Archive for March, 2007

New laptop: IBM T23

I am writing a review about running Linux on cheaper, older laptops and so I was sent this IBM T23 laptop over today. It is in very good condition and it seems to run Ubuntu Linux pretty well (I am doing a dist-upgrade to 7.04 right now). The laptop seems to be fast enough with its 1.13 GHz PIII-M CPU and I specifically asked for an extra 256 MBs of RAM, although its DVD drive took ages to install the distro. Other than that and the S3 Savage somewhat buggy DRI driver, seems to be a real winner for just $330. Only a freeware non-Free Lucent driver for the 56k winmodem is required, everything else works out of the box. Impressive.

Update: The laptop does not always wake up successfully from sleep (don’t give me that “it works for me” crap, please). Bug reports here, here, here and here. Mostly S3-related.

Update 2: The savage driver is really badly supported under Linux, too many bugs, and the Vesa driver doesn’t do what I want (I need good Xv support to use with HD video, couldn’t care less about 3D). I am going with XP on that laptop because I know it works 100% (my husband uses the same model for work, never had a single problem with XP).

Update 3: Many suspend-to-ram wake-up issues and today, major WiFi issues (I tried 3 different PCMCIA cards none worked — no, I won’t go stealing firmware files) Verdict: “Linux is ready for the desktop. But it’s not ready for the laptop” — JBQ

Ban PAO(K), AEK and OLY

For how long can this go on before someone does something to stop the hooligans? I keep hearing about such battles between fans of the major soccer teams since forever. Yes, there is something to be done. If fans can’t behave themselves, they should simply ban completely and utterly these soccer teams. And if the fans don’t stop, next year ban their equivalent basketball teams. And if they still don’t stop, they should ban their equivalent volleyball, handball, water-polo etc teams until there is nothing left from these mafia-like corporations that are operating in Greece since the ’50s and negatively influencing under the table their fans as well as playing political games. I wish there was a judge with guts to completely dismantle these companies. Because we are talking about pop cults here, not just soccer teams.

And for those Greek readers who will reply below “why the teams should pay for the stupidity of their fans” I answer you this: don’t be so naive. If the owners of the teams wanted peace, they would have found a way to make sure that everyone who stays in the “club” is a fan and not a fanatic. But you see, running a cult is more powerful experience and more profitable than just running a sports team.

Update: If it’s one thing that USA does right that’s sportsmanship. There are extremely few issues every year (usually in american football games) while in some popular sports like baseball, there are almost never any issues — not even bad-mouthing during a game. You can go watch baseball with your 4 year old son and you will know that you will be safe. In South America and in some parts of Europe that’s unheard of for big soccer matches.

I still remember when my cousin was first enlisted in the Greek Police Force in 1980 (and I was just 7, but it made an impression on me). Until you gain some leverage and experience in the force and be assigned “better jobs” within the Police Station, you are usually sent to serve with the MAT for a few weeks (MAT is the authority that makes sure nothing bad happens during a protest or a sport’s match). Needless to say that after just a single Sunday with serving with the MAT in a soccer match he ended up with bruises all over his body and he had to take 3 days off. What a wonderful way to start a career.

Ashamed of Mpeg-4

I tried to encode some videos to MP4-SP with the intention that they would work with the iPod, mp4-capable cellphones (e.g. the latest Symbian ones) and the PSP. No cake. Each one of these use their own version (or part) of mpeg4 and so they are not really compatible with eachother. I tried a gazillion front-ends and backends and encoders and muxers, but none creates a universally accepted MP4-SP format. Even the highly acclaimed ‘PSP Video 9′ utility produced an SP-CBR MP4 video that won’t even play on PSP’s latest firmware. I am ok with the differences between the XviD and MP4-SP formats, but when you have incompatibilities between the supposedly same kind of MP4-SP format, that really pisses me off. And it’s all the MPEG Groups’ fault for allowing their licensees to take apart the standard and only implement bits and pieces as they see fit, resulting in this shameful incompatibility. Who wants to have a different copy of the same video for their iPod, their PSP and their cellphone? Transcoding a movie takes about 1.5 hours! Imaging having to do that 3 times.

George on Mythbusters

We had a great time at Dianne’s tonight seeing again old friends from the Be, Inc. days. The funny thing is, that except very few ex-Be engineers still at Apple or Nvidia, everyone else seems to have migrated at Google. Trey Boudreau was there too (if you ever used the Matrox driver under BeOS/Zeta, you’ve used Trey’s code) and cooked some delicious chili for us!

We also saw George Hoffman, whom I interviewed a few years ago. Except being a brilliant software engineer, George is also a strong a-cappella singer and it is this talent of his that got him on the Mythbusters episode that will air on April 11th. Don’t forget to watch!

RIP: Community Linux (1991-2007)

The idea that Linux is primarily a community-based project based on the work of thousands of independent, idealist hackers died a quiet death at home on March 27.

What Steven (who loves Linux btw) writes in that article is all true. But instead of having painting it with that gloomy tone, he should be happy that Linux comes of age. I mean, is it really a coincidence that the first time that I feel that Linux could work for me is only when Ubuntu includes easily-installable proprietary software? I am sure that there are purists out there who despise non-Free software, and for these purists there are still a few [under-]developed geek distros to use. For the rest of us, the vast majority, Linux comes of age as far as I am concerned. And it’s a good thing.

Nokia N80 is here

Yay! The UPS guy woke me up this morning at 9 AM (I was in my silly pink pajamas), but cool stuff, he brought me the very popular Nokia N80. First thing I did after my eyes adjusted to the daylight was to download the NSS hacking utility, change the internal product code of the device to match a Greek one (the phone came from Asia you see, although it was set to English), and then I reflashed it. Now, I have a Greek-English N80 Internet Edition that supports VoIP and all. I am hoping to give this phone to my little brother after I write a review for it.

I had send my brother the Motorola M1000 (my review here) some months ago, but the reason I want to send him one of these Nokia WiFi-capable phones is VoIP. It costs us a lot of money to call each other via the regular phone lines, so I am hoping the usage of GizmoProject will bring that cost down to zero. I know my mother would want to chat all day long and she currently can’t because of the cost. The only thing my (electrician) brother would need to setup is DSL+WiFi now that it’s available in his area. Hopefully he will be able to get DSL because professionally he doesn’t do well lately (he hasn’t been called to work in the last 2-3 weeks). :(

Back to the N80, it is one of the best phones ever released, and in my opinion, the only thing really missing is A2DP/AVRCP support. It’s well worth the (specially reduced) price we paid for it.

On other Nokia news, I spent a lot of time last night playing with N800’s new Rhapsody service. Really cool. I still have that Pink song in my head, “U + Ur hand”.

Lost 101

Everyone knows how much I like ‘Lost’. But except 2-3 people who read this blog, the rest are not really viewers. So, here is a quick rundown of what is ‘Lost’ so you get an idea of its plot (there are major spoilers in the “main” section, avoid that section if you will be watching ‘Lost’ in the future). I promise to be as brief as I can be.

Main Plot

Sept 2004: The Oceanic flight 815 from Australia to USA splits in two on air and crashes on an island’s beach, presumably somewhere in the Pacific ocean. Many people are dead, but about 48 people survive from the middle section. From their first night there already they become witnesses to a weird, non-natural presence in the island. After they lose hope that anyone will ever find them they try to camp in the island and learn how to hunt, fish or climb trees to get fruits. Some of the characters are becoming witnesses of “the black smoke” or “smoke monster”, which is a smoke-like shape-shifting creature that is known to kill. Additionally, the island seems to be able to cure incurable medical conditions, fast.

Soon enough some people are starting to disappear, especially children. It is apparent that there are “Others” in the island too. One of the survivors, a construction worker named Michael, would even build a raft to escape the island and bring help, only to be stopped by the Others a few hours into the sea who set his raft on fire and abduct his son, Walt. Apparently, more than 20 years ago there was an organization named “Dharma Initiative” stationed in the island that did all sorts of experiments. What is the connection of the Others to Dharma?

In the meantime, Locke finds a “shaft” in the jungle and he blows it open by using some dynamite. In there, the Swan Station, they find Desmond, who was left for the last 3 years to do one job and one job only: enter 6 numbers in the computer every 108 minutes, or the “world would end”. Eventually, Locke and Desmond decide to not enter the 6 numbers, just so they see if the world would really end. What happened was that the Swan Station exploded after some major magnetic anomalies that was introduced prior to the explosion. Was the plane’s crash an outcome of the island’s electromagnetic anomalies too?

In order for Michael to get his son Walt back, he sold out some of the survivors to the Others. Jack, Sawyer and Kate were captured by the Others. Kate and Sawyer’s well being was used as incentive for Jack, who is a doctor, to perform a surgical operation to a dying Ben, leader of the Others. Eventually Kate and Sawyer escape, but Kate wants Jack back. So, she gets Danielle, Sayid and Locke and they head on to save Jack.

When they finally arrive at the north of the island where the Other’s settlement is, Kate and Sayid are captured. Locke is there for another secretive purpose though. He wants to blow up the only way out of the island: the submarine the Others use to come in and out of the island. The communications of the Others with the outside world were severed after the blow-up of two of their stations by Locke, so the submarine is the last way out. And while every one of the survivors wants out of this island, Locke wants in and so he blows up the submarine too.

Juliet, an “Other” fertility doctor who joins the rescue group back to the survivor’s camp betrays Ben and reveals that the women who get pregnant on the island are dying after a few weeks of pregnancy, and that Ben prepares an attack to the camp to abduct the pregnant women for further tests on them. We also learn that Ben was the reason for the demise of the Dharma Initiative on the island some 20 years ago, having joined the island’s “native” people and killing off every Dharma employee, including his own abusive father. More over, Ben claims that the true leader of the Others is not himself, but Jacob — a mysterious entity that only Ben can see.

In the meantime, a hurt woman parachutist, Naomi, arrives at the island and she has a satellite phone. After the survivors are disabling the jamming equipment that Ben had put in place in another, underwater, station, and after killing most of the Others, Jack makes the phone call to Naomi’s boat off shore. It appears though that Naomi and her people are the real “bad guys”, not the Others… Will the survivors be rescued, and if yes, is this the right thing to do?

So, basically, that’s the main juice (although a lot more mysteries and plots took place so far). All 3 seasons of Lost so far take place just within 3 months of their time. According to the Lost calendar, it is still December 2004 for them.

Flashbacks

Each Lost episode has a unique structure. About 3/5s of each episode is dedicated to the current story in the island, but the rest 2/5s is a flashback of a specific character’s backstory in a particular situation in his/her life that seems to have some resemblance to the current episode’s plot. For example, if this week’s island story has mostly to do with Jack, then he probably will get his flashback on that episode too and the two stories would be somewhat correlated by similarities.

What’s interesting about flashbacks is that they not only they give you a better idea of who these characters really are, how they ended up in that flight, and also give a sense of “civilization” instead of 60 minutes of just jungle shots, but they also have almost metaphysical connections. For example, Jack and Claire and half-brother&sister and they don’t know about it (but viewers know it because of their individual flashbacks). Hurley owned the box company Locke used to work for. Hurley’s 6 winning lottery numbers are the same as Dharma employees used to enter in their computers. Sawyer was served by Kate’s mother in the diner she was working on. Libby (a tail section survivor) was the one who gave Desmond the ship that he crashed on the island 3 years ago. And so on…

Main (current) Characters
Some parts of the following text is copyrighted LostPedia.com. See pictures of the main characters here.

Jack is a spinal surgeon and the de facto leader of the middle airplane section of survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. He’s got daddy issues.
Kate is one of the middle section survivors. Before the crash she was a wanted woman for murdering her step-father.
Sawyer is one of the middle section survivors. He is a con-man and not to be trusted, although sometimes he shows a soft spot.
John Locke is one of the middle section survivors. After Jack Shephard, he is the principal male lead character of Lost. His paraplegia (was in a wheel chair for 4 years) was immediately healed upon crashing on the Island as of magic. Locke considers himself a “man of faith” and believes that the Island has special powers. He also has daddy issues.
Sayid is a middle-section survivor. A courageous man and a competent leader, Sayid maintains a conservative manner which reflects both strength and spirituality, and tries to atone for the demons in his past (he was a torturer for Iraq’s presidential guard).
Hurley is one of the middle section survivors. Before the crash he had just won millions of dollars on the lottery by using 6 numbers that a fellow mate in the Mental Health Institute he was in kept repeating. When Hurley won the lottery, he believed the numbers were cursed because they kept popping up everywhere in his life and causing death to people near him.
Jin is one of the middle section survivors. He is the only mid-section survivor to not speak English. He is the son of a fisherman and before the crash married the daughter of a powerful mafia-man. Their relationship was in turmoil because of the things Jin had to do to please his father-in-law who always considered him unworthy of his daughter.
Sun was traveling on the plane with her husband, Jin-Soo Kwon. She is also a survivor, and currently she is pregnant.
Charlie is a survivor from the middle section. Before the crash, Charlie was the bassist and secondary vocalist for the band Driveshaft. Additionally, Charlie’s drug addiction and crippling self-doubt were the biggest obstacles in his life. Like many of the losties, the crash provided Charlie with a fresh start. On the Island, Charlie has formed a relationship with Claire Littleton.
Claire is one of the middle section survivors. She is Jack Shephard’s half-sister, although neither of them knows this. She is the mother of Aaron Littleton who was born on the island soon after the crash. During her time on the Island, she has entered into a relationship with fellow survivor, Charlie Pace.

Desmond was the lone resident of the underground Swan Station at the time of the Flight 815 crash. He was discovered by Locke, Kate and Jack a month later after they forced their way in. After his failed attempts to leave the Island, Desmond joined the camp of survivors. After the destruction of the station, Desmond acquired an ability: he can see parts of the future.
Danielle Rousseau is a mysterious woman, presumably of French origin, who crashed on the Island with her science team in the year 1988, 16 years prior to meeting the survivors. Her baby daughter, Alex, was kidnapped by the “Others” at the time and she has been living in seclusion ever since in the jungle trying to avoid confrontation with them.
Ben is the leader of the “Others”. He lived all his life in the island and he is known to be very manipulative. He is currently on a wheelchair after a spinal surgery performed by Jack (who was abducted and forced to perform the surgery on him).
Juliet is a member of the “Others”. She seems unhappy with her allegiance (particularly, it seems, with Ben’s position of authority), and lives in the settlement of the “Others” called the Barracks. Juliet is a calm, intelligent woman with a background in medicine. She has befriended Jack during his capture by the Others.

300 the most seen movie in Greece

It seems that eventually the “300″ movie will have the most sold tickets in the history of movie theaters in Greece. It is already seen by 1 million viewers within 18 days, while the last movie that came close to 1 million mark needed 38 days to sell as much.

Fight the system or help shape it?

There is a series of documentaries by Adam Curtis on BBC this month about Nash’s “Game Theory” that was used during the Cold War and how now UK’s and USA’s governments are using the same technique to spark civil servant’s interest to perform better.

The theory is based on the assumption that humans are selfish by nature and so each part of their life must be all about screwing the person next to them for personal gain. According to Nash, just like in a poker game, because everyone would think in the selfish same way, the world would not dissolve into chaos, but instead an equilibrium would be reached. USA and UK started using this theory on their own civil servants by creating a “points” system where the employees must achieve specific goals by any means necessary. The idea is to create a free marketplace at any level in life. Basically, this is 100% capitalism, not just from the business & economical point of view, but it’s about a society that’s driven by the “values” of capitalism from head to toe: screw your fellow man to make a buck.

Curtis debunks this approach, and even Nash himself recently said that it might not work as well as he thought as it would be when he invented the theory in the ’50s (simply because employees try to “game” the new system anyway, and also the theory falls apart from the moment a person shows compassion & altruism towards his fellow man). When Curtis was asked what politicians should do instead of using such “inhumane” methods to manipulate their citizens to work more, he has no answer.

In my opinion, no matter what political system we get above our heads, things won’t get better. You can get the same kind of screwing from either communism, capitalism or royalty. And there is a reason why people are not happy with any of these economical or political systems: because the people involved (both citizens and politicians) are not mature and determined enough to handle their place in the society as they should.

There is no perfect political system. And the reason for this is because people are not perfect. People are not good by nature, neither they are bad by nature. They are complex creatures. You only start to get a pretty good society when all the citizens of the country are well-educated and moral people. Societies mature with time, just like humans do. I believe we are some 500 years away from a “pretty good” political system where people would feel “happy” with — that is, if totalitarianism doesn’t take over sooner.

Humans must become model citizens to perfect their system (be it communism or capitalism or something else). Education and responsibility is what would drive a society to prosperity. And when some few of these citizens rise to power, you get these much-desired model politicians rather than face today’s corruption. It’s all about the quality of the citizens and mature societies. Not that political systems can’t further mature (corporations should lose some of their power for example), but without the people themselves get responsible and wise, no system can work.

No, you can’t lean on the “goodness” of people to do their paid job. As I said, people are neither good or bad (the vast majority of them at least). Communism failed because people didn’t care to do their everyday jobs (bakeries anyone?). To _care_ to do something means that you _understand_ WHY you are doing it. You see the big picture. And you can only see the big picture, when you have an open mind and a solid education on your back. Sure they are going to be some jerks to spill the milk, but hey, overall it would balance out.

Maybe another way to make humans understand their role into the society would be to bring the population down (below a billion people), and then have them live and work in small cities rather in megacities where they lose their purpose. A person is more prone to go help in his free time to paint a school in the small town where he knows everyone and understands his role, rather than when living let’s say, in New York. I believe the fact that as many as 40% of Americans suffer from depression has to do with the fact that they don’t live in the country side anymore. They’ve lost their purpose because they don’t get gratification of their current role. They don’t feel part of the community anymore, but part of the faceless mass. I never met anyone in Greece, outside Athens or Thessalonica, having this medical condition, while it is almost an epidemic in USA.

This whole thing kinda reminds me of the utopian world of Star Trek. If you really try to pinpoint the political system that drives Earth in the Star Trek universe you won’t find any (other than some vague notion of democracy in the Federation and the fact that there is no currency anymore). What you get in your face each time you watch a Star Trek episode though is how perfect the citizens are in their relationships, morality, points of views and daily responsibilities.

It’s all about mature people. Look no further.

Love

I am heads over heels about my husband.

That is all.