Monthly Archives: November 2008

lost hat

I lost my favorite hat about a month ago.  I have no idea where it disappeared to.  It was a good hat.  I wore it skating.  It was a black Etnies hat.  I got an Etnies one since that was my first pair of skating shoes about 12 years ago, and it looked cool.

Meh.  I miss my hat.

And I can’t find another one just like it.  Poopy.

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the c++ pull

Every now and again I get the desire to learn C++, but I rarely follow up on it consistently.  I usually get the bug when some small, simple program isn’t working correctly or has a tiny bug or something and I just *know* that if I knew a bit more and could get in there and tinker around, I could probably figure it out.  That’s actually what happened with my little mythvideo patches which I’m so proud of, even though they’re all about 5 lines each.

This time around, the bug that hit me was in vobcopy.  The program itself is excellent, and works 99% of the time.  The fault is really that about 1% of DVDs that I try to rip will just scream and screech at anything that tries to touch them, and I’m awfully curious why.

Being a programmer myself, I have a theory.  My guess is that there’s just some small variable that is overlooked, or some sanitization that is assumed and just throws the whole thing for a loop.  I’m obsessive about a lot of stuff, but programming is one of my extremes — I have a style of checking and verifying all possible external input and strictly checking it to make sure it fits exactly what I’m asking for.  Basically, make no assumptions.

That’s kind of why I think I would like C++ so much, in that it’s incredibly strict.  I love writing hard core code, in the sense that it cannot possibly break because you’ve accounted for every variable.  C++ has stuff like that built in, so I think we’d be a good match.

I just wish I could follow through on the desire and commit myself to learning it.

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the strange state of multimedia commercial playback

There’s something that’s been baffling me recently that I just really can’t understand.  I’m not even sure if I can explain it.  The basic thought, though, is this: I’m finding it really interesting how commercial playback of multimedia formats is moving in two directions at once — closed and open.

Everything is getting more closed in the sense of stuff like HDCP and vendor lock-in.  I’ve been reading the stories recently about how Apple is stupidly enabling HDCP (another fancy name for DRM) on their laptops, and I think to myself, what an incredible mistake.

First of all, it’s not going to do anything to stop piracy.  All it’s going to do is annoy customers who actually legally pay for the content.  That’s actually a principle I had a hard time wrapping around my head (mostly because I never have to deal with annoying DRM), but it’s really starting to sink in.  If I pay $15 or whatever to get a DRM-wrapped movie that will either only playback for the next 24 hours, will only let me watch it on my computer, and won’t let me back it up, then what has more options — the pirated version or the legal one?

I’m not advocating piracy in the least.  I think file-sharing, legal or not, is still morally wrong.  Everything I have a digital copy of in my home is from stuff that I’ve bought and paid for with my own hard-earned money.  And I don’t share stuff.  But at the same time I can honestly sympathize with people who get suckered and then locked into solutions.  It’s turning the world into a scenario where corporations are our benevolent dictators, deeming how, when and where we can watch the content they are so gracious to bestow upon us.  You’d honestly never believe that money was even changing hands.  I could understand all the restrictions if it were *free* or incredibly cheap.

Speaking of pricing, that’s one thing I really don’t understand either.  Things like online movie stores are growing, and that’s a great thing, but I still think the pricing schemes are completely whacked — both for rentals and purchases.

Right now, I, personally, only have access to two online video stores: TiVo and PlayStation Network, so I could only compare those two.  I don’t have any hard numbers on me, but I know that “buying” a movie usually costs between $10 and $15.  It’ll come in the form of a digital download that you save on your system’s hard drive, and then can only play it back from that device.

Now, this is what totally baffles me.  For generally the same price, and honestly, at a max price point of $5 more ($20 total) you could get the actual disc itself, which is going to include all the special features, not to mention alternate language tracks if you need that sort of thing.  The pricing ratio just doesn’t match up when it comes to features.  And, obviously, with a DVD you can play it anywhere — ironically, the PS3 even comes with a DVD player (Blu-Ray as well) so you could just play it back on there.

Then don’t also forget that your hard drive space is limited.  The Series 2 TiVos are usually about 80 gigabytes in size, and the PS3 is now selling with about 60 or 80 gigs.  My PS3 only has 40 gigs, and half of that is already used up by game updates and saved games, so I have very little space to start with.  When you’re so limited in size, why in the world would people build a digital library on that device?  You’re only restricting even more functionality, since you have less breathing room to record TV or save games or whatever else.  And since you can’t move the media anywhere else, you’re pretty much screwed.

The vendor lock-in is even worse.  Apple is by far the worst, in my opinion.  Their store content will only play on their devices.  Nobody gets upset about it because everyone is an Apple apologist, simply because their hardware is cool.  So apparently it’s easy to get taken for a ride if the car is a shiny Cadillac.  Unfortunately, the only real lesson that’s going to work in cases like this is time.  Years down the road when their playback devices are obsolete, they’ll have to repurchase their content again either in an open format or a relicensed DRM wrapper, and it’s then they’ll realize what they bought into was just a ticking time bomb.

I don’t want to pick just on Apple, though, Microsoft is just as bad, if not worse, since they have a history of taking open standards and tweaking them so that some content will only work if it using their modified formats.

Now, ironically, on the flip side, things are also starting to get more open.  At least, on the software side.

My PSP’s firmware has been updated and it makes a nice video player now.  It’s incredibly simple to encode a video using open codecs and formats (MPEG4, AAC, MP4) and watch it on there.  I just put my PSP into USB mode, and copy them over and I’m done.  My TiVo lets me copy digital files.  My PS3 lets me stream videos and music over the network using UPnP.

Those are some small examples of things actually moving forward, but I think it’s great that companies are realizing that their hardware should act more as a media playback center than a vendor-supported-format provider.  That’s a good thing.

And despite all the issues there are now, I’m actually really optimistic about the whole thing, and I think the market will work itself out.  In fact, I think in five years or so we’ll look back and just shake our heads about how silly it was.  Even now things are changing, with music labels finally ditching DRM on music, due to the futility of lock-in an enforcement.  Things will just find a way.

If nothing else, there’s this morbid but obvious observation — the dinosaurs will die out.  The executives and business men who are dedicated to holding onto the status quo will be gone in a couple of years.  And the next generation will be the ones who grew up with portable media players, cell phones and digital distribution all their lives, and they’ll want to take things to the next level.  It really can’t help but get much better. :)

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quantum of solace

I saw Quantum of Solace last night, the new Bond movie.  The best way I can describe the experience is that I was lost the entire time.  I had no idea what was going on almost the whole time.  The movie moves really quickly, pausing only a few times to give some details.  The fight scenes also moved so fast that almost the entire time I couldn’t figure out who was what person.  That was pretty annoying, actually.  The camera work just constantly clipped shots way too short so you couldn’t see what was actually happening.  Oh, there goes a car, whose car was that, too late, here’s another one going off a cliff, was that Bond?  Pretty confusing.

Plus, Bond in this movie (spoiler alert!) is pretty much gone rogue during the whole thing, and who he attacks and takes out is pretty much irrelevant.  As the movie hints at a few times, the lines between heroes and villains is blurred, and that was pretty true here.  He’s chasing a dictator, then a Bolivian secret agent, then a corporate psycho, then the guy who killed his wife, then he throws a CIA agent off the roof.  Huh?  The whole thing was just all over the place.

There weren’t any Bond gadgets in this one, either, which kind of stunk.  I didn’t realize that til the film was over.  I guess it did make sense since he was pretty much on his own.  I did really like the great nod to Goldfinger, though.

One thing I read on Wikipedia was that this film takes place one hour after the events of Casino Royale.  I had no idea.  That certainly explains why Bond is so ticked about his wife being dead, still.  I never picked up on the continuity part — I thought the first one was good, but not really memorable.

Overall, an interesting film.  I wouldn’t say don’t go see it, but don’t expect a typical Bond-style film.  It’s more a generic action film than anything else.

One other positive note was that I saw my first trailer for Star Trek.  It looks pretty cool.  I’ve been avoiding all trailers / promotional materials / whatever about the new movie because I’ve consistently found it’s a much better experience walking into any movie having zero expectations.  I must say, though, that I was sure that this movie was going to totally suck, but now I’m sold on checking it out.  My early verdict would be that it looks like it’s going to be a good action movie, but not really a Star Trek movie in the traditional sense (seems to be a common theme).

Ah, well, the real problem is that there doesn’t seem to be much recently to go watch anyway.  Maybe next year.

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star wars: the force unleashed

Warning!  Spoiler alerts!  Oh noes!  Teh Internets!  Runs!

Mondays are always hard for me.  Mostly because I spend the entire weekend doing, you know, fun stuff the whole time, coming back to work and starting a new week is hard.  My attitude is always, “wait … what?” for almost the entire day.  It’s a bit jarring.

Today is no different, because I spent most of yesterday, shamefully, playing Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on my PS3.  My gosh, what an incredibly fun game.  I’m actually surprised to hear me say that after what my initial thoughts were of it for a while. Continue reading

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mysql ordering by string with possible blank entries

I just found a workaround to something I’ve always preferred to do in SQL. I’m using MySQL 5 at work, and I had a query where I would order the entries by a column that is a varchar. Since there was the possibility for this column to be blank, it would display all rows with a blank entry first, and then alphabetically from there.

So, the order would be something like: ‘ ‘, ‘ ‘, ’1′, ’2′, ’3′, ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’.

What I really wanted was to display the blank ones last, since I wasn’t interested in those. I poked through the string functions available to see if I could conjure up a hack, and ASCII works great, as it fetches the ASCII numeral of the first character in the string. And, if the string is empty, it will return a zero. And that’s all I needed, was a binary flag to order by first.

Here’s a sample query then:

SELECT string FROM table ORDER BY ! ASCII(string), string;

And the result would be: ’1′, ’2′, ’3′, ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘ ‘, ‘ ‘.

Perfect. :)

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shipwrecked poster

I got this awesome poster on ebay this week, it’s an original mint condition poster of the movie Shipwrecked. I’d never even seen this alternate design before, but when I happened to notice it, the colors just blew me away and I couldn’t resist getting it. It’s really gorgeous.

I took it to get framed, and just got it back tonight. Here’s what it looks like:

It looked nice before, but with a proper frame it really just stands out. I tell you what.

If you haven’t heard of the movie, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s not even out on DVD in the US. I had to buy it from Australia (in widescreen, woots!) and rip it on my region-free DVD drive to watch it. Totally worth, it though.

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growing up without commercials

One thing I think about every now and then is how I’m going to raise my kids (when I eventually get some) about watching TV and entertainment and things. In my opinion, what’s on television these days is completely worthless, save the interesting documentary now and then.

Ironic as it sounds, I actually grew up never watching “live” television, in the sense of original programming for the day. Even at a really young age, I could recognize it was total crap and I just ignored it all. I did watch a lot of movies — seriously, I’ve probably seen a thousand by the age of twelve — and Saturday morning cartoons, but that was about it. Everything else was reruns of older shows or just movies that we had taped.

I remember we got the Disney Channel when it first came out. I was about eight years old, and we got a VCR shortly after so my mom could record all the shows. Believe it or not, but the Disney channel was actually amazing way back in the day. They didn’t have any original programming, so they just aired their entire archive of old movies and shows for probably at least five years or so.

Anyway, the reason I started thinking about all this was because I was reading my sister’s blog, and she had a link to another mom’s blog that posted about her experience raising her kids and monitoring what they watch.

I thought her post was pretty funny because while she normally showed them videos until recently, her kids had never seen any commercials on TV, and so got really confused when they came on. I kind of imagine something similar will happen with me. First of all, I don’t plan on even getting cable TV (I’m considering cutting it now), but you never know.

I can seriously see me saying something like this though, “I’ve amassed a huge library of shows that I’ve already decided are okay for you to watch. It took me 15 years to watch it all while growing up, so good luck, and have fun.” :)

If they come out of it not knowing what a commercial is, I’ll just consider them lucky.

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xm + sirius = meh

So, the XM and Sirius satellite radio station merger went into play this week. I only happened to catch wind of it because of a leaked new program guide that I saw on some RSS feed. Unlike most, I wasn’t really affected.

I have 12 total presets on my car, split between two bands. The first six are just rock stations that don’t happen to suck. The second set is pretty empty. The only presets I care about are my New Age radio station and my Old Time Radio one.

As far as I can tell, the music selection has improved greatly for the rock stations, but the names of all the channels are a lot dumber now.

“Audio Visions” was the name of the New Age channel, and now it’s called “Spa” instead. What the crap? The two terms aren’t even closely related. The rock ones are okay, though I kinda liked the name “Flight 26″. Ah well.

I realize I’m a bit of a weirdo posting an entry about how the names of my radio stations changed, but I’m a real junky for metadata and tags, not to mention naming schemes, so I take a minor interest in the stuff.

I’ll still probably cancel my subscription this year. I’ve been threatening to do that for about two years now, and honestly it’s hard to beat when I’m only paying about $89 a *year*. My subscription is up in about a month, though, and I’ll have to keep an eye on the rock stations. Right before the merger, things had gone atrociously bad, where the playlists were really short, and it was seriously the same thing as terrestrial radio (let’s play the top 50 music songs *all the time* and nothing else!) minus the annoying car dealership ads. When you see the same band playing on three of my six presets *at the same time*, you know something’s going on. That’s honestly happened more than once the past couple of months.

Ah well, uncustomed radio is a lost cause anyway waiting to die. I’m just biding my time til I can get something like LastFM in my car. There’s so much music out there to listen to, I’d love to hear nothing but new stuff and suited to my tastes. I’d definately pay for that.

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on gay marriage

I just happened to run against this news article on Google News today, and I thought I’d comment on it a bit. But, first, a few disclaimers — I’m going to disable comments on this post, because, for one, I hate discussing law or politics (I never bring it up), and I’m really not good at debating either one because I don’t understand them very well. I’m just putting my opinion up, is all.

Normally I wouldn’t comment at all, but the fact that they protested outside an LDS temple kind of struck me as odd. For the record, I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so it’s not hard to guess what my stance on the matter would be.

Really, though, there’s only one comment from the article I want to refute:

“I’m fed up and disgusted with religious institutions taking political stances and calling them moral when it’s nothing but politics,” said Dennis Williams, 36.

The commentor seems to think that there is a natural division between politics (philosophies of law) and morality, when the fact is, they are completely united.

Law is nothing more than a third party (government) dictating what is right and what is wrong. Morality is the reference for the laws — they reflect our moral viewpoints. You could just as easily debate whether murder is right or wrong based on the same approach. Something inside us, which the majority of people agree with, tells us that taking someone else’s life is “wrong”, so we pass a law that makes it a crime.

Similarly, if a nation is filled with Christians, expect the laws to reflect Christian points of view. If the majority thinks that gay marriage is wrong, then there will be laws to reflect that moral point of view.

Law is descriptively deciding what we as a people agree is right and wrong, okay or not okay, permitted or not. As far as I see it, its just morals applied.

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