Month: July 2013


I was not happy when I read the surf report this morning. It called for FAIR TO GOOD conditions, which happens only once in a blue moon and was bound to attract the crowds. Not exactly what I needed on my first day back after the accident and the staples.

But my buddy said he wanted to go, and we went. 9:15, an unusual time, trying to get in after the morning mass and before the lunch crowd. The latter being notorious for pushiness: all the guys trying to squeeze as many 6-footers as they could in the lunch hour they got.

Conditions were amazing: a perfectly calm ocean, no kelp debris, light winds from the West. The water was strangely cold (the report said 63F, much colder than the 68-70 we had gotten used to). The crowd was hanging out fairly concentrated at the peak (from now on called The Zoo for obvious reaons).

I told my buddy that he should feel free to go into the water wherever he saw fit, but that I would have to avoid the crowd. The last thing I wanted was to have someone else’s find slice me open again, possibly on top of the slice I already got. (Would it be a parallel slice? A cross? Something fancier?)


Confessions of a Linux User

As you may have guessed from the number of entries on Linux on this blog, I extensively use it on pretty much all computers I own. It doesn’t matter if its an ancient 486 that sits in the basement and connects once a day to data sources to mangle them for presentation as email or the latest Ultrabook from Samsung. They all happily run Linux, in particular either Kubuntu or Ubuntu Server (my one exception being the crappy Acer netbook that only runs Fedora).

Recently, though, I wanted to talk with friends on Skype. I used my Kindle Fire HD, which runs Android and has a Skype app. The quality was terrible. Either the built-in camera is, or the software – in any case, despite tons of available bandwidth, I showed up on the other side very grainy and lacking sharpness of detail.

Now, while most people would think of that as a giant plus, I only heard complaints. So I switched to a laptop. Unfortunately, the same problem appeared there. I realized I still have one computer running Windows 7, that I never converted to Linux, so I fired it up. It had Skype pre-installed, I was ready to go, all set.

Well, what do you know, the experience was amusing, if a complete failure. I’ll share it here, because I was reminded of how odd Windows looks and feels once you leave it for a while. Not the operating system itself, but the ecosystem. You have to put up with a lot on there just to survive. I am not sure it’s worth it.


The Gutenberg Connection

Johannes GutenbergThe new novel is shaping up real nice, thanks for asking. It is going to be much in the same vein as the first one, only bigger in scope and breadth. In particular, there will be a chronological component (read: history) that spans multiple centuries.

I am not going to give away the plot, but maybe I should share some of the research I did (some of it already surfaced while I was writing about the Meta Romuli). This time around, I’ll report back on the amusing time line of Gutenberg’s famous invention, movable type.

Johannes Gutenberg was a rich family’s offspring in Western Germany. His parents belonged to one of the powerful and aristocratic families of Eltville am Rhein, near Mainz. Somehow he got involved in metal working (which seems an odd occupation for a rich kid) and managed to mismanage his skill.

You’d think there isn’t a whole lot to go wrong in metal working, but apparently he overextended himself (and a bunch of co-investors). Aachen, the imperial capital of Charlemagne, was about to display its holy relics, so Gutenberg had metal mirrors made. They were to be sold as “souvenirs” to the faithful, who believed (it’s the mid-1400s, after all) that the metal could catch the holiness of the relics. (Apparently, glass mirrors wouldn’t do. Although of course the glass just protects a thin metal surface.)


Stitches Out

After my ER visit last Sunday, I got a slip with a date and time and location. That was to get the staples out.

Now, the staples were not really painful, but I thought removing them might be. After all, they had hurt a little when they were put in, and now they had probably bonded with the tissue near them. Tearing them out was bound to cause pain, right?

Turns out it didn’t. The removal of the staples was about the least painful thing I have done in my life. I felt more when I simply touched the staples to check how they were doing during the day. Prodded by friends, who claimed I could do it on my own, I even pulled (gently) on one or two, only to find it was quite painful.

Not the staple removal with the appropriate tool. Looks like scissors, one-time use. My nurse went to work, and in five minutes the staples were gone, and if he hadn’t put them in my hand for safe keeping, I would have thought he hadn’t even started.

So, lil’ piece of advice: when someone says you can do it yourself, don’t. I went primarily because I wanted to have a medically trained professional look at the wound, in case something went wrong or looked wrong. But the comparison between what I would have done and what the nurse did… It was well worth the $40 copay.

(As an aside, it was the first time I went to Kaiser and they didn’t make me wait forever. Go Kaiser!)

Non-Linear Video Editors in Linux

Imagine you collected a bunch of home videos (in my case, with a surfcam) and you want to make them into a coherent stream. Imagine you want the finished product to look cool, or at least watchable. Imagine you want to do this on Linux. What are your options, and how do they work out?

I took the time to test the five major Linux contenders in the space, and published the results below. Here the list of software tested:

  • Cinelerra
  • LiVES
  • Kdenlive
  • OpenShot
  • PiTiVi

You’ll be surprised at how things worked out!



Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, after many years of no major issues, I finally had a surfing accident. I am posting the picture along with this entry, but hid it after the jump to hide it from the more sensitive readers. It’s not pretty.

What happened? It was a nice Sunday morning at Black’s North Peak. It wasn’t too crowded, but a whole lot of douchebags around. You know, the kind that snakes your wave and when you call them on it, they say, “Sorry man! I didn’t see you!”

One guy, in particular, stood out. Young, maybe 25. Slender, with jet-black hair and a lust for waves but no skills to match the location. No patience and no skills is a terrible combination anywhere, but at Black’s it’s lethal (for others, apparently). He was getting frustrated at not catching as many waves as he thought he should have, just like everybody else. More and more, he started getting frantic, paddling into anything at as high a speed as he could manage, in the hope … I don’t know in what hope.

A particularly large set was rolling in, and the lineup moved out. I was constricted in my motion, since I had three guys (including this one) ahead of me, so I steered towards the area they had left open. The wave was approaching, but we were all out of the danger zone.


Creating DVDs in Linux 2. The Shootout

[Note: this is the second of two articles on DVD Authoring in Linux. The first one introduced the concepts that are going to be used in this shootout, so if there is anything here you do not understand, please read the other article here first.]

Now that we understand the setup and process, let’s look at the software available for DVD creation and compare our options. If you just want the process I am following after all the shooting out, look at the far end of this post.


Heroic and Flawed: The Jesus Seminar

Unlike with many other religions, the words of Christianity’s founder were not written down during his lifetime. Jesus really didn’t seem to care much about literality in general, talking in metaphor, analogy, parable, and absurd. To make things worse, soon after he died, a series of calamities befell the new religion that brought it almost to extinction.

First there was the great fire of Rome in 64AD, to the day 1,949 years ago. One of its consequences was the tragic persecution of Christians blamed by Nero for the event. Roman Christianity was almost gone by the time the events had ended.

Less than ten years later (and maybe in direct relation to this persecution), the Jews revolted against Roman rule. The consequence was a brief war and the complete annihilation of the city of Jerusalem. The catastrophe was such that the minor centers of Antioch and Alexandria, both outside Israel, became the focal points of the new religion.

It is now, after these two calamities, that early Christians start feeling the need for a conclusive account of the life and words of Jesus. Scholarship believes that the first of the canonical Gospels in existence, the Gospel of Mark, was written soon after 70 AD, with the others following. The last canonical Gospel is supposed to be the Gospel of John, written around the year 100 AD.


L’America: My Take on the Zimmerman Case

[Note: this is an update of a post I wrote and published briefly before the verdict came out. Respect for the rule of law made me take down that post, as I thought it implausible that a not guilty verdict would be reached.]

“Do I have to fear for my life if I come visit you in America?”

That’s a question a friend of mine from Germany actually asked, in reference to the Treyvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. In Germany, it’s rare that you shoot someone and then walk away as if nothing happened. That a trial could end in acquittal seemed worse than strange to her. It seemed like something was completely wrong with the judicial or legal system.

First, for all my foreign readers, it appears that the verdict was correctly interpreting the law of the State of Florida. It is also true that the law in the matter, Stand Your Ground, is not unique to this state, but is similarly enacted in a number of states. This does not include the Golden State of California, where I live. So if you want to come and visit me, anyone that shoots you will probably be landing in jail. So please do come and visit.

Second, as far as I am concerned, I feel I would have been much more Treyvon Martin than George Zimmerman under the circumstances. When going through the events of that night, I just think of everything that Zimmerman did wrong – for instance, never identifying himself as armed. If I were walking home alone at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood, I would be unarmed and I would potentially end up dead because some guy thinks I am creepy. So, I will refrain from visiting Florida until they sort out this thing.


HOWTO: Figure Out What File Is Missing, and Where

One of the really maddening things about Linux (and UNIX in general) is that files are stored in random places. That is, they are not really random, but each application has its own idea of where it wants to look for stuff. You, as a user, have an inkling of what’s missing (maybe because of an error message, or because you researched on a search site). But you have not the foggiest idea of where you should look for it.

For instance, you may have installed a Python extension. Then you start python, and type:import myextension. And Python will spit out this:

Traceback (most recent call last):
  File “<stdin>”, line 1, in <module>
ImportError: No module named myextension

Of course, you know that you installed myextension. So why can’t Python find it?

Well, fret no more, there is an almost simple way of figuring this out in a jiffy, using the Linux utility strace.