How would you like to create programs without learning some fancy computer language per se. You could create games, animations, educational projects and much much more. MIT has created software called Scratch to do just that. In fact, educational institutions such as Harvard have used  it part of the curriculum for both computer and non-computer science majors to aid them in learning about computers. Here is a quick intro into Scratch.

(http://www.youtube.com/v/jxDw-t3XWd0&fs=1&source=uds)

As you can see everything is drag and drop. No need to learn a epic set of commands to do even the most simplest things. Various video sites have a plethora of movies to watch to learn more about Scratch. You might need to learn some basic logic, but that is picked up easily enough.  You can see it is more user friendly that the traditional programing environment.

Some traditional programmers use even a more simplistic environment. Even schools such as Harvard have integrated Scratch programming as part of the program. Usually it is a precursor to the “C” programming environment used  by most colleges today to teach programming. Here is a video that has been used by Harvard for their free education project. (skip over about half the video to get to the part about scratch).

(http://www.youtube.com/v/FWLeB436j1o&fs=1&source=uds )

Scratch is available for the most popular platforms. For my linux box (with an internet connection), all I had to do to install it was from the command line:

$ sudo apt-get install scratch

Of course you could use the gui package managers also to install it, You can find for information about Scratch at: http://scratch.mit.edu/

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Debugging networking can be so much fun. Set up two virtual machines using Virtual Bbx. One was Debian Wheezy that I wanted to set up an rdp server and the other was just a clean install of Centos 6 to get ready for the RH exam.  Neither of them would connect to the network. .Being new to Virtual box, I did not know you had to set up the network cards as a bridged adapter. Made that modification and then to try the networking again.

The Debian install was a pre-made file. Of course the network card was set up as eth0 and I am sure it worked when the image was first set. Debian has a quirk that, if you use a network adapter, other than the original nic, the device name changes. If you do not know about that quirk, it can eat your lunch. So you have to go through the good old debugging technique. First you want to see what inberfaces (nics) are enabled. If all you get is the loopback interface or lo, then no nic is set up.

$ sudo  ifconfig

lo        Link encap:Local Loopback
inet addr:127.0.0.1  Mask:255.0.0.0
inet6 addr: ::1/128 Scope:Host
UP LOOPBACK RUNNING  MTU:16436  Metric:1
RX packets:2954 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
TX packets:2954 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
collisions:0 txqueuelen:0
RX bytes:328148 (320.4 KiB)  TX bytes:328148 (320.4 KiB)

That is what I saw. Then I wanted to see if even the network card was detected.

$ dmesg | grep eth

[    1.880657] eth0: Some companie’s Ethernet Adapter
[    1.880663] eth0: Ethernet Address: 00:00:00:00:00:00

Good we have an ethernet adapter. Generally if you are using a windowed environment, the Desktop configuration will over ride the config files. Sine we not using a desktop per se, we can modify the file with the network settings.

$ sudo vim /etc/network/interfaces

# This file describes the network interfaces available on your system
# and how to activate them. For more information, see interfaces(5).

# The loopback network interface
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

# The primary network interface
auto eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp

Hmmm. We found that our system was using eth1 instead of eth0.

# The replacement primary network interface
auto eth1
iface eth1 inet dhcp

Then all we have to do is just restart the networking.

$ sudo service networking restart

For Centos 6, it was a bit different. You still use ifconfig and dmesg, but the configuration files are different..Centos the network card was not enabled on boot, so that is why it did not connect to the network. You need to tell it to start up the networking.

# vi /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth0

DEVICE=eth0
BOOTPROTO=dhcp
HWADDR=00:19:D1:2A:BA:A8
ONBOOT=no

Change ONBOOT= no to ONBOOT=yes.

Then you can restart the networking.

# /etc/init.d/network restart
You are doing the same thing, but it is a bit different the way you do it.

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Voip or voice over IP is a method  for sending and receiving voice messages over a computer network. Come along way since the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell. Actually you can do a whole lot more than that. It can be very complicated to set up. Fortunately. there is what is known as a “live” cd that is pretty much pre-configured that only the few additional settings will get you up and running in a few minutes.

it is known as CosmoPBX. You can get it and more information at: http://cosmopbx.sourceforge.net/. You must be forewarned though that it is NOT SECURE, so do not use it in a production environment. In any case, a great tool for experimentation with use on an intranet or private network. With wifi access to your network, voip applications for your touchpads (android and etc) should connect to it fine.

For our purposes, we booted it in a virtual machine.  You can use a web browser to connect to the server remotely to configure any settings. ( i.e.: http://192.168.1.101:8088) Then you can connect with your favorite voice applications. In our case we used Ekiga from a desktop Linux workstation.   Just a matter of setting up Ekiga with the ipaddress of the voip server and you are in business. When we connected to the server, it automatically answered and gave us a voice greeting and instructed us how to proceed.

The advantage of the live cd is that you can get familiar with voip, sip, and all that is involved before you invest in a pbx system for your office and or home. If you wanted something more permanent, you could try FreePBX, (http://www.freepbx.org) but it has to be installed. Though the traditional phone lines are becoming extinct, you can get a special card for your computer to allow the server to connect to an old fashion phone line.

Other accessories you might consider are ip to analog converters so that you can use existing old fashioned analog phones as part of the network. Lately it seems as though they may have jumped up in price. We bought a couple on closeout at Fry’s a few years back. You also have to be careful as they are usually configured for a commercial “pay for” network. We bought a couple, but used available third party software to convert the units to work with our voip server.

As well as server, you can access the analog to ip converters via a web interface. That means you do not have to use sneaker support to set them up or disable them if need be. Barely touched the surface of voip, so I encourage to try it.  If you get a chance,. they make a great home intercom system.

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One of the things my mom enjoyed what was known as a harpsichord. Much easier thatn playing a regular stringed instrument in the since you did not have to play chords.You can use your computer to sort of emulate the same thing. Here are a couple of chords to begin with to get an idea of that old instrument.

A minor
$ play -n synth pl A2 pl C2 pl E2 pl A3 pl C3 pl E3 delay 0 .05 .1 .15 .2 .25 remix – fade 0 4 .1 norm -1

G major seventh

$ play -n synth pl G2 pl B2 pl D3 pl G3 pl D4 pl G4 delay 0 .05 .1 .15 .2 .25 remix – fade 0 4 .1 norm -1

C major

#  play -n synth pl C2 pl E2 pl C2 pl C3 pl E3 pl G3 pl G4 delay 0 .05 .1 .15 .2 .25 remix – fade 0 4 .1 norm -1

F major

$  play -n synth pl F2 pl A2 pl C2 pl F3 pl A3 pl C3 pl F4 delay 0 .05 .1 .15 .2 .25 remix – fade 0 4 .1 norm -1

D minor

$  play -n synth pl D2 pl F2 pl A2 pl D3 pl A3 pl F4 pl D4 delay 0 .05 .1 .15 .2 .25 remix – fade 0 4 .1 norm -1

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Home media streaming devices are available everywhere from about fifty dollars to upwards of two hundred dollars. They all vary to which video services they support. Even then you may have to pay extra for some services up and above what you pay your internet service provider. Aka hidden costs. There are several shortcomings and advantages for all the units. This is really not a detailed comparison of the units, That changes so often, almost impossible to document.

The first gripe I have about the media streaming devices is that you have to have an umbilical cord to the internet for the units to be usable. Even Roku requires a special application to be used for compatibility with the MythTV project.  MythTV is for the most part an open source computer based DVR. Maybe that is why AT&T now offers a free DVR (read the fine print) to combat such projects. If you have to have an umbilical  cord on the units then your use of it (i.e what you watch and etc is not private). What I watch (especially videos we made ourselves) should be none of anyone’s business.

The second issue I have, is that if you modify the units in any way, you will be read the riot act under some obscure and unfair law such as the DMCA.  So you really do not own the unit. You are in effect just renting it. What really hurts is that the units were based on open source software. Kind of two faced to say the least.  Eventually, because the unit is locked down to insure the software can not be upgraded for your own use then you can not use the unit for anything else. It becomes a paperweight, An exception to this is Boxee, but the price of it is more than just building a low powered pc and installing XBMC (could become proprietary vary soon).

Along the same lines is units such as as the Appletv are also proprietary but Apple has not yet seen to stop the alteration of the units from being modified to run such software as XBMC. But they could do like Sony did with the linux option on the PS3 and lock it out. So again the unit is not yours to use as you see fit as it is just a rental. Apple seems to have a tendency to obsolete it’s products whenever they need a boost in the pocketbook. That seems to be generally true of all the makers of the home media streamers.  I will say one thing is that the Appletv is competitively priced where in my opinion their computers are not.

After all this, what do you do?  The simplest way is to get or build a micro pc and install software such as xbmc or a Mythtv frontend.  You can build a “good” barebones  system for under two hundred dollars. Then you can use the unit for what ever else you want. You also would not need an umbilical cord (except for certain services) to use the unit. An average user might not want to do this.

Almost went to get a first generation hackable roku box, but then decided on another open option. That is to get a micro-controller board such as the Raspberry Pi for under fifty dollars and install something such as Raspbmc software to the unit. You have an instant media streamer. It is low power, does not need cooling under normal circumstances, and can be used for other things with just a change of the memory card. One more feature I like about it is that although it supports the new hdmi cabling, you can also use the traditional composite signal used by older monitors and TV’s. Display options are limited not using the hdmi interface. So all in all with the Raspbmc, I can use the MythTV without ever needing the internet for home based media such as free over the air TV and personally developed media.

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If you want to get the older kids into tech or they want to get into tech, you might consider the MSP430 from Texas instruments. You can get almost seven of the MSP430 development kits for the price of just one Ardiuno. That is right you can get an MSP430 development board for just $4.30 shipped to you in the U.S.  You may want to play with it your self also. Ton’s of online documentation. ( i.e. http://www.msp430launchpad.com/) Free development software is available for the most popular platforms also online (from T.I.).

What is really interesting about this unit is that you can take some software source code for the Arduino and run it on the MSP430. Porting software to the Arduino should be easier if you plan to get the Arduino later. The unit even comes with extra dip chips for your use.The newer Arduino units are soldered in place so really can not do complete development on the unit alone.  Even if the kids grow tired of it, you have not invested a fortune in the unit.  Win-Win situation.

At the holidays, they may sell out again, so order early.

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A version of pasta with pesto.

Good day.

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