You can kill the background for speed, if you wish.[x]

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Amazon MP3 is the best thing to happen to me since bacon!

DRM-Free. A smattering (686 at the moment) of price-free songs. Huge selection. And a native Linux version of their downloader? And it's simple, clean, and just works? How have I not known about this before? A status is just not enough to express the awesomeness of it. Now, if you're not rushing to find out what this Amazon MP3 thing is right now, let me elaborate. Because you should be. Why is Amazon MP3 so great?
  1. DRM-Free. Okay, this one's a bit geeky, but only on the surface! DRM is the copy protection on songs that, in reality, is only inconvenient - it's why you can't play the songs you buy on iTunes anywhere except your (Windows or Mac) computer, your iPod, and whatever else you pre-approve. This can all, of course, be circumvented by burning it to a CD and re-ripping it. Which is why it's ridiculous, and pointless. Amazon MP3 just gives you...MP3s. Plain and simple, no DRM, play them where you like. Like, say, on Linux.
  2. Free Songs. At the moment, they have 686 songs available for free. And the best part? They're not all worthless songs either. My favorite is Elf's Lament, which is fantastic ballad about an elf and his vision for a life beyond his current miserable, anti-union job. I found some Michael Buble, Sixpence None the Richer, Heart, Flecktones, and Jars of Clay - and that's just the first page!
  3. Cheap songs. A lot of songs are just cheaper than iTunes, and definitely cheaper than the $1.29 iTunes charges for their smaller selection of DRM-Free songs. Their albums are also generally cheaper, and they also have a deal a day where they deeply discount an album - and again, not just worthless ones. They had a Muppets Christmas album for $0.99 the other day, and when Coldplay's latest album came out, they sold X&Y for $1.99. Not only that, but they advertise them on Twitter, so I can know what they are every day on my phone. Right now they even have a free Holiday Sampler and Jazz Sampler.
  4. Selection. I don't have the most obscure music tastes, but they had just about anything I was looking for. This tends to be an issue for iTunes competitors, but supposedly they have 4.5 million tracks to iTunes' 6 million - very impressive when stacking up against the de facto, household-name market leader. This is where the weight of being Amazon comes in very handy.
  5. Great User Interface. This is one thing that was a problem early on - they must have vastly improved it, because I love it! It's all very clean and well-put together. They have a simple, no-nonsense flash previewer that works flawlessly, AND if you don't have flash, it gracefully degrades to a simple m3u preview download - no "You don't have flash" nag box, it just uses another way. The download process is also brain-dead simple, and clean - just click buy, and downloads a small file with the info in it that opens with the downloader client, which downloads the song, puts it in the right folders and such in your music library, and keeps a record of all the songs you've downloaded. If you don't want to use the downloader (not can't, since it works on Windows, Mac, and Linux), you can just click the "I want to download the MP3 straight-up" link, and it will. How cool is that?
  6. They're not iTunes.. I don't have to use iTunes to download songs - they have an optional, very small and inobtrusive client - and it works on Linux, natively, easily, and beautifully. Huge plus for me. It works nicely, is convenient, and - on top of it all - is entirely optional. If you want, you can just download the song like anything else.
  7. They're not Wal-Mart. Okay, I'm not terribly principled on this, but if it's this easy and convenient, it does make me happy to not be giving Wal-Mart more money. Additionally, they were DRM-free MP3s from the start. Wal-Mart has since shifted away from DRM-Laden WMAs (aka Windows-only), but they did start there.
Here's a good comparison - from a year ago. They've since vastly improved their user interface, and no longer require the download of the client app, which were the main problems. If you're still not super-excited, or at least a little interested, you need to have your head checked. Or you're an Apple fanatic. Either way, please, help me help you, and let me know of your issues. As for me, I'm asking for an Amazon Gift Certificate for Christmas. Take that, iTunes.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Video Rotation Adventures

So recently, I've been brushing up on my bash-fu. That is to say, learning it. Because although I have been passingly familiar with the command line on Linux (I run Ubuntu pretty much full-time on my laptop), I didn't know any fancy bash stuff. It started the other day when I had to mass rename some files (as part of another adventure in something that slips my mind at the moment), and I use some bash looping to do it.

Well, now I had an AVI to rotate. I had initially planned on using something like Kino or Pitivi, but I could only find rotation in Kino (under the oddly-named "composite" transition effect), and besides, Kino barfed trying to import my AVI, and ffmpeg would only export probably every hundredth frame to DV. So I decided to work on my bash-fu.

The video was one where my dad rotated the camera partway through the video. I initially planned on using something like VirtualDubMod to export the frames that are rotated, and rotating them manually with GIMP, and splicing it back together, but nothing exciting was happening before he rotated it, so I just decided to start after he had rotated the camera fully. I selected that section with AVIDemux, which is more or less the Linux equivalent of VirtualDubMod. I selected the portion of video I wanted and went File->Save->Save Selection as JPEG Images, named them "sequence", and put them in a folder ("ToRotate"). After some quick googling, I found a post that pointed me to ImageMagick. I installed it with a quick

sudo apt-get install imagemagick
and was on my way. Rotating them was easy (I love the command line for this), with
mogrify -rotate 90 *.jpg
. If you want to see the filenames flash by, you can add a
as well, as it's nice to see that it's actually doing something while rotating 3500 frames.

After that, it was a matter of putting them back together and adding the sound back in. For the former, I tried ImageMagick's

, but after it either died (with the unhelpful error message of "Killed") or barfed on mpeg2encode, I found a bug report that pointed me to the ffmpeg syntax for the same thing. This, however, required the numbers to be not zero-padded, which AVIDemux did. However, with my mass-renaming under my belt, I did a little loop as follows:

counter=0;for i in $( ls sequence*.jpg ); do mv $i frame$counter.jpg; echo $counter; let counter+=1; done

Which just went through and renamed sequence0000.jpg to frame0.jpg and so on. I changed the prefix to preempt any existing file collisions. Once I did that, I could use

ffmpeg -i frame%d.jpg rotated.avi
to re-create the video. It was also noticeably faster than ImageMagick, by the way.

The final step, adding the sound back in, was also a job for ffmpeg. For this, though, I resorted to the excellent FFMPEG GUI that I use to convert videos for my Sansa e260, WinFF, which despite its name is very cross-platform. I once again chopped out the part of the AVI I wanted with AVIDemux, but this time saved it as

, and then with WinFF converted it to Audio (mp3). I then was able to use AVIDemux to open the rotated video and replace the audio by going to Audio->Main Track, selecting "External mp3," and selecting the mp3 I had created with WinFF. I also had to change the framerate (Video->Framerate) from 25 to 30 fps, since ffmpeg evidently didn't agree with AVIDemux on how many FPS it should be, so the audio was too short for my clip. Perhaps this could have been tweaked on either end (ffmpeg or AVIDemux), but I'm not too worried. Changing it in AVIDemux the second time around worked fine.

My video was finally happily rotated, ready to go on Facebook, and I had learned some more bash/linux-fu. I probably could have found a program that would have just rotated it for me, but really...what's the fun in that?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I was thinking...

What if you hopped on a plane going just over Mach 1, headed due West, and flew for a couple days, or weeks? I, of course, would propose bringing an SR-71 Blackbird out of retirement for the task, but any in-air-refueling, Mach-capable plane would do the trick. The effect of this would be that it would always be the same time. If you took off at 10:53 am, it would always be 10:53 am, wherever you were, forever. 10:53 am on Tuesday for 24 hours, and then you'd fly over some arbitrary point in the Pacific opposite Great Britain, and it'd be 10:53 am on Wednesday for the next 24 hours. And so on. It would probably mess with your head a lot. And when would you sleep? 10:53 am? Obviously, but for how long? It's just something that popped into my head, and was too long for a status. All of my notes aren't deep and profound, I promise.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Invention of Pinochle

It's three o'clock in the morning, at a nondescript pub in a vaguely British country. It's raining outside, and most of the clientele has gone home long ago, but those remaining are waiting out the storm.

They have long since played every card game they can remember, and are tired of them. Giving up on the prospect of another card game, Jack decides to dip into the reserves behind the counter. His cocaine is for emergencies only, but this degree of boredom definitely qualifies.

Each shoots up, going around the circle. After taking in the effects of the narcotics for a while, Oswald pipes up.
"Hey, let's play cards."
"We've already played all the games there are. That's why we're on crack."
"No, let's...invent a game."
"Okay, sure, I'll grab a deck."
"Okay. No wait...grab two. With the same back."
"All right, whatever you say..."

Pete jumps up and grabs a couple decks and throws them at Oswald. He starts to sort the decks, much to the bewilderment of his friends.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Just's brilliant!"
When he's finished, only the 9's and up from each deck are left, in one sad excuse for a set of cards.
"We can't just play with a normal deck...that's for losers and people who aren't on drugs. We need a NEW deck! And as for gameplay, you can play with tricks, right? Or with melds. But in THIS game, you play with tricks AND melds. But neither of them is going to be quite like other games' tricks and melds. Because that would be confusing."

He explains that first you pass cards, which is a familiar concept. You have a partner, okay, that works.
"So runs are what, a minimum of three?" asks Jack.
"No, they have to be J Q K 10 A. Of the trump suit."
"Wait, you mean 10 J Q K A?"
"Nope, in my game, 10 is the second-highest card, right behind A."
"But 9 is still low?"
"Yep. Oh, and if you have an extra King with the run, you get 2 points, and an extra Queen, you also get two points."
"Oh, I get it. Same for Jacks and 10s then?"
"Nope, just Kings and Queens. But if you have a nine of trump, whether or not you have the run, you also get a point."
"Umm, okay, let's forget the runs for now. What about the pairs?"
"You don't do pairs."
"You see, pairs are stupid. You have to have one of each suit. And you don't call them pairs, they're 'arounds'. Ace-arounds, King-arounds, Queen-arounds, Jack-arounds."
"And 10-arounds?"
"Nope, 10s don't count."
"But they're the second highest, right?"
"Okay, so then you do the tricks?"
"Nope, I'm not done yet. You can also do pairs."
"I thought you didn't do pairs."
"You don't, unless they're married. So kings and queens of the same suit get you two points."
"Umm, okay, that works. Then tricks?"
"No, I've always liked shooting the moon. We need to do something like that. If you get the Queen of Spades and..."
Oswald cuts the deck and picks a card.
"...the Jack of Diamonds, you get four points. Oh and if you get both it's...thirty."
"Thirty points? How much is the run?"
"Okay, can we just do the tricks now?"
"Yeah, I suppose I'm done for now. Now for the tricks, it works like normal, except if you can, you have to try to take the trick. I'm getting tired of making up rules. But I did have this one idea..."
"What's that, Ozzie?"
"At the beginning of the hand, you bet how many points you can get. Kind of like poker. And whoever bets highest gets to pick what suit trump is."
"So...what happens if you don't get that many points?"
"You subtract your bid from your score. Obviously."
"And if you do?"
"Nothing. You just got to pick trump."
"Okay, okay, and what, you get a point for every trick or something?"
"Nope, you get points for the cards in the trick."
"What, 3 points for 10 A, 2 points for face cards, and 1 for 9?"
"Nope, you get one point for A 10 K."
"Wait, just King?"

At this point, his friends are getting a little edgy, and messing with edgy crackheads is never a good idea. But Oswald, being a crackhead himself, doesn't quite understand this. He continues, oblivious. "And as for the end of the game, it's like a race. First person to...150 points. No, make that 1500! That'll be awesome!" Jack pulls out his revolver. Seeing the newly brandished firearm, Oswald nervously attempts to smooth things over. "Okay, fine, we'll just make everything worth 10 times as much. Just add a zero. How about that?"

A shot rings out. Jack was not amused by his concessions, and the world is quickly less one card-playing crackhead. Oswald's friends decide to clean up the mess, call it a night, and head home.

A few weeks later, however, they once again find themselves strung out on cocaine, and without any card games left to play. They come across their dead friend's modified deck, and for some reason unfathomable to anyone who is not on narcotics, decide to write down what they could remember of his rules and try this game. The rest, as they say, is history.

The man the world now doesn't know as Oswald Pinochle gave his life for that of the card game that bears his name, creating a whole new market for modified card decks. Some people hail him as a genius. Those people, however, are also usually using hard drugs. Most of us just wish he'd gone home when it started raining.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Reasons that I am ENTP (aka Me: The Manual)

So I was reading through some ENTP descriptions* and was struck by how ridiculously ENTP I am. I've pasted some relevant passages below that were particularly fitting and explanatory of how I work:

"Inventors are confident in their pragmatism, counting on their ability to find effective ways and means when they need them, rather than making a detailed blueprint in advance. A rough idea is all they need to feel ready to proceed into action...Inventors are usually non-conformists in the workplace, and can succeed in many areas as long as the job does not involve too much humdrum routine. They make good leaders on pilot projects that test their ingenuity. And they are skilled at engineering human relationships and human systems, quickly grasping the politics of institutions and always wanting to understand the people within the system rather than tell them what to do. No matter what their occupation, however, Inventors display an extraordinary talent for rising to the demands of even the most impossible situations. "It can't be done" is a challenge to an Inventor and elicits a reaction of "I can do it.""

"Good at analysis, especially functional analysis, ENTPs have a tolerance for, and enjoyment of the complex. Enthusiastic, ENTPs are apt to express interest in everything, and thus unwittingly inspire others who find themselves caught up in an ENTP idea. The ENTP is the most reluctant of all types to do things in a traditional manner.

Non-conformists, ENTPs enjoy outwitting the system and use rules and regulations within the system to win the game - whatever it may be. ENTPs are good at innovative projects and can administer them well if dull routine is not involved."

"the ENTP's primary interest in life is understanding the world that they live in. They are constantly absorbing ideas and images about the situations they are presented in their lives. ...They generally understand things quickly and with great depth. Accordingly, they are quite flexible and adapt well to a wide range of tasks. They are good at most anything that interests them. As they grow and further develop their intuitive abilities and insights, they become very aware of possibilities, and this makes them quite resourceful when solving problems."

"ENTPs are less interested in developing plans of actions or making decisions than they are in generating possibilities and ideas. Following through on the implementation of an idea is usually a chore to the ENTP. For some ENTPs, this results in the habit of never finishing what they start."

Also, I found this part humorous, but also somewhat applicable:

"Boredom is the bane of the junior ENTP. Generally immature until their late 30s or early 40s, the young ENTP is a socially awkward animal since they rarely fit in with the herd, and require 40 years to comprehend why this is and what to do about it."

So yeah...that's me.

*that's my Myers-Briggs personality type for those of you who don't know. If you haven't, you should take one - the MyType app if you're on Facebook, or the one over at Humanmetrics if you're just on the internet.

On a sidenote, while poking around, I found these maps that were an interesting testament to the nature of Seattle, and the rest of the USA. Check them out: