phayz's blog

…it's time for a new phayz of life

Guayadeque – a nice desktop-neutral media player

I have been searching for an audio player which can take the place of Rhythmbox, because I switch between the GNOME and Xfce desktop environments. My main problem has been that I don’t know what I am looking for, only what I don’t want. 😦 I have tried all of the GUI audio media players available in the Frugalware repositories. After a long search I am currently using Guayadeque – http://guayadeque.org. It’s quite light on dependencies but is very full featured, including support for:

  • Cross-fade
  • Lyrics
  • Downloading album artwork
  • Audio
  • Podcasts
  • Recording

Screenshot of Guayadeque audio player

I may not use an audio player like most people because I usually listen to just one album at a time. Guayadeque suits me but I can’t explain just why I like it. Just as different text editors suit different people, the same applies to audio media players. I am beginning to understand just why there are so many media players available on Linux: not everyone’s the same. The only thing I now need to do is find an application which allows me to rip tracks from a CD into my preferred format. I’m thinking that a console-based application would be best. When I find one I like I’ll report back here.

For the moment, keep on rocking!

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My current favourite Chrom(e|ium) extensions

 

Here are the Chrom(e|ium) extensions and apps which I am currently using and the purpose for which I have them installed. This list may not be of use to anyone else but at least if I lose all my extensions I know where to get a list of those I did have installed. 🙂

I’m trying to keep the list of extensions to a minimum because I know they use memory all the time they’re running.

 

Extensions

Scribefire – blog entry writing, which allows for writing entries offline. Since I usually think of stuff I want to blog about while offline, this was an important feature.

App Launcher – provides an icon in the top bar from which I can choose an installed application.

Adblock PLus for Google Chrome – blocks ads. 🙂 I’m still not sure if this is worth having installed but I’ll wait and see.

Diigo Bookmark etc… – to bookmark pages of interest. I am experimenting with this extension as a way of bookmarking and storing web pages which I want to read later.

Google Tasks – provides a full-window view of tasks in Google Tasks.

Quickrr World Clock – displays the current time in whatever locations around the world you choose. I use this when chatting in IRC and want to know the local time elsewhere.

RSS Subscription Extension – I use this to subscribe quickly and easly to RSS feeds.

 

Apps

imo – This is basically a link to the imo chat web site which provides a web interface to multiple instant messaging networks.

Quick Note – allows you to store text and images both locally and synchronise with your personal Diigo “library”. I am testing this as a way of making notes about stuff that I need to have access to offline.

 

HOWTO: Download Blip.tv content for offline viewing

I was recently reading a post from the official Disqus blog and they mentioned that they had given a talk at Pycon 2011, with the video being available at Blip.tv. I hadn’t viewed anything at Blip.tv before and found that the videos are, of course, shown using Flash. I wanted to be able to view them offline and, since I use Chromium as my prefered browser, went looking for an extension would allow me to download them. I couldn’t find anything but I did find a bookmarklet which launched a Javascript application which showed the link to the video content, allowing you to download it offline.

I tried the bookmarklet and it worked as advertised but it linked to a web site which displayed ads. I thought “Hey, if all it’s doing is finding the link, why can’t I do that myself?” So went back to Blip.tv, viewed the source and looked for the link(s) to the video file and entered the link alone in the address bar. This started dispaying the video and only the video in Chromium and I could then right-click on the video and use the “Download” link to save the video file locally.

If anyone has suggestions as to how this might be done better I’m happy to receive comments. I’m just happy that I can download the videos.

Stable is…ummm…stable

I like Frugalware for the fact that you choose between 6-monthly releases with only security updates, or a rolling release. Having the latest packages available is fantastic if you want to get the latest features. I have an anti-Midas touch though, and although I have used ‘current’ in the past, I need to stay with ‘stable’. Every time I switch from stable to current, something goes wrong and my laptop doesn’t boot reliably or soemthing which worked before now doesn’t work. In those cases I can sometimes work out what went wrong and fix it, or otherwise I reinstall stable.

I don’t know for how long I’ll be able to resist switching to current but I’m hoping it’s a long time. Stable is…ummm…stable. I have only two hardware issues at the moment: wireless doesn’t work and nor does my laptop’s in-built web cam. I need to get wireless working but I haven’t yet put much effort towards this. Otherwise I’m happy because I’m not updating packages daily and so can rely on being productive.

Yay!

WIP – improving the Frugalware newsletter’s production

Soon after starting to write the Frugalware Linux newsletter I realised that some of the tasks I did could be automated. The bug fixes and security announcements are sections that could be automated, for example. The previous newsletter’s author had created a PHP script which fully automated the production of the security announcements’ table. Since taking over the role I had made only one small change to his script. Several years later I have just started more significant work to automate some aspects of the newsletter’s production. Anyone who had been watching me over that time would have thought I was sitting still. There are two things I am working on at the moment: AsciiDoc-ising the newsletter and automating the production of the bugs status section.

AsciiDoc

AsciiDoc is a tool written in Python which takes documents written in a “light” markup language and can convert them into HTML, PDF, ePub and several other formats. We currently use it to produce the official Frugalware documentation. So far the newsletter has been written in HTML and handling the markup gets in the way of writing content. This is very much like the reason CSS was invented and has proven so popular. AsciiDoc not only allows the writer to focus on writing but also makes it possible to publish in formats the author may not have considered before. The conversion of the newsletter has been successful so far, although it hasn’t yet been used to produce a published issue. Taking this one step further I am using another feature of AsciiDoc which allows me to have a master document which refers to the various sub-documents. When I run the AsciiDoc tool over the master document, the output is one document which consists of the sub-documents put together. The advantage I have here is that I can write individual pieces, allowing me to focus on smaller pieces at a time. It also means that I can write pieces in advance and quickly assemble several pieces into a completed newsletter.

Automation

I am also working to improve the level of automation in producing the newsletter. I have started on a Bash script to produce the bugs activity section. This is already partially automated because I already use a Bash script but the existing script must be edited every time I want to update the statistics. Results so far have been promising so I hope I’ll have this ready in time for the next issue.

I have written this in case readers of the newsletter are interested in the planned improvements. Once this stage of work is done I’d like to review the newsletter’s content to see if it can also be improved. Maybe there are areas of Frugalware that readers would be interested in seeing covered? Until more time is available though, the arrangements will have to remain as they are now.

AsciiDoc – I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel…

..and I hope it’s not a train coming the other way. 😛

I am trying to use the AsciiDoc application to produce the Frugalware Linux newsletter. AsciiDoc is a tool which takes text written in a “light” markup language and converts it – via various tools – into formats such as HTML, ePub, DocBook etc. I have only just begun learning about it and I tend to be a slow learner.

I first made the mistake of taking an existing newsletter issue in HTML format and manually converting it to AsciiDoc format. This all looked good when I used the basic AsciiDoc tool to convert it to HTML. However when I tried to do the same using the more sophisticated ‘a2x’ tool, I got validation error messages. I asked for help on the AsciiDoc Google Groups’ group and quickly got help, highlighting some invalid syntax I had left in the file. With that corrected, the file now converts successfully to HTML.

Now I am looking at using various configuration options to get the desired result. The results so far are encouraging. It’s when I see what other people and groups are doing that I get a little scared. Of course I need to realise that I need to do only the minimum with AsciiDoc to get what I want. If later our requirements change and we need to use a more complex configuration then OK, I’ll do that. For the moment, though, the simple configuration I have is working.

AsciiDoc is part of a plan to make the production of the newsletter easier. Right now it’s quite labour-intensive when more of the production steps could be automated (or at least semi-automated). I will report my progress here.

Amazing! Live Linux in your wallet

I recently bought a USB “key” (as they’re commonly known here in Australia) which was essentially just the chip wrapped in plastic. It’s so small that I’m almost certain to lose it at some point :). I also recently installed my first live Linux installation on a USB key. Live Linux installations are nothing new, and nor are small USB keys. Put the two together, though, and I think they’re quite amazing. Imagine I need to run my favourite OS on a foreign PC. I don’t need to carry a key in on my belt or hanging from a lanyard, I just need to open my wallet and there it is!

 

Store'n' Go Micro USB Drive Black 16GB

 

Although I have worked in IT for many years, I’m still often amazed at some of the things that technology makes possible.

 

Rock on!

I love Microsoft (mice) :) :(

Let me first say that I love FLOSS, both the idea and the products which are created in the spirit of openness. However in my personal experience I have found that I like Microsoft mice more than any other brand I have tried. Of course I haven’t tried every brand in the world but over my many IT years I have tried quite a few. I recently bought my very first laptop and got from a friend a Microsoft wireless mouse.

 

I like the fact that Microsoft mice are usually: good looking, have quiet buttons and scroll wheels and make the Nano transceiver easily accessible. Compare this with a Logitech wireless mouse I use with a work laptop: the scroll wheel is quite noisy, the Nano transceiver is to be stored in the battery compartment, and it doesn’t look nearly as nice as the Microsoft mouse.

I expect there are even better mice than the one I have but they soon become expensive. I don’t think I’d ever pay much for a mouse, since I don’t see the advantages. More money seems to bring you more buttons and on a mouse I most often use only the left and right buttons, together with the wheel (which of course also serves as a button). I don’t need a mouse with 64 buttons. I am not a gamer, so incredible accuracy doesn’t matter to me. As long as I can click on or select what I am aiming for, without the mouse pointer wandering, I’m happy.
In summary then, I apologise, but I like Microsoft mice. And as my psychiatrist asked me, “And how does that make you feel?”, it makes me feel good to have a nice mouse, but bad that I’m using a Microsoft product. 🙂

I have switched to Chromium as my primary web browser

A while ago I started using Opera as both my web browser and mail client. When I made the switch I was really pleased with the overall look of the browser and its functionality. It looked better than other web browsers, including Firefox and Chromium (at least I thought that at the time) and so I was happy to have an alternative. Opera might be free as in beer but it’s definitely not free as in freedom. For reasons that I have never seen explained anywhere, even its bug tracker is not publicly available. You’re welcome to report a bug but you have no way of knowing beforehand if anyone else has already reported it, nor if it anyone’s working on it. After using it for a while I found that it had some strange quirks with several web sites I use regularly, including GMail. After finding out that I couldn’t do anything to fix or avoid these, I simply began ignoring them.

 

Recently a work colleague suggested I use Chrome or Chromium instead. I hesitated because I had never been happy with Chromium’s font handling because within the content window, all fonts looked slightly fuzzy. I had gone looking for help and finally found out that it was a known bug. I followed the bug for a while but there didn’t seem to be much progress on it, nor were the developers particularly worried about it. It bothered me, though, and so I had been avoiding Chromium. I tried it again, though, and was surprised to find out that the bug had apparently disappeared. Fonts were now nice and crisp, at least as good as those in Firefox, for example.

 

I have been using Chromium now for about a week as my primary browser and am very happy (so far). I was frustrated that there was no option to force web pages to use your selected Serif and Sans Serif fonts. I did quite a lot of Googling and finally found out how to force this. It involved running Chromium with a command-line switch to enable user CSS, then editing the file produced by including this switch – Custom.css. It seemed a difficult way of doing something that’s so simple in Firefox. I have also been surprised by how often I have tried an extension and found that the entire desktop environment has frozen solid, requiring me to turn the laptop off and on again. I believe I have resolved most of these issues by “downgrading” the visual effects I use in the GNOME desktop environment. I can’t quite understand, though, why Chromium can cause such a “difficult” problem when the design states that every tab runs in a separate process. Anyway I have finally settled on just a few extensions that I find useful and don’t freeze the desktop environment.

 

I’ll keep on using Chromium but of course I reserve the right to switch to anything else when I want to. Now I need to find an email client, a function for which I had been using Opera. I don’t really like Evolution, Thunderbird or Claws Mail but I will keep trying.

SalixOS – my little adventure

I have recently had difficulty with Frugalware Linux because my laptop, which I use most often, will not boot with the latest available kernel. I went looking for another Linux distribution which I could use in case I couldn’t use Frugalware Linux for a while. I somehow found SalixOS, a Slackware-based distribution, at http://www.salixos.org. I haven’t used it much yet but it looks OK so far. At first I was a little worried, because I thought I might be attracted away from Frugalware but I can safely say that that won’t happen.

 

Here are my thoughts on SalixOS:

 

I like…
* it’s focused on the desktop, whereas Frugalware is used and tested in both desktop and server installation configurations;
* the fact that it’s Slackware based, which gives it stability. It also means that you can install (almost) any official Slackware package;
* it provides both a command-line and GUI package manager which handles dependencies;
* the development team is keen to make sure that all their work and processes are open;
* I could *very* easily create a live installation on a USB key, where I haven’t yet been able to do this under Frugalware;
* it offers a few useful GUI utilities, including one which allows you to be notified of package updates that are applicable to the PC.

 

I don’t like…
* the fact that it only offers KDE and Xfce desktop environments. This is because GNOME is not officially packaged by Slackware. It is possible and easy to install GNOME with only a few Salix packages being overwritten;
* the range of packages is nowhere near the range available via Frugalware;
* the package manager is not as sophisticated as Frugalware’s, because it allows files in one package to be overwritten by files in another package.

 

I think I’ll keep SalixOS installed on my laptop, as a backup to Frugalware in case of problems.