By Marco Scoffier
My name is Marco Scoffier, I come from an Arts background, though I did take quite a few physics and engineering courses before becoming a sculpture major in college. I graduated in 1995 so the internet was just coming into wide public knowledge, but I remember telnet'ing into the school servers for email and newsgroups, also finger'ing, and talk'ing with friends over the unix servers, so I had some exposure to the wonders of the Unix environment. Now it seems since everyone has a hotmail account, no undergraduate is even exposed to unix.
For the past five years I lived in France where I had studio space in France's largest art school, and taught Audio and Video (mostly mac applications). I also ran the lab which bought all the equipment (video camera's , slide projectors, photo camera's, extension cords etc.) which the student's could borrow to take home. As artists tend to want to reinvent the world, I worked on some rather more technical projects, such as programming an interface to control editing VTR's through the mac serial port, building midi interfaces (yes soldering iron) for interactive installations, and building all sorts of speakers and microphones.
I spent enormous amounts of time teaching myself all sorts of things on the net, and came across Eric Raymond's "Cathedral and the Bazaar" and "Homesteading the Noosphere. "*flash of light* I convinced a local vendor (a Vietnamese man who built his own boxes) to trade the cost of a MS license for SUSE 6.2, and double checked all the hardware to make sure it was compatible. (I'm still using this same box, just more memory, and quieter fans). *I was off* To tell you the truth I was amazed at how advanced the operating system was, and all the tools I got for free. I thought I was getting a command line and compilers which would make it easier for me to learn programming. I really wanted a lisp interpreter as I had read many books on artificial intelligence (especially Douglas Hofstader and Melanie Mitchell's Copycat project) .
I got a full fledged workstation with more tools that you could use in a lifetime. To get myself up and running with free software, I have bought a huge number of books (many from O'Reilly). I started with "Running Linux" which refuses to age though it was written more than ten years ago, and my favorite "Unix Power Tools" which is a treasure trove which helps you get into the mind of brilliant users of Unix. Once you have a few of these ways of working under your belt, you really understand the power of this operating system which also refuses to age. Linux has taken over almost all of my computing needs.
All of my networking, of course. I have had it running as a gateway, appletalk server, mailserver, webserver, and dns server for my small group of machines (I mean to get a timeserver running, but haven't yet). It has zapped ads for me and cached web pages when I was on an excruciatingly slow dial-up. But linux is also taking over most of my multimedia needs...
I have used the Gimp extensively, especially to clean and compress photographic jpegs for the net, as you have much more control over this than in any adobe product. I have also used perl and the Image Magick libraries to manipulate directories full of images, as well as a bit of the perl interface to the gimp (though there is much more I could do with this).
I have used Blender to make 3d animations to explain my rather complex installations -- there is no way I could have completed these animations any other way. Blender I am convinced will blow away anyone using 3d, motion graphics, or even video editing. It has a full python interpreter inside and an api which allows you to control any piece of your 3d world, and automate whatever you can dream of. Just recently, I captured DV video through a firewire card, and am working on the fine points of getting this footage into DivX for presentation on my website, Mpeg2 for burning onto CD's and eventually onto a DVD. I have already gotten the DV footage into Blender where I can use it as a background to pass titles over, mix it with 3d objects or use it as a texture ( using it as a texture for a lamp makes an excellent looking video projection in a 3d world).