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Chris's Random Ramblings

Mon, 20 Feb 2006 - Logitech Harmony 880

For Valentine's Day, Kelly and I bought each other the very romantic gift of a Logitech Harmony 880 Remote. It was getting rather hard to keep track of all the remotes and the Harmony has turned out to be a good replacement.

Unlike other types of universal remotes, this one remembers the state of all the devices it controls. For example if we're watching TV and now want to watch a DVD, it knows that it just has to turn on the DVD player and the sound system and switch the TV input to "SVideo 1". It also has a pretty good interactive response on the remote if it gets out of sync with the actual state of devices. The IR database is impressively big - it even knew about the USB infrared receiver which came with my DVICO DVB card which I use to control MythTV.

The remote that came with my TV is only able to rotate through various inputs (eg RF, Video 1, Video 2, Video 3), but the IR database knows about the signals to send to go direct to a specific input. The remote can also handle the former case, (remembering the input that the TV is currently using), but changing directly to the correct input is much faster.

The main downside to the remote is that you have to use Windows or OS X to configure it. A web application is used to configure which devices to control, which then uploads this information to the Logitech webserver. A blob of data is then downloaded to the computer before being uploaded to the remote through a USB interface. I had a bit of a look at it under Linux, but unfortunately its doesn't look like anything simple, such as a USB mass storage device. I'll have to have a closer look at it when I get more time. If Logitech ever shutdown their server then it will be impossible to update the remote.

Mon, 12 Dec 2005 - Disk Crashing Time

The disk in my laptop died last Thursday. Luckily it was alive enough to be able to get most of my data off and together with backups a few months old I don't think I lost anything too important. I spent all day and most of the evening recovering data off the hard drive onto an old T22 laptop. The disk in the T22 hadn't been used for about 18 months, so the distro required a bit of upgrading as well. Took a while to convince the old Debian unstable to upgrade to a recent version of unstable, including having to temporarily uninstall important packages like e2fsprogs.

Woke up on Friday morning to discover the disk in the T22 is also in the process of dying! It turns out the disk no longer likes to get too warm (which inevitably happens in a laptop). Scrounged around for another disk and managed to borrow a blank one off Martin, that happily also fits in my T41p (the T22 disks are slightly thicker than the T41 ones and so don't fit in). So I've spent most of Friday and part of the weekend reinstalling and recovering data. Have finally got to the point where I can send and receive email, but haven't got my development environment up fully yet. I did take the opportunity to install Ubuntu instead of Debian. So far I'm really happy with it - the installation was much easier and faster than previous experiences with Debian, though there were few glitches, probably specific to the type of laptop I have (had to switch between external and LCD display a couple of times when the screen went blank).

Will see how it well it handles installing a decent window manager, but so far I think I'll stick with it. Of course, when my replacement disk arrives this week (hopefully!) I'll be going through the whole installation process again.

Sat, 20 Nov 2004 - Buying Online

Bought a copy of Half Life 2 over the internet using Steam. At US$50, its about AUS$20 cheaper than buying it from the local store, and much more convenient. I'm using iTunes now to buy my music, so I can also avoid the hassle of going to music stores. If only Amazon.com had an Australian store (or there was a decent electronic book device).

Half Life 2 is a pretty amazing game. The graphics engine is more impressive than the Doom 3 one, the story line is enticing and it runs much better on my machine. I think this game is going to suck up quite a bit of my time.

Fri, 05 Nov 2004 - Pretty, but slow

In an xterm:


cyeoh@rockhopper:~/foo$ time make clean
...
real    0m2.072s
user    0m1.015s
sys     0m0.518s

In a gnome terminal:


cyeoh@rockhopper:~/foo$ time make clean
...
real    0m43.680s
user    0m1.122s
sys     0m0.651s

gnome-terminal might be pretty, but the time difference is insane. What is going on here? Unknown to me, a significant proportion of some of my compilation times has been due to printing the output to the screen.

Sun, 31 Oct 2004 - New Toys

Last week was new toy week with an iPod and a T41p laptop arriving. Took a day to get everything transferred and setup on the laptop but Xinerma (how did I ever live without that!) and DRI are working, though not together. Spent a few hours trying to get suspend to RAM working with ACPI, but finally gave up and went back to using APM.

Setting up the iPod I noticed that it supports a very limited number of timezones. Interestingly the only Australian timezone is Brisbane or Brisbane (DST), which is strange not only because Apple chose Brisbane to represent Australia, but Brisbane doesn't change its time over summer. Luckily they don't appear to know that, and the time still changes by an hour. Little bug aside, it is a very nice portable audio player, especially compared to my previous one, a four year old PJB-100 which is about 3-4 times bigger.

Wed, 27 Oct 2004 - Hackfest Bots Online Only about 10 months after the Hackfest 2004 competition finished, I have finally managed to put the source code to the bots entered into the competition online.
Thu, 07 Oct 2004 - Flip Album decoder I've had a few requests for a program which I wrote which decodes Flip Album images so I've put up a copy of the source here. It doesn't work on all images - of the 500-600 that I tried, a handful didn't extract properly and I never bothered working out why. The program definitely won't extract any encrypted images.
Fri, 20 Aug 2004 - Emacs command of the day M-x make-frame-on-display - very handy for putting an emacs onto other servers (such as a vnc server), without having to start a fresh emacs.
Thu, 15 Jul 2004 - Hugin I'd kind of given up trying to create panoramic pictures on Linux, but Tridge recently showed me a few tools he used to process photos from a trip to NZ. Its still a bit of a blue-tack and sticky tape process, but the results are really impressive. Below is the result of 5 merged photos from Square Rock, one of my favourite walks in Namadgi National Park.

Autopano was used to find control points, or common points between photos. This data is then passed to Hugin which does its magic to distort the images so they can be joined. The resultant individual images are then joined using enblend which does an excellent job, leaving no visible join lines.

Building Hugin was an adventure in itself. Unfortunately it hasn't been packaged in Debian, nor many of its dependencies. So much compiling and installing was necessary. There are some early packages available, but they don't seem to work yet. Hopefully it will be fixed and get into the main archive soon.

Wed, 07 Jul 2004 - A little bit of decoding... One of my cousins in Singapore was married a month ago but unfortunately I was unable to attend because I was travelling elsewhere. I did however recently receive a CD of photos. It came with a windows program, Flip Album to display the photos, but not surprisingly there was nothing available for Linux.

Having a look around the CD I discovered lots of files with a .JPG extension, but weren't actually jpegs. Doing a bit of a google search for specifications of the flipalbum format wasn't very productive either. I've never been particularly successful at reverse engineering file formats, but I really wanted to have a look at the photos so gave it a go anywhere.

Luckily it turned out to be pretty straightforward with some of the jpg file format headers clearly visible when using emacs. The files consist of some binary header information, a small version of the image, followed by the high resolution version but without the usual jpeg file marker header. A page of C later and I had a little program which would extract the hi-res image from the file which I could view on my computer.

Its rather annoying that the photo album software authors decided to create a new seemingly pointless file format which really only just makes it harder to use other software to view the images. Or maybe that's the point.

It really did make me think more of what the world could be like if DRM becomes more widespread and Australia ends up adopting the intellectual property parts of the Free Trade Agreement with the US. What I did, just to see photos of my cousin's wedding, could be illegal in the future.