Posts filed under ‘Tools’

Setup for the Modern Virtual Workspace

Breaking Barriers

Breaking Barriers

Do you tire of reformatting your computer so that it can be set up with the prescribed environment determined by your superior or client? How about the hassle of making sure that there is a backup copy of your past project? Is quality assurance testing a pain because you have to reset your environment over and over again?

Well I did tire of that hassle. And I also tired of having to run my computer on a specific OS, just because that was what the task prescribed. So I went out and used a few proven tools to remedy the situation, which will be what this guide will be all about.

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August 14, 2008 at 8:30 pm 2 comments

To The (Open) Movies

It’s now been over 2 weeks since Project Peach’s Big Buck Bunny opened in theaters last May 30, or at least in home theaters. So if you haven’t seen it yet, now would be a good time to head on over to the Big Buck Bunny website and download a copy. If you’re still downloading pirated movies, here’s a breath of fresh air: this short movie is given to you completely free of charge.

Big Buck Bunny is the story of a large, but kind rabbit who is bullied by three naughty rodents. Finally, Big Buck Bunny decides to fight back, and…well you’ll have to see it for yourself. The visuals are breath-taking, from the tall grass blowing in the wind, to the stream reflecting off sunlight, to the cute and cuddly creatures.

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If the concept of open movies is new, or strange, to you, you may find it interesting to know that Big Buck Bunny is already the second open movie in the world, following from the success of the first open movie, Elephants Dream.

Two years ago, the Project Orange released the world’s first open movie, and it was titled Elephants Dream. Elephants Dream and Big Buck Bunny are called open movies because they are made entirely with open source tools, where of course Blender is the star player. Not only that, all the production files, all the 3D assets, everything used in the movie is also available for download, and it’s also included on the DVD.

Computer graphics, or CG, has been used with film since all the way back in the 70’s even before films like Tron came out. Back then, the technology was still at its infancy. As the technology progressed, CG found its way more and more into film, combining live action and animation in films like Batman, Star Trek, The Abyss, etc. and moving on into feature-length movies like Toy Story and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. What most of them have in common is the use of expensive software, such as Maya, for creating the CG (except Pixar; they use in-house technology built on top of Linux).

A lot of you probably don’t know that there is a software out there called Blender proving itself and its abilities to be on par with the big industry giants like 3D Studio Max, Lightwave, Maya, and SoftImage. But unlike its counterparts with 5-digit price tags (in US dollars), Blender is completely free! That’s right. Free to use, free to abuse, free to modify, free as in freedom and free as in beer.

Now there are a lot of people I know who are averse to Linux and the concept of free and open-source software, believing them to be of inferior quality because they’re not backed by large companies with lots of capital. I think that Blender is one of the model FLOSS software that proves this to be simply not the case.

If you haven’t seen the Open Movies yet, now would be a good time to do so. Head on over to the Elephant’s Dream page or the Big Buck Bunny page. You can also see how Plumiferos, another movie in the works, is coming about, as well as a whole lot of movies over at the Blender Movie Gallery. Oh, and of course, tell your friends or give them a copy. Don’t worry, it’s free (and open); Edu Manzano or the MPAA won’t be knockin’ on your door anytime soon.

June 16, 2008 at 9:28 am 1 comment

Say Hello To Koji

Kohjinsha’s Size Compared to An SD CardI saw a Kohjinsha SH6KP10A for only Y40K in Nipponbashi! I have seen the Kohjinsha quite a few times before, but never really paid attention because it was a local brand and was as expensive as a more powerful, albeit larger laptop. So coming home, I decided to do a little forward research on the Kohjinsha, specifically on Linux support. It only had an Intel A100 600Mhz processor (for reasons unknown to me, it’s faster than my 2.4Ghz main laptop), although it did have an Intel 945 GPU, which was perfect for 3D in Linux. If this thing could run a Vista, it would be quite fast when running Ubuntu. I compared the price vs. feature set with other UMPCs. TheSamsung Q1 was another favorite of Ubuntu users, but as it did not have a real keyboard (I need to be able to work on it; the optional keyboard attachment made it not so ultra-mobile, yuck). Searching the Ubuntu Forums yielded few, but very promising and helpful results. Checking them out, I found a few owners of Kohjinshas getting Gutsy on their UMPCs.

It was only 40K yen if you were going to get a Yahoo!BB subscription with it. But at 60K, it was still a bargain, since it was only 6mos used and at half the price of a new one. And I got myself one last weekend.

Kohjinsha and My Old Asus L3Taking it home, what was my first impression? First of all, it was preloaded with Vista, and instead of a recovery disc it had a 4GB recovery partition. I had to test all the hardware first to see if everything was A-Ok. Touch screen worked, webcam worked, the controls beside the screen (a lot of ’em: D-pad, track pointer, launcher, shutter, rotation, enter, brightnes. scroll keys. left and right mouse buttons), webcam, TV tuner, bluetooth and WiFi, all working perfectly. And you had no less than 3 ways to control your pointer: via the touch pad, the thumb pointer, and touch screen. As for text input, well you had the physical keyboard when you really need the typing speed, or you can use the touch screen.

While it still had Vista, I decided to do a quick speed comparison test. Nothing fancy, just a quick test to see which OS would allow me to work more before I had to get off the train at the station. In short, boot times.

Here are the results:

Windows Vista Home Basic Startup time:
1:10.03 – Time to welcome screen
1:49.83 – Time to desktop display
4:06.85 – Time to finish loading everything

Ubuntu Gutsy LiveCD startup time:
0:22.21 – Time to LiveCD menu
3:02.19 – Time to opening tune
4:26.33 – Time to finish loading everything

Vista was able to boot in just a little over 4 minutes (about the time it takes for a train to get to the next station) and 20 seconds faster than Ubuntu. That’s swell, until you consider the fact that IT WAS A LIVECD! For those not in the know, a LiveCD basically allows you to run an OS without installing on your computer. That’s right, that 4 minute Vista on my fast hard drive barely beat Ubuntu running off a CD drive! Hey, I wanted a fair fight, so I had to handicap Ubuntu..<snicker>

Kohjinsha Showing Compiz’s Scale FeatureAlright, so what are the real comparison figures for Ubuntu and Vista when both are installed in the hard disk?
Ubuntu Gutsy LiveCD startup time:
1:01.44 – Time to Login Screen
1:10.41 – Time to opening tune
1:35.58 – Time to desktop display
1:39.49 – Time to finish loading everything

You could argue that the Vista desktop already appears at about 1:50, but you just can’t do anything with it yet for another 30 seconds, where you can *technically* do something e.g. click a button/menu, just don’t expect your computer to respond well.

Kohjinsha Reverse StyleSo Vista was out and Ubuntu was in, and without needing to install any drivers at all, the CF and SD card reader, controls beside the screen, the webcam, 3D card, sound, and most everything worked out-of-the-box and without my intervention. And from the info in the Ubuntu Forums thread I had found earlier, I was able to get Koji up to speed.

Kohjinsha Handwriting Recognition With CellwriterSo right now, I can type away on the train(where I wrote most of this post’s content yesterday on the train to Kyoto). Heck, I could do away with the typing altogether and just scribble away with Cellwriter.

I don’t really need to say this but I’m one very, very proud Ubuntu-powered Kohjinsha owner!

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March 10, 2008 at 12:33 am 5 comments

New Photo Gear Page

I’ve added a new page to this blog, the Photo Gear page. Over there, I’ve written some insights and opinions on what type of gear you’ll need to start off shooting. Nothing specific, really, just what kind of gear, what to look for, etc. Hopefully, you’ll find something useful there. I’ve also upped some of my own gear over there in the form of photos. If you wanna know more about them, just click on the thumbnails. I’ll be uploading more of ’em as soon as I get around to taking shots of them, so check back often. That’s it for now, need to rush to my day job. Till next post!

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February 25, 2008 at 7:53 am Leave a comment

The Kitchen and Your DS

The DS - One of My New Kitchen ToolsI recently had to go to Japan, and as as consequence forego the luxuries of having my meals cooked for me, which meant that I had to eat out for all my meals, which isn’t exactly cheap here, or learn to cook. And I had no experience with the latter. Ok, maybe I know how to boil an egg and fry some bacon. For those of you with the same opportunity that I have, Shaberu DS Oryouri Nabi (しゃべる DS お料理ナビ) comes to our rescue. Armed with a knife, a pot, and my DS in one hand (Ok, maybe not. You’ll find out why), I set out to try if I can really learn how to cook with this software.

Shaberu Telling Me What To Do“Shaberu” has a total of 200 dishes, ranging from snacks to complete meals, Western or Oriental, and can even be filtered of ingredients you have to avoid, say, due to allergy or your doctor’s advice. And among the different dishes, Shaberu offers you different ways to search for a recipe. Of course, you have the basic option to browse the entire list, but you can also specify what ingredients you have, by set menus, keyword search, or by filters. Clams Cooking Pretty WellPersonally, I found the filter feature useful; I filtered for dishes that were easy to prepare and can be done in 10 minutes, but you can filter it for other criteria like calories as well. I decided I wanted seafood and picking one from the results, chose Clams Steamed In Wine.

There are 3 basic steps to do when cooking:

Prepare the ingredients and tools
In this step, you can choose how many people you’re cooking for, which automatically adjusts the shown amount of ingredients you will need. And you can also check off items you already have, like in a checklist, and Shaberu saves this data so when you turn on your Shaberu the next time you’re in the groceries, you’ll know exactly what to buy. Shaberu also tells you what tools are needed.

Go over the cooking process
Of course, before any cooking actually begins, you have to make sure you’re ready by reviewing each step of the cooking process, from preparation to finishing touches. You can of course skip this part if you wish.

Guided cooking
Here’s where the real fun begins, and where Shaberu, as well as the capabilities of the DS, shines. First of all, Shaberu means to chat in Japanese. Naturally, you can’t be holding your DS in one hand will you’re holding your pan and vigorously stirring with your spatula! Shaberu talks you through the dish so you don’t need to hold it. Just place it somewhere in the kitchen, preferably on a location where you won’t accidentally cook your DS, and listen to the instructions while you cook.

Although you can set the speed of the synthesized voice, for inexperienced cooks like me, I need a way to sort of pause it without having to touch my DS (specially not my touch screen) with my potentially dirty-from-handling-raw-food hands. Here’s where Shaberu’s show-stealer function comes in. Like I said, Shaberu means to chat, and chatting is a two-way thing. Using the DS’s mic, you talk to your DS to tell it to go to the next step, go back a step, repeat the step, and even to ask it for more details (Err, so how exactly do I clean these clams?). Of course, you can still navigate it with the touch screen if you so wish.

How The Dish Should Look LikeAfter cooking the dish, Shaberu confirms if you were abe to successfully make it and celebrates with you with confetti while showing you how your dish should turn out. It also takes note of the dish that you cooked in its calendar, so you have a record of the dishes you’ve made so far.

Ok, now onto the Cons. As you might have probably guessed, Shaberu is a Japanese title. Naturally, it speaks Japanese and you can’t change languages. And even though Shaberu uses simple language, unless you’re well-versed in Japanese kitchen and food terms, or you have another DS running Rakubiki Jiten, you’re gonna have a bit of difficulty following the steps.

Overall, Shaberu makes full use of the multimedia capabilities of the DS to deliver a really effective cooking guide for both beginners and intermediate cooks alike. For expert cooks, I suggest going for the sequel of Shaberu, where you’ll be instructed by no less than 7 hotel chefs.

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November 4, 2007 at 12:21 am 5 comments

Video Phoning

I bought a webcam for my laptop for an overseas trip so I can make video calls cheaply, without researching first about the webcam’s compatibility with Linux. It’s an A4Tech Notecam Clip-On. So before any of the fun stuff could happen, I needed to know if it was working or not. After a bit of searching, I stumbled upon Camorama (it’s in the Ubuntu repositories). The good thing is that it worked! No installation, no pop-up dialogs, nothing, just plug it in, and it’s in. It came with a driver CD for Windows; take note, Windows users, my Linux box doesn’t need driver discs.

Camorama can be used to test if your camera is feeding video information to your computer, and also for taking pictures or recording videos. However, for my particular camera, it couldn’t adjust the color correctly. I was worried that the linux driver for my camera had a problem. Well a badly-colored videocam feed is better than no feed at all.

Next up was research. What program do I use with my webcam for video calling? Gaim/Pidgin is a multiple-IM client capable of connecting not only to Y!Messenger, but also to MSN, AIM, GoogleTalk, etc., but couldn’t do video because these companies use private and proprietary protocols with their networks they want to keep private. I wanted to be able to call Yahoo! Messenger clients, so like what I usually do when I’m clueless about something, I hit the Ubuntu Forums and do search (or post a question if search results aren’t fruitful). Sure enough, there was a thread that answered my question. After a conversation with Loell, another UF member, I tried the following applications to see which best suited my needs.

Kopete

Kopete is a multiple-IM for KDE, though you can still use it in GNOME. It has a nice, clean interface which I think looks better than Gaim. Trying out the webchat feature, I was able to connect to my Y!M buddies. However, while the person on the other end could see my video stream, all I got was a single frame. The first frame of what is supposed to be a video stream (at best, I managed to get another frame a few minutes later). Also, there was no audio with the webchat.

Gyachi

First of all, I would like to state that this is my personal opinion: I really hate Gyachi’s interface. The first screen you see looks like a mess, or at best an old, unsophisticated Win95 program. The buttons are cluttered, and I really can’t make sense of the interface. But I was able to try out the webchat feature, and it worked. But like Kopete, webcam with audio was a no-go. Supposedly, you have to start audio chat aside from your webchat do get around this, but I never was able to make audio chat work either. So either I use Kopete or this for webchat without video. And I’d rather the clean Kopete interface than this. As a small saving grace though, Gyachi notifies you when your buddies sign in as invisible, so there’s no hiding from a person with Gyachi.

Wengo and Ekiga
Taking a different approach, why not just use a softphone for VoIP? Ubuntu has Ekiga by default, and unlike Skype which uses its own proprietary protocol, Ekiga is SIP-protocol compliant. In human terms, Skype can connect to Skype only, while Ekiga can connect to ANY SIP phone. Linux Skype can’t make video calls by the way, so that’s automatically out. So why not Wengo instead of Ekiga? Wengo is more fully featured than Ekiga. Wengo can be installed in Windows, Mac, and Linux, it can make SMS as well as calls to real phones anywhere in the world (I loaded it up with 10euros, which is the minimum. Calls and SMS are really cheap by the way), and it’s also a multi-IM client.

In conclusion, while I never got webcamming with Yahoo!Messenger solved, it was a good learning experience, without which I would have never learned about Wengo, to which I’m casting my vote. It solved the day for webcam with voice, I just have to convince whoever I need to talk to to download the client, but it’s not that hard since Wengo is really a good client, better than Skype. It still has some kinks, which I’m sure will soon be solved by the open source community behind it as more and more people start using it.

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September 16, 2007 at 11:08 pm 1 comment

Linux Photo Tools

I went to my brother’s wedding last week. During the reception was a slide show of their pictures, coupled with music. It was a great presentation. But what I noticed was that I could do this as well. The music wasn’t attached to the slide show, it was a separately playing live music. F-Spot TransitionAnd the slide show, which was run on a Mac laptop, was the built-in Mac slide show utility. F-Spot, GThumb, or the image viewer, which are all built into Ubuntu, can do the same thing that that Mac was doing–fading in and out picture after consecutive picture. And with RhythmBox, XMMS, or your favorite media player playing in the background, you got yourself a whole Linux roadshow. Of course, getting great pictures to show is another matter altogether, but a matter out of the scope of this post.

During that trip as well, I visited an old friend that now runs Photo Story Creations, a shop that puts your pictures on mugs, pillows, even tiles, as a mosaic or just a straightforward picture. Imagination’s the limit to what you can do with their products, you just need to tell them what you want to be done with your pictures. Having previously used trialware mosaic programs during my Windows days, I poked around in Synaptics Package Manager to see if I can find a mosaic application for Linux.

Sure enough, there was a fast, little program called Metapixel. It´s actually two small programs: metapixel-prepare and the main metapixel program. Sample Metapixel OutputThe metapixel-prepare program lets you choose a source directory of pictures and a target directory to use as a picture library for metapixel. Creating a mosaic takes around 3 1/2 minutes, which is already comparatively faster to other mosaic programs. But this speed advantage really comes in handy when you´re making mosaics using the library, since only half a minute is used for the actual creation of the mosaic. The other 3 minutes is used for preparing the library, which is a one time deal in this case.

One thing that might turn off some users is that Metapixel is a command-line program. But it’s not really that hard to use. To prepare the library, you use the following command: metapixel-prepare Desktop/sourcepictures Desktop/librarydir Afterwards, just type in
metapixel --metapixel input.jpg output.png --library Desktop/librarydir --cheat=30 The input file is the target image that you want your mosaic will look like and the output is, of course, the final image that will be produced. Notice that I put in a –cheat=30. What that actually does is overlay a 30%-opaque final image on to the mosaic, similar to the flower mosaic above. Unless you have a really vast library of pictures with all possible colors and you’re going to create a pretty big mosaic, this option can come in pretty handy. There are also other options, like the collage option. The difference between a collage and a classic mosaic is that the classic mosaic lays out your pictures in a perfect grid, while pictures in a collage can overlap each other.

Another cool tool that should be in the toolbox of the Linux photographer is Hugin Panorama Photo Stitcher. It features tools for correcting perspective, and of course, stitching tools for creating panoramas.

Hugin Panorama

To stitch photos, all you need to do is create points in your pictures to help the program automatically stitch your photos. In the example above, Hugin automatically adjusted for the perspective distortion effect of my camera, stitching three photos seamlessly. You may also want to check out the official Hugin stitching online tutorial.

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June 13, 2007 at 10:16 am 1 comment


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