ScribeFire – A handy blog posting tool?

I’m trying out a new tool today called ScribeFire. 

The idea is to provide a rich user interface for doing blog postings via a Firefox plugin.  I’ve tried this a few times before with other tools, and have always gone back to just using plain old HTML pages.

So far, the interface is useable, and appears to support many different blogs (including Livejournal, WordPress, and other content management systems). 

It appears to also support editing existing postings and content, but maybe it’s because PG has several thousand posts, the list never actually came up.

The intriguing thing is that ScribeFire is supposed to support Drupal, which would be awfully handy for some of the work we’re doing, but I can’t seem to get it working.

Folks who do LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogger.com, or Movable Type should definately give it a try.

Darwinia Mini-Review

I haven’t been doing much reviewing lately, but I thought I’d point a couple of the folks who keep whining about the lack of Linux games to the fine work at Introversion Software.

I just completed the demo for Darwinia, a sort of ‘Populous meets TRON’ game.

Darwinia is very much a ‘god game’ in that you are ‘above’ the life forms you’re interacting with, but, like Populous, you can’t directly control them. You can influence them in several ways (“All citizens, you feel an urge to move sort of in that direction!”), but can’t give the “you guys, move there and build a building, you guys, there and shoot them” sort of detail that’s common in things like Starcraft.

From Introversion’s page:

The world of Darwinia is a virtual themepark, running entirely inside a computer network and populated by a sentient evolving life form called the Darwinians. Unfortunately Darwinia has been overrun by a computer virus which has multiplied out of control. Your task is to destroy the Viral Infection and save the Darwinians from extinction.

The plotline does sound somewhat trite, and there’s certainly an 80’s-esque flair to the entire game. It’s modelled very heavily on TRON in imagery and concept (a model that Introversion seems to use a lot), so the rendered playing feels very much like one of those graphics demos you oo’ed and ah’ed at the first time you saw an SGI machine (well I did, anyway). If you make sure you’re not being overly critical and immediately jump up with “Gosh, Doom3 blows this away!”, you might find yourself enjoying yourself.

First of all, it’s a Linux-enabled, full GL, full sound, network enabled, multiplatform game. There’s no ‘hack’ or backsupport or Wine-fiddling here, the game has native Mac, Windows, and Linux builds. Installation was a matter of downloading the demo and running the installation script. On my machine, running Ubuntu, it installed and ran without a hitch, in full screen high resolution, and some phenomenal refresh rate (I noticed -zero- lag in any of either the cut scenes or actual gameplay, when I had several hundred characters moving on the screen).

Introversion has made it ‘de rigeur’ to have full Linux ports of all their games, and they have several that are top notch. I’ll be taking a look at others shortly. But if you’re into god-games, and have a Mac, Windows, or Linux PC, and don’t mind a new twist on the game with a good story line and comfortable game play, this is a game you should definitely check out.

Review: Bang! Howdy

A long time ago on a laptop far far away, I chanced across a new game called Puzzle Pirates. It was from a new outfit on the block calling themselves Three Rings. It looked fun, and even better, ran on Mac, Linux, and Windows without problems due to the wonderous portability of Java. I was impressed then, but stopped playing after a year or so and moved on.
Now ThreeRings has done it again with a new game called Bang! Howdy. Lets take a look…

Continue reading “Review: Bang! Howdy”

Subversion + SSH – Close but no banana

About a year ago, I switched my primary source code control system from the venerable old CVS to the (relatively) new kid on the block, Subversion. On the whole, I’ve been ecstatically happy with the system. It patched many of the ridiculous problems with CVS, and added on things that opensource community has been asking for for ages (like ‘rename’), but never made it into CVS.
Now I have all my projects stored in SVN, and my main client is using it as well for their code (they’ve chosen to go with SVN and are planning to End Of Life their VSS server – to the dismay of no one).
Subclipse
One of the best tools that made this switchover workable (aside from SVN’s similarity CVS in many respects, particularly on the command line) is the Subclipse plugin for Eclipse. Subclipse provides a great easy to use interface into SVN servers, giving all the functionaly one would have on the command line via a very simple, tightly integrated GUI.
One thing that had been bugging me, however, was the access methodology I was using to get to my (remote) SVN server. It involved setting up a tunnel in SecureCRT (though Putty can do it as well), and then telling subclipse to use my ‘svn://localhost/stonekeep’ repository.
SVN+SSH configuration under EclipseWhile doing some surfing, I found that Subclipse supports the svn+ssh syntax for specifying the repository. “Great!” says I, “I won’t need to set up the tunnel each time!”
A few more fiddles, a pleasant discovery of a configuration screen in Subclipse, and I had an SVN over SSH connection to my repository, even using my ssh key pair.
Danger, Will Robinson!
But wait! All is not well. When I tried to browse the repository from Subclipse, I quickly hit this error:

Could not open file system at /var/lib/svn/stonekeep
(13)Permission Denied: Berkley DB Error while opening environment for file
system /var/lib/svn/stonekeep/db:

This vexed me, because I had been having no problems accessing the repository locally on the server, and over my ssh tunnel. Both used the locally running ‘svnserve’ on the repository host, so why wasn’t the svn+ssh connection using it?
The answer comes in the SVN documentation, and via a little research:

What’s happening here is that the Subversion client is invoking a local ssh process, connecting to host.example.com, authenticating as the user harry, then spawning a private svnserve process on the remote machine, running as the user harry. The svnserve command is being invoked in tunnel mode (-t) and all network protocol is being “tunneledâ€? over the encrypted connection by ssh, the tunnel-agent. svnserve is aware that it’s running as the user harry, and if the client performs a commit, the authenticated username will be attributed as the author of the new revision.
When running over a tunnel, authorization is primarily controlled by operating system permissions to the repository’s database files; it’s very much the same as if Harry were accessing the repository directly via a file:/// URL.

The Problem With This
I’m really unhappy with this model. The problem is that now the user must have read/write access to the entire repository tree. When using a local socket connection (or one over ssh via a normal tunnel), the Subclipse client connects directly to the svnserve process running on the repository box, and interactions with the server happen under that processes ownership.
The svn+ssh protocol does not use the svnserver on the target machine. It tunnels the command to a user-invoked svnserve process, and that process must have read-write access to the repository.
“Well gosh, that doesn’t seem too bad. What’s the issue?”
The issue is that to make this methodology work, I have to give the user read/write access to the repository tree. Meaning, they could happily type ‘rm -rf /var/lib/svn’ and destroy the entire repository. Even worse, the configuration files (including the password / access file, which has passwords in plaintext) must be made available to the general users.
Why svn+ssh doesn’t simply make a local socket connection to the svnserve process already running, I don’t know. But I can find no way to make that happen.
The fix?
As far as I can tell, there really is no direct fix for this. There are various workarounds, which the SVN documentation discusses, including setting up an ‘svn user’ for the svn+ssh logins, and the possibility of using unix groups for permissions, but I feel that if you have a listening socket server on your repository host, you should use it, not introduce a second methodology and have to jump through hoops to implement it.
For now, I have to abandon the svn+ssh possibility, and go back to my hand-configured socket tunnels. There’s no real loss here – they work remarkably well, are very secure, and quite stable. The slight annoyance of having to open up a SecureCRT session before doing work in Eclipse is just that – a slight annoyance. I’ve dealt up until now, and I’ll just continue to deal.

LDAP and Thunderbird

I have an ongoing project dream. Someday, have a fully functional suite of opensource-driven services available to our community that gives, if not the full functionality of something like Exchange, but gives enough so that the users can interract and exchange information cleanly, without having to jump through hoops or pay ridiculous amounts of money or subscribe to proprietary, predatory application suites.

I made another step toward this lofty goal this week.

Continue reading “LDAP and Thunderbird”

More gloom for Palm, and the X5 Bluetooth Headphones

P5190129.JPG
I have been looking for writing this review for quite some time. A grand triumph in geeky innovation, platform utilization, and clever use of available technologies. A step forward in mobile communications, entertainment, and convergence in the media, communications, and personal networking space.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it turned out.

Continue reading “More gloom for Palm, and the X5 Bluetooth Headphones”

QuickReview: Synergy2

Have to point this handy tool out to folks.
My busy deskBecause of the complexity of my desk, I can’t really have a pile of keyboards and mouse lying around. I switch between machines constantly, and switching keyboards would just drive me batty. I had been using X2VNC for quite a while, which, while ‘okay’, had it’s own quirks. One of which was it couldn’t work in reverse (I could go from an X host to a Windows box, but not the other way around). It also wouldn’t let me slide from an X display to another X display. Pretty limiting.
Enter Synergy2, a simple client-server tool set that lets you configure multiple displays to a single ‘server’ that controls the mouse and keyboard. With Synergy2, I’m able to configure all my machines in whatever configuration I want. At the moment I can slide my mouse off my primary Linux display onto my WindowsXP box, across it’s display, and onto my laptop.
That’s pretty neat, but.. the kicker? Synergy2 manages clipboard cut n paste operations across machines. If I slide over to hunter (the laptop running Ubuntu linux), highlight something and click ‘Copy’, then slide back to my primary desktop on yawl, I can just click ‘paste’ and it works. This is miraculous to my eyes!
If you run more than one machine on your desk, I highly recommend Synergy2. Available in apt repositories everywhere.

The URL Game.. An Interview with Jonathan Whiting

Web games. There’s zillions of them. Find your way out of the room, play Zork,
all the fun in the world can be found on the web somewhere. Everything’s
been done to death.

Or has it?

I have to blame blk for pointing me
at a very simple webgame. I’d tell you the name of it, but… well, it doesn’t
have one.

The premise is simple. Go to n.nfshost.com.
You’ll see a nice big black page with the number one on it. This is the beginning of the
game. Your task, find the next page. This one is obviously ‘1.html’. Hmm, what could the
next page be… ahh, clicking on the ‘1’ gives you the page ‘2.html’. Okay, pretty
good Now, though, what could be the next page? Probably… 3.html. But there’s no
link to it, so maybe typing it into the web browser will work. Aha! It does.

Now find the next page.

And the next.

And the next.

Each page provides a hint as to what the next pages’ url will be.

Need a hint? DON’T GOOGLE IT! Some bright folks have put the entire URL list
on the net, and it really takes all the fun out of it. You will need to use
google for some of the hints, but just be careful about where you click.

As I am wont to do, I was curious about the motivation behind this nifty game.
It seems so simple, I wonder how it came about. After a big of digging, I managed
to get ahold of Jonathan Whiting, aka ‘Piglet‘, who agreed to a quicky interview on the game…

Continue reading “The URL Game.. An Interview with Jonathan Whiting”

Google Browser Sync

I found this one while doing my daily browse through Digg. It’s a tool from Google that lets you sync multiple Firefox installations in realtime. I personally have 3 different machines… nowait, 4… that I run Firefox on, and being able to seemlessly keep my bookmarks, cookies, form elements and tab/button bar layouts synchronized is a total win, not to mention having an off-site backup of all these goodies.
I recommend starting this on the machine you have your most complex and involved bookmark mechanism on, as when you add a new machine to the mix, it appears to import your saved bookmark collection from Google Sync, and then synchronize. So the first one in should be your largest. I probably have 400 bookmarks in my setup, organized into dozens of categories.
Give it a try!
As found via DesktopLinux.com.

KDE Chatterings: Amarok

I’m really getting into my new KDE 3.5 desktop based on the latest release of Kubuntu linux. The level of integration and polish that has gone into the system is constantly amazing me. I’ll be chatting about various applications and components shortly, but I’d like to talk about one in particular right now. Amarok.
The Application
Amarok is to KDE what iTunes is to the rest of the world. A slicky smooth application with a ton of ‘community’ and ‘wide world’ stuff in it, but at it’s core, it’s a music player. Linux is certainly not without it’s share of music tools, but a decent, intuitive, and powerful system has been scarce for quite some time.
Amarok fills a niche for a tool that is not only a capable player, but also manages your music collection, organizes playlists, titles, and tags, as well as keep track of what was played when, and what order it was done in. Amarok makes no distinction between a local playlist and a streaming audio feed – the entire interface handles both sources without skipping a beat.
Add onto that a popup ‘banner’ display that shows the current track when it changes, then disappears (without affecting keyboard focus, windows, or anything – it’s a neat trick), and an extremely compact and well designed interface, and you have all the makings of an attractive and useful tool.
The Experience
I’ve been using Amarok as my default player now for almost 3 weeks, and I find myself pulling it out of its hidey-hole in the KDE toolbar to do basic things “Ahh, skip this track, it’s boring.” “Who the hell IS this?” “Switch over to that other playlist.” “I just added a couple more albums to the store, rescan please.” without spending half an hour navigating man pages, unintuitve menus or hacked interfaces that don’t behave like any other application on the planet. It’s delightful.
Other little tidbits that surprised me include things like Amarok’s link wth Amazon.com. Album covers can be automatically displayed based on CDDB or FreeDB signatures, and they’re invariably correct. Another one is integration with your iPod. Dock them, and you can drag and drop songs into the iPod directly. Amarok also has an interace to last.fm, a community based site oriented around music. The songs you play can be reported in as favorites / regularly played, and will update the ‘popular songs’ info on the site.
Conclusions
Amarok may be one of the best applications out for KDE, but it has great company with all the other improvements in KDE 3.5. Stay tuned for other reviews, but if you have a chance, take a look at Amarok now. You won’t be disappointed.

MythTV – Success!


“It’s really unstable”
“It’s painful to set up”
“Good luck with all the yak-shaving!”
Poppycock! I come to you happily reporting on the successful installation, configuration, and implementation of MythTV.
For those not in the know, MythTV is an opensource (aka Free) system that mimics much of the behaviour normally attributed to a Tivo. At it’s very root, it is a Linux-based Personal Video Recorder (or PVR) that allows cable (and DVD and other mediums) to be stored, displayed, and manipulated in realtime, effectively turning an ordinary PC into a home video component.emotes.
Alas, MythTV has a long history of being INCREDIBLY complicated to get running. Starting with a baseline Linux install, people have talked of months of twiddling network drivers, card configurations, database problems, and video drivers all to get the system into perfect ‘balance’, at which point the system would work fine, but the process would ultimately leave a bad taste in the mouth of the implementor. Hardly a glowing recommendation.
Recently though, some bright folks have built up KnoppMyth, a MythTV installation wrapped into the well-known cd-based distribution, Knoppix. Knoppmyth allows you to go from a powered off ‘blank’ machine to the MythTV main menu – system installed, configured, and drivers ready to be enabled, in less than 10 minutes.
It wasn’t without a few hiccups – mostly due to the smoothness of the installation, it was easy to try and go right into viewing online video without actually configuring the image capture boards. The system has an enormous array of configuration options which can easily baffle a newcomer, but in the end I was happily watching Comcast cable on my VGA monitor, and able to tune around the entire spectrum, complete with on screen programming guide.
For reference, here’s my configuration:

  • Athlon 1400
  • 512 meg RAM
  • 80gig ATA-100 drive
  • Hauppage PVR-150 video encoder card
  • nVidia NV3 video

I’ll be exploring this system more over the next week or two, but so far, I’m exceptionally impressed with what the KnoppMyth folks have done in bringing a previously complex and potentially painful installation into something mere mortals can attempt.

K3B. Polished, useful, clean software for Linux

In my ongoing quest for “Really Good Software”, I tend to get grumbly about the vast quantity of software around for Microsoft platforms that ‘just plain works’. It’s polished, clean, and looks great. Occasionally though, I come across gems under Linux that are just as good.
In this case, we’re not talking just as good as Windows. We’re talking “Far better than 90% of the crud out there”. I’m talking about K3B the KDE CD/DVD Kreator.
Anyone who has done CD burning under Linux knows that there’s tons of tools for command line manipulation of volumes, but woefully few that run in GUI space, let alone do it well. K3B has the benefit of an outstandingly complete, polished, and well-designed interface, on top of the fact that ‘it just plain works’.
I recently used K3B to burn a copy of KnoppMyth to a CD on my T40 Laptop. I originally grimaced at the thoughts of what this might entail, but a quick ‘apt-get install k3b’, plus another install of ‘cdrtao’ (which K3B thoughtfully told me I needed – not in a crash and text output, but in a dialog saying ‘You’re going to need this’), and I was off. Speed was high, the interface was intuitive, and in 15 minutes I had my burned CD. And it worked.
K3B embodies what CAN be done if developers take the time to complete and polish their apps. There’s nothing like this in the Windows world – all the ‘tools’ I’ve seen for Windows (that are proprietary and usually cost money) are pale shadows compared to K3B. Bravo!