Monday, August 31, 2009

F1 Belgium

Ah, Spa! Eau Rouge! What a circuit! Has this place ever had a boring race? OK, possibly back in the Michael Schumacher dominated days, but this season is nothing like that. This season continues to be full of surprises.

I would never have imagined a Force India on poll but Fisichella managed it while most of the front running teams were floundering. Even fuel adjusted, he was still fourth so the car was genuinely fast. Fisichella has a real chance for a win but for the safety car after the first lap carnage which is so common at Spa. This enabled Räikkönen to get close enough after the restart to "kers" past Fisichella. So instead of extending a lead over Räikkönen, Fisichella was using his faster car to catch up. Still, it is good news that a low budget team can be competitive, something that was impossible in the past.

If's, but's, and maybe's don't really count in motor racing. If Button had qualified better, maybe he would avoided the first lap carnage, but who knows, right? Luckily for him, Barrichello only scored two points. Button needs to get the finger out otherwise he will lose the championship as his rivals nibble away at his lead. Button needs to prove he can be the world champion, and he needs to start doing it now.

Talk about luck! Barrichello just barely managed to avoid the first lap incident himself after his failed started put him at the back of the pack. And then, with two laps remaining, his engine started smoking! Talk about a nail biter! He was so much more circumspect about the problems in the post race interview than he was a few races ago.

Anyone want to bet on the next race? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Big H.264 Files

Hah! I'm getting better at finding .nzb files. I found the high quality F1 upload in .mp4/H.264 format, but crikey it is huge! The qualifiying session is 1.4GB which is almost double the size of the ones I get as a .torrent, so I'm not saving much bandwidth there.

The resolution is slightly higher but not enough the account for the size difference. The point of using H.264 is that allows you to compress the video more and still maintain good quality. Someone is not understanding this.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

NZB Doubts Continue

The .nzb files work most of the time but I have one the just refuses to complete the download. Unlike the last time, downloading it again didn't. I even tried a file generated on a different search engine, but no luck. Since there is no way to know where the problem is, I gave up on that .nzb and used reliable BitTorrent for that download.

I see the potential of .nzb. The downloads are much faster since there is no need to search the article subject for matching articles. And the .nzb is more reliable than the search method, but the main problem with .nzb is that there's no way to tell what went wrong. Maybe the upload was bad and downloading is just a waste of bandwidth.

I'm seriously considering reactivating my account to see if a paid service will improve the reliability.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Persona Trinity Soul - End

The anime series Persona -trinity soul- is a deep, dark, intense, psychological drama. It's a good series but its weakness is that the early part of the series drags on bit. However, it is worthwhile hanging in there until the end. As I mentioned in a previous post, It's easy to see why so many fansub groups abandoned the series as the payoff is not obvious from the early episodes.

The story's premise is that everyone has a Persona, a natural part of their psychological makeup. A few young people have the ability to draw out their Persona and use it as a physical force, somewhat like a psionic power but with an actual shape, which typically resembles a fighting mecha. The power of the Persona is quite destructive, which naturally leads a few people to consider using the Persona as a weapon of war.

The story begins with Kanzato Shin and Jun returning to live with their brother Ryou in Ayanagi City. Ryou is very cold and distant towards his brothers. The reasons for this become clear later. The first episode reveals that both Ryou and Shin have Personas although this is obviously the first time Shin draws out his Persona. Later this turns out to be a false.

Ten years ago, Ayanagi City suffered an event known as Apathy Syndrome, which continues to cause many strange problems in the city. Ryou seems to know exactly what is happening but he appears to be operating outside his role has Police Chief. Again, exactly what he is doing, is revealed later in the series.

In fact we later learn that the entire Kanzato family has been involved with Personas for over ten years and that Shin was at least partly responsible for causing Apathy Syndrome. The reason I like this series is that everything is explained eventually, but you need to be patient as story takes its time about it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Skype Voice Tap

The trojan that taps Skype VoIP conversations is old news by now. However, the most interesting part of the interview was how the programmer, Ruben Unteregger, envisions making a trojan work on a Linux system using Flash or Moonlight. As the Linux desktop systems try to provide the same functionality as Windows, the barriers that made Linux more secure are slowly being lowered. At the moment the number of Linux desktop users is very small so it is not yet worthwhile to take that next step to develop a crossplatform trojan. Emphasis on "yet."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

NZB Idiosyncrasies

NZB files are a little unreliable or maybe it is just user error since I'm knew at this. ;-)

There doesn't seem to be a way to verify the .nzb file contains all the article ids required to assemble the final file. I got caught by this already. The .nzb file was incomplete so hellanzb couldn't finish the job. At first I thought the error was that some articles were missing from the server, but further investigation revealed the articles were actually missing from the .nzb. I downloaded the .nzb file again and this time it was complete.

Here's the problem. A .nzb file is not like a torrent file which is generated by the uploader and has a unique signature to ensure the result is correct. Each Usenet search engine generates its own .nzb files. There is nothing in the .nzb to indicate completeness or that the downloaded file is the one you were expecting. It all depends on the reliability and trustworthiness of the search engine site.

I guess I'm still looking for a good a Usenet search engine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

F1 Europe

Finally watched the European GP. Barrichello deserved that victory. He drove a faultless race and the team made absolutely no mistakes. Did Hamilton lose the lead because of McLaren's pit stop error or was it a lack of race pace? I think it was the latter. Barrichello definitely had the faster car but he chose to use it only when the McLaren's pitted. Both times he managed some stunning laps which allowed him to use the classic "pass 'em in the pits" strategy. Perhaps as result of that, the race was not very exciting. The saving grace was that nobody had the ability to dominate the race, which would be even more boring.

Button isn't driving like a world champion otherwise he would have tried harder to recover from the miserable start. Compared to the beginning of the season, he does not look like the same driver. I still have a suspicion that something has changed at the team, like maybe Barrichello isn't sharing as much information about car setup as before. I just can't accept that he has lost that much pace compared to Barrichello for no reason whatsoever.

There is no doubt that McLaren are back in game, as are Ferrari. It was to be expected of course given the huge budget's these teams have, but it took McLaren much longer than I anticipated. Thankfully, Brawn GP have also improved but is it enough? Their lead in the constructor's standing isn't all that comfortable. Now it is Redbull's turn to struggle. They didn't score any points for only the second time this season. More troubling is that Vettel has only two unused engines for the remainder of the season and there is a stiff ten place grid penalty if they use a ninth engine.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Video Format Annoyances

I usually watch F1 on the Monday after the race. The torrent conveniently shows on the trackers by Sunday evening, just in time for overnight downloading and seeding. This is a high quality video of the entire 3+ hours of BCC coverage in a compact 1-1.5GB .mkv file and H.264 video. The quality is stunning, even after it is scaled to fit my 1920x1200 monitor.

This time both the qualifying and race torrent never appeared. Given consistency of the source for these torrents, something has serious has gone wrong. The most likely suspect is The Pirate Bay which is in its death throes. The uploader probably hasn't found another reliable tracker site yet.

Since I now have hellanzb configured, I decided to download the qualifying session from Usenet. This was an ~800MB .avi with XviD video. Yuck! The lower quality of the video really becomes noticeable after it is scaled x3 to fit the screen. When I get this from a torrent, the .mkv file is about the same size. The video resolution is also the same, around 640x350. The difference is, after the scale up, the artifacts are barely notice with the H.264 video.

The real killer is that the .mkv includes the entire BBC coverage, which is about twice as much video as the .avi in the same file size. The chatter before the qualifying session was removed from the .avi. Given the obvious advantages, why is .avi/XviD still the most popular format?

The main reason is H.264 requires significantly more CPU power to decode, and there are still many older systems out there. Another problem is the best decoder for H.264 isn't installed on Windows by default so you need to install additional software (CCCP) to get the best results, which is annoying for the average user. Finally, there is inertia, which is by far the most difficult problem.

It is interesting how the anime fansub culture is leading the way here. The .mkv/H.264 format has definitely grown in popularity amongst many fansubbers over the last year. The fansubbers, who are generally an arrogant bunch, decided it was worth changing and are forcing the users to adapt. Basically, it is "take it or leave it."

The annoying part is the new format would be a great advantage on Usenet where reducing file size would be very helpful.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Real Users

Many months after I finished building the LAMP server, my customer and I finally migrated the first user site from the Windows server to the Linux server tonight. Not everything happens at Internet speed. :D

There's nothing like having to handle real user requirements show what is missing, but this actually didn't go too badly. I had scripts to create the various configuration files and those all worked correctly. Well almost, if had remembered to install the last change I made to one script months ago. It was only one missing the Apache virtual host container so it was not huge upset.

Tonight's work pointed to where improvements are needed. Eventually I want to have my customer run the scripts with sudo, but there's a few things I need to figure out before that is ready.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fsck Big Drives

Most of downtown Toronto had a blackout this morning due to a fire in a transformer vault. My customer's servers in the area are not on a generator, so they shutdown once the UPS ran out. Everything came back up once power was restored but some of the Linux servers hadn't been rebooted in three months, which naturally forced an a fsck. Those servers have 500GB drives which seem to take forever to complete a file system check.

Unfortunately there's not much that can be done about that. Even with a journaled file system, it is recommended to fsck the drive regularly to detect failing drive media. But with big drives, the delay in boot time is kind of unnerving when you are not in front of the console where you can monitor the progress. And this is only going to get worst as we move to ever larger drive capacities.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dissolve The CRTC

Wow, the petition to dissolve the CRTC now as 4114 signitures. The goal of 10,000 is starting to look possible now. I'm on the signature list...somewhere. That's a lot of people! The petition is getting national media attention, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

In the few minutes it took to write this post, the number of signatures increased to 4134. That's impressive!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

HellaNZB, IPv6, Oh Dear!

I did some playing with hellanzb and it suits my needs exactly. My initial tests with TekSavvy's news server worked really well but past experience with Usenet is you should have at least a couple of extra news servers in case of missing articles.

This thread on the the TekSavvy forum recommended a number of free news servers for binary groups. These days "free news server" and "binary groups" are never mentioned in the same sentence. Even TekSavvy's news server is not free as you have to pay for the static IP (which costs a whopping $4!) to use the server. The catch with these "free new servers" is they are only accessible on IPv6, which explains why I setup a IPV6 tunnel previously.

But hellanzb depends on Twisted which is a Python framework for handling asynchronous I/O. Unfortunately, Twisted is not IPv6 capable so hellanzb can't access the IPv6 new servers. Frankly, this was a big suprise as Twisted is the Swiss Army knife for asynchronous I/O in the Python world. The ticket for this problem is already two years old, so it is obvious that the Twisted devs are not very interested in working on it.

The solution suggested by this hellanzb ticket is to use a utility like 6tunnel to forward IPv4 connections to the IPv6 network. It works, but it is ugly as sin and there's a performance penalty. Despite this problem I'm happy with hellanzb; the lack of IPv6 support is really Twisted's fault.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dabbling With IPv6

I'm experimenting with IPv6 tunnels and got my first one working today. There's a reason for doing this but I'll explain that another time. To gain access to the IPv6 universe, I created an account at and created a basic tunnel.

I added the following to /etc/network/interfaces.
auto he-ipv6
iface he-ipv6 inet6 v4tunnel
ttl 255
address 2001:470:1c:137::2
netmask 64
mtu 1480
up ip route add default via 2001:470:1c:137::1 dev he-ipv6
This configuration will ensure the tunnel will be initialized when the system boots.

I also installed shorewall6 so that I can firewall the IPv6 connections. Shorewall's approach to IPv6 firewalling is to make it a completely separate system from the IPv4 firewall. Fortunately I've had lots of practice with shorewall so it didn't take too long to get a minimal configuration setup.

At this point I can ping and connect to IPv6 hosts but I cannot ping my IPv6 address using an online tool. Next step is the real reason for this experiment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Exceptional Condition

Tonight's PyGTA meeting was a round table discussion on handling Exceptional Conditions in Python. As expected from this group the discussion did tend to wander in the philosophical side of programming, but we did manage to raise more practical concerns as well. As an embedded systems developer the options for reporting exceptions are frequently limited by the user interface (or lack thereof), but it is interesting that even these limited choices are still a subset of the vastly greater array of tools available to web and desktop application developers.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Returning To Usenet

With Usage Based Billing (UBB) of wholesale ISPs starting in less than three months, I have already started looking at ways to reduce my usage. BitTorrent is out since it requires uploading. I'm considering returning to Usenet for downloads.

I last use Usenet seriously back in the mid 90s when getting large video files was problematic because retention for binary groups wasn't very long, so parts of the split encoded files often went missing. But that changed in the late 90s with paid Usenet services, like Giganews and Easynews, that had much longer retention on binary groups. My friend Paul has been using Easynews to download TV shows since around 1998 after a spat with the Rogers Cable billing department. Since then there have seen other improvements, such as parchive and nzb files. While these additions are great, it is clear that a basic newsreader like tin or slrn, isn't going to be enough anymore.

hellanzb looks promising. It has a command line interface and can run as a daemon, so it meets my basic requirements for something I can run on a server. I'll need to play with it some more before I can give final verdict, so I'll leave that for another post.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Greed Is Back Baby!

According to this article, it seems any hopes for real changes to the world's economy are dash as everyone is jumping back on the get rich quick bandwagon, also known as the stock market. The article even claims people are spending again. I think some people are actually believing the smoke and mirrors. I have nagging feeling that this recession isn't over yet, but it seems that some people are already betting the other way.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Smoke And Mirrors

It seems every time there's an increase in a particular sales statistic, the experts will point and gleefully announce that it is a sign the economy is improving. In reality, one data point is not a trend, so all they are doing is using the data to apply reverse psychology to make sure people don't panic. People have to keep spending since domestic consumption is all that is keeping the economy going, with exports so dependent on the U.S. economy.

China's economy supposedly grew because off an increase their domestic consuption, even as their exports continued to decrease. The caveat is that China uses very different methods to report gross domestic product compared to the Western nations, this growth is likely just smoke and mirrors. In other words, they are doing exactly what we are doing, just on a grander scale. And as always, there will be reckoning later.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Music Universe

See if you can spot what is wrong with this image of "The Music Universe."

Did you get it? There's no customers in the diagram! It just shows how unimportant the people who buy its product, are to the music industry. Thanks to for pointing that out. The other problem is it assumes that artists need all that middlemen in the digital age.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Living With UBB

Now Usage Based Billing (UBB) of wholesale ISPs is a reality, how would this affect me? TekSavvy's usage report stop working in June (hope they fix that soon), but in March, April, and May I used about 66GB, 65GB and 59GB respectively. That would have resulted in a extra charge of $6.75 and $5.63 in March and April on top of my normal bill of $34.95 ($29.95 + $4 for static IP). This just shows that 60GB isn't that much once you start using the Internet as a TV source. A lot of people are going to be surprised by these extra charges because they stream video without really understanding how much data they transferring.

Now that the CRTC has rubber stamped UBB it is here to stay, and will probably get worse as Bell becomes emboldened by getting everything it wants. And there is little we can do about it as the CRTC seems to blithely ignore all protests. It rankles that Canada went from a world leader in broadband to worse than some Third Countries in the space of a decade. Back then the CRTC had much better foresight.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

CRTC Must Die

Would somebody please kill off the waste of tax dollars known as the CRTC, and get us out of this misery? In its most outrageous decision yet the CRTC has approved Bell's application for Usage Based Billing of the customers of the independent ISPs.

This forces all ISPs to have a 60GB cap with a $1/GB overage charge. My TekSavvy account has a 200GB cap and charges $0.25/G above that. So the CRTC has allowed Bell to dictate business decisions to an independent ISP like TekSavvy. Remember that those ISPs already pay Bell to carry their customers data, so Bell is double dipping. The UBB comes into effect in three months time.

The only good news is that the CRTC did not ban MLPPP as Bell requested in its application. This means that it is still possible to bypass throttling for now, but how long before Bell makes another application to correct this oversight?

The CRTC has completely screwed up once again. I can only wonder how much worse it can get. The only recourse now is the government or the courts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Feeding Your Media Player

At this month's TLUG meeting, Colin McGregor gave a talk on feeding your media player under Linux. In other words, if you use linux, what tools do you need to "acquire" the music and video for your media player. The talk was originally presented to a beginner Linux user group so it avoided too much technical details, but it was interesting nonetheless. One surprise was that Colin covered digitizing audio cassettes for those who are feeling nostalgia for the 1980's.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Perseid Meteors

Time for the annual Perseid meteor shower again. One disadvantage of living in the city is you don't really get to see much of any astronomical events due to the light pollution. This year a waxing moon will not help either. The Toronto forecast is for partly cloudy so at least it is not a complete right off. So the choice is: watch for meteors or get some needed sleep. I'll get back to you on that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New Saturn Mystery

Exploring space will guarantee that we never run out of mysteries. The latest one is is just wonderful. Saturn is at its equinox so the sun light is illuminating the rings edge on. The Cassini probe took many pictures but one image is just plain weird. What the bloody hell is causing that?!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's Over! It's Not!

Even as there are declarations that the recession in canada has hit bottom, the job losses are still climbing. The stupid thing is the jobless rate stayed the same, because it only includes people who are actively looking for work. The people who have given up searching for a job, are therefore not officially unemployed. So what are they then? Sounds like creative accounting to me.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Kemono no Souja Erin 23

Kemono no Souja Erin is getting really interesting. Erin's skill with animals enables her to help a young distressed Beast-Lord, but her abilities deeply frightens her teachers.

According to legend only the Queen is able to command the Beast-Lords to eat the Touda. This gives her power over the Grand Duke who commands the Touda, and so maintains the balance of power in the country. Upon hearing of the legend, Erin immediately denounces it as "rubbish. Beast-Lords eat Touda because it is natural for them to do so," which is pretty darn obvious.

Erin's ability to control the young Beast-Lord, makes her valuable to the enemies of the country. The teachers wisely decide to keep Erin's ability a secret for her safety as well as the safety of the nation. What I found touching, was that all of the students agreed to take an oath to keep the secret, even the ones who dislike Erin. This kid know how to win people over!

Even so, I doubt that Erin can avoid getting drawn into the politics that surrounds the Touda and Beast-Lords. Her skills are just too valuable.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Torchwood Children Of Earth

I finally watched Torchwood Children Of Earth, the third and possibly final season of the series. What a great story! There is an old adage which says something like, "The only thing more costly that defeat, is victory." In the same way, a good story may require that characters be sacrificed.

The losses are weighing heavily on Jack Harkness, so he in effect becomes another loss as he withdraws from Earth. With most of the recognizable characters gone, it almost seems that the future of the series itself as been sacrificed, but it looks hopeful that the series will continue.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

WRC Finland

Hirvonen drove a terrific rally to get his first win at his home event. If he keeps driving like this for the rest of the season, the championship fight is going to go to last rally. Loeb was in hot pursuit until a pothole on day two damaged a wheel and he lost some time. He tried to recover, but he decided to play it safe and settled for second when it became obvious that Hirvonen was completely in control.

Finland has some spectacular jumps. On day two Novikov hit a jump way too hard which sent the car flying so high, that it started to flip backwards in the air. The in-car footage is just plain scary as the trees fall out of view until all you see is the sky! Novikov was lucky to get away that that. He wasn't so lucky later in the same stage when he hit tree, which ended his rally. Actually, that was his second encounter with a tree... He really wasn't having a good rally.

Kimi Raikkonen took a break from F1 and drove his first WRC in a Group N car. He did quite well but car trouble limited his performance. Unfortunately he lost it on stage 19 and rolled the car which ended his rally.

The rest of the season is going to be very exciting, assuming it is a straight fight to the end with nothing going wrong for either Loeb or Hirvonen. But this is rallying, so expect the unexpected.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

National Icons

I read this piece on the the Sydney Opera House. I can just see we Canadians having a similar debate over the CN Tower at some point.

I think every nation needs some at least one man-made national icon. The problem is they are all getting old and things that get old, cost more to maintain. Of course, not maintaining the CN Tower might have somewhat more disastrous consequences, so there is a bit more incentive. According to the article it does seem like the plans for the Opera House are going way beyond maintenance, though.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Strike Review

With the city worker strike over and normal services resuming tomorrow, just how messy did Toronto get? ran a strikewatch feature for the 39 days of the strike and also made a time lapse video of two garbage cans. The good, the bad, and the ugly side of Toronto.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Enjoying Summer

It's a long weekend and the weather was fantastic. We are getting a lot or rain lately so I decided to get out and enjoy the sun shine while it lasts. I went to Edwards Gardens for a couple of hours and took a few photos.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Asura Cryin' 13

I watched the last episode of Asura Cryin' only to discover the story is to be continued in a second season. This is good and bad. It is good because the story will be told properly, rather than being squeezed into 13 episodes. It is bad because now I have to wait for the second season to get some answers!

The first season mainly introduces the mecha known as Asura Machina, and its "power source" called a Burial Doll, a person that is very near death. However, we are still not told everything such as where the Asura Machina are made, assuming they are manufactured at all. One thing that is painfully clear, is that the Asura Machine's power is not inexhaustible because the person in core of the machine so near death.

The main character, Natsume Tomoharu, is bit of a wet blanket at the beginning of the season but I actually like him by the end. One thing that is odd about him, is that he never really asks questions about the Asura Machina or anything, even though it seems everyone around him has much more information than he does. The coolest character is Kurosaki Shuri because she packs a ridiculous amount of fire power into her artificial limbs. She reminds me of a 1960's British comic book character called I Spy.

The story tends to throw information at you and explains it later. However, if you need every mystery to be explained clearly and precisely, then this series will be disappointing. I found that there is enough information to understand and enjoy the story. Even so, many big mysteries were left for the second season, so it would have really sucked if it was never produced.

These split season stories have become more common lately. I suppose it more to do with economics than anything else, since it allows the producers recoup the costs before committing to the second season.