Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

VideoLan’s VLC media player (day 2 of 20 days of SCALE)

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

For day 2 of my prep for the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) I’m going to talk about my hands down favorite media playing program. VideoLan’s VLC. Just for clarity’s sake you will sometimes see VLC/VLS. VLS used to be a server component forVLC streaming that was separate from VLC but I guess the mere awesomeness of VLC was more important and so they put VLS stuff into VLC.

I can’t stress how much I love this program because I use it for everything video and audio related and so does everyone in my house. It’s one of the first programs I install on any computer we buy. This is also due to the fact that it’s multi-platform.  You know that’s a word that I can’t get enough of that means it will run on Linux, Mac, and Windows. So, seeing as how my house has all of these systems then you’ll find VLC on all of them. Let’s go into why you or anyone else would use it.

Around 10 years ago I changed totally over to VLC when I was still at work using a desktop that was running Windows and a laptop that was running Linux. I was using Winamp on the PC and couldn’t quite settle on one for Linux. VLC came into play and soon my kids were using it as well. I worked in the audio post production industry at the time and ended up having them use it because it could play every format there was. I also met the creator of the format Ogg and FLAC (Chris Montgomery) at a SCALE back then and started becoming a big user of those formats and of course guess who supported them.

The interface is extremely easy to use but it has a TON of power under the hood if you really play with the options. Using the HTTP interface you can have a computer connected to a TV or just on it’s on and control it from another computer or useful apps on your phone (Android apps I should say because this is something I haven’t tried on iOS phones and the iPad yet). That gives you an instant no holds barred media center and I’ve used this just bringing a laptop and a video cable to someone’s house.  Doing a video presentation? I keep a copy on the usb stick on my keys with a copy of the presentation. If there’s a computer connected to the projector then I can boot to a Linux from my stick and play it or there’s a portable VLC app that runs on Windows that I keep with me to play it. This has come in handy at a couple of prom parties that I did the video for.

The bevy of ways you can use this program has given me tons of examples to use as we vlc-20-gnome3-debian.jpgeven use it to replace iTunes for listening to music. Once at a Podcaster’s convention I spoke to a crowd about how I used it to stream video to a port where my kids and even my mom from her computer a couple miles away could view it from my computer.

Since the program can also capture video from standard devices like video capture cards and webcams I have used it to convert video I fed into a video capture card to convert a VHS into a DVD and AVI file for the saving precious moments or making a video blog (although still not the greatest method).

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.

Virtualbox desktop (day 1 of 20 days of SCALE)

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Ok, let me apologize ahead of time because this blog post will not be an in depth review of Oracle’s Virtualbox. I started this out as a daily review of what I think about different software or services pertaining to open source but I hit a small glitch with one of my favorite software packages. It seems that due to some tweaking of dual screen setups Ivbox_logo2_gradient.png have somehow found my Virtualbox setup a little broken. I will come back to this as I have to fix this in order to work with the distributions I know and love so well on a regular basis. So lets get started.

It would be a shame to try to explain virtualization in a short blog post but I will give you a quick run down on it that might make a seasoned professional cringe. Virtualization is software for making a fake computer inside of your own computer. So, how is this useful? As a computer guy I have to work with people using a lot of different types of operating systems (Windows, Mac, and a couple Linux, BSD’s and Unix’s). I have a very good memory but over the phone I sometimes can’t remember exactly what my client is looking at. My solution to this is having Virtualbox and about 10 different operating systems that fully work and now my computer is that operating system that they are looking at and I can work in it. Yes I even have one running Windows 98 because there has been the rare situation where a person actually still uses it (before I get them to use a Linux that is far more functional on older hardware).

How does this work for you? I have looked at quite a few articles on the different virtualization software the biggest competitor being  VMware. Now don’t get me wrong. I really like VMware too but a while back I went totally Virtualbox because VMware’s really good virtualization workstation costs a little money and I’m big on teaching companies and small businesses to do the most for next to nothing. To do that, I have to live in the software and I do (I’ll tell you more later on how this is useful for companies). Before that, let’s look really quickly at the setup.

Virtualbox has a major feature that I also look for in software as much as possible It’s cross platform. That means it can be installed on Linux, Mac, and Windows. Once installed you’ll be able to get a quick and easy walk through showing you how to setup a space on your hard drive for an operating system setup “virtual” hardware and next thing you know you’ll see a whole different computer in front of you. This virtual hardware could be whatever you dream of like multiple dvd drives blah blah blah. You’ll have to look into it further for that.

Now, all of that to say this: You can do way more for less! Here’s how. If you haven’t tm_win7.pngnoticed most people are not using half of the power that these modern computers have. I see more people with 4 gigs or RAM and they’re just running a web browser and maybe typing up some notes in a word processor. Do you know that you can also run a server in the background using Virtualbox to let all your office connect to? I have also had a situation where a person only had one computer. I ran a Virtualbox with a Linux server on it and that one computer is now a desktop and a server that everyone could connect to. This required a little secret sauce using a domain name, good router setup and Dyndns but it made a small business seem large.

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.

20 days of Open Source (SCALE Linux prep)

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

First there’s Christmas but my personal technology Hannukah is the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE). This year is the 11th one and I’ve been apart of the planning of this since it started so my wife and kids are apart into it as well since my wife manned the registration desk while pregnant with my daughter who just turned 11 years old along with SCALE.  So, with that in mind I like to prepare every year so I know what I’m talking about with exhibitors when I lead a tour around the expo floor. This year I want to let everyone else in on the project with my 20 days of SCALE blog series. 20 days of projects I’m going to do and things I’m going to look into. Stay tuned all February.

Empowered by the word “Free”

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Other than yelling out the word “fire” there are few words that envoke a response in humans in an economy driven society. The highest of these that can be said in mixed company is the word “free.” As pleasant as this word is to hear when offered a sample at your local store or as anticipated after the words “buy one, get one” this word does bare a negative burden. I must always be proven innocent or assumed to be guilty of a trick. Why else would someone give away something that they could just as easily have gotten paid for it? Where is the catch after I take this deal?  Let’s strip away the stigma attached to the word and show you how this word can help your business and personal life.

Almost everything out there has a free counterpart when computer software is concerned. That’s a pretty big claim but I intend to back it up.  Let me get this out of the way though. There is one string attached. You don’t just get anything that’s free just like you don’t get any car that has the same price that you want to spend. Have a little bit of a critical eye to key terms such as: Freeware and open source. Freeware is a product that is free but may be watered down compared to the pay version or expire after a certain date leaving you like Cinderella’s pumpkin when you need a ride home. Open source if software that is freely available and made by a collaboration of people around the world for the single purpose of freeing you of software licenses.

Ok, I know you’re already wondering where and how? Free! Free! Free! However, let me give it a little credibility first. You and the companies you use are already using open source software right now.  Google runs on Openbsd. Most of the sites on the internet run on Apache server. Firefox might be what you’re reading this with. Tivo, the Amazon Kindle, Sony Playstation 3 and most animated movies are made on Linux run hardware. All are free and open source products that the big companies have realized cut their costs by millions if they hide what’s below. Even your precious Apple computer and iPhone hide the free software below. If they know it. So should you.

As an old commercial used to say, “I’m not just the president, I’m a client.” Whereas I may not be the president I realized back in 1993 that I practice what I preach. Firefox is my web browser of choice. I dumped Microsoft Outlook in favor of Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client. I use Open Office on some of my PC’s instead of the way over priced and bloated Microsoft Office for all of my work. I use the very resourceful Video Lan Client (VLC) for all of my video and audio and I use Pidgin (or Adium on Macs) for all my instant messaging. I even use Ubuntu Linux as my primary desktop (note: It does have a little bit of a learning curve or help to setup than Mac or Windows but you have to remember they come installed when you buy the PC). These only scratch the surface. My internet hosting companies are running products like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, SugarCRM, PHP and OScommerce and I’m sure yours are or will too.

I’m not going to lead you astray or have you believe that I don’t use Microsoft, Apple, or Adobe products. Dreamweaver is unparalleled at present for designing websites. Microsoft Access is not touched by it’s freeware and open source competitors and video games on the PC just aren’t at the level of the ones you pay for if you’re a serious gamer. However, every serious business or cost conscious individual should pay a little closer attention to their pocketbooks and give serious consideration to some of the FREE software that is out there to help you.

Prices may vary but once you compare the cost of a Mac or Linux computer running the standard application alternatives: Open Office, VLC, Firefox, and Thunderbird, or a Windows computer running the same with the addition of AVG free antivirus as compared to a computer with all the things you need for your computer that have license fees you may be swayed.

Go ye and spread the word of Free to all your friends. Email them sites like and to search the thousands and thousands of programs that are free. For now free doesn’t mean being handed the paper cup sample of your favorite drink. Consider yourself handed the whole bottle.

Pidgin insecure and my stupidity

Friday, August 28th, 2009

pidgin.jpgFor quite some time now I’ve been having a problem with my internet chat program Pidgin. It would work for a while and then all of a sudden I’d notice that the whole computer would come to a screeching halt. Resource usage would go up to 100% on a Linux machine. Not unbelievable but not very common for me. So, I figured out the problem was my instant messaging software Pidgin. Upon further investigation I found out that it probably was due to the Facebook plugin that I installed that let Pidgin log into my Facebook account and show me all the people available on Facebook chat.

Months went by without spending the time to find a solution for this until today I finally decided to really get into it because I love having my clients accessible to me through instant message rather than phone calls or texting. I had switch to using Kopete for the most part till I got around to fixing it but don’t like anything as much as Pidgin.

I completely uninstalled Pidgin and re-installed it and didn’t like when I saw my accounts log back in. There was obviously some information left on my computer after I uninstalled the program. First, I hate that! If you make a package, clean up all your crap when I uninstall it. Second, I found where it was saving its extra information. The folder “./purple” in my home folder. That’s not the shocking part though. I looked into the adium.pngdirectory and noticed my biggest screw up ever. I saved my passwords! I never do that and always advise people to never save a passwords on a computer.Within a file called “accounts.xml” were all my username and passwords for my different instant messaging accounts in clear text for anyone who sat down at my computer to look for and see. I ddin’t check this on a Windows PC or on a Mac (Adium on the Mac) yet but knowing that I do use it on these other operating systems I will be more aware. I also realized I use Pidgin’s portable version on my USB stick that I keep on my keychain. I don’t save passwords or accounts there because I use it so rarely but what if you did and lost your keys or USB stick. Your information is out there for anyone to see.

If for any reason you’ve saved a password on your computer delete them. Go into all your programs and empty out that information. A little bit of extra time logging in will save you many untold hours of grief. Many people use the same passwords over and over again. An experienced hacker knows to start first with the passwords he knows and just figure out the usernames. Don’t be a victim to this possible openning in your security.

Addicted to IM

Friday, April 18th, 2008

As an agent of change I continually invite you to look at what you’re doing everyday and say, “Maybe there a better and cheaper way.” I continually look at my everyday processes and think that. Well, today I’m going to address my changes with concern to my addiction to instant messaging.

pidgin.jpgtrillianlogo.jpg  When it comes to me sitting down doing mindless work I never want to be alone. Therefore, I sit down at a computer and fire up an instant messenger client. Here’s where I’m inconsistent. If I’m at a Linux machine I use Pidgin (it’s time to stop saying it but… “formerly called Gaim”). On a Windows machine I use Trillian. On a Mac I use Adium. Also, even though it’s known mostly for internet telephony I use Skype for those very few people that stay on Skype at work. Just for good measure I’ve added a new one to the flock. If I’m at a computer that isn’t mine I use to log into all my accounts.

I’ve been using Trillian for the longest and I’m finally going to have to end my many years with the program. It’s not that it did anything bad but it didn’t do anything really good. Pidgin however is open source and it’s great. It works on Windows and Linux/Unix/BSD (Amiga too reportedly). Since it is open source I’m looking forward to a OS X port soon but for now on that front I have to stick to Adium.

Here’s where the better comes in. Pidgin seems to be able to connect to every protocol imaginable. It does: AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk, Jabber, ICQ, Groupwise and believe it or not even Skype (with an easy to install plugin). Think that’s it? No. That’s only half the list that I know of. That’s the cool part of it.

Get addicted to Instant messaging again at home and in the office. Trust me, it’s a lot more productive than talking to people on the phone too. You can work and still keep in contact with all your friends. Let me warn you though, if you decide to use it from work you may decide to use the built in encryption or Off the record plugin (which also does make one for Trillian).

The Gimp developers are listening

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

In a post from a couple weeks ago I posted an article about the Photoshop replacement program Gimp. Well, I just saw this link about the new features of the Gimp. They fix a lot of the problems that I said may be small weaknesses. Check out the article here.

Gimp for a Photoshop guy

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

gimp-splash-24.pngOne of the main areas of open source software that I haven’t tried much but kept my eye on in the last couple of years is “The Gimp.” It’s a staple of most Linux systems even though it is available on Windows and Mac OSX as well. This is the problem for me: I’m the son of a electrical engineer and an art teacher. If there’s one thing that I am somewhat destined to use are graphic applications. Adobe has served me very well in that regard.

The problem is, Adobe must have known they had me and started squeezing the clamps. The software has been getting more and more expensive exponentially. Buying Macromedia then made them the kings of all graphics and multimedia with no sympathy in site for the little guy. (more…)

Diverting your attention to really good software

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

As an avid supporter of open source software I have found myself in a particular pickle. I really want to support open standards for everything I do however, there are a couple areas that open source hasn’t come up with a good replacement for commercial software. For the most part, Microsoft’s software has been the primary target for replacements. Oh, did I say replacements? I guess the politically correct terminology is “Alternatives.”

The human psychology however is something that has to slowly be changed or diverted. The old adage “You get what you pay for” is the prevalent way of thinking that keeps big companies big. As a consultant I have learned this first hand. I’ve offered a similar or better service as a competitor for a cheaper cost and not been taken seriously. The second I charged more I got more business. Open source software shouldn’t need to charge more to offer good value.

I’m not just shouting on my megaphone at you while walking down the street though. I’m putting my headphones on and listening to my own tune. I’m looking at some replacements for commercial software that I use and finding an alternative to pose to myself and my clients. (more…)

Is there a bug in the code?

Friday, February 1st, 2008

As of late I guess I may seem quite opinionated but I have found that I never find bugs or have to many features I really want that don’t come soon or aren’t thought of and just not apparent. I never have to file bug reports. I finally put in some feature requests.

I was just online and looked a a program called GOM Player that looks good however, I love my VLC. Then I find out that it’s only on Windows. I went to their forums to request a feature and found that they are already in the process of a Linux version but no Mac version. Since I really love my VLC I went to them to request the only real feature I liked in GOM which is Flash playback. It’s already in one of the nightly builds just needs more tuning. Thanks VLC. Just for the sake of it I told GOM that all the way cross platform is a good idea since I like all my clients and family sticking to the same interface.

However, it had me thinking. How do other people search through the bug report lists for programs and find so many that they need to request. I think I’m not critcal enough.