Thursday, May 29, 2008

Deluge for TV ... Better this time.

Well, after my disastrous blog about using Liferea + Deluge had been aired out long enough to get the stink off, I decided to really try to get FlexRSS working. It's going fine for me now and in automatic mode.

Even though you probably all already know this, I'll write it down, anyway.
  1. Enable the FlexRSS plugin in Edit > Plugins.
  2. Click the "Preferences" button on the plugin page to set up FlexRSS.
  3. Get a feed. I think the easiest thing to do is to get one with every show like this:
  4. Create a "New" feed and put in the feed address (above), naming the feed EZTV or something.
  5. Look through the feed to find shows you want. Right click on them and choose "Create Filter."
  6. This will parse the file name and set up everything pretty much automatically for you. Check the Patterns to make sure they match well.
  7. If you plan to organize the TV, choose a directory to save in by using "Output."
  8. Check back every day to add more filters until all your shows are in.

That should work for the auto-download part. To play, click on the torrent entry in the main Deluge window, then choose the Files tab. You can double-click on the file to start it in your preferred player.

When you have watched and seeded the show, right-click the torrent entry and choose to delete everything, including the file.

Happy TV!

And the Runner Up is ... Gnome "2.24 Maybe" Apps

Right now, there are three applications proposed for the Gnome desktop which are not out of the running, but definitely aren't near crossing the finish line. They are:
  1. Empathy Communication Framework (IM/VOIP/Video chat) Again?!?
  2. Conduit Synchronizer, and
  3. Hamster Time Tracker
They all are worthy apps that face significant hurdles before getting accepted into the Gnome desktop.


Empathy is on my list of "maybes" every six months. Basically, it's an IM client with a front end based on Gossip and a backend from Telepathy.

The Good

The UI has been broken out into libraries for other applications to reuse. That means that Evolution could take part of Empathy and embed a chat client into the Contacts area, while Cheese could use the framework to change your avatar and send a video to a friend. A lot of people really want this.

The Bad

The biggest problem with Empathy is the licensing. Gossip is GPL, and putting that code into a library makes the library GPL. Gnome doesn't like GPLed libraries. They want LGPL. The corporate developers of Gossip don't want Empathy to be relicensed. Am I moving too fast for you? No? Good. Anyway, Empathy is at an impass. It has great potential, but it can't get through the relicensing situation without rewriting most of its code. I don't see it happening ... again.

The next big problem is API documentation. There is none. The developer admits this. He has a library with an undocumented API. It doesn't look good. Gnome will not take this project if the documentation doesn't at least move in the right direction.

The Outlook

Dreary and bleak. I don't see this going through, even though many of us have been hoping for a couple of years now.


Conduit is a Python application which syncs information.

The Good

Since it uses a plug-in architecture, the "data providers" are really numerous and available for pretty much anything that has a Python binding. Local stuff includes folders, photo apps, music apps, Tomboy notes, and Evolution data. Remote stuff could be another computer, an online file service, Flickr, YouTube, or a hundred other things. More providers are arriving all the time. It's really cool. I just want an automatic mode.

Including this in Gnome means that there can be focus on a real backup solution. Applications can invoke Conduit to set up backup preferences and then the user can back up from the application, too.

The Bad

The biggest problem right now is accessibility. It has none. You can't do anything without the mouse. The canvas it uses doen't really support accessibility, either. The developer is waiting to change to the Gnome canvas once that gets built.

Another, less-pressing problem is the use of Gnomevfs. None of the Gnome developers seem to want a new application that's using a depricated library. The Conduit developer has promised to move over ASAP.

The Outlook

Sadly, not good. Accessibility isn't something you throw on as an afterthought. A lot of code will have to be checked and/or rewritten. That's too bad, as well.


is a handy little time tracker that stores its data in sqlite.

The Good

Because of SQLite, Hamster can generate interesting reports. Also, unlike some older Gnome time trackers, Hamster has support for persistent categories and tasks, making time tracking slightly less painful. Any time tracker that doesn't feel like surgery without anaesthesia is good, in my opinion.

Hamster can also take ToDos from the Evolution Data Server (EVS) and use them as categories. There is some talk about migrating the SQLite backend to use EVS completely, with Evolution keeping track of the time and activity. This would mean that the calendar in your Gnome panel clock would show what you've accomplished for that day. Hmmm.... Maybe I don't really want that kind of accountabiilty.

The Bad

There was no bad feedback on the developer list. I think the only hold-up to Hamster is that it isn't really very "Gnomey." It doesn't seem to be integrated the way the developers want.

The Outlook

I really suspect that Hamster is going to make it in this time. Gnome 2.24 doesn't have a lot of new functionality, and having one more bullet point stating "New time-tracking ability with Hamster!" will probably appeal to enough Gnome developers that it'll get in.

Hamster change the way you work with your desktop, though. I'm still rooting for Empathy to clean its act up.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So What's the Perfect Desktop?

Yeah .... That's the real question -- one that can't really be answered. I've got some proposals for various classes of hardware (i386). I'm looking for input before I really put everything to bed on this during the week

I'm going to start with the modern desktop and finish this list. After that, I can move on to things like preseeds for or specific laptop models. I'll accept recommendations for those at this time, too, if you want ot give them to me.

Here's a preview of the installation CD:

Monday, May 26, 2008

Thank You, Google Docs!

A couple of months ago, I made a feature request to Google to add the ability to insert a video into a presentation. I mentioned that it should be pretty simple to just allow videos from YouTube or Google and use an embed tag. I'm not sure how recently they added the functionality, but it was there when I went to create a presentation for my class.

Thanks Google! You're getting there little by little.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Amazing New Mini Distro

Although it's neither Debian nor Ubuntu, I have to give props to the new mini distro on thestreet, Slitaz. I tested out the cooking version (looking for ideas on software for my ancient computer project) this afternoon and took some screenshots.

It uses OpenBox + LXPanel and PCMan. It even manages to fit FF3 RC1 into the svelt 25MB download. I encourage you to take a look at it.

It hs its own package manager called tazpkg (the packages are taz files). It supports basic lists off of the mirror and apt-get style installation with dependency resolution. Extra packages of interest include Pidgin 2.4 and Abiword 2.6.3, which I gave glowing marks in my previous review.

Take a look. The download won't take long. ;)

Debian's Graphical Installer -- Screenshots

Continuing my work on making a Debian desktop that works out of the box using preseeds, I took a look at the condition of the GTK+ graphical installer for Debian Lenny Beta1. If you haven't tried it, you don't need to rush to make a special attempt.

Executive summary: It's the same as the text installer, but using GTK and a mouse. There's no difference except that I find the graphical installer more time-consuming if you use the mouse. If you don't use the mouse, then why were you in the graphical installer at all?

If you really want to try it out, grab the Lenny Beta1 businesscard.iso and give it a whirl. Type installgui at the prompt in order to get the gui. Just type install for the traditional text installer.Compare the two in screenshots below.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Apologies for down time

I started using my Google Apps for the domain, moved my blog to, and put a page where the blog used to be. Everything worked fine except the blog. I forgot to update the CNAME entry for it. My apologies.

On the note of Google Apps -- quite easy to use. Sites could have auto-linking for the Wiki feel, but that's OK.

If anyone wants to chip in on the wiki, let me know.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Replacing Miro

Miro is a great application that I've been using for some time now. It is a combination RSS feed reader, download client (including BT), and video organizer. The combination allows you to do the following:
  1. Add an RSS feed from a video source like
  2. Come back to your computer and find a video automatically downloaded and ready to watch
  3. Click inside Miro to watch the video, after which it is marked as watched and later automatically deleted.
This is all great. It makes life easy for those of us who live in the east and whose only choice of English programming is 24 hours of CSI or ... er ... 24.

The drwaback to Miro is that it will bring even a well-spec'ed machine to its knees. My dual core CPU with 2GB RAM slows to a crawl. Who wants that? I don't so I cobbled together a more manual system -- one that runs for weeks without any slowdown.

The elements:
  1. Liferea
  2. Deluge torrent
  3. Your favorite video player
Add a video feed to Liferea. In Tools > Preferences, set the refresh time to daily so that doesn't ban you. right click the feed and choose "Properties." In the Advanced tab, choose to auto-load the item.

Make sure to set Deluge as your default BT client by right-clicking on a torrent file, choosing Properties, going to the "Open with" tab, and choosing Deluge. Next, set the default save location for Deluge and any otehr options you need in Edit > Preferences.

By double-clicking on the torrent (or right-clicking), you can open the containing folder automatically. Delete the torrent and the downloaded file at the same time once you've watched it.

Now, I won't pretend that this method is as easy as Miro, which automates the entire process, but the speed benefits more than make up for the difference.

NOTE: Deluge has an RSS plugin, but the functionality doesn't work the way I wanted it to. I had real hopes for it, though. I'll keep looking at it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Special Mime Types for Directories

Mac OSX has application bundles. Rox has directories instead of .desktop launchers. Now Guillaume Schmid wants to add the possibility of mime-types for directories.

One example raised was folders with mirrored web pages. The folder contains an index file and all the other pages, possibly with graphics and stylesheets, as well. Should double clicking on the folder open the index in your browser?

Another possibility is Audacity, Kine, or any other application which keeps a large number of working files. This would probably simplify things quite a bit for the users.

One thing that would have to be sorted out first is how to identify when the user wanted to browse the contents (i.e. to edit files) and when the user wanted to open the directory with the default application.

I don't think that it would cause any disruption at first because no apps would support it. As apps support the concept, they add their mime-type to the list. Am I wrong?

I vote "yes."

Moving on to Debian. Advice Requested.

Last night, I used a net install on my main machine to change over to Debian. Everything went smoothly, but I haven't used Deb in a few years, so I'm adjusting to the differences. One thing that I notice right away is that it was significantly more difficult to get my desktop into shape.

I'm hoping to make installing a good, complete, basic desktop a lot easier using preseeding and netinstall isos. Here's the plan, still in its infancy because it's only a few hours old.

Create preseed "situations" based on Debian stable (now Etch) with backports and third-party repositories added to fill in the gaps. While I'm extremely pro-FLOSS, I'm not going to worry about that issue for these preseeds, instead trying to make the desktop work out of the box. That will include programs, codecs, and decryption (CSS) which may not be legal in some areas.

I'm asking for advice about repositories from the seasoned Debianites out there. I already plan to include What other repositories are you using to get your desktop up to snuff? I'm thinking particularly of drivers and firmware needed to make everything work well.

From the non-Deb users, I'd like to hear feature requests. With post-install scripts, I think I can accomplish most things, so the sky's the limit.

I'm going to eventually make several preseed files, but the first will be for Vista-era (i.e. newish) computers. We're talking multi-core with ~2GB of RAM. Here are the brainstormed specs:
  • Newest kernel available
  • Desktop: Gnome
  • Search: Beagle
  • Browser: Epiphany-webkit and FF2
  • Office: OO.o (3.0b?)
  • Music: Rhythmbox (maybe Banshee2?)
  • Photos: F-Spot
  • BT: Deluge
  • RSS: Liferea
  • IM: Pidgin (anyone champion Empathy?)
  • VOIP: Ekiga and Skype
  • Sync: Conduit
  • Extras: Themes and fonts, Java, Flash
Feedback, please. I'll probably get started on this over the weekend. Once I'm finished and have gotten the major bugs out, I'll write as much documentation on it as I can.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I'm on the Verge of Leaving Ubuntu.

I started with Ubuntu on the day of their first release, having come from Debian. I've been loyal since then. I felt Ubuntu was trying to make some changes that needed to be made in both the Linux distro world and in Debian specifically.

I spent countless hours on teh forums working with people to help them get settled into Ubuntu. I wrote howtos for the wiki and for this blog. I never tried to monetize the blog because that's not what I created it for. (The hardy links below aren't adwords: they're just Google news.) Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I'm no fanboy. I call things the way that I see them. Maybe I'm not always right, but I put my best effort into checking every fact I write down.

But most of all, I dutifully used every Alpha, Beta, and RC since 4.10, reporting as many bugs as I could. Since I don't trust myself to write any code (my last line being in 1988), I felt that reporting bugs was the best thing I could do for "the cause."

Ninety percent of the bugs get ignored. That's fine. I don't expect software to be bug free. Simple one line fixes should really be no problem, though.

During the 7.10 Beta cycle, I reported involving unmounting of removable drives. If a user yanked a drive, he/she was told not to do that and to choose "eject" from the context menu of the drive icon. The only problem was ... the context menu didn't have "eject" anywhere in it. Instead, it had "unmount." Sure, Linux users know how to unmount a drive, but giving incorrect directions is just amateurish.

(yes, I'm calling him out!) did nothing but argue and stall over which word would be appropriate. Instead of fixing the bug so that users could follow the directions, then trying to get the terminology right, we spent months arguing over words. Eventually Sebastien disposed of the bug by reassigning the package and declaring the bug invalid.

What a fucking joke. I won't support a project that can't even be bothered to get its help system in line with reality.

I think I made my decision while typing this blog entry. I guess I'll be back to Debian tomorrow. So long and thanks for all the fish.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Hoping Tommy's OK

I made a new friend after 7.10 got released. I think he got my name from the Ubuntero site. Tommy Nay Myo is a sysadmin and new Ubuntu server user from Myanmar international school who always seems to pop up on Jabber at just the wrong time to ask me how to do something. We chatted a couple of times a week.

I haven't heard from Tommy or seen him online at all since the cyclone hit Myanmar. Even during the bloody period at the end of last year, I wasn't as worried about him as I am now.

Tommy, I hope everything's all right.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Online Desktop

I want it all. I don't need it now, but tell me that you're working on it.

I took a look at a while back, and though that it was cute, but nothing to write home about yet. I want a truly online desktop, though, taking me away from living in my browser, but allowing me to be there if I need to be. No, I don't want Flock, though I think that's a great idea. Here are the things I want:
  • Unified contacts: I want entries in "About Me" for IM, e-mail, and social sites. I want my contacts from all of them to appear in one place, with updates aggregated. Think of an RSS feed for people. I want to be able to click on one of them to chat, e-mail, voice/video, or whatever is supported by the protocols for that connected person. If different services (e.g. Facebook and e-mail) are really the same person, I want to be able to join them into the same contact. Let's beef up , shall we? We can combine it with Gimmie.
  • I want my e-mail reader to aggregate, as well. I don't care where the e-mail came from. I just need to hit "Reply" and it'll send mail back where it came from. Take my contacts from "About Me" and automatically set it up for me. Pull my message from Facebook or wherever and include them, too. I'm tired of checking for messages in five different places.
  • Calendaring is pretty good now, but could always be better. Evolution uses online calendars and puts them in my desktop calendar. That's cool, except when it doesn't work and the whole panel hangs up. Uck! Make it stable, please.
  • I want my photo organizer aggregated. F-Spot should handle my local files, shares, Facebook, Flickr, and Photobucket photos transparently. When I import new photos, ask me where to put them. Give me the choice to do cross-site backups of all or selected photos/albums.
  • I want my office suite to work with online versions. OO.o already has a Google Docs extension, but it's tedious. I don't want to go to "Google Docs" and hit "Import." I want to choose to open a document and be presented with the Open File dialog with and extra bookmark for Google Docs. Any other major player should have an extension, too, of course.
  • I also want my office software to be my blogging software. There's no reason to use two interfaces for that. Sun sells a nice OO.o extension for this, so I know that it can be done. While we're at it, make an Epiphany extension which is useful for blogging, clips parts of a web page, and copies the stuff over to the office software for me.
  • I want a video aggregator, too. I want Totem to offer me virtually every online video in existence. And no, I don't want to do it from the sidebar. If I have to do it from the sidebar, make sure using it doesn't crew up my keyboard shortcuts like it does now. I just want to think "Play a video" and have a big, searchable list to work with. Local or online, it shouldn't matter. I also want video management for Totem the way Rhythmbox is formatted now.
  • Speaking of Rhythmbox, clean up the plugins. Add more online stores. Make easier to use. Let it record streams. Besides all that, I think it's pretty online as it is now. I can pretty much do all my music from there (including creating/ripping audio CDs and editing tags).
So that's about it. I just want it all. Is that too much to ask? ;)

For those who can't hear the playful tone in my voice -- this "whine" is really just a fun way to suggest how we could make the online desktop better. I'm actually quite happy (though not satisfied) with my desktop as it is.

I've come up with an addition to my list. My feed reader should work with my video and music player to list attachments which work with those applications. No, I don't want Rhythmbox to be a feed reader. I already have one. I want the feed reader to publish attachments and titles for Rhythmbox to look over and decide which are music. Totem should read the same information. See a feed? Subscribe and don't worry about launching a player from the feed reader. Decide "Hey, I want to watch something." Open Totem. "Oh, hey, there's a new episode of Linux Journal. That sounds good."

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Adobe Flash Specification is Now Open!

As of today, May1st, 2008, Adobe has removed the restrictions on the SWF and FLV specifications. Formerly, these specs could be used to make IDEs, but not players. Projects like Gnash and SWFdec can now use the official documentation to write compliant players for Unix-like systems. Ubuntu users may not need to stay 1-2 Flash versions behind. Thanks to Adobe for this move.

Download the specs.

The text of the FAQ:
What is the SWF file specification?
The SWF file format specification is used to deliver vector graphics, text, video, sound and interactivity via Adobe Flash Player and Adobe AIR. SWF files can reach over 98% of Internet-enabled desktops and more than a half billion handsets and mobile devices.
What is the FLV/F4V specification?
An FLV file encodes synchronized audio and video streams. The audio and video data within FLV files are encoded in the same way as audio and video within SWF files. The F4V format is based on the format specified by ISO/IEC 14496-12, the ISO base media file format. The FLV/F4V specification documents the file formats for storing media content used to deliver audio and video for playback in Adobe Flash Player and Adobe AIR. FLV and F4V are the de facto standard for Web video today. Over 75% of broadcasters who stream video on the Web use the FLV/F4V formats.
What are the device porting layer APIs for Adobe Flash Player?
These are device-specific abstractions of Adobe Flash Player that enable it to work on different operating systems and devices.
Why are the SWF and FLV/F4V specifications separated?
The SWF format is the binary file format and the FLV/F4V formats are media container formats.
What motivated Adobe to remove the licensing restrictions from the specifications?
The SWF specification has been published since 1998. Until today, the specification had a license agreement associated with it, which said that developers could write software to output SWF but could not make software that would “play” SWF files. These license terms were initially included to prevent fragmentation, which most client technologies have experienced. These terms have worked well for Flash Player over the past decade as it now reaches over 98% of PCs on the Web with a consistent runtime, enabling things such as the video revolution we see today across the Web. With this announcement, Adobe is removing this restriction from the SWF specification, as we have established a consistent runtime and we want to ensure the industry can confidently continue to support the SWF format. This will permit the development of applications that “play” SWF files. Adobe will of course remain focused on making the best, most reliable and consistently distributed implementation across desktops and devices.
Will Adobe continue to update the open specifications?
Yes, Adobe will continue to update and maintain the specifications as required to support future versions of Flash Player.
When will the SWF and FLV/F4V specifications be available without restrictions and who will be able to access them?
The license restrictions are being removed as of today, May 1, 2008. More details on using the specifications without the previous license restrictions are available on the Adobe Developer Connection at the SWF Technology Center and the FLV/F4V Technology Center.
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