Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lookie here, the ZPC - WOW!!

Well, I don't really need another computer though it's been a couple of years and things do change over time. I tell you those netbook PCs, at least for me, would be far more handier than say a Blackberry. It's just a tad bit too small. But I don't want to buy a netbook and a cell phone. Maybe I'm just fussing, want a bigger screen display and bigger keys. On that front I am still looking.

On the desktop scene I thought a laptop would fill the bill but now I am having second thoughts. In my house I don't tend to compute all over it. Certain spaces are for focused activities and attentions, I like it like that. I do want to show you some evolutionary PC pictures. Check these out:
This, if you don't remember was the Commodore 64, an all-in-one, under the keyboard PC. It had cards you plugged into the side that were loaded with applications and games and the operating system, programming languages, etc. It had all sorts of ports for peripherals and transformer bricks for everything.

This was the Atari PC, I forget which one. It was also an all-in-one unit and a definite improvement in style and function. Don't ask me who came first.

I saw this yesterday:
This is my Dream PC, the Cybernet Zero Footprint PC or ZPC-GX31. Some body said take a laptop and gee, use your own monitor. Then remove the laptop's internal clutter and cooling nightmare. It's got a laptop's smallness and a desktop's roomy simplicity, all under the keyboard. I can use my 15" LCD or upgrade to something larger. I can move it around the house, so what it's not a laptop. Finally a desktop with flexibility. Ever try to upgrade or fix a laptop, somebody please call the service techie and former watch maker. Then having industry standard parts and few cutting edge stuffs inside, the cost has got to be reasonable, I've got to look into this further. This would make a very cool office machine or home machine. From the web site you can see this machine can fit anywhere with ease. If I were a IT manager/techie/business owner, I'd be jumping all over this company's product (there's probably a waiting list).

So, here you go, no fragile clamshell, no toe stubbing, knee knocking case, no one size fits all LCD display, and no ancient of days experienced techs required. You might have to endure some teasing, "Hey, what happened to the rest of your laptop?' or "thick keyboard, no case, what kind of computer is that?" You might have to yell at the kids, "don't drink and type!", "You, with the milk, step away from the computer!!" Those keyboard skins will sale like hot cakes! Some said "looks dated". If it had a sleeked up, geeked out appearance, would that drive up the cost? Bottom price about $700. Even the low end is adequate and a LCD display for about $120 or so and still reasonable.

I've got to find out if it runs Linux well, if it does, my fate is before me. If you are a school net manager looking for new PCs, you ought to look at this Cybernet ZPC-GX31. For me it is a great compromise between a laptop and a desktop. Ah! the eloquence of form and function without the future-tech hype style, looks good on any desk. Running Linux will seal the deal and bring in a no need to build-it myself glint back in my eye.

Just a further note: The spec sheets says it will run Linux "top distros". And this baby will boot from a USB device, which means Linux on a jump drive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

freedom to compute

If there are two things that spark my imagination it is big power in small packages and small packages that run Linux. Laptops are the rage and soon to be the standard PC most people are buying these days. To have it all in one package you can take with you is so convenient, you'd have to be pretty old school to pass this up. And to top it all off, laptops are getting more and more powerful so that you don't have to buy many extra gadgets to fill it out. As a PC tech I think I need to get one...........but, I just saw in Computer Shopper the Shuttle X27 (drool, drool!). You can get it with Linux of some flavor!! Thats fully loaded hardware and software.

If you know anything about the Shuttle PC's, they are small form factor and are barebones or fully loaded. The X27 is a solid state machine (no moving parts). It's like a laptop in a tiny box, perfect for a geekologist like me and if you look around, you can fine a small price. Man that Shuttle web site is amazing. I would call these machines semi-portable. If you are wanting huge power in a little package this is the way to go.

But what I would like to see is a new desktop that is actually a laptop without a screen. I could use the LCD screens I already have. Or a LCD screen that is part of a dock extension unit that locks on the back edge of the laptop base unit. It would still be a portable but have a fully detachable screen. The idea is that if you already have a monitor and aren't looking for a laptop, just buying the bottom part cuts the cost. Those laptop LCD's can be expensive and are fragile.
This would be a good machine to drive a souped up digital picture frame (regular LCD monitor) and audio file player. Who knows what you could make this thing do. I am hoping someday for a big pile of computer stuff so that I can experiment with computers around the house. Don't get me wrong. I think consumer products are good, just not great. I never quite find what I have in mind. I think it is a good time to invent something.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

the sound of small imagination bangs

Like any home or business there is a closet for used or discarded stuff. There in the corner, under the mask of dust bunny fur are old PC's, monitors, printers, etc. I can't vouch for most electronic junk but PC's that can still run a descent operating system, hard drive and CD player can still be useful. If perchance you could run Linux on it you might even redeem it from the scrap heap. And what would make an older PC attractive to purchase from a reseller? Here is the vision!!

1. PC's do not have to be hooked up to the internet to be useful.
2. PC's do not need to be in a network to be useful.
3. There is no law that says one PC per person or family, or that it must sit at a desk with keyboard in front of it.
4. There is no law that says a computer must be used a certain way.
5. There is no law that says that a computer must be able to do everything.

Internet and networks are a fine convenience, but you could do many things without it. Lets say you wanted an entertainment system besides your big screen cable fed TV. A stand alone PC could play audio and video that your TV can't supply. All you'd really need is to download stuff from the net via your regular PC or laptop to a flash drive, or burn a CD/DVD, pop it into your dedicated PC entertainment system. You could buy one of those really small, cheap, can't play games on it PC's for this. On my main computer I have movies and YouTube clips, podcasts, iTunes, lots of photos and of course my artwork. I could put them all on a USB drive or jump drive and plug into my entertainment PC.

Ever ask yourself why those digital picture frames are so small? Want something bigger? For a few bucks more get a cheap 15 inch flat screen. Hook it up to your cheap PC and run a slide show of your photos. Oh and you can buy wall mounts and pole mounts for your flat screen. The artistic and decorating potential here is great. How about laying that flat screen under that glass top table or hanging 3 flat screens, one beneath the other on a wall. My flat screen has built in speakers, not good for rattling windows, but normal listening........ah!

Linux has many applications that are very useful for these projects. Elisa Media Center is one. It will play any media file stored on your PC, the desktop interface is simple and very attractive. Then most of the image viewers and photo management apps have slide show functions. There are a great selection of audio media players, some with music driven eye candy. I use VLC to play even commercial movie DVD's.

The thing is that we get into patterned thinking that computers are meant to do this and that. We think one computer is enough and it must do everything, only it can't do everything all at once. A few cheap computers doing dedicated tasks is less bother and more fun. Sometimes I will be working on my main machine and have my older other PC just running a slide show, playing some music or a podcast. Pretty cool, huh! I am looking for ways to use computers about the house without the theater experience or without gameplay takeover of my livingroom. I am surprised few ever talk about a "simple" touch screen display in the kitchen. Those all-in-one tablet PC's are too expensive, how much power do you need for a kitchen PC anyway? With my 15 inch glorified picture frame with touch screen control, I would insert my jump drive of downloaded recipes or morning digital newspaper and have my coffee. We always want technology to do too much. That is why we don't get it. I hope I have sparked your imagination to try stuff and use Linux. Let the other guys work on the next big thing, we in Linuxville bask in the sound, a sea of small imagination bangs. A bang in every head!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Linux + Art, is there such a thing?

Most of us are totally convinced that the only shoes we can run in are Nike and Converse. We have made an industry out of running, heck there are even running magazines. It is the same with computer generated art. We have made an industry out of it. The big guns are Photoshop and Illustrator and other software that are Microsoft and Apple based. Some insist you can't be serious about computer art unless you use these programs. It's very much like saying you can't do otherwise, we won't accept it, and if you manage to do it, you are the only one.

It's also been suggested that you can't make art unless your trained. This assumes that you as an artist are pursuing a career in the commercial art world. Now with your accepted credentials you can work anywhere in the world as an artist. Canned and programmed, the artist who works for some company never really gets into what drew him into art in the first place, to be able to realize his own work.

Well, there are so many assumptions that we forget the fundamental ability of an artist is to take what is around them and formulate a new view so that we see things differently. I could give many examples from a guy drawing portraits using an Etch-a-sketch to another who uses a cheap ball-point pen to do photo-realistic work...........So why is it so hard to imagine doing artwork on a Linux computer? Linux is not taught in the art schools, or any school for that matter. Linux is so not the industry standard, the programs do not meet up to the standards, tools and functions and requirements and.........."You can't make a Linux based art business, it won't work."

I once heard of an artist not affording his art-ware, plucked his own hair out to make his brushes and I can't tell the stories of thousands of African artist who made their own paints and dyes of various substances to paint on bark, fabric and walls. We acknowledge and give great respect to them and their works. But now you have to use the industry standard training, tools, practices and materials in order to do art.

Then it is assumed I am not a purist to my Linux cause if I take the work created in Linux and pass it over to a MS or Apple computer to print out, because printer drivers for the wide format printers I prefer are not available yet for Linux.

Tools, training, practices, standards, credentials, you have to wonder if it is really art anymore.

The part that struck and stuck to my bones was an interview with an African crafts person many years ago. He was asked why he crafted. His answer was "I just want to make beautiful things." Yes folks, there is an art gene or it is just how our brains are wired.

So today, Linux (GIMP and Inkscape and others) is my pulled out hair to make a brush, my Etch-a-sketch, my cheap ball-point pen, my home made paint and dyes and even my running shoes of recycled tire treads. My motive is, "I just want to make beautiful things." And I hope people can appreciate what I have chose to call "art via Linux".

I think I have to add some background texture to them but I like the simplicity. It is all a blending of my African sensibility (I still have some!), technical drafting and other things using Linux tools. I am working on the print, pricing and marketing aspect, but things are coming along. My feeling is that art should be lived with. After all these years I am still not seeing what I like on the market. Perhaps I can put it there. Yeah, I just want to make beautiful things too!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

nothing, what's formatter with you!

I know we all like to point, click and forget it, but there comes a time when the file we downloaded won't play, or won't play right. I'm talking about video files mainly but graphic files have their moments also. Between web-cam and camcorder users lots of videos are posted on the net for whatever purpose. I especially like podcasts how-to's, jazz groups and techie talk shows. From YouTube I can get them as .FLV files and on my Xubuntu Linux system play them with MPlayer or VLC. Yes, you have to have the proper codecs installed or some formats can't be viewed. Commercial DVD's need special codecs which are contained in a file off the net.

But let's say you want to convert your .FLV files to .MPG. Why? Because you might be able to copy to a CD/DVD and play them on your video player connected to your TV. Yes, without hooking your PC to your TV you can see custom made videos, slide shows and listen to music. Just pop in the prepaired CD or DVD into the TV's vid box and wah-lah!!!

Hey I didn't know I could do this either. I used a program called FFMPEG. It's a Linux program and it is command line driven. It's not that scary to use if you don't mind the Linux terminal, you'll get over it. Anyway ffmpeg will not only convert video and audio formats back and forth, it will turn a directory of jpeg photos into a slide show mpeg file you can watch on your TV.
The ideal thing is to have a DVD burner so that you have lots of room in case you are converting a long movie. You can go to the ffmpeg home page to see command structure and tweaks.

If you are an artist type or a photo bug, and you happen to have one of those wide screen TV's, you could see your own stuff big time. I wonder if you could blend in a sound track? Of course the best is to have a videocard with a S-video output, then you could easily plug into your big screen and not bother with converting. But I just wanted to let you know you could do these things in Linux.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

off the curve, into traffic - like frogger, no

Going the Linux way you will see all sorts of tools you never thought of. I for one am a visual person and ideas are, you know, fleeting. I write down notes on every scrap of paper around my desk. And yes, there are various regurgitations of sticky notes and post-it notes. I have both the paper kind and the digital equivalent. Let's see, desktop icons all over the screen, sticky notes on my monitor and floating on my desktop. OOOh, I am so unorganized! I hate too many desktop icons. It's a good thing the Linux file browser is so handy, not like in other operating systems. If I want a file I go there first and fast.

Enter Tomboy Notes.........pretty cool, it's like a mini file browser for notes. You can jot things down on note pages and put them in folders to keep them in order. This is great if you are following a train of thought. You could do this with your regular file browser but this Tomboy Notes is available on the desktop and has ways for moving and reorganizing just the notes. The trouble with Tomboy Notes and my thought trains is that my thoughts include pictures.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture with a few words is priceless. I was looking for a note taker app with the ability to pull in graphics. I found something so much more. It's called BasKet Note Pads. Here's a couple of pictures so that I won't have to write a book:

This BasKet Note Pads is like a notepad on steroids. What we have here is a complete research tool. You can add pictures, web links, notes, and more yet to be discovered. Talk about scrapbooking, this is way beyond that digital album you've been playing with. This could be a front-end to accessing stuff on your personal database and on the internet.

I've just uncovered a new niche in cyber-law, digital inheritance. How do you pass on your personal computer database? Digital effects, hmmm..........

Jumping into the Linux fray is not so bad, look both ways, take your time, you'll be just fine.