Tag Archives: Linux

Directory of RSI Software

This is the first in a number of posts about RSI, or Repetitive Strain Injury, the subject of this week’s column, out tomorrow. Here is a collection of software designed to ease RSI. RSI software tries to help in a number of ways:

  • working out how long you’ve been at the keyboard and reminds you to take breaks;
  • suggesting exercises for you to perform while you’re taking those breaks;
  • records macros (shortcuts) to specific tasks you do a lot so you don’t have to use the keyboard as much (especially keystroke combinations);
  • reduces mouse usage by allowing you to control the mouse from the keyboard (including dragging)
  • reducing mouse clicks by automating the process (move the cursor over something you want to click on and hold it there, and the software figures out you want to click and does it for you)

Here are some programs I found. I’m sure there are more. Let me know!

RSI Shield provides breaks, records macros and controls the mouse via hovering or via the keyboard. For Windows only. About $40 from RSI-Shield.

RSI Guard includes a break timer that suggests breaks at appropriate times, mouse automatic-clicking option and shows animations of exercises. Windows only. £81 from Back in Action, or $40 for the Standard and $65 for the Stretch Edition from RSI Guard.

Workrave frequently alerts you to take micro-pauses, rest breaks and restricts you to your daily limit. For GNU/Linux and Windows (can be run on a Mac using Fink). Free from Workrave.

WorkPace Personal charts your activity, reminds you to take breaks and guides you through exercises. For Windows and Mac. $50 from Wellnomics.

AntiRSI forces you to take regular breaks, yet without getting in the way. It also detects natural breaks so it won’t force too many breaks on you. For Macs, free (donations welcome) from TECH.inhelsinki.nl.

[resting]

Xwrits reminds you to take wrist breaks, with a rather cute but graphic graphic of a wrist which pops up an X window when you should rest. For Unix only. Free from Eddie Kohler’s Little Cambridgeport Design Factory.

OosTime Break Software for reminding yourself to take rest breaks from your computer. For Windows only, from the University of Calgary. Another break reminder: Stress Buster for Windows, £10, from ThreadBuilder. Another break reminder for Windows, also called, er, Break Reminder for $60 a year (that can’t be right) from Cheqsoft.

Stretch Break reminds you to stretch, then shows you how with Yoga-based stretches and relaxing background music. For Windows only, $45 from Paratec.

ergonomix monitors keyboard and mouse activity and helps structure computer use. For Windows only, $50 from publicspace.net.  (A Mac version called MacBreakZ is also available for $20.)

ActiveClick automatically clicks, drags content and makes you stretch. For Windows only, $19 from ActiveClick.

No-RSI monitors keyboard and mouse activity and suggests you to take a break regularly. For Windows only, $15 from BlueChillies.

Also check out the Typing Injury FAQ for some more RSI software. A more recent collection can be found in a piece by Laurie Bouck at The Pacemaker. A good piece, too, by Jono Bacon at ONLamp.com.

There are also mice that try to help counter RSI. The Hoverstop, for example, “detects if your hand is on the mouse. It then monitors if you are actually using it (clicking, scrolling). If you are not using it for more than 10 seconds, it will vibrate softly to remind you to take your hand away and relax.” About $90 from Hoverstop.

My favorite? Workrave, though I must confess I often ignore the breaks. More fool me.

Getting Data Past Borders

Bruce Schneier uses reports that Sudan is searching all laptops being brought into the country to sound a warning: “Your privacy rights when trying to enter a country are minimal, and this kind of thing could happen anywhere… If you’re bringing a laptop across an international border, you should clean off all unnecessary files and encrypt the rest.”

Some commenters take the discussion a bit further, pointing out this may not be enough. Officials may demand you decrypt your files, so a better way would be to encrypt your data in an unpartitioned portion of your hard drive using something called TrueCrypt, which creates a “virtual encrypted disk” within a file (for Windows and Linux.)

Others suggest that this might not be enough, and that it may be better to use some kind of steganography (hiding data within innocent data, like a photo or music file.) It goes without saying that whatever you do encrypt you should have backed up somewhere safe back home. Another option is not to have anything on your laptop and to download what you need once you’re in country, but unless you have a private network you can do this on, chances are your downloads will be monitored.

This is all not as fanciful or infrequent as it sounds. One poster, Abbas Halai, said he had on three occasions entering the U.S. been asked to login to his laptop and then leave the room.

A Communicator Killer?

I tend to think of the Nokia Communicator (aka The Brick) as a somewhat retrograde device, popular to folk who haven’t quite caught up with the shape of things to come (aka The Smartphone). But Indonesians and Germans don’t agree (link to a podcast I did on the subject for the BBC), using the Communicator in such large numbers that Nokia tends to focus most of its promotional energies in those two countries. This may explain why a German company is about to launch a Communicator lookalike: the HandyPC.

Tony Smith of The Register reports that Berlin-based phone maker ROAD GmbH has announced the HandyPC, a clamshell device based on the Linux operating system and Trolltech’s Qtopia GUI. It’s a quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE device with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on board too. No date has been given for when the product will be sold, or how much it will cost.
 

Linux-based HandyPC to challenge Nokia Communicator | Reg Hardware.

Directory of Screencasting Resources

Updated Nov 13 2006: added a piece on screencasting in Linux which looks helpful, albeit complicated.

This week’s WSJ.com column, out Friday, is about screencasting (you can find all my columns here; subscription only, I’m afraid):

Screencasts are really simple to grasp. And in some ways they’re not new. But I, and a few thousand other people, think they represent a great way to leverage the computer to train, educate, entertain, preach and otherwise engage other people in a very simple way. Something the Internet and computers have so far largely failed to do.

Screencasts are basically little movies you create on your computer. In most cases, they are movies of your computer. You use special software to capture what keystrokes and mouse clicks you make on your screen – demonstrating how to use Google, say (the screen bit of screencasting — and then, once you’ve edited and added a voiceover, upload it to your Web site and let everyone else watch it (the casting bit.) It’s as simple as that.

Here are some links that may help. Not everyone calls what they do screencasting, but most do. There’s tons more stuff out there, but most of these sites will take you there too.

Introductions

Software

Screencasts

Uses of screencasts

Windows. How Much Pain Can You Take?

If you’re still happy with your Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Millennium Edition then you’re on your own. Microsoft won’t help you out after July 11, 2006, when it ends public and technical support. This doesn’t just mean not having someone to talk to on the phone. It means no more security updates, too, effectively rendering these operating systems useless. It’s a bit like Mad Max shoving the weak and helpless members of the Thunderdome community out beyond the gates at the mercy of those really ugly people whose name I can’t remember. Maybe they didn’t have a name. Maybe this analogy isn’t as good as I thought it was when I started writing it.

Anyway. Microsoft says it is “is ending support for these products because they are outdated and these older operating systems can expose customers to security risks.” Well, yes, but isn’t this because you’re not updating them anymore?  “We recommend,” Microsoft goes on, “that customers who are still running Windows 98 or Windows Me upgrade to a newer, more secure Microsoft operating system, such as Windows XP, as soon as possible.” Of course it’s natural to suggest your latest product is the best one, but it always makes me chuckle when Microsoft say this. You can almost hear their salesmen at work with recalcitrant customers:

“Why did you buy Windows 98? What were you thinking?”
“Well, at the time you said it was great. You said it was the best thing ever.”
“That was then, buddy, this is now. Now it’s the worst thing ever, and you should get our best operating system ever, namely XP, right up until Vista is ready and it becomes the worst thing ever. Then you should buy Vista, which by then will be …”
“The best thing ever?”
“You got it.”
“Shouldn’t I wait for Vista, then?”
“I wouldn’t do that, buddy.”
“Why not?”
“Well, er, frankly we’re not sure when it’s coming out.”
“So you know when products die, but you don’t know when new ones are coming out.”
“That’s right. So you want this XP or not?”

Actually, there are lots of things going on here. There’s the fact that people are so excited about Web applications — programs you run from your browser, rather than as a bigger separate program — that there’s a question mark about the need for Windows. You can run a Web application from any operating system (and most browsers.) And even if you are using Windows, it doesn’t really matter which one — it won’t really improve the quality of the Web application you’re using. So if you can’t get the user excited about the operating system, at least you can get them scared about security. That might prod them to upgrade.

There’s also the fact that operating systems just aren’t as exciting as they used to be anymore. Windows 95 had people queueing up around the block. Since then users have had to be bullied, enticed and scared into upgrading. Sure, XP is better than 98. Actually a lot better. But better for who? For what? A lot of folk, it seems, are still quite happy with Windows 98. If you’re using a computer more than 5 years old, it makes more sense to use 98, because XP will limp along. If you have an office full of computers, you might not want to splash out on XP licenses for all of them, in which case 98 makes sense too. If you’re the kind of person that just doesn’t feel the crazy urge to throw away your computer every few years, chances are you’re still using Windows 98. In fact, according to anecdote, there are still a lot of them out there. They don’t tend to show up in statistics because they’re not often, or at all, on the Internet. (Think old folk; think fixed incomes; think people who aren’t gaga over the whole Web 2.0 thang as we are.)

Then there’s my own pet theory. Most people don’t install operating systems. They just buy a new computer with it already installed. So: Hardware manufacturers are so upset that Vista won’t be out for Christmas — meaning that millions of people won’t bother buying a new computer then because there’s no new operating system to run it — that Microsoft decided to retire 98, Me and all the other slowcoaches, knowing that people won’t “upgrade” their software, they’ll upgrade their computer.

Microsoft has tried to shove Windows 98, and Me (not me, but Windows Me, the operating system) out to the knackers’ yard before. In early 2004 they backed off retiring support for these versions of Windows hoping to keep customers from wandering across the street to Linux. One piece on ZDNet back then quoted a Microsoft senior marketing manager as saying of customers, and I quote: “The more they are used to working one way, the more [it is] likely they will want to continue working that way, so it plays to our advantage. If they move to another operating system, they will need to rethink and relearn. For some people, that is painful. This is also why so many people are resisting an upgrade from Windows 98.” I love this argument. Turns out it’s all about pain. “Our software is so hard to figure out,” the pitch goes, “it actually causes our users pain. We’re counting on this pain to keep our customers. Do you want our pain or someone else’s pain? We’re going to get them hooked, and then they figure the pain they’re used to is better than the pain they’re not. Of course one day we’ll make it impossible for them not upgrade, but by then they’ll be so used to the pain, they would prefer a little extra pain than to switch to another vendor. Which would cause them even more pain.”

That day has come. Paid incident support and critical security updates for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Me will end on July 11, 2006. No other security updates will follow after this date. You’re on your own, buddy.  Good luck out there.

98P.S. Actually, not entirely. There is a Microsoft web page that is dedicated to Windows 98 users. But it hasn’t been updated since October 31, 2002, and is it a coincidence that the only photo on that page is of someone in a d’oh moment, where it looks like they just lost all their files or had a major security breach on their Windows 98 computer? Talk about subliminal messages.

 
 
 
 

The Penguin Embraces the Frog

Blue Frog, the anti-spam ‘vigilante’ software that has courted some controversy, has introduced a Linux Version :

This new offering will enable the 29 million Linux platform users to participate in the Blue Community and register in the company’s Do Not Intrude Registry to actively fight spam and safeguard personal and business e-mail accounts though a hands-on, community-based approach.

The Linux version of Blue Frog was created directly through the contributions of Blue Community members and Linux developers and enthusiasts at large. The Blue Frog visible source program allows users and developers to contribute to the development of the Blue Frog client by providing feedback and comments to the company to enhance the Blue Frog software and assist in adapting it to other platforms. Users and developers can click to join the Blue Frog development effort.

The press release from the company, Blue Security, says that

[s]ince the launch of the Do Not Intrude Registry in the summer of 2005, approximately 65,000 e-mail addresses have been registered and protected through the Blue Community. Preliminary results of the Beta service have users reporting 50 percent or greater reduction in the amount of spam they receive, indicating that a number of spammers already comply with the Registry and avoid sending spam to Blue Security customers.

Computer-On-a-Stick

Here, for those of you still lapping up the whole USB programs off your thumb-drive thing, is FingerGear’s Computer-On-a-Stick:

The Computer-On-a-Stick (COS) is a USB Flash Drive featuring its own ultra fast Onboard Operating System with a full suite of Microsoft Office-compatible applications.

According to Tom’s Hardware Guide, the drive is 256 MB and has programs taking up 192 MB, and retails for about $150. Software includes “a Debian-based Linux OS, a version of the open-source productivity suite OpenOffice as well as Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, an Instant messenger and a PDF viewer.” (Thanks, TechSpot News.)

A 512 MB version is coming soon, as is one with biometric fingerprint scanner.

Running Linux Off Your Thumb

Following on from my Directory of programs for USB drives, here’s another Linux offering, allowing you to run GNU/Linux from a USB pen drive:

You can carry GNU/Linux in your pocket with a functional, quick, and useful USB pen drive distribution. Pen drives are faster than CDs, and the small distros that fit on them don’t require huge amounts of memory for the operating system and applications.

Slax is a powerful and complete bootable distro based on Slackware, equipped with kernel 2.6, ALSA sound drivers, Wi-Fi card support, X11-6.8.2 with support for many GFX cards and wheel mice, and KDE 3.4. Slax uses the Unification File System (also known as unionfs), which enables you to write whatever you want into the pen drive. Bundled software includes KDE, the KOffice office suite, GAIM for chat, the Thunderbird email client, and the Firefox Web browser.

Slax comes in a variety of versions. You can get a minimal version of Slax called Frodo, without big applications, that fits in 41MB, or choose among the 200MB standard editions such as Killbill (which I use) or PopCorn.

I must confess I haven’t tried this, but it sounds a great alternative.

Opera Offers Support for BitTorrent

Opera has today launched a ‘technical preview’ version of its browser that includes support for BitTorrent, the protocol for distributing files via peer-to-peer that utilises both downstream and upstream bandwidth and spreads the load among different servers. As far as I know this is the first mainstream program that offers inbuilt support for what could become an increasingly controversial medium (please correct me if I’m wrong, but I know of no Firefox plugin for BitTorrent files).

The press release explains as follows:

Oslo, Norway – July 7, 2005: Opera Software today launched a technical preview (TP) of the Opera browser for Windows, Linux and Mac that includes support for BitTorrent. Integrating this popular file-downloading technology in the Opera browser offers the end user a faster download process by utilizing full bandwidth and reducing the chance of in-transfer delay when multiple users download the same file.

Its BitTorrent Resource page explains that Opera treats BitTorrent as just another protocol, like FTP and HTTP. This is not Opera turning browser users into BitTorrent hosts:

By offering BitTorrent in a technical preview of its browser, Opera seeks to broaden the appeal of downloading legal torrent files. Opera does not encourage the use of BitTorrent, FTP and HTTP protocols for downloading illegal, copyright infringing material.

I must confess I haven’t used BitTorrent a lot, but it clearly is popular and has huge potential. Part of the reason I haven’t used it too much is that the software I’ve used, tho simple, isn’t quite as intuitive as one would like, so the idea that the browser might make it as easy as downloading an ordinary file might propel usage into the mainstream.

Is The Tablet Coming Back Down The Mountain?

This space is getting interesting: The sort-of-tablet-handheld. Nokia unveils Linux based 770 Internet Tablet:

The main attraction of the device is its widescreen, 65K colour TFT touch screen with a diagonal size of 4″ and resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. This, along with a navigational array flanking the screen on its left side, provides an interface to the Nokia Internet Tablet 2005 software which powers the device, developed atop Linux by the handset maker to power this new category of devices.

Offering up 64 MB of RAM and approximately 64 MB of non-volatile storage for users, the 770 Internet Tablet also harbours an RS-MMS card expansion slot for the purpose of memory expansion. Whether this will be necessary, however, is another question entirely as the functionality of the 770 appears to revolve mainly around the streaming capabilities as provided by its Wi-Fi 802.11b/g connectivity.

Not content with Wi-Fi, Nokia also integrated Bluetooth 1.2 into the unit, allowing for among other things the ability to connect to the Internet via a compatible handset. Several profiles are supported, including Dial-Up Networking, File Transfer, SIM Access and Serial Port, with the 770 also offering USB as a wired alternative for PC connectivity.

Does this compete with the revived Tablet PC? Or the LifeDrive? What I would love to see is these devices coupled with the wonderful Stowaway XT Portable Keyboard for USB from ThinkOutside, which I’ve never seen in the shops, but which has the same great action and design as its Palm and PocketPC forebears. Maybe they just didn’t sell, which would be a shame. The keyboard coupled with one of these devices would be all you’d need.