Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Adobe's Lightroom

A friend of mine brought to my attention this great software tool from Adobe. There is a new version 2 on development and I've tried both 1.3 and 2.0 beta.

One of the reasons I've bought a Digital SLR camera was to be able to shot in RAW mode. Doing so gives you more choice in terms of development options than shooting JPEG.

Lightroom software allows you to give a similar treatment to your photos, no matter your shoot RAW or JPEG. The software main aim is to help you make your good photos great.

You may wonder why don't you just use Photoshop or GIMP instead. These other tools are just not designed to help you do that easily. However Lightroom has a simple but yet very powerful interface with an astonishing fast calculation that make it very pleasant to use. You can always easily compare the "Before" and "After" pictures.

You can get a trial version from Adobe website so you may try by yourself.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Running circles with Ipod Touch

I've recently bought one iPod Touch 16GB for my wife. A few days later I bought another one for my youngest kid (a clear case of iPod envy).

I was quite dissapointed when I've learned that the Touch did not support enterprise WPA nor it does include a VPN client. This renders it useless for any serious network use (so I'm not buying one for me till this is corrected). After the initial excitement my kid was kind of bored with the lack of new applications for his iPod Touch so he asked me to do something about it.

I was not eager to get into that fight, but I was told that Ziphone was a safe bet to install an application installer on the iPod Touch so new applications can be installed. They even claimed on their website that even a caveman can do it with Ziphone. So I decided to give it a go. 

I dowloaded the application to our iMac and selected Jailbreak. A few messages indicated that files were copied to the Touch and a message told me to wait 1'10''. Nothing happened for more than five minutes so the caveman inside told me to switch off the iPod, which I did. When I power it on again, a number of text lines appeared on the screen till a text repeated over and over like if it were a problem mounting a disk partition: BSD root: md0, major 2, minor 0.

Cool, now I've just lost my iPod and I am supossed to be even less skilled than a caveman. Googling led me to many people complaining about the same thing happening with 16GB Touchs while it was working ok for 8GB ones. 

Well, at least I learned that I could recover it using iTunes (once you are told that you need to attach it to the USB while you keep the home button pressed on the Touch). Then you can use iTunes to recover the original firmware but, bad news, your music is gone.

While I almost gave up, given the music was lost I decided to try again (it has to be the caveman inside). While some people suggested to press many times the Jailbreak button, the second attempt to use Ziphone did its magic on my freshly recovered iPod Touch 16GB (with 1.1.4 software) with the first click. 

Once the installer was in place my kid had a lot of fun installing various completely useless (but maybe geeky applications). Still no VPN client or enterprise WPA in sight. After several hours of fun my kid went to his computer to sync the iPod with his music library. I was a no go.

First he got an error 0xE8000001 as iTunes started. I've never seen that problem before but people on different forums mentioned that whe should kill iTunesHelper.exe and try again. That changed nothing. Others suggested it was due to a problem with the current iTunes install. After reinstalling iTunes the error dissapeared. 

Unfortunately the sync was a no event. No errors were shown but sync did not work. Did I mention all this was happening on a Windows XP PC? (now you know). Nothing of what we did helped us to fix the issue. It was getting late so I told my kid to go to bed.

Just to see what happen I connected the same iPod to our iMac and I was asked whether I wanted to clean the existing music (I do not know how you can do that when the device contains no music at all) and be synced with this computer's. I said yes but the sync-ing actually started here.  It would be ok if that was the right music library but it is not.

I still need to figure out how to get the device synced with the music library on the PC. Maybe it will work right away, who knows? Now I am sick and tired of such a lack of friendliness as soon as you do not follow Mr. Jobs paved road. Did I mention it's a toll road?

All we wanted was to be able to install (and later to remove) some silly apps on the device. We paid good money for the iPod. I think we are entitled to a bit more of respect Mr. Jobs.  

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cool OCR software

I'm trying out new tools all the time. Many times this action is triggered by the need of doing something new, better and faster.

Some days ago I needed to get the text of some book pages typed in at the computer. Old fashion was is likely faster but not very exciting (it was not much more than a thousand words). However I do like challenges. First stop was to use my old Acer S2W 3300U Scanner. It is working nicely with Ubuntu (well, it was last time I used with Feisty, but now with Gutsy it was not working). The trouble with this in Linux scanner is that, although it works nicely, it uses proprietary firmware that cannot be included in Linux distributions. That means every time you update your Linux distribution you need to copy the new firmware (and to add the proper line to /etc/sane.d/snapscan.conf file).

Once the first problem was fixed I tried to OCR the scanned page: It did not work. I needed to install gocr (that unfortunately was not installed by default). Not a big problem. A few minutes later I could easily get my page OCRed. The result was not pretty though.

Not sure if gocr is a great OCR but I've reckoned there was an OCR software that came with the scanner already installed in Windows. So I boot up Windows XP just to discover the software complained about a missing Fine Reader 4.0. Just googling for that led me to newer version of the software Fine Reader 9.0.

Many people seemed happy with this program and a trial version was available so I decided to give it a go. Although I was asked for my email and other data my inbox was not showing any new email with a link to download the software. I thought it might be because I was using a Mailinator address.

After using a Yahoo! Mail account the result was the same: I could not download the software from the manufacturer. Should I need to do something evil to try it out? I stopped for lunch and when I was back the download link was on my Inbox.

I've downloaded Fine Reader 9.0, installed it and I was amazed how well it worked. There were some gagging due to the fact that it was trial version (only first page of a set was exported to Word and a time and page limit was applicable too).

Although I later remove the software from my computer as I do not do OCR very often. If you do I think this program is well worth the price.

Having finished my scanning work I discovered the full text was actually available online (it was a 200 year old text).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

rdesktop missunderstanding

Every now and then I need to use Windows-only software for a project. I try to avoid it as much as I can but sometimes there is not other way.

Over the years I've tried different approaches with mixed success:
  1. Dual-boot machine.
  2. A virtual machine running the second OS (i.e: using VMware).
  3. Running Windows applications over Wine or even better CrossOver Office.
Recently I tried a new approach (not that I claim it is any type of innovation though) which is the use of a Windows 2003 server and Terminal Services. This way you can connect a remote terminal over the network. This is similar to Windows XP remote desktop but multiuser.

While you can use a thin-client to access your new desktop I am using rdesktop client software. It is very responsive even over the Internet and it allows you to share folders with the remote desktop. This way you can exchange files securely and easily.

The feature that was driving me mad was remote audio. You can also import audio output from the remote desktop. However you have to set this by using the switch -r sound:local and for some reason I was always thinking that the right setup was -r sound:remote and no sound was getting through. Once I realized of my mistake everything is working nicely.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

iPod Touch trouble

I'll first start telling you that I just love it: The iPod Touch is the coolest PDA-like device I've used. The size seems just right and though it's a bit pricey I ended up buying a couple of them as one of my kids wanted to get rid of his Creative ZEN-V that needs to be reseted every few songs (crap).

However I am really disappointed to discover that while the iPod works nicely with WEP or WPA-PSK wifi protected networks, it does not support Enterprise WPA (that uses a Radius server for user authentication). That renders the unit almost useless in our campus.

I've been told that if I pay $20 for an additional software then I'll be able to use a VPN client software that comes with it, but still no Enterprise WPA. Unfortunately I am not in the mood of shelling out a dollar more to Apple. I do think that they are too driven to make even more money out of us, unsuspecting customers, which does not improve their brand image in my mind.

I am afraid I'll have to do this jailbreak thing to bring some freedom to my devices. I do think that that what is wrong is that you have to hack your own device in order to install some software. In that sense the iPod Touch is much worse that any other PDA of the maket (that happily accept new software).

Time will tell us whether this new trend of restricting gadget owner's rights will succeed or not.