Archive for June, 2006

Diet Recipe: Chili Con Carne

Here’s another diet recipe, this time with a few more calories than usual though: 300 calories. While the recipe itself is not as good as the real Chili Con Carne because of the requirements and restrictions of VLCDs, still, it is good enough and pretty tasty.

Ingredients (for 1)
* 130 grams of Safeway’s canned Chili beans (110 cals)
* 70 grams of lean turkey mince meat (75 cals – found at Safeway)
* 2 tablespoons of ball-pepper tomato pasta sauce (15 cals – found at Trader’s Joe)
* 33 grams of Basmati rice (100 cals – found at Trader’s Joe)
* 2 sprays of 0 calorie non-stick spray (0 calories)

Execution
1. Boil or steam and then drain the rice as usual. Don’t add any butter on it.
2. On a pot, spray twice of the 0 calorie oil. Add the turkey meat, stir a few times and cook until golden.
3. Add the pepper-tomato sauce. Stir. Add the beans. Stir.
4. After 1-2 minutes on a medium heat and stirring occasionally, it’s ready.
5. Serve hot, with the rice on the side.

Tip: You can replace the rice with steamed cauliflower and carrots. These veggies will fill you up more than 33 grams of rice ever will…

William Fichtner on “Prison Break”

My favorite actor, William Fichtner, usually cherry picks his roles. However, I don’t think that he is very happy that 1/3 (12 overall) of his most major roles are all about “law enforcement” characters. From a cop to an agent, and then a sheriff (and once, even a judge). Bill will be playing an agent on the upcoming season of “Prison Break“. I don’t like prison dramas at all (despite the good reputation this show has), but I guess I will have to start watching now… Of course, this new role spells the doom for any potential resurrection of “Invasion“.

Update: I guess I indeed need to start watching “Prison Break” as another of my favorite actors is also part of the cast: Peter Stormare. How can one forget him in the “Armageddon” movie, playing the weirdo Russian cosmonaut Lev Andropov?

Lev Andropov: Excuse me, but I think I know how to fix this.
Watts: Move it! You don’t know the components!
Lev Andropov: [annoyed] Components! American components, Russian components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN!

T-Mobile’s Sidekick 3 Launched (Updated)

So, the HipTop 3 is out, under T-Mobile’s usual Sidekick brand. Great stuff, it’s a really nice (smart)phone. The only three things I don’t like about it is its lowish-resolution screen (240×160 — QVGA would have been nicer), extremely limited Bluetooth support (only hands-free and vCard profiles are supported) and it’s still a bit too big/heavy. Adding some WiFi & VoIP SIP, UMTS and a video-call camera would be groovy too. I guess that’s what’s coming with Sidekick 4 in 1-2 years time, I just wish it could have those already so it could really kick ass.

Update: Michael Oryl of MobileBurn was again very sweet to send me over screenshots showing how OSNews renders on the new Sidekick 3.

2 years of Gnomefiles and the state of Gnome/GTK

Gnomefiles.org is already 2 years old now, it has over 1230 GTK+ apps in its database and it has a steady flow of about 25,000 pageviews per day. I don’t plan to add any features or change the site, it does already what I want it to do and how to do it.

Gnomefiles always makes me think that there are no more than 1500 GTK-based active applications out there. KDE/Qt has double that, even if lately Gnome and KDE have almost equal market share these days (KDE used to have over 55% and Gnome about 25% just 3-4 years ago), but still, KDE produces more apps. The reason for this, as I have mentioned many times in the past, is the tools provided. Trolltech — being a commercial/professional company– provides all the tools required to create a modern app easily. GTK+ is more difficult to learn (thank God for pyGTK and GTK#), but most importantly, it has no serious tools. Comparing Qt Designer to Glade and KDevelop to Anjuta is a bit of a joke. Additionally, KDE has more debugging and profiling tools than GTK has. More over, GTK+ and its bindings have no up-to-date documentation (no, looking at other people’s source code does not count). Trolltech on the other side, has taken all the required measures to deliver good docs. The only problems of Qt are GCC C++ changes that break Qt app compilation every other moon, incompatible Qt changes in itself and the fact that the resulted apps look seriously crappy (regardless of KDE/theme used).

Anyways, I have being arguing online about the GTK problems for years and only recently Novell has placed two guys to work on them. One works on Stetic (a new C# RAD tool) and another one works on API documentation. But they don’t move fast enough…

In the meantime, Gnome 3.0 is nowhere to be seen or heard. There was some talk about it a year ago, now it seems that the maintainers don’t really care about it. The original idea was to break source code compatibility with the 2.x code and deliver major new features, but it seems that either they don’t have the stamina to go on with such a big change, or no one wants anymore to lose the current stability and the compatibility with these 1500 apps. I would actually agree with them. They should evolve Gnome stadily and compatibly and not re-write large parts and re-discover the wheel breaking everything on the way. That would be an even bigger disaster than the current one with the existing GTK 2.x third party developers.

Gnome 3.x and GTK 3.x should retain full source and binary compatibility for the sake of its users and its subsequent success. We don’t want to have the same problems we had with many Gnome 1.x applications under Gnome 2. Some worked, most didn’t, even after installing the old libs (with resulted headaches). The old apps just didn’t work correctly and transition was not smooth. The same should not happen with Gnome 3.

In conclusion, I must say that the reason why we don’t see much of Gnome 3 propaganda (and even not so much of KDE 4) is because the Linux desktop is in its decline in terms of hype. Be careful, I am not saying that this year will be fewer Linux users than last year (on the contrary, Ubuntu brings many new users to the Linux platform every day). I am just saying that there is less HYPE about it. Normal people know what to expect from it now, they don’t eat all the “Linux is the best OS on the planet” shit anymore. The whole Linux scene is toned down, for a bit over a year now. The “Golden Era of Desktop Linux” (remember: hype-wise) was between 2001 and 2004. And since we are out of this era, companies like Sun, Red Hat and Novell have shifted most of their forces away (Mugshot anyone?) and have a smaller involvement with Gnome/GTK. And SuSE & Mandrake don’t do nearly as much as they did in the past about KDE either. Hence, the whole tone-down in development and consequent hype of Linux on the desktop and as a competitor to Windows.

I firmly believe that Linux on the desktop in its current incarnation (== several distros kinda similar but semi-incompatible with each other) has already reached its maximum at that 2.5% of OS market share. For Linux to go further and impress, a company (with the kind of money Google has – *twink*) must invest in rethinking the whole thing and create something fresh and innovative. Kinda like how Apple took Mach and FreeBSD and created a brand new OS, but didn’t kept compatibility with either NeXTSTEP or FreeBSD. Compatibility is very important (as I said above), but not when the existing distro market is pulling you down with it. If there is ONE Linux-based OS that uses ONE package manager and it’s fully compatible with itself all the way through and it’s fresh, new, innovative with lots of financial backing, then it can do it. In other words, that would be a brand new platform that simply “happens” to also use some Linux/GTK code (so that existing third party apps would be ported relatively easily to it). That doesn’t mean that this OS would be “just another distro”. It shouldn’t be.

Praising h.264 once more

I am amazed with Apple’s implementation of h.264. If you go right now at Apple’s front page you will see a random “Mac vs PC” TV commercial. The one I stumbled on is 30 seconds, 12 FPS, 1.01 MBs filesize, 642×362 size (high-resolution), AAC stereo sound and 16 millions of colors. This means that each second of playback uses about 34 KBs of data, and each frame is at around 2.8 KBs. This is amazing. Now, sure, MPEG4 does not encode parts of a frame that haven’t changed, so it saves on filesize. But the quality of each frame is so good, that I am sure that without Photoshop’s enhanced JPEG algorithm I wouldn’t be able to save a JPEG 642×362 frame in less than 40 KBs. And that’s only 1 frame, not 12. And don’t forget that there’s stereo sound packed in the video file too, plus QuickTime’s container overhead…

In my opinion, h.264 has only two problems:
1. Extremely slow encoding times. We are talking in many-many hours of encoding for a single movie with QuickTime. I think it took about 5 hours to encode for the QVGA iPod a 150min movie on my 867 Mhz Powerbook G4. The open source utilities for h.264 encoding (e.g. the ones that come with freeware Handbrake) are even slower.
2. There are weird artifacts when the frames are dark. For example, on a movie scene where it’s night/dark, you will see some excessive 4-color bleeding. I can’t quite describe it well, but here’s a grab shot on a 16 million color screen. The problem is visible on LCD and well-configured CRT screens on many trailers on Apple’s own web site.

It would also be nice if the open source community had a better support for it. While normal-sized h.264 videos work well, 1080p videos don’t. If your video is 1920 pixels wide (HD resolution), for the last 320 pixels on the right you will get a green or pink color and no picture. Yup, you guessed it! They have hard-coded the decoding process for 1600×1200 monitors! The problem exists with all the serious compatibility-wise OSS media players: mplayer, Xine and VLC (they all use the same ffmpeg decoder).

An update on the diet

My diet continues successfully: I have lost 11.2 lbs in 3 weeks time (that’s over 5kg). However, there was an emerging problem: I started having an involuntary muscle twitch (”tick”) on Friday. I couldn’t get rid of it. A quick search online revealed that very low calorie diets (aka VLCD) require vitamin supplements of at least potassium and magnesium. So we drove to the store and we got 4 bottles of vitamins — vitamins that I am missing with this kind of diet: fiber, magnesium, potassium and a multi-vitamin one. Needless to say, the muscle tick dissapeared just half an hour after taking the K,19 & Mg,12 vitamin pills.

A new patent

My angel, JBQ, was awarded a patent recently. It was developed with two more french guys, all key engineers in the BeOS days, when trying to compress BeIA data to fit on the handicaped tablet/IA devices of 2001 (usually BeIA was forced to run on 8/16 MBs of RAM and 200 Mhz Cyrix MediaGX slow CPUs at a time when daddy BeOS required at least 32 MBs to run acceptably). Remember my remark yesterday about cellphones and memory: the less memory OEMs put on a machine, the more money they earn. Hence, that algorithm was bound to be born… And it was good enough to be submitted as a patent. My opinion on patents is here btw.

The crapped-up world of memory allocation on consumer cellphones

InfoSyncWorld posted a review of the Samsung SCH-A930 phone. They say that “while we had no trouble pulling down Web pages optimized for mobile surfing, the browser crashed while trying to download the lengthy New York Times home page.

This phone runs the 6.2.3.2 Verizon-modified version of Openwave’s UP.Browser. Openwave already licences their 7.x version which is better in terms of compatibility (although it requires a bit more memory in exchange for more features), and there is an even newer version of the 6.x branch, 6.3.0.8, which is better than the 6.2.3.2. However, Verizon sticks with that specific old version for ALL their phones. No matter what non-smartphone you buy from Verizon, you are going to get the same version, and end up at a similar crashing problem (here’s another review with the same problem, same browser, same carrier). In reality, the problem is this:

Openwave/Teleca: “Look! We only need 2 MB of RAM to gracefully operate our web browser with most sites, when Netfront or Opera require at least 6 MBs!”
LG/Samsung/Motorola: “Oh, really? Very interesting, well done! Here’s the thing though: I am only going to give you 512 KB of heap. Make it work if you want to have money to buy a turkey this Christmas.”

As you can understand, the thing will run out of memory, crash itself or even crash the phone too (if the phone’s OS has no protective memory) on large web sites. This is the case for most non-smartphones. They squeeze out every bit of memory and make applications run on their own pre-defined memory space. The browser is as comfortable to use on large pages as an SUV with 30 people inside.

If you are a person who uses GPRS and you are interested in browsing real-world web sites, never buy a normal cellphone. Always buy a smartphone with an OS that has advanced dynamic memory handling. And that excludes most PalmOS, Blackberry and Sidekick incarnations too. Opt for Windows Mobile, some Linux phones (not all of them), some UIQ devices (P990 is a good example) and the enterprise E-series of Nokia’s S60 3rd Edition (which have more RAM than the N-series).

To answer your question that’s in your head right now: “why don’t these people put more RAM in these phones?“. The answer is: “money”. If they sell 1 million handsets of a particular model and adding an extra 4 MBs of RAM costs them $4, they just lost $4 million dollars right there. And all that, for a feature (web browser) that only 11% of the phone users (occasionally) use. From their business point of view, it doesn’t worth it. And they can argue that if you want more power, buy a smartphone. And they will be kinda right on that remark…

Microsoft’s stab at iPod/iTunes

Microsoft is developing a music and video device to compete with Apple’s iPod and creating its own music service to rival Apple’s iTunes, sources familiar with the plans said on Friday. Robbie Bach, a rising star at Microsoft who headed development of the Xbox video game business, is overseeing the project, one source said.”

You can let EU shout as much as it wants, but if I was Microsoft, I would place that software in Vista by default. This would be the only way to succeed in a market where iPod+iTunes is already a monopoly. If Microsoft doesn’t include that software in Vista, or in a future Service Pack, then this initiative is doomed to failure.

And don’t give me that shit that “but Windows is a monopoly and Microsoft should not use their power to promote their products”, because in this case, it’s Apple that’s the monopoly. They have 90% of that market and the only way to either kill them (eventually, not immediately — that’s just business) or simply take back some market share and try balance the market, is only if Microsoft includes such software on their OS by default.

And if the EU has a problem with that, tell them to first ask Apple remove iTunes from OSX and then come and make their stupid and business-unfriendly demands from Microsoft.

Japan loses key whaling vote

“Japan lost a crucial vote on Friday at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission that was a setback in its long-term drive to overturn a two-decade-old international ban on whaling.”

Hopefully, they will completely ban the hunting of the cetacean animals. I find it utterly inhuman hunting animals that their language goes up to the scale of 5 in complexity (english rates 9) and they are much more intelligent than dogs and monkeys. In fact, I just don’t understand how some countries still allow hunting dolphins and whales in this time and age. Don’t these people have any guilty conciousness? Or their brains are full of dollars incapable of thinking straight?

I feel disgraced to be a human.