Thursday, December 28, 2006

New Year's resolutions, GameCube

I'm currently in Pennsylvania with my in-laws over the holidays, so I've been pretty much off the grid. We've had a grand time visiting, exchanging presents, eating too much good food, and building a potato cannon. Seeing as 2007 is fast approaching, it's time to start thinking of resolutions. From exercising more, eating fewer snacks, or remembering to call your mother on her birthday, we all think of various ways we can improve our lives, by starting good habits or ending bad ones. I took some time off this afternoon and compiled a few suggested resolutions that will assist you in your pursuit of free software. Check out the entry at Free Software Magazine entitled Free software New Year's resolutions.

As the Nintendo Wii is still a bit difficult to get a hold of and there's a persistent rumor about it dropping to $200 and having DVD playback in early 2007, I decided to purchase a used Nintendo GameCube for the time being. I know there's a homebrew scene, there's a Linux distribution available, and I've heard of people hacking IDE drives onto the thing. Oh, and there's a fairly large number of excellent games for the GameCube that are pretty cheap right now, so I should be able to finally play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Cubivore, Killer7, Donkey Konga and a few other titles that have been recommended to me. I'll write more about the GameCube mod scene when I can do some more research.

My wife and I wish you and yours the very best in the years to come!

Friday, December 22, 2006



One of my friends is a manager at a local movie theater, which uses a digital projector to show advertisements between features. After seeing the It Burns When I Wii video, we figured we could one-up it with the equivalent of a 344" television screen. We wanted to use my friend's Nintendo Wii in the theater, but we didn't want to have to deal with yards of cabling. Inspired by doctabu's design, I built my own wireless sensor bar for less than $20. Doctabu left out something important; a resistor, which is needed to limit the current to the LEDs.

Parts - what's essential:

  • 4 x Infrared 5MM LEDs (Radio Shack # 2760143)
  • 1 x 15 ohm 1/2 watt resistor (Radio Shack # 2711102)
  • 1 x Battery Holder for 4 AAA (Radio Shack # 2700413)
  • 4 x AAA battery
  • Small gauge electrical wire (at least 7 1/2")

Parts - what I recommended:

  • 2 x Project Enclosure (3"x2"x1") (Radio Shack # 2701801)
    • Housing for your device.
  • 1/4" drill bit
    • Drill holes in the housing for the LEDs and wire.
  • 1 x Package of 5 LED Snap-Holders (Radio Shack # 2760079)
    • Keeps the LEDs in place.
  • 1 x SPST Submini Toggle Switch (Radio Shack # 2750612)
    • Turn it on and off.
  • Four small cable ties
    • Place on either sides of the wire where it goes through the hole and trim. Keeps the wires from pulling out.

My design consists of two IR emitters connected by a single piece of wire in a series circuit. I left the battery holder on the outside to make it easier to change the batteries.

When you build your own and you're finished soldering it together, put the batteries in, take it in a dark room and flip the switch. The LEDs will have a very faint, flickering red glow. Infrared is beyond the range human sight, but there's a little bleed-through into the visual frequencies. Some cameras with will be able to pick it up as a greenish glow. To use the emitters, turn the device on and place it on a level surface with about 6-7 inches between the two inner LEDs.


I built the wireless sensor bar, brought it over to the theater and tested it on a regular television. Fortunately, it worked! After the patrons left, we hooked the Wii up to the data projector and house sound, put in Wii Sports, and brought the controllers and the wireless sensor bar downstairs. We set the emitters on the backs of two chairs and stood a few rows back. The wireless range of the controllers was great enough to work! We suffered no technical glitches from the distance; we could even play up on stage, craning our necks up at the gigantic image, immersing ourselves in the game.

In conclusion, there's more than one way one can Wii, and sometimes, size does matter.

Edit - Thank you, Make Blog, Digg, Engadget, menéame,, Kotaku,,, Gizmodo, and for hosting a high resolution version!

Edit 2 - Over 500,000 views on YouTube and almost 800,000 views on a bootleg version on!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Backing up your system, finding balance

My new entry, Backing up your system with free software is up at Originally titled I ain't afraid of Norton Ghost (I'm learning to be more graceful about editorial changes), it describes some free tools and techniques one can use to back up and make an image of their workstation.

I still feel like I'm still fumbling around a bit there. While a weekly writing deadline has been very good for me, I don't think I've quite found the right groove yet at FSM.

Part of the difficultly has stemmed from the definition of "free". I originally thought free meant not having to pay for it, and classified closed-source freeware, no-nag shareware and open source software as free. Their definition is a bit more strict; if it's not open source, it's not truly free. It's a challenge to shift your perspective in that manner, but it's manageable.

My other stumbling block is finding the right equation for success; what's popular? I can't predict what will be hit yet, even looking at other people's work. Sometimes, an entry that I think is substandard will generate tens of thousands of hits, and another that I thought was stellar only gets a few hundred.

Obviously, there's no black and white solution; it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right message.

With this particular definition of free, it's easy to slip into the anti-corporate role, railing against Microsoft or other large companies... extremists are obnoxious, and that's not my style. I feel more moderate; it's okay to find balance, and while I lean in a particular direction, I don't want to go off the deep end. I don't think Steve Ballmer is the devil.

However, I do like the 37signals approach, which is to pick an enemy and make something better than what they're doing. Hence, my title, "I ain't afraid of Norton Ghost" - I intentionally picked a popular commercial package and made it a target, and my weapons were free and open source software. Such a violent analogy and a confrontational tactic, yet that's a proven method of success.

In the end, the entry title was changed but the structure remained the same, and I got an above-average number of hits. So it goes.

I'm putting the finishing touches on my first article for Free Software Magazine... if accepted, it'll be in Issue 16. I haven't forgotten about the home server security, but real life and some other priorities have taken precedence. Also, I've got something big and fun planned in the next day or so...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Zend Certification and a drink recipe

As of Friday, December 15th, I earned the title of Zend Certified Engineer. As best as I can remember, the exam concentrated primarily on precedence, casting, array manipulation, and file operations.

To get an idea of what the test process was like, take an 8oz tumbler, add a few ice cubes, fill it with 2oz vodka, 2oz Rose's Lime Juice, and 2oz of Triple Sec. Stir gently, then jam the whole glass into your left eye. Okay, so it wasn't that bad; while stressful, it's manageable... and coincidentally, is a recipe for a Kamikaze.

Certification tests are one of those necessary evils that one must suffer through in the pursuit of professional development. I feel my strengths lie in concepts and structure, and my greatest weakness is the ability to memorize and regurgitate. This is advantageous when doing systems analysis, but it doesn't help when taking a standardized exam specifically designed to test your knowledge by requiring the selection and differentiation between a series of extremely similar solutions.

I'm aware that just because you're good at taking a certification exam doesn't mean you're a good programmer. I do feel that the training that led up to the certification helped me as a programmer as it delved into some of the more obscure aspects of the language. In addition, networking with my classmates was invaluable. I'm glad I went through that process, and I'm equally glad that it's over.

So, what's my next goal? Zend PHP 5? Solaris 10? We'll see...

I'm going to let the dust settle a bit with the fast approaching holidays, and I've got a couple big projects coming up in early 2007; writing a PHP tool to analyze survey results stored in MySQL, writing a working prototype of a job description database in Ruby on Rails, and working with the rest of my department to upgrade the web server, including transitioning from PHP4 to PHP5. That's in addition to my regular writing duties for and whatever scraps of a social life I can squeeze out... but first, time to celebrate and relax with my wife.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

KompoZer - Unofficial Bugfix Stopgap for Nvu

My latest entry at Free Software Magazine, KompoZer - Unofficial Bugfix Stopgap for Nvu is now up. Nvu, the free cross-platform WYSIWYG HTML editor reached its acclaimed final 1.0 release in June of 2005. Official development then ceased to allow work on its successor, Mozilla Composer 2.0, leaving users with no bugfixes and patches. The post discusses the history and controversy of KompoZer, the unofficial community stopgap release of Nvu.

I'm really enjoying my week in Manhattan. The Zend PHP Certification boot camp is progressing smoothly, in spite of a delay in getting the official books (we had print outs of the PDF instead, so I had to transcribe all my notes once the books arrived). It's a small class in a small room; only four students and a teacher. However, this kind of setting is well suited for this kind of material and allows more individualized training. I'm fairly confident that I'll be prepared for the exam on Friday.

I've been to the IFC Center twice, the first time on Sunday to see David Lynch's Inland Empire, then last night to see the premiere a new print and revival of El Topo, the "first" NYC midnight movie. Inland Empire was everything that a David Lynch movie could be; emotional, surreal, and building a complex character and structure only to completely break it down without any compassion for the viewer. I liked it, but it was difficult to follow and felt more like an in-joke than a story.

Before Inland Empire, an advertisement for El Topo stated that the 7:20p show would have a special guest, so I bought an advance ticket. As it was John Lennon and Yoko Ono's favorite movie, I guessed that Yoko Ono would be there to say a few words since Lennon was busy elsewhere. The night of the show, they announced that she was supposed to be there, but due to unforeseen circumstances she was unable to attend. Instead, they played a section of Imagine and read a letter from her saying that she wished she could be there and gave her love to the audience. The newly restored print was absolutely beautiful, and I really enjoyed the movie, even more than Inland Empire.

This morning, the New York Post reported that Yoko was the victim of a $2 million extortion scheme from her chauffeur, complete with death threats, videos and photos. I suppose that's a legitimate excuse for not being at the premiere.

After El Topo, I went to Benny's Burritos in the Village, only a few blocks away. I remembered their Mojitos from previous trips and asked for one, only to be politely told that they didn't make them anymore. I ordered a margarita instead, then was pleasantly surprised when the waiter brought over a Mojito, saying the bartender did have the supplies after all. My jerk chicken on a curry tortilla was tasty and what I needed. While Benny's isn't haute cuisine, it is a nice place to get a good meal for a reasonable price with personable service.

Late that night when I was exiting the subway station, I happened to look up. The top Empire State Building was piercing the low-lying cloud cover, reflecting and diffusing its holiday red and green lights in an ethereal mist. I like this city, and I wish I could spend more time here.

Thursday, December 7, 2006


This is extremely frustrating and unfortunate. I finished writing my entry at around the same time that this other one was posted, and the Gina's currently has over 1000 diggs. At least I know it was a good idea, and Gina's article was well written and a slightly different perspective on the same issue. Congratulations!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Visualize Your Disk Usage, Console Hacking

I've posted a new entry titled Visualize Your Disk Usage at Free Software Magazine. Ever wonder about what's been eating up your free space in Windows? Two free utilities that graphically represent disk utilization are analyzed and compared.

Continuing the discussion about subjugating game consoles... Over the last week, hackers have had a field day with the Wii. The WiiMote can be used in Windows using GlovePIE (see this HowTo for the script) and on OSX with DarwiinRemote. There's a video demo of the Wii-Mote controlling Half-Life 2 in Windows. If you're interested in Wii (well, Gamecube) home brew and emulators, check out wraggster's tutorial on how to exploit the GC Action Replay for just that.

PlayStation 3 Linux has also gotten some notice as it's pretty easy to just create an image of a Blu-ray disc, including movies and games. Inevitable and not particularly shocking, but some people just get the wrong idea and think that Linux is a piracy enabler. A tool is a tool; it's up to the user to decide whether or not to use it for good.

I've been teaching myself Ruby on Rails at work. It's turning out to be a great way of making CRUD (Create, Retrieve, Update, and Delete) based applications quickly and easily. I ran through part one of the classic Rolling with Ruby on Rails tutorial, turned around and in less than an hour created a prototype application that would have taken me at least a day to get to the same point in PHP. I do like how it pretty much forces you to use the Model-View-Controller (MVC) design pattern, separating business from presentation. Much to learn and even more to do before it's even close to production ready...

Speaking of PHP, I'm traveling to New York City on December 10th for a week-long Zend PHP Certification Boot Camp. While I've been using PHP and developing applications for a couple years now, it'll be nice to have some formalized training and certification. In my free time, when I'm not studying or visiting friends, I'm planning on watching David Lynch's Inland Empire and maybe even catch Avenue Q, the subversive Sesame Street parody.

I'm currently writing a follow-up for to the How to Configure an $80 File Server in 45 Minutes entry. I'll discuss how to take steps to protect, audit and secure your server. Imagine the relief you'll feel when you eliminate the script kiddie dictionary attacks from your auth.log!