Open Office Web Casts - best OO feature you didn't know about

While I have no end of gripes about Open Office, and ways that it could be improved, it also has some really shining gems that make me very happy. One of these is the Export to Webcast feature, which is buried beneath so many levels of dialog that you probably don't know it exists.

The feature can be found via a File -> Export action. File -> Export conveniently defaults you HTML export, under which the webcast option exists.

The export is going to create a lot of little files. As such, you should create a sub directory to put the export into. I usually name it pres, just for consistency. Click Export... to continue.

You'll want to create a new design (which you can save at the end of the process). Click Next to continue, otherwise you'll get the defaults for HTML export, which is static content.

Select Webcast option on the left, and Perl on the right. The 2 URLs you'll be giving are the absolute URLs for where you will host these on your web server. The URL for presentation corresponds to where the image files for each slide will be. The url for perl scripts needs to be a directory where your web server will execute .pl files. I'm using /pres for both, as I have an appropriately pre configured /pres for the webserver that I use. Click Next to continue.

Set image type to PNG, otherwise you'll get really nasty JPEG artifacting. Select the appropriate screen size as well. A 1024x768 presentation will actually give you 800x600 images, and it probably the size you want.

Now you've got a directory ready to be served on an http server for content. On our LUG webserver the document root for mhvlug.org is '/var/www/mhvlug/html'. I've pushed all the content to '/var/www/mhvlug/html/pres', and set up the following apache stanza:

No you can send your users to a URL like http://mhvlug.org/pres/ and they'll see something like this:

Notice that green line on the bottom of the page? That's a 1 pixel high frame that is doing a meta-refresh every 5 seconds, looking for what slide you are on on the server. When it detects a slide change it will turn red, then on it's next load it will change the main screen. There is as much as a 10 second delay on slide flips, but that is pretty livable for more circumstances.

So, how do you control this, you ask? Well, you go to the fully qualified URL of your exported presentation, in this case http://mhvlug.org/pres/getting_work_done_on_linux.html. You see almost the same thing as everyone else, except your bottom frame as a set of controls. The '-' and '+' buttons do what you expect, as does entering a number and click 'to a given page'.

There is no security in any of this, it is purely convenience (though a little hacking up of a .htaccess file could restrict things further). While the whole thing is pretty hackish in nature, it turns out to work quite well. The fact that you just tell listeners to point their browser at a short URL, and leave it be drops the barrier to entry on using this really significantly.

I've used this approach in 2 presentations in the last week that I gave over the phone, and it has worked really well. While there are definitely ways to make this better, the fact that it is a built in, and it is "good enough" can't be overstated enough.

Next time you want to give a presentation, instead of just emailing out a PDF, give the web cast approach a try, I think you'll like it. 🙂

Weekend Projects

After three years, the idea that "we should really look at our spices, consolidate, and throw out old ones", we finally began that project. What looked like an hours worth of work on Saturday, rapidly turned into a more extensive reorganization of the kitchen, which lasted most of the day. Following on the reorganization of our pots and pans a couple weeks ago, we now have a much more sensible placement of spices, baking materials, and our pantry. Perhaps I can even find what I'm looking for in our combined spice collection now. Hopefully this will also add inspiration to making more meals at home, as the kitchen is definitely getting more ergonomic.

Saturday also included "the great skating adventure", whereby our two intrepid heroes thrust out into the world looking for a reasonable pond, or patch of ice to skate on. It's been below freezing for a lot of weeks now which means frozen over bodies of water are all around. Even the Hudson is starting to chunk up here in Poughkeepsie. Our first attempt, the pond we took kayaking lessons on last year at the Stringham soccer fields, was crushed by very visible "Do not go on the Ice" signs. While the ice was probably solid enough, that little negative nudge was enough to make us pause. While we were sitting in the car, deciding our next move, I noticed heads bobbing back and forth over the far embankment. Hey... they're skating, what piece of ice are they on? We pulled back onto Stringham, and found they were using the "Unsupervised Ice Skating Area. 2 Feet Deep". "They" were 6 or 8 kids (middle school and high school), playing pick up hockey.

Putting on my new comfort hockey skates for the first time, and pushing out onto the ice, made me realize how much I was used to figure skates. For the first 30 minutes, I nearly fell every time I tried to accelerate. Non-existent toe picks made bad balance points. Susan's first 30 minutes were all about humoring me; her skating skills were even rustier than mine. An hour later, with a game of tag under our belts, she was having a good time, and was able to move around pretty well on the ice.

I also spent a bunch of time optimizing my laptop development environment this weekend. Watching a few folks at work learn emacs for the first time, made me realize I'd never read the manual, and it was far past time to go through my 3 directories of elisp code, and consolidate it into something more sensible for me to manage. A few hours later, I was quite happy with the results, especially my modified two-mode-mode.

That led to the final weekend project, my Ruby on Rails address book, which now has a much nicer interface, and has phonenumbers added to the data model. I need to get a public demo site for that active soon. I've really fallen in love with Ruby, as it has made web development fun again.

Find of the week - two-mode-mode

I just came across two-mode-mode when looking for some xemacs extensions for editing ruby on rails code, and it is awesome.

The basic problem is one that anyone editing PHP, or even HTML with embedded CSS or Javascript has run into. Your editor locks to HTML editing mode, with indentation and font coloring for it, great. Then you get into your code block which is really a different language, and you no longer have an editing mode appropriate to the lines you are changing. Along comes two-mode-mode (or probably better called multi-mode-mode). The primary mode is HTML. Any time you enter blocks that look like something else (i.e. CSS, Javascript, Ruby, PHP, Python) emacs changes modes, re-font-locks, and life is good. You exist the block, and emacs flips you back to HTML mode.

I made a couple minor changes so that PHP mode used PHP, and CSS and Javascript modes were also detected. There were also 2 functions that xemacs didn't know about, but a quick m-x appropos let me find close enough versions for xemacs. Things like this are another reason I just love xemacs. 🙂

Viacom: "All your Creative Commons are belong to us!"

Apparently when Viacom issued their statement of 100,000 videos on youtube infringing their copyright, they didn't really bother to look at many of them to verify that. There was a youtube video based on "Re: Your Brains", a Jonathan Coulton song licensed under CC, that also got pulled:

Yeah, Viacom issued a massive takedown notice to YouTube, and a bunch of user-created content got caught in the crossfire. It seems like they just did a rough search on Viacom property names, and compiled the ENTIRE results into their takedown. So there was probably nothing in Spiff’s video that violated YouTube’s ToU, but some comment or tag that referenced a Viacom property to make it show up in the legal team’s search.

More details on the unfolding story on Jonathan's blog.

Mooninites and the Media

On the way back from Vermont, On the Media had a very good story on the reporting around the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerrilla marketing fiasco in Boston. What is most interesting is how much CNN and all the other cable news media whipped up a storm around the "bomb like devices" for hours before any real information was in, and how CNN (owned by the same parent company as Cartoon Network) appeared to be the first to break the news that these things weren't bombs after all, but just LED light boards.

The amount of freak out that occurred around a set of 6 LED light boards is truly amazing. I guess we did get our own War of the Worlds afterall, which no one believed could happen again. I wonder if the sense of humor around the incident back in Orson Wells day was as lacking as it appears to be today.

Winter sports, and a new pair of skis

Susan and I went up to Vermont for my father's 65th birthday this weekend, and actually got two 1.5 hr cross country skis in while we were there. During the ski I realized that while the skis I have now are quiet good for down hill and turns, their climbing ability leaves much to be desired. Susan was actually doing much better than I was on our last ski, on the older Karhu skiis that I had. Fortunately, it's actually a pretty reasonable time of year to buy skis, given that we're most of the way through the season, so I ordered a new part of Karhu touring skis for a reasonable price. This will give me something a bit better suited for climbing and track skiing, as well as my current skis which are better for turning and real backwoods adventures.

In addition to skiing, we had also planned to go ice skating this morning, however the balmy 6 degree weather, and 30 mph wind gusts made that not such a good idea. Maybe next time.

Sig of the Day

As seen on the gtk-perl mailing list.

MediaGate MG-35 Review

Last night my MediaGate MG-35 arrived. This is a small front end device for playing back video, audio, or picture content off of a central server. I've got an xbox solution for this in the main living room, but with Susan and I using the exercise bike a lot more of late, I wanted the same thing going on in the family room. It was reasonably cheap (I got the one without a local hard drive for ~$120), so was worth the risk.

Once plugged in an running, the device was pretty easy to use. The remote is a little small (it's actually powered by a watch battery), so it is hard to know if you've always hit the buttons. The interface isn't as intuitive as XBMC, and the Samba server scan takes a little time when you first start to drill down into your media folders, but it isn't very awkward. The interface looks a lot prettier than most of the filesystem browsing DVD players I've seen out there, which is a nice change.

Video playback worked fine, though one set of encoded videos I've got were a little jumpy. They are 704x400 in size, and I'm doing a test on some other media to figure out if it is a specific encode, or if the device just doesn't have enough juice to scale at that size (which would actually be a scale down for the 4:3 tv it is on right now). I'm slightly curious if the MG-350HD has a better video processor to handle that (as it is "designed for HD"), but the price jump on that unit makes it a little beyond what I'd be looking at. I'm also curious if I'd get the same jitter if the media was local, vs. coming over a smb share.

For how we are going to use this, and the price, it works fine. It isn't stellar by any means, but you can only expect so much from a device this cheap.