Category Archives: Software

Linux Distro Ubuntu Dapper Drake is Out!

Yah! We’ve been waiting for so long! Its here! Its here! ok… nuf nerding out.

Why is the release of Ubuntu Dapper Drake important?
For years Linux operating systems have been the sole domain of geeks, nerds, and brave souls. Only people who had the knowledge and courage to jump feet first dared try it. In the past five years or so this has changed dramatically. The holy grail for super geeks and newbies alike has been a free – as in beer and freedom – easy to use DESKTOP operating system (OS). There have been many attempts. Red Hat, Fedora, Linspire, Gentoo, etc. [all of these OS work very well BTW] But it wasn’t until I tried Ubuntu (THANK YOU COREY!) that I realized we were VERY close to finding the holy grail.

The official release of the newest Ubuntu Linux 6.06 – code named Dapper Drake – may very well be THE easiest and most powerful desktop Linux OS yet. I feel confident that even your grandmother could use this OS. Now of course we all have to be willing to try new things. I suspect its habit and love for the first thing we learn that keeps us shackled to bad software. No longer can we say Linux is too hard to use!

There are powerful political and social reason to use Linux. I’ve been convinced of this for almost ten years now. Its taken me this long to just get ready to let go of my old habits and loves. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel when I use Ubuntu Linux full time as my main OS. [Because I’m a tech support guy I’ll probably always use windows and macintosh OS. 🙂 ]

Check out this long review of Ubuntu Dapper Drake. More to come as the official release gets used more.

Download Ubuntu Linux here. Get free Ubuntu Cds mailed to you here!

Mastering podcasts with Audacity

Johnathon Williams has written a good article called Mastering podcasts with Audacity over at Newsforge. He describes in an understandable way some important and complex concepts for voice audio post production. (Great for podcasters.) The article introduces topics like the compressor, waveform, frequency spectrum, decibels (db), the envelope tool, envelope tool, etc. These are all things you need to know to make your podcast sound professional.

All of this can be done with the great software Audacity but the concepts are the same no matter what software or hardware you use. Very valuable information that is quite accessible. I found it an excellent review of concepts that I knew but didn’t entirely understand. Most important to me was his excellent writing style and the step by step explanations. Thanks Johnathon!

Retaining My Attention MetaData: Part 2

I’ve stopped using Gmail. You probably know about it. It’s a good piece of software that helps you send and receive email in your web browser. Because of AJAX (Javascript) it loads GUI elements quickly. It’s helpful for efficient emailing anywhere you have a computer, a web browser, and an internet connection. Very convenient. (Forgive the super basic description dear geeks. I want everyone to understand this.)

What I’ve done instead is to start using the software Pine. Yep… that old email app you might have used in the 80s or 90s. It’s a terminal application on a Unix server for sending and receiving email. It has a pretty open license that is free as in money and free as in freedom. Plus it’s installed on the server that also hosts my email. This keeps it portable and available any where I have a terminal app and ssh. (You can put Putty, a free telnet/ssh client, on a USB key and make sure it’s with you.) This is where the reasoning comes in.

Just like my post Retaining My Attention MetaData: Part 1 my main motivation is retaining my attention data. For me letting Google store all my email communications and sort through them creating what ever metadata they want just isn’t fair. The service and addictive convenience isn’t equal to the money Google makes by paying attention to what I do. Not only do I loose my privacy so does everyone that sends email to me. Multiply the number of people who’ve sent me e-mail – during the time I used Gmail – by itself and you get an idea of the potential number of connections made. Mapping social networks with attention data is powerful.

What’s Attention Data? Data created when you pay attention to something, or ignore it, online or elsewhere.

Then there is trust. I trust my main mail host. I’m pretty confident they aren’t mining it’s users email for metadata. Nor are the profiting fiscally from us. Another plus is the hardware and the network they use isn’t trivial. This equals serious performance.

Everyone who uses email should demand a terms of service that respects our privacy and doesn’t exploit our rights to determine exactly how our attention data is used. Either we all have to host our own email servers or we need to have trustworthy public email servers. The former isn’t such a crazy idea. Imagine if we all sent and received email in a peer to peer manner?

Should everyone use Pine? At this point probably not. It’s taken me years to get used to Unix and the command line. I’m a very visual person. GUIs are the main reason I got into computers. If the Macintosh hadn’t been so easy to use I might never have edited video with it. The educational hurdle that is Linux and other computer software can be overcome. One of my future parental goals is to teach my kids how to use Linux, the comand line, and use scripting languages. I wouldn’t force them… 🙂

I have traded some speed for privacy. But in the short amount of time I’ve used Pine full time I’ve increased in speed. For me it required repetitive use, hitting the same key commands over and over again. I’ve hardly use the mouse while sending email.

What should people use if not Pine? Another good option is secure web mail hosted by a private email host you trust. Make sure they use https. (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) The key is select a free web mail host that isn’t comercial. Find a not for profit group maintaining a email server. A geek friend or family member, a university, or a group like RiseUp.net.

Why not use Thunderbird? True it’s a great GUI email app. It’s free as in money and free in freedom. One potential security problem is copies of emails can be stored locally. My effort to use a terminal email app is based on forcing good habits with myself. A tad hair shirt monk style I know.

I suppose the best way to describe this part of my personal transformation is BACK TO THE FUTURE. Not the movie but the idea that by going back to an old piece of software I’m actually going forward in my safe use of technology.

Search for Keywords in Audio

One of the concerns with audio content on the web, especially voice podcasts, is that it isn’t easy to search for specific content, such as keywords. We want to be able to search inside audio and video content like we search html. With out this keyword search ability spoken content data is locked up. This makes it near impossible to create metadata from the content inside audio files. One way around this problem is to manually create transcripts. Once you have the transcript text machines can search it. Doing this for all the audio and video content on the web could take a while. You can imagine the magnitude of the problem.

People who research this problem call this data on the Internet Unstructured Data.

Unstructured data refers to masses of (usually) computerized information which do not have a data structure which is easily readable by a machine. Examples of unstructured data may include audio, video and unstructured text such as the body of an email or word processor document.

[wikipedia]

The Internet has become a treasure trove of FREE data waiting to be mined and turned into metadata. Once you have the metadata you can make predictions. These predictions can turn into actions. Those actions can create change. Groups using this type of data mining include banks, governments, media, advertisers, and yes… even activists.

Now we have a free search service called Podzinger. It’s the first tool, to my knowledge, that actually makes it easy to successfully search for keywords in spoken audio. (Other services like this just didn’t work for me.) I’ve put the search box on the right side of this site. Try it. It works quite well. Let me know if you were able to successfully search for something on AudioActivism.org. Unfortunatly they’ve only index the last nine podcasts. Not all of my audio. If it isn’t useful I might take it down.

Something to keep in mind with these services is that you aren’t really getting it for free. In other words your not paying up front. You’re “leasing” your audio content for this service. By signing up you’re giving permission to Podzinger to analyze the audio, create text transcripts, and then create metadata from your content. (and who know what else) They’re mining it and supposedly acting on what they find. In return you get to use and provide a service to the visitors to your website. It’s possible one reason they let you put the search box on your site is for advertisement and collecting keywords. The more keywords they collect from the search boxes the more accurate their algorithms become at searching audio data. At least this is how I think they are doing it.

It is very important for everyone using the Internet to know about data mining. The most well know is the invasive spy bots and cookies. But we do have other kinds that aren’t so annoying. This is really an ethics issue. What is more important your data privacy or corporate financial profit? Is there a ethical compromise between the two? Many Internet companies would say yes. I’m not so sure…

Many people are more than happy to trade their data and the potential for metadata to be created from it for valuable services. I’m one of those people. But the more I learn about how metadata is mined and watch billion dollar businesses like Google rise to power the more concerned I become. What all Internet surfers need is leverage to negotiate better payment for our data. Data created from our actions, email, blogs, podcasts, forums, etc. Google and others are taking all of us for a serious ride. So far I’m ok with the ride but for how long?

WiFi.Bedouin

WiFi.Bedouin is a art-technology project created by Julian Bleecker. It’s a bunch of gear in a backpack that creates a mobile wi-fi network that doesn’t connect to the web. You may wonder why someone would want to use wi-fi if they couldn’t connect to the internet as a whole. Simple, you participate in a “island Internet” that exists inside a backpack where ever the backpack may be. Digital content that is very location specific. Specific to the people near the backpack.

From the website:

The WiFi.Bedouin consists of a small backpack containing an adapted 802.11b access point, RF amplifier, custom power supply and a PowerBook G4 running custom software, MovableType Blog software, a custom chat application, Apache 2.0, the Tomcat Java Servlet Container, and WiJacker – a custom built application that translates arbitrary named URLs to local services. A PocketPC PDA – the iPAQ 2200 – is mounted to the front of the WiFi.Bedouin pack, and is configured with its own 802.11 card. The PDA is used as a visual display for a custom GPS mapping application (mStory), for node WiFi activity, and for simple configuration.

I bet we could use one of these at PodcasterCon 2006! 😀 If a participant couldn’t access the Internet they could access this local network and edit a wiki, store files, listen to audio from iTunes, edit a blog just for local participants, etc.

Video Games for Peace

The Washington Post has a story – Video Game World Gives Peace a Chance – about the development of multiplayer online video games that have the goal of countering bloodshed instead of creating it. Teams at Carnegie Mellon University, University of Southern California, United Nations’ World Food Programme, and MTV are working to create and promote the video games. The subject of these peaceful video games ranges from creating peace in the Middle East, fighting genocide, and stopping hunger. The game Food Force, sponsored by UN World Food Programme is already launched and in full gear.

A few years ago when I read the online comic The Spiders – thanks Ruby – the concept of the video game console/Internet generation becoming PHYSICALLY active remotely from their living rooms amazed me. Not only could people playing peaceful video games develop positive social justice ideals, be creative, improve hand eye coordination, gain social skills, and make friends they could participate in NONVIOLENT DIRECT ACTION.

US solders are already guiding remote control flying robots that carry missiles and other weapons. What if the average citizen were able to wield this power? I wouldn’t wish such a nightmare scenario upon the earth but the potential of remote control empowerment is staggering. Video games already act as pre-training for battle. Especially in games like America’s Army, the US Army’s first person shooter video game. There have been reports of improved physical skills among soldiers who have played this game compared to soldiers who did not.

Instead of training new killers why not train activists to spread peace and understanding with high technology? Imagine a digital Engaged Buddhist monk wielding Akido across the physical world by traveling through the conduits of the Internet. William Gibson we are only beginning to understand the accuracy of your literacy soothsaying.

via: Boing Boing, Smart Mobs