Category Archives: FreeSoftware

MyScratchNotes: Screencasting Linux on #Chromebook

Next week, we’ll be giving out laptops–considered obsolete in school settings, but that work fine with a copy of LubuntuLinux running on them–to students. After giving a quick tour of Lubuntu on the laptops, I suddenly had 6 “how to” videos to create. Of course, I could have made the videos on a Lubuntu laptop but I wondered, What if you installed Lubuntu on your Chromebook, then made the videos there? Could I use something like Screencastify (which has “picture in a picture,” BTW) to get the job done?

Naturally, the question going around in my head required some fun experimentation. As you might guess from the picture below, yes, it worked.

Running LXDE on an Acer C720 Chromebook

Although I’ve loaded GNU/Linux on a Chromebook twice before, I have to admit that this was the easiest and most pain-free. That is due in large part to the instructions provided online here, and which I’ve customized below (these are my scratch notes)…the customization involves LXDE in lieu of KDE or XFCE (neither of which I like much) AND loading the right audio drivers to ensure I can record.

Read the OriginalHow to Easily Install Ubuntu on Chromebook with Crouton | Linux.com

As mentioned in the article above, one of the main benefits:

Some of the advantages of Crouton are that unlike other methods, you don’t have to reboot your machine to switch operating systems; you can switch between them using keyboard shortcuts as if you are switching between two apps.

Here are the relevant excerpts that I followed…again, you may want to read the whole thing. These are just my notes should I have to go through this again.

Part 1 – Install Ubuntu with LXDE GUI interface on Chromebook with Crouton

1. “Install Chromebook recovery utility from the Chrome web store. Open the app and follow the instructions to create a recovery drive.” This is an important step in case you mess it all up.

2. Enable the developer mode by holding Esc + Refresh keys and then push the ‘power’ button. The recovery screen will show a scary warning. Just ignore it and let Chrome OS wipe your data. The process can take up to 15 minutes, so don’t turn off your Chromebook.

3. Log into your Chromebook and open the GitHub page of Crouton and download the latest script.

Check the download folder to see if crouton is downloaded.

4- Open the terminal in Chromebook  by hitting Alt+Ctrl+t

5 -Type this command to open shell: shell

6 – Install Ubuntu with LXDE GUI (the -e option will encrypt your drive, which is good)

sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t lxde

This process will take about 15-20 minutes depending on the speed of your Internet connection.

7 – Type sudo startlxde
This will start LXDE GUI interface to Linux.

8 – Update Your Linux installation. At the command line (Go to the START button in the bottom left-hand corner, then Accessories, then LXTerminal), type the following, pressing ENTER after each command:

(precise)mg@localhost:~$ sudo apt-get update

Then…

(precise)mg@localhost:~$ sudo apt-get upgrade

9 – Install your favorite apps…here are a few of my favorites:

(precise)mg@localhost:~$ sudo apt-get install shutter firefox keepassx mc 

Of course, you don’t have to install these programs at all. I usually also install Google Chrome browser, and Dropbox.

Part 2 – Setup Audio
One of the things I noticed when I installed Screencastify in GoogleChrome on Linux on Chromebook was that the microphone wasn’t detected. To get it working, I followed these steps at the Terminal (LXTerminal):

1 – Install pulseaudio

sudo apt-get install pulseaudio

2 – Install pavucontrol and pavumeter

sudo apt-get install pavucontrol pavumeter

Restart to get pulseaudio running

3 – Start pavucontrol, setting input/output is set to Audio Stereo Duplex

That’s pretty much it! Now I have a Chromebook that can switch to LXDE (LubuntuLinux) for audio editing when I need it using Audacity, as well as access my Keepass password file. And, I can record the video tutorials for getting around in LXDE! The video quality–and sound–is actually better than doing the recording on my Macbook Air…still haven’t figured that one out!


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Opera Mail as a Simple eMail client

Having played around with my share of email clients (e.g. Thunderbird, IceDove, the horrible (IMHO) Evolution, on GNU/Linux distributions (e.g. PeppermintOS, Lubuntu/Ubuntu (I hate kubuntu), #! and others), I found myself looking for something new and lightweight.

Although I started with Opera browser’s Mail component, I promptly discovered that OperaMail is its own standalone program available on Windows. While I avoid Windows OS like the plague, it’s nice to know I could use OperaMail on that if I had to. In the meantime, OperaMail is integrated into its browser but I simply stick the Mail part of it, and don’t really use the other features.

Opera Mail Setup

I hadn’t considered OperaMail as a viable alternative, even though it is cross-platform, supports IMAP and POP.  After a weekend of playing around with it–running 3 email accounts of my handful through it–I am generally pleased with it.

My plan is to setup BitTorrent Sync and sync the hidden .Opera folder with all the settings to other machines and see how that works out. Of course, one could also just copy the .Opera folder to a USB flash drive (gasp, encrypt it first).

These days, with so much email being archived in the cloud, I just need something to shuttle email from one cloud account to a private cloud one. Opera Mail can certainly help out with that…and it doesn’t hurt that it has a built-in web browser, although not as robust as Chrome or Firefox.

An email client seems so boring in cloud mail and with tools like CloudMagic on mobile devices, but can be essential when you’re moving emails from one account to another (e.g. GoogleApps for Education account to your personal Gmail or vice-versa).


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Avoiding Piracy – Choose GNU/Linux

When I was 13 years old, my Dad bought me an Apple //e computer. It came with 2 floppy disk drives,  BASIC, an ImageWriter ][, VisiCalc spreadsheet and The Print Shop software. That was it.

By the time I retired that computer, I had about 30-40 floppy disks, loaded with word processors, spreadsheets, a few games–which is a small collection, compared to “Jatmon Insearch,” a 50 year old retired military guy who had hundreds of floppy disks lining the walls of his office and that my teen buddies made pilgrimages to so they could make copies of software, traveling in a pack to off-set the stigma of visiting a middle-aged man (nice guy but was always treated warily). Jatmon Insearch, his “handle” online when using Ascii Express (AE) to download software from online repositories, never shared his real name…he remained an enigma.

As a high school sophmore, I saw my fellow Apple computer buddies–all sophmores, too–swapping software back and forth, physically customizing their disk drives so they could push a button and easily bypass copy protection. They also copied anti-copy protection software, discussing the best ways to configure the settings to copy the original Castle Wolfenstein (which lives on with a recent release, Wolfenstein:The New Order), King’s Quest, or some of the other more esoteric titles.

Sad to say, the young teens were software pirates…they laughed at “Don’t Copy that Floppy!,” which wasn’t released in time to do them any good.

Image Source: http://goo.gl/JCSSX7

Is it any surprise, then, to find out that many folks are still copying expensive productivity software so they can get work done?

Almost half of the world’s enterprise IT managers openly admit to using pirated software at work – at least a survey from a software industry association says so.
report (PDF) from The Software Alliance claims that during 2013, 43 per cent of all software in the world was installed without a licence, up from 42 per cent in the previous study…The survey estimated around $62.7bn worth of unlicensed software had been used last year. The US accounted for $9.7bn of this, with an unlicensed rate of 18 per cent, it claimed.  

Source: The Register

Ah, if only we’d had GNU/Linux back then in a format that was usable. I remember the experience that made me a GNU/Linux user a few years ago, around the same time I started Around the Corner–my old Apple bondi iMac was ready for the trash heap. A colleague encouraged me to load YellowDogLinux on it, and later, UbuntuLinux. And, it worked. Not only that, I was able to connect the brand “new-old” $60 Walmart HP scanner to it and scan stuff. The scanner had never worked with Apple iMac, since drivers were made only for Windows OS.

Daily, I use a variety of GNU/Linux software programs, none of which are pirated and all are no-cost. I’m able to enjoy a virus and malware free computing experience, use a variety of software that would cost lots of money on the Windows side, and somehow, I manage to get things done. And, every computer I use has GNU/Linux (e.g. PeppermintOS.com, Crunchbang.org) loaded on it…my family gets work done.

Today, Canonical announces that not only has Munich taken an open approach to computing with Ubuntu, but the city is saving millions of euros too…“the switch from from proprietary software to open source has saved the city more than €10 million — a figure that accounts for both the hire of external companies to implement solutions and the internal man-hours the city has invested in management, training and testing. By 2012, €6.8 million had been saved on Microsoft licensing alone. By August 2013, the cost of the entire project had reached €23 million, compared with an estimated €34 million just to upgrade to Windows 7 and new versions of Microsoft Office”. 

Source: Ubuntu Saves Munich Millions, 7/7/14

Whether euros or dollars (1 euro is equal to $1.36…so wow!), you can’t argue with those savings!

Thank you, GNU/Linux communities for the work you do. While some may look down their noses at free software, I’m grateful. I only wish K-12 schools would embrace this approach to computing and leave the expensive Windows, Microsoft, Apple Macintosh apps, etc. products in the past.


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Encrypting External USB Drives (Linux)

Image Source: http://goo.gl/fIeR7Q

One of the concerns (no sleep lost, tho) I’ve had since Truecrypt went belly-up was how to best encrypt the various external USB hard drives I have. On these drives, I keep confidential information (e.g. medical, financial, etc.) that I don’t want others to have access to, in case they were to be stolen. Usually, they are just multiple copies of the same data, which I update periodically.

Encrypting removable devices (USB flash drives, external hard drives, etc) provides a method to guarantee data security in the event of loss, theft or confiscation. When backing up personal information onto external storage, encryption is a recommended preparation for the filesystem.Source: Encrypted FileSystems

While playing around with TAILS, I learned about how to encrypt external drives…I’d read about it before, but hadn’t spent as much time since TrueCrypt and AESCrypt.com took care of my needs.

For fun, I started encrypting all my external USB drives, but since I don’t typically run TAILS (e.g. Crunchbang or PeppermintOS) all the time, I wondered how to do this on those GNU/Linux distros.

Here are the steps I followed:

1) Install cryptsetup
sudo apt-get install cryptsetup

2) Install Disk Utility
sudo apt-get install gnome-disk-utility

Here’s what it looks like:

3) Add this to my Openbox menu
This is the only step that really caused me some concern but a quick google search revealed that you can use the following command palimpsest



4) To encrypt a hard drive–all pre-existing data will be wiped out–follow these steps:

a) Format the device

b) This will result in a blank drive, so you will need to create a partition … note that you will want to check the “Encrypt underlying device” and assign it a name, then click CREATE.

c) When you click CREATE, you will be prompted for a passphrase. Be sure to memorize this; if you lose it, you won’t be able to get access to the drive later.

d) That’s pretty much it. Success will look something like this:

5) Plug the drive in. The next time you plug the drive into a computer, you will be prompted:

After you enter the password, you will be able to access the encrypted contents:

If you ever need to change the password, you can run Disk Utility again and click on “Change passphrase.”


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Setting Up My Home Streaming Media PC @plexapp

An old piece of equipment made itself available to me this past weekend, and, while the rest of the family was firmly ensconced in the family room watching the San Antonio Spurs trounce the Miami Heat, I wondered if I could eke out more life from that obsolete CPU.

You can access your Plex account anytime at http://plex.tv/

Sure enough, it was easier than I expected. The old CPU had the following:

  • 4 gigs of RAM
  • 500gig hard drive
  • 64-bit machine
  • a slow processor
I tried several GNU/Linux distros on it–including Ubuntu Desktop and Linux Mint (the latest ones as of this blog post)–but none ran so fast and took advantage of the resources like CrunchbangLinux #!. As a result, after loading it to the gills, I started looking at how it might be done.
One inspiring post included fellow San Antonian Paul Darr’s post, My Crunchbang Home Server, where he writes:

I currently have it running Crunchbang Linux. If you are unfamiliar with Crunchbang it is a low resource Linux Distribution based on Debian. I chose Crunchbang because of how much I like Openbox as a low resource window manager and Cruchbang comes with Openbox configured nicely.  

Another use I have for my home server is to act as a media and file server. For media I run Plex, which allows me to stream my music, home movies and DVD copies to my Roku boxes and Android Smartphone. I already had several Roku boxes and Plex is currently one of the best ways to stream media to them. As a file server I just connect using SFTP and do manual backups of my data.

Installing Plex wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, especially with these instructions:

1) Install openssh to allow me remote control from any machine via SSH:

sudo apt-get install ssh

This was actually quite cool. I’d used ssh to connect my local Linux machine to remote servers, as well as my Raspberry Pi device, but what I didn’t know was how to use Midnight Commander (sudo apt-get install mc) to copy files from one Linux machine over ssh to the media server…a nice trick to know and a lot faster than using SCP command line. To do it on Midnight Commander, simply type in:

cd sh://user@server:1234

It would look like this:

If you just want to connect to your server–not using Midnight Commander–you would type:

ssh yourusername@mediaserver_IP_address

You can get the IP address by typing ifconfig at the command line on the server.

2) Install Plex Media Server by…

a) Adding the following to /etc/apt/sources.list (sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list)

deb http://plex.originet.eu/ stable main

b) Install Plex Media Server:

sudo apt-get install plexmediaserver

3) Connect to the Management web page on Plex:

http://mediaserver_IP_address:32400/manage

This will allow you to add folders on the server that correspond to video/audio content.

4) Connect to the “Streaming Side” of Plex:
Now that I’d copied my content–see my note about Midnight Commander, although you can just hook up an external USB hard drive and copy content onto the server if you prefer– into a Movies and Music folder on the media server, I was able to connect via multiple mobile devices. The interface is quite nice and I was able to access the web site via my house’s wireless network. Streaming speed was great!

http://mediaserver_IP_address:32400/web

GET TO YOUR MEDIA FROM ANYWHERE
Furthermore, you can use Plex apps on Android ($4.99) and iOS ($4.99) devices to access your content from anywhere using your Plex account…or your computer at no additional cost.

Here’s what Plex looks like from a non-home network computer via http://plex.tv/

Total cost to implement this solution for home/remote use? $0.00. Absolutely wonderful! I’m sure there are other solutions but this is what I was able to setup fairly quickly. What’s even nicer is that I can add support for my Android tablets with the right app.

Also, Plex has just added Camera upload from Android phones! So, when you’re snapping pictures, they all get put on your Plex home server. Wow!

Ah, if only my video collection was more than just family videos!

You may also want to read this nice write-up via ErgoHacks.


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Copy Files to Your iPad with UbuntuLinux

Looking for an easy way to copy files to your iPad running iOS 7?

This approach makes it very easy to copy files from your computer’s hard drive or an external USB drive to your iPad. I just start up UbuntuLinux off a USB flash drive when I want to copy lots of files–music, video, ebooks–to my iPad.

What iPad Documents area looks like on UbuntuLinux

Here’s one approach:
1) Save a copy of the UbuntuLinux install CD and put it on a USB flash drive with Unetbootin (works on Mac, Windows, or Linux)

  1. Get UNetbootin which will install the .iso file on the thumbdrive –
  2. Download UbuntuLinux ISO file (on newer computers, use 64-bit; older computers, 32-bit)
  3. Run UNetbootin
  4. Point the install at the Ubuntu .iso file

  5. Select the USB drive where you want to install.
  6. Start the process and wait a few minutes until it is complete.
  7. Reboot your computer and press the function key (F12 on Dells usually) so you can tell the computer to start from USB device.

2) Boot up off the USB flash drive into UbuntuLinux (not to install, only to run in “Live” mode where you are testing it out). Don’t worry, you can still boot back to Windows or Mac, whatever you want.

3) Plug in your iPad, making sure to type in your code (in case  you have that turned on your iPad) before plugging in. The file manager will pop up and you’ll be able to see your iPad as two drives in the FileManager. One of the drives will be called Documents and you can open that.

4) Once you open that, find your app that allows you to do stuff.
For me, that could be either Readdle Documents (free, awesome ebook, movie, file viewer) or iFiles (costs $3.99).

When you double-click on the Readdle Documents app, you’ll be able to drag-n-drop content into the space.

Isn’t this easier than using a Mac and/or trying to copy stuff over a WiFi network?

😉


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Image Converter – Converting CR2 to Anything

Who uses a dedicated camera anymore? Why not a smartphone or iPad? I asked myself this when a colleague put a Canon camera in my hands and requested I copy the images off of it. Of course, what do I know about cameras? Not much.

The problem? Someone had used a camera with the wrong settings and the images were in some weird format–not JPG or PNG–couldn’t be used easily, and worse, standard conversion with tools like THE GIMP (even after installing UFRaw plugin) yielded a JPG that was pink-purple all over…absolutely unusable. “Sure, why not,” I replied, as I thought to myself, I hope this isn’t too hard. I’ve never worked with one of these fancy cameras before!

The image format was Canon’s CR2 format. If you google how to convert this image format, you’ll find lots of web sites sharing about it. The fun part was that I was booted into #! Linux and really didn’t want to switch over to Mac OS X or, worse yet, start up the Windows 7 dinosaur desktop to my right. Using online converters would have been a pain, since there were more than 15 images (lazy, huh?).

The solution ended up being pretty simple…after time spent trying out different solutions. Amazing.  It was so much fun to learn something new.

I will save you the struggle, the drama…XnConvert did the job:

XnConvert is a powerful and free cross-platform batch image processor, allowing you to combine over 80 actions. Compatible with 500 formats.

It’s cross-platform, which means it runs on all major operating systems like Linux, Mac, Windows, 32-bit or 64-bit. And, if you don’t want a GUI, you can always get the command line version (NConvert) and use that instead.

Have lots of images to convert from CR2 (or anything) to something else? Give XnConvert a shot.

(BTW, ImageMagick’s convert command (for fellow GNU/Linux users) didn’t quite get the job done since it accomplished the conversion but didn’t deal with the pink-purple color tone).


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