19 February 2007

Digital Camera Woes

My work requires photographs, and digital photographs have totally replaced film here. Like so many other new technologies, digital cameras seem easy to use, and so the demand for the shared cameras is impossibly high. As a result, the cameras are frequently broken or missing. Simply bringing a digital camera from home does not solve the problem. The Windows machines at work cannot mount the foreign camera without administrative access (which I lack). Can Linux save the day? My Ubuntu 6.10 box at home mounts my borrowed Kodak EasyShare V530 without a problem--the camera plugs into a charging pedestal (whatever this thing is called), and the pedestal plugs into the wall and the USB port. After physical connection, a button on the pedestal puts the camera and computer in virtual connection. The OpenSuSE 10.1 box at work did not detect the camera, even with the F-Spot program. According to the website, OpenSuSE supports this camera with gphoto2, so I installed gphoto2 and libgphoto2. Installation went fine, but I could not get the CLI to do what I wanted. The key program was gtkam (and libexif), both available from the repository. I could only access the camera through F-Spot (Ubuntu treated the camera as a disk drive), but all is working now. What I would really like is an easy way to use old CCD cameras with any of my Linux computers at work--then I could take endless pictures through microscopes and dissection-scopes.

11 February 2007

Taxes: e-file with GNU/Linux

Keywords: IE4Linux, Wine, Ubuntu 6.10 Shamefully, I've been in the habit of using Turbotax on the web since I began filing my own taxes. I say "shamefully," because I have been paying needlessly for this service, except for the first year or two. It has never been expensive, and I've always found the service worth the price (especially in years when I could not find my W-2--Turbotax accessed the information for me). I was thrilled, then, when the IRS website offered a free version of Turbotax on the web under certain conditions. Last week was the earliest I had ever started to file my taxes. The Turbotax website, alas, is not Linux-friendly--it supports Firefox on Windows and Mac OS X, but not on my Ubuntu 6.10 or OpenSuSE 10.1 Dells (Epiphany was a non-starter). In both cases, I could not get past a Turbotax error page. On the Ubuntu machine, the Wine Windows-compatibility program and the trememdously useful Internet Explorer 6 for Linux package saved the day. Via IE4Linux, the website ran smoothly and I was able to file electronically. The only remaining wrinkle involved Adobe Acrobat Reader: some of the website's functionality required Acrobat, and even though I had the program on both computers, the website could not recognize it. This problem was particularly annoying for digitally signing the forms for submission--I needed to consult my 2005 tax returns to verify my identity, but Turbotax would not allow me to download the files, since it did not recognize that I had Acrobat (or any other PDF reader) installed. After downloading my returns on another computer, everything else proceeded as expected. I grimly emphasize that IE4Linux did not help on the OpenSuSE 10.1 machine. Were I feeling more scientific, I would have attempted the experiment on my OpenSuSE 10.2 PPC, but that computer is from 1999 and not worth the hassle. Minor note: IE4Linux, unfortunately, has never allowed me to use Lotus Notes on the web, which I need to be completely Windows-free at work. My positive experience with Turbotax has renewed my enthusiasm for IE4Linux--thank you! Disclosure: I own a small amount of stock in Novell, who publish OpenSuSE. Maybe my hopes for the company will prompt me to upgrade 10.1 (which has well-known problems, but my box now runs fine after minor tweaking) to the much slicker 10.2.