Girl Talk

I’m going to see Girl Talk perform tomorrow night in Raleigh! I can’t wait! I saw him live at Moogfest 2010 and the show was amazing!

Unfortunately I didn’t get any great close up pictures from Moogfest of Girl Talk, but here are some of the better ones that I have from his previous performance and similar to what I hope to get at the concert tomorrow!

Hopefully this time we can get a little closer, but I’m guessing the show will be very similar to the last one we saw. You should checkout Girl Talk’s latest album called All Day if you haven’t already!

Props to a friend, @Coxy, who is going to see Sleigh Bells perform tonight! I saw them briefly at Moogfest and they were great!

How Little I Use Windows

Here’s a funny screenshot that I took earlier today that shows how little I actually use Windows these days.

Its funny to me, because for a while now I’ve only booted up in Windows to manually run updates and quick virus checks with the occasional Steam gaming session.

I run updates and scans almost religiously, so I know that October 3, 2010 was the last time that I even used this partition. Thats nearly 4 months of booting only in Linux (Ubuntu and Fedora) on my Desktop.

I do, however, use Mac OS X now on my new MacBook though. I’ve still not gotten around to installing Ubuntu on it, but maybe one day I’ll stop being lazy and just give it a spin.

I’ve known for a while that I could finally cut the cord from Windows, but this just officially confirmed it for me. That said, I won’t soon be giving up my free (via School) copy of Windows 7 Professional. πŸ˜€

How to setup and use Tor Anonymity in Ubuntu

Just before the new year, I saw a news article by Wired that highlighted flaws found in the Tor Anonymity Network. I had never used Tor, but I knew what it was, the benefits it could provide, and a bit about how it worked.

With a little free time on my hands I decided to set it up and see what all the fuss was about. At the time I was installing the Tor components in OS X, but I was curious about installing it in Ubuntu and the resources and instructions that I came across were not as straight forward as they could have been. That is where this post comes it, to provide a simple step by step guide with no fuss.

What is Tor?

This is how Wikipedia explains Tor:

Tor is a system intended to enable online anonymity, composed of client software and a network of servers which can hide information about users’ locations and other factors which might identify them. Use of this system makes it more difficult to trace internet traffic to the user, including visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages, and other communication forms. It is intended to protect users’ personal freedom, privacy, and ability to conduct confidential business, by keeping their internet activities from being monitored.

What does it look like?

Tor itself doesn’t have a graphical user interface (GUI), but there is an application known as Vidalia which provides a nice and simple user interface for controlling all of your Tor needs.

When installing Tor in Ubuntu, you will need to install 3 components: Tor, Polipo, and Vidalia. Tor and Vidalia should now be obvious to you (since I’ve explained that Vidalia provides a GUI to Tor).

Again, according to Wikipedia here is what Polipo is:

Polipo is a fast and lightweight, forwarding and caching proxy server, SOCKS proxy and computer software daemon.

Install Tor in Ubuntu

This is really quite simple and I could easily provide a simple bash script to automate all of this for you, but that would mean that I would have to maintain it and that you wouldn’t learn anything. πŸ˜‰

For simplicity, I will write this guide assuming you are using Ubuntu 10.10, aka Maverick. If you’re using a different version, make sure you change the necessary bits below.

  1. Open “Software Sources,” select the “Other Software” tab, click the “Add” button at the bottom and paste the following:deb http://deb.torproject.org/torproject.org maverick mainClick “Add Source,” then click Close. When it asks if you want to Reload, click yes and ignore any errors for now.
  2. Open a Terminal and add the Tor Repository keys and update Apt:gpg –keyserver keys.gnupg.net –recv 886DDD89
    gpg –export A3C4F0F979CAA22CDBA8F512EE8CBC9E886DDD89 | sudo apt-key add –
    sudo apt-get update
  3. Install Tor, Polipo, and Vidalia:sudo apt-get install tor tor-geoipdb polipo vidalia -yWhen prompted during the installation of Vidalia, select the option to permanently replace (or however it is worded).
  4. Download a pre-made config file for Polipo:wget https://gitweb.torproject.org/torbrowser.git/blob_plain/HEAD:/build-scripts/config/polipo.conf
    sudo mv /etc/polipo/config /etc/polipo/config.bak
    sudo mv polipo.conf /etc/polipo/config
  5. Now Stop and Restart both Tor and Polipo for safe measure:sudo /etc/init.d/tor stop
    sudo /etc/init.d/polipo stop
    sudo /etc/init.d/polipo start
    Open the application Vidalia when you would like to connect to the Tor network. If you want it on by default, you can always set Vidalia to autostart with your computer.
  6. All thats left is to configure your Applications to use the Tor proxies! If you don’t adjust the network settings of your applications to use the Tor proxy settings then you’re not using Tor at all. You can confirm that Tor is indeed working by visiting the Tor detector page.

If you run into issues for any reason, check back through the steps listed above. If that still doesn’t fix them, you might check the Community Ubuntu Documentation on Tor page or the official Tor for Linux/BSD/Unix page.

Configuring applications to use the Tor proxies

There are 2 types of configurations for Tor:

  1. HTTP or HTTPS – Typically used for web browsers such as Opera, Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, etc.Host: 127.0.0.1
    Port: 8118
  2. Sockets – Typcially used for instant messaging applications such as Trillian, Digsby, MSN, AOL, Empathy, Pidgin, etc.Host: 127.0.0.1
    Port: 9050

Nearly any application that allows you to adjust network settings by using proxies can make use of the Tor Anonymity Network. Configuring your application of choice is a matter of selection to use HTTP or Sockets.

If you’re unsure, use trial and error. πŸ˜‰

A great note that I came across on the Community Ubuntu Documentation page for Tor that I think everyone should read carefully before using Tor is as follows:

What’s the use of having Tor and Privoxy setup without enabling your new anonymous proxy in your common web applications? At this time Tor only supports HTTP and HTTPS traffic, but still recommends using Tor in your browser’s proxy settings for all protocols as a hidden image link can give away your IP address if linked to an image on an FTP site.

Conclusion

Hopefully by this point you’ve successfully configured Tor for all of your anonymity needs. Will Tor works great, it only works great if you’ve configured it correctly.

Some Tor connections may be slower than others. If you’re experiencing a connection that is simply too slow for your needs or if you need a new ip address so you can get that file from RapidShare without having to wait for an hour, simply open Vidalia Control Panel and click “Use a New Identity.”

Remember that Tor can be used for Windows and Mac, and is more straightforward to install for them as well.

While there have been a few flaws exposed, as mentioned before, I would tend to think the risk of being identified over Tor is very low since the attacks would have to occur on the same network that you’re connected to. I typically only use Tor at public internet access points (which is where these attacks would be most likely to occur), but it can be very handy in many situations and will likely continue to be on the list of my apps to install for a long long time.

Opera 11 in OS X

This is a post that I started a couple of months ago, but finally just got around to revising (since Opera 11 has since been released) and finishing. Hopefully its all in tact. πŸ˜‰

Being fairly new to Mac OS X, I was excited to install Opera and see how it compares to the default browser Safari as well as others such as Firefox and Google Chrome in terms usability and appearance.

While I hadn’t used Mac OS much since version 9 and then briefly OS X (with my old iBook before it died), I did remember that Opera didn’t exactly have the most elegant user interface. Nor did most other third party web browsers that I tested at the time. Then again, OS X wasn’t as refined then as it is now either. Keep in mind, these are my opinions and you are free to have your own. πŸ˜‰

I was happy to find that Opera seems to have the most natural feeling user interface when compared to Firefox and Google Chrome, using Safari as the standard since most die-hard Mac users are likely familiar with it the most.

While I didn’t capture Safari in a view where the tabs are visible, the image above is a decent comparison of the browsers’ default address bars and navigation buttons.

As you can see, the buttons, address box and search box in Opera mimic those found in Safari quite well and are not much of a change at all for any ex-Safari user. The tabs used in Opera are also very similar to those found in Safari (pictured below), with the most significant exception being that they are flipped vertically and placed above the address bar (in Opera) rather than below (like in Safari).

While some people may prefer Firefox or Google Chrome over both Opera and Safari, the point remains that their designs are inconsistent with the overall look and feel of the OS in general. That’s not to say that Opera doesn’t have some inconsistencies of its own. There are a few of them, but most of what I’ve found are minor detail tweaks that are needed to perfect the skin.

Just to mention a few things that are stand out to me, the “New tab” icon size should be decreased slightly, retaining the Opera style while removing the unnecessary bold touch. If you compare this button to the same button found in Safari you’ll notice that Opera’s approach is a bit too bold and that changing this makes it more elegant looking (in my opinion of course).

The borders for the navigation buttons, address box and search box should all be slightly adjusted to match the colors used for these in Safari. There are slight inconsistencies among these, with disabled button borders being darker than enabled button borders.

Another inconsistency with Opera is that text boxes in the address bar are not highlighted with a blue glowing border when they are focused…as they are in Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. Its difficult for me to see if this is advantageous or simply an oversight, however, the “pro-integration” side of me certainly thinks this should be fixed to match the behavior of other browsers in OS X.

Various icons throughout the user interface need to be desaturated to remove color for consistency. An example of this can be found in the address box with the drop down icon. If you look close, the drop down icon is actually blue whereas other similar icons, like the drop down icon in the search box, are gray scaled. This is also a bug I’ve seen in the Windows and Linux skins, but the OS that demands attention to detail is likely the one that this is most noticeable on.

The Speed Dial page, though it was “invented” before the other spin-offs, now uses a darker background that makes it feel a bit more familiar to Safari’s implementation. I find this to add to the integration effect, whereas previous Speed Dial background images felt out of place. On the other hand, Opera doesn’t boast comparatively appealing 3D thumbnails or features to those found in Safari. Instead, the Opera Speed Dial packs in a redundant search box and no immediate method of searching through your history (visually at that!) or displaying your top visited sites automatically.

With a default Speed Dial tab open, knowingly or not, you’re looking at three different ways of searching the Internet…all with the same available list of search engines. You can search from the address bar by simply prepending your search terms with a specific search engine “keyword”, from the dedicated search box in the address box or from the additional search box in the Speed Dial. If I had any influence on this design, I would remove both dedicated search boxes and make the address box smarter and more visually suggestive of performing a search when it is in use.

While I’m suggesting changes to the Speed Dial tab, why not take advantage of Opera’s ability to generate thumbnails of pages to give the user a visual of the pages they are searching through just like Safari is capable of? With the ability to generate these thumbnails already, there is no reason why Opera shouldn’t implement a similarly more appealing visual search of previously visited sites.

As I said before, all browsers have their problems with UI design and integration, especially in Mac OS X. Of the available browsers for this platform, the one with the most features and the best OS X integration is far and away Opera 11. The performance improvement isn’t bad either, with my test results showing Opera 11 beating out Safari 5.0.3 easily in the SunSpider benchmark. You can take my opinions with a grain of salt if you wish, but you should undoubtedly give Opera 11 a spin if you haven’t already!

Windicators

Just a quick thought about windicators that were proposed by Mark Shuttleworth back in May 2010 and similarities to Mac OS X.

It seems that nearly everyone agrees that Windicators in Ubuntu is a bad idea. Not only will they add a little confusion to the Ubuntu learning curve, but they will also just add clutter to the title bar. That being said, I for one would like to see them implemented as long as there is an option to enable/disable them freely.

Over the past year or so, Ubuntu has received a great deal of criticism regarding the placement of the window controls for close, minimize and maximize. If you’ve not kept up with this, basically the controls moved from the right side of the title bar (like in Windows) to the left side of the title bar (like in Mac OS X). I still see complaints about this every other day (even though there are ways to change this already posted throughout the net).

With many people accusing Ubuntu of simply trying to look like Mac OS X, I wasn’t as quick to point fingers and agree. I like to hold judgment on products at least until they are completed or deemed “stable”. Lately, however, its beginning to be a chore to deny this “OS X”-like transition with the changes that are coming in Ubuntu 11.04.

Two major changes in Ubuntu 11.04 include:

  • a new panel that seems more like a hybrid between the new Windows 7 taskbar and the Mac OS X Dock.
  • application menus and application titles in the top panel.

These new changes, paired with the window controls on the left and indicator style menus in the top panel give Ubuntu 11.04 an eerily similar appearance to OS X. Not to mention the windicators (as this post started out talking about)..

If you visit a secure web address in Safari, a lock icon appears in the upper right corner of the title bar to indicate a secure page. I’d not noticed this before, being an Opera fanatic and all, so I’m unable to tell who was first: the idea of Windicators or this feature in Safari.

Safari seems to pull this off well and the icon isn’t in my way at all. This is one reason why I would like to see them appear in Ubuntu eventually, but only if they can easily be disabled and they are implemented correctly.

Last that I heard, Windicators were put on the back burner to let more important features reach the public first (as they should be). Lets just hope that if Ubuntu continues to follow a close path to Mac OS X that they follow a better path. πŸ˜€

What do you think about the similarities? Too similar? Not similar enough? Not similar at all? Or you don’t care? πŸ˜€

Interesting Unity Mockup

As usual, when Ubuntu starts the developmental process on the next best ‘buntu I’m quick to begin testing and eagerly lurking in the forums and launchpad bugs.

The next version of Ubuntu is currently, as you may already know, undergoing some fairly drastic interface changes. Ubuntu will be abandoning the use of the traditional GNOME panels and instead use an improved version of their Unity interface.

Lurking through several bugs on launchpad, I stumbled across an interesting one with one interesting mockup in particular.

While its just a suggestion mockup, I think it actually looks rather slick. I’m not saying its the best approach, but certainly one worth noting! According to a follow-up comment, this design is similar to what Gnome Shell is doing, but I’ve not yet looked into Gnome Shell so I can’t confirm this. Either way, its a smooth approach.

Currently Unity doesn’t have a method of letting you know which application’s menu its showing in the top panel. There is an indicator icon in the side dock/panel, but as best I can tell they are planning to add the app name to the top panel similar to the way Mac OS X handles this. Maybe it will be in some Unity updates tomorrow!

UbuntuForums.org Site Makeover via UserJS

A while back there was a neat little styling script being passed around that tuned the Ubuntu Forums to match the new official designs a little more closely. While its not official and no where near a perfect solution, it does dramatically improve the appearance of the forums overall.

Before

After

To use this, all you have to do is download and install the Stylesheet or UserJS file and configure it in your browser! I’m using the UserJS version, but you may prefer the other. Either way, enjoy!

Get Steam Specials via RSS Feed

This is just a little hack I’ve used so I can subscribe to the “Specials” that are periodically released and published on the Steam website.

If you’re interested in letting your Feed client simplify your life by bringing the Steam updates directly to you then I suggest you subscribe to the feed that I’ve setup (via a great free service call Feed For Free).

The Steam News – Specials feed:

http://feed43.com/4758788726706067.xml

The Steam News – Announcements feed:

http://feed43.com/7724635415454743.xml

When I searched for a feed for these Specials I came across one forum post after another asking the same thing. We all know how annoying that can be, so to remedy the situation I decided to post a solution myself. πŸ˜‰

As you can see below, these pages don’t have feeds of their own, but the very awesome Feed For Free site will let you pull the updates straight into your feed reader with ease. See my Google Reader pictured below.

Macbuntu, Part 3

I’ve finally gotten around to contacting the Macbuntu maintainer about some of my changes and modifications and have now been granted administrative access to the project!

Most of the changes I’m making are in the details, as most of the features are already available. I’ve contributed plenty of code and images to make Docky appear nearly identical to the Dock in OS X and even made the Docky bar image in Inkscape myself. πŸ˜€

I’ve contributed an Opera skin, that I mentioned in my last post, but it is still very unfinished. Over all it looks well, but there are several areas that need to be corrected and the skin itself needs to be slimmed down a bit.

The Docky icons zoom by default, though its not an OS X default setting to the best of my knowledge. It can very easily be toggled on or off from the Docky settings window.

I’ve removed the Docky settings icon that was seen in previous screenshots so that the Nautilus application launcher (Finder icon) is the first item in Docky as it is in OS X. You can still access Docky settings by right-clicking the separator on Docky between the Trash icon and the others.

I’ve also written a very very simple application that toggles the Widget layer, which is powered by Compiz, on and is handily disguised by the Dashboard icon…meaning it reveals the widgets. As of writing this, there are no default widgets installed.

Eventually I plan to work in Screenlets and preinstall a few default ones as you would find in OS X, but I’m still waiting to make sure that my tiny tool works pre-compiled on other computers (is 32/64 bit versions). πŸ˜‰

A lot of people are impressed with Compiz’s ability to render your workspaces in a Cube, Sphere or Cylinder. I’m pretty impressed with this feature myself, but having used it for a long time in the past I’ve found that I usually end up just switching workspaces with the keyboard and not paying much attention to the fancy cube in all of its transparent glory.

Honestly, this is one thing that should appeal to even OS X users as it looks cool and can give you a good quick visual of your windows. However, in Mac OS X 10.7 there will be a feature for Mac users that gives them a quick look at all of their activities and may possibly pass this Cube design right on by. Who knows? πŸ˜›

One feature that you couldn’t see in the first Cube screenshot was the 3D window aspects and stacking. This is a neat feature and helps make the Cube look a little less boring. Especially when you can see how busy, or possibly bored, you are!

As always, proof that this is indeed Ubuntu Linux. πŸ˜‰

Several other changes that I’ve contributed to this project include:

  • New transparency for the Top Gnome-Panel and all Menus
  • Alpha blurring for Docky
  • Added folders to Docky for the Applications, Documents, Downloads and Dropbox folders (where relavent)
  • Added detection for other applications and add them to Docky upon installation
  • Re-arranged several Docky launchers
  • Brand new Docky theme — Macbuntu
  • Reset the default wallpaper to the Snow LeopardΒ  wallpaper (was the Leopard wallpaper)
  • Changed the clock format the match OS X’s clock (with tips from OMG! Ubuntu)
  • Added setting to ensure that people with multiple monitors see the workspace cube as One big cube instead of each screen rotating separately.
  • Default the screensaver to blank in case its already set to something like Gnome Feet, but it would be neat to have an elegant OS X screensaver!
  • Various other bug fixes, minor details and cleanups.

Its great to see a project come together, but its even nicer to have the ability to speed it up. πŸ˜€

A few ideas that I’ve got include pre-installing Gloobus for a feature that mimics “Quick Look,” but until I find a good way to install this and until I can work out the bugs with this tool myself, it won’t be getting any prime time in Macbuntu.

The Docky Stacks feature that was covered at OMG! Ubuntu is also on the map, but is currently far too unstable to be included. I’ve been testing it out for a few days, but it consistently crashes Docky and ceases to function. When I come across a stable ppa for this tool, it will be adding to Macbuntu in a hurry!

Obviously there are several areas that I/we won’t be able to mimic thoroughly. Mac OS X is a great operating system and has a great deal of “simplicity” worked into it by design, somethings that just aren’t possible by “skinning” Ubuntu Linux.

If you have any suggests that are actually feasible, I’d love to here them! The biggest area that I’d like to work on is the GTK theme and get the theme’s quality up tremendously. I’ve had no part in the GTK theme (originally known as GTK Leopard) thus far, and its actually a great piece of work, but it still has a long way to go before being smooth and finished.

One last thing thats interesting is the fact that someone has already began a spin of Macbuntu, dubbing it Macbuntu-iso, and it is available for download in 32 and 64-bit!

Macbuntu, Part 2

After spending a little time working in Inkscape, I realized how terrible I am with vector graphics, lol, but I did manage to create a slightly more accurate Docky theme that incoorporates the wavy design and dark tool tips and menus.

You’ll also find that the menu is not working correctly in the top Gnome Panel and that I’ve now created a pretty accurate OSX/Macbuntu skin for Opera!

You may also notice that the background image has changed. The latest OS X default wallpaper appears to be included with the setup, but is not used for some reason. I guess its a matter of opinion, but I prefer the setup to be as default as possible to the latest OS X design.

Hopefully I can contribute a few things to this project such as an improved Docky theme for Macbuntu, Opera Macbuntu skin, updated icons for those that are missing

I’ve re-arranged the Dock icons into a semi-accurate order, but some applications are in need of replacement icons.

Shotwell, for instance, could make use of the iPhoto icon and be added by default, making it appear that much more authentic.

Another awesome feature thats not included, but makes this transformations much more accurate is the plugin for an implementation of Stacks!

Unfortunately, the applications stack isn’t near as clean and even has duplicates of some applications, but it is a very good start and the stack plugin itself works fantastically!

I’m hoping that I will be able to get all of my tweaks and hacks so far worked into Macbuntu to automate what I’ve done, but since I’m still tweaking and fine tuning a lot of aspects, I haven’t had time to contact the developer(s).

That being said, I’m going to refrain from posting how-to’s and files for the changes I’ve made for now, but if you’re interested in the Opera skin I’m working on just let me know and I’ll send you what I’ve got so far. πŸ˜‰