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Oracle and the slippery bars of soap called Java and MySql

News about the lawsuit between Oracle (which owns Java) and Google (which uses aspects of Java in Android) are resonating far and loud at the moment. At this point in the article, I should summarise the story: the trouble is that a summary at this point is impossible. The main problem is with Oracle, and their inability to understand free software.

Programming effective reminders in GNU/Linux

There are some nice sticky-note applications for Linux, and they're good places to write down reminders, like Ring Fred or Pick up a litre of milk.

Unfortunately, sticky-notes are no help to me at all. I'm often forgetful, and I'm more than likely to shut down my computer without checking to see if I've written a note to myself. To get around this problem, I wrote a couple of very simple scripts, each launched by an icon on my Xfce panel.

Lib-Ray Video Standard: Using Google/On2's VP8 Video Codec

When I started working on a no-DRM, open-standards-based solution for distributing high-definition video on fixed media ("Lib-Ray"), I naturally thought of Theora, because it was developed as a free software project. Several people have suggested, though, that the VP8 codec would be a better fit for my application. This month, I've finally gotten the necessary vpxtools and mkvtoolnix packages installed on my Debian system, and so I'm having a first-look at VP8. The results are very promising, though the tools are somewhat finicky.

Find duplicates and originals in a spreadsheet using the Unix command line

Sometimes, you need to find and group together the replicated records in a spreadsheet. There are several different ways to identify duplicated records (see this tutorial for a good one), but what I wanted was something a bit more fancy. I wanted not just the duplicates, but each original record as well. Furthermore, I wanted any replicates (original + duplicates) grouped together in neat little sets in the spreadsheet.

Here is how I did it using the Unix command line.

Tethered Shooting with Entangle

Tethering your DSLR camera to a computer opens a whole new world of possibilities: you can instantly view your shots on a large screen, trigger your camera remotely, practice the art of time-lapse photography, and perform other clever tricks. While commercial tethering software for Windows and Mac OS X often costs serious money, you can enjoy all the advantages of tethered shooting on Linux free of charge courtesy of Entangle. This tethering software lets you control practically all camera settings, trigger the shutter from the computer, view a live preview of a scene, and automatically download captured images to the computer.

Measures on the command line

In an earlier article I promised to demonstrate more 'magic words' for the command line. All you do is open a terminal, enter the magic word, hit Enter – and cool things happen! The magic word this time is units. The GNU Units program isn't installed by default in most Linux distributions, so you'll probably need to install it from your distribution's repository. Also, until you get to know GNU Units, I recommend that you enter units -v (v for verbose) on the command line. This makes the output a little more easy to understand.

The GNU Units program converts quantities from one unit system to another.

Debian/Ubuntu: Making a Package Repository on Your LAN

This is one of those things that doesn't get explained much, because it's almost too simple to document: it's often useful to keep a few Debian package files (.deb files, used in Debian, Ubuntu, and Linux distributions derived from them) available for installation, either on your local host or on other computers on the same local-area network (LAN). You can make these available as an extra "repository" for your APT system, so that APT-based package tools (apt-get, Aptitude, Synaptic, etc) can access them. This makes managing these special packages just like your other packages, which can solve a lot of problems.

Easy File Sync with Bitpocket

Need to keep files and documents in sync across multiple Linux machines? Bitpocket provides a no-nonsense solution to the problem. This tiny shell script uses the excellent rsync software to perform the syncing jiggery-pockery. This means that you can have one machine acting as the "main repository", and then have several "client" machines which will be able to sync with it. (This obviously means that all client machines will have the same files). Here is how you configure it.

Lib-Ray Video Standard: Moving to SDHC Flash Media

In Spring 2011, I started a project to attempt to create a free-culture compatible / non-DRM alternative to Blu-Ray for high-definition video releases on fixed-media, and after about a year hiatus, I'm getting back to it with some new ideas. The first is that I've concluded that optical discs are a bust for this kind of application, and that the time has come to move on to Flash media, specifically SDHC/SDXC as the hardware medium. This is a more expensive choice of medium, and still not perfect, but it has enough advantages to make it a clear choice now.

The (bumpy) road to Free Software SaaS

Free Software advocates quickly demonize SaaS as the ultimate way to take your freedom away. A lot of them dismiss the advantages of having data online highlighting (and rightly so) the fact that you may be locked out of your own data anytime. My question is: what if SaaS is in fact the way to go, the future, and just need to hurry the hell up and make sure that it's easy to install, and use, the great SaaS available under a free software license?

Is the radioactive H.264 going to poisoning us, and the web, until 2028?

Whether we like it or not, H.264 is "the" de-facto standard on the Internet. Every time you visit Youtube, you are watching a video encoded using the H.264 standard. The video quality is great, the compression is astonishing. And so is the price. H.264 is subject to a huge number of software patents. You need to pay hefty licensing fees if you want to create H.264 files today. We, the users, are not feeling this as we are not paying a cent. However, the freedomes allowed by this format are limited, and vague at best: here is why.

23 years on and still people don't get free software

In 1989 The GNU project introduced the GPL - not the first occurrence of a free software licence but arguably the most important. Yet today in 2012 we still have large sections of the computing industry which just doesn't get free software. I came across a glaring example of this today.

Generation of one-page, domain-oriented sites using PHP

A web site is a set of pages on a specific subject. It normally has sub-pages, and normally valuable information about the topic it covers. What if a web site is dedicated to a property? Could you create a web site focused on a specific property, and also named after the property? (something like 22birtonsthamiltonhill.com)? How would you create such a think based on free software? (At the end of this article, you should be able to create a complete template system and a site containing the full list of sites, for property sites.

Writing native Android applications with Javascript? Not yet.

The number of people using Linux (and I mean Linux the kernel) and free software in general has exploded in the last 2 years thanks to Android and Google. Even if you want to discard phones and only count the tablets (which are starting to get very close to laptops in terms of what you can do with them), the number of new users is huge. And yet, we are all hostage of a choice -- a bad choice, in my humble opinion -- that Google made: Java.

Keep an Eye on Your GNU/Linux System with Glances

Looking for a no-nonsense command-line tool for monitoring your GNU/Linux system? Glances might be right up your alley. This neat little Python-based utility provides an overview of all key system aspects, including CPU load, disk storage, memory consumption, and network activity. More importantly, the utility does a good job of presenting monitored data in an easy-to-follow manner.

Build your own special characters chooser

I often need to insert a special character in my writing, like the degree symbol or the Greek letter mu. Although LibreOffice Writer, my favourite writing application, helps me do this with an Insert special character function, it offers too many choices. There are only a few special characters I use regularly, and they're scattered across several font subsets.

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