Monthly Archives: November 2011

Using flexget to automate torrent downloads

Flexget is a nice command line program that automates the process of downloading .torrent files. The Flexget web site has a number of cookbook recipes for processing torrents. It’s flexible enough to include or exclude torrents based on the torrent name. Flexget uses a simple form of regular expressions. Everything is set in a ~/.flexget/config.yml file. Drawing on the flexget web site here’s a really simple example configuration file:

feeds:
  tv-shows:
    rss: http://example.com/rss.xml
    series:
      - pioneer one
      - south park
    download: ~/torrents/

Of course http://example.com/rss.xml is just an example, you’d need to use a real RSS feed. Series reflects which shows you want to download from the feed. The download section points to where the torrent files are stored. Flexget just pulls the torrents. You then need to set up a program like Transmission (under Linux) to pick up torrents from the same directory. I happen to like Transmission because it doesn’t take a whole lot of memory and can be web-enabled.

When creating the config.yml file you have to be careful to use 2 spaces, don’t use tabs or flexget will not recognize the configuration file correctly. If you’re not sure if a recipe you created works you can run:

flexget –test

This will run flexget using a test database. Any errors will be noted at the end. Spacing is the most common issue. Of course downloading tv-shows may be illegal… (should we take our cues from Lady Gaga the “BitTorrent Loving Freak”)

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Support, support, support

Errors trying to get Penguin TV working and a newer version installed

Penguin TV errors

Originally I intended this post be about the Penguin TV RSS feed software, but errors with the software made me think about new Linux users’ experience with Linux. The errors reminded me of a difference of opinion I had with one episode of the Going Linux podcast entitled “What’s Wrong with Linux.”

In that podcast their #1 issue with Linux was that it isn’t marketed well/correctly. I happen to think it isn’t the most important issue. Years ago Red Hat made an enormous push and VA Linux was the brightest IT star in the world with it’s obscene IPO. And because of incredibly unreal expectations there was a huge backlash. You could call it negative media and say that marketing is the #1 problem, but to me the real problem is support.

“But Linux has excellent support,” you say. Besides man pages, /usr/share/doc, Internet Relay Chat, and Ubuntu Forums there is paid support from Canonical, various blogs, user groups, and events like Ubuntu Hour where people can come out and ask questions about problems.

Sure, those are all great support options. But what happens when someone who buys a computer with Linux pre-installed can’t get it working with their DSL provider? “Hello, this is *ell Canada. Oh I’m sorry sir we can’t help you with that Linux problem, you need to use Windows.” Happily enough people sometimes get the occasional tech support person with a clue. The point is that companies haven’t gotten to the point where Linux is so prolific that they’re willing to support it.

But rather than moaning about the problem I’m proposing a solution: computer shops willing to support Linux. This means shops will have to learn things like DSL/VOIP provider X sells a VOIP router that doesn’t do IPv6 well and you may have to disable IPv6 in Linux (or tell them to get another VOIP router) – yes an actual case. It means publicly saying “we provide Linux desktop support.” And I stress desktop support, because you will get people asking for server support (it just naturally seems to follow).

Ah, back to the original thought in this article Penguin TV. From the screenshot above it’s easy to see that Penguin TV is trying to open a Firefox localhost URL. I installed Penguin TV from the Ubuntu Lucid Lynx repositories. I would expect all dependencies would be installed and any services started. I checked the program’s preferences and there’s no mention about any kind of localhost or server connection. Googling the problem doesn’t help much either. I did see that Penguin TV released a new version, but Lucid Lynx is missing a dependency which only appears to be available in the unstable updates (and I’m unwilling to run unstable updates). The help within Penguin TV is only “About Penguin TV.”

The README in /usr/share/docs/penguintv suggests that Penguin TV might crash because of the way it’s packaged in some distributions, but instead of providing a solution it just asks the author be contacted.

Sadly the last Penguin TV update was in 2008 and surprisingly it isn’t the latest included with Lucid Lynx (which makes me think some of the code in Lucid is pretty old). It’s situations like this that frustrate new Linux users (and experienced Windows users trying Linux). We need to find a way to support people. I don’t have an answer to this Penguin TV problem at this point, but if you do please comment here so someone else can find a solution.

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Filed under Linux, Refurbishing, Social Networking, Technology

Future of desktop computer reuse / recycling

Jim Lynch, all around great guy, and TechSoup Global GURU, wrote a great article yesterday called Environmental Case for Refurbished IT Equipment. In this article Jim presents a really good case for reusing old computer equipment instead of recycling it (having it broken down). Instead of re-arguing what Jim’s already covered I thought I’d touch on another reason why refurbishing old equipment might be better than ditching it for less power-hungry equipment.

For the past several years companies have been slinging around the term “Green” for a lot of their equipment. We have green hard drives, green power supplies, green notebooks, etc. In some cases this might mean something as simple as running at 7200RPM instead of 10,000 RPM. In other cases it refers to an eco-friendly manufacturing process from start to finish.

So why keep something that might draw more power alive when more green alternatives exist? One thought comes to mind right off the top – quality. If you’ve been in the industry awhile you remember when manufacturers started flooding the market with cheap Winmodems instead of hardware modems. Winmodems were cheaper to manufacture, did a reasonable job on Windows, but were a bit of a pain under other operating systems. Today we see a lot of cheap laptops. At $250-$400 a pop they seem to be flooding the market. My wife and I bought our son one. The quality of these laptops, compared to say a Lenovo T410, is very poor. It’s almost as if manufacturers are pushing out notebooks they only expect to last a year or two. They may use better energy conservation technology, but they seem built to break.

Remember the old Toshiba commercial where the guy forgets the laptop on the hood of his car? The car takes off and the laptop crashes to the ground but doesn’t break… it’s not the situation today, especially at the low end of the laptop spectrum. Materials in some of these notebooks are so cheap that something as simple as trying to unscrew a screw on the bottom causes plastic inside to break. The solution is simple, manufacturers should be using a small metal bolt to prevent the plastic thread from breaking.

I’ve also noticed our son’s cheap notebook (he has a better quality one too) tends to overheat a lot. It runs really hot and sometimes shuts down because of a heat event, and this notebook is only around 6 months old.

New technology might be more energy efficient, but if the shelf life is a lot less then it’s creating more of an environmental problem rather than less. Sure, new technology can be refurbished, but there comes a point where really cheap equipment requires a machine to replace components (or an incredibly talented soldering expert).

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Tomboy note taking and Ubuntu One

Tomboy note taking application

Tomboy note taking application

One of the applications I’ve found that I used a lot more often than I expected is Tomboy. Tomboy is a digital note taking application with the ability to synchronize notes with Ubuntu’s cloud service Ubuntu One, as well as web-dav servers and, if enabled, SSH servers.

I tend to collect a lot of notes on my desk. Between messages for me, things I want to remember, and people I need to track things down for the paper pile was starting to accumulate to a point that rather than dealing with the notes I was letting them slide off my desk into the void. Then I started storing notes in Tomboy. Tomboy isn’t as sophisticated as Microsoft’s OneNote system, there’s no clipping articles with graphics, fancy colour coding or realtime multi-user editing, but it does provide a basic note taking solution that can be synchronized with a cloud source.

For me this means that when I come across something useful at work, say an article on emacs modes, I can write myself a quick note and it gets synchronized in the background.

By default synchronization with Ubuntu’s Ubuntu One service is not set up. Even if you’ve already created an Ubuntu One account you’ll need to “authorize” Tomboy to send the notes to Ubuntu One. This is done by clicking Edit > Preferences and the Synchronization tab, then selecting Tomboy Web from the Service section.

While in Preferences I also like to enable a few extra Add-ins. Under Tools the Insert Timestamp add-in, and under Formatting the Underline add-in.

Tomboy can also take 3rd party add-ins. While I’ve never worked with these, the following 3rd party add-ins look interesting:

  • Blogpost – post to your WordPress/Blogger account from Tomboy.
  • Reminder – automatically open notes at a specific date and time.
  • Remove Broken Links – removes broken links/URLs from notes.
  • Drag and Drop – lets you drag one note into another to link to it.

If you take a lot of notes and need to have them in different locations where you have an Ubuntu Linux computer Tomboy is a great way to go. It’s not perfect, but as a simple note taking application it does the job.

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