Archive for Application of the Week

Application of the week: Evolution

Around 1 month ago I said I had made the switch from KMail to Thunderbird for managing e-mail. Well, now I must confess I am making another switch, this time to Evolution, the native [[e-mail client]] for [[GNOME]].

The main (sole) reason is that [[Icedove]] (Thunderbird) was unreasonably slow lately. Maybe it’s a matter of versions (I’m running the latest in Debian Lenny), but it was driving me crazy. And so is [[Iceweasel]] (Firefox), but that’s another story. Evolution seems to be as fast as KMail to start up/minimize/maximize/quit, and as fast as Icedove to manage the [[IMAP]] folders (something KMail was seriously lacking).

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Switch from KMail to Thunderbird

As I said 2 months ago, I made the switch to [[IMAP]] for handling my [[Gmail]] e-mail. I have to say that it’s a switch that I don’t regret at all: it gives me the convenience and comfort I want.

However I have to admit that my long-used and much loved [[KMail]] was not up to the task, for some unknown reason. My main gripe with it was that reading, moving and deleting messages took forever, and refreshing folders was a royal pain. I thought it was an unavoidable problem, related to the way IMAP works. However, I decided to give other [[e-mail client|e-mail clients]] a chance, and that I did.

I have installed and run [[Mozilla Thunderbird|Thunderbird]] (actually, Icedove, the Debian version of TB), and so far it’s given me good impressions. All the slowness I suffered with KMail is gone, and I have to say this fact alone is driving me from KM to TB.

As an additional piece of info, here’s how to set “plain text” as default for sending messages. Why would you want that? Read these tips. The reason why TB has no obvious button to set “all plain text” or “all HTML” escapes me, but that seems to be the case. However, there is an “advanced” mode of doing it: go to Edit->Preferences->Advanced->Config Editor. From the variable/value list there, you have to set (by double-clicking, for example) “mail.identity.default.compose_html” to “false”. I also set “mail.html_compose” to “false”, but the important variable seems to be the first of the two. From that point on, all the new messages you compose will be plain text.

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App of the week: digiKam

As digital cameras get more and more common, and personal photo collections grow bigger, solutions for managing all these images are more and more needed.

I bought my first digital camera (a Nikon CoolPix 2500) almost 4 years ago (now I see the model was 1 year old when I bought my unit), and now I own a Panasonic Lumix DMC FX10 I’m so happy with. I obviously have the need outlined above, plus the desire to sometimes share some pictures over the web. I didn’t want to go for something like Picasa, and made a lengthy Perl/Tk script to generate HTML albums from some info I would introduce.

When I later discovered digiKam, I realized it had all the features I wanted. It is incredibly useful to tag your pictures, so that you can later on retrieve, say, “all the pictures in which my father appears”. It also has many other features, like easy access to image manipulation (of which I only use the rotation for photos requiring it), or ordering of the pictures by date, so you can see how many pictures were taken each month. The humble, but for me killer, features is that you can automatically generate HTML albums from a list of pictures, which can be selected e.g. by their tags.

Give it a try, and you’ll love it.


App of the week: Subversion

I have been using Subversion for a while (after having it recommended by my colleague Thomas), and I must confess I’m a happy user. Subversion is a revision control system, designed to supersede, and replace, the (maybe) more popular CVS.

Subversion (svn) is good for much more than collaborative development, as a single person can keep track of versions of her own documents/scripts/whatever. Usually you only want the last version of whatever you work with. But whenever you find yourself saving a version somewhere else, to keep it like that even if further changes are made to the “current” version, svn is your friend. Whenever you wish you had saved an earlier version of the stuff you’re working with, you’re missing (know it or not) svn.


App of the week: Filelight

Actually it is two applications I want to highlight: Filelight and Baobab. Both are disk usage analyzers, the former for KDE (see Figure 1), and the latter for GNOME (see Figure 2).


Figure 1: Filelight (click to enlarge)


Figure 2: Baobab (click to enlarge)

A disk usage analyzer is a tool to conveniently find out how much hard disk space different directories and files are taking up. It combines the effectiveness of the Unix du (if you never used it, stop here and do a man du in your command line immediately. If you do not know what that “command line” thingie is, whip yourself in the back repeatedly), with the convenience of a visual clue of how large directories are compared to one another.

From the two DUAs I mention, I largely prefer Filelight, for some reasons:

1 – When I want to open a terminal in a location chosen from the DUA window, with Baobab it’s two clicks away: “Open file manager here”, then “Open terminal here” in the file manager. With Filelight, it’s just one click: “open terminal here”. Plus Filelight has a handy locator bar at the top, showing the full path to the current location (useful to copy-and-paste with the mouse to an already open terminal).

2 – Filelight shows directories up to individual files. Baobab just dirs.

3 – With Filelight, navigation up and down (and back and forward) in the dir tree is a breeze (web browser-style). With Baobab, it’s a pain.

4 – The presentation is similar, but the one of Filelight is slightly nicer, with more info when the mouse is hovered over the graph.

Probably Baobab can be easily made to behave like Filelight. I just tried them both, and liked the latter better on first sight. I tried Baobab first, and I found some things lacking. When I tried Filelight, five minutes later, I just thought “These are the details Baobab was missing!”


App of the week: PDF Cube

I just found this little app browsing for PDF software in my Debian aptitude repository contents.

In short, PDF Cube displays PDFs in full screen, adding Compiz-like cube transitions from slide to slide if we want. The following YouTube video shows how it works:


You can notice the mixed regular/cube transitions, as well as the five zooming options used in slide 4.

By the way, I have started the Wikipedia article for PDF Cube. I think this little program deserves to be in the Wikipedia.

Incidentally, the above is the first video I upload to YouTube! :^)

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App of the week: Eye of GNOME

I recently discovered this little application, and I must confess it nicely fits a niche. The Eye of GNOME (eog), is a kind of clone of the Windows default picture viewer, and is a good complement for other Linux tools like ImageMagick.

I use the display tool of the ImageMagick package for highly repetitive and/or precise transformation image watching (as in putting one image above another, then watching the result, then making the composition again if it was not OK, or resizing a set of images to a given exact percent of their original size).

On the other hand, eog is nice for watching a lot of images in a row, and having them automatically resized to fit in the watch window. eog also permits smooth scrolling with the mouse wheel, very fast image rotation, and single-click window fitting of the image.

Give it a try!

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Editing Wikipedia with mvs

I am currently doing some link disambiguation work for the Wikipedia, and as such, I have to find and replace the same strings many times, in many articles. The on-line Wikipedia edition is in general fine, but one would love to be able to use vim, for a task such as the one I’m taking. To do so, one can make use of mvs.

The mvs program allows us to download a Wikipedia article, save it as a file, then upload it again, after manipulating the file the way we want.

To log in to our Wikipedia account:

mvs login -d -u username -p password

To download article “X” (beware the .wiki extension):

mvs update

We can then edit


Then check it:

mvs preview
firefox preview.html

And finally upload it:

mvs commit -m 'Your comment goes here'

For more info, read the Wikipedia text editor support page


Recently my friend L. drew my attention to a blog that had a nifty flash animation on a sidebar. That flash animation presented the visitor with a playlist of some songs, which she could play by clicking on them. Well the thing is called, and can be downloaded from its homepage. BTW, it’s a Creative Commons software piece.

So, yes, I went ahead and implemented it in my blog… and the result is in the right hand side of this page.


You need to download the zip file you can find at the site (direct link).

Unzipping that file will create a directory, which contains a Instructions.txt file. Read it, because it is very simple and, of course, useful.

Basically, you will find two directories inside the main one: creat.sound/ and The former can be used to place MP3 files into it, and then create RBS files making use of one of the BAT files therein (for MS Windows), and the latter is the directory that you have to place in your web server, because it contains the program itself (SWF and PHP files), along with the MP3 files you will upload.

Okay, so the first step is to convert the music into the RBS format. They include a (very simple) BAT file that can do the job if you’re on Windows (don’t sue me if it doesn’t work: I haven’t tried it), but whatever OS you are running, a RBS file is nothing more than a MP3 file renamed to .rbs. Yes, just that. However, the BAT files the makers give not only do that renaming: they also downsample the songs to 32 or 64 kbps. You can do it by hand using lame (toolame won’t work, because Layer II is not supported, only Layer III). The downsampling is desirable because, even though the quality goes down, so does the size, and it is crucial to make small files if we want a half-decent listening experience for our visitors. Myself, I use a 48 kbps bitrate. Important note: make sure the resulting MP3 has a sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz (I think the default is to resample to 24 kHz, which will make the song sound like The Chipmunks singing it, because the player assumes it’s 44.1 kHz).

Once we have a bunch of RBS files, we will have to put them into the directory and upload the whole dir to our site. Next, you have to copy the code below into the source of the web page you want to put the radio into (e.g. the template of the blog):

<iframe src="http://YOUR_URL/" name="radio" scrolling="no" frameborder=0 width=220 height=320></iframe>

In the code above, substitute YOUR_URL with the URL of the site you downloaded the dir to.

Creating the RBS files

From WAV:

lame --abr 48 --resample 44.1 infile.wav -o outfile.rbs

where “48” is the desired bitrate. You can tune it up (better quality) or down (smaller size).

From OGG:

Convert to WAV,

oggdec infile.ogg -o infile.wav

and then, like above for WAV.

Or, in one step:

oggdec infile.ogg -o - | lame --abr 48 --resample 44.1 - -o outfile.rbs

From MP3:

lame --mp3input --abr 48 --resample 44.1 infile.mp3 -o outfile.rbs

Music I have uploaded

Due to the restrictive copyrights most mainstream songs bear, it is legally tricky to broadcast them at a place like this. Not only that, but I also refuse to give free publicity to a bunch of sobs who assume I am a criminal, and treat me like one, limiting my rights to access, share and spread their music.

However, there is little to fear. There are places like Jamedo, where all sorts of musicians publish their work under Creative Commons licenses, so that anyone can freely download, listen, copy, share and spread it any way they feel like, with the only price of acknowledging the author. This is the way to go, and this is the kind of artists I want to support. All the music you’ll find at my site, is, therefore, Creative Commons music.