Posts tagged ‘review’

Slackware vs Kubuntu: A Subjective Review

Long time fans of this space will be aware that I’m a Slacker.  However, when something wasn’t working as easily as it could, I installed Kubuntu to see what the latest version (Hardy Heron) was like and whether it could tempt me to switch permanently.Slackware & Kubuntu Logos

Firstly, even though all Linux distros are pretty identical at heart (largely the same commands, file structures and so on) there are a number of differences that can make one set of users argue incessantly with another set.  Firstly, Slackware is now the oldest distro still in use – Slackware first began in 1993, followed by Debian, followed by Red Hat.  You will notice that I have left off Suse, that’s because it started life using a Slackware base and then used a Red Hat base.  So in terms of “pure” distros, Slackware was first, followed closely by Debian, followed closely by Red Hat.  In fact, almost all Linux distros use one of those three as their base, as shown on the graphical timeline.  And to wind this paragraph up, Kubuntu is the KDE variant of Ubuntu, which is based on Debian.  There may be a large number of available distributions out there, but there are very few distros to base them off.

In terms of approach and use, Kubuntu and Slackware are very different.  The Slackware methodology is that almost everything should be done by hand: installing programs, configuring programs and so on.  Kubuntu focuses on ease of use: installation of programs is via the Adept Package Manager and using the apt command.  There are also wizards and you know when updates are available by the icon in your system tray.  It is also notable that Slackware come with plain vanilla KDE whereas Kubuntu has a very attractive configuration of KDE installed.

The biggest difference, for me, has been in the sheer amount of hand holding Kubuntu does for you – you are told when a package has a new update and are prompted to install it, the wireless network configuring is largely done for you, if a kernel update is available the update is installed and configured along the lines of the existing kernel.  As well, when you first go to your home folder, you are given a number of pre-created directories – for Documents, Pictures, Templates and Music, for example – and really you could quite happily start using it without having to make any sort of major change yourself.  And that is not a bad thing.  Most Linux users were, or are, Windows users and having something familiar is a great way to ease them into using an entirely different operating system.

Slackware users, on the other hand, are largely left to their own devices.  Slackware, on install, drops you directly into a command prompt.  There are no obvious instructions and you are left to figure it out on your own.  This is entirely by design – if you are expecting to be shown a graphical desktop on first boot and don’t get it, many users would be very stuck and unable to continue.  Slackers know how to get from command line to GUI and so are not stuck.  In Slackware, if you want something to run you have to install it and hand configure it.  If you want a new kernel, you can either download a new one from the mirrors or go to www.kernel.org and get it yourself.  The only pre-created directories available are the ones KDE creates by default.

In a lot of ways, comparing the two distros is like comparing apples and oranges.  Both have a different target audience, both do things differently by design.  However, that is not to say that one can’t go from one to the other. The desktop environment in both is KDE and so a lot of things are done the same.  If you spend enough time using Kubuntu, you will be able to use Slackware – the directories available are similar and many of the commands available are distro-agnostic.

But with all that said, I am a Slacker.  Kubuntu is an excellent distribution of Linux and there are many reviews of it on the internet to give you an idea of what it can do.  I will say that it’s very stable and has a great range of default programs available.  However, I am constantly finding myself hitting the same barrier I always hit when I use a distro like this: I am reluctant to hand configure or install things for fear of breaking the install.  This is a problem that I have hit when using Fedora and Debian (to an extent) and any other distribution with a package manager or that uses wizards to do anything.  At the finish, I like hand configuring and I like to install programs from scratch.  Finally, the old saying applies: once you go Slack, you’ll never go back.

The Erast Fandorin Mysteries

I enjoy reading a good detective novel. I prefer the more “hard boiled” detective, but once in a while I like to read about a more cerebral detective. The most famous of these is, of course, Sherlock Holmes.

Erast Fandorin could well be described as a “Russian Holmes”. He applies logic to his dealings with the criminal mind and always, at least, unmasks his prey. Though, like Holmes, he doesn’t always keep hold of them. Written by Boris Akunin, the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, the Fandorin mysteries have sold more than 18 million copies in Russia alone. The translations are, I believe, faithful – though I have to take that on faith as I don’t read Russian!

Despite being set before the turn of the Twentieth Century, these tales are always thrilling. They show us a Europe before the various wars and revolutions that have helped create the world as we now know it. At that time monarchies were the norm and it was accepted that the monarch’s word was absolute law – all served at their pleasure. It also shows that the world wasn’t very much different: poverty was everywhere, travel around Europe was the norm (despite various border controls it appeared to be easier than now), art, politics, intrigue and international politics were as much in everyone’s minds as they are now.

We first meet Fandorin as a young and naive clerk to the police service. He is eager to make something of himself and is brought to the notice of a young and progressive superior and is enlisted to help with a case where young people are committing suicide in public places. Through this first book we see him fall in love and lose his innocence and naivety in a most brutal fashion. Through the series of books we are shown different parts of Europe, introduced to a war in Turkey and finally discover what became of Jack the Ripper! Throughout this we are taken along with Fandorin and learn how the young naive becomes a cold and ferocious thief taker.

The similarities with Holmes really end with the methods and some of the coldness. We know that Fandorin can love – romantically, fraternally and platonically. He has respect for women – as much of a man of his time can be allowed to. That period was a time of discovery and invention – we are introduced to an early telephone, for example, and learn that the uniqueness of ears and of fingerprints can be of great help to a detective – and the novels never fear to use them as a plot device. Fandorin is a great fan of physical exercise, rising early for stretches, bends and lifts; he learns Japanese martial arts while posted there as a diplomat and returns with a Japanese manservant and new skill.

Akunin clearly has a love and respect for this character. This admiration for his creation carries over into the tales and the adventures can be followed with ease and with a certain respect. If you want a slice of Imperial Russia and a detective who works primarily with his mind, I would recommend this series to you wholeheartedly.

See also:

The Book With No Name – Anonymous

This book was first seen on the internet, the author followed up by self-publishing it and then a publisher picked it up. It’s origins do show in the writing and the pace, however towards the middle of the book it settles down nicely and becomes a fast paced well-written humourous book.

The book tells the tale of “The Book With No Name”, the Eye of the Moon and how they both affect the people and events of Santa Mondega – a town that’s not on any map and which is forgotten by the outside world. The legend has it that anyone who reads the Book dies shortly afterwards. The Bourbon Kid arrives before massacring hundreds of people, there are bounty hunters, hitmen, cops, monks, amnesiac women, killers aplenty and many many pop culture references. The blurb describes it as “Tarantino meets The Da Vinci Code” and reading through a few chapters shows this is an apt description.

The chapters are short and punchy and full of action. The humour comes fast without overcoming the action and tale. So much happens that it’s difficult to describe it and still do it justice. All I can say is read the book – just don’t blame me for what happens afterwards…….

Storm Front (The Dresden Files Book One) – Jim Butcher

One of the dangers, for me, of reviewing a series of books is that I read so quickly that by the time I’m ready to write a review I have to review them all in one fell swoop. I won’t do that with The Dresden Files: firstly, because the way they are written demands a review per book to avoid spoilers and secondly because I’m going to make myself do it properly.

This is the debut novel in the series. Harry Dresden (Harry Copperfield Blackstone Dresden, conjure by it at your own risk) is the only wizard/private investigator in the Chicago area. He’s also the only wizard in the Yellow Pages. He is at constant risk of eviction, he’s under threat of death from his own side and he’s also managed to put himself in the way of a black magician, the Chicago police and a bunch of vampires. All that and a new drug hitting the streets which gives the addicts access to their third eye. Luckily, his friends have his back.

This is an excellent intro to the series, Butcher manages to give us backstory in small doses so that we can follow along without getting fed up. The characters are pretty well fleshed out and we understand and empathise with their motivations. Every action taken is logical within the constraints of the story and you find yourself waiting for the end with bated breath.

Merging magic, detectives and all things that go bump in the night could have gone two ways. Butcher has managed to make it work extremely well. He is also a very patient writer (as we’ll see in later books): he is happy to set up a story yet to come in a book and then wait to spring it on us 2 or 3 books down the line – enough time to wonder what’s coming, not enough time to forget that it is coming.

I would heartily recommend this whole series. Jim Butcher has included sex into the books without falling into the trap of making the whole book about sex and turning readers off him. The writing is simple, intelligent and elegant. The motivations of the characters are easy to get behind. Above all, the book is very very entertaining.

Author’s website: http://www.jim-butcher.com/

This Film is Not Yet Rated

The title of this post is the title of an interesting film I saw last night – This Film is Not Yet Rated. The film came out in September 2006 in the UK, so I’m a little behind the times, but this is a fascinating documentary about the MPAA and the US film ratings. Do you know which rule states when a film goes from an R rating to an NC-17 rating? Nope, me either. Interestingly, according to the documentary, the MPAA either doesn’t know or doesn’t want anyone else to know.

The MPAA comprises 7 media companies and members of each company sit on the board. The film shows that the board is biased towards violent films (violent films tend to get an R rating) and against sex – homosexual acts in particular as they tend to get an NC-17 as against an R for heterosexual sex. The board, at the time the film was made, would not disclose any names of raters, only the head (Joan Graves at the time). This is to prevent them being influenced by film makers. Odd since the film makers made up the MPAA and effectively run it.

It also showed the draconian appeals system – those on the appeals board are anonymous even at the appeal and filmmakers appealing against their rating cannot cite other similar film’s ratings to help their case. There are also 2 church representatives on the appeals board, for some odd reason. They may or may not vote at the appeal, but they can make comment during deliberations.

To be honest, it surprised me and shocked me. The US tends to be very against “big government” and would rather be self-regulating, but this really highlights a case where the system does not work. The fox is in charge of the henhouse and the decisions made are very inconsistent.

Watch this if you have ever wondered why one film received an R rating, but another less violent film received an NC-17.

For comparison, see the UK censor’s site www.BBFC.co.uk and look at the downloads section where you can see the guidelines for film makers in PDF form. You can also see reasons why, for example, ‘Star Wars Episode II – Attack Of The Clones’ received a one second cut to remove footage of a head butt. We also know that . And, more importantly, you as a concerned viewer is able to contact the BBFC to ask for the reasons a particular film or game received a rating.

And we also have more ratings – U, PG, 12, 15, 18 and R18, for the “adult” movies.

The official site for the movie (an independent film which received an NC-17 rating), can be found at http://www.ifc.com/films?aId=18019