Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Inkscape Screencast 6 - Polaroid Pin-up

I've created yet another screencast (with yet another cobbled together sucky intro). This time I've shown how to use Inkscape to create a 'polaroid pin-up' effect with a photo. Hopefully somebody will find it useful and enjoy it.

Now that I've got a little more of the Inkscapy-ness out of my system, I might actually get back to writing some actual blog posts. ;)

P.S. As sucky as the intro is, I still had fun making it. And that's what really counts isn't it? :)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Inkscape Screencast 5 - Photo Popping Fun

I finally managed to find some time and figured out some (very) rudimentary video and audio editing skills so I put together my 5th Inkscape screencast. A few weeks back I read a post at which described how to create a 3D effect with your photos using the GIMP or Photoshop. Naturally I thought I'd give it a try in Inkscape and lo and behold it was pretty darn easy. The toughest part is finding a suitable photograph that works well for this effect.

You'll also have to indulge me for about the first minute or so of the screencast where I've created a *really really* hacked together intro using only 3 ingredients:

Inkscape + Beryl + Music

This past week, I found some really cool music by Arthur Yoria over at Magnatune. I purchased the album and used track 10 for the intro music **. Then I decided I'd simply use Inkscape to create a screencast video intro. I spiced it up a bit using the Beryl zoom feature as well ;). It's a little over a minute of hacked together badness.

Don't laugh too hard! And let me know how much you liked it or hated it. ;)

I also figured out how to use Avidemux to extract the audio tracks, Audacity to mix in the music and adjust levels and then Avidemux once again to create the final video. Hopefully you'll find it somewhat interesting and helpful.

** If you watch the screencast and like the music, Magnatune allows me to legally provide full quality copies to 3 people. If you're interested in getting the album (for free), send me an email (rfquerinATgmailDOTcom)and I will provide you with the link so you can download the album which is available in a wide variety of formats too. I've listened to it quite a bit this week and I really like it. Magnatune rocks!

Also, huge thanks to Alan Pope for his great post on creating screencasts which let me know exactly how to use Avidemux for my purposes - great stuff.

Here's the screencast...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Vista Speech Recognition .. er.. Demolition

You may or may not find this video funny. Personally, my ribs were absolutely aching after about 4 minutes.

Perl Scripting With Vista Speech Recognition

I've always considered myself to be a patient person. But for me, the test would have been over within about 20 seconds... :)

"Delete lower case open the helpful..."

Increasing the Linux user base by 1

About two weeks ago, right around the launch of Vista, I had a few conversations with various colleagues here at work about Microsoft's new product. This gave me the opportunity to let them know that I was running "something called Linux" at home. And while they might have heard the term "Linux" before, they sure looked puzzled when I mentioned that the specific system I ran at home was called Ubuntu.

Anyway, nothing much came of it, except that a couple of days later, a colleague of mine asked me about Ubuntu. He said that he'd checked it out online and wondered if it would run on a machine he had at home. It was a PC he had put together himself about 5 years ago.

While no computer expert, he is a very intelligent guy (a structural engineer like myself) and quite enthusiastic in terms of technology for someone probably 35 years my senior.

I asked him about the specs of the machine, and while he couldn't recall much detail he did tell me a few things: he thought it was a P4, it was something like 1.5 GHz, it had a 40GB hard drive and was currently running Windows 98 - poorly.
He also said it wasn't connected to the internet. He wanted to be able to do some basic office and digital photo work on it.

I told him I thought Ubuntu would *probably* work ok for him, and then explained what a live CD was and asked if he wanted me to burn one for him. He agreed and would give it a go.

I gave him the Ubuntu Edgy live CD. I got him to reboot his work machine just to show him the menu system and how to install it at home if he wanted to. I showed him that the CD would give him basic photo management, image manipulation, office productivity apps and other basic things.

Based on my experiences with creating a dual boot setup (and my assumption that he knew nothing about partitioning), I advised him to back up his existing windows 98 data and wipe out the old drive completely if he decided to install it.

He didn't take my advice...

Arriving back at work on the Monday, he told me that he installed Edgy no problem and that it ran great on his system - miles better than Windows 98. To be honest, I was relieved. I asked him if he'd backed up the data or just scrapped it. He told me he'd done neither. I looked puzzled. He told me that when it asked him if he wanted to create a dual boot system, he agreed, confirmed the partition sizes, and it worked like a charm.

He was a bit puzzled by my visible relief. I have been bitten several times before getting dual booting to work on my system (a dual drive configuration with a Sata and IDE drive)

He came to me a day or two later and said it was running great, but asked if he needed to install something special to work with his digital camera (a Nikon D70). I told him to just plug it in and find out. The next day he said he couldn't believe it just worked so simply and correctly.

He really didn't think there was an alternative to Microsoft. A real happy camper.

I know that not all stories of this nature are so positive. And I'm no Linux zealot here at work (I can't afford to be a tech support guy either). But it really isn't that difficult to spread the word about Linux.

And when I say spreading the word, I don't mean touting that it's so much better, not shouting that it's all about the freedom, I just mean making people aware of what Linux is. Making people aware that there are completely viable alternative systems to run on their computers.

Burn a linux ISO of a live CD. Keep it in your desk. You'll never know when it might come in handy. :)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Now that's a keynote!

I listened to an inspiring keynote yesterday by the FSF's General Counsel Eben Moglen. The recording is from the O'Reilly Open Source Conference. This is one of the best talks I've heard regarding the state of open source and licensing (or any other subject for that matter).

Besides being about a subject that fascinates me, I have to say: Damn! - is that guy ever well-spoken. Knowledgeable, passionate and inspiring, all in one go. If you're into free and open source software, or just want to hear a great keynote, you owe yourself a listen.

Coming here from ?

I've noticed a nice large bump in traffic to the site over the last day and a half. A quick check of the site stats indicates that it's all down to a quick mention on the page in the news section. Thanks guys!

If you're coming here from there, take a look around and you might find something interesting. Since I tend to jump around a little bit (sometimes a lot!) from topic to topic and if Inkscape is your thing, here's a shortcut to my inkscape related postings to save you some time.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Inkscape Screencast 4 - Shiny Black Button

I received a comment from Scott earlier today on a post I did about a month ago that dealt with creating shiny black buttons with Inkscape. I thought about answering in the comments and quickly realized that maybe it should be done in a separate blog post so I could include some screenshots to describe the process he was inquiring about. But as I started to create the post, I realized that it would be much quicker for me to record a short screencast showing how I created one of the buttons. I figured it would be much easier to understand (and much easier to create) than a blog post with screenshots and description.

Five or ten minutes later I had recorded the screencast and was uploading it to YouTube. It was definitely quicker to record the screencast than to prepare screenshots and write up a quick tutorial. I guess that illustrates the power of video.

I've also got another more interesting inkscape screencast in mind, but I'm trying first to figure out how to add a second track to the avi to have some intro-outro music. I think avidemux is what I need to use, but I'm still in the process of figuring out how to do it. Maybe you'll see it posted up here in the next few days if I'm lucky.

Anyway, here's the screencast Scott, hope it helps. :)

[Note 1: I just re-watched it and realized that I incorrectly used the term 'layer' several times during the screencast. I was referring to how objects can be brought above or below other objects, not that anything was placed on a separate Inkscape layer.]

[Note 2: Sharp listeners will undoubtedly hear Jacob, one of our cats, crying out just after the 3 minute mark. So much for noise cancelling headsets! ;) ]

[Note 3: While creating the screencast took all of 5 or 10 minutes, as always it took about 7 or 8 hours for YouTube to process and serve the screencast :( ]

Friday, February 16, 2007

Antibiotics and Another Source of Inkscape/Gimp Goodness

It's amazing how many people are getting sick around here these days. Both at work and at home I've watched people suffering with the flu, colds, pinkeye, and now I end up with a top-notch, Grade A ear infection. It's so easy to forget how much a throbbing earache can stand in the way of getting things accomplished.

Anyways, I'm poppin' the antibiotics as of this morning and I feel another Inkscape screencast in me waiting to get out. Look for something this weekend (maybe).

On the subject of Inkscape, check out Ryan Lerch's blog which gives a good dose of GIMP and Inkscape goodness to those interested.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


From the "Why hasn't this been done before?" file...

If you're a fan of the GIMP image editing program, you might want to check out Gimparoo! which, besides having an ultra-cool name, is a new blog dedicated to "Adapting Photoshop tutorials for The GIMP". I found it via the Ubuntu Blog. He's currently basking in his new found popularity so give him a visit and continue to make his day :)

It looks to be a very useful feed for those looking to expand their GIMP repertoire.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Do you have "The Knack" ?

People who know me say I have the knack. Do you?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I Want A Linux/Unix Utility To...

Via Rich Burridge, here's a great Linux/Unix applications list he's maintaining and improving. Good stuff!

Eyedrop Hell

I never thought it could be so hard to administer eye drops to a 5 year old girl. With a case of pinkeye recently picked up, my duty today was to keep the little one out of school and give her a drop in each eye three times. It's amazing how the survival instinct kicks in when you approach someones eyes with an object.

First I took my typical common sense negotiating route. For two hours we bandied back and forth:

Me: You have to take the eyedrops. It will help get rid of the pinkeye. If you don't, you might not make it to so & so's birthday party on Saturday.

Her: No thank you daddy. I don't like eye drops.

I hate it when she pulls the politeness card.

We struggled. We yelled. I tried ultimatums, bargaining, dares, humour, every trick in my admittedly skinny book.

After two hours, Daddy's patience had worn razor thin. A quick google search yielded a Yahoo discussion thread suggesting something like the following:

1. Sit on the floor or bed.
2. Lay the child flat on her back, between your legs with her head between your thighs.
3. Place (or more accurately wrestle) her arms beneath each of your thighs.
4. Utilize your lower legs to pin hers if required.
5. Using two hands (and a modicum of force) administer said eyedrops.
6. Praise the child and deal with your guilt.

It worked flawlessly. What also amazed me was that once she blinked a few times and received several kisses from her pop, it was like it had never happened.

The next time was only slightly easier. Still a struggle, but less so. And papa's guilt was more easily buried.

You'd really think after all these years there'd be a better way.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rawstudio 0.5 is out!

Another great release announced today is Rawstudio 0.5. There are several improvements, the most important to me being the incorporation of batch processing. I've been using a development version for a while now and I have to say as a Linux user who shoots almost all my stuff in RAW format, it's a great project. I find the workflow very efficient. It's nice to see so much work being done on this front.

Like all good open source projects, the developers are eager to improve the project and are willing to discuss all sorts of suggestions and ideas on the mailing list. If you're currently using ufraw or another application for your raw photo conversions you should really check this out, you might find it's just what you've been looking for.

Job's Thoughts on DRM

Interesting posting about DRM and music by Steve Jobs today. While I agree with much of what he says, I'm not so sure about:

"Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free."

Coming from the principal of a company that controls 80 odd percent of the personal digital music player market, it seems like he himself is indeed situated in a good spot to exert pressure on the big four music companies.

About the DRM-free alternative, he writes:

"This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. "

He clearly forgot the ending to that statement: '... if we weren't making millions with the status quo.'.

His posting is almost successful at putting Apple onside with DRM-free music (and against DRM) but then ends up putting the onus on everybody else to somehow exert pressure.

Why don't we exert the pressure on ALL OF THEM by supporting things like Creative Commons and Magnatune instead.

Google Reader Shortcut Fiesta

Over the last year or so I've become a fan of keyboard shortcuts (think Vim, Inkscape, Gmail, etc..). But I've largely stuck with mousing around in Google Reader... until now.

Lifehacker has a post with some really kickass Google Reader tips. The g+s and g+h shortcuts are time-savers, but the g+u+feedname is really really top notch.

If you're a Google Reader user, you really should check out that post.

Seinfeld in Oz

If you like Seinfeld, and you've ever watched Oz (the series about life in a prison), then you should check this video out. Very well done.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Inkscape 0.45 Officially Released

Inkscape 0.45 was officially released today. If you're interested in a high quality open-source vector-based graphics editor, you can do no better. The latest version has an SVG gaussian blur feature along with several other enhancements and improvements. For more details and info on how to get it, visit

Funny Pseudo-Anti-Mac Article/Rant

What do you get when you mash together sweeping generalizations, top-notch writing, sharp wit and the mac vs pc debate?

This article. [and hundreds of Digg comments as well ;-)]

He spends much of it taking the piss out Mac owners, so if you're sensitive in that respect, be forewarned. ;)

Google Reader Acting Up?

Is it just me or has Google Reader been notoriously buggy as of late? I've had numerous red 'Oops...' messages, feed lists that don't load first time around, and general buggy-ness over the past several days.

Perhaps some growing pains?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Inkscape Screencast 3 - Reflected Text

I finally figured out how to increase the levels of my recently purchased Logitech USB Headset last night - originally I didn't see the menu choice to switch between devices in the sound dialog. And in light of getting it working, I decided to record another quick and dirty Inkscape screencast to test it out. The sound is miles better than the last one, but still not perfect. Anyways, if you're new to Inkscape you might find it useful.

Friday, February 02, 2007

USB Headset and Card Reader On Linux

I used a Christmas gift certificate to pick up a couple of toys at BestBuy today. I bought a Logitech 250 USB Headset and a LaCie imatumi multi-card reader.

The Card Reader:

I needed the card reader since we bought little one a Disney Digital Camera which of course wasn't recognized by Ubuntu, so to get the pictures off of its SD card I figured I'd get a multi-card reader and that way I could also pull pictures from my Rebel XT's CompactFlash card.

There was no installation to speak of really. I plugged my USB cable into the back of the card reader (it didn't come with one) and it was immediately recognized. I tried it with my Canon's CF card and it placed an icon on the desktop labeled "EOS_DIGITAL". Also, the normal Gnome dialog box asking me if I wanted to import the photos appeared immediately. Very slick. I also checked if F-Spot would see the card reader and it did without a hitch as well. I haven't done much with it yet so I can't comment on the speed, but it seemed to work fine.

The USB Headset:

I bought this with the intention of possibly doing some more screencasting. The second Inkscape screencast I posted on YouTube has generated almost 300 views and several positive comments. Quite gratifying actually. ;)

Anyways, based on some prior reading in the ubuntu forums, I didn't set my hopes too high on the Logitech USB Headset being recognized and fully functional. Then again, you are going to find mostly problematic stories on a help forum now aren't you.

I decided to shut the machine down, plug in the headset and restart. Upon login, I checked the device manager and sure enough the headset was there - nice. Next, I double clicked the speaker icon on the Gnome panel to check that the input levels were not muted and set to full. Firing up Audacity, there seemed to be some background sound but not coming from the headset mic. Turns out the old analog mic I had used the last time was still plugged in! Ripped that out and checked again. Still no audio showing up in Audacity... hmmm.

I then checked the Edit->Preferences in Audacity and under the Audio I/O setting, I saw a dropdown list for recording devices showing /dev/dsp and /dev/dsp1. I changed it from the former to the latter and voila! The sound of my silky smooth voice (okay...not so smooth, and more like polyester than silk) showed up on the meter and played back with surprisingly little background noise.

I then tried recording a quick screencast using ffmpeg (see my post about doing that back here) and soon realized it wasn't recording any sound. I checked the ffmpeg documentation and found that there is a switch which you can use to set the audio capture device. So I added "-ad /dev/dsp1" and presto chango I now had a screencast with nice clean audio.

Problems? Yes. I can't seem to get normal audio (mp3 playback etc.) to come through the headphones. While Audacity and ffmpeg will playback my recordings through the headphones, I can't get gxine, xmms, moc, or anything else to play back sound through them. I've posted about it on the ubuntu forums so hopefully this one will be solved soon.

Also, the recording levels in Audacity are set at max but the sound, while clear, is too low. The same thing for ffmpeg. I can't seem to find a setting in ffmpeg where I can set the audio levels. In terms of screencasts, I might be able to amplify the audio track in post processing, but it would be nice to get the levels up from the start.

I'm also interested in capturing my daughter's voice for posterity. Where my uncle used a leather cased cassette recorder 30 odd years ago to capture mine, I'd like to capture some of my daughter as well and getting the recording levels up in Audacity is pretty much required for that.

All in all, I'm very happy with the purchase (after only spending one evening with them) . I was able to set them up easily and they function as expected. Who knows, you might even see another screencast from me in the near future. ;)

Oh, I almost forgot. I was surrounded by Vista boxes while I was in there today. Vista here, Vista there, Vista everywhere! Everywhere I turned there seemed to be a VHS-looking case with a rounded corner! I didn't realize but the (cue monster-truck announcer voice) ULTIMATE edition was $499.00 CAD !! Yikes! I should have went in there and left a dozen Ubuntu CD's lying around on the shelves just for fun. ;)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Now Here's Someone With Some Actual Talent!

To see some really talented cartooning and learn a few Inkscape related tips, check out John Bintz's post which has a screenshot image that gives a brief tour of some of the things John does with Inkscape to create his "A Moment of Clarity" comic. Neat!

Vista DRM - Educate Yourself

Sticking to the Vista-ish nature of a few previous posts, here's a link to New Zealand Computer Science researcher Peter Gutmann's paper "A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection". It spells out in great detail the potentially crippling nature of Vista's DRM system.

While this is potentially good news for the Linux community (the more Vista sucks, the better for us - at least on the face of it), the section on the potential elimination of open-source hardware support is very worrying.

In any case, if you're at all into finding out what DRM limitations are present in the newest version of Windows, you should give it a read.

Linux vs Vista

If your interested in Vista vs. Linux comparisons, Earl Moore at Meandering Passage sent me a link to an ongoing series of articles over at eWeek. Thanks Earl!