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Gnome filemanagers

31 agosto 2003

the Endeavour file manager for Gnome

Today I intended to write a comparison of a few Gnome filemanagers I downloaded and tested this morning, but it’s late and going to bed is starting to look like an attractive option.

And tomorrow I’ll go to San Siro (or as it’s called now stadio Meazza) to see Inter’s debut match for this season, so I suspect I won’t feel like writing the article either.

So a short entry is in order. Trying to find a speedier and hopefully more usable alternative to Nautilus, I downloaded three file managers:

Velocity looks promising though it makes quite a mess if you let it manage your desktop, or change a folder icon. It also lacks basic things like a detailed view of files, with dates sizes etc (or if it’s there, I could not find it easily enough). No screenshot here, since it basically looks like Nautilus with a working directory tree in the sidebar.

The Gnome File Manager is a very quick, basic Norton Commander look-a- like. It has what you expect from a similar program. Not having much, it does not miss much, apart from context menus to perform basic actions with the mouse instead of hitting the F-keys, a status bar displaying the available F-keys commands like its ancestor has, and drag and drop. No screenshot here either, since it’s look is very plain and similar to most of its relatives.

Endeavour is the best of the three. It’s a feature-rich file manager, with special modes for archives and images, and tools to search for files and mount/unmount disks. I managed to lock it a few times with the open with menu entry for file items, and could not manage to make its archives mode work too well, but on the whole it’s a beautiful and feature-rich application and I suspect that if you spend some time customizing it, it may work well.

In the end I did not use any of the three file managers, and did what I had to do from the shell, as usual. =)

The master's humour

31 agosto 2003

The TeXBook

I’ve started experiencing withdrawal symptoms from new (for me) concepts. So tonight I started reading D.Knuth’s The TeXbook, and I found myself laughing after just a few pages. Usually this does not happen with technical books….

Insiders pronounce the X of TeX as a Greek *chi*, not as an ‘x’, so that TeX rhymes with the word blecchhh. It’s the ‘ch’ sound in Scottish words like loch or German words like ach; it’s a Spanish ‘j’ and a Russian ‘kh’. When you say it correctly to your computer, the terminal may become slightly moist.

Donald Ervin Knuth, The TeXbook, page 1

And the citations are great too. And I’ve been reading only about 5 or 6 pages. =)

LaTeX has been on my to be learned list for a long time, but somehow I never got around to anything more than reading a few pages of Tobias Oetiker’s (you may know him as MRTG’s author) The not so Short Introduction to LaTeX2e. Then I started using LaTeX a few weeks ago as an intermediate format to output pdf from RestructuredText (the same format used to write this blog), and was immediately fascinated by its printed quality, and its versatility.

So when a few days later I was asked to produce printed copies of our (>50k) users directory, I decided to write a simple python script to extract info from our Directory Server and produce a LaTeX file (actually, a few files, as we generate more than one type of directory, and I did not write it alone but together with a colleague, and we copied most of the LaTeX stuff from Rich Lafferty, and as usual the request was to ask the consultants I more or less supervise to do it not do it myself).

I have been looking for quite a long time for a more structured way of writing documents. My first attempts where to use the Microsoft Word outliner (its best and most underrated feature imho), which works well enough for writing simple, one-shot documents. Then I tried using Docbook, but I soon discovered that writing XML directly is a pain, reading it on screen is worse, producing good quality output from Docbook + FOP is a frustrating experience, and double validation (once as XML once printed/on screen) is too much. Then I switched to RestructuredText, and you already know what happened. =)

Now I write my documents in RestructuredText with the same editor I use to write code, and with the added bonus of being able to use CVS for versioning. When I have a sufficiently complete version I convert it to LaTeX, and from then on I make corrections etc to the LaTeX source. For complex documents I use Kile, a very nice LaTeX IDE for KDE that gives me syntax coloring and allows me to jump to sections, preview the output from the IDE, etc.

Since I started using LaTeX, I not only get easily manageable documents and excellent quality output, but I also get small satisfactions, like having one of our Avanade consultants come see me with my last report in hand, and ask me with longing eyes if I used LaTeX to write it. They standardise on Word. =)

My bookmarks, 7 years ago

30 agosto 2003

Tonight I logged in to an old shell account I used in 1995-1996, and which is still used to host a web site belonging to somebody I know, looking for a piece of missing information which might have been there.

I did not find what I was looking for, but I found an old lynx_bookmarks.html file I last accessed in March 1996:

-rw-------   1 xxxxx    other       5915 Mar 10  1996 lynx_bookmarks.html

Hmmm nothing really special, as my real bookmarks were on my super- powerful 486 laptop (and have obviously been lost or deleted as I regularly manage to do). I started surfing the net in 1992 or 1993, and I remember using gopher at the time. It was only later that I managed to install Mosaic (on Linux ofc) on a University computer, then the first release of Netscape, downloaded from Mosaic Communications at

Python metaclasses + misc presentations

29 agosto 2003

A recent thread on clp offers a few interesting links to presentations (not all the thread has already been stored on google groups at the time of this writing):

Very interesting stuff but I suspect you know about most it already if you’re a Python developer. =)

Sun Mad Hatter + Sun Ray

28 agosto 2003

Yesterday I went to Sun Microsystem’s Milan offices, to see a presentation on Sun Ray, their thin client architecture, and a running example of their new Linux desktop, Mad Hatter.

I have to say I was a bit skeptical about the whole thing, the presentation had been arranged almost a couple of months ago and I had totally forgotten about it. From what I had heard about Mad Hatter in previous meetings, I was not convinced it could add any benefits compared to other corporate-oriented Linux distributions, apart maybe for a single source of support.

Moreover, I had already been bitten a few years ago by Sun’s thin clients, when I convinced the company I worked for to buy a few JavaStations for testing, and after fiddling with them a while we found them completely useless (or at least not up to the hype that was surrounding them).

Plus, after the summer vacations schedules are still a bit fuzzy around here, so I was lucky one of the sales engineers called be the day before yesterday to remind me of the meeting, or else I would have totally forgotten it.

Despite all this, the presentation turned out to be very interesting. I came out of Sun’s building totally impressed by what I had seen.

Sun Ray is a wonderful architecture. The clients are beautiful and sufficiently fast, sessions get transparently restored across geographical networks, and with Solaris supporting Gnome you feel right at home in Sun Ray’s desktop. Moreover, rumours say the server software that controls the thin clients will soon be able to run on Linux, giving you the option of using 386 servers instead of expensive (but reliable and beautiful) SPARC servers.

After the presentation, the Sun people let me play around a bit on a couple of Sun Rays, one attached to a guest network, one attached to Sun’s worldwide network. The real thing was even better than the presentation (which was very interesting already), and that’s not something you see often.

Now I’m trying to convince my boss to spend some money on a start-up bundle (15 Sun Rays and a small Sun Server for 8k euros), so that we can properly test them. Unfortunately, we’re becoming more and more Microsoft-oriented at least on the desktop side of things, and technology decision are usually based on politics rather than technical merits, as is always the case in huge organizations.

As for Mad Hatter, I had a quick look and was favorably impressed. It is based on SuSe, not on RedHat as they told us a couple of months ago. It sports all the usual apps, Star Office (ofc), and a beautifully themed Gnome Desktop. What surprised me is that the Gnome packages are pretty bleeding edge. I was prepared to find the usual corporate-oriented distro, ie slow to accept changes and favouring old and stable packages vs new and potentially unstable ones. Instead, the feel of Mad Hatter is of something built by affectionate developers, with a very careful eye towards the professional user’s needs.

I’m very curious to see how it feels using it on a day-to-day basis. I hope we’re able to join the beta test in a few weeks.

To sum it up, a well spent and interesting morning, in a beautiful (if empty — we crossed lots of rooms without seeing anybody around) space, with very kind and knowledgeable people (they even let me play a bit on a Mac OSX system they had lying around, lol).

Mozilla Firebird nightly builds

25 agosto 2003

mozilla firebird

I tried Mozilla Firebird as soon as it was announced, and was not impressed enough to switch from Mozilla. Plus, I was using Mozilla Mail as my email client, and it felt a bit funny to use something else as a browser.

Lately I started using Evolution, which I like a lot apart from some minor annoyances (no context menu in the message pane for copying, poor LDAP support compared to Mozilla Mail), so I went around shopping for a new browser.

I tried Epiphany, which is still a bit rough, and Galeon. One or the other of them messed up my Mozilla installation (on two different machines, so it’s not a localized issue) so much that I had to wipe it and reinstall it from scratch.

This morning while having breakfast an entry on AMK’s Diary mentioned Burning Edge, a Mozilla/Firebird blog where new builds are announced daily. I went to have a look and there’s a Linux+gtk2+xft nightly build. I installed it and liked it so much it’s now my default browser. Definitely recommended, if you can overcome the .rpm .apt addiction and simply untar an archive somewhere. Of course, using Slackware I’m not annoyed by these things. =)

update: mainly as a bookmark for myself, Firebird packages for Slackware 9.0 are available at

Ie-only sites

25 agosto 2003

Grr I hate internet explorer-only sites. I’m enjoying watching the 9th World Championships in Athletics (ever since I have been able to watch TV on my computer I am watching a lot of sports events), but the IAAF site does not work under Mozilla/Firebird.

The site looks pretty nice and displays flawlessly, but the left navigation menus do not work. You open up the source to try and find the links to the competition’s timetables (which are buried deep in their site ofc), and nothing comes up. Grrrrrr.

For those of you who like watching the Championships, here is the link to the timetable. BTW I am always amazed at how pretty most of the athletes(ses) are. A good body usually goes with the job, but it’s not only that. Maybe the greeks where sort of right?

Reports from the past - The Gibigianna/2

23 agosto 2003

anybody knows what kind of car this is?

The second and last part of our report from the Gibigianna. In the image you can see on your left, a car has been brought on stage. I wonder what kind of car this is (the year is 1928). update: I was fooled by the picture, looking at the .tif scanned from the original, the car is not a real car but a stage replica. Even more impressive. =)

A writing by my aunt on the back of one of the pictures identifies a few of the participants and sets a different location from the one given on the silver ashtray (my grandmother is the 4th from the right standing in the first row)

in Castellazzo di Bollate party at Marchesa Crivelli’s

in the 1st row grandmother, Marichette Valentini, with the mage’s hat Vico Sormani

below the panel on the wall Alberto Sormani, at the far right Donà dalle Rose


It’s 1928 then, and the place is Castellazzo di Bollate not Rovellasca. Rovellasca is a small town near Como, where the Marchesi (marquis) Crivelli had their villa, villa Arconati-Crivelli. The Crivelli where cousins to my grandmother via her mother Beatrice Sormani.

Castellazzo di Bollate is a small town near Milano, where in the XVII century the Conti (counts) Arconati built their splendid villa. As was usual for rich noble families of the time, the villa had an impressive art collection and library, where for a time Leonardo’s Codice Atlantico (now at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milano) was kept. In the villa gardens, one could find fragments of the funerary monument of Gastone di Foix, duke of Nemours and nephew of Louis XII, or the statue of Pompeo at whose feet Caesar was said to be killed.

It is in this impressive settings then that my grandmother’s recorded Gibigianna took place. The panel affixed on the wall in one of the pictures says:

O! What is life?

It’s a gibigianna

who glitters here and there

it’s fate

For those who have missed our previous report, Gibigianna is an old term used in Lombardy meaning either a glitter of light reflected from a mirror or glass, or used as a humorous term for a woman who displays elegance.

That’s all for my first Report from the Past. All the images of the Gibigianna are available in a separate directory (since getting text to wrap around multiple images in a blog page is a tedious, error prone and a bit futile process).