Category Archives: Computers and Technology

Make a screencast with ffmpeg

If I did NOT email you a linux cheatsheet you are not the intended recipient of this message. Go ahead and watch it anyway if you want to. The original video is crystal clear. However, it is an 84 MB file in MKV format. How to realistically get that off my computer and share it with others? None of the web hosts I use allow direct upload of MKV.

I haven’t mastered the conversion process as you’ll see in the video – the result after conversion to .mpg is not nearly as clear as the original, and the uploaded version is not even as clear as the converted .mpg file. Someday there will exist a thing called standards, and they will be open and free, NOT set by a cartel of corporate behemoths hell-bent on enslaving the world. But that’s a blog post of its own…

This is ridiculous

How come no one attempted to stop me from this madness?! I’m glad the video full-screen is a bit fuzzy on WordPress – no one should have to view this idiocy! Folks, your life has meaning! Don’t waste it on stuff like this!

Instant frustration

Noticing the large number of desirable titles available to stream Instantly from the big A (Amazon, not Apple – keep up!), I thought I would test the service by viewing a trailer at home on my desktop (Firefox on CentOS 7). Got the infamous Install Adobe Flash message. Went straight for the Feedback link and shared my feedback. Some emails back and forth followed, leading to more frustration (they lie!) and eventually to a chat session with the gracious help at Amazon.

Here’s the transcript:

transcript of the chat, highlighting conflicting information

Yes and no mean the same thing, right?

If, for some reason the image is not convenient for you, or you don’t want to zoom in that far, here’s the highlight (paraphrased):

Amazon: You can stream the videos without Silverlight or Adobe Flash.

Me: How?

Amazon: You need Silverlight and Adobe Flash.

Think I’ll stick with Netflix for now anyway. At least I know where I stand with them.

Happy New Year!

This is my typewriter. It serves me well. Every now and again I get an urge to try something a bit different, say a word processor or some such nonsense. But then I come to my senses and remember the axiom: never entrust to another that which is best kept to yourself.

That may not make much sense to you at the present time, but it will. Trust me on that. So here is my story:

Once upon a yabbady dabbity doo in a land far and few between in time and space there lived a jabber wocky whosamaflipitz. Okay that’s bullshit and we both know it. Now for the real deal. I steal lives. Kinda sorta. I don’t kill people. I don’t rob them of anything. I just kinda sorta borrow their minds and then do a quick copy and paste. Just like on a computer. You know, nothing lost when sharing betweenst folders or friends. I have it, I share it with you. Now you have it, and I have it too. Simple, right?

It is in this way I steal lives. I share them with others. Well, I share their lives with myself. But they don’t lose a thing. They don’t even notice when I make myself a copy of their life, nor when I paste said copy. I imagine you’re wondering to where I paste their life after I copy it, right? That part is harder to explain. But let me try.

You know how ice cream melts in the heat? Yet we eat ice cream in the hot weather days usually, right? (Except those crazy folks who eat ice cream in winter, but they’re crazy.) We do things in such a way as to create challenges for ourselves. Eat the ice cream before it melts. Get out of the burning building before we die. That sort of thing.

You think I’m beginning to explain the whys before the hows but bear with me. Now, the thing about challenges is they’re tough. They’re hard and difficult, and that’s what we crave. In order to achieve anything from life we have to have a frame of reference. Desires and goals and whatnot. Against our desires and goals we can achieve success or not. Now, each desire (or goal, goals are desires – more on this later) creates a directory in our souls. A directory is a box, more or less, in which we store our memories of experience. Our existence is usually concerned mainly with the processing of these memories. (The creation is our existence, but for some reason no one gets that.)

So we go about moving files around and copying files from directory to directory. We create files on the fly and process them continually. We figure our directories are ours alone but this is not so. I can read your files, and if you had any inclination that I existed and, simultaneously, wanted to read my files, you would have little difficulty doing so. Hell, we can even arrange write access to each other’s files if we wanted to. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

So the point is I find some files I like… Boom, presto. They now exist in parallel in my own little archive of non-original life directories. Your life is mine. And mine is yours. Sort of. The critical difference being I know you exist. Or you used to, anyway. Now we are sort of like a team, but only one of us has a clue.

You see, while you’ve been busily creating mental imagery in an attempt to consolidate these near non-sequiturs into some sort of coherent narrative, I’ve been busy copying some files you may be familiar with into my database. Howdy pardner 😉

See how goals achieved bring about satisfaction? Happy 2015!

Take that corporate bully!

I love this:

mock software requirements for keyboard

Take this and shove it up your proprietary behind!

Of course, I’m quite sure this keyboard will work with any modern computer. But, as we can see here, it’s about time someone said something about this.

[And, as an update to that old post – of course it is now widely acknowledged Best Buy is a Microsoft affiliated dumping grounds for unloved hardware.]

Gnome strikes back!

I recently wrote a post comparing and contrasting Gnome versus KDE in Fedora 20. I was a bit hard on Gnome, despite using it on my main computer – some of its defaults just don’t seem logical. But yesterday I installed CentOS 7 on my spare test computer and I need to post this update because this is new and exciting.

pic of CentOS 7 install options

Please excuse the fuzzy ad hoc snap from my phone

Gnome in CentOS 7 is like the holy grail of Gnome. Still features all the fluid flexibility of Workspaces and their keyboard shortcuts. Yet retains the useful bar at top with Applications and Places, so beloved from Gnome2.

gnome desktop screenshot

And no need for the Alt-Tab gnome-extention, as the sensible behavior of cycling through only those windows open on the active workspace is the default here. At last! Common sense has reigned somewhere!

I’m excited to give the KDE Plasma Workspaces option a try next time. The folks at CentOS (and, of course, RedHat) deserve much praise for this sensible addition to the world of Linux. Thank you!

An agnostic’s take on Gnome vs. KDE

I’m writing this because everyone gets it wrong, and it’s my moral obligation to set yous straight. (For those that don’t know me, this is sarcasm.) I do, however, in all sincerity, want to clear up a few things I keep reading about that kind of irk me. The situation is in the never ending battle for the desktop that is Gnome versus KDE (I won’t bother to acknowledge any of the other competing desktop environments out there since I want to keep this post simple).

To start, I am not going to advocate either over the other – I know, big spoiler/anticlimax. Get over it. Here’s what irks me: Most of the articles I’ve read online featuring the difference between Gnome and KDE are not only heavily biased, but they are often written by persons who admit within the article they aren’t overly familiar with [insert whichever desktop environment is not their preferred one]. What the hell is wrong with these people?

I’m going to compare two of the newest cars on the road today, (but I don’t have a license and I’ve only ever ridden in one of these…). Here goes… [pppppfffffffrrrrrrrrrrrtttttttttttttt]

I’m over joyed to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t know shit, but really? Why are you writing about something you admit you don’t know about? So, I’m going to now write about something I know only marginally about, because why not? It’s the age of the idiot blogger.

Now there are two camps when it comes to users. One prefers using the keyboard, while the other prefers to point and click with a mouse. No one really likes or finds it particularly conducive to their productivity to have to switch constantly back and forth between the two.

(We can safely ignore touch devices for now as neither Gnome or KDE is up and running full steam on touch devices yet, although from what I hear it won’t be long before us regular, non-developer types will be able to have these options supported for our lazy, ignorant asses.)

And herein lies the great divide, and the great difference as I see it between Gnome and KDE. Gnome is really and truly best utilized with a keyboard securely under hand, with the mouse nearby for the occasional necessary click. KDE, conversely, is much friendlier to the mouse and click crowd, although many of the features in that environment can be accessed via the keyboard as well.

I’ll now break each environment down a little bit and include some Pros and Cons. I should mention at this point I am basing these descriptions on the Gnome and KDE versions of the Fedora Linux distribution. There are some minor differences here and there on other distributions, but the core info presented here remains applicable.

I’ll start with KDE

a screengrab from KDE

Please pardon the redactions – state security.


Widgets tell me what time it is.

Notice in the above screenshots the color of the theme has changed. It does that. On its own. Continuously. Forever. This (admittedly somewhat resource intensive) effect is just one of the many bits of eye candy that bedazzle the KDE user. Also note the über useful widgets so that I can have the time, date, weather etc right there on the desktop. Fascinating, no? At the upper left is the folder widget, which presents my home directory folders at a click. All of this is by choice, as the KDE environment is customizable to a degree that would require a degree to learn all the different options. But at its core, it provides an experience not so far removed from your vanilla XP working environment of old. There are tabs on a task bar (I left it at bottom – it can be moved, duplicated or removed at will) for open applications. There is a “start button” like button at lower left (although this too can be customized or outright removed if desired). At lower right are familiar icons for time, battery life (if applicable), wifi (again, if applicable), sound controls, etc etc. Notifications also default to this lower right area. All in all, a setting more or less familiar to a majority of computer users everywhere.

In Gnome we have a bit of a different experience

Gnome with dark theme enabled and Oxygen Theme Icons

Gnome with dark theme enabled and Oxygen Theme Icons

I’ll admit I am not a fan of the default appearance of Gnome. The first thing I like to do regarding the appearance is enable the dark theme and (install and) switch to Oxygen Theme icons. It’s a subjective thing, but to me this dark theme with the blue Oxygen Icons is a bit more elegant than the Gnome defaults (whatever they’re called…).  Notice in Gnome we have no task bar or icons on the desktop. Accept for the three windows I have open in the above screenshot, there is nothing (the absence of anything) on the desktop save for a bar across the top which has the date and time at center, some tools like sound and power off options at right, and the Activities hot corner at left (and a menu next to the Activities for the current active application). This situation causes the utmost confusion in users new to Gnome (my highly scientific research has been destroyed in a curious canine incident, but just trust me). Moving the mouse cursor to the upper left brings up the Activities screen.

The GUI hell of the Activities Screen

The GUI hell of the Activities Screen

From here one can click on Application Icons to launch them, as well as select a window to switch to it, close a window, or drag it to another workspace. I have yet to meet anyone who likes this or feels this is a satisfactory way of getting anything done on a computer. One can also type in the search box to search for Applications, etc. Whatever.

It may seem like I’m showing a strong bias against Gnome at this point, and if this was all there was to Gnome, I would bash its ugly head into the ground. But read on, discerning reader, for the best is yet to come.

After working with Gnome for some time, I have amassed a wealth of useful working strategies that make Gnome the more productive of the two desktops for the power user. [Not necessarily true, but it could be. It’s subjective.] First off, leave the mouse over there by the coffee mug or soda can. You won’t be needing it much from here on out. Standard keyboard shortcuts that work in a variety of operating systems and with a variety of desktop environments work in Gnome as well. [IMPORTANT: and install/enable Alt-Tab!] The default alt-tab behavior in Gnome is annoying and defeats the purpose of workspaces. Ignore it. After enabling Alt-Tab, pressing alt-tab will shuffle through windows open in the current workspace. Use Super key (Windows key) + page up/down to navigate between workspaces. Use Alt+F2 to bring up the little window which allows you to run commands in it (most handy to launch applications without having to deal with the awkward Activities area – although having to launch an application whose name you’re not sure of can require a trip to Activities – learn the names of applications you use frequently!). I’ve even set keyboard shortcuts for raising and lowering the volume (I use alt+up/down).

I have set Gnome-Terminal to start at login, and I leave it around throughout the session which enables me to navigate to and open files without ever having to deal with a file manager. It is not a standard way of working for many people used to the “XP way of working”, but once you get used to it, it’s like second nature. My poor mouse begs me for attention.

I use the mouse within the web browser since some pages can be quite a pain to navigate via keyboard. Otherwise, for the most part, almost everything you need to accomplish can be done without having to reach for the mouse. This enables extremely fast navigation and launching. The OS/desktop environment nearly vanish and you’re free to get your work done. This is why I use Gnome when I have serious work to do despite appreciating the beauty and plain old fun of KDE’s dazzling eye candy (which is distraction central when you’re serious about work).

I would like to mention before leaving the wonderful application called Amarok.


Amarok rocks!

Now, Amarok can be installed on Gnome (with a ton of dependencies) or even on Windows (so they say…), but its home is in KDE, and if the Fedora KDE spin didn’t include Amarok I might never have heard about it. It’s great – I love it. Nuff said.

One thing I don’t like about KDE (and maybe there’s a setting I can change somewhere to fix this) is that when I hook up my external hard drive in Gnome, I can immediately cd to the location in the terminal and copy files to and from the external hard drive from the command line. In KDE, if I try this, it fails to recognize the device until I mount it (usually by clicking on it’s icon in Dolphin – the world’s most elegant file manager).  I could probably use the command to mount it, but either way, it’s an extra step. Not a major problem, but something that annoys me.

So, to sum up: KDE is flashy eye candy with a familiar mouse and click feel to it. Very customizable and full of functionality, if you can find it all! Can be overwhelming at first. Gnome is strangely cool and distant at first, but once you warm up to it, it’s a streamlined interface that will mostly stay out of your way while you work.  There’s obviously a lot more to each of these, but enough is enough. Go do your own experiments and get back to me.