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Lie To Me

I just got through reading Chapterhouse: Dune. (My recent attempts at aphorism blogging are Frank Herbert’s influence.) Chapterhouse deals with a transition period for the Bene Gesserit, a society of women dedicated to the survival of humanity.

One of the hallmarks of the Bene Gesserit is an extremely fine-tuned emotional and physical control. In the original Dune, Herbert spends pages describing nuanced exchanges that take place in tone, stance and facial expressions. What the characters say is as important for how it is said and what it omits as what it includes.

Having just finished that, I ran across a new series Lie To Me that opens pretty much straight from Malcom Gladwell’s Blink with a detective agency that specializes in interpreting unconscious facial, verbal and bodily ticks to crack cases. It’s like CSI except they’re digging secrets out of living people instead of corpses and the dirt.

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Dropping Out

When you’re sitting at your desk working, do you ever realize that you’ve been tensing your shoulders? You just take a moment and let the tension drop? There are times when I sit and when I smoke that I have that same sort of relaxation, but on the inside.

I am just one little person in the world. I am not more valuable than anyone else and I don’t have to work so hard to prove that I am. I can just be me and everything will be ok. It’s so much easier than pretending to be the smartest and more important than everyone else — let someone else have the spot at the top of the pile. Humility means not having to compete so hard.

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Hardware and Software

Back in the day, computer systems were designed as combinations of logical gates. These were etched into silicon to create specialized computational devices:

Full Adder

Eventually the complexity of systems reached a point where we developed generic processors that could perform generic operations and the computational complexity was moved out into software that could be changed much more easily than rewiring circuits.

Consider results of an experiment found via the experience sampling method. In ESM, test subjects are beeped at random intervals and they conduct a short survey. The results were interesting:

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Planting Cut Flowers

To plan for the future without having a sense of history is like trying to plant cut flowers.
— David McCullough

I’ve been thinking about cryptography in P2P systems. Projects like TOR and Freenet focus on using cryptography to protect anonymity.

The grounding principles is that this allows the dissemination of information while protecting the publisher’s identity. Using these systems, people can coordinate their activities in opposition to oppressive organizations, be they corporate, religious or governmental.

History suggests that the surest anathema to tyranny isn’t a well organized opposition, but instead public martyrs. Opposition creates sides, people pick a side and stop really thinking about the issue. Martyrs, however, shake things up. They make people look at their choices in a new light and reconsider them.

How many people do you think saw people putting out cigarettes on the arms and backs of black people during the sit-ins of the 60’s and thought, “That’s my side? This is what I stand for?”

Nonviolence is its most effective as a tool for political change when it is public enough that it has the opportunity to change minds.

I certainly respect the work of those who seek to protect anonymity. I think there’s a space to be filled though for technological solutions that allow very public verifiable discourse. After all, privacy is simply the ability to deceive effectively.

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Cuteness du Jour

Rabbit In Love

These sidewalk drawings are also awesome. Definitely going on this list of things to try and use when I try and make my house the coolest place on Earth.

Btw, I’m lovin’ on BitTorrent. I’m downloading the Fedora Core 5 ISO (so I can upgrade Amarok to support m4a). I’ve been pulling between 600 and 700 kilobits the whole time. It’s going to take about an hour and a half to download the 3gb file. If it were a DVD, I could be watching it in real time.

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More geekery. Today’s fun centered around videos and trying to get the damned things to play. The good songs DVD is part of a larger project to send a bunch of stuff off to Mauritania. Another bit of that is a couple DVDs, one with Scrubs and another with Coupling.

Through the magic of BitTorrent, I have all the episodes of both, but Coupling will only play in Xine. This isn’t a huge problem for me since I’m a geek and have Xine on my Linux box. It is a problem though for the non-geek people I’m sending this to. So, I needed to fix it. The only problem is I know diddly about video stuff.

Well, the file extensions are mkv, so I started there. It turns out that mkv stands for “Matroska video.” When you watch a video on your computer you are not just watching, you are listening as well. The computer needs information about how the audio and the video sync up in order to play correctly. Matroska is a format to describe that. Another container format that I’m sure most everyone has seen is Microsoft‘s avi format.

In looking on the Matroska site, VLC is one of their recommended players and MPlayer is supported as well and neither works. So, more digging is in order…

I found some tools for manipulating mkvs, and mkvinfo let me know that my files contained an Ogg Vorbis sound stream and a H.264/MPEG-4 AVC video stream. (Matroska looks to be a pretty intriguing format, supporting things like multiple audio channels and subtitles.)

This was interesting as as H.264 is pretty new and the only place I’ve seen it so far is in IPTV podcasting on hacker sites like Hak5 and FTS. I was pretty sure this was where the problem since Ogg is old.

Well, I wandered the internet trying to find someone else having a similar problem, but to no avail. So then I decided to reencode the files. If you’ve ever seen Multiplicity, you are familiar with the “copy of a copy” principle. Every time, some data is lost and you never do anything but get further from the original. I was pretty much stymied, so I figured I’d bite the bullet.

None of the tools on my Fedora Core 4 machine could encode H.264, so I decided instead to encode to MPEG-4. It took me a bit to figure out how to get FFmpeg to do it, but eventually, I got it working.

Lesson #1. Encoding video takes for freaking ever. The MPEG encoding is a two pass process where the first pass collect some statistics and the second uses those to encode the file. These episodes of Coupling and about 50 minutes and 688px x 400px. On my 1.7gHz processor it takes about 25 minutes per pass.

Lesson #2. Whoever created these files did some magic. The original file, which looks really good, is 205mb. My MPEG-4 was over 400. This is not an acceptable increase. If I hadn’t seen how little they could be, I’d probably accept it since I expect a two hour movie to be around 1.5gb. Since I know it is possible to do it in less space though, I am bound and determined to match that.

I’m currently running the video through x264 to see if I can’t get some better compression. In this one each pass takes about an hour and a half, so I’ve got some waiting yet to do. I’ll post the result.

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D’accord, je vais essayer d’écrire un petit peu en français même si je ne l’avais pas fait depuis six mois. Je le fais grâce á aujourd’hui je me suis acheté un cadeau: Les Loups-Garous de Thiercelieux.

Pour les gens qui connaissent, Loups-Garous est un jeu comme “Mafia” aux États-Unis. Tout le monde fait semblant d’être les villageois de Thiercelieux. Ils dorment, se cachent leurs eux, puis les loups-garous se réveillent et égorgent quelqu’un. Le lendemain, les villageois restant choissent une entre eux de lyncher. Le cycle continue jusque soit tout les villageois sont morts ou tout les loups-garous.

Christ, this is hard. I know the words, but I don’t know where to put them.

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Oeil Poché

Apparently it takes some time for a shiner to develop:

the day after getting jacked at five

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Well, it looks as though I may soon be homeless once again. As I mentioned previously, I have a place to live right now. The place is a little expensive for the space and the roommates a little more sedate than myself, but they’re entertaining and it is two blocks from work.

So, I was planning on spending a couple months here and then reevaluating before moving on. It looks as though there might be a bit of an issue with that as the house is currently unraveling.

It began initially with an overflowed toilet on the first floor. The house, like many in DC, is old and the pipes are small. There was a clog and this caused large quantities of filthy water to come spilling out of the downstairs toilet when someone took a shower upstairs. This didn’t really bug me, as such things are bound to happen from time to time and the landlord had a plumber in within a day to get everything snaked out. It freaked my roommates out a bit though who haven’t had their poop aversion worn away by a couple years in Africa. ☺

Thus it was into an already tense situation that the revelation that the previous tenant of my room was a dipshit came to light. The house responsibilities are divided into people cleaning various and sundry things except for the occupant of my room who did the bills. Now that he is gone the bills are coming due and the discovery has been made that he was fucking around with the numbers and only paying the late fees. Thereby he reduced the cost each month, but it means that essentially no bills have been paid for several months. All the money that people have been paying has been going to the late fees and had no effect on the actual balance leaving an outstanding balance of over $1300 and the gas to soon be disconnected.

I would so want to beat someone’s ass if I discovered that they’d been essentially throwing my money away every month.

The ideal solution to this situation is to go over what the bills, disregarding late fees, were for the last few months and then take the dipshit to court for all the money he wasted. If the landlord will do this though, I don’t know.

My roommates are understandably displeased and are concreting plans to move out en masse. I’m not really inclined to go with them since, as I mentioned, there is a certain disparity in how sociable we are. Ideally, I’ll get to stay in this house till the end of March and then I’ll move somewhere else. Gonna get to see how that pans out.

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