Without Parallel

By all rights, today should’ve been my last day of class… ever. All my classes (ignoring the CERIAS Security Seminar, which doesn’t count) are Tuesday/Thursday, and this is the last week of class of the last semester of my college career.

Except it isn’t, technically. There’s a bonus session of CS 690C scheduled for Friday morning for those of us who haven’t had a chance to do our final project presentations yet to, well, do our final project presentations.

Which is a shame, because my last regulation time class ever would’ve made a better last class ever.

Today was the last day of project presentations in CS 525 (Parallel Computing) and, as luck would have it, I was scheduled for the final slot. (Lucky indeed, as I changed my project topic about two weeks ago.) I talked about BOINC, and you can find the slides here.

So I’m giving the presentation, and it’s going pretty well. Then someone’s cell phone rings. I keep going. The professor answers his phone. I keep going. He talks into it. While I’m giving the presentation. I can’t make out what he’s saying, since he’s trying to be quiet, but he’s still talking on his cell phone while I’m presenting.

OK, so The Show Must Go On, right? I keep going. A couple minutes later, a pizza delivery girl walks into the room. I’m a bit taken aback by this, and I ask, “Did someone order pizza?” I figure she just walked into the wrong room, and I’m kind of trying to play it off. But no. The professor had ordered pizza. I say, “I guess I’ll keep going,” and continue the presentation.

As it turns out, it’s the professor’s last class as Purdue as well, and he ordered pizza for everyone to celebrate. So hey, free pizza. He also hands out the teacher evaluations for the class, and announces he doesn’t care what we put down on them, since he’s leaving anyway.

So here’s what I write on the comments section on the back (which, let’s be honest, no one actually reads anyway):

I guess it doesn’t matter what I write here, since you’re leaving after this semester, and I am too.

I just lost the game.

I can only hope he takes The Game back to Greece with him.

And after that, the pizza delivery girl comes back in. Apparently, when she had first come into the room, somehow she had whacked her ring on the door, and the diamond in it popped out. So we looked for a while on the floor for it, but I don’t think anyone found it.

So yeah, that would’ve been my last class at Purdue ever and would’ve made at least a moderately amusing story, if not for the overtime session tomorrow morning, which [as of this writing] I still need to finish up the paper for.

How To Try And Fail To Rip And Edit Video In Linux

The problem seems deceptively simple: rip a minute of video from a DVD and encode it into an MPEG file.

Oh, wait, you’re using Linux. Good luck with that. You get your choice of three types of programs:

Type 1: Anything Related to MPlayer: Despite the fact that MPlayer’s interface is designed to prove your inferiority to The Great And Knowledgable MPlayer Developers, Experts Of All Video, you have to admit that it is able to handle just about any video file you throw at it. One might think that its video encoding tool, cleverly titled mencoder, would be equally capable. After all, it does require approximately 50 different command-line options in order for it to do anything.

However, there’s one minor flaw in the documentation. According to the man page, the -ss option lets you specify at what time index to start encoding from. That’s a typo. It should actually say, the -ss option tells mencoder to dump core immediately. So much for ripping only that minute you wanted half an hour in.

Also, lest you think using a graphical mencoder graphical front-end like AcidRip can at least protect you from mencoder’s cancer-causing command line, be warned that it crashes more readily than Evolution, and that takes some effort.

Type 2: GStreamer-Based Tools: The exact opposite of the first type, these are actually designed to be usable by people other than the developers. Alas, they are textbook examples of the GNOME stereotype of “we removed all the features to make the interface easier.” Thoggen is clean-looking and straightforward, but it only lets you rip entire titles. Not only can you not specify a range of time indexes, you can’t even specify chapters. Just entire titles. No, I don’t want to rip 50 minutes of video and then find a way to delete 49 of them. Plus, Thoggen only supports encoding into Ogg Theora which, while it makes my inner open-source bigot happy, means it probably won’t play on Windows without having to go codec hunting.

Then there’s PiTiVi, a self-described “non-linear video editor.” That’s another typo. It should read “non-linear video non-editor,” for the actual video editing part hasn’t yet been implemented. That’s right, the version packaged for Debian is nothing more than a UI mockup. Seriously.

Type 3: Obscure Command-Line Tools You’ve Never Heard Of, But Are Packaged For Your Distribution: These tools have two defining characteristics. First, their names are completely devoid of vowels (long live Unix!), with no discernable connection between name and function. Second, even if you can somehow figure out which one you want, the documentation lies about how to invoke it, and they just spend 100% of your CPU time without actually doing any productive work. I’m looking at you, mpgtx and MJPEG Tools (the name of the suite may have vowels, but the programs included in it don’t).

Quote of the Week #89

[M]en thus become more economically rational after exposure to lingerie or sexy women.

Bram Van den Bergh

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Stupid Hyperliteralist Wish Fulfillment

I have three projects that will be due soon:

  • CS 525: Paper and presentation on BOINC. Current status: research done, need to write paper and create presentation. Due: next week.
  • CS 626: Final paper covering 12+ topics of interest for securing an IT enterprise. Current status: 1/12 at first draft, 5/12 at research collected, 6/12 not started. Due: two weeks.
  • CS 690C: Implement physical network mapping protocol. Current status: functionally complete, needs more testing and polish for demo. Due: next week.

On top of that, there’s a show at Hillenbrand Thursday night, and then Friday afternoon we go on a road trip to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio to perform there Saturday night. And that’s not counting miscellaneous and sundry other things (finally putting an image gallery on the Ship of Fools website, documenting how said website works for the webmasters for next year, working on the next Music Applet release, etc.).

So yeah, there’s some pressure here. We’re not at “I’m screwed” pressure, but we’re above “nothing like doing things for getting things done.” My to-do list can’t decide whether or not it needs a vertical scrollbar. (Needing a vertical scrollbar is my metric for deciding, “seriously, start doing some of this stuff.”)

In my situation, one might be prone to thinking, “Man, I wish I weren’t under so much pressure.”

Accordingly, this evening we lost water pressure. Not really what I was going for.

(Yes, it’s back now. No idea yet what happened.)

They say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” They don’t say what to do when life stops giving you lemons for a while, and then gives you stank water.

Finite Simple Group (of order two)

This song almost gives Pi Pi Pi a run for its money as “greatest song about mathematics ever.”


Quote of the Week #88

You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.

– L. Ron Hubbard

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Music Applet 0.9.1 Released

Music Applet 0.9.1 is out. The applet now supports XMMS2 in addition to Rhythmbox and Banshee. The right-click menu has been cleaned up, and there’s now translations for Norwegian and Portuguese.

For those of you hoping Muine support would make an appearance, that’s been pushed back to 0.9.2. There’s also a whole bunch of other things I have planned for future releases, so stay tuned.

Metastasizing in Your Funny Bone

Four in the morning. It’s when sane people are asleep. But other people are crazy — crazy about fighting cancer, that is. Purdue’s Relay for Life was held last weekend to raise money for the American Cancer Society (which, despite its name, is actually against cancer).

You see, Relay for Life is an annual 24-hour event where participating groups of people walk around a track. Naturally, this gets a little boring after a while, so there’s various and sundry things to do when you yourself aren’t walking in circles.

That’s where we come in, where by “we”, I mean “the Ship of Fools“. We were slated to take the stage at 4 am to entertain the tired and sleepy participants.

Of course, before you can perform at 4 am, you have to stay awake until 4 am. Ryan secured us a study room in Hillenbrand where we could spend the pre-show night keeping each other awake. It was at this time that the rest of the group was introduced to 1000 Blank White Cards.

The way the game works is simple: you literally draw the cards you use during the game during the game. Each card has a title, a graphic, and an effect. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

One of the great things about playing 1000 Blank White Cards in a dorky, creative group like ours is that most of the cards you wind up with are awesome. It’s especially great when someone is dorky enough (John, a.k.a. Freshman, a.k.a. Tripod) to appreciate cards you draw like “Doctor Who‘s On First” or “R2-D2 v. The Daleks” (or, presumably, had we not had to adjourn before getting through the entire deck, “Babel On (Line) 5“). Which isn’t to disparage my “Stephen Colbert Gives You a Truth Enema” (tell everyone what your score is, but don’t look at the score card, because that’s facts, not truth), though sadly “Tiktaalik Attacks!” had no effect (all players originally from coastal states lose points). Stupid midwest.

Anyway, the show. Now, let me preface this by saying that this week we’ve been having some very nice weather. Last weekend, however, was freezing cold. We skipped straight from winter coat weather to T-shirt and shorts weather. Stupid midwest.

So year, middle of the night, freezing weather, performing outside. But despite that and some scheduling snafus, The Show Must Go On (TM), and we took the slippery, frost-covered stage as scheduled.

Despite those conditions and everything, the show actually went quite well. We even managed to keep ourselves down to only one off-the-cuff cancer joke (Ashley [to audience]: “GIve me something you do once a year.” Ryan: “Fight cancer!”). Overall, it was worth the shivering and demihypothermia.

32nd Skeptic’s Circle

The 32nd edition of The Skeptic’s Circle is up at Pooflingers Anonymous. You’ll note that a certain someone has a certain post included.

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Network Discovery Protocols

Who wants to learn about network discovery protocols? You do! I’ve finally uploaded the slides I used for a quick presentation on Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) and Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) for CS 690C last Tuesday. (And by that, I mean “finally linked to them from here”, since I ended up presenting from that very web-based copy.)

So if you want an overview of what network discovery does and what the differences between CDP and LLDP are, there you go. And if you don’t, here’s the answers anyway: (1) things on a network can find out what they’re connected to, and (2) politics.

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Good News on HB 1266

According to NCSE (third item down), HB 1266, this year’s anti-evolution bill in Missouri, is effectively dead. Its supporters are claiming it’s just because the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee can only submit so many bills to the House per year, and they dropped HB 1266 to make room for others. No idea if that’s the only reason, or if the opposition from teacher and school organizations also played a role.

Whatever the reason, it’s good news for science education in Missouri. We’ll see what happens next year.

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Quote of the Week #87

It’s the patriotic duty of all of us to skip political commercials.

– Craig Newmark

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Picket Fence

Here’s a tip: if you’re going to confine users inside a severely restricted shell where only a tiny handful of commands are allowed, making one of those approved commands the Python interpreter sort of defeats the purpose.

When you log into picket, you can only use a limited number of commands.
Type "commands" to see a complete list of available commands.

commands        output a brief list of all available commands
help            display a list of commands with description
logout          exit this program
passwd          change your file server password
quota           check your quota or disk usage
scp             secure copy
sftp            secure ftp server (only for connecting TO this host from another host)
webfix          fixes permissions in an existing www directory

fsh> commands
bye                 cd                  chgrp               chmod
commands            du                  exit                help
logout              ls                  mailbox             man
passwd              pwd                 python              quit
quota               rdistd              rm                  rmfile
scp                 sftp                source              webfix
/opt/ssh/libexec/sftp-server ?                 
fsh> python -c 'import os; os.system("/bin/sh")'

Bad Design

If people designed apartments like they design software.

(Sadly, these apartments are real.)

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The Show To End All Shows

Last Friday’s big Ship of Fools / Andy Ober Orchestra Show was fantastic. I bet all those people who went to see John Mellencamp perform at Elliott instead are regretting that decision.

The improv portion of the evening was easily the best performance we’ve ever done at Purdue. And the performance by Andy Ober Orchestra, featuring several cameos by Fools and friends-of-Fools alike, simply cannot be described in words.

Luckily, reports indicate that top men are working to put together a video of the show now. Top men. (Not to be confused with Top Man, who’s too busy spinning to be any help.)

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