Jonathon and the Comic con – help a 16 year old who has severe cerebral palsy achieve his dream (Updated 12/18)


Here’s our Eighth update on our quest to get Jonathon and Ghic Chic to New York ComicCon ‘08.

We did it! Thanks to EVERYONE who contributed, sent well wishes, donated equipment or spent some time spreading the word! And a very special thanks to the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation for matching the funds we’d raised and making this possible!

First, a little background. Jonathon was born with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. he’s spent his life in a wheelchair and although he has the mind of regular 15 year old, he is unable to utilize his body and has difficulty speaking. Jonathon has a wonderful mind and personality trapped inside his body.

Now available! Official Superhero Sidekick T-shirts!

Jonathon’s use of his body is limited to some use of his left hand. As such, he’s enriched his life through the idea of superheroes – people who can literally do anything. His love for superheroes and all that they stand for has helped him through some very rough times, for instance by taking on their persona before and after operations.

Jonathon has a true love for all things superhero. Comics, movies and video games, they have all given him joy and strength and he would like nothing more than to meet the people behind his passion. We’re going to do the best we can to see this dream come true.

Through our paypal button (upper right) we’ve raised $60 $110 $210 $230 $490 $500! $600! $700! $885 $1500! We now have the funds necessary to fly them out to New York. Next we need to raise money for lodging, food and some transportation costs. We’re shooting for $3,000 in funds total.

Thanks to the folks at Neuros Technology for providing Jonathon (and his geek Mom) with a Neuros OSD DVR. They know how much he loves superhero movies!
We’ve reserved hotel rooms – we now have a place to stay less than a half mile from the convention center!

Big news coming soon! We’ve just taken a huge step thanks to some very generous folks. More soon!

huge thanks to Casio, who graciously donated an Exilim EX-Z77 so Jonathon can remember his trip through photographs and video.


We’ve received a number of encouraging emails – thanks to everyone who’s sent thoughts our way!

A big thanks also to SciFiChick and MadMovieGuy for mentioning our story!

To see what we’ll need to get Jonathon to the convention and to read about our mission, have a look here.We’ve been talking to the folks over at BBT magazine, who attended the convention last year. We’ll be talking to them more about advice on going to Comic Con and possibly joining forces.

Jonathon is getting really excited about this event and also sends his thanks to everyone!

Update #2 – Hi folks, thanks to everyone for stopping by. We’ve gotten a few more donations and some kind folks have linked back to us, which I think is great! If you link to this article we’ll link back to you as one way of saying thanks.

Update #3 – We’ve had a number of donations come in which is really great and has pushed our money raised almost up to $500. We’re looking at about $800 in travel costs and about $1800 in lodging. Add to that money for food and other items necessary for the trip and we’re looking at raising a total of $3000 or having some of the big ticket items (room/travel) provided as a donation. $500 that we’ve raised so far is great! That’s 1/4 of the way there in just a few short weeks. Thanks to everyone who’s donated, commented, linked to us or emailed friends about this.

Update #4 – It looks like we’re going to need about $3,000 all told to get Jonathon and Ghic Chic out to New York, into a hotel and able to eat. We’re on our way to that goal!

Update #5 – We’ve go the money needed to fly Jonathon and Ghic Chic out to Florida. Thanks to all who’ve donated so far! Out of $3,000 we’ve raised $700 – leaving $2300 for us to come up with for food, lodging and other things, such as possibly renting an accessible van for transportation around the city.

Update #6 – A big thanks to Virgin Comics CEO Sharad Devarajan who’s helped us take a huge stride towards our goal! I’m hoping we can go into the holidays and raise even more funds towards our goal. We’re more than half way there!

Thought Hammer, purveyor of fine board games have provided us with 4 copies of the board game Manhattan to give away! Our contests includes linking back to this post.

Another huge thanks to Casio, who graciously donated an Exilim EX-Z77 so Jonathon can remember his trip through photographs and video.


The folks at ComicCon NY itself have also agreed to give us two tickets for Jonathon and Ghic Chic!

The folks at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art have given Jonathon two tickets to visit when he’s in New York!

Check out SF and Two great sites in their own right, who are bringing a bit of attention to our quest. Also thanks to Don over at!Thanks also to our friends who’ve donated! We’re getting there! Once we collect enough money to send him there, I will create a special announcement on ArsGeek, to mention all the businesses who donated.


Two Gnome easter eggs

Want to have a little bit of fun with your Gnome desktop? here are a few easter eggs covered by the ArsGeek tech specialist.

First, hit the Alt-F2 keys together to bring up the Run Applications dialog.

Type “gegls from outer space” (sans quotes) and hit the enter key. You should get the below game, a la space invaders.


Next, try typing “free the fish” (sans quotes) into the Run Applications box. You’ll get Wanda on your desktop. Here she is checking out my Zen Stone.


If you have any other Gnome, KDE or Ubuntu easter eggs, feel free to post them here.


The Zonbox: Small, quiet, solid state Linux computing

I mentioned it couple of times in the ArsGeek news section but there are plenty of people who don’t know what is a Zonbox exactly? It’s a solid state Linux business computer, which means it has no moving parts – not even a fan. This makes for a very quiet computing experience. What comes in a Zonbox? Here are some stats:

  • Intel-compatible ultra-low power CPU
  • 512 MB RAM + 4GB flash-based local storage
  • Graphics up to 1400 x 1050 (16 million colors). Hardware graphics and MPEG2 acceleration
  • PC-compatible ports for keyboard and mouse
  • 6 USB ports to plug-and-play all standard USB accessories
  • Broadband ready: 10/100 Mbps Ethernet built-in
  • Pricing: $99.00 for the Zonbox itself and plans as follows: 25GB storage $12.95/month. 50GB storage $14.95/month. 100GB storate $19.95/month.

Zonbox is also very environmentally friendly. In their words: With Zonbu, green doesn’t have to make you blue! With its efficient ultra low power design, Zonbu delivers the power of a traditional desktop computer but uses just a fraction of the energy. That could mean as much as $10 a month in energy savings for you — and might just help save the planet, too. Not only does Zonbu’s low power design reduce CO2 emissions, but by buying carbon offsets, we make the operation of your Zonbu device completely carbon neutral. Talk about guilt-free computing!

Read on for my review and some screen shots.

So what’s it really like to use a Zonbox? Keep in mind that this is still a beta project. As such I did run into a few odd problems but nothing that I’ve found seems earth shattering.

I unboxed the unit, plugged in VGA, sound, networking, keyboard and mouse (both USB) and hit the power button. I was greeted with the startup screen, which took about 1 minute to boot into. Once there I entered my email address and password. Here’s what I first saw:

Perusing through the Start menu I recognized a number of familiar programs. Here’s a partial list of what you’ll find in a Zonbox: Firefox, Evolution, OpenOffice, Mujsic Library (Banshee), Mplayer, Photo Organizer (F-spot), Skype, Gimp, Scribus, Gimp, about 30 games including Frozen Bubble and Blobwars and a number of smaller utilities.

While the box is capable of playing games, I apparently am not.


The menus are well organized and easy for non-linux users to read. For example, instead of Scirbus you’ll see a menu entry for “Desktop Publishing”.

It’s a strange feeling to be doing work on a computer, browsing the web, playing media and not hearing a hard drive spin up or a fan whine away. Strange but nice.

Obviously, the Zonbox isn’t the most powerful computer and you won’t find the most recent desktop effects on it but it’s quite quick enough for basic computer use. I was able to surf the web, check my email, have Gimp open and listen to music with no noticeable lag in performance. For the users this device is targeting, the experience should be painless.


Zonbox has a documents folder created by default and available through the start menu or as the first icon on the desktop. It appears that it’s this folder that takes advantage of Zonbu’s offsite storage. Anything in this folder will be saved on the Zonbu servers (using 128bit encryption) for use anywhere in the world.


Adding a new folder is a snap, as is putting an existing folder onto the list of folders to be backed up and stored outside of your Zonbox. Simply drag the folder you want into the left hand ‘shortcut’ box of the browser and the folder will be saved.

Zonbu also offers a small (less than 2MB) download for windows machines which allows you to access your files remotely. Simply install it and click to open. Enter your email address and password and you have access to your files.

windows browser

In addition to this application, your files are available over the web as well, again by entering your email address and password. Changes made to your files through the web or the windows client are reflected at your next reboot, or if you choose to refresh your files list on your already running Zonbox.

As far as out of the box ability, I’m very happy using the Zonbox. You can be up and running in easily less than ten minutes, which is a bonus for folks who don’t want to muck about with configuring a desktop.

I’m not entirely sold on the subscription model, but then that’s always been something I’ve shied away from. With the initial cost of the box and a 2 year plan at $12.95 a month you’ll end up spending about $410 over a 2 year period. Yes, you could purchase a cheap desktop for that amount, which is my gut reaction. But you’ve also got to consider that Zonbu backs up your data for you, meaning that in a crisis, it doesn’t disappear. And we all know how good most of us are at backing up important files. How often do you think the average home user does it?

Even if your box goes up in flames, Zonbox will replace it for you, and your files are still available online while you await your replacement.

Zonbu, in keeping with their green theme, also takes care of recycling your Zonbox should you ever end your service or upgrade to new hardware. They’ll take it back from you and see that it doesn’t end up in a a landfill somewhere.
Would I use this for my primary computer? No. I enjoy gaming and I enjoy complete control over my system. I didn’t like the fact that your storage space couldn’t be used to install new programs.

I would consider using this as a secondary computer, or a ‘family’ computer, stuck in the living room perhaps. The price is not terribly expensive and to know that your files are secure out there is a great feeling. I’d be willing to pay the $12.95 a month simply for that.

I’ve got a suggestion or two for the Zonbu folks as well. Make wireless a standard feature. I’d be a lot more easily sold with one less cable in my living room. Another suggestion – find a way to build in an SD card reader. The ability to plug photos right into this box and manipulate them with the Gimp, then upload them to flickr would also be a huge selling point. At least for me.

I think the folks at Zonbu are on to a good idea. I’m very curious to see how well this is adopted. I can think of plenty of practical applications for a small, silent and non-power hungry pc that costs a hundred bucks and backs up your files for 13 bucks a month.


Installing Beryl on Ubuntu Edy and an Intel i915

Going Mobile

I’ve just upgraded my Lenovo X60 to Edgy Eft. Shortly after I did that, I installed Beryl on my machine using this wonderful guide provided by Uncle Spellbinder.

Once you get it installed (and it’s a lot of fun) you can use the list of keyboard/mouse shortcuts after the jump to get around.

By the way, does anyone know how to configure this so I can use an external monitor rather than (or with) my 12″ laptop LCD? I know that aiglx/beryl has some issues with Xinerama, as in I can’t get it to work, but I’d at least like the option of my display being on a larger, external LCD.

  • General Option
Alt+Mouse wheel Make window translucent/opaque
  • Application Switcher
Alt+Tab switch between windows from current workspace
Ctrl+Alt+Tab switch between windows from all workspaces
  • Scale (Arrange and view all windows)
Bottom-Left (hot corner) All workspaces (clicking a window will zoom it to the front)
Top-right (hot corner) Current workspace
  • Show Desktop (View desktop of current cube face )
Bottom-right (hot corner) Tturns on or off;
  • Rotate cube
Ctrl+Alt+Left/Right Arrow Switch desktops on cube;
Ctrl+Shift+Alt+Left/Right Arrow Send the active window to the left/right workspace
Ctrl+Alt+Left-click and grab Rotate cube manually
  • Zoom
Super-key+Right-click Zoom in once
Super-key+Mouse wheel up/down Zoom in/out manually
  • Move Window
Alt+Left-click Move window
Ctrl+Shift+Left-click Snap move window (will stick to borders)
  • Resize window
  • Water
Hold Ctrl+Super key and move mouse Your pointer is moving on water (Disabled by default)
Shift-F9 Rain is falling on your screen
  • Blur
Add some blur under transparent windows (will slow down your computer!)
  • Minimize Effect
Animations when creating or closing windows (works also for menu but then you have to select “Unknown”! “Menu” alone doesn’t work)
  • Negative
Super Key+m Inverse color of the screen
Super Key+n Inverse color of the current window
  • Reflection
Add somes textures to decoration (mostly visible when transparent)
  • Screenshot
Super Key+Left Click and grab Take a screenshot of the selected area (picture saved on the desktop)
  • Trail focus
Older windows are more transparent
  • Wobbly
Makes windows, menus,… like chewing-um
  • Brightness and Saturation
Ctrl+Mouse wheel down/up Desaturate/Resaturate (works also for desktop)
Shift+Mouse wheel down/up Less/more Brightness (works also for desktop)
  • Put
Super Key+Keypad 1..9 Quickly place a window on a screen (1=top left, 2=top center,…). On a laptop (i.e if you don’t have a numeric keypad, use Super Key+Fn Key+Virtual Keypad)
Gleaned from here.

Ubuntu – the best Linux distribution?

Ubuntu Community

Ubuntu has a lot going for it. A rich benefactor cum space tourist, a huge and rapidly growing user base, a sleek look and an easy install. So why is it the best in Linux operating systems? Simply put, it’s not. That’s right, Ubuntu is not the best Linux distro. Read more on Linux section of ArsGeek.

Is that a strange concept coming from a die-hard Ubuntu user like myself? Let me explain a bit. I’ve installed Ubuntu on three of my laptops, and at least five desktops that are in use by me. I use it as a server, a filer, a desktop system and my laptop’s primary OS. I’ve also deployed it to a number of faculty, staff and graduate students at a prestigious, ivy league university. The reaction I’ve gotten from users who run the gamut from temporary staff assistants to CS professors who teach kernel hacking has been overwhelmingly positive.

I’ve also worked in many other distros, including Debian, FreeBSD, Gentoo, Red Hat, CentOS, IBM’s AIX, Suse, Knoppix, Damn Small Linux, LinSpire, Mandrake/Mandriva, DesktopBSD and for a period of several months, Linux From Scratch. That’s a bunch of different distros and each of them have their high points and their low points. Technically some aren’t even Linux (the BSD systems). Some are ultra-configurable. So configurable in fact (LFS) that you have to compile everything from scratch. Some are not very flexible on the surface (RH, CentOS, Ubuntu, LinSpire) and come with much sleeker installs and a larger base of premade packages ready for install.

Let’s face it though, they’ve all got a kernel under their hood and a bunch of applications and daemons that run on top if it. Eye candy is optional. User experience varies as much as the users available. The most complex distro to install, arguably Linux From Scratch, can look ultra slick and extremely polished. I’ve also seen some god-awful looking Ubuntu installs out there.

The point I’m moving toward here is that there is no best in Linux. There’s options. Configurability, ease of install, control over your outward appearance, control of the inner workings of your machine. What will translate into a good user experience for those in the Linux community differs throughout our community. Some favor complexity and control, others favor minimal configuration and ease of use. Many of us use Linux not only to accomplish tasks on our computers but to learn more about the inner workings of our computers.

So why is Ubuntu becoming so popular with many, and so overdone with some? It’s got several things going for it that have pushed it into the realm of the public conscious and past the eyes and ears of Linux hackers and so-called hobbyists.

First, Ubuntu has an astronaut. Seriously. There’s something glamorous about a person who’s looked down at the Earth from a place only an extremely small fraction of the human race will be. When that person who’s attained this almost mythic position in our collective conscious then says something to the effect of “hey, I’ve got an idea!” lots and lots of people listen. Even when that idea has to do with something complex like an operating system or something hard to market, like an operating system that’s not Windows or OSX.

Second, it doesn’t hurt that this astronaut paid his way into space with his petty cash. There’s a lot to say for a rapid launch and good development when the specter of the bill collector isn’t hanging over your shoulder.

Third, it was a good idea. Make an operating system that’s based on proven technology (the Linux kernel and the Debian distro) and then make it so easy to install that my brother-in-law can do it and he can cause a toaster to go into complete system failure. Take all of the complexity that seems to lay on the surface of Linux and bury it under a layer of GUI goodness and menus.

That right there is what started the popularity of Ubuntu skyrocketing and is also the very point that niggles some *nix users. But it’s a sound strategy. Hell, it worked for Microsoft and Apple and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work for Linux. The biggest difference here is cost. As in, there isn’t any to go out and get an Ubuntu CD shipped right to your door. That’s amazing. It’s revolutionary and it’s working quite well.

In fact, there’s only three reasons why I still have Windows installed on my laptop. The license was purchased by my employer, I need to support users on it, and I like playing Medieval: Total War. Other than that, I can do anything I would normally do in any other OS in Linux. And more specifically in Ubuntu.

Yes, you may be sick of hearing about Ubuntu. Yes, we who know a little about the Linux world know that it’s based on Debian and that Linux is a kernel, not an OS. However, Ubuntu is doing things that are making Linux really, really accessible to the average user. The people who think of computers as smaller, more expensive radios or televisions. Computers have been marketed as appliances, not complex tools. When Jane or Joe average user buy a computer, they expect to turn it on and go – and their expectations have been set by the pay-per license OS makers we all know and love, Microsoft and Apple.

Ubuntu brings Linux a lot closer to this expectation. I’ve watched novice computer users install Ubuntu. I’ve seen everything that’s needed to check email and surf the web just work. The only place I feel Ubuntu is lacking for the new user is it’s support for 3rd party codecs out of the box. They do things the legal way and that can make it tougher on the new user. That’s the one area where I generally take over after the install and show them how to get video, dvd and mp3 playback working.

That’s also a complaint I hear from seasoned computer users. Some of the programs they expect to find in a Linux distro aren’t present. Such as a C compiler or Make.

Ubuntu is really designed as a desktop OS. A replacement for Windows and to a much lesser extent OSX. As such, most desktop users will never need or want to write a program or compile something from source. Not including ‘extra’ software also alows Ubuntu to keep their install to 1 CD, allowing the internet to handle new packages and updates. Remember that a lot of this functionality is not needed by the average computer user. However, being a Linux distro, these utilities are not hard to track down and install on your computer.

Is Ubuntu for everyone? Absolutely not. In the Linux user world there are just as many reasons to use another distro as there are users who use other distros.

Is Ubuntu a great choice for users who don’t want to know a whole lot about computers, are new to Linux or like myself, enjoy ease of use? Yes it is.

geek out.


How to join multiple .avi or .mpg files

I have recently started watching the fab serialized movie Bloodspell, which is created entirely in Neverwinter Nights.

Bloodspell is released in a series of 6-7 MB files. So far they’re up to part 7. This certainly makes it easier to download on to my laptop and enjoy 10 minutes of Bloodspell at a time. However, I want to burn this to a DVD and watch all seven at once on my home DVD player. Before I did this I just wanted to string together the 7 .avi files into one larger file. (I can’t stand a mess!) Sounds like a simple request? Guess what, in my distro, Ubuntu, it is!

This will most likely work on just about any linux distro that includes the ability to install mplayer/mencoder.

First, let’s get the right programs.
sudo apt-get install mencoder mplayer
Now that the hard part is out of the way, we’re going to make use of the wonderful cat command. I’d renamed each Bloodspell video as b1.avi – b7.avi. Now to string them all end to end.
cat b1.avi b2.avi b3.avi b4.avi b5.avi b6.avi b7.avi > bloodspell.avi
Now we’re 2/3 of the way there! Stringing together .avi files can cause a breakdown in the sync between video and sound. So, we’ll use mencoder to sort things out.
mencoder -forceidx -oac copy -ovc copy bloodspell.avi.avi -o bloodspell_final.avi
That’s it! You’ve got one contiguous .avi file now containing all seven bloodspell releases to date. This will of course work with other .avi files. It will also work with .mpg or .mpeg files as well.

Later we’ll discuss getting this .avi file on to a DVD so you can watch it anywhere.

geek out.
-Ben (@ArsGeek)