South Birmingham Lug and other things


Last Thursday (16th November) I attended a meeting of the South Birmingam Linux User Group (SBLUG) held at their usual venue of the School of Computer Science at Birmingham University.

The meeting was arranged as a couple of workshop sessions one covering general Linux questions relating to installations and kernel modules and the other relating to the wider issue of free culture in particular free, as in freedom, films and music.

The meeting was supposed to have a number of these sessions going on simultaneously so we could split into small groups and have half an hour with each workshop leader but this fell through in the run up to the event.

Despite being hastily re-arranged to a more ad-hoc format the meeting was enjoyable, there about 10 of us altogether. The initial session, led by Tim Lewis, looked at installing kernel modules and answered a couple of questions from the floor. Quite early on there was a brief exposition on the merits of a monolithic or micro kernel and I did wonder if a complete noob to Linux had walked in at that point he/she may have well walked straight out again. Aside from that though the session was very practically focused.

The second session was lead by Zeth Green and he played a couple of excerpts of open source films namely “Elephants Dream” and StarWreck both of these seemed to have very high production values and I’ll certainly be taking a proper look at them at some point. Zeth also had a large number of Creative Commons or other open source music but wasn’t able to play any due to technical difficulties. He did offer to download songs to people’s MP3 players but had some trouble getting IPods recognised over FireWire etc.

All in all it was an enjoyable evening though perhaps it felt a little University-centric as the two presenters both worked at the university and at least 4 of the other attendees were students there. I shall look forward to other meetings of the lug and hope to be able to become more active in it in the future. I also hope to be able to join the folks at the pub after the meetings next time. (Though only for a soft drink of course.)

TT280 Web Design Course

I haven’t posted anything about my experiences of doing tt280 using Open Source software since my initial post. I guess mostly because after my initial set up I have not encountered any difficulties in using Open Source tools for the job. Of course I am “required” to test how pages look in Internet Explorer but aside from that I haven’t come across any issues that stopped me from using Open Source.

What has been noticeable has been a general absence of any recognition of Linux based systems using web browsers and any issues those users may have when visiting a website. The set book, Principles of Web Design by Joel Sklar makes reference to Macs a couple of times and mentions Unix systems once in relation to default fonts likely to be available but that is mostly it.

My final report has to be submitted as a Word document or an rtf. I’ll be writing it in Open Office but whether I then choose to submit it as .doc or .rtf will depend on how it looks when opened in Microsoft Word. I don’t think it would be unreasonable for them to accept PDF as well.

Change of Blogging Style

In previous posts I have tended to make hyperlinks out of lots of different terms and phrases I have used that have any obvious websites associated with them. Even though this is easy to do in wordpress it does slow down the time taken to complete a post. Therefore I have decided only to link to sites when they relate to individuals or open source projects or perhaps less common technical terms. I won’t be linking for obvious items like Ipod, MP3 or Microsoft.

Hopefully this will mean I am more likely to post more often. (That’s a good thing right?)


Editors, validators, samba shares and needless exes

Well it’s a week and a bit in to the tt280 web design course and I am enjoying it and finding doing it on Linux is not too hard so far. Below are a few items I’ve had to deal with or useful things I have found so far.

First Class Conferencing

The course uses a series of conferences in the OUs online system called FirstClass. There is a web front end and for posting a quick message or reading through the site it is ok but to really participate and be able to search and change how you view things you really need the Windows or Mac client. I’ve found the Windows version runs fine in my VMWare virtual PC. I hope they OU starts rolling out its moodle project soon though.
BlueFish HTML Editor

I’ve chosen BlueFish as the HTML editor I am going to use. I needed something that gave me a bit more help than just vi, kate or kwrite ( i.e. syntax highlighting ) but that would still let me get at the base XHTML tags. I really like the BlueFish interface and it’s light and quick to use. It also looks like you can do an awful lot more with it that the stuff I’ll be doing.

Offline Validation

The course stresses the need to have good quality XHTML that conforms to standards and suggests use of the W3C validator to check your pages but the site can be quite slow. So I was very pleased to find you can install a version of the validator on your own machine to run under Apache. These instructions made it really easy and quick to set up.

Samba Shares and Passwords

I wanted a simple way to keep all my files in one place but still be able to access them from the VMWare virtual PC so I decided to use Samba to share a folder on my host Linux system. I found this hard work with the Shares option from the KDE System Settings. It’s not intuitive at all and it seemed I couldn’t add my own user as a username to access the share. I added it by hand but then the virtual PC kept prompting for a password and username and regardless of the various combinations I could not get access.

A bit of googling and I discovered that I needed to set a Samba password using the smbpasswd -L command. Doing “smbpasswd -L simon” allowed me to set a password for the user simon and now I can use that to map a drive on my virtual PC to the shared folder on my Linux host.

I really must look into Samba properly one day.

Needles Self-Contained Animations

On the whole completing the course so far has been quite easy with Linux but there was one animation provided by the OU that showed the exchange of messages over HTTP and this was a self-contained exe so I could only run it on the virtual PC. The animation itself was very basic and could certainly have been done as a movie to watch in some format or at worst as an embedded flash movie.

Warriors of the Net

As a quick refresher of how the Internet works the course asks us to watch the movie Warriors of the Net . I thought it was really cool and would recommend it to any one who wants a quick overview of the net and TCP/IP . Very entertaining.

Open Source on Open University Course

I’ve just renewed my acquaintance with the Open University by starting a course in web design. The course is TT280 .
The course has various elements that require the use of a PC that can run Windows which although understandable is kind of ironic given the nature of the web and the name of the university.

I am endeavouring as far a possible to use my (K)ubuntu system to complete the course and thought it would be of interest to note what things I had to do to be able to use FLOSS for the course and where I had to use some proprietary bits. I hope to be able to collate all this information at the end of the course (12 weeks away ) and perhaps present it to the OU so they could post it as a guide for other people who want to try the course using a Linux based system.

For those things that I definitely need a Windows system for I will be using VMWare Server and running a legal copy of Windows XP in that. I installed the VMWare server using the instructions from here.