Hello openSUSE

Or should I say “Goodbye Ubuntu?”  I have been using Ubuntu steadily since 4.10 Warty Warthog.  Ubuntu installed easily and I even got my laptop wireless card to work at a time when it required crazy configuration and extracting Windows drivers.  I still tried other distros during that time even running some for a good while.  I tried out Fedora Core, Freespire, Linspire, Mandriva, Mint, openSUSE, and even TurboLinux (well before Ubuntu though) amongst others.  No matter what I have tried, I have come back to Ubuntu.

After Gnome 3 and Unity were shown off, I switched off to Kubuntu for the KDE desktop.  KDE works well on Ubuntu but I still wasn’t pleased that Canonical continues to focus on Unity.  I also contemplated a switch to Mint but when the Mint Gnome Shell Extension was announced, my heart sank.  MGSE just continued to mask the problems with these new desktops.  There was plenty of discussion about the issues with Gnome 3 (or Gnome Shell) and Unity on the web so I won’t get into the poor multitasking.

Deciding to stick with KDE distros, I looked at Fedora and openSUSE.  Fedora still focuses a lot on Gnome though and has a poor history with stability.  Cutting edge is alright so long as it works.  I’ve never had good luck there though.  openSUSE on the other hand…  Well, I’ve really liked it in the past.  The last time I tried it, it was around version 11.1 or 11.2 maybe.  I had issues with installing codecs and some software.  The system otherwise worked well.  Since 12.1 was due soon, I waited for openSUSE and read some reviews of 11.4.  It was time to take the plunge.  Word on the webs told me the openSUSE team had worked out the issues plaguing me before.

It was time to ditch Ubuntu, hopefully for good.  I had 11.4 downloaded and burnt as a back up, then I let 12.1 work its magic.  The installation was super smooth and quick.  It detected my old partitions and imported it all perfectly.  The new system booted fast.  Updates downloaded and installed without problems.  Even more remarkably, I added additional respositiories and installed additional software, including some required codecs, without trouble.

The ability to add additional repos on openSUSE is a feature I love dearly and wish more distros would incorporate.  It made a lot of the setup easier.  The other helpful tool was the site openSUSE Guide.  The guide isn’t complete and its not the most detailed.  But it will give you the basic tools to start your system right.

Once I’ve used the system more, I’ll drop a few screenshots and maybe a more detailed review.  If you’ve tried openSUSE 12.1 or if you’re ditching Ubuntu, let me know what you think.

I Am Now An Android

Or should I say a Droid?  My Palm Pre took a final nasty dive last month.  While I did have an upgrade coming to me, my wife really wanted an iPhone.  Being the good husband that I am, she got  a shiny new white iPhone 4 whilst I received a slightly used refurbished white Droid 2 Global.  There’s even a story how she came to a refurbished model but that’s for a better time than this.

Since I’ve moved onto Android, I’ll start posting some more updates and reviews.  I’ll drop in my favorite apps and mention some close seconds.  I’ll probably lust over some phones like the Droid Razr.

Right I’m still playing and customizing it.  The Gingerbread update finally dropped and I’ve been loving the much needed changers.  The app launcher is better.  Its faster.  The battery last longer.  I can even dismiss individual notifications thanks to MotoBlur.

If you have any Android suggestions, comments, et cetera, leave them for me please.

The Problem With Green Retrofitting Today

Cash for Caulkers is a lovely program.  Let’s give people a financial incentive to upgrade to more energy efficient appliances, lay down some insulation, even install a newer furnace or wood stove.  It works well too.  People have taken advantage of the program.

Here’s my problem:  Upfront spending.  The tax credits involved are wonderful for people who have the money in the first place.  These are the people that recognize that these upgrades will ultimately save them money through energy efficiency and they’re recouping part of their investment anyway.  These are also people who probably can afford not to make the upgrades.  The people who need these upgrades the most, the ones that would be benefit the greatest, are the ones who don’t have the money to spend in the first place.  Their old furnace, wood stove, water heater, windows, doors are all adequate and won’t be replaced till its dire.  They’re lucky if they have insulation in their walls or attic.  They’re equally fortunate to have storm windows over their existing windows.

Now, you may ask, aren’t their programs to help these people?  Sure.  First, you have to actually find the programs.  Second, make it through all the red tape.  Lastly, hope the money is still available.  Many programs have limited funding and are difficult to locate.  If you can deal with that, just hope you qualify.  I fall into a bracket where we don’t really have the money to upgrade anything but we aren’t quite poor enough to qualify for grants.  HUD does offer some help for those that are interested.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to do.  I don’t really have a proposal.  I just think that all that money spent bailing out banks and car makers probably would have helped the economy more by buying a bunch of windows and insulation.  Imagine paying ten of thousands (or more) of workers across the country to install all these upgrades for people.  Then you have a whole class of people who previously spent a sizable portion of their income on heating and cooling that will now have a lot of free income to hopefully invest wisely or at least spend elsewhere, further helping the economy.

I may sound like a quack or a pinko commie but I do believe in taking care of each other.  If I was rich, I’d help the poor.

Why I Bought A Palm Pre

PalmPre

I’ve been debating for a while between Android vs WebOS, all touch screen vs physical keyboard, now vs later.  Yesterday I made my fateful decision by buying a Palm Pre Plus from Verizon Wireless.  Unfortunately, the two stores in town were out of stock (that sounds good for Palm though, I think?) and they ordered it.  Needless to say, I’m really excited.  This is a big step up from my Centro.  But how did I come to the Pre?  Why not wait?

Operating Systems
Let me tell you a story about my wife’s Motorola Droid.  When the 2.1 update came out, she dutifully updated her phone.  It bricked.  The system constantly rebooted.  Being tech savvy, I could have Googled the solution and fixed her phone perhaps.  However, I figured the fine folks at Verizon would just reload the firmware.  Oh, how wrong we were!  She ended up with a refurbished Droid.  We spent $200 on a brand new phone to have it replaced with a refurb due to an update error.

Now you could blame Verizon for this and I’m apt to do so but if Android had something akin to the WebOS Doctor.  The WebOS Doctor is a program for your computer that allows you to reload the firmware for your woeful Palm at home.  If there had been a similar program for Android, my wife would still have her original Droid.

Form Factors
I’m quite use to my Centro with its small keyboard.  I’ve tried the keyboards on the Droid and LG Ally (which has a reputation as an excellent keyboard).  I’ve also tried touchscreen keyboards.  For anyone doing any serious typing, touchscreen can’t compare to a physical keyboard.  Plus, I can text one handed on the Centro or the Pre although two is much quicker.

The portrait slider on the Pre is also easier to flip out and text on in a hurry compared to the Droid or Ally.  As a bonus, this gave the Pre a smaller form factor and makes it more pocket able.  I don’t like bulky phones and if I can’t through it in my pocket, it won’t work for me.

Upcoming Devices
I’m concerned about the trend to constantly make phones with larger screens.  As I previously stated, I need pocket size.  The Dell Streak is 5 inches!  5!  Five!  Yes, that’s huge.  Even the Droid X or HTC Evo coming in around 4 is quite large.  If I need to use a large screen, I will hop on a computer.  This is supposed to be a portable alternative to a computer or even a tablet.  The Pre fit the bill for me.

I suspect that upcoming renditions of the Pre will feature larger screens and thus becoming heavier too.  That’s not what I’m after.  I rather get the Palm Pre while its still available.  There’s also the issue that there’s no perfect time to buy.  I could have waited for the next greatest thing but I’d be using my Centro for years.

Comments
I’m curious why other people settled on the Pre or have stuck with it.  Do you think I made a good choice or are these superfluous considerations?

webOS vs Android: Which would you choose?

Cell phone upgrade time is upon me again and I need help deciding.  I have Verizon Wireless and will not be switching (they have the closet tower by my house, maybe half a mile away).  I’m caught between going with an Android phone like the LG Ally or the webOS powered Palm Pre. 

Budget is a concern.  I’m not going to spend $300 on a Droid X especially since I don’t believe anything that large is remotely practical.  Likewise, $200 for an old Motorola Droid seems unreasonable given its age.

Future proof is a concern too.  I want decent specs that won’t worry me.  The Ally runs a processor that supposedly won’t be included when Adobe Flash is released.  HP bought Palm so I’m mostly at ease there but without any real future plans from the HP/Palm crowd, should I be concerned? 

So please weigh in.

Green Building Materials

If you’re looking at building a new home or renovating the one you have, you can green it up with any or all of these…

Roofing Materials
These are available in recycled rubber and polymers that similar to slate. These are lower maintenance and lighter than conventional roofing.

Counters and Showers
Using glass and concrete mixed together gives your counter top or shower surround or even floors a beautiful but durable finish. Concrete is of course a fairly heavy material so make sure its well supported.

Lumber
Avoid old growth and scarce tropical hardwoods. Look for wood from managed forests (think: Forest Stewardship Council seal). Also try reclaimed wood from old buildings or riverbeds. Composites are also worthwhile if they are formaldehyde free. Composites are basically made from sawdust and glue.

Insulation
Cellulose insulation is made from plant fibers or recycled newspaper. It can easily be blown in tight spaces and insulates better than fiberglass (higher R value). Cellulose does not itch like fiberglass although caution should be taken because of the dust it can create. A simple HEPA mask will cure that issue though. Check out Green Fiber for a sampling of products and to look for dealers.

Flooring and Carpetting
True linoleum is a fantastic option since its made from linseed oil, pine rosins, and wood flour on jute. Beware though, as some people refer to other flooring as linoleum when it is in fact made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which has a toxic side to it. Also try to use wool or sisal carpeting.  Choose a 100% recycled fiber carpet or some carpets are made from corn/plant based plastics.

Structural Insulated Panels (sips)
These are two sheets of OSB or plywood with foam board sandwiched in between. Since these panels can come up to 24 feet wide, there is less heat loss due to air leaks.

Toliets
Switching to a low flush model can save significant water in a year. New models are required to use 1.6 or less gallons of water per flush.  Some more environmentally friendly models have a hand sink built in the top so the water you wash your hands with will flush your toilet next time.

Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless or on demand water heaters work by running the water through a series of pipes that lie parallel to or wrapped around a heating element. This in turns directly and rapidly heats the water for your use. More energy is used for a shorter time to heat the water.  Overall, less is used since its heating only the water you’re currently using rather than maintaining a constant temperature on water you may not use for a while. These are available in gas and electric versions.

Green Certifications
Try to meet standards when building or renovating.  LEED is becoming more common throughout the United States.  Its largely focused on energy efficiency though.  Passive House takes energy efficiency to the extreme with the use of SIPs to minimized heat loss, properly placed windows for passive solar heating, and heat exchanging ventilators to keep the air fresh without losing heat in the process.