Google Maps issues

A while ago I had problems using Google Maps - I had a slow loading issue which ran into an error.

I found a discussion about this problem where many people were angry at Google because they don't fix this problem.

I found out that the problem was due to my browser security plugins Adblock Plus and NoScript. At least one of those (I think it was NoScript) was blocking the site gstatic.com (and google.com of course or at least maps.google.com). No need to completely disable (which was mentioned also in the discussion), just whitelist relevant sites in those plugins (Check site media information to see loaded images for example).

Some other people mentioned different reasons causing the same problem like:
  • Check your orther privacy or security plugins for blocking maps.google.com or gstatic.com
  • Delete cookies for maps.google.com as well as all temporary internet files (clear cache).
  • Skype extension for Firefox causing the problem.
  • DNS problems (that usually temporarily - to separate this reason from others check availability of maps.google.com and gstatic.com using nslookup and check if it works using a different browser without any plugins - if both works then DNS is not the reason for your problem).
  • if2k (if on Mac).
  • Badly written router firewalls (try deactivating IPv6).
  • Turn off inprivate filtering (if on Windows IE).
  • Windows only: Uninstall Java and reinstall launching as Administrator (Win 7).
  • Your mobile web service provider might have implemented an accelerator reducing image quality - check and turn off on the provider's website.

I am posting this because there were many responses to this and still some are posting without reading the earlier answers offering solutions and it seems that plenty of people experiencing problems with google maps.


Normal.dot in OpenOffice or LibreOffice

Some time ago I was asked where the normal.dot is in Open Office and I was stuck. I don't open the writer and write. I have copied all my templates to ~/Templates. The first action I take when I want to create a new document is to go in the folder where I want to save it, click the right mouse-button, hover on "Create new document" and choose the template of my choice. That way I neither have to think about what type of document (text, graphic, spreadsheet) my template needs to be.

However, most people are just used to just firing up MS Word or if they are on Windows with Open Office they miss the nice template folder and to create a new document from a template within Open Office for me is definitely too many clicks away (3 clicks and 2 double-clicks).

When I was asked for the "normal.dot" I searched a lot and I searched the internet to finally find out, that it is described very well in the Open Office help:

To Create a Default Template
  1. Create a document and the content and formatting styles that you want. 
  2. Choose File - Templates - Save.
  3. In the New Template box, type a name for the new template
  4. In the Categories list, select "My Templates", and then click OK.
  5. Choose File - Templates - Organize.
  6. In the Templates list, double-click the "My Templates" folder.
  7. Right-click the template that you created, and choose Set as Default Template.
  8. Click Close.
It's the same in LibreOffice by the way.

Related posts: Default paper size in Open Office, Firefox change default page format, Locale configuration on Ubuntu.

Default Paper Size in Open Office

Under Linux (or at least under Gnome or Ubuntu) we already had the issue with default paper size in Firefox. Now on my older Ubuntu 10.04 workstation where I have not yet upgraded from Open Office to LibreOffice my wife has a permanent problem with wrong default paper size when using Open Office.

I have examined the situation and found out that in Ubuntu system administration under Printing the default paper size has not been set to A4. OK, but didn't help for OpenOffice.

Finally I gave up finding the problem and started to google. After a while I found a blog entry at "Starry Hope": OpenOffice Default Paper Size for Printing - here the important part:
1. Change the default paper size in /etc/papersize
This is the first place to look and solved the problem most of the time. Simply edit /etc/papersize and change “letter” to “a4″ then restart OpenOffice.

2. Check for settings in ~/.cups
In some cases, CUPS saves printer settings for individual users in their home directory (don’t ask me why). If you see a .cups directory in your home directory, open it and see if “Letter” isn’t set as the default paper size in there. (In my case, I just deleted the .cups directory all together).

3. Check for poorly formatted PPD files
Check the PPD file for your printer in /etc/cups/ppd/ to see if it has errors. Apparently, some PPD files are incorrectly formatted and cause an error. This problem is most commonly discussed in relation to Brother printers. You can find more info in this bug report. - Seems to be fixed.

4. Change DefaultPageSize in SGENPRT.PS
It appears that OpenOffice gets its default media size for some printers from the DefaultPageSize line in the /usr/lib/openoffice/basis3.2/share/psprint/driver/SGENPRT.PS file. More info here.
In my case indeed, changing "letter" to "A4" in /etc/papersize already solved the issue - thanks so much!

Related post: Firefox change default page format, Normal.dot in OpenOffice or LibreOffice.


Outlook Calendar Meetings

When it comes to discussion about alternatives to MS Outlook, a common argument is the unique calendar and meeting request feature. So far I could understand people as it seemed quite comfortable to me (even although nothing beats the Google Calendar).

After working a lot with the Outlook Calendar (although mostly through the web or thank good, integrated with Lightning in Thunderbird), I can tell you: No, the Outlook Calendar is not so good, as you might think!

BTW: Outlook is not the only software supporting such features any more.

Here are a few things that are super-annoying (and I am talking about the 2010 version - so state-of-the-art version):
  • I cannot create an appointment over n hours with one click and drag (this works in Google Calendar and Ligthning for example). I always need to double-click and set the length by adjusting end-time.
  • When I accept a meeting request, in the Outlook Web-Access, the appointment is carved in stone - I cannot change it (apart from background color), however,
  • in the Outlook 2010 desktop application I can change the meeting details - usually I add relevant informations to a meeting, information that I need exactly for that appointment, like addresses, contact phone numbers, conference call numbers etc. So far so good, problem: When the initiator of the meeting makes changes to the event, mine gets updated without notice and my edits are gone! - This also means that if somebody is ill and I change a foreign appointment, I wipe out their notes either - that's crazy!
  • When viewing a shared calendar from another person in web client, the other calendar gets displayed next to mine and not in  an overlapping mode. Do this with 3 and everything gets too narrow to view on a normal laptop display.
Related posts: Outlook 2010 Meeting requests, Thunderbird & the Outlook Global Address book, Popular Ubuntu desktop myths, Maintaining multiple calendars.


Mobile phone situation

I was a Nokia user since about 2000 and it was hard to give up on these high quality phones during the first quarter of this year. I also have seen other phones, like a Sony Ericsson after changing job - and (just to mention one of the few strange UI concepts) I will never understand why it offers switching to flight/airplane mode when I turn on the phone instead of when I am about to switch it off. I have also seen the iPhone (used for about 2 years by my wife).

And now I am looking back to about 6 months of Android use on two different phones. Even my wife switched to Android after an unrecoverable error in mail sync (since then no e-mail access any more on the iPhone). I was not able to fix that due to the poor (or better non-existent) options to clean-up temporary files, cache or application data. There is a simple rule for the iPhone: The user can't ruin the OS, but the user even cannot fix it. Apple did not consider software bugs that affect their bricks.

On the other hand I was able to completely recover after several problems with SD card (resulting in a final permanent failure - hardware defect) on my Android phone.

What they do not tell you while pushing you to buy a smart phone:
  1. You must recharge your smart phone nearly every day!
    The very bad thing with smart phones these days is battery lifetime. And it's the same for the iPhone and for the Android phones. Out of the box most smartphones last a single day of medium usage.
    Fortunately you can optimize battery usage by dimming display, turn off W-LAN, GPS and so on (I will get to this in a another post). I get about 2 days of medium use now - but hey, there have been times where I needed to recharge only after 10 days (like the Nokia 6210). Still very good the Nokia 6310i and later the Nokia E-71 (which I still use as my business phone only for doing calls).
  2. Speaker and Microphone quality drops drastically!
    I don't know a single smart phone which has a real good microphone and speaker. The best I ever experienced was the Nokia E-71. Driving in the car with freehand speaking was still possible even if I was driving on the highway. Nothing can top that! Neither the iPhone or any Android phone reaches that. I am used to say: "With todays smart phones you can do everything but phone calls." In fact, this most important feature gets out of focus.
  3. Radio reception drops.
    Maybe it is just my impression, but the older phones still got radio reception at locations where I don't get connection anymore now.
  4. You are quite naked when you leave the country.
    As soon as you leave the country and roaming gets active, all the network features that require data connection are usually switched off. This means that a lot of features are inaccessible or only at a high cost. However, there are a few exceptions: Three does not charge roaming (neither for calls nor for data) while you are in one of the countries where Three is present. For other countries it means, you need to use W-LAN where possible.
  5. You enter in the world of software updates and even malware.
    With the large set of applications you will now need to update those from time to time and you might either install malware by accident. So this means: Maintenance work.

The good things are:
  1. You get your emails quite as fast as SMS!
  2. Social networking on the go.
    You can go through the news during short waiting times (public means of transport, doctor, queue at the supermarket etc). Such situations are the best opportunity for social networking.
  3. You can manage to-do-lists, expenses etc with the appropriate applications.
  4. You can use your phone as a GPS navigator or photo camera. This means that navigator or photo camera can be left at home, if you don't plan excessive use of them and just use your phone instead.
  5. Web browsing on the go for getting informed.
    While in a foreign city, talking to a friend or to get information to an art you look at, the mobile phone can help you by serving you helpful information.

I first had a ZTE Blade, which although very uncommon, had quite good specifications - "good" in the sense of "in equilibrium". Why I say this? Well, there are already dual-core processor phones, but more power does either consume more battery - combine this with a small phone (= usually smaller battery) and you are done.

In that first attempt I really did not want to spend a lot because what I have seen from the iPhone I was very skeptical, if I really want to have such a "smart" phone. I was quite satisfied with it - of course, pressing the buttons you feel that it is a cheap phone and the touch screen is not the best. Freehand speaking is to forget also.

Now I have an HTC Desire Z. It is only a little heavier than my Nokia E-71 and offers a real keyboard which I like very much in general. A real keyboard is still better than every touch screen. That said, with this phone you have both anyway. For those who plan a more intensive use of the Android phone, the HTC Desire Z is a good choice. I also thought about a Samsung, but from what I heard and read, I expected less battery lifetime of Samsung (maybe also due to more widely used AMOLED displays, which take more than normal LCD as far as I know). Also I like a few features of HTC, like turning/flipping the phone to make it silent or ringing getting near to silent automatically when you take the phone from the table in your hands - as it is now clear that you heard it ringing (but maybe want to take a look who it is before taking the call). Freehand speaking is not quite as good as Nokia, but a lot better than the ZTE. I was able to use it while driving (slowly).

I enjoy the additional features but the last time I left the country, I worried if the battery will last. In the meantime I have 3 multi-loader (capable with adapters to load all type of phones), one in the office, one at home and one that I take with me so I can load the phone even in the car - just to make sure I can get power if it is needed. And battery lifetime can even drop fast if you are not really using it, but you are in an area where it takes a lot of energy to keep being in reach with the next radio mast.

Related post: Efficiently following web news with RSS, Mobile world with Android.


Distribution choice

Lately I am testing a lot of different Linux distributions for the desktop.
There were some discussions about Unity (the new default desktop used in Ubuntu) and Gnome3 (the new Gnome default desktop) and that made me think and test other distributions.

Maybe I should point out the major differences seen in different flavors of Linux. These are the core points where they are different:
  • Base distribution from which it is derived from.
    Many distributions are based on others, only a few are doing everything from scratch in their own way. Some are based on Debian or Redhat for example. Somehow relevant is then also the company that stands behind the distribution as main contributor (if there is one particular company behind).
  • Package Management System - some use apt (debian) some yum (redhat) for example)
  • Default Desktop environment and window managers used (can be Gnome, KDE, XFCE, LXDE, Fluxbox etc etc).
  • Default packaged applications (the set of applications installed by default when installing the distribution).
  • Core objective (be it use as a Server, on the desktop, on routers or net storage systems, etc).
  • Hardware support. Although all Linux distributions share the same core parts (Kernel), different distributions are based on different versions of the kernel, apply different patches and some do add several drivers where no source code is available (while others do strictly include only open-source drivers). Because of these differences not all distributions support all sets of hardware. So it is very probable that this last point is the most important one.
  • Oh, and there are plenty of navigation bars that can be used - for example AWN, Cairo Dock, Docky and many, many more. Those are GUI elements for application launchers, taskbar management and things like that. Here you have to choose - if you are not satisfied with what your favorite distribution brings - mixing them is not a good idea...
Here is an overview of relevant components mentioned above:
For those who are now overwhelmed with options and cannot decide, remember that you can install either all desktop environments together on one machine and decide what you want to use at each login! You can either use Gnome for example but install and run applications written for KDE either while logged in using Gnome Desktop. You can run a mix of Gnome or KDE etc applications, whatever desktop environment you are currently using. So there is no exclusive OR in desktop environment or particular applications. The only thing that is not interchangeable (at least not so easy) is just the package management system - which is usually of secondary importance for the normal user.

Regarding hardware choice there are two options:
  • Inform yourself, what hardware is supported by your favorite Linux distribution and buy those - or
  • Go to any shop of your choice and just tell them that you want a machine that is compatible with "<Put Linux distribution of your choice>" and if not you will throw them their piece back on the counter.
I use a mix of these strategies. :]

For choosing a distribution, my advice is:
  1. Look at the screen shots of different distributions. Those you find horrible to look at in general, are probably the ones you would like less. That said, often it is sufficient to switch the theme to get a much more friendlier desktop.
  2. Watch demo videos of different desktop environments on youtube (or other channels).
  3. Try them. Most Linux distributions offer Live-CDs for download. That means: You download a CD image, burn it on CD and then boot the computer with that CD that offers to start Linux without changing your current installation - everything is run from the CD. That is of course slower as if it would run from the hard disk, but doesn't change anything on your current machine.
  4. Search the repositories (software center or however it is called in the distribution) for applications you might want to try. Don't search for applications by typing "Microsoft Word" - no - try "word processor" or instead of "Excel" or "Photoshop" try "Spreadsheet" and "photo editor". The idea is to use search keywords that describe what you want to do. The reason for this is: For your favorite photo editor you used on Windows might not exist a Linux-version. But there might be plenty of other applications doing the same stuff on Linux.

Here are the distributions I tested since 2005 (skipping all those I only took a very short look at):
  • Fedora (with which I started in about 2005)
  • Ubuntu (my current primary OS in the office and at home in version 10.04 with latest updates). I also tested other flavors like Kubuntu (Ubuntu with KDE), Xubuntu (Ubuntu with XFCE), Lubuntu (Ubuntu with LXDE).
  • Mint (including different flavors)
  • Puppy Linux
  • Debian (Stable and Testing)
  • Zorin OS
Maybe you are missing OpenSUSE here - as it is also a widely used distribution. I skipped it because from all major distributions I know, SUSE is the one that works closer with Microsoft. Because of the business conduct of Microsoft I want to be as far from them as possible and that's why I didn't either test OpenSUSE. Apart from that I heard many complaints about it.

Although I am pretty convinced of the stability of a Debian server, on the desktop even the testing version contains outdated program versions. (On my last tests the second website I visited complained about outdated browser ;-) ).

These are currently my favorite distributions:
  1. Ubuntu (of course, as it is my primary OS, based on Debian)
  2. Mint (based on Ubuntu)
  3. Zorin OS (also based on Ubuntu)
    it quite nicely implements a very Windows 7 like desktop environment. Those who like the Windows 7 taskbar, will like the Zorin OS. Of course it brings a cleaner menu and a package manager - things you don't get on Windows 7 ;-) .
All those offer the install of different desktop environments, so you can hop desktop environment for each single logon. You can find them searching for kubuntu-desktop, xubuntu-desktop or lubuntu-desktop in synaptic package manager.

Remember that depending on your type of job and the needs it brings - and depending on personal flavors you might find a different distribution or desktop environment to fit best!

Related posts: Popular Ubuntu myths, Why I switched to Ubuntu, Going Linux, The individual desktop.