ArsGeek and Pure Digital Technologies present the Flip Video Camcorder contest!

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NOTE: This contest is over, but you can enter our newest tech contest and get a chance at winning one of three new MP3 players.

ArsGeek’s rapidly approaching it’s first full year on the web! To celebrate we want to give away something really cool. And what could be cooler than a 60 minute Flip Video digital camcorder from Pure Digital Technologies?

You can read my reviews on the Flip here. Trust me when I tell you that you’ll love this little DVR. It’s easy, fun and most of all exceeded all of my expectations for a $150 camcorder.

So how do you win? It’s simple! Leave a comment on this post and you’ll get one entry towards winning this handy little camcorder. A winner will be drawn at random on Thursday, May 31st and announced on the site that day.

Want to score some more entries? If you write a short bit linking to this contest post and to my main page from your website or blog, you’ll get an additional two entries for a total of 3 entries in this contest.

To clarify, you’ll need to write a short bit about our contest, and link to http://www.arsgeek.com/?p=1741 and to our main page at http://www.arsgeek.com. Feel free to grab our logo!

Once you’ve done this, use our contact page to send us the URL where we can find your post. Anyone who gets extra entries by linking to us will also receive a link back from us in a post on the main page and also on our linkback page. We’ll be checking each page before we assign extra entries.flipfrontusb.jpg

Here are the rules:

  • You can’t work for ArsGeek or Pure Digital Technologies.
  • When posting a comment or emailing us your link, you must use a valid email. This is how we’ll get in touch with you to let you know if you’ve won and find out where to ship the prize!
  • Our decision about the prize winner is final.
  • We’ll ship this to your door but can’t guarantee that it will make it there in one piece. Sometimes accidents or the USPS happens.
  • You’ve got to be a resident of the US or Canada. Sorry to those who live outside these boundaries.

Don’t want to wait until the contest ends? The 30 minute Flip Video camcorder is on sale at Best Buy for $99 through May 27th.

Here’s how we’ll pick a winner. Each entry will receive a random number. At the time of the drawing, one number will be pulled and matched with the contestant’s entry. That contestant will be contacted via email and we’ll ship out the camcorder.

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The future of computers – wearable computers

What do you think when you think wearable computers? Do you think about that phrase at all? It’s my strong opinion that you should devote a little brain power to this as it’s looming just over the horizon and it just could be one of those technical/societal revolutions that changes the way humans see their existence.

Fire, the invention of a horse yoke that won’t choke the animal, coal power, industrialization, the internet just a few of the things that have changed the way we operate in our daily existence. Now I’m going to put forth an idea for wearable computers that I think will change us again. This idea is based completely on technology that either exists now and is available to the public, or exists in the lab as a working prototype or something that’s expected to be working in the next 5 years.

Are you ready? Here’s the big idea: Wearable computing in the form of goggles. Doesn’t sound like all that much right? Let’s lay this idea open for examination.

Imagine that your computer monitor was a complete, 360 degree wraparound, stereo 3d display with surround sound. That’s a pretty big change visually but not so much functionally. We’re all dazzled by pretty lights but this won’t change the way our society operates, that is until you make the display the computer itself.

Now you’ve got this amazing display capability, that doesn’t just display data as sound and images, but contains pretty massive processing power (several 10 core chips at 5-10Ghz a core) with enough memory to make you cry and storage in the terabytes. Remember that all of this technology is either in the works or actually working.

This device now has massive processing power, memory and display capabilities. Add to this wireless networking that’s always on, connecting you at all times to everyone (and just about everything) around you.

You walk around and if you so choose all you see is €“ the reality around you, unaltered. But with a flick of your eyes on you can bring up as much or as little data as you’d like. We’ve all seen Google maps, where sattelite images have little squares superimposed around them with user provided data. Hover your mouse over the square and get a nifty bit of information like Memorial to the People, constructed 1860 AD by drug ravaged squirrels€ or what have you. Now imagine these superimposed over the real, actual world through your goggles. Glance to your right on the campus of Texas A&M University and in an instant have basic information about any building you see. With a flick of your eyes bring up a list of faculty who have their offices there, what classes are offered and at what time. See services available, historical data, the architect of the building or virtually anything that’s made available.

Fine, granular control over the data you receive. Want to make a personal note about the building? A tree? No problem, say what you’d like in a barely audible voice (or a sub-vocalization) that your goggles will pick up, translate into text in the language you’re speaking and store the info as a tag retreivable at any time by you. If you want, make this tidbit public, or available to a certain subset of the public, like your co-workers or your Mom or members of a club you belong too.

Want to use the phone? Ring someone up on your goggles. Choose between text translated from voice, voice and text, voice only, voice and image (point of view or what you’re seeing) voice and avatar (a virtual representation of yourself) or voice and a real time simulated self.

Want to listen to music? You’ve got several terabytes of storage available on your device and an always on, high-speed wireless network connection. Choose to stream or grab from your play list stored locally.

Play a game? queue it up on your goggles and bang away. Want to be able to type? Use a virtual keyboard. Either using a laser keyboard projected by a small device wirelessly connected to your goggles or glance at a hard surface and set the spatial coordinates on your goggles, then a simulated keyboard is added, appearing whenever you look down on it. Type away!

Collaboration, individual work, telecommuting, virtual meetings, video phone, sound and video production, gaming, chatting, shopping, movies, you name it, all available through your goggles.

Imagine a display where you could have near infinite windows open, set to various levels of opacity/transparency. You can place them anywhere. In youre perhipheral vision, directly in front of you, six miles away on the horizon as a virtual 1 inch by 1 inch square. You could make digital sculptures and place them in real world places. Any who chose to see them, could.

Don’t you think that would change the world and the way we interact with it? Having that much data at your fingertips means never having to forget. File a fact away and recall it later, as needed. Want to get away for a while? Simply take your goggles off and walk into the woods.

Do I expect to see this in five years? No. I do expect to see this, or something like it – possibly something much better within the next 10 to 20 years however. How pervasive will it be? Look at the iPod. This will be everywhere, on many, many people with a particular emphasis on those who are younger and more able to adapt to a massive change in the way of working and living.

If you happen to be a millionaire looking for something to sink your money in, or a technical whiz looking to code, construct or invent your way into the future, well here’s where I think you should look.

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How to install Songbird on your Ubuntu box and then enjoy the music

Rockin Robin

Songbird is shaping up to be an amazing media player featured on ArsGeek and many other business and tech blogs. It’s not only got audio and video capability (with a HUGE range of media types) but it’s built on the Mozilla engine, meaning it’s also a web browser. Not only that, but for a preview release (0.2 people!) it’s looking slicker than a puddle of oil with George W. Bush floating in it.

Here’s how to set it up on your Ubuntu box, add it to your applications menu and generally enjoy the hell out of it.

First, we have to get it. For this release, go here. I’m going to assume that you download it to your Desktop.

That will give you the Songbird_0_2_RC2_linux-i686.tar.gz file. Let’s move it to your opt (as in optional) directory, and to do that we need to use sudo. So, let’d open up a terminal and do the following.
cd /opt
sudo cp ~/Desktop/Song* .

Now we have the tarball in our /opt directory. Let’s untar it and get to work.
tar zxvf Song*.tar.gz
Phew! Now we’re working up a sweat. Not to worry, once you get this thing going, you can throw on some Bill Haley and be sweatin’ to the oldies in no time.

So we’ve got a directory in opt now that looks something like this:

Songbird_20061003

Lets’ do a little ownership change on this bad boy so you can launch Songbird as yourself.
sudo chown -R username:username Songbird_20061003
You’re going to want to substitute your username in the above statement. Don’t know who you are? Simply type:
whoami
Anyway, moving right along, let’s make this directory a bit easier to work with.
mv Songbird_20061003 Songbird
There, now we’ll save on the typing. Or cutting and pasting, depending on how lazy you really are.

So now you want to test Songbird to see if it launches.
cd Songbird
Ready? Here’s the hard part, we’ve done all this work and now we have to get the thing to run.
./Songbird
Yup, that’s it. Now it should be launching. Wow! Look at that design, feel the smooth edges, hear the gasps from your geek friends as they peer over your shoulders! Is that dandruff?

So, we’ve got it installed and running, now let’s add it to our Applications menu.

First, we need an icon, so you don’t end up stealing an icon from etherape or something. Thankfully I’ve planned this thing out and I have an icon for you right below this line. Just right click on it and save it to your desktop.

Got it? Great! Now let’s put it in the right place. Back into your terminal session for this one:
cd /usr/share/pixmaps
sudo cp ~/Desktop/sb.png .
Whammo! You’re doing great! Enjoy this encouragement! You’re wonderful! Ahem. Anyway. . . .

Let’s get this thing into the Applications menu. Right click on Applications at the top of your desktop (or wherever you’ve moved it too you hacker you) and choose “Edit Menus“.

This will open up the Alacarte Menu Editor. On your left find “Sound & Video” Left click on this once to highlight it and then choose from the top menu File -> New Entry.

For the name, let’s put Songbird. Under the comment, and this is important, put Thanks You Hooty Developers. And for the command, let’s add this:
/opt/Songbird/Songbird
Now, click the button that says “No Icon” and browse down to sb.png. You should also recognize the pic, having just downloaded it. Choose this.

Finally, click OK. You’re ready to rock! You can now go to Applications -> Sound & Video -> Songbird and launch this fantastic new product.
If you want to check for new developements in the Songbird world, simply launch Songbird, go to the top Help menu, and choose “Search for Updates“. Look familiar?

Take some time to explore, it will be worth it, and enjoy your new media goodness!

geek out.

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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.

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