Archive for category Applications

Reddit’s Interview with Richard Stallman

Recently, Reddit users were given the opportunity to ask RMS (Richard M. Stallman) questions. The top 25 were answered by RMS here.

For anyone who doesn't know who RMS is, he is the founder of the GNU project. He wrote Emacs and the GCC compiler. Much of what makes up a "GNU/Linux" (don't ever let him hear you call it "Linux"), is the GNU tools. Linux itself is just the operating system kernel. Although the OS kernel is a very important part of the OS, a base GNU/Linux system has a ton of software from the GNU project as well. The OS doesn't work without the kernel, and it doesn't do much without the GNU tools.

RMS answered most of the questions as I would expect. The one question that stood out to me, although I haven't made it through the entire list yet, is number 7. The question relates to how the open source world can't create tax software and games that can compete with proprietary software. It's a very good question. RMS mentions that the Free Software Foundation in Latin America does have free tax software. He also says

I don't know whether our community will make a "high end video game"
which is free software, but I am sure that if you try, you can stretch
your taste for games so that you will enjoy the free games that we
have developed.

Now, this is the part that really made me think. I've always been an advocate of free software, but do I really want to rely on free software to produce video games that compete with some of the games I play on PS3? I truly wish that they could make them, because I'd love it, but I don't see it happening. Another major point to that comment is that games have always been the driving force in computer hardware improvements. The computer systems we have right now are only this good because of games.

That may be hard to believe, but for anyone that's been playing PC games for decades, it's common sense. Video games are it. That's what all of this technology was built on. You were either playing games or writing them. Sure, computers have many other useful features, but games are responsible for these beautiful user interfaces and awesome sound.

Games kept getting better. Hardware kept getting better. A huge majority of the research and design came from game sales. All of that wouldn't have happened without proprietary games.

RMS knows that, but RMS isn't worried about games at all. RMS is worried about software freedom and he has many good points. Those same points could be applied to many industries. To me is seems like the old communism vs. capitalism debate. Extremes on both sides suck. It's the happy medium we should strive for.

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LXDE – The Light-weight Linux Desktop Environment

I was reading a post over at the Linux Mint Blog and found that I'm a bit behind on my Linux news. I've never heard of LXDE. Now my desktop environment of choice is Gnome, usually. I also like XFCE, but Gnome has all the features and rarely lets me down. I like the variety in Linux so I was glad to see yet another desktop environment.

LXDE seems to be geared toward netbooks and other cloud-client computers. Linux has many light-weight desktop environments, and even though I like variety, sometimes I wish that they would all come together and work together.

This leads me to a pitfall of open source. It's also an advantage. Those are complete contradictions, but there's really no other way to explain it. I lean more toward the advantage side of things but sometimes I wonder if the different projects could be merged as much as they are split.

It seems that it's perfectly logical for developers to split from a project and create a fork, but rarely do two projects merge to form a super project. Perhaps open source in general needs more merging to balance out the massive amounts of forks....just a thought.

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Eclipse issues in Linux Mint

I've been wrestling with IDEs and OSs for the past few days, trying to decide which would be best for Javascript and PHP development. I had been using Netbeans. I absolutely love Netbeans, but I found that editing Javascript in it was somewhat lacking. I was having trouble keeping up with my nested anonymous functions and thought it'd be a good time to try out other alternatives.

I bounced around between Linux Mint, Mac OS X, and Windows 7. I find that I would really like to program on my Macbook Pro, but it just doesn't feel comfortable. There's something about the keyboard setup or something that just annoys me. It's more of a problem with my familiarity with the keyboard, I think. At any rate, after messing with Eclipse, Netbeans, and Textmate on my Mac, I decided it was going to be a no-go.

Windows 7 presented a problem in the fact that XAMPP seems to have issues with sessions. They work but almost at random, creating a new session will lock up the entire web server. When you are developing a website which uses Sessions for user logins, that creates a problem. So, I decided it would be in my best interest to use Linux, which seems to be made for programmers, because most programming related things work great in it and the fact that you almost have to be a programmer to get some things to work correctly in it. Though, that is an outdated misconception, but everyone still seems to believe it.

I had been using Linux for most of the development of my new project anyway. So, there was no transition there. I'm using SVN on a server machine so it really didn't matter which OS or IDE I decided upon for that. They are all pretty universal in their ability to handle SVN. The major exception was Mac OS X which didn't include the ssh-askpass command needed to tunnel SVN through ssh correctly. I was able to find a shell script that handled the ssh-askpass function, however. Textmate didn't really work well, either, because it didn't really have robust SVN integration. It was pretty much just like manual SVN. I also needed separate programs for Diff and Merge. That was lacking and clunky. I was spoiled by Netbeans' built-in Merge, Diff, SVN, and so forth.

I thought I'd give Aptana a try. It is a PHP developer plugin for Eclipse. It is also available in a standalone package. I had various problems with the standalone version of Aptana so I decided to install Eclipse from the LinuxMint/Ubuntu repositories. Eclipse worked great, and Aptana installed perfectly. However, I needed the SVN tools that are Aptana add-ons. They wouldn't install. There was a version conflict with the version of Eclipse in the LinuxMint/Ubuntu repositories.

So I decided to install the latest version of Eclipse. I downloaded and ran the latest version and found that there were UI issues. This brings me to the subject of this post. The UI issues were a major roadblock, so I searched for a solution. The problem, I believe, stems from compositing inside Gnome. Unlike Ubuntu, I couldn't find an easy way to turn off compositing inside LinuxMint. OH, I'm sure I could disable the compositing extension inside the xorg.conf file, but I really wanted a light switch option. The normal way I would handle this is the Fusion Icon. It didn't seem to work. I also tried disabling effects from the Gnome Appearances menu option. Compositing just wouldn't turn off that easily.

So here is the solution for Eclipse and Aptana inside Linux Mint.

GDK_NATIVE_WINDOWS=true /opt/eclipse/eclipse

That will work if eclipse is installed in /opt/eclipse, but I just had mine downloaded to my home folder. It doesn't really matter. You would just change the /opt/eclipse/eclipse to your actual executable path. The key here is to add the GDK_NATIVE_WINDOWS=true before the eclipse command.

I'm about to create a shortcut to do this for me. Now all my buttons will work when I click on them. That's convenient huh.

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Resetting WordPress Passwords Manually

I've had to do this for my wife and her mom both, so I thought I would share this with anyone who needs to reset a WordPress password. I personally love WordPress. You can build any type of site with it, not just a blog. If you have created a WordPress site but haven't visited the admin dashboard in a while, you may have forgotten your password. I thought that WordPress would email you a lost password, but maybe they didn't put in their correct email address. It could have also been the installation script they used through cPanel. Whichever the case, they couldn't get into their dashboard and they needed their passwords sent to them.

There's a very easy way to reset that password through SQL. Whether you are using phpmyadmin or some other SQL client to access your databases, you'll want to use the following SQL statement to reset your password:

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UPDATE `wp_users` SET `user_pass`=md5('password1') WHERE `ID`=1;

You can change password1 to whatever you want. I'm amazed that WordPress passwords aren't stored with more encryption than a simple MD5 hash. It's secure enough, don't get me wrong. I'm just surprised that the WordPress developers didn't opt for more.

Oh well, I hope that helps someone in a pinch.

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Another look at Google Chrome

I've never published a "first look at Google Chrome", but I have been excited about it before. By Google Chrome, I'm referring to Google's webkit-based browser, not the Chrome OS.

When it was announced that Google was releasing it's own browser, I wasn't extremely excited. Then once it was available, I downloaded it to see how well it performed. I was amazed. The javascript executing was blazing fast. I'd never seen a web application respond so well. So, I suddenly became very excited about it and wanted to adopt it as my main browser.

This was soon shot down by the fact that I rely too heavily on certain extensions in Firefox, namely Gmail Notifier, Firebug, ForecastFox, and Adblock Plus. So, I had to keep using Firefox and hoped that one day Firefox would be able to handle javascript as good as Chrome.

Well the opposite has happened. Chrome now has extensions. I'm a little worried that it will be bloated and start performing slowly like Firefox. Firefox was once a lean mean browser. Now it is a bloated mess. It has started crashing without warming in Windows 7. I was once a Firefox advocate and I still like the browser, but it has been going downhill for the past year or two. Let's hope that Chrome doesn't follow down this path.

Firefox shouldn't even be that bloated. Sure, the extensions probably add to memory usage and Firefox reserves memory if it's available, but should a browser really be using half a gig of RAM? Seriously?

Chrome doesn't use less memory but it sure responds better. Adding extensions doesn't seem to lower performance either. I've added a GMail notifier, Google Wave Notifier, Forecastfox weather, Firebug Lite, and a couple other extensions and there is no noticeable change what-so-ever.

Now that these extensions are available for Chrome, I think it's time for me to take the next step. Chrome will be my main browser as soon as the extensions are available for the Mac and Linux versions. It's already going to be my main browser in Windows.

So, if you took a look at Chrome when it first came out, this may be a good time to look at it again. There are a few added features that may change your mind about it as well.

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Adventures in analog video recording on Linux

Linux does many things well, but the multimedia experience can be lacking without the correct bit of hackery. I mean, some cool things can be done with Linux on the multimedia side, but typically it'll take a lot of work to learn how it's done. Mac and Windows make complex things simple, while Linux makes simple things complex.

Back when I purchased my TV tuner card for my PC, I was using Linux as my main OS. I still use it daily but not on my main PC. Only occasionally do I boot to Linux on it. I typically run Windows Server 2008 as I've talked about on previous posts. When I bought the tuner I wanted to make sure that it worked under Linux. So, I purchased one that was made specifically for Linux, a PCHDTV 5500.

It has served its purpose as a TV tuner, since I watched a year or so of cable TV in analog on it prior to the digital switch. I have never been able to get the HD side of things to work on it. Either it's beyond me or my cable company just had all of the channels encrypted. I didn't spend enough time on it to find out.

Recording analog video in Linux can be FUN. By "fun" I mean the type of fun one has pulling their own toe hairs. Be forewarned, getting a good recording is best done from the command line. I tried many ways. I ended up going with mencoder.

That being said, there's not much you can't do with mencoder and ffmpeg from the command line.

I have some VHS recordings I'm converting to AVI and then later on to DVD. I first had to purchase a VCR because, wouldn't you know it, I didn't have one that worked.

After that I had to come up with a good way to connect it to my capture card. The card has coax and component inputs. The new VCR didn't come with any coaxial connections. The capture card had a yellow RCA connection for video. I could use that but then there was the problem with audio. The capture card had a 1/8" jack for audio. Luckily I had an RCA-to-1/8" adapter for one of my gadgets (not sure which). I ended up using two sets of RCA's.

I was amazed I actually got audio and video from it. Here's where more fun came in. I was running virtualbox in the background. Everything I tried to use to record the video told me that /dev/dsp could not be opened. I went through many hoops trying to troubleshoot that issue. I should have realized it sooner but it was all virtualbox's fault. Next time I'll make sure it's not running when I'm dealing with audio.

After all of those problems were worked out, I was able to use:

mencoder tv:///1 -tv driver=v4l2:width=640:height=480:forceaudio:adevice=/dev/dsp -ovc xvid -xvidencopts bitrate=-750:threads=2 -oac mp3lame -lameopts cbr:br=64:mode=3 -o /home/five/homevid.avi

I'll try to explain some of what is going on in that command. Mencoder is the program itself. There's little to be said there. The next part is interesting: tv:///1  That tells mencoder we are using the tv card and that we want to use the composite1 input. Typically it defaults to input=0 or tv:///0, which is the coax TV input. There are three inputs on the card: tv, composite, and s-video. The next part (driver=v4l2) tells mencoder that we want to use Video4Linux2. Then we specify the width and height of the capture. The forceaudio bit was placed there during my troubleshooting. It just forces the use of audio device /dev/dsp. I had tried a couple other devices during my troubleshooting, thus the addition of that option. Then we have the option for output video codec (xvid). I set the bitrate and the number of threads. I actually upped that bitrate considerably later to around 2048. I believe I'll end up upping it even more for the next vid. I did the same with the audio output bitrate. I set it up to 256.

That should help anyone experiencing some of the pain I went through.

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The Best Dock for Linux

I've been looking for an OS X-like dock bar for Linux for many years. For a while, I used the launcher applet in gdesklets. It works without x-composite and pretty nice, but gdesklets can be a resource hog at times. Most of the gdesklets are written in Python if I'm not mistaking and Python, being an interpreted language, uses much more system resources than a native compiled application.

My next dock was AWN, or Avant Window Navigator. At one point, possibly the present, Google was involved with this project. Again, this is if I recall correctly. AWN is very nice, however, it only works if you are using the composite extension in X, as in Compiz/Beryl/Compiz Fusion. It's very customizable and behaves much like the OS X dock.

There's one part of the OS X dock that I really like that isn't quite the same in these docks however. The fish-eye zoom of icons on the dock is a trademark of OS X. AWN and the launcher in gdesklets both have a zoom function but it's just not the same.

I recently discovered that there is a great dock pretty much hidden away in a program called Gnome-Do. Gnome-Do itself is a cool search app for gnome. It's somewhat like a KDE app I remember that lets you launch programs by hitting a keyboard shortcut and then typing the name of the app. I can't remember the name of that app at the moment though. Gnome-Do does exactly that. One can type super(windows key) and the space bar to bring up Gnome-Do.

Of course, you will have to install it first though. After it is installed, simply run the application and go to the preferences for it. Change the appearance to "Docky". Voila, the best dock you've ever had in Linux will appear. Play with it and you'll soon see that this is very close to the OS X dock experience.

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Screen: A Command-Line Multitasker

Here's my video about Screen. I have to say I love this app. It comes in handy. It's the first thing I start when I create a SSH connection to a remote server.

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Right-click stopped working in Word

I had this problem with Word 2007 today recently. I thought it would be helpful to post the fix that worked for me. I'm not exactly sure what caused the problem. From what I've read it can be caused by some add-ins. The results of this issue are 1.) no access to Word options(they will be greyed out) and 2.) mouse clicks inside of a document will not work. This limits your ability to use Word completely. It was a rather frustrating fix. I first tried repairing my Office 2007 installation. This didn't fix the problem and actually the repair crashed. I should point out that this is on Windows Server 2008, but others have had this issue in Vista.

After the repair crashed, I tried reinstalling Office. This crashed a few times and I realized I needed to run it as an administrator. Running it as an admin allowed me to uninstall Office but after reinstalling it, I got the same results as before. This led me to believe that maybe there was a permissions issue with the executable. I tried running WinWord.exe as an admin. This didn't help either. So I decided it must be a profile issue. I went through my profile (local and roaming) trying to find all mentions of Office and Word. I deleted those and still had the issue. Sometimes this will fix issues, but in this case it didn't.

After some research I found that the problem could be cured by deleting some registry keys.

Just open regedit. Browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\Word

The version number should be 12.0 but I believe 11.0 could be effected by this issue as well. At any rate, select Data. Then, choose File -> Export. Create a backup of the branch. You can name it whatever you want. After you have saved the backup, delete "Data". Close regedit and start Word.

The problem should be alleviated.

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Make Twitter Better

One of the things I like about Twitter, believe it or not, is the simplistic design. There's not a lot of useless options. There not many things to click on at all really, compared to other sites. There are a few missing items that should be on the site, however. I just recently installed a Firefox extension that accomplishes everything I need.

I've found that a lot of the twitter "clients" are lacking. For instance, I can't easily search and follow people from TweetDeck. I really like to just use the web client. I only thing that I could use on the web interface is a notification of @ replies. Every other option that I found useful in the clients is now available on the web client via Power Twitter Firefox extension. There's also a few features I wasn't expecting. For instance, Song.ly is now integrated. I had never tried Song.ly until I installed this extension. I love it.

Check out the extension. It's worth it if you Tweet much at all.

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