jueves, 30 de diciembre de 2010

KMail adventure

After I moved to Linux, I favored Thunderbird as my email client because I found it easy to configure. Of course, I knew that KDE includes a client called KMail, but its appearance was not attractive enough for me. However, I decided to give it a try now that I have some spare time...those brief moments in which my four-month old daughter is asleep and I can go play with the computer.

The question was if I could configure KMail on my own and get it to work properly. Given the fact that I am not an expert, the issue is significant because if I can handle it, that means that KMail is user friendly.

On my desktop computer, the inbox started working pretty fast and I could retrieve the emails stored in my pop3 account. However, the outbox was a little more complicated to configure. I had to try several times to get my SMTP working.

Interestingly, in my netbook, the problem was the other way around: sending was a one-step process, but I got stuck getting the KMail account to read my inbox. I could do it after three error messages of wrong configuration.

I am glad the program is now up and working, and I must admit that it is very functional despite its plain appearance.

viernes, 24 de diciembre de 2010

Gimp in Mandriva, a glitch than can help you rescue files

As I have said before, Mandriva is a nice Linux distribution for working if you blow up your Windows system. However, unless you install it, Mandriva ONE cannot be used as a rescue distro because it does not mount other partitions in Live mode, so you cannot access and retrieve your stored data. That was at least what I thought until yesterday.

I was testing Mandriva ONE 2010.2 and, sure enough, my other partitions could not be accessed in Dolphin (it reported the same error message when trying to mount them). I believe this is done to prevent damage to the primary OS in the computer, be it Linux or Windows.

The interesting part is that I decided to launch Gimp, the GNU image manipulation software, to see how fast it would open. It opened pretty fast, so I went to the menu to look for any image to load it... and, as I was doing it, I was saying to myself that the attempt was a futile one since I had no images in Live mode. Nevertheless, I saw my other partitions in the open menu and playfully hit the icon where my home partition is sitting on my hard disk. I got a pop up message informing that the operation I wanted to perform required root privileges and asked for my root password.

A root password!
A bit amused and expecting an error message, I typed "root" and voilà ! It mounted my home partition. In disbelief, I looked for a picture there and opened it, quickly modified it, and saved it to my home partition in a different folder.

I tried to open the folder in my home partition with Dolphin and it worked: I found the new image file.

I repeated the process with Gimp to see if it would mount my Windows partition as well. It did, so I took an image from Windows, modified it, and put it into a different folder. Using Dolphin once again, I noticed that my Windows partition was also mounted. I looked for the new folder I had created and located the file there.

I thought that it might be a glitch in Mandriva 2010.2, so I repeated the process using a Mandriva ONE Spring (2010.1) CD. When Gimp asked me for my root password, instead of typing "root", I hit "cancel" and it went ahead and mounted my home partition anyway. The same happened with my Windows partition, which shows that inputting a password is not actually necessary. Other programs, such as Gwenview, could also open files in other partitions after the process.

Now, the practical application of this is that you can retrieve all sorts of files (not just images) once your other partitions are mounted. In other words, you can use Mandriva as a rescue distro provided that you have any usb flash drive in which you can copy your retrieved files.

It is just too bad that Mandriva ONE does not come with K3b, the CD/DVD burning software. It could have made Mandriva a very good candidate for my perfect rescue distro quest.

Gdeskcal in Mandriva

Gdeskcal is a little desktop calendar (in Windows, like the one in Webshots) that lets the user specify events.

This program can be downloaded from Mandriva official repositories, but, after the installation, it won't run if you use the version ONE of Mandriva (it does in PowerPack).

To solve the situation, use Mandriva Control Center to install
gnome-python-gtksourceview and the program will run perfectly.

To launch the application when you start your session, you must go to the hidden folder home/.kde/Autostart. Once there, right click to create a basic link to the gdeskcal file on /usr/lib/gdeskcal.

To change skins, download the corresponding .tar files, unpack them and copy the entire folders into the folder "skins", located as a hidden folder in home (.gdeskcal). Use the View menu in Dolphin and check the box "show hidden files" to see it.

I just discovered that this little program connects to korganizer, so your appointments are also logged there if you want fancier alarms. Great!

domingo, 19 de diciembre de 2010

A Quick Glance at Mandriva 2010.2


As I was updating my Mandriva Spring PowerPack, I noticed that it asked me whether or not I wanted to get version 2010.2 packages. I was a bit surprised because Mandriva promised to release that version (I ignore its code name) on the 22nd.

I decided to upgrade and discovered that the time for launching certain applications improved significantly (Gimp, for instance). The grub changed a bit, too. A new entry (alt-Windows) was added. When I booted, I saw that the grub says "Microsoft Windows" and not only "Windows". I also got Chromium for the collection of browsers that are included (Konqueror, Firefox, Opera).

Of course, there were some drawbacks. If you plan to install some applications, go ahead and do it BEFORE you upgrade because they can be left out. For example, I wanted to install Audacious but, after the upgrade, the dependencies were not selectable. The game Supertuxkart was another loss. The graphics are all messed up.

However, if you install Audacious, add the PLF repositories BEFORE YOU UPGRADE, or install any other software (from those programs I like, that is), there is no problem... except for Supertuxkart. I guess I'll have to entertain myself with Frozen Bubble instead.

Aside from that, my untrained eyes haven't seen anything else so far. Yet, I'm happy with the new responsiveness of the KDE environment, which was rather sluggish with Spring.

UPDATE: My netbook, which runs Mandriva ONE, reports in the control center that it is now Mandriva 2010.2. That's great because that is going to give the chance to evaluate its performance.

viernes, 17 de diciembre de 2010

Intellectual work, speeches, and Linux

After a week of buzzing academic work in the University, the II Congress of Modern Languages is over. It was a successful reunion of international participants and speakers who, with their intellectual stimulation, made that activity a memorable one.

Megatotoro and I had to prepare a speech and a workshop. The former was on gender issues and criticism. The latter aimed at teaching colleagues how to use GNU/Linux & FOSS to solve common problems involving technology... nothing fancy, as both of us are plain users, not computer gurus.

The Speech

As I commented previously, Megatotoro and I gave a speech on masculinity in the Japanese film Shall We DANSU?. Since the presentation was made using mainly open source software (which includes programs we had never used before), I consider that it is relevant to post my after thoughts about that particular activity. Apparently, the audience liked the speech and I know that part of its success was due to the fact that we could rely on software that not only acted as expected but also displayed the information beautifully. Basically, the speech consisted of a Prezi presentation running on Wine (waiting to be summoned, on desktop # 2) complemented by some clips taken from the movie via Avidemux, which were opened as a playlist in Kaffeine (hidden, sitting on desktop #4). We used my netbook (running Mandriva 2010 Spring) and we started with nothing on desktop # 1. As we moved to desktop #2 for the presentation, the change of the cube got the attention of the audience, that was probably expecting a traditional PowerPoint slide show. Prezi might not be as fancy as Open Office.org transitions, but its novelty did catch the participants' eyes... and then we switched from desktop # 2 to #4 to display the clips. This was easily done thanks to KDE Kwin's cube.

The result: many positive comments after the speech was over. One of them was particularly meaningful for us, as it came from an intellectual giant who was a former professor of ours, a woman whose incisive criticism made us question lots of gender/literary/social paradigms as we coursed undergraduate and graduate school.

I wish I could say that our argumentation was effective...but I know that much of the success of this talk comes from the technological delivery. I feel happy because I can trust my OS. Linux has never betrayed me in public.

The Workshop on Technology

All I can say is that it was heartwarming to see the reception that this workshop had. We made 25 Mandriva CDs, 25 SimplyMepis CDs and some bootable flashdrives. Yes, we were prepared to work with 25 people, expected no more than 10, and ended up working with 28 participants, who were very happy because we gave them the CDs and the flashdrives as a present.
Someone told me that several people were sad because they could not register for the workshop. This activity was also successful.

I'd love to get into the details, ... except that Magatotoro already did it.

lunes, 13 de diciembre de 2010

Some experiences editing video in Linux

For a conference in an International Congress, my brother and I planned a talk on gender (masculinities) in the Japanese 1996 film Shall We DANSU?. Since we want to illustrate the arguments with video clips, we decided to rip the video from an original DVD with Spanish subtitles for the audience and, then, to cut the most meaningful clips.

I had undertaken the process successfully in Windows before using programs like Virtual Dub but, because of the metrics of my system (not to blame XP solely for eating up the memory), the encoding of the video took a long time.

Anyway, my first problem was the ripping of the DVD video because I had never done that before. I stumbled because K3B would refuse to read the DVD. I learned that it was because it was locked, so I downloaded the repository to unlock it and then K3B read it. The ripping took like an hour. However, I could not paste the desired subtitles (I don't know how to do it), so I had to use a .srt file downloaded from the Web.

Here, I had to face the question of what video editor to resort to for pasting the subtitles and clipping. I decided to use Avidemux because I found it similar to Virtual Dub. To my surprise, Avidemux read the subtitles and created the segments in a matter of minutes without any hassle.

One advantage of Avidemux over Virtual Dub is that the filter for adding subtitles is included in the program. I remember I had to activate it the latter software following a process that a beginner could not guess: I could do it because I got the instructions from a tutorial.

Avidemux, on the other hand, has a pretty intuitive interface. Even when I had never used the program before, the process of loading the video, inserting the filter, and clipping the video was very clear even without any previous training. Of course, I understand that using other software in Windows for producing video has a positive impact on my learning curve, but it's also good to edit videos using an OS that actually helps you in the process. In the end, the computer I used was the same, the results were the same, but the time to achieve the objective was significantly shorter under Linux than it was in Windows.

The presentation of these clips and the talk will be on Wednesday 15. We will use my Mandriva netbook for this activity, so I'll report on how the computer performed then.

It's the Ides of August!

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Roman general Julius Caesar is given an ominous message by the Soothsayer.  The message is a simple warn...