Hey! I’m back! Again!

Another chance to recycle this old blog. I am starting the Nebraska Library Commission’s Nebraska Learns 2.0 just for fun. Updates will still be infrequent by modern blog standards.



Hey! I’m back!

I am in a WordPress class. Maybe I should have done this a year ago?? So I am going to be adding STUFF and changing the look a little bit. Not sure if I will really start updating again.


I previously used Screencast-O-Matic for part of my 1 minute video. It didn’t seem fair to use that as a New-to-me tech, so I decided to use Jing instead and include it as a 25th technology. Screencast-O-Matic was web-based software, but Jing you actually download to your local machine. Both have very simple interfaces, but Jing seemed to have a few more options.

You can select a specific window, or outline a rectangle of screen space, and Jing will capture either a still image of that space, or video of whatever happens in that space. You can choose what audio inputs you want to use along with the video capture, or you can mute it.

When you are done, you can save the video locally, or set up an account on screencast.com top share it with the world. Videos are limited to 5 minutes, but you can pay for their Camtasia or Snagit products to make longer screencasts.


I think I have established on this blog that I am too cheap to buy things like PhotoShop. I go out of my way to find low-cost/no-cost solutions. Well, the no-cost replacement for PhotoShop is GIMP.

GIMP has more features than I could even understand. I am sure for graphic artists and professional photographers, these features allow them to work wonders.  For me, I have just kept it simple so far.

Rock Star headshot... properly credited.

Rock Star headshot… properly credited.

My first project was to add “Photo by Lesley Knox Photography” to a few pictures that I want to use as my profile picture on social networks. Lesley generously gave me permission to use her work, but I like to give credit where it is due. I was once an aspiring photographer, and it isn’t easy to do as a job.

Anyway, I had to adjust to GIMPs quirks a little. It is very precise once you understand it, but I didn’t think it was completely intuitive. I did get the photo credits added along the bottom of the photos.

My only question is: If I use GIMP to put my face on a picture of Brad Pitt, can I still say I “photoshopped” the picture?

USB Safeguard

This is a simple tool to encrypt files that you are carrying around on a flashdrive. To install, you simply download the executable file and copy it to the USB drive. When you open the file the first time, it asks for a password. You can click to open an on-screen keyboard so you can enter your password with mouse clicks. This is to protect against keyloggers on public computers.

It can store this password in a text file on your home PC in case you forget it. This is OK if you only want to protect the files while you are carrying them on the USB, but is obviously not good if the drive is sitting next to your PC.

With your password entered, you can then drag-and-drop individual files to encrypt, or just click “Encrypt all”.

In a final step, it asks what you want to do with the original unencrypted version of the file. You can leave it on the flash drive, but that would be silly, since you are trying to protect the data. Instead you should select either “Zero Out Data” which deletes the file and overwrites it with all zeros, or “DoD 5220.22-M” which overwrites it with several patterns of data. I described the DoD method briefly in my previous post about Boot and Nuke. It takes 3 times longer, and probably isn’t necessary unless someone is really after your data.

The next time you open the USB drive, you won’t see any of the encrypted files. Not even their file names. Instead you open the USB Safeguard file and it asks for your password. Then you can unencrypt any or all of the files that you have saved there.

URL Shorteners

Just realized that I hadn’t blogged an earlier New-to-me™ tech – URL Shorteners. I tweeted this briefly (OK all tweets are brief) a few weeks ago.

To send a shortened link in a tweet, I used Goo.gl first. I already use my Google account for lots of other apps, so it was an easy place to start. It worked just fine, providing my with fewer precious characters for my tweet. It also can provide a QR code that will direct people to your link. However, other URL Shortener services offer more features, so I tried out a couple of them. Also, the click statistics for Goo.gl links are public where others are private. I wasn’t concerned about it for this project, but it is good to know.

One weakness of Goo.gl is that it only provides short links with random characters. For example: http://goo.gl/WwgC6 was assigned to me. I had no option to try goo.gl/SomePhrase .  Bit.ly, is.gd, and tinyURL all will let you customize your link with easily remembered words or meaningful abbreviations.

TinyURL.com has been around since before Twitter made shorteners popular.  I used it to make http://www.linkedin.com/in/brianamaass/ into http://tinyurl.com/BMaass .

Note: Whatever service you use, that company can track statistics involving your URL. Is.gd plays up its ethical claims, such as maintaining privacy and promising never to charge for your links: http://is.gd/ethics.php .  Do your research.

Note 2: The top-level-domain of the service is often controlled by the government of a foreign country. is.gd is controlled by Grenada (.gd) and bit.ly is controlled by Libya (.ly) . Those governments can shut down traffic for that domain if they want to. Most would rather allow free commerce because they make money from it, but just be aware. TinyURL.com is U.S. based.  Do your research.

Koha Open-Source ILS – Failure

I’m giving up on 1 New-to-me™ tech.

After a few “restarts”, I got Koha installed & all the files look good. I had to dig deep into my brains to troubleshoot some basic Unix issues (/etc/hosts & .bashrc files for example). And wiki.koha-community.org was endlessly helpful.

However, there is a problem with the Apache web server, so I can’t open the Koha GUI. I have tried some basic Apache troubleshooting, but I am getting no where. Unfortunately, I am running out of time to teach myself Apache. I should have chosen it for a New-to-me™ tech in the first couple weeks, so now I would be able to use that knowledge. I didn’t realize when I started all this that I would need it as a prerequisite.  Maybe over Christmas break I will revisit this and see if I can get it working. I would love to be able to say that I have my own open source ILS running at my house.



Hugin – photo stitcher/panorama maker

York Minster

An attempt to stitch together 6 pictures into 1 panorama. York Minster ceiling.

After putting my photos out there in Picasa, I thought it would be nice to have one picture of the whole ceiling at the York Minster (Cathedral). I had taken 6 shots from one spot starting out facing the center of the church and ending at the heart window behind me. Unfortunatedly, I had turned the camera part way through, from landscape to portrait. I also wasn’t planning to stitch the pics together, so I didn’t really make an effort to keep the camera straight.

Anyway, I tried Autostitch first. It tried to automatically connect the pictures and did OK. In a couple cases, it did not seem to have enough photo overlap to put them together.

Next, I downloaded Hugin and imported my 6 pictures. The program again had a little difficulty matching up all of the pictures, but it allowed me to go in manually and assign match points. So I could click point A in one photo (the corner of a window, for example) and then click the same point in a second photo.  After selecting a couple points like this, the program was able to match up all 6 pictures. Because I hadn’t kept the camera parallel, the panorama curves, which combined with the camera turn left blank zones at the sides of the photo at one end of the Minster.

Part of the success of this kind of photo stitching is proper photo shooting. I guess I will have to go back to Yorkshire and retake these pictures.  Darn.

Picasa aka Google+ Photos

I have been dabbling in online photo sharing for a bit. I have previously signed up for Shutterfly to upload photos to my classmate’s Study Abroad collection, and I have a Flickr account that I have only used to get Creative Commons photos for presentations.
For my own Study Abroad collection, I chose Picasa. I downloaded the local program, which locates and organizes the photos on your hard drive. It then allows online syncing with Google+ Photos. I synced my Study Abroad folder, and then shared it in my Google+ feed. Just to cover my bases, I also posted a link to it on my facebook feed.  Google+ Photos has a nice interface, arranging the photos in a sort of collage, rather than just rows. It also allows me to set the privacy of the album to limit or allow it to be seen by the world.

Ubuntu laptop

This New-to-Me ™ task went waaaay over the “couple hours” test. Every attempt at installing Linux took a couple hours, followed by troubleshooting, followed by trying again. I was honestly on my last attempt before writing up an “I failed” post.

First I tried Ubuntu on old desktop.  This was frustrated by hardware issues – a slow CD-Rom and a flaky monitor. After fighting this for a couple days, I dug through a closet and found an even older laptop. I also switched over to Debian Linux.

Auto install failed repeatedly, so I went back to the step-by-step install process to find where it was failing – um, right at the start. It couldn’t decide what resolution to use for the display, so it would just stop there.

After I fixed that, the machine was running and I could use Recovery mode to get to a command line, but when I tried to start the GUI, it would go to a blank screen. Also, I could ping it (via Ethernet connection), but it would refuse ssh or telnet sessions.

I lost patience and decided to try Xubuntu.  Luckily this one failed quickly so I didn’t waste a lot of time on it. The old laptop did not have enough memory for this version of Linux.

Soooo, back to Ubuntu, this time on the laptop instead of the desktop. Install failed. An error message said it may be a corrupt install disk, or too high of temperature? This was a disk I got from Annette that she had used successfully, so I didn’t think it was corrupt. I was ready to quit, but I couldn’t bear the idea that I might have lost to a thermometer. So I started the install again, but turned the laptop upside down to help heat escape out of the vents in the bottom of it.

Ta Da!!  It installed!

I should probably go back and update the Installation Guide wiki to add the “Turn Laptop upside down” step. {OK, MAYBE it was just a CD-Rom read error before, and it would have worked right-side up. But what fun would that be.}

Oh no! Now I have to upgrade to version 12.  Fingers crossed!