Vocal

I’ve been listening to podcasts for nearly a decade now. They’ve kept me entertained and informed for half my life. Despite my love for podcasts, until now I’ve always been very disappointed with the podcast managers available for Linux. Many of them are just too darn clunky, bloated, unnecessarily complicated, or feature-lacking to use day-to-day.

For a while now I’ve been working on developing a new podcast app, which I have named Vocal. It’s a project that I am extremely passionate about, but I didn’t want to talk about it too much or make anything official prematurely. I’ve never coded anything this complex before. There are a lot of pieces that have to fit together just right. I didn’t want to announce anything until I was sure that it would be something I could actually deliver on.

Vocal

I am now confident that I can deliver the experience with Vocal that I have always wanted with a podcast manager on the free desktop. The above screenshot is from the most recent build of Vocal. It’s not a mockup, that’s actual code (although the final look could, and probably will, change in some ways).

Right now I’m targeting it primarily for elementary OS, but once the main features are implemented I am going to explore making it friendlier with other Linux distributions. elementary OS will always be the number one goal, though (at least in the near future).

It’s open source (GPL v3), written in Vala, and makes use of the latest functionality in Gtk 3.12.

Some features for the first release include:

  • Video and audio podcast support
  • Streaming and downloading
  • Automatic checking/downloading new episodes
  • elementary OS system integration (notifcations, launcher badges, sound menu, etc.)
  • Importing/exporting subscriptions (individual podcast feeds, as well as entire libraries).

I also plan on implementing podcast discovery and one-click subscriptions for future releases. Device support may also be something I work on in the far future, but there are no official plans right now.

I’ve not had as much time as I would like to work on it this year while at university, but this summer I hope to devote a good portion of my time to making Vocal as stable and impressive as possible. I’m expecting a first release (at least a beta) by the end of June.

Stay tuned for updates!

 

A Linux User’s Review of Doxie Go

Last year, in my mission to go paperless and digitize all of my photos and documents, I began searching for the perfect scanner. It wasn’t long until I came across several recommendations for Doxie.

2014-03-13 18.05.59

Doxie is a brand of digital scanners that aims to be really simple to use. It comes coupled with software that makes importing and editing scans supremely easy, and provides integration with cloud services like Dropbox and Evernote. It seemed that all the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, but I couldn’t find any from Linux users. Linux isn’t officially supported, but as it turns out it you can use Doxie with Linux quite painlessly.

Hardware

After comparing the different models I settled on the Doxie Go. Doxie Go is a portable scanner, meaning that you can take it anywhere and scan at any time. It’s so compact and lightweight that you can throw it in a backpack. The other main advantage to that model over the cheaper ones is that it has a high DPI setting that comes in very handy for archiving photos in the best possible quality (see example below).

Baby Me

It includes a built-in battery that, as far as my usage suggests, seems to last for ~100 scans. The battery life is good, but it takes longer to charge than I expected. I’ve noticed it can take several hours to charge, depending how low your battery is.

The Doxie Go now comes with an AC adapter, and that makes all the difference. My first one did not come with the power adapter, so extended scanning sessions were frustrating. I could only make about a hundred scans, and then would have to wait for the battery to recharge completely. Now, I just plug it into the wall and scan as much as I’d like. The experience couldn’t be better.

It comes with a cleaning tool and a photo sheet that makes scanning photos painless. The hardware is very high-quality and doesn’t feel cheap in the slightest. It is prone to cosmetic scratches, but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem if you try to be gentle with it.

Use a SD Card

I’ve had the scanner for about nine months now, and in that time I’ve discovered that there’s a right way and a wrong way to use it. A lot of it is because I’m a Linux user, but in many ways this applies to everyone across all platforms.

I cannot recommend purchasing an SD card enough. For the first few months I used only the internal memory built-in to the scanner, but there were some issues with that. For one thing, I noticed at times after many scans images started getting corrupted or disappearing entirely from the internal storage. It’s also worth noting that after about six months my internal storage got corrupted and it completely killed my Doxie, although I’m not sure if that was a defect with the device or if Linux did something nasty to the internal memory by accident. Regardless, the safe way is to always use a SD card.

Workflow with Ubuntu-based Systems

Sadly, the Doxie software doesn’t work with Linux. For Mac and Windows it provides an easy way to import scans, edit them, save them in many different formats, and auto-upload to Dropbox and Evernote. The official software might not be available for Linux, but you can still do almost all of that using native apps.

After inserting the SD card (or connecting the Doxie directly, if you choose to disregard my above suggestion) you can navigate directly to the storage device in your file browser. Inside you’ll find all the scans as .jpg files. At this point you can either manipulate the files directly, or copy them elsewhere and keep the original copies safe in case you need to access them again.

Editing scanned photos is very easy. Using your preferred photo editor of choice (I’ve found that Shotwell fits almost all of my needs for photo editing), you can open the scans just as you would any other photo. If you have used the photo sleeve it’s likely that you may not have to make many adjustments, except perhaps some additional cropping.

As for documents, it’s actually easier than you might think to create PDFs from your scans. Edit the .jpg scans of the documents to make sure they are cropped and orientated the way you would like. Additionally, you can use a tool like GIMP if you need to boost the contrast or brightness (although I’ve found that most documents are fine just as they are scanned). Then, use a command-line tool called convert to create PDF versions.

To install convert, either search the Software Center for it or install via terminal:

sudo apt-get install convert

After that, just call convert in the terminal using the input file (you can input mutiple files to put them together into a single PDF) and tell it an output name. For example:

convert ScannedDoc1.jpg ScannedDoc2.jpg CombinedDoc.pdf

Doxie Support

As I mentioned before, at one point the internal memory on the scanner became corrupted and required a replacement. Doxie Support was absolutely outstanding. With a couple tweets they sent me a brand new scanner, as well as a pre-paid shipping label to send my dead one back.

Overall Feelings

I absolutely love my Doxie Go. Scanners have a bad reputation for being problematic, but Doxie is a breeze to use. It’s very well-made and, if having digital scans of your photos and documents is important to you, it’s worth every penny.

A Pile of Good Things

They say that your first doctor is usually your favorite. That wasn’t true for me.

Fish Fingers and Custard

A long time ago I watched the first episode of Doctor Who after it was rebooted in 2005, but I didn’t like it. I thought it was over the top, impossibly absurd, and had the visual feel of a soap opera. I did not understand how anyone in their right mind could like it. Over time I saw several more clips, but they still never really clicked with me.

Several months ago, on a whim, I decided to give it one more try. This time, I decided, I would start with series 5. It was the first episode featuring Matt Smith (“The Eleventh Hour”). To my surprise the overall quality of the show had improved greatly. The cinematography was extraordinary and it looked great it HD.

But that’s not what made me fall in love with the Doctor Who universe. From the moment Matt Smith first appeared on screen, he was my doctor. I connected with his version of the character. He embodied everything that is so extraordinary about the Doctor: care and compassion toward everyone, an uncompromising sense of wonder, and a childlike innocence (despite all the awful things he has seen).In retrospect, all the Doctors have had roughly those same characteristics. They’re all incredibly compelling, funny, caring, and clever. Despite my new-found appreciation for the character, I still would be lying if I said past episodes (especially during Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant’s runs) weren’t a little too cheesy for my liking.

I know that a lot of Whovians have criticised Steven Moffat, the current showrunner, for how he has handled the Doctor, but for me Moffat has handled it better than anyone before. Not only does Doctor Who have a more serious and professional feel where appropriate, but it also has more sentimental and emotional scenes. I have cried many times throughout the series. You really do come to care for the characters, both companions and series regulars alike. I’m also surprised at how well it tackles difficult questions about life, death, and everything in between.

So, people who I’ve said were crazy for liking Doctor Who: I was wrong. Very, very wrong. It’s a very important show with 50 years of incredible cultural influence. And it also happens to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

I’ve spent the past three months on a whirlwind tour watching as much Doctor Who as possible. I’ve seen all of series 5, 6, and 7 (multiple times), and all of the Matt Smith specials. I’ve also watched a lot of episodes featuring David Tennant and Tom Baker (who, behind Matt Smith, is my favorite Doctor, although I also really like Tennant). That said, I have seen at least one episode featuring most of the doctors.

So here is my opinion on how to get started if you’re a new fan, or if you’ve seen episodes in that past that have turned you off to the series. No matter how many fans tell you to start with the first episode and watch it straight through, the proper order (IMO) is:

  1. Start with series 5. DON’T make any judgements one way or another until you are at least four episodes in.
  2. Follow with series 6.
  3. When you are finished with series 6, go back and watch the episodes “Silence in the Library” and “Forrest of the Dead.” Optionally, watch “Blink” because it’s often cited as the best episode of Doctor Who.
  4. Watch series 7, but make *sure* to watch the Christmas special called “The Snowmen” at the appropriate point half-way through the series (it will be obvious).
  5. After series 7, watch “The Day of the Doctor” (the awesome 50th anniversary special that is one of my favorite episodes of television that I’ve ever seen) and “Time of the Doctor.”
  6. Finally, go back and watch old episodes at your leisure. Series 2-4 with the tenth doctor are mostly good, but can be fairly cheesy sometimes. As I said before, I also recommend watching the episodes featuring Tom Baker if you can find them.

I have immensely enjoyed watching Doctor Who, and can’t wait to see what new adventures lie ahead when the show returns this year with a new Doctor. As much as I miss Matt Smith, I’m curious to see how Peter Capaldi will handle the Time Lord. Allons-y!