Cheap Lightning Cable

If you’ve had an Apple device for any number of years, you know that sometime in your future you’re going to need a replacement charging cable. Our house is split – I use Android, and my wife uses Apple. She has an iphone, and I have a Galaxy. She has an ipad, and I have a Nexus tablet. It doesn’t help that our 8 year old has an ipad mini, and that he uses my wife’s charging cables all the time. He’s pretty rough on them, always stretching and straining the ends until something’s worn enough to not work anymore.

I have made the late night run to Wal-Mart to get the classic Apple charging cable for my wife – and it usually amounts to paying $20 for a single cord (or more). I have also learned over time that paying the higher amount to get the Belkin cable is almost always a better idea. It was after this one time that I decided to get on Amazon and buy a backup charging cord. I found an awesome deal that included not one but 5 different Apple charging cables in various colors for around $12.99. This seemed more than awesome, until we found they lasted only about 4-6 weeks. Sometimes when you buy something on Amazon “off the boat”, the savings aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Recently I had to order yet another Apple lightning cable, and again (as if I hadn’t learned my lesson) I wanted to find the cheapest one available. When I did the search I was surprised to find that they had one available in the “Amazon Basics” line. Previously I’d purchased both USB and HDMI cables in the Amazon Basics line because they were both cheap and high quality. Amazon’s version is actually “Apple certified” – which you can’t say about all those import knock-off versions.

This is what I purchased:

It’s only about 10 bucks, but they have a 6 foot version that’s double the length for only $2 more.

Airbnb Copycat Sites

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last year about one of the fastest growing sites  Airbnb is a place for a normal person to list their home or apartment short term rentals.

In some places this has become illegal:

While most people have had great experiences, a small percentage have had complete disaster:

I have become fascinated lately with the amount of websites that have an airbnb type service for something else.  It’s rare when a new idea spawns so many copycat sites.

Airbnb for digs:
Airbnb for 3D printers:
Airbnb for campsites:
Airnb for workspaces:
Airbnb for outdoor gear:
Airbnb for boats:
Airbnb for toilets:
Airbnb for kitchens:
Airbnb for families:
Airbnb for parking spots:
Airbnb for energy:
Airbnb for driveways:

Amazon and Google Ara Cell Phones

Random its of technology for the day.

Amazon is putting together a smartphone:

Google’s Project Ara is creating a modular build your own phone system for 2015 release:

Facebook is working with drones to bring connectivity to all parts of the world:

So what does Google do? Buy the company Facebook was reportedly looking at:

Self Driving Cars

When I was a kid we all thought by now we’d be seeing flying cars and moving sidewalks. Like the Jetsons. Nothing has really happened to change our daily commutes, even the Segway – which was supposed to revolutionize transportation, largely did nothing.

If Google has anything to say about it, the near future (10-15 yrs) may include autonomous (driverless) cars. Does giving up the freedom of driving sound scary? Maybe. But one survey found that 90% of drivers would use a self-driving car is their insurance went down 80%.

Google has already driven a half million self-driven miles without a single accident.

Why would Google invest in this technology? So you can do more googly things in your car during the commute, of course.

Fixing the “No space left on disk error” – Ubuntu

Let’s say your on a Windows box, and then you install an Ubuntu VM with VirtualBox. Maybe you give it a default 4GB or 8GB HDD, and then you start installing the things you need to work in your environment. If you’re doing web development (like me), that would be Apache (Apache2), MySQL server, phpMyAdmin, or maybe XAMPP – and maybe some dev tools. Before you know it you’re out of space on your SDA1, SDA3, or whatever your system partition is.

Maybe you think that resizing your VM (your VDI file) will fix your problem, but really it won’t. You’ll get a larger HDD grow space in VirtualBox, but your system partition will still be out of space. There’s nothing you can do about this from within your Ubuntu VM, and there’s nothing you can do from within your VM settings in VirtualBox.

What you have to do is edit your partitions and give your system partion more space. First, download the gparted live CD.

Then, in your VM settings in VirtualBox go to “storage” and click “Add/CD Device” under your IDE controller and point to the iso gparted image you just downloaded. Save and spin up your VM again, and (if your boot order was CD first) you’ll boot into the gparted live CD.

How to add gparted livecd to your boot sequence in VirtualBox

If you need help, here’s a tutorial on resizing virtualbox partitions with gparted. If you’ve never used gparted before, you might also need this tutorial on how to move swap space and paritions with gparted as well, to learn how to move the unallocated space where you need it.

Once you move the space where you need it, restart your VM and you should be good to go!

Resize VirtualBox VDI

In VirtualBox by default usually your VM size is 8GB.  You might run out of space, and need a larger virtual machine.  Recently on a windows box (gack!) I had an Ubuntu VM spun up that needed more space – and there’s no way at all to do this in the GUI.

Low and behold, there’s a command for this!  Go to the command line in Windows (cmd.exe) and type the following:

“C:\Program Files\Oracle\VirtualBox\VBoxManage.exe” modifyhd  “C:\users\myuser\VirtualBox VMs\Debian 6.0.3\Debian 6.0.3.vdi” –resize 16384

If you need to do this in Linux this is the command:

VBoxManage modifyhd natty.vdi –resize 12000

Now you have all the hard disk space you need!

How to Copy a Segment of MPEG Video Linux

Often for me one of 2 scenarios arise. The first is I’ve used my portable HD video recorder to make a video, and now I need to chop it up into smaller pieces. Not necessarily edit the video, just chop it into smaller pieces. Like when my band “Not Even” plays the bar and we tape 30 – 60 minutes of the show. Then when I get home, I need to chop that video up into segments of each song we can use on YouTube and the website.

Another scenario I ran into recently was I ripped a DVD into a single file, and was going to put that on our 120GB portalble USB hard drive. Turns out the thing is formatted in FAT32 and won’t accept files <4GB. So, I needed to chop that file into 2 files in order to get the movie on there.

The great thing about Linux is that you have the command line. You don't necessarily need a GUI point and click software program to get light utility work like this done. Your Linux computer most likely has the 2 most powerful image and video editing tools already installed: ffmpeg and mplayer.

Normally processing video takes a bit of a toll on your memory and processor. If say you're rippig a DVD (HD quality) and then you want to convert that to AVI Xvid, or H264 Apple format - it could take quite awhile to convert that frame by frame from one format and quality into another.

On the other hand - just copying a segment of a video into a smaller file of it's own - is very quick, simple, and easy.

All you have to do is open a command line box and navigate to where your video is stored on your computer. In this example we're chopping up a 2:10:00 video (2 hours and 10 minutes) in 2 smaller videos.

Run the ffmpeg command like this:

this example will create the first video. It will copy the first hour of the larger video into a smaller file containing just the first hour. myvideo.mpg is the name of the file we're copying from, and 0:00:00 is the starting point, and 1:00:00 is the stopping point, and myvideosegment1.mpg is the name of the output file.

ffmpeg -y -i myvideo.mpg -ss 0:00:00 -t 1:00:00 -vcodec copy -acodec copy myvideosegment1.mpg

Our larger video is 2 hours 10 minutes long, so in this example we're going to copy the last part of the video from the 1 hr point until the end into a new file called myvideosegment2.mpg.

ffmpeg -y -i myvideo.mpg -ss 1:00:00 -t 2:10:00 -vcodec copy -acodec copy myvideosegment2.mpg

There you have it! In just minutes we've copied the first and last half of a big video into 2 smaller videos (without affecting the orignal file at all).

You can do all kinds of video tricks with ffmpeg.

convert ogv to avi:
mencoder -idx -ovc lavc -oac mp3lame -o output.avi

convert mpeg to flv:
ffmpeg -i -deinterlace -ar 44100 -r 25 -qmin 3 -qmax 6

convert mpg to avi:
ffmpeg -i test.mpg -sameq test.avi

convert avi to mp4:
ffmpeg -i test.avi -b 1000k -async 1 output.mp4

convert flv to mp4:
ffmpeg -i test.flv -b 600k test.mp4

For a few more tricks, check out some of these handy ffmpeg commands.

Resizing Images Ubuntu Command Line

The great thing about Ubuntu is that there are all kinds of free programs for graphics you can install. I use Pinta for a lot of quick image editing, resizing, cropping, etc. However, what I haven’t come across is a decent utility for batch coverting or resizing digital images. Way back in the day on Windows I used to use a program called Thumbs Plus for this kind of thing.

It turns out that you already have a utility like this on Ubuntu (you just don’t know it yet). It’s called Mogrify. Mogrify is part of the ImageMagick package that should already be available within your Ubuntu install.

How to use Mogrify in Ubuntu:

Just navigate to the folder that has your images on the command line, and then run the command like this:
mogrify -resize 50% *.jpg

That example uses the resize option to scale them by 50% (all jpg files in that folder).

Let’s say you want to resize by a specific height and/or width (and leave the aspect ratio the same? Run a command like this:
mogrify -resize x800 *.jpg

This would result in images 800px wide by whatever the aspect ratio is. There are literally dozens of options you can use including rotate, crop, and more. Get the details on the ImageMagick page for mogrify here.

Ripping DVD’s in Ubuntu Linux Easy

When we buy a DVD for our 6 year old, the first thing that comes to mind is – how long before it gets scratched (or ruined, lost, broken), etc. Ever bought one of those Beach Body work out video sets for $150 and thought – what happens when one won’t play anymore? It’s not like they’re going to send you a replacement, unless you send another $150. So the question was, how do I rip, backup, and burn certain DVD’s in my collection (which is completely legal)?

I have been using Ubuntu on my desktop for the last 7 years or so. Ever since version 10, upgrades to 11 and now 12 have been pretty painless. However, they don’t exactly give you tools “out of the box” to rip DVD’s (even though they are available). Maybe you had (at one point) the ability to rip DVD’s, and since upgrading to the latest Ubuntu version – now you can’t anymore.

The solution is – quite simple. You can easily install any “dvd rip” package from your Ubuntu Software center. Like DVD:Rip, K9Copy (which I like), Thoggen, AcidRip, or OGMRip (all work well). You will find, however, that out of the box even though the tools are installed, you can’t rip anything. Some give an error, some don’t and just do nothing.

The piece you are lacking is a dvd decrypter, because the DVD’s you have an encrypted with encoding keeping you from backing up or copying them. You need to installed the libdvdcss2 decrypting library for Linux to allow the software to rip the dvd’s.

You would think that this would work on the command line:
sudo apt-get install libdvdcss2

However, you’ll get an error saying you can’t install this because it’s not available in the repository.

This Mediabunty page describes how to do that.

In a nutshell you need to enable the right repository to get libdvdcss2 by running this on the command line:

sudo wget –output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list$(lsb_release -cs).list && sudo apt-get –quiet update && sudo apt-get –yes –quiet –allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring && sudo apt-get –quiet update

now you can run this command to install it again (and it will work):

sudo apt-get install libdvdcss2

Now run your DVD ripping program(s) and they should (all) work just fine. The only issue now will be what format to do the ripping in and if you have installed ffmpeg and/or mplayer properly – and if your computer has enough CPU and memory (and hard drive space) to do the ripping.

Have fun backing up and copying your DVD collection!

How to Remove the Unity Dock Bar in Ubuntu

I’ve been using Ubuntu for years on my desktop workstation – about 5 years now in total. I’ve been through so many revisions of Ubuntu it’s not funny – and as we all know in the beginning upgrading wasn’t really all that fun (because you never knew what would happen).

Ubuntu as an OS has become more stable than ever – with months and months in between my reboots. I haven’t had a crash or lockup of any kind of 3+ years – but one thing really pissed me off about a year ago – the “Unity Bar”.

Ubuntu took it upon themselves to reword the desktop interface and paradigm as “they saw fit”, putting into place this rediculous left facing menu dockbar thing called the “unity bar” and this little icon on the top left to segregate all your apps into “media apps”, “internet apps”, and “all apps” categories.

This horrible interface has pissed off more people than I know because it just makes harder to find things. They might think it’s easier becase you can type in a few letters to find what you want – but you shouldn’t have to use your keyboard to find an app. You shouldn’t have to scroll through all your apps find it either.

One of the very first things I googled was “how to remove the unity bar in ubuntu” and come to find out (as part of the system) you really can’t. You can’t really replace it, or re-mix it, re-work it, you’re just stuck with that POS.

Today I upgraded to Ubuntu 11.10 and decided to check out the ubuntu software center to see what’s new – and low and behold there’s a system utility called “Cairo dock”. While it’s not really a replacement for the unity dock (and you still can’t remove it), it might be a good solution for you – it was kind of just what I was looking for (and I’ll tell you why).

First of all – fire up “ubuntu software center” and find “cairo dock” (under system utilities) and install it. Once installed you’ve have the option to run Open GL (Compiz like) version, or non Open GL. I love the Open GL version (uses very low system resources).

How to remove Ubuntu Unity Dock

So – this is why I like the Cairo dock…it’s like the Macbook App bar (but better). I can’t show it here, but the left icon for the very leftmost icon is the “applications menu” which is exactly what you remember it to be (before the Unity dock bar came out). You have access to icons for programs you have open and most used programs, shortcuts, folders, and more.

You can even right click add / remove / modify any launchers on the Cairo dock, you can add custom applets, apply themes, and more! If you want to get your productivity back in your Ubuntu desktop – install Cairo dock!