Alive

I am alive and well. Winter quarter has begun, but I should have a few things up regarding the following in the near future:

  • Home brewing (as in beer)
  • Hacking a miniPOV into a digital thermometer (w/ a DS1631)
  • SensterAmp v2 (replacement digitally controlled amp for the electrosenster)

Also, I now apparently have a publication to my name :-)Yay for winter in Chicago, again!

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Seriously…

WTF (TSA Prevents Guy From Bringing Microcontroller Programmer on Flight)Best quote: “Sir, this is an improvised electronic device. You will never be allowed to fly with this.”

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Quick Tip: Restoring a System Disk Over NFS w/ the OS X Boot DVD

I can’t guarantee this works with any other release than 10.4.x, but I’ve just discovered that it is possible to mount NFS volumes while only booted from the Mac OS X install DVD that came with my MacBook. I set up the export on my Ubuntu based desktop using the instructions here. I only needed to add insecure as an option in addition to rw and sync. This seems to be related to the ports that OS X wants to use, and if that seems unacceptable, turn off exporting with that option after completing this procedure next, all you need is the following.1. Start up Terminal.2. Type:

mkdir /Volumes/mountpointmount_nfs <ip of server>:/mount/point /Volumes/mountpoint

If all goes well, it shouldn’t throw any errors, and you’ll have the volume mounted.3. Quit Terminal, open Disk Utility.4a. If you don’t have paritions on the destination disk, make them.4b. Select destination paritions, go to the Restore tab, then give the path to the image file, i.e:

/Volumes/mountpoint/path/to/my_image.dmg

4c. Drag the target partition over to the destination and click Restore.

Simple, easy, and fast (if you’ve got gigabit, and the image on a raid 🙂 )

 Of Note: AFP & Samba did not work for me as both of their mounting tools required frameworks not included in the filesystem on the boot DVD.  Why apple would include the tools but not required frameworks is a bit of a mystery…

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Quick Tip: VisualHub & Matlab AVI Files

Quick tip if one is working with VisualHub to convert MATLAB AVI files (uncompressed) into another format.   If you use the default decoder it will not get the rasterization correct and thus the movie looks skewed and wrapped at an angle. To resolve this issue simply go into “Advanced…” and select QuickTime Decoding from the “Force:” menu (Just above “Two Pass”).  The QuickTime AVI libraries seem to have less trouble with these AVI files and your results will come out just as high quality for having used this alternate decoder.

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Flash Alternative

Here’s a nice little article on a flash alternative. I found that gnash didn’t work so well for me, but using the mplayer plugin with YouTube works perfectly.Nice if you’ve got a 64-bit, non x86, or FreeBSD platform and don’t want to use emulation or compatibility layers.

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Yes, Most Journal Articles Are Written in Word

A recent article on Slashdot about some journals rejecting Word 2007 documents has brought up an interesting point.  Most journal articles ARE written in Word.  People seem to be shocked that this is the case, and appalled that anyone who has a PhD would be using such a tool.  Well, I hate to break it to you, but even in computer science these days I don’t see a heck of a lot of students graduating with knowledge of TeX, much less in the natural sciences.  Older professors, especially in math departments are fond of TeX, but not a whole lot of people teach it, or require it, so people don’t learn it.My advisor originally set out to require students to produce reports in TeX for a Neuromechatronics class he was teaching, but in the most recent year this has been eschewed since students end up spending more time learning how to prepare reports than actually writing them.Now, whether all of this is sad or not is an entirely different question, but people, intelligent or no, generally follow the path of least resistance.  Students have grown up using word processors, are familiar with them, and tend to balk at other options.  If one expects journal articles to be written in TeX or another open format, it needs to be an aspect of curriculum at some point.  Sure, some folk, like me, will go off and learn it anyways and even write class notes in it, but we’re few and far between. Plenty of pre AND post doctoral people use software like Excel as well to do data analysis.  It’s there, it can do number crunching, and it’s on practically every Windows machine.Is it sad that this is the case? Perhaps.  Think of it this way, however; most people have a limited area of expertise.  That may be in computing, neurobiology, quantum physics (yeah, they’re broad categories, so something much more specific within these), and generally not in other areas.  Sure, we all need to know what’s going on in the world outside of our immediate work, but are things like TeX, MATLAB (or Octave, or whatever), necessities within working in a technical realm?  This is hard to say.  I’d be happy to see everyone more savvy, but I’m not sure if requiring these things are validly simply elitist or not.  Perhaps that doesn’t matter either, and people should just have familiarity with as many tools as possible. We all should be well rounded in our technical abilities, shouldn’t we?  I’m sure we’d all be better off if we were.

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On FreeBSD

Recently, I’ve been working about half of my time on FreeBSD 6.2 on a desktop at home.  I’m finding that it is both simultaneously fabulous and difficult.  What I mean here is less that it is driving me crazy, but rather that it’s been a learning experience.  The state of things on FreeBSD as with Solaris is much like the olden days with Linux in terms of user-friendliness.  It’s not exactly like it, since, most of the desktop GUI stuff has matured miles over the way it used to be.  Where it differs is in the setup.  One will definitely spend quite a bit of time at the command line getting things up and running.  Additionally, documentation on the basic system is much more widespread (hardware drivers like sound cards even have man pages), and on the lower levels there’s much more coherence than one finds with Linux.This coherence, however, does not apply to all levels.  Where Linux has gotten much more coherent in the graphical realm, FreeBSD still feels like one is getting raw materials from a large number of sources.  While some things are patched specifically for the OS, categories under menus are a bit scattered, and graphical administration packages are either not as well adjusted on FreeBSD or are not existent.  The latter of these issues isn’t that big of a deal.  I like working with the command line, getting acquainted with the underpinnings and, over time, having a more intimate knowledge of what I’m working with.What is a bit of a problem is that it feels like, on the desktop front, that tens or hundreds of different people have made decisions about things rather than there being a unified force.  One key example is how SciTE gets installed under Programming and Scribes goes under accessories, where I’d put both of these in one category since they’re both programming editors.I’m not sure what the solution is, or if we really need one, but I think I might start submitting patches in cases where I think things are wonky.  We’ll see what the ports maintainers think 🙂

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A Few Sour Notes

Looks as if the last note on the new iTunes update weren’t entirely complete as BoingBoing (via the EFF) have noted that Apple have now disabled the burn-and-re-rip method for stripping DRM from tracks.  I’ve not yet investigated this myself, but it seems rather odd that they would have done this.  All said however, the new “Plus” tracks are playable on ANYTHING else that will play an AAC encoded track (see previous post on playing with Amarok), so, if you can still burn, you can rip with something else and play those tracks on your iPod or Squeezebox or whatever.  This isn’t the same non-issue as the embedded tracks, it seems, on the surface, to be patently stupid and strange for Apple to make this change at this point.  Again, all said, there are routes around this, and I’m sure the scripts and tools out there that have been written to automate the process of extracting tracks from their DRM prisons will be released with updated versions that use other encoders rather than iTunes if, indeed, that is the rate limiting step (that iTunes somehow recognizes that a track has been burned and is being re-ripped?).  Since a previous EFF report noted that converted-to-uncompressed tracks are identical regardless of purchaser, this must be limited to some sort of in-database recognition that a purchased track of the same name exists or some signature in the burn unique to an iTunes burn (which wouldn’t travel back through a ripped track if ripped through another app).  Bottom line here is that, while not a non-issue, this is really only a minor issue, with plenty of routes around that might not be as simple as before, but they are nearly so.I still have to ask, though, Apple: why did you bother with this stupid limitation?  It sounds like a waste of time and effor that people will just whine about, and prevent people from doing what was previously possible.

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iTunes Plus

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So, as many may already know Apple has debuted an updated iTunes store that now sports DRM-free tracks. Some of you may also know that Apple embeds your name in the tracks as well. To the former point, I applaud apple for finally bringing this to market. I’ve updated my tracks and have attached a screenshot of Amarok playing a formerly locked album! To the latter point, I say, why care? This is stupid. Companies have been watermarking copyrighted content for ages now, and while it doesn’t work very well and usually can be stripped out without too much effort, there’s nothing wrong with branding things this way. After all, is your concern that if you upload it to BitTorrent that Apple will track you down? Big surprise, this has been the same deal with any commercial or shareware serial-locked piece of software where your name is tied to a purchase. That said, they’re not hidden at all either. They’re just part of the tags attached to each track you purchase, same as when things were DRM’d, and same as any of the other track details tracks either DRM’d or not. This is a non-issue that amounts, essentially, to FUD.

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FreeBSD on a MacBook

A month or so ago I found a really great article on getting FreeBSD up and running on a MacBook.  The article was written in French, and I was hoping to translate it into English, both for keeping up my own French, and to have the guide available in another language.  Well… the original author got around to it before I finished my translation, and you can check it out here.  I highly suggest checking it out since it walks one through step-by-step and covers quite a bit of territory, including getting Xorg 7.2 up (which has only just made it into ports).

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