happy halloween!

It’s Halloween! :D  Halloween and Christmas are the only two holidays that I really get into.  I love it.  I especially love Autumn as well.  Good times.  I went out last night and bought another $30 worth of candy to give out.  I always get the good stuff, too, like Snickers and Reese’s.  I remember what it was like being a kid and getting stiffed with yet another Tootsie Roll or sack of pennies.  I tell you what.

I also found this movie at the store last night, which I’ve never heard of.  It was made by Rankin-Bass, and I thought I already had all their stuff (though I quite honestly never checked), but it’s bound to be good since all their other stuff is great.

Aside from that, I’m gonna try and watch Something Wicked This Way Comes tonight.  Haven’t seen that one in a long time, either.  In fact, it’s still shrinkwrapped from when I bought it.

Anyway, have a happy Halloween everyone!  Give out some good candy, too. :)

reboot on kernel panic

I don’t remember how I found this, but I’ll pass it along.  One thing you can add when booting your kernel is panic=<integer> to tell the kernel to reboot the system if it hits a kernel panic, after <integer> number of seconds.

It comes in pretty handy for me when dealing with booting over the network, and I forgot to setup my DHCP or TFTP or kernel incorrectly… gives you a chance to fix it in the rebooting interim if its something minor.

Of course, you probably wouldn’t want that on your kernel boot by default, since it could get stuck in a reboot loop if you really screwed something up.


I added x11-themes/pidgin-smileys to the tree this morning, for those of you who like me are on a LOL graphical fix. I can’t recommend the TrillyPro theme enough. (woot)

Anyway, I dumped a few of them that were annoying me (though not necessarily ugly, though I could have done that too) because they were packaged improperly or something else. If you’ve got issues, just poke me somehow or bug me on IRC or just file a bug on Gentoo’s bugzilla. I can always add more themes, if you manage to find some that are even more distasteful than some of the ones in there.

One thing that took me a bit to figure out (and isn’t documented anywhere on Pidgin’s website, naturally … ) is that Gaim and Pidgin install themes in different places. For gaim it was in /usr/share/pixmaps/smileys, and for Pidgin it’s in /usr/share/pidgin/emotes.

Enjoy your happy graphical buddies. (bounce) :)

hacking democracy

I just watched the coolest documentary, Hacking Democracy, which tells the story nicely of Black Box Voting. It’s a great movie, and I highly recommend watching it. I thought that I was watching the news closely on the insanity of the computerized election voting drama, but I had no idea that the citizens group had done so much and found so much damning evidence.

It’s amazing all the stuff they find out, a lot of it through dumpster diving, and a large part through a very small few election officials where are actually willing to look into the situation. What’s really interesting is how much nobody wants to really look into the flaws. They are stonewalled at every turn in their investigations, and when they do find tampering, the county or state doesn’t pursue the matter diligently … or they do, with equally flimsy policy that can’t be scrutinized.

One thing I didn’t like much about the film is they didn’t dive into the technical aspects of it very much. From an experienced programmer’s point of view, my opinion is that the system is flawed from the start because of at least one very basic fact — Diebold’s software uses Microsoft Access to store the results. Anyone who has used any type of databases know that Access is designed for nothing more than hobby use, and should never be used in any kind of production environment where data integrity or security is in any amount necessary. That alone just blows me away.

There was a very cool test that they ran near the end of the film, and they covered the explanation quite well on how it worked. They found a hacker to modify the software on one of the electronic cards used to store the votes, to throw off the vote that was going to be tallied using that card. Then, the investigators and some election officials actually did a mock vote right there to test the system, and sure enough, by just hacking the card itself, the vote was completely skewed in a different direction.

The film asks a lot of great questions. Why is it that the vendors are deciding how the voting process should work? How are these things verified for accuracy? Why isn’t the entire process made more public, since it is a matter of public interest? And my favorite one addressed very early was, why is the software secret, so that not even election officials can know what is in there? At the beginning they showed the state of California’s technical advisor, who said that even he hadn’t been able to see the software.

As far as documentaries go, I thought this one was really well done.  It was clean, concise, and had a lot of evidence backing up what they were doing.  They didn’t have any wild crazy-eyed conspiracy theories, instead just providing facts and asking rhetorical questions.

There’s just a lot of great stuff in this movie, you have to see it for yourself. It’s unbelievable how screwed up the system is. There’s a lot more screenshots I’d like to throw up as well, but just watch it for yourself. Good stuff.

not a unified front

I have an opinion on the whole matter of the direction that the business models of the companies that make up the RIAA and MPAA, as well as the television networks — while they may present one opinion, it’s not necessarily shared among all its members.  The proof is in the fact that some are embracing technologies and new methods, while others are holding back.   Things aren’t as bleak as they seem.

Take DVDs for example.  Looking back at the history of the format, each studio approached the new business model differently.  Warner Brothers and MGM burst onto the scene immediately, pushing the format hard, and releasing all kinds of movies to encourage people to buy them.  Warner and it’s affiliates were the first to release special editions as well.  Go back and look at some of the first DVDs under the New Line Platinum Series, in fact, and you’ll see that even by today’s standards, the list of features is still impressive.  And these were released something like ten years ago.  Universal Studios was another one of the first to release their movies, but their production was pretty crappy.  All the other major studios pretty much held out for years, and you have to wonder why.  Doesn’t anyone remember wondering if Disney would ever release any of their animated titles on DVD?  Disney was, in fact, the worst holdout of them all, and their first DVDs were even worse — often the only list of features was that the movie was in widescreen.  They still have a lot of DVDs out there that are only released in pan & scan.  Fox was another hold out as well.  So while one studio (Warner) saw where things were going, they embraced it, profited from it, and pushed the envelope quite a bit, while those that dragged their feet would only dip their toes in the water a few times before committing full time, and even then giving us scraps of morsels.  In the end it only made things cost more for them, as they would have to re-release a lot of their films so they would get the treatment they deserved.

You can watch a similar approach going on right now with the television networks and HDTV.  Some are doing a great job, and some are resisting it pretty bad.  NBC, in my opinion, is doing the best job right now.  Pretty much every broadcast I watch on that channel is in HDTV.  Heck, even the local news is in HD, and widescreen format as well.  It’s pretty nice.  Fox, on the other end of the spectrum, is doing the worst job ever.  They are only broadcasting at 720p, and I hardly ever see anything in widescreen.  When it is still full frame, my local station is displaying the picture with ugly gray bars on the sides, instead of leaving them black which would be much easier to ignore.  They obviously are either incapable or uncaring of providing a good picture.  ABC is also the only other local network still coming through in only 720p, and the main features are still in fullscreen format.  ABC is owned by Disney, which explains that whole scenario perfectly.  PBS and CBS come through both in 1080i, and look gorgeous.  After watching a show on there, you’re too spoiled to sit through anything else.

Now the question to ask is, why are some people not doing better?  It’s pretty obvious that just like DVDs, the HDTV format is the future, and it’s going to stay.  I think that things will resolve themselves, eventually.  Time is definetely on our side.  Older executives who have been in the business for decades and are still short-sighted and stuck in the old way of doing things will eventually retire, move on or die.  As a younger generation that has grown up with computers, portable music and video devices will see things completely differently, and surely be less resistant to change and new ideas.  Also, they will be frustrated with the old models, and introduce new ones.  Don’t look at the RIAA and MPAA for the opinions and predictions of where things are going, instead look at the ones who are actually making the money and putting the products on the shelves.  Based on the quality and options that they are coming out with, individually as companies, is what we can expect more of.  I think things will only get better.

5.1 surround sound

I finally got around to hooking up my 5.1 surround sound stereo this weekend (I didn’t have my rear speakers setup), since I also finally bought season two of Star Trek: Voyager, and I wanted to watch it in full audio goodness.  The difference is glorious.  It’s great fun.  Every time they are in a ship somewhere, you can hear the hum of the engines in the background all around you.  It’s the coolest thing ever.

Ironically, Voyager is the only Star Trek that I don’t have the complete set of.  It’s weird, because it is *almost* more my favorite than TNG.  It’s just the best series ever in a lot of respects.  It’s the story arc and the tight situations that continually focus on character that make it so good to me.  Actually, the real reason I don’t have them all is obvious — they are still way too expensive.  I’ve got the entire series of TNG and DS9, but that’s because Paramount finally got a clue and dropped the MSRP from $110 to $60.  That’s much more reasonable.  Unfortunately, Voyager is still running about $100 a season, and it’s been that way for a while.  I don’t know if they are ever going to drop the price.  I’ve had season one on DVD for the longest time, but never got anything else.  I got so itchy to watch a Voyager episode again though that I just had to buy another season set, even if it did cost an arm and a leg.  I’d say it was worth it. :)

planet larry complete reboot

The time has come to make some major changes to Planet Larry, to keep things simplified and make life easier on Alex and I as well. Lots of stuff has changed, and here’s the summary:

There are now only two planet feeds, similiar to Planet Gentoo / Gentoo Universe, we have Planet Larry and a Universe feed as well. I’m using Planet Venus’ filter option with a simple regular expression to filter out only certain topics to the planet. That means that the main planet will be mostly computer related stuff. The Universe feed remains the same as before, and pulls in everything.

The second thing that’s happened is I’m dropping support of any languages other than English. Sorry to all the non-English blogging participants, but the thinking was this — I only speak English (and Spanish), so for me to support other languages is not a reasonable expectation. Also, it’s incredibly easy to setup your own planet feed, so if some Gentoo users want to get together and make their own feed, then go right ahead. Even the most popular non-English feed was getting about 5% of the hits that the main feeds were, so it’s not worth the effort to keep it up. I’m also going to stop including feeds that are *only* non-English (again, sorry), since frankly, I have no idea what they are saying, and again it’s gonna be easier to start your own. If you speak English and another language, that of course is fine. The filters for the Planet feed will probably kill most non-English posts anyway. If someone is really really interested in keeping theirs alive, then contact me and we can work out a way to manage it yourself.

Now, as far as the filtering on Planet / Universe, right now it’s really simple. In fact, the exact expression is this: “filter = [Ll]inux|[Gg]entoo|[Cc]omputer|emerge|portage”. It sucks, I know, because I’m not even doing case insenstive matches. I just need to read the docs some more or figure out how to hack the source code a bit to figure out how to get it working so I can add that. Also, that filter isn’t set in stone … I’ll be adding more keywords as I see them commonly cropping up. And of course you can subscribe to the Universe feed if you like instead, and get everything unfiltered.

Alternatively, and this is really cool, I can change the regexp filter for each planet feed. So if you want your filter to be more permissive (or restrictive), then just let me know.

That’s it for now. I hope everyone enjoys the new changes. I already like the Planet feed’s “on-topic” style already, myself. Feedback is always welcome though. I get about 3 comments a year, so don’t be shy.

 Update: I’ve expanded the regexp quite a bit, and at the same time cleared out a lot of dead blogs and links.  So you should be seeing more content and less deadbeats. :)

beginning embedded linux

I’ve been doing some research into embedded linux since last month, and it is some incredible stuff what you can do. Gentoo’s tools make it especially even easier to quickly create and customize builds that can be deployed, not that I’m that far yet. Right now I’m still working on creating my own basic barebones system that I can boot. I’m really familiar with booting computers off the network, thanks to my last job where I ran LTSP on about 40 to 50 client computers. Right now I can sucessfully boot off a small nfsroot system and dump myself into a busybox shell, but what I really want to do is learn to get baselayout or baselayout-lite working with it.

More specifically, here’s what I’m trying to do … I want to setup three environments, or root installs. The first one is my build development where I have an x86 chroot that I suck down all the packages and build them, and create binary quickpkgs of them that I can then use to quickly install to the other two environments. My second install I want to create a small, simple chroot that I can use to boot devices over the network into. I could make things really simple on me and use an ISO from any Linux distro and just boot into that, but I’d like to customize mine and tweak it a bit (of course), since I’d like to put a few more diagnostic tools on there and what not. I could do without the network boot one, of course, and just boot into my development environment or the final release, but the reasoning behind making one just for that is so that I can keep it separate, simple, and not worry about upgrading or maintaining it, since it’ll be a temporary environment for the client anyway. The whole purpose of it will be to use it so I can boot clients with no operating system installed, format the harddrives, and then rsync the image onto the disk. Later on down the road, I can of course automate the entire process. But for now I’m having fun pulling out my hair and doing lots of reading, research, and asking questions about how to get an init system working with an NFS root. Fun times.

The third environment, as I already mentioned, is the actual deployment one. This is going to be the one where I remove all the crap that I don’t need, like build libraries, and in turn try to get the image as small as possible. Once again, using Gentoo makes things *really* simple as its just a matter of using INSTALL_MASK to ignore everything I don’t need, and them using emerge -K to use the buildpkg files. In doing that, though, I’ve already found more a few ebuilds that their DEPEND and RDEPEND settings are wrong. Not really a big deal, since I can go back and clean it up later. Some of them are pretty obvious though, like pulling in alsa-headers as a run time dependency. Whoops. :)

I’m still wondering how I’m going to deploy the image, though that’s mostly just gonna be a matter of more reading. My optimal goal is to not have to squash the filesystem at all, and instead just keep it all unpacked. Long-term, it’s probably going to get compressed just to give me more space and flexibility. I’m not too worried about that though, I’ve got all the space I’ll need.

Anyway, good times. A huge thanks to solar who has shown me not only how freaking cool this is, but given me some amazingly good starting tips so it feels like I can actually accomplish this. There are so many amazing tools to get you started with this, and really the only hard part is just understanding how the system works and boots and how everything fits all together. It’s pretty cool when you get down to the barebones of it and nothing is automated for you and you get to piece the system together yourself. It’s a great way to learn.

rss and atom

I’ve been having problems with the cache of the RSS 2 feeds, and in an attempt to clean up config files, broke it completely. Whoops. As a matter of record, though, I think that I would recommend the Atom feed above the RSS ones, after doing a little reading on the two. Personally, I’d like to ditch RSS 2 completely, especially if the issues persist (which I can’t really explain too well, and it might just be a problem with my reader — anyone else having problems?), but we’ll see what happens.

I should probably elaborate what’s happening.  Using liferea, with the RSS 2.0 feed for Planet Larry, the posts from ~5 days ago always refresh as “new” posts.  It’s really odd,  especially since it’s the only one of all my feeds that does it, and of all the ones on Planet Larry, it’s just the RSS 2 one that is doing it.  The Atom one is fine.  Who knows.  It could just be a bug.