Terry Hancock's articles

Emulating disk menus with HTML5 and Chromium for Lib-Ray

The final step (and probably most interesting) step in creating my Lib-Ray prototype (for releasing high-definition video without DRM or other anti-features) is to make a disk menu system to access the video data that I've already prepared. This column will actually document my second prototype design, as opposed to the first prototype which I presented at Texas Linux Fest in April 2011. This second is a big improvement and conforms much better to the draft HTML5 standard from the WHAT Working Group, and is much more functional in the existing Chromium browser, although improvements are still needed.

Book Review: The Book of Audacity by Carla Schroder

Audacity is one of my favorite free software applications, and it has really improved over the years. This book covers the latest features in the 1.3.x series, which is expected to lead directly to the version 2.x Audacity. The book covers more than just Audacity, though. In the process of covering several different uses, it also discusses everything from hardware equipment selection to copyright and business problems that may come up in a project. Overall, it's a good read and a good introduction to Audacity, audio recording, and audio processing.

Assembling and Testing a Complex Ogg Theora Video with Command Line Tools and VideoLAN Client (VLC)

Unless you've been hiding in a cave for the last few years, you probably know about the free multimedia codecs with the fishy-sounding names from Xiph.org: Ogg Vorbis (for sound) and Ogg Theora (for video). You might be less familiar with other family and friends, including FLAC (lossless audio), Skeleton (metadata stream), and Kate (subtitles). However, together this collection of codecs can be used with the Ogg container format to provide all of the functionality of a DVD video file -- multiple soundtracks, full surround sound, high definition, and selectable subtitles. Having created the various streams for a prototype release of "Sintel" in my last few columns, I'm now going to integrate them into a single video file and test it with some players.

Creating 3D Printed Models with Blender and the Shapeways Printing Service

One of the most exciting technological trends in recent years has been the rise of "3D printing" technologies for rapid prototyping of arbitrary shapes. I've written about this before for Free Software Magazine, but this month I finally got to try the technology out for myself -- in order to create "study models" (a fancy name for "toys") for my video project, Lunatics. In this column, I'm going to walk through the complete process, from creating 3D models to receiving the final product in the mail.

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.

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.

Lasting Digital Archives: Millenniata's New Archival DVD Technology

A new optical disk technology offers a fundamental new capability -- which is storing offline archives in a format with a shelf life of many decades (or even centuries). The key is in the pits: unlike commonly available dye-based CD-R and DVD-R media, the Millenniata writer actually laser etches physical pits into the writable layer of its "M-Disc" DVD-ROMs. Because the pits are physical structures, like the pits on pressed media, they have the same kind of shelf-life -- but in a way that is economical for low-copy archives. The niche here is for digital archives of "time capsule" data: family photographs, historical records, original manuscripts, video footage and masters, and so on. Perhaps more remarkably, the drives and disks, are affordable enough for the target applications and available commercially right now.

Five ideas for escaping the Blu-Ray blues

Some of us want to be able to release high-definition video (possibly even 3D) without evil copy protection schemes. I've been avoiding Blu-Ray as a consumer since it came out, mostly because Richard Stallman said it has an evil and oppressive DRM scheme. After my first serious investigation, I can confirm his opinion, and frankly, it's a pretty bleak situation. What can we do about it? Here's five ideas for how we might release high definition video.

The OpenPC project: Ready-made GNU/Linux Machines

The Open Desktop communities Open-PC project is now offering three different models of open computers with turn-key GNU/Linux and KDE installations based on OpenSUSE (or Ubuntu). These systems could provide real competition with pre-installed Windows or Mac computers, overcoming some of the most frequently-cited problems with GNU/Linux on the desktop. The systems are now available from vendors in Europe and the USA.

A Simple NFS File Server

It has been said that "'best' is the enemy of 'good enough'". The Network File System (NFS) may be a good example. It's often overlooked in favor of more capable (but more complex!) resource sharing software like Samba, which can network easily with Windows computers. But if you have a home LAN with a lot of GNU/Linux machines on it, you don't need Samba. NFS will do just fine, and it's very simple to set up. I've been using this configuration for about 10 years now (essentially since I started using GNU/Linux in the first place).

Post-Christmas Review: Tech Toys and GNU/Linux Compatibility

Well, Christmas 2010 is over, and all the little tech toy devices have been connected, installed, and played with (or returned to the store from whence they came if they didn't clear those hurdles). This year was an amazing success. Three major computer-linked devices worked on the first try without a hiccup. And I have to at least say a word or two about Mattel's new Computer Engineer Barbie -- a purchase I must admit was a little silly, but my daughter does play with it.

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