Doing a Video Presentation in Linux

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Last week, my boss requested that all the supervisors in the library system prepare a 3 to 5 minute video presentation on any topic we choose. We were told also to have fun with it. You know how these things are. So instead of dreading trying to come up with a topic good enough, or funny enough, I decided to turn it into a learning experience involving my two favorite things right now: My Linux Cinnamon 18.2 desktop system and elements of the Netflix TV series called The IT Crowd. The topic I chose to present on is library staff reporting trouble with the Smart Money Manager credit card swipe terminals at the circulation stations. I also decided to turn the video into a “How To” project with Linux. So I broke it down into steps for you:

Step 1 – Scripting: Write out your script and idea and read through it a few times to get it fresh in your mind before recording.

Step 2 – Recording: Get a volunteer to do the recording. In my case, I got my wife to do all the video recording on her iPhone 6s at different spots within our main library location and in my office area. She attached her phone to a tripod stand that came with a blue tooth remote for the phone, and that really helped the recording process. She then loaded all the video clips onto a flash drive, which I copied onto my computer. Here’s a tip, don’t try to work with these files while still on the flash drive – copy them into a folder on you computer.

Step 3 – Editing: This was the tricky part. I had to do a lot of editing of the many video clips we recorded, get them into some coherent order, and put them together into one video file for presenting. It was a lot like creating a DVD slide show with pictures, only with this, I was using video clips. If you have ever worked with Windows Movie Editor, then you know what I’m talking about. Software: I first tried OpenShot Video editor. It allowed me to drop in different video clips and arrange them in the order I wanted. I quickly found out, however, that I needed a better graphics card because the video would skip and jump on playing back edited clips. I’m running an Intel Core i7-2600 CPU @ 3.4GHz with 16 gigs of RAM and an NVIDIA G86 Quadro NVS 290, which is a business class graphics card. It wasn’t enough, though, to keep up with the video playback review demands. So I turned to the other video editing software in the Software Manger in Linux, called Pitivi. I installed Pitivi, which works the same as OpenShot, but with a lot more simplified user interface. I had very little editing difficulties and video playback review rarely skipped or jumped. If it did, I simply reduced the zoom on the time line, and it smoothed out.

Sept 4 – Rendering: I was able to put in some 20 video clips together into a timeline. Here’s a screenshot of the Pitivi software and my project:

Screenshot of Pitivi movie making and video editing software

The top left corner is where you drop video clips you want to include into the project. It helps to have them numbered in some kind time sequential order. Then you drag the video clip down to the story board, which is down in the middle of the window. You arrange the clips in the order you want.

With the toolbar on the right-side, you can do a number of editing actions on the video clips. On each video clip, you can cut and remove little pieces of video you don’t want by selecting the clip and choosing the cut button on the toolbar. Just be sure to zoom in on the storyboard before cutting clips, so you can make sure you’re cutting out the right piece of video. Then you can zoom back out again and slide the video clips back and forth on the storyboard to join them up with other clips to make a smooth video with no gaps. On the small toolbar, you can also group video clips together to make moving them easier, keeping them together. You can also ungroup them, and even ungroup the video from the audio if you like. With this, you can then import your own audio and place it under a video clip. There are many other features you can explore, such as creating a title as I did, applying an effect to it and importing some audio like I did from the IT Crowd and placing it under the title. The window in the upper right-hand corner allows you to view the storyboard sequentially by clicking the play button. By the way, don’t forget to click the Save button often to save the project while you are working on it. More than once I had to close the project and re-open it at the last saved point because there is no Undo button I could find.

Once you have all the video clips arranged the way you want, review the storyboard on your project one last time, and if you’re satisfied, it’s time to render the finished video. The Render button is right next to the Save button. The Render option allows you to create the single video in a variety of formats. I first tried Ogg because I know that works very well on Linux. After 15 minutes, I got a finished project in my Home folder. Movie Player would not open it, but VLC played it fine. I decided to try a more universal file format, so I tried MP4, but it never worked. It never got past the initializing stage. MPEG Program Stream and MPEG Transport Stream rendered a video that played the audio, but no video could be seen. AVI was a dead end as well. I didn’t try HTML5 Video because I was getting impatient, so I tried a format I know works, and transcodes well into other formats, and that is Matroska, mkv. It rendered great, and the video played in Movie Player and VLC. To be on the safe side, however, I used Transmageddon Video Transcoder to transcode the mkv file into mp4, and that also worked great. So then I had three formats, OGV, MKV, and MP4 that I could take to work on a flash drive and be sure at least one of them would play correctly when I presented my video with the other supervisors.

I did notice that while my co-workers were trying to get their video perfect in one recording, or trying to figure out what they would use on a Windows computer, or trying to use very complicated software like Adobe Premier, I used a free and open source program to accomplish the same goal.

If you want to see the finished video, click here: https://youtu.be/nKWWFugd73U

All the best,
Robbie Taylor
Supervisor Technical Services

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Old Technology, Broadcast TV, and, um, Aliens?

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So today I’ve been going through some old technology the library system is no longer using to evaluate its continued usefulness. I was deciding whether to re-purpose the technology or send it to surplus to be auctioned, or whatever they do with this old stuff. The items today included things like old PS/2 mice, filmstrip projectors, slide projectors, dot matrix receipt printers, more than a few VHS players, and even a TV/VCR combo unit from the 1990s. I plugged in the TV to see if it still worked and I was immediately asked if I wanted to do an auto-programming of the channels. Well I thought to myself, “Why not?” and fashioned a make-shift antenna to the back of the TV.

After a few minutes of scanning available channels, the TV showed me there were no broadcast channels available. “Of course,” I thought. “Obviously this TV does not have a digital tuner, and broadcast TV ended years ago, so there shouldn’t be any channels out there to receive.” But then that made me think of an article I once read a long time ago that discussed the idea that our closest solar system, Proxima Centauri, which is something like 4 1/4 light years away, would be receiving episodes of “I Love Lucy” about the time the article was written in the late 80s. Wow. This means that for the past few decades, extraterrestrial aliens have been enjoying all those old TV shows we now watch on TVLand or MeTV.

Now sitting at work in front of this old TV/VCR unit that no longer received any broadcast signals, I wondered what the aliens might have thought when the TV signal they were receiving suddenly stopped when all TV transmitters went digital in 2009? Many of us were inconvenienced at having to go out and buy digital tuners, but what did that mean for all those aliens receiving those broadcast signals, when suddenly, the signal stopped? Would they have assumed our civilization just ended? Snuffed out in the blink of an eye?

Well this led me to the logical conclusion that if aliens from another world ever did make contact with us on planet earth, it would have to be because they were driven to find out if Jessica actually got shot by a firing squad at the end of “Soap,” or if Sam Beckett ever actually got home on “Quantum Leap.” Maybe they would want to meet James T. Kirk and see the Enterprise, help Dr. Who defeat the Daleks, or heck, maybe just bowl for dollars. You know, maybe NASA should consider sending out one last broadcast signal informing all those extraterrestrial alien planets out there that when the signal just stopped coming in for them, it didn’t mean our civilization ended and the Cylons destroyed us, it actually only meant that they needed to switch over to a digital tuner to continue receiving all those great programs. Being left in the dark, so to speak, maybe when the aliens do finally show up at earth’s doorstep and contact us, they won’t say, “Take me to your leader,” instead, they may well ask, “Did the Fonze ever get married? We are dieing to know!”

Webmail Automatic Logging In Last User Fix

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At our library system, we use Microsoft Office 360 and most of our staff use the webmail edition of Outlook like the one provided at https://login.microsoftonline.com. So far, this has been a great choice especially for various staff that do not have a computer assigned specifically to them. However, one problem we have encountered when multiple people use the same computer to check their email, such as front-line staff on the public desk, is that when one staff member logs out of their account and closes the browser, and then the staff member sits down and opens the browser, the browser automatically logs into the first staff member’s webmail account. That’s a problem.

Here’s a quick and easy solution that alleviates the problem. The solution also got me thinking about public machines as well and that perhaps this same setting should be standard on all computers in the library as well.

Here’s the solution for Windows 7:

  1. Click on Start button, then Control Panel.
  2. In the Control Panel, click on Internet Options.
  3. In the Security Tab, click on the Custom level button.
  4. Scroll all the way to the bottom and under User Authentication, choose “Prompt for user name and password.”
  5. Click the OK button. Click the Yes button when the box appears asking “Are you sure you want to change the settings for this zone?”
  6. Click the Apply button, then click the OK button and close the Control Panel.

By the way, you can also get to the Internet Options window by starting Internet Explorer. Then click on Tools in the menu options and choose Internet Options. This also works for Windows 10.

See the screen shot below to make sure you got the right setting:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope this helps. It solved the problem with us.

Robbie Taylor

IT Jack of all Trades

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4-jack termination wall plate.

4 Jack termination wall plate.

Jack of all trades, computer-wise, I have heard more than once over my career as a Systems Librarian. I never know if that is a compliment, or a back-handed something else. Personally, I’ve always seen it as a strength because having diverse skills in IT has saved libraries where I have worked thousands of dollars worth of contractor fees to do simple jobs I think every Systems Librarian should know how to do.

For example, I was recently called out to a library branch because some carpenters were cutting a hole in a wall for windows and discovered metal conduit running where the opening would be. The carpenters quit working until the conduit could be dealt with. After looking at the conduit, I could see it was for data lines that fed a 4 jack outlet plate some 10 feet further down the wall. A County IT Department person I really didn’t know well showed up and was going to cut the cables and put in a temporary switch under the counter where the 4 computers were. I suggested disconnecting the jacks, pulling the cables back through the conduit, lower the conduit below the window opening, pull the cables back through and re-terminate the wires in the flush mounted service box. Voila! The carpenters said it made sense to them, but the county IT person said they would have to call a contractor to pull the wires and re-terminate them. I thought, “Hmm. Don’t you work in the networking department?” “Don’t bother,” I said. “By the time you can finish talking to the contractor, I will have the job done.” “You know how to do that work?” The person asked. “Yes. I’m a Systems Librarian,” I said and went to work to get the job done. With the carpenter’s help, 20 minutes later the job was done and I punched down the last jack. “Easy Peasy,” I said. As I finished up, the cabling infrastructure manager from the County IT department came by to see what was going on. After explaining what just happened, he asked who re-terminated the jacks? The IT person explained it was the librarian. “Where did you learn to do that?” He asked. “I’ve been doing it my whole career,” I replied, “Since my first library in 1996, from hubs, switches, routers and firewalls to cabling, desktop and server support, it was expected by our directors that we would know how to do these things.” “So you’re kind of an jack of all IT trades?” He asked. “You got it,” I said. “I never knew librarians could do that,” he commented as he left.

Of course. How would he or anybody else know librarians are capable of doing a lot more than shelving books. People are always amazed that librarians know how to do such things. And little credit do we get for knowing them. Often I see ads for jobs in these IT specialties paying twice what we make at the library, but the library and local/county governments that run libraries do not see the equivalent value. Often the exchange goes like this: “You’re an IT person,” I get asked. “Yep,” I always answer. “But you work in a library?” Is usually the next puzzled question. “Yep,” I answer. “But you’re an IT person,” usually comes again. “Yep,” I answer. “Then why don’t you work in an IT department somewhere?” is usually the last question. “Because I am a Systems Librarian,” emphasis on systems, as in IT systems. It takes a while before it begins to sink in. And then the light bulb goes on. Yes! Librarians do a lot more than just shelve books. There is a whole universe of sophisticated information technology and electronic gadgetry we need to support so that libraries can fulfill their missions. And we are expected to know it all before it even hits the market. In a Systems Librarian job, we typically support everything from the Kindle grandma shows up with at the library because she got it for Christmas, to speaking fluently about virtual open source cloudstack servers. And more often than not, we conduct classes to teach these wondrous things to the public at no cost to them. We do it all, and yes, we even fix the cables inside the walls. We are a veritable “IT Jack of all Trades.” Pun intended.

Rob Taylor,
Systems Librarian

The Arch-Enemy of Computers

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I recently was requested to troubleshoot a computer that was running very slow. The computer would also freeze up, or lock up, forcing the user to reboot and lose valuable work. When I sat down at the computer and had a look, I couldn’t see anything wrong at first, so I decided to open the case just to give it a quick once over. When I opened the case, I found this.

Pic of clogged CPU fan.

#1 enemy of computer hardware.

The picture here was what greeted me once I removed the cover. The CPU fan was working so hard trying to get what little air it could through the cooling fins, and from what I could see and hear, I believe it was about to give up the ghost.

We don’t often think that simple dust could be so destructive to computer hardware, but in library environments, we should think again. Libraries actually harbor a lot of dust from such sources such as the books themselves and foot traffic. The foot traffic where I currently work often exceeds a thousand people per day coming through the doors. All those people bring a lot of dust in with them, not to mention the thousands of books on the shelves, delivery drivers, daily maintenance work, and you get the picture.

I wonder how many complaints from people about their “slow computers” could be alleviated by a simple cleaning program done once per year?

Protecting Valuable Equipment

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Never take for granted what surge protectors do for our valuable equipment.

Back in the day I saved up my money and bought a new Packard Bell 586 Desktop computer. It was my first computer running Windows95 (and Navigator) and a big step up from my Dell 286. I cherished the PC and played games like Doom and Wolfenstein, as well as I learned how to program in HTML, C++ and Java, and wrote my Master’s Thesis for Library Science.

legend100cdOne day, while I on dialup Internet searching for something on Dogpile, I heard thunder outside my window. I didn’t think anything about it until suddenly I saw a flash of lightning and my computer screen completely froze. The computer, it turned out, was completely toast. Lightning traveled through the telephone line and zapped the mother board of the PC. I never forgot that lesson and it has served me well in the years since.

Fast forward to 2014, I’m standing out on the 2nd floor main public PC area in the library. Outside is a large thunderstorm moving across the river and next to the building was a lightning strike. Everybody jumped, the lights blinked and then all the computer equipment began to restart, everything except for the SAM Print station. When troubleshooting the problem, I found the following in the surge protector plugged into the wall.

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photo 1(1)It appeared that the surge protector took the brunt of the stray voltage and saved the SAM Print station computer, Jamex coin box, and laser printer. The little $12 device saved some $4,000 dollars worth of computer equipment. Eventually I scrounged around and got a UPS unit with a built-in surge protector to plug the equipment into, and when I plugged the unit into the wall, I remembered my old Packard Bell. If only I would have had one of these back then.It is important to remember to always plug expensive computer equipment into surge protectors, and if possible, a line filter, which can filter out voltage spikes and smooth out voltage drops (brown outs). With a simple device between the computer and the wall, the equipment should last much, much longer.- Rob Taylor

How to Replace a Jamex 6557 Coinbox Logic Board

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At our library system, we have Jamex 6557 series coinboxes attached to Comprise SAM print stations. These coin boxes are typically very reliable, but they sometimes fail for some reason. At the library, we had a power event due to a thunderstorm. After the storm, the Jamex machine stopped dispensing quarters. It would dispense dimes and nickels, but no quarters. After some troubleshooting, it was determined that the main JPC logic board was faulty. Jamex tech support explained to me that the chip that held the information for the quarters was not holding the information any longer. Sometimes these chips fail on their own, and sometimes something like a thunderstorm, power surges, and the like, may instigate a chip failure. Since these machines cost in the neighborhood of $3,500 and upward, I opted to repair the machine instead of purchasing a new one. To replace the faulty logic board cost $689, and to send the board in for repair cost $150. I decided that replacing the board was a better route to go because of the age of the board, which was 6 years old. If one chip on the board went bad and it was sent in for repair, other chips on the board could also fail after repair. $650 compared to $3,500 was still a great bargain for the library, and with replacing the board, the print station could limp along dispensing dimes and nickels until the new board came in, which took about a week. Listed here is the video for other librarians on how to replace the faulty board.

 

Watch this video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yc6kPqwdkc&feature=youtu.be

Hope the video helps!