mahna mahna .net

Like many personal blogs of its era, this blog is moribund, a casualty of what we might call "the Facebook effect." However, as of late 2015, two things are clear: (1) The Indie Web is a thing, and (2) the re-decentralization of the web is a thing. So who knows? 2016 2017 (!) could be the year this blog rises from its own ashes. Stay tuned!

Thursday, 29 May 2003
What do you do when you’ve just burned a CD and you realize you don’t have a spare jewelcase to store it in? Point your browser to papercdcase.com.

[And it’s powered by Free Software! Buy recycled paper!]
posted to /tech at 12:29am :: 0 responses
Wednesday, 28 May 2003
It’s taken four years, but the California DVD case will finally reach the state Supreme Court on Thursday. (From there, it will probably head to the U.S. Supreme Court.) And yet, the media is still getting the story completely wrong: DeCSS was not created to copy DVDs (though its code can be used in that fashion), but rather to make DVDs viewable with Free Software.

See, you may think you “own” those shiny silver discs you’ve bought. You may think you can play your DVDs on whatever damn hardware you like. But the movie industry says you’re wrong. Moving overseas? Your American DVDs won’t play on European or Asian players. Run Linux instead of Windows or the Mac OS? Too bad: There is no sanctioned player software for that platform. Free Software projects don’t pay ransoms to gain the “secret recipes” needed to access closed data formats — instead, such projects reverse engineer the formats in question. The movie mavens (along with their inbred cousins in the music industry and the commercial software cabal) want to outlaw this sort of reverse engineering for good.

This might not sound scary if you’re the type of person who sticks to commercial software and never has a need to reverse engineer a damned thing. Windows will always play DVDs, and Windows is all you’ll ever use, so why should you care about this issue? I’ve got one word for you: e-books. If industry can in fact control how you access the content you have paid for, then the evil possibilities are endless when we arrive at a time and space where e-books are more prevalent than their dead-tree counterparts.

Say you someday purchase a book in Microsoft Reader 11.0 format. Two years later, you decide to upgrade to a new e-book reader. You get home and you realize that your new reader only reads Microsoft Reader 12.0 files. Microsoft is willing to “upgrade” your 11.0 format books to the new format, but for a fee.

Right there, you’ve been denied access to content you paid for. Will it be legal for you, at that point in time, to reverse engineer the 11.0 books you own and convert them to 12.0 format yourself? Or would it be legal for you to hire some good-natured hacker to do this work for you?

Some geek in the back just stood up and said my example is bogus, because we can safely assume that new hardware would be backwards-compatible and would be able to read older files. All right, then: Say you purchase a bunch of books in a competing format — Adobe’s e-book format, version 8.0 let’s say — and that competing format doesn’t do so well in the marketplace, and eventually, Adobe gives up, packs up, goes home. You’ve got a few dozen books in their format, which is now abandoned. And then your Adobe e-book reader fails, and you can’t find replacement parts or anyone who can fix it. Will it be legal for you to reverse engineer the Adobe format and convert your books to another format you can access? Will it be legal for you to pay a hacker to do the work for you?

We don’t know the answers to these questions yet. The next chapter in this particular legal saga begins tomorrow.
posted to /tech at 12:28pm :: 7 responses
Tuesday, 20 May 2003
Are you like me? Are you a wannabe, self-taught coder who understands the concept of regular expressions, but hasn’t mastered them yet? Or are you a Real Coder who needs a tool to help churn out particularly nasty regexes? The Regex Coach is your salvation. Look at that screenshot! Wow! And the sucker runs in Windows or Linux! If only it were Free

[found on hebig.org/blog]
posted to /tech at 8:20am :: 0 responses
Sunday, 11 May 2003
My new Pentax Optio S — a super-nifty digital camera that fits in an Altoids tin — is the coolest toy I’ve treated myself to in a long time. I bought it thinking that I would not be able to get it to work directly with Linux, but this weekend things turned out better than I expected. To get an Optio S talking to Linux via USB, add the following lines to your /usr/src/linux/drivers/usb/storage/unusual_devs.h file:
UNUSUAL_DEV(  0x0a17, 0x0006, 0x0000, 0xffff, 
		"Pentax", 
		"OPTIO S", 
		US_SC_8070, US_PR_CB, NULL, US_FL_MODE_XLATE|US_FL_FIX_INQUIRY ),
Now recompile your kernel. After a reboot, your Optio will act like any other usb-storage device, fully browsable from any mount point you set up.

Ain’t Linux a hoot? Ah, but someday this foolishness will not be necessary. There is already less and less of it all the time.
posted to /tech at 11:11pm :: 3 responses
Jon Udell is right on: SpamBayes absolutely rocks. Until recently, my spam level was very low, so I didn’t depend on a spam filter. But since February, I’ve been trapped in a massive spamstorm. Nowadays, I need a filter.

I only have two criteria for a spam filter. First, of course, it’s gotta catch an overwelming majority of the spam that comes in. Duh. But secondly, and even more importantly, it should never classify “ham” (real e-mail) as spam. Not ever. (I should not have to check my “spam” folder every now and again to make sure that a letter from my stepgrandmother in Illinois didn’t end up in the spam basket.)

SpamBayes has caught nearly 700 spams for me since February, when I started using it. And in that time, it has never — not once — flagged ham as spam.

Udell sez there is an Outlook version of SpamBayes, so I guess if you’re stuck with that particular demon, you’re not entirely out of luck. I’m using SpamBayes with fetchmail and pine, the most sublime e-mail client of all time. Bliss.
posted to /tech at 5:11pm :: 0 responses
Thursday, 24 April 2003
If you see a robot rolling down the streets of Berkeley and it stops to inquire why you’re wearing clothes, don’t you worry about a thing. That’s just Slats, the latest creation of the dude who created The Sims.

[found on The Null Device]
posted to /tech at 11:24pm :: 0 responses
Wednesday, 23 April 2003
Dan Gillmor, the Merc’s fantastic tech writer, explains why the Mac platform is so exciting right now, especially among hackers.
posted to /tech at 1:23am :: 0 responses
Thursday, 10 April 2003
Dave Winer is a brilliant, high-profile software/standards developer and Big Thinker who pontificates about this and that in his DaveNet blog and keeps track of the geeky world of scripting (as it relates to Web development) and more in his Scripting News blog. Winer is a dyed-in-the-wool commercial software developer: His company produces and sells the popular (and powerful) Radio Userland desktop blogging software. I tend not to give Winer as much credit as he probably deserves because — and this should be no surprise given his mode of making a living — he is hostile to the Open Source and Free Software movements, and has been known to badmouth both with red herrings and false premises. Winer likes open standards, but not Open Source. Pity.

He really does understand the power of the Web, though, and more specifically, the emerging power of Weblogs. His latest missive ties together the fall of Napster and the rise of blogs, and contains the most concise description I’ve yet seen of where I think the ‘net is headed:
One day, and that day is coming soon, a creative artist will use the weblog world to distribute a musical meme, good music, a catchy tune, and then sell a CD with a high-res scan of the same music, and that will undermine the smelly assholes and their cronies, forever. Say goodbye.
posted to /tech at 12:10am :: 0 responses
Friday, 04 April 2003
I’m a huge Radiohead fan, but I don’t follow the various Web sites that offer daily news about the band, so I did not know until yesterday that early mixes of the band’s forthcoming album, Hail to the Thief, are supposedly “widely available” online.

I tried grabbing the tracks in various ways. Most of the popular P2P networks are most easily accessible via Windows, which I do not run at home, so I gave it a shot at work. LimeWire, the only Gnutella client I still trust (BearShare being chock full o’ spyware and adware and other nastiness), couldn’t hook me up. eDonkey also failed spectacularly. In both cases, I could see the files I wanted, but I could not download them due to network congestion, latency, and what-have-you. Kazaa got me pulling down data, but the mp3 tracks turned out to be minutes and minutes of silence. (Not sure what the story is there, but my assumption is that these files are decoys fed to the network by the band’s label.)

Two big ideas here: (1) I cannot for the life of me figure out why the music industry is so up-in-arms about P2P given that it is so amazingly bad at putting you in touch with what you want. P2P is barely-organized chaos that requires a lot of work on the part of the end-user. It is not friendly technology at all. This is the kind of crap that only college students have time for. (2) Radiohead’s two previous albums were also available online weeks before they were released. (I was enjoying Amnesiac for more than a month before it hit stores, at which point I bought a copy.) Did this hurt sales? According to this article chronicling the latest leaked tracks, Kid A and Amnesiac debuted at #1 and #2 on the Billboard 200. So … what’s the problem?

(I was eventually directed by a fellow fan to a Web page where the tracks remain available … for now.)
posted to /tech at 12:04am :: 0 responses
Wednesday, 19 March 2003
If you ever enjoyed M.U.L.E., the amazing, 8-bit multiplayer space colonization game from 1983, you will enjoy this piece at Salon.com about the game’s creator, Dani Bunton. And if you are a gamer who has never played M.U.L.E., you should. It is an absolute classic. Here is a copy of the Commodore 64 version of the game. To play, you’ll need a Commodore 64 emulator. VICE works well on Win/Lin/OSX and is Free. The primitive UI is not altogether intuitive, so do take the time to read the docs. Now grab one or two joysticks and knock yourself out. (The Atari 800 version of the game also runs on modern PCs via emulation, but it is inferior in terms of both audio and video. The Commodore was simply a better machine.)
posted to /tech at 12:19am :: 0 responses
Monday, 10 March 2003
This morning I got into work to discover that my three-week-old Windows XP-based Dell would not let me log in. After taking my username and password, it just hung. I tried booting into “safe mode.” Same behavior. I tried logging in as Administrator. Same behavior. No matter what, same behavior. No error messages, mind you, and nothing in any sort of system log that might point to what is amiss. Nothing to help me at all.

This machine had suffered no trauma — not even a software installation since the last time it successfully started up. It had just decided to throw a fit. Long, long story short: The IS/IT department was stumped by the machine’s behavior too, and ended up calling Dell. Dell’s suggestion was to reinstall XP. Which I basically ended up doing. My machine let me log in for the first time at 2:18 P.M., and is now suffering from very minor but very annoying glitches systemwide.

The thing that is so amazing to me is, Bill Gates and his minions have trained people to expect this sort of behavior from computers. Sometimes, things go wrong for no apparent reason at all, and you have to reinstall an app or even an entire OS. And that’s just the way it is.

I firmly believe that someday users will be more sophisticated and will not put up with this crap. I firmly believe that someday, people will expect nearly flawless behavior from their computers, and they will wonder why they ever thought that mysterious crashes and breakdowns were acceptable. I firmly believe that someday, people will understand that end-user software does not have to cost money, does not have to crash or break down, and can be tinkered with to the user’s utmost desires.

I firmly believe that someday (not too far off), the world will run on Free Software. Someday, Microsoft is going to take a fall and find itself suddenly and staggeringly irrelevant, like IBM in the late 80s and early 90s. When that happens, I’m buying the beers. Until then, I breathe a sigh of relief each day when I come home to my Linux box.
posted to /tech at 7:10pm :: 0 responses
Thursday, 20 February 2003
rdesktop is Free Software that lets you connect a Unix box to a Windows machine running Terminal Services (a.k.a. Remote Desktop access in XP). Extremely cool software that just plain works. There is a very friendly graphical front-end available as well, but I found it to be more trouble than it was worth.
posted to /tech at 12:20am :: 1 response
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