Interesting things from Mozilla Labs

I rave a fair bit about Ubiquity, but there are also a few other things from Mozilla labs that look promising. Last night I installed Weave on a couple of my computers, and am actually very impressed. Weave takes your Firefox history, bookmarks and tabs and syncs them across multiple machines. It worked flawlessly for me, and I would certainly recommend it to people who move between computers a lot.

I may have to try a couple of their other offerings, although I’m not exactly sure what all of them are meant to do.

Sensible window sizes on Dell’s version of Ubuntu

I love my Dell Mini, but there are a couple of “features” added by Dell that drive me mad. One of these is called Maximus. It’s an application that tells any window that opens on the desktop to open full-screen. It’s particularly annoying with applications I’ve added myself (like Empathy), as the default applications seem preconfigured to ignore it. I’ve had a poke around in gconf-editor (install it with sudo apt-get install gconf-editor if it doesn’t exist already), and the key that needs editing is called /apps/maximus/exclude_class (see below for details):


It’s basically a list of applications that open with the same window size they closed with rather than open in full-screen.

Double click on the key, and you should get the following dialogue:

Screenshot-Edit Key

Click on the plus button, and add whatever applications you need as shown below:

Screenshot-Add New List Entry

Then click on OK. Next time you open the applications in question they should honour your desired window size.

An easier way to share

Despite the fact that I don’t use Gmail as my primary point of contact, I do use most of Google’s other tools quite a lot. In particular, I’m a big fan of Google Calendar, Docs and Groups, and I use all of them for various work and non work projects. It’s now possible to share documents and calendars with all members of a particular group, which makes administering sharing a whole lot easier.

So yes, if you’re still using yahoo groups for your project, or you still rely on a word document emailed around with “tracked changes”, then there is a viable (and easier) alternative.

Exploring Suse Studio

I’ve had an account on for a few weeks now, but have only really had a couple of chances to play with it. The basic idea behind the site is that anyone should be able to create a customised Linux distribution that perfectly suits their needs (providing those needs involve openSUSE 11.1 or SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 or 11). Normally I do this sort of work on Ubuntu, using Ubuntu Customisation Kit, as detailed in a previous post. This suits me, because I use Ubuntu in a production environment and it makes things easy. But I was interested in how this new software would work for someone who had never used openSUSE for more than a few minutes.

Ubuntu Customisation Kit does everything on the host machine, and only uses the Internet to pull new/updated packages in. This is light on bandwidth for tweaks, but heavier if you’re making major changes. Suse Studio does things the opposite way round, in that all the building and updating is done on the web, and you then download the finished .iso image. It’s slightly heavier on bandwidth overall, but did allow me to do a lot of the build work from my netbook in the foyer of a hotel in London, as all you need is a web browser and a net connection.

I ended up building three different versions of openSUSE, to suit three specific needs I occasionally have:

  1. Gnome, with a web browser (firefox), a terminal (gnome-terminal), dropbox preinstalled, and a couple of work-specific scripts for mounting drives and backing up data. This is a configuration we use at work for data recovery (currently based on Ubuntu 8.04). This was painless to set up, came in at 348Mb, and worked well.
  2. A showcase for KDE4. I’m not a big fan of KDE, but it’s always useful to have a VM kicking around to show people what it is like. This was on the same level of detail as the Gnome one, and came in at 350mb. I think I might actually be able to use this to get things done, as it takes away a lot of the un-instinctive KDE apps whilst leaving the very pretty and functional base.
  3. An image containing the applications I use every day, which would act as a basis for reinstalling my home or work laptop (both currently running Ubuntu 9.04). This contains Firefox, Thunderbird,, Empathy, Rhythmbox, Gedit and gnome-terminal, and was still only 484mb (300Mb less than the version of Ubuntu I install from usually).

So yes, all three experiments worked, and while I’ve not tried to use them to get things done yet, I have successfully installed all three as virtual machines and they seem to work as expected.

I think most people could use Suse Studio, and it acts as a good way to learn the basics of how a distribution is put together. I very much expect to see the code base from this project move in interesting directions in the next few months, and I’d be surprised if we don’t see similar projects getting off the ground soon.

Musical discoveries of the weekend

Various freely available MP3s by Portugal. The Man – I’d not heard of this band until about 3 hours ago, but am actually quite taken with them now. It’s American indie with a strong side order of psychedelia, and I think I could handle a whole album of this easily.

The Butcher’s Ballroom by Diablo Swing Orchestra – Another great name, and an album that I can only describe as a cross between Opera and thrash metal. Except it is a lot better than I’ve made it sound, and is the sort of thing that should be made into a musical.

Before We Stand… We Crawl by Hungry Lucy
– Interesting trip hop, with a female singer who can sing, and some killer melodies to go with it.

All are freely available to download.

Finding wifi on the move

During my recent trip to London, I decided that I’d try and stay online as much as possible, whilst at the same time not paying for (or in fact stealing) an internet connection. It was actually a lot easier than I thought, and made me realise that if I lived in London I’d not really need a 3G dongle or an internet capable phone in order to conduct my online life on the move.

What I found out was largely as follows:

The hotel I was staying in advertised itself as having free wifi on the ground floor. It did, but the signal was no greater than 40%, and as I was on the 7th floor I had to come down to the bar to use it. This was fine, and I used this for my morning and evening email sessions.

There are lots of University buildings in London, some of whom subscribe to the JANET Roaming Service. As I’m a member of a participating University I can use their networks for free. This got me a connection on floor 7 of the hotel twice, and would have been an option in a couple of other places as well.

The rest of the time I generally used The Cloud, mostly in or around Pret A Manger stores. It’s possible to get free wifi in a fair few places (largely pubs and cafes), and my most productive session of the whole trip was the last hour outside Euston station where I got through all my home and work email with a near 100% signal.

So yes, I managed to stay up to date, and maintained Inbox Zero throughout the trip.


I’ve been after a command line based microblogging tool for ages. I think Twidge might be just what I need.

The syntax to make a post is as follows:

twidge update "whatever you want to post goes here"

And before you do your first update, just type twidge setup, which will then ask for your usename and password.

If you want to update rather than twitter, then add the following line at the end of .twidgerc:


And that’s all there is to it.