Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Purposely Open Source: UBUNTU Apps we Use in PORPOISE

Ahoy thar, ya scalliwags!

Here at PORPOISE, when teaching young people how to use their computers to become better citizens and to learn Science, Technology, Engineering and  Math (STEM) and Digital Engineering for Multi-Media Occupations (DEMMO Productions),  we adventurers on the high seas of cyber-education have an answer to the Stop On-Line Piracy Act (SOPA) now being so furiously debated by the nation that we think is a win-win!

Our answer is stay open-source and our perspective is to stop looking at software and  digital media as a (much over-milked) cash cow and learn to see them instead as part of the foundational infrastructure smart nations need and must make available free of charge to ensure  high productivity and competitiveness.

The dot-com bubble burst. It is over. Deal with it.

Humanity used the huge investments made during that era to create all sorts of fantastic tools -- software for word processing, for calculating through spreadsheets, for creating art and video and music, for manipulating images and sounds and even things in the real world, like robotic hardware.

Creative artists created a wealth of songs and films and other media that do a great job of informing a world-wide audience about our languages and cultures, our dreams and fears, our histories and our challenges.  They have created "games" that help the young and old perfect their hand-eye coordination and develop their imaginations and social skill-sets.

The network professionals have created ways for us to talk across oceans and even to see and hear and interact with one another in real-time through group video conferencing and on-line  in ways that long ago seemed the stuff  of comic books and science fiction.

The so-called "intellectual property" developed during this time exists as testimony to the marvelous intellect of the human race. The works exist. They can't be un-invented.

It is time to put them to service for all humanity.

But because many people still want to hold on to digital productions and use them to continue to garner profits through royalties (even though the transaction costs of duplication are close to zero), there will inevitably be conflicts about who gets to use what when and how. And those who don't have much money or time but want access to those tools will be tempted to pirate them.

We want to avoid all of that.

Fortunately, the open-source movement has also matured during the dot-com bubble years.  Operating systems and software exist today  that is as good as anything out there on the commercial market.  Cultural/educational/entertainment material made "of the people, by the people, for the people" exists (through blogs and youtube and Vimeo and others) to keep us enthralled while we learn to make sense of the world through the arts.

We now have all the tools we need to level the playing field and give equal access to the best education available on the planet to everyone on the planet.

So in this program we are going to stay completely OPEN-SOURCE and OPEN-ARCHITECTURE.   We invite you to by-pass the entire SOPA debacle by staying in a realm where no piracy is possible because everything has been made available for free to begin with!

And just for the record, mateys -- since  in this program we follow the cyberpunk clarion call "information longs to be free", we'll be doing this entire program using LINUX BASED OPEN-SOURCE HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE  and puttin' it all in the public domain.

We're countin' on you to start workin' with the same UBUNTU Linux distribution we use and "abandon ship" when it comes to Windows or Mac for this educational initiative (go ahead and use them in your everyday life -- we do too -- but in PORPOISE our purpose is to make robotics education accessible to EVERYONE, from the richest to the least-wealthy, from Tarzana to Timbuktu, so we like the software solution that South African astronaut Mark Shuttleworth came up with to close the digital divide: Ubuntu.)

And here is a nice definition of Ubuntu from

"Ubuntu is a Nguni word which has no direct translation into English, but is used to describe a particular African worldview in which people can only find fulfillment through interacting with other people. Thus is represents a spirit of kinship across both race and creed which united mankind to a common purpose.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has said "Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language…It is to say. 'My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours'…"1
1 No Future Without Forgiveness: A Personal Overview of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission , Desmond Tutu, © 2000.

We've been teaching Ubuntu in places as diverse as  Maasai villages in Kenya and the slums of Cairo to the 'hood in Los Angeles.  By having a common and evolving platform for robotics development where all the software tools are free and open-source we ensure a dialog between users and cultures that will erase the gulfs dividing us and give everybody a chance to participate in "the great conversation" that humanity has been having since we achieved self-awareness and began to look up at the stars...

Now back to our anti-pirate voice:

"Har be an evolving list of the Ubuntu Software we reckon to use in this har program for various and nefarious porpoises related to aquatic and maritime robotics -- and all the media and pedagogical (thar be a big word, aye!) projects associated with said STEM educational goals!

I'll be updatin' her from time to time as I makes me own discoveries so check back frequently.  And if ye have yer own recommendations, do let us know down under in the comments section and we'll add 'em to the list!


(Note: we give the link to the relevant websites for informational purposes, but once you are in Ubuntu you can download everything for free from the Ubuntu Software Center for easy install).

 Taking Screenshots:
(Shutter also works as a decent and quick image editor for cropping and flipping etc.)

Resizing pictures:

Managing photographs:
Shotwell Open Source Photo Organizer

Making 2D pictures (the Ubuntu equivalent of Photoshop):

3D Modelling, Animation and Game Creation:

Free model resources for Blender: (this is where I got the skull for the logo I created above) (this is where I got the battery to make the skull and crossbones batteries in the logo above).

Word Processing/Spreadsheets/Databases (equivalent to Microsoft Office):


PDF Viewing (similar to Acrobat Reader):
Evince Document Viewer

PDF Creation and Page Layout (similar to Adobe PageMaker)

Video Production:
Kdenlive: The best way to install it is to use the instructions here, starting with installing MTL and ALL the dependencies  and THEN install Kdenlive from here.
Don't use the Ubuntu Software Center for this or you may get problems (MTL missing warnings and crashes!). But it is worth it.

(This one you have to install from source using these instructions   if you get it from here or these if you get it from heroinewarrior link above; it can't be found in Ubuntu Software Center like most of the others.  There are a few more Linux video editors  listed here:
I have to say, having worked as a video editor for years on both linear AB Roll systems and non-linear systems, from AVID to Media 100 to Final Cut Pro to Adobe Premiere, that I vastly prefer Kdenlive to Cinelerra. I couldn't get the audio working in Cinelerra and it is hard to do simple edits if you are used to the stretchable timelines in Final Cut or Premiere. Kdenlive is more like those programs in any event.

(Note: To properly install Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot, this tutorial is very helpful: as is this one about repositories:

If you are interested in how an economy might work in an age of almost cost-free software, check out this great essay by Joel Spolsky where gives a brief economics lesson as  he talks about how to properly price software and gives the advice "charge $0.05 for your software ... unless it does bug tracking, in which case the correct price is $30,000,000."

Joel also has a great essay giving advice for Computer Science Majors who might be worried about getting jobs after college.   His thinking is seminal in our education work, so check it out!


  1. Any recs for free software with Adobe Acrobat functionality to add to the list?

  2. Hi Nick, I just added Evince Document Viewer (the default in Ubuntu) as alternative to Acrobat Reader, and Scribus for pdf creation and page layout. Check out for more info.