Open media formats for Unitarian Universalists

Are there any Unitarian Universalists — or keen open codec advocates who read this blog — who use Ogg Vorbis (audio) or Ogg Theora (video) to play, share, stream or store media? These are free and open-source media formats.

I may have a project.

In related news, I bought a refurb digital audio player (“MP3 player”) that supports Ogg and am enjoying it much. Of course, it takes a bit of work with Linux, but I hope to tell all once I have a successful workflow.

Ubuntu Linux 8.04 is here

I’ve been using Ubuntu Linux as my operating system of choice since 2004, and upgraded to the newest version (technically the release candidate) yesterday, also known as “the Hardy Heron”. The proper release is today, and if you’ve never used Linux, I hope you give it a try. It isn’t a radical improvement over the last version; it isn’t meant to be, but be stable and robust.

One added feature, called Wubi, is how Windows user can try Ubuntu Linux without committing to it:

There is a new installation option for Windows users. Wubi allows users to install and uninstall Ubuntu like any other Windows application. It does not require a dedicated partition, nor does it affect the existing bootloader, yet users can experience a dual-boot setup almost identical to a full installation. Wubi works with a physical CD or in stand-alone mode, by downloading an appropriate ISO to install from. It can be found on the root of the CD as Wubi.exe. A full installation within a dedicated partition is still recommended, but Wubi is a great way to try Ubuntu for a few days and weeks before committing dedicated disk resources.

That alone is worth a look. (Let me see if I can find someone who’s translated that quotation into Non_Geek.)

For details about the improvements since the last version, click here.

Epiphany browser fix

I love the Firefox browser — in theory. It’s free and open-source. It’s got tons of extensions . . . and that’s part of the problem. My former favorite browser is a terrible memory hog, at least on the (ahem) low-end machines that I can’t get enough of.

Better to use the browser developed for, and integrated with, the GNOME desktop, one of the main options on Linux desktop computers, and the default desktop for vanilla Ubuntu Linux. (New version tomorrow!) Thus the theologically-appealingly-named Epiphany browser. Its speedy because it doesn’t try to be all things. There are a modest set of extensions, which I added. More about that in a moment.

I had one complaint. When I Control-T’d to create new tabs, the cursor didn’t start in the address bar, so I would have to mouse to it to add an address. The solution is simple, if you know that the term term for starting in the documentation is focusing.

Set you start page as “blank” by going to Edit > Preferences > General tab > Home page > “Set to blank page.” It’ll work now.

But what I really love is the extension that synchs my bookmarks with my account, both from home and work. This allows easier tagging of sites I like and lets me search for saved sites by keyword in the address bar, rather than trying or looking for the URL. I can tell my Google searching has dropped already. (Then again, I have almost 2300 links recorded.)

The downside is that some sites break badly in Epiphany — it has a tiny market share — so I keep Firefox in reserve.

What common distributed work would work for UUs?

Two givens.

  1. My Day Job includes lots of interaction with software developers.
  2. My hobby — effectively — is learning more about my three computers, each with its own variant of Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu Linux, like other free and open source software projects, have a open yet ordered and participatory style of development.

There are days that software is more of vital force than theology. But make no mistake: I don’t write code. There are plenty of basic things I don’t understand. I’m OK with the odd amount of installation, troubleshooting and look forward to helping out with documentation. But I believe in the process and the outcome to want to do my part.

I’ve thought that this attitude is the difference between a healthy church and a sick one.

Given, too, that the Unitarian Universalist Association is moving to an all-congregations, all-the-time format — a mistake on many levels; for one, by what moral authority does it then credential ministers? — but that issue has been examined at more length most recently at Transient and Permanent. So look there, too. (I’ll bring it up again later.)

Thus, it seems high time to (1) use new models of distributed work to (2) share the work that the has been customarily under the umbrella of the Unitarian Universalist Association, but for which there may be little political will to accomplish.

What would you nominate for shared work?  What work models unfamiliar to churches would you suggest?

Distributed work to inspire

Later. Saw “Naked Day”? — it’s been moved to April 9.

If someone asked to borrow your computer to conduct malaria research when you weren’t using it, would you? I think most people would, and you know I’m not speaking hypothetically. Indeed, if you say BBC World News tonight, you saw a feature story about it. (

Years ago, there was a distributed computing program to find signs of life in the rest of the universe. This is the same idea, using the same software. Download it here, or if you use Debian or Ubuntu Linux, install boinc-client and boinc-manager as usual. (Had them downloaded before the segment was over. Ticking away even as I type. Doesn’t seem to make my computer slower while I use it.)

Distributed computing is not a new concept, and can make efficient use of resources. But that’s not why I mention it. In social networking settings, you get the same idea in human terms. Take wikis for instance. While most of Wikipedia’s content and editing comes from relatively few hands — which some people believe is proof that it isn’t democratic — a significant amount comes it drips and drabs from many, many people. And that’s important because the barrier to participation is very low and the collective contribution is vital.

Can churches say that? In some ways, perhaps. But institutional control, hierarchy, and professionalism mitigate against low-commitment, low-barrier participation. Indeed, the message is soaked with commitment (and money) and I have to wonder how much of a turn-off that is.

A thought. Comments welcome.

Because the power of the Internet increases as people get connected . . .

. . . and because faithful people are more effective when connected freely, I’ve decided to take Michelle Murrain’s suggestion and install Flock, a social networking-empowered web browser, based on Firefox.

To tell you the truth, Firefox has gotten so bloated lately that I was looking for other options, at least for occasional use. Like her, I tried it early on and wasn’t too impressed with Flock. But it seems to have grown up quite nicely.

Version 1.1 is available for download from their site for all the major operating systems. I use Ubuntu Linux so preferred to download the .deb-packaged version, even though it is in the slightly older 1.0.9 version.

Has anyone else used Flock? I’ll be reviewing it in a few days.

Folk Mass Hero

Friday was a noteworthy day at Day Job and included — among other things — a lunchtime round of Guitar Hero. (Don’t ask.) I was very kindly asked to participate but

  • the music associated with the game is very much what I call Straight Boy Rock, and I don’t care for it. (Had there been Synth Pop Hero, I might have been game.)
  • an episode of South Park skewering Guitar Hero kinda ruined it for me.
  • I’m getting to be enough of a free software/free and open culture geek that I’m not keen on giving brainspace to proprietary software and music.
  • Then an Office Mate — the same one who sold me his Asus Eee PC — told me about Frets on Fire, an open-source clone of Guitar Hero. (You use your keyboard upended for the controller.) At least that covers my third concern.

    Then I noted your can — really, must — upload your own favorite songs, in the open OGG format or as a MIDI. MIDI, really? Because most of the MIDIs I know of are hymns. And while that doesn’t exactly address by first concern, it does mitigate it. (And it’s a goofy enough idea to minimize the second concern.)

    A pretend-guitar playing game, on open-source software, pretending to rock out, Folk Mass-style. First, I think that helps establish my geek cred. And it does make the mind wonder and wander.

    For Linux of course, but also Windows and Mac OS X (wonky): Frets on Fire

    Asus Eee, day 4

    Not the third fourth day in a row, of course. This little computer has been more of a challenge to use with a version of Ubuntu Linux than I originally thought and that’s taken up my spare blogging time. The problem is I got the lowest spec-ed computer in the line; if you get the 4 gig version, I understand from my Asus Eee’s original owner, you’ll be just fine.

    Indeed, he was the one that pointed out the hack that allowed me to install eeeXubuntu, a lighter version of Ubuntu Linux specially designed for the Asus Eee. The key is permanently inserting a 2 (or larger) gig SD flash card — the kind many of you have in a digital camera — and linking it to the main drive, effectively doubling it.

    Unfortunately, if you’re not saying to yourself “Jeez, Scott’s really oversimplifying it” then I can’t recommend you try this yourself. That said, the default operating system on the Asus Eee is not bad for most users. It’s about to get a bit geekier.

    Shenphen has the hack half-way down on this page.

    Worked like a normal Ubuntu install after that.

    My next concern is that there wouldn’t be enough room for the applications I want.

    Using Synaptic Package Manager, I removed the following and their associated files:

    • Gimp
    • the games
    • Thunderbird
    • Gnumeric
    • Abiword

    Then I added the following, with recommended files:

    • Writer, Calc and Base, plus its us-help
    • pdftk
    • xubuntu-restricted-extras
    • xubuntu-at-mag (to try to make some use of the screen magnifier)
    • xdiskusage

    I also enabled Language Support for English and added the volume and weather applets to the menu bar. I also followed these tips to reduce the number of writes to the disk.

    Lastly, I added the Medibuntu repository to Synaptic Package Manager and added acroread, giving me the most recent Adobe Acrobat reader.

    My only reservations is that I’m not using the ext2 file system to reduce the number of writes to disk, and I’ve not learned the advantage of compressed file systems, like unionfs (with the Asus Eee operating system uses, I think) nor how to do it.

    As before, I’ll keep you posted.

    Later. I added Miro.

    Asus Eee, day 3

    A short note. The Asus Eee 2g Surf — the smallest machine in their lineup — looks like a good choice for many if you intend to use the preinstalled Xandros Linus OS as it is installed. But if you want to put something IMHO option that’s better, like Ubuntu Linux, you’ll have some problems. Go and get the 4g version instead.

    I’ll update you when I have something.