Monday, August 11, 2008

Ubuntu/Linux U2U Mini #2: Media Center-like apps

Man, I love these apps coming out lately that give you a media center/Apple TV experience on your PC or a HTPC. The one I've been testing out lately is XBMC. I installed it, I think, through a repository provided by the XBMC folks through Synaptic Package Manager. It's really cool. It's missing some features or implements some features in a confusing manner, but over all it is really nice. Not nice enough to replace my Songbird/Miro teamup, but it's getting there. I use Songbird because it does nearly everything iTunes does plus does a really good impression of a web browser since it's based on the Firefox engine. Miro picks up where Songbird leaves off by providing not only podcast playing functionality as well, but also automatic resuming of podcasts. Something I have yet to see in any other player on Linux. That's unfortunate. Both aren't very good at syncing to iPod. I know Songbird can, but it doesn't do a very good job of it IMHO. And Miro just doesn't sync at all.

I started my media center-like experience with ATI's MMC (CRAP!) then MediaPortal. Back then I wasn't too into the MC experience. Mainly because nothing stood out as really good and the Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition was the only show in town. Then came a bunch of competetors. Some who had always been there. All including Apple TV, Tivo and more that are slipping my mind. Then I bought an eVGA GeForce 5200 Personal Cinema graphics card that came with nVidia's own MC-like software. Then I found SnapStream BeyondTV 4. Very nice, but it was something where you didn't know what you were missing until you saw what other MC-like software was doing. It did a great job, don't get me wrong. It worked with my ATI tuners, it worked with my nVidia tuners. Much better than the native software. Almost embarrassingly better. Anyway, nVidia's attempt at a tuner card came and went, ATI is still doing it, but I can't in good conscience recommend the software (the hardware is fine). ATI just can't make good MMC software which is a shame.

Anyway, back to the topic. After BTV4 I started messing around with MediaPortal again, then I tried out MythTV. In truth, I've been trying MythTV all along, but was always frustrated by not being able to get it working with the ATI and nVidia cards I had. One of those frustrations led me to badly damage my 5200 card by mistakenly installing it wrong. I got the power turned around and burned the card out. Frustration, leading to impatience, leading to haste. Which then made waste. Learn from my example. Anyway, that was the end of my tuner experiments as I sold my HDTV Wonder from ATI. As I saw it the future wasn't in HDTV on the computer, but back on the TV in the living room. Timely as this was about the time I got into YouTube and other media sites heavily. And this was the beginning of my podcast addiction. :-) Now that I'm on Ubuntu I'm looking for MC solutions (other than MythTV). Which leads me to this post. :-)

Other than XBMC, I've enjoyed many other experiments in MC-like clients. YouTube, AOL in2TV, Veoh, Joost, and others. What caught my eye recently is the Boxee project. It is very interesting because it seems to be a serious effort into the mainstream to get movies, music and other media to not only Mac OS X and Windows users, but primarily Mac and Linux users. They have a very strong push for Linux. Especially the Ubuntu distro. This is very cool. As it's not leaving anybody out and they're just as strong in supporting Linux. Which is how it should be. Even support across the board.

I just signed up for the Boxee alpha and I can't wait. If everything they say will happen will happen then this may be a good replacement for my music, podcast and movie/TV needs (erm... wants). A list of the things I hope it replaces (ok, I admit it. Some are pie in the sky): Songbird, Miro, Netflix, OTA or cable TV, iTunes (hopefully), AmazonMP3 (though I hope more in a client for AmazonMP3 way), and that's all I can think of now. Though in a very stylish and functional way. This is very exciting. Follow the links for all the fun. :-)
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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ubuntu/Linux U2U Mini #1: Flock 2.0 Beta

Have you tried this program yet? It's what got me to start blogging because it makes it so easy to do. I'm blogging this from Flock right now. It's based off of Firefox 3. I have a few issues with Firefox 3 crashing randomly, but the features of Flock far outweigh the occasional freeze or crash. I think it does so because of Flash anyway.

If you're on Ubuntu and you're trying to find a DEB you won't find one. All you do is, and this is similar to Songbird 0.6.1, download the tar.gz file, expand it, save it to a special place where uninstalled apps go (I put mine in /home/user/Software/flock/) and double click on the flock-browser icon. It'll ask you if you want to "Run in Terminal" (if you want to see what it's doing), "Display" the contents of the file (probably don't want to do this), "Cancel", or "Run". Click Run. You may also want to create a launcher of it as well and put that in the panel or on the desktop (or wherever you launch apps from).

That's it. But I wish that as long as Synaptic Package Manager exists there was a way to install by way of a DEB. But this is fine. It just isn't as elegant as how Mac OS X does it with apps you "install" on a Mac. At least apps on the Mac can have icons by themselves. And they're packages too so everything is self contained and can be run from any point on the hard drive. I wish the Linux dev community would do something like that.

Anyway, Flock 2.0 Beta. Good. Just keep in mind it's in beta. So don't complain if it gives you problems. Beta software is like that. And beta software is one instance where reporting bugs is encouraged.
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LEGO! LDraw! This is such a fun program

What it is is a CAD program that specializes in LEGO and building LEGO projects. Just be aware, it gives colors for every piece even if that color/piece combination does not exist. So do some homework before you think of buying the pieces to make your projects for real.

I've obsessively made some really cool stuff with it so far.

Like them?

I'm running LDraw through WINE 1.0. Works very well. But I can't save JPEG images from it. Just the native .dat files. Bummer.
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Ubuntu/Linux: User-To-User #1

    My first entry in my blog was a tough thing to come up with. I'm not too terribly interesting of a person to blog about things. Just some joe in Minnesota, no journalism degree, no actual experience in any popular media. Except for being a freelance illustrator I really have nothing to say that any day-to-day non-blogging individual has to say.

Except for one thing.

   I am totally into Ubuntu/Linux. So much so that I'd say that I'm addicted. As much as a non-programmer end user can be. It reminds me of the time I was totally addicted to Macs back in the pre-Jobsian second coming Apple era. I subscribed to MacAddict, I played Marathon, I devoured anything I could on the Mac short of trying to learn how to program. And trust me, I did try to program for the Mac. It just wasn't for me. I guess because I'm impatient. But now, after years of using Windows XP after Mac OS 8.6, I'm moving on to something very interesting. A total open source replacement of that old Mac religion.
   Now, I have been playing with Linux on and off for the last 10 or so years. It started with an old 486 computer with 32MB of memory and Red Hat. Not sure what version, but it was my introduction to Linux. Red Hat was Linux to me back then. The idea of distros came later for me. And on and off I've been playing with Linux of all types. Interestingly enough I was introduced to Linux through MacAddict (now Mac|Life). I think it was YellowDog or some mac68k *nix (BSD?). And I was also introduced to other OSes as well. This was during Apple's Copland and Rhapsody days when Mac users were abuzz about the possibilities of which OS would replace the classic Mac OS. Around this time i got interested in themes and skinning as well (RIP, Kaleidoscope).
   After all these years I've settled on Ubuntu/Linux. Or more precisely Gnome and the package Canonical has put together. I've used Ubuntu long enough that I seem to have a little bit of confidence in helping people out in setting up Ubuntu. At least with respect to GUI solutions. Admittedly, I'm not that much of an expert in basic Linux to offer any type of technical help under the hood, but I'll do my best. And I will be the first to say "I don't know." when I truly don't know. There seems to be a hostility in the Linux enthusiast community towards people who don't know Linux inside and out attempting to help for fear that either the "n00bs" will get it wrong or not offer an efficient enough or stripped down solution that takes advantage of the most esoteric knowledge of Linux (you know, just to show off).

I hope to help people as I learn as an end user. I think the Linux community needs something like this. Someone who isn't so invested in the high level knowledge of Linux that he can't talk to the layman in plain English. I believe that that's the main problem with Linux being available to the masses. Linux is still seen as the OS by programmers for programmers, by IT for IT and oftentimes when I hear reference to "user" or "end user" in the Linux community it is often assumed the user is not grandma or mom and pop. User is assumed to be a person who is involved neck deep in the minutia and intricacies of Linux and open source. One who knows how to debug, report to bug report sites and who know how to contribute code to projects or at least have the motivation and interest in doing those things. It's not enough to simply be a user. Well, I say bull. It's enough to be a user and new users need just as much representation in the Linux community as established experts.

So my hope with this is to help new users and end users who just want to use Linux at a very street level... uh... level. Do you want to install Linux (yes, even Ubuntu) and be able to play DVDs, watch Hulu, play games and not have to see the terminal for more than occasionally installing from source or occasionally editing config files (brrrr)? Stay tuned. As I learn, so will you. And I'll try to keep it as un-insultingly simple as I can. This is why it feels so much like discovering the Mac again. I remember unpacking that Macintosh IIsi and seeing that thick users guide and seeing how easy it was to follow and how complete it was from using a mouse to setting up AppleTalk. It should be that simple again. The Linux community, in spirit, should take up that task. This blog might not be as in depth and technical as some higher level blogs or podacsts out there, but it's not supposed to be. So don't expect it to be. Taking the inspiration from the Lab Rats podcast this is how I've come to start this blog. I hope to present Linux, Ubuntu/Linux, as the Linux for the rest of us, not just the few of them. And I'll do it with Ubuntu. After all, Ubuntu is Linux For Human Beings. :-)
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Explanation of the first post.

That video is from my YouTube account. One of the videos I uploaded as a test to see how YouTube worked.

I'm somewhat of a gamer. You'll see some blog entries on gaming. Hopefully some aspects of gaming that fly under the radar of most people but which I think are cool. Like this:

I have quite a few products from these guys from when they first started out. Quality stuff even back then when they were doing it for fun (which I hope they still do it for) and profit.

Also this is cool:

I want to build one soooooo bad. But I don't have the room. I have lots of ideas though and I may offer those ideas up on this blog.
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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Test Testing Testing...


Blah Blah Blah

[edit: Kewl, it works!]
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