All posts by James - TipsFor.us

A Digital Audio Primer

(What the common person should know about their MP3 players)

(simplified of all technical junk you don’t need to know, techies: keep walking.)

File Formats, and what’s the difference?

Why use file formats? The answer to that is simple: space. The CDs you buy have the audio recorded at the highest quality they can fit on a single disc. Imagine if you were to direct transfer a full CD to your hard drive. We’d be talking 500-700 megabytes. That means roughly 30 CDs could fit on your 20 gigabyte iPod. That would be pretty disappointing. So we had to find a way to make the files smaller.

The answer: The MP3 format (Yes there were many compression formats before that, but this is just the high points)

How does an MP3 file work, conceptually? The “compression” takes the form of removing data to shrink the file size. This trimming, and the amount removed is what we mean when we say Bitrate. The higher the bitrate, the less data lost; the lower the bitrate, the more data trimmed away. Consider bitrate being the amount of the good stuff left.

128 bits = not much left

320 bits= Barely trimmed, about as good as it gets.

So why not always use 320? Every file is more than twice the size on your hard drive.

So what is lost when the file is trimmed? Take this sound wave (A graphical representation of what the sound looks like):

A Basic Music Soundwave

The blue section in the middle is the easiest for us to hear. As you get closer to the top and bottom of the wave, it becomes harder for our ears to discern (Think about the light spectrum, ultraviolet on one end and infrared on the other).

We have trouble hearing the furthest parts of the spectrum.

So naturally, this is the best part to cut. A good way to visualize it (it’s considerably more complex algorithms) is like this:

As you trim it down, the sound becomes less full, more tinny/metallic/shallow/etc. Now lets talk about VBR, or Variable Bit Rate MP3’s. It is exactly what it sounds like: The bitrate changes to preserve as much sound as possible, but cut the most data possible. More cutting, with less loss. Here’s a way to envision VBR (Of course the algorithm is even more complex, but let’s just think about it conceptually):

See, if there is a moment in the song with only a single speaking voice, a wider range can be cut without much damage (maybe down to 128). Now if you have a drum set and a guitar (maybe down to 256). A violin, a flute, an oboe, and a bass would probably stay at 320). As the MP3 plays, the bit rate changes, hence: Variable.

Transcoding: This is a process of horrible badness.  Lets examine this cycle of musical destruction.  We start with a CD, the data on this CD is in the purest state possible (Technically).

-We decide to rip them to MP3 (See, now you know why we call it ripping, we are forcibly removing data and only keeping what we need.)  256 bitrate sounds good enough. Let’s say that we lost approximately 20 percent of the total data. That’s fine, we can still listen to the remaining 80% without problem in our headphones (But I wouldn’t recommend playing it through a massive club system, you’ll hear the difference.).

-Now, we want to burn these MP3s for our friend as an audio cd that he can listen to in his car.  The CD we burn for him will be the same 80% of the original data that we found perfectly satisfactory.  It will be just fine.

-Now this friend of ours, he has no idea that we just burned the MP3s instead of a copy of the original CD for him (I recommend writing on the CD you burn what the bitrate was, but that only helps if your friend already knows, or has read this article.)

-Here’s where the trouble starts.  Your friend decides he wants to listen to this CD on his MP3 player.  So he rips the CD into MP3s.  So what’s the big deal?  His computer has no idea that these were 256 bit MP3s, and not pure CD audio.  So our friend re-rips (transcodes) the music back into MP3s, cutting the already cut data again. He’s now ripped another 20% of the information from our already-reduced-by-20% files.  He’s left with maybe 60% of the data, masquerading as a full 80% (The files will proudly proclaim themselves to be 256 bitrate, when they no longer are).  The cycle continues.

Transcoding

Other Formats:

Lossy – Like MP3 encoding, these format’s compress data using the “trim what isn’t necessary” method.

Apple’s version – AAC – these files can support Digital Rights Management (Which means that if you don’t follow the rules, they can take your music away.)  Slightly more efficient than MP3s at compressing data, but not by a massive amount.  It’s not the container that is fancy on these, it’s the locks.

Microsoft’s version – WMA – without getting too deep in the details, these are MP3s that make Microsoft money.  The sound quality is a smidge better for the same file size as MP3s, but not enough that you would want to convert your entire collection to it.

Lossless – Unlike MP3, these formats compress the data without losing any of it (It will always sound exactly like the CD did).  Think of it like installing a closet organizer that allows you to fit twice as much stuff in the same closet.  These codecs just reorganize the data into a smaller package.  On average, the files are half the size.  (Half is not amazing if you are short on drive space.  You are still looking at 150-200 megs per CD)  The beauty of this type of compression: Transcoding can not happen.  You can rip and burn all day.

Apple’s version – M4A – Mac claims files will be 40-60% smaller than the original (CD) data.  This statement is pretty much true.

Microsoft’s version – WMA – Microsoft claims a startling 20-40% smaller, but in most testing, it turns out that is actually in the same 40-60% category as Apple. Imagine that.

Open Source Version – FLAC – The same results as both formats above.  So why use FLAC?  Well, any software you use that is capable of playing WMA files, probably paid to use that codec.  Even MP3 money goes to patent holders.

Audio File Type Summary:

It doesn’t really matter which lossy codec you use, as long as you acknowledge that it is lossy.  If you choose to use Lossless (for the true audiophile for whom storage is not a problem, or for archival purposes) know the limitations of each file type.  If you use Linux, FLAC is your best bet since getting Windows and Mac proprietary codecs work can be a headache.

If you find audio interesting, a good place to start is wikipedia.  You can get a more in-depth explanation, but stop reading once they get to the math or patent rights sections.  There is an infinite supply of technical information online on this subject, but a lot of it is impenetrable if you don’t already know about it.

Sylvania -G Netbook (Hardware Review)

I recently acquired a Sylvania -G Netbook. I would never say that this machine is without flaws, but for the price tag it is a worthy competitor. I picked mine up on sale at Tigerdirect for $299 + Shipping. This price puts it a full bracket beneath Asus’s competition EeePc. Is the EeePc a better machine? In a word, yes. They have released nearly a dozen models and worked out alot of the flaws and challenges of building a machine this tiny. However, their price tag clearly displays their market domination. So I’m going to discuss why, for the right person, the Netbook is a great deal. [And hopefully warn the “wrong person” that this is not the netbook for them]

Tech Specs

  • Price- Recommended $399.00 (I have never seen it priced this high, especially with the Netbook Meso coming soon.)
  • Notebook type Netbook
  • Screen type Wide-screen
  • Display Type 7 in TFT active matrix
  • External Display DVI-out on Left Side (DVI-VGA Dongle Included)
  • Max Resolution 800 x 480 (In Linux) 1000 x 600 (In Windows)
  • Graphics Processor / Vendor UniChrome Pro IGP (Openchrome Linux Driver)
  • Processor VIA C7-M 1.2 GHz (Sub-clocked to 600 mhz for some reason [can be adjusted] )
  • Core voltage technology Ultra Low Voltage (ULV)
  • RAM Installed Size 1 GB
  • RAM Technology DDR SDRAm
  • Hard Drive 30 GB
  • Removable Storage SD Card Reader
  • USBs 2X on Right Side
  • WLAN RT8187 chipset from Realtek
  • WiredLAN 8P8C(Standard)
That is a basic full size Dell Keyboard for Scale.
User's Left Side (DVI port, SD card reader.)
User Right Side (Mic, Sound, 2X USBs, 8P8C Jack, DC-Power)

Hardware Review

LCD – 7 inches. This could be troublesome for some people, especially operating at 800×480, which is the maximum the openchrome driver can support. (At least out of the box, some wizardry in the X.org config could prove otherwise, but Sylvania claims it tops out at 800 x 400.) Under Windows, however, the drivers provided by Sylvania’s website supports a standard 1000×600; this setting is more than sufficient for most tasks.

LCD Hinges/Bezel – Since I have had some awful experiences with the iBook G4 and its amazing gap that grows between the bottom edge of the screen panel and the actually LCD display, I have grown to be wary of such things. No fear with the g-netbook, though, the LCD has its own frame that is inset into the LCD panel in such a way that it is virtually indestructible.

LCD, Webcam to the right, speakers below.

-My second fear is always with hinges. Anyone else own one of those great Dells a couple years back, where, just before the hinge plastic breaks, it severs the LCD power wires for the backlight? Well, these hinges feel solid, even when opened from an edge. They hold the screen tight and are internally beveled to snap the lid closed when it is about 1/4 inch from the keyboard. There is no play in the lid when it is closed.

Keyboard – Chicklet Keys. This is not the keyboard for the ham-fisted. it takes a little while to adjust, but after 2 weeks, full-size keyboards feel expansive. I do hold issue with the single-key-sized Right Shift Key. The Left Shift is double, but the Right Shift is very tiny and located just on the far side of the Up Arrow (you can see the trouble inherent in this, right?) Once you get used to it, though, it is cramped, but not bad.

Touch Pad – .6″ I wish I was joking. It really is. In Linux, the touch pad sensitivity is jacked so high that you just have to place your finger in the middle of the pad and kind of roll it to traverse the entire screen. My main problem with it was when I picked my finger up from the pad, it invariably moved the cursor. Yes, you can install apps to adjust it, but not with updates and installs disabled in gOS BETA. In windows, it becomes more manageable right out of the box, it takes about 3 swipes across the pad to clear the screen from edge to edge. Tap functionality is native, but on the default Linux sensitivity, I wouldn’t recommend it. On the second tap you will invariably move the cursor a good 3 inches across the display.

Yes, that is a quarter. It is that small.

Wireless – Where to begin? It has the Realtek RT8187 chipset built in. This, hardware wise, is not a bad chipset. The support, however, is terrible. If you check your driver blacklist in Linux, you will probably find 3 or 4 drivers for this hardware already blacklisted. The default driver assigned to the interface in gOS is passable. It can connect to networks, even WPA, but the connection is sketchy at best. I found the connection mostly reliable when within 10-15 feet of my router (Keep in mind, I have an external Realtek USB card [similar chipset] on a windows media station over 40 feet away that connects like super glue). Even when connected, it would drop the connection, but still display connectivity. So I tried Ndiswrapper with the windows drivers provided on the Sylvania website. It upped my range by about 5 feet, but lost WPA support. Had to switch Network-Manager for WICD and gained back my WPA, but lost ability to connect to unsecured connections. Dropped connections still displaying connectivity never changed. Needless to say, it will require some serious wizardry if you plan to get the card fully functional in Linux – not for the faint of heart.

It wouldn’t be fair to judge the machine based on poor driver choices in a BETA Linux distro, so I installed Windows on the machine to test the chipset under a supported environment. The provided Sylvania drivers still proved troublesome, so I went to the source. Realtek’s drivers on their support page, however, were out of date. It took some googling, but I eventually found the newest version, which works like a dream. Massive range, solid connection. Three drivers for the same chipset before it functions in Windows, though? Really? This is some poor company support all around.

Bios – Surprisingly adequate bios. When designing a machine without a CD-drive, the need to boot from USB cannot be overstated. The ability to boot from the SD slot is just a gift. A warning: When you first boot a new OS off a CD, the MBR will mess with you. I had to format the drive into FAT before continuing with the install.

Hard drive – 30 gigs isn’t bad. The drive is “easy” to change, if you’re not afraid of screwdrivers and dissecting a 300-dollar piece of hardware. If you do install a new OS (I don’t know why you wouldn’t), I recommend a small one. Slackware and Puppy Linux ran well on it, albeit with the same wireless problems and the openchrome via driver for video. XFCE is a wonderful window manager on this machine, if you are determined to make this a Linux Netbook.

Windows is a massive bloat on this machine. A typical XP install is between 3 and 4.5 gigs. I heartily recommend getting nLite and making your own trimmed-down version of Windows. I used a Lite version designed for the Asus EeePc – full install between 750 MB and 1 gig. Once I installed all of Office 2007, I barely topped 2.7 gigs.

Default Gos
My current system, running XP.

Sound -The two speakers are mounted directly under the LCD, providing sound on par with the EeePC’s speakers mounted to either side. They are stereo, and about the size of 2 postage stamps; the sound is as good as can be expected. I can find no information on who produced the hardware, and short of opening the machine, I probably won’t be able to get you range specs.

The sound card is another matter altogether. It works in Linux with no problems, the ALSA Mixer controls are great. The Fn+F# hotkeys even work to control sound. In Windows, I am yet to get sound configured. If anyone has found a way, let me know. Strangely, the drivers provided by Sylvania do not even allow the computer to register that there is a sound card present in the machine. This is a major downfall for the Windows install.

**Fixed** <All drivers for this computer MUST be installed after service pack 2.  Any beta versions of SP3 will destroy them and render most hardware non-working.  If you only have service pack 1 installed, you will get bizarre errors, also.  > **Fixed**

Battery -battery life is substantial. I tend to average around 3.8 hours with wireless on, 4.7 and some change with it turned off (Of course this is with the system idling). The battery is the only part of this system that does not feel completely solid. It has a little wiggle in it, even when fully locked in place. Not detrimental, but not the best fit either. This is the only piece of the machine does not feel completely bulletproof, and it bothers me enough to show you this picture:

That's how much play is in the battery, but only on one side.

DC Connector – Loose power connections on a laptop are the worst. That is no fear with the G Netbook. Its connector is so tight it is almost frightening. I’m afraid I’m going to just snap the connector off the Motherboard. This hasn’t happened, yet, so I will assume that it is attached on the inside with more than just 2 micro solders. The choice for an “L” shaped connector I find awkward, because if the L bends towards you, it blocks the USB ports. An “In Line” connector would have made a much more functional choice. If you’re an at home modder, though, go ahead and change it.

Summary

The machine is a great set of hardware for the price. The support for it, however, leaves so much to be desired that it is almost ridiculous. If you’re a Linux wizard and want a machine to tinker with that has almost unlimited potential (for the hobbyist) as a netbook, it’s a great buy. Despite my hatred for Windows, I have to recommend it as an alternative to the default Gos. It makes a far superior use of the provided hardware. For the money, I feel it’s the best deal on the market (for a ballpark 300, I wouldn’t pay too much more than that). If you can’t abide the hassle of customizing the system to your own needs, check out an EeePc. [If anyone would like to donate one, I would gladly review it side by side… <wink wink, nudge nudge>]

A better solution to Presentations in Linux

You may have noticed that OpenOffice is great. You also may have noticed that this greatness runs out when you get to Impress. My primary complaint (Oh there are many, most of them “known issues” at the open office site for years) is a lack of anti-aliasing on shapes. In a business situation, a presentation on par with the expectations of 1995 will only get you so far.

A Circle in Impress
Jaggies...a lot of them
A Circle in Powerpoint
Same 200% zoom as Impress.

I in no way endorse the use of PowerPoint, but I haven’t had a [Professional] alternative. I acquired a new Linux-based laptop and just today realized that I wouldn’t be able to give presentations off it without jumping through hoops. Of course there are options (PDF slide viewers, LaTEX, etc.) but I want a straight-forward presentation program that meets my meager demands of Anti-Aliasing and a simple interface. Luckily, I tend to have an active Internet connection at most presentations. This brings me to: 280 Slides.

280 Slides is a WebApp that provides, nearly, full functional slide show creation.

A Circle in 280 Slides
200% Zoom
200% Zoom

It’s still in BETA, but it shows amazing promise. Registration is free, and as far as I can tell so far, it beats Google’s presentation ability by a long shot. I wonder how long before Google acquires them…

The Good:

  • Accessible on any OS from any computer with an active Internet connection.
  • Ability to save sideshow in .pptx, .ppt, .odp, and .pdf
  • Fairly faithful conversion to previously mentioned file types.
  • Ability to Import from uploads of the previously mentioned file types (sans .pdf).
  • Ability to insert Images, Video, Shapes, etc. You can even upload your own shapes.
  • Many themes included, all classier than some of PowerPoint’s ugly templates, or the 2 ridiculous themes that ship with Impress.
  • Ability to add “Notes” to each slide.
  • Straight forward, intuitive interface.
The Interface
The Interface

The Bad:

  • Currently no way to upload your own custom background image. Work Around: Insert it as an image and make it the size of the slide.
  • No transitions. In a serious presentation, however, do you really need objects flying in and spinning with cute sound effects? Only if you want to get laughed at.
  • No way to operate a “Presenter View.”
  • No “Master Slide” for objects and footers that are persistent across all slides.

Overall:

-This will be my new presentation software when I’m bound to my Linux system. If I have access to a Mac, though, I will use Keynote for its powerful elegance. I’m interested to see where this goes when it reaches full release. Hopefully registration will stay free.

-At a later date, I will be comparing 280 Slides to Slide Rocket (http://www.sliderocket.com/).  By “at a later date” I mean when Lan Support Services feels the need to update the flash on my office computer.  Feel free to check it out as another alternative.  [Thanks to Brian for pointing me to Slide Rocket]

I hate ID3 Tags

(A Post for the musically disaffected)

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but for those meager few who don’t, this should be useful. I detest ID3 tags and library interfaces that use them. I spent hours googling for alternatives and turned up virtually nothing, except for a few people voicing their anti-ID3 tag thoughts and getting forum flamed. So I will attempt to put together some lifestyle alternatives for the ID3-hating minority.  This article is skewed towards a Windows audience, as less freedom is usually present amongst proprietary software.

Reasons Why I Have ID3 Angst

1. I’m a minorly-disorganized person who owns way too many CDs. As a result, I can rarely find the CD I want when I want it. I find it’s quicker to just download the CD than to go find the actual physical disc (In my office, in storage, in my car, etc.)

Why is this a problem? No one seems to ever be able to agree – despite internet databases – on how to spell a band’s name. If I load up my music library via ID3 tags, take a look at a few examples of what I get:

Pennywise
PennyWise
pennywise
Penny_wise
etc, etc, etc,

Don’t even get me started on bands with “The” in their name.  If all I want to do is listen to a random play-list of Pennywise’s discography I need to select 5-8 different bands. In what world is this organized? Now if I go into my music folder on my computer I find a file tree like this:

Pennywise
—Full Circle (Album)
——Songs
—Straight Ahead (Album)
——Songs.

So my computer realizes that these albums belong to pennywise and that the songs within each album folder belong to that album, so why can’t my music software recognize (I’m looking at you iTunes).

2. I have CDs I ripped in 2001. This is a problem, I also ripped them with a variety of software, and relied on file tree. ID3-guessing software – ones that use the file name to deduce – get very confused by:

-Track Number, Artist Name, Song Title, Album.mp3
-Track Number, Song title, Artist Name, Album.mp3
-etc.

Now, I could go through and fix these tags and have no complaints, but how long would that take with 105 gigs of music (Maybe 50 gigs is properly labeled).

3. Players that think they are the lord and savior of my music collection. I had heard a lot of great talk about iTunes when it first arrived on the scene. I decided to try it. Now my box sets and compilations are irreparably ruined. Example: My Queen Discography Box Set (I believe it was 15 CDs). The songs were labeled by who was in the band, featured guests, etc. This is useful meta-information when you want to know who’s involved. They were also arranged in folders by year. iTunes decided to help me out, by giving every single song its own folder as a different band. “Queen featuring (Anyone)” is apparently a different band than “Queen” or “Queen Live.” So, needless to say, my perfect chronology became 41 different bands in iTunes. Thanks.

I can actually tell which music predates my installation of the first version of iTunes, because it had the amazing task of helping me out by re-labeling every track with a track number – even if it had one already – sometimes multiple times arbitrarily. My favorite: 06_06_06_Broken_Pennywise_Fullcircle.mp3…sweet.

4. Tiny MP3 players. If I can only fit 18 tracks (usually in the form of a compilation I made) on my MP3 player, why would I want it listed as 18 separate bands in order for me to select the song I want?

Enough Complaining, now some solutions.

I’m not going to list all the wonderful software that exists (as proof of a problem) for repairing and organizing your music library – that’s a topic for another posting. Instead I’m going to tell you some work around for an ID3-tag-free lifestyle.

1. Music Player Software that support file tree interface (this is by no means a complete survey, please let me know your solution.)

  • Amarok (Linux Based)- It has a file browser, but I would not call it elegant. If you’re in linux, however, it is probably your best bet. There is sketchy and buggy implementation of Amarok in Windows via the KDE4windows project. I, personally, cannot wait for this project to reach maturity.
  • Winamp (Windows Based)- Not vanilla support however. Out of the box, it only supports “Media Library,” but there is a wonderful plugin: Dynamic Library. It isn’t free, or OSS, but it is cheap. $10 and you can be eternally freed from ID3 tags on your PC. It functions in a free mode, limiting you to only one watched directory, but if your music is in one directory only it works just fine. I don’t condone this, however, as this man is doing glorious work to free us from the confines of disorder. $10 dollars is a small price to pay, in my opinion.

Dynamic Library allows you to move files within their directory, display the live-editable file tree, drag and drop into Winamp’s playlist (you can drag any directory level, album, song, etc.), display tracks in a full directory or sub directory, etc.

I know Winamp isn’t free, either. The only major things they lock, however, are ripping and burning functions. Anyone ripping a CD, in Windows should be using something like CDex anyway. It gives you absolute freedom in your ripping options. As for burning, InfraRecorder is king.

Are there other options? Probably. None that I have managed to find, short of dragging from explorer into a play list in Quintessential player.

2. MP3 Players. Now when I’m out and about, how do I avoid ID3 tag confinement? Rockbox. Free Open Source Firmware. It functions as a file tree, and interfaces with the PC as a removable flash media.

The Good:

-Customizable. Themes, fonts, programs, icons, etc. The play screen can be customized to display/or not display album art. If you don’t like one of the numerous themes available, you can make your own. The instructions are easy to follow and provided on the website.

-File Tree. Yes.

-Sometimes increased usability. Some mp3 players that were not designed to display images can gain the ability to. Other ones, that merely have awful controls and gui for image display, gain a customizable interface.

-Open Source.

The Bad:

-Yes, you have to re-flash the firmware. I’ve installed it 3 or 4 times, if you follow the instructions you won’t brick it. At least, the odds are slim….

-It does not work on every mp3 player. It currently only works on 28 different models. This isn’t really a situation where it will probably work on your mp3 player. More like, you buy an mp3 player off their list when you break your old one by throwing it against the wall in disgust at your chaotic and nonsensical ID3 tag management.

-It doesn’t support DRM content:

No. It is highly unlikely that Rockbox will ever support playback of DRM encrypted audio files.

-Rockbox.com

Some Screens from Rockbox’s site, you can see the potential variation. (My model is not capable of screencapture, all images are (c) their owners [the theme designers and Rockbox.org] ):

So, that’s my rant.  Again, please post your own solutions or workarounds you have found.  This method is not for everyone, but hopefully this will help those who have googled repeatedly for “Music player software file tree” to no avail.

Note Taking Software for Linux (A Review of NoteCase)

**UPDATE**  This review is of the current build in the Ubuntu Repos, which the author of the software has notified me is out of date, for the most recent release (With several of these issues addressed), download one of the precompiled binaries (available for most any systems) from their website.**UPDATE** (Thanks again for this information).

I believe many people choose to use Linux on their laptops for the simple reason that it works, and works well on low-powered machines. As a student, a low-power machine is the only viable option. Also, as a student, good note-taking software is a must. Before I switched over to Linux, I was an MS OneNote guy. Let me begin by saying that there is no direct equivalent…yet.

The most viable solution currently is NoteCase. While OneNote is like a Nasa-Grade Swiss Army Knife, NoteCase is the scalpel. It does one thing real well, but you wouldn’t want to open a bottle of wine with it. It takes notes, organized in a hierarchical tree and saves them as a single file.

**Edit** This review applies only to the Non-commercial version of the software.  The author of the software has informed me that the program is substantially more robust and powerful in the commercial version.  **Edit**

Let’s Talk Strengths

  1. The interface is very intuitive. You have seen these buttons before. It only takes a minute to figure out how to insert images, or bold text.

  2. Multiple ways to accomplish most tasks. Adding new child nodes can be done by right-clicking in the tree column, or by a pull down for those who like to keyboard and use ALT. I rarely touch the mouse while taking notes.

  3. Very customizable interface. You can set a default text color, size, background, etc. and it will be persistent. You can even set it to open the same file automatically when the program opens. For a student who only needs their single NoteCase file that has a parent node for each course and a child node for each day’s notes, the immediacy of opening the program and being greeted by the last document you used is highly efficient.

  4. Autosave. This is priceless, especially if you are on cruddy battery power that could fail on you at any time. You can set how often it saves.

  5. Autobackup. You choose how many different backup files it saves and where it saves them.

  6. Links. You can add links directly into the document with the push of a button.

  7. Very Low Resource Requirements. This program runs like a champion on a 512 meg, 1.7ghz processor. You could probably open 50 windows at once (Haven’t tried this, but you know what I mean).

  8. Solid Code. I have not had a single crash in over 3 weeks of avid daily use. I’ve inserted Images, Links, and a variety of lengths of text.

  9. Export Function. HTML, TXT, or a stand alone Executable.

Let’s Talk Weakness

  1. Weak font features.

    -Features you have: Bold, Italic, Underline, Strike-through, Text color, Background color.

    -Features it lacks: FONT SIZE. This is a major weakness, but not a deal breaker.

  2. Weak image control features on inserted images.

    -Features you have: Insert PNG or JPG. Resize them at moment of import.

    -Features you lack: Ability to resize post import. Anchor Points (The image is inserted as a giant letter, displacing all text around it.) No option for “Text Surround” of the image. No support for GIF.

**Edit**  Thank you to the author of the software for informing me that this program supports import for any GTK supported Images formats. **Edit**

3. Not enough Export Features. HTML and TXT are great, but I would love a direct to PDF for the sake of universality.

User Options

The User Options are very informative about the limited but powerful potential of the program.

Summary

This program does exactly what it claims to do: Let you take an almost unlimited number of notes, organize them in a tree, and keep them in a single file, or “Case.” It never claims to be a powerhouse, and I think when we meet its limitations we should be asking ourselves if we really want it to be bogged down and bloated by a solution to every situation. Most importantly, it is a rock solid program. I’ve tried to crash it and failed. I would like a few of the smaller features that lacks to be added at a later date, but I don’t feel it needs much more. The font size issue is a big deal, but I feel it’s only a matter of time (as you can change the font size program wide, just not a single word).

If you find yourself with a few too many TXT files of varying types and sizes you should look into this program for precise, near surgical organization.

For installation, I can attest that it is in the Ubuntu Repos. This means that if you run any *Buntu derivative you have access to it (Gos, Mint, etc.). If you use a non-Ubuntu distro please let us know if it is in your Repo.

Sorry Windows and Mac users, this program is only available for Linux. Correction: packages are available for Windows (may require GTK), Mac OS X, and even Open Solaris (thanks Michael!). For non-OSS alternatives to those on Windows and Mac, check out OneNote one Windows, or OMNIoutliner for Mac. I’ve used both and they are startlingly, almost frustratingly bulging with features (and will leave your wallet startlingly not bulging with money).

The Most Important Firefox Plugins You Will Ever Need. (A Series.)

#1 NoScript – http://www.noscript.net/

noscript-logo.pngI have to personally recommend that you never go to untrusted websites without this plugin. It’s as important as your antivirus software is on your PC. What it does is immediately assume that all websites are malicious and out to cause harm. You then, on a case to case basis, decide which “scripts” are allowed to be executed. Scripts are (in an overly simplified way) pieces of computer code that run automatically to generate a predetermined effect.

This sounds more complex than it is. When you browse over to Youtube, and that little video that is embedded in the website begins to play, that is a script being activated. So why are scripts bad? Well, if you can’t see the predetermined outcome, then you never know what command was executed. The worst of these commands could capture and record your keystrokes (example: when you enter your credit card number and address) and send them to the type of person you would never want to have them. Now that is a rare, complex, and incredibly extreme example. Now remember, the last thing I want to do is cause Hype-Paranoia like computer viruses on the evening news.

So how do I use it? Well, if you have never installed an Add-on for FireFox, it’s pretty easy. All you have to do is head on over to the firefox customize website (opens in a new window) and click the big [Add to Firefox] button on any add-on you want. I am now going to assume that (if you want it) NoScript is now installed in your FireFox. When you navigate to a new site, you will see a bar appear at the bottom:

firefox_noscript1

In order to see how much content has been blocked, click the little button in the bottom corner: (I’m using PCLinuxOS with a night theme, so your screen colors may be different).

firefox_noscript2

Only allow content that you know. For example, if you are on Youtube and one of your options is to allow Youtube, and you trust them, go ahead and do it (This will allow your video to play). If you see something else listed that you do not recognize (like ytimg.com) you probably do not want to enable it.

Remember, however, that there are a lot of positive scripts out there. When you click on a pull down menu to jump to another part of a website:

firefox_noscript3

a script must be run in order for that link to function. If you stumble across that problem (or any like it), check and see what scripts are enabled. It may take a little extra effort at the beginning, but eventually you will grow used to it. It will become a “safety inconvenience” (like traffic lights), subtly in our way but incredibly necessary.

The main criticism this plug-in receives is that it updates too often. It is true that it will update virtually every day. Some people view this as the plugin trying to make you feel like it is more active and more important than you think it is. In reality, it is just proof of its solid team of programmers making sure it is up-to-date.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself.

Links referenced:

The Firefox Browser (One of the best browsers you can find [and it’s free])

Firefox’s Addon Repository (Shop around for themes, addons, and plugins)

The Noscript Plugin Page (You can get this add-on from their page or the Firefox repo)

Open Source TV Show/Legal Torrents

This will be a quick post. I just wanted to spread the word about a new website that is now up and hopefully will be growing:

http://beta.legaltorrents.com/

In their own words:

LegalTorrentsâ„¢ is an online community created to discover and distribute Creative Commons licensed digital media. We distribute high quality digital media of all types and provide support to content creators, including hosting a guaranteed high-speed seed for the content. We distribute content with the full permission of the rights holders. We use the peer-2-peer file-sharing technology called Bittorrent.

They are dedicated to hosting only completely legal torrents. So have no fear and download away. Of course you won’t find all that sweet illegal content that some providers have, but that is not the point of this site. Fellow Linux users should be able to see how useful this site will be for centrally locating distro cds.

I also wanted to draw everyone’s attention to a specific torrent on their site:

Go Open Ep. 1-6

This is the first 6 episodes of a television show from South Africa that is information about Open Source software, and the alternatives to closed source software. It’s free, and pretty informative, especially if you are new to the Open Source scene.

Oh, and if you liked the first 6 episodes, don’t forget: Go Open Ep. 7-13

All files are in .MP4 format. If you have a hard time opening these files [and use windows], I recommend the Combined Community Codec Pack. It is the most complete codec pack I have found yet (originally compiled to play many differant formats of anime encoded by fans with subtitles.)

In the near future I will expound about the process, software, safeguards, etc. of the torrent community.