This post has moved to my personal blog site. Please read it there.
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 3,414 Views
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 3,404 Views
This post has moved to my personal blog site . Please read it there.
OK. That title is wildly misquoted from Casa Blanca. As a Linux nut I'm still pretty thrilled when I see people putting it to use in amazing ways. In another of their whimsical slideshows, Infoworld gave us The 16 weirdest places you'll find Linux.
I love all of these weird uses of Linux. I know this merely scratches the surface. Share anything else you've seen.
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 Tags:  techniques symphony openoffice powerpoint slides presentations 4,286 Views
I recently attended a non-work-related conference outside. (Can you just imagine?) Since the majority of these presenters were artists and not sales people there was a variety of approaches to using slides. Many were the tired-and-true pages of bullets. Others were pretty dynamic. It got me to thinking about my approaches to slides.
I admit freely that I'm not a big fan of slide presentations. I think in many cases the presenter is hidden in the dark while a big glowy screen looms over the audience. There is little connection with the speaker, who basically takes on the role of soundtrack. I would personally rather have a conversation with my audience... but I understand that's not always possible or reasonable.
Some of the best presentations I saw kept things focused on the speaker and the slides acted more as scenery. They set a tone and highlighted the topic, but didn't take focus away from the speaker. Some even used music to help set the mood on some points.
With this in my head I did a little digging and found this interesting blog entry byentitled . It's a good starting place to get your brain going. Presentations are theatre, shown to people who are used to getting their theatre from television and films. The most exciting message can be lost in dreary, predictable packaging. I've not really thought about it from that perspective before. You can bet I'm going to work it into my next presentation opportunity.
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It's been a little while since I've had a chance to write here. My new job role has been a little disruptive, but I'm hoping to balance it all out soon.
The big news has been that Apache OpenOffice 4.0 released. (If you don't count all the other big news that is going on—some of which is just unspeakably weird.) I'm actually very pleased to see this release. I was an OpenOffice user for years, and StarOffice before that. The mess that occurred was really disheartening and drove me to LibreOffice for personal use. I welcomed the move of OpenOffice into Apache, an organization that I think has had a good track record of caring for open-source projects and making them viable. (Remember how it all started with a web server that had the audacity to go up against the reigning champions?)
At this point I've done little more than install the thing, which was pretty straight-forward on my Ubuntu desktop, so this is not going to be any kind of a review. (I'm actually not really great at doing reviews because I've always had a habit of figuring out how to make things work, so I don't often look at them how they ought to be but just deal with them how they are.) I think that OpenOffice has its best chance of thriving in this environment and I think that having LibreOffice close on its heels will drive some innovation in ways that would not have been possible only competing with Microsoft Office. This could be very good.
Are any of you using OpenOffice? Any LibreOffice converts willing to give it another chance? I'm curious about your opinions and experiences.
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First, I want to remind you that this blog contains my own thoughts and ideas and that those do not necessarily represent those of the IBM corporation. Second, I want to state that I do not intend this to be a political entry, though it will probably generate some emotion for you depending on your own perspective. Please don't respond with statements bashing political parties or politicians. Go do that in the ballot box.
This is the interview with Edward Snowden, the NSA Whistleblower at the NSA. By now you have certainly heard that the National Security Agency (what was once referred to in some circles as No Such Agency) has allegedly engaged in wide-scale surveillance of all kinds of digital interaction—essentially anything that has gone through a telephone network. This would include email, Internet searches, phone calls and other services. Allegedly, it was and is a routine activity.
Here is a portion of that interview:
I can appreciate several of the statements that he made. I have worked in a variety of support capacities in my career and I did have access to information that might have alarmed people if they'd thought about it. However, I always had a mindset that prevented me from digging into that information and doing anything negative with it. I simply had no desire to do it. I did have occasions where I had to use my authority to help detect and prevent violations. In those situations I did enjoy using my mind to come up with solutions to put the pieces together. I never had a sense of vengeance toward the people being investigated.
So, I can relate a little to what Snowden is describing here. Had I seen repeated signs of abuse in a resource that I managed I hope that I would have had his courage to not just keep my head down. Fortunately, I never had to make that choice.
The description here is of an overwhelming power, mostly brought about by how our technology has evolved, layering different tools onto existing transports. This has been a great boon to helping us to make technology available and affordable to people, but it has, apparently, also created one-stop shopping for anyone who wants to keep an eye on things. Even if we make the assumption that all of the analysts who access this information are above reproach, are they immune from hacking? Is it possible for an outside entity to infiltrate this system and use it for more nefarious purposes?
I honestly have no idea what all of this really means to me. It makes me uncomfortable to feel that I'm being watched and that someone could hold keys to my life and that they simply choose not to harm me. I don't like to think of myself as that vulnerable. So, I have to ask: Is there anything that I can do?
I suppose I could try to take myself off the grid... stop using technology. That would probably make me pretty useless to IBM and would be rather career limiting. There are a lot of genuine benefits to that technology as well, things that have measurably improved the quality of life not only for myself but for millions who have more choice, more education and more interaction than was ever possible. I've heard wonderful stories, such as this one, about how mobile phone technology has improved the life of people in parts of Africa. Going backwards probably isn't a reasonable option. I might have the luxury of changing my lifestyle like that, but it would cause great harm to others... and this is bigger than me.
Of importance is the fact that the same technology that has made this alleged surveillance possible has also helped to spread knowledge about it. It's not a secret anymore. Snowden said that he wanted the public to be able to choose what they wanted to do about this. That's where we are now. Personally, I think this is the time to become serious about personal encryption and other techniques for securing your own channels of information and communication. Much of this technology takes advantage that so much takes place in the open. The minor amount of information that is protected can receive the full resource for decryption. Of course, if more traffic was protected it would become more difficult to select which "envelopes" to open.
The open-source world has explored some of these problems for some time. Projects such as Rivendell (an automated radio station that runs on Linux), Martus (an encrypted bulletin system aimed at human rights activists) and others have tried to create tools that would allow people to communicate in incredibly dangerous environments. If you want to make some attempts to lock things down looking at some of the mature privacy sites may help you understand how to improve your situation without having to drastically altar your lifestyle. At the very least you can see some of the most paranoid perspectives and make some choices about what is important to you.
However, becoming closed-in and paranoid will not do anything. Snowden also said that the worst possible outcome was for nothing to happen through his revelations. The Social Technology revolution gives powerful voice to everyone. It is very difficult to do evil things without the cloak of secrecy, because the overwhelming majority of humans are good. We have seen again and again how a united body of good people have resulted in the downfall of violators. We should discuss this and we should discuss it openly. We should help guide people who could do more to protect themselves. We should show that there are more of us than there are of them.
The sword of technology has two edges. If this new has you depressed or afraid then I encourage you to explore what is available to you. There is something we can do, but it only works if we do it together. I can't tell you what needs to be done. We all need to find it as a community, a massive community of caring humans who want a world of opportunity and prosperity for everyone. Of course, any actions that you take will also help protect you from common thieves and other bad guys as well.
Here area few privacy sites that might interest you. Please recommend more if you know some. I'll add to the list from comments.
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"Now look at them yo-yos. That's the way you do it.
— Dire Straits (Lyrics from eLyrics.net)
Evolution is not easy. It's rough on the evolving species and it's devastating to the species left behind. We are experiencing this in our push for a social workplace. Today I got a note pointing me to a slide show called Workers Get Pushback for Using Social Tools. Is it any wonder? When we hear about social tools in the work place it's rarely good news. We hear about employers afraid of the untold damage done by unfiltered statements by workers about their business. We hear about lives and workplaces torn apart by what happens in Facebook. We hear about the hours of time spent by employees in their social accounts when they should be working. And now I'm supposed to make social a bigger part of my business? You first!
Of course, the news feeds on negativity. We don't hear about the millions of people who were not murdered yesterday. We don't hear about the transportation that reached its destination without incident. We don't hear about the people who simply had a nice day and then went to bed for an undisturbed sleep. Sensational sells news, and when everything you hear is sensational you start to believe that it's commonplace. Weird, huh?
The Dire Straits song that I quoted (which has a great, classic MTV video which everyone should see at least once in their lives) is from the perspective of some appliance movers and installers who look at the lives of musicians and say "That ain't workin'." Of course, there is a lot of work involved to be a famous musician, effort that most of us can't even imagine. The issue is that the installers have a specific definition of what counts as work. They don't see the musicians doing those things. I don't know about you, but I can relate. I work with some people who see "proper connection" as putting on a tie and gathering in a conference room. An on-line chat doesn't appear productive to them. Of course, they don't seem to relate to the entrepreneur who is wearing twelve different hats at once and doing everything they can to squeeze every bit of productivity out of every minute of every day with little to no assistance.
I have been working to turn my work day into a more social experience. It's a very strange thing compared to my past career because sometimes it doesn't feel like working. I interact with people and answer questions and help solve their problems. It feels much more like the sort of interaction I have with colleagues over a lunch than the sort of formal, conference-driven activity I've done in the past. Some of the repetitive nature of forwarding materials around and aggregating feedback from all the varied responses has dropped away. Rather than reading copies of copies of copies of previous emails looking for the bit that is the current response have turned much more into a natural conversation.
Here's a webinar on social business that was posted by my colleague, Daryl Pereira. You can see his original page or just watch it here. The concepts shown here are basic, but essential elements to why social business is future business. It is working, even if it sometimes feels effortless and fun.
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This morning I had a request from a colleague to help with a video that was refusing to upload to YouTube. The video would load and then die at 95% of processing. How frustrating!
My first thought was to convert the video to a different format. It was already in a WMV format, which is supported, but sometimes a conversion process will clean things up a bit. I figured I'd try my standard:
avconv -i in.wmv -q 1 out.wmv
This will do a basic conversion with options to keep the quality high. It usually "just works". However, this time there was a message "Multiple frames in a packet from stream 0". A corrupt file!
One option was to ask the originator to redo the file, but this was a live recording, so that was likely not an option and I didn't want to insite a panic. So, I poked around a little more and tried different tools. VLC wouldn't play the video on the file. (Not a good sign.) Melt (which I wrote about in a previous entry) just... well... melted. Finally I tinkered with mencoder.
Mencoder is pretty mature. In fact it's the first console video program that I every used. I had to refresh myself on the recipes for encoding and stumbled across this basic one.
mencoder -oac copy -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=msmpeg4v2 in.wmv -o out.wmv
This worked like a champ. Sure enough, as the conversion occurred I had a stream of ugly messages about the video. Normally this would be pretty alarming because it would foretell audio sync nightmares, but since this was basically a talking slide show the audio sync was not as critical.
Once I got it uploaded I used YouTube's editor to trip a little bit off the front where the person recording was activating his slide show. I could have done that on my end, but then I would have had to upload the whole thing again. Might as well use the server tool.
The reason I'm sharing this is that I think it's really important to have more than one tool in your toolbox. I haven't used mencoder for quite some time because I'd begun to favor avconv. However, in this case, mencoder dealt with the video errors much more gracefully. It made the difference between a finished product and really bad news. The same way that you have more than one kind of screwdriver in your toolbox, collect different software tools, both commercial and open-source. When one fails on you, reach for another one. There is almost always an answer!
If you'd care to see this particular video it's here:
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This is going to be unpleasant, so I'm going to start by offering you this light-hearted video from the musical Music Man to help take the edge off it.
OK. Feeling good? Because I just read Anatomy of a hack: How crackers ransack passwords like “qeadzcwrsfxv1331” it's a little depressing. We all have to deal with passwords, lots and lots of passwords. We know the rules, which seem to change all the time, and we really don't care about them. Making up passwords is not a skill I ever wanted to attain.
It is truly alarming how easy it is to break a password, especially by harnessing the raw computing power of graphic accellerator chips. Simple passwords are just ridiculously easy to crack with computing equipment available to anyone. Today, passwords need to be long and complex—which makes them virtually impossible to remember. Is this going to get any better? With so much of our lives bound up in technology that is only thinly protected by a password it would seem that this would be more urgent.
Of course, the best sorts of security involve things that can't be guessed or duplicated easily, like a biometric. Of course, there are serious privacy concerns about having a biometric attached to everything that you do. I still like the idea of using some sort of public-key encryption with the biometric as my password. The end points only get your key, which you control, while the biometric becomes the password you never have to remember. Technically this sort of technology exists now, but it's just not put into practice.
Me, I'd be fine with a world filled with encryption, but I find that most people don't want to play. Tools are freely available, but most of the people I know don't really care if our information isn't truly private.
So, no real wisdom I can offer here. Passwords are not a great way to protect things. If you have a short, simple password then you are an easy target to anyone who gets hold of the system's password files, which seems highly likely today. I have really tried to ramp up my password game, using long, complicated passwords. Of course, those are things that I can't memorize so I have to use a password manager, which creates a level of vulnerability... but I figure I can do a better job of protecting my information than some company somewhere. Of course, they thought that they were doing a great job too, I'm sure, until they found themselves in the news.
Yes, sirree. We got Trouble!
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Here are some technology ideas to help keep you awake. As our cars have gotten smarter they have also become hackable. This Car and Driver article talks about demonstrations done by the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security (CAESS)which showed an alarming (no pun intended) number of ways that your car might be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Some of the hacks are just ways to break into your car. Others can do things like take over systems, cut off your ignition, disable your brakes! Youch!
Of course, anyone with a background in technology is not going to be shocked by this. Any computer has vulnerabilities and exploits. So far some of the worst of them don't seem to have been exercised outside of the researchers, but a few of them have. Unfortunately the closed nature of these systems suggests that the only way we'll really find out about issues is with watchdogs like the CAESS or when something makes the news. How responsive will auto makers be to detected problems? What recourse will you have to apply your own and 3rd party protections?
We have placed a great deal of faith in the developers and engineers for all of these things. As our roadways increase kinds of automation we will need reliable smart systems. Hopefully these kinds of issues will be dealt with sooner rather than later. When it does will we find ourselves stranded because our car is doing a virus scan and the brakes have been quarantined? Hmmm. Time will tell, I suppose. At the moment it sort of makes me long for a classic car from the '60s.
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Are you being inundated with information about "being social"? Are you confused as you think that we worked that out thousands of years ago when we emerged from the caves? Humans are social. It's what we do. So, why is "social business" such a strange new thing and why does it seem to cause so much confusion?
I struggle with this a little bit myself. I have a blog, but I don't blog every day. I would probably blog more if I got a flood of questions from people to answer, but I don't. Much of what I write just goes into the ether with no comments, just a number of views. In that vacuum I just mention things that capture my curiosity on a given day. Some of them hit. Some of them miss--or at least seem to have very limited appeal. I'm guessing that I'm like most people. I'm not a rock star. I'm not the most interesting man in the world. I'm just some dude who happens to have a deep, personal interest in using Linux and open source to get things done.
Yet, despite the fact that I'm not "important" I still see value in sharing information with the world. I don't do it because of ego. I do it because I figure that some of the problems I solve or items that interest me will be just right for someone else. Maybe it helps them. Maybe it sparks their imagination and they go dig into it, or it spurs them in a completely different direction that is useful to them. It's like sitting in a big coffee shop but rather than everyone being heads-down into their book or technology people are looking around and paying attention to each other.
It seems that this would be a natural and easy thing for humans. But somehow as we get into this sort of virtual expression people raise their expectations. I have a few blog entries that only have about a hundred reads or so. Others have thousands. Some of the Social Super Stars have millions of people looking at them. By comparison, I'm pretty uninteresting and unimportant. Yet, if you were to put out a note that you were going to talk about something after lunch today if anyone wanted to come by an hear you and a hundred people showed up that would be pretty interesting. You'd need a small hotel ballroom to accommodate them! Based on the Internet scale of numbers it's not very large, but in terms of human contact it's not so bad.
What is it that we think is supposed to happen when we share things socially? Why do we have these enormous expectations of what counts as success? It seems to me that any level of connection with others about our passions and our knowledge is valuable. Social media creates a chance for us to connect with people that we should know, regardless of geography. We can connect, collaborate and discuss things. We can find resources we never would have discovered. We can find that we are not the only one in the world.
Of course, this all applies to our work life as well as our personal life. As you can imagine, my Linux-centric view of doing things meets with a deal of controversy in my work life. If I had not connected with others who also have my perspective I would have given up a long time ago. Anyone who is working to create a truly innovative technology or service, something that is a real game changer, is likely surrounded by negative feedback. They are being told to give up by people who are threatened by or just do not share their vision. Social technology is a boon to those people. It feeds them and helps them to get past their obstacles.
So, for all that potential, why do those of us who struggle with social media struggle? If you could have someone walk you around some of your obstacles, what would they be? I'd really like to know. Maybe thinking about your questions will help me answer some of my own, even ones that I didn't know I had. I want to give it a shot.
I have talked before about how my humble beginnings with technology put me in a quandary when I wanted to learn about technology that I could not afford. Fortunately, open-source software has been a boon to me and many others who are very curious about technology. In the past this gap caused a certain amount of piracy.
Of course, piracy is not anywhere near dead. Hugh Gamble pointed me to a wonderful article:What happens when pirates play a game development simulator and then go bankrupt because of piracy?
According to a survey conducted by Black Duck Software and North Bridge Venture Partners Open source software is taking over the software world. (I read it in this NetworkWorld article.) To be fair, there were only 800 participants in the survey, which means that there were millions who were not polled, but the trends revealed are a little different than they've been in the past. As an open-source user I tend to agree with the conclusions.
In the past, cost was cited as the number one reason for choosing open-source. I absolutely agree with the idea of not paying a lot of money for something that is freely available from other sources. However, I wouldn't say that I only do free software. There are open projects that I support with subscriptions and donations. I'm finding that I'm sending money to them more and more because their work really makes a difference to me and I want to see it continue. Somehow I don't get that same feeling when I buy something from a giant company. (Though I am very fond of some giant companies—you understand, right?) Regardless, cost is no longer the number one reason the surveyed people are choosing open-source.
The next ideal for open-source software that had bubbled up in the past is no vendor lock-in. I can appreciate this. We've heard the story of the poor Apple customer who had his life erased because of a policy whoopsie. Another recent article shows how someone lost everything they had connected with Google. I use the Google tools a lot for my personal things, so this was especially chilling. Openness helps prevent you from having your information and functionality held hostage by a company because their license changes, or their price structure changes, or they get themselves into financial or legal trouble and shut down. Yet this was no longer cited as the top reason to use open-source software.
What was the top reason in this last survey? Quality! Those surveyed said that they found open-source software to be of better quality than the commercial alternatives. I have found this to be the case myself. It did take me a little time to get used to some of the ins and outs of using open-source. I had to learn how to learn and where to find help. It was a real struggle in the beginning and I'm not sure why I stuck with it, other than I was fascinated by this concept of community computing. It reminded me more of Star Trek and I'm just geeky enough to want that. Of course, it's much easier for someone coming into things today. Ubuntu Linux installs using magic as opposed to compiling everything from scratch like I did with my first Slackware installation. Social tools, particularly Wikis, have made a difference in the availability and quality of the information... and there are demos on just about anything you would care to do.
I really do believe that open-source software is ultimately of better quality than what is available commercially. I think it's because they are free from some of the compromises which take place in the commercial world. I've been involved with situations where money wasn't available for some particular aspect of a project so it was dropped... forever. Resources are applied to what will make the most money and the "good enough" criterion is economical. It fits with the three-legged project stool: You can have it fast; you can have it cheap; you can have it high quality. Pick two!
Commercial software, by necessity, tends to come in under the cheap and fast model. Competition demands that. Open-source tends to follow the cheap and high-quality model. As long as people are curious and willing to spend time with a problem, the open-source project will get resource long after the commercial one was defunded. I have this sort of fantasy that commercial vendors will begin a mode similar to what is done with pharmaceuticals. The product is designed and sold, but after a period of time it goes open, like drugs becoming generic. I know that Adobe has done this with some of their technologies. Star Office, which became OpenOffice.org (which begat LibreOffice) is not exactly that story, but in the same vein. Tesseract, and optical character recognition (OCR) engine has an interesting story. If you think about it, letting projects go open can have some real benefit. People who like the product get to continue using it while the company gets to divest itself of supporting this legacy item. It could be a beautiful thing.
I wonder what sorts of nostalgic things would come back if they were opened. For example, today I should be receiving my Atari Flashback 3, a chance to relive all of those games that I couldn't afford when I was a kid. That's pretty cool. I wonder what would happen if the Atari APIs were republished and opened up with a mechanism to let people create new games which could be downloaded onto they console. Wouldn't it be interesting to see what today's thinking might do with that technology and what sort of creativity would come from today's perspective on yesterday's limitations. It would be a niche for sure and not a way to make money, but that's just the sort of thing that open-source is for.
Anyway... I'm intrigued by the survey. It reflects what I've thought for years so it makes me feel very sage. Here is a slide show of the survey results
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The other day I wrote a blog entry, How can I improve my coding skills? Today I find in my email Programming Languages That Pay Big Bucks. It's another one of those little slide show thingies showing the results of research into job postings. It sites the most commonly requested language skills, average salary offered and what companies and cities seem to have the most opportunity. I'll save you a little suspense by listing the languages here. You can look at the original slide show to see the other details. These are listed from most popular to least popular... which still includes tens of thousands of requests.
The way the list was compiled I would imagine that developing any one of these skills wouldn't do you much good on its own, but that a combination of these skills will be commonly sought. Clearly, if you have been avoiding SQL and Java it's time for you to do something about that if you want to stay relevant in the job market. Also, if you've been avoiding C++ because it's "old" then you are probably limiting your opportunities. Tinkering with any combination of scripting and programming languages seems to be beneficial and if you haven't spent time playing with other things is probably to your advantage.
I want to underscore, however, that logic and problem-solving are still the key skills for a developer. If you are trapped in the drag-and-drop-world of your integrated development environment (IDE) and you haven't dug into what lies behind the scenes in the various files that go together to make an executable application then you really need to start there. Hacking—in it's original sense of someone who is deeply curious and capable in technology—is still what makes the difference. Such a person can move between programming languages and environments because they understand the underlying principles that drive them all. Such a person can step beyond the limitations of the tools and deal with those odd little things that happen when we create new things.
Use this list to help guide you to something to study if you have been looking for a list. It couldn't hurt. ...but don't limit yourself. This list is an outward expression of the real skill which is understanding how things work and always seeking for more understanding.
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 Tags:  blender upgrade congratulations 3d ibm community lotus connections video editing developerworks 5,302 Views
For the past few days when I went to look at my blog I was greeted with a message telling me that the software was being updated. Actually, since I'm on the inside of IBM, I knew that was going to happen and was not surprised, though I was a little impatient.
The developerWorks community runs on IBM Connections, formerly Lotus Connections, which is an application to design your own community site with, well, all the stuff that's here. (Is it just me or does IBM seem to have a lot of things that were "formerly known as..."?) The down time was to process an upgrade to the latest version of Connections. That is a massive undertaking, much like moving Joomla from 1.x to 2.x.
I'm really intrigued to see how these updates affect things. The previous site had a good deal of customization to make up for the demands of a public-facing community and the unique needs of developerWorks. As everyone who develops and integrates knows, those kind of customizations can create a lot of pain when you move into updates. It's one of the dangers of customizing, but sometimes you need to do it anyway to get what you need.
So far the site seems a lot more efficient, which is good. The editor I'm using to write this is much better than the previous one. We'll see how it goes.
Congratulations to the team who made this transition happen. You made it look easy, even though I know it wasn't.
Favorite free video editors
I'm working on a project to help people learn about doing video blogging and such. Because it's the way I am, I'm encouraging do-it-yourself (DIY) techniques which includes free and open software. On LInux I tend to use Cinelerra for my editing, though I've recently been playing with OpenShot and even Blender. Unfortunately, of those three only Blender is multi-platform. The others are currently Linux-only. (You can get a live CD/DVD which boots Linux with the software for editing, but that's suboptimal for most people.) avidemux is multi-platform, but I haven't really used it. Seems good for some general cleaning and trimming but doesn't have anything I've seen in the way of multi-track editing. I've also noted that YouTube now has a video editor, which has a similar philosophy to avidemux.
In general, I suppose I would point a complete novice who just wanted to cut out the whoopsies to the YouTube editor. But I'm curious about what others have found. Please don't bother with commercial software. It's not hard to find things to buy. It's trickier to find ways to learn.
Blender is awesome
I've been working with Blender a lot more to do some title kinds of work. I haven't done too much with it, but it's extremely powerful once you build the skills. I've been working on adding titles similar to how they did it in the series Fringe-- live 3D elements that are part of the setting. Here's one that I managed.