Newspaper photos

From Dan's Data, quoted for hilarious truth:

"I have a rule about newspaper photographs of people. The more tricks the photographer's used, the more boring the person is.

Steve Wozniak can safely be photographed sitting behind a desk smiling. A guy whose most interesting characteristic is that he owns a huge conglomerate that makes garden twine, on the other hand, will generally be photographed at a steep angle, through a potted plant, while he's standing on a bright orange spiral staircase and holding a crossbow."


The second post of the day is for my new shiny things. In the never-ending quest for even nicer sound (I've now officially spent way more money on this than is remotely reasonable, but then I do spend several hours a day sitting here listening to my headphones, and you can't take it with you...) I bought a new external DAC and headphone amplifier from Firestone. The DAC is their Spitfire model, the amp their Cute Beyond. If you don't know what a DAC is, well, it's basically an external soundcard. DAC stands for Digital to Analog Converter - all sound stored on computers and digital formats like CDs is digital, but your ears only understand analog and the sound that comes out of speakers is analog, so something in the middle has to convert the digital file to the analog sound, and that's what soundcards (and CD players, and home theater receivers) do. $250 might seem a rather steep price to pay for a soundcard in a little metal box that can't do any kind of special effects and just plays stereo music, but it does it really, really well. My previous setup - the Chaintech AV710 soundcard feeding a cheaper amp, the Twinstarr Black, basically an Apheared design, which is cheap but well-suited to my headphones - wasn't bad on a budget, but this setup is certainly noticeably better (and for four times the price it had better be). I'm happy with it so far; if you've got $420 burning a hole in your pocket and you want a couple of cute little boxes you can plug into any cheap soundcard with a digital output and instantly get extremely high quality sound through a good pair of headphones, you could do a lot worse than buy this.

Linux-y news

Making two posts today, the first is all things vaguely Linux related. I got a lovely surprise in my Inbox when I woke up this morning - a mail from Fred Lepied, who I learn has been working on the Mandriva community HCL (Hardware Compatibility List) project that I assumed had been mouldering on some intern's desk. It's reasonably close to completion and the current development version looks excellent. There's some obvious missing features (like a commenting system) and it needs clearer hand-holding and explanations, but the basic structure is there and works really well. I'll be showing it to a few people to get their feedback and I hope we can get it into a state where it's ready for a public test soon. Here's a screenshot to whet appetites:

HCL Neat, yes?

I updated the site to Wordpress 2.0, without stopping to think this would break my Livejournal syndication plugin. Luckily I found another one which works as well with much less configuration hassle, so all's well that ends well.

Finally, I've been experimenting with audio applications again. I have a lot of music, all stored on my HTPC and shared over the network via NFS. For a long time now I've used Muine as my music player, as it's very simple, has a really nice and unique interface which suits my listening habits (I always listen to complete albums) perfectly, and it seems to keep its index of files up to date more correctly and much faster than any other library-based player I've tried. But Rhythmbox and Banshee have both been touting Exciting Shiny Things like DAAP and inotify support, so I thought I'd give them another shot. I particularly wanted to try out DAAP, which is basically an audio file server protocol. I can't see what, in particular, it gives me over NFS sharing, but hey, it's shiny and popular, and it gives me something pointlessly geeky to do for a few hours, so it can't be bad. I got a DAAP server (mt-daapd) up and running on my HTPC without much trouble, and I know it works, as the machine pops right up in iTunes on my partner's Windows PC, so now I just needed a DAAP player.

Both Rhythmbox and Banshee advertise DAAP client functionality in their latest CVS / SVN. I tried Banshee first. It currently can only use Avahi for zeroconf functionality (which DAAP relies on, being an Apple thing), and Mandriva currently uses mDNSResponder, so I had to spend a half hour arsing around getting Avahi to build and install in such a way that Banshee would notice it. Aaron tells me he's going to implement mDNSResponder support in Banshee over the weekend, so that'll make that unnecessary. Eventually I got Banshee compiled and built with gstreamer 0.10 and DAAP support, but it segfaults when I attempt to play anything, the DAAP plugin refuses to enable, and I noticed it refused to import several of my .oggs for no apparent reason when I tried to build the library. So it looks like that still needs some more cooking time. I then decided to try Rhythmbox, but that one failed right out of the gate: apparently, it can't do gstreamer 0.10 and DAAP at the same time, you have to pick one or the other. (I need gstreamer 0.10 rather than 0.8 due to issues with my new audio hardware: see the next post!) So it seems like my trusty little Muine still can't be beaten for the moment. I'm sure one or the other will get there soon enough, though.

Mono to ship in minor distribution, none dead

See topic.

Sorry, mono is in Fedora Core now, why are we supposed to be excited again? It's not like anyone's said it's going to ship in RHEL, which is where Red Hat's real muscle lies, to them FC is a bone thrown to the "community". MDV and SUSE have shipped mono for several releases now and Ubuntu I believe will have it in the next release, and IMHO those three distros are a heck of a lot more important than FC (but not more important than RHEL, although possibly together they are). Not getting the hype. Oh well.

Names, names, names

Provoked by the new desktop recorder "byzanz" and the newly renamed videoconferencing tool "Ekiga" (really, people, PUT DOWN THE CRACK PIPE. Yes, I know it's something clever from a language you don't speak. No, this does not make it okay.), I hereby propose the following usability improvements for GNOME 2.14:

Evolution will be renamed GNOME Mail, shortened to Mail within the GNOME environment

abiword > GNOME Word Processor

byzanz > GNOME Desktop Recorder

ekiga > GNOME Video Conferencing eog > GNOME Image Viewer

epiphany > GNOME Web Browser

evince > GNOME Document Viewer

file-roller > GNOME Archive Manager

gcalctool > GNOME Calculator

gedit > GNOME Text Editor

gnopernicus > GNOME Screen Reader

gucharmap > GNOME Character Map

metacity > GNOME Window Manager

nautilus > GNOME File Manager

sound-juicer > GNOME CD Ripper

totem > GNOME Media Player

vino > GNOME VNC Server

yelp > GNOME Help Browser

etc, etc, etc. Get the idea yet? Seriously. I thought you guys were supposed to be making a simple, usable desktop. Call at least the user-facing applications something simple, obvious and immediately descriptive of the application's function. No, "Windows / Mac / Firefox doesn't do it" isn't an acceptable argument. This way everyone knows what a certain app DOES. No, keeping the cryptic names but using a description in the menu / window title / everywhere else isn't acceptable either; firstly it's inconsistent, and secondly usage of the cryptic name will inevitably be preserved on Bugzillas, mailing lists etc, leaving the user hopelessly confused when he goes to report a bug in "GNOME Media Player". How's he supposed to know that for the ML or bugzilla he's supposed to call it "totem"? Just give up the "I'm-smarter-and-more-socially-cohesive-than-j00!" names and use some that tell us all what we're doing, thanks.

Christmas present

Forgot to mention, my partner's Christmas present to me was eight boxes of winter special edition pocky (like regular pocky, but with nicer, thicker chocolate and massively more expensive) and eight cans of apple sidra (ridiculously tasty Taiwanese apple soda). I fear he knows me too well. I also fear for my waistline.

America. Odd.

America has a (possibly inaccurate, but nevertheless there) international reputation for competitiveness and brutal corporate efficiency. To a bewildered outsider like me, this makes college football even more inexplicable.

I like football, in the American sense. It's a smartly designed game which, for me, kicks the crap out of the English football. Despite not being American I have a decent grasp of the rules, the plays and even most of the prominent players. What I DON'T get, since I don't have that American prism to view everything through, is the structure.

NFL, now, that's nice and simple. Same fairly sensible yet commercially effective system as baseball uses. Regular season, playoffs, championship game. Simple. Right. Sorted.

College football, now, this is an entirely different kettle of aquatic creatures. Up until today I pretty much understood that college teams played 11 (usually) games a season against other college teams, they were split into quite a lot of divisions ("conferences") with some odd names, and then they had a post season, which consisted of a bunch of "bowl games", so called because they're all the Something Bowl. I didn't know how the bowl games were actually organised, but somewhere deep in my brain I assumed it was all done in a logical way, with the teams with the best records playing in the most important games, and the teams with worse records playing in less important games, and the teams with bad records not playing at all.

Today I decided to actually do some research, and found out to my delight and bemusement that it's not this logical at all. That's roughly how it works, but there's lots of elements of amusing randomness thrown in there.

The people who organise the bowls get to pick who plays in them. They do this partly on the basis of how good the teams are but also, for e.g., how many tickets they'll sell, and how many hotels they'll fill up. (Yes, non-Americans, this is true.) Up until a decade ago or so, this was mostly entirely arbitrary. It also meant there was no simple way to say who was the national champion.

Yep, college football is a massively important sport in the States, with big TV audiences and a very high level of play, but for over a century, no-one could really say "we're the champions!" and have everyone agree. There were a bunch of opinion polls which claimed to declare the national champion. The Associated Press usually got the last say. Oh, that makes sense! Colleges tend to claim as many national championships as they can reasonably get away with claiming, which means if you add it all up, there've been several tens more champions than actual seasons have been played. It's like the old "which is the oldest college in Cambridge?" chestnut.

So finally everyone realised this was ludicrous, and designed a far more sensible system. Oh, yeah. Now they take an average of most of the said polls, and the two teams which come out top get to play for the championship. In either the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl, in rotation. (None of these important bowls could bear to not be the one that decided the national champions, so they decided they'd share it out).

But the team which wins whichever bowl is the "national championship" each year still isn't COMPLETELY the champion. It's still just a bit unofficial. The trophy isn't sanctioned by the NCAA, and the Associated Press, whose importance in all of this I am yet quite to understand, can also choose another team, if they want to. Which, in 2003, they did.

So, there ya go. Competitive and fearsomely monetarily-efficient America, after more than a century, still hasn't quite come to terms with the idea of deciding who, definitively, has actually won. How's that for inclusiveness?!

What I like the most about this is that most people consider it entirely normal and sensible and people who suggest some kind of sane playoff system be introduced are considered terribly radical and possibly dangerous. It's adorable. :)

Monkey for hire

As a vague followup to the previous post, I thought I might as well stick this page up. Part of my Mandriva work is copyediting / proofreading; if you need anything of this nature done, I'm available to do it freelance. I work quickly and professionally. Rates are entirely negotiable based on factors including but not limited to the nature of the work, your ability to pay, the phase of the moon and whether you own a parrot named Susan. I can also translate French into English very stylishly and with marginally greater accuracy than the Google translator.


I love bills.

So today's mail contained two great pieces of news - 1, my cellphone decided for no apparent reason to download 7MB of...something last month, which will cost me the princely sum of $70 over my usual phone bill, and 2, the electricity bill is due a month before I thought it was due.

So a few minutes later our power is no longer in imminent danger of being disconnected, but there's going to be an interesting race between my cellphone bill, our landline bill, and the rent cheque to see which is going to bounce. Whee. I love Christmas. I think I should probably stick up a PayPal button. :D