Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is Ubuntu Linux as User Friendly as Windows 7?

Having spent the last four days upgrading computers, The Lost Motorcyclist (me) feels a need to express my opinions about this experience, and what it means for progress in the computer world.

Mary Ann's Windows computer, and my Linux computer were both gradually shutting down. It wasn't just one big thing, it was lots of little unrelated things. For example, Youtube started giving us angry messages that our computers needed to upgrade something. "HEY YOU: THIS IS NOT A SPAM MESSAGE.. GET YOUR FLASH UPGRADED NOW!!!" When I tried to upgrade, neither computer could complete the upgrade, so we muddled on, ignoring the rude messages. Also, Mary Ann's power button was sticking, my computer booted up without recognizing the hard drive, or the mouse, or the video card, all intermittently. Mary Ann repeatedly told me she thought there were viruses in her machine, but twice when I tried to track them down, it turned out to be user error. Other times, files became corrupted. The Internet searches slowed to a crawl.

Finally Mary Ann's Internet Explorer permanently stopped responding. We decided she needed a new computer, and it had to have Windows to run Eudora Mail, and MS Office to run some custom macros in her budget spreadsheet. I also needed another computer, but I could take her old computer and see if it worked like new again with an upgrade to the latest Linux Ubuntu.

So for less than $750, we could get a new desktop plus a $100 a year anti virus program and Office 2010. The new computer has a one terabyte drive. How is she going to use a one terabyte drive? The old computer had 80 gigabyte drive, and in six years was still half empty. If my math is right, this drive is more than ten times bigger. On the other hand, her CPU is fast enough to run full screen high resolution videos, which is better than the quarter screen videos on the last computer.

Next is my computer (actually her old computer). I went to load the latest copy of Ubuntu. Now despite the friendly references to "running alongside Windows", it is not easy to make Ubuntu run alongside Windows. If it runs alone, fine, the install works well. But if you should choose to run it alongside Windows, the next screen to come up asks you to repartition the machine, and gives no instructions on how to do it. If you do it wrong, as I did the first time, it destroys Windows and all the data on your hard disk, and takes 4 hours to do so. I guess it's part of the Linux culture, to screen out wannabees, newbies, and those who are not totally committed to Linux, while pretending to be as user-friendly as Windows.

But surprisingly, this new version of Linux Ubuntu (ver 11.10), is actually very user friendly. Let me explain what user friendliness is. You go into normal MacDonald's and order a big Mac, that is a user friendly experience. However, if they insist that you kill the cow yourself, that is not a user friendly experience. Old versions of Ubuntu and other variations of Linux were not user friendly. But this one is getting very close, and I think Microsoft should be worried.

First thing I noticed is that when I installed Ubuntu 11.10, everything worked! Youtube worked (I can't remember if I needed to download and install something - but if I did, it was easy), and I could run videos with the same video player that Mary Ann's computer uses (VLC). And if any additional software was needed, all I had to do was click on the button and boom it was there. For example, I installed VLC and Gimp (a watered down photoshop) without having to wade through pages of instructions, or going into command mode. Just click on the install button.

Then I downloaded and installed Kturtle, which is inspired by the Logo programming language of the eighties. I have used Logo extensively, first on a Coleco Adam computer, and later on an IBM clone. But it is revealing to look at the differences 25 years of progress have wrought. First, admittedly, the new version of Logo (called Kturtle) is free. I paid $250 for my PC version. Second, the size. Kturtle takes 10 MB of space to download, and 250 megabytes when installed. My PC Logo and Coleco Logo each could fit on a 5 inch floppy or less (Was that 350 Kilobytes?) So at least thirty times smaller just on the install file - never mind the 250 MB disk space. And how about the power? Both my 25 year old Logos could write data to disk, and came with a comprehensive manual and had enough power to create a home budget program. Coleco Logo also had self moving sprites (up to 12 I think) and collision, trackball and event detection, and could change the shape of the sprites (or turtles) on the fly, and had subscripted variables. I was able to write a paint program with it. By comparison Kturtle has almost no real power except for moving one turtle around a screen. To be fair, there may be a lot more power hidden there, as I have only glanced at the meagre reference manual. But it seems dedicated to the ages of 3-6 years old. And it does not write data to disk or have subscripted variables. And why on Earth would they change the commands? That's right, the most basic turtle commands. "Forward 5". Logo shortened that to FD 5. Kturtles shortens it to FW 5. Is that obfuscation or what? How about RIGHT TURN 90. Logo used RT 90. Kturtles uses TR 90. That sums up everything wrong with human interfaces. Is that what we want to teach our kids?

Speaking of common user interfaces, where did the menus go? This applies to all the applications on the computer. I understood that main menus were always at the top left corner of the window executing your program, and were visible all the time. Not any more. They go invisible unless you roll a mouse over them. Bad enough I guess, if you LEAVE THEM IN THE SAME PLACE!!! But now the (invisible) menus are all in the top left corner of the monitor screen. I couldn't find this valuable information on Google, (try googling "missing menus in Ubuntu 11.10) and finally found it on my own by sheer luck.

Anyway, Ubuntu 11.10 is catching up to Windows, and it's free and easily reinstallable by ordinary users. It has Word and Excel file compatibility also free. (but not macro compatibility - so my fault for writing Excel macros ten years ago that I still use). Ubuntu is nowhere near as virus prone as Windows. And it took me about as long to fiddle with Mary Ann's new Windows computer as it did to do the new Ubuntu install (if you subtract the wasted four hours of reformatting my disk). And that is after I paid the Future shop $120 to clean up all the commercial marketing crap that comes with the new Windows computer, and install an anti virus program.

Next time Mary Ann's computer needs replacing, I will find some alternate to those Microsoft Excel macros first. Then we can both use Linux Ubuntu.

Picture: from

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Kind of Motorcycle Gear Would God Wear?

One of my blogs receives a lot of hits from people who google "What kind of motorcycle does God ride?". So I decided to cash in on this success (not literally, as I have not monetized my blog), by doing a follow-up. This time, the question is "What Kind of Motorcycle Gear Would God Wear?" By the way, "The Lost Motorcyclist" is the original author of this blog, and all those other commercial websites you found on Google with the exact same article about God's motorcycle, are copying my blog without permission.

I think it would be best to start at the top, with the helmet. As they say, if you have a ten dollar head, get a ten dollar helmet. With God's head, it would be impossible to find a helmet to match the cost, which would be well into the trillions I expect. But given that it is impossible to damage God's brain in an accident, you could make do with a plastic beanie, and not even worry about the DOT approval - just make sure to put the sticker on in case God gets stopped by the police. Of course, He could get out of jail easily, but God doesn't want any hassles from the fuzz.

Next is the question of the jacket. Hi-vis textile? Black leather Hell's Angels type jacket? The answer is simple. God does not need high visibility reflective colours as His glowing halo is visible enough from miles away. Also, we know intuitively that God is not a wimp, and so He would wear a real hard core 1%er black leather jacket. Hard core motorcycle jackets have "Gun pockets", where God could conceal his piece. But many motorcycle jackets have wimpy gun pockets that can only conceal a small Glock. God's gun pocket should be big enough for an Uzzi. With another smaller pocket for a back-up Glock. Not that God needs the protection of a gun, but some people just listen better when a loaded gun is pointed at them.

To complete the outfit, God would need a rebel do-rag, alligator skin cowboy boots, fingerless gloves, t-shirt saying "My Dad created the universe and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt", and American made blue jeans. I'm not sure about the underwear, so I'm going to leave that part up to God.

ANSWERS TO MY LAST BLOG ABOUT GOD'S MOTORCYCLE. To keep it brief, I pictured God riding a Dodge Tomahawk V-10 motorcycle. To answer some objections, yes, God can easily pick up a 1,500 lb motorcycle if it drops. And even though the tank only holds 3 gallons (smallish American gallons), I guarantee God will not be the one to hold up your group ride because he needs gas - God's gas is renewable! And, finally, how many time must I repeat it? Yes, God is OK with me writing blogs about Him. God loves humour, that's why He told me the Canucks would win the Stanley Cup last year.

Monday, November 7, 2011

How To Put On Cold Weather Clothes for Motorcycling

This is not about what to wear for cold weather, but how to put it on. How you perform the act of getting dressed can mean all the difference between a cold ride and a warm ride, even if you are wearing exactly the same gear in the same weather. It seems to me that although there is a lot of information about what to wear, nobody ever seems to talk about how to put it on.

According to the Lost Motorcyclist (me), the basic principle is this: that you must not get sweaty and start perspiring while getting dressed for cold weather. That's because moisture cools you off, and conducts heat through otherwise warm insulation. That moisture will stay trapped in place under heavy winter gear, and you will get cold much sooner than if you started completely dry.

It's not as easy as you think to avoid getting sweaty under your cold weather gear. Most people get dressed in a warm house, at a temperature much too high for their warm clothes. And some cold weather gear is difficult to get into, meaning it takes time and physical effort, both of which increase the perspiration and moisture inside your clothes.

The first, most basic thing is to not begin getting dressed immediately after a physical workout. Wait for your body to cool down first. And make sure all your normal clothing, that you will be wearing under the winter gear, is dry before you start.

Second thing is to take care of all preliminary tasks before you put on your cold gear. In my case, that would be taking the motorcycle out of the garage and getting it pointed in the right direction for a ride. I do that before I put on any cold weather gear.

Third is to actually put on most of the gear - probably overpants, boots, and sweaters. This must be done quickly and effortlessly. If your gear takes too much time and effort to put on, you should get better gear or practice your technique.

Fourth, put on the last of the cold weather clothing outdoors, where it is cold. That would probably be the helmet, outer jacket, neck warmer, and gloves. I also usually leave those items inside the warm house until I am ready to go.

If you have done it all right you can be on your motorcycle, heading out of the driveway feeling warm but not overheated, and you can ride for a long time before you start to feel cold. The actual time might range from half an hour to all day long.

How far you can go before getting cold is a combination of many things: the temperature outside, the type of gear you are wearing, the wind protection on your motorcycle, your own body's tolerance for cold, and your heating system (if you have one like electric or chemical heat sources.) But among of all of those factors, the most poorly understood, yet critical, is the art of actually getting all that gear on and getting out the driveway.

Here is a funny video from Columbia sportswear that illustrates one way to put on cold weather gear, and there is some truth to it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vulcan 900 Brake Pads

Motorcycle maintenance is more like a riddle than an art, according to "The Lost Motorcyclist".

For the first time since I bought a 1972 Honda scrambler six years ago, I was able to do some actual motorcycle maintenance in my garage. That's because I found a new home for the scrambler last week, and now there is enough space in the garage again for me to work on the remaining bikes.

Let's begin with what happened this morning. I rode my Vulcan 900 Classic over to Zdeno's, where they were able to install a new rear tire while I waited. During the install, I was informed that the brake pads were getting thin, and I asked them to replace the rear pads while they had the wheel off. While that was being done, I had time to reflect on all the years that I insisted on doing all the maintenance myself, and how this golden rule was being broken down step by step. This was another step, the first time I let someone else replace my brake pads (or shoes as we used to say in the sixties).

When I got home I suddenly realized that there were pads on the front of the bike too, and that they had never been inspected either, and they probably needed replacing even more than the rear pads. So I got on the bike again and drove across town in rush hour traffic to pick up a new pair of pads for the front. These, I would install myself.

I didn't have time to work on the bike until 8:00 PM. Normally I would not work on my bike in the driveway when it is dark out and 3c, but I remembered that I could now work in my "roomy" and well lit garage.

At first, everything went well. I removed the two caliper bolts as per the shop manual. Then I got stuck. The rim of the wheel prevented the caliper from coming off the rotor. I wasted no more than a minute fiddling with it, then came inside the house to jump on the internet and get some helpful advice from the Vulcan Forum. For some reason, I have never seen the internet so slooooow. I looked up post after post, and no one said anything about a difficulty removing the caliper. Finally I came to conclusion that (1) my bike was different from everyone else's (2) Or, it was so simple that no one else thought it worth mentioning.

I went back out to the garage and fiddled around until I realized that I needed to bend the fender a little (It's plastic, so that's OK) and my brake hose was a bit short because it was wrapped around my custom windshield bracket. Also the far side of the caliper was shorter than the side near to me, and the whole caliper was closer to coming off than I realized.

So, caliper is off, what next. "Remove clip pin" it says. I don't see a clip pin. Also, I don't know that a clip pin is supposed to look like. Is this some new 21st century technology? So I start working over the pad post with pliers, until I notice something moving in the crack between the pad and the bracket. Hey that must be the clip pin in there. I look in with a flashlight and some reading glasses, and there it is. Once you see something, it really is a lot easier to remove, and now I even remember what a clip pin looks like. I have seen many of them before.

When I bought these new brake pads, I was a bit worried because these are the first pads I have ever seen where the pair do not match. With the old pads, the only way you could mount them wrong would be to put the friction material pointing away from the disk instead of toward the disk (don't ask). With asymmetrical pads, there are many more ways (in theory, maybe four ways) to install them wrong. Anyway, lets continue with our look at the new brake pads. These pads have a very clever design feature, that you only need to remove one clip and shaft, to take out both the pads. Up till now, I have always had to remove two shafts (with their clips) per pair of pads. This new design is more complicated to think through. But it is simpler to build, and uses fewer moving parts, and is quicker to change the pads. I also noticed that the way the caliper is constructed, it is very unlikely to rust solid and stop working properly. That is the kind of progress that I like. Simpler and better ways to design things. Nothing much to brag about, because it is actually cheaper, but still an improvement because the performance stays 100% much longer and less maintenance is needed.