Simple R package for UN Comtrade API

I have recently been doing a lot of work in R, a statistical programming language, and have started accumulating a small collection of functions that I regularly use. One of the tools I have particularly come to rely on is this function to obtain data from the United Nation’s Comtrade database, a great source for country-to-country trade statistics. Since there seemed to be no R package that provides access to their new API (which is still in beta), I simply wrote a function for myself based on the sample code on their homepage and kept it with my personal files. Motivated by posts like this, however, I decided to put the code into an R package and share it here for others to use. [...]

Open XMPP Alternatives to Google Talk

After Google’s much-publicised decision to replace Google Talk with Hangouts and drop XMPP support in the process, many people have been looking for alternative XMPP servers that allow connecting through standards-based clients and support federation with other servers. I figured this would be a good time to list a few servers I have used and recommend. Naturally, this is only a small subset of all publicly available XMPP servers. Which is best for you pretty much depends on what you want and what you need … [...]

How to switch Firefox Java plugin to Sun Java on Ubuntu Linux

When I recently tried to open my favourite Java webcam applet in Firefox on Ubuntu Natty 11.04, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t working. Issues with legacy Java applications are common these days, now that the Java world is moving towards OpenJDK as the future standard. In certain cases, like my issue with the webcam applet above, you may still have to use an older version of Java, however. This will tell you how to install Sun Java 6 and set your system to use it as the default virtual machine for local Java applications and web applets in your browser… [...]

How to install Realtek RTL8188CE WiFi drivers (ThinkPad Edge 13) on Ubuntu Natty 11.04

After a two-week long battle trying to get Realtek’s RTL8188CE WiFi network card to work on Ubuntu Natty 11.04, countless reinstalls and email exchanges with Realtek’s customer support, I finally managed to get Realtek’s PCI Express Mini WiFi card to establish a stable connection. I figured I’d share my findings with the world and save other users some trouble.

Realtek’s RTL8188CE card uses the RTL8192CE chipset, which can be found in different kinds of Lenovo ThinkPad Edge laptops. Although drivers for the RTL8192CE chipset are included in Natty’s kernel, they don’t work reliably with a number of chipsets. This shouldn’t be a problem, since you can always just compile and install the official Realtek drivers yourself, right? Well, yes, you can. And in fact this worked quite well on Ubuntu Lucid (10.04) and Ubuntu Maverick (10.10). If you’re on Natty, however, you can’t simply install the original Realtek drivers over the ones already present. Also, Realtek offers two different versions of the 8192CE driver. Which is the right one to choose? Let’s take a look… [...]

How to make Pidgin Unicode compatible

About a year ago I was looking for an alternative to the original QQ software, the biggest chat network in China. One programme I stumbled upon was LumaQQ. Recently, however, when Gaim was renamed to Pidgin, its developers re-introduced a working QQ plugin to their free and popular multi-protocol instant messenger. Pidgin is not the most friendly programme in terms of usability, though, and frequently causes problems for users who need to exchange messages in languages that don’t use Latin characters. I therefore decided to give a few hints on how to make Pidgin more equipped for this type of task.

Pidgin has been around at least as long as Trillian, another popular multi-protocol instant messenger. Trillian has not seen a new release since 2004, however, is becoming increasingly bloated and monetized. From the first “Pro” version onwards, the free version of Trillian retained only a few basic features and its users were excluded from the ability to extend their application by plugins. Both versions kept becoming more resource demanding, although the core functionality remained more or less unchanged. The reason many people use it anyhow is because the original ICQ, MSN and AOL clients are no better. ICQ is bloated, MSN suffers from limited configurability and most importantly: each programme’s interface is cluttered with advertising and other nonsense. Pidgin closes this gap by providing a simple, modular cross-platform chat application. In terms of usability it still needs to catch up, however. We will tackle the most common problems here… [...]