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. :)