SPOT  Spot's Perspective On Technology
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2004-01-26 17:08:44

Near the beginning of a technology, there are early adopters that embrace the newness with a creative fervor. FM radio came into public awareness with a reputation of publishing serious music for serious listeners. The FM DJ delighted in pushing the unknown artist onto an appreciative audience. Later, a simple machine like the now humble Commodore 64 was a game box for many, but to a few it was the power to express, paint a digital picture, compose music, or publish a newsletter. By today's standards, some of the results may seem crude, but at the time they were exciting to create and experience. The early World Wide Web had the same kind of effect, as individuals rushed to share their expression with anyone with a browser. Unfortunately, as those technologies passed that early portion of the adoption curve, increasingly powerful forces shoved the creativity and self-expression interests aside. FM radio is a pre-packaged, focus group approved wasteland. Today's computers come with any potential well hidden behind the advertising icons dancing on the desktop. And of course the Web has become so riddled with commercial noise, that creative expression can be almost impossible to find.

You might be asking, what does this have to do with a Linux distribution?

The answer is, almost everything.

dyne:bolic 1.1.1 is a live cd Linux that will transform a simple computer into a powerful creative and expressive tool. It isn't an attempt to make a Windows replacement. It isn't a showcase of eye-candy. It isn't a cracker's tool kit. It is an instant media server, the 00's internet-borne equivalent of an underground radio station, with a TV studio thrown in for good measure. It is a set of tools to satisfy that urge to create and share something more than a simple web page. If your desire to communicate ends with your cell phone, this might not be for you, but if wielding this much power intrigues you, this is definitely worth your attention.

Once you boot a computer with the dyne:bolic cd, you are within a few minutes from running your own internet radio show. Here is what to expect, and what you need to know.

Like most live cd's, the first options are presented at the boot prompt. Unless you know otherwise, just hit enter. In one test here, an old video capture card hung the bttv module. Entering Linux mode=interactive at the boot prompt gave a yes/no option for various operations, and choosing 'n' when asked for bttv worked around the problem, whatever it was. After everything starts up, dyne:bolic announces its presence with a distinctive techno jingle, and you are ready to go to work.

dyne:bolic comes with two very lean window managers so that more of your system resources will be available for the media work. It also makes it possible to run the system on older, less powerful hardware (586 with 64M.) a dyne:bolic help window The default display is Window Maker, but it is a simple to flip over to Fluxbox. If you haven't used WindowMaker before, you might need a brief introduction. The right mouse button isn't an optional control, it is a primary control. Right click on the backdrop to bring up the menus you might find on a 'start' button on other system. Right click again, and the menu closes. Left click on the menu title bar, and you can drag a menu anywhere and lock it into the display, until you click its close gadget. The available drives are shown on the dock strip in the top right corner, waiting to be called upon with a right click. Windows which are not visible are represented by icons in the bottom left corner, where a right click will open a menu of options. Oh, and to give the middle button a workout, too, you can click it on the backdrop to get a menu of all of the open windows. Windows can be spread over multiple workspaces you can switch between with menu choices, or more efficiently with the alt key and the corresponding number key, i.e. alt-1 goes to the first workspace, alt-2 to the second, etc. This might seem strange if you come from a microsoft-esque background, but it becomes natural very quickly.

One thing you will want to consider if you find dyne:bolic interesting, is nesting, creating a place on disk or other medium to host a persistent /home directory and your configuration options. It is very simple to do from the System menu. If your needs get even more advanced, there are tools available to assist you in making a customized copy of dyne:bolic, but that is just something to keep in mind as you explore the rich abundance of possibilities.

Now that we can navigate, lets launch that radio station. The tools needed are all on the AUDIO->STREAM sub menu. The first piece will be MuSE, a streaming mixer. In MuSE, you can combine media files, like mp3's and ogg's, along with your soundcard inputs to form a streamable output. You connect this stream to a streaming server. MuSE is preset to make connecting to publicvoice.fm a breeze. Signup for an account, and just enter the info in the connect dialog. If you want to go one step further, you can skip publicvoice and run your own ICECAST server. You will probably want to review the 'edit icecast configuration' option before launching the 're/start streaming server' option. If you are impatient, you'll need to know the 'hackme' password to connect muse to your freshly launched icecast. Just in case you are worried that you'll need something odd-ball to listen to the stream, relax, as XMMS and Noatun handle the streams perfectly. Oh, and for those other platforms, Windows Media and Real players work, too.

a dyne:bolic screen capture Look, Mom!
I'm broadcasting on the net!

dyne:bolic in midstream. Click for a larger view.

Of course, you will need source material, and there is lots of support for that, too. With tools like Audacity, SoundTracker and Trommler, you can create a masterpiece. And networking tools make sharing resources through a LAN easy. VNC, OpenSSH and Samba are all ready to put multiple machines to task for your creative work. In fact, the built in OpenMosix makes it possible to share CPU, too. Just boot multiple dyne:bolic's on the LAN and the boxes configure themselves as a cluster to share power automatically.

All that power could come in handy to process video, and there are tools like blender, cinelerra, LiVES and kino available. The video streaming tools are a little rougher than some of the audio counterparts, but there is plenty of fun to be had.

OK, this is sounding like one of those late night TV commercials. "Now how much would you pay? But wait, there's more..." Is there a down side? There are some things which are questionable. For one, everything in dyne:bolic runs as root. It simplifies things, as nothing is off limits, so there is no fighting with device permissions and the like. The down side is the host machine, and to some extent the hosting network, are at risk by accident or malice. The password for root is 'luther' and although it can be changed and saved with the nest, there still is a problem. If you are not at the console during boot up to answer the prompt, the nest loading will be skipped, bringing back the default, unless you have mastered and burned a new cd. One power failure, and your network is open on ssh with a known root password. This is call for some serious firewall considerations.

Also, the hardware support seems limited sometimes. For example, the bttv driver mentioned before. It was a screwy card, but many other distros accept and configure it. The required module for a handy QuickcamVC wasn't supplied. Even stranger, one machine came up without ethernet support, but with a quick 'modprobe tlan' and some ifconfig magic, it was up and running, even as part of the mosix cluster. Most things worked well though, and these are just the oddities.

Sometimes, there seem to be rough edges, like old leftovers in /var/log, audacity looking for something a few levels deep in non-existant directories by default, and similar saved personalizations that would be best eliminated. Some applications open windows too large for an 800x600 display, which can be annoying on limited machines (most of the time, just right-click the title bar, and pick Maximize to put things right.) But once you begin using the system with a nest file, your own preferences will be saved. As to functionality though, the only substantial change I might consider (beyond adding emacs) is replacing or supplementing the xfe filesystem interface with ROX Filer, but that is more personal preference.

In conclusion, Denis "jaromil" Rojo has done an outstanding job with dyne:bolic and gets two-paws-up and a wag of the tail rating!

Article 8 was last updated 2004-01-29 18:01:18

Enable your self-expression, whether your aspirations are political or artistic, using this preconfigured "HacKtive media" kit.