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My (new and improved!) Web Site

I've been running my web site on my Sun ULTRA Sparc 2 computer for over a month now (with a little downtime because of hardware and network problems). I can do this because I'm in a 2-bedroom apartment now. When my wife and I lived in a 1-bedroom apartment, the computer was in the bedroom, and I couldn't leave it on all night (my wife wouldn't have it).

Anywho, that's all. I just wanted to promote my site.

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My coin collection

I have a rather large coin collection. I've been buying coins (and occasionally old bills) from my retail job for about a year now; I collect mostly dollar, 50-cent, old, and foreign coins.

Today I counted them all up. I have US$531.56 in US coins. I have 4 silver quarters, 3 silver dimes, 2 silver half dollars, 1 silver dollar (from 1926, no less), and some really old nickels (including an Indian-head/buffalo-tail nickel). I also have coins from several countries (this list is from memory and is not complete):

  • Brazil
  • Liban (Lebanon?)
  • Malaysia
  • French Polynesia
  • England
  • Canada (most of my foreign coins are from here. Go figure, eh)
  • Mexico
  • Guatemala
  • France
  • Singapore
  • Argentina
  • Malta
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Euro (really a group of countries)

That's all for now, you hosers.

Grand Canyon Panoramic Picture!

Last Saturday, I went to a family reunion (my wife's family) at Jacob Lake, which is just north of the Grand Canyon. My wife's parents drove us all (five in all: me, my wife, her parents, and her sister's three-year-old daughter). After the reunion, we stopped at the visitor center on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

I had my spiffy Nikon E4600 digital camera with panoramic assist mode (oooh! fancy), so I took a panoramic picture of the Grand Canyon. I took 27 shots, but one of the shots into the sunset was blurry (I didn't have a tripod). Fortunately, the shots immediately before and after it overlap, so I don't even need the blurry shot in the end.

When I got home, I stitched the pictures together (using GIMP, of course). I had to rotate some the images a degree or two to make them fit, but most lined up very well. Also, because I zoomed in as far as my camera will go (optically) to take these pictures, each one spans a relatively small angle (about 7 degrees wide). This means that distortion is negligible on the edges of the images, so I didn't even bother to "un-distort" them when I panoramic-ized them.

Anywho, here's my panoramic picture. It's about as large as Photobucket allows (just under 1 MB). The full image is about 29000 pixels wide and would have to be highly-compressed to be less than a megabyte (which kind of defeats the purpose of having a large image).

panoramic picture of the Grand Canyon

Watch New York City From Your Own Home!

I recently found a live HD-quality webcam feed of downtown New York City.

The stream is actually still JPEG images updated very frequently (maybe once per second or more), and I am currently in the process of downloading an image every 2 seconds. Once I have a lot (and I mean a lot) of frames, I'll put them together into an MPEG video and possibly put it online. It'll be a neat time-lapse view of downtown NYC. At 1/2 f/s real time and 29.97 f/s video time, it'll be about 60 times real speed (which means that one hour plays in one minute). Due to the way I'm timing the downloads (basically a "while sleep 2; do snap & done"), I'm getting slightly more than 2 seconds per frame. Also, depending on the load on my system and network traffic (both near my side and on the server side), occasionally frames are clumped closely in time, but it probably will not be visible in the final video.

To put the images together into an MPEG video, I have to perform the following steps:

  1. Convert the JPEG images to a PNM stream using jpegtopnm from Netpbm.
  2. Convert the PNM stream to a YUV4MPEG2 stream using pnmtoy4m.
  3. Convert the YUV4MPEG2 stream to an MPEG2 video using mpeg2enc from the mjpeg project.

Of course, since I use a *nix-like system (CentOS Linux, to be exact), I can put all those conversion steps into one command line, or even into a shell script.

The source frames are fairly large for a webcam (640x480), so I'll probably want to scale down the images (probably to 320x240) before I turn it into a video to help make the resulting file smaller.

N.b.: I'm using the NYC webcam more or less as an example. You could follow the above procedures for (probably) any webcam that feeds as still images.

That's all for this episode of "This Space for Rent". Hopefully next time I can write about my newly-created video file. :)

Update 2007-06-24: I created a time-lapse video from a different webcam, apparently from a closed-circuit TV traffic camera. You can watch my video, hosted on Google Video.

Mo' Memory!

A couple days ago my brother gave me some RAM sticks (256MB and 512MB, both of them PC2700), and today I finally put the 512MB stick in my eMachines (bletch) computer. The mobo has only two slots for RAM, otherwise I would've stuck the 256MB stick in there too.

The machine originally had 256MB. Now it has 768MB (that's just simple math). This means my machine is out of the dark ages and in the middle ages.

This RAM upgrade is good because I like to edit images (with GIMP, no less), and for that kind of application, more memory = better.

Juno Email Really Sucks (tm)

I used Juno for dial-up Internet access and email since about 1997 (I was 14 years old at the time). That's all I knew about the Internet and email at the time, so I thought it was pretty good; after all, Juno was—and still is—free.

Times have changed. They've changed a lot since then. Up until maybe a year ago, Juno limited mail storage to 2 MB. That's 2 freakin' small MEGAbytes. I've had single incoming messages with attachments flood my inbox! For a while before that, Gmail already gave its free users 2 GIGAbytes of mail storage. Yahoo! Mail even offers 1 GB of storage. Since then, fortunately, Juno has increased its storage to 1 GB.

Regarding its user interface, Juno should be shot. Twice. I've used their standalone client (which is Windows-, MacOS-, and Linspire-only), and they should be shot for that alone. They store all email messages in ONE HUGE FILE. On at least one occasion, the Juno client program crashed and left all of my messages unsorted in one folder. Have they not learned anything from the disaster that is the Windows registry? Don't keep everything in one big file! For one thing, if it gets corrupted, everything gets corrupted. For another, it makes file accesses for one thing slower when you add more things to the file.

Their web interface is better (but not by much). For a long time, it was just your basic web email interface. It had real links (not JavaScript links) to everything. Then they changed it for the worse. They did it around the same time they offered 1 GB of storage (both were part of the "upgrade" to their service to keep up with other email offerings). Now the links to the different folders (ie, Inbox, Sent, Junk Mail, Trash, etc) and other links (ie, Mail Home, Inbox, Write, Address Book, Email Features, Mail Help, Mail Search) are JavaScript, er, ECMAScript. This breaks the normal behaviour of links on the Web. With real links I can open them in a new window or tab, bookmark them, and do other fun stuff with them. With Juno's ECMAScript links, they just go to a different page (which can be done with real links anyway) in the same window. This is a problem because I may want to, say, go to my inbox in another tab while I'm writing a new message. See the picture below and look at the status bar at the bottom of the window to see what I mean (my pointer is hovering on the "Sent" link):



Juno sucks for (at least) one more reason: spam. Not only is Juno incapable of positively identifying most spam, Juno also sends spam to its own users! Worse still, I as a Juno user cannot block nor mark as spam any of their messages. See the following screenshot to see this:



You may ask me, "Why do you use Juno still if it sucks so much?". I would tell you that I still check it periodically in case someone emails me using my old (Juno) email address. You see, I used that address almost everywhere on-line (registration forms, content I've created and published, etc), so somebody might want to email me using that address. Essentially, I don't like losing mail. Is that a good enough answer for you?

I think that's enough whining and griping for this episode of "This Space for Rent".

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I'm Free!

I'm finally U3 Free!

Yesterday I uninstalled the crappy U3 system from my 1GB SanDisk Cruzer Micro USB flash drive. There are several reasons I don't want nor need U3 (in no particular order):

  • It's non-Free proprietary software. This means that neither I nor anyone else can independently inspect the software for bugs or security issues. I even had to accept a license agreement for the removal program!
  • It's unnecessary. I can run software directly from my flash drive without a stupid U3 Launcher program getting in the way. In fact, I have done just that: I ran Mozilla Firefox (free web browser, much better than Internet Explorer—actually, anything is better than IE!), Mozilla Thunderbird (free email client), The Gimp (free image editor similar to Adobe Photoshop), Cygwin (free Unix-like environment for Windows), XMing (free X server that is better, IMO, than the X server that comes with Cygwin), and other software from it. I can even password-protect my files using Free software. Additionally, all of the use cases in the testimonials for U3 can be done just as easily without U3.
  • It relies on a security flaw in Windows. This flaw is called "AutoRun", and it means that any CD-ROM inserted while running Windows can run any program the CD's author wishes to run. This includes malicious software, such as the rootkit found on some of Sony's audio CD's. Obviously, I disable this "feature" in every Windows system I have to administer (like my wife's system).
  • Worse yet, it has to emulate a CD-ROM drive just to use AutoRun in Windows! This is because Windows can AutoRun from CD-ROM's but not from any other removable drive. How's that for consistency? :)

There are other reasons than these, but these are the major ones. Overall, I think U3 is a bad idea and just plain unnecessary.

As for the AutoRun bug (ahem, "feature"), I've read that Windows Vista asks the user if he/she wants to AutoRun the contents of a CD before it does it. It's nice to see that Microsoft is at least trying to catch up with the rest of the computer world (ie, GNOME, KDE, etc.).

Now that I've got this off my chest, I have to change a flat tire on my car... I'll see you next time on another episode of "This Space for Rent"!

Fun computer stuff

Several months ago, I brought home a "new" computer. My wife was pissed that I brought home a computer, especially after she forbade me from doing so. She's still upset that I keep it on the floor of our small apartment's bedroom (I don't blame her for being upset, but I don't have anywhere else to put it short of the trash, and I don't like that idea).

The computer is a Sun Ultra SPARC 2 from around 2000 (give or take a couple years) and came with a fresh install of SunOS 8. It has two 200MHz processors, 768MiB of RAM, and two hard drives installed. I also got another hard drive outside of it. I didn't have to spend a dime on it; my Linux teacher in college gave it to me for free.

About a month or two later, I installed FreeBSD 6.2-RELEASE, got the X Window System to work, downloaded and installed Firefox, etc. I use the machine from time to time, such as when my wife is using the eMachines computer (bletch). I would like to use it as a full-time Web server one of these days (Suns are built well for that purpose), but since it's in our bedroom, the noise and lights make sleeping difficult. I suppose when we move to a two-bedroom apartment and have a separate room for my (our) computers I'll do that. For now, it's off most of the time.

The other night (Wednesday the 11th) I was browsing the Web with it (mostly on Wikipedia) because my wife was playing her Harry Potter game on the eMachines PC. She peeked over at my screen and said in a surprised tone, "That has graphics? Wow!". Those aren't her exact words, but it's close. I guess she didn't think this piece-of-crap computer even had graphics. She thought it was text-only.

A short time later, she looked at my screen again and asked (in her surprised tone still), "Are you on-line?". I chuckled. Apparently she also didn't realize that Sun workstations like this are excellent at networking. I even told her beforehand that I was using Firefox on it. She obviously wasn't listening at the time.

Somebody graduated

Somebody finally graduated. That somebody would be me. It's about time!

I picked up my diploma yesterday. It came in the mail two days ago, but I didn't go to my apartment's main office until yesterday to get it.

I now have an Associate Degree in Applied Science in Programming & System Analysis.

Yay.

This is not good

Today one of my college instructors called me and told me that his class had been canceled due to low enrollment. That sucked. It's less than one week before my classes begin, and now I'm short by one class that I need to get an Associates degree. It's really just a restricted elective, which means I can choose another class from a short list of classes, but I had a hard enough time picking this class in the first place a couple of months ago!

Then I got a call from another one of my instructors. He told me that his class had been canceled too. This is also a restricted elective. AARGH! However, he said that I could transfer to a different time. Luckily (?), the first class that was canceled was during that time, so I'll definitely call the school and transfer to it tomorrow so I won't have to lose two classes in a day.

Now I just have to pick one class out of the two that fit my existing school schedule.

Ah, c'est la vie.

Here we go again...

What is this, Windows stupidities month??

Here is a screen-shot of an Explorer window in the Thumbnails view. This is how the folder should look (with names blurred to protect the innocent):



Yes, that's a picture of Marty Feldman as "Igor" in the movie "Young Frankenstein" in one of the thumbnails. That's a pretty funny movie. :)

Anyway, here is a screen-shot of a sub-folder (models) of that previous one. I didn't have to blur out any file names on this one, as you can see:



Where did the names go? I don't have a clue. I switched to different views, I refreshed, I explored different folders, I closed the window, and I believe I even logged out and back in, to no avail. This Windows operating system thingy is really f***ed up.

It seems that every time I use Windows for whatever reason, it messes up. That's not a very good track record to me.

What the deuce?

Really... What. The. Deuce?

I'm having a hard time figuring out what Windows XP is thinking when it reports that it's idling 98% of the CPU time and also that there's 40% CPU usage. I'm not making this up — check out the screen capture I made of Task Manager:



Yes, I have only one processor, and I've checked everything else I could think of too.

I've seen other inconsistencies in Windows before, but I think this one takes the cake. That's mostly because this occurs in what should be a basic system utility that should simply report statistics from somewhere else (like from the kernel), and it's not just an aesthetic blunder either. Here's another big "oops" from Windows 98, just 'cause I'm posting about Windows inconsistencies:



I wonder if I have spyware on my computer that is causing the first problem to happen; I'm running Spybot - Search & Destroy on it right now to find out. It's not really my computer anyway (it's my wife's), so I don't know what crap she has on it already, and I wouldn't be using Windows XP either (I've got distributions of Linux and also FreeBSD to install on it).

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I abhor Windows. It's a steaming pile of crap, where there are just enough nutrients in it to sustain some life, but I prefer to eat something a little better than it. This little inconsistency illustrates my point a bit. Sure, GNU/Linux is not perfect, but what is wrong with it is at least fixable; the problems with Windows are inherent and not easily fixable, if they are fixable at all. We'll see if Vista is really any better, but I don't have my hopes up for that. It's always the same line from Microsoft: "The next one will be perfect. We promise."

Oops, I got a little carried away with that.

Anywho, that's all for this episode of This Space for Rent. See you next time!

My last entry

This is my last journal entry... as a single man, that is!

I'm getting married on Saturday. My parents, Mel, and I moved most of my stuff to her apartment on Tuesday and Wednesday. I've got my suitcase and backpack packed for our honeymoon trip to Hawaii. I'm pretty much ready to get married now!

Well, it's late, and I need to go to bed. Goodnight!

How I proposed to my fiancée

Though this happened more than four months ago, I still remember it well, and I just now feel like sharing the story. I shall always remember how I proposed to Melinda.

Melinda wanted to be engaged to me before Thanksgiving, so I had to come up with a special way to ask her to marry me. I decided to go to PF Chang's (a fine Chinese restaurant here in Mesa) and give her a fortune cookie with a special message in it (I decided against putting the ring inside, as it could get lost or broken, or even doughy). My mother helped me with the fortune cookies, but I made the message myself.

It was November 23, 2005. I called PF Chang's ahead of time to give them the fortune cookies (three cookies, so the last person could still choose their fortune) and tell them to bring those out instead of the regular cookies at the end of the meal. I was in a suit and tie (pink tie, by the way), I picked up Mel, then drove to the restaurant. We ate dinner, during which she kept inquiring me when I would propose. She thought I might do it elsewhere after dinner, but I neither confirmed nor denied it.

Our fortune cookies arrived, and she noticed their lighter color (PF's cookies are brown-orange and mine were a lighter golden brown). Fortunately, she thought little about it. We both took one each and opened them. She thought it odd that hers said "Consider wearing more jewelry", at a time when she was expecting to get a certain diamond ring for her left hand. As she was pondering her fortune (which was the same in all the cookies), I slid around the table, dropped to one knee, and said, "Melinda, will you marry me?". She said yes, of course, and then she figured out what I did with the cookies.

She thought that was very romantic.

TrustFlow results for unixplumber

I tried out TrustFlow II for LiveJournal. The following people not on the friends list for unixplumber are close by: More results below the cut...Collapse )

Created by ciphergoth; hosted by LShift.

TrustFlow II: Who is closest to your friends list?

KoalaPad

I have a lot of devices for my old Commodore 64 computer (joysticks, printer, etc.). One device that stood out to me was my KoalaPad. It's a tablet that is useful in a drawing program.
The KoalaPad



I thought it might be possible (and cool, of course) for me to connect this to a modern PC through the game controller port, so I Googled its pinout and the PC game port pinout. They turned out to be very similar (since the Commodore analog controller and the PC joystick port work much the same way). I drew up a circuit diagram to wire-up the two connectors, which was very straight-forward once I had the correct pinouts for both sides.


Joystick connection diagram



The KoalaPad plugs into a 9-pin male mini D-SUB connector, and a PC joystick has a 15-pin male mini D-SUB connector, so I had to get those two connectors. Luckily for me, I already had a 9-pin connector, because I have a stash of old computer parts, and PC's use a 9-pin connector for their serial (RS-232) port. Unfortunately, I didn't have a 15-pin connector. We have a couple of old joysticks, but I don't want to hack one of those up just to use the connector.

I went to Deseret Industries yesterday to get rid of some old junk...I mean stuff, and I found a joystick extension cable there for a dollar. I bought it and cut the end off that I need, connected the correct wires together (except for the resistors at first), and then plugged it into a PC while crossing my fingers. It actually worked! I was ecstatic. The bottom and right edges of the pad caused Windows to complain that the joystick was not connected correctly (probably because they caused too much resistance in their respective axes). After I connected the resistors, all worked well. The resistors act sort of as resistance dividers or limiters.

It's pretty awesome, at least to me.

Here are some pictures of the final project. The cables are longer than they need to be, but it's better to be long than to be too short (this applies to more than just cables :D ). Also, I might want to wrap heat-shrink tubing or something similar around the bare wires sometime.


Adaptor




KoalaPad with adaptor



Technical specs:



Parts list
PartQuantityNotes
9-pin male mini D-SUB connector1Can be found on old PC RS-232 serial port
15-pin male mini D-SUB connector1Can be found on an old joystick
Resistors2Resistance probably can be anywhere between about 100 and 400 kOhms. I used two 200 kOhm resistors, and it works well.
Soldera little bit (goes a long way!)I twisted the wires together to test it first, then I soldered them to make the connections more permanent.


Here are the colors of the wires that go to each pin in the 15-pin connector I bought. I'm guessing that all 15-pin mini D-SUB connectors use the same colors.


Pin number to wire color
Pin no.Color
1Brown
2Red
3Orange
4Lt. Orange (peach)
5Yellow
6Green
7Lt. Green
8Blue
9Lt. Blue
10Violet
11Grey
12White
13Black
14Red with black stripe
15White with black stripe
metal shroudnot insulated


To make connecting the wires easier (if anyone wants to make their own adaptor), here are the pin numbers and colors from the 15-pin to the corresponding pin number on the 9-pin connector:


15-pin connector pin numbers and wire colors to 9-pin connector pin numbers
15-pin no. (color)9-pin no.Notes
1 (brown)7
2 (red)3
3 (orange)9
4 (peach)8
6 (green)5to resistor 1 connected to 1 (brown)
7 (lt. green)4to resistor 2 connected to 1 (brown)

Attention CD rippers!

I would like to make two requests to everyone who rips music CDs and redistributes the music on-line.

First, rip the songs with a good CD ripper program. I can't believe the poor quality I hear in a lot of MP3's I download; many times there are pops and crackles, and sometimes I even get partially corrupted MP3's. What are you folks doing, recording the headphone output of a CD player?! Since most of you people are still stuck on M$ Windows for whatever reason (probably ignorance), please use a program called CDex. It rips the data exactly from the CD and can encode it directly to MP3 and, even better, to Ogg Vorbis (I prefer the Ogg Vorbis format as it generally sounds much better than MP3 at the same bitrate). This means (among other things) that you don't have to fiddle with the volume knob on your CD player when you "rip" your music. CDex is also licensed under the GNU GPL, which means you have permission from the copyright holder to redistribute it, although you people probably don't care because you infringe on copyrights anyway.

If you use almost any *nix system (like GNU/Linux), you can use a program called "cdparanoia" or one called "cdda2wav". Both programs rip to WAV files, which you can later encode into any other format. Or you can use "cdda2ogg" or "cdda2mp3", both of which are wrappers around "cdda2wav" and will encode the tracks into OGG and MP3 format, respectively.

Second, please make sure you give the MP3 (or OGG, for that matter) files the correct meta-data. That is, give them the correct artist and song names. This includes spelling them correctly! A lot of times I get MP3's whose filenames don't even match the meta-data. This is bad, to say the least.

For anyone thinking that I infringe on anyone's copyrights simply by downloading* music, let me tell you right now that I am not. Copyright infringement occurs when someone redistributes (or performs, etc) something that is copyrighted (in this case, music) without permission from the copyright holder. I do not distribute any music. I only receive music from someone else who just might be infringing.

* "Downloading" means being on the receiving end of data transmission. "Uploading" is the opposite and means being on the sending end. In all cases of people being sued for "music swapping" or "music downloading", each person has redistributed the music, thereby committing copyright infringement. This is probably because applications/services like Kazaa and Napster by default also share (redistribute) whatever someone has downloaded. I don't use those spyware programs or anything like them (I use the standard HTTP and FTP, and sometimes MMS, protocols only), so I know I don't redistribute music.