I spent yesterday doing an unexpected upgrade of my main system from
Kubuntu 6.06 to Kubuntu 6.10. I say unexpected because, although I
intended to migrate to Kubuntu 6.10 eventually, I didn't intend to do
it this soon.
It all started routinely enough. Yesterday morning, I was doing
maintenance on my system. I noticed that I had only 100 GB or so free
on my two supplemental 750 GB drives, so I decided to clean things up a
bit. Big mistake. Or perhaps I should say it was a big mistake to use a
meat-axe while not paying close attention. That meat-axe was the Linux
command rm -rf, which can do some serious damage if you let it get away from you.
I let it get away from me. To make a long story short, I ended up deleting /etc on the primary hard drive instead of doing what I intended, which was to delete a backup copy of /etc on the secondary hard drive. The first hint I had that something was wrong was when I attempted to use the sudo
command and got an error message that UID 1000 was not found. Oops. Of
course it wasn't found, since I'd already deleted the password file.
After thinking about it a moment, I decided to go ahead and install
Kubuntu 6.10. My main system was not functional, so I headed into the
den and downloaded Kubuntu 6.10 on my den system. I stuck a burnable CD
in the drive, fired up K3b, and told it to burn Kubuntu 6.10 to the CD.
Or I tried to do that. K3b refused to start the burn. I'm embarrassed
to admit that it took me a minute or two to realize that the reason K3b
refused to burn the disc was that the drive in my den system is a
DVD-ROM drive rather than a burner. Duh.
So I copied the ISO file to the Windows box that sits next to my main
system. I don't have Nero installed on that system, but I do have
Plextor PlexTools, which I thought would do the job. Sure enough, there
was an option to burn a CD ISO. I chose that, and was presented with a
pane with instructions to drag and drop the file I wanted to burn. I
dropped the ISO in the box and started the burn. When it completed, I
stuck the CD in my main system and rebooted. It tried to boot from the
hard drive. I ran BIOS Setup and verified that indeed the system was
set to boot first from the optical drive. That occasioned another
minute or two of head scratching, until I thought to look at a
directory listing of the CD in another system. Sure enough, PlexTools
had burned the ISO file as a file rather than using it as an image. Duh.
So I used another burning app to burn the ISO to another CD, booted
that CD in my main system, and installed Kubuntu 6.10. It looked fine,
except that it was displaying at 1024x768 instead of using the native
1400x1200 resolution of my ViewSonic VG2021m display. I fixed that by
to correct the vertical and horizontal sync rates supported by the
VG2021m and then adding "1400x1050" to the list of supported
resolutions. Once I restarted X, the system came up in 1400x1050 mode.
That's the short version. The long version took all day, and the moral,
as Brian Bilbrey told me, is that one should always use the full path
rather than a relative path when using the rm -rf command. I think I'll remember that next time.
We have some friends coming to stay with us for a week over Christmas,
so I'm adding to our video collection so that we have something new to
watch while they're here. Last night, I downloaded1 a movie
that was made in the late 1960's about 15 miles from the house where I
grew up in New Castle, Pennsylvania. It's called Night of the Living Dead, and I haven't seen it since 1968. It seemed about time to watch it again.
I remember when they were filming it, and I suppose I could have
actually gotten a role in it. I knew several people who intended to
apply for jobs as monsters. If I remember correctly, they were paying
something like $10 to people who were willing to be made up as monsters
and stagger around on camera. I don't know if any of the people I knew
actually appeared in the film.
This morning, I'm downloading1 another classic, Attack of the Killer Shrews.
I'll never forget the climax of that movie, with the
radiologically-mutated killer shrews pursuing the screaming scientists
through the woods. Unfortunately, the film didn't have a very large
budget, so the killer shrews were actually Lassie collies with pointy
snout-cones. They were pretty horrifying in the final chase scene,
though, running through the woods woofing and wagging their tails.
The movies are full-size MPEG2 files, about 4 GB for the first movie
and 1.9 GB for second. I'm not sure how to handle them. I suspect that
our DVD player understands simple MPEG2 files, so I can probably just
burn the files directly to DVDs and have the player accept them. If
not, I'm sure there are utilities that will handle formating things
properly for DVD.
As I downloaded these files, I kept thinking about how reasonable it is
that they're in the public domain, and wondering why all older films
aren't. Using the 14+14 year yardstick, which seems long to me but was
formerly the standard, any film, music, or book that was copyrighted
earlier than 1978 would now be in the public domain. That seems much
more reasonable to me than the current copyright term of life + 10,000
years or whatever it is.
1 Note to MPAA: these movies are in the public domain, and perfectly legal to download.
Wednesday, 1 November 2006
- The start of a new month. The year is disappearing fast, and I have lots left to do.
Last night was Halloween. When Barbara arrived home from work yesterday, I announced that I'd
chosen our Halloween viewing entertainment. Yep, Attack of the Killer
Barbara groaned, but took it in good humor. I'd just burned the 1.9 GB
MPEG2 file directly to a DVD, and hoped for the best. Obviously, there
wouldn't be any menus or other features that a typical DVD-Video
includes, but I hoped that our DVD player would just present a
directory listing and let me run the file. That's what it did.
Unfortunately, although the video worked properly, there wasn't any
audio. Oh, well.
Several years ago, Barbara and I started leaving the house dark because
there weren't any young children trick-or-treating in the neighborhood.
The character of the neighborhood has changed over the last few years.
We now have lots of young families with children, so next year we'll
probably turn the lights back on and hand out candy.
When we walked the dogs last night, Barbara wasn't expecting to see
many children out, but the neighborhood was full of them. When Malcolm
sees someone he doesn't recognize, he barks. Last night, he barked
constantly on the walk. Duncan, on the other hand, loves everyone.
Barbara calls him her Wal*Mart greeter. He was making a fuss over kids
he'd never met, while Malcolm stood back barking at them. Barbara took
Malcolm home, while I stood outside talking with our neighbor Kim, as
she handed out candy to the kids.
I'd best get to work.
Thursday, 2 November
Microsoft has officially announced that Longhorn/Shorthorn/Nohorn will
ship on 30 November for businesses and 30 January 2007 for retail
customers. I am barely able to contain my excitement, but I suppose
somehow I'll manage.
The phrase "too little, too late" comes to mind. After straining
mightily for more than five years and supposedly spending many billions
of dollars on the project, Microsoft will deliver what amounts to a
service pack for Windows XP, which in turn was essentially a service
pack for Windows 2000, which in turn was essentially a service pack for
Windows NT. Microsoft gutted the announced features of Vista, leaving
us with what amounts to an updated GUI on top of the same old same old.
Of course, Microsoft claims there are many new features in Vista, but
the only really important new features are Draconian
activation, pervasive DRM, and a license that requires users to
buy a new copy after one hardware change. No, thanks.
I'm one machine away from being a Microsoft-free zone. That one machine
is currently running Windows XP because I need it to run the astronomy
charting software I'm using for the current book. Once that book is
complete, that machine will be formatted down to bare metal and have
Linux installed on it. Goodbye, Microsoft.
CNN reports that the web hit a major milestone last month.
There are now more than 100 million named web sites with content. The
little acorn has grown into a mighty oak. I remember the first time I
browsed the web. Back then, it was possible literally to "finish" the
web, by which I mean it was possible to follow links until you had
visited every page linked to on every other page.
That was no longer possible by the time I brought up my first home page
in February 1995, although I'd guess there were only a few tens of
thousands of sites active back then. Within a month or two, I'd started
keeping a journal page, which must have been one of the first "blogs",
if not the first. It was all very primitive, running on a 486 box (or
was it a 386?) running The Major BBS with the ICO (Internet Connection
Option) to provide the web interface, and connected to the Internet via
a "nailed-up" dial-in connection.
In mid-1998, right around the time Jerry Pournelle brought up his
eponymous web site, I moved my domain and site to a commercial
provider, the name of which escapes me. I decided then to start afresh,
and so took down all of the stuff I'd written before then. I don't
remember why I did that--it probably had something to do with
conversion issues--but I wish now I'd left the stuff up.
I probably have backups of that stuff buried deeply somewhere in
my old archives, and I periodically think about retrieving that
material and posting it on this site. That's assuming that it's still
accessible. That material predates my decision to keep all archive data
on spinning platters and migrate it to new hard drives as I upgraded my
disk storage. That was a time when I measured my available disc storage
not in terabytes or even gigabytes, but in megabytes. Disk storage was
expensive back then, and I moved old stuff off my hard drives an onto
floppies or tape, later onto CD-Rs. It may be gone forever.
Shocking news yesterday. Microsoft and Novell signed a non-aggression
pact. My first thought was that I didn't know what to think. What
possible advantage could such an agreement have for Microsoft?
Well, one huge advantage. Microsoft has been constrained from making
patent attacks against Linux by the strong patent portfolios of
companies that are friendly to Linux, and Novell was certainly one of
those companies. This agreement removes Novell's patents as a factor.
I'm not sure how much good this will do Microsoft, though, because IBM
is the 900-pound gorilla, and IBM has $billions of reasons to defend
Linux. I can't imagine IBM making such an agreement with Microsoft, but
then until yesterday I couldn't have imagined Novell doing it, either.
Any mention of Red Hat was conspicuously absent from the discussions
yesterday, so it's pretty obvious to me that Red Hat is Microsoft's
target. Poor Red Hat. Attacked by Oracle and Microsoft in one week. It
wouldn't surprise me to see Microsoft file patent infringement claims
against Red Hat in the near future. Microsoft might have been
restrained by the monopoly consent decree before this agreement, but
now Microsoft can point to this agreement if the government antitrust
folks object to an attack on Red Hat. I've never said that Microsoft is
stupid. Evil, but not stupid.
The next obvious step in this dance is for IBM to buy Red Hat, which
would neatly counter Microsoft's play. Between the Oracle announcement
and the Novell-Microsoft agreement, Red Hat's stock price is likely to
be depressed for some time, making it an attractive candidate for a
buy-out. We'll see what happens.
Saturday, 4 November
- No comment.
On converting download MPEG2 files to DVD-Video format, Greg Norton posted the following advice on the messageboard.
I follow this procedure for converting most of the popular video formats to DVD:
1) $ ffmpeg -i input.avi -target ntsc-dvd output.mp2
2) $ dvdauthor -o output_dvd -t output.mp2
3) $ dvdauthor -o output_dvd -T # generates basic table of contents
At this point, output_dvd will have a file/directory hierarchy ready to burn to a DVD for the living room player.
Both ffmpeg and dvdauthor are available in the Debian multimedia
repositories. The ffmpeg binaries generally have sufficient
compile-time options to process non-compliant audio/video in an MPEG2
file into streams that meet the DVD standard.
Note that some input video files will require specifying the aspect
ratio on the ffmpeg command line in order to show up properly on a TV
Which works fine. I queried Greg about the first line, since my source
file was already in MPEG2 format. He replied that AVI files can be of
various types, including MPEG2, and suggested I use the commands as is.
I did that, literally. I renamed the downloaded file from NIGHT_OF_THE_LIVING_DEAD.MPEG to input.avi and ran the commands exactly as listed.
I ended up with an output file named output.mp2, which the second command line converted to a DVD-Video directory structure with VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS
subdirectories. I converted that directory structure to an ISO image
and burned it to DVD. When I ran it in our DVD player, it worked just
fine. The movie starts immediately when the disc loads, and the audio
works properly. Thanks, Greg.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Robert Bruce