Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Lunchtime artwork.

I booted up mediainlinux and made this piece of work using povray in 20 minutes, not counting final render time. I started with Mike William's tutorial on isosurfaces.

code is here:

light_source{<70,100,-20> color rgb <1.2,.4,.1>}
pigment{gradient y
[0.0 rgb <0,0,1>]
[1 rgb <1,0,0>]
translate 5e9*y}

#declare F=function{pigment{
turbulence 0.1
color_map { [0 rgb 1] [1 rgb 0] }
scale 1.2

isosurface {
function {y- F(x,0,z).red + 2.5 }
max_gradient 5
pigment {rgb .9}
finish{ambient .41}

Apologies for such a disappointing blog

I'm getting some traffic to this blog from google searches. Google's analytics service allows me to see the keywords used in search engines to find this blog. One sad thing is that I can guess that people are looking for answers to computing technical problems, find the blog through google, and only end up with my griping. Sorry folks.

We in the Church

This quote ran through my head today, from (RC) Archbishop William Keeler.
"We in the church stand with the unborn and the undocumented, the hungry and the homeless in defense of human rights and human life. It is a witness which is neither politically correct nor bound by partisan ideologies, but unfailingly constant."

Monday, May 29, 2006

"Christianish" Prayer in the National Day of Prayer

The blog What You Do, Do Quickly is from some in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, the more conservative or fundamentalist denomination of Lutheranism in the USA. This blog had a fascinating post on a prayer being offered up as part of the National Day of Prayer:

Prayer Excerpt:
Oh Heavenly Father,

You have made Yourself known to us as a nation by Your mighty works throughout our history. From the beginning, You have been with us through many wars and conflicts; Your right arm has saved us. We have been amazingly and graciously blessed.

Today, we confess our sin of not responding to Your right to rule in our lives and our nation. Too often we have despised and rejected Your will while imposing our own, and we are now facing the consequences of our disobedience. Draw us back to Yourself that we may return to Your ways once again. Without You we can do nothing.

You have promised that if we honor You, You will once again honor this great nation. That is our fervent prayer. For Your honor and glory we pray, Amen.


Their assessment of this prayer is:

>> The prayer is not only naïvely nationalistic, it is also purely pagan.
>> Worst of all, it sounds Christianish, but is conspicuously non-Christian.
>> It presents a Father but no Son, sin but no Savior, and glory and honor
>> but no Cross.

Now here's my list of reactions:

1) The National Day of Prayer has always bothered me, for reasons starting with nationalism. I'm not at all bothered by those commenters in the blog who called this prayer pagan.

2) Those fundamentalists in the LC-MS who continue to be incensed over Atlantic District President David Benke's presence at the post-9/11 prayer event at Yankee Stadium bother me even more.

3) At the same time, I am not sure I agree with those who say that every prayer that doesn't reference the Triune God is an affront. I'm wondering how hard it would be to find biblical (NT) ones that ever fail to do so. Specifically designing a prayer to be non-triune is another matter, even designing an event to include non-explicitly-Abrahamic religious sentiments is another matter still.

4) I don't claim that there aren't logical inconsistencies in 1)-3). Open to education.

Open Letter to Linus Torvalds

Hold up with the kernel releases until you, (yes, you) fix the wireless situation. You're gonna hurt the overall commercial viability of linux if you keep marching ahead, allowing some things which are critical to so many people to be left behind.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

SUSE 10.1 drops wireless support

From The Jem Report::
"The original release of SUSE Linux OSS 10.1 did not contain drivers for Atheros-based wireless network cards."
And the Linux and Open Source Blog quotes the Release Notes:
For technical reasons, it was necessary to drop support for Ralink WLAN cards. The old driver no longer works with kernel version 2.6.16 and the new version is not yet stable enough. We intend to release an update as soon as the new version is stable enough.
and then adds:
I was very upset as I really needed the card to function, which is installed on desktop, to have access to internet from notebook and other wireless devices, as my desktop also functions as router.

Hey, me too! I am upset, especially since I made the gesture of PURCHASING this PIECE OF CRUD! I just made my workhorse box into a paperweight until I can get a competently manufactured distro on it.

I need wireless more than printing.

So, as it goes with linux, I live in suitcases, flitting from distro to distro to distro, falling in and out of infatuation. The question is where to go next. Kubuntu's latest release, even as a live CD, still locks up on this one computer-- a bug that perhaps only affects one PC on the planet. Kanotix's web interface is still completely unprofessional and a recent release candidate wouldn't even recognize a USB stick. MEPIS' pricing scheme turns me off. Debian versions have been worse than SUSE as per "roll your own" wifi drivers. Gentoo RR4 has code I wrote (it ships with povray SDL files I wrote), so maybe it and Knoppix are the next ones to get a shot.

Technorati tags:

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Robots embracing

This is an interesting piece to me. I was trying to put three robots together facing different directions and accidentally had them overlapping. Then after looking at it for a few moments, it occurred to me that it looked like they were embracing, not in a romantic way, but a brotherly way, perhaps the way a "tough" teenager might hug his mom.

Sometimes when designing characters I line 'em up together for the purpose of inspecting them, and find them overlapping or violating each other's personal space. It makes an image sometimes I wonder how folks might react if they were to believe I'd put them so close to convey some kind of message, and then I chuckle both at the prudishness of people and my own paranoia. But this one is worthy of sharing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A review of arklinux live

I tried out ark linux live

This was a window that came up during bootup on an Aptiva desktop. This is mind you a box where damn small linux-not, the 83MB distro, had just successfully connected to the internet to allow my last posting. (DSL also had a wireless driver for my laptop I had used a few days earlier).

It's just plain laziness not to include drivers in this late stage of the game. Even more asinine is the assumption that you will just up and connect to the internet to go get a driver to enable an internet connection.

DSL linux & povray. half-figured out.

I figured out that my install of povray on DSL linux, using the mkwriteable command, left a permanent installation on the pen drive. However, I could only run povray from certain directories set up when I installed povray. I'm still scratching my head, but i was able to get povray to work upon a second reboot.

Here is an image, from the examples shipped with povray, quilt1.pov:

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Small Linux Distros & Pen Drives-- in case you were trying this at home

An update on my experience with DSL linux installed on a USB pen drive. Povray, an app I had installed myself, was gone on the next reboot of DSL. I am still searching for a way to make app-installs permanent but so far my reading suggests it's not recommended, due to memory usage. IMNSHO, without permanent install of apps, the whole point of the cute little exercise is moot. There's gotta be a way.

I am still quite impressed that an 83 MB distro of linux had drivers for my wireless card, and I repeat my righteous indignation at all the other distros that don't.

More experimentation to follow.

Outrageous juxtaposition of the day


Even so, if it is to be won, the fight against terrorism cannot be limited solely to repressive and punitive operations. It is essential that the use of force, even when necessary, be accompanied by a courageous and lucid analysis of the reasons behind terrorist attacks. The fight against terrorism must be conducted also on the political and educational levels: on the one hand, by eliminating the underlying causes of situations of injustice which frequently drive people to more desperate and violent acts; and on the other hand, by insisting on an education inspired by respect for human life in every situation: the unity of the human race is a more powerful reality than any contingent divisions separating individuals and people.

In the necessary fight against terrorism, international law is now called to develop legal instruments provided with effective means for the prevention, monitoring and suppression of crime. In any event, democratic governments know well that the use of force against terrorists cannot justify a renunciation of the principles of the rule of law. Political decisions would be unacceptable were they to seek success without consideration for fundamental human rights, since the end never justifies the means.

The Boston Globe, By Danica Kirka, Associated Press | May 23, 2006
Amnesty International said in a report released today that the relentless pursuit of security by the world's powerful nations had undermined human rights, draining energy and attention from crises afflicting the poor and underprivileged.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Da__ Small Linux- Not!

DSL-N is a version of linux designed to run with a live boot off of a device as small as a 50 MB business card CD. It is "dang small" because they've managed to get an entire linux operating system running off of such a small device. Compare this to the typical distro requiring a handful of CD's for its installation. I'm actually using DSL-N, which means it's "not" small, as it comes in at a whopping 83 MB.

I got it running on a Cruzer Micro 256 MB USB pen drive. I even was able to get povray installed on this USB stick with a little haggling, using a solution seen here.

A number of points:

1) See image below-- it represents the cristening of the DSL installation on my pen drive. It's not the prettiest thing I've done-- I forgot to turn on AA-- but it was one of the first files I could find on the underlying HDD for this box. Note: DSL was able to see files on my HDD without too much trouble.

2) I would note that an Ativa USB Flash Drive, 1.0 GB, failed to give me a successful boot after installing DSL to it. I tried two different versions of DSL, so I blame Ativa. Ativa USB stick did not work. In other words, I had a problem with Ativa's pen drive.

3) I compared the render times in povray for the scene file which creates the above image between my USB installation of DSL and a SUSE HDD installation on another box. Although the two boxes have the same chip speed, it wasn't a perfectly controlled experiment, as I had more stuff (apps) going on in the SUSE box. Well, the SUSE box still won: 702 vs. 731 seconds. I half-expected DSL to whizz by faster, but I guess DSL's residing in memory uses up more resources.

4) I am so impressed with this DSL, in that it worked well with my wireless card on two different boxes. It bugs me to no end when other distros don't come with the main wireless drivers built-in, and expect you to jump through hoops to get it going. The fact that this mini distro does it just makes me more indignant at the others. I may blog again about DSL after I've taken more time to play with it.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

"Wow, you can even do perfect shadows!"

I've shown my 3D artwork to many people who aren't familiar with raytracing techniques, and some of their reactions are quite cute. Both someone trained as a nurse and a 6-year-old had the same reaction: "Wow you can even do perfect shadows!"

The easiest thing to do in raytracing is shadows-- you make an object and a light source and something for the light to fall on, and the computer does ALL the work for you. No thinking required.

But maybe there's a secret to pleasing or reaching people with animation: use shadows. Does it really matter if folks are impressed at your work, and their enthusiasm is specifically due to ignorance of just how easy one aspect is? In the final analysis, I think not.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Google video bloggins just got easier.

Now that I'm producing some material again, I was looking for a publishing outlet. Here's a try with google video.

Edit: Hey, I like it! It works on my SUSE linux box. I'm wondering if it's by virtue of my having installed Flash 7, or due to some other virtue. In any case, I believe I"m going to start using this service more often!

What Brought you here?

I already know, thanks to the analytics service provided by google. The graph below shows the search words that folks used to find this blog.

The top hitter is "cleaning trout." That post was a joke where I showed how my own entering of "cleaning trout" into google's search engine brought up ads for maid services! I don't know if I should feel remorseful over having in effect played a trick on ten folks wanting to learn how to fillet freshwater catch.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Announcing "my" sermon-writing contest for ELCA seminarians

"Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word..."

"Where all obey you, no one will hunger..."

Do we have to choose between theological orthodoxy and compassion? Does all talk of social injustices have to be seen as a distraction from the business of the church? Do we have to give up an iota of Johannine or Pauline doctrine, of Augustine's writing, of the Book of Concord, lest we become some kind of uncaring brute? This project is a protest against the false dichotomies offered Christians today. I say there is no need to turn our backs on either Truth or Love.

The "Truth 'versus' Love Project III", the Greg M. Johnson Homiletics Award, is a $2500 sermon writing contest for students of seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with a deadline of August 15, 2006.

See contest description at:

See previous selected entries at:

Thanks for widely distributing this announcement among your seminary student friends.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Syntax for ffmpeg and MPG-1

Just a shameless indulgence in posting the exact syntax I found for making an MPG-1 animation out of a stack of PNG bitmaps using ffmpeg:

ffmpeg -i "zfixirishh10c4%2d.png" -y -b 2000 "zfixirish10c4E.mpg"

The number after the -b is the bitrate. Default is 200 and for an animation I just made was quite shoddy. So 2000 was 10x the default, giving higher quality and higher file size, of course.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Test of vimeo animation with "immediate upload"

Vimeo warned me this might not work since "You might want to wait until it's done converting to Flash; other video formats don't usually work well."

Let's try it anyway.

One of the Men from M.I.ME. Grows hair on Vimeo

Review of "Elephant Dream"

This blog post is a review of the DVD short produced by Orange: the Open Movie Project associated with the freeware animation software community for blender.

The movie is released under a Creative Commons Attribution License, which means I'm free to make derivative works of it (although pasting a handful of images is hardly a derivative work) as long as I give attribution. Well, all the images in this post are from the Open Movie Project.

Furthermore, I am one of a few thousand blender users who pre-ordered the film, sight unseen, in order to help fund the project. I originally thought it a fundraiser for the blender foundation, but the foundation itself apparently kicked in some funding as well. Nonetheless, I am proud in principle to support the blender foundation, starving artists, freeware & open source software, and anyone releasing artwork under creative commons licensing. But as a financial supporter of this project, perhaps I have a right and duty to speak out on what they put together.

The movie is despicable rubbish. Big bronx cheers to the producers for letting it get so dark. It's not something I'd share with a five year old: worms crawl over walls and the major narrative development is that one of two human characters has to hit the other one on the head with a hard object. If you're going to make the ultimate showcase for what your software can do, why do you have to use a genre & style that only appeals to the quarter most creepy of teenage boys? I guess given my own artistic style, I was expecting The Incredibles, I got Nightmare Before Christmas, only more creepy & violent.

I've noticed the same thing happen in comic books. I've acquired stacks of comic books ranging from the 1960's to the present. The old stuff occasionally dealt with some serious adult themes but kept a fun, bright style. The new stuff too often goes over the deep end with blood splattering, etc., without getting deep, it just gets dark. Let me say that again, there's stuff that's just twisted, and doesn't go into complex sociological analysis of a problem. For example, a kid decides to shoot Batman and does so for fun-- that's the story. Ape-men fight over women at a watering hole and after gratiutously showing us procreative encounters akin to rape, the males end up killing her-- that's the story. I've even decided against subscribing to one extremely well-written comic just because I thought the ads were bloody evil.

Ultimately, I speculate that this pandering to goth and gore is believed by some to be a response to the demands of the market, and that makes me more angry. I would purchase for my elementary school age children a subscription to the Fantastic Four of the 1960's if it were still being published. I am instead throwing away 1990's comics I'd received as a gift-- my own little book burning if you will-- for fear my son will see them before he's a teenager. They've made an anti-customer out of me, and that cannot be good for business.

Of course, I see this as a calling and opportunity for the church, to find ways to give voice to the hurts and fears of a new generation, so that they don't have to lash out in such spiritually destructive ways. While I wouldn't rule out buying another movie from blender, this one makes me want to find ways to support Christian themes in animation.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Gradually debugging the code.

I found if I delete entire body the spline for hair behaves normally. There you go!


I have no idea what caused this.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Scriptural inerrancy.

While driving to get a sandwich during lunchtime, I heard this on a Christian radio station:
"Do you believe that the Bible is unconditionally and completely inerrant, infallible, without defect and perfectly authoritative for every matter of faith and living out your life? If not, you're in trouble."
I find this to be horribly bad preaching. Rather than encouraging folks to take comfort in the work of Christ on the cross, the preacher raises up fears about exactly how much one believes in the scriptures. Can we ever believe enough? Maybe not! Perfect justice from God would require absolute belief-- all would fall short of the glory of God.

Don't get me wrong. I hold the bible to be so authoritative that I'm apt to attract the label of "inerrantist" or "literalist" from some I've debated with. I have not yet found any doctrinal matter in Christian tradition to be so difficult as to require my reaching for the concept of errancy as a solution. I am much more willing to invoke my lack of understanding or my incomplete sense of justice than I am errancy. Most of the justifications for errancy are quite cheezy and tenuous if I may say so, including those dredged up in the debates over creation and sexual ethics. I also believe that training folks to reach for the concept of errancy in the simple questions ultimately sows seeds of disbelief when the big ones come. I would also stress that cheezy-invocations-of-errancy are so problematic that I can imagine myself switching congregations or at least Christian magazine subscriptions over the topic.

The only thing worse than pushing errancy as an easy answer to tough theological questions, however, is pushing inerrancy as a condition for salvation and fellowship. On the Last Day, the Lord may take with Him some who don't even understand the scriptures let alone have an established opinion on inerrancy. This preacher is still wrong. It is not our failure to maintain perfect intellectual assent to the scriptures which has displeased God but our sins in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. The answer is not greater intellectual assent on our part but rather the work of Christ on the cross.


Immediately following that preacher's sermon was a report on how Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice was fighting the ACLU over the existence of a giant cross on public property in San Diego. More misplaced witnessing. A pox on both houses, I say...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hugo's Purpose in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

A post or two ago, I was musing on the insensitivity, the political incorrectness of making stories where one helps identify the bad guys by giving them physical infirmities.

Fascinating, I now see at The CyberStones blog, a description of Hugo's purpose in introducing such a character.
Actually, it isn't "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" - the name of the novel is "Notre Dame of Paris." At the time Hugo writes the book, Notre Dame was falling into disrepair. Hugo was a Romanticist, and here was this beautiful landmark that was crumbling - so he wrote a story with Notre Dame as the setting to generate interest in Notre Dame - that way funds could be more easily raised to restore it.

It's just funny how debilitating sometimes political correctness can be. Getting ourselves too hung up in the perceived insensitivies of certain protected classes can itself provide a crippling of the spirit (sorry for the pun, I actually let that sentence sit for a while before finding that word), and may not due those who are disABLED any favors.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A review of povray-containing linux live CD's.

Edited post: found some more distros with povray, tried them in "Crusty."

Another edit: corrected mistake about testing DVD-based-distros on a laptop only with CD's

Needless to say, povray is my favorite 3D computer graphics application. Its joy or its bane is that it's all about typing in elements of a particular, C-like scene description language. Inability to draw a straight line with a mouse would not, per se, prevent one from making great artwork in povray. You could make art by "typing with one hand" or with the right keyboard I could use "My Left Foot". I've often imagined it would be a wonderful thing to teach to folks with sharp minds but are injured or paralyzed; another dream is to teach it to teens.

Live CD's are my favorite way of playing with linux, in that you can do it on practically any computer without making a commitment. You may be able to play with thousands of professional-quality programs, print and do wireless with a live CD. As a treasure trove of software is already there, you don't have the aggravations, which can be extreme, of having to figure out how to download programs in linux-- which is sometimes a MAJOR hassle.

Putting the two together-- povray and linux-- is not always easy. Klaus Knopper of Knoppix does not want to put povray on his creation. Some might ask exactly to what extent he understands the povray license, or if povray could have written a less cryptic one. Anyway, the enthusiast of live linux and povray has to look elsewhere.

The Crusty test

I tried several distros both on some Aptiva desktops, and an older, 2.0GHx Thinkpad R40, which I will call "Crusty" because it just doesn't seem to work with a lot of live CD's. Therefore, any distro that works with this particular laptop is in my opinion has acheived better competency with hardware detection and is better suited for dissemination into a class who might have varied PC's of all sorts of vintages. As a control, the distro CPX MINI, a derivative of kanotix, booted up well on this computer as did Knoppix Math, albeit neither of them let me see the data on a Cruzer Mini USB stick attached to Crusty.

Distros worth mentioning but DO NOT have povray:

  • dyneBolic 1.4.1

    CRUSTY TEST: Squeaks by. Boots up but won't let me see the USB stick.
    • NO povray
    • Other graphic apps: Blender, gimp, a host of other graphic & multimedia apps.
    • USB Storage: worked on a desktop but failed with Crusty.

    Wolvix 1.02

    CRUSTY TEST: Squeaks by. Boots up but won't let me see the USB stick.
    • NO povray
    • Other graphic apps: Blender, gimp, a host of other graphic & multimedia apps.
    • USB Storage: worked on a desktop but failed with Crusty.

a list of live CD distros with povray

  • ClusterKnoppix

    • No internet. When I plugged a (respectable, non-Crusty) laptop into an active ethernet connection, I couldn't access the web. For this distro, perhaps it's forgivable, given its purpose.
    • povray is Povray 3.02 w/o INI's. I actually wasn't able to do any render even after some tinkering. I don't know what the problem was.
    • Other graphic apps: blender,
    • Apps: average number of games.
    • It allowed read & write of a USB stick flawlessly

  • Gentoo RR4

    CRUSTY TEST: It's a DVD-based distro, and Crusty only has a CD drive. :(
    • povray, including support files for include and ini-- even "icons" and a full set of example scenes!
    • Other graphic apps: has GIMP (just missing from the menu), has blender and OpenOffice.
    • Wireless: made easy connected to unencrypted wifi
    • USB storage: read and executed a povray file off the stick--works great.
    • Has Gparted on the desktop-- like, do we really want to tempt new users by leaving it out there to see??
  • Parallel Knoppix

    CRUSTY TEST: Fails. Does not boot up on this laptop.

    • povray including the support files for include and ini
    • Other graphic apps: no blender, no GIMP, no Openoffice.
    • It allowed read & write of a USB stick flawlessly
  • Taprobane

    • povray, including the support files for include and ini
    • Other graphic apps: no blender

    PaiPix Linux 5.0

    CRUSTY TEST: It's a DVD-based distro, and Crusty only has a CD drive. :(
    • Internet connection to an active ethernet cable worked fine
    • has povray 3.5 which was working fine
    • Other graphic apps:blender, k3d. More are listed at the bottom of this page.
    • lots of games, which could be a distraction in a classroom experience
    • USB storage: It never saw the USB stick
  • Quantian Scientific Computing Environment 0.7.92

    CRUSTY TEST: It's a DVD-based distro, and Crusty only has a CD drive. :(

    • Internet connection to an active ethernet cable worked fine
    • has povray 3.5 which was working fine
    • Other graphic apps
    • blender
    • Other apps: a moderate amount of games. Full list is here
    • USB stick worked with some permission haggling. Not necessarily a detriment
  • MediainLinux 4-RC5

    CRUSTY TEST: Passes with distinction. Could see and access files on the Cruzer Mini USB stick.
    • Internet : ethernet connection worked. Wireless worked in a public wifi setting with a mere "pump -i eth0"
    • povray is 3.5 but comes without any includes. Consequently, use of #include "" leads to an error unless you supply your own
    • Other graphic apps: blender, k3d. Some are listed here
    • Other apps: plus side is no games. Having too many games could prove to be a distraction in a classroom setting.
    • USB stick allowed read & write flawlessly

And the hands-down winner is...

MediainLinux, for an audience where you don't know what kind of computers the folks have. Even though its povray installation has omissions (namely, includes), it shows the greatest technical competence when it comes to wireless and USB devices. Can you imagine an art class where you lose everything you've done at the end of every session? Alternatively, for your "own" use, or a setting where you can pre-screen compatibility with the hardware, I would recommend Gentoo RR4. One of my next tasks with be to remaster if possible a mediainlinux version with a healthy dose of includes.

Happy Computing!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The morality of humpbacks

Tonight's Prairie Home Companion had a Guy Noir sketch with a character named "Igor" who was a "humpback". It's funny how I've been reading a lot about character differentiation in character design-- that the all gotta have such a very different shape such that they are recognizable by profile alone. My animation system for povray is in some ways utterly brilliant, in some ways so clunky not even I can produce anything at all with it. One thing that is hard is re-doing chest cavities when body size changes greatly. I have oft been thinking of some other way to get different-shaped characters. Garrison Keillor just gave me an idea.

But I don't know if I like how politically incorrect it is-- to make your bad guys into cripples. Seems like a relic of an age we're all glad we outgrew.