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With the latest version of Ubuntu (I’m currently running 10.04, Lucid Lynx), there has been some changes to the input of complex characters such as Chinese. The introduction of the IBus software followed by some minor tweaking has virtually quadrupled my typing speed in Chinese, something I want to help other people to achieve. It’s a matter of making a few changes in the preferences, but even though it’s very simple, I failed to find the correct setup on my own. It was (thanks!) who showed me how to do it and I would now like to repay the favour by spreading the word.

The problem

In earlier versions of Ubuntu, SCIM was a popular input method, and it worked alright for simplified Chinese. However, when entering traditional characters, the system broke down completely and the user was often forced to select every single character individually, sometimes having to browse through dozens of entries to find the correct one. If the program was able to guess any multiple-character words at all, they were always in simplified Chinese. To type quickly in Chinese, there has to be extensive word lists available so the computer can guess what word you want to type; it works a little bit like T9 on mobile phones.

This made typing any larger volumes of text in traditional Chinese a real pain, and it has been a major curse for me for quite a while. Look at the text on my Chinese blog and consider for a moment that all those character were individually chosen by me, not automatically by a piece of software as it’s meant to be. But, no more, those sad days of frustration and despair are gone!

Let’s get down to how to actually setup the input to work properly.

The solution

This is so simple that instructions shouldn’t be needed, but since I failed, there might be others who need help as well.

1. Follow these general guidelines to set up IBus as your preferred input system for complex characters.
2. Open the preferences for IBus (has to be version 1.2 or later) by right-clicking the icon in the tray; this is where you add various input methods.
3. The method you’re looking for is under “Chinese” or “漢語“ and is simply called “pinyin”, but there are several different ones; you are looking for the one with only the 拼 (pin) character on it, not the one with the same character and “ALL” written below it.
4. You can tweak the settings for this input method a bit, such as choosing to have traditional as the default. You can easily shift between simplified and traditional, as well as Chinese and English.
5. Press ctrl + space to switch input on off, press shift to switch between English and Chinese, and that’s about it.

This is the input method you want.

The result is fantastic! The database of words that’s being used here covers almost anything normal you care to name. Sometimes, you need to teach the software to prefer traditional over simplified, but you only need to do this once and for a minority of words (such as 週末/周末); don’t trust IBus blindly.

The upshot of all this is that I can now chat with friends in Taiwan at a pace of well above 60 characters per minute, which is probably at least four times quicker than before, 太棒了!

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Computer meltdown*

My computer suffered a major meltdown earlier today. I still do not know exactly what is wrong, but I suspect hardware problems, probably hard drive or memory. The reason I think it is hardware failure and not something else is because Windows and Linux both failed to work at the same time. Also, when I try to reinstall Linux, the partition software cannot be launched, which should indicate that something is wrong with the hard drive.

However, the computer is not completely gone, because some things still work in Linux (I can write this text in the text editor, for instance, and with some problems, I can even review my Chinese characters). Any more advanced programs suffer from freezes every time an action is performed (such as clicking a button). The freeze lasts perhaps ten seconds, which renders most programs worthless (for instance, I cannot add new Chinese characters, because it would take me a couple of minutes to add one). Same goes for surfing the web.

This means that I will not be on IRC (although MSN and ICQ seems to work, at least occasionally). If I fail to fix this problem in the near future, I will have to hand the laptop over to a hardware shop, which is something I dread because I am so dependent on my computer for my studying and creative projects. Right now, it does not seem like I have much choice, but I will still have another go at this after I finish my class tonight. Anyway, regardless of what happens, you will definitely see less of me until this is fixed. I will try to check e-mail at least once everyday, but I cannot promise anything. A pox on all computer problems and see you soon.

*Nuisance alarm: I have now managed to solve the problem, at least partly. It turned out not to be that serious, but rather many simultaneous errors. This is very, very unlikely, but it actually seems like Windows collapsed entirely at the same time as Linux, but that they two operating systems failed separately. The reason I could not format the drives were not a fault in the drives themselves, but in the USB slot I used! So, after spending quite some time trying different combinations, CDs and so forth, I managed to wipe the Liux partition and start again. I now have Ubuntu 8.10 running without a hitch, but Windows is still a big mess. However, that is okay since I only use Windows for handwriting Chinese and recording Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, both activities I can live without for a while.

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Zepto Znote 3215W

Product: Zepto Znote 3215W

Six months ago, I bought a Zepto Znote 3215W laptop. After six months of use, I am now in a position to review this product properly. Before I begin, let me explain in what circumstances I have used the computer. My main reason for buying a laptop was related to education: I needed a laptop to take notes on lectures and to keep necessary digital data with me whenever I wanted to. In addition to this, my stationary computer at home is very unreliable, so having a second, newer computer as a backup makes me feel more secure.

Zepto is a Swedish company, selling tailored laptops fairly cheaply, which is why I became interested in the first place. They allow customers to choose a foundation, and then enable them to add, remove or upgrade components as they please. Operating system is optional, which is awesome for me, since I am running Ubuntu Linux on the laptop (apart from a minor fix with the sound, everything worked smoothly from the start). This is what I ended up with:

Zepto Znote 3215W
CPU: Intel Core Duo T2330 1,6 GHz 533MHZ
RAM: 1024 MB DDR2 PC5300 Org Zepto
HDD: 120GB SATA 2,5″ 5400RPM – SAMSUNG
DVD: SAMSUNG COMBO 6xx4w/6xx5WD/2xx5W
LAN: Intel Pro/Wireless 4965AGN
Power: Zn 2x25W 9 Cell Battery

Please note that the original package is much cheaper. I decided to upgrade a few things, including battery, HDD and CPU.

I spent some time comparing prices for computers with long battery time, and Zepto came out on top without much doubt. I am not sure if this is the case today, but paying roughly 5000 Swedish crowns (approximately $820) for a battery life of more than eight hours when idle was very good. Also, the figures mentioned on Zepto’s website is not false in anyway. When using the computer for normal, office-related tasks such as writing and editing text, the battery is good for at least six hours. I have not tested battery time with very high CPU usage, but I have no reason to believe that almost four hours should be wrong. This is with the added 9-cell battery I upgraded to.

Installation of Ubuntu is supported officially, which means that they guarantee that the hardware works with that distribution of Linux. The sound card needs updated drivers to work properly, but I had no problems fixing this, even though I have never used Linux before (a discussion thread helped me out). Another, minor advantage is the four USB ports (many cheap computer only have two). Furthermore, the computer is delivered with two power cords, which makes it convenient to leave one at home and keep the other in the bag.

My dealings with Zepto as a company have been satisfying, but since I did not experience any problems, I suppose I am not in a position to truly evaluate the company’s customer service.

There are several things which could have been better with this laptop. First and foremost, it is rather bulky. For me, this is not really a problem, but if you are aiming for something really lightweight, look elsewhere. However, if that is the case, you would probably not be interested anyway, because this computer is much cheaper than any of the slim laptops out there.

The keyboard could have been of better quality. I have accidentally managed to displace the backspace key, which is really irksome. I have glued it back in place and it works adequately, but of course I would have preferred if the keys had been fastened more securely in the first place.

Also, sound management is confusing and the special keys pertaining to mute, adjustment of volume and so forth, adjusts only one of several possible volume controls, frequently the one I do not use (i.e. the headphone volume).

To summarise this review, I think this computer does what I expected of it. I also believe that it does what it is advertised to do. It is a cheap, functional computer with long battery time, perfect for students. The negative aspects of Zepto 3215W can almost entirely be explained by the low price, and should therefore come as no surprise.

The laptop’s main advantage is its price.

The main disadvantage is its bulkiness.

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This is the second time i perform this feat (yes, that is what it feels like) successfully. Since i was stupid enough not to write it down last time, i definitely will this time. Straight away in fact. If you do not know what I am talking about, I desired to remap the keyboard on my new laptop (more on that later) to the Swedish version of Dvorak I am using. There exists no layout files to accomplish this, so what one has to do is to remap keys individually. Here is how to do it:

  • Decide what you want to do and see what has been done before. Bear in mind that special characters are tedious to change, so start with a layout which has as many correctly mapped as possible. I used the Swedish default layout and then swapped all letters and some special characters like comma, period and others which deviate between the two layouts.
  • Use the terminal command xev to start a monitoring process. All the keys you press will be displayed with a lot of technical information. Note the keycode for the characters you want to change.
  • Create a file and put #!/bin/bash on the first line. Make sure that the file is executable by typing chmod +x nameofyourfile. Then list all the keys you want to change into something else by using xmodmap -e ‘keycode X = Y Z’ , where X is the noted keycode for that particular key, Y is the lower case of the desired character (i.e. when shift is not pressed) and Z is the upper case of the desired character (i.e. when shift is pressed). One xmodmap command on each line. To find Y and Z, use another layout you know (the default of your country). These files are found in \usr\share\xmodmap\.
  • Test your new layout by running the file in a terminal and fix mistakes. Do not put an untested layout in autostart, since it might be difficult to change back if you cannot type with a faulty layout.
  • When everything seems to work, put the file you created in autostart. Do this in System >> Preferences >> Sessions >> Autostart Programs >> Add and browse to your file. Log off and then log in again and marvel at the result.
  • The file I ended up with to change from Swedish standard to Svdvorak can be found here.
  • Aoeu!

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Av flera skäl har jag nu installerat Ubuntu på en annan dator för att testa om Linux är något för mig. Jag har haft två anledningar att inte köra Linux innan, men dessa båda har nu försvunnit av olika anledningar. Det ena är att jag nuförtiden är en användare och inte en mekare, varför Windows har varit trevligt hittills. Nu verkar dock Ubuntu vara så användarvänligt att det hittills tycks betydligt smidigare än Windows (det gick många gånger fortare och lättare att installera i alla fall).

Det andra skälet är att jag tidigare spelat en del nya spel, vilket är problematiskt med något annat än Windows. Nu har jag dock slutat med det och spelar mest gamla spel som lätt kan emuleras i Linux, så också det skälet har försvunnit.

Nu finns det egentligen bara fördelar med Linux, framförallt att det är gratis och open source och så vidare. Dessutom ser jag framför mig hur jag kommer att bli allt mindre sugen att använda Microsofts nyare produkter och det är nog en bra idé att prova ett nytt OS innan man känner sig tvingad att göra det.

När jag så fick tag på en begagnad dator (en Duron 1300 MHz, 256 ram) känns det givet att jag testar Linux på den. Är det någon av er som läser det här som sitter på 133 MHz SDRAM får ni väldigt gärna höra av er. Ubuntu flyter rätt bra, men 256 MB är ändå i minsta laget.

Jag har i alla fall fått det mesta att fungera nu, även om jag inte provat skrivare och scanner (vilket nog har störst potential att gå fel). Med en del hjälp lyckades jag också få Dvorak att fungera ordentligt, trots att jag inte kan hitta filer för den versionen jag kör. Eventuellt skriver jag ihop något om hur man gör utifall att någon annan skulle vilja byta.

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