painless

That’s what Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope‘s install is like: painless.

And I tried to make it as hard as possible by installing the 64bit version on my HTPC. Even so (I’ll say it again) it was utterly painless.

As an introduction, my HTPC is a pretty average 64bit AMD machine, with an NVidia Geforce 8600 GT graphics card built into a SilverStone LC-16 case. The SilverStone case comes with an IMON VFD/knob remote control combo. Plugged into the machine via a DVI-to-HDMI converter is a Sharp Aquaos 32-inch LCD monitor.

If you have any experience with setting up a machine like this, you will already have recognised the problems I face:

  • The Sharp runs at some non-intuitive modeline, especially at high (1080p) resolution
  • The default NVidia driver used with Ubuntu is the pretty useless “nv” driver

All of the above means that I cannot simply download and burn the iso, boot it up and click on the cute install icon to get it going. First of all I need to lug over a spare monitor, so that I can do the above and actually see what I’m doing. Then I need to install the binary blob NVidia driver and reconfigure X. This simple excercise has taken up whole weekends in the past.

This time, however, things went very smooth, and the machine is up and running after only 2 hours (most of the time spent downloading and upgrading). After installing Ubuntu from the LiveCD, I rebooted it (still with the extra monitor attached), and logged on. Got the newest driver directly from NVidia’s site. Popped into a virtual terminal, killed GDM, and ran the driver installer. Rebooted the machine and detached the extra monitor, and viola! X came up in full resolution. Did I mention that Jaunty also starts up quick?

Then I copied my old X conf to the new install (this has the specific modeline in it, with which I get rid of some of the nasty overscan of the default modeline at 1080p), and restarted X. Perfect…

To get the IMON VFD running all I needed was LCDproc. Procmeter3 works flawlessly with it.

The IMON Pad remote control thing is still an issue in Ubuntu (meaning that it does not work out of the box like a lot of people want): the default Pad driver makes the directional pad act like a mouse cursor, so the IR codes that get sent to applications are pretty much worse than useless. To get coherent keypress-like IR codes, the “pad2keys” patch has to be compiled into LIRC. Luckily, Ubuntu already has the patch, but the user must activate it.

To do this,

  • add the line “options lirc_imon display_type=1” to a conf file in /etc/modprobe.d.
  • stop lirc: /etc/init.d/lirc stop
  • remove and reload the lirc module: modprobe -r lirc-knob; modprobe lirc-knob
  • restart lirc: /etc/init.d/lirc restart

Of course, only if you want to refrain from rebooting the machine, but as I mentioned Jaunty boots quick, so why not? :)

peace out

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to the T

Ok, this was on slashdot a couple days ago, so in net-time that means ages ago, but I just can’t stop thinking about it: Australian scientists have found a different way to stop the human body from rejecting organ transplants. One that does not depend on taking hardcore immunosuppressants.

Here is the press-release.

According to the article, the treatment uses natural regulatory T cells to damp down the response of killer T cells (the ones which attack foreign material in the body, such as viruses, bacteria and transplanted organs).

The cool thing is that a) this is more natural and b) the treatment is short-term. According to the people involved, the treatment should only last for 2 or 3 weeks. Which means that the patient rests/recouperates in a clean-room, and afterwards is ready to go home. All done. Not so for the current treatment which uses immunosuppressants, which are basically toxic substances which can sometimes do more harm than good, and need to be administered for a much longer period, with all manner of possible adverse side-effects.

So why is this cracking my nut? Because even though the first succesful trials have only been performed on mice to date, the trials involved the implantation of pancreas islet cells into diabetic mice.

I seriously hope they can get this standardised and approved for human application ASAP. As in yesterday.

peace out.

popcorn time

So I’ve had the ‘flu for the last couple of days, and that means one thing: movie time!

Here’s the list I watched this time. Some of them old, some of them new:

The first three I have had ever since I started my DVD collection, and this must be the nth time I’ve watched them. Where nth is greater than 10.

But I love them. On my opinion of Ghost in the Shell, most people will agree with me – it was a groundbreaking film when it arrived on the scene, both in technical terms, as well as in its plethora of myths and ideas which it presented so well. And then it had the action and great story to back it all up.

Maybe not many people will agree with me about Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Metacritic seems a bit divided on the topic: It gets almost exactly 50%, with critics giving it the entire range of ratings, from 20% all the way to 80%. No surprise where I fall: this is an awesome film. True, the technology that was used to (try and) create the photorealistic images is dated – today we can do a lot better (of course, the question remains do we want to). But the movie does have a great story, and the fight/chase scenes are a lot more nailbiting than many “real-life” action films. The characters are all unique and have a true depth to them.

Outland is special. I think I saw this the first time on late-night television when I was in high-school. I’ll admit I was a bit let-down by the film at the time. I had grown up on a diet of Robotech and Star Wars, so space was more about high-speed action outside the airlock, and less about running around inside a space station. As such the film felt slow, and actually a little boring. But I remember it being a bit of a nailbiter in the end. So I picked up my current copy on DVD a couple of years ago, and every time I watch it I become more infatuated with the film. Connery portrays the lone outcast sheriff perfectly, even acting vulnerable and scared at the end. The stern doctor Lazarus (who reminds me more and more of the Haraway character from Ghost in the Shell: Innocence) is great, and the slimy Sheppard is the perfect bad guy: he knows that what he is doing is destroying lives, but he just does not care; according to him, that is the way of life.

I’ve wanted to watch The Wrestler for a while now. I am a bit of a Mickey Rourke fanboy. Whether Harley Davidson (and the Marlboro Man), 9½ Weeks, Sin City, Domino, I love the man’s style. And The Wrestler is good. A down-and-out movie, literally at the end of its tether. A lot like Buffalo ’66 (also starring Rourke) in that regard. Sad, but beautiful. I *almost* cried.

The thing that amazes me about Rourke is that not only does he seem to become each different character that he plays, he even looks different each time.

From the high to the low. Premonition is crap. Don’t even bother. Nothing happens in the movie. It is ridiculous. It does not even inspire the viewer to want anything to happen.

I’m in two camps with Traitor. On the one hand it tries to be another serious Middle-Eastern thriller. Blah blah blah. On the other hand it tries to add something new to the mix: the double-agent, but this time motivated by faith. So in the end it feels like a remix instead of being something innovative. I guess I expected a lot more from a film starring Guy Pearce, who is another favourite of mine. The last time I saw him was in First Snow, and that movie absolutely kicked ass. This one feels a little run-of-the-mill, but it has some good qualities. Check it out.

The Interview, on the other hand is great fun! It applies a film Noir approach to an Australian accent, which is at the same time patently ridiculous and completely brilliant. It is a Usual Suspects like mind-bender, but with the added ingredient of not handing the viewer all the answers in the end. It is a great twisty story, and Hugo Weaving is brilliant.

Finally, another film I have been wanting to see for a while: Redbelt. Mostly because the story just sounded good, but also because Chiwetel Ejiofor seems to be a good actor too. Of course, I have only ever seen him in Serenity and Children of Men, so I have no idea what kind of impression he makes in Kinky Boots and Dirty Pretty Things. Redbelt is good though. It is not the hard-core all out martial arts movie, but succeeds in showing much more of the inner struggle of the main character than a lot of hard-core martial arts movies try and display, plus it does have some pretty good fight scenes. Some people ditch it, others like it. I definitely like it!

peace out.

On a hunch

Don’t know if you’ve heard about it yet, but hunch.com is open for use by invitation. (I’ve got 3 left as of this post, so email me if you’re interested.)

What is hunch? I could quote something from the site, but let me try and explain it first in my own words: hunch collects data on users of the site, by asking them a number of questions. Then, once a user has a question, she can “ask hunch” about it, and hunch will try and figure out what other people in the same situation have (or would have) chosen. Users can try and train hunch by accepting or rejecting its suggested solutions; in this way hunch grows over time to favour some solutions over others based on the user asking the question.

Here is what the site itself says:

“In 10 questions or less, Hunch will offer you a great solution to your problem, concern or dilemma, on hundreds of topics. Hunch’s answers are based on the collective knowledge of the entire Hunch community, narrowed down to people like you, or just enough like you that you might be mistaken for each other in a dark room. Hunch is designed so that every time it’s used, it learns something new. That means Hunch’s hunches are always getting better.”

That’s all groovy. The catch is the “collective knowledge of the entire Hunch community”. This “collective knowledge” is critical – hunch needs its users to supply it with the content/data it needs. And it is a statistical thing: it needs many users in order to filter out the outlier decisions.

So can it be any good? Are all the solutions it is ever going to suggest for your problem going to be the ho-hum middle of the road ones? Maybe. But then if you think about it, there are not very many unique problems out there. Sure, everyone thinks their specific problem is unique, and surely has never happened to anyone before, and yes that is true, but only to a certain extent. IMHO, what most people need is not the right answer to their problem, but the right questions to ask about the problem.

For example, I just asked hunch whether buying a Kindle is going to be good for me. It asked me various questions, like “do you regularly have more than one book on your nightstand?” (yes), “does your commuteallow you to read?” (yes) and “do you subscribe to major newspapers?”(no). By correlating these answers with all the “Teach hunch about you” questions that I previously answered, it generated a 90% percent match to the solution “yes, a kindle is right for you”.

Once we know which questions to ask, we can weigh them up oursevles. At the least, having hunch throw some questions at you, and seeing whether or not you agree with its suggested solution, can already help you make up your mind. In this case, yes I think I could use a kindle, but I am still shy of the second generation hardware of the kindle2, and would rather wait for the 3rd generation before getting into this technology. So now I can update hunch with my opinion, add pros and cons, so that the next person who is similar to me will get the “no, wait a while” answer instead.

Overall, I like it. It is an emergent design, and therefore interesting!

peace out.

alarmism + ignorance = stupidity

Take the Conficker issue: no, it did not make the intertubes get up and strangle everybody. Neither did, if you will recall, the Y2k monster.

Surprise there, huh? Or not. The thing about alarmists that gets me is the fact that they prey on the ignorant and the naive. And every time an apocalyptic date passes by without incident, boy must they be laughing up their sleeves at the chaos they caused. What people miss is the fact that while they are laughing, they are counting the money they made, and are already planning the next hoax/heist.

So what are the warning signs I look out for when trying to judge whether someone has a valid point, or whether they are trying to see how high they can make me jump and how fast they can make me run in circles? Easy, it’s in the words they choose. When I see words like “crisis”, “urgent”, “doomed”, and the ever present “Click here!”.

Hey, what about that last one? See that one is the catch. They need to draw your attention, they need to inspire fear, and then they have to show you the way out. Because that’s how they make money. It is the classic “stick or carrot” strategy, except in this case it is the “stick AND carrot strategy”, but the truth is both the stick and carrot are fake. Every alarmist in every apocalyptic crisis claim (or claimed) that this one is going to take you down, and only by paying them lots of money can you save you, your belongings, your kids and your way of life.

But the alarmists are getting smarter. Apocalyptic dates are easy to deal with. Hunker down, watch the second hand roll over, cautiously stand up, and see that no, the world did not end. Phew. So these greedy pranksters have figured out that maybe we need to not mention dates, which almost makes the coming apocalypse more threatening, since it can strike tomorrow, or the day after, but maybe not for decades, but it is still coming!

This makes it easy for them to deal with an “apparent” calm time, because this will always be “the calm before the storm”. As in “did you think the last crisis was bad? There is an even bigger one, this is just the calm before it hits! Click here!”.

Pick You Apocalypse: Y2k, Terrorists, Supergerms, (and on the flipside) Vaccines, Oil Shortages, Solar storms, Global Warming… It is the same story every time. I am becoming a little desensitized to it all.

peace out.