Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How to view a remote desktop for free

There are basically two reasons for viewing a remote desktop: attending online meetings and running applications on (and/or administering) a remote machine. There's a little crossover since some meeting-type software will allow remote control of the presenting machine.

As part of my daily grind, I frequently either host or attend online meetings, and assist end users. My employer, Sisyphean Corp, uses Webex for external meetings (with vendors, consultants or other folks not on our network, and - of late - Microsoft Lynx for internal meetings. There's always Windows Remote Desktop, but it's not well-suited to connecting to machines behind firewalls across the internet, and while it's fine at controlling, it's not designed for presentations.

So, what do you do if you are not part of a huge, monolithic corporation? I was curious and found the following free alternatives in no particular order (you can thank me later). 

  • Webex - I was slightly surprised to discover Webex actually has a free plan as long as you only need to meet with 2 other people. Any more than 3 and things get start getting a little pricey. Still, Webex is sort of the leader of the pack, and as such has things like IOS and Android clients.
  • Screenleap - this looks dead easy: java-based, so it will run on Windows and Linux with no install. Free account has a 2 hour daily limit, with up to 8 meeting attendees, paid for accounts get more options, including more attendees, SSL encryption. There are also APIs to enable sharing on your website. I've not tried this but it looks interesting.
  • Vyew - more than just a screen-sharing service, Vyew is a fairly full-blown collaboration space. Meetings are set up as always on "rooms" which allow for document sharing, and other team-based activities.  Ad-supported (ugh) but up to 10 real-time participants (20 person limit per room). I've used this - it's a little clunky but not a bad tool.
  • Teamviewer - control Macs and PC over the internet or do online meetings. Mobile versions of the client available for IOS, Android and Windows Phone. "Free for private use" - whatever the hell that means; don't blame me if it suddenly stops working. It says it's free for all non-commercial users. Once I give it a shot I'll let you know.
Some interesting, but more limited alternatives, more focused on remote admin/control:
  • Remobo - intended for remote control across a firewall using a VPN, but not presentations. I've not used, but I think I may look into it. Clients for Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • Gbridge - built on top of Google's GTalk service; lets you control, sync, share desktops and chat between computers. Both have to have the software installed! Interesting but limited to Windows machines
  • Crossloop - Free screensharing and unlimited remote access for Windows and Mac for one computer. Requires a download and install. If you are just looking to control your home PC while away, this could be an okay option. Paid access gets you access to more computers and remote access via Android app. If you were formerly using Logmein (which did away with their free account without warning) this might be an option.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why bother with iTunes or Amazon MP3 store?

Call me an old curmudgeon, but I find a lot of what passes for new music boring in the extreme: manufactured pop, pseudo-country, and studio produced crap. There are a few things interesting that I've chanced upon - most of it stuff my offspring have turned me on to - but not a lot.

Lately I've been supplementing my (ahem) legally purchased music from Amazon (yes - as awful as they are, I still patronize them) with a new source - Archive.org.

Archive.org, in case you've never been there, bills itself rather cumbersomely as "Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music and Wayback Machine." While accurate, it's a bit of a mouthful. I could write several posts on this amazing site and barely scratch the surface. If you've never visited it, just do it. Just. Do. It. You won't be sorry.

Some basics about me: I love music - especially old music. The funkier the better. Growing up, my dad had numerous Spike Jones 78's, which we listened to endlessly.  I love jazz. I love old radio. I love oddball stuff. I love *some* old rock music.

I recently have started listening to a lot of Oscar Peterson. The man's a God. After dropping some coin at Amazon and the Half-Price Books flagship store in Dallas, I did a little searching at Archive.Org and found Oscar's Boogie:

Other things I found at random include:

I'm also a big Stan Getz fan - here are Oscar and Stan together:

Some other treats I found were this huge collection of Art Tatum recordings (Tatum was a source of inspiration to Peterson) and this Fats Waller collection. Going to a search result will give you the option to stream or download the file - usually a zip file either a collection of  audio files, a single cut, or a long file with multiple selections. The files are usually available as either MP3's or (for the Free Software crowd) Ogg files. There's a handy embeddable player (which is what I'm using). A lot of these are transcriptions of old recordings - even off 78's (in fact there's a whole sections of the site devoted to transcriptions off 78's!).

There are sprinkling of recordings by Joe Pass, one of the greatest jazz guitarists you never heard of here and there.

Some other large jazz collections that you may find interesting (in no particular order):
Of course, old jazz isn't the only thing out there. If your taste runs to more recent tunes, check out the Live Music Archive: recordings of performers who have a "tape-friendly" attitude. While most of these are regional bands (you may have never heard of them but they rock nonetheless), you'll also find such treasures as almost 9,000 live performances of the Grateful Dead.

The hardest thing about finding stuff is...finding stuff. It helps to be very patient and just go exploring. Collections often point you to related collections.

I leave you with Les Paul playing the classic "Sleep Walk."

Friday, November 22, 2013

A short recollection from 50 years ago.

Years later I worked with a guy who was a couple of years older than me who said he never dated anyone who couldn't tell him where they were when Kennedy was assassinated - they were, he opined, either too young or too out of it.

As for me, my family had moved from Fort Worth to the Chicago suburbs the summer I turned nine. The elementary school I attended in Park Forest was close enough that I used to walk home for lunch.

That Friday 50 years ago, my brother and I had come home as usual and were watching Bozo's Circus on WGN when the station broke away for news flashes that President Kennedy had been shot. I wasn't sure what to think other than it seemed shocking - impossible to believe. But I'd seen it on television.

My class had introduced to the idea of  "current events" that year. We were supposed to tell something we'd heard or read about in the news. This seemed like the ultimate current event.

I headed back to my classroom (I have no recollection of how my mother had reacted to all this) and my school was in utter chaos. The grown-ups were all flipping out -- some were sobbing, others panicked (this was during the Cold War, remember) -- and they ended up sending us home early. Really early.

The rest of the weekend and into the next week was filled television coverage of the the assassination itself, the arrest and killing of Lee Harvey Oswald, the funeral and lots of speculation. It took the Thanksgiving holiday that year and created this little pocket universe of time outside the usual flow of the seasons.

Things eventually settled down, but to say they went back to "normal" would be a mistake.

My classmates didn't make much of a distinction between "Dallas" and "Fort Worth."  I lost my Texas accent very quickly.

Later that school year I had my appendix out. By then my classmates had forgotten I was practically from Dallas, and I got a lot of handmade get-well cards. It was years before I self-identified as a Texas again.

For those of us who lived through it, that pocket universe still exists just a half step away from the real world, capable of being unlocked by a date on the calendar the way December 7 was for my dad's generation, and 9-11 is for so many of us alive today.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Surprise! Windows 8 doesn't suck as much as I expected.

It's heresy, I  know.

I've used Windows for a while, usually grudgingly, and I'll admit: I've been a hater. I won't bore you with a laundry list of  objections I've had over the years.  "The triumph of marketing over technology," sums up my feelings.

After sticking with Windows XP's bubble gum look and feel (it puts a whole new spin on "gooey interface") I finally made the jump to Windows 7, after skipping the over-hyped and under-performing Vista, and thought it was....not bad.

Being an IT geek I of course had to try out the new Windows 8 prereleases, featuring the new Metro Interface.

I thought: this sucks.

But a funny thing happened. I picked up a copy of Windows 8 on the cheap (for a while you could snag a legit copy from Microsoft for $15 if you knew how to game the system) and installed it on a new Zotac ZBOX microcomputer that doubles as a video server.

There are several add-ons one can install that bring back the Start Menu, allowing you avoid the Metro interface, if you choose. I'm using a freebie called StartMenu8 but there are others, both free and purchasable.

Lo and behold - once you can deal with Windows 8 without Metro, it's not all that bad.  I'd be willing to bet that in some future Service Pack, Microsoft quietly introduces a feature that allows people to toggle the old-style Start Menu on or off.

Curiously enough, IObit, makers of StartMenu8, also make a free product called WinMetro, that emulates/enables the Metro interface for Windows 7, Vista and Windows XP.  ...It's a funny old world.

Since hooking my ZBOX to my television to stream stuff, I've found Metro actually makes a reasonably good 10 foot interface. All you have to do is install an air mouse server on the PC and an air mouse app on your iPhone or Android device. Logitech has a free version of server and app for iPhone, as does WifiMouse (for iPhone and Android).

Once I managed to avoid Metro, I found Windows 8 to be a pretty good product.  The Window Manager is clean, and ditches the curves of Vista/Win7 in favor of a more squared off, less transparent look. A lot of the underlying system tools like Task Manager and the copy utility are redesigned to give more information. There is a feature called Storage Spaces (which I have not actually used) that sounds like a repackaging of the old Windows Home Server Drive Extender, that  allows combining smaller drives to pooled and/or redundant storage.

Just to give time to the other side, the Free Software Foundation is running a media campaign called UpgradeFromWindows8.com, to promote free operating systems like Linux. While I love Linux (I'm running Ubuntu on my main studio box), I gotta say, Windows 8 is the least awful version of Windows I've used in a while - once it's been tweaked.

Close Windows, Open Doors

Monday, February 11, 2013

The internet schools Ron Paul on free enterprise

In a delicious bit of irony (at least from where I sit) the Internet is teaching Ron Paul a thing or two about free enterprise in the Net Economy.

It seems a collection of his fans registered the domain "RonPaul.com" a while back and have amassed quite a mailing list through it:  170,000+  email addresses.

Ron Paul now wants to buy it, but considers their asking price much too high. They generously offered him "RonPaul.org" for free, but he wants the .com version.

Such is the nature of supply and demand, Dr. Paul.

Refusing the free offer of RonPaul.org, and unwilling to pony up the $250,000 the current holders are asking for RonPaul.com, the libertarian icon is filing his case with the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization, demanding the current holders turn over *both* domains to him.

This is, of course, the very same U.N. he was referring to in 1998, when he said: The choice is very clear: we either follow the Constitution or submit to UN global governance. American national sovereignty cannot survive if we allow our domestic laws to be crafted by an international body.

Oh dear.

Not surprisingly, this has not gone down well in some circles.

I, on the other hand, am loving it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

Am I alone in thinking 2013 will probably suck about as much as 2013? At least we have maybe a year before the next campaign cycle begins.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gun logic

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, people are struggling to come up with ways to prevent future tragedies involving mass murders by gun-toting crazies.

Some are calling for renewing the ban on military-type assault weapons and high capacity ammo magazines of the type used to gun down the victims at Sandy Hook elementary school. The previous ban was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and expired in 2004. Previous efforts to renew the ban have never gotten out of committee.

Others have suggested that instead of banning weapons, a hefty tax be placed on certain types of ammunition. After all, without bullets, a gun is about as useful as a length of pipe in a fight. Back in 1994, Daniel Patrick Moynihan introduced a bill to impose a 10,000% tax on hollow point ammo, saying, "Guns don't kill people, bullets do." Earlier in the year, Chicago discussed imposing a 5 cent per bullet "violence tax," which ended up going nowhere.

Still others have said what is needed it a requirement that all gun owners have a gun liability insurance policy; and you'd need to show you had coverage before buying a weapon. Forbes magazine (hardly a leftist publication) points out cars owners are required to show proof of coverage as well as people applying for a mortgage  - why not gun owners? The thought is that insurance companies have the actuarial expertise to know who is a high risk owner and who isn't and would set rates accordingly.

Right after the shootings, the National Rifle Association, usually a dependably shrill voice, said they would, out of respect for the victims, refrain from making an immediate statement, and instead offer a "meaningful contribution" to the national debate.

A week later, their "meaningful contribution" turn out to be -SURPRISE!- a call for more guns in schools.

This is like saying the way to solve drunk driving deaths is by doing away with open container laws. While we're at it, let's start selling cigarettes to kindergarteners to cut down on  lung cancer deaths.

Just how many gun-carrying government employees does Wayne LaPierre think are needed at each school? And how does he propose this be paid for? Higher taxes? Or will we just sack more teachers to pay these guards and jam a few more kids in already overcrowded classrooms?

Hypervocal pointed out the Onion posted a fake news story that pretty much nailed it: "NRA Sets 1,000 Killed In School Shooting As Amount It Would Take For Them To Reconsider Much Of Anything." I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
Least you forget, the NRA is essentially the lobbying arm of the gun manufacturers, and putting more armed guards will, of course, mean more sales and higher profits for the merchants of death.

Columbine High School had armed guards. And we all know how much that helped. No - I'm afraid this is more security theater, designed to distract us from the politically tough decisions that need to be made until the thought of dead children fades from the headlines.

The NRA once again proves itself to be the functional equivalent of a wife-beater; they profess they love America but there's always a reason the violence they begat isn't their responsibility -- and is always the fault of someone or something else.

The Dallas Morning News reported surges in sales of high powered weapons at local area gun shops in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, as people stockpiled more weapons in anticipation of some sort of sales ban. In the face of such paranoia, is it any wonder we can't get laws in place to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill?

If you think we need more guns rather than less in our society, look in the mirror: you are the problem.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

After Sandy Hook...

Now that the initial wave of shock and horror over the shootings at Sandy Hook has worn off, the national debate has again started about gun control, and to a less degree, mental health issues. Discussions about both are long overdue.

After every recent shooting, the first reaction of the gun-lovers is...to buy more guns, because they fear "the government" is going to make it impossible to get guns. Am I the only one who sees this as closely related to the behavior pattern of people who are hoarders?

I'm tired of hearing some say that this happened because of some amorphous  "Evil" in the world that humankind is powerless to overcome. If there's Evil afoot, it's what Hannah Arendt, writing about the Nazis, call the banality of evil:  "normalizing the unthinkable." Such as accepting the idea that the man or woman on the street needs to own military-style semi-automatic assault weapons with huge magazines of ammo.

There have been quite a few unbelievably loathsome statements by the pro-gun crowd. Just to hit some of the highlights:

Mike Huckabee, whose statement on Fox News that "we've systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?" has to be one of the ugliest, most offensive things uttered by a member of the religious right. And folks, that takes in a lot of competition. He's blamed the victims for their own horrific deaths, and painted a picture of God as some kind of drunken  jealous, vengeful child abuser. What a vile, hateful human being. 

Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt, who, two days after the murders of 20 children and 6 adults, said, "Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to ensure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered."  This is the same guy who said people need guns to "control the government." In 1992, Pratt shared the stage with Neo-Nazis and Christian Identity groups, and has also been accused of speaking before white supremacist and militia groups. And we are supposed to feel safer with this lunatic and his followers carrying guns?

Though not in the same class as Huckabee and Pratt, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)  gave it his best shot: fantasizing that "I wish to God [Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hoschsprung] had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out…and takes [the gunman] out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids."

The NRA at least had the decency to wait a week before their CEO Wayne LaPierre came out and delivered a statement that called on Congress to "appropriate everything that is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation."

Let's pretend for just a moment that the NRA actually was serious about their proposal instead of just putting out some complete piece of bullshit (because they had to say something) and see just what it would entail.

How many entrances/exits does the average school have? Think of all those fire doors. And how many police guards would be posted at each of them? One? Two? 

What sort of weaponry will they be issued, and body armor? Remember - they are supposed to be keeping out crazy people with assault weapons.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the average school has a 10 points of entrance/egress, and that each of these has 2 guards. That means 20 guards per school, multiplied by however many schools in the school district. Fort Worth Independent School District has over 125 schools (primary, middle and high), which would mean an additional 2,500 employees.

And what assurance do we have that posting guards would deter would-be psycho-killers? As one person pointed out last week, banks have guards, but they still get held up.

We have to admit this is just another example of security theater - something designed to make us think we or our loved ones are safer, but without doing a damned thing.

Now - the final question: who is going to pay for all of this?

Is this an unfunded mandate the individual schools must pay for? Schools already have a hard enough time paying teachers and for "luxuries" such as art and music. Do we (dare I utter the words) raise taxes? And given the stereotypical NRA member (conservative) - what are they going to say when asked to pony up tax money to guard the schools? This is the same crowd that bitches like crazy about the TSA screening you at the airport.

Or do we just enact reasonable, responsible gun control?

All of the solutions the gun crowd are pushing boil down to: fight gun violence with more guns. That's like saying the way to fight childhood obesity is to eat more cheeseburgers.

The National Rifle Association used to have a bumper sticker that said, "I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands."

Have it your way.

That's sounding like a better and better idea these days.