Free Software: Stellarium

So I haven’t done a “free software for writers” post in a while because, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve kind of run out of software that I use that I can plausibly label as “for writers”.  If I do think of another writing-related package I will certainly post it, but I didn’t want to stop writing about free software until then, so I’ve decided to branch out and just write about other programs that I’ve used or seen (other than well-known ones like Firefox or Thunderbird) that people might find interesting.  Today’s software is Stellarium.

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Seeing as how I like to bash Windows now and then, I thought it would only be fair for me to note a colossal security flaw in the Debian Linux distribution (which is the basis for, among other things, Ubuntu, which I use) affecting the OpenSSL encryption software program.  This isn’t a bug in OpenSSL, but rather, it’s something that a Debian programmer did to it that amounts to, shall we say, an orchiectomy.  Basically, in order to stop some code debugging/profiling tools from complaining, somebody commented out a line of code that was evidently responsible for creating entropy (pseudo-randomness) in order to generate an unguessable encryption key.  Oopsie.  As this is not a technology blog (and I am far from a cryptography expert), I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of what happened; for those who are interested and are of a technical bent, some good articles are here and here (and here, too).

You might’ve heard of SSL.  It’s what’s used to, among other things, broker secure (“https”) connections to web sites.  I’m not sure how bad I made this issue sound, but however bad you think it is, it’s actually worse.  (On the other hand, being open source software, we at least actually know what happened to it.)

And I still don’t have a virus, Google.

Free Software For Everybody: Video Editing

A few days ago, Goodbear asked about free video editing software.  This isn’t an area in which I have a lot of experience, as I don’t do much video editing (all my video is perfect as shot … :-P), so I did a little research.  Linux users have a number of choices in this area, including Cinelerra and Kino; these are the only ones I have tried (although see Blender, below).  OS X users, of course, have iMovie built in as part of the iLife suite (I’m not going to get into the whole iMovie ’08 vs. earlier versions of iMovie controversy). But what are Windows users to do?

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Free Software for Writers: Audacity

It’s been a while since I did a “free software for writers” entry, mainly because I’m kind of running out of free software that I can label as specifically for writers; I may just switch over to doing “free software for anybody” posts.  However, I do have at least one more program to write about, and that’s Audacity.  Audacity is an audio recording, editing, and mixing program.  I’ve mainly used it to fix glitches in audio files (such as MP3s with a skip in them) or to change sound levels; the local Arthur Murray uses it to change the tempo of songs without introducing distortion so that, for instance, a ridiculously fast samba like “Jazz Machine” can be slowed down so that mere mortals can dance to it.  (My wife insists on the full-speed version.)

So now you’re probably thinking, “Well that’s just fascinating, Jim, but what makes Audacity free software for writers?”  To which I reply with one word:  Podcasting.

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Free Software for Writers: Celtx

By now you’ve probably gathered that I write short stories and novels.  Although publishers tend to put formatting restrictions on the submission of these types of manuscripts, the restrictions are usually easy to meet:  Double-spaced, flush left, courier font, wide margins.  Other types of manuscripts–screenplays, for instance–have much more specific requirements.  Although you can try to implement the required format in a word processor, it’s much easier to use software specifically designed for that purpose.  Enter Celtx.

Celtx bills itself as “the world’s first fully integrated solution for media pre-production and collaboration”.  In addition to its screenplay formatting ability, it contains facilities for defining characters, storyboarding, index-carding, and production scheduling, as well tracking props, wardrobes, sets, and cast members.  It even permits collaboration with other users.  I only used Celtx briefly, when I thought I might dabble in screenwriting (an experiment that didn’t last long), but I found it easy and intuitive to use.  Even non-screenplay writers might like it for its organizational power.  I don’t do index-carding or outlining (tried it once and the end result bore no resemblance to the outline), but many authors do.

Celtx is available for Linux, OS X, and that other operating system whose name I can’t remember at the moment.

As a side note, writers who are interested in learning more about Celtx (and about Linux in general) might want to check out episodes 93 and 94 of the Linux Reality podcast.  Episode #93 is an interview with a writer (not me) who uses Linux, and episode #94 is a rundown by another writer who uses Linux (also not me) of various Linux applications that are of value to authors, including OpenOffice and Celtx.

Thanks and happy writing!

Thanks to Chess Griffin at Linux Reality

A big “thank you” goes out to Chess Griffin at Linux Reality, a podcast for the new and not-so-new Linux user, for mentioning my site in his latest podcast!  I’ve been a Linux user since about 2004 (originally using Mandrake, currently using Ubuntu) and highly recommend Chess’s podcast for anyone who’s using, interested in using, or just curious about Linux, a free, stable, secure alternative to Windows.  You can even order a computer now with Ubuntu preinstalled, for example, from System 76 or Dell.

Consider Linux for your next machine.  You might be surprised.