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Ubuntu Kung Fu (Book Review)

by Alan German

So, I'm scanning across the library shelves of computer manuals - you know the ones full of books like "Computers for Dummies" by Idiots (or was that "Computers for Idiots" by Dummies?) - when a cute kitten waves at me from the front cover of "Ubuntu Kung Fu". Now, with Ubuntu in the title, and "Tips, Tricks, Hints and Hacks" as the sub-title, this is an eminently more promising tome than any of the computers-for-morons series. So, haul this one home and leaf through the pages...

You may recognize the author - Keir Thomas - as a Linux blogger for PC World's Linux Line. His book is an unstructured list of 315 tips for Ubuntu Linux (using Version 8.04) although, for those requiring some semblance of order, there is a version of the table of contents with the tips loosely categorized by topic.

Some of the items are very promising, like Tip No.8 - Optimise Startup for Faster Boot Times. This offered to shave 20 seconds off a one minute bootup sequence by a simple edit on the init.d/rc file. Unfortunately, the change made absolutely no difference to the bootup time for my Ubuntu 9.04 setup. But, to be fair to the author, Canonical were supposed to have tweaked the new version of Ubuntu in order to improve bootup times, so perhaps the suggested change is now redundant. I didn't go any further but, if you want to explore your system's boot sequence in detail, the next offering, Tip No. 9 - Graph the System Bootup Performance - suggests using the Bootchart utility to provide a graphical display of the boot process with time.

Playing videos in Linux has historically been fraught with difficulties, not the least of which have been the need to use multiple, proprietary codecs. Tip No. 65 - Install all the Multimedia Playback Codecs You'll Ever Need - promises to solve this problem once and for all! Although, there is a link to information on some of the "issues" involved with certain software! Along the same lines, music (MP3) aficionados may find Tip No. 279 - Use a "Legal" MP3 Codec - to be of interest.

Legal issues also seem as though they might be a concern for Tip No. 170 - Steal the Windows (or Mac OS) fonts. One option is to use the freely-available msttcorefonts package; however, there are also instructions for "Importing Fonts from Microsoft Windows" that don't sound too Redmond-friendly! But, as usual, the open-source movement can provide viable alternatives, such as Tip No. 101 - Install 465 Open Source Fonts, and Tip No. 280 - Use Look-a-Likes of the Microsoft Fonts.

Not all of the tips are serious. How about Tip No. 245 - Have a Cow Talk to You, or Tip No. 304 - Turn Your Computer into a Egg Timer? And, Tip No. 114 - Play Emacs Games - must have been specially written for Don Chiasson. (It must be so - he's the only user of Emacs that I know!)

But, there are also many very useful items in the book's pages. For example, have you ever wanted to rename a whole set of digital photographs with file names like IMG_1048.JPG, IMG_1049.JPG, etc.? If your directory contains tens - or hundreds - of files, this can be quite a chore to complete manually. And, who knows the complex sequence of terminal commands to automate the process? So, Tip No. 230 - Rename Many Files at Once (aka Bulk Rename) - to the rescue! The Purrr (yup, that's three r's) utility will allow you to specify a name template, and include a sequential counter, so that your file names can be rather more descriptive of their actual content than what is provided by your camera's naming process.

Some other intriguing options are Tip No. 194 - Do Math at the Command Line, Tip No. 220 - Use a Macintosh OS X-like Dock, and Tip. No. 256 - See the Size of Files/Folders on the Desktop.

So, even though my initial foray into the book's goodies failed to provide an increase in boot speed, perhaps one (or more) of the other 314 tips will pay dividends.

Bottom Line:

Ubuntu Kung Fu - Tips, Tricks, Hints and Hacks
(US $43.75)
Keir Thomas
The Pragmatic Programmers, 2008
ISBN-10: 1-934356-22-0

Originally published: October, 2009

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