Since I frequently rant about how bad Verio is, it seems only fair to mention when they occasionally do something good. Verio is the upstream provider for cryptome.org. Verio was recently notified by the MPAA that Cryptome was in violation of the DMCA because it contained a transcript of John Hoy’s declaration from the DeCSS trial in NY. John Hoy is (was?) the president of the DVD CCA and the document in question is part of the public record so the MPAA’s claims seem a bit absurd. (Mr. Hoy just happened to enter the source code to DeCSS into the public court record as part of his declaration and that’s why the MPAA is trying to supress it.) Rather than shutting down the site like most ISPs seem to do when threatened by the MPAA, Verio exchanged a couple of emails with John Young of cryptome, and agreed the site should not be taken down. There’s a cnet article on the events and the entire email exchange is available on cryptome for the curious.
We braved the cold weather and rain last night to hear the 1945 version of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite at the DSO. This was the first time I’ve heard the piece live and it was quite impressive. Even when you know exactly what’s coming the dynamic range and volume of a live orchestra can still catch you by suprise. The 1945 version is a bit longer than the more common 1919 version (which was itself a revision of the original 1910-11 work) and utilizes a piano instead of celeste.
For my money, the best performance of the Firebird Suite is still the Telarc recording of Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony doing the 1919 version. This is definitely one of those recordings which utilizes the full dynamic range available on CD.
In other news, the ever-increasing level of spam on the net resulted in a new upgrade of the spam filtering measures on NCC‘s primary mail server yet again. We’ve been using RBL for a while and it does catch some spam but not much. I’ve now added the new (and experimental) ORBS database that’s updated hourly. It’s been working great so far. RBL was catching maybe 2 or 3 spams per day but the ORBS server caught 56 in the first 24 hours. There is still a fair amount getting through but it’s back to manageable levels.
I’m likely to buy a new car this year and have been pondering the possibilities for a while. One option is to replace my aging Acura Integra with the 2002 Acura RS-X which is due out soon. The Integra is the last Acura to have its name taken away and replaced with random numbers or letters. Oh well. I can get used to the new name. It seems to get tolerable gas mileage and doesn’t look to bad. One thing I definitely don’t want is a gas guzzler (ie. anything less than 30mpg). I won’t be able see one in person or do a test drive until April though.
In the meantime, I test drove a Honda Insight recently. The Insight is Honda’s hybrid gas/electric vehicle. It gets 70mpg and the electric motor is powered by 120 Ni-MH D-cells. It had a suprising amount of power – I was expecting a sluggish electric-car feel but when you floor it the gas and electric motors both kick in and it takes off. It does all sorts of cool stuff to conserve power. The braking system recycles power into the batteries rather than just dissipating it all as heat. The gas engines shuts off when it’s not needed and restarts instantly when it is needed. The down side is that it’s a two seater and has very limited visibility. I drove a Honda CRX for years and but would prefer more than two seats these days.
Toyota has a hybrid too. I saw one at the auto pavillion at the 2000 Texas State Fair. It’s too expensive and not very cool looking at all – which is why it’s a Toyota I suppose.
Verio strikes again. About half the IPs in our C block seemingly went dead the other day. Web servers on those IPs couldn’t be hit from outside and we couldn’t ping anything beyond our own router from them. Something along these lines happened last year and it turned out someone at Verio had decided to subclass our C block and assign part of it to a new DSL customer without bothering to tell us (or even pinging a few of the IPs to see if anyone else might be using them). I called Verio and was able to confirm my theory fairly quicly – it was Verio’s doing. But this time they simply put a bogus static route in one of their routers that mis-routed half our C block for no apparent reason. It was suprisingly easy to get the tech-support person to understand what the problem was too. That’s very unusual as most Verio tech-support personal seem to pride themselves on their total lack of comprehension of anything technical and how to support it. I did have to tell them which router the problem was in but I’m used to that.
Getting it fixed was classic Verio. The tech-support department can’t actually fix anything themselves (and I don’t blame them for that – I wouldn’t let those people near any of my servers either!). They have to email a central problem resolution center and request that a third group be contacted that might actually fix the problem. They claim there is no way for them to contact the second group directly because that group has no telephones. And they claim the third group, the ones that actually fix problems, also have no telephones. Both groups can only be contacted by email. Of course, they have no idea how long or even if the other groups will take in responding to their email. It blows my mind that they actually expect anyone to believe that a corporation the size of Verio has entire departments of people who can’t be contacted by telephone.
From the time I first contacted Verio, it took them around three hours to fix the problem. That’s probably two hours and fifty nine minutes of waiting for people to get the email requesting the fix and one minute for someone to log into the router and remove the bogus route.
I finally managed to obtain one of two out of print Flying Lizards CDs that I’ve been trying to get my hands on for while. I won an eBay auction for their first, self-titled CD last week and it arrived today. It’s the first time I’ve heard their stuff in years. Now if I can just find Top Ten, the other Flying Lizards CD I’ve been looking for.
Speaking of music, Susan and I attended the Saturday performance of the DSO. It was a very trimmed-down orchestra – really more of a chamber orchestra – playing a selection of Haydn symphonies and Gabrieli’s canzonas for brass. Both were enjoyable. Unfortunately, I’ve had to add the Gabrieli pieces to my CD shopping list. More CDs to hunt down!
I finally got around to posting a freshmeat update for the latest version of newslog. There are a couple of bug fixes and a few new features. It’s the first update in nearly a year.
Susan and I went to see Miss Congeniality last night. It was okay – definitely a see-once sort of movie but it was good for a few laughs. We saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon last week and I forgot to post a review – it was a good movie and worth seeing but has really, really cheesy fighting sequences. Apparently, anyone who possessed the magic green sword was able to fly (also anyone who previously possessed the sword, or knew someone who possessed it, or fought with someone who knew someone who possessed, etc…) and not just fly but sort of float as if they were full of helium. During at least one fight, people kept floating up in the air like balloons and had to be pulled back to Earth periodically to prevent them from drifting away before the fight was over. In other scenes they would swing back in forth over the house-tops as if hung from wires while pretending to run (even though their feet weren’t touching anything). At other times they flew more-or-less like Superman – arms outstreched and horizontal to the ground. There was never really any explanation – were they using the force? was it magic? One other minor complaint was that they used the fake-floating technique to compensate for lack of actual martial arts skills sometimes. There were several moves that I’ve seen actually done by humans under their own power in Jackie Chan movies that were faked in this movie by swinging people around on wires (such as ascending from ground level to roof top by bouncing between the walls of two adjacent buildings). Oh well, if you overlook the silly fighting it was actually a fairly interesting story and quite enjoyable to watch. Another see-once movie.
More interestingly, I had a blow-out in the right rear tire of my Integra on the way out to the movie theater last night. I put on that tiny little spare tire thing which most cars have in place of a real spare these days and it turned out to be flat (which is not suprising considering it’s been sitting in the trunk for 10 years). We stopped at a gas station and bought enough air to fill up the spare. Today we got some new tires. I’m planning on a buying a new car sometime this year. The Acura was great while it lasted but after 10 years the maintenance costs are getting high enough that I might as well just buy a new one.
I heard RMS speak at the DFWUUG meeting last night. A lot of other people showed up too, in spite of the cold, wet weather. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in person and he was very much what I expected with a few exceptions. He told the story of the Free Software Foundation, the GNU GPL, and the GNU Operating System project. I got the impression that this was a talk he’d given many times before and much of it was almost word-for-word what you can read on the GNU and FSF web sites.
Overall he didn’t sound nearly as dogmatic as he is made out to be. He said the Open Source movement was not the enemy of the Free Software movement, just “the other political party within our community”. He made a point of saying that while the BSD license didn’t provide as much protection to the end user’s freedoms, it was a Free Software License. He also made a point of mentioning the KDE/QT disaster – noting that QT was now under GPL and the KDE system could be used within a Free Software based OS. He emphasised that Free Software was not about preventing businesses from making profit, just about prevent business from profiting at the expense of end user’s freedom.
He made the usual plea for people to use the correct terminology – use “Free Software” if you support Free Software. Use “Open Source” if you support Open Source. Pronounce GNU as “Guh-new”, not “new” or “Gee-In-You”. Pronounce Gnome as “Guh-gnome” (this one still bugs me – why make an acronym that forms a normal English word and then try to make people pronounce it incorrectly – I say it should be pronounced like it’s spelled. Oh well…)
Towards the end of the talk, RMS donned his famous Church of Emacs outfit including a black robe and disk platter halo.
After the talk there were the usual assortment of questions from the clueless:
Q: How can I make money if I can’t sell my software?
RMS: You can sell your software. The FSF is selling software and books today just outside this meeting room. Please buy some of it.
Q: How did X get its name?
RMS: I don’t know
Q: How many operating systems run within the GNU thing?
RMS: I’m sorry I have no idea what you mean by that.
Q: Is using VI a sin in the Church of Emacs?
RMS: In the Church of Emacs, using VI is a penance.
There were a few more volatile exchanges with someone who insisted he had the legal right to make non-free software and seemed upset that RMS wouldn’t approve of him doing this.
Okay, now the weird part. Why is it that Eccentric Geniuses like Stallman are always so, well, eccentric? He spent about 15 minutes prior to the talk sitting on the floor by the podium with his shoes off reading email on a laptop. All during the talk he drank iced tea (with no ice) from a large glass with two straws. Each time he neared the end of one glass of tea, a courier would rush forward with a replacement glass (each with no ice and two straws). He’d gone through three or four by the end of the talk. In fact, one of the questions he got during the Q&A was, “after all that Tea, do you need to go to the bathroom yet?”. He also would periodically stop talking and spend what seemed like a fairly large amount of time picking things out of his teeth or hair. He looks rather like a cave-man so this was fitting in an odd sort of way but it was clearly creeping-out a lot of people (though some seemed to find it really funny too).
Overall, an interesting evening.
I managed to find some time to study the problem of sending ringtone data to my cell phone. As I mentioned in a previous news item, I’m sick of only being able to download silly melodies as ring tones and want to be able to create some ringtone datasets that more interesting ringing sounds. The first step towards that is to figure out how the whole thing works.
I’ve managed to code up a quick and dirty Perl program that creates an RTPL bitstring, converts it to text formatted hex data, and sends it to the phone in SMS format. At present it doesn’t really do anything useful besides providing a working example of the packet format and testing the sonic range of the phone. I’ve hard-coded a ringtone that emits sound over the entire range that the RTPL data can cover.
The next step would be to make some sort of algorithmic sound synthesizer that could generate RTPL data. If anyone wants to play with what I’ve got so far, I’ve put it up on our free software page. It should work with any Nokia phone that accepts ringtone data and perhaps other types of phones as well.