First-Rate Geeky Command Line Head-Smackage

BASH - in the flesh.
If you have no desire to read about login shells, Linux, source code management or other similarly geeky content, you’d best be skipping this one. -ed.
Have you ever allowed a nuisance to go on for literally years simply because you couldn’t be bothered to do enough research to effectively nip it in the bud? I personally had two such nuisances (of a particularly geeky variety) come crashing down this past week.

BASHing My Head In

I, like many UNIX users that spend a good deal of time in a command line environment, prefer to customize my environment so that I can save myself keystrokes, work and headaches. Through judicious use of environment variables, aliases and custom shell prompts, I have made it easy for me to be able to determine where in a filesystem I am at a glance, run commands from any number of frequently-accessed binary directories, ssh to my various and sundry boxes, etc. I have done this on every UNIX box that I have spent any considerable amount of time on since at least my early days in college and, as I am a dyed-in-the-wool BASH user, I have always stored my preferences in a file called .bashrc that sits in the root of my home directory. While at Lehigh, having a .bashrc was sufficient to automatically customize my environment every time I logged in. However, ever since joining my current firm, I have been unable to get any of the UNIX boxes at work to recognize my configuration file automatically. Instead, I have had to type bash each time I logged in in order to obtain the customizations.
Two days ago, I had a brainstorm – I realized that some users were known to squirrel their preferences away in a file called .bash_profile and, in a fit of pique, I symbollically-linked my .bashrc to ~/.bash_profile, then logged in to a random UNIX box. Lo and behold, I was immediately presented with my fully-customized shell. I was at once elated and furious – I have, over the past six years or so, typed “bash” countless times, meaning that I could have saved myself and my fingers 4 x countless keystrokes, wear and tear and keyboard mileage. Grrrr.

Subversive Behavior

I update all of the installations of WordPress that I maintain via Subversion and have largely automated the process via a shell script, although I have left a few of them out of the script so that I can update them more and/or less frequently as situations require. In both real-time and in my scripts, I traverse into the base directory of each blog and run a Subversion update; in other words, `cd [blog directory];svn up`. I was goofing around a couple of days ago and decided to actually pass the directory as an argument to the Subversion update, so I ran a test `svn update [blog directory]` from the base of my Dreamhost home directory. Et voila!, it worked like a charm. To date I have thus effectively wasted thousands of both keystrokes and CPU cycles traversing my directory tree instead of simply running a single command.
I share these insights in the hopes that they will save someone, somewhere some measure of blood, sweat, tears, effort and tedious manpage reading.

Apple: A Question, If I May

osxserver_1.jpgIf, say, I were running Mac OS X Server version 10.4.8 on a Mac Pro workstation (a model that does not come with an 802.11 b/g card by default), why, pray tell, would I get prompted for an AirPort update when I run Software Update?
Can anyone explain the logic behind forcing this update, one that requires a reboot to affect, on a server running a server OS? No? And why not? Because it’s stupid, that’s why.

Burnination, The Follow-Up

With apologies to Trogdor: Shortly after I posted my review of Toast, I stumbled across a comparison review of a few of the top Mac burning software packages. Toast makes an appearance, as do Burn and two others, as well as a 5th one that was suggested in the reviews’ comments (LiquidCD) which got me to thinking about other media-related downloads worth your time.
First up, Windows users looking to convert their media over to handheld-appropriate formats ought to look into Videora which handles the conversion tasks for the Microsoft-addled. Next up is Democracy, an incredible video aggregator with support for RSS “channels” and BitTorrent downloads. It’s available for Mac, Linux and Windows, so platform concerns should be nil. Mac users looking to correctly tag their iPod-ready videos so that they show up correctly in iTunes should look into Lostify, your one-stop-shop for all your video tagging needs.
Last of all, those of you looking to get caught up on TV shows you missed should check out ShareTV, a site that looks to centralize torrents for a lot of the top-flight shows currently on TV in one easily-accessible website. Be sure to give it a look.

Toast 8 Titanium: A Review In Brief

Toast 8.
To put it bluntly: Roxio’s Toast 8 Titanium rocks.
My team lead put in for a couple of copies of Toast 8 shortly after it was announced at Mac World and we have been enjoying them ever since. While it is, at base, a program for burning CDs, DVDs and now Blu Ray discs, version 8 adds a lot of functionality that makes Toast Titanium an ideal hub for all of your multimedia tasks.
Toast 8While the TiVoToGo functionality is perhaps the most ballyhooed addition, I think the video transcoding capabilities are far more exciting. You can create traditional data discs, useful for backing up data otherwise stored on hard disk or audio discs suitable for play in any CD player. You can also burn video discs from very nearly any video media type – DVDs, VideoCDs, Super VideoCDs and even DivX Discs. The transcoding engine behind these burning capabilities also allows one to convert any supported video type to one suitable for use on your video iPod, PSP or any other hand-held video player.
I have been taking full advantage of this ability, as I am sadly over a full season behind on my Battlestar Galactica and thus have been converting the unwatched DivX AVIs I have laying about into iPod-ready .m4v’s. I am then able to transfer them to my iPod and catch up on BSG at a rate of roughly two episodes per day. I should be just about caught up within 20 days or so, barring unforeseen interruptions.
Is the package worth the $80 Roxio charges for it? I’m not quite sure about that. There are ways to accomplish each and every one of Toast’s capabilities with free alternatives (Burn and Mencoder come to mind immediately…) and I could see $80 as being a very steep price for a home user. When it comes right down to it, it’s a very attractive package for managing all of your media that’s worth the money as long as someone else is doing the buying. *grin*

A Word Of Advice For Potential Mac Pro Buyers

For those of you pondering a purchase of a Mac Pro workstation, heed my advice: make sure you upgrade the included video card to the ATI x1900. Do not, under any circumstances, buy a Mac with an nVidia video card. The problems described at The Inquirer, Apple Defects and Slashdot are real and they have been plaguing me lo these many months.
I initially ordered my MP with 5GB of RAM and, since it was going to be a server-type machine, I skimped on the video card, figuring I’d save a few hundred bucks. What a mistake! The machine would freeze during memory-intensive applications, so much so that I would often come back to find it having spontaneously rebooted itself. In order to multiplex between my Dell XPS (now running Vista – that’s another post in the works…), Alienware Aurora and the Mac Pro, I acquired one of these IOGear DVI KVMs, with the KVM switching between Windows, Linux and OS X and a second monitor tied to the Mac Pro directly. When I switched sources, the second screen would begin to flash and repeatedly try to put itself into powersave mode, only to be woken up a second or two later with a tiny bit of the MP’s image being displayed. Upon switching back to the Mac, it often took 30 seconds or more for me to regain control of the machine. If left in this condition for too long (i.e., if I needed to do something under Linux or Windows for more than 5 minutes), the Mac would freeze completely and require a hard reboot.
Finally, I had enough and put in a request for an officially-sanctioned Apple x1900. It arrived on Monday and I installed it immediately and every. single. one. of the issues I was seeing have cleared up. I can now flawlessly (and quickly!) switch between all three systems. Finally!

Unreal Tournament 2007 Renamed To UT3. W00tage To Commence Shortly.

Beyond Unreal has the details and impressions, I’ve got the video:

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Oh heck yeah.
(IGN has a higher quality version of the video available here.)

Beyond Crypto Journalism: MySpace, digg And Trust Engines

I’ve had time to mull over the implications of my previous post on technological solutions to what ails journalism and have come to the conclusion that a solution based on high technology would ultimately fail for the same reason that PGP-based email encryption has failed to catch on in the world at large: it’s simply too complicated for the average user to interact with, let alone understand. The very notions of “key exchanges” and “signing” tend to be over users’ heads and questions such as “What do you mean, they have to send me a key first? Why can’t I just send them email and have it be encrypted without messing around with all that extra stuff?” While the concepts behind public key encryption are fundamentally sound and fairly easy to understand for computer science grads, they tend to be over the heads of average users. Still, I believe that the idea of using technology to enhance the trust relationship between the producers and consumers of news to be one within reach. If a high-tech solution is out of the question, though, what are we left with?
Then it struck me: simply leverage social network effects to make up for any technological shortcomings.
Three sites known for their exploitation of network effects immediately leapt to mind: digg, MySpace and Google. Each of these sites (and their corresponding technological underpinnings) rely upon users to build and make up for content and relationships that their systems would otherwise lack. digg allows users to both submit noteworthy content and vote for content that strikes them as interesting, allowing the stories that most people find interesting to “bubble to the top”. Blatant spam attempts, linkwhoring, repeat content, etc. tend to get “dugg” downwards, assuring that most digg readers never see the worst of the worst. MySpace offers users a chance to build a network of friends through simple invitations and gives a chance for all to see the networks each user has managed to collect. Google, through a set of algorithms they have spent millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man-hours in developing, peruses each site that it knows about, assigning each page a relative ranking (known as “Page Rank” – creative, I know) based upon the number and “strength” of links other Internet users have chosen to point to it. The cardinality of each link is used to give each page its own place in the hierarchy of the Web. Each of these models, particularly in some combination of the three, could be used to great effect in the furtherance of restoring trust in journalism.
Imagine a site where each reporter and source maintained a MySpace-esque profile page listing each and every user that has given their explicit trust to the news producer, couple that functionality with the ability for users to affect the actual news that gets top treatment ala digg, add in a distributed protocol of “trust links” or somesuch that would allow independant, average citizens (read: bloggers) to note their trust for certain authors. Bloggers and web content creators already obsess over Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – what would our news organizations look like if they similarly obsessed over their Trust Engine Optimization? Their Google Trust Rank? All of these notions use interface cues and concepts that are already widely-used by average Netizens of all stripes.
So, all that being said, how do we get the AP, Reuters, etc. to care about TEO?

Spam, Spam, Eggs And Spam, Ham, Spam And Eggs

I have a very simple question: why do I continually get bombarded with penny stock scam image-based spam at work and yet my GMail address has yet to get a single one? Why does my corporate identity lose out? Why do most businesses do such terrible jobs at filtering out the crap and yet Google and Yahoo! manage to catch, on average, 97-98% of the spam I would potentially see?
FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS: How can I convince Yahoo! and Google to allow my company to leverage their anti-spam resources and how in the world can I convince a corporate IT structure practically addicted to Microsoft Exchange to use said leverage?
FOLLOW-UP-UP QUESTION: Who, in the name of all that is holy, sacred and pure actually buys the stuff spammers “sell”? I, personally, think that anyone idiotic enough to do so ought to be placed in stocks in the town square and pelted with Hormel Brand SPAM™. Still in the can, of course, as I’d hate to have anyone forget the lesson they would be sure to learn.
1/18/07 FOLLOW-UP UPDATE: Wouldn’t you know it – an image-based V1agr4!-style spam got through to my GMail this morning. Heh.

Apple Stole My Thunder, Gol-Durnit!

I had a nice post all ready to go this morning in which I lambasted cell phone makers for their current lineup, ready to compare the offerings to those in the sports shoes market: flashy, ugly and without enough compelling features to cause me to overlook said flugliness. Then, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone live at Mac World San Francisco. Oy.
Watch the interface videos of it functioning as a widescreen iPod, a hand-held internet device, and the slickest phone you’ve ever laid eyes on.
Great, now everything stinks by comparison. Q? Crap. Blackjack? Practically Stone Age. Treo? Puhlease.
Now hand me that cup o’ Kool Aid. It’s not going to drink itself, you know.