software projects out there at the moment. Some are available for you to play with right now and I’ve attached links to these.

Photo manipulation to 3D
A pretty slick demonstration of what we can expect to see in the near future. 3D world objects created from 2D photos:

There is a great demo of this software using photos from the Space Shuttle here:

You will have to install an early version of the software (and you can only use Internet Explorer to see it.). Once it is installed you’ll find some buttons in the top right. Make sure you click the “Fly around” and similarity view, as well as just clicking on the main window.

They know what you are drawing
This is a simple demonstration of what could be a powerful tool for all kinds of projects. Just draw your objects on the page (or “touch wall”, see below) and the software knows just how they will interact. This one shows the power of gravity on a few doodles:

There is no demo for this yet, but keep watching the “Assist Sketch Understanding System and Operation” project at MIT for more.

Touch is the new click
Using the mouse is old hat, what you should be doing is using your fingers, and yes, that does mean more than one.

Jeff Han” is one of the most famous tech guys out there and has really made the multi touch screen a reality. Check out his presentation at TED below.

You may have seen this technology on some of the very latest mobile phones, the iPhone being one of the more well known.

Jeff has now started his own business around the “touch wall” which is an obvious enhancement to the touch screen:

Objects and computers talk
The next step is to get all objects to communicate seamlessly with the computer, again all by touch. Microsoft bought out “The Surface” based on some of the work for multitouch, but enhanced with new sensors to recognise all kinds of real objects.

The concept isn’t really new (and appears a little buggy in places), but it has come together nicely in “The Surface” and looks like it is pretty usable. It is currently being sold to some commercial outlets, so expect to see it at your local restaurant or bar or where ever there is a table!

Here is a similar idea but with objects storing different applications. Each of them is able to interacting with another:

Desktops get real and funky
Here’s a cool idea for making the normal desktop much more intuitive. First make it look 3D, then make all the files act like paper might on a real desktop, like bumping in to each other or stacking up:

There is no demo of this yet but there are similar projects around if you would like an example, just don’t expect the functionality of BumpTop just yet.

And here is a demonstration of a really funky desktop, which I should also add is very usable. The desktop is courtesy of Ubuntu and Compiz:

I’ve used this program at home and you can get it by downloading the latest version of the operating system Ubuntu and then switching on some of the advanced Compiz features. You can find more information about it at the Compiz website here:

All of the above
Now I don’t know about you but a lot of these systems borrow from each other and it is not hard to imagine all these technologies joining forces to create one awesome computer system – That, my friends, is called seeing the future!

Other Useful links
BumpTop: www.bumptop.com
TED: www.ted.com
Ubuntu: www.ubuntu.com

Let me know…
… what you think of these projects and what exciting projects you’ve come across too.

Out of the office

On the request of my company, I’ve been taking a course in C#. And actually, I’ve quite enjoyed it. The full course title was: “Developing Applications with the .NET Framework using C#” – rather catchy, no? I went with a company called QA and I can highly recommend them, at least for the course I was on anyway.

The course taught, .Net (forms applications), ASP.Net (web forms applications) and ADO.NET (database driven applications). It was quite interesting and enjoyable, and I left that little bit more knowledgeable. The course can be found here, and just so you know, I went to Swindon QA.

(I wouldn’t recommend driving there every morning from Oxford though! It was taking me 1.5 hours to drive the 30 miles to Swindon… I hate traffic… especially when its dark and you can hardly see the road for the glare of the on coming traffic… but that’s another story…)

Now I’ve got my certificate of completion I think I’m virtually guaranteed a pay rise when I get back to work on Monday… Not. (Which is actually tomorrow – the weekend goes so quickly….) But at least I’ll be working on some new stuff when I get back to work, I can hardly wait…

#flag: course, QA, link, works