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Lebanon from the inside

There's no better way to keep up with what's going on in Lebanon than by following the Manamania blog. The mainstream news will never tell the story of the Lebanese people as well as one of their own, especially one who writes as well as Mana does.

Her latest post is a wonderful picture essay of the solidarity demonstration engendered by Gemayel's assassination and funeral.



Endy Chavez!

Mets and Cards are tied 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth at this point. LaRussa just took Suppan out of the game after pitching a hell of a game. I gotta say, though, that whoever wins, the most amazing moment of any of the playoff games this year was Endy Chavez's catch of what should have been a home run by Scott Rolen. You'll see the clips over and over tomorrow. Wow.


Metablogging while watching baseball

This is the end, I hope, of another extended absence from the bjimblog.

It occurred to me while reading Dave Winer's posts on Scripting News that the reason I have these months-long gaps in the blog is that I try to make each post an major event. Dave doesn't do that. He's posting while watching the same Mets/Cards game that I'm watching. (Duncan just hit a home run -- Cards 4, Mets 2). I was treating posts too much like work.

Part of that was trying to add all those tags. I write directly in HTML, but don't want to have to remember the syntax for Technorati tags. I see that the new Blogger beta has a Labels for this post box below, so I'll start using that, and see what that does.


Concert review: Ringo @ PNC, Holmdel NJ

I have a mental checklist of musicians I would like to see in concert at least once in my life. Last night, I got to check one off the list, as I went to see Ringo Starr and his latest version of the All-Starr Band.

The whole idea of the All-Starr Band is brilliant. Much as I love Richard Starkey, MBE, I have to admit that it would be tough for him to carry a full-length concert on his own. He has always functioned best as just one Starr in a constellation. So, when he finally decided back in 1989 to give touring a go for the first time since the 1966 Beatles, he assembled a group of well-known friends like Clarence Clemons, Dr. John, and Billy Preston to join the band. He must have enjoyed the experience, since he's undertaken a new All-Starr Band tour every two years or so, inviting a new group each time. This year marks the ninth tour.

The All-Starr Band concert format is simple. Ringo starts out up front with a microphone, singing a couple of instantly recognizable hits. There is always a second drummer on the tour to keep Ringo free to play or not as the moment demands. After a bit, he retreats to his drumkit, and allows each of the All-Starrs to take a turn in the spotlight. Unlike most "host of special guests" concerts, however, everyone stays on stage and plays everyone else's songs. The resulting chemistry among the unlikely pairings is what gives these concerts their undeniable appeal.

This year's model features: 1980s MTV icons Billy Squier and Richard Marx as the guitarists, with Billy taking most of the leads; a somewhat older pair of icons, Edgar Winter and Rod Argent, on keyboards; third-time All-Starr Sheila E on drums, and the ever-reliable Hamish Stuart from the Average White Band on bass. That's it, brother -- no back-up band, extra synth players, taped backing, nothing. Every player in this band has had a Top 40 single at some point. And the thing that really struck me about this show is how much these folks enjoyed playing with each other. Billy Squier playing the lead on Marx's "Should've known better", Ringo and Sheila giving Rod a rock-solid foundation for his lead organ on "Hold your head up", and the whole band's incredible interpretation of Edgar's instrumental "Frankenstein" (the fact that a ferocious lightning storm blew through during the song didn't hurt the atmosphere) -- the pleasure that the band took in each others' talents could not help but please the audience as well. Of course, having Ringo as the Grand Old Man, reveling in the accomplishments of the rest, is the perfect touch. Still the same wise-cracking, ad-libbing Liverpudlian that he's always been -- during the storm, he asked if anyone in the band knew the chords to "Rain" -- he knows that the audience now looks to him as old Uncle Ringo, a living connection to All Those Years Ago, and he comfortably plays along.

As Ringo remarked before the band broke into "Yellow Submarine", "If you don't know the words to this one, you don't know why you're here." Well, we all knew, and we all sang, and a splendid time was guaranteed for all.

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Since last we met: revive the laptop, copy the floppy

I'm not dead.

The preceding is the obligatory opening for a blog post after a week or two of serene quiet on a personal blog like this one. It soothes the dozen or so folks that actually notice. Bloggers use this opening all the time; the most recent one I recall was the one here at Bibi's Box. The fact that it's a quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is an added bonus.

I've been spending my time on restoring a Compaq Presario 1800T laptop to working condition, thanks to a fortuitous purchase of a box of parts on eBay. The project was a success, and I'm using it now for this post. Nothing fancy, just a bit of cleanup, and replacement of the keyboard and hard drive. I switched my "brand" of Linux for this machine, but I want to devote a full post to that.

The other thing that's been keeping me away from blogging is a major purging of clutter from my cellar. I'm a devoted preserver, a term which sounds much better than "packrat". Eventually, though, one simply runs out of room, and some treasures must go. Part of this mission is to finally get rid of any remaining floppy disks, but of course not before saving the contents to DVD-R. I hooked up a 5.25 inch drive for what I hope will be the final time, and spent a lot of time at the command prompt, typing fdflush; dd if=/dev/fd0 of=img bs=1k and then renaming the image. For you Linux-come-lately folks, the fdflush command was required for most old floppy drives back when floppies really were floppy (think David Letterman waggling one at his desk). The OS had no idea that you changed disks, and if you didn't tell it, it would happily present you with data from a disk that was no longer in the drive because it had cached the whole thing in memory. Hilarity, of course, ensued.

The one important thing I learned from that adventure is that only about 75 per cent of 5.25 inch floppies survive readably after being in a cardboard box in the cellar for fifteen years or so. I hope I fare better with the cassette tapes. (Audio from old concerts -- I don't think I'll even try to preserve the VIC-20 data tapes.)

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My first handheld computer game

The current crop of handhelds, like my GP2X, are great. However, it's fun to look back at what we used to have. Donald Melanson, over at Engadget, did a nice look back in his A Brief History of Handheld Video Games. That post seems to be causing waves of nostalgia among the blogs, like this from Wil Wheaton.

Well, I can go them one better, I think. The handheld pictured here, which I believe predates the Mattel one on Engadget, is "Space Invader" (leave off the last "S" for safe-from-a-lawsuit!) from Entex Electronics of Japan. It's hard to tell from the photo, but this thing still works after almost thirty years! See if that PSP still boots up in 2035...

Now plaing on Moosic server:
London Symphony Orchestra / Zappa: Mo 'n Herb's vacation (3rd movement)

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Good crypto from Microsoft! In other news, it's snowing in Hades...

Suddenly, I'm feeling much better about Microsoft.

One of the features in the upcoming Windows Vista operating system is a drive encryption package called BitLocker. Click here for preliminary documentation. Now, I've had quite a bit of experience with Microsoft security features and failures in the past, and didn't really investigate the new system, especially since virtually all of my home systems are now Linux-based except for one trusty old Windows 2000 box I use to drive my Lexmark printer.

It didn't help matters when this BBC report was published, strongly hinting that Microsoft was in cahoots with the British government to make sure that law enforcement agencies could bypass BitLocker via a back door. My crypto experience tells me that when there's a back door, people other than those intended will find it.

My opinion changed sharply when I discovered that Niels Ferguson was working for Microsoft. Perhaps you don't know this name, but security people do. Niels is a brilliant cryptographer whom I worked with briefly during his association with Bruce Schneier's Counterpane. Niels, among other things, was one of the designers of the Twofish block cipher. I am as certain as I can be that any project with which Niels is associated will not have a back door. (That's Niels in the photo. I doubt if he even remembers me, from the technically good but sales-poor LockStar.)

And, as expected, Niels has said so himself on the MSDN blog for the project. A quote: "Back doors are simply not acceptable. Besides, they wouldn't find anybody on this team willing to implement and test the back door."

Maybe the early buzz is right, after all. Maybe Windows Vista won't suck.

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Bill Cosby: Say it ain't so, Cos!

Andy Baio is a rarity -- a blogger willing to take a stand on principle, and stand up to a celebrity with too much money to pay lawyers. The celebrity in question is Bill Cosby, someone I have long enjoyed and respected. I can only hope, with diminishing expectation, that Cosby is unaware of the cease-and-desist orders being promulgated by his legal team.

Here's the story. It seems that it's okay to parody Mr. Cosby if you've got the money to staff your own legal team, but independents like us can't afford the rights we thought we were guaranteed in the Constitution.

In case Mr. Cosby's legal team sees this post in their scans, I only ask that they pass along the following to Bill himself: Sheldon Leonard would be ashamed of you.

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Paul McCartney on PBS without a pledge drive!

I just finished watching Paul McCartney's latest episode of Great Performances on PBS (Chaos and Creation in Abbey Road). Is it my imagination, or does he do a new show for them every two weeks or so? And yet, I still tune in. Every time. Maybe it's my demographic. I watched him play that Hofner bass on a black and white TV in my pajamas when I was six, and never stopped. And you know, McCartney's like pizza. When he's good, he's really good, and when he's bad, he's still pretty good.

My biggest annoyance this time was that he dropped the Lennon-written half of "I've got a feeling", one of the last of the Lennon/McCartney songs that was actually written by both of them. Plus, every time you see Macca with a Mellotron, you know he's going to play the first few bars of "Strawberry Fields forever", and then stop.

However, I thought it was fantastic that he brought Bill Black's old upright bass onstage and played "Heartbreak hotel" on it.

Required geek check for this post: I watched the show in one window of my tiled workspace on the Ion window manager, using AvView on my ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon 7500. While catching up on BlogLines in another window.

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Google Pages: Works for me

You may have heard by now about Google Pages, the new free website offering from the same folks who give me this blogspace. The early reviews (Jeff Jarvis', for example) are dismissive, saying that this is just Geocities redux. Nik Cubrilovic, the guest blogger on TechCrunch, gives a good overview, but breezes by the most important point for me in his writeup.

Google Pages does let you upload any file though, and gives you 100MB of space, which some may find more useful for sharing files or distributing SNL video's.

(By the way, Nik, you don't need an apostrophe there. Videos is quite adequate as a plural.)

As they did with Gmail, Google raised the bar on disk space. Geocities gave me 10 meg when I signed up, what, ten years ago? Before the Yahoo buyout, anyway. If you sign up for Geocities today, guess how much you get? 15 meg. Google's giving me 100 meg. Guess who I use?

I know there's plenty of other online diskspace concerns, but I needed something really simple. I'm releasing a lot of files for the GP2X now, and Google Pages makes creating a download repository dead simple. In about five minutes, I had it done. It was probably the first online page editor in which I didn't immediately jump into raw HTML mode. (I'm in raw HTML mode in Blogger right now.)

Here's the result. Just what I wanted.

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DosBox for the GP2X

Most work in the open-source world is done by developers scratching their own itches. This is another example of that.

As my prior blog posts attest, my current favorite toy is the GP2X handheld. One of the things I want to do with it is to play an old DOS game that I loved seventeen years ago (yikes!), BlockOut. This was a fantastic 3-D variant on the Tetris theme.

I looked into various options: porting one of its clones, running it under the already-ported Bochs emulator, rewriting from scratch... I finally had some success by porting DosBox to the GP2X platform. It's similar to Bochs in that it is a software emulation of the Intel CPU, but it also directly provides the DOS infrastructure, and is designed primarily for DOS games.

Well, it works well enough for me to play BlockOut, so I'm making what I've done so far available for download here. It's definitely for people who like to fiddle, since you really have to rewrite obscure text configuration files for every game you want to play, and you have to creatively map the GP2X buttons to enough keys to make the game playable.

If you've got an old DOS game working on the GP2X using this, please let me know!

PS: The source for the GP2X kernel is still missing in action, although a new version of the binary has been released today. My self-imposed grace period may be expiring soon. UPDATE: It looks like there was a source release today to coincide with the updated kernel. I'm checking it out of the Subversion repository right now to see what we've got.

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Joining the brrreeeporterati

This post really doesn't mean much of anything, except for its multiple references to the word brrreeeport. It's an experiment on blog tagging and indexing, initiated by Robert Scoble in this post. I figured I'd play along.



Zmodem for GP2X

I've deliberately been keeping quiet about the still-unresolved situation with the GP2X handheld's failure to release their modified source code for the Linux kernel. Call it a grace period.

In the meantime, I've been experimenting with coding for the machine. It's an interesting experience, using cross-compilers to generate programs and communicating with the GP2X over a serial interface. Well, actually, I'm tunneling a serial interface through the USB port, as described here at mindstab.net. The problem with this is that you can't have the USB mass storage interface, where you mount the GP2X as if it were a removable drive, running at the same time as the USB gadget interface that lets you log into the system. So, when developing, I either waste a great deal of time switching USB interfaces, or alternately waste a great deal of time sneakernetting my SD card from the GP2X to my desktop card reader.

The solution? Well, the real solution would be to recompile the kernel to get TCP/IP and PPP working over the serial connection, but I don't have the kernel source. (Oops, grace period, remember?) So, it's time to fall back to the days of the BBS and use good old Zmodem to transfer files while connected via my terminal emulator. To that end, I've ported lrzsz, a GPL fork of Zmodem, to the GP2X. Works very nicely for me.

If you're a GP2X developer in a similar situation, you can download the binary here. The tarball also includes a README on building from source yourself, and a tiny patch to make ./configure work.

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A really good day

This past week has been Tech Week for the production of Oliver! in which I was performing, which left no time at all for the blog. The photograph is of me as Fagin, surrounded by my little thieves and pickpockets. I love doing shows with young actors, and I think you can see my enjoyment here.

Yesterday was one of those days where all the news was good. It was the closing performance of Oliver!, which turned out to be the best show of the run. In addition, my team won the Super Bowl (I've been a Steelers fan since before their first Super Bowl win in 1975), and Seton Hall, my alma mater, beat Rutgers in basketball. To top it all off, I finally got gdb to cross-compile for the GP2X.

I am now dreading the inevitable bad day that I expect will soon arrive to bring balance to the Force.


A hollow Texas drawl says "Plugh"

I predict that every tech blog written by someone over the age of 30 will have a link to defective yeti: Xyzzy within the next few days. Depending on how much older than 30, you may see references to Zork, Adventure or Colossal Cave as this wonderful political satire is discussed.

Speaking of which, the image for this post is a promotional brochure from 1981, for one of Microsoft's first products for the IBM-PC. Nowhere in the brochure does it mention that they copied this program almost verbatim from the original minicomputer game Colossal Cave.

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Now burning feeds

I've just added a FeedBurner subscription feed to the site, so if you're one of the handful of folks who actually used my Atom feed (Hi, son!), you might have better luck with the new feed.

Of course, the switch was spurred by the fact that BlogLines couldn't read the original feed, so the only people who won't see this message are the feed subscribers. Maybe I'll just call them on the phone one by one. My subscriber list is like the fan base of the hero of "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song". (This reference will be totally lost on you unless you have already taken my advice and gotten the Nilsson anthology.)

Oh, and the switch also caused me to edit the link over on the left side of the web page, so some of what I said in the post about icons isn't quite true anymore. Oh, using .ICO files in an IMG tag still works, I just don't do it now.

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Remembering Harry

I'm taking a short break from Linux-geek postings today.

What's on my mind right now is that it was twelve years ago today that Harry Nilsson died. Harry was an extraordinary singer and songwriter, and I'm spending most of the day listening to his records.

If you're not familiar with Harry, or know him only from "Without you" or "Everybody's talkin'", you owe it to yourself to take a closer listen. I recommend Personal Best: The Harry Nilsson Anthology as a good introduction to a wildly eclectic artist.

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My first Slashdotting

They say you always remember your first time.

Slashdot posted a link to my previous post, GP2X needs a GPL lesson. This, of course, unleashed the beast known as The Slashdot Effect, which has been known to bring many a web server to its knees. I must say, though, that Blogger held up wonderfully. I know a lot of people knock this place, but I've got no complaints. My biggest problem during the peak was that I have the Bjimblog configured for moderated comments, which means I have to manually approve each comment for publication. This is unfortunately necessary to avoid comment-spam, but I published everything I got that even remotely approached the topic.

Mind you, I purposely brought the Slashdot Effect upon myself. I was the one who submitted the topic to Slashdot. The intended purpose of this was to raise awareness among people who don't own a GP2X that those of us who do are in need of some assistance getting the source code. I think that in those terms, the post was a success. The slew of comments, both here and on Slashdot, were also quite useful. If you get enough geeks shooting off their mouths, someone will say the right thing. (I believe this is a corollary of Linus' Law.)

So, I've got some leads on where to take this next. Thanks to everyone who participated in the free-for-all.

Oh, and I'll say this one more time, in case anyone missed it. I know about the early December source code release. It is an early pre-release version. I mentioned it in the initial post. But it's not the droid we're looking for. The code we're looking for is something that can be compiled to create the released binary. We don't have that yet.

Update: There are quite a few posts suggesting that the situation is close to being resolved by some good folks taking a more diplomatic approach than mine. I appreciate their efforts and hope they are successful. The site to watch now is http://source.gp2x.de/, with expectations for a code release some time this week.

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GP2X needs a GPL lesson

I mentioned some time back that I was going to get myself a GP2X for Christmas. And so I did. Well, actually, under the Rules of Christmas at our house, my wife officially "got" it for me, just like I "got" her present for her. After seventeen years of marriage, shortcuts are allowed.

First impressions: I love this little unit. Runs a Linux 2.4 kernel, plays movies with mplayer, already has MAME ported to it... Really, it has everything in a handheld game/media machine that a hacker-in-the-old-meaning could want. Except for one thing. The kernel source code.

How could this be? This is Linux we're talking about! The open source poster child! (It most likely is GNU/Linux at that. I haven't poked around enough to see what other components surround the kernel. At the very least, bash is present.)

Well, it seems that the company that created the GP2X, Gamepark Holdings, is a couple of guys in some office space in Seoul. Perhaps some of you who follow the popular blogs remember Cory Doctorow's posts on BoingBoing.net when the GP2X was announced. He noticed the dreaded acronym DRM on their website, and raised alarms. Later, it was explained by the only person at Gamepark Holdings who speaks English that they didn't really understand what they were saying.

Apparently, they don't seem to understand the GPL, either. They (and their subcontractor Dignsys, who actually did the Linux port for the GP2X) have been approached repeatedly for release of their modified version of the Linux kernel. Reluctantly, they finally did so, releasing an early, out-of-date prerelease version of the source, which is useless to the developer community who would like to hunt down some of the current bugs. There are active discussions on the GP2X developer boards on the topic, as people try to find the best way to get Gamepark Holdings and Dignsys to comply with the GPL by releasing source concurrently with each new release of the GP2X kernel. Of course, as these sorts of threads tend to do, accusations have flown about all parties involved, most of it totally speculative.

So, herein lies the problem. This handful of early adopters, mostly in Europe and the Americas, is searching for a way to convince Gamepark Holdings and Dignsys to do what the GPL requires of them, without taking down the companies. This is a niche product, and they could complain until the cows come home and never get timely releases of the source. Someone with a bit of PR clout must be brought into the picture. But who? Linus? RMS? Cory? Larry? CmdrTaco?

After puzzling for a while (and yes, my puzzler was sore afterwards), I figured it was time to test the blogosphere. I decided to write a post about the situation as I saw it. This post. Now, I'll submit it to the tastemakers and see if anyone is interested.

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No one wants crippled CDs

Back in this post, I made a pledge not to buy any more Sony CDs because of their apparent hatred of their own customers. Well, the meme is spreading, and a lot more people are making the decision that crippled CDs are not worth buying.

In fact, there's a pledge drive going on now at PledgeBank. I've signed it. It's not really a petition, just a statement of fact. I won't buy crippled CDs. Apparently, neither will a few thousand other people.

There are plenty of other ways I can legally buy music. Like Magnatune, which is a much better deal for the musicians than they will ever get with a major label.

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