Archive for April 22nd, 2007

Letterbox, you morons!

You probably remember my rant about letterbox on ffmpeg. Or the lack of it. Anyways, I decided to try a number of encoder apps to find the one that suits my needs best. I tried about 6-7 apps under Windows, 2-3 apps under Unix and 4 apps on OSX. And guess, what. *None* of them supports automatic letterboxing. In the best case, 1-2 apps provide manual padding (the user has to manually enter the number of pixels required to pad all the way to the requested resolution) and in the worst case that’s completely broken and results in a weird shaped video (e.g. MediaCoder v0.6). But you know, I can’t hold anything against these apps because at least they did try to provide a half-assed letterbox support, recognizing that there is such a need in the market.

My problem is with the rest, *the bulk* of the encoder apps that simply do not offer the ability at all. Which means that if I have a widescreen movie and I need to turn it into QVGA so my phone can play it (most phones only support specific video resolutions, e.g. 176×144, 320×240, 128×96), I would end up with a whacky aspect ratio that makes all the actors’ heads look like snake eggs. Have these morons ever asked their users what they actually need or do they just implement a dumb front-end to an encoder during the weekends?

The BEST user interface for an encoder that simply does the job so incredibly well, is QuickTime Pro’s. Problem is, Quicktime’s encoder quality sucks compared to x264’s, which is why I tried to find an alternative. You know, we have quite a few friends who happen to be ex-Apple engineers and who have mentioned how bad and messy the Quicktime source code is. But man, speaking as user, the damn thing WORKS as I expect it to.

Eating smart

One thing that’s really pissing me off when I am on a low-calorie diet is that because I am forced to eat more vegetables without fatty sauces or oils, it takes away a lot of the pleasure of taste. Many diet foods are as tasteless as eating grass. But I think I just solved the problem! Yesterday we went shopping at WholeFoods and there I found these TastyBite packages. I noticed that while their recipes used quite some oil, their calorie count for some of their products was not prohibiting (ranges from 105 to 140 calories per serving). So, I bought 4 of their products to try them (picture below).

Now, instead of doing what it’s suggested in these packages (2 meals per package), you divide their meals by 4. And instead of actually eating these foods stand-alone or as side-dishes, you use them as sauce. For example, by adding 1/4 cup of water, 270 grams or already cooked cauliflower, broccoli & carrots (~100 cals), half of a low-calorie sausage (60 cals) and 1/4 of these TastyBites meals (~55 cals), you create an entree that’s about 400+ grams (enough to fill you up real good — compare that to the 255gr frozen diet foods), it’s really tasty because of the strong sauce used and it’s still very low calorie (200 cals).

This is what I prepared for Sunday lunch, and I can tell you, I could not finish it all, it was that much! This sort of food is good for the South Beach Diet too btw, not just low-calorie/low-fat diets and they usually provide lots of fiber. You can experiment yourself with other vegetables and kinds of meat to accompany these sauces (I am thinking of trying again tonight by adding beans and smoked fat-free pork to the remaining sauce I have refrigerated). I wish that TastyBite would provide some low-fat/calorie options too, but even as it is right now, the solution is acceptable calorie-wise.


My JBQ waited for 2 hours in line outside of BestBuy today, 15th in line, but the Nintendo Wii was sold out by the 12th person in line. Sucks. Nintendo really underestimated their own product by pricing it at $250. Not only they created this artificial shortage because the price was too low compared to what the market was willing to pay for their product, but their company lost millions of dollars. I hope they fire their marketing chief.

Arch Linux moving back to /usr

I spent hours arguing on Arch Linux’s bugzilla and chats in the past about kde/gnome/xfce/mozilla getting installed on /opt and not on /usr. The Arch Linux approach was to keep things simple and tidy. And I liked that. In fact, I originally supported the idea because ‘I like tidy’ in my computers. But after actually using the system extensively, I found many problems.

Unfortunately, many source tarballs don’t take into account that gnome or mozilla-dev is installed on /opt. And they just don’t compile out of the box, e.g. Mugshot (in the Arch world, users still compile a few apps here and there as the package db is not as extensive as Debian’s). While the bug is on the app developer’s side, the point remains, it makes the life of the Arch user (and the maintainers’) a hell.

Another problem was that if you were just compiling a gtk+ app (without going into the trouble of creating a package) and then installing it in /opt/gnome/, you might find the Arch Linux project providing the same application a few months later down the road via official channels, but installed under /usr. This has created at least 4-5 major inconsistencies and bugs during my 2-year usage of Arch Linux. You just can’t never be sure if an app must be under /opt/gnome/ or /usr (you see, on Arch, gtk and pure gtk apps still go under /usr, only gnome apps go under /opt/gnome). But things are never black and white (especially with apps with optional dependencies), and so there were always such problems. There was never a clear rule of thumb on how to go about it.

After 2 years of arguing to switch to the lesser of the two evils, Arch finally made the right decision for their users and are starting to move the packages back to /usr. It will break lots of things (especially apps compiled by the user in the past), but at least in a few months these problems will be ironed out completely. It was a trial and error thing the way I see it and hopefully the Arch experience will go down in distro history as something to be avoided (if maintainers want fewer headaches that is).

Seagate 160 GB 3.5″ USB 2.0 External HDD

We bought this at Sunnyvale Fry’s today, brand new, for 50 bucks. It’s amazing how cheap hard drives are these days. The offer is good for the weekend, so if you live in the Bay Area, go grab one. My JBQ will use it as a backup for his pictures.