Monday, January 29, 2007

Further Proof that God Exists

CBS Axes 'Armed & Famous' After 4 Shows

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Best Football News Since 1992

As Redskins fan since the beginning of Gibbs I, here's an article from USA Today that makes my day:

Turner latest, possibly greatest, candidate for Cowboys job

A representative quote:

Although Turner went 59-83-1 over nine years as a coach with Washington and Oakland, he's considered the front-runner to replace Bill Parcells because of his long relationship with Jones and the success they had together.

Thank you, Jerry.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Snow Penguin

Free Image Hosting at

New Version of an Old Scam

I haven't seen this one before. Today the "Card Services for Credit Union Inc. Survey Department" informed me that they'll give me a $50 credit to my account if I take a survey:


You have been chosen by the Card Services for Credit Union Inc. Survey Department to take part in our quick and easy 5 question survey. In return we will credit $50.00 to your account, just for your time!

With the information collected we can decide to direct a number of changes to improve and expand the online services.

The information you provide us is all non-sensitive and anonymous. No part of it is handed down to any third party groups. It will be stored in our secure database while we process the results of this nationwide reward survey.

We kindly ask you to spare two minutes of your time in taking part with this unique offer!

Please note: Card Services for Credit Union Inc. will never ask you for your PIN via e-mail or phone

Click the link below and fill in the form on the following page to complete the Reward Survey process.

(Link deleted)

Of course, when you do go to the link (for which I used lynx, which deletes all cookies on exit), the "non-sensitive information" they ask you for your account number, the last six social security number (meaning they only have to try 1000 variants) and a credit or debit card number (including those 3 digits) on the back, so they can "credit $50 to your account."

Needless to say, Google turns up no mention of "Card Services for Credit Union Inc.", and the link they provide goes off to an unregistered IP address.

A classic phishing scam, with $50 for bait. Be warned.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Funky Software

I hope to Great A'Tuin that y'all know what a lava lamp is. I suspect that everyone with more than a casual interest in this blog knows what the ps and top commands do. Put them all together and whatdoyagot?

LavaPS, a visual description of what's going on in your machine. Take a look at the pictures below. I'm running a Quantum Espresso calculation in the background (tungsten in the perovskite structure, since you ask), so there's plenty of CPU action:

The pinkish blob is the QE calculation, as you could see if you could left-click on it, which you can't. It keeps roughly the same area, representing the amount of memory it is using, but moves around a lot compared to the other running processes, indicating that it is getting most of the CPU time. So lavaps provides a visual map of memory/CPU usage. It's moderately useful, though I really haven't run it in years. I thought of it yesterday and, of course, found the compiled version in the Ubuntu repository — back in the day I had to compile it from source.

Then I had an idea that smacks of, dare I say, hackery — I remembered that, some time ago, I was able to load xnetload into FVWM's buttonbar. Would it work with with lavaps?

Add this line to the the FvwmButtons section of your ~/.fvwm/.fvwmrc file:

*FvwmButtons(2x2, Frame 2, Title lavaps, Swallow(UseOld) "lavaps" 'Exec lavaps &')

You might also have to change the size of the box (I commented out the old geometry):

*FvwmButtons: Geometry 100x550-0-0
# *FvwmButtons: Geometry 100x450-0-0

And here are some shots of of the bar, still with Quantum Espresso running:

Now all we need are a black light and some ... brownies. Yeah, that's it, brownies.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ripping Records and Tapes With Audacity

Being of a certain age, I have a substantial collection of vinyl and cassette recordings. (Fortunately, I never went in for 8-tracks. A friend of mine even had a car equipped with a 4-track tape deck. Yes, I'm old. Wanna make something of it?)

The vinyl albums and 45's have been sitting upstairs in the attic ever since the day that the cat decided that the turntable would make a nice treadmill. The cassettes have been banished there as well ever since we got our first automobile with a CD player. And now, of course, we're all in the process of compressing every bit of music ever recorded into MP3 files, if we're unlucky enough to only have brain-dead car stereos and iPod clones, or the unencumbered ogg format if we're able to find players for it.

Unfortunately, many songs I'd like to listen to on an MP3 player are upstairs in the attic. I'm not particularly inclined to go out and buy a CD reissue of an album just for one or two songs I'd like to hear, so it would be nice to be able to have a way to get those songs off of the records and into MP3 and/or OGG format. In other words, I want to rip a record, just as grip or sound juicer rip CDs onto disk.

A friend has a high-tech audio system which is set up to copy recordings to CD, and thence to a computer-readable file. Several times I thought about bringing over my whole collection (and a keg or two of beer) and asking for help, but the inertia was too great. So my records and tapes languished in the attic.

Until I read Washington Post tech writer Rob Pegoraro's newsletter, where he mentions an old article about transferring records and tapes to MP3 format.

Now I'm a self-described geek. But I didn't really think I had enough equipment to re-record albums without going outside the house. Duh. Well, except for the fact that I don't have a working turntable.

But I do have a collection of tapes, circa 1980, and an old stereo cassette tape deck, whose age can be guessed by the fact that it only has Dolby A noise reduction capability. So, assuming the tapes are in any kind of decent shape, I just need:

  • A cable to connect the cassette deck to the computer. The deck has RCA output, red and white, and the computer has a stereo plug line-in jack, so I went to RadioShack and purchased a Y-Adapter Audio Cable (part 42-2550, $6.99+tax), which has RCA plugs on one side and a modern-size stereo headphone plug on the other side. If I'd used one of our boom-boxes, I would have used a headphone-to-headphone plug. Check your connections before you head out to the 'Shack.
  • A copy of Audacity, the open source program for recording and editing sounds. It's available in the Ubuntu repository, naturally. I'd used it to edit MP3 files, but never to record. It has many capabilities I'll never even think of using. For now, we just want to record files, so we need:
    • This tutorial, which covers the basics of recording with Audacity. It's written from a Windows point of view, but the basics are the same. Especially heed the warning that by default Audacity records in Mono. It's easy to change the preference to Stereo, but you've got to do it.
    • The LAME package, which will allow Audacity to save directly to MP3. This eliminates the conversion step mentioned in the tutorial.
  • The kid3 utility, which puts in all that nice tag information, letting your MP3 player tell you which song you're hearing.

Once you've got all that, it's fairly easy. Just follow the steps in the tutorial. I prefer to save the entire session in audacity's own format, then go back, select the tracks I want, and export them to MP3. Audacity should then enter the track ID information, but that doesn't seem to work well, so I go back and fix all the tags with kid3.

The quality is surprisingly good, if you started with a decent tape. Really cheap tapes, now well over 20 years old, don't even turn in the tape deck. But higher quality tapes surprisingly retain their sound. The quality is definitely not as good as ripping from a CD, however. There's just too much background noise in the system, and the tape speed isn't exactly constant anymore. Higher-end tape decks and sound systems might work better. If I wanted that quality, though, it would be cheaper to go out and buy the CD-reissues of the albums. For listening on the computer, an MP3 player, or in the car, the quality is acceptable.

I should write a full tutorial about using Audacity, with pictures and diagrams. Maybe later.

Now I still have all of that vinyl to record. I can get hold of a turntable, but I'll have to go out to get a new cartridge so that it can play. Then we just have to keep the cat out of the room during the recording process.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

NFL Rule One

Terry Pratchett's Rule One is Do not act incautiously when confronting a little bald wrinkly smiling man.

If you didn't realize it before, in the NFL, Rule One is:

Do not bet incautiously against sixth round draft picks during playoff games.

Rule Two, of course, is

Always bet against Marty.

Real Linux stuff later this week, people. Promise.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Public Service Announcement

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Those Meddling Brits

An odd convergence:

today's sad news


yesterday's link to Clive Banks' page

Scooby-Doo and the Mystery of Stage Five

Much, much better than the movies.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I Think I'd Try to Get It Pulled From the Shelf

David Lynch (da dum, da Dum) has a book out, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, in which the author "writes candidly about the tremendous creative benefits he has gained from his thirty-two-year commitment to practicing Transcendental Meditation."

The publisher's blurb tells us that the book also "offers a set of practical ideas that speak to matters of personal fulfillment, increased creativity, and greater harmony with one's surroundings."

I like much of Lynch's work. That said, I'm not a big fan of TM, but if I was, and someone was offering Fire Walk With Me as an example of "greater harmony with one's surroundings," I think I'd sue.

(Thanks to Clive Barker's Science Fiction and Telefantasy Databanks for the link to Twin Peaks.)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Sword Project

If you aren't interested in the Bible, you'll probably want to move on right now.

Mind, this doesn't mean that you have to be particularly religious to continue reading. The Bible is such an important part of our culture that everyone is affected by it each and every day, no matter what their personal opinion is. If you think not, start reading David Plotz's Blogging the Bible over on Slate. Don't worry, it's a secular take on the Bible. It's also highly entertaining.

Still with me? The problem with reading the Bible is that it was written in ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek. This makes a translation necessary for roughly 99% of the population. For English-speaking Protestants the traditional translation has been the Authorized (aka King James) Version. While beautifully written, it has certain deficiencies from the modern point of view, mostly because we know a lot more about languages and theology in the Classical period than we did in Shakespeare's time. As a result, there has been a massive proliferation of Bible translations in my lifetime.

All of which puts those of us who occasionally teach Bible study in a quandary. Which translation to use? Is it really right? Is there another take on this passage? While these questions are addressed by many writers, sometimes it's worthwhile to try to tease the answers out of the text itself — and that means either learning Hebrew and Greek, or looking at a variety of translations and trying to figure out the sense of the passage by looking at it from all sides.

Looking up at my bookshelf, I see I have seven translations here (King James, New Revised Standard, Jerusalem, New King James, New American Standard, Contemporary English, and Living Bible). I didn't set out to buy all of these. Some are confirmation Bibles, one (Oxford's NRSV) I use because it has copious notes, and one (Jerusalem) I bought for 10¢ when the local library was cleaning off its bookshelves. But I only have a small number of translations. There are literally hundreds. And you can't spread all of them out on a table to easily look at a group of translations of a particular passage. Plus, you can't search them easily, and you certainly can't pack them all up and haul them around the countryside.

Enter the Open Source SWORD Project. This includes software for Linux, Windows and Macs, along with a set of modules which can be loaded onto each platform. The modules include Bible translations (even Joseph Smith's), not all of them in English, as well as Commentaries (including translations of Luther), Dictionaries, Maps, and the complete surviving works of Josephus.

There are some things missing. You won't get the NRSV, for example, because that's under copyright, even though you can read it online. The best modern translation available is probably the Net Bible, though some versions of the software leave out the massive translator's footnotes available from the Net Bible's own download.

If you run a Windows or a Mac, you can go now. The rest of this is for Linux users.

The software for Linux is available in two versions: GnomeSword, for use with (duh) the Gnome desktop, and BibleTime for KDE. Both are available using apt-get or synaptic. (On this, I'm agnostic. I use FVWM.) I tend to like GnomeSword's interface better than BibleTime, but BibleTime shows the translator's footnotes and/or cross-references, and so far I haven't been able to figure out how to do that with GnomeSword.

The biggest challenge will be installing the modules. Ubuntu has a limited set of modules available, but not many. To get more, you have to download them from Sword's modules page. With GnomeSword you can do this by going to Edit =>Module Manager =>Configure. There you'll have the choice of installing in your local directory, e.g. $HOME/.sword, or in /usr/share/sword. To do the latter you'll have to have root access. The software thoughtfully warns people living in "a persecuted country" that they should probably not be downloading over the Internet.

If you use BibleTime, or if the module you want doesn't come up on GnomeSword's menu, you'll have to do a manual install. This isn't too hard. Pick the Raw ZIP version of the module, save it as, say, ~/downloads/ Then

  • To install it in your local directory,
    $ cd ~/.sword
    $ unzip ~/downloads/
  • For a global install:
    $ cd /usr/share/sword
    $ sudo unzip ~/downloads/

The module will be available the next time you start either GnomeSword or BibleTime.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Things You Never Learn About Your Home Town

Apparently, Holyrood had at least one interesting character living there when I was growing up.