Herman I. May

Herman I. May


31 January 2005

Scrobbling my audio

In recent days, I have come across more than a couple of references to something variously referred to as "scrobbling", "iScrobbling" and "audio scrobbling". Intrigued, I went on a short-lived search and came across the source: Audio Scrobbler ...and I must say I have become enthralled.

Basically, Audio Scrobbler is a subscriber service which constructs a profile of one's musical tastes. It does so based upon the tracks and groups to which one listens. Either as a plug-in or background application/daemon, the client is downloaded, installed and configured. Once in place and activated, it listens, in the background, for tracks played through a preferred music player and reports the results to the server. Not content with simply logging and tallying, the service periodically analyzes the tracks, artists and albums. Charts are compiled which graph the "Top Artists" and "Top Tracks" by week and overall. Periodically, the server runs these results through an algorithm, which parses the entire user base, comparing preferences and offering recommendations for other artists and musical styles. It also generates a customized radio station to which one may listen should the mood strike.

This is an extremely cool concept on several levels. Whether or not one chooses to take advantage of the custom radio station or investigate the neighborhood of recommendations, it functions as a fantastic record of musical tastes and moods. The latter is useful at not just the individual level, but can provide family and friends with fodder for gift giving ideas or potential interests themselves. I may know what my brother likes in general, but this tool could let me know to what he has been listening the most lately. It can also reveal, in an abstract way, which albums he has and which may be candidates for future gifts. The list goes on. All of that potential not withstanding, Audio Scrobbler provides me with an indispensable tool.

My primary audio player is iTunes. This application provides the much appreciated service of documenting which tracks have been played and how often. However, it only does so for tracks within its immediate, local catalogue. I listen to music on four separate systems — depending on mood, need and location. All of the music in our home is located on a central server and make available via a digital audio access protocol daemon; specifically, mt-daapd. Basically, this allows me to keep our nearly 6000 (at present) tracks in one central location for access by anyone on the subnet or even to be sent to the household sound system. As a result of all of this, the listening records are spread across multiple machines or are non-existent (Apple has deemed "shared" tracks unworthy of logging). The simple act of installing a copy of the scrobbling client on all of these machines allows me to now maintain a central repository of my listening preferences. As an added bonus, this same information is made available for others to review. Pretty damned slick, if you ask me!

I heartily recommend this service to anyone who loves music and sees it as more than background noise.

29 January 2005

myView: in-ear buds; Apple vs Philips

I have a problem with ear buds. No, it is not particularly philosophical; rather it is anatomical. Rare are the version that will sit comfortably in my outer ear canal and stay there. They inevitably fall out. Usually, I go for the "sports" style buds, which have a loop which fits over the ear. Recently, however, I have been looking at the so-called "in ear" buds. In particular, I have actually tried two pair and find one useful; the other not so much.

From the outset, I knew that the stock ear buds that shippped with the iPod were not going to work for me. At first I simply made use of the "sports" phones from my Sony radio. However, these were becoming long in the tooth; brittle from several years of use; and the wires were unpredictable at the stress reliever causing the channels to cut in and out. So, I began to shop around for a replacement.

My first investigation led me to Apple. I had seen the Apple In-Ear Headphones for several weeks and thought them to be a potential candidate. Two things threw me off, though. First was the price.. Forty dollars for a pair of ear phones with little or no technology enhancement other than bearing the Apple name seemed a little overpriced. The other issue was their design. I had tried models with similar conical rubber buds previously and found them to not really solve the issue of reliable retention.

Continuing my search I came across a relatively new offering from Philips. The Surround Sound Earbuds have an intriguing two-step ear cone. They looked functional and were relatively inexpensive at $25. So, I got a pair. After four weeks of usage, I can recommend them to those who have difficulty with in-ear phones in general. With the exception of a few snags, they have stayed in place for the most part and have great sound quality — though they tend to be a little bassy. One thing I do not like about them are the asymmetric cables. The left bud is 11mm from the strain yoke, while the right is 50mm distant. This Design assumes sinestral placement of the source device and makes for interesting cable contortions to deal with the slack. Otherwise, I have no complaints.

This would not be a comparison with something with which to compare the Philips buds. My father-in-law purchased a set of the Apple buds. He did not like them and asked whether or not I had an interest. I accepted the offer with two goals in mind: a) that I could test the design, which at first glance appeared to be incompatible with my anatomy; and b) to provide a secondary pair of buds...if they worked. Well, they did not. The Apple buds come with three cone sizes. Presumably one size or another will fit everyone. They do not. The small and medium iterations are too loose and readily fall out of my ear when I turn my head to one side or the other. The large size comes the closest to functioning well. However, they too eventually fall out or partially dislodge and feel unstable in the ear.

For the time being I am sticking with the Philips model. They stay in place well and sound quite good for the price. Most of the other offerings of this type tend toward the Apple end of the price range and I cannot see spending that kind of money for something which is basically a crap-shoot in terms of reliable placement. My quest for the perfect ear bud has not come to an end. However, it has been satisfied for the time being.

28 January 2005

Addressing odyssey

The year is off to a bad start between IR and myself. The recent relocation of a networked printer from one building to another has revealed the illogical depth to which information resources is willing to descend to make a buck.

For several years now, the network bosses have had a policy whereby the entire campus is divided into addressing segments, for the most part based upon building. For example, the structure in which I work has all static addresses identified by the third octet "27", the adjacent building by "26", etc. If one has need of a static IP address, it is necessary to provide the location so that a proper address can be assigned. Simple enough and understandable.

The university also has the policy of requiring that all statically addressed servers be registered. Rationale given is that it provides a means of security audit and management of network integrity. For instance, we have a lot of sysadmin wannabes. In the past, departments would put up a server with little regard for keeping it up-to-date with security patches and kernel releases. This bit the university in the ass...hard...in 2001 when we were slammed by the nimdA WORM. Over ninety percent of the Windows servers and workstations became infected and brought the entire network to a crawl. Ever since then, server registration has been mandatory (I participated on the committee which evaluated the aftermath and recommended this action — so, I cannot complain...about that aspect at least). It is a necessary evil and has prevented recurrences of this sort of debilitating infection. This policy was designed to contain errant servers, which had become infected due to incompetence on the part of an "admin". That job it did well, but it has been abused.

Within the last year or so, IR has implemented another "policy" which reeks of greed. As the consequence of a recent hardware move, I needed to procure a new IP address for a network printer. In the past, this required a simple request to the IR Call Center for an address. The request was logged and within an hour or so, I received a response. It was not quite what I expected. It originated from the Operating Systems Group, which has historically been responsible for establishing Novell print queues and the like, but that was not the worst part.

I was informed that in order to receive an address for a printer I should simply erase the existing static address and allow the machine to pick-up an address from the DHCP server. This sounded fishy in light of the routing policy cited above, but I went along with it. After securing the address, I was told to call back and report the randomly assigned address so that it could be &uqot;reserved" for this device. Reserved? Okay. Upon reporting back, I was informed that there would be a $50 fee associated with the reservation. What?!? I protested and stated that I simply wanted an static IP address for the printer — one that complied with the university's routing plan. For this I was told to relog the request and request a static address through Network Services. Did I not already do this? Yes, well apparently the SOP is different for printers. So, I amended my original request.

Within a few hours I received a call from Network Services, they wanted to know what I was trying to accomplish and, based upon my response, stated that I should go through OSG to get the address. I protested and enlightened them to the fact that this policy appears to go counter to the network routing plan; that I wanted a static address which conformed to the established plan; and that I refused to pay for a service which should be free. Their response was that if I insisted upon a static address through other than the $50 DHCP method, I would be required to reregister the device as a server every fiscal year. Fine; issue me the address. They did...reluctantly.

This is the most illogical policy they have devised to date. A printer is not a server, per se. Sure, some have embedded web servers for administrative purposes, but they are much more benign that a normal "server" due to the fact that they are peripherals. It is far more troublesome to fragment the DHCP address pool by reserving certain addresses than it would be to simply assign a proper address conforming to the established routing plan. To require administration of an address assigned to a network printer as a server is simply a means of harassment meant to steer clients toward the revenue generating method. Ridiculous as it is, the requirement is not too terribly inconvenient as I already must re-up three servers as it is. Should they catch the printer during the annual reregistration, I will simply add it to the list. (I wonder about this, since we already have five other network servers which have never been reregistered; even though they have static routed addresses)

27 January 2005

Generational cyberGap

The results of two technology related surveys were released this week. Individually, they were only of passing interest. However, when one takes the time to combine the findings and appreciate the overall picture, the result shows how most come to the web ill-prepared to accomplish their goal — whatever it may be.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project polled internet users from all walks of life and levels of experience on their use of search engines. The results were at once sobering and of little surprise. Their findings suggest that most people do not know how to make knowledgeable and efficient web searches; even though they report being happy with what they do accomplish. Good news for advertisers, the majority also do not know the difference between paid ads and legitimate search results; nor do they seem to care.

In another survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation released its results showing that just over thirty percent of those over sixty-five years of age have ever ventured into cyberspace. Meanwhile, over seventy percent of those those in middle age or younger are veterans of the online world. The study cites this discrepancy as being especially worrisome given the large number of government services which are increasingly making their information available electronically. Chief among the latter being health-related.

Both of these studies highlight the importance of education, even on the 'net. I know from experience that there are simply those over the age of sixty who refuse to get wired. They usually provide the excuse that there is nothing they want or need on the internet. In reality, it is usually a new take on the old adage that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. This generation fails to appreciate the potential for self-edification, keeping in touch with family and friends; not to mention the side-effect of sharpening mental skills to ward off age related senility. More importantly, they fear the unknown. Most have been scared by sensationalist media reports of viruses and crackers. They have also adopted the untenable belief that computers are too complicated and that they will break something. I think that families and community organizations should embrace the potential for senior independence and entertainment by resolving to include their elders in browsing sessions and enlighten them to the wondrous potential of the 'net. There is a whole other world in cyberspace that is waiting to be explored by the most experienced members of our societies.

25 January 2005

Playing VC footsie

One should, perhaps, give credit where it is due. Sometimes, though, the effort does not justify the recognition. Instead, it comes across as shallow and full of fluff. Such is the case with a story which appeared in today's edition of the Dallas Morning News (DMN).

Tuesday is "Healthy Living" day for the Lifestyles section. Today's feature was entitled "Tour de Workforce" and dealt with those who commute by bicycle. This marks the third time in the past decade when the DMN has run a major feature which focuses on some aspect of bicycle commuting — and the second within the past twenty-four months. While not the worst to date, it did little to advocate selection of this mode of transport.

First, there is the issue of the reporters apparent demeanor toward motorists. Using provocative phrases and terms such as "dodging traffic", "not the friendliest", "inconsiderate drivers can make cycling...dangerous", the writer attempts to make participation in this form of transportation seem like a feat only for those with nerves of steal or a death wish. This could not be further from the truth. Having chosen this as my primary means of transportation in Dallas and surrounding areas for about a decade, I can assure the writer (and anyone else who may be interested) that there is no more danger involved in commuting by bicycle than there is by doing the same by automobile. In fact, when one factors in the stress reduction and health benefits, travel by bicycle is much better for its proponents and the community than any other.

Another serious error is the pool from which the writer drew those she chose to profile. In her own words she states that, "[W]e tossed out a question about bicycle commuting to various area cycling groups. More than two dozen cyclists wanted to share their successes and struggles about pedaling to work." The fraternal order of club cyclists is the worst population from which to solicit any impartial and legitimate treatment of the subject of vehicular cycling. This group of individuals is notorious for their flagrant disregard of laws. Blowing stop signs, treating stop signals as stop signs and riding more than two abreast when in groups are just a few of the legal usurpations in which they engage. The topic would have been better served had a query been published in the paper. Not all vehicular cyclists belong to bicycle clubs. In fact, most of those with whom I am acquainted do not.

A fact manifest in the article, but which would probably escape all but the cycling cognoscente, are the types of bicycles utilized by most of those profiled. Two of the three — males, of course — chose the Trek 5500. LOL! This $2000 competition road bike is far from the ideal for commuting purposes; especially long distance commuting. Its rigid racing geometry does not lend itself to a comfortable ride for extended distances. For nearly three years, I commuted by riding my trusty mountain bike. When I upgraded to a touring bike, the difference was immediately noticeable. The time of my commute was cut by nearly a third and I no longer felt completely drained by the time I arrived at my destination.

The DMN gave even less desirable coverage of bicycles commuters about a year ago. At that time, the focus was on those living in the trendy and upscale lofts of uptown Dallas and commuting to work via The Katy Trail. Despite the opportunity to advance the merits of bicycle commuting, the author of that story seemed intent upon stressing the pitfalls. She seemed especially interested in harping on the stifling heat as a dissuasive agent; making the erroneous statement morning temperatures in the nineties were common. A check of the regional temperatures will reveal that rare are the summer mornings when the temperatures exceed eighty, much less that they even approach ninety.

It has been almost ten years since they got it right. In 1996 the DMN ran a profile of Earl Hammonds and his twenty-plus mile commute from Rockwall to the Love Field area (a distance and route very similar to my own, BTW). Not only did the paper focus on the individual as opposed to the hype, but they offered many useful suggestions for how those interested, but presently not commuting by bicycle, could do so. Absent was all of the negative sensationalism of the two recent stories.

24 January 2005

Here's what, Talene

I was alerted to activity at one of my favorite cyberStops today following a rash of notices that links I had submitted months ago for consideration had been reviewed and approved. This prompted me to wonder if, perhaps, other updates were in the offing...indeed they were.

My former sister-in-law, Talene, has maintained an ecclectic presence on the 'net for many years. Always informative and enlightening, the latest incarnation has not born the fruit of which, I believe, it has the potential.

In its immediately previous incarnation, the site was published as a Noam Chomsky slobberfest...a one-stop clearinghouse of news regarding this iconoclast. Early in 2004, however, the focus shifted. when semi-official Chomsky site emerged, Talene retooled with seemingly little direction. The 2004 general election cycle in the US seemed to offer an opportunity to return to a previous passion.

While employed as a librarian at the University of Houston, Talene had created a much respected compilation of out-of-the-mainstream political links. Christened the "Marketplace of Political Ideas", the collection of links continues to be referenced on numerous sites across cyberspace. (The issue of maintaining one's links aside, this speaks volumes of the importance placed on such a resource.) In the month's following her resignation and out-of-state move, the marketplace disappeared. It first moved to Talene's site before disappearing altogether.

Seeming to reinvent the site, Talene posted an occasional link or commentary on the state of political inactivity in America. Few contributed to this discussion. Many continued to post Chomsky related garbage. Just prior to the election, things went dead. Until earlier today, there had not been any new information.

Most likely intended musingly, Talene inquires "What now?" in the current banner. She then speculates on why so many still visit the site — even in the absence of any real activity. Hints are given that it is Chomsky related, but I wonder how much originates from the scores of links to the "Marketplace". Most importantly, I hope the site does not disappear as she alludes may be the case if traffic declines.

Especially in this post Bush re-election climate of disbelief, I think people are looking for alternatives a some means of meaningful participation. Perhaps returning to her political roots is a possible direction. Resurrect the "Marketplace"; perhaps even add a bulletin board/discussion forum. Sites such as Ruminate This are crafted in this vein. (The latter has a nice compilation of politico 'bLogs, BTW.) Many such sites erupted on the scene in the months leading up to the 2004 election. However, most lean markedly to the left or right. There is room for a non-partisan marketplace of political ideas...er, wait, that sounds familiar. ;-)

21 January 2005

Choosing the Airport Express

Following on yesterday's comments...

A recent suggestion by a visitor prompts me to expand a bit on the decision making process behind my choice of the Airport Express. I was recently congratulated on the successful installation of the Airport Express, but given the recommendation to consider the Roku Soundbridge M1000. I did; and I still chose to go with the Airport Express. In fact, I considered the Roku Soundbridge M1000, the Roku Soundbridge M2000, the Macsense MP-100 HomePod, the Netgear MP101; and the Slim Devices Squeezebox. In the end, I chose the Airport Express due to cost, aesthetics and interopreability.

All save the Roku products require the installation of some sort of media server on the host computer which in turn communicates with the media device. That is all well and good, but of those requiring such a configuration, only the HomePod provides a version which runs as a service daemon. The rest require a GUI account be logged into. This was unacceptable as the jukeBox is served on the household server onto which no one regularly logs-in. All but the Airport Express, Roku products and the HomePod were culled pretty much from the beginning. :-(

Next to go was the HomePod. It is a marvelous little device with a lot of potential. However, it suffers from two extremely serious flaws. Though it is marketed as a portable wireless media receiver, it is not as portable as one is led to believe. There is no battery compartment. Thus it must remain tethered to a power source. Not a serious issue for those only wanting something to bridge to the household stereo system. However, my needs were something to take into the garage or the yard. Sure, I could rig some sort of external power pack, but that would be problematic from the standpoint of needing o accommodate two devices. The HomePod has a set of internal speakers. However, they suck to the extreme. Reviews report them to be tinny and abrasive at high volumes. Given the required power tether, headphones are not a realistic option either. For the cost of this device, I could purchase a good pair of wireless headphones and simply use the server to broadcast wirelessly.

This left me with a choice between the Roku(s) and the Airport Express. In the end I chose against the Roku solutions for several reasons. First, the display on the M1000 is too small to see from across the room; much less out on the back porch or eslewhere in the house. Next, the remote is IR. That works great with line-of-sight, but not when one is elsewhere in the coverage area of the stereo system. While the Roku(s) support wireless networking, one must make use of a PCMCIA card or WiFi dongle to achieve this functionality. An added cost in which I was unwilling to invest. Finlly, there is the cost issue. The M1000 is only a few dozen dollars more expensive than the Airport Express, but the M2000 — with its larger display and enhanced feature set is almost twice the cost. Since we already have two portable Macintoshes to act as remotes/display modules, I could not see justification in the cost differential to go with the self-standing Roku servers.

All things considered, the Airport Express was the best fit for our particular infrastructure. Had things been otherwise, I am sure the M2000 would have been our choice. Of course, YMMV. :-)

20 January 2005

myView: Airport Express

Today marks three weeks since I added an Airport Express to our network for the primary purpose of enhancing ease of use with respect to broadcasting our extensive catalogue of music tracks through the stereo system. For the most part it has been a huge success in terms of both convenience and performance. However, I have discovered one small flaw which, while inconvenient, is not unmanageable. First the successes.

Being able to pipe music to the sound system without the need to tether a machine to the auxiliary input has been a universally lauded change. Prior to configuring and installing the Airport Express, listening to the jukeBox collection through the network required the physical attchment, through the sound-out port, of either Ariel or Icarus. This was usually accomplished by setting a stool next to the entertainment center, jacking into the portable, launching iTunes and playing away. Not only was this cumbersome and unsightly, but it tied up a machine. With the Airport Express, one can select "AirTunes" from within iTunes on any of the four household systems and stream music through the stereo system. All the while still making use of the computer for other tasks.

Another success has been broader utilization by other members in the house. Prior to the Airport Express, I was just about the only person to make use of the jukeBox. Now, Rebecca is also a frequent user and Elizabeth has even used it a couple of times.

One small flaw has been discovered during the three weeks of use so far: susceptibility to microwave interference. If the Airport Express is serving music to the sound system and someone begins to make use of the microwave, the service begins to stutter and, in some cases, drops altogether until the cook cycle has completed. This is a supposed issue with any WiFi hardware. However to date, this has never manifest itself on our network. Since its implementation in January 2001, we have experienced no appreciable transmission issues with WiFi connectivity. Hardware used has been an original Airport Base Station (Graphite); peer-to-peer, ad hoc networking; and a Linksys WRT54G. Obviously, in some way the Airport Exptess radio is more sensitive to microwave radiation. We have simply learned to adapt to the inconvenience.

Combined with the iPod, the Airport Express has added greatly to the enhancement and enjoyment of our digital music catalogue.

18 January 2005


After seven years of paying for dual service, we have cut the cable and converted solely to satellite media delivery. Until the first part of December, Elizabeth and I considered the modest fifteen dollars we paid for "expanded basic" cable from Comcast to be a worthy investment. With that level of service, we received around seventy channels; about two-thirds of which were mirrors of content received through satellite service. This allowed us to watch most of our favorite stations in the bedroom without the need to pay the fees associated with a second receiver and the local stations (about ten dollars).

The five dollar difference covered basically three things: a) a relaible backup in case of satellite service disruption during severe thunderstorms; b) local access and community service content; and c) localized "Weather on the Eights" from The Weather Channel. In early December (2004), Comcast restructured their service offerings. The rechristened their "expanded basic" lineup as "Standard" and jacked the price from fifteen dollars a month to forty-five dollars a month. The ten dollar "basic" service was increased to fourteen dollars a month and all existing " expanded basic" subscribers dropped to this level if they were unwilling to pony-up the extra thirty dollrs a month. It was no longer cost-efefctive for us to stay with Comcast. For five dollars a month we could add our local market stations to our existing DirecTV service; and for another five add an additional receiver. The result being a net savings of five dollars per month and the only loss being local, government, and educational access channels. So, this is what we have done.

I spent three hours Saturday dropping a new line from the satellite to the bedroom and disconnecting/cutting/sealing the Comcast service feed. Collin assisted with the wall drop, while Rebecca supervised. Meanwhile, I was in the attic crawl-space drilling, fishing and routing. In the end, it took two days longer than anticipated to get the access card reactivated for the old SAT-B2 duse to server issues at DirecTV HQ which began late Friday and extended through early yesterday morning. Nevertheless, we now have 150+ channels available for only a few dollars more than it would have cost for less than half that amount through Comcast.

The most interesting part occurred today, when I called to cancel the Comcast service. The representative with whom I spoke was less than concerned with our decision to cancel. She asked the obligatory "Why?", but gave no response at all when I explained the reason. I could hear her tapping away, entering my reasoning. There was no apology; no plea to reconsider; no counter offer. She simply took the information and indicated that it would not be until the 26th of the month. Simply one more justification for our decision.

Though we have dropped Comcast as our media provider, we have opted to maintain our subscription for broadband service. Just today, Comcast announced that they will be increasing their service tiers from 3.0Mbps downstream / 256kbps upstream to 4.0Mbps downstream / 384kbps upstream. This still makes cable service speed much faster than DSL on a cost per bit basis and does not necessarily require having telephone service in order to subscribe to broadband.

15 January 2005

Huygens reveals Titan

In another success story for NASA, the ESA's Huygens Probe has successfully landed on the surface of Saturn's mysterious moon, Titan. Data collected during the descent and landing have been relayed back to Earth, via Cassini, and they reveal a mysterious world of liquid methane and water ice rocks. This truly an ethereal accomplishment.

Congratulations, NASA and the ESA, on another robotic exploration success!

13 January 2005

Only a belief

In a victory for sanity and logic, a Federal Judge has ruled that the stickers required to be placed on biology textbooks in the Cobb County (Georgia) ISD are unconstitutional and violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well as Article I, Section II, Paragraph VII of the Georgia State Constitution.

The heretofore mandatory stickers read as follows:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution
is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things.
This material should be approached with an open mind,
studied carefully, and critically considered.
Approved by
Cobb County Board of Education
Thursday, March 28, 2002

The hypopcrisy and lack of logic expounded by ultra-right-wing, religious conservatives never ceases to amaze me. In every instance where they attempt to discredit the Darwinian Theory of Evolution, they emphasize that the latter is a theory and not a fact. Additionaly, they demand that Creationism be taught side-by-side and given the same weight as evolutionary theory. All along they fail to recognize that Creationism is neither a theory nor a fact; it is a belief. It is an idea born of the teachings put forth in the collective oral history of a people who lived several thousand years ago. These teachings, collectively organized into a tome known the world over as "The Holy Bible", rely upon the blind faith of devotees for their legitimacy. The majority use Biblical stories as a guide for moral living, while other adherents follow a literal interpretation. In almost all cases, it is the latter group which attacks evolution and demands equal consideration of an untenable belief.

Today's decision by Judge Clarence Cooper restores a modicum of rationality to the educational system in Georgia and should serve as a warning to other conservative school districts intent upon substituting an untenable belief for an accepted and demonstrable scientific theory.

12 January 2005

Manhattan shark jumping?

Methinks the venerated and award winning "Law & Order" television series is heading toward the history books. Two of this season's episodes have flirted with ratings grabbing stunts likely to alienate its loyal audience. The first occurred earlier in the fall when the ending of a show was left in a state of ambiguity. Viewers were invited to go online and vote for the ending they preferred. The most recent took place just a short time ago.

I have known since early on in this season that ADA Serena Southerlyn was destined to leave the show. A local television reviewer let the cat out of the bag during thei annual season preview in late summer. The writing has been on the wall with respect to all of the episodes aired to date this fall. The character has been butting heads with the conservative philosophy of DA Arthur Branch. It was only a matter of time before she quit.

Voluntary termination was not in the cards, however. At the end of tonight's episode she was given the axe by Branch. In the sensationalist style of the capitalist, Donald Trump, Branch simply said "You're fired" following a lengthy discourse on the reasons. That would have been corny enough, but L&A's writers were not content with that nod to its MBC reality sibling. Following her notification of her dismissal, a stunned ADA Sutherlyn inquired, "Is it because I am a Lesbian?"

Whao, Nellie...Hold the phone!?!

In three and a half years as a main, prosecutorial character on the show, never has there been any hint that the Sutherlyn character was gay; much less that she was looked down upon as a result of her sexual preference. Both Elizabeth turned to one another in agreement following the show that this stunt risks pointing "Law & Order" on a collision course with the acrobatic antic of shark jumping.

11 January 2005

not quite iHome

Many interesting announcements were made during the keynote address today at MWSF. Visitors are directed to firsthand account for more definitive information. My interest was in anything resembling the rumored iHome media center, which did not resolve itself in the manner anticipated.

The rumors appear to have been more wrong than right —, as usual. Apple did announce a new headless (sort of), set-top style device (the Mac mini), but it was not the DVR/media center suggested by previous reports. The form factor is close — square, instead of rectangular, but it is only about one third the size offered by the rumors and it has not video-in support; only video-out. This poses a quandry for me. The cost is right ($500-$600); it can provide all of the features I am looking for in a set-top media center (sans out-of-the-box DVR functionality); it is Darwin-based; and the size it quite appealing. With the possibility of up to 1.0Gb or RAM and an over 1GHz G4 processor, it is could certainly function as an able DVR. Unfortunately, without built-in logic and hardware, this is only possible with an add-on like the Elgato EyeTV product line. Ranging in cost from $200 to $500, which then negates the low-cost goal of a home-made media center. Also, it only comes with an 80Gb drive which, given the form factor, is likely to be of the 2.5 inch variety. Not nearly enough for sustained DVR duties.

Regardless, of not quite measuring up to the specification many were led to expect from the rumor mills, the Mac mini still has impressive potential. Apple is targeting to Wintel converts, developers and those wanting a second system without all of the peripherals. I fit into the latter category (though it would be a fifth system ;-) and to some extent the second. Nevertheless, I want a machine with robust DVR possibilities. Sadly, the Mac mini will not fill the bill.

So, I will continue to research my options. For the grand it would take to configure a mini for my needs, I could build a much more robust and expandable system based on off-the-shelf parts.

10 January 2005

Ironic coincidence

Coming on the heels of the topic of religion and world view touched upon yesterday, on Morning Edition ran a story about "Reconciling Religious Faith and Natural Disasters". At once both sobering and enlightening, most notable were the differences which exist between different denominations historically derived from the same root beliefs. Where the contrasts and similarities manifest themselves is surprising.

Interviewed were, in turn, a Catholic Bishop, a Buddhist Monk, a Jewish Rabbi, an Islamic Imam, a Baptist preacher and a Hindu spritual counselor. All representatives of mainstream religions; split roughly down the middle with respect to whether they blame the victims. That last bit is what amazes me the most. Ambivalent as I am with respect to the loss of life due to natural calamity, to state that the victims were responsible for their own fates due to sin or transgression in a past life is preposterous.

Yet another example of the dilemma of religion: it either corrupts the sensibilities of its practitioners by warping reality or it provides a convenient scapegoat for escaping reality.

09 December 2005

another meme experiment
"What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

Following on last month's experiment in randomization, Jason Kottke has commented on the New Year member survey over at Edge. He then makes his own modest contribution to the thread and solicits visitors to do the same. Rather than respond there, I make the following offering.

I know but cannot prove that "God" does not exist. Furthermore, I firmly believe that, due to the influence on faith upon policy and practice, the planet on which we live and the life it harbors will continue to suffer from exploitation resulting, ultimately, in the extinction of a majority of the biosphere — including mankind.

In adopting this stance, I am at conflict with myself. Not, however, in the spirtual sense one might suspect; rather in the philosophical sense. Spirituality provides many with the hope they need to make it through another day. The concept of a Supreme Being tempers the actions of those that would, otherwise, abandon morality in preference for self-gratification at any cost. Religion moves individuals to act for the common good of community.

On the other hand, a belief in pious superiority has led to much pain, suffering and death over the course of the centuries. Subscribing to the concept of an afterlife has permitted many to abandon action and reconciliation in the false belief that such matters can await heavenly reunions. (Ian McEwan addresses this topic in his affirmation.) Every day, rights are curtailed and revoked on the premise that they do not conform with the righteous doctrine of one faith or another.

We as a species, the hominid inhabitants of this small rock Earth, will continue to act in irresponsible and damaging ways until some influential group of us can find a means of action, in a rational and dispassionate manner, for the good of the rest. A requirement of this stewardship will include abandonment of religious, racial and ethnic loyalties in order to act in the best interests of all living beings — not just humans. Such will, by necessity, need to take place behind the scenes, so-to-speak. People react in wild and unpredictable ways when our world view is challenged. Yet if we do not come to an understanding about our destructive behavior, there will come a point in the approaching millennia at which we will exceed the carrying capacity of this planet. There is no guarantee that a viable means of celestial relocation will have been derived. No ecclesiastical afterlife will provide sanctuary for our eternal existence. Our religiosity may very well lead to our own extinction.

Certainly something to think about — whether or not you agree.

08 January 2005

jukeBox upgrade

What amounts to the final release candidate for the next iteration of mt-daapd was made available six days ago. Wanting to ensure plenty of time for troubleshooting — this excellent daemon is used daily in our household! — I delayed a build and install until today.

Generation of the Makefile proceeded without issue and Make appeared to be following suit...until the end. It completed with a string of errors announcing:

gcc -g -O2 -lpthread -framework CoreFoundation -L/usr/local/lib -lgdbm -lid3tag -lz -o mt-daapd main.o uici.o webserver.o configfile.o err.o restart.o daap-proto.o daap.o db-gdbm.o mp3-scanner.o playlist.o lexer.o parser.o strcasestr.o strsep.o redblack.o dynamic-art.o query.o rend-osx.o rend-unix.o
ld: Undefined symbols:
make[3]: *** [mt-daapd] Error 1
make[2]: *** [all] Error 2
make[1]: *** [all-recursive] Error 1
make: *** [all] Error 2

Time for a little research.

The undefined symbol, "_atoll", references the ASCII to long integer function; specifically, the ASCII to long, long integer or a 64-bit integer (the long integer being 32-bit). The offending calls can be found on lines 261, 273 and 296 of the main.c code pertaining to the scan driver. Whether lasting adverse effects will manifest themselves remains to be seen, but I was able to bypass the compile error by reducing the address length of the integer to 32-bit (basically, converting references to "atoll" to "atol".

I brought this experience to the attention of the developer and he expressed some surprise at the 64-bit integer function being an issue on systems running MacOS 10.2.x. Upon further thought, I remembered why it is likely applicable. Prior to the release of "Panther" (OS 10.3.x), the MacOS only offered rudimentary, if any, support for 64-bit computing. Since Scheherazade still operates under the "Jaguar" kernel build, it may very well be that the libraries needed to process 64-bit integer strings do not exist in her repertoire. Besides, as I suggested earlier, after more than eight hours of usage since its successful build this morning, there have been no issues with reliability.

A few other notes with respect to the current, 0.2.1-pre3 release worth noting. 1) The code now supports library rescanning. Heretofore, whenever I have added new tracks to the catalogue, I have had to kill and restart the daemon to make them available for play. One now has the ability to manually rescan the library the administrative web interface or even to configure automatic rescan at a designated interval. 2) It is now possible to make use of gzip* to compress the index file and playlists when the daemon is queried by iTunes clients. Very handy for large collections such as ours. :-) 3) For me, it fixed an issue where tracks with names exceeding 24 characters or containing special, higher ASCII symbols would not play; they would appear in the index, but would not play. This first manifest itself following the release of iTunes 4.7 in late October. I could never figure out what was causing it, precisely, and simply had to skip those tracks. They now play as expected. :-) There are other minor enhancements and bug fixes, but these are the three biggies I noticed.

*For those compiling on "Jaguar" based systems, the version of gzip installed under that version of the OS is 1.1.4. Upon startup, mt-daapd indicates the need for gzip v1.2.0 at the very least. Therefore, one will need to visit the gzip forge and download, compile and install a more recent version (v1.2.4 at the time of this writing).

07 December 2005

Is there an iHome on the horizon?

Rui Carmo has collected several interesting links with respect to the possibility of an Apple branded home media center.

My own opinion is that, while I would dearly love to have such a beast residing in my entertainment center, if the linked images are any indication, this is a hoax. In at least two photos, one can make out what appears to be the edge of a piece of paper taped to the top of the "box" — I use that term in every sense. The views of the device front-on seem to show what, for lack of a better term, is a compression crinkle on theright, front corner.

I have been contemplating the creation of just such a beast on my own, based on the Darwin kernel and MythTV. Research suggests it is very doable, albeit with a need for some degree of hacking here and there. Having Apple make such a system available for moderate cost (estimates range in the mid to upper hundreds), would save me the work.

MacWorld San Francisco begins in a couple of days and, if it is real, I can delay further planning until more in known. Meanwhile, I will continue to drool in anticipation. ;-)

04 January 2005

of Asshats and Anonymity

I guess I missed this one last Thursday, but Greg Storey organized the first meeting of the AASG over at Airbag Industries. The impetus for the assembly only serves to reinforce my decision not to allow visitors to post comments to the public areas on this domain and to deal sternly with those that seek to abuse my patience.

One simply cannot control the idiocy of the general populace. Want to comment on something I have said? Send me a note. If it warrants a response, I will gladly oblige. Make your point with particular skill and eloquence, I will quite likely publish it and my rebuttal — if warranted. On the other hand, to lose all semblance of logic and resort to personal attacks will possibly result in quite the opposite. ;-)

Recently, I had the displeasure of dealing with one such moron myself. I rescinded my support for his incompetent attempts at hosting a virtual community and he responded with a chain of incoherent, illogical rants. Eventually, I simply ignored him. That seemed to piss him off even more; at which point he began these immature, recursive page pulls. As a result he was banned.

Asshat that he is, he wrote back attempting to belittle me and brag of his prowess at making use of an amonymizer to circumvent my ban. In his zeal to be self-congratulating, he made the mistake of sending his gloat immediately after the circumvention. The result? I have banned the use of all anonymizers to view this site. Sure I have missed a few, but this fine specimen of human intellect is persistent in locating those I have yet to ban, use them to again bypass the deny list and, by sunrise the next day, they too have been banned.

To the Asshats of the world: Get a clue! If you have been banned or have overstayed your welcome, GO AWAY; find something else to do.

03 January 2005

Spirit and Opportunity

It was one year ago today that NASA and JPL made history by successfully landing the first of two twin, golfcart-sized, semi-autonomous rovers upon the surface of the fourth rock from the Sun — Mars. Though carrying a warranty of only ninety days, Spirit has now reached 365 days; Opportunity, 344. Both are beginning to show their age, but persevere in assisting their human puppeteers in uncovering new secrets on the "angry red planet".

Long live Spirit and Opportunity.

02 January 2005

'bLog saturation

An interesting statistic is being publicized in the Press today. Readership of weblogs has increased about fifty-eight percent during 2004. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, so-called "online journals" those regularly visiting 'bLogs increased from around seventeen percent in January 2004 to twenty-seven percent in November. All the while, the number of bloggers has seen a modest increase from five percent to seven percent of those in cyberspace.

Even in consideration of the above, I continue to take issue with the whole concept of the blogsphere. Technically, I suppose, many of the constituent nodes of this site could be considered 'bLogs. By some definitions a 'bLog is a daily or semi-regular diary of events in the life of a particular individual or entity. According to others, it is an accumulation of various thoughts, ideas, links and the like which is usually presented in descending temporal order. The reality lies somewhere in between and encompasses a little of both. For me, 'bLogging is a style of presentation; not an entity in and of itself.

Many mainstream, commercial sites make use of a similar, ununified paradigm. Changes are made on an hourly or daily scale. Instead of being listed chronologically, from newest to oldest, with a date and, perhaps, time stamp, the changes are harder to see. New contennt is stuffed hither and yon and catalogued by means of a changeLog and/or Press Releases. My interpretation is that the 'bLog style of web publishing combines disparate content management styles into a singular cohesive paradigm. As with all web content, the merits of the content presented is in the eye of the beholder. If one likes, on average, what is made available, one is likely to return.

To say that 'bLogging is a new phenomenon and is likely to drive future content creation — either in the realm of the publisher or in the realm of the reader — is to miss the point. The 'bLog style of publication is simply a convenient alternative to a time tested means of sharing thoughts and ideas.

01 January 2005

Percussive stress

We learned last night that Catalina suffers from what, for lack of a better term, could be described as pyrotechnic anxiety. It was first recognized during our return trip from Mississippi for Thanksgiving, but strongly reinforced as the New Year passed into existence at midnight.

As the clock struck the zero hour, locally, with fireworks and irresponsible revelers discharging firearms in celebration, Catalina exhibited signs of psychological stress. She became restless, panting heavily and drooling profusely. No amount of consoling could relieve her anxiety. It was not until around 0400 that she finally settled down enough for all in the house to settle in for some sleep.

The potential for this condition first manifest itself back in late November. While on the return trip from Moss Point, the kids were in the back of the van watching "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou". During the scene in which the protagonists are cornered in a barn, gunshots rings out. At this point, Catalina became visibly agitated and necessitating that we pull over at the next rest area to walk her around in an effort to console her. After about twelve minutes she calmed down enough to resume the trip. Interestingly, automatic weapon fire does not seem to affect her as much as singular reports.

A prelude to the midnight event was experienced earlier yesterday evening as Elizabeth and I took the canids with us on an evening walk. Some intrepid souls got an early start on the festivities by discharging a large caliber weapon in rapid succession in a not too distant neighborhood. Catalina began to shake uncontrollably and pant heavily. It was not until we returned home that she fully settled.

We will have to be mindful of this condition in the future in order to save all of us undo stress. Perhaps increasing the volume of the stereo will assist with masking the report of firearm and percussive. On the other hand, Oberon seemed unfazed one way or the other. It is now apparent who can go hunting with firearms and who cannot. ;-)


continue to the December 2004 archive

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last BBEdited: 2005.10.07