Miro – king of online video tools

My online video experience until very recently was limited to watching clips directly on YouTube and Google Video, and downloading episodes of Diggnation once in a while.  There are of course more places and worthy video podcasts on the Web, but I just didn’t have the right tool, and I didn’t bother enough.  But all of that had changed.  A few days ago I stumbled upon Miro.

Miro

So, what’s Miro?  Miro is a cross-platform (works on Linux, Mac, and Windows) application for downloading and watching online videos.  It has a really simple and straightforward interface and does a lot of magic by itself.  You just search for things that you are interested in – either by keyword or by category – review the list of results, subscribe to shows that you like and Miro automatically downloads them to your computer.  You can watch those shows any time later.  Even when you are not connected to the Internet (such as on the airplane for example).

You can search through downloads, sort them in a number of ways, etc.  After you have seen the video, you can either delete it or keep it.  If you do nothing about it, Miro will keep it on your computer for a few days (defaults to 5), and then will delete it to save some space.

Miro also comes with a built-in video player, so you don’t need any external ones installed.  On Linux, Miro supports two back-ends – gstreamer and xine.  I had a problem with gstreamer not playing any audio, so I switched to xine and everything is working nicely now.  As an extra bonus, Miro’s video player remembers your last position for every video you played.  So if you just stop the playback and decide to continue later, you won’t have to fast forward – Miro will just automatically start playing from the point where you stopped.

Miro supports a number of sites for video downloads.  With YouTube, for example, it downloads a high definition (HD) version of the video by default, if its available.  Also, torrent sites are supported and Miro handles them automatically as well.

Miro is such a simple and useful tool that it changes the way you see online videos.  For example, before Miro I could only handle just a few podcasts, but now I am subscribed to dozens.  It’s like an RSS aggregator for online video.  It’ll make you want watch more videos.  And it will make it extremely easy to do.

Obviously, I can go on and on about how wonderful it is, but instead of listening to me, you should get Miro and give it a try.  Let me know in the comments if you liked it at all.

Wakoopa – one of those things that I don’t get

There are things that are as obvious as daylight.  There are things that I need to research and think over to understand.  And there are things that feel like I’ll never understand.  Wakoopa is one of them.

I first heard about Wakoopa back in April when I was in Amsterdam, at The Next Web 2008 Conference.  Wakoopa is a European social network that unites people who want to share the information about software they use.  If you are one of them, all you need to do is register at the network and download client software to install on your computer.  Once you are done, Wakoopa will track which software you use and how (often).  It will then upload these information to the social network, where you will be able to find other people who use the same software (advice? shared experience?) as well as other software that people similar to you use (expanding horizons?).

The booth of Wakoopa startup was one of the busiest at the conference.  And the company went through a few investment rounds, one of which I just read about in The Next Web blog.

And I still don’t get it.

First of all, I have the feeling that software moves to the web.  Not all of it and not as fast as I’d like it to, but the future seems to be pretty much web-based.  Secondly, those people who are technically literate enough to find, download, and install Wakoopa, are, I belive, literate enough to figure out their issues with current software and find similar software if need be, using nothing by Google and IRC.  Thirdly, there is this evergrowing privacy concern, that itches every time words “tracking” and “sharing” are used. Fourthly, there is the question of licensed software vs. pirated software, which needs to be addressed by way too many Windows users (primary target for Wakoopa software and social network).  Fifthly, there are likely to be quite a few conflicts between people at work and corporate sysadmins. Sixthly, …

With all that, I can still see that there will be a few people here and there who would probably like to participate in this experiement.  But, the thing that I don’t quite understand is how this experiment became so large.  I mean, there are millions of investment, thousands of users, and lots and lots of hype.  I don’t get it.  Anyone care to explain? Or guess maybe?


P.S.: Not that I am jelous of Wakoopa or anything.  They are doing something that apparently has a lot of demand, so I wish the best of luck to them.

Toolbox : WordPress, CakePHP, SugarCRM, RT

Over the last couple of years I’ve been working a lot with these four applications – WordPress, CakePHP, SugarCRM, and RT.  Each of these is beautiful in its own way.  Each of these tools is an Open Source Software. Each of these tools has a large community. Each of these tools has a free and commercial support and development. Each of these can be used in a number of ways to solve a whole range of problems.  Let me briefly introduce each one of them.

Continue reading “Toolbox : WordPress, CakePHP, SugarCRM, RT”

Looking for a king of TODO list managers

Recently I did another round of TODO applications testing.  There are plenty around, but none of them seemed to fit into my work flow.  I wanted something online, but something fast.  I wanted something simple, but with enough features to integrate with the rest of my toolbox.  This, that, and a bit more, and preferably free.

Just to give you an idea where I was before the TODO list manager – I was using Google Calendar with tasks written down as all day long events, which I was constantly moving forward, spreading them across the upcoming week.  Needless to say this was somewhat time consuming and boring, with a few low priority tasks falling off the list every now and then.

My  quest for TODO list manager started with Hiveminder.  This is a really nice web application, which is easy to use. It implements some really neat ideas, like doing a brain dump first and then reviewing and reorganizing tasks later. It also integrates nicely with the outside world.  There is a way to link it with Google Calendar, as well as follow things via RSS feeds.  There is some integration with email.  And, also, there is a very nice system in place for sharing tasks with other people.  Plus, Hiveminder is the baby of the same parents who gave us RT request tracker.

As I said, Hiveminder is a really nice application.  But it didn’t fit into my work flow somehow.  And I was a little bit turned off by the interfaces. Needs a bit more polish  I guess.

Then I tried … well, I don’t really remember now all the applications that I tried.  What I remember is that there are plenty of good ones.  Each does something differently, focusing on different areas of TODO list management.

… then I settled on Ta-da List from 37 Signals – people, who really know how to web applications.  I loved Ta-da List the moment I saw it.  After all those features and ideas that I saw everywhere, it captured me with it’s simplicity.  There is practically no functionality.  Just create lists, add and remove items, and subscribe to the RSS feed. That’s pretty much it.  That’s what I was looking for.  In case I wanted something extra – plenty of functionality is available through commercial upgrades.  But, at that time, I didn’t want any extra functionality.  I’ve seen so  much of it everywhere that I wanted to get away from it for some time.  And it worked.  For some time.

Finally, I arrived to my current choice of TODO list managers – Toodledo.  A few of my friends were trying it out independently of each other, and all seemed to have only positive feedback about the service.  When I tried it – I understood why.

Toodledo is a very feature rich service. It has lists, goals, contexts, priorities, notes, due dates, and a tonne of other features.  Somehow they are organized so that they always nearby, but without jumping into the face.  The interface feels like it had a lot of thought put into it.  But the best of all – the connectivity of the service with the rest of my tools.  RSS feeds are there.  Google Calendar is there (and it’s done better than that of HiveMinder).  There is Firefox extension with sidebar and toolbar buttons.  And there is even Twitter integration.  What more can I ask for?  (Provided that I don’t use iPhone, for which they also have an integration).  In this place and time, Toodledo is just perfect for me.  If you are in search for a good TODO list manager, I strongly recommend that you give it a try.

Learning about Markov chain

I’ve been hearing about “Markov chain” for long enough – it was time I learned something. Wikipedia seemed like a good starting point. I have to warn you though, be careful with scrolling on that page, because you can easily end up looking at something like this:

partial Markov chain

If you aren’t a rocket scientist or someone who solves integrals for fun, by all means, use the contents menu or jump directly to the Applications section.That’s where all the fun is. Here are some quotes for you to get interested and for me to remember.

Physics:

Markovian systems appear extensively in physics, particularly statistical mechanics, whenever probabilities are used to represent unknown or unmodelled details of the system, if it can be assumed that the dynamics are time-invariant, and that no relevant history need be considered which is not already included in the state description.

Testing:

Several theorists have proposed the idea of the Markov chain statistical test, a method of conjoining Markov chains to form a ‘Markov blanket’, arranging these chains in several recursive layers (‘wafering’) and producing more efficient test sets — samples — as a replacement for exhaustive testing.

Queuing theory:

Claude Shannon’s famous 1948 paper A mathematical theory of communication, which at a single step created the field of information theory, opens by introducing the concept of entropy through Markov modeling of the English language. Such idealised models can capture many of the statistical regularities of systems. Even without describing the full structure of the system perfectly, such signal models can make possible very effective data compression through entropy coding techniques such as arithmetic coding. They also allow effective state estimation and pattern recognition

Internet applications:

The PageRank of a webpage as used by Google is defined by a Markov chain.

and

Markov models have also been used to analyze web navigation behavior of users. A user’s web link transition on a particular website can be modeled using first or second order Markov models and can be used to make predictions regarding future navigation and to personalize the web page for an individual user.

Statistical:

Markov chain methods have also become very important for generating sequences of random numbers to accurately reflect very complicated desired probability distributions – a process called Markov chain Monte Carlo or MCMC for short. In recent years this has revolutionised the practicability of Bayesian inference methods.

Gambling:

Markov chains can be used to model many games of chance. The children’s games Snakes and Ladders, Candy Land, and “Hi Ho! Cherry-O”, for example, are represented exactly by Markov chains. At each turn, the player starts in a given state (on a given square) and from there has fixed odds of moving to certain other states (squares).

Music:

Markov chains are employed in algorithmic music composition, particularly in software programs such as CSound or Max. In a first-order chain, the states of the system become note or pitch values, and a probability vector for each note is constructed, completing a transition probability matrix

Markov parody generators:

Markov processes can also be used to generate superficially “real-looking” text given a sample document: they are used in a variety of recreational “parody generator” software

Markov chains for spammers and black hat SEO:

Since a Markov chain can be used to generate real looking text, spam websites without content use Markov-generated text to give illusion of having content.

This is one of those topics that makes me feel sorry for sucking at math so badly. Is there a “Markov chain for Dummies” book somewhere? I haven’t found one yet, but Google provides quite a few results for “markov chain” query.

fd’s Flickr Toys

Maxim calendar: January 2006

For the last few days I’ve been playing with fd’s Flickr Toys. It is an excellent set of simple applications that allow one to utilize a tremendous collection of images – Flickr – in a totally new way.

Basically, you can choose any image from Flickr and easily transform it into magazine cover, billboard picture, inspiration frame, calendar picture, stamp, etc. There are plenty of transformations available and they are really easy to use – just a couple of mouse clicks.

If you are a registered Flickr user, there are even more options for you. There are some games available, like, for example, the one for naming your contacts – you are shown a picture made by one of your contacts and given a choice of three options. You also get an option of uploading resulting images directly to your photostream.

Check this one out – it can grab your attention for some time.

P.S.: I liked some results so much that I’ve uploaded them to my Flickr account. You can see them all here (tagged with “fdsflickrtoys”). There are many picture transformations done by other Flickr users too. You can find them all here.

KimDaBa

Today I was really impressed by a piece of software. I have to say that it has been a while since I felt so excited about software the last time.

I came across the link to these videos that show KimDaBa in action. KimDaBa, by the way, stands for KDE Image Database. Basically, this is a program that allows you to manage a collection of images in a very effective way. By managing I mean organize, tag, search, and do all sorts of processing.

So, what is so exciting about this particular program?

Continue reading “KimDaBa”

Request for an application

I’ve got an idea for an application. If you have nothing to do or looking for an idea to practice your mad programming skills, feel free to use this one.

Flickr is an excellent source of images. Better even, all images are tagged and most are available in different sizes. It would be very nice to have a tool that could use Flickr images as desktop backgrounds (wallpapers). Ideally, I would just specify the tags that I am interested in, such as sports, nature, or landscape, and this tool would get the list of images from Flickr that are available in the resolution that I am using. Images could be random or sorted by some criteria, such as posted date or number of comments. If there would be a preview and an easy way to change to the next image (maybe even automatically based on time period) I’d be totally happy.

I don’t see myself programming this anytime soon as I don’t care much for desktop candy. But if one was available there is a chance that I would use it. I also know of a few people who would simply love something like this.

Gwenview – image viewer and browser for KDE

Gnome users might be a bit luckier than KDE users when it comes to image viewers and browsers. Gnome features an excellent application – Eye of Gnome (eog). Another good alternative that many people find satisfying is GQview (gqview).

KDE also ships a couple of image viewing and browsing applications, but they need some work.

Firstly, one could always use KDE’s file manager Konqueror (konqueror). It can browse through the directories nicely, generating thumbnails for preview, and even editing EXIF comments via the Properties dialogue. Scaling image to fit window is not trivial, but can be achieved. And it is somewhat slow. I wouldn’t spit on better keyboard navigation too.

Secondly, KView (kview). This is a pure image viewer. All it knows about browsing is “Previous image” and “Next image”. For a simple program that it is, I can’t stand its startup times. It takes ages to start and load the image. If I have to go through a collection of pictures, I am reading to kill myself by the time I reach the third image.

Thirdly, Kuickshow (kuickshow). This one is both a browser and a viewer. It shares the slow start up time with KView. It also has a rather limited functionality and poor keyboard navigation. My biggest problem with this one is absense of “Delete” in the viewer. Which means, I have to switch back to the browser to delete an image and than go back to the viewer to see the next picture. That’s simply annoying.

I have asked for suggestions in #kde today and some people pointed me towards Gwenview. I looked through the website and decided to try it. Luckily, it is also in Fedora Extras, so all I had to do to install it was to run yum install gwenview.

Gwenview (gwenview) is a really nice application. It works fast. Navigation is extensive, flexible, and natural. It also has all the usual functionality for simple image manipulation (rotating and flippig) as well as configurable menu of external tools (edit in Gimp, set as wallpaper, open in Konqueror, etc). EXIF comments can be edited via same old “Properties” dialogue. Image viewing is avaiable in a number of forms (thumbnail, small preview, full size, full screen) with an easy keyboard-oriented switch between them. Bookmarks are available as in most of KDE applications that deal with file browsing.

Gwenview also has support for Kipi plugins. Kipi, in case you don’t know, is the KDE Image Plugin Interface. It is an effort to create a base for exchange of plugins between several graphical KDE applications (Digikam, KimDaBa, Showimg, and Gwenview).

With all those nice plugins available I am still missing the historgram preview.

Using knotes

KDE has an excellent helper tool – knotes. It a small application that allows one to create notes similar to yellow Post-it that are so familiar to everyone. With knotes it is possible to create notes in all fonts, colors, and sizes as well as set alarms on those notes, display them over all desktops, above or below all windows, etc.

I knew about this application for a long time now, but never got used to using it until recently. After thinking a bit about what kept me away from it, I realized that these were the shortcuts. Particularly, there are two shortcuts which can make all the difference – “New Note” and “New Note From Clipboard”. By default, some weird keys (Alt+Shift+N and Alt+Shift+C) are assigned to these actions. Very inconvenient and non-ituitive.

Using knotes’ configuration dialogue I reconfigured the shortcuts to be F12 for an empty new note and Ctrl+F12 for a new note with clipboard content. That feels way better now. Try it and you’ll be surprised…

P.S.: Now I wisht that knotes could have transparent window background…