Thursday, December 29, 2005

Political compass

I've come across the compass before before, but I actually got around to answering all the questions this time.

My result?
Economic Left/Right: -2.13
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.59

i.e. Mildly left and somewhat libertarian.

What that means, I have no real idea- they're yank terms more than brit ones. But it puts me in the same quadrant as Nelson Mandela & the Dalai Lama, and the opposite quadrant from Tony Blair & George Bush.

So I'm happy with that result :o)

Linux, DVDs, and Myths. . .

So, it seemed strange to me that, in a world with DVD Jon and the like, somebody hadn't released a Linux tool for watching protected DVDs. So I went hunting. A few tantalising comments showed up on Google about Linux users watching such DVDs, but nothing clear on how. A few comments about libdvdcss were about all, and I already had that, so clearly it wasn't the answer.

So I asked on LQ and was told that it could be done. Once again, Iwas pointed at libdvdcss.

Hmmm. . .

So I checked my USE flags for mplayer. DVD support was on, and there's no libdvdcss option. However, libdvdread was off. Odd, since it was mplayer that installed it, but let's ignore that and just alter the USE flags to include libdvdread.

A recompile later, I tried one of my protected DVDs. And you know what?

It played!

What's more, when I tried DVD::rip, it also worked. I got a perfect working Divx5 Avi.

So now I can play any DVD in Linux, and also rip any DVD to carry it around on my GP2X as well! That's me happy again :o)

Apart from anything else, you see, it removed a big obstacle in the way of my hope for a MythTV box. This is basically a bit of software that you use to make a Linux-based complete entertainment center, for TV/Video/DVD/music/game/etc. Like a Tivo, with the ability to pause live TV and record the same show every week even when it's on at different times. Like Linux, it plays any DVD and without forcing you to watch the fecking "Downloading is stealing" crud or the adverts for other films that some obnoxious studios seem to feel is OK to put on a paid-for disc. And so on.

My desire to get around to putting one together was rekindled when I picked up a Linux Format mag with an article about it. To my surprise, when I showed it to Lou & suggested it, she was quite keen - I'd expected a "We already have a DVD player, why waste money on this?" type reaction. But no, she liked the idea.

So I'm going to look around at the various TV card options, motherboards, cases, et al. Then we'll look very seriously into buying & installing. We're both rather tempted by the Knoppmyth project - a Knoppix-based Myth installer that takes a lot of hard work out of the whole thing. Much as I love Linux' configurability all, sometimes I don't want to become an expert on the subject matter before I start, I just want to get on with it. (Plus they have a forum devoted to hardware that works out-of-the-box, which seems a good place to start looking for hardware advice!)

Once we've got it, I'm thinking we'll rip pretty much our whole CD collection to it so we can shove them away under the bed or something rather than having them fill all our shelving units. Any videos we really want to keep access to, we'll copy over to DVD then archive the tapes next to the CDs. I may consider putting a few games on for a bit of fun, but other than that, we'll be pretty much done by then.

Sounds quite cool, doesn't it? :o)

Another one bites the dust

Another Xmas has been and gone. Well, mostly. This year, I was scheduled to have three spearate Xmas events, and I've only had two so far: One with my parents on the 18th, and one at Lou's parents on the 25th. Now I just have to get the last one, the presents from my brother sister-in-law, and then Xmas will be fully over.

If it sounds like a rather laborious way of doing it, it sounds about right. This has been a long & frankly rather tiring Xmas. And now I'm back at work, so it's not getting much better. Ye gods I need some sleep.

Which I'd be getting much more of if we weren't dog-sitting my parent's pet, who snores worse than I do. Hey ho.

So, what did I get?

Well, so far, the highlights (in no particular order) were:

  • Some spending money for our holiday in America last year.

  • Thud, the discworld boardgame - like all good games, it takes five minutes to learn the rules and forever to master them. So far the trolls have won every game. It's addictive.

  • A book of Sudoku puzzles, a game I'd steered clear of successfully up until now. It's a good puzzle scheme, but I don't see the huge attraction. I can already solve the hardest level of puzzle in the book, it just takes more time than the easier ones. My strategy is to do as much of each 3x3 cluster as possible, do all the clusters, and loop until I can't do anything more with clusters. Then move onto rows columns. Then do whatever it takes to work out the rest ;o)

  • All three of the Sinfest books currently available. There's a few strips in there not on the website, too.

  • Numerous natural history DVDs books.

  • A gingerbread house. (Not life-size)

  • Some clothes & miscellaneous other bits pieces, including a present I actually bought for Lou - a SDIO camera that plugs into a PDA. Except it doesn't work with her Tungsten, despite the blurb saying it does, and it does work with my M505. So now I've got it. Not really the way I like to acquire presents!

That pretty much sums it up, I think. Not a bad collection ;o)

Friday, December 23, 2005

DRM and watermarks

I came across a reference talking about watermarking digital content, instead of using DRM.

Essentially, DRM will never work, because data read to be played is indistinguishable from data read to be copied. Worse, it will inconvenience the honest customers so much that pirate version become more appealing - such as being unable to play your legally-bought iTunes music on your legally-bought Xbox, whereas a pirate copy off P2P will work flawlessly.

Of course, there are those in the industry that like it this way: Non-compatible DRM means that you have to buy multiple copies of the same thing: A DVD movie, a PC movie, a PSP movie, etc. But mostly, they use the defence of "Yes, DRM is not perfect, but there's no better solutions, so. . . "

But there is at least one. It's called watermarking. The basic principle is this:

You create an account with (a) digital media supplier(s). An account that verifies exactly who you are, via credit card or national ID card or whatnot.

You then buy your digital content. Only the content has 'invisible' data embedded in it, identifying which account it was sold to.

You can then do anything you like with the content, just as you can with existing media: Rip the DVD movie to your PC, copy it onto your PSP or iPod, play it on your Xbox, whatever. You can even put it on P2P if you want.

But the difference is, when the copyright owner finds out their stuff is being pirated, they can tell exactly who owns the copy originally uploaded. In other words, if you put a copy of the movie online, they will know it was you that put that copy online, and they will come after you.

Of course, it's still not perfect: You might innocently lend your shop-bought DVD to a friend, only for him to rip it upload it without your knowledge. Somebody might steal your account details via phishing or the like.

But it doesn't need to be perfect, because DRM is so imperfect. It's a better system than exists right now: It dissuades casual piracy without preventing legal, fair use of the content you bought. And if somebody does put out a pirate copy, there's at least a place to start an investigation to find the perpetrator, unlike right now, where a cracked DRM scheme gives you nothing.

Farewell, UPS?

My old computer was killed by a power surge. It was dying anyway, so I didn't much care.

But my new PC, lovingly built by my own two hands, I cared a lot more about. So I wanted some surge protection. In fact, a UPS would be nice. . .

So I got one off Ebuyer - it was very cheap as it was very small, but it would give me about 2 minutes of power in the event of a power cut - plenty long enough to save my work and shut down.

And it was all well and good, until I got a mail this morning from ebuyer, telling me that the design was faulty and it was being recalled for safety reasons.

Hey ho.

On the plus side, when I replace it, I'll actually make sure it's one that works easily with Linux, so I can automate the shutdown rather than having to do it manually. But it's annoying nonetheless.

In other news, I was off work ill yesterday (vertigo & nausea, a weird bug going round, only lasts a few hours if you get a good sleep in) and I'm working on switching away from Blogger - not that I have anything against them, just that it'll mean more control and less hassle. Besides, I host my own website so why not host the blogging software on it too?

So once I've sorted out the template to my satisfaction, I'll be switching over to b2evolution for my blogging needs. Probably. I already tried dismissed Moveable Type, WordPress, and one or two others.

Interestingly, b2evolution is a complete multi-user, multi-blog thingy, so I might even host other people's blogs with it. It's interesting to have a play with, anyway. Altho PHP isn't my strong point, so I'm struggling a bit with a few of the formatting things. . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

XMMS lives again!

I got fed up of having no XMMS, so I posted to my local LUG (Linux User Group) mailing list, asking if anybody could suggest ways to find out why XMMS was refusing to start and not even giving an error message.

Back comes the reply: Try using strace

A quick "emerge strace" later, and I take a look at what XMMS gets up to on startup. I then kicked myself for not working it out myself.

XMMS was working for every user account other than me. So it was a file specific to me that was causing the problem, I knew that. But I'd cleared the .xmms directory in my /home and it hadn't helped.

But where else do apps put user-specific files? In /tmp! Duh!

Just as XMMS tried to access the file /tmp/xmms_dominic.0 it locked up. I removed the file, and tried again.

This time, no lockups, no problems: XMMS appeared on my screen. My keyboard controls work flawlessly. GKrellM's XMMSplugin no longer locks it up. Life is good.

And I've discovered a valuable tool. strace is a great little app. . .

Testing, testing. . .

Trying out a new Firefox extension: Performancing

It's a WYSIWYG type editor for creating blog posts, without having to actually log into anywhere first.

So far, so good!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Firefox 1.5

So, I've been using it a while (at work - still hasn't entered Gentoo's stable releases). What do I think of it?

Well, it's been hard work. Probably the single most painful upgrade I've ever done with FF.

Mainly down to extensions, but not entirely. The auto-update didn't seem to work too well, instead I had to manually update a few things. Platypus' current version doesn't work at all with 1.5, I had to get a beta off a mailing list. Themes are doing odd things. etc etc.

I also had to re-create all my Greasemonkey scripts from scratch. However, they're more reliable now, which is a plus. Also, I was able to discard one that never worked too well: a script that stopped links opening a new window. FF 1.5 has an option in the preferences that allows you to specify what should happen if a link wants to open a new window. I disabled it altogether: If I want a link in a new window or tab, I'll do it myself. I don't care where the author wants it to open, it's my browser.

There were a couple of minor issues that I think are Portable Firefox specific - Flash didn't work out of the box, I had to copy it across from my old 1.0 plugins folder. And the splashscreen, pretty tho it was, had to go: I don't want a big advert that I can't hide telling my co-workers I'm opening up non-work software. But that was a simple enough ini file change.

But, after all is said and done, I've now got everything sorted out and working the way I like it again. All functionality is available. So, in most ways, nothing has visibly changed: The page rendering does seem a little quicker, but only because I was looking for it. Certainly going back & forward to pre-rendered pages is far faster as it no longer renders anew each time.

Overall, tho, it's a bit of a let-down. There's really nothing I'm doing with FF 1.5 that I wasn't doing with 1.0. I know lots of behind-the-scenes stuff has changed, and it can do SVG now and all, but really, as far as my typical browsing goes, nothing is any different. I don't mind tinkering much, but I can't help feeling that many less-patient FF'ers will be rather irritated by having to do a lot of work for no apparent benefit.

But having said that, the minor tweaks that are apparent, such as cached rendering and the "new window" link option, do make for a subtly (sp?) nicer browsing experience. They haven't added anything new & different, but numerous things that were old & dodgy are gone.

Overall, then: A slightly arduous upgrade path resulting in a slightly nicer browser. I'm neither impressed nor disappointed.

Had they made it less memory-hungry (It's using 72MB right now) I might have been genuinely impressed, but since both my work & home PC have hundreds of MB free at any given time, I can't honestly say I care too much ;o)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

My achilles heel

I've had two comments in as many days about the same problem.

We all have our little blind spots. I regularly type "keybaord" instead of "keyboard", for instance. That's easy enough to spot & fix.

But my worst problem is one that a spellchecker just can't help: I keep writing "loose" when I mean "lose".

I've had this problem for years. I have no idea why.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Firefox's look

A little summary of what factors vary the look of Firefox in Linux.

Firstly, there's the Firefox theme. This controls the appearance of the buttons and such in the toolbars at the top. Easy to change: Go to the web page and download one that looks nice. There's a "themes" option in the "Tools" menu.

Secondly, there's the GTK theme currently in use. This will mainly affect things like scrollbars and dialogue boxes. You'll need an app like GTK theme switch to change this. If you don't have any nice GTK themes installed, you'll want to visit somewhere like Gnome art

Thirdly, something that can be worth knowing about occasionally: Some parts of the toolbars will not be changed by the two above theme changers, which can leave them looking patchy. To fix this, add a line like the following to your userChrome file:
menubar, toolbox, toolbar, .tabbrowser-tabs {
background-color: #FFFFFF !important;
This example will set the toolbar background to white. Look up hexadecimal colour values if in doubt as to what to replace the FFFFFF value with: They're easy once you get the hang of colours defined as red-green-blue mixes, and you can work in base 16:
Red: FF0000
Yellow: FFFF00
Green: 00FF00
Blue: 0000FF
Black: 000000

Fourthly, there's your window manager's appearance, but that's not really a Firefox issue ;o) But if you are about to try and improve Firefox's look, it's worth remembering
that whatever Firefox may look like, it will still have your WM's window decorations around it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Firefox 1.5 at last!

Platypus still hasn't officially upgraded. But there's an unofficial beta for 1.5 on the mailing list. So I've installed it, and it works.

At long last, I can start checking out 1.5! :o)

More to follow. . .

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Gnome vs. KDE

The never-ending "Gnome vs. KDE" battle flared up again yesterday when Linus Torvalds stated a preference for KDE.

Of course, it was immediately put on Slashdot, so, as Linus once put it, there was a "big public wanking session" about it. There was a lot of misinterpretation very early on, but the actual thrust of his argument, as far as I could tell, was that Gnome has an unfortunate tendency to remove functionality completely in the name of making the interface easier, which of course just leads to a crippled interface. Hence his preference for KDE over Gnome.

I have to say, I've always been puzzled by Gnome. I couldn't see quite where it fit in. If a user wants a lightweight, bloat-free desktop, there are dozens of lightweight WMs that will work better for them than Gnome. If they want a Windows-style, the-GUI-is-everything desktop, KDE is far more impressive. Gnome seemed to have no real niche. I didn't really care enough about the subject to find out any more, but yesterday I found out what Gnome aims to do.

WMs are lightweight and highly customizeable, but you tend to need to configure them yourself to make them useful. KDE can do just about everything out-of-the-box but it's a complex, resource-hungry beast: An out-of-the-box KDE has dozens of items in the menu, and I don't know how many screens of configuration options.

The design philosophy of Gnome appears to be to create a desktop that works out of the box, but without bloating it with lots of confusing functionality. A simple, elegant interface that a total newbie can comfortably use right away, no configuration needed or really even desired.

Now, that's a very, very difficult task. I won't say it's impossibly difficult, but it's outside the reach of most people. It's no surprise that it hasn't achieved it yet, and not unexpected that there's a perception, right or wrong, that there's a tendency to simplify the interface by simply removing functionality instead of making that functionality simple & intuitive. A GUI with the stated goal of removing customizability is at odds with just about every other *nix GUI I know of , so even though it's being removed for the perfectly acceptable reason that they aim to remove the need for it, they've chosen a tough path to follow.

So it seemed an opportune time to mention my experiences with Linux GUIs.

When I was trying to get Lou to switch to Linux, I gave her Ubuntu - Gnome-based. I was disappointed to see that the theme was unchanged from a few years ago when I had Gnome installed as part of Slackware. I know it's shallow, but first impressions count, and the default Gnome theme just looks naff to me. Uninspired icons on a plain grey background. Maybe they aimed for a conservative appearance to appeal to corporate users, I don't know. But a Gnome desktop just doesn't shout out "I'm wonderful, use me!". It's more of a resigned sigh. It's nowhere near as enticing as a default KDE appearance.

If it made up for that by being simple but highly functional, which is the whole aim, it could probably be forgiven. But it wasn't. Simple, yes. But it really didn't do much. Certainly printing was a no-go without doing a CUPS configuration thing. I believe Gnome's lack of printing support was the reason KDE was chosen in a number of corporate environment, in fact. . .

So we switched to Kubuntu, the KDE-based version, to give that a try. Everything worked. Knowing just what a pain setting up CUPS can be, I was genuinely impressed that KDE simply detected her printer & set it up for her. It was slower to load, certainly, but it worked fine when it was up & running, and at the end of the day, it actually did stuff.

So when she switched to FreeBSD, she didn't even bother with Gnome: KDE all the way. Just as well, in many ways. In Linux, you use Alsa for sound. I know how to set that up. I have no idea what BSD uses, or how to set it up. I didn't need to find out, as KDE did it for her. It's a really impressive piece of work, KDE.

I hate it, but it is impressive. :o)

Why do I hate it? The bloat. The sheer amount of crap that fills every menu. The fact you have to do everything the KDE way, via KDE, instead of just doing it your own way. In the same way that an MS Windows machine is always an MS machine, KDE is always KDE. It gets in the way of itself.

Hence the whole "Gnome vs. KDE" has no place in my life: The answer is always "Neither, hate them both." Even the short periods when I use Knoppix grate on my nerves.

But if anybody asks "What desktop should I use?" my answer is "If you need to ask, use KDE." If you don't know enough to pick a GUI, you probably don't know much else about Linux. KDE will get you up & running in spite of it. Gnome won't.

Not yet, anyway. Hopefully they will in future. After all, choice is one of Linux's biggest advantages. If Gnome didn't exist, it would have to be created. There always has to be "Something vs. KDE."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Wikipedia. . .

Well, everybody else is having a say. . .

My stance on Wikipedia is the common one: It's a good place to look for some things, but always bearing in mind it's got many innaccuracies as well.

But one claim that pro-Wikipedia people make I do want to debunk: The claim that Wikipedia is the best system because it uses peer review, an ancient, well-established system.

However, this is not the case: Peer-review isn't used on Wikipedia.


When information is made available for peer review, people look at it, and point out mistakes & omissions. The mistakes are corrected, ommissions filled in, and it gets sent out for review again.

Eventually, with this process, you (ideally) get an article that has had all mistakes found and all blanks filled in. This is a useful article. It's useful, because it's a one-way process: Once a mistake is removed, it doesn't get put back in. Once missing information has been added, it doesn't get removed.

With Wikipedia, the process looses the one-way process that makes peer review work. An article is put up. Somebody sees a problem and changes it. Somebody else doesn't like the change, and reverts the article back to the original.

Because Wikipedia uses a dynamic, two-way process, it never acheives authoritive status: Mistakes can always be, and often are, put back into a corrected article. For instance, one person's experience:

I corrected some howling, stupid, this-will-get-you-a-fail-in-first-year-engineering -exams mistakes in the article on the Joule cycle (gas turbine). My corrections were undone - back to the howling mistakes - within less than an hour.

The collaborative approach works great for things like the Linux kernel: If somebody makes a change, (a) it gets examined by experts before being accepted, and (b) if the change is inappropriate, the kernel breaks. A simple acid test: It works or it doesn't. Just writing isn't enough, it has to be written right

If somebody changes Wikipedia, it gets no expert examination, and it doesn't matter if the change is truth or fiction: You don't have to write accurately, you just have to write.

So whilst I agree that peer review is a good system, that's not relevant, because Wikipedia doesn't use it. Mistakes get introduced as well as eliminated using the Wikipedia approach. If it did use peer-review, if it used a one-way review system done by experts, Wikipedia would become authoritive. So long as it uses the current, anybody can change anything system, it never will. It will even drive away the experts so vital to peer review: Why would, for instance, an expert on evolution waste time writing useful documentation if it keeps getting erased by creationists? And vice versa, of course. . .

Maybe somebody should fork Wikipedia, and create "Wikipeerdia", a wiki where changes are only accepted after they get properly reviewed. Might be interesting. . .

Friday, December 09, 2005

You can't make this up

I got an email today, about a metaphor I used in explaining that Linux is different to Windows. I said that it's like cars being different to motorbikes: Just because they are both road vehicles, doesn't mean you should expect the same controls; so just because Linux & Windows are both an OS, doesn't mean you should expect the same interface. And so on.

As a parallel for Linux having no need of an antivirus, while you shouldn't use Windows without one, I pointed out how an airbag was an important safety feature for a car, but you wouldn't find one on a bike.

Silly me.

But it's for a Goldwing, and that's more of a car on two wheels than it's a motorbike. So I think the analogy still stands ;o)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

MP3s & theft

Something I'd just like to clarify, mainly because I want to link a webpage or two to this post.

Copying or downloading an MP3 is not theft. Not by any legal definition is it theft. No matter where you stand on the whole morality-of-music-downloading issue, MP3 piracy does not involve theft.

Theft is defined as taking an item of property away with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of it. Some people think that the definition of theft is something like "The obtaining of property without paying for it." This is because, when dealing with real property, they amount to the same thing: Shoplifting a CD means that I have it and the shop doesn't: I have gained it, they have lost it. The difference is trivial, except when it comes to intellectual property (IP).

If you copy an MP3, which is IP, you create a new MP3. Although you have obtained this piece of property without paying for it, you have not stolen it, because the original owner still has it. He has not been deprived. You have committed copyright infringement, not theft.

The difference is important: Walk into a shop & put a music album in your pocket, you'll get a slapped wrist and banned from the store. This is theft.

Sit at home & download an MP3, and you could face a fine of thousands, the confiscation of all your computing equipment, and a lengthy stay in jail. That's copyright infringement for you.

The word "Theft" is used by the media industries because it's a concept that is accepted by society as unacceptable. "He stole our music" will get an instant, negative reaction. "He infringed on our copyright" evokes no such response. It's used emotively, not legally, to try and maintain a high level of societal dissapproval of downloading music without paying for it.

But it is not theft. Period.

How much is "free" worth?

It struck me the other day that the GP2X would be a perfect case study to illustrate the advantages that free software has over the proprietary brigade.

Consider the PSP: A proprietary handheld that will only play proprietary games unless you downgrade the firmware, and encourages you to buy new (proprietary) copies of movies for it rather than ripping them from DVDs you already own. They've gone out of their way to make it hard to use it without paying money first.

Then look at the GP2X. A few (three?) people in Korea created it. They got an OS that could handle multiple CPUs for free (plus a little development work); they got players for all common media formats, both sound and video, for free (plus a little development work). They released it with little more than those basic media playing capabilities: No bundles of commercial games or anything, just an assurance that "There will be lots of games soon, honest".

If the PSP had been released without any games available, how many units would have sold?

But the demand for the GP2X has been far greater than the supply. People are ordering it months in advance, and it hasn't even been officially released yet. The firmware is still buggy & prone to crashes, and nobody considers this to be any real problem. But the Xbox 360 also has teething troubles and lawsuits are already underway.

And the lack of games for the Gp2x? Well, that's being fixed: There are hundreds of devs out there, working (for free) to provide games to Gp2x owners (for free). Heck, Quake was ported to the Gp2x before even the first buyers got their hands on one!

The manual for the Gp2x, as I mentioned before, is a waste of paper - if it weren't in the box, you'd be no worse off. Are people complaining to GPH about it? Nope, instead they're just writing a new manual for them, and making it available for free online.

I wanted to watch movies on my Gp2x. There was no documentation anywhere to tell me how to get a DVD movie transferred using free Linux tools. So I wrote one. Somebody else had already written one for Windows. So there's multiple guides out there, with screenshots & example transcodings, being hosted entirely without cost to GPH. (My bandwidth usage has quadrupled since putting the guide up, btw)

The default skin isn't that pretty. New themes are popping up all over the place - I'm working on one or two myself.

In short: GPH put some fairly generic hardware together to make a rather cool toy. They gave it full multimedia capabilities for virtually no cost by using free software. They released it to the community with no games and lousy documentation.

The community has since been working furiously to create cool games, attractive new looks, and top-notch documentation, all of which enhance greatly the value of the Gp2x at absolutely no cost to GPH. GPH didn't need to make software, there's a huge community happy to do it for them.

With the huge advantages they've accrued by using free software, the mind simply boggles that there are people out there who say that only anti-capitalist idealists support the idea of non-proprietary software. If the Gp2x had been locked down & proprietary, it would never have sold so well. In fact, it would probably never have been released: Without the free software OS & apps, they'd have had to buy or create their own. That's not cheap, not by any standard.

Instead of making the front page of Slashdot, a proprietary Gp2X would have sunk without a trance. "It's buggy," people would have said, "it's expensive, it's got no games, the manual is lousy. . . why would anyone want it?"

Apple's understood this for years: Sell hardware, and the software is just icing on the cake. If you want to ditch OS X and put Linux on an Apple, that's fine by them: It doesn't cost them a cent. Contrast that with ditching MS Windows and replacing it with Linux. That hits MS right in the pocket.

Red Hat's understood it for years: Sell support for software proverbial (right or wrong) for being hard to use, and who cares that the software was free? MS sells software once, and then has to convince its customers that the old version sucks & needs replacing every time they release an upgrade. Red Hat customers pay nothing for the software, but gets money every time the customer needs help no matter what version of the software they happen to be running.

IBM's learning just how much money they can get out of free software. Sun's getting there too.

Considering how eager Microsoft is to make the Xbox a complete home media solution, maybe they're just beginning to understand it as well?

Of course, they'll be better off if/when my last post is proven to be true: Right now, you can't play legally-bought iTunes on a legally-bought Xbox because they use incompatible DRM. Who knows, maybe MS will wind up being big champions of anti-DRM music if it become a big enough barrier to their success. . .

Where does the music money go?

Interesting quote on the Register today:

". . . composers and songwriters currently earn around 5p from the sale of a download. . . In contrast, record companies keep 40-50p from the same sale. . . "

So, if artists bypassed the music industry & published via web technologies, they'd only have to sell a tenth the amount to make the same amount of profit as they do from the current system.

And people wonder why the industry is so utterly terrified and desperate to legislate web publishing out of existence?

They'll manage OK for a while, I reckon - too many people are too used to the current business model. But when one, just one, artist goes from obscurity to superstardom on his/her own by making his/her music freely available on the Net. . . that's when everyone will know the music industry is redundant. Until then, it's all hypothetical "It could work like this" from a bunch of pirating geeks (that's the public perception).

Once it's clearly demonstrated, tho, it's all over. Anybody can publish online with potential for mass exposure; record contracts from the industry are much harder to get and you loose nine-tenths of the profit. Hardly a sane choice. So the music industry dies, and DRM will largely go with it.

There have already been small examples of the phenomenon, like Fitness to Practice, which owes most of its sales to the free distribution of some of its songs, like London Underground. But no huge music sensations have reached the public eye using the same model. Once they start, free MP3 trading will be how the industry works, instead of what they want to destroy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A rant

I went to collect some mail from the Post Office today - another Xmas present crossed off the list!

On the way, a car in front of me (I drove) wanted to turn right (Remember, we drive on the left here). He indicated, stopped & waited for the road to clear.

A car coming the other way stopped & flashed his lights to give way.

Very salutary, you might think.

Well, it might have been, if not for the fact that the road behind this jerk was completely empty. Not a single car in sight. Had he continued along his way, he'd actually have been out of the way in less time than it took to slow down, stop, and give way. He accomplished nothing, therefore, but inconveniencing the person he thought he was helping.

I've seen this kind of thing many times, and it always makes me wonder. Why? I mean, what is going through these people's heads? Are they utterly unaware of their surroundings? Are they attention-fiends who get a kick out of being thanked? What is the motive here?

The most annoying one I remember was when I was behind a car, and there was another car behind me. We were the only traffic visible in either direction. And there was an articulated lorry waiting to pull out onto the street.

And the prat in front braked to let him out. It was so unexpected the two of us behind him had to pretty much emergency brake to avoid an accident - luckily we'd both left a safe gap between cars.

No other cars in either direction, remember. The lorry driver had trouble getting out, because he needed to swing to his left to get around to the right, and of course we were on his left. So he took far longer getting out than he would have had we not been there. And then all three of us were stuck behind him as he slowly drove the damn great vehicle along the narrow, windy road.

And you could just feel the smug "I did my good deed for the day" feeling radiating from the bloke in front of me. He inconvenienced two car drivers and one lorry driver, all of whom would have been better off if he'd just kept going instead of slamming on the brakes.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against letting people out of side roads and the like in heavy traffic. I do it myself, and am grateful when others do it for me. But when they do it on empty roads. . . it really pisses me off. "Inconsiderate consideration" - people being helpful when there's absolutely no need for them to do so. Either they've got no idea what the traffic around them is doing - in which case they're idiots; or they react unthinkingly - in which case they're idiots; or they love that little wave of appreciation so much that they try to earn it even when their help is neither needed nor wanted. In which case, they're idiots. And when it's me they do their pointless 'helpful' routine to, they're disappointed idiots as well.

They might get a hand gesture, but it won't be a wave of thanks.

And yes, I'm very, very bored here at work today.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It's about time

Over the last few weeks, Microsoft has really been putting in the pressure to get MA to turn from Open Document - all kinds of political chicanery, and opening their format up still further (altho still will some potential barbs in it).

Naturally, the naysayers (/. readers ;o) have leapt on all this, with the "ODF was doomed before it even began", "MS will never let ODF get into government" and the like. The opinion was that there was too much money on MS's side for them to loose.

Of course, the more thoughtful individual would have been struck by the thought "Hang on. Sun, IBM, and dozens of other big names are all backing ODF. It could be the only chance for them to break MS's stranglehold on the desktop. What about all their money & influence?"

It's starting to show: IBM have begun to make their play, and various onlookers believe this has just put ODF back onto at least an even footing with MS.

And in unrelated news (?) Gentoo finally put OpenOffice2.0 into Stable, so I'm now running the version that supports ODF on my home PC. Haven't given it much of a test-out yet, but I'll get to it. I keep meaning to take a look at Abiword as well, which is a much more lightweight (ODF-supporting) word processor. . .

Oh, and the NY Times is reporting about how even professional musicians (the guys the RIAA claims it's acting in the interests of) are anti-DRM, as it makes it harder for people to hear their stuff, so they won't buy the albums. It also begs a question I referred to in an earlier post: Why would anyone want to pay for DRM-crippled CDs when you can download a non-cripple for free?


So I saw a skin for the GP2X I rather liked in a forum post, and since I'm not overly fond of the naff orange creation of GPH, I figured I'd go for it :o)

So I found out how to actually change skin courtesy of MyGP2X and did a download. Then I ran the install, and the screen went blank for a few seconds, and then. . .

Then. . !

Then I realized I'd muddled up names and downloaded the wrong skin: I've installed a Windows XP-style skin!

Argh! I don't even have the XP theme on my XP computer! And now it's on my Linux-running GP2X? Surely this is heresy!? :o)

Ah well, never mind. It's still a much nicer skin than the default one. It's much less orange, for starters. I'll install the one I wanted, Pulsar, when I get home - I don't have rar capabilities at work!

This is what I wrote about interlacing

TV screens work by drawing every odd line of an image, then every even line, then every odd line, and so on. As a simple example, consider a simple 3-frame animation showing a face moving across the square. What you want is something like this:


But what your TV shows you is something more like this:

TV animation

Every other line, you see. The awkward thing is, of course, that superimposing one image on the other doesn't give you the proper image, so your computer has to do some clever things behind the scenes, to turn this:

Interlaced image

into this:

Interlaced image

It's all go!

The most visited article on my entire site, by far, is Linux!=Windows. I originally posted it under a non-derivative CC license: It could be copied, but not altered.

Then I had one or two mails asking for permission to translate, which of course is a fairly hefty alteration. So I switched it to a derivative-permitting CC instead.

As a result, it appears to have started doing the rounds in China, courtesy of one of the translators. I know it's getting quite a lot of exposure, because (a) it still sources the images from my website so I get hits in my access stats every time a Chinese translation is viewed, and (b) it's made it to the front page of the Chinese Ubuntu web page, and that's a pretty busy distro.

At the same time, I finally figured out why the page wasn't fulfilling W3C standards: Since I'd written the HTML myself, by hand, it shouldn't have had any major problems, and yet it was giving dozens of unhelpful errors. Even using NVU, a Free WYSIWYG editor that generates W3C-compliant HTML, the errors didn't go away.

It was all down to a single failure, tho: I hadn't supplied alternate text for my images. I fixed this, and am now making my way thru the rest of the pages to sort them out. I may even get some time at work to have a go at a few, courtesy of Portable NVU, from the same source as the other Portable Apps I use. . .

And lastly, I made some updates to my DVD-ripping guide for the GP2X: I replaced the full-sized screenshots with click-to-enlarge half-sized shots; and I illustrated what Interlacing is and why it causes problems.

Lou read it late last night when she was half-asleep, and she understood it, so I'm fairly confident it does the job ;o)

Now I just have to clear up the whole sound-out-of-synch thing, and it'll be pretty much done!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Still no Firefox upgrade

So I've got FF 1.5 RC3 installed, and all my extensions are now supposed to work.

"supposed" being the operative word. Greasemonkey and adblock don't want to know.

In fact, they do still work. However, GM's Platypus-generated scripts don't work, and I can't re-generate them because nothing happens when I tell Platypus to Save.

And Adblock still works, but I can't block new images by right-clicking, as it won't bring up a dialogue box. Plus, instead of hiding the image, it gives me the "image not found" icon instead.

So, a lot better than last time I checked, but still not useable for me. I'll give it another try some other time.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A first draft

I've started work on some GP2X documentation: A guide to ripping DVDs to it

It's not finished yet - the audio is out of sync on the example clips I supply, and I'll thumbnail the images for legibility, plus I need to add a bit more actual content. . . but there's enough to get you started, at least.

Always looking for feedback, so do leave a comment if you take a look! ;o)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Early thoughts on my GP2X

So, I've had it a week or so, what do I think of it so far?

Well, let's start with the top four dislikes:

  1. There are horrible rubber covers over the EXT port, power socket, USB port, and headphone socket. They're flimsy, hard to put back into place, and generally horrible. They look nice & neat, but they're horrible to actually use. The headphone one is already breaking, and only the fact that I have very little use for the others keeps me from just ripping them out. Any solution would have been better than this rubbery nonsense, even the "no cover at all" option.
  2. The firmware is buggy. Now, this isn't something I have a problem with: I knew it would be, the GP2X doesn't get officially released until next year and the firmware will need upgrading. However, it's been an annoyance, so I'm listing it here anyway. Specifically, the SD card reader is rubbish (Had to use my Palm to format it because nothing else worked), and writing to the SD card over USB is rubbish. This means I've only gained full use of my GP2X thanks to Craigx, who kindly supplied a free SD writer! Obviously, this will be fixed when the firmware gets upgraded.
  3. Socket placement: The headphone socket & power socket should be swapped around. Realistically, if I'm listening to music on headphones, the GP2X will be in a pocket, where the side will be topmost. And if I'm playing a game or movie that's long enough to need a power supply instead of batteries, having it plugged in at the side will get in the way, while the top (or bottom) wouldn't.
  4. The manual is useless. That's all there is to it. I gather there's a user-made one out, I'll check it when I get a minute.

Now then: Top four likes:

  1. Movies. I've been really impressed with movies. Using DVD::Rip, it's been easy to get movies ripped from DVD to .avi. Sadly, Xvid doesn't seem to work too well yet, but Divx5 works great. Set the screen size to 320x240, bitrate to 300, sound to quality 2, and you get superb quality at about 3MB per minute of movie. I daresay some movies would benefit from higher quality, but so far 300 is good enough for some music videos and Wallace & Gromit :o)
  2. Music is pretty good just using the built-in speakers, to my surprise. And the screen's easy to turn off to save power.
  3. New games are coming out literally faster than I can keep track of them. And I got Quake 1 working flawlessly first try (although it is a bit slow at the moment) - making it finally worthwhile owning the Quake 1 CD :o)
  4. It looks cool :o)

All things considered, when the firmware is all debugged and the homebrew scene has had a bit more time, I reckon the GP2X will be truly superb.

In the meantime, I'll just have to make do with dozens of movies, hundreds of songs, and the vast number of games already available ;o)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Cross-distro packages

There's an article on about autopackage. I don't agree with numerous aspects of what they say, but their end goal is one that more Linux, BSD, and any other *Nix users might want to think about.

I first came across Autopackage in a reference in a Linux magazine. They explained the challenges of supplying software on a disc on the front cover for Linux users with the multitude of package managers: Do they supply RPM, .deb, .tgz, source code, or all of them?

And when you think about it, it's a tough one: Source code is universal, but it's slow and a bit of a black art to have the compiled product be installed so your package manager will know about it. You could supply a compiled, self-contained binary that you can even run off the CD, but then you hit architecture worries.

I suppose that as broadband becomes ever faster and more widespread, we'll just stop bothering with disks on the cover. But at present, it's sometimes nice to be able to just run some fun new software off a CD. A system that makes that easily possible, across all distros & hardware architectures, would certainly be useful.

Of course, just writing the apps in a cross-platform language like Python would solve the problem as well, but I don't think the world is ready for KDE written in Python ;o)