A few days ago Emalyse posted a helpful article about dealing with Tinnitus, reminding me that my impending travel is going to need to take my Tinnitus into account. I rarely spend time away from home, but whenever I do, I inevitably forget to bring a fan or something to create a Tinnitus-masking bed of white noise to help me fall asleep. The phrase "silence is deafening" is one which Tinnitus sufferers are all too familiar. Bringing a fan halfway around the world seems
In any case, after failing to get the Linux white noise generator software to which she linked in her article functioning, I decided to see what I could do on my own. I fired up Audacity and quickly found that it can generate white noise and pink noise. Not really knowing which one would be better for sleeping, I went about generating 8 solid hours of each, and loading the resultant ogg files onto my iPod. (Lame was estimating that it'd take over 2 hours to encode this mono audio file to MP3, so I opted for ogg since oggenc only took 40 minutes to encode the same file.) Now I'll be able to pop on my light-and-comfy overly expensive Bose headphones while on the plane, drowning out all the screaming children, all the whining children, all the arguing children and all the cries of "oh my God, if you don't shut those children up I'm opening the emergency door and letting them get sucked out."
If we actually arrive in Australia -- and survive the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb that D's new employers have scheduled for us shortly after our arrival -- to find that our hotel is too quiet, I can simply plug my iPod into my OLPC XO and let it play my soothing white/pink noise aloud whilst we sleep the sleep of someone who has traveled halfway around the world in a tiny box to find that it is now two days later than when they left. I really wish I had thought to do this years ago. Thanks, Em, for planting the idea in my head. My sanity thanks you as well.
If you find yourself in need of large continuous stretches of white/pink noise, I've handily provided the generated files below for your listening pleasure. If you don't suffer from Tinnitus, however, I recommend that you don't try sleeping with white noise; it very quickly becomes addicting. D does not suffer from Tinnitus, but she is now unable to sleep without my white noise's comforting silence either. Use at your own risk.
(Apologies for not making these available in non-hacked iPod-compatible formats. When I get back I'll rectify the situation. Also, you might think it's a bit nutty to generate 8 hours of noise rather than just looping a shorter length. Yes. You are right. I just worry that my brain will detect the looping and listen for it, thus keeping me awake. I used to have an "ocean sounds" cd that I couldn't listen to after a while because my brain knew when particular waves would come in, and would actively listen for them. Stupid brain.)
It is hard enough for me to convince people that GIMP is quite capable of doing pretty much everything the average user of Photoshop would require from it without you guys up and moving shit around all the time, and/or releasing "stable" versions that don't function properly. Had I not had 10 years of wonderful experience working with GIMP before running the version that Ubuntu installed for me, I would have not only been pulling my hair out, but I'd be advocating that no one ever waste their time with it in the first place as well. Stuff just doesn't work. Weirdnesses to which I had finally adjusted are now either gone or weirder. My active layer keeps getting into a state where neither I nor plugins can change it. Selections are behaving strangely. I'd hate to have my income be dependent upon using GIMP, because I'm having serious troubles getting anything done with it right now.
Granted, Ubuntu is giving me a somewhat outdated version, but I would think that however old the version is, coming from the "stable" tree would ensure that it, you know, would WORK properly? I suppose it's possible that the Ubuntu folk may have broken something after you were through with it, but I can't help but wonder whether most of the Internet ravings from Photoshop users about how GIMP is worse than MS Paint might be as a result of crap like I'm running across now. I know that GIMP is a top-notch application that, aside from some annoying quirks from time to time, is perfectly capable of replacing what 95% of Photoshop users use it for (despite that not being the intent of GIMP in the first place), but trying to get anything done with this release (2.4.2) is proving impossible for this 10-year veteran self-proclaimed GIMP 'expert.' I'm pulling my hair out trying to get anything done; I'd suspect new users, however, would just tell their friends how much it sucks and be done with it.
In the decade or so that I've been using GIMP I've gone from the bleeding-edge compile-it-myself-the-minute-it's-released type of user to kind that just uses whichever release his package manager presents him with; I'm pretty sure the latter is the group that most of your user-base falls into. You need to make sure that those people don't come across crap like this, because they're the ones who aren't going to put up with it and end up saying bad things about you. Isn't that why you have the unstable tree in the first place?
Geeking out with Erik yesterday was pretty fun, and I look forward to doing it again in the future. The game we played, called Federation Commander, was a bit more high-tech than I was anticipating. Using laminated cards and dry-erase markers rather than pencils and paper, the game was playable "out of the box" and required no tedious setup at all. (Well, not tedious for me, anyway; Erik was tasked with explaining the somewhat-complicated mechanics of the game to me. Over and over again, because I couldn't follow them at first.) To a newbie like me, this type of game is frighteningly complicated, but the complicatedness dissolves once you see how it all works. By the time my Klingon ship had Erik's Federation ship in tatters, I was beginning to feel at home within the universe, and think that I'll have even more fun next time we do it.
One of the things that really amused me is that Federation Commander, a game emblazoned with familiar Star Trek language and iconography, is not actually licensed by the Trek people and doesn't actually say Star Trek on any of the materials anywhere. All the game materials, however, do proudly proclaim that they're copyrighted, daring anyone to use them without permission under threat from lawyers. That takes balls.
Here's the cover of the game box:
I tried to take photos to "document" the game, but quickly found out two things: 1) I needed to pay attention to the game, and b) it's very much a "you had to be there" game. Little cardboard squares on the cardboard map of the universe do not really make for entertaining photos. You can see for yourself, though.
After Erik surrendered to me (the luck of the dice), we went to lunch and had geeky conversation. Then we geekily looked through some Ruby on Rails projects he's working on, and then played a little bit of that game Crysis I've seen on digg a lot lately. I sucked at it, but it looks pretty awesome. Maybe they'll make it for the Wii so I can play through it. There was also much iPhone discussion, and we played with my OLPC a little. Throughout the day Erik's wife Monica brought us delicious snacks that were decidedly non-geeky. Yummy veggies, spinach hummus, hot tea; nary a Dorito or Mountain Dew to be seen. Thank goodness :).
I didn't even have to use my lightsaber; I guess it was a good day. (<--- Ice Cube reference)
In a short while I'll be heading over to Erik's house, where we are going to apparently "get our geek on." There will be gaming that involves pencils, paper, starships, dice (?), and, apparently, interplanetary conquest. This will be my first foray into this type of gaming, and I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to think of it, but I feel that if I'm going to continue being a geek I need to try some of this stuff. I think it'll be fun. Plus, because it is all imaginary, if there are any hot Wookiee or Borg girls hanging around I'll be free to "do them" without spousal reprisal. My magic missile is aquiver with anticipation.
I grew up having disdain for "role playing" games drilled into me, due to the apparently millions of kids who were unable to tell fantasy from reality and ended up killing themselves and/or others when they couldn't handle the events that happened to either them or their characters. I suspect this was largely false information being spread by James Dobson and the rest of the armies of Christian naysayers, and that there's no truth at all to it. Still, I'm going to bring my lightsaber in case things get out of hand.
Tonight I picked up volumes 1-3 of Wildstorm Comic's's <i>Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ash</i>. Wildstorm needs to hire a proof-reader worse than <i>Geek Monthly</i> does, because this appears on the very first page: "Take it from me, there's nothing you can do can take away the nightmares once you've lived through them." To quote a very wise man: "Doesn't anybody there <i>read</i> this sh*t?!" I've finished one of them so far, but can't say that I'm very impressed. Licensed comics suck, I guess.
Last night we watched the season premiere of CBS's fan-saved miracle child <i>Jericho</i>, which airs Tuesday February 12th. I really, really loved the first season of <i>Jericho</i> and was a little irked that they canceled it, but I wasn't about to mail any nuts or anything. I've been pretty excited for the new season to start, so I jumped at the chance to see the first few episodes before they air. Anyway, I don't have a lot to say about the season premiere because I was completely distracted by the fact that the show now has that cheap video look that <i>Dr. Who</i>, <i>Torchwood</i> and American soap operas tend to have. Everything is lit too strongly and looks like a set. I know CBS was strapped for cash, but was this really necessary? We'll be watching episodes 2 and 3 this evening, so hopefully I can get past the look. I'm really not sure why it bothers me so much, though.
Few things have excited me as much recently as that of the OLPC project. Since last we talked about it, I've donated another to the efforts. This means that I'll have two of them to play with, which I figure is essential to seeing how the mesh networking functions. I also figure that when the nerds begin doing really awesome things with them, people who are kicking themselves for not having the foresight to have gotten in on the ground floor may suddenly be willing to pay considerably more for them than those of use who donated did. This, of course, comes after the joy of knowing that I've helped two kids get one.
Before I get into trying again to explain just how awesome the project is -- despite all the negative attention the press, Intel, Microsoft, John Dvorak, and Digg commenters have been lavishing upon it -- I've a couple links for you.
First up, from the BBC: A child's view of the $100 laptop. In that story a virtually computer-illiterate 9-year-old in the UK gets his hands on an OLPC and talks about all the things he was able to do with it WITHOUT HELP from an adult. And how fun and creativity-inspiring it is, despite the abundance of video gaming systems he owns. Now imagine a 9-year-old kid who has never had an electronic device before, and now suddenly has one that can help bolster creativity in many, many ways. Remember how cool it was when you first exchanged instant messages with people from all over the world via your computer? Now imagine being able to do that from your bug-laden tent, and being able to get skills and contacts that might be able to get you out of the dirt into a job in a more technological world at some point in the future. I just don't see how people can bad-mouth the amazing thing the OLPC people are doing.
Next: for those of you that've donated to the project and are anxiously awaiting the shipment of yours, I learned that the OLPC is maintaining a delivery estimate on their site without prominently linking to it. Click on over to Give One Get One Shipping Information to see when you can expect to get yours. (My first one is in batch two; my second is in batch 3.)
On to my excitement. Remember in Orson Scott Card's novel "Ender's Game," the futuristic space-school where the students' textbooks and assignments were all on digital tablet-thingies, with which they could communicate amongst their peers via text chat and email whilst working on said assignments from their living areas? And how they could play learning games to help them unlock what's inside themselves while having fun? I would have killed to have something like that when I was in grade school and actively wished for such a thing a little later in life. Now, thanks to the work of many individuals who came together under the OLPC initiative, kids in some of the worst parts of the world are going to have EXACTLY THAT -- minus the zero-gravity and attacking aliens, natch.
If you want to help one of these kids have something nice in their otherwise unpleasant-seeming (to this westerner, anyway) life, you can still donate to the project over at laptopgiving.org. If you donate before December 31st, you'll be able to get one yourself. This helps in two ways: the Give One portion puts one of these laptops into a kids hands, while the Get One part helps increase the production quantities. This helps makes things easier and cheaper for the manufacturer, which means it's good for everyone involved. $200 of the $399 cost is tax-deductable (here in America, anyway), and I'm confident that post-Dec. 31st you'll be able to recoup the rest by selling it to some other nerd -- assuming, of course, that you won't find a tiny, low-power, uber-portable eBook reader/word processor/email/drawing/web-surfing machine useful yourself. (If you're outside of America, you will require a US postal address to get one. If you're otherwise interested in participating but don't have such an address, drop me a line and I bet we could work something out.)
I think that it's great that you're getting into both the hardware and eBook business, but do you really think it's such a good idea to hinge the success of both on each other? I mean, I have so many devices now that are capable of A) browsing the net, and B) reading eBooks that it would never even cross my mind to pay you $400 American to get another one so that I could purchase books electronically from you. (OK, so it crossed my mind, but I immediately said "no.") I'd love to be able to purchase your eBooks and read them on any number of my devices, but you make that impossible without buying a Kindle.
You keep making a big deal about how "Kindle is not a device, it's a SERVICE," which is a great way to look at it -- except for one little detail: you have to buy the device to access the service, so it's not really fair to say that. Please consider allowing people to download the Kindle files from amazon.com themselves, rather than requiring that they get sent over the EV-DO network to the Kindle that they probably don't even own.
How about an application people could install on their laptops to access the Kindle network from there? Or better yet: how about a web 2.0 version of Kindle, allowing people to log in and read their books from any browser-enabled computer?
The Terminatrix's ability was "forming complex machines," not necessarily just controlling machines. In order to drive a car remotely, all she'd need to do is send some of her nanobots into the car where they could form the machinery required to move the steering wheel, manipulate the throttle, etc. I'm still not convinced that she'd make machinery to pull the gas pedal down rather than just adjusting the throttle from the engine compartment -- not to mention that she could never have enough leverage from within the steering column to pull the transmission lever down -- but at this point I'm just nitpicking. I know better than most that "nobody likes a nitpick," so I'm declaring that my complaint with the movie is completely invalid, and apologize profusely to the film's creators for my mistake.
That said, in her comment explaining this, aerospace brought to my attention another complaint I once had, about which I had completely forgotten. In the "Terminator" universe, the abilities of the Terminators get better and better as technology in the future progresses. But they inexplicably send the new upgraded Terminators back in time to a point AFTER the failed previous attempts. The logical thing to do would be to keep going after Sarah Connor EARLIER in time, would it not? Why keep trying forward in the time line when you know she's going to be expecting it?
I just realized that "Maximum Overdrive" and Zack Snyder's version of "Dawn of the Dead" have essentially the same ending. I like to imagine that the guys from "Dawn" pull up on the island to find an aging Emilio Estevez asking them if the trucks have stopped killing people yet.
"The good news is that the trucks are no longer killing people. The bad news is that all the dead people ARE."
Speaking of Stephen King adaptations: know how I like to gush about Frank Darabont being a genius? Well I just learned that he once wrote "Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors." That movie pushed the "quick, let's all go to sleep and end up in the same dream" plot gimmick to the limit, included Freddy Kruger with a Nintendo PowerGlove, and included the phrase "put on your 3-D glasses now."
Frank Darabont has made three pretty dang good Stephen King movies, but he's still got some atonement to do for Freddy 3.
Remember how in "Terminator 3" the Terminatrix could control electronics, enabling her to use them as an extension of herself? Remember how when it came to vehicles they'd do the David Fincher zoom-through down to the circuit level, showing that she's taking control of it only to zoom back out and show the shift knob move by itself, the gas pedal depress to the floor and the steering wheel turn by itself? That bugged the crap out of me. For me it was exactly like in "The Never-ending Story" when Sebastian got to the part in the book where Sebastian got to the part in the book. ("That's IMPOSSIBLE!" Both his response and mine. Luckily he was all alone in his school's attic; I was in a crowded theater and got simultaneously 'shhhhh'd and snickered at.)
Compare with the film "Maximum Overdrive." Shift knobs move by themselves, steering wheels turn without assistance, and gas pedals depress to the floor, seemingly without any cause. This was perfectly acceptable. AWESOME, in fact. I'm not entirely sure what the difference between these two examples is, but I suspect it to be the explanation of how it is working. In "Maximum Overdrive," there really is no explanation. For all we know, there are invisible beings sitting at the wheels of the vehicles. We know that an alien race is using Earth's machinery to "sweep out all the roaches," (those roaches are us) but there's absolutely no attempt to explain it. In "Terminator 3," on the other hand, they go out of their way to explain it, even using flashy graphics of electrons following circuitry. The problem, though, is that electronics don't work that way. I could buy the steering wheel, since most modern cars have "power steering," but the shift knob? There's no machinery for the electronics to activate to get them to move. To me that was just plain stupid and it spoiled the whole movie.
Do these types of things bother other people, or is it just me? None of the other unrealistic things in the film -- time-travel, cybernetic organisms, Claire Danes -- bothered me in the slightest, while such an inconsequential thing completely ruined it? Is that a normal human response?
I've been following the One Laptop Per Child project for a couple years now, and have anxiously awaited the day I'd be able to own one myself. A couple of days ago they started taking orders for their Give One Get One promotion, wherein you can spend $399 to get an OLPC computer for yourself, one for a child in a developing country, and also year's worth of T-Mobile HotSpot WiFi usage to boot. (The latter is a $350 value in and of itself.) Also, $199 of the total cost is tax-deductable, seeing's how you spent it to help fund a non-profit.
Aside from the coolness of having a tiny, rugged, green, Linux PC that uses 1/10th the energy consumption of an ordinary laptop, it also serves as a WiFi router and its swivel screen allows it to be configured as a laptop, an eBook reader, or a hand-held gaming system. It also has a built-in camera and microphone, and a huge multi-use touchpad that allows you to not only move the mouse cursor, but also draw and write as well.
The user interface on it has been designed from the ground up to be intuitively operated by those with zero computer experience, and it comes with software to do all sorts of fun things that I'd have killed to be able to do as a child. Animation, video editing, web browsing, creative writing, drawing, games, etc. All of the included apps are written in Python, and there's even a dedicated keyboard key to display (and edit) the source code of any currently running program. (How cool is that?) There are a bunch more applications currently in development specifically for the OLPC system, but I don't see why you couldn't run any old Linux/X11/GTK apps on it with very minimal hassle.
If, like me, you want to do something to help make the world a better place -- and are also an insufferable nerd who feels compelled to own gadgets and make them do things which they mightn't have been entirely intended -- the "Give One Get One" deal is a pretty darn good choice. Orders can be placed until November 26th.
A few days ago Emalyse posted a little sonic doodle she had made, reminding me that I had been meaning to try to record some of the sonic doodling the Nintendo DS game Elektroplankton allows you to create. The thing that's fun about the game is that you just sort of click around on things and it effortlessly turns those clicks into "music." Most of the different modes have pretty unsatisfactory results, but my favorite works rather well. It consists of a grid full off arrows and 4 different plankton that each make their own sets of noises as they follow the arrows. By changing the direction of the arrows you can cause them to go into different loops, drastically changing the "song" that it makes.
[UPDATE: Grr. Comments were broken again. I will never intentionally disable commenting on posts, so if you ever happen to be unable to leave one, I'd like to hear about it :)]
Sorry that I've been neglecting all of y'all. I've just been hax0ring around in the inner-workings of the iPhone, and have been having so dang much fun that I haven't had time for you.1
Tonight, for instance, I decided to see if I could take advantage of the on-phone voice mail handling to do things that no one ever intended me to. See, you click a button to record a greeting or play voice mails, never actually having to call up a voice mail system to do anything. I decided that I wanted to try to take an existing audio file and use that rather than recording audio through a tinny cellphone microphone. So, having full system access to every nook and cranny of the thing, I did a little digging around and found where it stores the temporary greeting file that is created (you record it, then you have an opportunity to listen to it, THEN you click 'save' to upload it), finding it in relatively short order.2 It is an 8000 KHz .AMR file. I don't know what that is, but FFMPEG can create them, so I created my own using audio I happened to have lying around.
After recording a couple seconds of audio on the phone, I then replaced the temporary greeting file with my newly-created one, and then clicked 'play' on the iPhone to see if it was dumb enough to just assume the file was the same one it recorded. It was. I then clicked 'save' and watched it upload the audio to the voice mail system.
The same can be done with incoming messages, which should prove rather handy should anyone ever leave any mean-spirited ones.
If you'd like to experience my new (temporary) voicemail greeting, go ahead and give me a ring at 3605211191 before about 6am Pacific time on Aug 16th (I'll be changing it to something a little less... crazy... at that time.)
Also, please feel free to leave me a message after the beep. If I get anything good, maybe I'll post them here.
1: I do have a full review coming at some point in the future, as I decided to keep it rather than off-loading it. Short review: despite the many, many, many (many) annoying stupid things about iPhone, it's still the best (and nerdiest) phone I've ever, ever owned. You can have it when you pry it from my cold greasy hands.
2: In case you're playing along at home, after recording your temporary greeting, you'll find it at /var/root/Library/Voicemail/Greeting.amr on your iPhone. Just copy your 8000 KHz .amr file over that one.
As a nerd, I have a really fond place in my heart for discussing works of fiction as if they were real, using logic and analysis to determine probable causes and outcomes to things screenwriters had no idea people would ever discuss -- let alone argue over. Socio-political climates are interesting to me, regardless of whether they, in fact, even exist. Being able to include Transformers and Snorks in such discussions adds a nice bit of entertainment value, and makes depressing topics just that much more manageable.
Also, to me, there's nothing quite as delicious as the looks on people's faces after they witness an hour or so of this type of discussion to ultimately learn that it is actually some minute detail of The Matrix or Star Wars that is being discussed, not actual politics. So much effectively-wasted time on something so pointless can really perplex people. (Never mind the fact that most socio-political discussions based in reality are equally time-wastey -- they're just not nearly as much fun.)
A recent such conversation with Tim involved what Superman would do had he fallen in love with a nice Jewish girl rather than Lois Lane. It would be difficult for Jewish Lois to maintain a positive relationship with her parents if she were dating a gentile, so conversion would be the only real option for Superman if he wanted to live harmoniously with his human counter-parts. As evidenced by his constant efforts to save humanity from themselves, I think it's clear that he does in fact crave harmony and will do whatever it takes to help it come to pass. Sabbath observation aside, circumcision would be the most difficult problem for Supes, as no earth-born materials could damage his skin while in the presence of Sol's yellow glow. Supes' foreskin would simply destroy the knife. (At this point I think it's fair to note that Tim countered that it's a pretty large assumption that Supes wasn't ALREADY circumcised. That's a fair point, but I feel that had Kryptonians been a people of faith, they probably wouldn't have taken the precautions necessary to secure a space-vehicle for their son to travel in when their world became threatened. That's taking "trust in God -- but lock your car" to quite an extreme. No, I feel it's safe to say that Kryptonians did not practice such a barabaric ritual based on the misconception that God would require his faithful followers to chop off the foreskin rather than simply creating the penis that way in the first place.)
After some discussion I realized that the mohel could simply bring some Kryptonite near Supes' junk, effectively neutralizing the effect of the yellow sun's radiation and allowing for both an easy circumcision and the future harmony with Jewish Lois's family. End of discussion.
(You don't want to know what got me thinking along these lines. But I'll tell you anyway: it has recently come to my attention that the hoopla a couple years back over Brandon Routh's Digitally-reduced Superman bulge was not over it being too LARGE, rather it was over being able to clearly tell what religious affiliation he had while wearing the suit. This would surely have brought on exactly the type of discussion I've outlined above, and they were smart to have fixed it.)
Anyway, the reason for this roundabout meandering through my conversation topics is so that I can share with you a couple wonderful bits of Star Wars discussion.
First up: this AMAZING treatise on the negative impact the Death Star's destruction would have had upon Endor, and whether or not the Rebel Alliance and the Empire both were aware of it at the time. This is pretty heavy reading, but it goes into great detail on many controversial aspects of the various theories. Also some discussion of more "consipracy theory"-oriented theories about whether or not the Empire willfully allowed the Rebels to destroy the Death Star. Great reading, but it'll take you some time. (Ooh, while searching for that link I came across a rebuttal. I'm going to have to spend some time with that.)
That stuff will take a considerable amount of reading to wade through for even the most dedicated nerd, but what I'd like to share now is a quick YouTube video. This video brilliantly skewers the Loose Change argument style, putting forth evidence of an equally-compelling nature (i.e. ludicrously ridiculous) to the ones filling the popular internet 9/11 consipiracy film, this time supposing that the Death Star was not ACTUALLY blown up by Luke Skywalker's skilled shot into the ventilation shaft, but rather that it was destroyed by the Empire themselves. This is a must-see for fans of both Star Wars and Loose Change alike, for it pokes great fun at both. http://youtube.com/watch?v=55nQ00gSKC0.