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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.

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.

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.

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.

Book Review: Introducing Character Animation with Blender, 2nd Edition by Tony Mullen

This is the Blender 2.5 update to Mullen's very successful book on character animation. Since Blender 2.5 introduced a fairly dramatic change in interface design, this is a very useful update. This is a thick and extremely dense book that covers character animation from start to finish.

Python Scripting in Blender: A Piece of Pie - Part 1

Since script extensions are going to be a part of our toolchain on creating Lunatics, I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize myself with how scripts are created and run in Blender. As a learning project, I decided to create a script for creating 3D pie charts from CSV data files. My first task is to write this for Blender 2.49 using the API for Python 2.6. This is the version documented in the Python Scripting book from Packt that I recently reviewed, so it's a good place for me to start.

Book Review: Character Development in Blender 2.5 by Jonathan Williamson

Jonathan Williamson is established in the Blender community as an instructor for the Blender Cookie tutorial website. So it probably comes as no surprise that he should write an instructional book on using Blender. This one is an impressive work, and despite a relatively high price, may be worth your time if you want a thorough introduction to designing and modeling characters in Blender.

Book Review: Annie's CS101 by Dmitry Zinoviev

The full title is "Annie's CS101, A Charting Approach to Computer Programming." This is an interesting approach to an introductory programming course -- the target is for younger learners (although not children), and it focuses on the thought process behind conceiving of a programming problem and solving it. The language of instruction is Python, although this is not really a Python book.

Book Review: Machinima by Matt Kelland, Dave Morris, and Dave Lloyd

If you're wondering what machinima is, this book is a good starting point. If you're wondering what machinima is likely to be capable of and what its history has been like, then you'll likewise find it very useful. If you are looking for a how-to or tutorial on making your own machinima, then you'll find this book disappointing. It's basically a highly-illustrated "coffee table book" about the machinima artform.

Book Review: Animating with Blender by D. Roland Hess

Among the books I've read to get my head around the process of creating an animated film with Blender, this one is definitely the best. Nowadays you'll probably want to use Blender 2.5 or later, and this book is based on 2.49, but even with this problem, I'd still recommend it. The real win of this book is the way it deals with the synoptic view of the project: how to organize your project, how to break it down into manageable chunks, and even how to store it on disk. It's an excellent resource.

Book Review: The Transparent Society by David Brin

This book is a bit of a departure for my Free Software Magazine book reviews, it's a philosophical and social essay by science-fiction writer David Brin, and it's over 13 years old (published in 1998). But as I am reading this now, I'm struck by how prophetic this book is towards events that are going on in the world today.

Book Review: No Safe Harbor by the US Pirate Party

When I first heard the expression "Pirate Party", I was sure it was some kind of a joke. When I found out they were actually getting elected to representative seats in Europe, though, I certainly started taking the idea seriously. But could a political party in the USA actually get somewhere with a name like the "United States Pirate Party". Certainly not without a good platform introduction -- and that's what this book of essays is all about.

Book Review: Sound Effects Tips and Tricks by Eddie Bazil

Not so much a software book as a book on theory and technique of sound processing, "Sound Effects, Tips and Tricks" is a concise look at what can be done with good signal processing software. I found the book interesting, occasionally frustrating, and enlightening. In the end, it mostly taught me to have a better understanding of what I didn't know -- but that's useful.

Download Sites: Rogue Pirate Hangouts or Vogue Free Media Distributors?

YouTube is good, but not ideal, and the lack of a download link is somewhat annoying. So I spent some time researching good free media hosting sites for large files and ISOs. Torrent sites are particularly good for hosting the high-definition versions.

Book Review: Bounce, Tumble, and Splash! by Tony Mullen

Modeling every single aspect of a scene in a 3D application like Blender is hard when details are very fine (as with hair, bubbles, smoke, or a field of grass), and so there are a variety of automated techniques for pseudo-random modeling. It's also hard to animate every behavior accurately and realistically, especially of complex deforming surfaces. Fortunately, Blender can work out the physics -- applying gravity, collisions, and flexible movement for you. This book is a guide to this difficult subject.

Book Review: Stop Staring by Jason Osipa

After looking at several recommendations on the best sources for a good book on rigging and animation characters' faces (which will obviously be very important for our Lunatics project), I came across this one, "Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right". The book lives up to the expectations of careful analysis of facial expression and movement; provides guidance applicable to a wide range of character designs; and is largely neutral as to the 3d application used.

The real problem with media pirate culture: Punishing artists for making art

There is a problem with the world of illegal piracy that we have online today, but it's not what the RIAA and MPAA want you to think it is. It's that we've become accustomed to participating in illegal copying, and yet it is still illegal. This means that we have the illusion of a body of work that can be built upon, remixed, and combined with new work, but if real artists practice this commercially, we are exposed to legal attack.

Are we too dependent on the USA for "our" WWW

By now you'll have heard and experienced the anti-SOPA protest. Wikipedia, Wired, Wordpress, Google, Twitpic and even this very tome were joined by probably thousands of smaller sites as large sections of the web went black to demonstrate what the web might end up like should SOPA be passed. As a Brit I joined in - even though the bill is a US one - because the effects of this nefarious piece of "leglislation" would most certainly be felt on the fair green isles that make up my homeland. The good news is both SOPA and PIPA were shelved after the protest - which proves if nothing else the power of protest. Yes they may wel return in some other form so the fight may not be over but the protest itself (for me) raised another question: is the [English-speaking] web too US-centric?

Pirate Bay Gets Physical with 3D Designs

The torrent site, Pirate Bay has introduced a new category of downloads -- for physical designs of 3D-printable objects. This is an interesting step forward for Open Hardware as this will make designs available to a broader audience. There is already a proprietary distribution channel via Shapeways, but making the designs publicly downloadable means they can be printed by local suppliers or on your own 3D printer.

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