Sunday, July 31, 2005

OpenCD -- Free Programs for Windows

OK, some of you would rather not follow all the notes I've left on Working With Fedora Core, and prefer to stick with Windows. I understand that. However, there are ways to make your Windows computer run better and cheaper. To help you out with that, the OpenCD project makes a bunch of Open Source programs available for Windows on a single CD. There are a large number of open source programs, including Firefox, Thunderbird (email), (Word Processing, Spreadsheets, etc.), games, screen savers, and more.

Plus, if you just pop the CD in the drive and reboot your computer, you get a LiveCD version of Ubuntu Linux ("Linux for Human Beings") to give you an idea of how Linux looks.

The programs are great, I really like Celestia, which is a space simulation which lets you look at the Universe from any vantage point in the Universe. But on my generic Dell computer, Ubuntu came up with a 640x480 screen, so the graphics were not good, and there was not option to change it. A better CD for playing around with Linux is probably Knoppix, which doesn't have trouble detecting my graphics card and giving me a properly sized screen.

But ignore that, and download or order the OpenCD disk. Or just download the programs you want.

PostScript Viewer

Sometimes it's a pain to read PostScript (TM) files on screen, even though it's easy to print them out. On my WorkMac I can't even look at a PostScript file unless I use a postscript viewer of some kind, even though the Mac Preview utility will read PostScript's somewhat less featured offspring, PDF.

Fedora comes with at least one PostScript viewer, gsview, available in the Extras directory. However, the viewer I like best is gv, a front end to the standard ghostscript utility. gv will display both PostScript and PDF files, and lets you zoom in and move around the page. It's a very old program, the source was last updated in 1997.

I could have installed directly from the gv source, but I thought I'd find an RPM file to work with. Unfortunately, it's in none of the standard repositories. However, found RPMs which claimed to be compiled for FC4. Rather than trust that whole-heartedly, I got a copy of the Source RPM and compiled that. The install was straightforward, and now I can view PostScript and PDF files in the old-fashioned way.


  • Both the Gnome and KDE desktops have PostScript viewers, I just don't remember what they are called and find gv simpler to use.
  • At some point I found on the web a suggestion that you partially protect yourself from malicious SRPM files by setting up an account which is only used to compile RPM packages. This isn't a total panacea, but it's a good start, so I set up just such an account. (What this does is keep the SRPM's makefile from strolling through your own directories. Of course, it might choose to scroll through everyone's directories, in which case you're still hosed, but that would take a lot longer time and you might notice that something weird is going on.)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Last Post

The Hindmost remained in footstool mode, needs explaining, I suppose, since no one picked up on it. When I ran across it the other day, I thought of it as a perfect quote. It could only be written by one person, and anyone who knows that person's work would instantly recognize the author and the story setting, if not the exact work involved.

If you don't know what's going on, the Hindmost is (well, was) the leader of the Pearson's Puppeteers in Larry Niven's Known Space series. The quote is from Ringworld's Children, but to understand that book you'll need to read Ringworld, at least, and probably The Ringworld Engineers and The Ringworld Throne. (Ringworld is Niven's best novel, the other two are, hmm, somewhat less well-done. I can't comment on Ringworld's Children yet because I haven't finished it.)

Anyway, a Puppeteer is an intellegent herbivore who believes that discretion is the only part of valor. When in danger with no place to run (always Plan A), a Puppeteer tucks its two heads (which look like Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent puppets under its body, along with its three legs, creating something that looks like an ottoman (Plan B).

At All Costs Avoid Plan C: Under no circumstances approach the ottoman from the side nearest the hind leg.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Hindmost remained
      in footstool mode.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Well, Maybe a Cookie

OK, it appears that cats lack the gene to taste sugar. [Washington Post, registration required, if you don't know about it's not like I didn't tell you.] That's right, house cats, lions and cheetahs (Oh! My!) all lack the gene, or, at least 247 "letters" of it.

Now, one of our cats eats roses -- I would have thought because they were sweat, but apparently not.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bad News, Bears

Since there's a new version of the movie coming out, it's appropriate that we look at where the Bad News Bears are today.

No, not Jodie Foster, the characters in the movie.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Scotty's Beamed Home

As you probably know, James Doohan passed away yesterday. The BBC has put up this RealPlayer clip about Mr. Scott.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Making Transparent PNG Images

August 14, 2011: Many years after moving from Comcast to Verizon, and thus losing a big chunk of free webspace, I've finally moved the pictures in this article to Picasa, so that you can see them again.

Also note that if you know the exact color of the background, you can do the conversion from the command line.

One of the nice things about old-style GIF images is that it was easy to set the background to be transparent, so that it would show up on a web page without a funky border. New-style PNG images can also do this, but there doesn't seem to be a reliable stand-alone way to do this. Fortunately, I found directions for making a transparent background using the GIMP. The directions seem to be for an older version of the GIMP (I'm using 2.2.7), so let me write down the current directions here. They should work on a Windows machine as well as under Linux.

  1. Bring up the GIMP, and load in your picture. For our purposes we'll use this bit of modern art:
  2. Now right-click on the image and select Layer > Transparency > Add Alpha Channel. (Alpha Channel is what gets made transparent.)
  3. Right-click again, Select > By Color.
  4. Left-click the image on the color you want to make transparent.
  5. Right-click once more, Edit > Clear. The color you selected should now be replaced with a checkerboard pattern.
  6. Save the picture, which should now appear like this:
    Transparent Art?
  7. I'm told that Internet Explorer doesn't do transparent PNGs well, so for youse guys, try a GIF version:
    Transparent Art?

And that's all I know about it.

The Thirty-Eight Minute Wormhole

If you don't know what the title refers to, or if you think that the biggest news last night was the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, feel free to read on, if you wish.

If you do know the title reference, then be warned, there are possible spoilers below. I'm going to explain things to the mundane, then discuss the shows. If you haven't seen them yet, you might not want to read any further. Though, really, there isn't much here you couldn't figure out on your own.

Back in my youth, there was a rule that at most one Science Fiction story could be shown on television at one time. Thus The Twilight Zone never overlapped with Star Trek. OK, there were a few shows which tried to cash in, like Lost in Space, Men into Space, and even My Favorite Martian, but they weren't really science fiction. (Men into Space was more like "Blue Angels With Rockets", a techno-thriller kind of film. I loved it, but it wasn't SF.)

Post Star Trek, we got a bit more SF on TV: the dreck Space: 1999, the really-cheesy but great back-story Battlestar Galactica, and, when the local PBS station could afford it, Dr. Who. Then came Star Trek: Next Generation, followed by Deep Space Nine, Babylon V, Buffy, etc.

But science fiction on TV really arrived with the SciFi channel. I know, they run a bunch of grade C movie stuff, but they also run SciFi Friday, which features Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica (Mark II, with glowing-backbone female Cylons). These shows are generally as well written as an average Star Trek episode, usually pay more attention to continuity, and have a whole lot bigger budget.

So last night they kicked off the new season for all three shows. SciFi has a strange release schedule: the shows will go on for a couple of months, then they'll show reruns until January, when they'll show the rest of the season. In Britain I understand that the series will start in September and show straight through, so though the UK won't see these shows for a few weeks, by November they'll be ahead of us. Hence the spoiler warnings.

For the past few years a friend of mine and I have been discussing the shows by email. Generally I give a few thoughts on each episode, crack a few jokes, and go on, while he gives a reasoned review of the episode, including how it fits in with his worldview.

Pity you won't get that here, you just get me cracking the jokes. But OK, if he wants to respond, he can, in the comments below.

For what it's worth, last year I liked SG-1 best, followed by Battlestar, and then Atlantis. I can go into the reasons if you like, but that's my prejudice as I look at these shows. This year, though, SG-1 has major cast changes, so my opinions might change.

OK, if you're looking for the possible spoilers, they're just below the line. Don't say I didn't warn you.

  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Beau Bridges: (who looks much worse than his Dad did at the same age) tries to be a tough guy. But he's not, so far, he's just moaning about how good the SGC people are, which means he can't yell at them. That never stopped Hammond. This guy needs some character development. How come the President answers HIS phone calls? And who is #1 on his speed-dial?
    • Claudia Black: (sorry, I don't know the new character names, yet, so we'll have to go with real names): I liked her character in the tryout last year, and she'll be OK as Daniel's love interest and gadfly. However, she should get a new dress designer. The current outfit just emphasizes the fact that there's not all that much up there. Also (and more importantly?), as portrayed this week, her character is basically stupid. She actually believes what people tell her about devices they've stolen, and she can't think more than 30 seconds into the future.
    • Other Farscape refugee: This is the star of the show? We'll see when they give us a longer-than-10-second opening. Looks too much like Daniel, as Claudia pointed out, and tries to act too much like Jack, without the essential post-MacGyver cool factor. Also, I'm not sure from the flashbacks why he got the Congressional Medal of Honor, and not any of the other X-302/303 pilots that were holding off Anubis. Wasn't he just doing his job, like all the rest?
    • Daniel: Thank God he lost the beard. His rather intimate relationship with Claudia could be fun. It was last year, anyway.
    • Teal'c: Hopefully he'll get more to do than shoot bullets at walls and try to hold up collapsing ceilings. He's supposed to have some conflict with
    • Lou Gossett Jr.: Why is he slumming here? OK, Isaac Hayes did it last year, but that was only for a couple of shows and he's basically got no career anyway. What possesses a Movie Star to appear on a cable SF series? They'd better do something good with his character.
    • Jack: He plays chess? He's good at chess?
    • Carter: Tapping is on post-maternity leave, supposed to be back full-time in a few weeks.
    • Villains: Don't have any yet, so it's hard to tell.
      <Wholesale Speculation>
      It is interesting that Merlin is an Ancient. This means that the Ancients were backing the Celts at about the same time that the Asgard were backing the Norse. This didn't lead to conflicts? Could this explain the rise of the Goa'uld? Battles among the four races. Come to think of it, this could explain why we never see the Furlings. The big four fought amongst themselves, and the Furlings were wiped out.
      And why do the Nox hide? Are they hiding from the Goa'uld? Maybe they're hiding from the Asgard.
      And who created that plague that wiped out the corporal Ancients? Could it be, ..., I don't know, ... maybe ... the Asgard? You'll notice the Asgard are the only ones of the big four still running around the universe.
      OK, probably not.
      </Wholesale Speculation>
  • Stargate Atlantis:
    • Speaking of Asgard, we're corrupting one here. By the time this season is through, Hermiod (bad choice of name, unless they're going to get Preparation-H as a sponsor) is going to be chucking nukes into stars just to watch the pretty light-show. And why does he curse under his breath? Does anyone on the Daedalus understand ancient Norse? Come on, it's not like Daniel Jackson is there.
    • It would have been interesting to have Dueling Colonels ("I get to draw and quarter Sheppard." "No, I get to draw and quarter Sheppard.") but I guess that would get old fast so they had to get rid of one. Interestingly they kept the one who seems easier to get along with. Maybe he's a pal of Beau Bridges.
    • Plot: Did the Wraith really believe that explosion? They didn't even come down to check. And does this mean that the Atlantis team has to stay hidden for the rest of the season? After all, once they blow up another Wraith ship all of the hive will be back.
  • Battlestar Galactica:
    • I don't know. But then, I never know about this series. I'm guessing that Adama is going to be out of commission for a few more weeks, so we'll have some conflict between Tigh's sense that he's unfit for command and his wife's pushing him to take control. We've also got to reunite the cast, which is now spread over half the galaxy.
    • I see how the Cylons were able to win the first time: Our heroes cable together a network of three computers, on a presumably shielded spacecraft, and a Cylon virus is able to break it down in minutes. The virus must have been left in the computer's OS, just waiting for a chance to do mischief. And no ones gone through the code for the last 20 years. Or else, all the programmers are secret Cylons.
    • I keep thinking about writing an SG-1/Galactica crossover. Except that Sam (or even Rodney) would figure it all out in about 5 minutes, and Jack (or Farscape Guy) would blow the Cylons to smithereens a few seconds later.

Stay tuned next week, boys and girls

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


This blog is rapidly approaching 2,000 hits on the sitemeter in the right-hand bar. If you are the 2,000th hit, send me a picture of the meter and I'll send you a genuine emailed no-prize, just like the ones Marvel Comics used to give out. You'll also get recognition in the Blog, if you want it.

And thanks to the folks on SABR-L for driving up the count.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Yankees Lose!!!
Yankees Lose!!

It's the All Star break, which makes it a good time to take stock of the season so far. Here are the standings after Sunday night's games:

2005 American League Standings
Boston 49 38 0.56322 0.0 473 429
Baltimore 47 40 0.54023 2.0 431 409
NY Yankees 46 40 0.53488 2.5 478 431
Toronto 44 44 0.50000 5.5 428 381
Tampa Bay 28 61 0.31461 22.0 399 553
Chicago Sox 57 29 0.66279 0.0 413 339
Minnesota 48 38 0.55814 9.0 396 360
Cleveland 47 41 0.53409 11.0 406 365
Detroit 42 44 0.48837 15.0 387 375
Kansas City 30 57 0.34483 27.5 376 485
LA Angels 52 36 0.59091 0.0 420 355
Texas 46 40 0.53488 5.0 476 430
Oakland 44 43 0.50575 7.5 400 386
Seattle 39 48 0.44828 12.5 377 388
2005 National League Standings
Washington 52 36 0.59091 0.0 357 361
Atlanta 50 39 0.56180 2.5 428 348
Florida 44 42 0.51163 7.0 383 368
Philadelphia 45 44 0.50562 7.5 410 417
NY Mets 44 44 0.50000 8.0 387 381
St. Louis 56 32 0.63636 0.0 447 340
Houston 44 43 0.50575 11.5 365 362
Chicago Cubs 43 44 0.49425 12.5 394 394
Milwaukee 42 46 0.47727 14.0 392 374
Pittsburgh 39 48 0.44828 16.5 365 403
Cincinnati 35 53 0.39773 21.0 434 518
San Diego 48 41 0.53933 0.0 406 385
Arizona 43 47 0.47778 5.5 394 479
LA Dodgers 40 48 0.45455 7.5 384 422
San Francisco 37 50 0.42529 10.0 393 457
Colorado 31 56 0.35632 16.0 389 493

In the above table, "RS" and "RA" stand for "Runs Scored" and "Runs Allowed," respectively. More on that later.

From the standings, we see that there isn't any contest in either the AL or NL Central divisions, that the AL and NL West are, if not wrapped up, at least uninteresting for the moment, and that the most exciting baseball is being played in the AL East, closely followed by the NL East, where the Nationals are surprisingly in first place.

And "if the playoffs started tomorrow" we'd have Minnesota and Atlanta as the Wild Cards, and the Yankees would be out of the playoffs. (Yankees delenda est!)

Now one of the rules of baseball is that to win you have to score more runs than your opponent. If we look at the above table, you'll note that the Washington Nationals, though in first place in the NL East, have been outscored 361-357, even though they are 16 games over 0.500. What this means is that the Nationals are winning close games (except this last week) and losing blowouts. This is Not a Good Thing for Nats fans, because the winner of a one-run game is determined mostly by luck.

This is quantified by what is known as the the Pythagorean Method, which in its simplest form says that the fraction of games a team should win is related to RS and RA by the formula:

Pct. = RA2 /(RA2 + RS2)

So what would the Pythagorean rule say about this season? Let's calculate how the standings would look if each team won and lost according the to above equation:

2005 American League Standings
Toronto 428 381 49.0953 38.9047 0.55790 0.0000
NY Yankees 478 431 47.4348 38.5652 0.55157 0.6605
Boston 473 429 47.7338 39.2662 0.54866 0.8615
Baltimore 431 409 45.7770 41.2230 0.52617 2.8183
Tampa Bay 399 553 30.4701 58.5299 0.34236 19.1252
Chicago Sox 413 339 51.3816 34.6184 0.59746 0.0000
Cleveland 406 365 48.6664 39.3336 0.55303 3.7152
Minnesota 396 360 47.0860 38.9140 0.54751 4.2956
Detroit 387 375 44.3540 41.6460 0.51574 7.0276
Kansas City 376 485 32.6598 54.3402 0.37540 19.2218
LA Angels 420 355 51.3291 36.6709 0.58329 0.0000
Texas 476 430 47.3552 38.6448 0.55064 2.9739
Oakland 400 386 45.0491 41.9509 0.51781 5.7800
Seattle 377 388 42.2493 44.7507 0.48562 8.5798
2005 National League Standings
Atlanta 428 348 53.5788 35.4212 0.60201 0.0000
Florida 383 368 44.7170 41.2830 0.51997 7.3617
NY Mets 387 381 44.6875 43.3125 0.50781 8.3913
Washington 357 361 43.5098 44.4902 0.49443 9.5690
Philadelphia 410 417 43.7467 45.2533 0.49154 9.8320
St. Louis 447 340 55.7473 32.2527 0.63349 0.0000
Milwaukee 392 374 46.0667 41.9333 0.52349 9.6805
Houston 365 362 43.8590 43.1410 0.50413 11.3883
Chicago Cubs 394 394 43.5000 43.5000 0.50000 11.7473
Pittsburgh 365 403 39.2058 47.7942 0.45064 16.0414
Cincinnati 434 518 36.2953 51.7047 0.41245 19.4520
San Diego 406 385 46.8612 42.1388 0.52653 0.0000
LA Dodgers 384 422 39.8603 48.1397 0.45296 6.5008
San Francisco 393 457 36.9863 50.0137 0.42513 8.8748
Arizona 394 479 36.3194 53.6806 0.40355 11.0418
Colorado 389 493 33.3822 53.6178 0.38370 12.4790

Here "PW" and "PL" are the wins and losses as predicted by they Pythagorean rule, and yes, I've kept way to many decimal places. (You'll note that the total number of wins in this table isn't equal to the total number of losses. That's because the Pythagorean rule is applied on a per-team basis, so a win for one team isn't necessarily a loss for another team.)

For the Central and Western divisions of both leagues these results are essentially the same as the actual records. In the Easts, however, things are drastically different. For one thing, Toronto is actually a very good ballclub, ten games above 0.500. The Yankees aren't doing as badly as Mr. Steinbrenner thinks, they're in contention for the Wild Card. And in the NL, Atlanta is in its accustomed place, and Washington is at about 0.500.

Of course, what this tells us is that the Pythagorean rule isn't exact, and will have some discrepancies, especially over only a portion of a season. But it does suggest that the Nationals have been playing over their heads, as anyone who watched the games with the Mets and the Phillies will attest, and that the AL East is going to be very interesting.

OK, now for the fun part: Let's assume that for the rest of the year teams will win at their current Pythagorean rate, but, of course, keep the wins they already have. Then we get the following standings:

2005 American League Standings
Boston 90.1499 71.8501 0.55648 0.0000
NY Yankees 87.9191 74.0809 0.54271 2.2307
Baltimore 86.4629 75.5371 0.53372 3.6869
Toronto 85.2847 76.7153 0.52645 4.8652
Tampa Bay 52.9923 109.0077 0.32711 37.1575
Chicago Sox 102.4070 59.5930 0.63214 0.0000
Minnesota 89.6109 72.3891 0.55315 12.7961
Cleveland 87.9241 74.0759 0.54274 14.4829
Detroit 81.1966 80.8034 0.50121 21.2104
Kansas City 58.1550 103.8450 0.35898 44.2520
LA Angels 95.1631 66.8369 0.58743 0.0000
Texas 87.8488 74.1512 0.54228 7.3143
Oakland 82.8355 79.1645 0.51133 12.3276
Seattle 75.4218 86.5782 0.46557 19.7413
2005 National League Standings
Atlanta 93.9466 68.0534 0.57992 0.0000
Washington 88.5878 73.4122 0.54684 5.3589
Florida 83.5174 78.4826 0.51554 10.4293
NY Mets 81.5781 80.4219 0.50357 12.3685
Philadelphia 80.8821 81.1179 0.49927 13.0645
St. Louis 102.8784 59.1216 0.63505 0.0000
Houston 81.8095 80.1905 0.50500 21.0689
Milwaukee 80.7379 81.2621 0.49838 22.1404
Chicago Cubs 80.5000 81.5000 0.49691 22.3784
Pittsburgh 72.7981 89.2019 0.44937 30.0803
Cincinnati 65.5210 96.4790 0.40445 37.3574
San Diego 86.4367 75.5633 0.53356 0.0000
LA Dodgers 73.5189 88.4811 0.45382 12.9178
Arizona 72.0555 89.9445 0.44479 14.3812
San Francisco 68.8848 93.1152 0.42521 17.5519
Colorado 59.7777 102.2223 0.36900 26.6590

Based on these predictions, Atlanta will keep its accustomed first place in the NL East, Washington is a good shot for the Wild Card, just because they've won so many games in the first half of the season. And Boston and Minnesota will hold one to the AL East and the Wild Card to (yeah!) keep the Yankees out of the postseason.

Of course, these projections are just that, projections, and aren't a guarantee of anything. Don't even think about using these to place bets. At the end of the season we'll see how well these predictions stack up.

* I could not love baseball so much, did I not hate the Yankees more.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Where Have All the B-Movies Gone?

Gone to Sci-Fi, every one.

MP3 Rips With Sound-Juicer

Well, things work well when you get help:

A bit ago, I said that it seemed hard to get sound-juicer to rip CDs to MP3 format. But then, I got feedback from Ross Burton, the developer of sound-juicer, who told me to look for the gstreamer-lame plugin to handle MP3 files.

This took a bit of detective work: Mandrake has the plugin under that name in the Penguin Liberation Front archives, but the dependencies to install it weren't compatible with Fedora's shipped version of gstreamer. Eventually, I thought to look in the the list of available RPMs for Fedora Core 4. Doing
$ yum list > yum_files
and then looking at the output, I found the line:
gstreamer-plugins-mp3.i386  0.8.8-0.lvn.1.4  livna
which looked promising. (The program is in the Livna repository, which is I installed with help from Fedora Core Tips & Tricks.) So install the package via:
$ sudo yum install gstreamer-plugins-mp3
and off to the sound-juicer manual to learn how to add MP3 ripping capabilities:

  1. Run the program gnome-audio-profiles-properties
    1. Press "New" to get a create a new profile, then "Edit"
    2. Name it MP3
    3. In the box labeled "GStreamer Pipeline" enter:
      audio/x-raw-int,rate=44100,channels=2 ! lame name=enc
    4. Fill in the "File Extension" box with "mp3"
    5. Click the "active" check box
    6. Exit
  2. Start up sound-juicer
  3. Under "Edit=>Preferences" go to Output: and select "MP3"
  4. Rip normally

And this works: except that I get error messages of the type
Couldn't find matching gstreamer tag for track-count
Couldn't find matching gstreamer tag for encoder
Couldn't find matching gstreamer tag for encoder-version
for every track, and at the end sound-juicer hung up and I had to kill it manually. We'll see if this problem persists.

Anyway, thanks again to Ross Burton for helping out.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

What Do You Do With
  a 873-pound Tuna?

Apparently, you explain to your wife that the house is going to stink for a few -- years.[*] And prepare your kids to eat tuna steak forever.

This fish was caught in the mouth of the Delaware River. I'm not sure I'd be eating it at all, but, OK, if you want to live dangerously ...

[*] If you didn't know about, now you do.

Linux, Firefox, and rtsp Revisited

Without a doubt, the most-accessed entry in this blog is one I did on getting the rtsp aka RealPlayer protocol to work with Firefox. Don't believe me? Go to Google, enter "firefox rtsp" in the search bar, and then hit "I'm feeling lucky."

Anyway, as a result of feedback I requested on that post, I've got some new information. You don't have to edit configuration files buried three levels deep to fix this. No, you just have to do a little bit of mouse clicking to change the configuration file from your browser. This post describes the procedure for Mozilla, but the same trick works in Firefox, to wit:

  1. In the address bar of your browser type the string
    and hit return. You'll get a long confusing list of options. Some are in bold, some aren't, but don't worry about that.
  2. Right-click anywhere in the display area. A box will appear. Click on the New option.
  3. Another box will appear. In it, type
  4. Yet another box will appear. In it, type
    or the location of whichever program you want to work.

That's it, RealPlayer should now work. You can check your work here.

Windows Users! I note that some of you have been searching for a solution to this problem as well. The problem seems to be in RealPlayer, not Firefox. If you go to Word_Whore, scroll past the politics, and look at the bottom of the post, you'll see that you should enable Real-Time Streaming Protocol by clicking on "Preferences=>Advanced=>Other Media" in RealPlayer and enable RTSP.

Hope this works, I haven't tried it myself on a Windows machine.

Friday, July 08, 2005


It looks as though Terry Pratchett's next Discworld book, Thud, will come out in October. You can already preorder on both Amazon and Amazon UK.

The US version is cheaper over here, so I'm going to buy it, but I was tempted to get the UK version. Why? Well, look:

Cover of UK edition of Thud
UK Edition
Cover of UK edition of Thud
US Edition

There's no comparison.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Ripping Direct to MP3

Of course, the main purpose of previous entry was to convert ogg formatted sound files to mp3 so that I could burn them to a CD and play them in my car. Why did I need the conversion? Because I was using sound-juicer to rip files from CDs, the juice defaults to ogg for compressed files, and anyway in FC4 there is no support for MP3s in there.

I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could use the same trick on sound-juicer as we did on SoX, but that turns out to be rather difficult. So the best thing to do is follow the advice in that link and use Grip to burn CDs. As long as the lame package is present, Grip will rip CDs to MP3 format if you ask. There is a small bit of configuring required, but it works very well.

Now I just have to re-rip all those CDs.

Putting MP3s into SoX

I mentioned previously that one of the things I wanted to do with Fedora Core 4 was to find an MP3-enabled version of SoX, "the Swiss Army Knife" of sound processing programs. In FC3 I found a SoX+MP3 RPM file online. I still haven't found one for FC4. Fortunately, however, I found a hint for creating such an RPM online (search for "sox").

The procedure is rather simple, if you're willing to rebuild RPM files:

  1. Set up your account so that you can build RPM files.
  2. Find a copy of sox-*.src.rpm, where the "*" is the version number. The current version is 12.17.7-3, so you'll look for sox-12.17.7-3.src.rpm. This is available in any mirror of Fedora Core 4, I found it in
  3. Copy sox-12.17.7-3.src.rpm to ~/rpmbuild/SRPMS.
  4. Make sure the packages lame, lame-devel, libmad, and libmad-devel are installed. If not, you'll need to install them. Assuming you followed Fedora Core Tips & Tricks to enable the freshrpms repository, you can do:
    sudo yum install libmad libmad-devel lame lame-devel
    where sudo allows selected users to run root commands. If you these packages are already installed, yum will let you know about it.
  5. Now create the RPM. From a terminal window:
    $ cd ~/rpmbuild/SRPMS
    $ sudo rpmbuild --rebuild sox*

    and wait awhile.
  6. When the program is finished,
    $ cd ~/rpmbuild/RPMS/i386
    $ ls sox*

    There should be three files with RPM extensions: sox*, sox-devel*, and sox-debuginfo*, where "*" hides all the version numbers and stuff. Since these RPMs were compiled with the lame and mad libraries, they contain an MP3 enabled version of SoX.
  7. Now for the tricky part: we have to get the non-MP3 version of SoX off the system and replace it with the MP3-enabled version. This is difficult because a) the version of SoX on your system is probably the same as the one you just complied, so the rpm database won't recognize your version as an upgrade; and b) some programs depend on SoX to run, so the dependency checker in rpm will generate an error. To get rid of the old SoX, then, we must force the uninstall:
    $ rpm -e --nodeps sox sox-devel
    assuming that you had sox-devel on your system.
  8. Now we can install the brand-new version of SoX:
    $ sudo rpm -i sox-12.17.7-3.i386.rpm sox-devel-12.17.7-3.i386.rpm
  9. Now test the program. Run
    $ sox -h
    At the bottom of the output is a list of supported file formats. If you see "mp3", then SoX works.
  10. Use SoX as before.

Note that if freshrpms ever updates SoX, you'll lose the MP3 capability and will have to repeat all of this stuff again. :-(

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Windows: Another Hole In IE

If you're still running Internet Explorer under Windows (and 46% of you reading this are), then you need to take note of yet another security hole in IE.

You have to dig deep down in this advisory to figure out what the problem is. Clicking on the various buttons that hide text, it seems that the bug triggers the Java Virtual Machine to crash IE and "gain the same user rights as the local user," which in Windows usually means administrative privileges.

If you have to use IE, Microsoft has a few suggestions, but the best one is in this Washington Post article: switch browsers.

Of course, Linux & Things recommends Firefox, but there is a wide variety to choose from.

July 6: Microsoft has released a patch for this bug

Monday, July 04, 2005

A Measure of our Ignorance

Science, second only to Nature in prestige, is celebrating its 125th aniversary by publishing a list of the Top 125 Things We Don't Know. Actually, that should be The Top 125 Things We Don't Know But Which We Might Figure Out Soon, but it's still a good list, including things like:

  • Are we alone in the Universe?
  • What is the Universe made of?
  • Why do humans have so few genes?
  • How, and where, did life here arise?
  • How hot will the greenhouse effect heat up Earth?
  • Is Quantum Mechanics all there is?

and much more. Read it.

Using the Backspace Key in vim

The Fedora Core 3 version of the vi-clone text editor vim let you use the backspace key to delete the character you just typed, just like an old-style keyboard/typewriter.

In Fedora Core 4 the default is that the backspace key is the same as Ctrl-H, like on an old style teletype. To fix this, it's necessary to edit the ~/.vimrc file, adding the line:

inoremap ^? ^H

Actually, to type that using vim, you press the keys:

inoremap Ctrl-V Ctrl-Shift-? Ctrl-V Ctrl-h

as Ctrl-V means: insert the next key I press literally, dummy.

This makes vim behave the way it should in insert mode: Pressing the backspace key (or Ctrl-H) deletes the character you just typed.

Getting A Text Terminal

Way back in the past, even before the X window system for Unix-like operating systems was in widespread use, it was realized that sometimes a simple terminal screen wasn't enough.

So it was decided that there should be multiple terminals available to the average user. These days the default number is set at 7. So if, for example, you're logged into terminal #1, and you want to do something completely different, you can hit Alt-F2, and suddenly you're in terminal #2. You can even log into terminal #2 with a different account, so two people can work on the same terminal screen, provided that they don't beat each other silly fighting to press Alt-F1 or Alt-F2.

When X windows was added, the extra terminals were left intact. A good decision, as anyone who has watched a Windows graphic freeze up with no solution except to reboot can attest. In fact, in a default Linux system the X-window graphics module runs in terminal #7. The only difference between systems with X and systems without X is that you need an additional keypress to get to terminal #3, say, pressing Ctrl-Alt-F3 to get to terminal #3 and Ctrl-Alt-F7 to get back to X.

So if a program does hang up your X-windows system, all you have to do is hit, say Ctrl-Alt-F1, log in there, do ps xawu to find the offending process's ID number, and kill it. Most times X will come back by itself, but if it doesn't, you can log in as root and kill X. It will restart when you do Ctrl-Alt-F7.

Except with Fedora Core 4 and my Intel 82845G/GL "integrated" graphics device, it didn't work. Hitting Ctrl-Alt-F1 gave you a blank screen. I think that you could log in and Do Stuff, but I couldn't verify anything, and logging in seemed to freeze the Ctrl-Alt-F7 mechanism to get back to X.

This bug was often reported, but not fixed. Now, thanks to Fedora Weekly News, I find that there is a workaround (see Bug#2 in this link). It seems that the offending software is part of the new X distribution, specifically the library libvgahw.a. Apparently there is something in the new gcc 4 compiler that doesn't like the source code for this library. So the solution is:

Duh, use the library file from Fedora Core 3. The procedure is:

  1. Download the latest and greatest version of this file from
  2. Log in as root.
  3. Copy the downloaded version of the file to
    you might want to rename the old file first, just in case you need it around.
  4. Restart X and see what happens. For me, it works.

This isn't the optimal way of doing things, of course. Hopefully a real fix will arrive soon.

Working With Fedora Core 4

I've collected all of the Fedora Core 4 posts from this blog and put them, in chronological order, in (duh):

Working With Fedora Core 4

As in the past, I'll keep adding posts to the file as long as I'm using FC4.