No spam for me, thank you

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

I’d just like to mention that has a great spam filter. I’ve been blogging here for just over a year now, and out of 1680 messages identified as spam, only two messages proved to be false positives. We are very pleased ;-)

Re-learning java for alt.binaries.unpack

Monday, 6 August 2007

Ever since I completed an introductory CS course in Imperative and Object Oriented Programming at my university, using mainly the Java programming language and a little C for the imperative programming part, I have been thinking about applying this knowledge to a useful programming project.

Since I did not feel much like reinventing the wheel, and considering the vast number of projects currently being developed this seemed almost inevitable, I have not done much programming these past few years. But I hope that is going to change.

Because one thing that continues to really annoy me, is the lack of decent GUI unpacking tools for Usenet binaries. In essence, something like the integrated unpacking utilities in GrabIt (alas, its unpacking features do not work in Wine), or more specifically something like AutoUnpack.

I have tried, and not without some success, to write a shell script which offers much the same functionality. But it needs to be invoked from the command line, and besides using the inconvenient cron scheduler, I don’t know how to make it run in the background like a daemon process. So instead of improving it I have given up on it.

Command line programs are simply not my cup of tea anyway, I don’t like using them as I constantly forget what options I need to use, or what the command is called, etcetera. Plastering the entire wall behind my desktop with cheat-sheets and man-pages is not my idea of user-friendly computing, thank you very much.

I need to write a program once and be able to run it anywhere, and of course it also needs a proper GUI. Mainly the first argument represents Java’s core strength, but Java will meet the second condition with equal satisfaction.

Yet, so far all I have is a rough idea. I haven’t even the faintest clue how to begin prototyping this project. Years have passed since completing the introductory programming course, and consequently my Java knowledge is dusty.

So first I must reacquaint myself with the language-formerly-known-as-Oak. I still have the original textbook I used: “Introduction to Java Programming”, third edition, by Daniel Y. Liang

Together with the freely downloadable e-book The Java Language Specification and using the Java API, I hope this is enough to regain sufficient knowledge of Java to make a fine beginning with my project.

And for the time being the project will be called “alt.binaries.unpack”. Not the shortest name, I know, but it is the most appropriate one I can think of right now.

Using external drives: ext3

Sunday, 5 August 2007

It is quite often that people who use GNU/Linux together with Windows are confronted with the problem of cross platform file system portability.

Traditionally, many experienced GNU/Linux users have encouraged others facing this problem to dedicate a FAT32 partition to moving files from Windows to Linux, and vice versa. That’s because files stored in FAT32 can be read from and written to by Linux and Windows alike.

While this may be an adequate solution for small drives, it has been increasingly the case in the last few years, that the sizes of files typically used have grown beyond the effectiveness of a FAT32 solution.

This may be attributed to several factors: faster computers, larger data storage devices and faster internet connections. For example, many people download or rip DVD movies, games and music, which even with compression techniques still make rather large files. And video-capture and editing may also easily create file sizes in excess of 4GiB. Whatever the reason, storing and manipulating large files has become very commonplace.

But therein lies the problem: FAT32 is ill equipped for efficiently handling a great multitude of files, or extremely large files for that matter. Particularly when performing a lot of file deletions and writing. It greatly fragments the drive and furthermore it has a 4GiB file size limit, so it would be better to have an alternative.

And that is why I recommend using ext3 instead. It offers full journaling capabilities when working in GNU/Linux, and any system capable of reading and writing ext2 will also be able to have full read/write access as well, although journaling will not be available when the drive is accessed in this manner. Nevertheless, it’s main attraction is that you never need to resort to defragmenting the drive, and it supports file sizes up to 2TiB.

For Windows, there is the excellent ext2 IFS for Windows project. This is what I am using right now, and it works just fine. There are some minor problems (e.g. I’ve had to change the partition type of my USB drive, see also the release notes), but on the whole I’d say it performs quite satisfactory.

And for the Mac, there’s the Mac OS X Ext2 Filesystem project, but to tell the truth I don’t know how well it works, as I do not own a Mac to try it with.

Thinking about trying Solaris …

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

When I was studying at the university, we used Solaris (up to version 8) on old Sun SPARC workstations. Oddly, at the time I thought CDE was quite a pleasant environment to work in. Though, due to the limited processing power -these were rather old systems- I was usually *forced* to use with WindowMaker instead. Since then, Sun have made Solaris available to x86 architectures and has started the OpenSolaris project.

So finally, I can try running Solaris on my own computer at normal speed. But I do have some doubts …

For example, I rely on a wireless interface to connect to the internet. While the OpenSolaris project are now developing some kind of auto-magic network managing daemon, it is still quite experimental and accordingly marked “Volatile”, which means it’s configuration can change drastically from the current version to the next.

And then there is the lack of software. The whole point of running an operating system at all, is that it enables you to use your hardware and software to be productive and watch porn. It is merely a means to an end. But when I search for Solaris x86 binaries for MPlayer, PAN or WINE, I find very little, or only SPARC binaries, or nothing at all. At least, nothing on the official websites.

There are, however, some third-party packages you can download from personal homepages. But frankly speaking, simply downloading unsigned packages from third-party websites is not something I prefer, for security reasons. That means I’ll probably need to compile these programs from source, which means reading all the README and INSTALL documentation provided with the source. It means a lot of work, and I don’t want a lot of work.

So does that mean I won’t try it? I’m still not sure. I admit I am very curious, but the lack of a desktop userbase as large as GNU/Linux’s also means you will not have nearly as much luck finding answers via search-engines. And *that* is a very, very big problem. For example: just enter “solaris ipod” in google, and then “linux ipod”, and compare the number of results. Solaris gets around 2.4 million results, whereas Linux gets over 97 million! (By the way, there is no out-of-the-box support for the ipod on Solaris. It apparently just mounts as an external disk, but software like rythmbox has no access to its database).

I’ll have to think about this…

BBC launches ridiculous iPlayer

Sunday, 29 July 2007

I have just learned on BBC NEWS that the BBC have launched a new service: online TV. Yay! By using the so-called “iPlayer”, it is possible to download and watch BBC programmes up to a week after the broadcast. Once downloaded they can be stored and viewed on the computer for thirty days, after which time the files will be deleted automatically.

Sound good, right? Nooooooo, of course it doesn’t. It would be wonderful to be able to watch missed shows immediately, without having to wait for re-runs. But there are some very significant problems with this service.

To begin with, users interested in using the iPlayer are required to have Windows XP on their computers, and anyone else can just sod off. Yuck. So the BBC, a publicly funded institution, is essentially favoring a monopolistic software giant. Even I can tell you that this is not a good way to start.

Of course the BBC have promised to make this service available to Apple OS X users, and I’m sure that will happen eventually, but even so, there is still no mention of GNU/Linux users. That does not bode well.

And then there is this whole DRM thing. Such a pointless waste of recources, I think. What with YouTube, usenet, p2p-downloading and bittorrents all over the internet, why should I switch to the iPlayer? I can download many, no make that *any* TV series, and watch them today, tomorrow or next year, all completely gratis and unencumbered by any of the unreasonable restrictions the iPlayer imposes. So what’s the point of using DRM then?

You know, it’s a nice gesture, but it is nothing more than that. Even if they make iPlayer available to Linux users, they will not use it. I won’t use it. After all, why should I, when I can just as easily download everything for free? There’s no DRM restrictions on the complete season 4 of Star Trek Voyager that I’m downloading right now, is there? Let’s see … nope, plays just fine.

And it’s not just me, mind. Everyone I know, all my friends, and some of them really are computer illiterate imbeciles, have learned to download movies and TV series. It’s on of those basic skills everybody acquires, even if they don’t know anything else about computers.

The BBC, it would seem, are just as much behind the times and clinging to straws as the big shot movie/music producers in Hollywood. We should pity them really, poor saps. I only hope they will come to their senses soon, because it really is *only* a matter of convenience.

Everything’s available, that’s not the point, whether there is an iPlayer or not. It’s just that downloading it through official channels is more *convenient*, that’s all.

MPlayer: the best lightweight mediaplayer for Windows!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

I’ve recently been able to upgrade the RAM on my laptop to an amazing 256MB, which is the absolute maximum it can take. Yes, this is an old laptop. So, first thing I did after that was install Windows 2000, to see if that would actually run fast enough, and I must say the speed surprised me. As a matter of fact, it almost feels fast enough for everyday use. And bearing in mind that this is only a 400Mhz Pentium II laptop, that’s saying something.

But one thing I’ve never been able to do very well with this laptop, is play movies. Even the lightweight VLC player, which was my first choice, delivered choppy playback during scenes with a lot of action. Then I downloaded MPlayer, which is pretty much the most efficient mediaplayer on earth. Still no good. Not even after tweaking the playback options a bit, such as increasing cache to 8192 kilobytes. Of course, I could install Arch Linux again, which is optimised for i686 CPU’s, such as this pentium II specimen I’m using. But really, it all seems a lot of work just to play a movie.

Thus began my quest in search of the most lightweight mediaplayer I could find for Windows. I ditched MPlayer and openend up the Gooooogle page in my browser. And after much searching and gnashing of teeth, I simply ended up installing MPlayer again. That’s because some individual who calls himself “MuldeR” has been kind enough to put together an optimised version of MPlayer, and create an installer for it as well. It’s aptly called MPlayer for Windows, and all I can say is that it’s absolutely brilliant! After installing this player using the “full package” version, which includes the binary codecs, I opened up a movie and it played back perfectly.

In other words: “MPlayer for Windows” is faster than the ‘official’ MPlayer (which doesn’t even include an installer). So if you’re on a slow system that’s running Windows, and you enjoy watching movies, then I highly recommend trying MPlayer for Windows.

Screenshot to illustrate fonts

Friday, 6 July 2007

In order to illustrate how good you can make Microsoft fonts look on a GNU/Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu in this case, I have uploaded a screenshot of my desktop. See also my recent post on configuring Ubuntu to use Microsoft fonts, for an example of how you can achieve similar results. I should have uploaded it when I submitted that previous blog entry, but I forgot. So here you have it.

A screenshot