Monthly Archives: September 2007

my desktop screenshot

I was trying to think of something to write, and posting a screenshot of my desktop seemed like a fun idea.  Here it is.

And yes, I’m still running XFCE 4.2.  I like it.  Plus, I’m a really slow adopter when it comes to some things.

I do love that castle though, someday I plan on owning my own and living there. :)

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lds-scriptures v3.0 rc1

It’s been a long time on my plate, and I’ve finally gotten around to it again, in my recent desire to finish up projects I’ve started a long time ago. This time, the LDS Scriptures exports are almost complete. I’m already done with the database exports, and I’m posting them online so I can hopefully get some feedback if there are any errors. The packaging isn’t complete, as I’ve only got Sqlite 2, 3, MySQL and PostgreSQL done. Once I know the schema is good to go, I’ll get to all the other formats (Access, CSV, XML, etc.).

The big change in this release is that the database is normalized and cleaned up considerably. Almost all the column names have been simplified, and I dropped a lot of cruft as well. You can see the current ChangeLog I have written up here.

The only thing that is left to do is write the documentation, which can be a little time-consuming. I want to make sure it’s done right, because I most likely won’t be touching it again for a few years. You can download the database dumps here.

Edit: An XML dump is available now as well.

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ast dew tour

I got to go to the AST Dew Tour today here in Salt Lake City. I’ve never been to one of these things, and had no idea what to expect. It was a lot of fun, ended up spending almost all day there. Apparently, there are about 80,000 skaters in Utah, and they were all here today. Holy cats.

In the morning and afternoon I was just hanging out in the venues. There were a lot of corporate sponsors there, and they all had some cool booths setup with some fun stuff. They even had a small mini skate park setup if anyone wanted to grind.

The best part was at night, though. They opened up the arena for the pros to practice skating before the finals tomorrow. I got there just after they started, and the pros were all on a huge half-pipe just screwing around and occasionally doing a cool trick. I managed to take a crappy picture with my cell phone.

Then, a little later, something cool kinda happened. On the other side of the arena was some more ramps and stuff that nobody was using. In fact, there was a bunch of stuff just lying around on the floor. But about a half hour after the practice started, a lone skater showed up and just started pushing around on the ramps by himself. People in the seats got up and started going over to check out was going on, and then when we all figured out it was Ryan Sheckler, the entire arena pretty much moved over to watch.

Ryan did some really sweet jumps, it was way cool. After a few minutes, some other pros came out and joined him out there and we got a pretty sweet show all to ourselves. It was great.

I’m just glad little ol’ Utah could get a great event like this. It was all a lot of fun. The finals for skating are tomorrow afternoon, and they are gonna be on NBC. Right on.

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book of mormon adventures

In wanting to clean up alan-one a bit, I took a look this morning at my Nephite pages, which I haven’t done in a very long time. About half the pages on the Book of Mormon Adventures section were completely broken, which have probably been that way for a year or so. The tables weren’t even in the database, which is pretty horrible of me. I did some preliminary cleanup as much as I can, everything up until actually cleaning up the db structure and porting it to postgres or sqlite instead of mysql.

Working on it sure brought back some memories, though. I really love that little site, and all my projects in general. They were pretty much the first real public works I ever worked on. I hate the fact that I’ve been neglecting them for years, especially since it’s always been something in the back of my mind that I wanted to come back to and properly clean up.

One thing I had completely forgotten about was two short stories that I wrote, a long time ago. My first one was Gadianton’s Bandit, which I wrote on my mission, I believe … I’m not real sure of the exact timeline, but I know it was either right near the end or right after my mission. I do remember how I started writing it though.

Near the end of my mission, I was in the city of Neuquen (the province of Neuquen, in Argentina). For some reason, I got the idea to start writing a short story in my very limited free time, probably just as another measure to keep my sanity in a pretty stressful time. I started writing a short fantasy novel for another odd reason, and while it was a lot of fun, I had the hardest time coming up with a storyline that would fit and make sense. The writing was a lot of fun, but getting the story was near impossible. I made countless changes. I kinda gave up on the idea in frustration, and moved on after a few days. But then one morning I was reading my Book of Mormon and I read Helaman 11:33, which talks about the Gadianton robbers carrying away many people. I thought to myself, “Hmm, that would make a cool basis for a story,” and the idea persisted.

I ran with the idea, and this time, the story just came to me really quickly and I manged to get it all down really fast. Just like my (very old) poetry, my writing style is kinda similar to a stream of conciousness … I kind of just write the ideas as they come to me, with a general idea of where I’m going, and then after I’m done I make very few if any edits. So the story you’ll see on my website is probably pretty darn close to the original that I wrote so long ago. I haven’t read it again, yet. It’ll bring back too many memories and emotions. Those were some hard, but very good times.

I wrote a second one, which I completely forgot about … or rather, I knew I had started another one, but I didn’t think I finished it. I guess there is a third one somewhere in my archives. The second one is A Division Among the People, this time about the evil king Noah, and some things going on around him. You can read the actual account in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 11 to 19. I like that one.

I need to get back into writing some more. The stories obviously are not great quality, but it was a lot of fun, and a faith-promoting experience.

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whoops

Generally speaking, people don’t post entries about when they screwed up.  I don’t like to either, but it bears an explanation.

First of all, if you’ve noticed my website going up and down lately the past week or so, it’s because I’ve been doing intermittent maintenance and upgrades here and there.  Planet was already upgraded.  Yesterday, I was messing around with some other software and completely deleted WordPress, so while cleaning that up I finally upgraded to the latest version.  Plus, I’d been watching the apache logs for a while and something running a php script kept segfaulting, but I could never find it.  Turns out it was the Legend of the Green Dragon php scripts weren’t working.  I started poking at the code, but couldn’t find anything so just took it offline.

Then I started looking at finally upgrading to MySQL 5 (I’ve used 4 for as long as I can remember, and I’m not big on upgrading major versions unless I have to sometimes), and while I did I found the problems with LOTGD — the database was corrupted.  I have no idea how that happened, and of course I had no backups, since at the time it seemed like it wasn’t that important.  Well, it seems important now, darn it.

It’s a good lesson, I suppose.  I really haven’t been taking as good care of my server as I should, and now I feel a little bad for not taking some basic precautions.  I’m gonna be cleaning it up some more, so if something is temporarily down for a while, now you know why.

I’ll see about getting Lotgd back up, too.

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the star trek test

Note: I actually wrote this a few weeks ago (July 9th), but since I mentioned the Star Trek test in my last post, this is where I first wrote about it, and I thought this post was live. I can’t remember now why I didn’t publish it. Anyway, the basic description of the test is that once I get Star Trek looking really nice on my TV, then I’m finally finished setting things up for good. :)

I spent most of this weekend working on trying to get my media box back up to snuff again, so I can see how well things will work. This time, I focused mainly on trying out the media center experience on my TV, since I remembered vaguely from last time there were a few issues.

My backup power supply also died this weekend, which means I’m down two boxes now, so I hauled out my desktop instead to the living room to hook it up to my TV. For my first test, I trotted out some really old Harvey Toons cartoons from the 50s. Note: Some of the cartoons on this set are *really* creepy, especially considering the time period. Considering the generally low quality they are going to start with, they looked pretty good, except for one problem — I could see some horizontal lines anytime there was a moderate amount of movement.

I was pretty sure the problem was related to interleaving or something like that, there are many terms I don’t entirely understand, so I started looking around the MPlayer man page for some video filters. I immediately found one that I was familiar with, and I had used just the other day to re-encode something. The softskip and pullup filters fixed the problem, and made the lines go away (ex: mplayer dvd:// -vf softskip,pullup).

I tried watching something a bit more modern (Murder, She Wrote), and the picture was absolutely gorgeous. As far as picture quality went, I couldn’t tell it wasn’t the DVD. It seemed to me that I noticed some slight stutter anytime characters moved rapidly, but I wasn’t sure. Once again though, for simple shows where you are just going to watch the show and not care too much about quality, it worked great.

Since things were going so well so far, I decided to pull out the big guns and try out what I refer to as the Star Trek test. This is where I’ll pull out a disc from Star Trek: The Next Generation and see how well my setup duplicates the quality of my DVD player. I randomly grabbed a box set and disc from the bookshelf, and ended up testing with the episode “Deja Q” from season three (a really great episode, btw. “Red alert …”) .

This episode turned out to be a great one to sample, since the very opening scene shows a huge asteroid drifting off to the side, with the Enterprise right beside it. On my computer, the stutter was painfully obvious, especially compared to watching it on my DVD player. The only thing I could think of at first was to try and drop some frames so it wouldn’t have to work so hard, even though my CPU usage was never above 5%. I tried -framedrop and -hardframedrop, and I’d like to say I noticed a slight improvement, but I can’t be sure. Running either one of those is risky anyway, since if you pause and resume playback, half the time MPlayer quits.

One thing I was hoping might help was if I changed my monitor resolution to a lower setting. I changed it to something much lower, like 640×480, but that didn’t help either. I poked around at more video filters, but nothing helped.

It’s not really a big problem for me, anyway. I’d already made the decision long ago that trying to watch any science fiction movies or anything with high motion or action scenes would be visually annoying on the computer, so I’d given up on hoping to get those ripped and archived. Still, as far as the Star Trek test goes, I must admit that the quality was much better this time, and if it wasn’t for the visual artifacts, I’d be sold.

The thing that really bothers me though is this. I can spend $60 on a DVD player, and the picture quality still looks better than what I can get with $600 in computer parts, including a top of the line CPU and video card. I’m really not sure where there is room for improvement. Until then, I guess I’m stuck watching stuff the old fashioned way — one disc at a time.

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pimp my mythtv

I’ve been having a lot of fun with my mythbox lately. I’ve learned some really cool stuff about Myth, MPlayer, LVM2 and multimedia in general that is really helping to polish my setup. Add to that the fact that I’ve been working on dvd::bend quite a bit lately, and getting some bugs taken care of, and things are really adding up. I also finally took the plunge last week and bought my first 750 GB harddrive. I’m up to 1.6 TB of space in my server now (5 harddrives in one box), and I haven’t even hit 50% capacity yet. I’m sampling a little bit from all my TV series and getting them on there, so I can at least watch something from everything I have. Eventually, somewhere down the road when I have lots more space, I’ll have everything completely archived. For now, I’m still experimenting and getting used to the setup. It’s getting pretty nice.

Here’s some of the cool little stuff I’ve found out recently.

mythtv custom menus

I didn’t know this til just the other week, but the design for the menu layout that Myth uses is all in XML files, and right there in the themes directories (/usr/share/mythtv/themes). That said, you can customize them all you want! Just read the docs, and you’ll be up and running in no time. It’s really simple. It took me just a few minutes to simplify my main menu so I can jump to the TV recordings and MythVideo really easily.

mythvideo gallery view

I’m really having fun with this one. There’s a few things I’d change, but for the most part it works great. Here’s what my layout looks like right now:

mplayer + xvmc + high motion

I just barely discovered this tonight. One of my frontends is a Pentium 4 1.6 gHz, which does plenty well. You really don’t need that much horsepower to play back video. It’s got an older nvidia AGP card in there which works just fine with s-video out. The only problem I have is that there is sometimes a slight stutter on the video with some high-motion scenes. I’ve actually started to get used to it, but then I found out that using the XvMC video out option really makes things much smoother.

At first I was just playing with it to see if I could get the CPU usage down. It was only dropping by about 10%, which wasn’t that great, especially since it was still running high … around 35%. Turns out I had cpufrequtils set to use the powersave governor, so my CPU was only running at 400 mHz. Whoops. I bumped it back up to full speed, and mplayer dropped down to around 10% total.

But, even then, at the lowest speed, the video looked gorgeous. I’ll admit it might have been my imagination, but those motion blur issues seemed to go away. I was so surprised by the results that next I ran it through the Star Trek test (which everything has failed), and played back some Deep Space Nine. Normally I’ll test TNG since I’m extremely picky about the video quality on that one, and I’ve seen them enough that I can notice video artifacts more easily, and this was only the 2nd time I’ve seen this DS9 episode. But, it still looked nice. I could notice some small amounts of blur, but it was pretty minimal. So, who knows, that solution might work well for everything. We’ll see. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about it, and at the very least it works great for my older TV.

mplayer + audio delay

Before that, I was taking a break and watching some A-Team. Great stuff. On one episode, the A/V was off just slightly. This has always plagued me in the past, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t bother with encoding files. Also, this has happened before on another Universal disc (of all the DVDs I have, they have the most problems … they are rare, admittedly, but that studio is still the winner). I remembered reading somewhere about adjusting the audio delay with mplayer, so I checked the man page. You just use + and – keys on the keyboard to adjust it by 1/10th of a second each way, faster or slower. Played around with that, and the A/V was back in perfect sync. So, I mapped my channel up / down keys on my remote to do that in case I ever run into that problem again, and now that’s all fixed too.

matroska saves the day, and disk space

This is another cool one I noticed last week. This is all anecdotal evidence, so YMMV, but I’ve noticed that Matroska files are consistenly smaller than AVIs. About 8% smaller, in fact. I noticed that quite by accident while playing around with some encoding files. At first I figured I had done something wrong, but the results proved the same after quite a few tests. That is a lot of overhead for AVI, sheesh. Just one more reason to love and use Matroska. :)

Seems like there was something else, but I can’t remember now. Ah well. Anyway, I was hoping to get all those random thoughts down sometime, so there you go. Lots of fun playing around with this stuff. I’m pretty blown away by how well it’s working and how polished the whole thing is getting. Once I’m done for good, I’ll be sure to document how to reproduce the entire step in detail. Good times. :D

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Filed under Gentoo, MPlayer, Multimedia, MythTV

poorly authored dvds: chapters

In ripping my mass library of DVDs, I run into all kinds of problems I never would have expected. I’ve been mentally keeping notes about them, and how to workaround them, but I should probably document the findings and process as well. The first one I want to touch on is poor authoring of chapters and their start times.

Here’s what happens. On a normal, full-length thirty or sixty minute (usually about 22 and 48 minutes, respectively) episode, there will be one track per episode on the DVD. Then, for each track, there will be chapters during major scene breaks, usually when the show would pause for a commercial break.

There can be a variety of problems though. Here’s the cases I’ve run into so far with tracks + chapter support:

  • Wrong chapter start time
  • No chapters at all
  • Trailing chapters

The first one, wrong chapter times, becomes an issue on certain TV shows where there is an introductory preview to the show itself. This is very common on Universal Studios’ TV shows. Murder, She Wrote, Knight Rider and The A-Team will all have an introductory segment at the start of the show pitching what’s about to happen. I prefer watching a show blind, or not knowing what’s going to happen, so when ripping them, I can save a marginal amount of space (about 5%) by skipping over the summaries. Generally speaking, the chapters are authored correctly, so with mplayer, you start at chapter 2 and dump the stream or rip from that starting point. I’ve already setup my web interface for dvd::bend to specify a starting chapter that can either be set on a series or individual track.

That’s not always the case though — there are some DVDs where the authoring is broken. There will be an introductory scene like always, but the first chapter doesn’t end until the first commercial break. So skipping the first chapter also skips a chunk of the beginning of the story. That’s a bit of a problem.

The only solution I can come up with is pretty tedious — finding the correct starting position, putting it in the database, and tell MPlayer to start ripping from there. Unfortunately, this becomes pretty laborious because only some of the tracks are messed up, meaning you have to go through each track one by one to see which are correct and which aren’t. The upside to all of this is that it’s something you only do once.

One other idea I have, that I haven’t researched yet, is that the time duration from the beginning to the first commercial break are probably going to be about the same, and so I could insert my own chapter break. I’m basing that theory on the fact that the time lengths on each episode are all within a few seconds of each other. Obviously strict timing is a key element, for commercials. The idea needs some looking into, since there are two scenarios for intro scenes plus broken chapters: a summary intro or a show intro, plus the broken chapter ending. The second one would be consistent across the board, while the first I’d just have to find an average, and then calculate whether the next chapter break is so far back that it warrants inserting a fix.

That fix is also somewhat related to the second problem, of not having any chapters at all.  Generally speaking, the only chapter I care about the most is when I can skip unwanted content, which is usually just the introduction.  Not having any chapters usually happens on a per box set basis.  I know that some Warner Bros. cartoons do it, Batman Beyond comes to mind as an example if I’m remembering correctly.  Once again, it’s just going to be a matter of finding the start spot of the individual episode and inserting it manually.  Or you can just fast forward through it.

There’s no real need to insert the chapters for the other commercial breaks, unless you wanted them.  If I want to skip ahead through a show, I’ll skip by a minute or more, mapping a remote event with LIRC.

The only time the last issue bites me is when I’m manually checking a disc out.  For some reason, a lot of them will have a chapter start time that is actually the end time of the episode.  I don’t know why that is.  What would be really nice is if the last chapter started at the end credits, because that way I could cut out even more stuff I’ll never watch, and again save on some disk space.  That one would probably be easy to calculate as well, and no doubt it’s going to be a fixed amount of time (or really close) just like the intros.  I haven’t had enough disk space issues yet to warrant investigating the problem just yet.

Bad chapters are just one symptom of poorly authored DVDs, for whatever reason.  There’s a lot more things that can go wrong, and I’ll cover them when I get some time.  All together, they are only small annoyances, but it does make things difficult when you want to automate the process as much as possible, and you can’t expect things to be right all the time.  It’s stopping and coding around these inconsistencies that make creating a universal solution impossible.

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Filed under Multimedia

popeye

One thing I like about Netflix, is that since I can have a huge queue of movies, I get to add all these ones I’d like to see someday. Well, today Popeye was next in line. I haven’t seen this movie in more than 20 years, and watching it again was interesting.

I remember when I was a little kid, when we first got a VCR. I must have been around 8 or 9 or so. Popeye was the first movie we ever recorded (it was on ABC, I think), and we must have watched this movie dozens of times. Man those were the days. I remember our VCR didn’t do time-based indexing. Instead, it had this arbitrary counter that we could never figure out how to translate into actual time segments. Good times.

Anyway, I have fond memories of this thing since I’ve seen it so much. I was unsure of what to expect seeing it again, for the first time. I don’t think I could accurately describe the experience. It was just weird. Artistic, but weird.

The movie opens up with a song, which I *completely* forgot that there were any songs in this thing at all. They were weird. In fact, the whole movie is just odd. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I realized how hard a project this would have been to tackle, and all things considered, you have to give it some credit for at least being original.

As far as the story goes, this was the first time I actually could follow the thing. That was weird as well. The whole thing moved a little slow for me, but I imagine that it’s supposed to be a kid’s movie more than anything else (although that’s never really stopped me before). The acting was really good though. Robin Williams did a great job as Popeye. You can never recognize its him the entire time. Everything about the movie really pulls you in. It’s just a weird, hard movie to sit through. I had to fast forward through the DVD three or four times because it was moving too slow for me, but strangely enough I managed to sit through it and experience the whole thing.

I’m trying to think of something more to say about it that would lend itself towards actual content, but I can’t really think of anything. It’s hard to describe something that you understood completely differently in another life, and then you look at it again years later and try to make sense of it all. I honestly can’t even think of how to summarize the story. I do remember it being fascinating to me as a kid for all the funny, whacky weird stuff in it, and I can still see how it would spark the imaginations of some kids today. Still, it’s a hard sell when it’s an artistic film all the way through, especially more so to kids. Everything about it was really well done, and it’s very seamless and put together nicely … but it’s more of a circus event than anything else. You experience it, and move on.

As you can tell, I have a hard time revisiting some things from my past (movies have always been a big part of my life), and it’s even harder when you’re not sure what to expect. For the most part, everything I revisit again has always been a great, positive experience for me — since the first time around I got the general idea to know it was good and entertaining and fun, and the second time around I discover the story, character drama and depth. Or, it’ll just be something like Scooby-Doo and I enjoy the simplicity compared to all the strange crap that’s on now.

I’d sum this one up as an odd, interesting artistic, original exploitation. It did a good job of tackling a tough subject (cartoon strip characters), but it manged to do so with some real depth and character. For me the best part about it was just reliving those childhood memories and getting to see it again. There’s a lot of slapstick and silly antics, which is what I remembered the most. I don’t think I could ever sit through watching it again, but I feel strangely compelled to buy it anyway just in case I do. Very weird.

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you nerds

NerdTests.com says I'm a Kinda Dorky Light-Weight Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!

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