30 September 2009

pwn3d again

Yesterday was a full media day for me: after filming for television, in the evening I joined the boys from Ceata for an interview with a journalism student to be published in a student magazine, which is freely distributed in a few universities in Bucharest and Constanta (I think "Stud-Life" is the most unfortunate name for a student magazine, coming from someone who speak English even worse than me).

ceata interview

We talked about Linux, FLOSS, Ceata, other FLOSS organizations, events, projects and more, it was an interesting conversations. If you are interested, it is available under a CC-BY-SA license, so you can listen to our "podcast", but be aware is quite long, at about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

ceata interview

At the end, I gave to the reporter-to-be a Fedora 11 LiveCD, so she can try and see directly what Linux is about and one of the guys tried to help her with the BIOS settings for CD boot (Ceata's headquarters in in the university dorms, so her computer was a few rooms away). Unfortunately the BIOS was not cooperating, so she ended with an Ubuntu Live from him :p

My own Windows 7 Party

I was amused too by the Windows 7 Party video, which made me think I must have my own event. How? I think I can delay a couple of weeks installing Fedora 12 Beta on the netbook, until October 22. Hopefully I can get some other geek friends needing a Linux install or upgrade (no matter which distro), get together, bring some booze and take photos. That must be a fun party.

29 September 2009


For the fifth FLOSS part filmed for the Romanian television the plan was to talk together with Bogdan Manolea about Creative Commons licenses, free culture and their impact on the internet. And unlike the other times, the TV crew was already on the field, instead of filming at their headquarters we decided to go to APTI office, Bogdan's headquarters.

Again, unlike the other times, when we had to wait even more than one hour for camera and sound settings, this time the crew got at the location about one hour in advance and started shooting. When I arrived there (10 minutes in advance to the scheduled time), they had less than 5 minutes of space available on the memory card, so I got so I got to add a couple of phrases which probably won't make the cut - the viewer will not enjoy my "I <3 fedora" T-shirt :p But no problem, Bogdan is the expert in CC, he is the lawyer who made the official translation and speaker at various events, so I am sure he covered well the subject. And my screencast will be used as background illustration, maybe together with a written piece. I found funny how after the filming ended and we were waiting for a car to pick us up (my office in close to the TV offices, so I arranged for a ride), I showed them the Copyright Isn't Theft video and talked about Nina Paley, which made them kick themselves for not having any space available (or the ability to delete something to get the space).

A different type of funny was the traffic incident in which their driver got involved and ended with a trip to the police station, so I had to say an early "bye" to the crew and return with the subway :D

The interesting part is the producers seems to be interested in more content from us, so if I manage to pitch an interesting topic, we will be filming again in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, for the moment I am out of topics, after talking about 1. Linux and distros, 2. general purpose applications, 3. games, 4. programming and 5. Free culture/CC. I am open to ideas and suggestions, but I need easy and generic topics, the audience is made from beginners, not hackers.

24 September 2009

Get well tatica

Those used with a daily dose from tatica's photo marathon are surely missing the 14th instalment. She is missing in actionL no IRC, no twitter... last time we talked to her,a couple of days ago, she was sick and in need of hugs and kisses.

So get well tatica, we send you virtual hugs. Do not let your "desire to to nothing" keep you away from us or disappoint your fans.

Early drafts

Lately I do my sketching directly in Inkscape using a mouse (I have a tablet but like the mouse more) so it wak pretty much like a return to the old times (probably the drawings are as naive as used to be in those "old times") when I used pen and paper for those. Hopefully, after vectorization and simplification will not look that much naive.


Those are experiments, searching for a "good guy" character to be used in a project I don't feel comfortable talking more in-depth about (I am not sure it will ever get completed), but he is supposed to have get a full body and at least a partner.

23 September 2009

Take 4: programming

For the fourth part in the FLOSS series for the Romanian television, I was joined by Laurentiu, he talked about Eclipse and I covered a different angle, how gedit, the simplest GNOME editor can be a good programming tool too. We almost got out of time due to some organizational and technical problems at the TV station, but I think we managed to cover the subject in a satisfactory way.

Next week, hopefully together with Bogdan Manolea will talk about the Creative Commons licenses.

22 September 2009


More or less in a reply to the Romanian Fii Destept (Be Smart) campaign where Microsoft and some of their blogging friends are trying to make people buy more computers with pre-installed Windows, the Group for Free Software is promoting its own Alege Software Liber (Choose Free Software) campaign, where people are encouraged to learn about alternatives (Ubuntu, Fedora, SUSE).

This is a campaign I fully endorse, choose Free software!

Campania Alege Software Liber

18 September 2009


Is Friday afternoon, and I don't feel like working, not even writing the Design beat for FWN, where I think I will wait a couple more dayd to gather more content, so while thinking at the opportunities of taking photos in the next week-end at Bucharest Days I can continue my X/65535 mock project (I know we don't mind) with a second take, playing with a funny guy gift I received a couple of days ago (I blackened his shirt and draw a beard with a marker) and a small bottle of Ouzo brought by a co-worker who returned from a vacancy in Greece.

nicu's desktop

17 September 2009

Be smart? I think I can use some money, thanks!

Microsoft started a campaign called "Fii Destept" ("Be Smart") to promote buying computers with genuine Windows preinstalled (Romanians seems to prefer bare computers, without preinstalled operating system for the price). And they try to gather a number of bloggers with something looking pretty much like a company manufactured press release and the following challenge:

"So, provocarea noastra, parte a campaniei Microsoft in care este implicat FTW este: ce argumente ati oferi unui prieten pentru a-l convinge sa isi ia calculatorul cu sistemul de operare deja inclus?

P.S.: daca aduci argumente interesante, discutam cu cei de la Microsoft si iti oferim si un premiu ;)"
My translation:
"So, our challenge, part of the Microsoft campaign in which FTW is involved, is: which arguments would you give to a friend to get a computer with a preinstalled operating system?

P.S.: if you bring interesting arguments, we will talk with Microsoft and will offer a prize ;)"
Too bad I can't 1.) find anywhere a computer with Fedora preinstalled and 2.) understand where to submit my application, otherwise I would have my own take (their talk about a preinstalled OS in the promise, omitting to name it as Windows): I want a computer with Fedora preinstalled since it will get all the software I need for my day to day use, will spare at least 50$+VAT which I can put to better use and being preinstalled I can be sure the hardware is properly chosen. Now where can I collect my money? (hope the prize is not a windows license)

In the meantime I can enjoy the writings of a self called "urban princess" blogger girl (bloggeriță), part of this campaign, who explain how she have two computers: a laptop with preinstalled Windows and a desktop with a pirated one and how the first works perfectly and the second is a total mess. And her readers commenting how perfect is a preinstalled genuine Windows, which can be used even without an anti-virus. Yeah, do that, guys, like I need more spam sent by your boxes...


Sorry, I couldn't resist:


16 September 2009

Take 3: games

The third session of recording for the national television was centered on games and educational software. Tibi joined me and we talked about and showed GCompris, Stellarium, OpenArena, Battle for Wesnoth, TORCS, Secret Maryo Chronicles, ScummVM and other. I think it went well and contrary to my expectations, it was not the final part: we will go again next week, talking about programming or Creative Commons licenses or even record two segments, about each of those.

PS: don't ask, I still don't know when those will be aired.

15 September 2009

Data Liberation

After I got burned with Yahoo, I appreciate the move by Google about data liberation (quote: "Users own the data they store in any of Google's products. Our team's goal is to give users greater control by making it easier for them to move data in and out.")

While for me is not enough to put my precious data (photo gallery) on their servers (Picasaweb, where I don't like the interface), I think this is definitely a step forward and a model to follow (yeah, I am still looking for a self hosted gallery solution and already have >1K new images waiting to be shared with the world).

14 September 2009

ONGFest 2009

The last week-end, the old city was the host of the first edition of ONGFest, a national festival for non-governmental organizations, so I went out to take photos, there and in the other places hosting events for Bucharest Day (550 years since the city was attested in writing by Vlad Țepeș/The Impaler/Dracula himself).

I think it was fun: a lot of young people, music, dance, short plays, free hugs (by the "fairies from Bucegi Mountains"), rescue demos, so of course I took a ton of photos (which is till a problem for me, not having available an acceptable gallery solution.


I think it could have used the presence of a booth for FLOSS organisations (participation was gratis), maybe to the next edition we will have one, perhaps under the umbrella of the yet-to-be-announced-but-not-yet-I-promise-really-soon-now-Linux-and_FLOSS-NGO (nudge, nudge, wink, wink): the young people there can learn about FLOSS, the other NGOs can really benefit from using FLOSS, the press can take a hint and so on.

11 September 2009

Safety nets or the status of F12 artwork

The last weeks were supposed to bring blog posts about the evolution of the F12 artwork, those are even listed as scheduled tasks but instead we were very quiet after a start with a batch of very good graphics. Why? I think is because of the safety net: we know we can be lazy, if the things go bad, there is Mo who, as she did at every release since F8, will act as a safety net, losing some nights to put all the stuff together.

We are humans and is natural for us to get distracted with other things or, if our designs didn't make the initial selection, take our toys, go home and play alone for a while. Such things happen all the time. And I am not a moralist, being "guilty" myself - those days my main focus is on fixing my photography blog after a massive data loss and on going to TV shows.

But Mo is human too (I am pretty sure she is not a panda in disguise) and she can take only a certain amount of crap from us. And every release cycle it looks like we are pushing the limits with that amount of crap. A safety net has its own capacity and endurance. And there are tons of other design projects crying for attention.

What's the solution? I guess we should feel more responsible, see a potential failure of the artwork or artwork schedule as our failure, don't get so lazy and do more work. How to to that? I don't know...

+1 for Amazon

I know everyone is blaming Amazon for deleting electronic books, but my recent experience with purchasing a dead tree paper book (a photography book) was nothing short of amazing: after a previous purchase from US (.com), when the package was delivered directly to me instead of being relied trough Germany and I had extra troubles with customs, VAT and delivery, I decided to look into European stores.

I know a lot of Romanians use the German Amazon website for purchase, but I don't know even the smallest bit of German and don't feel comfortable blindly using an online store, so tried on the .co.uk version. Surprise! the book was available and it was cheaper than in .de. Good thing, I ordered it on the spot.

Coming to the delivery part of the ordering process, I went to the cheapest solution, with a delivery estimated in 7-10 days (as opposed to priority, which was 2-4 days). The book was ordered this Monday (7 Sep) and the confirmation mail informed me about a delivery around "18 Sep - 24 Sep", which made me content, since is much faster than a delivery from an amazon.com (US) order.

Exceeding my expectations, I received the package on the door today, in only 4 days. That is good customer service, looking forward to buying more from them, too bad they ship outside UK very little beside books and CD/DVDs and their book selection is not very large compared with the US store.

10 September 2009

There is no silver bullet, not even for photo editing

I acknowledged of being an ass in the past and I am ready to do it again: I have no problem being labeled as such after this story.

So I got a phone call from this person, let call her B, who gets to me every time when she got a computer problem. The conversation went something like that:

B: I need to cut something from a photo and replace the background with something else in Photoshop...
(note: she told me one she used to use Photoshop about 10 years ago)
N: OK, go to that GIMP software I installed on your laptop and showed you how to do things with it before... and open the photo in it.
B: Done
N: Now press that, that and that to make it transparent, so we can see trough the cut parts
B: Done
N: Then use the Scissors tool to select on the contour...
B: But is hard, the contour is very complicated, with hair and stuff...
N: Nobody said is easy, is not like in the movies, where you can do this in 2 clicks. Some work is needed
(note: I figured out telling her to use SIOX would be too much and, honestly, selecting the foreground with SIOX is far from perfect, it needs a lot of manual adjustments)
B: I can't manage this tool
N: Then you can use that Eraser tool and delete the unwanted background
N: But to make your work easier, use the Lasso tool, select and cut large parts of the background
B: But it is deleting all my image...
N: Because you do not close the selection, you must see the area bordered by a dotted line
B: I don't understand...
N: Then stay with the eraser. Here you can make it bigger or smaller to make your work faster or more precise.
B: OK. Now how I make the new background of a certain color?
N: Go to the Layer menu and Add a new layer
N: Go to the Layer dialog and move the new layer below the photo, they are like a stack and we want the photo on top
B: Where to go?
N: To the third window, the one which is not the photo or the tool box
B: I don't see that
N: Then go to the Windows menu, open Dockable dialogs and then Layers
B: I can see it now
(note: actually this step had a lot more questions and answers, but this was the essence)
N: go to the tool box, select whatever drawing color you want and then use the Bucket tool
B: Done
N: See, now when deleting from the photo you don't see the checked pattern any more, but the desired color
B: Ah, but I don't like the solid color, I want to use instead a picture downloaded from somewhere.
N: OK, this is getting a bit more complicated: you can add that picture as a new layer, but you must ensure both images are of the same size...
B: Ah, this is getting too much and too complicated, I thought is easier... I have lo leave the house in 45 minutes and still have to do some other things before that.
(note: I am so familiar with this excuse for a conversation end... it is second only to "someone is calling me on the other line")
N: It does not take much time if you know what you are doing, I can do that very fast.

And that was not all, it continued about a half hour later with another phone call:

B: I managed to do something in the end, made the background white
B: But I sent someone the file and he can't open the .png.xcf
N: Of course, you have to save it as .png or .jpg. Use Save as and type something.png or something.jpg ad the file name
B: But it is adding an .xcf automatically at the end...
N: Then look at the File type selector in that dialog and select something else. Save and send that.
B: Marvelous!

You thought that was all? Nope! One half hour later, yet another phone call:

B: How can I get Photoshop on my computer?
N: Easy: the license is about 600€.
(note: my mistake, actually here a license for Photoshop CS4 is more than that, B is not a student, so won't qualify for a discount)
B: But you can't install it from a disk or from somewhere?
(note: B is an artist, so should have a good understanding of the copyright)
N: Sure, the install CD, but that is the cost of the license.
B: Oh, then I'll forget about that, is out of question. I thought I can get it from somewhere.
(note: yeah, I am an ass, I understood the question perfectly but acted like didn't)

There was any point in this long and boring story with I am sure happened a lot of times to a lot of other people? Yes, there is no silver bullet with graphic editors, for the task at hand (replacing a background in a photo and then adding a little text), no matter what application do you use, be it Photoshop, Photoimpact, GIMP or something else, the technique is about the same, the steps are about the same, the amount of work is about the same.

PS: As the ass I am, right now I'm thinking: how about she spent the money on Photoshop and sicovered herself back to the square one, needing to do exactly the same work?

PPS: Do you want to hear a similar story from the day before when she was trying to do a tri-fold brochure in a word processor (OpenOffice.org)? ...good thing for me this does not happen that often, it was a punctual case since a big fair for NGOs is taking place this week-end in Bucharest.

PPPS: Of course it would have saved me a lot of time and stress if I just did the editing, but that is not a good policy. And I can't either say 'NO', since the request is half personal, half business (even if I gon't get money from it).

08 September 2009

Me multitasking bad

Today I went to the TV station to record the second piece about Linux, this time focusing on some applications.

It wasn't so smooth like the first one, since the other guy abandoned us without notice at the last minute, so I had to cover all my myself all the demoing and talking. And ...uh, let's just say I sucked at multitasking :D Hopefully they are good (masters?) at editing an will save the show.

Next week, for what will probably be the last part, we will talk about games and I hope to bring some new help so maybe it will be smooth again :D

For the moment I need to send some screencasts to complete my speech and demo, and as the format must be MOV or AVI with H.264 encoding, so you use mencoder with something like this:

mencoder "pacman.ogv" -o "pacman.avi" -vf softskip,harddup -oac faac -faacopts mpeg=4:br=110:object=2 -ovc x264 -x264encopts bitrate=1000:me=hex:nodct_decimate:nointerlaced:no8x8dct:nofast_pskip:trellis=1:partitions=p8x8,b8x8,i4x4:mixed_refs:keyint=150:keyint_min=15:frameref=3:bframes=10:b_adapt=1:b_pyramid:weight_b:direct_pred=spatial:subq=5:chroma_me:cabac:deblock:level_idc=41:threads=auto:ssim:psnr

PS: of course I am not geek enough to generate those params by hand, h264enc was helpful with it

07 September 2009

Fear my camera... d'oh

So there was this big event with free entrance with concerts and stuff organized in a park by a beer brand of Danish origin. At the entrance a big poster informing you are not allowed with professional photo or video cameras, with drinks, food or plastic glasses from outside. And a full body search to ensure you comply.

I said to myself: D'oh! I wasted my time with that... but if I am here, let's try and see the reaction. A "specialist" looked at my gear (I had the zoom lenses mounted on my entry-level DSLR) and said: "is semi-pro, you can't go in".

OK, sure, whatever... imported Czech beer is better anyway, I forgot when I drank T***** last time...

02 September 2009

Bringing Linux and Fedora into stardom... on the national television

Today was the day we went to the national television to record a Linux segment on a weekly IT show. It went quite well, both me and Lucian had to say basic but interesting stuff about what is Linux, what is a distro, freedom, applications and such.

With my netbook having a small display, I had to rely on Live media which let me down: the F11 Desktop spin put on a Live USB (together with some additional useful applications) crashed in the GUI with an I/O error. Forced reboot and it say is unable to find the kernel (WTF? back at the office and it works again, i can't post an shaming screen capture). Good thing it was just a recording, not live transmission and I also had LiveCDs on me... But with so little stuff installed on the CD, we showed more from Ubuntu. Well, this in not the end of the world, I will record some screencasts and supply them for lack of visual content (I have to convert those from Ogg Theora to h.264 MOV).

I have not checked my watch, but I believe we talked for more than one hour, which will be compacted probably in something like 4-7 minutes. When? Not sure about the day, but it will be aired on a Saturday from 10:30 in the morning, the Zon@ IT show on TVR2 (I don't have a tv tunner card, so if someone can record, please do...)

Now, next week filming probably a second segment, stay tuned...