Category Archives: Ubuntu Linux

Ubuntu Linux for Ministry: a new feature, hopefully helpful

With all the talk about student debt, low salaries, missing employment, unwanted bivocationality and plain-old poverty in the ministry, it makes some sense to address ways of saving money as a way of making-do, because structural change (and success is not guaranteed) takes time.

That’s a good reason to put free-of-charge Ubuntu Linux on an old “obsolete” computer, to give it modern utility.

With concerns about online privacy invasion, copyright overreach and vendor lock-in, it makes sense to use an operating system that is backed by a community that takes your concerns seriously.

That’s a good reason to use free-to-use Ubuntu Linux, which has a community that takes these concerns seriously.

With brand-consciousness trumping utility, and the work of the ministry still being an under-served market, it makes sense to seek out an operating system that is easy (or easier) to build upon and responsive to active, if unprofitable, groups that create tools for their own use.

That’s a good reason to use free-to-adapt Ubuntu Linux, which has deep communities that address very specific needs, including those of congregations and ministers.

But Ubuntu, like all Linux versions, have a reputation — no longer fair — of being difficult or esoteric to install, maintain or use.

If you used a Linux version before, I recommend you try one again, as a group of more user-friendly versions have developed and improved in recent years. 

And that’s a good reason for me to start a weekly feature — each Thursday — demonstrating a feature or tool on the current long-term support version of Ubuntu Linux, probably the best used and most generally useful member of the desktop/laptop Linux family.


Linux, Microsoft users: protect yourself against repetitive stress

I had a harrowing day today at the emergency room. All is well — better safe that sorry — but at the very least, let it be said that I should mitigate against eye and neck strain.

Coming home, I re-installed a piece of software I once used: Workrave. It forces you to take short pauses and coffee breaks, and leads you through stretching your arms and shoulders, and refocusing your eyes. You can set the length between breaks and how many times you can defer them, say if you’re on deadline or showing someone something on your computer.

For users of the newest (Oneiric) version of Ubuntu Linux, install the backports repository (Edit > Software sources > Updates tab in the Ubuntu Software Center) and install it there or any standard way.

Linux users who compile from source and Microsoft users can get their software here.

Two PDF tools for Linux users

Like many people in an office setting, I deal with PDFs. But I’ve long given up any notion that they’re inviolable; indeed, marking on them, deleting some pages and not others and then rotating the whole bunch 90 degrees is one way the format can be useful. Sometimes I do this on the command line, but here are two graphical interface Linux tools — one I’ve been using a while; another I just discovered yesterday — that made today’s office work possible.

The new find was Xournal. Promoted as a hand-writing tool — which I’m unlikely ever to use — it serves admirably to “highlight” on a PDF, and does a nice job typing in extra text. Say, to modify a form for an office or congregation so everyone who signs up for a workshop — assuming there’s not an online sign-in! — doesn’t have to write out the same info each time, like name and address of a congregation.

And there’s PDF-Shuffler, that allows you to combine (concatenate) files, delete and reorder pages and pivot their orientation. Very handy.

Ubuntu Linux users can get both from the Ubuntu Software Center. Indeed, look there for details rather than the rather plain software project sites.

The code of conduct

With the prospect of a new church and one with a conspicuous online element, a clear upfront set of participant (much less member) expectations will have to come together almost immediately. But why draft one from scratch when — and this is a benefit of the free culture and liberal licensing, another intended value — when others have paved the way.

I’m thinking of the Code of Conduct of the Ubuntu operating system community. Not a perfect match, and it says nothing about contribution expectations. (Perhaps it shouldn’t. Haven’t got my head around that.) But it gets much of the way there and — thank God — lacks much of the ponderous, overwrought language that deeply theological people cannot escape.

I’ll keep my eye out for others.

New Ubuntu version out today

Ubuntu 11.04, a probably the world’s most popular version of desktop Linux, has a new version out today and is codenamed Natty Narwal.

I’m downloading/uploading the disk image (iso) of Natty via torrent – there are legal uses for BitTorrent — but I confess that the move of Ubuntu to include more and more proprietary software, its the greater hardware demands and changes to how it manages windows (in the next version) make me question if I’m going to continue with it.

But first today’s download and upgrade — I have more than one Ubuntu computer so it makes more sense to download a version to share than to upgrade each one from a remote server — and we shall see.

Typing in Esperanto with Ubuntu Linux

And while I’m talking about Ubuntu Linux, I recently discovered a feature for Esperantistoj, courtesy of Mikeo of the Junularo Esperantista Brita (British Esperantists Young-persons’ Group). Dankon! See the article for full details and other options.

For those unfamiliar, there are six letters found in Esperanto not found in other languages. This can complicate typing.

In short, System > Preferences > Keyboard > Layouts tab > Options button. Choose Adding Esperanto circumflexes.

Now, to get the point:­ just type the corresponding Latin letter while pressing the Alt key to the right of the space bar.


Trimming PDFs

More a note to myself than a blog post, but others using desktop Linux might find it useful.

So you scan a book — say, an antiquarian piece of obscure liturgy — but the flatbed glass is much larger than the book, so you get a big black box where the book ends. That’s a problem for two reasons: should I ever want to print out a copy of the PDF, the text will be small and the black box will use up tons of toner. Got to crop the text to the size of the book.

I’ve used command-line tools, but I’ve misplaced the recipe — should I find it or rediscover it, I’ll put it right here.

But a graphical interface can be good too. So I used PDF-Shuffler. It’s in the repositories/software center if you use Ubuntu Linux.

After I loaded the PDF I wanted to trip, I right clicked over one page — they all needed the same trim — and with trial-and-error decided what the right amount should be: it’s a percentage removed of the original document. Then I moused over the other pages, selecting them, and made the same crop. Don’t worry about double cropping a page; it only crops a percentage of the original size. Then — and this is not obvious — I exported the newly cropped doc with a new name.

Easy peasy.

The $10 church computer

Something of a thought experiment.

USB sticks have gotten ridicuously cheap and Linux desktop software has gotten rather robust and mature. Why not combine the two, and create a live USB drive — where the entire computer system with operating system, all software and files — can be booted up on pretty most any computer without affecting what’s already installed there?New software and files can be saved to the USB drive.

I bought a 4 gig USB drive for $10 plus tax. (Both Staples and Radio Shack is having sales.) I’m installing Bodhi Linux, an unofficial variant of Ubuntu Linux using the lightweight Enlightenment windows manager. (So some Linux love to the Buddhists reading this.) I’ll fiddle with it to make it more useful to a church; in particular, the kind of church I intend to plant, but will note other software for other religious communities. (I don’t know of any software for religious Humanists though!)

This is technically possible now. I’ll report on the additions and give away the USB drive when I’m done with my testing.

gLabels template for file folder labels

This is for my Linux-using chums out there, and a tiny piece for church administration — provided you use the Gnome desktop, like Ubuntu Linux.

gLabels — “a program for creating labels and business cards for the GNOME desktop environment” – is the easiest way I’ve ever found to create and print labels, and can merge information from a CSV (comma-seperated values) spreadsheet onto little bits of paper, sticky or otherwise. It can even add barcodes. In the next few weeks, I’ll show how to make tickets, flashcards, name tags and membership cards using nothing more than ordinary office paper and index cards. Call it a hobby of mine.

The program has hundred of standard label templates, including one for the Avery 5202 and identically-sized file labels. These are the handy sheets — 4″x6″ — with seven labels for manila file folders. Between work (yes, I use Ubuntu Linux at work) and home, I use hundreds of labels each year, and I prefer them to be nicely printed.

But I think I have a problem with my printer. Though it can hold the 4″x6″ label sheets, it interprets the medium as being letter-sized and so almost completely misses printing on the labels. I suppose I should have fixed that problem, but seems like over-engineering, seeing as all I wanted was tidy file folders.

My solution: to create a template that thinks the 4″x6″ sheet is part of a letter piece of paper. Top and center. That one works like a charm, and since I’ve already made it, I want to share it.

Download here. Right-click to save the file, or click to review it; it’s simple XML.

Place it in ~/.glabels — in my case, that’s the directory (folder) /home/wells/.glabels (If you use the default Nautilus file manager, be sure to View > Show Hidden Files.)

Improvements and variations are welcome.

Disclaimer: Avery is a trademark and I don’t own it. Also, I don’t make any warranty for the template.

Linux Bible software problem

So I’ve installed two Bible reader software packages: BibleTime and Xiphos (formerly GnomeSword). Both are based on the SWORD Project, where the former is native to the Kubuntu distribution (flavor) of Linux, while Xiphos is native to the mainline Ubuntu distribution I use. (If the difference between Ubuntu and Kubuntu doesn’t mean anything to you already, don’t let this be your introduction.)

Now, Xiphos requires a text package to be installed from a remote server in order to be use. Unfortunately, the only one available — even though there are many Bible translations and commentaries available for the software — is the NET (New English Translation) version, but I have misgivings about its doctrinal underpinnings — its roots lie in Dallas Theological Seminary –and its copyright status which makes it dubiously free, even though that a feature it markets on. So I resisted installing it, if even to uninstall it later. And what good would this stricture do a non-English reader? I was caught and a little irritated.

So I installed BibleTime, which as I expected gave me an assortment of choices, including the Bible in Esperanto (London version). This I installed. Lo and behold! it then appeared in Xiphos, allowing me to proceed and add other Bibles. What the hay?

I’m posting this to see if anyone has had this problem, and to see if there’s a solution.