Thursday, April 30, 2009

Canada Is Evil

What does Canada have in common with Russia and China? Once again they are all on a US list of countries with "weak" intellectual property laws. Somehow, being on that list makes me feel really proud to be Canadian. ;-) Read Michael Geist's blog here and here for more details.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

MPlayer And Mkv Linked Chapters IV

I finally got the MPlayer patches that I mentioned previously, to work. It turned out to be my own fault. While fixing a failed hunk in the configure script, I left out the line which enables the new directory scanning feature. After finding that error, the patch works now and there was much rejoicing!

It works but the external files must have the exact same codec headers as the main file, otherwise the external file will not be played. I believe the test ensures that the external files were encoded with the same settings as the main file. Whether this is a bug or feature, I'm not sure yet, but I already have one video which fails the test. I hope this is not a common problem. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

WRC Argentina

Day 1 of WRC Argentina was a great fight, with the lead changing several time between four drivers. Hirvonen drove really well and it looked like he had finally found that extra speed needed to challenge Loeb. It was shaping up to be the best rally of the season so far.

Sadly, Hirvonen had a technical problem on day 2 which squashed any hope for an exciting rally. Hirvonen had finished consistently and was only 10 points behind Loeb before Argentina. Hirvonen desperately needed a win to keep his championship hopes alive and it showed in how hard he pushed on day 1. He will have to dig a lot deeper to have any chance now.

It looks like Petter Solberg's luck finally ran out when he had a technical failure on day 3, which cost him a third place podium finish. Somebody, anybody, give him a competitive car, please! Solberg is basically carrying the Xsara and is probably pushing the car way too hard for its own good.

Monday, April 27, 2009

F1 Bahrain

The first dry, incident free race of the season gave us a chance to judge true comparative pace of the the front runners. Brawn GP is obviously still the leader but Red Bull and Toyota put on a good show to give us three different teams on the podium. It is the unpredictability that is making this season so enjoyable.

McLaren is definitely improving and might be back on the podium soon. Ferrari finally scored some points. I'll bet there must be some relief to get that monkey off their back. There was some good wheel banging action several times during the race, and yet not a single incident which took any cars out the race. The reliability was also quite astonishing, with only one retirement given the extreme heat.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Too Many Late Nights

I've been having to many late nights lately, which is not good for my health. I always start working on something interesting when it is close to bed time, and I know it, it is 1am. I really need to stop doing that.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


My sister Pat retired yesterday so the family had a combined retirement celebration and birthday party. I've already written off any possibility of retirement, barring some astronomically lucky event like winning the lottery jackpot. In the past I've had to use my retirement savings to support myself and my business. I'm sure that accessing my retirement fund goes against the advice of all the investment planners, but I believe in taking care of the present first. If I don't make it through the next week and the next month, what happens in 20 years time isn't going to matter. I haven't withdrawn from the retirement saving account during the current recession yet, but it is still early days.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Casshern Sins End

The anime series Casshern Sins doesn't have a happy ending, but it ends well, so I'm OK with that. In fact if the series had ended any other way, it would have been a cop out. The story is about life and death, and the simple fact that you can't have one without the other. Casshern, who is immortal, comes to understand this as he observes the others around him who are slowly decaying because of the ruin.

Lunar is also immortal but she is not the salvation of the world. Her blood has the power to make others immortal but it is unable to reverse the ruin that has already take hold in their bodies. In other words, you can live forever but every day you look a little worse than before. When Casshern's companions learn of this, they decide that immortality is not worth it. Of course, this means that they must accept death as well, and the final few episodes have some truly poignant moments.

Although the ruin of the world appears inevitable, there is a small hope. However, it depends on more people turning away from the Lunar's false salvation, and just living their last days well. I guess the final message is that living creates more life.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

MPlayer And Mkv Linked Chapters III

In the on going effort to add Matroska linked chapter support to MPlayer, I found a more recent collection of patches which adds the linked chapter support through the avformat library. The patches did not apply cleanly to the latest Subversion checkout, but once again the failures were easily corrected. Unfortunately, the patch does not work for me. The linked chapter headers are ignored even though the the avformat library is demuxing the .mkv file. Looks like I'm still going to be digging into the MPlayer source.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I became too complacent in Ikariam and my capital was pillaged. The attacking force was very strong, so I doubt that I could have prepared for that level of assault. My problem is that I'm a little bored with the game since I'm not hugely interested in empire building strategy games. I prefer to play Rommel or Montgomery rather than Hitler or Churchill, in terms of game scale.

I got an offer from an alliance which I decided to join just to see how that part of the game works. Maybe it will renew my interest a little.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Google App Engine

Myles Braithwaite gave an informative talk on Google App Engine (GAE) at the PyGTA meeting. GAE is interesting to Python users because until recently, Python was the only language you could use on the service. The service runs your application via the Python Web Server Gateway Interface (WSGI) standard, so you can develop your site in any of the numerous Python web frame works, although Django 0.9.6 is the official framework.

A major positive is that you get Google's data center infrastructure so you don't need a system administrator to get your application running. . The service is free with a limit on page views and resources used, but the quotas are reasonable for a small site. If your site becomes popular, the service scales well, again because of Google's data center infrastructure.

The first negative is that your application is completely dependant on Google's BigTable database and user authentication, so you must live with the vendor lock in. However, the biggest negative might be Google itself. You have to be completely confident that Google will not be mining your data. Judging from the discussion around this issue, I would say that nobody at the meeting trusts Google that much. I also found it telling there does not seem to be a killer GAE application, so which suggests that other developers feel the same way.

Monday, April 20, 2009

F1 China

Shanghai was not the most exciting race, but the best part was Brawn GP didn't have it all their way. If Redbull really have the pace and this race was not just a flash in the pan, this season could be very interesting indeed. It's really great to have new faces and teams on the podium. Alonso on the front row was a surprise but everything hinged on race strategy, which was destroyed by the rain.

Both Redbull drivers had much more confidence in the wet than the Brawn drivers. I was surprised at how easily both Rebulls passed the Brawn cars under these conditions. On the other hand, this race provided excellent data for the Brawn team who had no wet track testing at all, so I don't think Brawn are going to be as disadvantaged next time.

And so much for the kerfuffle over Brawn's rear diffuser which did not provide any advantage in this race. What is really funny is that Ross Brawn apparently warned everyone about the potential loop holes in a meeting many months ago, but his concerns were shot down by the other teams. It goes to show that once the lawyers get involved, things spin out of control faster than slick tires on a wet track.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

MPlayer And Mkv Linked Chapters II

A few days ago I started playing with a patch which adds Matroska linked chapters support to MPlayer. I got the patch to work but there were a number of problems.

First, the patch did not apply cleanly but really two failed hunks out of forty is not bad all. I fixed the failed hunks quickly. The next problem was the build failed. The patched code was calling a function that had been removed about six months ago. I poked at this problem for a while, but eventually concluded that, since nothing actually replaced the missing function, I could just remove the call from the patched code. It was really just a wild guess but it worked! The patched code compiles cleanly now and playing a Matroska file with linked chapters proves the patch works.

But there a still problems and these will be much harder to figure out. The most obvious problem is the patch causes playback to loop forever, which is quite a strange side effect. A more subtle problem, is a timing glitch in the subtitles when the MPlayer switches between the main and linked file. The problem corrects quickly but it is noticeable.

Both of these problems will require a lot more digging, but if I'm going get that deeply into the MPlayer source, I may be better off looking at how this could done properly. In addition, the MPlayer developers have already rejected this patch so I really can't expect support from them, which will make the work much harder.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shikebane Hime: Aka

I finally finished Shikabane Hime: Aka, an excellent 13 episode anime that started in October 2008. It took this long because it got licensed, so the mainstream web sites like AnimeSuki stopped listing the torrents. The fansubbers continue their work of course, but it gets a little more difficult to find since you don't know who is doing it. The licensee actually put the anime on YouTube (and other places) but the quality wasn't that great compared to what I can get from fansub sources. Just another example of not giving the fans what they want.

In the the story the dead who still have a strong attachment to this world, become "living" corpses (shikabane). The shikabane still think they are human but are completely insane. They hate all other people whom they always attack without hesitation. To counter this threat, the Kougon Sect recruits certain corpses as Shikabane Hime (Corpse Princess) who are able fight toe-to-toe with the regular shikabane. In order to regenerate wounds and maintain a coherent mental state, the Shikabane Hime draw upon the life force of a Contracted Priest, a member of the Kougon sect. Obviously, the Shikabane Hime are all female and damned attractive one's at that. If there is a reason for this, apart from the purile ones ;-), the story doesn't offer any.

What is more interesting, is how the Shikabane Hime are treated by the living. The main character, Kagami Ouri, basically treats them with respect and dignity as if they are human. Many in the Kougon sect treat the Shikabane Hime less than decently, sometimes describing them as "filthy." Granted, the the Shikabane Hime are dead but that does seem a little harsh. On the other hand there are societies today that treat certain classes of living people as filth, so why should the dead rate any greater empathy?

The series has a sad ending but it is a good setup for the sequel, Shikabane Hime: Kuro, which has already been fansubbed. I'll be watching that series without a doubt.

Friday, April 17, 2009

To Aru Majutsu no Index End

I watched the end of To Aru Majutsu no Index an anime series that I mentioned previously. Well, it wasn't really the end, but was a set up for a sequel. Nothing wrong with that as there is a lot more story to tell. Kamijou Touma was in fine form, literally saving the day with one hand as usual. He has become much better at handling magicians thanks to Index's training, which proved invaluable in the finale.

The most intriguing revelation in the final episode is that the head of Academy City,
Aleister Crowley, was once a magician that learned to use ESP power and somehow managed to survive. A magician's body is destroyed if they use ESP powers too much. Of course, we only ever see Crowley hanging upside down inside a glass chamber, so "survived" may not be the most precise description. As I said, there's lots more story to tell.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

No Fun Today

An old system I developed in 2001 needs an update so I have a meeting with the customer tomorrow to discuss the changes. Since I may be busy for the next few days, I took care of several errands today to compensate. As a result I didn't get back to tinkering with MPlayer as I had planned. Hopefully, I'll have some time on the weekend.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

MPlayer And Mkv Linked Chapters

An increasing number of anime fan subbers are using the .mkv feature of linked chapters to have separate files for the opening and ending title sequences (OP and ED), which are usually constant for the duration of the series. Separating the OP and ED allows the fan subber to either make each episode file smaller, or to encode the video at a better quality setting in the same size file. Thankfully, we are a long way from everyone jumping on this bandwagon, because there is one problem. There is only one player on Windows that supports .mkv linked chapters and the feature isn't even on the road map of any of the Linux media players.

There is a patch to add .mkv linked chapters to MPlayer, but the developers have rejected the patch as an ugly hack. Even the patch submitter conceded it is crap! Even ugly hacks have been known to work so I downloaded the MPlayer source from the Subversion repositories in preparation for trying the patch. I got a working build fairly quickly which is always surprising. I only included the necessary codecs that I need for daily use and everything worked correctly with the two .mkv files that I watched tonight.

The patch will require some extra work since it does not match the current Subversion source any more. A dry run indicates that most of the patch still applies albeit with some very large fuzz offsets. However, I decided to tackle this step with a fresh mind tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The talk at this month's TLUG meeting was on the politics behind the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and was actually more interesting than I expected it to be. ICANN is a big, complex bureaucracy with so many stakeholders pulling it in different directions that it is hard to imagine actual Internet users getting heard above the noise. The speaker, Evan Liebovitch, is involved with the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) which is meant to give a voice to the larger community of Internet users. Given his position, Evan was able to give an interesting view of ICANN as an insider.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kemono no Souja Erin 7

I mentioned Kemono no Souja Erin before. The series took a sharp left turn as a catastrophe destroys little Erin's somewhat idyllic life. I kept expecting everything to work out but good story telling requires that sometimes there is no happy outcome. The sad thing is Erin's mother, Soyon, had the power to save both of them, but Soyon chose to only save her daughter. I'm sure that Erin will be wandering why Soyon didn't save herself as well. It was a completely stunning turn of events.

Soyon was a member of the Mist People, a mysterious group who are rarely seen. After a chance encounter with the man who would become Erin's father, Soyon lived with him in his village. The village raised touda, a large lizard like creature which are used as steeds by the army's mounted units. Needless to say the touda are an important symbol of military power. After Erin's father died, her grandfather who also is the village elder, had Soyon stay because she had a special talent with the touda. However, nobody really trusted her because she was from the Mist People. So when a few of the precious touda suddenly die, suspicion naturally falls on Soyon, even though there is no evidence that she is the cause. In fact she is likely the only person could solve the mystery.

Soyon's punishment is a grim reminder that this is brutal medieval society. Soyon knows that that someone must be a punished otherwise the entire village would face retribution, and she so she accepts her fate. Unfortunately brave but foolish Erin shows up to save Soyon who is forced to take drastic action. The means by which she saves Erin demonstrates for the first time the true power the Mist People have over the touda, a power that could take down the mighty touda army without any effort at all.

This series has become very interesting indeed.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Family Gatherings

My family had a short but enjoyable Easter get together. As usual it was noisy and lots of fun. Our family gatherings are loud but not because of regular party activities like music and dancing. Instead the people are just sitting around, chatting, discussing, and catching up with each others lives. What makes it loud is that there so many conversations going on at once. What makes it fun is the how the conversation will vary from the puerile to intellectual, often without warning, so you have to shift gears quickly to keep up.

Baby Ethan is well. It's been five months since I last saw him. We joked that at this rate he will be walking the next time some of us see him. Of course his grandparents see him quite often so they are not missing anything. Ethan is so quiet! It will interesting to see if that continues as he grows older. Somehow I doubt it. ;-)

I found out there is exactly one family member who gets is lucky to have both Good Friday and Easter Monday off work. That's the benefit of a government job. Oh, and my koeksisters were a hit, with only one left over. That's a record!

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I prepared some koeksisters for the family get together on Sunday. I used a recipe from my Mother's old South African cook book. I assume she started with that recipe but I don't know how much she tweaked it over the years. I've only make the recipe about six times since 2001, so my results are not very consistent. This batch is drier than usual but the koeksisters taste OK. The family always seems to enjoy them, so I must be doing something right.

Although the koeksister recipe is very simple, I feel that it takes me much longer than it should. Not to mention that I'm exhausted at the end. My mother baked regularly about once a month and she made it look easy. I've since corrected that misconception.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Weekend

Easter weekend is always a little strange. Some people have Friday off work. Others have a holiday on Monday. A few very lucky ones have both days off but I don't personally know anyone in that category. Easter Sunday gatherings usually have to wrap up early to accommodate the people who must work on Monday. As I said, Easter weekend always feels a little strange.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Skype And 64-bit Linux

I recently acquired a used Athlon 64 3200 system and will need to decide whether to install 64-bit or 32-bit Linux. I prefer 64-bit but some closed source programs like Skype will definitely be a problem. There are lots of guides for getting Skype to work on 64-bit Linux. Some instruct people to install the necessary 32-bit libraries on the 64-bit system by overriding the architecture. Frankly, this idea gives me the willies. There is also a statically linked package which gets mentioned a few times. I would try a 32-bit chroot first because it solves the problem once for all 32-bit only applications.

Of course, it would be so much easier I didn't need these closed source programs... mutter, mutter...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

WRC Portugal

Loeb makes a rare mistake! Then Sorda makes exactly the same error on the second run through the same road. Maybe they are sharing pace notes or something. By day 2, Loeb was back in the lead and never looked back. Granted Loeb's mistake was small, but Hirvonen's inability to capitalize on the error must be a little frustrating.

Latvala's crash was terrifying. Its been a while since we've had cars rolling down the mountainside. Thankfully both Latvala and his co-driver walked away from the wreck which is a testament to how strongly the cars are built.

Petter Solberg finished well again. I'm surprised by how consistently he is scoring points in an older car. The cynic in me wonders if that's more of an indication of the lack of competition this year.

It was interesting to see Gronholm back in a car. The Subaru he droving had some improvements since last year and was very fast. This suggests Subaru is still developing the car even though they are not racing. Unfortunately, Gronholm was a little rusty and threw away a podium finish on a small error. Silly Gronholm. ;-)

Unless Hirvonen can improve his game, my prediction of Loeb winning all the races this year is looking entirely possible. This is unfortunate as it makes the racing much less interesting.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ride Back 8

The anime series Ride Back continues to impress me. The protagonist Ogata Rin has a serious character flaw. When some she cares about is is trouble, she just will risk everything to save them. This is not necessarily a bad thing but, when the rescue means going against terrorists or the police, life is going to get extremely difficult.

In episode 4 Rin charges in to save her friend from terrorists, then in episode 6 she tries to save her brother from the GGP's military Ride Back unit. The second time doesn't go as well and both she and her brother are taken into custody by the city police. This was the best possible outcome. The GGP Ride Back unit had much less benign intentions than simply arresting them.

Rin is an exceptional rider. Even on an ordinary commercial Ride Back, she was able to out manoeuvre the military units. The Ride Back called Fuego that she rode in the first few episodes, is far from ordinary but it is also not unique. These Ride Backs use special software which depends the rider's skill to maintain stability, rather than enforcing control. Only the most talented riders can handle these special Ride Backs. And Rin is not the only one...

I can't wait for the final few episodes, its going to be interesting.

Monday, April 6, 2009

F1 Malaysia

Qualifying was amazingly close again and it won't be long before there is a different driver in poll position. The race was very exciting until the rain came down. There was always a half joke that a wet track spiced up the races and made them more unpredictable. I suspect that will no longer be the case under the new regulations. The racing was very close in the dry and there was a lot of passing going on. There were even some ding dong battles as drivers traded places several times over the coarse of a lap, something that had become quite rare in recent memory. I'm still not convinced that Kers is worth the extra weight.

It is quite shocking how badly the the big teams are stumbling. Ferrari seem to be all at sea. The car is not competitive and even their race strategy seems dubious. And how does Mclaren get itself into these messes? I just stunned that one of their most experienced team members could do something as stupid as lying to race officials. It would be completely unbelievable if the proof wasn't so damning.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Munto End

I mentioned the Munto anime series previously. I enjoyed the story but the series had only nine episodes which is unusually short and made the story very rushed. While the story lacks depth, it manages to cover essential information, such as what Akuto is, and origin of the Heavens, which looks like an interesting story in its own right.

But the story leaves many things dangling. The world is radically changed yet we only get hints of the consequences of those changes. However, the ending seems to be a setup for a sequel, so perhaps the creators will get a chance to tie up some of the loose ends.

Finally the alternate title of the series is
Sora o Miageru Shoujo no Hitomi ni Utsuru Sekai. I'll stick with Munto. :-D

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cape Town Memories

I don't know why I started looking at a map of Cape Town on Google Maps today. I guess that I was curious how things have changed in the last 30 years, and perhaps feeling a little nostalgic. I haven't returned to Cape Town since I came to Canada, and the chances of my going back are not very high.

There's no doubt much has changed. For example the highway, Jan Smuts Drive, now runs right through my old neighbourhood. The highway ended at Klipfontein Road, I remember. I wonder when they extended it? There used to be a small grocery store and dry cleaners ("Parkers") opposite the end of my street. That probably had to go when the highway went through. The sports stadium is more elaborate than I remember. I should find out how old the satellite imagery is.

But at the same time it is surprising how much is still the same. I was able to find the primary and the high school I attended. That's not too unusual, but the fields that I used to cross while walking to and from school, are still there! For both schools! I traced many routes on highways we use to drive regularly. My memory is quite fuzzy on some street names but most of the time it is just that I can't remember the pronunciation! :-$ My Afrikaans was never very good.

I created a editable Google Map so I can mark everything I find. I always wanted to play with a Google Map, so here is the perfect excuse. The map is unlisted and I'll only share it with people I know, since the information is somewhat personal.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Trac-Bzr Plugin

I resolved the Trac-Bzr plugin problem I mentioned yesterday. I was running a branch of the plugin for compatibility with Trac 0.11. That branch has now been merged into the trunk code, and so my version was pretty stale. The Debian freeze period kept the system somewhat stable but now that there are regular upgrades again, the breakage was inevitable. Anyway switching to the Trac-Bzr trunk code resolved the problem, so all my Trac environments are fully functional again. Woo-hoo!

(Yes, that was the most exciting event today! ;-) )

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bazaar Upgrade

The upgrade to Bazaar 1.13.1 broke the Trac-Bzr plugin and of course Tom's Project Utility. I found a fix for my program quickly which was a bit surprising. So far haven't had the same luck with the Trac-Bzr plugin. I doubt the problem has gone unnoticed, since Trac crashes hard when you try to browse the source repository. This isn't a subtle bug.

Of course, I only discovered the problem because I needed Tom's Project Utility to create a new personal project. Its an absolute truth that software which is never used, can never fail. ;-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools' Day

Its good to see that the gloomy times have not dampen the April Fools' Day pranks. was at it again as usual but even the mainstream is getting into it more and more every year. My favourite was the Microsoft asks for bailout story from The Toronto Star any a list of interesting hoaxes.

I was going announce I had won the lottery and was retiring, but decided against it. Someone might think I was being serious. :-D