DIARY 2007















Tue, Jan 30

<15:23 EEST> During the very short walk from the city centre (Forum) to my apartment, I spotted two people wearing Koss Porta Pro headphones. It's nice to know that some of the young whippersnappers appreciate good audio quality, even if it's bastardized by MP3 or similar compression :)

The reason why the headphones caught my attention is probably that I'm planning to get a portable flash player myself. Not that I suddenly want to become a podhead eternally immersed in entertainment; I've realized they have quite productive uses too, particularly with recording functions.

At JYT I'm currently involved in making music and sounds for Helgen elämä (Helges Leben), which incidentally will be the Finnish premiere for the German play by Sibylle Berg. So far the rehearsals have not been musically intensive, and I've only been there to demo / play back the pieces, so lugging my laptop with sound card is overkill. Of course, there will probably be times when I need to edit stuff on the fly, and fine-tune levels when we're closer to the premiere. But for many purposes it suffices to be able to play back stuff.

Incidentally, during yesterday's rehearsals I had some free time and I came up with a new tune, with no instruments around with which to play it. I did try recording my humming with my laptop's builtin microphone, but in the end I just typed the notes down. I thought it would be convenient to have a tiny portable recorder, like the ones with micro cassettes. With stereo line-in it would also be useful for more serious field recordings.

It turns out there are a number of MP3 players with such recording capabilities, which happen to be nice and simple (i.e. small and inexpensive) otherwise. Currently I'm considering between two 1-GB Creative Zen models, the V Plus and the Nano Plus. Documentation is lacking, unfortunately, and I'm not sure of the exact recording specs, but then again with such devices an MP3 compression may not be the weakest link. I'm not planning to replace my proper 'home studio' gear anyway.

Of course, a true geek would prefer an openly hackable player where you could install Linux or Rockbox as the firmware. Besides, having the word "Zen" associated with a portable music player must be the epitome of irony, while the patent-encumbered and technically inferior MP3 is teh 3vil. The problem for me is that these 'proper' players are more bulky and expensive, and for once I'm looking for a simple appliance. Wonder if I have to return my geek card on the way out ;)

Tue, Jan 9

<03:44 EEST> Funny how these moments of sitting down to type tend towards the end of the waking day. Anyway, I've had a strangely intense movie experience, with the best film I've seen in a long while: Pan's Labyrinth. It evoked a kind of emotional dilemma of being both deeply sad and thoroughly optimistic at the same time, and I struggled with that thought at least until the end of the following day.

There were many brief moments of comedy in the film, and later that night I remember thinking how they were necessary in order to avoid unbearable, hopeless sadness. On the other hand, they were very realistic parts of the whole, which brings me to another dilemma solved: why exactly this somehow simple and old-fashioned movie was so damn good.

It was the natural combination of realism and fantasy. In this sense I find close comparison in The Anubis Gates, which I regard as being both SF and fantasy at the same time -- not some halfway combination. In a similar vein, Pan's Labyrinth was both 100% realistic and 100% fantastic, 100% of the time.

The main reason why I suddenly find myself fascinated by realism, after all the praise for science fiction and fantasy, is attention to detail. Those little things you can omit and make a credible movie, are very carefully considered in this one. Even when they happen to be gory or otherwise intriguing, there is absolutely no indulgent exaggeration. This is overall a great story well told, with every little detail doing its own part.

Fri, Jan 5

<04:26 EEST> The perceived improvement in Dosbox's efficiency naturally prompted me to run it on a somewhat lesser machine. I'm pretty sure I've tried Llamatron on Dosbox on the same machine before, and only now it is playable. There are occasionally brief freezes, which don't affect actual playability much, and CPU utilization is around 50..60% at 665 MHz.

Thu, Jan 4

<00:56 EEST> As the U3 problem has been hanging unsolved, I decided on a radical solution and a bit of perverted fun: Installing Windows on my laptop and running the official U3 uninstaller ;)

The laptop came with XP Pro, which I never booted, and I had a spare 4 GB drive. I wouldn't trust Windows to install only on a certain partition on my Linux system. Anyway, I thought the recovery CD could be run quickly and painlessly. How wrong I was ;) Instead of a recovery image, the package had a generic install CD and a separate driver disc. From a technical standpoint, a 'proper' install CD is of course much cooler. I could also take this opportunity to judge the desktop readiness of Windows ;)

The basic installation took about 70 min, and it was annoying to have to answer questions now and then. A sensible installer would ask everything in the beginning, and do the time-consuming part on its own. The driver install was sensibly automated (with custom options) by Fujitsu, and it took about 15 minutes. It was a lot more enjoyable than hunting drivers off the web, or from many separate CDs, as is usually the case with Windows installs.

Overall, I'm pretty impressed with the system. But this only includes the base OS, now taking over 2 GB of drive space, and you'd need to download or buy applications separately. With something like Ubuntu you're better off in less than an hour. Nevertheless, I'd say that Windows is starting to become ready for the desktop :D

<23:31 EEST> Continuing the Windows experiment, I installed it again using QEMU on Linux. The Gentoo Wiki notes turned out helpful, as well as the quick start guide. Networking works automatically, but I haven't got sound or USB working yet; Windows noticed the drive, but soon crashed.

Raw USB device access should be possible with some more tweaking, so it might be a viable solution to the U3 issue. As per the Gentoo Wiki instructions, installation does crash if you use -kernel-kqemu, but you can use it with the working system. The result is a pretty credible Windows experience, with the expected slowdown occasionally ;)

Impressed by the emulation/virtualization performance, I once again thought of the nice DOS games I wasted my childhood with ;) I remember getting fairly good results with Dosbox some time ago, so I gave it a chance before attempting the more involved install of a real DOS on QEMU.

Turns out that at least Llamatron and Stunts run perfectly on Dosbox :D I recall that both of these had slight problems last time I tried, but that was with a slower machine, and I suspect the program itself has improved too.

The whole emulation/virtualization deal is pretty interesting, not only because it's been on the geek media a lot recently. Makes you think about what's going on between hardware and software, since that's what you have to know if you're writing an emulator. It also brings to mind Matrixish issues, like when my friend today commented on QEMU fooling Windows. How do I know my Linux system is really running directly on the hardware? It's actually a valid question for PS3 Linux which (for now) can only run under a hypervisor, where access to some things including graphics acceleration is restricted.

Of course, virtualization can do a lot more than playing Windows and other games. In fact my initial test of QEMU was to run the Gentoo install CD, and I imagine this could be a nice way to test other operating systems. QEMU can even emulate some other processors besides x86, though it will naturally be quite slow. The main problem for me right now is the lack of memory. Giving half of the half-gig of this laptop to Windows caused a noticeable hit on the rest of the system. Though it's a lot fairer than giving it the entire machine ;)

Tue, Jan 2

<02:33 EEST> The year 2007 started off with a JYT party with the theme of an unusual style. A suspiciously large number of people were dressed up as punks or other kind of raggare, which I think tells a bit about what kind of people we are ;)

Today's technical topic is about U3 flash drives, and since there's quite a bit to learn and hack on, I decided to put up a dedicated page.

<20:50 EEST> Here's a nice little book I read over the New Year: Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller. It strikes a few chords in my interests, including conspiracy theories and environmental issues, and finds rather surprising links. One overall theme is the appreciation for seeing big things, along the lines of Heinlein: "Specialization is for insects."

Risto A. Paju