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Chumby Is Very Cool, But It’s Not Perfect

I received my Chumby yesterday and it is definitely a neat little device with a fair price tag. So when I say it’s not perfect, I mean exactly that.

According to a post on the Chumby forums by a Chumby employee, “the device has a 266MHz Freescale ARM9 with 133MHz bus, 32MB SDRAM and 64MB of NAND Flash.” It also has two external powered USB ports and a headphone jack on the rear of the unit, along with the power connector and a power button (be careful grabbing it by the back when moving it; I’ve turned it off accidentally once). Another interesting thing to note is that the unit’s wifi is actually a USB 802.11g dongle on the inside of the device, which means you can replace it if need be. There is also a second powered USB port on the inside which is not in use. Lots of room for expansion on this thing.

The other great thing about the Chumby, before we go into my personal experience with it, is that 100% of the software running the thing is either GPLv2 or LGPLv2.

Inside the shipping carton was a plastic sleeve sealed with a Chumby logo sticker, and inside that was the burlap or canvas bag that contained the Chumby and all its accessories.  The entire package has a “recycled materials” feel to it, from the coarse fabric bags that contain the product to the recycled paper manual. If you’re the sort of person who uses the phrase “carbon footprint” in normal conversation, you will likely be pleased at the packaging in which the Chumby arrives.

chumby.jpg

Being the type of person I am, I immediately discovered a velcro-sealed pouch in the bottom of the unit that contained a connector for a 9V battery, one of which I happened to have laying on my desk. The Chumby powered up right away and I set about watching the introductory video that plays on first boot. Shortly thereafter the problems set in.

Now to be fair, I should say up front that I wasn’t thinking about some things. Like how a puny 9V battery isn’t going to power something with an LCD display for very long…and it didn’t. However, going back to my bedroom and plugging it in near the night stand that is now its permanent home, I was having a lot of trouble getting a wireless signal.

My wireless router is probably 30′ in a straight line from the Chumby and the signal has to go through one or two internal walls to reach the Chumby if my door is closed, which it usually is (roommates). It grabbed a signal and an IP address early on, but then would fail to reboot properly. Upon trying to regain connectivity, it would fail — over and over and over. I took the unit out to my work area and plugged it in so it was within a couple feet of the WAP, where it proceeded to function flawlessly (except when I had it on rapidly-draining 9V power only, when it would make awful stuttering static noises and shut down).

Eventually I got it to grab a signal from my bedroom and it hasn’t lost it again (about 25 hours now).  So just be aware that you may experience some issues when you first get it out of the box. Not sure if it just needs burn-in time or what, but it’s run beautifully since.

After you activate the Chumby, a process which consists of tapping the screen to replicate a pattern shown on the Chumby site, you can begin to have fun with it. There are several hundred widgets available already, including 67 clocks, and you can have multiple “channels” containing unique widgets. I currently have a “Clocks” channel with about 10 of my favorite clock designs (a bunch of BBC TV clocks from the 80s, a Nixie tube clock and some other retro stuff), a “Productivity” channel with a Google calendar applet and a mail checker, and the stock “Default” channel where I literally dump anything and everything that looks remotely interesting.

 “Neat, it’s a $179 clock. Big deal,” I hear you saying. It’s a bit more than that. Admittedly, I don’t use the news and RSS widgets as much as most people probably will. Why not? Well I usually have my MacBook sitting right here next to me, so I prefer to read news on the Mac’s larger screen. But I’ve been able to offload 100% of my internet radio needs to the Chumby. It has a built-in SHOUTcast browser, Mediafly podcasts, “Radio Free Chumby” which has a load of FM stations that broadcast via web and you can even plug your iPod directly into one of its two USB ports and play songs from it.

All of the widgets are Flash 7 movies, so it’s possible to author a widget with anything that can produce Flash, not just Macromedia’s proprietary (and usually Linux-hating) tools. This is good news, and I can’t congratulate the Chumby team enough for making such good choices when it came to licensing and implementation of widgets.

The unit can be converted to use wired ethernet with very little work and at least two particular models of 10/100 dongles, a Linksys and a Trendnet, are known to work with it. You can ssh into the unit easily enough, by activating what amounts to an easter egg, as well as perform all sorts of other hacks. These are detailed on Chumby’s own wiki. It runs its own webserver which can be accessed by entering its IP into a web browser, but the only content is a summary of wifi information.

Now, to delve into some of my complaints with Chumby:

The touch screen is a bit “meh.” It works, and it works well enough, but sometimes I find myself having to press a button five or six times before it finally registers, and this occurs whether I use my thumb or my forefinger, pad or fingernail. This seems to be exacerbated when I’m laying down (start using one, you’ll see what I mean) but sometimes even if I’m sitting up and holding it directly in front of me it still gets iffy. It works for the most part and you can recalibrate the touchscreen as and when necessary.

Centralized widget control is the other issue. All widgets for general consumption have to be approved by Chumby and placed on the Chumby Network. This isn’t so bad, but it smacks of Apple’s “all your iPhone applications are belong to us” nonsense they tried to pull (looks like they can’t really enforce this, however, which is good news). I like quality control, but I like choice, too.

“Seeing extra widgets on your chumby that aren’t shown in your channel above? These are added by Chumby Industries and content partners. Sharing these promotional widgets with you is how the Chumby Network stays FREE.”  That was a message that gave me some cause for concern. I understand that bandwidth isn’t free, but I did pay $180 for this thing. Having seen some of these nefarious widgets, I have to say that they’re really not so bad. The ad content disappears in under 30 seconds and you’re not forced to watch the advertisment videos…this is a good compromise and I’m certainly not begrudging Chumby Industries their meal ticket.

As you can see, my complaints with the device are minor. I was pleasantly surprised by how little about the thing irked me at all. Instead of having to grumble about ads, centralized control and a flaky touchscreen, I’ve just been enjoying the hell out of it instead. I think you will, too, if you get one. The only way to really experience it is to use one. I’m glad I bought mine. (4.5/5 rating)

You can find a bunch of videos of Chumby unboxings and other things that are probably way better than the one I tried to shoot on, where else, YouTube.

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The Inova X1 3rd Gen Flashlight: Did they ruin it?

I noticed one of my favorite flashlight review sites a mouthful to say about Inova’s recently updated X1 flashlight. You’ve probably seen these flashlights at Target. They are sold in unique looking packages that allow you to try em out and go “oooh shiny!” Ok, let’s take a break from words and do picture time:

Ok, back to words. The X1 is a small-sized (4 inches long, like half an inch in diameter) LED flashlight that runs off a single AA battery. You can find them at your Target store for $19.99, though sometimes it’s cheaper online. It is, in my opinion, the best bang for the buck when it comes to a general-purpose flashlight you’d carry around in a backpack, purse, or car glovebox. It is one of the only lights in its price range that includes voltage-regulation circuitry that maintains a bright glow throughout the life of the battery — not a steady decay from the moment you put the batteries in.

Now, what’s up with the negativity? Well, in May 2007, Inova released an update to this light, that boasted “2.0 Watt LED“. Now, we won’t go into the marketing inaccuracies of “2W” , but let’s just call it a more powerful bulb. This more powerful bulb is supposed to be twice as bright, but eat battery life 4 times as fast. The battery life has been whittled from the previous 8 hours to a mere 2 hours, according to the manufacturer. Many people in the.. err… flashlight community… are quite upset at Inova’s decision, and so was I at first. But I decided to take a look for myself. I eyed a $15.00 deal at an online retailer, then took advantage of a $10 off Google Checkout coupon. So, at the end of the day, $10 left my pocket and here I have this cute little flashlight sitting on my desk. So, here we go.. I’m gonna review a flashlight. Pardon the lack of pictures, my camera’s battery is discharged and I’m not waiting for it to charge up 🙂

Initial Impressions, Look and Feel

Well, first: opening the box. Laugh at me all you want, but nothing sucks more than injuries sustained trying to open up packaging. I am glad to report that Inova gets my packaging seal of approval! Opening the box was effortless and did not involve any scissors or horribly mutilated plastic.

The light looks REALLY neat and is really easy to hold. I got the black version which looks very nice and sleek. Some simple bash-and-drop tests show that the light stands up superbly to impacts and scratching — so far it’s still unmarred. The light is really lightweight too — it is roughly the weight of a AA battery and a pen.

I loved Inova’s tactical tailcap switch. It’s a twist tailcap with… a twist (Ok, no puns, starting from now) . Twist the tailcap to the tightest position. The light remains constantly on. From there, twist it back around half a turn, until the light shuts off. This is the “instant-on” position. Pushing in the tailcap rubber piece activates the light for as long as you keep pressing. Twist the tailcap another turn out. This is the permanent-off position — perfect for packing in a tight bag. I found the tailcap to be very easy to use overall, though using the instant-on for extended periods of time will result in sore fingers. (You should really just lock it on if you’re using it for that long)

I’d rate a 10/10 for first impressions. Inova truly creates a visually stunning product that looks as good as it feels.

Performance

Note: This should go without saying, but DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE BEAM. It looks like a small scrawny light with a tiny little LED, but I guarantee you a direct look will blind you for a good minute, leaving you feeling very very silly.

Ok, let’s talk lighting. I went on a jog with the light at 10PM, when it was completely dark. On my usual jogging trail, there’s a few areas with extremely bumpy terrain and sudden stair steps. (On my very first run, I nearly tripped down some stairs! That taught me to bring a flashlight.)

So, how was it for navigating in the dark? I’d say “impressively good for its class”. Totally ignoring that this is a AA powered mini-light (I’ll refer to this as “blind” evaluation from now on), this flashlight provided excellent illumination that should be more than adequate for personal use. It was able to illuminate far enough to anticipate tree roots and broken sidewalk tiles even in pitch blackness at running speeds. It will definitely put your big C-battery dollar store flashlights to shame. It certainly isn’t the brightest light I’ve used — my previous, bulkier 3xAAA LED light was noticeably brighter and was able to illuminate further. Putting this flashlight’s size into perspective, I am extremely, extremely impressed. I never expected this much illumination out of a AA light, or even a 2xAA light. And I’ve owned plenty of little lights like these before.

As far as the physical light beam, it has a bright spot in the center, though has a well-illuminated circle that’s roughly 1 meter in diameter at a distance of 0.75 meters. The reflector has a matte/textured finish which helps disperse light more evenly. Even compared to a much more powerful/brighter LED light that I own, this inova was able to effectively illuminate a larger radius. Due to its somewhat lower powered LED, it’s not prone to the blinding reflections off closeby objects like a more powerful flashlight. These properties make this light also very useful for reading in the dark or working on something at night.

For lighting performance, I give it a 8/10 “blind”, a 10+/10 all things considered. I would not expect this level of performance out of a $20 light running on single alkaline AA’s.

For reference, the old one I would rate as a 6/10 “blind”, a 10+/10 all things considered, particularly considering the astounding battery life.

Battery Life

Ok, the dreaded topic… how’s the battery life? Well, I’ve ran two full drains today with the included alkaline battery and also another brand-new name-brand standard alkaline AA. Both consistently lasted roughly 3 hours till most people would call the battery dead for sure, 2:30 until I called it unacceptable.

How’s the discharge curve? Unscientifically, I did not start perceiving “Uh oh, the light’s dimming” until about 2 hours, at which point I could tell that the light was definitely brighter when the batteries were new. At 2:30, it was getting to the point that I had difficulty navigating with that level of brightness. At 3 hours it was basically poof. However, for the first two hours, I’d say the claim of “constant” brightness is pretty much accurate. I’m sure an intensity meter will prove me wrong, but I really don’t care. After all, it’s how I perceive it that ultimately matters to me, not what an Excel graph tells me.

So… what’s up with the 2:30 runtime? This is surely a disappointment from the 10 hour runtime before, right? I wouldn’t say so at all. In my opinion, the new bulb does add significantly noticeable brightness, particularly when illuminating things at a distance. In addition, 2:30 is not that bad at all. Every two hours, you have to pop in a cheap, commonly-available AA alkaline battery. I don’t see the big deal in that. If it were a CR-123A based light where a battery replacement at the local convenience store would cost me $10, then I’d expect the damned thing to run for 25 hours!

Final Verdict?

Did Inova ruin their wonderful entry-level flashlight? No, not at all. With regards to the new bulb, they simply made a trade-off of battery runtime for brighter light. Overall, I like the new reflector’s ability to spread light out more evenly. If someone were to ask me for a recommendation on a general-purpose flashlight, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Inova X1.

Overall Rating: 9/10.

For what you pay for? 10/10 hands down.

Pros: Reasonable price, small and portable, attractive apperance, durable, waterproof, satisfactory lighting, innovative switch, and lifetime warranty.

Cons: Some will say it’s dim: this is not a uber-bright sun replacement. It’s a personal flashlight that is inexpensive and runs off a single AA battery! Shortened Runtime: True, the runtime is drastically shorter than before, but I think the tradeoff was worth it, not to mention replacement/spare AA’s shouldn’t be hard to come by!

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Sabayon Business Edition Review

Sabayon Business Edition 1.0: Easy Gentoo for the office?

Written By Guest poster Thomas Allen.

Want to be our second guest poster? Contact me by email with your idea, kingofallhearts999 (_/at/_) gmail (/./) com (Obviously reformat that one)

Sabayon Business Edition 1.0 is the latest release from Sabayon Linux, the distribution developed by the famous (in Gentoo circles) Fabio Erculiani, also known as “lxnay.” Sabayon is a pre-compiled version of Gentoo with many tweaks and a bent for the cutting-edge. The distribution at first glance is geared to those looking for the maximum in eye candy and gaming ability, which is what makes the latest release surprising. Business Edition aims to be a stable OS aimed at productivity.This OS is based on the Gentoo “stable” branch, whereas all previous Sabayon releases have been based on the “testing” branch. As the names suggest, the system’s software is well-tested and should be very stable.

Live CD

The Live CD (technically, DVD) took quite a while to boot. I notice that much of this time was spend setting up OpenGL, which was surprising, mainly because this version includes no 3D desktop software whatsoever. This is one kink that needs to be worked out of the Business Edition Live CD. Beyond that, the Live system works as perfectly as a live system can. My wireless was detected, and all applications worked as expected.

Installation

Although there are FTP and HTTP mirrors to download Sabayon, users are strongly encouraged to use the torrents, as it usually ensures that the downloaded file will have no flaws, while reducing the strain on Sabayon’s servers. Download speed for me varied, slowing to 40KB/s at times, but at other times topping out my bandwidth. In the end, it took about five hours to download the 1.8GB file, which isn’t too bad.

The install disc was fine, and unlike in previous version of Sabayon, I experienced absolutely no problems during installation. No unhandled exceptions, no freezes! Sabayon’s installer, based on the ancient Anaconda Installer, is clearly maturing. One nice new feature is a very basic software selector that enabled me to, in this case, exclude Games which I have to need for.

You’ll get to choose between GNOME and KDE at this stage as well. For this review, I chose KDE, but it’s a matter of preference. Hopefully another reviewer will take a look at Sabayon’s GNOME, but because the Live CD boots into KDE, I chose that.

The installer is also visually appealing. I must say that this is the best-looking installer I’ve seen to date. The install took about half an hour, which is average on my laptop. But this is all foreplay: How was the system, you ask?

For those interested, here is my test machine: IBM ThinkPad T41, 1.6GHz Pentium M, 1.5GB RAM, ATI Radeon Mobility 7500, Atheros AR5212 Wireless card.

Test Period: A weekend, or about fifteen hours. Spent mostly at home, at the office, in a library, and at my local coffee shop.

The Sabayon Experience

Working with Sabayon Business Edition was a bit disorienting at first. The first five to ten times that I booted the system, everything was painfully slow. I clocked two minutes from boot to login, and another two minutes from when I logged in to when all System Tray applets had loaded. However, things gradually began to speed up, until my system was running at about the same speed as when I’m using Ubuntu or Mandriva. I never re-compiled anything, so there’s no quick explanation for this. Viewing system processes didn’t show anything hogging my memory or CPU either.

I experienced some bugginess while using this distro. Editing KDE settings sometimes crashed the panel, and logging out took me to a text login. I rebooted, and the issue never showed up again. NetworkManager (not KNetworkManager) also crashed on me from time to time.

A shot of Sabayon BE In action

Sabayon, 3D desktop or not, is the best-looking Linux distribution out there in my opinion. Microsoft fonts looked more polished on this system than they do on Windows XP in my office! With subpixel hinting enabled, the polish is even greater. These are the small things that really make a distribution worth using. The default theme is unique and looks great. I themed my desktop with a plain blue KDE wallpaper, and changed the titlebar color to blue. The system has a red look by default, but the last thing I needed was a color that inspires passion and often anger while being frustrated by the initially slow system speed. As you can see in the screenshot, Sabayon is truly beautiful for an OS.

Applications

Sabayon BE comes with a very solid productivity suite. There are graphics programs (Inkscape, GIMP, and Blender, amongst others) and your typical office tools. MySQL comes installed but not configured, as does PostgreSQL. As expected, the prize KDE apps are bundles as well: Amarok, K3B, Digikam, and others. Here’s a complete package list for those interested.

There was one thing that peeved me in particular: In spite of this rich set of applications, Vi(m) is not included, but Emacs is. This is the first Linux distribution I’ve ever used to not include even a minimal Vi installation, and the developers make it clear that they want Vi out: the Visudo command even launches in Nano. We’re far past the days of editor wars, and it’s positively absurd that a user (or, most likely, a developer) should have to manually install Vi, which is one of the most important productivity tools for many.

Besides the above gripe (which is not a minor one) the application suite performs very well, and is a pleasure to use for those who want all multimedia support working out of the box. DVDs played fine, my iPod worked perfectly, and Amarok could play every song. I threw a variety of audio and video at Sabayon, and it gracefully handled all of it.

My wireless card also worked out of the box, but this is nothing to write home about: My card is supported by the Madwifi project, meaning the majority of distros support it out of the box. One annoyance was that, in KNetworkManager, all signals displayed a 100% signal strength, which made selecting the strongest open network impossible. But it connected reliable to the networks I typically used, which made writing this review far easier.

 

Installing new applications, on the other hand was very difficult. I’m no Gentoo pro, nor is the average target Sabayon user, and about half of the packages I wanted to install wouldn’t because they were “masked,” according to Portage. I took the time to read through the Gentoo Handbook’s chapter on Portage and still didn’t find my answer, which was disappointing. I was also bothered that I was being prevented from doing things on my system because of settings I never configured myself, couldn’t understand, and were not accessible to the average user.

 

But life goes on, and as a reviewer, I’d leave it at this: Package management in Sabayon is a pain for new users, and is definitely not user-friendly. Going on trust, Portage gives the user more control than any automated package manager out there, so I’m sure there’s potential here.

Conclusion

Overall, except for the few bugs I experienced, I got the feeling with this release that Sabayon Business Edition has its shortcomings, but that a knowledgeable user could overcome them and really take this system to the next level. And that brings me to what I really appreciate about the Business Edition: Much like the original Sabayon, it’s essentially a way to jump into Gentoo with a working system in under an hour, allowing a user to slowly grow into Gentoo until their Sabayon system is a highly-customized Gentoo. In reality, Sabayon is a highly-customized Gentoo installation.

 

Then what sets this apart from the original Sabayon? For one, it’s based on the stable branch of Gentoo, which one would hope would bring greater stability. It would be wrong for me to doubt this, but to really get a feel for a system’s stability, you usually need to use it for at least a few months. Second, this is a sober release without all the games and other fluff that makes the original Sabayon disk top 3GB. You can call it Sabayon Business Edition: Sabayon for grown-ups.

 

Overall: Three out of five stars

One-liner: Sabayon BE is a unique and powerful system with usability issues to fix, which will put off inexperienced Linux users.

Written By Guest poster Thomas Allen.

Want to be our second guest poster? Contact me by email with your idea, kingofallhearts999 (_/at/_) gmail (/./) com (Obviously reformat that one)

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zsh: The last shell you’ll ever need!

Introduction

Last week, the all-knowing Mako inspired me to give zsh a shot. He started me off with a .zshrc file, and now a week later, I’ve been spreading the word to as many people as I can. But let’s rewind a bit.

First off, the basics: I expect most of you to be familiar with what a shell is. A command-line shell is a user interface to the operating system. For all practical purposes, you know it as “the thing that you type commands into”. There are many, many shells to choose from, and most *nix’es come with different default shells too. Arguably, the most popular shell in use today is the GNU Bourne Again Shell, better known as bash. The other main family of shells is known as the C shells (csh, tcsh) — named after their C-like scripting syntax.

So what’s zsh and why would I want it over my current shell?

The shell I am raving about today is the Z-shell, or zsh. Zsh is an expansion on the Korn shell (ksh), which is an expansion on bash. (UPDATE: The previous statement, as pointed out by a lot of readers, is incorrect. ksh existed before bash, and if anything bash was inspired by ksh. I was merely going by the feature lists and noticing that modern ksh is a lot more capable than bash, and thereby assuming this relationship. I will leave the statement there because changing it might “look bad”).  It is one of the most full-featured shells you can ask for, and I would go as far as to say that everyone has something to gain from using zsh. Particularly if you have stuck with bash or your operating system’s default shell, I strongly recommend you give zsh a shot! What do I like about it?

  1. Acts extremely similar to bash. You can use zsh exactly the way you use bash and not learn a single thing, and even then it’s an improvement! Compatibility with familiar shells is very important. Switching from bash to zsh is not going to be like switching from GEdit to vim. You’ll be instantly at home in that all your bash shortcuts/commands will work as expected, but you’ll also have access to zsh’s goodies. If you’re a shell scripting addict, you’ll be pleased to know that zsh’s scripting syntax is mostly backwards-compatible with bash, too.
  2. Typo correction. How many times have you typed something like aptg-et or other mangled commands? Well, if I do that in zsh, I get a message asking: “zsh: correct 'aptg-et' to 'apt-get' [nyae]? “. Magical, isn’t it? This autocorrect also applies to any parameters or paths or filenames you type.
  3. Phenomenally intelligent tab completion. Wait… I hear what you’re saying already. “Duh you idiot, bash does this too! You just need to uncomment/install bash-completion.” No, that’s not what I mean. Can your bash:
    1. Present suggestions in a menu that you can browse by arrow keys?
    2. Complete the kill command by showing a menu of all your processes?
    3. Complete the aptitude or ls commands by showing a menu of relevant parameters and a short description of what they do?
    4. In addition to exact matches, show also near matches in a separate section?
    5. Pop up completion options even for complex commands virtually instanteously, without bash’s dreaded “UH OH I should’ve typed a few more letters first!” delay?

    If you could say yes to any of these questions, then please let me know! Because after 3 years of using bash, my bash sure doesn’t!

  4. Share history across sessions. Multiple simultaneously running zsh sessions can share history with each other, rather than clobbering each other up. One of the most frustrating things to a bash user is typing in a long command, then searching for it again the next day via Ctrl+r, only to find it nowhere in the history.
  5. Built in pager. I’m a lazy person. And I think you are, too. zsh comes with a pager directly in the shell. This means you can type things like <README and it is equivalent to less README or cat README | less
  6. More powerful globbing. Globbing is the fancy term for “wildcards on steroids” — your matching expressions like “*.c” or “*Office*S03E[0-2][0-9]*.avi” and so on. As the zsh introduction shows, zsh gives you way more powerful globbing expressions. You’ll rarely find yourself forced to whip out the find command or a GUI search tool.
  7. More bearable scripting language. If you’re not a shell scripter, you probably will have no idea what I’m talking, but all you shell scripters out there: Say goodbye to all those bash gotchas. How many times have you been bitten by a statement like [ $FOO = $BAR ] erroring out because FOO or BAR were empty, and then having to resort to silly tricks like [ x$FOO = x$BAR ] . Well, zsh has rescued you with its double-bracked comparisons. [[ $FOO = $BAR ]] will always work, and [[ $FOO && $BAR ]] comes a lot more naturally than [ $FOO -a $BAR ]. I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of zsh’s programming capabilities, but I encourage you to give it a shot!
  8. A lot more. Remember, I’m a beginner too. I have just hit the tip of the iceberg myself. Consult zsh’s wonderful documentation (which I will link to later) for everything you want to know about zsh.

Ok, You Convinced Me. How Do I Start Using zsh?

Excellent! Glad you decided to give it a chance. Unfortunately, zsh won’t do everything I just raved about when you install it. In fact, by default it’s quite bland. I recall two years ago, I heard some buzz about zsh, so I installed it and fired it up, and thought to my self “WTF is this crappy thing? It doesn’t even have tab completion! I’m going back to bash.” To get zsh to do magical things, you need to configure it by a file called .zshrc. This is the analog of bash’s .bashrc or csh’s .cshrc (which is, by the way, not a city in Bosnia). The way most people begin populating this file is by googling for zshrc and using someone else’s as an example. Well, I’ve got some of my own zshrc files too, which I based off Mako’s and various googled zshrc files, so I do not in any way claim any credit to these creations. So, let’s get started:

  1. Install zsh from your distribution. You should consult your distribution’s package manager (yum, apt-get, Synaptic, Portage, fink, you know the drill) because they most likely have it packaged. There are generally two packages, a zsh and a zsh-devel or zsh-beta package. The beta package is newer and contains new features and enhancements, but may have bugs. I personally use the betas and have yet to have a problem, but this choice is up to you. Both work great.
  2. Grab a zshrc file. You can either google-and-build one you like, or start from my sample ones:
    1. Linux:This is the standard one I use on my Linux machines. I run Ubuntu but I didn’t put anything distro-specific in there.
    2. Mac OS X: This is almost identical to the Linux one, except it fixes the behavior of the delete/pgup/pgdn/home/end keys and has a prompt color scheme for black text on white background display schemes (because personally I find that looks better on my Macbook)

    This file should be saved at ~/.zshrc; that is, a file called “.zshrc” in your home directory.

  3. Enjoy, read documentations, tweak to your heart’s content! Please, go to zsh’s homepage and look around the documentation for more tips and tricks. I’m a newbie to zsh — I can’t teach you much about it because I’m learning as we speak.

Additional Resources

If you like what you see but this has left you with more questions than you started with, please seek out these wonderful documentation resources:

  • zsh Homepage. Here you can find links to a lot of good resources.
  • zsh Introduction. A really quick read to give you a good overview of zsh’s abilities.
  • zsh Guide. This is a longer guide but geared towards comprehensively addressing zsh from the user’s standpoint.
  • zsh Manual. This is a really long manual that covers everything you’d want to know about zsh, particularly if you’re a scripter you’ll like this one!
  • zsh Cheatsheet. For the lazy and impatient! (though it’s upside down… sorry, not my fault!)
  • zsh FAQ. Great for those whiny questions that go like “Waah, why does zsh do X and Y differently from my old shell?”
  • zsh Wiki. Community-contributed and maintained documentation, tips/tricks, zshrc’s, extensions and addons.

P.S. Avoid the temptation to spend your next week locked in your room playing with zshrc. It’s really not healthy… (By the way, should hostname be colored $PR_BLUE or $PR_GREEN in the prompt? I’m still contemplating that in my zshrc!)

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Another Streamy Review

As Adam mentioned here, a few of us recently got invited to test out Streamy, a new social news service. Since you can’t even see the interface unless you have an account, not much is really known about it yet, but a lot of buzz has been circulating. A headline on Digg proclaimed it to be the Digg killer, but honestly that’s way off base, and I’ll get to that later.

So what is Streamy? Many things! For my purposes, its chief component is the RSS reader. Web-based RSS readers are a dime a dozen these days. I’ve been a Google Reader junkie for the past few months, but Streamy has won me over. While the interface still isn’t fully tweaked, I find that I can actually get through the news much quicker with Streamy than I ever could with Google Reader. I have even added some feeds since I have the extra time.

But what separates this from other services is the social aspect. Far from being a social network based on purely social reasons, Streamy lets you easily share news with your friends, discover news based on what your friends have been reading, and discover even more news from the collective intelligence of all Streamy users that matches up to what you might be interested in (and in case you’re wondering, it’s right most of the time).

Sharing news is a cinch. All you have to do is drag the article title to the friend/group you want to share it with. You also have access to the “Friends Save Stream” which shows you all items that your friends have saved.

On the topic of dragging, nearly everything is dragable. The interface is incredibly well designed, stretching AJAX past where I’ve seen it before. When you drag the article title, you get three icons: Save Story, Share Story, and Email Story. If you’re in an IM, you can drag a story to the IM window to share it with the person(s) you’re talking with. When you drag a person, you see Send IM, View Profile, and Save Stream, which shows you all stories they have saved.

The IM system is simple and straight-forward, and on top of that, you can talk to your AIM buddies inside Streamy (and support for more protocols is coming).

There’s a Twitter-like “Update” interface that allows you to post public messages about whatever you want.

While some of this seems unrelated, it really fits together quite well. If there were a mini-browser window inside Streamy to check my email, and IRC integration, I would never have to leave Streamy. I find myself spending less and less time outside of Streamy when I’m online.

As far as looks, it’s shiny. I normally don’t like shiny, because it seems like frequently sites are designed to be shiny instead of functional. This is both. There are two themes (so far at least), that are basically a blue version and black/gray version of the same theme. There are minimal transition animations and fades, but it’s not just for the aesthetic appeal, it helps show you what is going on.

While all this is good and well, the best part of the experience is the responsiveness of Jonathan Gray and Donald Mosites, the two developers who do 95% of the work. We frequently have group chats with Don and Jon and discuss likes/dislikes, suggestions, bugs, etc, and they take everything we say seriously, and have made changes based on these discussions. Granted, at the moment there are around 100-150 users, so this level of responsiveness will be unattainable once the site is more popular, however their attitudes early on show that they’re really making a product that people want, not just what they want.

Is there anything I don’t like? Well, the shortcut keys aren’t as intuitive as they could be, but they’re still working on that. Even as they are now, it’s very efficient, and will only get better. Occasionaly there will be a brief period when feeds don’t update, but this is when they’re working on the code. So I can safely say, there’s nothing about it I don’t like that isn’t related to the fact that it’s in constant development at this stage.

Now, is it a Digg killer? Absolutely not! It’s not the same idea at all. In fact, I have Digg set up as one of my feeds. I see Streamy (and sites that may copy it’s idea) becoming an important service for many people, particularly people who are as addicted as I am to RSS. It could also appeal to the Social Networking crowd, but it is definitely not a social network in the typical sense. There will be plenty of people who come over from Digg, and plenty of people from Digg who won’t see the point at all. That’s fine, that’s the way the Internets work. But I highly doubt that many will REPLACE Digg with Streamy. I know I still couldn’t live without the Digg front page stories.

So in closing, keep Streamy on your list of sites to watch! It has changed the way I see RSS and news gathering in general, and it might just do the same for you.

A video of Streamy in action, to hold you over until you can play with it yourself.

This article is also posted here.

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I has a Streamy review.

    So, thanks to a large helping of kindness on behalf of one of the
developers of Streamy, Jon, I and my fellow FriedCPU cohorts got ahold
of some Streamy invites.  Now, I’ve been waiting a while to write this
review, because the site is beta and a lot of changes were happening. 
I expect that this review will not be the last you’ll read on this blog
as my fellow cohorts will be doing the same whenever they feel good and
ready, I suppose.  So, without further adieu here’s a Streamy review:

    The concept behind Streamy seems to be a mixed bag of sharing your favorite
articles with your friends while getting new articles send to you based
on what you might like.  It’s pretty cool, and it seems to work to a
large extent.  I’m not sure how it filters all of this out, but it
does, and I’m fine with that.  Although, while using it I got some
odd-balls that didn’t exactly fit my interests (I’m not interested in
cars, for instance, but I got some GM articles) most of them did fit me
pretty well and I was introduced to a couple of new feeds that I really
like.

    The user interface of Streamy is probably my favorite part.   The
entire site is incredibly ajax-ified, EVERYTHING is drag-able, which is
particularly fun when you’re having a group chat with your friends or
just a one-on-one with someone from your friends list.  At first the
amount of options can seem rather daunting, but it’s very easy to get
used to it.  I have some minor caveats with the interface, but the
interface is under development still, but it’s still under development
so they could change very soon.  The developers have shown a
high-willingness to take input from anyone who is willing to give it,
so I expect a lot of modifications based on input from early
beta-users.  Pages are very simple to navigate in this site, and once
you’re used to dragging everything around the site feels very fluid and
fun.  Another note I have is that the original theme is a very
appealing sky-blue color and it’s very attractive, unless you’re like
me and have sensitive eyes.  Thankfully they have another theme which
is black, and I happen to find it much more attractive myself.  I’m
hoping for a white-text-on-black-bg theme soon, myself.

   
So,
there has been a lot of hype over whether this site is a ‘digg killer’
and it’s just not, the two aren’t even similar.  This site reminds me
of a very social, personalized, RSS-reader dedicated to bringing me
more news and stories tailored to my interests.  I’ve been reading
TechCrunch and other sites dooming Streamy to obscurity, and I couldn’t
disagree more.  Streamy is a great site that brings a great new
experience that keeps me going back and checking the site more often,
and it’s highly viral.  The best thing about this site is that it has a
strong purpose even if you don’t have tons of friends, but having them
makes the site much more engaging and fun.  You can simply
click-and-drag news articles to your friends and chat away about the
contents.  Granted, the site’s contents aren’t JUST news articles as my
two favorite feeds are ‘
I CAN HAS CHEEZEBURGER’ and The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.


    Some aspects of the site I found to be
really cool, like when you add a feed to the site that feed becomes
available for anyone.  The AIM integration is a blast, as well as their
own network which allows for group chats (we have a lot of those). 
They’re planning on supporting more networks as time goes on, I suspect
that Yahoo!, MSN, GoogleTalk, Jabber, and maybe even IRC are on the
list of services to support, but I can confirm that they definitely are
planning on adding Twitter support (came right from a developer’s
mouth-keyboard-typing-thing).  The site also allows you to save
stories/posts that you were particularly fond of, and create filters
that will filter out the entire site’s contents based on the parameters
you put into place.  In short, it’s incredibly feature packed
considering that there are a grand total of two developers, I’m
awestruck when I see the site and realize it’s the work of just two
men.

    So, Streamy is now one of my irreplaceable services
with a permanent place on my bookmarks toolbar.  I’ll try to post up
some screenshots of it later, and maybe even a screencast showing off
the site for you all.  I definitely think it’ll be worth the wait you
are all being put through for this site, it may not be ‘revolutionary’
but I wouldn’t have any problems saying that it’s a step above similar
sites and that it’s definitely a good, usable, site.  I hope you’re all
going to enjoy it as much as I have.

Rant Over.  Flame On.

– Adam.

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