Microscope, Open Source Style!

Just a quick experiment with a Celestron USB Microscope in Linux Mint 18.3. Images were taken using the Cheese webcam application. As with any scene, lighting makes a big difference. Having the ‘scope near a window provides natural light at a low angle to show texture.



– Ken Ranous



#RedForEd: Support the future of society by supporting education now.

First off, I’m not suggesting that we pay teachers so much that the wrong people become educators just for the money. Hah! Currently, nothing could be farther from the truth. An individual attending college can easily accrue five figures of debt just to get a BS for an entry level position. To really get into education requires an MS or PhD, and that can saddle you with up to six figures of you-aint-gettin-outta-this debt. When educators barely make enough to live, servicing that debt can mean having to make a choice between a personal necessity or making a loan payment. This creates a lot of not-so-subtle incentives to use that degree in another line of work. That means schools lose (or never get) good people, and that cheats the students and ultimately our society of it’s future.


Also of great importance is continued teacher education, because what teachers learned in school yesterday isn’t enough for tomorrow. In fact, being a teacher also means being a lifelong student. This needs to be funded by the system, not the individual. Yes, in some cases teachers are expected to fund their own, even if that means accumulating more student loan debt. How ridiculous is that? Think of it this way: if you owned a company that made widgets and you purchased a new widget maker, would you expect your workers to pay for a class to learn how to use it?

As a Father and a Grand Father, I think about how difficult it can be to manage one child, never mind dozens of other people’s children. Now pile on larger classroom sizes, problems with facilities and having to purchase classroom supplies out of there own pocket. Only the truly dedicated enter this profession! I want current and future generations to get a solid K-12 education by qualified people that aren’t stressed out about student loans, job security and how to make basic ends meet without needing to get a second job. Teachers are people too, performing a noble task. Let’s respect and support that!


What do you mean I have to buy classroom supplies out of my own meager salary!?!

Supporting education is also about providing safe buildings and materials needed to teach. Those are large unavoidable costs but I want to focus a bit on technology. Books are still relevant of course, but often the latest information is only available in digital format. Even entry-level jobs require interaction with technology and those unfamiliar (and therefore intimidated by it) will not perform as well as their International counterparts. Technology needs to be IN the classroom where ALL can access it! It’s not enough to just read about it in a book. Actual engagement and repetition solidifies the concepts and makes it much easier to learn and adapt to new tech in the future.


It’s never too early to start education in technology.

When we fail to have an educated population, society overall loses. When business cannot find qualified staff they cannot compete, and there will always be someone somewhere else that will be more than happy to take the business. Looking at it strictly from an accounting perspective, yes, education is a cost but it’s also an investment in the future with a payout so huge it’s hard to calculate.

There’s one final point I’d like to make, and it’s far larger and more ominous than any monetary factors:

When the masses are uneducated in matters of interpersonal communications, history and critical thinking we become vulnerable to repeating the same mistakes our ancestors made and easy targets for manipulation and control.


The lady on TV told me I need to wear this so I just do.

Go Red. Go Ed.

-Kenn Ranous

Mesa Arts Center – Arizona

The RTL-SDR for Linux Quick Start Guide – Second Edition v2.18

Greetings radio fans! I’m pleased to release an update to the guide. I’ve confirmed the installation process is the same in Linux Mint 18.3 as it was in 17.x. Most applications still work and have continued to evolve nicely. As any radio is only as good as it’s antenna system, I elaborated a bit more. An experiment in lightning detection was added as well as additional resources. And I geeked in Gimp for a fresh cover page. 🙂

Speaking of antennas, many radio enthusiasts in urban environments find RFI noise and restrictions on antennas to really hamper their hobby. If that’s your situation, time to think outside the box! Take an SDR and a laptop into the great outdoors. I recently took one camping on a mountain and strung up about 200′ of wire zig-zagging through the trees. The results were just phenomenal. In town I have good antennas at my QTH, but my spectrum has a lot of spikes and over-load from nearby pagers and FM-BC. Out there, there were even more spikes but most of them actual stations with good copy.

As always, feel free to distribute the info as you see fit. The direct link to the PDF is below and on the sidebar.



Getting Google Earth working in Linux Mint 18.x

I had been delaying an upgrade from Mint 17.3 to 18 because when I tried 18.0, Google Earth stopped working. Things were no better with Mint 18.1 or Mint 18.2. The problem was, Google Earth would install and start to run, but hang on start-up and go into a mostly unresponsive state. It would look something like this:


Google Earth blowin’ up in Linux Mint.


I did some research, tried safe mode, checking that all dependencies were satisfied and different video drivers. This was happening on any machine I installed on so I knew it wasn’t hardware.

To make a long story short, as of October 2017 the best solution I’ve found is to install an older version of Google Earth. It appears that Google Earth Pro build date 1/17/2017 installs and works as it should. Even the Photos load. There’s a thread on the Mint forums discussing this issue:



And according to said thread, the GE support team made version 64bit (.deb) available for download at:



Use this source at your own risk. I got it and it appears legit. If it was bogus, I tend to think the Linux Mint forum people would flag it. Might be a good idea to keep that .deb file backed up for future use.  🙂


Google Earth Pro working in Linux Mint 18.2. Life is good again. Unless that’s your RV.


  • Kenn Ranous


Update, 1.19.18 Linux Mint 18.3:

The same problem still exists and the same solution still applies. Use version

Caution! If you perform a ‘sudo apt update/upgrade from the command prompt, GE will get updated to the newer non-functioning version. If that happens, use Synaptic Package Manager to completely remove GE then reinstall using the .deb file you downloaded earlier (and hopefully saved). When update manager prompts you to update, right-click and select ‘ignore …’. Also go into SPM and type google earth in the search bar. Left-click it once and click Package > Lock Version. This will prevent Update Manager or Synaptic from accidentally upgrading you to the newer non-working version, however, performing a sudo apt upgrade from the command prompt will still force the upgrade.


How to view and edit RAW Security Camera DVR Video Files *.264 – updated & streamlined.

Back in 2015, I wrote a guide for Linux users on how to convert *.264 format video streams from a security DVR into something more usable. Since then, the handbrake utility has developed new features and capabilities, so the process can be streamlined. This process was tested in Linux Mint 18.2 and will likely work in any modern Debian or Ubuntu based distribution. Handbrake also has downloads for Mac and Windows.

1. Get the video clip of the date/time frame in question. Typically a security DVR will be setup to record only when it detects motion. By searching through the recorded footage, hopefully you can find the clip containing the activity. This file can be copied to your computer via a USB thumb drive or downloaded via the application used to remote view your DVR.

2. Get and install handbrake. It’s an open source video transcoder available via Synaptic Package Manager, but there’s a newer version on the developer’s website with instructions on how to add their PPA (Personal Package Archive) to your system.

   a. After install it should appear on your menu. Launch it. It’s reasonably self explanatory.

   b. Select the Open Source button to pick the .264 file to be transcoded.

   c. Select a Destination file and folder.

   d. Check settings:

       Preset 'Fast 1080p30'
       Format: MPEG-4 (avformat)
       Video Encoder: H.264(x264)
       Constant Framerate

   e. Click ‘Start Encoding’.


Handbrake Open Source video transcoder.


You should now have a .m4v file in the destination folder that can be played or edited with most applications and sent as an email attachment viewable in gmail. Youtube will also accept this format and I’ve confirmed an iPhone gmail user can view it as well.

If you need to stitch several video clips together, take a look at one of these editors:

  • Flowblade – My current choice of time-line video editors. If you’ve ever used Adobe Premiere, AVID, Final Cut Pro or similar this will be familiar. It can render high quality lossless streams.
  • Kdenlive – A good time line video editor with many features and capabilities.
  • OpenShot – Has multi-tracks and some creatively useful transitions.
  • Pitivi – Intuitive and easy to use. If you’re not familiar with time-line video editing and just need to put some clips together for presentation, this might be the one for you.


  • Kenn Ranous



An experiment in Photo & Sound: Oak Creek – Sedona, Arizona

It’s been awhile since I’ve edited video and even longer creating music. I’ve accumulated a few vintage synthesizers over the years and decided it’s time to take them for a spin.

The images document a day trip to Sedona, Arizona. Most are at Oak Creek by Red Rock Crossing, the last few are from Airport Mesa at sunset. After processing in Darktable, I arranged them into a slide-show with Flowblade. Audio capturing and processing was done with Audacity. Sound is from a Roland MC-303 Groovebox.



Thanks for watching!

  • Kenn Ranous