28 March 2008

OpenOffice.org 2.4 has been released!

OpenOffice.org 2.4 (the free, open-source office suite for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and other operating systems) was released yesterday. It includes some great new features, which are described (with copious illustrations) at the OOo Ninja site. To download the program, go to the OpenOffice.org website and click on "I want to download OpenOffice.org". The page should detect your operating system and provide a large green button to click to start the download. There is a link just below that to click if you want to download a copy for a different operating system or a different language. If you have visited the OpenOffice.org website before, you will notice the greatly simplified new design of the home page and the cleaner, more modern overall look of the top banner and sidebar of the whole site. Good work, OOo website team!

27 March 2008

Eric takes an "aerobatics" flight

Eric had received a gift certificate for an "aerobatics" flight in a Tiger Moth biplane operating out of our local airport, so today we drove out to the airport so he could take his flight. We see (and hear) this plane several times a day, most days, doing its stunts (rolling over, spinning around, etc) over the bay near our apartment. Eric says the flight was great and the stunts did not in fact feel like riding a roller coaster, as he had expected. Although he couldn't take photos during the stunts, he got some good photos on the flight between the airport and the bay (a few km). A photo album is here. The photos of the plane in flight were taken from our balcony on a different day (without Eric in the plane). It's very difficult to give an idea of the stunt flying without using motion photography. Perhaps we'll get a video sequence one day.

26 March 2008

Jean buys an Asus Eee PC

The local computer store is having a sale. We went there today to buy a scanner and came home with a multifunction scanner/copier/colour-inkjet-printer to share, a terabyte USB hard drive for Eric, and an Asus Eee PC for me. It's cute, weighs less than 1kg, runs on Xandros (Linux) and has most of the programs I use every day, like Firefox, Thunderbird, and OOo all set up and ready to go. It's also set up to access Google Docs, Wikipedia, Gmail, and a bunch of other things with one or two clicks. The keyboard is a bit too small for me to comfortable type more than short things like the occasional email, and the screen is very small (but clear and readable). Could be a useful travel machine. In the photos below, picture 3 shows the Asus Eee on the lower left, my Dell XPS M1210 (12.1-inch screen) on the right, and my 24-inch monitor displaying what's running on the Dell. Picture 4 shows the Eee's display mirrored on the big monitor—great for showing something to a group, or for someone with poor eyesight who needs things enlarged a lot. (I am a bit in that category myself; on any high-resolution device, including large-screen computers, I usually need to enlarge the fonts a lot.)

25 March 2008

Eric buys a MacBook Air

After resisting temptation for over two months, last week Eric bought a MacBook Air. It arrived today. I must say it's the most elegant computer I've ever seen... as well as being ultra-thin and lightweight. The top photo below is us testing one of the marketing gimmicks from the MacBook Air announcement, where Steve Jobs slides it out of an envelope to show how thin it is. We had to find an American-sized envelope for this to work, as Australian ones (designed for paper of narrower width) didn't quite fit.

24 March 2008

More travel photo albums (WA)

Since my last post on this topic, I've created several albums of photos from the Western Australian part of Eric's and my 2004 around-Australia trip. The latest album, featuring photos of Karijini National Park (also known as Hammersley Ranges National Park) starts here. The narrative that goes with this album is on this page, from which you can navigate to other parts of the trip report. Creating albums like these (using JAlbum) is very quick and easy—the most time-consuming part for me is selecting the photos to include. Between us, Eric and I take a lot of digital photos; including all of them would bore everyone. Then I want to crop (and, sometimes, enhance) some of them, which takes yet more time. Did I mention that I use The Gimp (a free, open-source alternative to Adobe Photoshop) for photo manipulation?

23 March 2008

Easter, bilbies, bunnies, and chocolate

Not being Christian, I don't participate in the religious aspects of Easter, but I've always appreciated the 4-day holiday we enjoy in Australia at that time. This year the most conspicuous aspects of the holiday are a blissful silence from the very noisy marina construction site below us, and a lack of chocolate bilbies in town, since the chemist shop that normally stocks the Darrell Lea variety was flooded in January and still hasn't reopened. I mentioned bilbies, both the live and the chocolate varieties, in last year's post on the topic. One can get chocolate bilbies from places other than Darrell Lea, but Darrell Lea is the only manufacturer that gives part of the profits from each sale to the Save the Bilby campaign. In addition, the Darrell Lea bilbies come in four varieties (milk, dark, white, and sugar-free chocolate) and their chocolate tastes better than interior brands. Lastly, Darrell Lea chocolate bilbies look much more life-like than other brands'. Why bilbies? Because they are a native, endangered species that looks a bit like the imported 'bunny' rabbits, which have caused considerable damage to Australia wildlife. But what do bilbies, or bunnies for that matter, have to do with Easter? And what's with the eggs (chocolate or otherwise)? Eric (and About.com have reminded me that the rabbit—or more accurately the hare— was the symbol of Eastre, the Saxon fertility goddess. Eggs have been symbols of fertility since the ancient Greeks and Romans. The early Christian clerics took over more lively celebrations when the pagans wouldn't give up their Spring festival, so eggs and bunnies got incorporated into Christian 'Easter' celebrations despite having nothing to do with the resurrection of Christ. All of that is most relevant this year, when the date of Good Friday happens to coincide with the Equinox (start of Spring in the northern hemisphere), a traditional time for pagan celebrations.

21 March 2008

One writing project leads to another

I'm using the OpenOffice.org 2.x Writer Guide as source material for much of my new book on self-publishing, reorganising parts of it and adding new material more specific to my target audience. Parts of the Writer Guide have not been updated in over a year, so I'm finding lots of little (and not so little) mistakes, including info that became obsolete some time ago but was never spotted and updated. Since I'm updating that info for my own book, I feel obligated to update the Writer Guide itself (both the source files and, in some cases, the wiki version) as I go. I'm also referring to the new edition of the Draw Guide (which has been translated from German and not fully edited and published yet) for tips to help me create some graphics for my new book. Of course I'm spotting editorial corrections needed for the Draw Guide, and distracting myself from my main task by making those corrections. None of these are very onerous tasks, but they do mean that one writing project spawns several others, all of which take some time. It's amazing how a day can disappear on what started out as a small, apparently simple, task.

16 March 2008

Writing another OpenOffice.org book

Although I “retired” at the end of 2007 from my role as lead editor of a group (OOoAuthors) writing OpenOffice.org user guides, I still have a lot I want to say about using the parts of OOo that I use everyday and think I understand fairly well. So I'm self-publishing again. My first project is a book with the working title of Self-publishing using OpenOffice.org Writer. The book is for beginners to intermediate users of OpenOffice.org Writer. It concentrates on the needs of people writing a book-length document such as a thesis, a novel, or a software user guide, including people who want to self-publish their book using one of the on-demand printing services like Lulu, Booksurge, or Lightning Source. I'm publishing the draft on one of my websites (Taming OpenOffice.org), using WordPress. This has been an interesting learning experience, because I wanted to make the navigation sidebar for the book’s pages different from the sidebar for the rest of the website. The simplest solution I could find (that I could understand) was to create and use a second page template, so that’s what I've done. I’m sure there are other ways (such as a conditional PHP statement) to make the sidebar show what I want, but at this point I don't want to distract myself too much from the writing by trying to learn enough PHP programming to get that done. I intend for the book to be available eventually in HTML, PDF, and printed forms. And when that's done, I have several other books in my mind, eager to get out.

07 March 2008

Learning to walk again

Although I was able to walk again fairly soon after my second hip operation, four months later I'm still not walking well. I have a very noticeable limp or lurch, which is much worse if I'm not paying close attention to what I'm doing or if I'm a bit tired. So, a few days ago I finally got around to visiting a local physiotherapist to see if he could suggest anything I could do to improve my walking. He didn't tell me much I didn't already know, but he did tell me some specific exercises I should be doing (or doing differently than I'm doing them now) and he pointed out a few things about my walking that I didn't know (because I can't see what I'm doing or feel just what the real problem is). One of his suggestions was to exercise in a swimming pool. I said that was an excellent idea, but the chances of my actually doing it were very low. (Me: "I could say 'okay, I'll do that', but I gotta be honest: I won't. Anything that involves getting dressed, out of the house, down two flights of steps, and driving or walking somewhere... it won't get done. So let's talk about stuff I'm likely to actually do.") I was wearing my "Grumpy Old Woman" t-shirt, just for his benefit. Eric and I had been investigating treadmills, and the physio agreed that using one was an excellent idea, especially after I assured him that I DO ride my exercise bicycle, because it's right there next to my desk. Last week the local Sports Power store (where I had bought the bicycle and some weights and various other odds and ends over the past few years) had not had in stock the treadmill that I was interested in, but some arrived yesterday, so we went in and bought one. The ever-helpful Wayne from Sports Power delivered it later in the afternoon and unpacked, assembled, and tested it. My room is now rather crowded, though fortunately the treadmill will fold up to free up a bit of floor space if needed. Here are some photos.