blarg?

Periodically, my ability to write to my iPod would lock up, and everything would seize. dmesg gave me this:

[4512253.553000] FAT: Filesystem panic (dev sda2)
[4512253.553000] fat_free_clusters: deleting FAT entry beyond EOF
[4512253.553000] File system has been set read-only

which I assume means that the stock filesystem preinstalled on my iPod is somehow gorked. A quick mkfs.vfat /dev/sda2 cost me all my preferences and forced me to resynchronize, but the error message has gone away and hasn’t comeback. Be really careful where you point that thing, because if you’re not, and point it at the wrong partition, your ipod will probably need to go into the shop.

I’ve changed the my conversion script a little, because once I actually got my videos onto the ‘pod to watch them, they’d hang up periodically – the sound would drop out, or they’d just freeze and bail back to the menu, or whatever. Some small tweaks to the encoding options, but early indications are that those problems are bagged. Also one totally brain-off thing that’s fixed that I hope you don’t notice.

Other than that, once you can goad gtkpod into acting right (the new version does, indeed, sync video, but if your system is anything like mine you’ll need to do a “ln -s /usr/local/lib/libgpod.so.0 /usr/lib/libgpod.so.0″ after installing everything from source. Not for any really great reason, but because that seems to make it work. After that, things seem to go swimmingly. So now I get to have conversations where I say that I successfully put video on my video iPod, and people look at me like I must be functionally retarded if I thought that was hard.

Aside from that last bit, I’m going to call that a win.

UPDATE: Nope, still choppy video. Wierd, it’s different things for different files. My copy of Rashomon is just slow, like watching a slideshow. Some just have the sound drop out – pause and restart, and the sound comes back. Some shorter things like music videos play right through. And some videos just stop, and bail back out to the menu.

A fanatic, says George Santayana, is somebody who redoubles their efforts when they have forgotten their aim.

Fingerpointing, today, is left as an exercise to the reader.

From the FFmpeg Download and CVS page:

In short, if you want to work with FFmpeg, you are advised to go along with CVS development rather than relying on formal releases. CVS snapshots work really well 99% of the time so people are not afraid to use them.

I’m special; I’m that one percent. I’m willing to pretend that it’s the top one percent! Special like a fox!.

FFMpeg is a swiss-army-knife media converter. It’s really useful; it’s also total attention-deficit-teenware, but hey, if you’re comfortable butchering other people’s source code, it’s good enough! It’s only got about a hundred different compiled-time options, and the version that comes packaged for Ubuntu doesn’t “do” stuff like, well, basically anything you’d ever want to use it for, and if you don’t like that you can, apparently, choke on it.

But I want to convert my video files, so that I can watch them on my new toy.

The extended entry contains all the gore about how I got the whole thing to actually work, but really, I just want to say that when more than two people use your software, especially when more than two people incorporate your sofware into other projects, running a project with no version numbering or point releases, on CVS access alone is about two parts mind-bending idiocy and one part gibbering insanity. It’s some sort of Heisenberg usability principle; it may or may not work reliably or at all depending on the exact moment your users checked out their code.

Which is why, of course, you’ll need to make some changes to the ffmpeg code, for this to work. I’m sure I’m making this more difficult for myself than I had to, but it’s Linux, so you already knew that. Read on; the funny bit is right at the end!


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Maher Arar’s case was dismissed, which means the bad guys basically win.

“One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar’s removal to Syria.” – Judge David Traeger.

You know, as a Canadian citizen, should it turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar’s removal to Syria, I’d love to know about that.

So much for checks and balances. It’s good to know that the Courts’ job, now that Everything Has Changed, is to protect our officials from the embarassment and inconvenience of being exposed as liars and frauds.

Dear service industry:

Occasionally, we don’t see eye to eye. That’s life, and reasonable people can disagree about things. But occasionally I will ask you for something, whether it’s an actual physical object or a bit of information, and it will take some time to arrive. And, occasionally, the delivery of that item will be, to whatever degree, time-critical. I am, in this case, entrusting you with the job of producing this thing for me, in an agreed-upon time frame, for which I will give you an agreed-upon amount of money.

Most of the time that exchange takes place, we both go our separate ways, and if the whole exchange was civilized I’ll tell my friends that such and such person or company was a pleasure to do business with. Hopefully, this will generate more business for you, and we all win.

But sometimes it doesn’t go like that. I’m not a wholly unreasonable man, at least not at first. Sometimes trucks drive off the road, sometimes people don’t answer their e-mail. Life is, occasionally, like that.

But dear service industry, when I call you to find out where my widget or my bit of information is, lately your reflexive response to these inquiries has been so, so wrong.

You see, I don’t care if you “understand how important” my problem is. I don’t care if you “appreciate” it. Not the tiniest little bit; I am trying to get something done, and your sympathy and understanding means nothing to me. I need X, to do Y; there’s no element to these transactions so complicated that it couldn’t be fully appreciated and completely understood by, say, a golden retriever. Delegating my appreciation or understanding of the issue is not time- or cost-effective; I do not want to know how you feel about it, because on a fundamental level I don’t care how you feel about it. I care about getting my goddamned problem solved.

It’s OK to tell me what I want to hear at this point. But let me tell you what that is.

  1. What’s happened that’s prevented you from fulfilling our initial agreement. As long as it’s not totally prepostrous, you can tell me just about anything here. I’m ready to believe you – it’s not all that important at this point anyway, so long as it’s not something like “we forgot”.
  2. What you’re doing about it. If you can’t do anything but wait, come right out and say so. If you have options, hit me; I’m listening. Got a plan B lined up? I want to know.
  3. Don’t tell me you understand, or appreciated it, or feel for me. Even if I believed you, it still wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference. I don’t even need an apology at this point, if we’ve worked out a plan B.

If you want to go straight to the head of the class, don’t wait until I call you to tell me this stuff. Show me that you’re on top of it, and phone me first. “Sir, we’ve had a problem with the delivery of X, we can do Y or suggest alternative arrangement Z”. That would be pure, customer-service gold.

But, man, “I Understand And Appreciate” seems to be the go-to phrase these days for people who cannot do anything useful to help you, but would rather that not bother you. It’s completely content-free, empty air, the adult version of cooing at a baby when they’re upset. Nowadays, my brain just makes that substitution automatically. You might think you’re saying “I understand how important this issue is, I appreciate it, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can”, but all I hear is “No, you’re not getting your information today! Coochie coo… Maybe we’ll sendy-wendy all that to you laaaaaater! Who’s a good client? Who’s a good client? That’s right, you are!”

And then the inside of my brain starts to go all sideways, and my reasonable-person apparatus starts grinding metal and smelling of smoke.

This is a copy of a proposal I sent to the Web Hypertext Application Technology working group mailing list, which elicited some both positive and negative discussion, but didn’t get, I think, a lot of traction. I am not sure how I can market my idea better, if it’s a good idea and without basically nagging people. If you have any suggestions, for the thing itself or how I could sell it better if that’s worth doing, I’d love to hear them.

My proposal is for the addition of a “validate” attribute to the the <a>
element that would let the client verify the content of a link as it
comes in. The client can then put up a warning, present the user with a choice or just silently deny the incoming data depending on a preset user preference.

The validate attribute would describe an algorithm to employ and a result
to compare it to; for example, somebody downloading the en-US version
of FF 1.5 from the Mozilla.com homepage could click on a link like:

<a href=”http://foo.com/mozilla-i686.tgz” validate=”{md5}b63fcdf4863e59c93d2a29df853b6046″>

and the client could verify as mozilla-i686.tgz comes in that it does at least have
the md5sum, or whatever algorithm goes there, that’s advertised.

User notifications could include “no validation”, “successfully
validated” and “(algorithm) validation failed”, and act according to the user’s
wishes in each case.
The user can be notified when validation fails, and choose whether or not to discard the download or press on. The user shouldn’t be notified when there’s no validation, because this is usually going to be the case, or when it succeeds, because most users will assume “validation” to equal “safe”.

Your use case for this is when a website relies volunteers to mirroring its files to ease their server load; if one of those volunteers decides to screw you and replaces your file with something malicious, users coming from the home site find out that it’s a bad download immediately, and can delete it without running or installing it.

If badwaresite.ru, or wherever, validates their own malware you’re still not protected, but if you were downloading stuff from badwaresite.ru you weren’t protected anyway, so I think it’s a pretty clear win.

Please let me know what you think.

In today’s installment, I consume a hideous confection so that you don’t have to.

People: if somebody, anybody at all, suggests that you try a dried kumquat, you need to turn your back and run. Bolt. I’m serious about this, don’t even politely decline, the person you’re talking to has nothing but the worst intentions for you.

Foot to pavement and away, that’s your A cut, here.

I ate a dried kumquat this weekend, and let me tell you, it tastes like a greasy hunk of distilled evil dipped in sour candy. It tastes like a chemical weapon you’d use in a war on God. Arlene bought an entire bag of them. She claims to love them; she’s been trying to sneak them up on me all week, smiling like she’s up to something the whole time.

It’s like having an aneurysm in your mouth instead of your brain. Seriously.

The party of personal responsibility continues their campaign.

Ms. Armstrong and Ms. Willeford said the accident was largely the fault of Mr. Whittington, who had reappeared alongside two of his hunting companions without giving proper warning. Mr. Cheney, who was carrying a 28-gauge shotgun, had already begun to fire and sprayed Mr. Whittington.

Guns don’t kill people. People don’t kill people. People just get killed sometimes, you know how it is.

UPDATE: Apparently, this is not a joke.

I spent this weekend putting up shelving and doing home-renovationy things for Arlene’s family, and I’ve got some questions for the world. Number one, are wood-frames “out” now, as far as building materials go?

Their place is a recently-built condo, and as far as I can tell all the walls in their place are drywall over a light metal frame, or drywall over concrete. There doesn’t seem to be any of the wood frame, studs-every-sixteen-inches construction that I’m used to working with.

It’s slightly worrying for me to install shelving into drywall without being able to bolt it into a wall stud. Saddening, it’s pretty much completely impossible to fasten stuff to any surface that isn’t an inside wall – side walls are a half-inch sheet of drywall over hard concrete, no purchase there – and on inside walls things are just hooked into the drywall with those little plastic shims. It’ll stay, no worries, but it’d still be nice to know that the whole thing was screwed into a board, rather than just hanging off the drywall.

I got a new toy, and it makes me very happy. Or, at least, I anticipate in the near future that it will.

I got an iPod. Arlene gave it to me, as a gift. I’ll let you in on a secret, here: I think she likes me.

Being a linux weenie, I’m really looking forward to what I’m going to have to do next, “work really hard to understand and/or modify gtkpod”, the linux iPod software. Troublesome. It’s clearly alphaware at this point, and like most linuxy prototypeware, the infrastructure is rock solid and the user interface is a war crime. For example, if you have questions like “how do I get music from my computer onto my iPod” the answer isn’t immediately obvious or easily discoverable. There _is_ music on my ipod now, but I basically got it there by clicking on things at random, and can’t seem to reproduce it for the rest of my collection.

Some of the error messages tell you that you should do X before you “call this function”, but there’s no button or menu item labelled X anywhere. In what you might call the Finishing Move of Linux usability, clicking the Help menu gives you the “About” option, which then gives you the name and version number of the program you’re using, and nothing else. Typical.

This is the Linux Way, of course, but my faith is undimmed! I had to work with Microsoft Word for a while last week to try and do some pretty basic stuff like “change a font” and “edit a table”, and it was just insane how much that experience sucked; Word is totally baroque, the documents almost competely intractable. At least with Linux, I’m beating my head on something that will cave in before my skull.

But, having played with it for a little while, I’ve got to say that it’s just totally obvious why Apple commands something like 75% of the media player market right now.

Update: Here’s a tip for all you gtkpod users out there: don’t try to use it with X-forwarding. Being a KDE user, I don’t know if that’s an artefact of X, the Gnome toolkit or what, but just don’t do it, mmmkthxbi.

Via Reuters, the Mayor of New Orleans is apparently looking overseas for help with the reconstruction:

Jordan’s King Abdullah also visited New Orleans on Friday and Nagin said he would encourage foreign interests to help redevelop some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

“France can take Treme. The king of Jordan can take the Lower Ninth Ward,” he said, referring to two of the city’s neighborhoods.

Mother. Of. God.