Thursday, December 22, 2005

Monkey-Picked Tea

FOO Joy Monkey Picked TeaNothing quite like a hot cup of FOO Joy Monkey Picked Tea.

I'm glad that unskilled monkeys still have access to quality jobs. I guess the FOO Joy food company has just as much right to advertise the techniques used to produce their products as the 'Made in X' crowd does.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Art From The Inside Out

inside out sketch previewSome very talented flash artist has produced a sketch of a person from the inside out. Very much worth a quick viewing. I watched it at x16 playback speed, the default was far too slow on my system.

If anyone knows who the artist is who did this, I'd like to know, the site I reached this by did not include any information about the origin of the shockwave.

This and the music timeline are the only two valid uses of flash/shockwave that I have ever encountered online.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Wonder Box

Wonder Box I'm considering building one of these Wonder Boxes. The box is basically a long contraption with a drawer pull on the end. When the drawer is opened, you find, a drawer. However, if you roll the box 90 degrees and open the drawer, you get another drawer. Roll it again and you still get a drawer. All the way around, no matter which of the four sides is up, you get a drawer. Granted it's the same drawer, there are no multidimensional properties at work, but it's still a clever device.

The design is straightforward and it appears to be a nifty toy. The only real question is whether or not I have sufficient woodworking skills to pull it off. The tolerances required for fine cabinetry are extremely tight. Also, not having a workshop will make it tough, but I'll find a way. It may have to wait until next spring though.

Friday, December 2, 2005

Using Annoying Noise to Control Teens

An inventor, Howard Stapleton, has developed a device "The Mosquito" used to annoy the young. Essentially it constantly produces an annoying chirping sound at high frequencies. It relies upon the fact that as we age, our hearing diminishes in the high ranges, therefore to adults the sound is imperceptible but annoys the young.

The device, called the Mosquito ("It's small and annoying," Mr. Stapleton said), emits a high-frequency pulsing sound that, he says, can be heard by most people younger than 20 and almost no one older than 30. The sound is designed to so irritate young people that after several minutes, they cannot stand it and go away.

While it is a creative solution to a difficult social problem, I doubt its use will become widespread. The social problem I refer to isn't loitering, it's not providing young people with safe environments to grow into adulthood.

What's the Buzz? Rowdy Teenagers Don't Want to Hear It - New York Times

Monday, November 28, 2005

Blocking Skype Using Squid

Over at Help Net Security's web site they have a fancy 3 page PDF available for download that details how you can go about blocking Skype traffic from your lan. The document by 'rootn0de' ultimately says you can deny Skype's SSL tunneling behavior by have Squid block all CONNECT attempts that are specified by IP instead of by hostname. Woot.

Quite the sophisticated technique. I'm glad I had to download a pdf document and read through to the last page to discover the magical technique. This is just the sort of crap that web publishers do that I hate so much, a 1 page, 1 paragraph teaser that exists solely to hold advertising waiting for the user to click through to download a nearly content-less PDF document.

On a related note, this is generally a good practice for organizations to employ given the fact that a legitimate web service is highly unlikely to use IP based URLs, the issue I have here is with the manner of content distribution being disproportionate to the value and substance of the message.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

BoingBoing Breaks Paper Folding News From 2002

Recently BoingBoing posted about Britney Gallivan's successful folding of a piece of paper in half 12 times. The way the BoingBoing post and the updated Pomona Valley Historical website reads, this would appear to have been a recent event. In fact, the event was way back in January 2002. The news is that evidently the event was showcased on CBS this year.

A bit surprising given BoingBoing's usually extreme currency.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Eclipse, ANT and sshexec

It took me quite a while to figure out how to make eclipse work with sshexec targets on ant build files. Turns out it was quite easy and even uses the cached identity used for cvs operations. Quite handy. The way I made it work was to tell the ant builder to make use of the jsch jar included in eclipse for use by the cvs plugin.

  1. Open Window -> Preferences

  2. Select Ant -> Runtime on the left side

  3. In the classpath tab, select Ant Home Entries

  4. Click on the Add External JARs... button

  5. Navigate to your eclipse installation, then select eclipse/plugins/

  6. Click okay to confirm the file selection

  7. Click okay to close the preferences dialog

  8. Run your buildfile with sshexec and/or scp tasks.

It's that easy. The specific version number of the cvs/ssh plugin and the jsch jar may differ, but it should still work.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Bizzare Tales of DRM

Over at Big Picture there's an excellent story of how DRM is killing the world of consumer media.

This tale is part of a larger struggle within the recording and digital download industry -- not of P2P or piracy -- but one of innovation and competition. As you follow this odd story (broken into 4 increasingly strange parts), you will note that as it gets weirder, Artists and Consumers are the collateral damage. It makes one wonder just what the hell the Recording Industry is thinking about these days.

I can see the distributor's position, they have a huge infrastructure and industry surrounding the current model of music, video and television distribution and want to protect that. Frankly they have an obligation to their shareholders to do just that, however this is one of those situations where badly applied Capitalism can fly in the face of what's good for society.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

mpd as a communal stereo solution

In our computer lab we have a communal stereo system which enables people to play their personal MP3s through the speakers at one end of the lab. This has greatly reduced the music mayhem that previously occurred when people w/o headphones wanted to listen to music, or people wanted a way to listen to music together. The system consists of a program called mpd the Music Player Daemon running on the lab's intranet server combined with four other programs used to control it.

First, a program called ampache is used to manage playlists and sets of music sources. Users can register the folder containing their music with it enabling the songs to be served up to the Music Player Daemon. This utility has good support for mp3 files and allows all users to create playlists spanning multiple users' libraries.

The next program that is used to control the system is mpc, the Music Player Client. This is a simple command line utility that can modify the mpd's playlist, playback volume, etc. Its two most useful commands are mpc next and mpc volume +n. The first skips the current song and the second adjusts the volume up or down (with -). This tool can be used from the command line by anyone to tweak the volume.

Finally I use the grifcat utility to monitor a number of Griffin PowerMates sprinkled around the lab. These knobs allow anyone in the lab to remotely control volume as well as the current song. Since the lab is a communal environment, it is possible that individuals in the lab may not particularly like other's song selections. Therefore if the knob is pressed, the current song in the playlist is skipped. Grifcat's output is captured by a perl script that translates knob twists into calls to the mpc program adjusting volume and skipping songs.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Lights Are Bright

griffin powermate
I decided that my grifcat utility for controlling the Griffin Powermate wasn't useful enough and so I modified it enabling you to tweak the LED's brightness and pulsing display. For those of you who have a powermate under linux, there's also a linux driver available which can be used with the linux event interface. Hopefully when linux 2.8 comes out these things will be mainstream enough to render my little utility useless.

Grifcat is oriented more toward those needing a scriptable interface to the Powermate. If you're looking to do more general desktop integration, the kernel module route is probably the best solution. Should you go that way, here's some useful tips on making it work.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Attractive Things Work Better

Donald A. Norman (of DOET/POET fame) has an excellent article titled Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better. In it he discusses the affect an object has and how that dictates our ability to interact with it in different situations. A must-read by anyone interested in design.

Affect therefore regulates how we solve problems and perform tasks. Negative affect can make it harder to do even easy tasks: positive affect can make it easier to do difficult tasks. [...]

Imagine a plank 10 meters long and 1 meter wide. Place it on the ground. Can you walk on it? Of course - no problem. You can jump up and down, dance, and even walk along with your eyes shut. Now lift the plank 3 meters in the air. Can you walk on it? Yes, although more carefully.

What if the plank were 200 meters in the air? Most of us wouldn't dare go near it, even though the act of walking along it and maintaining balance should be no more difficult than when on the ground. Why would a simple task suddenly become so difficult - impossible, even? Tell yourself all you want that if you can walk on the plank on the ground, you can still walk on it in the air. You still won't walk along it, let alone jump and dance or, heaven forbid, close your eyes while walking. Fear dominates.

Why should affect have such an influence?

Go read the article. You'll be glad you did.

Mac Compact Belgium

Cult of Mac had a recent entry about the Mac Compact Belgium site. The picture of the mac collection is quite awesome. I'm from California and whenever I see something like that all I can picture is lying there Skinner-like buried under an avalanche of computers. The picture (full size) is awesome and a worthy desktop background on any platform.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Scriptable Access to the Griffin Powermate

griffin powermate
Griffin Technology makes a nifty device called the Griffin Powermate (Available at ThinkGeek). It's essentiall a knob+button you put on your desktop. However, unless you have software that can take advantage of it, it's basically a lighted paperweight. I got fed up not having an easy way to monitor/read this device for use in scripts and so I wrote grifcat. It's a simple utility I can run as a coprocess to my music controller so that I can map the input operations to my mp3 player. The best part is that since I use the Music Player Daemon (a.k.a. mpd), I can remotely control the volume and playback, I don't need to attach the powermate to the system running the mp3 player.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

acdctl 1.1 Released

A new version of acdctl has been released which incorporates changes kindly sent in by Michael Hanselmann. The tool now directly supports one more display in the apple product line. Additionally it can now take in the vendor/product id on the command line to make it easier to test against unsupported displays.

If you are able to make it work, please send in your display information so I can add it to the set of supported displays. Part of the changes made by Michael is a restructuring of how the displays are stored internally so that new ones can be added very easily.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Saturday, August 6, 2005

Capturing Toslink/SPDIF Using Creative LiveDrive In Linux

Here is how I configured Linux to record an Toslink/SPDIF audio source. It's quite easy once you figure out what all the buttons do. I do not know if the Creative LiveDrive actually captures the digital stream or re-encodes it. I haven't been able to find out one way or the other and I just don't know enough to tell for sure. What I do know is that using the digital input minimizes the opportunity for noise to be introduced into the sample you are recording, especially if you do have the option of a digital source.

The process wasn't difficult, but that observation comes from hindsight. I'm sure there's a tool out there which only takes a few clicks to do what I did here, but this is what worked for me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Blizzard Downloader Forces Seeding?

So, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase the much vaunted World of Warcraft (WOW) by Blizzard. If you don't know what WOW is, well then you're probably living under a rock. Regardless, after purchasing the game, I created an account and used another installation to play my account for a few hours. Once I got home and had to install the game myself, the requisite waiting and patching ensued.

The blizzard updater uses a system based upon the very popular BitTorrent (BT) peer-to-peer distribution mechanism. In essence, your client talks to other users downloading the same file and randomly exchanges parts that you have for parts that they have. It's a quite beautiful system because the more popular a file is, the more people there are to download it from and everybody works together to get everybody copies of the file.

One problem that plagues most bittorrent distributions is the lack of what are called seeders. Seeders have a copy of the entire file and therefore can serve up any block you are missing. Without a seeder in the peer group, only those blocks that are in the network will eventually be copied everywhere. It would seem that in order to ensure there are enough complete (or nearly complete) sets of blocks exist in the Blizzard/WOW/BT network, the client has some magic.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Punishment for Kindness

A short while ago I had the opportunity to (re) watch the movie Ronin (1998). This movie is quite good and most well known for the intense chase scenes which set the standard for many movies that have followed. However, the part that stays with me after the movie is over is a simple line of dialog spoken by the sage who tells the story of the 40 Ronin:

In the end, we are likely to be punished for our kindnesses.

As far as the movie is concerned, this is merely a bridge in the conversation between two characters. However hidden in there is a pithy summary of the effect that random acts of kindness (not selflessness) have.

This statement asserts that the most likley outcome for ourselves of any kindness on our part is a negative one. Should you find youself in a situation doing some act of kindness, the universe will notice (in as much as the universe notes anything) and it will return upon you some sort of retribution for having interfered with the natural order of things.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Greylisting, Some Good, Some Bad

Greylisting has had much said about it over the past year or two and it seems to be a valid concept at reducing spam. This is my experience implementing it using Qmail, SPP, Debian and Ubuntu. The idea is that since most spammers do not use proper mail queues to handle their SMTP transfers, they will not ever retry a delivery if you at first refuse it. A greylisting daemon therefore examines the originating IP address, sender and recipient and for any unique combination, it declines the first attempted delivery requiring the sender to retry.

A year ago I passed on implementing greylisting because since I use qmail it would require me to recompile my server with SPP support. However, when a friend I trust recommended it as having reduced his spam load, I felt it was worth the time to build a new qmail package and manually apply all the patch sets I use including the qmail-spp patch (which given my over-patched qmail install, I had to deal with multiple failed hunks).

The mail server cluster I manage handles 89,000 emails each week which can be broken down into roughly 3 categories. 75,000 completely bogus spam sent to never-existent email addresses, 7,500 spam and 7,500 legitimate. The 75,000 bogus messages are all sent to the same collection of 3,000 addresses which never existed but for some reason appear in some spammer's database. My guess is that a hard-up spammer simply generated bogus addresses to put on one of those email address collections for sale to other spammers. Since this list of 3,000 addresses never changes and was discovered by looking at my log of undeliverable bounces, I long ago established a list of invalid RCPT-TOs and have for about 8 months repelled those weekly 75K emails.

Friday, July 8, 2005

acdctl Controls YourApple Display Brightness

Having that software itch again I just had to get my display brightness turned down on my Apple Cinema Display. It's a wonderful piece of equipment, but it has no external controls to manipulate brightness. Just a soft-key that when touched flashes. When connected to a mac this key launches their display config tool so you can tweak the brightness, but on Windows and Linux, it does nothing.

Therefore, I wrote a little tool called acdctl which stands for Apple Cinema Display Control (or controller). It enables me to manipulate the brightness of the display via the command-line. Sure there's no fancy slider, but it's all I really need to push things down a little. I learned a bit more about programming with libusb and otherwise had a good time writing it. Even though USB is a crap protocol for bulk storage (imho), it's excellent for these sorts of light data, high diversity applications. Now that I have it, I wish I could use something like it on my CRT displays.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Terror of Tiny Town - Just Another Bad Western

Box cover of the Terror of Tiny Town
After being on my to-buy list for over a year, I ran across a copy of The Terror of Tiny Town (1938) while out shopping with a friend and I'm sad to say it's just another bad western. I watched through the whole thing (about an hour) and aside from the obvious schtick of a few midgets and a few short jokes.

The plot is more or less a range war between two families caused by an evil bandit who has designs on taking over all the cattle in the valley. Through some basic trickery each of the families think the other is rustling their cattle. Of course, there's the usual love story between the hero son of one family and the damsel in the other family, all ending in a suspense filled fistfight between the protagonist and antagonist.

It's sad that after so long of waiting to see this movie it turns out to be a perfectly ordinary western just played by midgets. There are so many better midget movies out there I'm sad I paid a whole $8 for this dvd. While certainly an oddity, it doesn't qualify as a so-bad-it's-good movie.

Other reviews of this movie:
TV Guide Online Movie Database *
Film Threat, Phil Hall ***

Somebody Explain Terrorism Please

London: People trapped in tube (by Adam Stacey)Someone needs to explain the whole concept of terrorist bombings to me. From what I've seen, the logic of the terrorists is as follows.

  1. We don't like something (in this case, apparently the war in Iraq)

  2. We cause death and destruction/pain to you in your home country

  3. You are thereby disuaded from continuing to do what we don't like

Where the whole thing breaks down for me, is that I don't see step three as ever following from step two. All I see is people getting angry and redoubling their efforts to find you and bring you to justice. This may be just an American (maybe Western) thing, but I can't imagine terrorist acts actually dissuading people from continuing a course of action.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Obviously Nobody Cares

There is much lament over the dearth of signups for the ONE letter to be delivered to the G8 conference despite a TV campaign asking people to simply go and sign up. All this says to me is that people really don't care. At least, people that aren't bleeding heart liberals with too much money and the guilt that comes along with it. Frankly when only 390,000 people sign up for something, you're obviously beating a horse that nobody cares about. I am intensely curious as to how much the domain name cost them. But that's entirely beside the point as you can't fault them for trying to market their message as effectively as possible.

Airport/3c905 Packet Loss Solved

Airport ExpressI was experience 30-60% packet loss on my Airport Extreme network, here's how I diagnosed and solved that problem by forcing the link speed to a slower rate.

After my firewall/gateway Linux box died due to a bad hard disk, I temporarily used my Airport Extreme as my primary network access point. When I finally fixed my firewall/gateway I had a problem, I was experiencing very high packet loss on the wireless lan. This was a major issue as my beautiful wife makes exclusive use of the wlan for her internet access. This made her problem, my problem.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Robots Get to Second Base

Breast examination robotIt's a fucked up world when there's not enough men around to grope a woman's breast, but that's appears to be the very problem that scientists are looking to deal with according to the new scientist. I would tend to agree with the analysis stating that delays make such devices of suspect utility, however I feel the real problem is that I don't believe we're close to the point where we can send (enough) of these sort of remote sensing devices. Consider the following:

Scenario A) trained medical technicians/clinicians are sent around the world to perform these same examinations rapidly and on a wide scale and then report their findings via traditional communication channels (electronic or otherwise) to any of a large body of capable doctors who analyze it. Even better, these technicians are also training locals to perform these same procedures so that as they leave regions a trained population remains behind.

Scenario B) a number of these devices are shipped around the world, along with the necessary technicians, high speed telecommunications equipment, etc. to care and feed them while a very small number of doctors trained in remote diagnosis use equally expensive devices to perform a very limited form of analysis. Meanwhile as these travelling marvels move from region to region, they leave behind a large number of 'referrals' and not much else.

Frankly, robotics are good for space exploration, undersea repairs and battling on comedy central. They are not good at, nor even the slightest approximation of the skill humans have for breast manipulation.

Hard Rock Zombies

When I went to the video store to look for new additions to my bad movie collection, I had no idea what I was in for. My friend ended up purchasing a little gem called Hard Rock Zombies. Don't let the IMDB review get you down, this movie is incredible. The back of the case advertises the fact that not only are there zombies, there's also hard rock (more on that later), big hair, Hitler and a love story. As for the hard rock, I'm not a major rock fan, but even I can tell that the rock is about as hard as gouda. Regardless, the box goes on to state that these zombies are actually back to fight against Hitler. That's something quite new, zombies on the side of good, not evil. Thus it was a must-see.

Needless to say, the movie is absolutely craptacular, but that's what a bad movie is all about. The most awesome gem in a series of cool hits was the fact that it not only had Hitler, brief but entirely gratuitous nudity, an homage to Hitchcock (Psycho), midgets AND Hitler as a zombie, it also had Cannibalistic-Mutant-Zombie-Midget-Nazis. Talk about getting your money's worth.

There's your usual compliment of completely inexplicable scenes, as well as a host of bad cuts and more than one montage--in fact, the 'big battle' scene between the good zombies and Hitler's forces of mutant evil is done as a montage. Not quite the way one expects things to go, but what the hey. This movie has everything one could want except for space aliens. It does try too hard, and breaks the fourth wall a few times in a way that is neither entertaining nor clever, but none of that should detract from your enjoyment of an otherwise fine awful movie.

Note: awful movies are always enjoyed best with your friends in a comfortable setting. If you're watching bad movies by yourself, you may have a problem.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Homebrew Soda Fountains

Homebrew soda fountain head
An excellent howto on creating your own home soda fountain. No more will you be held captive by the tyrrany of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Instead you can, with a little wheeling and dealing plus elbow grease, dispense your own cold refreshing sugar water to all your friends.

In the old days, you would mix up a bunch of items into a flavoring solution. Then you'd add sugar and a certain amount of your flavoring to soda water to make a nice drink. But ever since the drug store soda fountain, people have combined these processes into one, making use of syrup.

Syrup, for soda, is mostly sugar with the flavoring already added. It is also kept to a specific consistency, so you can always know to mix X amount of syrup with Y amount of water. Typically, this is something like 4 parts water to 1 parts syrup, or 5 parts water to 1 part syrup.

Indeed, this is the ultimate kitchen accessory. My dear wife may not agree, but I'm sure she'll come around. For now it will remain on my 'todo' list. Perhaps as a winter home improvement project.

The Fleet Type Submarine Online

The San Francisco Maritime National Park Association has a wonderful collection of submarine technical manuals posted for your enjoyment. I find it especially interesting the way they try to ease the reader into the topic. It makes sense when you figure that at the time, the submarine was the height of advanced military technology on par with stealth aircraft of today.

There is, in fact, nothing very difficult to grasp about any part of a submarine torpedo tube, if those who study them do not attempt to understand them all at once.

This pamphlet, as has been said, is a torpedo tube primer, and not an engineering treatise; it includes nothing "over the head" of the beginning student of submarine torpedo tubes.

I'm a major fan of old technical books on just about any subject. I recently picked up a pair of books from the late 19th C on the care and operation of steam engines. Very cool for the retro-geek in me.

Also noted on BoingBoing.

Kancho, Fact or Fiction?

This kancho thing has been popping up everywhere, and I'm curious just how real it is.

The English Teacher in Japan blog has the following quote on this concept of Kancho (among another discussion about large penises).

Let me introduce you to a game Japanese kids like to play called "Kancho."

Actually, it's not so much a "game" as it is kids clasping their hands together, sticking out their first fingers, and shoving them up your butt. I'm really not joking.

However, a bit of googling only finds that exact same paragraph in numerous locations and other 'I hear there's this game' type postings. Therefore, I'm left to wonder if Kancho really exists, or if it is just a funny meme. Then again, it does bear a striking resemblance to boonga-boonga which is equally disturbing and so I wouldn't be surprised if it did exist.

Note: a 'spanking' version of boonga-boonga appears to have been made available as evidenced by this flyer, though astute observers will note the holster holding what may be a convenient mechanical finger.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Trying out Ubuntu

For the first time in years I have installed a 'desktop linux' distribution and I must say the results are quite shocking. I have been so used to running with Debian Stable that I really was in for a shock when I switched to Ubuntu.

To give you an idea of what I do, much of my day is spent at the computer programming and as such I have spent the time to customize my physical environment to suit my needs exactly. I have an office I constructed that houses my workstation in just the right arrangement for maximum productivity. To wit, there are four displays, three 21" Sonys and one Apple HD cinema display. All of this is driven by four video boards, the Sonys are attached to PCI based NVidias and the apple is connected via DVI to an AGP ATI board. Previously the machine sans NVidias was my gaming rig while another machine (A PII 400) was my 'work' computer driving all but the Apple Cinema display.

Desk and monitors

I decided that Debian Unstable wasn't what I wanted, especially with such good things being said about Ubuntu, which is heavily based on Debian. The one thing that Debian has had going for it is its package management system, but I'll leave that argument to others. Fact of the matter is that in 10 years of doing software development and consulting using Linux, Debian is the distribution I've clung to after trying all the others.

My first impression was WOW. I'm usually a TWM kinda guy. The first time I ran XINE under E17 and was able to playback WMV files smoother than on my Apple laptop, I was sold. My years of work with Debian made the installation and ongoing management of Ubuntu quite easy, and I don't foresee changing my distribution again in the near future.

The only problem now is that I have to reboot in order to play video games, but that's a good problem when you don't want goofing off to be too easy to achieve. The only problem I have now is fighting the desire to spell Ubuntu as Unbuntu. I soon plan to post some notes on how easy it was to get Xinerama and accelerated OpenGL running.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

USB Lock

It was an interesting experience. On the one hand I had a lot of information from the sites which had some technical discussion about the device, and on the other, I felt completely lost whenever I tried to look up information in the libusb documentation. Either way, the whole thing seems to be easy once you know how. As always, going to primary sources like the USB specification was essential. I had put it off as long as I could but after an hour or so I just had to dig around to find the information I needed to make the thing work.

I put my notes online for others because I saw a large number of 'hey please post some code' on other sites where someone only posted binaries.