Friday, March 31, 2006

Improve your face value

I found this on a water pipe in a loo at school today. It's actually valve handle, with an arrow below and the words "off" and "on"... but it looks so cute!

Today's trip down memory lane was triggered by White Town's Your Woman. Seems like I ran out of gas half way through, though.

I just remembered those shopping bags with the slogan "Smile, it improves your face value." Wish I could...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No Rain?

It's funny how a song can sometimes bring back such vivid memories of a particular time, place or even a person. It happened to me again today while listening to No Rain by Blind Melon. Suddenly I was back in high school, hormones-a-ragin', a month after we moved to what would be our house for the next eight years (damn, that's long!) It was all filmi-ishtyle, when I caught a glimpse of... the girl next door. No no, I didn't burst into song (heh, that'd be a sight!), I just allocated an excessive number of CPU cycles. I knew it's hopeless, but hormones have a way of screwing up task schedulers. Anyway, for the next month or so, I kept having this recurring dream of walking over and asking her if she had a copy of No Rain, I don't know why. I never did that, though, and she moved in a few years.
And I don't understand why I sleep all day
And I start to complain that there's no rain
And all I can do is read a book to stay awake
And it rips my life away, but it's a great escape
escape... escape... escape...

All I can say is that my life is pretty plain
ya don't like my point of view
ya think I'm insane
Its not sane...it's not sane.
Some day I, too, will find my field full of bee-people to dance around with.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Peter Gabriel - Shaking the Tree

This is a compilation album from the former Genesis vocalist who struck out and created his own very unique brand of music. The tracks here range from 1977's Here Comes the Flood to 1990's Shaking the Tree. Released in 1990, it unfortunately does not include his more recent chart toppers like Steam or Digging in the Dirt, but that by no means leaves this compilation short of it's "wow" moments.

Peter Gabriel's songwriting skills, combined with his oddball experimentalism (Genesis was a prog rock group while he was around!) make for such memorable and entertaining tracks as Shock the Monkey... which is incidentally also is one of the first commercially successful songs to use the Fairlight synthesizer. In fact, there's a short clip on the DVD Play: the Videos which features Gabriel using the Fairlight to sample the sound of breaking glass! Much of the lyrics have a twist in them, and can be interpreted in many ways. For example, Shock the Monkey sounds a lot like an anarchist's rant against capitalism, while it's really a song about jealousy.

Also included is the epic Biko, about the South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko, and slower numbers like Red Rain. By 1990, Gabriel was experimenting further with world music, which resulted in the title track Shaking the Tree, which he co-wrote with Youssou N'Dour (of Seven Seconds fame1).

This is a thoroughy enjoyable album, although I would recommend getting either 2003's Hit (another best-of compilation) or 2004's Play: The Videos

Rating: 4/5

[1] with Neneh Cherry

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fedora Core 5

Fedora LogoI finally got around to installing Fedora Core 5 today. I went to the Red Hat site and got one of the DVD ISOs through BitTorrent. I used K3B to write this onto a DVD, and rebooted. Rebooting was a bit sad, coz I had this right before I did it:
20:27:56 up 26 days, 16:28, 2 users, load average: 0.01, 0.11, 0.14
Oh well... all good things must come to an end! So anyway, I did a media check of the DVD first, then got it to update the existing Fedora Core 4 install. It took a while, but was otherwise smooth sailing; I didn't need to make any further changes to settings.

After the install completed, I needed to get FC5 to start in runlevel 3, since I use an nVidia graphics card, and the "nvidia" accellerated drivers, which need to be rebuilt when the kernel version changes. The bootup went by flawlessly, but running the nVidia installer gave me a nasty surprise: there were no kernel headers installed! It turns out Redhat did goof up with the kernel headers, but the next update (in a couple of days) should fix that. To get a GUI up, I changed the xorg driver to the open-source "nv" and went to runlevel 5... ah, it was glorious! I don't really know what changed, but everything just seems smoother. However, I had some trouble with my mouse after I logged in (cursor froze up). This happened only with my old login, I suspect it's something in .Xmodmap. Anyway, I couldn't figure it out, so I made a new login and imported my mailboxen (hehe!), browser profiles and other stuff.

I was wary of not having MP3 support, but livna.org announced support for FC5 just a day after it's release. To set up livna repositories, I used the command
rpm -ivh http://rpm.livna.org/livna-release-5.rpm
I then installed the MP3 codecs using yum -y install gstreamer-plugins-ugly Sound support under FC5 is vastly improved, one of the major updates being ALSA supporting dmix software mixing by default. I found these and a bunch of other useful tips here.

The Pup :)Doing a yum -y update updated a huge number of packages... just days after release! Dontcha love open source? There's a new package management tool called PUP (Package Updater), featuring the cutest icon known to man!

FC5 uses Gnome 2.14, which seems to be a lot snappier than 2.10 (from FC4) and is also sprinkled liberally with extra icons. The default theme (Bluecurve) has received a slight face lift. It also seems like my earlier fears about Beagle's memory useage are unfounded, the overall free memory on my box is actually lower than before!

I think Redhat and the community have done a fantastic job with FC5... cheers all around! Highly recommended. If you're still putzing around with Winblowz, rebooting five times a day and worrying about keeping your antivirus updated, the time to switch is NOW!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Get Happy

This is one of the most amazing short films I've ever seen, More, by Mark Osborne. A moving story, the details of which I leave you to figure out as you watch the short, it's set to the ethereal Elegia, by New Order. Feeling depressed? Just Get Happy. Quicktime required. Batteries not included.

It was released way back in 1998, and was originally filmed in 65 mm IMAX format. A DVD version, with a documentary describing the making of the short, has been released and is available from www.gethappy.com.

It took a team of stop-motion animators nine months to complete... odd, given Mark Osborne's inspiration to make this short was the birth of his son.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good People do Exist

It's almost a fixture of the growing-up process, that we become cynical and doubt everyone's intentions. I don't personally know anyone who's past their mid-twenties and still has a predominantly optimistic view of life. Friends, colleagues, room mates, significant others (oh, don't get me started...) end up nothing like you imagined they'd be. Occasionally, though, there's the spark of decency that tends to make a believer out of me for a while. Case in question: my friend Karthik, who's hit a rough spot, found out that he could count on some of his friends to help him get through... we're with you, Kazi! Think you can help? Visit Karthik's blog and leave a message.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It's alive!

After many months, the CSU-CHILL radar was alive again! Somehow, no matter how many times you do it, there's always something exciting, something macho about getting a 500 kW transmitter to radiate again! Antenna drives down, we had to be satisfied with watching the beam bounce off the Rockies. There was some echo from a storm rolling in, which made for an interesting test of the signal processor.

That storm brought with it some pretty hefty wind, and for a while, the radar site looked straight out of a western, complete with howling winds (literally) and tumbleweed blowing around! At one point, I caught myself saying "This town ain't big enough for the both of us!" to the fencepost...

Here's a scan of my new board... ain't she a beauty? I learnt the trick to taking pictures of boards some time back: place them on a flat-bed scanner!

Without a care in this whole world
Without a care in this life
It's what you take that makes things right
And in my mind I'm everyone
In my mind I'm everyone of you
You make it right
It's all alright
You make it right
Porcelina of the oceans blue
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans,
The Smashing Pumpkins

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Caffeine nights

Lately, I've turned into my former nocturnal self, after getting hooked (again) onto coffee. The evil drink (!) was a huge part of last semester, but I managed to get off and stay off... until two weeks ago. So it's back to sleeping at 3 AM. Which is all good, except for the rest of the next day. You know you're too sleepy when you're looking at your monitor, then look down to a piece of paper on the table and wonder why there's no mouse pointer there... Well, anyway, I'm on detox now, so the jittery hands should go away... just what I need to solder properly! Speaking of which, my new boards have arrived! They look so slick, I'll post a pic tomorrow.

In other news, Fedora Core 5 should be released on March 20th! Gnome 2.14 goodness! I noticed that of late, the livna repositories have tapered off their updates to Fedora Core 4. Things like Firefox have been stuck at really old versions (would you believe, 1.0.7!) for some time now. The upgrade to FC5 should bump up the versions of many packages to current. On the other hand, FC5 now integrates the Beagle search tool into Nautilus... which may in itself be A Good Thing, but my experience with Beagle (on Suse 9.3) has been disappointing. Maybe it's my bias against "managed" language platforms like Java and Mono (which Beagle uses), but they always seem to think that "All Your Memory Are Belong to Us" until I kill the respective VM. Give me straight C any day! One problem which started way back in FC2 still remains: no out-of-the-box MP3 support. This means that until livna et al get FC5 repos up, I'll stick with FC4 so I can enjoy my music...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Dazed and Confused!

Not as many updates as I had planned in the last few days. This is one of the reasons why. It's my revision 1 waveform synthesizer board. After slaving over it for months, I found that inherent design problems in the digital upconverters (these are hiding under the blue heatsinks) won't let me use the board the way I wanted to. The design for Rev. 2 is done, and is at the PCB fab right now. Hope it works the way it should...

Anyway, we live and learn, or so I'm told. Mistakes I made on this board should be fixed on the new one, of course, to reveal more. The rat race. Now on a board. I should get in touch with Milton Bradley...

Then this snow's driving me nuts. The snow in Fort Collins is usually powdery and dry, but for the last few days it's the east-coast type thick, wet snow. It's so icky, it clings to you like a puppydog ex-love. Now I know how she must've felt. Damn.
I hope they catch the bastards responsible for the bomb blasts in Ayodhya. Spineless morons can't even agree on who's responsible.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Personal Incredulity

I've been reading The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, a very thorough and easy-to-read guide to the theory of evolution, for the layman. Dawkins, a zoologist, provides some extremely powerful arguments in favour of evolution, while simultaneously refuting several historically important arguments in favour of competing theories beliefs.

I bought it at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which had a special exhibit on evolution and the life of Charles Darwin.

Dawkins argues his case without mincing words; he's direct and to the point. What I liked best though, was his demonstration that most of the arguments against the theory of evolution involve what he calls "Personal Incredulity", where someone attempts to disprove evolution simply because they don't believe, or can't bring themselves to believe, that it could work. Reading some of the arguments, the less philosophical among us could actually start to wonder if there's some truth in them. Dawkins, however, is quick to shred the thin logic apart and expose it to be, in fact, merely the result of a lack of understanding or simple refusal to accept the blindingly obvious.

Some further thought shows that offering up personal incredulity as an argument is all too easy. It may be as obvious as just saying "I don't believe so-and-so" or more sneaky, saying "how can so-and-so be possible?" and proceeding to quote references like "common sense". Sometimes, questions asking the "do you think so-and-so could ever happen?" are used to trick you, the reader, into accepting a point of view because if you don't, then your common sense is called into question. We'd rather believe dubious claims and beliefs than question our own common sense: egotism in it's finest form.

Follow your minds, people... egos are only meant to be neatly pressed and folded into an old suitcase.