cool_software

Catching the Raspberry Pi Fever

I was recently asked by someone what interesting things I had done with a Raspberry Pi. I remember a day when I could have rambled off a full list of experience, cautions and advice based on my own tinkering. I was usually the first to play with new tech or, when I wasn’t, was very often the first to exploit it to do interesting and meaningful things within the scope of my job. My peers and I would tinker and share in ways that have been popularized by the Maker movement in recent years…and it was fun. But alas, I could answer only with a, “No, I haven’t really had time…but I’ve been following it for a while and it looks cool”. Continue reading

Unbound…A Truer Word Has Never Described Software

Very occasionally a tool or software package stands-out to me on the pure virtue of being the right solution at the right time. If it happens to do exactly what you need RIGHT NOW, and other, perhaps more traditional, mature or well-known tools cannot, the best fit becomes clear. Unbound is exactly this kind of fit. Self-described as “a validating, recursive, and caching DNS resolver”, it’s utility boiled down to one particular line in the config (and the comments that describe it):

# Enable or disable whether the upstream queries use TCP only
# for transport. Default is no. Useful in tunneling scenarios.
tcp-upstream: yes

The reason why that particular ability…being able to force upstream DNS queries to go over TCP (instead of the default of going over UDP)…was important to me today is dumb, but the whole story is a useful example of network fun under the thumb of an ISP that can sometimes do really stoopid things, so I’ll go further and explain. Continue reading

Tasker for Android

Most Android devices, Smart Phones and tablets alike, come with some built-in capabilities for automating different types of tasks. Useful lifestyle enhancers, like being able to set periods of time where notifications and sounds will not interrupt your sleep, turning off audible notification during a meeting, or replying automatically to incoming text messages when driving are all typically covered. The problem with most of the default tools I have used is that they are unable to handle real-world edge-cases. For instance, I may want to mute my sound and disable my notification LED for all applications after 11 p.m., turn them all back on at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday, but on Saturday and Sunday, wait until 8 a.m. When I am traveling, I might want my device alarm clock to set when notifications are turned back on instead of waiting for the pre-defined time for that day. Additionally, I may want to prevent my phone from ringing during my sleeping hours, but allow certain folks to ring-through, because when they call off-hours, it is usually an emergency…or someone from whom I wish to hear regardless of time-of-day. Enter the Android utility, Tasker.

Continue reading

2 machines, 2 screens, 1 keyboard and mouse = Synergy

There is nothing more ergonomically and functionally annoying than to have to use two machines sitting next to each other, and having to switch between keyboards and mice to control them. Inevitably you forget for a second, and try to move the cursor or type on one machine with the mouse or keyboard for the other machine.

The perfect solution is to use a single mouse and keyboard to control the environment of both machines as if they were a dual-screened single system (i.e. moving off of one screen transitions the mouse and keyboard focus to the other screen). Over the years many solutions have been developed and adapted. Hardware solutions (KVMs) can be expensive, so software is often easier to implement on a budget. One piece of software most Unix-types are already familiar with is x2vnc. While x2vnc is quite nice and functional, it lacks flexibility, and ease of use for the average user. I recently came across Synergy, a much faster, multi-platform (Windows 95 through XP, Mac OS X, and Unix…including Linux) application that allows one to share keyboard and mouse between multiple machines (you aren’t limited to just two) with incredible ease.

I am currently using Synergy between a Gentoo Linux box and a Windows XP machine at work, and I cannot tell the difference between this setup, and the previous dual-screen, single system setup I was using on my Windows system previously. It’s that fast!

Have fun!

Screen-capture movies article highlights cool utils…

It seems that almost every time I turn around, I am amazed all over again by the flexibility of OpenSource tools. This time I happened across an article published on O’Reilly’s ONLamp.com site called“Making Screen-Capture Movies”. It detailed an innovative use ofImageMagick, the X utility, xwininfo, and bash to create movies and/or animated gifs for documenting processes. Although none of the steps shown in the article are earth-shattering, they are a wonderful example of how much power one has at the desktop for undertaking the difficult job of supporting end-users of computer systems. Power, I must admit, even I sometimes take for granted.

To add the topper on this, the discussions in the forum at the conclusion of the article brought to light current uses of vncrec andtranscode to create continuous motion screen-capture movies with included audio. I’ve begun playing, so look for some “documentaries” to begin showing up on my sites soon.