Teaching tech with Tinkerbell: A society of tinkerers

February 8th, 2014

Recently I was at a convention where my daughter spoke and one of the organizers told  me that she had an honest curiosity and that would take her a long way. I think fortunately that this lady was right. This was definitely a lesson that I needed to teach my daughter that is also a lesson for all of us who really have a passion for enhancing technology. We exist in a society of tinkerers.


Teaching grown men this is one thing but teaching a young girl this came easier than expected in the form of an old favorite Disney character: Tinkerbell.

Most of us adults don’t know much about Tinkerbell because she always flew by Peter Pan or Mickey Mouse and made fireworks happen with her wand. However, young girls know her a little better because my daughter watches the straight to DVD releases of Tinkerbell that have Tinker bell movie posterbeen put out since 2008 that show more about her and where she’s from. In short, Tinkerbell is a fairy. Where she comes from there are fairies of many different types that have different abilities. Some tribes may be weather or plants fairies etc. Well, Tinkerbell is named as such because she comes from the fairy clan of tinkerers. They’re snubbed because they aren’t as fancy as some of the other tribes because they like to get their hands dirty and take things that exist and tinker with them to make something extraordinary. This is a concept I knew oh so well already. Why? I’m a tinkerer too. My dad is an engineer and a tinkerer and so is my daughter. She comes from a long line of our “clan.”

I must admit that in watching some of these movies with my daughter I could relate more and more to the character’s trials and tribulations but even more so with her solutions. The key thing about tinkerers is finding solutions. That’s priority number one. Some of the other tribes might focus on things like beauty or social status but the tinkerers made something that not only gave them piece and leisure but even more so pride that they’d created something worth having. As my daughter Keila grows I notice more and more she’ll just need a tiny push into some software or give her a new piece of hardware and soon she’ll start making connections to create something else that will morph into something else and within a little time she’ll sit proud and relax in what she’s created and can’t wait to tell me all about it.

I first learned about Linux in 1993 from a tinkerer like myself. I was 23 and a consultant at my job named Chuck was there for the sole purpose of working on our $100k computer running HPUX. This machine seemed like a might elephant commanded by Hannibal careening through an area destroying all in it’s path with little resistance. The other computers seemed like toys compared to this machine. For some reason the might elephant was great but we had multiple buildings that needed to be connected so a huge bridge needed to be made so this might elephant could cross the buildings. Chuck, being the tinkerer that he was and seeing that I was one also said, “I’ve got an idea for this. We could take some computers and make them into bridges for this machine without spending the big bucks.” I of course was completely on board but the project got turned down and big Cisco bridges were bought. This inspired me though. If this Linux that he spoke of could possibly do this what else could you create with it. He told me to go get a copy of Slackware and learn it good and you can build almost build a clone of this big HPUX machine at home. He needed say no more. Any hardware I came into contact with was used to tinker even more. Not just with Linux but with Windows, Novell Netware and networks… and the rest was history.

I just got it but others out there want to tinker too. They just need what Chuck gave me. New tools. My dad had already encouraged the tinkerer inTinker Bell me.

Explaining it to Keila was easy. Disney had already created the framework for me. They showed her a tinkerer and how that tinkerer succeeded. Come find your place in the Tinkerer Clan. You may slowly start finding yourself opting out of fancy interfaces like an AppleTV or Smart TV for a Raspberry Pi running a media distribution. Take your Windows or Mac into the command line. You may find yourself hacking an Android tablet instead of getting an iPad. You may find yourself running only Linux on your desktop till it spreads to your laptop then work desktop then to servers everywhere you go like I did. You may find yourself compiling your own software and even learning a language to make programs or scripts to make your life and that of those around you easier. For a child like her though, you may find simple things like learning HTML and Python the magic wands you need to create or enhance from others in your society across the internet.

Tinker how you will. Just Tinker. Go. Create. Enhance. Transcend. The other clans have their purpose and they shouldn’t be shunned however if you are honestly curious about everything you just may be a tinkerer too and this is your fairyland.

Our Jesus Christ is now digital

August 21st, 2013

I’m a man that can learn something from anyone so I’m open to being wrong but I’m also a man of action thus the necessity of this post. I don’t often talk about religion or politics in public forums because it’s one of those things where people will end up engaging you on your beliefs. When that happens I will have to engage back and those that like to engage people publicly usually enter into long dialogues where they can’t me made to feel vulnerable so they will stick to their guns no matter what. Also let it be said that other faiths could just as easily apply this as something like Allah is on the internet.

Our Jesus

Jesus on the internet

I went to my church yesterday for a bible study and we talked about the role of the church in this day and age. I find myself having more questions after the fact than I do when I’m there because  so many things tie my brain into a knot. Who is the church trying to reach? The church is trying to reach you. How are they trying is the point. My church is filled with some of the greatest well meaning people I know but is walking from door to door or yelling on a megaphone on a corner effective? Maybe 50 years ago but even businesses like vacuum salesmen and Mary Kay have learned a long time ago that those things are more about action than effectiveness. People buy products, causes and ideas from people they trust. They don’t often buy from the person on the street that they don’t know. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe it happens just not often.

With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social networks people are now communicating by the millions. Why not you? Our Jesus is here on the internet because me and you can make it so.

Quick history refresher. Jesus lived in a time where paper was at a serious premium so things were written on scrolls. The vast majority of the population was illiterate so scribes were well learned people. Even if they could read the printing press wasn’t invented by Gutenburg for another 1400 years after Jesus. So was it a good idea to duplicate pieces of paper to pass out 50 to 100 years ago to tell people about Jesus? YES! How about now? Hmmm. I’d like to suggest to you that not so much.

Who trusts you? I’d like to think the people I interact with in person as well as on the internet know I am but a flawed man that has done (and will do) dumb stuff along with the vast majority good stuff. However, these people may find me funny, smart, honorable and well intentioned for one reason or another but at the same time a Christian. Why does this matter? Because like Jesus roaming around as a lowly carpenter they can relate to Him being just like them.

If you’re going to go all preachy and fill your page everyday with glory hallelujah’s you might catch someone here or there. Instead I might offer as an alternative that you let your light shine from what you’ve learned where people find you genuine and come to you. People know my life may get rocky as may yours but the ones you want to reach are the ones who are looking for answers in life. Those people go to the ones they trust. That’s when I get the text, email, Facebook message, tweet etc. because this world is now a digital one and my digital door is always open. Ask me where you can learn or do more.

My daughter Keila Banks talking in in San Jose

July 8th, 2013

Next internet superstar.



I thought a quick post was in order. As you might have seen from a previous post my daughter Keila has been speaking at a couple of conferences about being an 11yr old web designer and general computer guru. Here’s the video from the USENIX Women in Advanced (WiAC) computing conference held in San Jose last week June 26th 2013.

Talent is open source is not overrated

April 12th, 2013

I had to post a little something about a momentous occasion in my computer life.

Recently I’ve learned how to program in Python. Last year I took up learning Java with my son (Hunter Banks who guest posted on here recently) because it would help him in his career as a video game designer and Android app developer. Python helped me because I have had a serious problem with programming over the years because I haven’t really done it much in many years. Ok, yes, I do some scripting and maybe looking at a little code from time to time but not really originating any code for myself. Well that is starting to change in a major way. I (with all of your help) want to drown myself in coding right now. I have so many ideas and finally want to make them real. I’ve missed this feeling because when I was a kid I learned to code in BASIC when I was 10 years old and Pascal when I was 12 and I could sit and code for like 6 hours a day. I wanted to make a video game and got really far with it. Now that feeling’s back!

With the necessity of needing a program for a business idea I’m working on I’ve decided to hack away at it and complete something I haven’t done in many years. Well why not do it in Python. With that came all the walls I’ve hit in figuring out where to find all these libraries/modules etc, learning about the site github.com and how to use it and remembering the proper syntax to use for this language. Also thinking in objects was a drastic change from all the languages I was used to.

I’ve been using and around open source software since 1994 and never really thought about looking at code till last week. I realized that a problem that I wanted to work on was already being done in a software package. I apologize because I know that I’m being a little cryptic as I can’t divulge too much about it right now but stay tuned. So, I downloaded the source code opened it up and I UNDERSTOOD IT! This was a big thing to me. I was now really apart of the open source whole because I was not just a promoter and integrator of the software, I could be a developer of additions and feature changes if I wanted.

All this brought me to what my title is. I’ve been looking at more programs and realize how well written they are and how elegant the solutions they provide that are comparable or better than the closed source programs. I LOVE THIS! So kudos to you my brethren (and sistren haha) the talent in the open source pool is not overrated. These people are truly using their powers for good.

Mount the Kindle Fire HD in Linux and hack it!

March 26th, 2013

Ok, so I know I’m not the only one that’s had this problem and my wife’s been getting on me to blog all this stuff when I figure it out so I’m about to tell you all my exploits with mounting the Kindle Fire HD in Linux.


First, let me give you a little background information. I’ve been an Amazon Kindle junkie since they first came out. I missed getting the very first Kindle but have gotten all the versions ever since and have a couple of them floating around my house and family since we’re big on reading. Once the first Kindle Fire came out soon it was easily recognized by my computer and I really didn’t have a problem. Now a lot of the new tablets are using a new standard called Media Transfer Protocal (MTP). MTP is supposed to make it easier for the device to look at media being transferred over and figure out what it is and assign it properly. I really haven’t seen the advantages of this but maybe that remains to be seen.

As you might have read in a previous blog post about my ebook managing software Calibre I mentioned how I love to send everything to my Kindle since I’ve gone digital. Lately I’ve even been scanning in all my written notes on my printer that saves to PDF and sending them to my Kindle. The cool thing about Calibre is that it reads almost EVERY format. Yes, that does mean that it can read the native Amazon DRM formats too and convert them. I of course don’t endorse this since I find giving $10 for a Kindle book is like buying 2 premium coffees and I keep that knowledge forever being the best deal in town but I won’t judge you.

First step you’ll need to do on a Debian based system like Ubuntu is download Calibre, mtp-tools, and mtpfs. So from a terminal line do the following:

Sudo apt-get install calibre mtp-tools mtpfs

That should do it. For RPM distributions like Fedora, RedHat and Opensuse these should be available in the main repositories as well. I’m not sure about pacman or Gentoo repos so please comment and let us all know.

Next make a mount directory.

mkdir kindlefire

After that I wrote a quick little script that you can run every time. I named it kindlemount and do the following.

touch kindlemount

chmod u+x kindlemount

That made the file and made the script executable. Now you want to open the file in whatever editing software you use and put in the following:

sudo mtp-detect
sudo mtpfs -o allow_other ~/kindlefire

That’s it. Using ./kindlemount when your Kindle is attached should mount it under kindlemount for you to copy files over to it whenever you want.

HOLD ON A SECOND THOUGH. Before you run the script to mount you Kindle notice that Calibre has built in mtp support since a month after the Fire HD came out so you will be able to see and convert and send files over to the Kindle with one small problem. Only ebook formats and it doesn’t see what’s already been bought on Amazon. “I want to put movies and music on this thing” you might be saying. Well here’s the cool part.

Exit Calibre and run your kindlemount script. In your kindlefire directory you should see the folder Movies, Music, etc. Copy movies and music to it and look at them with with a video viewing app on your device (WARNING: You may need to download one like MoboPlayer which will view almost anything).

Now, to backup your books start Calibre again. This time tell it to Add books from directories…Multiple books. Select ~/kindlefire/Books as the directory and watch the magic happen!

Also note: You may need to check your Kindle Fire HD video format sizes and convert them to MP4, 3GP, VP8 (.webm) with software such as Handbrake or ffmpeg. Happy Kindle-ing.

My daughter the computer guru

March 1st, 2013

This past weekend at the SCALE conference I had the pleasure of introducing my 11 yr old daughter Keila Banks as a speaker. In her “Free to be a kid” talk she gave a story of how an 11 year old can use open source software and be a website designer, publisher, programmer and graphic artist using software such as Linux, GIMP and PHP. Well, enough said. Why don’t you check it out for yourself. Feel free to share it to the world!

Marshmallow Game Engine (Day 15 of 20 days of SCALE)

February 22nd, 2013

The Marshmallow Game Engine is “an open-source game engine focused on 8-bit and 16-bit era 2D video games. This engine will act as the backbone and toolkit for the Marshmallow Entertainment System” (http://guillermoamaral.com/marshmallow_h/). When I’d first heard of having to review the Marshmallow Game Engine I was assuming there would be something for me to download, so I wandered the site about but came up empty. It’s not like the UI for the site was complicated but I’m known to get lost so if the download link does exist for users to experiment with that’s great, otherwise no problem.

Regardless of that after learning about it I was interested. A quick look at the creators Youtube channel shows the game engine in action. The game works smooth, boots quickly and for those of us who like the nostalgic 8-bit/16-bit consoles it’s something worth looking into.

Guest Post by Hunter Banks

Riot Games (Day 14 of 20 days of SCALE)

February 22nd, 2013

I’ve never reviewed any subject in any somewhat official manner but for Scale 11x this year I’ll be discussing Riot Games and Marshmallow Game Engine.
First on the agenda is Riot Games, a company I’d become familiar with last time around at Scale 10x. Riot Games is the creator of widely popular MMORPG known as League of Legends. The team responsible for the game that we met at the Scale tour seemed very enthusiastic about their work, some maybe a bit too enthusiastic. One of the presenters was so engulfed in playing the game for two different tours he could barely look away from his screen to demonstrate. Depending on your outlook that could be interpretted as great marketing for a game so amazing and fun you forget your actual duties to play it or as fairly bad press from an unfocused worker. The rest of the presenters for the company were nice and very willing to answer questions about their company so being an optimist I’d say good marketing. (http://www.riotgames.com/)

Guest Post by Hunter Banks

Gaming at SCALE

February 22nd, 2013

My next two days of prep were spent by my young gaming guru currently getting his degree in video game design. Hunter Banks.

Crunchbang Linux: Quick. Simple. Linux. (Day 13 of 20 days of SCALE)

February 20th, 2013

In today’s post in my prep for my yearly weekend at the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) I’m going to give my personal review of CrunchBang Linux.

Lets start by saying that I’m a big fan of live distributions. The reason I love them so crunchbang-logo.jpgmuch is because you drop in a CD and you have a running Linux system in seconds that doesn’t have to touch the hard drive of the existing system. I know that CrunchBang will have a booth at SCALE and I’d never heard of it so I thought I’d give it a try.

Let me let the cat out of the bag from the start. This is such a fantastic distribution screenshot-default-desktop.pngthat I will definitely be using it for systems that are slow or that I might just want for basic things like web browsing or standard desktop work. I’m not the all knowing computer genius but I do like when a distribution thinks and works like how I want to work so I test things by just trying to do things that I’d do on a casual day.

Before I go into what features it has let me tell you a little bit about what it’s working with and it’s look and feel. Starting this system up you’ll feel like it’s really going to be a minimalist experience and maybe a little too bare bones but you’d be wrong. It’s running of the stable branch of Debian Linux runs with the Openbox window manager. This thing is LIGHTNING FAST! I can not say how impressed I am at how fast and clean this system runs and I’ve run many an OS on this computer. Best thing about it is that it’s ready to go right out of the gate.

Now what do you usually do? Well, I started out with the scenario in my head that I’m having a little trouble with my original system or that it’s a computer with a hard screenshot-iceweasel-6music.pngdrive filled with corrupted data. I booted this up as I described above and came to a very grey bland screen with data on the desktop of memory, cpu usage and some other little handy things. Right click and a menu pops up and accomplish the following steps with ease: Go to the web (Iceweasel browser), play some Youtube videos, type up a document (Abiword), look through the files (Thunar), download a pic of the web and edit/resize it (Gimp), and watch a video file off of my USB stick (MPlayer). Fast and easy.

Ok, let’s make the test a little harder though because I’m going to need this computer to still operate as a print server to other computers and do a little serious work on it at the same time. Well, options on the menu such as LibreOffice and printer support are one more click away and it actually lets you install the software while running from a CD. I go ahead and click it and next thing you know instead of the menu saying to install it has it available to me so I set up my printer and get to typing in LibreOffice. Next I pull up a terminal and I don’t expect this to be a already installed software choice but I like to use sshfs to mount a remote system and mount the hard drive and I can copy the data off and send it to the remote system. This worked right away without hesitation. Beautiful! I even decide I’m going online and blog about it which is where this post is being typed up.

I can’t say enough about this distribution. It is well thought out, fast and very customizable. Definitely going to be a tool in my bag of tricks.

Come out to SCALE Feb. 22-24 and find me giving the SCALE tours (Phillip Banks) or follow me on Twitter and Facebook and I’ll give you a couple other ideas from what you do everyday.