Checking E-mail can be a big distraction when I'm involved in a task and just want to send an email and move on. Sometimes if I have new e-mail, I just don't even want to know.

Sure, I could close my eyes while the Inbox opens and I press "Control-N" for the new message window, but I've found a method for opening just the "Compose Message" window without first opening the Inbox.

The "trick" is open the program as if an email address had been clicked on a web page. Many e-mail programs support this kind of integration. With Thunderbird, the following can be entered in the "Run Box" on Linux, usually invoked with "Alt-F2"

mozilla-thunderbird 'mailto:'

That directly opens the "Compose New Message" window, without loading the rest of the application.

My eyes have been opened to new productivity.

I recently gave a presentation about the culture and values of open source at a local church

I roughly covered the following bullet points. I've linked to points to pages with further context.

Thanks to all who attended and helped out!

In college I got the opportunity to help film a TV production using an ingenious low budget budget dolly. ( the following page about the handy-cam was taken from Bill Nixdorf's website at geocities. )


Made from 1 1/2" square tubing and a wheel chair, this camera mount was designed as an economical alternative to renting a Dolly Cart & Tracks. The placement of the center pivots allows a video camera to be raised and lowered while the center of the image remains constant. Other adjustments can be made in the standard tripod head attachment.

Mark can be seen stage left on the set of the ANYTHING GOES show. He is getting ready to tape the first guest of the show with the new HANDY-CAM camera-mount.

It is the end of the show and Mark has only seconds to roll across the set and back while capturing a clean shot of all the guests. Mark became first HandyCam Operator and Director of Videography due to his excelent coordination, determination, and impressive results.

A long cord extends to the ceiling and is recoiled by a counter weight system as Mark wheels the HANDY-CAM back stage-left.

The Ritchie family had a classic computer problem to solve. They had a used digital camera which didn't "just work" with either Linux or Windows in their home. The photos from the camera showed up on both, but didn't download properly on either.

They needed help from a geek.

After an afternoon of conversation and pie, the camera was working flawlessly with Linux, and no better on Windows. Here's why.

Showing Up

Linux got the the geek to show up. If you've got a modern Ford Taurus, and a '67 Ford Mustang, which one do you think your local shade tree mechanic will want to give you some free help with?

Older cars were designed to let you get under the hood and tinker. Likewise, Linux was designed with the mechanic in mind. You don't have to be a mechanic to drive a car, but it is helpful when cars are designed to be worked on!

Transparent Research

Some quick research showed that the Linux software developers had already created a newer version of the camera software that would be compatible, but it hadn't been released yet.

Having a fix be known but not accessible could be a cause for frustration. The alternative that commercial vendors provide is often worse for the consumer. Apple Computer will suddenly announce a new iPod model, obsoleting the model purchased two months prior. The commercial software process is more secret, less transparent.

If that model were being followed here, I wouldn't have been able to help. Instead, suddenly the upgrade would appear in a few weeks or months which would fix the issue. That's a solution, but sometimes it's nice to solve problems on your own timeline, not your software vendor's!

Accessible Software Developers

In the culture of open source software supporting Linux, leaders are responsive. So even if the camera model wasn't supported at the moment, I could discuss the possibility of adding support for it.

Good luck having a chat with the Microsoft Windows developers if there is a problem.

Getting Help with Open Source

Whether you use Linux or Windows, problems will come up. You'll need a mechanic of sorts. A geek. With open source software, geeks have a much larger tool chest to use to solve problems.

If you aren't sure where to start, try for general Ubuntu Linux support, or trying starting at the website of the software you have a question about. Often you'll find free support options listed there.

couch by bike

Over the weekend I continued my exploration of Linux thin clients.

Now that I had a proof-on-concept system working, I spent my computer time using the thin client, to see if there was anything to observe from "real life" use.

The performance was perfect. I could not perceive any lag time compared to sitting directly at my server computer.

The memory usage was also impressively low. I ran a second KDE desktop on the server, and the system reported "42% memory free", and I have only 256 Megs of memory!

Sharing the 700 Mhz CPU also seemed to be no problem. I could launch an application on the server, switch to the client and continue to work without a slow down.

With a server with "real" specs, I could see how a single machine could comfortably run a whole lab of computers.

Finally, I decided to compare the boot times of the server and the thin client.

The server took 3 minutes to boot to the graphical login screen, while the thin client took only one minute. Another win for thin client users!

I also appreciated the absolute silence of my thin client. There was no hard drive to whir in the pizza-box sized machine, and no fan to run because of the lower power and processor requirements. A totally quiet computer was easy to adjust to!