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User Journal

Journal Journal: Playlist of the month

I've decided to rescan my entire CD collection. This is a monstrous task: I spent much of 1996-9 ruthlessly spending the excessive amounts I earnt as an IT consultant on quality CDs, using the simple approach of reading the wonderfully sharp reviews of Q magazine and buying every CD that got 4 or 5 stars. There were a few duds - even Q magazine has its parochial tastes - but an incredible number of bullseye hits as well. Each month I listed about 15-20 CDs that I wanted to buy. It was hard at first, the local Belgian record shops did a good job but I was not satisfied with an 70% score. The Web was just starting and I ordered CDs from cdnow.com using (incredibly) their telnet ordering interface. The Belgian customs men, bless their black hearts, decided that those little packs of 4-5 CDs were subject to import duties, which doubled their price. Thus ended my first period as a sponsor of Internet commerce. Finally, I found, in the back pages of Q, a small record shop in Birmingham that was happy to scour the catalogues for the bizarre and eclectic CDs I was ordering. Q magazine reviewed everything that was released on the UK market except classical music. And so I have ended up with a large and varied collection that covers everything from Indonesian bop-rock to country-western to heavy metal. There are some truly curious things released on CD. And some of them are truly fantastic. And if they were released between 1996-1999, chances are I have them.

In 1999 I was saved from eventual bankruptcy by the Y2K and Internet booms which pushed me to start my business and invest in people rather than music (big, big mistake :-) !). My supplier decided he could not compete with the new online vendors and folded. And I was left with something like 2.500 individually excellent CDs and the feeling of hard disk inadequacy.

I always knew exactly how much hard disk space I needed: 120 Gb. This in the days when 1 Gb cost $1000 (and I still have a couple of those SCSI disks, and they still work).

My new Xandros/2.0 box has two of those 120Gb disks, and I've been tweaking things so that now when I insert an audio CD, Linux starts a perl script that rips the data, gets track information from freedb.org, compresses the audio data to mp3 with something called variable bit rate. Watching Linux do something "intelligent" with my audio CDs, where "intelligent" meant more than just opening the CD player... that was when I knew that I never, ever, ever wanted to go back to Windows.

So, I'm at about CD number 400 and counting.

In the meantime... I've discovered di.fm. It's better than streaming porn: this is something you can play while the colleagues are in the office. Highly recommended.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Playlist of the Month (dupe) 3

In the great /. tradition here is a dupe, only with different content. Different day, different selection of random classic music.
  • Paul Oakenfold Essential Mix from Sydney
  • DAD - Helpyourselfish
  • Detty Kurnia - Dari Sunda
  • Elliot Goldenthal - Alien 3, soundtrack
  • John Trudell - Johnny Damas and Me
  • Leftism - Leftism
  • Marillion - Afraid Of Sunlight
  • Marta Sebestyen - Kismet
  • Plastikman - Musik
  • Scott Walker - Tilt
  • Traffic - Far From Home
  • William Orbit - Strange Cargo Hinterland

Good music, like good wine, is best bought in volume when one is rich, and consumed in moderation, when one is poor again.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Quote/Unquote 1

We used to burn people at the stake for saying this kind of thing:

"We exist purely as vehicles for our genes; our consciousness, our imaginations, our creations: all these are simply manifestations of our genetically-implanted instincts for survival. We believe we exist because it makes us better replicators. There is no other reason for existence, no god, no destiny, no karma. Our lives are neither random nor controlled: choice is an illusion, but so is fate. We simply operate, like the very intelligent automatons we are. Our minds are exquisitely adapted to solving large and complex problems, the bulk of which come from our intraspecies competition with each other. Our societies are hives, built through the collaboration of thousands and millions of minds. As a species we are genetically so similar, due to near-extinction around 50,000 years ago, that we are practically clones. All our notions of "ethnicity" and "color" are as meaningful as separating people by hair patterns or toe size. Our species is incredibly successful mainly because we have managed to turn our technological prowess onto ourselves, creating a feedback loop that has not stopped since we invented fire and freed our jaws to shrink and make space for a larger brain. Finally, although we all feel unique, we are in fact designed as team players, male and female, young and old adopting clear and comfortable roles that are so inate they are universal in all human cultures. Men solve technical problems, women organize social networks. Young men learn and work, young women dance and like to look pretty. Old women gossip and old men accumulate power."

-- Pieter Hintjens, 1 January 2004

User Journal

Journal Journal: Playlist of the Month 1

Classic cuts from Heironymous' collection, on the virtual turntable today:
  • Björk - Post
  • L7 - Hungry for Stink
  • A-HA - Memorial Beach
  • Waltons - Cock's Crow
  • The Walkabouts - Setting The Woods On Fire
  • Ugly Kid Joe - Menace To Sobriety
  • Toumani Diabate - Djelika
  • Sue Foley - Big City Blues
  • Somo Somo - Hello Hello
  • Killing Joke - Pandemonium
  • Ali Farka Toure with Ry Cooder - Talking Timbuktu
  • Fluke - Oto

All excellent. Oh man, listening to "The Bomb" from L7, speakers turned all the way up... segued into "Question my Sanity"... I'm having an righteous eargasm...!!

User Journal

Journal Journal: Building an email meta-negotiation protocol 3

I have an idea for a secure email system. It is this. Every email sent to me will come on a new, unique, one-time email address. My email server will recognize the address, and the sender, and on that basis accept the email or reject it. The meta-negotiation process allows people to get an email address on which to contact me. In the simplest fashion, they simply copy the address from my website, where a form asks them to first enter their email address, then provides them with an email address they can use. In a more sophisticated set-up, this hand-shaking can be established between an email client and my email server prior to sending an email.

Depending on the manner in which the email address was obtained, incoming emails can be certified as more or less trusted. Thus emails from business aquaintances, whose public keys are encoded in my email server, are highly trusted. Emails from unknown persons checking my website are less trusted.

The beauty of this implementation is that it does not need any changes to the existing email protocols. It does require some work on the email server side, and it does rather mess with the notion of "email address" as something constant. Small prices to pay for getting a clean inbox.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Jargon File - "To Flush"

Today's Jargon Entry (actually this is This Year's Jargon Entry unless sweet inspiration strikes me again soon)...

To Flush (v): to raze a system (spec. MS Windows) and reinstall a Joe Random Linux. Professional flushers can turn the virus-ridden carcinogenic carcass of a consumer Windows PC into a new, lean and mean Linux workstation in under 180 seconds.

Flushing is a harsh remedy that is unforunately all too popular in the days of the Plague.

Flushing can be traumatic for those who realize - afterwards - that their data files were not archived, and even if they were, none of their previous suite of software could run under the new and healthy regimen.

Certain users, forewarned and forearmed, would have already begun to switch to pre-flushed tools such as OOorg.

There has started a cult, the Flushers, who take joy in flushing their own computers. The extremist Fanatical Flushers for Freedom start each morning with a pure flush, a complete and utter wipeout of anything and everything that might be stored in their computer's memory or hard disk. They worship the god Knoppix and his sidekick, USB memory drive.

User Journal

Journal Journal: RedHot 9.0 3

I tried to set up RedHat 9.0 from the single CD that Mato gave me and have decided that these guys are so destined for the big time. No kidding, RedHat are going to be the Mainframe Boys of Linux. Their installation routine was designed by the same guy who wrote IBM's OS/400 operating system, paid according to how many commands he could invent. RedHot 9.0 boots into a menu that gives you a choice of intallation roadmaps. Choose one and you dive into solid retro installation chrome, hefty text making way for a first-grade graphical installer. Exactly one choice per page, no less, no more. The installer checked the CD for consistency. It asked what partition manager to use. It gave me a choice of boot managers and asked me to confirm, twice. It gave me a choice of five installation models, all with or without a custom-configured firewall. I had my choice of two GUI managers, or a text-mode Linux. I configured every package I wanted, and chose my language, keyboard, and then timezone from an animated map of the world, a blinking light for every major population centre including Tivalu. It formatted the disk. It created partitions. It prepared to install... it began to install. It installed. Package by package, step by step, it installed for over an hour. It animated every step with intelligent, informed, useful adverts proclaiming the joys of OpenOffice, the perils of perl, the trolling Gnome, the Kinky K desktop... and after about two fun packed, totally invoicable plus expenses, constructive and intricately detailed hours, after about the length of a foreign movie, no beer popcorn or murders but a decent plot and lots of subtitles, RedHat 9.0 stopped, ejected its CD and said, grimly:

"Please insert cdrom #2..."

I blinked. I blinked again and tossed the RedHot CD into the garbage. Found a virgin Xandros on the desk. Booted into a flashy installer that asked "First time here?" I said "Yeah..." and it said, "OK, let me handle this..." Five minutes later and two questions later my system was installed, configured, rebooted, and showing me Slashdot and my latest comments, all modded "-1 Troll".

Across the hall my friend Mato, who always has a better answer than I'm thinking of a question for, said, "Yah, but with Knoppix it only takes fifty seconds..."

There is a motto here. Xandros is sweet, Knoppix is faster, but RedHot's installer is really a ba.. -uh!

User Journal

Journal Journal: Saying for the day 1

Microsoft Windows: "The Closest Thing To Real Software Money Can Buy!!"

-- Heironymouscoward, 11 December 2003

User Journal

Journal Journal: MDPA/4 - Update 2

So we went and built a prototype. Beautifully simple: a Technics turntable, two optical mice, a Linux notebook and Sweep, an OSS package that lets you mix and scratch digital audio in realtime.

The two mice track the rotation speed/direction of the turntable, and the angle of the arm. With this one can calculate exactly where the music should be playing.

It did not, I have to admit, quite work. And then the cousin of a friend told us about 'FinalScratch', a commercial product that does exactly what we were trying to do, with a simple and elegant solution: special vinyls that hold a sound pattern which can be decoded into an absolute position.

And than I explained this to my DJ friend who said, "yeah, but if you can't see where the tracks stop and start, it's no use".

Moral: even a great idea is unlikely to be original, and even a great implementation of a great idea is unlikely to be entirely useful.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Karma Khameleon 8

10 Things I'd Like To See In Slashdot. Perhaps some of these exist in the paid version. I'm too lazy to check:

1. Tradeable Karma: I give you karma, you sell me mod points.

2. Anonymous Slashdot credit cards: hey, my Karma is worth something, no?

3. Supercomment ratings - stopping at 5 gives excessive power to mod-down trolls. Allow comment ratings to go as high as they like.

4. Rolling karma: average of last twenty postings.

5. Private discussions between Slashdot aliases, using the existing message system.

6. Ratings on stories. It should be possible to get a story rated "-1 Blatant advertising" or "-1 Redundant".

7. A wider story submission structure. Too many of my excellent story submissions are rejected, this must change, and the sooner the better. :) I'd prefer a peer-review system more along the lines of kuro5hin.

8. Fully-skinned Slashdot site. The content should be produced as XML, allowing arbitrary front-ends to add their preferred look and feel. Come on, this is 2003 (or did I miss something?)

9. "Slow down cowboy" should not (and I repeat this, SHOULD NOT) cause one's text to vanish. Many of my incisive and witty comments have been lost to humanity because Slashdot decided I was a few seconds too quick on the button.

10. Some new ambition in the direction Slashdot is going. OK, we have a great news discussion site, but how about turning the Slashdot effect into a weapon for good? I have some ideas (naturally these were rejected as story submissions). For instance, I believe Slashdot could be a viable alternative to the W3C as a forum for proposing and testing new Internet standards, especially the small experimental standards that are the lifeblood of progress.

11. There is no eleven.

12. See 11.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Answer to Malthus 4

I read this discussion about population control by Pieter Hintjens.

One quote:

We don't really have any control over events, neither at the small scale of our own lives, nor at the large scale of planetary life. We are almost totally ignorant of and blind to the forces that direct us. Our destiny is not in our own hands, and it never has been. We are actors in the game of life, but the lines we speak come from an evolutionary past we cannot control, by definition, and barely understand.
No-one and nothing is in charge. Understanding this is a first step to enlightenment. I do not know whether there are further steps.

I have to admit his writing is very close to my own ideas. What do you think?

User Journal

Journal Journal: MDPA/7 - The Gremlin 2

A blantant theft from a site called Slashdot, with a twist.

The problem with video conferencing is that you can't look your correspondent in the eyes, you're watching the screen while the camera is just a little bit higher.

My solution is the Gremlin, a doll about 12" high with a large, expressive face controlled by a hundred or so tiny motors. Its eyes hold the dual cameras that track the person speaking to it. Its mouth lip-synchs with the voice of the person at the other end. Its facial expressions imitate those of the person at the other end.

It has a reactive skin that changes color under computer control. Using simple rules of highlighting and shading, it can create a fair replica of any person's face.

Both callers find themselves speaking to a realistically expressive face.

The dolls plug into a computer and are sold as simple perhiperals.

User Journal

Journal Journal: How to contact a perfect stranger? 10

Posting an email address to Slashdot is too indiscrete for my purposes. A telephone number can be abused. Perhaps the simplest way to meet is the old-fashioned way, in a dimly-lit cafe, for instance near the Bourse.

User Journal

Journal Journal: MDPA/6 - The Love Ring 1

Inspired by the insipid story of 'will you be my friend' (the answer is a firm "no") badges.

The problem is certainly there: dating is expensive, inefficient, and far too random. Surely there are accurate ways of finding your soulmate in a crowded room or nightclub without the hassle and expense of mismatches.

MDPA/6 makes the dating game a thing of the anachronistic past. Forget horoscopes, common interests, ages, and ethnic origin. Even a perfact match in these departments cannot deliver true love, unless it's narcistic.

My extensive studies, both theoretical and practical, have discovered the answer, which I'm now prepared to unleash on the world. Not just an answer, but an implementation that will shock you to your very roots. If you're a lonely romantic tree, that is. If you're a blase human of the 21st Century you will likely yawn and click 'Next!' Very well, I will make my stand and take my chances.

We start with the discovery some years ago of one of the primary biological basis for sexual attraction. If (s)he smells good, (s)he probably is. Quote from the article: "We smell best to a person whose genetically based immunity to disease differs most from our own."

Next we add the recent development of biosensors on chips which allow instant analysis of tissue samples to give pertinent information. In this case, we'll program our little biosensor to build an HLA/MHC map for the wearer. In theory a biosensor is not needed, one could build a HLA/MHC map when buying the ring and programme it into the ring. But I like gadgets, and this will make the ring more 'plug and play', so to speak.

Thirdly, we add BlueTooth to the ring, so that it can scan for and talk to other rings in the area. The negotiation process is simple: the rings look for other rings with the most different HLA/MHC maps, indicating the best chances of profound sexual attraction. On finding a good to excellent match, the ring will light up with a specific color. Look around, find someone with the ring of the same color, that's your date for the evening.

The Love Ring will cost quite a lot: starting at $299 and rising in various steps to a $4999 gold-and-diamond affair. The more expensive rings can lie to the cheaper ones.

User Journal

Journal Journal: MDPA/5 - The Granny Box

This is an old idea, I'm just putting it here for the record.

Problem statement: there are still too few people enjoying the wonders of massive copyright violations. This smallish number creates a viable target for the *A boys.

Solution: The Granny Box.

This is the hardware, roughly:

  1. small black box, domestic DVD player format
  2. DVD drive (read-only, nothing fancy)
  3. HFHD (huge flipping hard disk), 250Gb+
  4. low-cost tiny PC, 256MG RAM, 1Ghz CPU
  5. video: TV out, with IR remote controller
  6. audio: 5+1 decoder
  7. network interface
  8. USB ports
  9. 128Mb flash memory (bootable)

This, roughly is the software:

  1. Linux operating system
  2. Auto-configuring firewall/router/proxy
  3. UML running arbitrary images

The standard operating system software boots from the flash memory and loads a number of UML images as virtual machines. One of these is the firewall/router/proxy, which automatically connects to whatever network it finds, grabs an IP address, and locks down the system securely.

That is the standard, default package. Now we come to the hack.

This is a box meant to be modded. A Granny Box mod is a Linux distribution plus applications that is burnt onto CD and slipped into the Granny Box's DVD slot. The system detects it and loads it into a UML virtual machine.

Our first mod will be a media application that does something like this:

  - Inserting a DVD or CD of any kind will launch an application (mplayer is our first choice) that allows the user to select/play the media.

  - Simultaneously with this, the media is also ripped to disk and queued for encoding.

  - The user is encouraged to leave the box switched on through the use of a small blinking led that blinks orange when the box is encoding.

  - Lastly, and not leastly, the box joins a p2p network and shares everything it has.

The box crawls the p2p network finding media of a similar nature to that played by the user. This is done through several techniques, but the simplest is the 'More of the same' principle.

To protect privacy (Granpad likes Sylvia Saint, Granny has a taste for S&M), the media stored on the box can be segmented into user areas, each protected by a PIN code.

Not content with turning millions of honest citizens into pirates, we will produce other titles on loadable Linux disks: games, speciality media titles (like the complete works of Wagner on DVD/ogg), and so on.

Comments welcome.

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