Q: Why couldn't the little Goth kid sleep? A: He was afraid of the light.

:: Next Page >>

Discovering Seq24 and Going Temporarily Crazy With It For 72 Hours

Date/Time Permalink: 05/02/13 05:47:24 pm
Category: Reviews

Long about trying to get audio to record with video, I wandered into Linux desktop audio toys, and one of them has stuck to me like glue.

This post will, eventually, be about composing original MIDI music on the Linux desktop using the funnest, easiest toy for this purpose. However, we've got three disclaimers to get out of the way first:

Disclaimer #1 Setting up audio-studio software on your desktop will be the most frustrating, aggravating, hair-pulling experience of your life. No, really, even programming or designing 3D animated graphics or grokking Middle Eastern politics pales in comparison to setting up audio-studio software on a desktop. Don't look for logical reasons for anything. Just accept that random crashes, horrible default settings, blatantly anti-user behavior, invisible documentation, and gremlins are now a part of your life if you want to compose audio on the desktop. Take it for granted that every audio program is designed with maximum sadism in mind. Just flash back to your Windows days and reboot compulsively.

Disclaimer #2 Audio work by its nature is complicated beyond mere mortal comprehension. Sound engineers speak in sound-engineer-ese, and - not being subjected to the same egalitarian pressure that computer geeks are - have not the slightest interest in breaking down the jargon for common people. They love plugging things into other things, for the sake of plugging things in. Check the stage floor at your next concert; the entire surface is carpeted in thick black cables, a safety hazard that would be intolerable in your server room. Show a sound engineer a stove, and their first reaction will be "Why have the knobs, oven, ranges, and clock all together in one handy unit when you could split all those up into separate boxes and connect them all with cables?" This mentality extends to sound engineering software - there are no sound engineering programs. There are families of sound engineering programs, and they all have to run together like a litter of kittens.

Disclaimer #3 I'm going to present here audio files which I, myself, have created. I have no musical talent. I have no musical training. I have only a smidgen of musical knowledge, and that all comes from writing about music all these years at places like Lyric Interpretations. Bottom line, listen to the MP3 files at risk to what sanity you have left after attempting to run sound engineering software.


OK, I do recommend Linux Mint for the distro to use here, since Mint at least puts you ahead by installing lots of those annoying codecs so you don't have to hunt them all down yourself. A close second is Dyne:bolic, which is a sound-studio Linux live Cd in-a-box with everything set up. Second, if you're going to install Seq24, you'll need at least all this for support or extras:

  • Hydrogen
  • Xsynth
  • Audacity
  • Timidity
  • Rosegarden
  • Ubuntu Studio Audio Plugins
  • ...plus all their dependencies, which Synaptic will handle.

Like I say, you don't just install one thing. You shovel piles of crap onto your hard drive and pray that the Angry Audio Gods will be appeased at your offering. (Note: There's no such thing as a non-angry audio god.)

If you run on Linux, chances are (like, 99.9%) you already have PulseAudio crammed up your hinder whether you like it or not. This is bad news, because music synthesizer software requires Jack Audio (at least all of it that I've seen), and Jack and Pulse installed on the same system is like having two wildcats and a bee stuffed in your underwear. Whenever either of these two territorial bears sense the other running, they will crash your computer trying to fight with each other. So if a program that used to work suddenly freezes, it's because it depends on Pulse and you were just running something that required Jack, which caused them to slash each other's throats in the background and now sound is mute and your mouse pointer stopped moving, no matter what program you use.

Two YouTube video tutorials that will get you addicted to Seq24 too: part one here and part two here.

As you can see from that masterful demo, first you need to have the jack-dssi-host program running 'hexter.so' (which shows up in my menu as "hexter"), because it has the instruments. (What, did you think the same program where you're pressing buttons to make sound should also be the one making the sounds??? Are you kidding?) Then you'll need Hydrogen, just for the drums (You thought synthesized instruments and drums would be in the same program??? Are you CRAZY?). And every time you add a new instrument, you have to start a new instance of jack-dssi-host running hexter.so.

Oh, and saving the file won't work the same way you think it will. See, every one of those little boxes you create in Seq24 won't make any noise without that hexter menu telling it what instrument's voice to use. That data is not saved in MIDI, the only format Seq24 knows. Here's my solution:

How else do you save your song? Well, in an ideal world, you'd just be able to fire up one of the 3000 Linux desktop recorders and "roll a tape" on your song. Nope! Wrong! See, desktop recorders can't handle MIDI playing over Jack, so they won't record anything. You can't start something with Pulseaudio at the same time or it will crash Jack's sound. What do? Here's my solution:

Yes, there's good reasons to have multiple computers in the house. I'm astounded that this worked, even though the MP3s I recorded did have some background noise from computer fans and such, which you'll only notice if you blast them, which you won't because they suck. Anyway, that's what you'd want Audacity for, to trim whitespace off the beginning and end of the recordings (I didn't with mine. Who would care?) and tweak the noise and whatnot.

Finally, some dippy little MIDI songs in MP3 format composed in Seq24. I'm releasing them Creative Commons to the public (oh hell, steal 'em if you want 'em), mostly because I can't stand to own them anymore myself. But they do show off the range of capabilities of Seq24, beyond the mere toy you'd at first expect it to be.

Around WFMU's Beware of the Blog, they call this "Outsider Music." I've blogged about outsider musicians many times before covering Ubuweb's 365 Days Project on the aforementioned LyricInterpretations.com; now I am proud to join their ranks!

On the whole, Seq24 is dangerously, mercilessly addicting. It is by far the easiest program for the novice to pick up, and presents the kind of interface that I love: It makes perfect sense for its purpose, while driving usability experts to hang themselves.

Follow me on Twitter for an update every time this blog gets a post.
Stumble it Reddit this share on Facebook

Further Exploration In Linux Desktop Graphics Beyond Gimp

Date/Time Permalink: 04/21/13 04:43:03 pm
Category: Reviews

Since my last time seeking graphic editing applications that don't stink of Gimp, there's probably a few readers asking "Why didn't Pete mention $Obvious_Choice, was it not good enough?"

Well, yeah, unfortunately I ran into a lot of dead ends. It's like the zombie apocalypse is over and the zombies won out there. Say what you will about the state of desktop computing, Linux computing, FOSS, or graphic design, but graphic design on the Linux desktop is just about DEAD!

Cinepaint - DEAD

Cinepaint's blog hasn't been updated since 2009. Another developer wandered off. There doesn't appear to be a Cinepaint package on the Debian platform, and the Fedora platform has the old package which installs, but cannot work - it can't even open an image file. Rumors abound of somebody or other taking over the project. Cinepaint forums suggest switching to Gimp. Tricorder readings show no signs of life.

Xpaint - a toy

It's a great little drop-in replacement for MS-Paint, that's it.

kolourpaint - a toy

KDE's kool koloring program provides a kompact komposition to be redundant with Xpaint. Again, not good for much more but klowning around.

MyPaint - Promising, but more for true digital painting again.

MyPaint seems to be a perfect program for users who want a lightweight version of Krita. There really doesn't seem to be too much else going on here. I've tried it and it is nice - very basic, but nice.

Google Picasa - DEAD

"Picasa is not currently available for your operating system" - That's what Linux users will see. In fact, Picasa, the desktop application, is being phased out altogether for every platform except as an app for Google+ photo sharing. (Because plain old uploading and displaying a file, once such a basic operation that even 4chan users could do it, is now rocket science that has to be broken down into 500 expensive parts.) Picasa is heading for the Great Google Graveyard of discontinued apps.

Speaking of Google... Sketchup - Awesome, but for 3D architectural drafting.

Remember Sketchup? You can still download and use the freebie version of Google Sketchup 8 from that link, and my suggestion is to get it now from that link while you can. Sketchup has been sold to Trimble, but is still in transition. Trimble seems to have no idea what to do with it. In any case, Google quit making Sketchup back in 2010 at version 8 - bound for the Great Google Graveyard. But the Windows version runs fantastically on my Linux Mint 14 Nadia install of Wine - far, far better than when I reviewed it in '08. Even if you hate it and have no hope for it, you'll want a copy to torrent to your buddies five years down the line when it becomes abandonware.

Obligatory building doodle I just cranked out while writing this, imported from screenshot into Inkscape (Sketchup still can't save a PNG right, don't even try) and edited some:

Speaking of 3D, I might as well update one last program you used to hear about all the time here. POVRay - I'm still vowing one day to rebuild a frontend modeler to POVRay, but in the meantime there is one other soul who still holds out stubborn hope for the POVRay renaissance, this guy with a German site (in English) has updated it this very month, and he has a half-step for a POVRay front-end - a menu of pastable object code hosted in HTML.

Wings3D is also another program I've been trying to nurse along as a replacement 3D modeler. It's actually pretty good, but runs only on my Fedora because my Debian base systems complain about Erlang (Wings' extension language) all fouled up. It's also starting to look like a project in its last gasps.

That's extra sad, because Blender has gone the way of Gimp - insane. I loaded up the latest version of Blender, and discovered - for the thousandth version now - that every single menu, button, command, keyboard shortcut, and function has been rearranged pointlessly AGAIN!!!!!, meaning I would have to sit down AGAIN!!!!! and devote solid, monastic concentration to learning AGAIN!!!!! a completely new Blender interface for a month before I could produce anything with it. This has been going on nonstop for a decade now. Forget it, I have better things to do with my time than waste it with silly games by the sour trolls of the Gimp and Blender teams. Can't WAIT for those two projects to choke off. So sad any other projects have to go.

What else do we have? Inkscape, glorious, perfect, holy Inkscape doing it right, doing it with a mighty righteous rightness that shames the sour trolls by contrast and inspires the weak and struggling by its example.

And what is this Cthulhu curse on Linux desktop graphics editing? Why are they mostly all dying or turning to shit? I'll say one thing - I hope the Bolsheviks are happy. They wanted a world without skills, tools, or engineers, and they're getting one. But at least nobody has to feel excluded by "elitists" any more!

Better we should all starve to death than for any man to think too highly of himself for baking a loaf of bread, right?

Follow me on Twitter for an update every time this blog gets a post.
Stumble it Reddit this share on Facebook

Two Alternatives To Gimp On The Linux Desktop

Date/Time Permalink: 04/19/13 03:52:23 pm
Category: Reviews

Since I'm tired of trying to get work done with the Gimp development team constantly pissing on the very idea of "utility," I've been investigating some Gimp alternatives. While it's going to be painful doing without the Gimp, there's other FOSS graphics applications that don't get nearly the attention they deserve. If we gave them some exposure, perhaps they would get some support and introduce those few remaining crucial features that will put them over the bar as Gimp replacements.

If you're associated with any of these projects and know of some more resources for any of them, I (and other readers) welcome your input in the comments section.


Pinta is a lightweight, simple image editor that's more of an xpaint on steroids than a full-featured image editor. It's a FOSS clone of the popular Paint.NET. That fact should make an obvious downside apparent: It uses Mono and to write extensions for it, you need Visual Studio.

For those of you still reading, I did get it to make a simple photo edit:

As should be painfully obvious even from this example, there's no smear tool, no magic-wand select, and no color select - three tools crucial to photo editing. But in a pinch, if you have nothing else, you can make do with Pinta. It is fast and easy, you'll learn it in no time. I found this review of Pinta on a fellow Linux blogger's site - I'm not having any problems with it crashing, but perhaps either they've fixed some issues since the review was posted, or my Fedora 17 just likes Mono better than Ubuntu does.

There's also an add-in manager, ready in place for perhaps some needed features to be born in the future. There's already a stack of filters installed through this system (blur, edge, renders, blah blah) but I couldn't seem to get any of them to make any visible changes?


Krita is a beautiful program packed with features. Part of the Calligra office suite, it's more for the serious graphics artist than photo-editing type work. But when it comes to a digital artist's easel, does it ever blow away the drawing tools in Gimp! It does things with brushes that shouldn't be natural. Tablets are made to use with Krita (and bless Linux Mint Nadia 14 for being plug-and-play for my Wacom Bamboo!). The interface is very well thought-out. You'll spend hours just playing with all the toys.

And now, the downsides: It crashed quite a bit on my set-up, and being a KDE program, this did not surprise me. Save early and save often. It's also starving for documentation, and again being a KDE program, this did not surprise me. And it has a steep learning curve after you get past the basics. This led to a merry challenge between groveling through the forums, trying out experiments, fumbling around trying to undo stuff, and recovering from crashes.

There's some very slick videos out there by established Krita artists on YouTube. So they may take time to watch, but could prove valuable for picking up tricks. I'd love to write some tutorials for it myself, but as always, it is impossible for me to share knowledge that I myself do not possess. So I'll have to play with it and see if it grows on me.

Til next time, kiddies, and remember: The first job of any tool is to get out of your way and let you USE it! Just say no to Gimp.

Follow me on Twitter for an update every time this blog gets a post.
Stumble it Reddit this share on Facebook

Why Does the Gimp Development Team Hate Gimp?

Date/Time Permalink: 04/10/13 09:02:26 am
Category: Reviews

Try this: Do a Google search for these three words, in separate quotes just like I have here:

"gimp" "developers" "morons"

376,000 results, says Google. Anybody would wonder at the way the word "morons" is being bandied about with such gay abandon in Gimp's general proximity and wonder if the project had gone awry. Anybody with sense, that is.

Gimp was perfect at 1.0. Since then, every release of Gimp has seen things get more and more broken. Quite deliberately. But now, if you've fired up Gimp 2.8 lately, you have the most audacious insult to users yet: You cannot save the image you're working on.

No, I'm not kidding. Try editing something and hitting "Ctrl-S." Now it comes up with a dialog insisting that you save an ".xcf" and ONLY an .xcf. You have to export the file to its own original format. You know, just in case you're going to do anything off-the-rails crazy like actually USE THE IMAGE in some other context besides editing it in Gimp. Check out the convoluted Mexican Hat Dance that now constitutes the process of merely saving an image file.

Many have complained about this. Just for a few cases, Bring back normal save, and Bring back normal handling of other file formats, and HATE the new save vs. export behavior, and this complaint on Twitter, and this complaint on Google+ and this long-time user. ... I could go on all day. Pick an insult, any insult, and search for it in conjunction with "Gimp." It's somebody complaining about the save behavior.

How are the handlers... handling it? The response from the Gimp development team has been "go to Hell!" full stop. No, seriously:

From this link:

"Do you think you could ever get used to the idea that there's more
than one way to teach people safety?"

Well, Alexandre Prokoudine, you arrogant asshole, it's not your place to teach anybody anything. We had an image editor before you came to the project, and we want an image editor, and we're going to get an image editor whether you like it or not.

Or this priceless response:

"This might be the most stupid garbage that has ever been written on this
list, but anyway...

I tried to make it clear once before but for the hard of hearing: the
save/export stuff is going to stay, it will not become optional, and it
will not go away.

If this doesn't please you, nobody forces you to use GIMP."

Uh, yes, Michael Natterer, you arrogant asshole, we are, indeed, being forced to use Gimp. I am forced, by common sense and decency, to use Free and Open Source Software while I am also forced, by necessity, to earn a living. I was doing both of these things for years using Gimp before I ever heard of you. Go take your politics elsewhere and leave MY Gimp alone; nobody's forcing YOU to come sabotage our toolbox.

Or from this link:

"A lot of people over at GIMPUSERS.com want the old save and "export" mechanism back. The conclusion to draw from that is that they are not part of the user group we are targeting. We are not trying to make GIMP into an excellent JPEG touchup application, we are making GIMP into a high-end photo manipulation application where most of the work is done in XCF."

Well, Martin Nordholts, you arrogant asshole, I AM a professional graphics artist, I do it for a living, I have blogged and educated and advocated so extensively within the original Gimp community for so many years that my name is recognized everywhere I go in the computer graphics community - and I'm telling you you're stark, raving mad.

Except that nobody gets this crazy or stupid, so we have to assume that you are, in fact, deliberately sabotaging Gimp. One of the cornerstone tools of the FOSS desktop that's stood for 18 years as a necessary utility. What you are doing is stealing that from US. No, the answer isn't "if you don't like it, fork it". How about we nuke your house, and if you don't like it, you can build it again? You obviously have a lot of time and resources on your hands to spare, after all.

Open any file in any other program and save it. Open a text file in a text editor and edit it and save it. What does it do? Open an SVG file in Inkscape and edit it and save it. What does it do? Open an HTML file in Bluefish and edit it and save it. What does it do? Use any other program also aimed at "high-end photo development" (whatever that is supposed to mean) and open a file and edit it and save it. What does it do?

The Gimp development team's troll logic would have us believe that every other program, proprietary or FOSS, from the dawn of computing to the present day on every platform is doing the wrong thing, while they - and they alone - have Teh Won Twue Vision!!! and will save the ignorant masses from themselves. To the point where they'll tell the whole website gimpusers.com (Alexa traffic rank 183,406) to go straight to hell, every last one of them.

My fellow FOSS citizens: When will we oust these dictators? How much more obvious and blatant does the criminal hijacking of Gimp have to get?

Episode IV: A New Hope While I am leading the effort to issue an official patch to change Gimp back to sanity, I have looked around and have deemed Krita and Pinta The New Gimp. We will be discovering their wonderfulness together later. I still want Gimp patched anyway, just to SPITE the bastards!

Follow me on Twitter for an update every time this blog gets a post.
Stumble it Reddit this share on Facebook

Linux Mint 14 Nadia Gets Penguin Peted

Date/Time Permalink: 03/26/13 05:43:30 pm
Category: Reviews

Linux Mint logo

Yeah, y'all have seen me distro-hop a lot over the (is it eight now?) years I've run this blog. Red Hat, Slackware, Mandriva, Ubuntu, and just recently, Fedora.

I don't know what happened with Fedora, but it seems to like my laptop, so it can stay there. But my desktops... these are old codger Gateway boxen I bought used, and even that was years ago. Let's just say that, if they were human, they would have been able to get their first periods by now. Fedora hates these boxes, and frankly, I'm not crying any tears over disengaging Fedora from them, either. Fedora runs great as long as you don't CHANGE anything, and then it becomes as durable as an inflatable dartboard.

I'd heard about this Mint, see. This new Mint thing all you hip young kids are grooving on. I finally broke down at a party and tried a puff of Mint and got hooked and next thing you know, I'm burning a DVD full of Linux Mint 14 Nadia, a name that sounds like a vampire from Slavic folk tales. Since I am a vampire from Slavic folk tales, we'd get along great.

First I tried it on my Dell "crash test dummy", an even older box, suffice it to say that it would end up in jail if it tried to have sex with the Gateway boxes. Just spun it in there (always use the crappiest computer you have to test a new disk, I always say) and running the DVD live came up with a decently presentable desktop at 1024x768 resolution. Not bad looking, I thought, wondering what ancient crawling horror of a graphics card I had in there... I reached in, and now remembered that I had left this brainless box with no graphics card, it was doing this off the motherboard. On a box that originally ran 640x480 when it was new.

Putting it on my intended Gateway desktop reaped equivalent rewards. Its install is the smoothest install I've ever had, even smoother than Ubuntu. When you reboot to a desktop, the login box flashes up with a snappy "ping". Not the blaring trumpet orchestral fanfare of Ubuntu, but a sharp, short cheep to attract your attention to the fact that it's ready to go to work now.

The whole point to Linux Mint is that it's an Ubuntu but with all the background stuff installed. Drivers, codecs, proprietary engines, and whatnot. I think it's great that we still have a choice in not having any non-free software installed by default, but seriously, who are these people who live without Flash, Java, audio and video support, OpenGL, and even most of the pretty fonts, yet still own a computer for some reason? Right, so what most of us end up doing is boldly downloading GPL'ed Linux while brandishing our patriot flag and making loud speeches about how we're not pawns of the capitalista overlords, and then tiptoe home to our closet in shame through the night installing all the proprietary stuff to make it do things anyway.

Hey, I have no problem admitting that while I am an anti-establishment punk at heart, my primary reason for running and loving Linux is that I am a cheap, cheap bastard.

Anyway, Linux Mint is one distro that even Ubuntu users can look down on for coddling. You thought Ubuntu holds your hand, but Mint will hold any part of you you ask it to. I was walking on the beach with Linux Mint 14 Nadia, and looking back, I saw one set of footprints. I asked Nadia about it, and it told me that those were the times when it carried me.

Minutes after install... well, no, I had to run updates, of course, and reboot, of course... but minutes after that, I flipped Firefox open and went around the web and Flash ran out of the box! Wait, I hadn't installed Flash yet... Then I went to see some Java games and dammit Java ran too! So I finally got out of installing Java (Installing Java is still used for torture in third-world dictatorships sanctioned by the UN). I went to Crackle and started watching a movie, it ran flawlessly! Linux Mint liked my Wacom pad! Linux Mint sang from my speakers! It opened a PDF from my collection for my reading pleasure while updates were finishing! And since I'd gotten the XFCE cut of the distro, I spent zero minutes and zero seconds looking at Gnome3, which is infinitely better than any time at all looking at Gnome 3. All out of the box!

So, yes, if you're tired of sitting up Googling "Firefox Flash plugin no sound" at Slavic vampire hours of the morning, Linux Mint is for you. Since you don't have to manually hunt down codec libraries this time around, this is one system where your family will thank Linux Mint for the four hours they didn't have to listen to you screaming behind the boarded-up office door.

Now, one caveat: the "Software Manager". There is a program by that name in the menus. Avoid it, it is a trick. Synaptic is in there too, go for Synaptic. "Software Manager" may be good for one-package-at-a-time installs, but that's exactly what it will let you pick is ONE package at a time. I got impatient and started picking more packages before it was done installing some. It bogged. I clicked on. It crashed. I gurgled in terror, running 'top' in a terminal and watching as various zombie package-install processes - now manager-less - lurched here and there in the guts of my system doing God Knows What. I think the reboot was well-timed enough to prevent too much damage.

Also, the "Software Manager" won't sort the install-able packages by any kind of logical scheme such as name or version, but instead by popularity, based on how many votes and YouTube-like comments the package gets. I'm not kidding, there's comments in each page for each package. What, am I supposed to quit using a tool I've depended on for 20 years just because some kid with a Guy Fawkes mask for an avatar tells me it's "for fags"? Mint's "Software Manager" also "helpfully" doesn't TELL you if something is installed or not until you click on it, and also whether the thing you're telling it to install now is part of the requirements for something you're already installing... I know the line of jazz about making things so easy to understand that grandma can handle it, but how about not handing grandma a box of dynamite and a book of matches while you're at it?

Alright, really, that one gripe, and then I'm sticking to Synaptic and apt-gets. Outside of that, Linux Mint is beautiful, beautiful beyond words. Not only is it well-thought out, stable, and well-behaved, but it looks damned good while its at it.

Follow me on Twitter for an update every time this blog gets a post.
Stumble it Reddit this share on Facebook

Google+ Is Now Starting To Become A Happening Place

Date/Time Permalink: 03/14/13 06:34:18 pm
Category: Reviews

A few months back, I made a little grump about Google+. The post actually got some response from the Google+ team. While some of that wish-list will perhaps always go unfulfilled, several other features I've wanted to see have been implemented. What's more, it's starting to get the thing you expect in a social network: people!

Google+ has been buzzing with increasing activity. I'm in more circles, get more feedback, get more adds, and discover more communities every day. It's starting to get some depth. They've added hangouts, integrated Google-pages with the place, and as for Google Reader (which oh so many people are grousing about its being discontinued lately), they axed it because of lack of use, and most of the functionality of an RSS newsfeed is repeated in Google+'s features. I can hit 'explore' and get a fuzzy idea of current news right there.

It's still got its rough patches though. For instance, Google+ says my profile is "35% complete" but I don't add things like my birthday. I never tell a social network my birthday specifically because I refuse to allow any site to paste an astrology symbol on my profile, which sad experience (ahem, Yahoo) has shown to be the default behavior. One of the rules for happiness in life that I have discovered is to give others the fewest possible opportunities to be stupid.

From little maladjusted quirks like that, you can see how I, not really meant for this world, am hard to please when it comes to social networks. Take it into account.

But when I want to swim in the online social pool, I'll take all the noise and deal with it to the best that my neurotic hangups will allow. So I'm glad so many more are joining the party on Google+. Let's hope they handle their growth responsibly!

I don't suffer fools gladly. Come to think of it, I don't suffer geniuses all that gladly, either.

Follow me on Twitter for an update every time this blog gets a post.
Stumble it Reddit this share on Facebook

Gnome3: User-Friendly Is Not Equal To User-Insult

Date/Time Permalink: 12/27/12 10:32:48 am
Category: Reviews

Like everybody in the Linux community, I have at last been dragged kicking and screaming onto Gnome 3. We had no choice; everything on our Linux desktops has been slowly failing from being so badly aged. My old Fedora release experience has so far been rescued by the graces of "fallback mode" on the laptop, while the desktops were still running old Ubuntus. So I had dodged being affected by Gnome3 so far.

At the same time, Gnome now has the entire Linux desktop world at gunpoint: The majority of software that runs on Linux requires Gnome and GTK. I've tried running everything on alternatives - Gnome has a desktop lock-in going on right now that is worse than anything imagined by Apple or Microsoft in their kinkiest dreams. Do without Gnome, and your printers will break, your Bluetooth will refuse to connect, none of the weather applets will talk to your desktop, your videos will freeze, and taxi cabs will suddenly pass you by in the snow without stopping for you.

So I finally grabbed a copy of Fedora 17, figuring, well, all of the crabbing I've been hearing about Gnome3 must have settled somebody's hash by now. Maybe the claims of UI horror have been greatly exaggerated. They've had months to fix it - how bad could it be?

Imagine being arrested and sentenced for life, in leg irons and chains, to preschool. No more adult for you, you have to sit in those tiny wobbly plastic chairs and drink Hawaiian Punch and play Hi-Ho Cherry-O and watch Barney for the rest of your life.

That bad.

I am not being funny.

And I see that the outraged screams of all of you (INCLUDING Linus Torvalds!) simply are not enough to penetrate the sawdust skull of William Jon McCann, Gnome "designer" who, in this interview from his Stalin-like reality-distortion-bubble, responded to the criticism of Gnome3 thus:

"Even many of the same people who are now claiming that GNOME2 was such a great thing for them were some of the most vocal opponents of the things we did in GNOME2."

Yeah, McCann, let me see if I can explain to you why this is. Pull up a wobbly plastic chair:

You had a house. That was "1". People lived in it. Then you broke all the lights and removed the doors and called it "2". And everybody complained about that. So then you also removed the roof and the furniture, and populated it with rabid pitbulls who attack the tenants, and that's "3". So now people complain even louder, so now you go "Well then, I guess 2 wasn't so bad after all, now was it?"

I'm beginning to question whether somebody who reasons this way has the best interests of users in mind.

In any case, does everybody finally see what happens when you ignore established or competent users in favor of Joe Sixpack? I was complaining about the preschool-ization of the Linux desktop five years ago at least (example). I got yelled down for it. I gave up. Nobody wanted to hear it from me. Apparently, nobody even got it when I framed it in a Joe Sixpack parody (strips #727-#730).

Now I see, what the hey, Tom's Hardware arriving at this conclusion when writing "Gnome 3: Why It Failed":

"So, when the power users are leaving, GNOME doesn't really seem to care. After all, GNOME 3 isn't designed for them. But what the GNOME Project leaders don't seem to understand is that new Linux users are like vampires, or werewolves, or zombies. Stick with me here.

New Linux users don't just spontaneously pop into existence, they have to be 'bitten' by someone who is already involved. Average Joe, who needs to use his computer and doesn't care how it works, doesn't wake up one day and, out of the clear blue sky exclaim, 'You know what? I think I'm gonna screw around with Linux today.' New users are typically converted by a friend or family member who gets them set up and interested.

By gutting GNOME of every power user-oriented feature (a functional desktop, virtual desktops, on-screen task management, applets, hibernation, and so on) it's losing that intermediate-to-advanced crowd that's responsible for bringing users on-board. The power user demographic isn't going to recommend and support GNOME 3-based systems if they've already jumped ship."

That was Adam Overa, and his words, above, ought to be emblazoned on marble slabs at every offramp leading into Silicon valley. You could substitute the name of any technology product and be just as right. This seems to be the single most important fact to technology adoption that nobody, since the Commodore VIC-20, seems to have understood.

Can we get this into the Jargon File or something, please? "Overa's User Base Law", summarized as: "New customers are brought in by old customers. If you shoot at your old customers, you won't get new customers, and you won't have any old customers, either."

Both Gnome 3 and Ubuntu's Unity (not a hair better) suffer from the phone fad: trying to make all devices behave like a phone. Yeah, but if we want a phone, we know where to get one. When you have a desktop, you have it because of reasons, reasons being that you need all that extra power, usually for productivity.

Anyway, we're installing XFCE and using that instead. When you have Gnome and all of the GTK support, you can switch to XFCE and pretend Gnome doesn't exist and almost not know the difference. So that looks like the state of the Linux desktop currently.

Penguin Pete's holidays

Update The Register also has scathing things to say about the Gnome hijack of the Linux desktop.

Follow me on Twitter for an update every time this blog gets a post.
Stumble it Reddit this share on Facebook

Book Review: Inkscape Beginner's Guide

Date/Time Permalink: 10/05/12 03:38:47 pm
Category: Reviews

Inkscape Beginner's Guide review

The folks over at Packt Publishing noticed that I sling some Inkscape tutorials around here, and contacted me asking if I'd be interested in reviewing an Inkscape book. They flipped me a free ebook copy for review purposes. Well, sure, I'm game!

Now, I'm a salty veteran at Inkscape. It's been one of the main tools in my graphics arsenal almost since the first release. Not only have I drawn hobby-level artwork in Inkscape, but I've also used it in professional-level graphic design in my freelance career whenever somebody needs an icon set or whatnot. So it's about time I read the full guide, isn't it?

Of course, one catch with reading about Inkscape is that I invariably open Inkscape while I'm reading about it, and then I check out features described in the guide to see how a new user would follow along, and then I end up playing with Inkscape, because its design is so good that you just can't resist idle doodling.

doodles in Inkscape

So this review got a bit delayed...

Now, the real test of a software guide is, did I learn anything from it? And I did pick up a couple of tricks I didn't know about before. Inkscape Beginner's Guide is very good at providing clear, step-by-step instructions and pacing everything so that even the rawest new user can follow along.

An example of pacing:

preview of Inkscape Beginner's Guide

By launching through a tutorial and then explaining afterwards what the point was, it helps the user to retain the information. This is an example of one of those cognitive theories you read about, though I'm not up to Wiki-fishing for it aat the moment.

The emphasis is on "beginner" here, so even some of the advanced tools aren't addressed in favor of being the gentlest possible introduction. The guide also keeps the technobabble to a minimum in a fresh, clear writing style that only explains what's absolutely necessary. It also provides a few nice examples for laying out a postcard, web page, brochure, and other practical applications for office-level work. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for the new user.

For myself, I'd love to see an advanced guide. Perhaps someday, I will be the person to write it.

Follow me on Twitter for an update every time this blog gets a post.
Stumble it Reddit this share on Facebook

My Linux Webcam Adventure

Date/Time Permalink: 06/16/12 04:33:14 pm
Category: Reviews

Getting started:

Long ago, I accepted the fact that I'm a weirdo magnet. It makes sense when you devote your life to exploring the fringe. And every now and then, one of those weirdos turns out to be a creep.

So the creep I've attracted lately (who - I am 90%+ confident, will never read this post) has taken to paying nocturnal visits to Casa de Penguin and leaving little presents for me to find on my front doorstep in the morning. Once it was threatening graffiti (addressed to me by name) written in marker on my doorstep, once it was a busted open key-safe (keys missing) which resulted in a panicked phone call to the locksmith to change all the locks, and most recently, a dead furry creature of some sort.

And this is where it started getting surreal.

No, I haven't gotten in trouble with the White Trash Mafia. Rest assured, I know the person - know where he lives, even. But without evidence or witnesses, police can't do much. So it was time to implement a little igloo security.

All I have currently in my bottomless box o' gadgets is a Pixart Imaging Cammaestro Snake Eye Webcam - really old, I know. If you Google all that, you'll find quite a few people having problems with it on Linux systems. We're not really webcam people around here. And this was poor for surveillance purposes, since, like most consumer-grade webcams, it's not designed to be discreet, it's designed to be a big gaudy doohickey to clip to your laptop and have weird virtual micro-relationships on Chatroulette. So I had to set this up outside under some camouflage. I also had to tape over the shiny green light on the front of it that glows whenever it's plugged in.

Luck is with me, for once. The webcam worked out of the box. Plug it in and type "lsusb" and it shows right up. Then it was time to investigate software. I found two choices that work about equally well:

The recording software:

Mon, I don't dip on nobody's side.


Cheese is the more playful, fully-featured software. It's got a gallery of effects filters. However, it runs better on my older Ubuntu desktop, but can't seem to find the camera on my newer Fedora laptop. So there might be kernel driver issues with Cheese. But if you're looking for a fun app for producing wacky webcam shows of the kids to send to grandma, I'd go with Cheese.

Cheese saves videos in .ogv (Ogg) format.

Can you Deathnote fans tell my current mindset from the wallpaper?


Kamoso is a more basic app. It's all business, and hence more suited to the purpose of security. I notice (although this might be any number of variables) that I was able to get a cleaner, sharper picture with Kamoso. It also worked happily on the laptop, my main mobile battle station in Operation Creep, so I went with that.

Kamoso saves videos in .mkv (Matroska) format.

Both apps can snap single frames, record video, and live-stream. Both have settings to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and hue. In addition, Kamoso also has a slider to adjust gamma. Both programs were simply plug-n-play for me without tweaking. But keep in mind that any number of variables will affect things here - your hardware, kernel drivers for USB, video drivers, codecs, and so on.

Now I could just set up my camera outside, snake the USB cord inside, and record from my laptop. Of course, consumer-grade webcams are notoriously poor at shooting outside in both daylight (too bright and washed-out) and night (too dark and grainy). But luckily, our suspect was thoughtful enough to decorate himself from head to toe in more tattoos, piercings, and body mods than the crowd at a Rammstein concert, so he'll be clearly identifiable even from a grainy glimpse of a limb. It's Geek vs. Freak!

The playback software:

Apparently .mkv is a troublesome format. Totem, my usual goto for video viewing, seemed to have a hard time with jumping forward and backward or tracking the video progress on large files. The slider at the bottom just wouldn't cooperate; either it jumped to the end or all the way back to the beginning, regardless of what action I took. It was fine on five-minute test shots. I had similar issues with Dragon Player, Miro, Kaffeine, and even mPlayer!

Let me explain: Your needs in reviewing surveillance are different from watching a film. You don't want to have to sit through eight hours of staring across a yard looking for five minutes of activity (plus false alarms for the newspaper delivery and the occasional deer). You want to be able to efficiently fast-forward, back up, freeze frames, step one frame at a time, and isolate one chunk of frames.

Also, when running on continuous record, Kamoso doesn't save the file to disk until you hit the stop button. That works out to about 150MB per hour, so you'd better have enough RAM. I've found myself getting up several times through the night to stop and save periodically, just to be sure.

If I had the time, I'd tweak out a solution with motion detectors and an Arduino and do all the attendant research, in order to record video only when something happens. I envy those more dedicated hardware hackers. Perhaps I'll go that route later, since I accidentally acquired an Arduino Uno which I have been too busy to get into yet. Come to that, I've seen enough YouTube videos showing off Maker-Space-type microcontroller projects that I know you could rig up some elaborate mantrap with alarms and floodlights and Temple-of-Doom blowdarts, but I don't know if we're going that far yet.

For now, I hit on VLC. VLC is practically the Emacs of media players. Go into the Tools menu and open Preferences and select 'all' at the bottom left of this dialog and you'll see what I mean. You could play all day with this stuff.

For me, the fast-forward speed playback was just the ticket for scanning through a night's worth of footage. You can also jump to a certain time mark from a dialogue. You can speed the video up to 32x, then slow it down when the visitor appears.


Well, if anybody out there have better suggestions for better viewing / capturing software for surveillance purposes, feel free to pipe up. I'd just as soon have something in the editing sphere that could take a five-minute clip out and slap it into jpg/png image frames, but so far when I've tried that with ffmpeg, the results have been disastrous for the hours-long video... I guess because of the compression? Perhaps there's a home-security solution out there I haven't found yet, one that dumps to disk in set time increments and has other features handy for security purposes?

I'm still fumbling about with this, though.

Also, webcam people, you need to try to make a webcam that doesn't stick out like a clown at a funeral. I miss those old "counterspy shops" I used to see out on the west coast - haven't found any in the Midwest yet. How about something the size of a quarter, battery powered, transmitting wifi so you don't need to string USB cable everywhere?

And finally, I'm grateful that this incident pushed me into learning a little bit of video geeking which I might otherwise not have pursued. As the late, great Kurt Vonnegut said, "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God".

Follow me on Twitter for an update every time this blog gets a post.
Stumble it Reddit this share on Facebook

:: Next Page >>
suddenly the moon