Movies, Books, and CDs

I just saw a spot on TV for Disney’s new movie, Dinosaur. The guy doing the voice over for the spot pronounced the name of the movie as dinosore (ryhmes with more) instead of dinosaur (rhymes with car). I’ve noticed a few other people lately mispronouncing that particular word. I wish they wouldn’t do that. Dinosore sounds like some sort of medical condition that you’d want to see a dermatologist about. So remember folks, it’s Dinosaur, as in sauropod or saurian. I can just imagine a Discovery channel documentary with the narrator saying, “millions of years ago great ‘sores covered the Earth”.

I finished reading How the Irish Saved Civilization to Susan and I’m now reading her a couple of chapters from an old out of print MIT music theory book while we decide what our next read-aloud book will be. For my programming book of the week, I picked up Eric Harlow’s Developing Linux Applications with GTK+ and GDK. It doesn’t deal with Gnome issues at all but if you’re trying to build a custom GTK+ widget, you’ll find the examples much more helpful than Havoc’s GTK+/Gnome book (though his is better if Gnome is what you’re interested in).

My CD of the month is Journey to the Center of the Earth: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann. I love all of Herrmann’s compositions, most of which were soundtracks. This is another in a series of remastered original recordings. This recording is particularly interesting because it was the first time Herrmann had recorded a performance in the new two channel technology called “stereo”. The recordings were later mixed into a coventional mono recording for use in the movie and this CD is the first time the original stereo recording has ever been available. They also threw in a couple of the Pat Boone songs that were fortunately cut from the movie, but they’re good for a laugh at least.

And speaking of music, last night we attended the DSO‘s performance of Anton Bruckner‘s Symphony No. 8 in C minor led by guest conductor Claus Peter Flor. It’s a very long piece. Most recordings run 70 – 75 minutes. This performance ran over 80 minutes. And Claus is one weird conductor – he seems to have learned most of his arm and hand motions from extensive study of the mad scientists in 1950’s B grade science fiction movies. He also had quite a range of bizarre facial expressions (we were sitting in the choral terrace seats behind the orchestra). Susan mostly noticed the odd contortions of his nose as if he had detected a skunk nearby while I was impressed by strange shapes he made with his mouth, which never remained closed for more than a few seconds during the entire performance.

Today was yard work day – a little mowing and edging before the afternoon rain. And we noticed one of our large, green anoles perched on the side of the house watching us. The males tend to be quite brave when it comes to humans and, once in a while, they’re brave enough to eat from your hand. This one looked like he was in need of a meal, so I offered him a cricket. After a moments hesitation, he took it and after scooting off a safe distance he ate it while watching us out of one eye. I spent the rest of the afternoon getting a head start on next weeks work and playing with some GTK+ code.

Turtles, Perl Monks, and Fidonet

Susan and I spent the afternoon at Fair Park the other day and shot a lot of photos of turtles. Susan got creative and scanned one of the pictures and wrote a short essay about turtles.

Someone on Advogato mentioned a new Perl site called Perl Monks. They have a much more elaborate trust/skill metric system than Advogato. I’m an Initiate (everyone starts out at this level and gains points through peer recognition over time). There are ten levels with amusing titles like acolyte, friar, pontiff, and eventually saint.

I got several replies from other old fidonet folks after my last news item, so there do appear to be others out there who remember the good ol’ days.

I ran across an interesting news story on Yahoo. Seems some French scientists have successfully used gene therapy to restore normal functioning of the immune system in two boys suffering from SCID (the disorder forces them to live in a sealed environment because they have no resistance to infection). The doctors made the gene modification by extracting bone marrow, inserting the missing genes, and then replacing the bone marrow in the body. Pretty cool.

Phil Katz RIP

I woke up early this morning to the sound that dinosaurs make when they become trapped in tar pits. As it turned out, it was just Susan making some sort of weird, mutant snoring sound. Wish I’d had something handy to record it, I’m sure she’d like to see a “click here to hear Susan snoring” on my news item today. Anyway, once I determined that there were no dinosaurs in urgent need of help, I went back to sleep.

When I woke up later and logged onto the net, I immediately ran into some bad news on SlashdotPhil Katz apparently died a few days ago on the 14th (he was 37, same age as me). This brought back a lot of memories of the early days. My old BBS, Fidonet, the zip/arc wars.

I remember running my old DOS-based BBS, The Interocitor, on a spare phone line in my first apartment. The Interocitor was Fidonet node 1:124/2206 – does anybody even remember Fidonet? The Interocitor eventually became one of the UUCP gateways between Fidonet and Usenet for the Dallas area. I was amused that a quick search on Fast produced over a dozen references to my old BBS that were still floating around out on the net. The Interocitor finally went down for the last time in the early 90’s after about 8 years. For a while I was planning to bring it back as some sort of web-based thing but it never happened.

The Jargon File used to detail the history of the Zip/Arc war but it seems to be missing from the current version. For those who don’t remember where ZIP came from, here’s the executive summary: In the old days, we had a program called ARC, made by a company called SEA, (based on LZW compression, I think) that was used to compress files. Everything had to be compressed in those days because all we had were 1200 or 2400 bps modems. And this was before the Pentium, the 586, 486, or 386. A few lucky ones had the mighty 80286 processor but most of us got by with only an 8086 (I can remember switching from my Intel 8086 to the NEC V20, an Intel clone that could ran a little faster – fast in those days was about 8mhz). On an 8086, ARC took a long time to compress anything. Phil Katz came along and wrote a highly optimized ARC compressor in assembly that was really fast. A lot of us began using using PKArc instead of the “official” SEA ARC program. SEA didn’t like this but couldn’t come up with anything faster. Instead they decided to sue Katz for copyright infringement and, as I recall, Phil had to turn over all his source code to SEA – who later released it as their next version of ARC (with all references to the original author removed, of course).

Phil Katz (as well as the BBS world) were not happy about this. Phil developed PKZip as the result (there was also a short-lived PKPak). PKZip used a new algorithm (similar to LZ77) that Katz invented himself. He patented the algorithm to prevent SEA from being able to use it, but allowed everyone else to use it freely. (PKZip itself was shareware, as was all software back then – nobody had ever heard of a GNU GPL or free software.) There was a massive campaign in the BBS world to convert all the compressed files everywhere from ARC to ZIP as a result. There were special programs written to do batch conversions between ARC and ZIP for all the files on your BBS. After that, SEA and ARC ceased to exist as far we knew (I have no idea what actually happened to the company).

The Zip algorithm eventually came to be used in gzip, the GNU replacement for compress, in INFO-Zip, a PKZip compatible program which is now one of the most ported utilities in existence. When the GIF patent crisis hit a few years back, the PNG image format, developed as a GIF replacement, used the Zip agorithm in place of the old LZW compression used in GIF. Even the Linux kernel image is usually compressed using Phil’s algorithm.

Phil may be gone but we’ll continue to use software that incorporates his work on a daily basis.

Close Call

After 72 hours the USB webcam is still running. No signs of memory leaks or other problems. Looks like the 2.3.99 kernel is begining to be pretty stable. Back around 2.3.62, the USB/CPiA combination would blow up after about 24 hours.

We had a close call with someone trying to crack our machines last night. We get seemingly constant port scans and crack attempts these days anyway. In this case someone had cracked a machine at our upstream ISP with an IP that was specifically allowed to get through our outer security layers. Fortunately they weren’t very good. They spent a couple of hours trying buffer overflow exploits on ftpd on several of our servers and then gave up. Made for a few minutes of excitement this morning though.

CPiA Drivers

The DPRG RoboRama 00.a was held Saturday and, for a change, I made it out there to watch. It was the first time in a while I’ve made it to a contest. I took a few photos for those who missed it. If you’re in the Dallas area and would like to come to the next contest or a regular meeting, check the calendar for time and locations.

I got a chance to download and compile the Linux 2.3.99-Pre5 kernel yesterday. If you’ve followed my news page for long, you’ll remember I’ve been playing with the Linux USB support for my CPiA-based Zoomcam camera. It’s been several revs since I last had things running and it took a few compiles as well an email or two exchanged with the CPiA driver authors to get things working again. The USB CPiA driver has been merged with the existing Parallel Port CPiA driver. This means smaller, more efficient code than two completely seperate drivers but the downside is that the CPiA driver is no longer in the USB driver tree and you have to compile the CPiA components as modules and then use modprobe to install them after the system boots. Anyway, while vidcat produces better quality images, I’m trying out the webcam utility from XawTV. At the moment it’s just a boring shot of the conference room here at NCC updated a couple of times minute. If it doesn’t blow up after a day or two maybe I’ll point it something more interesting.

NAB 2000

I’m back from Vegas where I spent the past couple of days wandering around this year’s NAB convention. I was pleased that so many of the vendors were aware of Linux and either had or were working on Linux software for their products. There were several MPEG boards, some audio boards, and a variety of other non-driver software. One audio board manufacturer had some stuffed penguins and a sign that read “ask us about our Linux drivers”. The Broadcast 2000 guys even had a booth there. I was also pleased to find in reading through some of the trade journals being distributed there that, for the most part, the video hardware manufacturers understood the whole DeCSS thing. I read one editorial that said they understood that what we were trying to do was develop software to play our DVD discs, not pirate movies. I was less pleased that the MPAA guys didn’t have an exhibit this year – I was hoping to spook them by visiting their booth while wearing my DeCSS T-Shirt. And, of course, I stopped by the Play booth for a few minutes to watch Kiki Stockhammer demonstrating the latest version of the Trinity software (maybe when she gets back from NAB she’ll fix her web site).

Well, back to work now… I’ve got several hundred emails and quite a few phone messages that piled up while I was gone.