Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Talent is open source is not overrated

Friday, 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 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.

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

Friday, 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” ( 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)

Friday, 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. (

Guest Post by Hunter Banks

LibreOffice… Because Office 2013 told you to do it. (Day 12 of 20 days of SCALE)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

In today’s post in my prep for my yearly weekend at the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) I’m going to crack open a huge whole that Microsoft is opening for open source software and Linux in general. Desktop application suites such as LibreOffice.


Recently Microsoft released it’s new plan for pricing and implementation of it’s Office 2013 software suite. For those that don’t know when I say suite I’m talking about one package that has a couple different pieces of software in it: Word processor, spreadsheet, slide presentation and sometimes email and database programs. Traditionally people have heard of Microsoft’s Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and Access programs that fit these needs respectively. However, Microsoft is changing the game this time with the purchase of these programs that I think is going to go the route of the change to New Coke if anyone remembers that disaster.

The new Office 2013 licensing will be a lot different because they’re only going to offer it online. The new software will have to be purchased online and they will not offer any offline media to install it and it has to be connected to a Microsoft Live online account. Installs for the software will have to come from a link that will install it on your computer straight from a server online. This is supposed to make it harder for hackers and people reselling licenses through nefarious means. Oh, and did I mention it’s going to cost a WHOLE lot more? It’s really going to open up the biggest door that other software packages have to the home or office and no software is more primed and ready to take advantage of this opening than LibreOffice.

LibreOffice is actually a fork from the OpenOffice programs. This means that many of the developers of OpenOffice left when Oracle bought the rights to the software and started making it under a different name in case Oracle decided to take it in a different direction. LibreOffice is the most developed office suite out there and the best part about it is that it is absolutely free. I changed over to it years ago and completely dropped Microsoft Office but I still have to collaborate with many people that work with Office. What did I have to change? Almost nothing. That’s because LibreOffice works on all the Office files without a glitch. Only change I have to make is saving files you will have to say, “File” “Save as” and change it to a Microsoft usable version such a .docx or .xlsx for your collaborators to see the files. This is because by default it saves in a free/open format called Open Document Format (just FYI Office 2010 on supports ODF).


“Ok, so how is LibreOffice ready to fill that gap?” you may ask. First is the last thing I mentioned: ODF. The best thing in the world about open standards is that they are free to be implemented by anyone. What that does is makes all of your data free to be transported anywhere.  When Microsoft decided to change it’s format to .docx a couple years ago it really threw a monkey wrench into the system. Older versions of Office and many other software packages could no longer read it until they created a downloadable conversion extension. Could this happen again? YES. ODF makes it so 15 or 20 years down the road if you had to open a file off some form of backup media (assuming it survived that long) you could because the format is open and even if development stopped on it there would be available conversion programs, such as convert jpg to pdf, because the code is out there.

The second way LibreOffice is able to take advantage of this is because, let’s be serious, very little has changed in the Office package except the package. I sometimes have to work at offices that are using Office 2003 and guess what? It does the same exact thing that the newest version does less a couple little tweaks hear and there. I’m not going to lie. I have had the rare occasion where a little bit of the layout of a document (say a resume because of all the changes in the layout) have come out a little bit off. This however is easily corrected.

Now here comes the best part of all of this though. LibreOffice runs on Linux, Mac and Windows. At one time I was at a company where we paid $50,000 to get all the licenses for all of our Office products for the entire company. At the time this product (then OpenOffice) was not as mature and with minor testing my company decided to pay the money. Now, imagine the same scenario. We have to purchase tons of Windows licenses and Office 2013 licenses. My company has to come out of the pocket $100,000 OR go to Linux and LibreOffice for next to nothing (I say next to nothing because I do encourage donations and paying for support to keep these great packages being developed). Hmmm… If there are no other Microsoft specific applications that the company is running then this is a no brainer. LibreOffice it is!

Check into it yourself and you’ll see why this new licensing is almost like Office 2013 is saying “Don’t buy me!!! Go to LibreOffice!”

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.


Firefox: Making foxy mean sexy again (Day 10 of 20 days of SCALE)

Friday, February 15th, 2013

In today’s post in my prep for my yearly weekend at the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) I’m going to cover the subject of one of open source’s poster children. Mozilla Firefox! header-logo.png

When I started this series I had a different audience in mind initially. I was going to aim at a more serious hard core techy crowd and I have for a couple of these but I also realized that people don’t seem to be able to connect with a subject if they feel like it doesn’t effect them. Well people it does. That’s because of my favorite browser Firefox. If you are on the internet regularly it’s a word you had to have heard. Linux machines mostly have it by default. I must also admit that I don’t tend to nudge people on Windows or Mac in a particular direction when it comes to software but the one thing that I almost always install on one of these machines is Firefox. It has just become my standard and that’s mostly due to the cool plugins you can get and the familiar face on every operating system (don’t slow down though because Google Chrome is running up fast).

How you get people to realize what is and isn’t open source is you start from home. Many people are so involved in the evolution of this browser that it stays ahead of standards in most cases I know of. I’m even a bleeding edge user (the guy that gambles with the software before it’s totally tested) and have the nightly builds of Firefox on my laptop and desktop and use them regularly. The only side of Firefox that just might bother some a little is that it uses up a decent size of memory especially with plugins but I’ve only video-downloadhelper-464-firefox-plugin.gifseen that be a problem with really slow low memory machines.  I’m not going to bore you talking about a browser because I do have some people who will tell me they’ll stick with Internet Explorer or Safari and I say to them it’s their choice. There’s always the freedom to choose and I love it.

One area that I am going to talk about Firefox is the one place that I started to uninstall it. My phone. For some reason on my last phone (Android) I was having problems with Firefox making it really slow or from time to time crashing. Plus, I love to use a program called Xmarks to sync up my bookmarks on every computer in the world that I used. So reluctantly  I did a little searching left my beloved Firefox behind. Fast forward to the present for the article I had finally gotten fed up with the CONSTANT and FRUSTRATING crashing of a browser called Skyfire. It literally crashed every other time you open it and when you open it again it would work fine. When I found out that this was a known bug and that the 10 month old article said they planned on fixing it soon I was out! Let’s go back and give my old love a try.

Technology can be sexy. Foxy in the 80’s meant sexy. Hot also means sexy and fire is hot. So according to it’s name. Firefox is just some sexy software. I went back and installed it on my phone and it seems so far like all the things I used to worry about are gone. It’s only been a couple days but I’m already loving it again because I live off my phone. The plugins are crazy cool and most are the same as the desktop version. One bad spot is that I can’t seem to find the Xmarks plugin for it but I do notice that Firefox is trying to promote it’s on syncing feature that’s built in. I’ve got to spend a little more time researching that before I go ahead and set that up to replace my Xmarks because it also syncs your tabs in use. I’m really not sure how much I need that but it may come in handy after I give it some thought.

I know that it may be just me… No it isn’t. It’s home screen with top sites I use is sexy. firefox-beta-for-android.jpgEven though I usually turn off history and other such things because I’m just not a big fan of a computer looking over my shoulder but I think I’m actually going to leave it for a minute. No crashes and seems to work very quick. Kuddos to Mozilla. Firefox is now officially on all my computers. Well, except my Kindle Fire HD. Amazon doesn’t have a build out there for it’s tweaked Android for some reason or another and I forced a version on to it but it wasn’t stable at all. So GET ON THAT Mozilla!  Tell Amazon they need you because Phillip needs you.

Firefox. Open source that’s just plain sexy.

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.

Gimp: Photoshop without the branding (Day 8 of 20 days of SCALE)

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

In today’s post in my prep for my yearly weekend at the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) I’m going to cover the subject of the open source equivalent of Photoshop. GIMP.

In my former all closed source commercial life I used to be quite the master at Photoshop. I could gimp.pngwhip something together in minutes in Photoshop that would look like it was the original image. I did all kinds of photo enhancing and photo retouching that made your head spin. Once about a decade ago I helped a lady by editing her picture to make her thinner and without wrinkles for pictures she was posting on a dating site (definitely not my proudest moment). As of about 4 years ago I’ve totally converted to a software package called GIMP.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) would probably be pretty upset with me for the Photoshop comparison but the way I see it it has totally replaced Photoshop for me. Photoshop has become such a well branded product that it’s the equivalent of saying Kleenex when you’re just talking about tissue. I feel sorry for GIMP because no matter what you do in it your results will be called Photoshop. Oh, the sadness of not having great marketing companies behind you.

Marketing aside this program is all that and a bag of chips. I had been thinking of changing over to it quite some time ago but I decided to wait because the interface looked a little different than what I was used to so I just didn’t want to take the dive. However, after meeting the author of a book on GIMP and talking to her for bit (Beginning GIMP: From Novice to professional by Akkana Peck) a couple years back I said to myself that I was going to take the leap. A little reading and some Youtube videos and I was completely off my Photoshop addiction.

Once you get used to some of the small differences in the interface you’ll be cooking up some works of gimpshot.jpgbeauty like me. Now I look at it and the interface is completely understandable and I wondered why I ever thought it was going to be a challenge. Now I have the next generation working on GIMP as my 10 year old daughter who is really into the game the Sims has found videos on Youtube that help her with doing green screen techniques that she’s using to make her custom designed Sims clothes and characters (Please look at the website for details on her first presentation at SCALE callelogo.jpgd “Are you smarter than a 5th grade open source user?”).

To the right is a picture my daughter created in GIMP for her website (not sure where the name came from but when your daughter asks for a domain name for her 11th birthday you’re a pretty proud tech dad).

There you have it. A powerful graphics/image manipulation software that can take on the big boys but so easy a child can put out some powerful image.

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.

Books to your tablet with Calibre (Day 7 of 20 days of SCALE)

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

In today’s post in my prep for my yearly weekend at the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) I’m going to cover the subject of my favorite ebook delivery/conversion software: Calibre.


A lot of software that people use that is open source seems to end up fitting in the same old mold. I however use it for my life. Anything and everything I do I used a computer as a tool to enhance that experience if I can. One thing I do a LOT is read. As of last year I’ve started a new thing. I’m eleminating my physical books and I’m going all ebook. I’ve actually scanned in all my bookshelves into Amazon‘s wishlist and if anything should ever Kindle Fire HDhappen (think natural disaster) I could fill a bookshelf with the same books in a matter of minutes or just pay for them and download them into my favorite device. What is that favorite device you ask? My Kindle. We’re a Kindle family. I have 4 Kindles in my house my newest baby being the Kindle Fire HD. The Kindle Fire line is more than just an ebook reader like the others. It’s an Android powered tablet computer that Amazon has tweaked for their purposes and to log right into their store.

Before I become a complete Kindle fanboy on you I want to get back to how we got there. The ebook readers have opened up a space where people want to just read Star Trek style… but how do you get content onto the ebook reader? Amazon will allow you to convert word documents or email pdf files to them and for a small fee they’ll convert and put them on your device. This is really cool and only pennies per document what about having that power for yourself for almost ANY tablet device or pdf reader? That’s where Calibre comes in! It’s the complete solution for sending ebooks, pdf, web pages, news, etc. to your device and I LOVE it.

Calibre’s interface is so dead easy to learn and it’s that thing I love… cross platform. Once calibre1.jpegcalibre2.pngcalibre3.png

again that means it’s on Linux, Mac and Windows. I’ve run it on all 3. What I love about using Calibre is that it keeps a huge catalog of the books you own. Even proprietary formats like .AZW which Amazon uses to deliver it’s books to the Kindle are supported. It can convert these books to different formats like .pdf, .mobi and .epub which almost all tablets can read. Transferring the books to your device is a great thing too. I keep the device email settings (since all Kindles have an email address associated with them) and can email things straight to my dad and my kids’ Kindles all in a couple clicks. You will have to go to Amazon’s site for that.

What about other tablets and e-readers you ask? Calibre takes what they do seriously. The list of formats this program can convert to is very impressive. I do some volunteering at book expo’s and a couple years ago I had a lady that had a New York Times best seller cowritten with a extremely well known celebrity. I told her I’d by her book but really wanted an ebook version if I bought it. She really didn’t know much about this but since I was going to be her computer guy I should teach her a bit. She sent me the original manuscript in a Microsoft Word file and I converted it to the formats she wanted so she could read it on her devices. Talk about ecstatic! She sent it to her agent in .epub. I used it on my older Kindle in .mobi and viewed it on computers and my wife’s iPad in .pdf.

So go ahead. Write your soon to be ebook or just put all your books on all your devices with Calibre.

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.

Komposer: Web design like beautiful music (Day 5 of 20 days of SCALE)

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Continuing our series on preparation for the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) I’m going to go over another one of my favorite programs: Kompozer.

kompozer_icon.pngIn my last blog post I wrote about my total migration over to Linux a couple years back. I told you about some of the harder pieces of commercial software on Windows that I had to replace. One of those packages was a web design product known as Dreamweaver. I have to admit how much I loved doing web design for this product. I used to be able to throw up a web page in no time flat or edit one that someone had already created (which in all honesty was usually the case) with ease. Changing over to an all Linux system I was stuck on a couple of choices that were just adequate. One of these software packages was Nvu.

Nvu seemed to be the closest to a graphical HTML editing package that took me as far away from the code as I wanted to be most times without sacrificing my ability to look through the code. Well, Nvu is a name that was copywritten by Linspire. When they stopped making the product it became a little task for open source enthusiasts to get the name so they just took the code over the the name Kompozer (which actually I like a whole lot better so no loss there).

Komposer has evolved into a very easy to use program with minimal web design kompozerth.pngexperience to get good at editing sites. Full of all the tools I loved in Dreamweaver it was exactly what I was looking for but I can’t stress enough that I’m not a professional web designer. I know how to edit HTML code and many other web code and it fits me just fine.

The fact that it keeps you away from the code is a big perk but sometimes I need to look at the code behind something so I can make a couple small changes to a client’s site. This is made easy enough with some tabs at the bottom that let you switch between just looking at design to a split between design and code to just looking at pure code.

The power behind Komposer is Gecko which is the power behind a lot of Mozilla’s products like Firefox which you just might have heard of. There is one part of it that I have never really got to successfully use and that’s the FTP manager. That might not totally be their fault as I’ve only tried it on a local site and had a little glitch and just never got back to using it ever again out of laziness but I will try it again and give it a fair handshake later.

Doing a little web design? Try Kompozer. Have I mentioned the biggest perk? CROSS PLATFORM. You know I love that. Linux, Mac and Windows.

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.

OpenShot: Linux in video editing (Day 4 of 20 days of SCALE)

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Today I want to talk about a project that really is a quality piece of software that doesn’t get enough attention. The software I’m talking about is a video editing software package called OpenShot.

Let me take you back and tell you why I know about this software. Many years ago I used to have a dual boot system. That means my computer could boot into Microsoft logo.pngWindows and it could also boot into Linux. I was tied to a couple programs in the corporate world that I couldn’t live without. One year I finally said I was going to cut the cord and so I told myself I’d find Linux equivalents of everything I used. This was about 6 years ago and it was hard to do back then. I had my whole life in Outlook and had to get rid of that (Mozilla Thunderbird). I was a Photoshop wiz (now use Gimp). I sometimes had to edit audio with Adobe Audition (now use Audacity). Web design with Dream Weaver (now use Kompozer). The biggest thing I couldn’t settle on though was video editing because I was from a media company before I started consulting so was very used to helping out with my skills in Final Cut Pro on the Mac and Adobe Premiere on Windows. So much so that I was doing videos for weddings, proms and funerals to make some easy cash and threw down $400 on a video card to speed up the render times by like 20x’s. Nothing good seemed to catch my attention. This was a problem because it stopped my total conversion. I had to go over to my Windows login to do video 3 or 4 times a year.

The problem wasn’t that there were no choices in that area. Cinalerra was one program that people on Linux tended to use but I found the interface so extremely difficult that it gallery1.pngstopped me from wanting to learn it. Thus I ended up using another good program called Kino. Now Kino was good for me for a little while until I started having problems with it crashing dead in the middle of a huge project that was always last minute. Then came OpenShot. Very easy to figure out and use. Took so little for me to get adjusted to it I actually had a video to get out in 3 days and learned OpenShot just before kicking this thing out ahead of time. In combination with VLC (refer back to my previous article) to capture video from a video tape and then cut in music, picture montages and transitions similar to what I was used to with Adobe Premiere and I was in business.

Let’s jump forward and tell you how this works for you. My 15 year old son had a project to do last year just before his finals. His teacher wanted them to put something together for a presentation and he (like a lot of kids do) springs this on me at the last possible second. I had him draw out a plan for how a video would go and dream big. Then I gallery3-small.pngfigured I’d teach his 10yr old sister as well since she was getting into software and this was an easy one to learn. He had to stay up till about 1 am that night but the result was a video that absolutely WOW’ed his teacher and got him an A. If those two kids could just pick it up, edit and finish a project like that then most people can with a little bit of effort.

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.

A little world wide love with OpenSuse 12.2 (Day 3 of 20 days of SCALE)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

For day 3 of my ode to all things open source in prep for my visit to the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) I’m going to give a little love to one of the big European distrobutions of Linux OpenSuse. I pronounce it “Suzy” but I’ve opensuse-geeko_button.pngheard many people pronounce it differently so I won’t be the one to tell you how to say it. Today we are also about to enter into the area of Linux where the freedom of choice can be a greater challenge than Hercules battling the many tentacled hydra or me decided what to eat for breakfast at a restaurant. You have so many choices on the look and feel of how you like your Linux to look. Then you have many choices on how you’re going to install software. These are the areas where the major differences are at play for me.

First, let me start off with saying I always have loved the look and feel of OpenSuse. I remember being blown away at a suse1.pngconvention a couple years back where it was the first distro really making this 3d rendered desktop called Compiz look so good that I took the CD home and went crazy. I had my kids computers using OpenSuse and my computers in my office using it. Well, except 2. My desktop and my laptop. As much as I love it it has one thing that I really don’t like. It installs its programs using a program called Yast (not the easiest install tool) and it uses a package type called RPM.

To explain this easily. Linux gets new software in a thing called packages. Go ahead and picture a package. Packages make it easy to install software because it knows everything it needs to make your software run. Without packages (like a distribution called Gentoo) you have to do what’s called compile each thing to make it work on your system. Compiling can take some time but the benefit is that you have it custom made for your system rather than buying it off the shelf. I’ve been using Linux since 1994 so I know a lot about compiling my software and I don’t like it. My problem with RPM is that it is off the shelf but imagine getting your package home only to find out you needed more stuff to make it fit what you already have. These are called dependencies and finding all of them for a software package that you didn’t get straight from OpenSuse or another company called RedHat you will be lost so for super techy people I advise staying clear but that’s just me. Not a battle I’ll fight. I stick with Debian based Linux’s on my desktop (like Ubuntu or Mint) because it’s just easier in my perspective but for the average user I still think OpenSuse is an extraordinary choice.

I tried out the new OpenSuse 12.2 on a liveCD which is a CD that you can start any computer up on and you’ll have a running Linux system without doing anything to your computer. New users should all do this to get a feel of the operating system and you can download it here. I used the KDE one because I love the way KDE looks and feels rather than Gnome but that’s also my taste. Both are really great to use (some of the other Window managers I just don’t like at all). I’ll get more into these things in later blog posts.

OpenSuse has added a very cool thing to it’s site though and that’s a build service. What this means is that on their site there is a page called Suse Studio where you can build a whole entire computer system using OpenSuse that can just run in something like Virtualbox which I explored in a previous post so give that a look.

So, if it’s not green… It’s just not OpenSuse. By the way, OpenSuse does have a pay version they call Suse Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) for companies to use that costs quite a bit but is to fit into the corporate environment with support costs included. OpenSuse is for your personal use (even though you can easily run a business off of it with a little know how). Have fun and join me for more tomorrow.

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.