End users

End users

Flattr: A Social Micropayment Platform for Financing Free Works

People have been talking about "micropayments" since the early days of the world-wide-web, so I'm always skeptical of micropayment systems. Flattr is an interesting variation on the idea though. It's a voluntary system, without the overhead or chilling effects associated with "pay walls" and it puts donors in control of how much they spend, allowing them to split their donations among beneficiaries based on a monthly "pie" model. The greatest asset of Flattr is its simplicity of use -- similar in many ways to the various social networking services that abound on the web today. Flattr may well succeed, and it may fill a niche of financing small projects from free software to online videos.

Sky Over Baikonur Backdrop with Gimp

Often, when modelling in 3D, it's necessary to create a "backdrop" panoramic image. Typically this shows sky and distant land which should appear behind the foreground action. One place we'll need this for the pilot to Lunatics is for the sky in Baikonur, Kazakhstan on launch day at the beginning of the story. I had some very particular ideas about how this should look, and I want to create just the right look. Here's how I constructed it.

Finding Free Music for a Free Film with Jamendo, VLC, and K3B

One of the great advantages of using a free license for a work is that you can re-use a growing body of free-licensed source material to help you do it. But it can seem a little daunting to find the material that you both want and can legally use. Here's a little bit of my strategy, a few tips, and some sources, including Jamendo, which I found to be the most useful for finding music. I also touch upon some useful free software tools for listening and sorting tracks.

Creating an Animatic Using Audacity and Kino

An animatic is a kind of a rough sketch for a film. It's not really meant to be an artform in itself (although some reach that point), but it is rather intended to be enough information for the filmmaker to make intelligent production decisions. It also must be cheap and easy, since effort that goes into the animatic will not appear in the final film. I have not yet fully decided what tool is right for doing the animatics for Lunatics, so I'm doing some experiments with different tools in order to decide. In this column, I'll create an animatic for a short sequence from the pilot.

Storyboards for a film with Flickr, OpenClipart, Inkscape, Gimp, and ImageMagick

How do you get a flurry of images in your head into a concrete description of a film so that you can produce it? One important step is to create storyboards. For the storyboards on Lunatics, I've used a variety of approaches, from rough sketches on index cards to found photos and collages. This has allowed me to collect my ideas and get them into a concrete form -- both as cards I can manipulate directly and as images on computer that I will later be able to turn into an animatic.

Extracting and Using a Recorded Sound Effect with VLC and Audacity

I found a useful sound effect in an online video from NASA which replaces an earlier temporary sound I used in a scene soundtrack for the Lunatics pilot, "No Children in Space." I'm going to extract the sound from the video (with VLC), cut out the sound I need, clean it up, and insert it into an existing sound mix (all with Audacity). This should give you some insight into using Audacity and a VLC on a real project.

Soyuz Launch Vehicle in Blender: Part I, Modelling the Core Stage

For Lunatics, we need several space vehicles. For a few of them, we have existing free-licensed computer models that we can use, but others are not so easy, or need customizations. The Soyuz launch vehicle is one of these, and it was relatively easy to model, since launch vehicles are geometrically simple (basically a bunch of extruded cylinders and cones). In Part I, I'll demonstrate the basic modelling techniques I used to create the Core Stage.

Making Movies with Free Software

Sometimes life is very circular. Once upon a time, I was a film major. Then I was an astronomer, then I was unemployed for quite awhile, during which time I discovered free software, and as a result of my various rantings about it, I started writing for Free Software Magazine. Now it seems that I've become a film-maker again. I'm working on not one, but two animated science-fiction films using free software tools, intended for a free-licensed release on the internet under new distribution models. And, being a writer, I'm going to write about it. I think it will be both entertaining and useful.

New-line search & replace in OpenOffice.org Writer -- the lazy way

I've been editing the Philippine Star Trek fans' section of the New Worlds Alliance site for a few months now, and the contributors have been submitting their articles embedded in the email message. I actually prefer that to an attached file, because I can read the article right away, without having to open another application. When I'm ready to edit, I ask GMail to create a Google document out of it. Trouble is, the resulting file has hard new-line characters after every line, and a double new-line between paragraphs. I could cursor to the end of each line, delete it, and type in a space, but my inner sloth told me there had to be a better way.

An Easy and Inexpensive Quad-Core System for Debian or Ubuntu GNU/Linux

My son's hand-me-down motherboard recently gave up the ghost, and I decided that was a good excuse for an upgrade. Shopping around, I found that multi-core CPUs were finally in my price range, so I decided to build him a quad-core system. This build worked out extremely well, with almost no configuration problems, not even for accelerated 3D graphics or ALSA sound -- all using the latest Debian GNU/Linux (which means it'll also work with Ubuntu or other derivatives). This one has that "classic" feel -- everything just clicked into place. So I wanted to document it here. This also serves as a technology update to my earlier article on selecting hardware for a free-software-friendly system.

Painting Sound with ARSS and Gimp

As I was working on a sound track project for a science-fiction film I've been working on, I remembered reading an article in Free Software Magazine, by Gianluca Pignalberi, in which he described filtering using Gimp and a command-line program then called "ARSE" (version 0.1). The program is now called "The Analysis & Resynthesis Sound Spectrograph" ("ARSS", now version 0.2.3). Combined with an image editor of your choice (I also chose Gimp), it also turns out to be a very interesting way to make original sound effects -- by painting the sound spectrum.

The Morevna Project: Anime with Synfig and Blender

The Morevna Project aims to create an animated film in a modern anime-style retelling a very old Russian folktale known as "Marya Morevna". It's a free culture production project pushing the envelope in several ways -- entirely using free software tools and releasing under the free Creative Commons Attribution license. The project is purely community-based, without any foundation funding, so they can probably use your help. Joining could be a terrific learning opportunity, whether your interest is in literature, music, animation, or software development.

Firefogg: Transcoding videos to open web standards with Mozilla Firefox

GNU/Linux has never been short of audio and video players, but they live in a world of multiple codecs, chief culprit amongst them being MP3, AAC, WMA and (Adobe) Flash. I say "culprits" because they are not free and open codecs. They are encumbered by patents; most websites with embedded audio/video use them and most of the people who view them are also using other patented software: Windows. GNU/Linux is a good alternative and all distros come bundled with free and open multimedia alternatives too: Ogg. You would not be surprised that these players can handle Ogg but what if I told you that Mozilla's Firefox browser could not only handle this codec but could be used also to transcode videos to that format? Interested? Read on.

Making a videoloop with Kino and Audacity

In my recent article on QDVDAuthor, I skipped over the task of making a videoloop for the main DVD menu. Here I'm going to show you how I did it. The goal is a short loop of video that smoothly transitions through five different video segments and back to the beginning again. The audio is shaped and lowered to make it more or less even and not so distracting (loud menus can be obnoxious if they are left running).

Mastering a DVD using QDVDAuthor

There are not a lot of free software options for mastering DVDs. One of the more complete solutions is QDVDAuthor, although it still has a number of rough spots. It's a front-end to a collection of command-line free software tools that do each of the individual steps involved in going from a collection of digital video files, audio files, and images to a DVD with menus. As such, it's quite complicated, and not as stable as some software. Still, it is a rewarding experience if you stick with it. Here I'm going to walk through creating a DVD for a collection of animated videos by my new favorite free-culture artist, Nina Paley (partly because the CC By-SA 3.0 license eliminates any questions about copying the material here, and partly because they're pretty cool in themselves).

Computer Institute under $5000

I love computers and have sat in front of it for hours and probably days at a time forgetting food, bath. Even today I took a bath at 6 PM, its a custom in India that one must take a bath at dawn, well I forgot and somehow remembered!

I like to teach art of computing to others. Its an obedient machine and does what you tell it to do. There was passion, and spark what lacked was tons of money. I have to settle in for shoe string budget to open my own training center. I had no choice and hence in came free software.

RepRap, the replicating machine: The Free and Open Source Factory on the Desktop?

RepRap (replicating Rapid-prototyper) is a 3D printer and it is impeccably free and open source under both the GPL and the Creative Commons Licence. It's early days but the implications and the promise are potentially enormous in their own right -- but the fact that it is resolutely not proprietary is what caught my attention.

Producing a book with Scribus: useful tips

While working on my own book for Apress, Free Software for Creative People, I've also been typesetting a 240 page poetry book by Richard McKane using Scribus, for the publisher Hearing Eye. Years ago I used to use Quark Xpress for this sort of project, so I was pleased to find out that free software can now do the same job.

Howto: Share mobile broadband in Ubuntu using only the GUI

Like many people who aren't able to get DSL, I use mobile broadband. Typically, at least in Ireland and the UK, you are forced to purchase a modem with your contract. What if you want other devices in your house to use this broadband and you don't want to fork out several hundred wing wangs for a mobile broadband router like the Novatel MiFi when you have a perfectly good modem and wireless router already? In Ubuntu you can setup the modem-connected machine as a robust router/firewall using the in-built Network Manager, Firestarter, and optionally, Gadmin DHCPD.

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