Monthly Archives: February 2004

News of the Squid

Tarantella Then and Now – A FUD Tale – Groklaw. Not particularly well-informed, associating Tarantella with oldSCO Linux FUD.

Tarantella’s new chief talks money – ZDNet UK. Interview with new CEO Frank Wilde.

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Phone spam

Twice in the last twenty minutes my mobile phone provider, Singlepoint, has rung me touting for more business. I turned down the first one, of course, and interrupted the second one before he got too far into his spiel. He then tried to carry on!

“Are you not interested in saving–?”

“I turned down the first one twenty minutes ago, and I’m hardly likely to have changed my mind in the time being.”

“Not even to–”

“Look, I know you’re just reading whatever your system tells you to, but I’m really not interested.”

At this he finally gave up. Time to register with the anti-phone-spam people. Sadly it takes “up to 28 days” to be effective.


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Verbier video

The Verbier 2004 skiing video has now had its world premiere at Avaragado Towers, so now it’s available to all. See the current Avaragado Pictures movie selection.


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“Could do better at maths”

I mean, really. That teacher knew nothing.

If you’re part of a family of hoarders, like me, then when your parents move house after twenty years in the same place you suddenly find yourself surrounded by your past. Everything full of memories. The noise a toy makes. A phrase in a school book. Even the texture of a folder. You have to make instant decisions — chuck, jumble, storage, keep, take — on thousands of items, small and large. It’s hard work.

My brother and I have spent the last two weekends helping to clear out the loft. It’s family archaeology: layers, layers, layers, deeper into the past. What was fresh when you last saw it is now faded, dusty, the last resting place of flies and spiders.

Things I have learned:

  • A Tardis is just a loft with a makeover. Emptying half the loft filled the entire ground floor with boxes.
  • “I didn’t think we still had that,” a hundred times over.
  • Sellotape is evil. Double-sided sellotape, which we used to kill for at Junior School, is the very devil incarnate. It stains, it degrades, it ruins that bad tracing of Charles I you did in 1979 to please Mrs L Rayner (“don’t forget the L!”).
  • There was once a time when I misspelled words. It was a very long time ago.
  • At college, I once wrote wearily at the start of a lecture: “And now we return to the land of make believe, and the man with the white hair and the tranquilisers”. I remember that lecturer, but nothing of the course.
  • Some of the things I kept in case they might one day be worth something are still worth keeping. Honest!
  • It’s time to throw away most of your computer magazine collection when:
    • Your parents move to a smaller house.
    • There is no conceivable way you could fit any more magazines in the cupboard.
    • The only things holding up shelves of magazines are the magazines on the shelves below.
  • Magazines and comics I thought I’d thrown away ten years ago are still in the garage.
  • I remember things that happened thirty years ago. I have thirty-year-old possessions.
  • I’ve always liked standing with my hands behind my back.
  • I need to “be more vocal during lessons.”

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Wheee! again

Having more or less recovered from the labyrinthitis, I’ve just had a relapse.

Interestingly, I’m now drifting to the left rather than the right. This supports my theory that the original “recovery” was in fact the brain readjusting to different inputs (cf studies where test participants spend a week wearing magic glasses that show the world upside-down, and cope perfectly well as their brains get used to it). Now something’s flipped back to its original state and my brain has to readjust (taking off the upside-down specs causes as much disorientation as putting them on in the first place).

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Stop the world, my rear-view mirror fell off. So much for superglue. I blame the Hutton report.

I’ve tried again, with more glue this time. Most of it twixt window and mirror-clasp in the approved fashion. Some of it gracing my fingers, little shiny discolorations in the fingerprints.

I’m not a practical person.

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Firefox, Thunderbird

Mozilla Firefox 0.8 (was Firebird) and Mozilla Thunderbird 0.5 are now out.

Despite <1.0 version numbers, they’re both stable enough to use as default browser/email clients.

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Free not as in time

As JWZ says, Linux
is only free if your time has no value. Amply proven by the
time-gobbling effects of trying to make DVDs using Linux, as I’ve
discovered over the last week.

My goal: a DVD with posh front-end for the output of Avaragado

I like a challenge. I wanted to use “free” Linux software like
dvdauthor to generate the DVD menus, as I’d read that it’s much more
flexible than the PC GUIs generally available. Certainly the Roxio “DVD
Builder” software bundled with my DVD drive didn’t let me do what I want.

The plan… Use my existing PC tools to spit out suitable mpegs and
graphics for the menus to a Samba share. Use dvdauthor (and its
legions of supporting tools, gathered like brothels by a Roman fort)
to munge these and the content (the mpeg movies themselves) into the
approved DVD directory structure, menus all belled and whistled to my
desires. Then finally use mkisofs to convert that to a filesystem
image, and return to Windows for the burn.

First, dvdauthor. With the help of the newly installed apt-get,
several web sites and Google, I conquered the dependencies of
dvdauthor and its cohorts. Least shocking news of the day: dvdauthor’s
is unfinished and confusing. (Want to know what the
“cell” element’s for? “Foo”.) Still, I figured out how to do what I
wanted, just about. Using stub files instead of full movies helped
here: every time you “build” your DVD directory structure it processes
every last byte of your mpegs. (Good Thing: if you refer to a movie
more than once, it only processes it once.)

I used Photoshop (6.0) and Premiere (6.5) to design and produce the
menus. Both are Adobe products, of course, and Premiere trumpets its
ability to “seamlessly integrate” or some other marketese with
Photoshop files, “including layers”. Yes, well, up to a point. When
you import a Photoshop file into Premiere, you choose whether to
import one layer alone or all layers merged. You can’t import multiple
layers at once (I wanted to); it ignores any layer effects (which I
used); and helpfully labels the resulting imported blob with the
filename – thus making it indistinguishable from every other layer
you’ve imported from the same file. My workaround for these problems
was to use multiple Photoshop files, starting with a “master” design
which was then Save As’d into multiple copies, each of which was then
individually mangled (layers deleted and merged) to ensure I ended up
with a single layer that looked as I wanted. What a mess. Thankfully,
Premiere respected the original alpha channels. (The new Premiere Pro
apparently does this better, and also imports PNG. But I don’t have
that. I wonder what Final Cut {Pro,Express} is like on the Mac?)

OK, menus done, tick. With a suitable XML configuration file,
dvdauthor spat out the appropriate directory structure. mkisofs turned
that into an image, which I copied back to the PC to burn a test
disk, which worked fine. Helpfully both PowerDVD on Windows and xine on Linux can read
the dvdauthor output to let you test without burning.

Leaving out several iterations due to stupidity and rethinks, the
menus work. I can even type “make dvd” and get a DVD, now that I’ve
learned GNU make’s pattern-matching malarkey. I’m on nodding terms
with spumux for adding subtitles (which are the core of DVD menus) to
MPEG streams, and mplex for multiplexing multiple video and audio
streams into one file (which is how you do multi-angle DVDs and
multiple audio tracks – but before you ask, I didn’t do that).

Now the content. I sucked in my high quality versions from the
backup DV tapes, and rendered them out again as MPEG-2 straight to
Linux via Samba. Files on a DVD are limited to a gig, apparently, so I
split a couple of the videos into two. No problem, I thought:
dvdauthor lets you recombine them later – in the lingo, a DVD title
is a “pgc” comprising multiple “vob”s, which are the individual files.

Sadly dvdauthor barfs semi-randomly at these. The Malta video – two
700MB files – caused dvdauthor to segfault when writing out the DVD
index file. The workaround I found was to make each file a title, and
make the first jump straight on to the second. dvdauthor was happier
with that. Good thing too, I had to use that trick three times in
all. (The “proper” way worked once, when I used stubs for many titles
to save build time during testing. With all true files in place, the
same thing segfaulted. Bah.)

Menus and content in place, sticking plaster holding things together.
Now to make the DVD image file. Except… no disk space. (Ex-work box,
you see. Old, underpowered.)

Before you say anything, I’d planned for that. My PC’s got lots of
disk. I’d mount a PC share as smbfs and write to that using
mkisofs. What could possibly go wrong?

A 2 gig filesize limit on smbfs, that’s what would go wrong. At
precisely 61.66% progress writing the image file, to be exact.

Backup plan… Now I’d got the DVD directory structure, I didn’t need
the original mpegs processed by dvdauthor. I could delete
those. Except if I did that, I couldn’t rerun dvdauthor if something
was broken on the DVD. No problem. I copied the original mpegs back to
the PC (“118 minutes remaining”), and deleted the copies on Linux. If
I needed to rerun dvdauthor, I could do that over smbfs as all
the files were under a gig…

Then finally, I could build the final ISO image. And then I spent
another two hours copying that back to the PC over SMB and my harassed
wireless link. A short burn later, and I had my DVD.

Except it doesn’t play properly in my DVD player. I’ve updated the
DVD player’s firmware, and it claims to support DVD+RW, but it doesn’t
like this one. The menus work, and the first movie works, but the
other movies play noise instead of sound (and one of them crashes the
DVD player). Sigh. Maybe I’ll try a DVD-R, or DVD-RW, or maybe
DVD+R… or build a DVD using the simple Roxio tools and see where
that gets me…

At least it plays fine from my PC drive. If you ignore the interlacing.

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Avaragado’s latest comedy drama

About quarter past midnight last night, feeling absolutely fine, I went to bed. As soon as my head hit the pillow the room started to spin. Not a gentle start, a switch. Before getting in bed: fine; after getting in bed: wheeee!

I scrabbled for the light switch, sat up, wheee! All of a sudden any head movement just sent the room circling. Not surprisingly I began to feel nauseous. And a little scared.

I sat on the edge of my bed, a light sweat forming, and focused on something in front of me. Keeping my head still brought things under control. Experiments suggested, though, that it wasn’t fixed. All sorts of things went through my mind.

Nausea prompted me to make my way to the bathroom, just in case. I took my mobile with me, just in case. After twenty more minutes, nothing had changed. I hadn’t thrown up – it didn’t seem like food poisoning – but I hadn’t improved.

I rang my brother. He found the number of NHS Direct (I wasn’t in the mood to look for it myself right then), which is 0845 46 47 by the way, and I rang them. They took my details, told me all nurses were busy right then, and promised to ring back in no more than about twenty minutes.

Much to my surprise, they did. A nurse went through her checklist. No rash, no chest pains, no numbness, no bumps on head, no confusion, no headaches, no vomiting, no diarrhoea, no alcohol… After a discussion she suggested I call my GP’s surgery.

I did, and found myself talking to someone at the CAMDOC overnight service. She took my symptoms again, and said someone would call me back in a few minutes. Again, they did. It was another nurse, who took my symptoms again. The doctor on call was on a visit right then; it sounded like I should see him. He could come to me, or I could go to them. I decided to go to them.

She told me I shouldn’t drive, so I rang my brother once more (who was waiting for me to call back and tell him how I’d got on). He biked over and drove me to the surgery, in Chesterton. That was a white-knuckle ride – sensory overload – but I managed not to throw up.

Surgery was empty except for staff, not surprisingly post-2am. The doctor saw me straight away.

Diagnosis was ultimately pretty straightforward: something called labyrinthitis. It’s an infection of the balance organs of the inner ear, not that uncommon. He said it lasts for 2-5 days, during which you can’t really do anything productive; he suggested bed rest. They don’t know what causes it (it does often come on suddenly), and they don’t have a magic cure, but they do have pills to reduce the feeling of nausea.

Another fun drive home. My brother stayed the night, since it was by then 3am and he didn’t need to be at work until lunchtime anyway.

No real change come the (late) morning, or afternoon as I write. Of the three traditional axes of head movement, yaw (left-right) is not bad, pitch (up-down) is worse, and roll (emoticon inspection and phone-cradling) is nasty. The really annoying things are sudden noises that make me turn my head involuntarily. Other than that I’ve spent the day so far in slow motion, and I guess that’s the plan until I recover. Borders will have to survive without my presence.

Someone can make a joke about an ex-SCO employee having a virus if they wish. It would make a change from “never mind that, what about my present?”…

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