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Chromebooks - has the future arrived?

It seems like an age ago since Google first announced ChromeOS and certainly there's been a lot written about it, including a fair bit in this magazine. Now that the launch of Chromebook models from two manufacturers is imminent, it might be worth reminding ourselves of some of the issues around a "Cloud-based OS" generally, and this one in particular.

Book Review: Blender 3D 2.49 Architecture, Buildings, and Scenery by Allan Brito

Most examples of modeling with Blender make a number of assumptions that are a very bad fit for architecture: that you are viewing a convex model from the outside, for example, or that measurements can be rough or "organic." It's really very hard to find good information about drawing with precision constraints, keeping floors level, or making doors, windows, and walls work right. It's not just of use to architects -- anyone designing a large interior space whether for architecture or film production will find this book very useful.

Migrating Multiple MediaWikis with Practically Perfect People Policies

I am setting up five MediaWiki instances in three domains on one server with three different security configurations. Each has its own MySQL database backend and its own separate home on the filesystem. All share the same MediaWiki code (from the standard Debian GNU/Linux 6.0 "Squeeze" package installation). All share the same extensions, including the Debian packaged extensions, and some others installed from source. And of course, I'm migrating content from my home LAN server to the web server. In this column, I'll explain how I'm doing this in 10 "easy" (okay, actually quite hard) steps.

Creating Subtitles from SRT Sources for an Ogg Video with kateenc

One of the more interesting aspects of Ogg Video is that it allows an essentially unlimited number of subtitle tracks to be included. This is especially useful for free-culture videos, since they are generally released globally, and there are often contributed subtitles. In fact, for "Sintel", I was able to find 44 subtitle files. I will be including them all as Ogg Kate streams in my prototype "Lib-Ray" version of "Sintel", and in this column I will demonstrate the use of several command line utilities useful for this, especially the kateenc tool for creating the streams.

Assembling Video from a PNG Stream for an Ogg Video with png2theora

Ogg Theora is the codec of choice for free-licensed, patent-free video, and so that is the one I'll be using in my experiment in creating an alternative format for distributing high definition video. The original, full-quality animation for "Sintel" is provided as a series of PNG images representing each frame, and so I'll need to turn that into a high-quality Theora video stream for my prototype "Lib-Ray" version of "Sintel". In this column, I'll show how I do that.

Assembling Ogg Soundtracks for an Ogg Video with Audacity, VLC, and Command Line Tools

Ogg Vorbis and Ogg FLAC (the Ogg stream version of the Free Lossless Audio Codec) are popular free-licensed and patent-free codecs for handling sound. These are the formats I'll be using in a complex Ogg Theora video file that I am creating as part of my "Lib-Ray" experiment in creating an alternative format for distributing high definition video. In order to do this, I'll need to solve several technical challenges using the FLAC command line tools, Audacity, and VLC, which I'll demonstrate here.

Understanding Surround and Binaural Sound

Film soundtracks are usually made available in either "Stereo" or "5.1 Surround" sound, although other possibilities exist. Quite a few of the source sound recordings I've been using are "binaural" recordings, which sound eerily realistic over earphones, but often less impressive when played back on speakers. What does this stuff mean, and how can I use free software tools to make the most of it? This will be an ongoing learning experience, but I want to start with a brief description of these most common technologies, and how they are supported by the file formats we have available to us: Vorbis, FLAC, and WAV.

Review: Making Software, Edited by Andy Oram and Greg Wilson

It's an old joke among programmers that questions of the efficacy of programming languages, abstraction models, management models, or other fundamental ideas of software engineering are simply "religious wars" -- i.e. conflicts impossible to resolve, because they are based on faith and superstition rather than any kind of objective evidence. And yet, a lot of important decisions are based on these ideas. So it's refreshing to see a book that attempts to apply real scientific rigor to the questions of programming and software engineering, and that's what "Making Software" gives us.

Free Software needs Free Speech!

You might think that a good program is all about good programming. But for a number of applications, the barrier to success isn't programming at all. Some of the most interesting projects nowadays -- speech recognition, for example -- rely on machine-learning from databases of information. It's not enough to write free software for these applications, we have to also provide that software with the right data. Contributing to these projects is needed from a much larger group of people, but it also can be very easy to do.

Will the lack of commodity mobile hardware kill free software?

This magazine has voiced several concerns over the almost de-facto state of vendor lock-in in the mobile market and with good reason. What is the point of free software if the hardware locks your access to it? This premise was one of the driving forces behind v3 of the GPL and as far as I can tell the OpenPC project and other open hardware projects. But most of these hardware projects relate to the desktop PC model. Where is the equivalent commodity hardware for the mobile market, the tablet "market" or even the laptop one?

Nokia and free software. Or why Android was not the "preferred bidder" (because that's like peeing in your pants for warmth)

This year seems to been continuing where last year left off: Oracle/Sun, OpenOffice/LibreOffice, Ubuntu and Wayland/Xorg. Now, it's the turn of Nokia and Microsoft. When I heard the news that Nokia was switching from the Symbian OS to Windows 7 for their smartphones my first reaction was: "another Microsoft patents land grab" but this article is not about the proverbial beast of Redmond but about why Nokia chose it over Android and more importantly, given the increasing convergence of laptops, smartphones and tablets, answering the question: just how free is Android and what is the relationship with GNU/Linux?--and I suspect that I'll be needing my asbestos delicates.

Review: Blender 2.5 Lighting and Rendering, by Aaron W. Powell

Sometimes the best book on a subject is the shortest. This is a very concise book, focused very much on a single narrow, but important, subject with Blender: which is how to light your subject, create colors and textures, and generate the final 2D render from the 3D scene.

MusOpen.org: Public domain performances of public domain music

Classical music itself, by virtue of being old, is mostly public domain, but recordings of performances are usually under copyright, and not many are available for use in free culture works. An emerging new resource, aiming to resolve this problem is MusOpen -- a repository of public domain recordings of public domain music, available in Ogg Vorbis and FLAC formats.

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