Metallicats: Concert and New Record

Metallicats, our favorite dance band

My all time favorite dansband “The Metallicats” are about to release a new album in September. They are furthermore having a concert in Bergen, Norway tomorrow night. Expectations for both the concert and the new album are relatively high after listening to some of the new material they have released at http://missionmetallica.com. I would recommend any fan to have a look at the site for their new record. It is most likely set up to help them make even more money but it is fun to see some behind the scene stuff and listen to the old concert recordings they give you for free.

Even though I like the way the Metallicats inlay from Garage Inc make fun of all the other ugly album covers, I hope the album cover is somewhat different. I am looking forward to new heavy riffs and plenty of new solos on Death Magnetic which can be pre-ordered now (from Platekompaniet here in Norway). Metallica has also announced that you can play the entire album through the console game Guitar Hero III on release day.



Free, as in Free Beer, Increases Book Sales

According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, the author Neil Gaiman increased his book sales after posting one of his books online, for free. While the Free Software Foundation and free software enthusiasts normally talk about free as in free speech, Neil Gaiman decided to rather go for the free beer. Who could resist free beer? Even though the book was available from the Internet, at no cost, an increased number of people decided to buy this and other of his books.

Personally, I think this is great news. By providing their works at no cost (preferably also with the freedoms attached), artists and software developers are able to attract people who are willing to pay for their services. I believe this is the future for an increasingly larger share of the software industry. Attract customers with free, both as in free beer and free speech, commodity and charge for value-adding development and services.

I have personally seen the same with other books as Producing OSS by Karl Fogel, Thinking in Java by Bruce Eckel, several books by Eric Raymond, and the O’Rilley’s Open Books project. Even though they are available for free I have ended up buying several of these books (which I recommend). Bruce Eckel claimed that the feedback he got from his online readers enabled him to write an even better book. This is very much the same as with a lot of the high quality open source software out there. Open it up to contributions from others.

Having material freely available on the Internet enables artists to reach out to new potential fans. I would never have found nor bough anything from stand up artists like for instance Carlos Mencia, Steven Lynch, and Jeff Dunham if it wasn’t for the Internet and youtube. I have also found music and movies in the same way. So keep up this free trend. I believe it will pay off for everyone in the end, well except perhaps for distributors of movies, music and so on.



A PhD on Open Source on Open Source Part 2 – Software for Writing Papers and Thesis

In the first part of this series of blog entries I introduced some basic features of open source software (OSS). In the second and following parts I will discuss open source software I use to make my day as a researcher simpler. One of the most important activities related to research is publication and dissemination of results. To aid this process I use the typesetting system LaTeX.

Texlipse auto complete

There are probably more options for writing your publications and your thesis than there are stars in the sky. I will not go into detail on hardly any of these (see for instance here). Most people choose between an office tool like Mircrosoft Word or OpenOffice, or a typesetting language like LaTeX. Office tools offer easy editing based on WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) and with reference managers like Endnote they would probably work quite well. That is if you are writing small to moderate sized documents, strictly using document styles, never writing mathematical formulas, and writing alone or with some sort of e-mail document locking.

LaTeX has its shortcomings as well. You have to compile the document, writing tables can sometimes be painful, the treshold for using it is higher and it is sometimes a bit difficult to place tables and figures exactly where you want them to be. However, LaTeX shines when you easily want to create large, good looking documents with plenty of (cross) references. Completely change the style of large documents is done in seconds thanks to the variety of packages and templates available through the Internet. LaTeX is furthermore written in plain text, meaning that you can use your editor of choice. Additionally, you can use Subversion (a revision control system) or similar tools for document version control and backup. This is to me a very important feature as you can easily collaborate with others on the same document, work on it from more than one computer and be certain that everything is safely backed up. Safe and secure backup should be the first commandment of all PhD students and researchers. Take a look at this comparison of Word and LaTeX or use a search engine to find more information about the strengths and weaknesses of the two.

While there are several text editors and editors designed for Latex I started using Eclipse to write LaTeX documents a few years ago while writing documentation for a Java project. It was easy to use the same editor for both tasks. Even though Eclipse is or should I say was an IDE it works quite well as a text editor and it allows me to use the same platform on both Linux and Windows. To simplify the LaTeX editing I use the Texlipse plug-in for Eclipse. This enables auto completion, colored text and visual feedback of compilation errors, see below.

To enable Subversion I use the Subclipse plug-in. This allows easy check out and commit of files from within the Eclipse platform.

Subclipse menu

Both plug-ins can easily be installed using the “Software update” feature of Eclipse but you do of course need a TeX implementation. This is included in most(?) Linux distributions and on Windows you may download and install MikTeX. What I like the most about MikTeX is that it automatically downloads missing packages.

Fitting different software systems together is not always done without small configuration challenges. As for instance after updating to the newest release of Eclipse (Ganymede) and reinstalling Subclipse I got some error message and I had to set the correct SVN interface. The good thing about many open source products is that they have plenty of users and in this case someone had already found a solution to the problem.



Lost in new mysteries

Lost with new unanswered questions again

I really do not watch a lot of tv and tv-series (at least not until they start broadcasting over the Internet and allow me to decide when I want to watch them)  but after finishing season four of Lost I was again left with more questions than answers.

I know they do this to make me watch season five, six, seven … and seventy eight but don’t they realize that the viewers get tired of all the new unanswered questions and mysteries? Prison Break is a prime example of this. The first 13 episodes were great but I totally lost interest when they decided to kill Peter Stormare and make a new season and yet another one. What’s next, “Retirement Home Break”? I do not know and I do not care.

Why can’t the makers of tv series try to make some good series, bring closure to open questions and try to make up new stories rather than endlessly drawing out the same story. Band of Brothers on the other hand is a good example. A good series, with a start, 10 good episodes and an end. Way to go!



Reinstalling Ubuntu

After installing Ubuntu (a Linux distribution) on my computer at work in 2005 and upgrading it ever since I decided to reinstall it. The upgrad process has worked really well from 5 to 6, 6 to 7, and now from version 7 to 8 but I after unsucsessfully trying to install some Eclipse plugins I had some problems with Eclipse and decided to reinstall everything.

First, the installation process is really simple and really fast. It takes perhaps 30-45 mins on three year old computer. A colleague, sitting next to me, was really impressed by how fast it was. Second, no need to install any drivers. Third, all, or at least most of the software you would need to normal work is already installed. Installing a couple of other products can easily be done through either a simple search in the graphical user interface or through apt get install.

Some new Compiz features were available when installing again from scratch. These make the desktop look quite slick. I really like it. There are probably several other very good Linux distributions out there but after using Ubuntu for the three last years I would really recommend it. Go to http://www.ubuntu.com/ and try it out yourself.





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