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Tip of the Day: Article publishined on OpenSource.com

I am extremely excited to announce that my latest article, a tutorial entitled Learn Geometry with Dr. Geo, will be published by opensource.com.  This is the first article of this nature that I’ve written that someone else will publish.  I think that they did a wonderful job presenting the article and using my screenshots. Thanks to opensource.com for publishing this article.

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It will be available here on August 22, 2016 (that’s 22 August 2016 for the 6.68 billion people not living in the United States).

Tip of the Day!

It’s been over a month since I published my last article, so I just wanted to check in with my readers. I have every intention of continuing this blog indefinitely, or as long as possible. My hiatus has been due to a recent lack of time. I have enrolled in courses to become an educational consultant, which has tapped into my time for this project. This project is one of the reasons that I am (eventually) leaving the field of teaching for that of being a consultant. This new career will provide me with the increased income that I need to develop this project adequately and to give it the chance to thrive that it so deserves.

In short, though my blogs will be less frequent until my courses are done, this blog, like my enthusiasm for the Energize Education project, will carry on. Thanks for reading.

Convert Media Files with WinFF

I’d like to look at a nifty little media converter entitled WinFF. WinFF bills itself as an open source video converter. I refer to it as a media converter as it is capable of converting audio files as well. Truth be told, WinFF is actually a graphical front-end program for FFmpeg, which is a program run from the comand line that does the actual converting. WinFF simply allows users unfamiliar with the command line to run conversions using a graphic interface.

Before I begin, I want to say that I am running WinFF in Ubuntu Linux. Although WinFF is available for both Linux/UNIX and Microsoft Windows, the screenshots in this article will show WinFF being run on Linux and will also show a file manager, equivalent to Windows Explorer, displaying the contents of a CD, or as Linux refers to them, an Audio Disc, which is similar to a CD’s/DVD’s folder in Windows. That having been stated and without further adieu, let’s get to the point of this blog: converting media files using WinFF.

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The WinFF window

When initially launched, you will be presented with a window that should look like the screenshot at left. WinFF’s interface is WYSIWYG and you can see from the screenshot that the buttons on the toolbar (referred to as the Buttons in the WinFF documentation, which can be downloaded from their Web site) offer tooltips to provide more information about their function. Above the Buttons is a menu bar. Below these is an empty field where information is displayed during the conversion process. Below this are tabs pertaining to various types of media and a place to specify your output, or destination, folder.

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Let’s convert these .WAV files on this CD to MP3s.

I will be converting the CD shown in the screenshot at right. It was a gift from my niece (Love you, Ayla) and I’m anxious to add it to my MP3 collection. Place the audio CD in your DVD drive. A window will open asking you what to do with the disc that has been placed in the drive. Choose to open it in file manager. This way you can view the files on the CD. WinFF and FFmpeg support WAV files, but not CDA (Compact Disc Audio) files. Your CD is likely to have files in either format. Once you’ve checked the contents of the CD or, as WinFF refers to this type of media, Audio Disc, you can start WinFF.

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The Select Video Files window

Once WinFF has opened, click the Add button. This will open the Select Video Files window (shown at left), which looks like a file manager. Select the files that you wish to convert (Tip: You can press the CTRL and A keyboard keys simultaneously to select all pf the files) and click the Open button. This window will close and return you to the main WinFF window.

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The video conversion process

Now, set your desired conversion format and preset. For this type of action, Convert to should be set to Audio and the Preset to MP3. Next, choose your destination folder. This is important as it will make finding your converted files easier if you place them in a precise location. Clicking on the ellipsis () will allow you to select a more specific location than the default, which in Linux/UNIX is your home directory. When you are ready, click on the Convert button and the process will begin. The actual conversion process occurs in a terminal window as shown in the screenshot at right.

When the process is completed, you will be instructed to Press Enter to Continue (as shown in the screenshot above), which will close the terminal window and return you to the main WinFF window. The process is complete and you can now close WinFF. You may still want to rename your new MP3 files as they will still possess the generic name (e.g. “Track 1.mp3”) that they had while on the CD, but that can be done in a file manager at your leisure.

Resources

WinFF Download Page

References

Ballard, F. (n.d.). FFmeg [software]. Lesser GNU General Public License.

Weatherford, M. (2013). WinFF 1.5 English Documentation.. GNU General Public License.

Weatherford, M. and Stoffberg, I. (2015). WinFF [software]. WinFF.org.

Live Linux Distro using Window Maker

Whether regular readers of this blog are aware of the fact or not, one of my favorite window managers is Window Maker. For those unfamiliar with Window Maker, it is a window manager for the X Window System used on UNIX-based operating systems, like Linux. Window Maker is based on the now defunct NeXTSTEP operating system, which employed an application dock. NeXTSTEP was the model for Apple’s MacOS user interface. So, when I found out about Window Maker Live, a live (runs from CD/DVD or flash drive) Debian Linux distribution that employs Window Maker as its graphical interface, I felt compelled to write a blog about it.

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Window Maker Live in action

Why do I like Window Maker so much? First of all, it employs its own configuration tool, WPrefs, which allows users to graphically modify Window Maker’s appearance and settings. Most window managers require users to manually edit a configuration file in a text editor, which can be tedious to non-programmers, so this is a real treat. Another reason that I like Window Maker is that it’s fairly easy to use. Even the default menu, unmodified by user or operating system, provides easy access to commonly used programs. It also makes it easy to track running programs and to add them to the application dock. Window Maker also offers a great number of dockapps (see below). Finally, and perhaps most superficially, I think Window Maker looks cool. This is mostly due to its rather non-traditional interface (no task bar, no main menu button, no desktop icons, etc.).

First of all, upon boot, your are promtped to provide a user name. This is a great personalization feature that is seldom found in Live distributions of Linux. (Note: I used GIMP for my screenshots and therefore am unable to provide an image of this screen.) One of the options on the logout menu is to lock the session. I assume that this feature would work in such a way that someone seeking to access a locked session other than the user who is signed on, would have to provide the correct name to unlock the window manager.

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Window Maker Live Welcome Message

Looking at the screenshot to the left, we can see the start up screen (note that GIMP does not automatically run on start up. As stated above, I used GIMP for screenshots, so the icons in the lower left corner represent various GIMP windows that are minimized. The tile with the speech bubble represents the welcome message). As can be seen, the Window Maker application dock is on the right-hand side of the screen. Above this is the Clip for switching between multiple workspaces (though only one is provided by default).

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Integrated help is readily available.

A quick guided tour starting on the right shows the Clip in the upper right-hand corner. Just to the left of this is the Window Maker Live Installation button. Below the Clip is the application dock. The first button on the application dock is the Window Maker Info button, which opens a window providing information about Window Maker and the system upon which it’s running. Below this is the first of the dockapps (see below), wmtime, which is running in digital mode. The tile below this is a dockapp entitled wmbutton. Wmbuttom allows users to launch programs and system configuration tools with one click, just as they would with quick launch buttons on a panel in a desktop environment, like KDE or XFCE.

The next dockapp is wmudmount, which provides a quick way to manage mounted file systems. The next two dock tiles are docked applications that provide a quick way to launch Mozilla Thunderbird email client and Mozilla Firefox Web browser respectively. Below these are two tiles to launcn terminal emulators. The first opens a terminal as a regular user. The tile with the little devil (known as “Little Daemon” (a daemon is a program that runs in the background in UNIX or Linux)) opens a terminal emulator with administrative or root privileges. The tiles in the lower left-hand corner represent currently running programs.

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All of these dockapps to choose from!

Regarding dockapps, this leads me to address another neat feature of Window Maker. Desktop environments provide apps for panels to enhance functionality and to provide users with desired information such as the time or CPU activity. The capacity exists through dockapps to add this functionality to your Window Maker session. The screenshot on the right shows a menu list of dockapps available in Window Maker Live. However,there are many others available that are not listed there. In addition to the two dockapps mentioned above, there are dock apps such as wmweather and wmmoonclock that can provide information about the world around us. Other dockapps provide access to system information and configuration, such as wmmixer, a sound mixer, or wmtemp, which displays CPU temperature. Dockapps provide a convenient way to customize your Window Maker experience.

Finally, I want to add that as Window Maker Live uses a window manager in lieu of a desktop environment, it will run just fine on older computers. Give it a try. It won’t harm your computer and you may just find yourself a new operating system.

Resources
Window Maker Live Web Site

References
Kojima, A.D. and Pascu, D. (2006). Window Maker [software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.

Window Maker: Dockapps. Retrieved from http://windowmaker.org/dockapps/

Window Maker Live [software].(n.d.). GNU General Public License.

LA Times’ Festival of Books

Energize Education through Open Source will be one of the books presented by Lulu Publishing at the Los Angeles Times’ annual Festival of Books at the USC campus on April 18 and 19, 2015. More information will be provided as it becomes available. For more information about the festival, click here.

How to Effectively Introduce People to Open Source

This is a topic of great importance to anyone who has tried or wishes to try to introduce people to open source. For many computer users the mention of “open source” brings to mind Linux, what they perceive to be a computer geek’s operating system that is just too complex for regular people to use. Writer and technology coach Scott Nesbitt presents in this short video a viable way for people in the know to introduce open source to new users. He makes some damned good points, so you may want to take notes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-KdORfVVxQ

GParted -Hard Drive Partitioning Made Easy

For this installment, I’d like to take a look at a piece of open source software (what else?) that allows you to view and modify hard drive partitions. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please allow me to elucidate.

Modern hard drives offer an enormous amount of storage space. Imagine a massive warehouse in which you can store things. However, what if you need to section off space for certain things, such as office equipment? You might put in a room to house these things so that you can access them more readily. That’s where hard drives are like warehouses. You don’t always need one big space to store your data. You may want to section off, or partition, space on your hard drive for backup or maybe for personal files. If you use a recent version Microsoft Windows, your hard drive is already partitioned (one partition for your use and one partition for system restore files).

So, how do you partition a hard drive? This is usually done using a program called fdisk prior to installing an operating system. The reason for this being that adding or removing hard drive partitions can erase data on the hard drive in question. The only alternative is to use software designed to allow this process to occur while simultaneously protecting your data. This is where GParted comes into play.

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The author’s GParted session

Let’s take a look at the GNOME Partition Editor, or GParted, for short. When you start GParted, the program window will open and immediately start looking for hard drives and hard drive-like devices connected to your computer. Once such devices have been identified, GParted is ready to use. The screenshot on the left shows GParted displaying the partition table for the author’s primary hard drive (/dev/sda).

As you can see, GParted provides information regarding partition type, size and usage. In the case of the author’s hard drive, information regarding unallocated space is also included. Right-clicking on a partition will open a menu providing options such as unmounting the partition in question, resizing/moving the partition and even more information about said partition. Unavailable options are grayed out. Here you can also toggle the partitions from which your computer will try to boot, using boot flags. A toolbar provides moderate functionality, however, the menu bar near the top of the window provides the quickest access to features.

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Partition creation made easy.

To demonstrate how easily partitions can be created, the author chose to create a partition on a 1 TB external hard drive. Simply right-click on unallocated space on your device and choose New from the menu. This will open the Create New Partition dialog box (as shown in the screenshot at right). Here you can enter such information as the size of the new partition, the file system (operating system type) and even a label for the new partition. When ready, click the Add button and GParted will do all the work.

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Viola! A new partition

When the process is completed, you’ll be presented with the main GParted window, which will display your newly created partition (see the screenshot to the left). Looking at the top pane in the screenshot, you can see that my new partition occupies the entire hard drive. Below this, a pane provides specific information. You will notice that the aptly named “New Partition #1” has a fat32 (usually spelled FAT32) file system. I have given it the label “My Passport,” which is the name assigned to this device by the manufacturer. You’ll also notice that its size is 931.48 GB. Used space and unused space are blank and this partition has not been flagged as bootable.

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Is your file system GParted compatible?

So, what types of partitions does GParted support? The screenshot on the right shows a GParted window displaying compatible file systems. Not all file systems are supported. However there are a few worth noting. The file systems ext2, ext3 and ext4 are the most common Linux/UNIX file systems. You’ll also notice file systems fat16 and fat32, the latter of which I used for my partition on the external hard drive. These file systems were used in DOS and Microsoft Windows 95,98 and ME. Finally, you’ll see ntfs, which was/is used on Microsoft Windows NT, 2000, XP, Vista, 7 and 8.

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Two file systems have been found!

This leads me to one of GParted’s strongest features -the capacity to possibly restore data from a hard drive. If you’re running GParted in Linux, gpart must be installed. If you’re using a live CD/DVD version of GParted, this shouldn’t be a problem. I used an older EIDE hard drive that had been damaged in a system-wide crash a few years ago. Click on the GParted option on the menu bar, hover over the Devices option and select the desired device from the list that unfurls. GParted will analyze the device and display its report as shown in the screen shot on the left. Clicking the View button next to each file systems found will open a file manager in read-only mode. Here you can peruse the recovered data and even relocate it to a safer place.

The best thing of all is that you don’t need to be using Linux to use GParted. The GParted Web site offers a download for an ISO file that can be burned onto CD/DVD, as mentioned above. Your computer can then boot from this disc into GParted. Once booted up, you can readily partition any hard drives you need to or engage in data recovery in the event of a crash. How cool is that?

Resources
GNOME Partition Editor (GParted)

References
Hakvoort, B., Gedak, C. et al. (2014). GNOME Partition Editor [software]. GNU General Public License.

Help! Microsoft Windows Won’t Boot Properly!

So, horror or horrors, Windows has crashed and you’re having trouble getting it to boot properly. Don’t panic, because I’m here to tell you how you can possibly fix your damaged operating system and get your computer to boot up like the crash never happened.

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Tux the Linux Penguin

“Chris,” you want to ask, “how do I do this? Please cut to the chase and enlighten me.” I am only too happy to oblige. To rescue your computer, you will need two things: a blank writable media (e.g. DVD-R) and a live Linux distribution. You probably already have the necessary media or can readily acquire it. What is this “live Linux distribution?” you probably want to ask. A live Linux distribution is a Linux distribution that can be placed on removable media and then, by booting from this media, allows you to run Linux on your computer without installing it. That’s right. You can run Linux on your computer without installing it. Live distributions will not adversely affect your computer or data in any way. You can test drive a new car, so why you shouldn’t you be able to test drive a new operating system?

So how do you go about choosing a live Linux distribution (known in the vernacular as a “live Linux distro”)? According to DistroWatch.com, there are 178 live operating systems from which to choose. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use Xubuntu Linux as it is a personal favorite. If you’d like to see DistrWwatch.com’s very comprehensive list, click here.

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Xubuntu Linux logo

First of all, we need to get the Xubuntu Linux ISO image (the live operating system). Go to Xubuntu’s download page here and download the ISO image (be aware that there are two options:
32-bit and 64-bit. I leave it to you to determine which is right for your computer system). When the download is complete, open the Downloads folder. Place the blank media in your DVD-RW drive. Copy the downloaded file and paste it into the DVD drive folder. Right-click on the icon and choose Burn Image. The Windows Disc Image Burner window will open and guide your through the burn process. When the process is done, the disc will be ejected. Remove it and place it back into the drive, as we’re going to boot from it.

To complete the next few steps, you need to know a few things. The first is the location, physically, of the hard drive upon which Windows resides. The second thing is that though the Computer folder may list two hard drives (C: and D: (or C: and FACTORY IMAGE/RESTORE respectively) the truth is that you most likely have only one hard drive. In many respects, a hard drive is like an empty building. As with an empty building, sometimes it is desirable to create two smaller, separate spaces, rather than to have one big room. With a hard drive, this is done through partitioning. The two drives listed in the Computer folder (not including your DVD drive) are actually one hard drive divided into two partitions. one of which, C:, actually holds the operating system and your files. You need to be aware of this as you will need to know which partition you are going to attempt to repair.

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The author’s BIOS -your BIOS may or may not look like this.

Restart your computer. The moment the boot up screen appears, enter the BIOS. BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System. This is where settings can be adjusted on your computer such as date and time, boot device priority and settings pertaining to hardware built into your motherboard, for example. Sometimes the initial boot screen will display the keyboard key needed to be pressed to enter the BIOS near the bottom of the screen. If not, try pressing the Delete key. For Compaq computers, it’s usually F10. You may have to consult the manual that came with your computer to learn how to enter the BIOS. Your BIOS may look like mine, shown in the screenshot to the right.

Once in the BIOS, you will want to modify the boot device sequence (this is under Advanced BIOS features in my BIOS). You will want to set the DVD drive containing the bootable media as your first boot device. Make a note of your current first boot device so that you can restore it to this capacity when you reboot. When finished, press F10 and choose Yes when asked if you want to save the current settings and exit.

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My live Xubuntu session

The system will boot from the DVD. You will be prompted to touch the keyboard. After choosing the appropriate language (English-US is default), choose Try Xubuntu without installing from the menu that appears. Once the system has booted, you’ll see the Xubuntu Linux Desktop, as shown in the screenshot at left. Open the Terminal Emulator (command line) window (there’s a button to do this on the panel (application dock) at the bottom of the screen (it’s set to AutoHide, so just move the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen to view it). First, we need to see where Linux has put your C: partition. Type )or copy and paste) the following command into the terminal:

sudo fdisk /dev/sda

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Fdisk displaying partitions of a typical hard drive running Windows.

Sudo tells Xubuntu that you want to run the command as a system administrator. Fdisk is a hard drive partitioning program. Don’t worry. We’re not editing any partitions. We’re just using fdisk to view the partitions on /dev/sda (your primary hard drive). The /dev/sda portion of the command tells Linux that we want to look in the devices (/dev) directory for the primary or first hard drive (/sda). At the question mark prompt (?), type p to print the partition table. My partition table is shown in the screenshot (note that I changed the Terminal Emulator’s default color scheme for the sake of legibility in this blog). Most likely, your C: drive is listed as /dev/sda1. Press q to quit fdisk.

At last we’ve reached the next to last step. In the Terminal Emulator window, type the following:

sudo ntfsfix /dev/sda1

A report of errors found may be generated. Reboot the system using the Session Menu. The system will shut down Linux and eject the disc. Remove the DVD and press Enter as the prompt on the screen asks and, upon reboot, enter the BIOS to restore your boot device settings to their original status, save and reboot. If all went well, Windows will boot to its former functional status. Don’t thank me. Thank the developers behind the ntfsfix program. They’re the real heroes.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

I’m currently working on an article about a brilliant piece of open source software called Scratch. It’s created and maintained by MIT and designed to teach beginning computer programming to young people, but gives them the opportnity to create interactive stories and games. These can then be shared with others online. I’m really excited about this fun and versatile application. The screenshot below provides a preview of Scratch.

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Scratch on initial startup

Energize Education Tip of the Day- The KDE Education Project

Today I want to focus on the KDE Education Project or KDE-Edu. As you may know, KDE (K Desktop Environment) is an open source graphical interface for UNIX-based operating systems like Linux. KDE-Edu is a project started by the people at KDE with the intention of developing educational open source software for all ages, both learners and teachers. ktouch,kde-edu,kde edu,kde education project

The software that they produce addresses language arts, mathematics, science and social studies as well as other areas of learning, such as computer programming and occupational therapy. Language arts appplications range from KHangman, a variation of the popular word game to KWordQuiz, a vovabulary builder, to Parley, a powerful vocabulary assessment tool. Mathematics applications range from KBruch, a tool for quizzing users about fractions and facotrizations to applications addressing more advanced topics, such as KAlgebra for graphing algebraic expressions and Kig, an interactive geometry tool.

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Kalzium, an interactive table of the elements.

In terms of science software, KDE Edu has some interesting offerings. These include, but are not limited to, an interactive periodic table of the elements, Kalzium, a virtual planetarium for your computer desktop, KStars and Step, an application that allows users to create virtual two-dinmensional physical science experiments. If you’re looking for social studies applications, check out Marble, a virtual globe that allows users to view Earth from various perspectives including geographical, historical and climate or KGeography, an application that quizzes users on their geographical knowledge including locations, capitol cities and flags.

Other applications include KTurtle, a program teaching beginning computer programming, KTouch, a typing/keyboarding tutor and KLettres, a tool for teaching younger students how to write their letters.

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Ktouch typing trainer

I cannot do KDE-Edu justice in this short space. There are more applications available than I have discuessed here. I urge you to check them out. They’re open source, free and will soon (as of this writing) be available for Microsoft Windows.