Archive for the 'Open Source' Category

Busy Saturday

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

Let’s see if we can make this quick, starting with re-using my 5th Blogiversary bullet:

I was trying to run a boot-from-disk Linux distro on the computer I keep in the garage, and got this on the screen.

“Ok, booding dhe kebnel.” I thought the computer might be drunk …

Actually, it’s probably a corrupted RAM chip. I haven’t used the thing since last spring, so anything can happen with the temperature extremes we have around here. I’m sure I’ve got some suitable spare chips around here somewhere — what kind of geek would I be if I didn’t? — but they weren’t in any of my garage stashes, so I blew it off for tonight.

Anyway: “Gelcome do dhe KNO@@IH life Lineh-on-CD!” Click here for an easier-to-read view.

The reason I was trying to use the outside computer is that it was unseasonably warm today, probably close to 80F, and at least 20 degrees higher than the high yesterday. I finished raking the leaves in the back yard as my exercise (since my tendonitis was killing me from the fitness center treadmill yesterday). After I was done, it was still so nice out that I decided to sort out some of our (my wife’s) endless boxes of Christmas stuff in the garage so we could actually WALK out there, what a concept.

And by the time I was finished with that, the ABC News/Facebook debate was in full swing on TV and Thistle and Shamrock was starting on NPR, and since it was still a nice night and all that was still not enough stimulation (not that I have raging ADD or anything), I decided to boot up my “live” Knoppix games disk, since unlike some other distros I’ve got (like Ubuntu) it would work well on the 256 megs of RAM on the garage PC.

But alas, it was not to be.

Molly & Bristol “helped” me rake the leaves, and I got to show them off when a guy down the alley brought down his little girl who had begged him to take her down to see the two barking dogs. As a bonus, I also got some footage of Bristol bouncing like he’s spring-loaded as they were walking toward the yard, and it might be enough to make it worth editing a little and posting to YouTube. That new little Olympus of ours can do amazing video, as long as there’s enough light.

About 10 tonight we heard a police siren give a couple of blasts, like somebody was being pulled over, and it sounded very close. Then Molly started barking at the front door so I thought I’d check it out.

There was a fire truck, all its lights flashing, in the middle of the street in front of our house, an ambulance in front of it, and cop cars both in front of and behind those. Cars on both sides were forced to turn around and go back down the street from when they came.

It turns out that all the action was focused on the house to the east of ours, the family from Mexico. We never did figure out what was going on, but I’m going to ask around on our community bulletin board, because you just know there’s always got to be a Nosey Nellie monitoring the police scanner to be up on all the juicy goings-on.

Don’t you just love the Internet.

And finally some sad news today: I’m always mentioning the World’s Greatest Dentist, Dr. Mary; today her mother-in-law passed away. My wife was taking the news hard since her dad and Dr. Mary’s husband’s dad were friends from way back, and the families new each other well.

Sorry to end the day on a bummer note, people, but sometimes that happens.

Quick “Lost”

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Just one thing tonight, but it’s Lost related, and it’s a biggie:

For those of you (including me) who still have tons of questions about all the hundreds of little details that intertwine in the Lost universe, spend some time wading through the Lostpedia, an open-source wiki dedicated to Our Favorite Show.

For instance, if you’re curious as to what The People With No Lives have deduced about Radzinsky, the mysterious former hatch partner of Desmond’s former hatch partner, or the various fake Dharma orientation films floating around, or, perhaps more to the point, all the little pies that the omnipresent Charles Widmore and his family have their fingers in, you now know where to turn.

And if, like some of my co-workers, you missed last night’s finale, you can get a way-too-indepth retelling off the events, of this episode and all others.

You’re welcome.

Mash Break …

Friday, February 3rd, 2006

Okay. you’re probably tired of hearing me whine about my upcoming you-know-what, so here’s some fun stuff:

A couple of months ago I mentioned the Wired cover story about how the dominant art forms of this decade are the mashup and the remix.

An emerging subcategory of this recycling trend is the mashup movie trailer: Taking scenes from a movie, and editing them into a trailer for an entirely different genre.

The studios practically do this anyway, trying to target different markets. A few years ago I saw some commercials for Brendan Fraser’s George of the Jungle, and they were definitely created to appeal to juvenile audiences, with lots of slapstick violence (George slamming into trees) and a talking orangutan.

The next week, though, the commercials were different: Suddenly they were focusing on the movie’s love story, with lushly orchestrated scenes of George enjoying spending time , on majestic hillsides and in horse-drawn carriages, with his newfound lady friend.

The cute animals and the swinging on vines were nowhere to be seen.

The same thing happened with Jerry Maguire: Half the ads pitched it as a macho sports movie, the other half as a heartwarming romance.

It took me a while to realize they were for the same film.

But now, with advanced video editing tools, lots of people are taking the idea and using it for their own amusement.

Check out some of these recent movie skewings:

West Side Story and Titanic scenes repurposed to make zombie/horror trailers (the Titanic link is at the bottom of the article).

The Shining as a Nora Ephron trailer

And on the subject of Nora Ephron, here’s Sleepless in Seattle edited into a trailer to look like a supernatural thriller.

And here’s the latest: Brokeback to the Future.

Lots more mashups of all types can be found here

The New Lego Army

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

I usually take my time reading new issues of Wired, to make the last all month, but as sick as I am, all bets are off.

The cover story is about Lego’s second generation of their Mindstorm project, and how they’re using hobbyists as the design team.

In case you’re not familiar: Mindstorms is Lego’s programmable robotics kit, first released in 1998. The core of the bot is a big yellow “brick”, which included an 8-bit processor that the users could program through line commands on their PC’s. The kits include touch and visual sensors.

The new models will have a sleeker brick (it’s closer to an iPod), 32-bit processors, and sensors for sound (for voice commands) and ultrasonic waves.

The big news, though, is that almost from the beginning of the original kit, the executives at Lego have proved that they’re smarter than the RIAA and MPAA combined: The Danish company has encouraged users to hack the software and help develop innovations.

Propietary systems are circling the drain; open-source development is the new viable business model.

So check out the article, it’s pretty inspiring.

Handheld for the People

Saturday, January 7th, 2006

There’s no shortage of portable game devices these days: The PSP and Nintendo DS, plus the new generation of multi-purpose phones, PDA’s and music players.

But the new issue of Wired mentions the new GP2X, a $180 Korean handheld that also plays other media files (like music, video, photo and e-book). What makes this new device special is the fact that it runs on Linux and it completely open-source.

It also supports a variety of emulators to let users run games originally meant to run on other platforms.

The GP2X is a big change from the regular game racket, where the devices play only the overpriced games that are sanctioned by the manufacturer, and any deviation from this profitable norm is highly discouraged.

For instance, there have been emulators written for the PSP which allow it to run old Mario games and others, but Sony, which lately has been building quite a reputation for treating its customers with contempt, released a firmware “upgrade” that prevents the emulators from running. Users with older models can reverse the upgrade, but there have been reports that some Sony games have the ability to restore the upgrade to lock out the emulators.

Gaming industry expert Jeremy Parish was quoted as saying, “Sony is determined to cripple the PSP end-user experience at every opportunity. It only reads a limited selection of music formats, (user-created) video can’t run at the system’s native resolution, and now the company is obsessed with quashing home-brew development. It’s a shame, because the PSP would be so much more compelling if the company would let it live up to its true potential.”

That’s why the GP2X is such a great idea: It not only lets you play homebrew games (in addition to the ones that were professionally programmed), it also allows programmers — and you — the freedom to innovate: according to the Wired article, the device ships with a software development kit.

Our culture is coming to a technology crossroads: We have the ability to create and enjoy media in so many ways, but the entertainment industry and their lapdogs in the government keep trying to lock us into proprietary file formats and playback-crippling “Digital Rights Management” schemes.

That’s why supporting open-source projects like Linux and the GP2X may be our last hope for the future of entertainment.

For more info on the GP2X:

The Wikipedia article on GP2X.

Reviews of the GP2X on Engadget,, and Gizmodo.

GP2X Emulation News.

Recovery Effort, continued

Saturday, September 3rd, 2005

In almost three years of blogging, I don’t think I’ve post as much about any current event as I have about the recovery process of Hurricane Katrina.

I guess I’m just fascinated by seeing what happens when the normal trappings of civilization that we take for granted — food, electricity, water, communications — are knockedout from under us.

I haven’t heard any of the news outlets admit this, so I’ll just say it: This is a bigger story than the World Trade Center attacks (or as the politicians mindlessly call it, “9-11”).

I suppose it could be argued that New York is the most important city in the entire universe, and therefore anything that happens there is infinitley more important than whatever it is that happens anywhere else.

That of course is rubbish. The WTC attacks had a bigger death toll — initially, at least — and obliterated a landmark, but the flooding from Katrina has emptied out an entire major city, and total rebuilding and recovery could take decades. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are on the move, probably more than ever before in American history. A huge chunk of a state’s population has been displaced to other states, and a lot of them might not be coming back. A major port is shut down for several weeks. Places of employment, and thus jobs, have been wiped out.

Sure, there might not be any country western songs or patriotic bumper stickers or invasions to come out of this disaster, and it won’t result in you and I being treated in an even more humiliating manner in airports, but the stumbling early response could easily hurt the Republican Party, especially in 2008, which would be a shame if they actually nominate somebody good.

It could be that the destruction of New Orleans could be one of the two biggest stories of my lifetime, right up there with the fall of Communism.

Anyway, here are some things I’ve run across:

Information is one of the most valuable commodities in a crisis like this, but with local New Orleans media and infrastructure devastated, the area radio stations have banded together to form the United Rado Broadcasters of New Orleans, pooling what few resources are left to get information to people still in the area.

You can listen to live streaming audio of this barebones emergency network.

This is an opportunity unique to the Internet Age, that you and I can eavesdrop, unfiltered by the national news media, on the survival process inside a disaster area.

Also: Geraldo Rivera reported on Fox News that there is a group of Vietnamese evacuees at the Super Dome who are not only waiting patiently — they’re insisting that everyone else be evacuated before them, because they don’t want to “get in the way”.

Wow. That kind of patience and selflessness is rare these days. Fox interviewed another woman (Caucasian, for the record) who complained of being treated like an animal, because her husband was one of thousands of patients moved to a safer location and nobody took the time out from saving lives to come personally tell her about it.

Also: The Humane Society has launched an effort to help pets left homeless by the hurricane, so please visit the site and help out if you can.

Also: (You’ve noticed that I’m using “also” instead of bullet points, because I can’t find a suitable graphic …) The New Orleans LA post-Katrina Intel Dissemination Wiki has been set up as a central clearinghouse of information about the evacuation and rebuilding efforts.

Also: Fats Domino and Irma Thomas have been found, alive and well. Domino, 77, had been stranded in his home in the flodded 9th Ward; Thomas (who is probably best known as the person who recorded “Time is on My Side” before the Stones), had escaped the flooding to stay with relatives.

As for Allen Touissant, he’s still stuck at the Superdome.

The Big Un-Easy

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

I’m not one of those bloggers who feels compelled to comment on every big news event that comes along — with everyone else putting in their two cents, most of what I say would be redundant — but there are a few notes I feel compelled to list here:

The Wife and I both visited New Orleans in the late 80s — separately, we hadn’t met yet — and neither of us were impressed. But I had also been there at Christmas when I was 16, and again the next summer when I was 17, and I remember that as a wonderful time. I was visiting cousins in a suburban housing development, and we hit the French Quarter a few times. This was the first time I had spent any time in a city bigger than Lubbock, and this was the tail-end of the hippie era, so my small-town brain was overwhelmed.

Upon my return as an adult, of course, none of this was new to me, so I was just bored and a bit put-off by the smell.

But I’ll always have the Cafe du Monde in ’71.

Anyway, I’ve recently mentioned Wikipedia’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina, now check out the updated listing on New Orleans (“This article documents a current event. Information may change rapidly as the event progresses.”), and Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. These articles serve as a central repository for all the information available, something you won’t find on the news sites.

Also: Offers for aid and free temporary housing on Craiglist; Ryan Youtz has registered the domain name, and is auctioning it off on Ebay to donate the proceeds to hurricane relief; Mission Fish‘s centralized Katrina relief page; and lots and lots of satellite photos of the hurricane and its aftermath.

A couple more: A blogger is somehow still operating inside New Orleans, reporting on the looting, devastation, and glacial recovery efforts, and a proposal to turn the Astrodome — a major refuge center for those fleeing New Orleans — into a telecommunications hub to help the victims try to get their lives back in order.

More Photo Notes

Monday, August 29th, 2005

More notes about Flickr, and the new Flickr wanna-be:

Just to prove that you can never tell what is going to pop up on Flickr then take off like a forest fire: Tony the Newsagent. And see the photo that started it all here.

Photos of the Human Cannonball fired from Mexico into the U.S.

People Unclear on the Concept: 13,000+ photos from people who are so unclear on the concept of tags that their photos show up under the category of “With”.

How did that happen? Simple: They wrote descriptions of the photos in the Tag field, with no quote marks (example: Grandma with the kids, or Still life with apple). The result is that each word becomes a tag.

Can’t get enough? Here are another 10,000+ that various Einsteins have tagged with “For”.

And finally: Pamibe informs us that Slide — the would-be Flickr competitor from the folks who brought us Paypal — is now up and running, and taking memberships without requiring an invitation. (Although they sent me one anyway, two hours after I signed up.)

So far I’m not overly impressed, even though I saw some really cool stuff that other people had submitted. The problem is that, unlike Flickr, where you upload whatever you want to onto a central location, with Slide you download software and assign “channels”. You then “subscribe” to other people’s channels, and have them running in a vertical slideshow (thus the name?) on the edge of your desktop.

The problem is that the software scans your computer for photos to get you started; this is mainly a problem in that I’m never quite sure what the program is sharing with the world without me being fully aware of it — like scanned-in business records, for starters.

Another hitch is that I couldn’t find any way to search for other people, like Pam, for instance. (Although they might have added that feature by now.)

For the moment, I’ve disabled the program at startup until I can peruse the fine print in the instructions.

My first impression, though, is that this will obsess the techno-hipsters for a few weeks, exploring new “hacks” to do nifty tricks with this new toy, then the excitement will die down before Normal People can figure out how to get the most out of it.

But first let’s see if I get myself hooked on it …

Follow-Up: Open Source Media

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

I had good response to the previous post, so here are some follow-up items:

ILuvNUFC at Look at This didn’t like the official coverage of the Newcastle Tall Ships race earlier this year, so he became a reporter and posted his own coverage, plus a gallery of photos on Flickr.

It’s hard to imagine how “professionals” could have done it any better.

Pamibe tells us of Slide, a new Flickr-type photo-sharing service by one of the founders of Paypal.

The URL is, but I didn’t link it here because, for now, it’s by invitation only. I emailed them to attempt admission, but I’m not hopeful. (Hey Pam, got a spare invite you could toss my way? Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh?)

Next: More proof that Joe Averagecitizen is poised to supplant the Old Media operatives can be found in coverage of recent flooding (Wikipedia, Flickr) and “Camp Casey” (Wikipedia, Flickr).

One more thing: If I could have limited a post to just talking about the hurricane, I could have used a punny, 80’s-music-referencing title like “Katrina and the (28-foot) Waves” or “(Not) Walking on Sunshine”.

Oh well, maybe it’s for the best.

The People’s Media

Saturday, August 27th, 2005

Blogs have been touted as the new “Media” to replace the newpaper-and-TV news monolith — but they’re really not. When bloggers “report” on the latest events, they’re just thousands of disconnected, babbling voices; you can land on them one at a time, but you have no idea if they have actual insight (e.g., live near the scene of the event, or have expertise in the field), or if they’re just spouting off to make themselves feel big.

A clearer picture of the REAL New Media has been emerging the past few months with the ascendancy of two “open source” media outlets: Wikipedia and Flickr.

For a great example, look at the coverage for the still-unfolding Hurricane Katrina: On Wikipedia , people can furnish updates as they happen, without being filtered through several layers of editors; the readers serve up any necessary swat-down a particular post might require. You can even view the article’s History page to see everything that has been changed in the 27 hours since coverage started.

As for Flickr, every area resident with a camera becomes a photojournalist. Instead of waiting a week for ten or twenty pictures in Newsweek, you can now get hundreds of shots while they’re still hot.

For another example — and one of the first, best uses of both of these new tools for reporting —
see last month’s coverage of the London subway bombings on Flickr and Wikipedia.

So remember, next time something big happens close to you: You’re a reporter.

Get to work.