Monthly Archives: March 2015

Taking A Brief Break

As mentioned in our About page, I’m a multiple sclerosis patient, and the next couple of weeks are going to be filled with my annual testing and evaluations. Also, when not doing that, it’s officially spring, and there is much to do on the farm to prepare for our spring plantings.

I’ll be back April 13th. Thanks for your understanding.


Tools: Digitize Your Old Videos

If like me,  you have a pile of old personal videos on VHS, Betamax, Hi-8 etcetera, why not move them to your hard drive or a DVD instead!

There is of course many ways to do this, but what we use is our old video tape machine, Kdenlive video editing software, and a simple USB video / audio dongle.

And there’s the rub. Finding a USB capture device that will work with the Linux video driver can be a challenge. I tried several, before settling on the Easycap dongle.  While I just linked to one, it turns out there are several versions of this capture device, and not all of them have the chip set required to work happy with Linux so it does take some digging.

Keep in mind that most of the sellers of these, ship directly from China, so don’t be in a huge hurry to get it!

Instead of rehashing what is already available on the topic, I’m going to send you off to the site on how to find the unit with the chip set you need.

I got lucky, because they are so inexpensive on Amazon, I went ahead and purchased a couple of these units, each from a different vendor. Of the two, one of them had the required Syntek Semiconductor Co., Ltd chip set.

Carefully read the above LinuxTV site for more information on choosing your capture device.

To see the specifications on your dongle once you have it in hand, and plugged into your computer, simply type the following in a Terminal window:

~ $ lsusb

Linux will then report the devices plugged into your USB ports, including your new USB video capture dongle, like this:

Bus 001 Device 005: ID 046d:c534 Logitech, Inc.
Bus 001 Device 002: ID 05e3:0606 Genesys Logic, Inc. USB 2.0 Hub
Bus 001 Device 001: ID Syntek Semiconductor Co., Ltd STK1160 Video Capture Device

Of course, once it’s all up and running, it’s a pretty simple matter to let Kdenlive do the capture, and then edit your personal video the way you wish, finally, encoding it as an mp4 video or for burning to a DVD.


Hints: Clean Up Old Config Files

Regardless of how you install and uninstall software on your Linux computer, there is a tendency for a software packages configuration files to still linger on your computer. It doesn’t hurt anything of course, but it does take up valuable hard drive space.

So how do I fix that? Easy! Periodically open your Package Manager, Select the Status button on the left hand side and select, Not Installed (residual config) as shown here:

Package Manager, showing residual configuration files

Package Manager, showing residual configuration files

Next, select all of the software in the right-hand pane using [CTL]+A

Select all files

Select all files

then Right clicking on your mouse and selecting Mark For Complete Removal

Mark for complete removal

Mark for complete removal

This will bring up the final dialog, so you can review what is going to be removed.

Files to be removed

Files to be removed

Once you’re sure, click the Apply button. It won’t take too long, no software is actually being deleted, just the configuration files left over from when you uninstalled the software originally.

Just make sure you no longer plan on reinstalling the software at a later time, otherwise you will need to reconfigure it again.

It’s a simple way to help keep your hard drive clean and tidy!


Tools: Teach Your Computer To Talk With ESpeak

Today’s tool is a speech synthesizer that works from your terminal. The software is called espeak, and what it does, is give you to ability to have your machine read out any plain text file, or text string that you enter in the terminal.

Head over to your Package Manager and do a search for, and then install espeak. Any additional package dependencies will be selected and installed as well.

Package Manager installing espeak

Package Manager installing espeak

Once installed, open a Terminal window and as with almost all Linux software, type it with the –help command to get a complete list of options. It this case: espeak –help

espeak running in Terminal

espeak running in Terminal

Using the built-in help, it’s easy to play with the speech settings to come up with a voice that you find easy to understand.

One of the things I use espeak for, is in conjunction with my Linux Alarm Clock to actually speak out alarms. “Wake Up!” or “Time for your appointment” etcetera are nice to hear, rather than a plain old alarm sound!


The sky is the limit with this tool, so experiment, play, and maybe you’ll come up with some unique applications for it!

Tools: Network Tools

Did you know, when you want to look up the owner of a web site, you don’t need to head right to the web to do it! There is a tool included in your Linux Mint and most other distributions that gives you several useful tools in a single place.

Head to your Menu, and in System Tools, you will find the program called Network Tools

I use it a lot, to see who owns a web site. It’s simple to use, just enter the web site name, and push enter!

Network Tools

Network Tools

You can of course, also get information about your own connections, be they wired or wireless:

Network Tools

Network Tools

Routing tables, trace routes,  and the ability to finger another site are also possible.

My favorite tool though, is the port scanner. Port scanning, allows you to see what ports are open on any machine on your network, or on the Internet.

Where I really use it though, is when I find a hacker scanning incoming ports on my incoming firewall, trying to find open computers to hack. By port scanning them back, they usually stop their attack pretty fast when they realize I can play that game too!