Posts tagged ‘ubuntu’

Video Content Management and Streaming with Kaltura and Moodle

Through the elearning training we are trying to encourage teachers to make more use of video and other multimedia content in their courses. This presents us with several issues, mainly because most video streaming sites are blocked by the University (to save bandwidth). This means we either don’t include the videos or we download to run them locally. So far we’ve just been uploading them into the Moodle course, which is fine for relatively low numbers of videos (or for very short videos), but is soon going to become unsustainable. Also, we’d like to suggest video content teacher may wish to use – so it wouldn’t be appropriate to have these filling up the Moodle server.

One solution is to use a multimedia management streaming server, so over the last few days I’ve been testing out Kaltura. It’s an open source video content platform and has plugins for Moodle, WordPress amongst others.

Installation was straightforward enough on my laptop, once I’d got the necessary prerequisite packages installed and settings. Couple of issues I did come across:

1) On my first attempt at installation, it installed on the root of my webserver, so I was unable to access my other web applications. This was because I specified ‘localhost’ as the domain. I tried to figure out how to move to a subdirectory (see: http://www.kaltura.org/moving-installation-new-directory) but haven’t got that one figured out yet. So I just set up a new host (http://kaltura.localhost) and used this instead. So now I can access Kaltura and my original webapps, with out switching configurations and restarting apache.

2) When the prerequisites say that you need a mail server, it really does mean that you need one! After installation, when creating publisher accounts, the login details are emailed only – so there’s no way to set the password except by following the link in the email. I assumed I’d be able to reset the passwords manually and so the mail server integration wouldn’t matter to much. Given that this is just running on my laptop, I haven’t got a mail server running, so then had to set about trying to get one configured. Fortunately I found these instructions on how to configure postfix to relay through a gmail account on Ubuntu (I’m running 10.10). I set up a clean/default postfix installation and used the settings/instructions posted in the comments by Michael M. I used a ‘disposable’ gmail account, so that if something goes wrong, I won’t get blocked from my normal gmail account, but seems to be working well so far. It’s also good now that I can have emails sent for all the webapps on my machine.

So after I had these 2 issues resolved, I was ready to start having a play. All seems to be working well, although I was hoping that people would be able to browse the uploaded content without having first logged in. I guess we’d just need to create a generic account. If anyone knows how to set this up then please let me know – or if there is a generic Kaltura content browser application that I could use?

I tried uploading a few flv and mp4 videos to embed onto a webpage, and seem to work well. A little slow on my machine, but then my netbook probably isn’t designed to be a media processing and streaming server!

My final experiment was to look at the Moodle plugin, unfortunately I had a few more issues with getting this working. When trying to register the module in Moodle, I kept getting the error that ‘Your Kaltura registration failed. Missing KS. Session not established’ when trying to enter the url, username and password for my Kaltura server. After a bit of investigation I found it was a bug with how the partnerId was(n’t) being passed. I found a hack around this, see: http://www.kaltura.org/config-moodle-mod-moodleadmin-page, but it’s not pretty!

Now I have the option to add a video resource in Moodle directly from my Kaltura server, or so I thought I had, currently whatever I seem to search for (tags, video titles, categories which I know exist in the account I have) returns no results. Next step is to try and figure out why I can’t seem to find any of the videos I have uploaded…

Running my own OpenStreetMap server

UK map generated on my OSM server

UK map generated on my OSM server

After using OpenStreetMap in a fairly limited way for the past year or so, essentially just to upload data/tracks from wandering around Ethiopia, I thought I’d have a closer look, especially as a possible replacement for Google Maps which I was using a lot whilst at the OU.

Firstly I looked at how I could use OSM and the OpenLayers API as an alternative for the map in my Online Users Map – which certainly looks feasible. So I’m now thinking about making this an option in the block settings, as shouldn’t be too much work to provide the option.

I also set up my own open street map server (instructions for installing on Ubuntu Lucid Lynx). Although quite a long process everything worked well first time with no errors. I didn’t download the entire 8Gb+ OSM dataset to generate my tiles, rather I just selected a much smaller area of detailed data (using extracts from GeoFabrik and CloudMade). This avoided the potential ’30 hours or longer’ process of importing the world into my database – the whole dataset for Ethiopia took less than 30 seconds to import.

The only part where I ran into a problem was at the very end when I wanted to generate all the tiles. When I ran ./generate_tiles.py I kept getting an error telling me that osm-local.xml didn’t exist. Fortunately this was quite an easy fix, I just needed to edit ~/bin/mapnik/generate_tiles.py to point to ~/bin/mapnik/osm.xml instead, then all ran fine (generating 55Mb+ of png images).

I could then create an alias in my Apache to point to my generated tiles and create a slippy map using OpenLayer and the tiles generated on my desktop.

I still have a lot to learn about all this, especially with what can be done with Mapnik for generating tiles (and the python script necessary to achieve it) and using OpenLayers as a replacement for Google Maps API – but all going well so far :-)

Getting ATI Graphics Card working with Ubuntu

Monitor comparison - my new 22'' desktop vs the 7'' of my Asus EEE PC

Since coming back I seem to have been unexpectedly busy – I had assumed that I wouldn’t have much to do, but have lots to prepare ready for returning to Ethiopia in June and attending the eLearning Africa conference at the end of May – where I’m giving a presentation about the Digital Campus project.

I’ve managed to catch up with many friends so far, but it’s been a little different than I’d expected. My time is very flexible and free at the moment, but everyone else still has work and other commitments, especially during weekdays.

I spend a very frustrating Monday trying to get my new computer set up correctly. I bought a new desktop machine with an ATI Radeon HD 5450 Graphics Card which doesn’t seem to work well with Ubuntu (9.10). I had a hard time figuring what was causing the display to freeze up at apparently random times. After being in use for anything from 5 mins to 8 hours, the screen would freeze up, with only the mouse moving and the only way of getting out of it being to do a hard restart.

I had got the ATI drivers installed as it was the only way I could get the full resolution from my monitor (1920 X 1080). I’m quite sure I had everything installed correctly, despite being confused by all the advice and postings about installing these drivers.

In the end I read a post which mentioned trying out the next release of Ubuntu, Lucid Lynx (10.04) – even though it’s not officially released for a week or so, it apparently has better support for ATI graphics cards. After the installation of Lucid Lynx, I haven’t need to installed any proprietary drivers and the monitor is working well at it’s full resolution. There are a few other issues at the moment (such as not being able to install Adobe Flash plugin), but then it’s still an Alpha pre-release so these issues are to be expected and should be resolved when the full release comes out next week.

Infamy

When I got into work today many of my colleagues have been commenting about the fact that I was on Ethiopian TV yesterday – it’s from when we were interviewed at the Meskel celebrations in Adigrat a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, not having a TV at home, I missed it completely and it’s unlikely there’ll be a repeat – so will just have to wait for the DVD to be issued ;-)

Slightly less high profile, I was asked a few weeks ago to write an article for the Digital Planet blog site about my experiences of living and working in Ethiopia, at the end of last week my article was posted up on their site, you can have a read at: The hidden issues of IT development in Ethiopia.

Other significant developments this week include:

  • Approval of the Mekelle University Elearning Strategy. This was actually much easier than I thought it would be – the strategy is based on a JISC template, geared towards UK universities and other HEIs, but was relatively straightforward for us to adapt for use here.
  • Upgrading of university internet connection – to 10Mb. A proposal is underway to double the speed of the connection – but I’m unsure yet when this is likely to happen. With all the new computer labs being built it will be important to ensure that the internet speed is also increased. The cost of this will be huge, an extra 5Mb will cost 10,000 US dollars per month.
  • Work has now started on the network installation in the new Computer Science building – the same week that students return to lectures for the coming academic year. Unfortunately though, only 12 computers are currently working for the 100 third year students to use. I’ve suggested that one of the labs currently reserved for training is opened up for students to use. A proposal has been made to get nearly 200 new computers for the department, but is will take some time for the purchase of these to be processed and approved – likely to be several months.
  • I’ve been asked to help run a workshop for the University management to persuade then that the university should adopt and open source policy – and that . There’s already been some success in this area, more IT staff are using Ubuntu and also in the Computer Science department.

Keeping Organised

When was back in the UK I made a lot of use of RememberTheMilk (RTM), after a bit of a play around with a number of ‘to do’ applications. Now, without good internet access I’m unable to make much use of RTM. I know it’s meant to have an offline mode (using Google Gears), but I’ve never managed to have that working reliably.

Since being in Ethiopia, I was back to using a notebook and pen for keeping track of things I needed to do – which, obviously worked anywhere, anytime, but isn’t great at reminding you which things need to be done in the future.

I started having a look at the programs available in Ubuntu and found Tomboy notes (http://www.gnome.org/projects/tomboy/). There are other to do applications but none appeared to allow synchronisation (the most useful feature in my opinion) between different computers. Although Tomboy is not really a to do list application I have been able to use it as such. I have a number of notebooks, one of which is called ‘todo’ (unsurprisingly), then I add notes (tasks), the title preceded with the date the task needs to be done, in the format YYYY-MM-DD (so they keep in proper date order). This has proved to work well over the last couple of months and I’ve had no problems at all.

Attempts at video editing on the Asus Eee

RecordMyDesktopI’ve used Camtasia Studio (Windows) a few times before for creating some training/how-to screencasts, but now I wanted to have a go doing something similar using open source software (on Ubuntu Jaunty) instead. To make it more interesting I also wanted to run it all on my Asus Eee PC (4G) – not exactly a machine designed for heavy video processing.

First issue was how to record the screen, for this I used RecordMyDesktop. A very simple program to install and run, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Selecting the area to record (I wasn’t selecting whole window) was a bit fiddly and sometimes took me several attempts to capture the right area, without chopping off a side or two.

If you’re recording a for a long time and your screensaver kicks in (or screen goes blank for power saving), you’ll need to disable the screensaver and power saving – unless you particularly need a recording of it.

What I had most trouble with – and only came up with a workarounds solution to – was capturing the audio. RecordMyDesktop wil capture the audio fine but had problems getting the recording volume level right without creating a lot of hissing. The hardware on the Asus for sound isn’t exactly fantastic. In the end I found that I had best results when using a jack lead to plug the headphone output into the microphone input! If anyone has a better solution to this or some advice about on the recording levels to capture the audio more reliably, then please let me know.

So, now I’ve created a .ogv (OGG video) file but want to edit it a little. I wanted a really simple video editor for 2 reasons, firstly I don’t wand to spend the time learning a bit video editing package and, more practically, secondly, I don’t have a huge amount of disk space left on my 4Gb drive!

I opted for Aviremux, though unfortunately this doesn’t accept OGG video files, so I used mencoder to convert to AVI (basic instructions).

For the actual editing I used Aviremux. I found it very easy to get started with and use – unlike some other video editing software.

In the end I found that my original screen recording had sound out of synch with the video – not in the initial few mins of the capture, but further in. I’m not sure why this should be the case – if anyone has any idea why, I’d be pleased to hear them.

Overall, it was a little frustrating getting this to work. I’ve not managed to achieve what I set out to do, but think this was more to do with the hardware than anything else.

Can bluetooth be more reliable than a physical cable?

img_0013I’m not generally what you’d call an early adopter, and not usually into gadgets. For example, I only bought myself a GPS device a couple of weeks ago, shortly before the hype about the GPS system failing within the next year or so.

The same is true of mobile phones, for years I’ve only owned a very basic phone which only does phoning and texting, no mp3 player, camera etc.

Well, last week a friend gave me their old Nokia 6230i. The camera seems reasonable and I started thinking about how I get the photos off the camera onto something more useful (such as my laptop). The options were to use a cable, bluetooth or IR, but since my laptop (Asus EeePC) has neither bluetooth nor IR, I bought myself a cable, also thinking that a cable is likely to be the most reliable connection method anyway.

I installed Gammu, but then kept getting the message that “No response in specified timeout. Probably phone not connected.”. Trying a few different settings made no difference. I also installed KMobileTools, which did manage to connect to the phone and retrieve contacts lists, but only has limited functionality for managing or transferring files.

After spending most of an afternoon trying to get this working I gave up, and posted a message on the Ubuntu forums, but no replies as yet.

Whilst searching for a solution, few people seemed to be using a cable connection, far more instructions and help seemed available for those using bluetooth – or maybe they jut have more problems getting it set up?. So my next plan is to get a little bluetooth adapter and see if I have any better luck with that. Unless anyone else has any better suggestions/solution?

I’d be quite surprised if it did work with bluetooth, especially since it’s always had a bit of a reputation as being fiddly to set up correctly. But maybe I’ve an instance where bluetooth can do what a physical cable connection can’t?

Open, closed or ajar?

Reading the recent discussions (here, here and here) regarding how much the OU ought to be promoting open source software (OSS), reminded me of discussions I’ve had here in Ethiopia about how much we (as IT volunteers) ought to be promoting OSS.

The arguments for and against the use of Windows and other proprietary software in each of these discussions are very similar. On the one hand, there’s the ‘Windows is standard’ argument (in one sense of the word standard) and that’s what everyone else uses, so that’s what I want to use. On the other, there’s the ‘free’ argument, and just because Windows is on so-many percent of PCs, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t use OSS. I realise I’m probably using the terms ‘Windows’ and ‘proprietary software’ interchangeably.

I feel quite stuck in the middle regarding all this (sat on the fence would be an alternative description!). In an ideal world, yes, everyone would use OSS, but I don’t think it’s practical to be so black and white. Here in Ethiopia, people generally want to learn about MS Windows and MS Office (including Publisher & FrontPage) as that’s what ‘everybody’ else uses and, more importantly, is what employers will be looking for. From the discussions I’ve had the only practical pro-OSS argument, that isn’t an academic/theoretical one in their eyes, is the fact they’re far less likely to suffer from viruses. Licensing costs aren’t really a factor taken into consideration where software piracy isn’t exactly unheard of. Even with this very strong argument (only last week the ex-dean from our faculty lost most of his documents to a virus), the people I’ve spoken to, although enthusiastic, don’t yet feel comfortable or confident enough to jump to using non-MS software.

I’ve heard similar sentiments from UK friends who work in MS-only environments, perhaps not believing that OSS would be as stable, secure, robust and reliable (!) as something you pay good money for.

In the computer science dept here, a few staff use Ubuntu and other OSS operating systems, but they’re the exception. I’m attempting to do my ‘promote OSS’ bit by lending people the Ubuntu CD after I’ve reinstalled Windows XP on their laptops (inevitably broken by some Windows virus). There are also signs that things are changing, for example, I know of non-techies who have heard of Ubuntu and are willing to give it a go and the Internet and Web Development course here in the computer science dept this year has shifted in focus from ASP to PHP (although still teaches FrontPage). I’m also hoping that we can change some of our computer lab PCs to be XP/Ubuntu dual boot, so students have the opportunity to get experience in using something other than Windows. At the end of the day I’m not going to force anyone to use any one particular system, I’ll give them the pros and cons of each side and let them make up their own mind, hoping that the no-virus argument will be the one that swings it ;-)

Recording Video on Asus Eee

I’ve just spent a frustrating couple of hours unsuccessfully attempting to get my Asus Eee (running Ubuntu Hardy Heron) to allow me to record short videos using the built in webcam and mic.

I started off by applying these fixes and have checked that it all works fine using skype. I first tried recording using ‘Cheese’ – this resulted in the video working fine – but no sound ( I also tried with plugged in mic/headphones). So I installed ucview and gave that a go instead,  but his was quite erratic too, most of the time it would appear to record, but then on playback, only the first frame would be visible, and no sound (using either built in mic or a plugged in mic). I also found that sometimes ucview wouldn’t stop recording even after I’d clicked the button and I had a to kill the process to get it to stop.

I then went back to looking at cheese only to find that it now won’t start, the top window bar appears, but with big grey square underneath – no menus or webcam preview. Restarting, removing and reinstalling all made no difference :-(

Really not sure what is causing these problems, from googling & reading wikis and blogs most other people seem to have got ucview and cheese working fine – so just me then ;-) If anyone has an idiots guide as to what to check then feel free to send on to me

I’ve been trying to get this working in the hope that when I go away to Ethiopia I’ll be able to record short video blogs to post up – but I may have to fall back to just using my digital camera and the video/sound recorder on that, but would’ve been nice to be able to use the webcam and mic.

On a different note, I hope that Ubuntu updates will soon include FireFox3…

iPlayer/Flash on Ubuntu Hardy Heron

A few days ago I mentioned that I was having problems with playing BBC iPlayer programs on my Asus Eee. I was also having problems with _some_ other Flash content – though not all.

Turns out that I’d installed the wrong version of the Flash plugin – actually I’d installed more than one and the conflicts were creating the same problems as if the plugins hadn’t been installed at all. However the instructions in the forum posting fixed me up.