Friday, June 29, 2007

Video Editing and Ubuntu

Last weekend I had to edit a video for work. It was nothing too fancy. I had about 45 minutes of video on tape and I wanted to save parts of it to my computer (the takes). Then I wanted to cut the takes into pieces (the scenes), edit it as I pleased and add some background music.

Let me go straight to the conclusion: I gave up and did it all in Windows. How depressing...

I was able to capture the video to disk without problems (I think I used Kino for that), but the editing part was really bad.

I tried out Pitivi but it just hang after a few clicks. Then I tried Kino but unfortunately it is too basic. No ability to add the background music (actually I think there's a way, but 2 audio channels is still to limited).

Then I found Cinelerra. I tried everything to make Cinelerra work properly, I even fixed the dreaded startup error regarding the shmmax parameter. And although the software looks very promising, it is full of bugs that make it completely unusable... It's a shame really.

I did manage to do a test video in Cinelerra. The video had cuts, background music, the works. But while doing this video the preview was out of synch (and that makes editing really hard), I had to restart the software at least 20 times (no kidding) and when I got to work with my new video to show my colleagues what a great editor I was, I couldn't make it play on a Windows machine!

So I went back to my Windows partition, installed VirtualDub and another video editor I can't remember the name right now and was able to do the job hassle free... 1 down for free (as in speech) software. :-(

PS: To fix the dreaded startup error regarding the shmmax parameter edit the file /etc/sysctl.conf and add the following:

# make cinelerra happy
kernel.shmmax = 2147483647

You'll need to reboot for the changes to take effect.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why I am not buying a Mac

Yearly this year I was strongly considering buying a Mac. The design is so cool, OSX seems like a great OS, they have TextMate and people I know that own Macs don't miss a chance to tell me how great it is.

But as time went by I changed my mind. Here's some of the reasons why this happened:
  1. The $$$ factor: I don't really need a Mac. Actually, I don't even need a new PC. It's a way too expensive whim.
  2. iPod: I own an iPod. I love it. It's a great MP3 + video player but it does have its flaws, specially when it comes to iTunes. There's just some things it won't do right (like podcast handling) and it has a few bugs that cause my artwork to vanish from time to time. Fortunately Media Monkey solves my problem, but it does make me wonder about other Apple software.
  3. It burns: A friend of mine has a MacBook Pro. The hand rest heats to a point where it is actually uncomfortable to rest your hands. This is an issue to me because I actually use the hand rest to... well, rest my hands! I returned a laptop because of this same problem, so it's a no go for me.
  4. Safari: I downloaded Safari for Windows. It crashes as soon as I type something in an input box. Again my faith in Apple software went downhill.
  5. Ubuntu: When I first considered buying a Mac I was using Windows. My machine was getting slower and slower by the day, so I believed I needed a new machine... Now I use Ubuntu and that problem is gone. And Ubuntu may not be as cool as OSX, but it is a cool enough OS.
  6. Fanatics: The legion of Apple fans makes me more uncomfortable than reassured. They always assume Steve Jobs is right and that everything about Apple is great. This means they have a high tolerance to problems and that they don't talk about those problems. This is not an exclusive problem of Apple, it's a problem that occurs every time a technology issue is turned into a religious war (think Emacs vs Vi!).
With all this in mind I'll save my $$$ and keep this not so fast machine for at least another year.

Scribus vs Inkscape

My sister in law is having an exhibit next week. To help her out I did the paper invitations during the weekend. This was the first time I needed to do something like this in Ubuntu, so I did a test drive on two applications.

Due to an article on Full Circle Magazine I decided to give Scribus a go. I already new Inkspace by name so I also gave it a try.

The short of it: Use Inkscape. If you want to know why, here's the details.

Scribus annoyed me a bit. The first bad experience was with the "new document" menu. It doesn't save your settings! I was doing a few experiments so I had to start new documents quite often... and typing all the settings all the time is a drag (I had to change 4 values for the margins and 1 value for the units).

The next thing I disliked was the line tool. When you draw a line it stays red (because it is selected) and wider than the line you actually draw. Pretty bad for WYSIWYG. Also, moving the thing around had some odd behaviors....

The next problem was undo. Not sure what it actually did... Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't... sometimes it did odd things. Like after moving the line, undoing deleted the line. Pretty bad.

The final annoyance was with the snap to guides. I set the option but it did nothing... it just kept not snapping. I gave up at this stage.

No questions asked when the software starts, the document is already there and it actually has the settings I wanted to use. Not bad.

Drawing lines was also as I expected, and after a web search on how to snap to the guides, it worked OK. And undo did what I expected.

After I did a bit of work on the actual invitation, I decided to move the files around to organize my folders. Turns out Inkspace stores the pictures as references, so I lost all the pictures I had in the drawing (about 9 pictures). Restoring the references seemed like a drag, but since the save format is SVG I was able to use a text editor and perform a simple find and replace! Not bad.

Then I wanted to add a new page. I wasn't able to find out how to do it! Fortunately there is the concept of layers, so I just used one layer for each page. I could have used another document, but since the invitation isn't that complex this solution was good enough.

Time to print! This was another surprise. You actually need to know the lp command details and how CUPS works to do some basic printing tasks (like printing more than one copy in normal mode). So much for a grandma friendly application. But at the end of the day I managed to print everything without a problem and the invitations were sent on time.

Here's the final result:

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Printing to PDF

If you need to print something to PDF in windows, you can do it with doPDF. I know there's a lot of other software that does exactly the same thing, but this one got my attention because:
  1. It is small (about 1Mb)
  2. It is free (as in beer)
  3. It is easy to use...
  4. ...but has advanced features for when you need them
In about 5 minutes (including download and installation) I had just what I wanted: a Word document printed in PDF, page size A4, 150 dpi's. Cool!