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.

Happy birthday, Linux

Twenty years ago today, as the wold watch the Soviet Union break up, a Finnish student, Linus Torvalds released the first bit of code that became the Linux — named for him — kernel.

If you use Linux on the desktop, an Android device or are reading this — I use a Linux host; most of the web is served this way — then give a moment’s thought and a bit of thanks.


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 $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.

Something I love about Esperanto organizations

I love the membership cards. What’s the point of being a card-carrying Esperantist, if you don’t get a membership card?

KELI membership card, 2011

I got this one in the mail yesterday, and shows I paid my dues to “United-Statesian” section of the League of Christian Esperantists International for 2011, if that wasn’t plain.

But apart from the symbolic value, membership cards can signal voting rights, link to services and log-ins and note benefits of membership.

This might not be the most practical of tools for church administration or religious associations, but they can be made easily with the gLabels software (for the GNOME desktop, usually associated with Linux users) I mentioned before, and I’ll begin reviewing it this weekend.

Software for that comparative liturgy project

A few days ago, I suggested a common dependence on Frederick Henry Hedge’s translation of the Liturgy of St. James for Unitarian, Universalist and Free Christian communion practice. Rashly I said would create a parallel text showing this development if I could find the software to typeset it.

I think I found what I was remembering: the parcolumns LaTeX package, in part because it can handle more than two columns in parallel. Shall test it, sooner or later, but I thought this tool would be helpful for others making liturgical comparisons.

As I proceed, I’ll also note which LaTeX graphical user interface (GUI) I’ve chosen, ’cause there’s no way I’m doing this in a plain text editor.

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.

Software for publishing hymns

A new hymnal — or at least ready-to-reprint hymns — is one of the pre-conditions (among many) I see for Unitarian and Universalist Christians growing new churches. Singing the Living Tradition doesn’t have the corpus of hymns needed for a rounded Christian life, other denominational hymns often have their own limitations and besides — as I’ve written before — we’re effectively between hymnal generations meaning other options are already several years old.

Besides, having a single current hymnal is a strange place for Unitarian Universalists to be. Both Unitarians and Universalists had a wide choice of hymnals in the past, and today the British Unitarians and Free Christians — only a few thousand strong — commonly use one or both of a choice of two hymnals. We could do better, but I suspect that local hymnals, rather than additional UUA-sponsored hymnals, will be the more likely outcome. Or, alternatively, a church could have their own set of hymn images to be printed in the order of service. The familiar Frankenstein arrangement of hymns photocopied, trimmed, reproduced (often badly) and tipped-in is a bore.

I’ve reviewed some of the options, but I clearly don’t have a gift for the work of typesetting hymns. For one, I don’t read music at all well. But I have been tempted by the open-source Lilypond, a music “automated engraving system”, for Linux (current), Mac OS X (to 10.5) and Windows (to XP). Add a template from, perhaps edited within something like Frescobaldi and you have something like a workflow.

The best PDFs in review

I recently backed up my home computer, reinstalled Ubuntu Linux and decided the terabyte-sized external hard drive was a must. (I recall my younger self backing up with floppy disks. A quick calculation suggests it would take 7510 pounds of those old disks for my current data. And I’m nowhere close to using up that terabyte.) So I’ve taken all my CD and DVD backups and am making one grand version of my data. This will take a while to clean up.

Among those files, I have collected more than 4,000 unique PDFs. Surely some are of use to my reader, so as I review them, I will post them if they’re in the public domain, or point to where you can download them if not.

UU Linux Users Group?

Are there any other Unitarian Universalists interested in forming an online Linux Users Group? The goal could include encouraging principled Linux use among Unitarian Universalists and discovering Linux-based solutions for religious institutions.

If you’re interested please contact me.