Life & much, much more

DraftSight: a free and cross-platform alternative to AutoCAD

Whilst Linux is an excellent system for programmers, it’s certainly a little wanting for people who deal with creative graphics. There are tools like Krita, GIMP, Inkscape, Blender and Digikam and so on to help fill this gap, but one area which isn’t talked about so often are CAD tools. As an architecture student and a Linux user, I can safely say that the options are disappointing. It certainly is possible to have a complete graphics workflow on Linux, but it’s not as good as on Windows.

There were always CAD packages around such as FreeCAD and QCAD (I believe rebranded to LibreCAD) and its various derivatives, but they were all slow and not particularly powerful. However for the past few years, I’ve enjoyed DraftSight.

DraftSight - a free and cross-platform alternative to AutoCAD

Firstly, a disclaimer: DraftSight is not open-source. It is certainly free to use and works very well on all platforms, but it is backed by a commercial company (Dassault Systemes), is financed through an enterprise license, and certainly has no obligation to the community.

However perhaps the reason DraftSight is so much more powerful than the open-source alternatives is because it has a very clear goal: it wants to clone AutoCAD. Unlike GIMP, which has tried to define a new paradigm for itself, DraftSight keeps users in a familiar environment.

If you are on Gentoo Linux, I am maintaining the DraftSight package and as of May earlier this year, it is available in the betagarden overlay. For more information, you can see this bug.

Creative

Free major and minor scales for piano sheet music

Two months have gone by without blogging. In that time, I’ve been wrapping up the first half of my uni year. There are plenty of stories to tell, but I’ll delay that just a little bit longer.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some basic scores I produced for piano. I teach piano in my spare time, and I find it quite irksome that there aren’t any nicely-engraved free scores for download online for basic exercises such as major and minor (both harmonic and melodic) scales. These are also great if you’re trying to learn piano on takelessons.com or a similar site.

The score is 5 pages long. The first two covers major scales, and the final three cover the minor scales, which alternate between harmonic and melodic. Fingering is included when there are fingering changes. The sheet has no copyright or attribution text that might get in the way of professionalism when presenting to students. The sheet is created using LilyPond, which is quite possibly the world’s best music engraving software.

Free piano major and minor scales sheet music

Click here to download (Edit: now goes to learnmusicsheets.com)

The document is licensed under CC-BY. You are required to attribute (by linking to this page) should anyone ask or if you want to share this on your own website.

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EyeOS has an Oxygen theme!

For the uninitiated, EyeOS is a free, open-source desktop implementation right in the browser. I was recently playing around with my EyeOS installation that I forgot I had installed a while back (v1.x) and like what most people do when they try out a new system, I decided to see what other themes they have.

Turns out they have an Oxygen theme! It’s a little dated but I must say I’m impressed. Very impressed.

Now all I have to do is find a practical personal use of EyeOS! Perhaps it might replace a few of my cobbled series of other cloudish hacks.

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Free, legal music for all.

Recently searching for some new music to liven up my aging playlist I stumbled upon a web radio called Libre.FM.

No. I lied. I stumbled upon it a good several months ago. However it has recaptured my attention. Libre.FM is, like the name suggests, similar to Last.FM. Libre.FM, like the name also suggests, has something to do with freedom (libre means `free` in French).

Libre.FM is a tag-based online radio with support for scrobbling. For those sticking with the to-be-deprecated traditional radio, this means that the music being played corresponds to keywords similar to the workings of a search engine, and data about song preferences and listening statistics are synchronised with the music provider, supposedly to provide a better service. The result is that you get an ad-free, customisable playlist where you can constantly discover new songs. Oh, and all for free.

This isn’t a new thing. As mentioned this is not unlike Last.FM, which works on the same principles except for the nature of the music. The difference is that Libre.FM’s music is all free, indie music. Each song is under a free license, and you are free to download and share everything legally. Their privacy policy ensures your anonymity and freedom online, and supports those artists who would otherwise be facing obscurity.

You won’t find your celebrities here nor your greatest hits album – but you will be exposed to a lot more music that represents the freedom, creativity and simple efforts of many people. True, some of those songs sound like absolute bollocks and probably deserve their obscurity but that’s to be expected. From a critical website UI point of view it’s pretty terrible as well compared to its proprietary alternatives. Despite these major flaws it’s definitely something to keep a lookout for in the future.

So – go and discover something new today: listen to Libre.FM.

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The Open Source Nature

Some people have heard things like “open-source”, “freeware”, “hacker etiquette”, etc. However, a lot of people are doubtful about it and this is mostly because they don’t understand it fully. I have decided that for today’s post, I will shed some light on the background behind open source culture.

Yes, there is such thing as free software

Most of the technologically savvy teenagers will go “yeah, duh” at this. However, the fact remains that when computers were coming out, if you weren’t into Unix or bothered to learn much more that “Start up. Type. Print. Shutdown”, you’d might be one of those who don’t think free software exists. There was this article about a teacher who confiscated Linux CDs because “ I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful” Sounds like she needs a little exposure. Even Microsoft gives out free software. Want to bet? Look on your computer. Do you have Microsoft Movie Maker on it? How about MSN Messenger? Yes. That’s right. Free software. What about Apple? It gives us QuickTime (the player). iTunes is another one.

Free as in they don’t charge money for it?

No, not necessarily. Though this is generally the case. Free can also be as in freedom. Freedom to look at the source code and edit it. Freedom to use the program for any use. Yes, that’s right, even steal it, put it under another name, make some changes, and sell it again.

Take for example the Linux kernel. It’s free. Everybody can edit it. Everybody can do whatever they want with it. The result of this is a huge amount of Linux “distributions” which are specialised flavours of the same operating system. Benefits to the consumer? You bet. There’s lots of competition. Standards are kept high. People choose what suits them. Lots of choice.

If everybody can contribute, where’s the quality control?

Aha yes. More than half the programmers that think they’re good are crap. (Heck, I could be one of them!) They insert horrible code. They don’t follow conventions. This is why open source projects need good user and technical guidance and support, either through documentation or tutoring techniques. One popular choice is for an open source projec to have “beginner jobs”, which are simple tasks a beginner or a person just entering the project can tackle. This will give them a feel as to the style of the project, where things are located, and is a form of self induction training.

Also, it is important to note that most open source projects work in a method which can be described as people cloning the project, making edits, then applying their edits to a central repository which everybody clones from. Whilst doing this, people write logs about what changes they have made, and so on. All this information is tracked by a system. This technique is called version control. With version control, people can see what others are up to. In general if somebody sees something stupid being done, they fix it, or restrict the user from contributing further. This ensures contributions are beneficial.

Induction training? Nobody wants to do something for free.

Actually, yes they do. This is a big part of hacker etiquette. When the term hacker here is used, I am referring to the proper term hacker, which is basically an enthusiast for a certain subject, willing to delve deeper into it and learn more about the topic to suit their needs and interests. A hacker is not some idiot who tries to crack your computer.

Hackers believe in the sharing of information. They will willingly go out of their way to demonstrate a technique or to help beginners. They are fueled by personal interest. If they like a project, they will contribute. That’s how open-source projects get successful. They need to make the project appealing to developers. More developers joining will make the project progress a huge amount. This will benefit the users, who will then advertise it to the user community. Hackers interested in a topic will always hear the buzz in the relevant user community, and will then try to join too. Take for example KDE 4. These series have been all about revolutionising the desktop. They’ve done a good job of it too. Look at the logs of their version control system? You will see that the number of different people commiting changes have increased, and the frequency at which they commit changes have also increased. So yes, developers will willingly do it for free, especially if it’s something they use themselves. (dogfooding)

Uh, dogfooding? What?

This is a technique where software developers use their own software. Let’s say you were Nokia. What if all your employees used non-Nokia phones? That wouldn’t be very good for your image. Not only your image, but all your development. The best way to know what improvements would be best is to use it yourself. This is what open-source is all about. Making the improvements that people need.

When I said quality control, I meant does it provide what the user wants?

Yes. I’ve talked about the developers. To be honest, it can be said rather bluntly that developers are selfish people. If they want a feature, they add it. If they see something they don’t really care about, they won’t add it. They act in their own interests, not yours. However, since most developers are dogfooders, they themselves have similar wants to you. The way the open source community surpasses this developer-user gap is by introducing bug tracking systems and feature brainstorm systems. This allows the community to voice their ideas. Of course, the hacker are always looking at the buzz, so it’s quite likely someone will help. If a large user base agrees on the same feature being needed, a developer will always dedicate time to it. Not necessarily due extreme personal interest, but because it’s part of the hacker culture. In conclusion, this means that yes, it does provide what the user wants. I once read a quote about the upcoming Vista release: “I sure hope the Vista release is amazing, because I know that Linux will have all the same features within a year.” That’s right Vista, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. The hacker response is “because I can and believe I should.

Give me real life proof.

Sure thing. Paulo Coelho supported piracy of his own books because he believed in the culture of sharing. Not quite open-source, but close enough. What was the effect? His book sales jumped up like crazy. It was a benefit to provide a good book for free so that people would get the hardcopy from the library. (to be honest, nobody in their right mind would only read softcopy books).

Mozilla Firefox. Supposedly the best browser on the market today. The only people trying to challenge that is the Opera people, who live in a world of their own. Pity them. Anyways, Mozilla Firefox is an open source project, and that’s what has mdae it the best browser. Does it attract developers? Sure does, the amount of addons, themes, and customisation that firefox can offer is amazing. What about Safari? Safari runs on Webkit, which was a fork of KHTML. KHTML was open source, and free software. All Apple did was steal it from the Linux KDE guys, develop improvements on it in secret, then release it under a new name. Shame on you Apple. However, that’s open-source culture! There is nothing wrong with Apple doing that. Of course, it’s a sin in hacker culture, but that’s why there’s discussion about merging Webkit and KHTML again (just google it).

Google. Google releases thousands of lines of code. Look at Google Android, the Google phone operating system. Google is a prime example of open source nature.

Wikipedia. Wikipedia runs on Wikimedia, and that is downloadable is free software. People can create their own wikis, anytime, anywhere.

Many country’s government all run Linux. Not because all governments are short on money, but because it provides what they need. The open source nature has made Linux possible to be made extremely secure and customised. The American security agency or whatever their name is all use Linux. Obama right now is encouraging businesses to consider open source and free software and viable alternatives.

One great example I read by Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror was the comparison of open source to the self-service checkout counters available in most supermarkets nowadays. Think about it. Normally you would pay some guy to sit there checking out your stuff. This is proprietary software. Now you have the user doing their job, all for free. Why? because the user is interested in the stuff in your store (attracting developers). They are willing to do this. Not only that, but they are willing to do it well and get it done quickly and efficiently. Get it done well? This means no stealing stuff, etc. Why? because there are a dozen security cameras watching you (version control). Why quickly and efficiently? Well, nobody else in the store wants to you to check out more than you yourself do. This is a self motivated drive.

Think about open source. True, in some situations, it might not be applicable. However it’s always an option, and most of the time you just don’t see it!

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Linux: Open Source Theory

Recently I’ve been rather interested in the whole theory that Linux runs on: Open-Source. Open source software is free software. Free as in freedom, not only free beer. We’ve all heard that phrase before. At the other end of the spectrum is proprietry software, such as Microsoft’s XP, Vista, and the whole series. The main advantage that proprietry software gets over the open-source equivalents is that they get easier access to money, and its this very same money that they can blow on advertising, providing top notch development workspaces, and the like.

Whereas in the open source theory, with Linux being the prime example, we see people dedicating hours of tough work to produce something they’re going to give to everybody. It’s a bit like doing unecessary homework at school – if I’m allowed to use an analogy. The main benefit to the person slaving away their hours is simply self-satisfaction. Whereas the proprietry software folks get some money.

Not to try to suggest anything negative about open-source development, but this is strikingly similar to the idealogy behind blokes who produce computer viruses. Sure, they don’t share their code all the time, and sometimes the incentive behind it is for money, but the rest of the time, they just feel like annoying the heck out of others. This being the Antichrist example of open source probably has a lot to say about why people do things – which is something I’ve been noticing a lot myself lately. Do I feel like I want to start up a huge successful website to get huge amounts of money, or would I rather develop my own skills in other areas that probably won’t immediately give me large sums of cash? The answer at the moment is leaning towards the personal development side of things.

The main point is what happens when open source and proprietry software compete? Proprietry software obviously have the upper hand when getting customers. Open-source is believed to be a lot better/faster/securer method of producing a “quality” product (using the theory of synergy). Proprietry software have more influence over potential business partners and complementary products. Open source guys offer freedom of choice. In my personal opinion, this leads to a total mess of everything. For example:

Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, Vista.

Linux: Ubuntu (Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu), Gentoo, Mandriva, Suse, Debian, Redhat, Mint, Fedora, Sabayon, Xandros, DSL, Slackware, Puppy, Arch, MEPIS, Linspire … and the other 200 or so. Not to mention GNOME, KDE, Blackbox (and deriviatives), Ratpoison, Enlightenment, XFCE, Rox … etc. Each of these with their own versions.

The general outcome of this is that freedom of choice leads to arguments. I’m not saying all open-source folks do this, but we occasionally get the boron who says “Mine is better than yours”. Even right now we have people petitioning for others to say “I like what I choose. You like what you choose. We’re all a big happy family.”

In reality, let’s take a look at how competition actually is. Windows owns 90% of the computer market, with Linux chugging around 1.3-1.4%. Windows (yes, really) owns 70% of the server market now. We also see that for years Linux folks have been predicting the day where Linux will rule the world. 2002? 03? 04? 05? 06? 07? 08? Now what, 09?

Look at reality. Absorb it.

No, seriously. Statistics are probably the most blunt way of expressing things. Can Linux’s market share be accurately measured? What about computers which shipped with Windows but were replaced? What about older computers replaced with Windows? Is open-source dying, when we clearly see applications like Blender, OpenOffice, Firefox and the such rising at such incredible speeds? It doesn’t matter. The fact is, now, we’re not exactly getting anywhere that people can say “wow – I see the light”. Sure, we got some deals with Dell and whatnot which’ll be a popular asset in the future, and we’ve also got “We’re Open Souce” becoming as hip and trendy as “We’re Green” – but in the end, it’s what people see that count.

The real question is, what’s the method to right all this madness and put Linux’s place where it truly belongs? Is using commercialised avenues the right way, does it ruin the whole concept open source is run on?

Yet again, another open-source article ends with no real point being made. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and I’ll probably come up with more meaningful rants in the future.

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Blender Extraordinaire.

Following a link found on the popular Blender newscast site BlenderNation.com, I came to a site which compared Blender3D – a FREE 3D program – to paid programs such as Maya, Lightwave, Autodesk, etc. The result? Sure, we have our ups and downs, but other than that, Blender is right up there with the big boys.

Given this information, I don’t see why Blender just doesn’t hop right up and declare immense popularity. I guess people don’t take Blender seriously enough compared to something they feel they “paid” for. Or maybe they look at its stunning 12MB filesize. Or maybe they’re just scared by its cluttered interface. (Yeah, but you get used to it)

What’s the purpose of this post? Nothing actually. This is another of the 99% of useless blog posts. However, just think about Blender for a while. If you’re thinking about starting 3D art/animation, why not use Blender?

Decide for yourself: http://www.tdt3d.com/articles_viewer.php?art_id=99