Vocal Development Update #1

The past two weeks of my life have been surreal. I never expected such a positive reaction to Vocal, but I’m thrilled that so many of you are as enthusiastic about this project as I am. Thanks for all the great feedback and kind words!

Now, to get back to business :)

Last week I was able to tackle many of the problems I was having in turning Vocal into a (marginally) functional podcast client. I spent the entire day Monday fixing the RSS Feed Parser. It seems to be functional now, so importing RSS feeds works like a charm (at least from my testing). As soon as you add a new feed Vocal locates the album art and fills in all the episodes.

Speaking of which, the episode selection window is also working now. Once episodes are populated you can choose to either stream or download an episode, and of course you can view each episode’s description. Streaming is currently functional, downloading is not.

I also polished up the media backend (GStreamer). Before you could only play and pause, and you couldn’t select which episode you wanted, but now you can seek to any point in the track and pick any episode you want. It also keeps track of time elapsed and remaining, but that’s a boring feature.

What’s Next?

In the short term, fixing Vocal so that the podcast cover art rearranges when the window is expanded is my main priority. That, and further polishing, will be my focus for the next week or so. After that most of the remaining work will be centered around getting the local database in place, as well as the downloading and updating functionality. Unfortunately that will take a considerable amount of time.

As always, to steal the elementary OS team’s motto, Vocal will be ready when it’s ready. That said, I’m still on target for a June-ish release.

Want To Contibute?

Right now I’m not really looking for code contributions (I will certainly be in the future, however), but I could really use a good app icon for Vocal. I am looking for something elegant that visually makes you think of a podcast or RSS feed. If you are interested in contributing an icon, please send it in to mail@nathandyer.me, or send it to me through Google+. The more at home the icon feels in elementary OS, the more likely I am to use it. If I end up using your icon I will give you a design credit in Vocal’s about dialog. Please just make sure that the content is original, and that it is freely licensed (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)).

 

 

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.