Stay Healthy By Taking Breaks

Most of us lead sedentary lifestyles these days — most of our time is spent in front of computers. This slowly is causing a lot of problems people from previous generations haven’t experienced: back aches, knee problems, wrist pains, myopia, among others. And just going to a gym or putting in one hour of physical activity a day isn’t enough. It doesn’t help balance the inactivity over the entire day.

I recently wrote an article in the BenefIT magazine that talks about two tools: Workrave and RSIBreak. Thanks to the publishers, the article is available in pdf format under a CC license.

I’ve tried both the software but have been using Workrave for quite a while now and am quite happy with it. To briefly introduce them: both software prompt the user to take a break at regular intervals. They have timers that trigger at configured intervals asking the user to take a break. Workrave also has some stretching exercises suggested that can be performed in the longer breaks. The shorter (and more frequent) breaks can be used to take the eyes off the monitor and to relax them. Read the article for more details.

I’ve reviewed Workrave version 0.9.1 in the article, though the current version as of now is 0.9.3, which has a few differences from those mentioned in the article. The prime difference is the addition of a ‘Natural Rest Break’ that gets triggered when the screen-saver gets activated, which is nice since if the user walks away from the computer for a prolonged period of time, the rest break in effect has been taken, and the next one is scheduled after the configured duration once the screen-saver is unlocked.

Both software are available in the Fedora repository: Workrave is based on the GTK toolkit (and integrates nicely with the GNOME desktop), whereas RSIBreak is based on the Qt toolkit (and integrates nicely with the KDE desktop). Give these software a try for a cheap but effective way of staying healthy!

The fallocate() Story Continues

Making apps use the fallocate() syscall instead of writing zeros to a file is the preferred way to init a file with all 0s. I was pleasantly surprised ktorrent already does that (but via a non-default config option):

I would like it if they made posix_fallocate() the default, if available on the target system. posix_fallocate() already uses fallocate() if supported by the filesystem, otherwise it falls down to the writing zeros block-by-block method. My last post showed the comparison of various file allocation methods, the performance of filesystems and also the fragmentation each method causes.

Reading that post again, it looks like it could’ve been written much better and could’ve used a couple of editing rounds. So I’ve decided to do a second post which will have better results and more file systems added to the fray. I’ve updated the test to calculate the numbers more reliably and have also run the tests once more with more filesystems and taking factors like hard disk geometry, seek times, etc., out of the equation. The git tree is already updated with the new code, so you can try it out yourself. In any case, stay tuned for the results.

Try KDE 4 Snapshots, Updated Daily

The KDE project’s forthcoming release 4 of the K Desktop Environment is something all KDE fans are looking forward to. It promises many enhancements and a redisgn of the desktop to free us of the decades-old desktop interface that we are used to using now. It’s becoming increasingly easier these days to try out experimental versions of such big pieces of software these days with build scripts, Live CDs and distributions bundling alpha and beta releases as development snapshots for users to try out.

Virtualisation brings in a new and exciting twist to this. If you want to stay uptodate on the KDE 4 developments without having to wait for your distribution package maintainers to release the next version or for new Live CDs to appear, you can now use a qemu image to try out KDE4 inside its own OS environment without disturbing any of your existing setup. What’s more, with KVM, you can have the desktop running very fast indeed!

Awe-Inspiring Apple, iPhone, UI rants

I’ve always been a huge critic for bad UI designs. I always like my experience of using anything to be simple, straightforward and without any surprises. Things should work and I should find things in the easiest of ways. If I spend my time figuring out how to do things rather than doing things, I’m using the wrong UI.

That mainly is the reason for me to stick to KDE. And no matter what Microsoft says or pours into their UI designs, I just don’t think they’re user-friendly enough. For example, their word processing application has two options under for changing settings: there’s ‘Customize’ and there’s ‘Options’ under the Tools menu. Now which should I use to change my default line spacing? I always end up entering the wrong menu the first time. The woes don’t end there. I have to go through each and every tab to make sure that’s no the option I wanted.

Apple has always stressed a lot on their UI. I’ve never used one, but I’ve seen people use it. They still have one-button mice (atleast for the laptops). I can’t imagine how just one button is sufficient for all the things I do daily. For example, in KDE, Alt + Left button and pointer movement moves windows. Alt + Right button and pointer movement resizes windows. And middle click pastes selected content. Even then, I’ve seen people do a lot of funky stuff with just the one button that an Apple laptop (iBook, PowerBook, etc). I’ll have to actually use one to see how.

So Apple announced the iPhone. The site mentions they don’t yet have FCC clearing, so it’s not yet ready to be sold and to be bought. I just hope it happens very soon. That’s one gadget I know I’m going to buy. I wasn’t very excited with the iPod, even though it was revolutionary and all that. But this thing — it’s just too cool. In brief, the device has a phone, an iPod, a camera, …, and an internet communicator. (For example, it’s touch-screen-based and you can use two fingers to zoom into and out of a photo you’re viewing.) Just go through the demos for watching videos, sending SMS, making and receiving calls, … just about everything. It runs OS X and it’s not going to cost a bomb, apparently.

Slashdot story here. Report from MacWorld, where it was announced, here.