Sunday, June 29, 2008

Incisive Commentary on Culture of the Day

"Don't they have anything for kids here?"
said by an 8 year old, during a visit to Midtown Comics, the Manhattan-based comic books store.

I found the answer was no. Speaking as an avid comics fan, the comics industry has slouched from something that used to capture the imagination of eight-year-olds towards material for the guy living in his mother's basement. Even the front page of features, as of this writing, and image that looks like someone splattered with blood. I say this is for faux-grownups.

Monday, June 16, 2008

This animation got me choked up.

It was made by Aidan Gibbons

Online linux help forum jerks

In the debate between who's behaving worse in online help forums-- idiot newbies or unhelpful know-it-alls, I have to weigh in on the side of defending the newbies.

One particularly annoying tactic from the know-it-alls in all of open source projects is to complain that someone is using up bandwidth in the forum to ask stupid questions. As if there were questions too stupid to be answered in THAT forum. The tactic involves telling the newbie the question is soooo stupid that they should instead go to google to find the answer. It hasn't happened to me directly lately, but I did see it happening in the blender forums to the poser of a question I would have asked myself. Then I found the coup de grace.

I was in dire straits with my Knoppix linux distribution. Yes, I did something very stupid, but I needed help quickly. So I turned to google. And what do you think was the number two hit on the page? Someone saying, "...why don't you go to, and search about linux commands..." The irony is that through an attempt to search at, I found the jerk's unhelpful words in the list of results at google itself! Look at item number two.

As I've said before, the unsociable behavior of linux enthusiasts is as much a barrier to adoption as any dirty trick of Microsoft.

Slicing the pie a different way

A recent episode of the podcasted show "Left, Right, and Center" revolved around the idea of hopes for "A New Center." I found this to be a wholly narcissistic exercise, as everyone posited their pet causes as the kernel around which a New Center would form. That ain't gonna happen-- carving the pie in such a way that you get no crust for yourself. What could happen is a realignment, a slicing of the pie along a different axis. Consider these points:
  • Fox News network, known for conservative programming, gets citations from the FCC for lewd sexual content.
  • The New York Post, known for conservative political opinions, always features a bikini or underwear shot in its first 10 pages.
  • Sean Hannity, a conservative talk show host, ardently defended the ardently pro-abortion (but Iraq War supporter) Steny H. Hoyer over the ardently anti-abortion (but Iraq War critic) John Murtha in the battle for House Majority Leader.
  • A conservative political action group boos John McCain when he gets to the podium because of his moderate views on immigration.
  • Many conservative pundits are telling Joe Lieberman (pro-abortion) how much they like him, and were against John McCain (pro-life) during the primary season
Notice a trend? I didn't even get to Rush Limbaugh's jokes about the "brilliant" sexual humiliation of detainees.

I'm not saying that Republican voters are bad people. I am saying that what gets posited as "conservative" is in no way required by the teachings of the Christian Church. I don't think that John Paul II (Father "No to War") would be pleased with a media source that was ardently pushing the war and showing lewd pictures of women for titillation purposes. I can dig up some sermons from Martin Luther that give me the same impression.

I would like to see the political pie sliced in a way that puts the above bulleted mindsets into a different party than the actual teachings of the Christian church. Not that the church must be a player on the political stage. The church however IS a player on the philosophical stage. And some philosophies celebrate lawlessness. We've seen that "conservatives" have no problem with pushing abortion and lewdness. This kind of "conservatism" is not so much about small government (consider a few-trillion-dollar war), but rather about getting off of Archie Bunker's case. Laissez faire.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

ttf-opensymbol problem in Linux upgrades

I had a Knoppix 5.01 box and wanted to upgrade the software, if not the whole distro. I ran into a problem with error messages related to ttf-opensymbol . I could no longer apt-get dist-upgrade or apt-get upgrade or even install a single package until this was fixed.

I googled up a lot of suggested fixes, but none of them seemed to work. Several people were suggesting that I touch many of the directories associated with fonts, but this was of no help. The one that worked for me involving dpkg --purge was by Florian Kulzer as shown here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Here to London: 42 minutes and the Pale Blue Dot

I found these two interesting science-related videos, so I thought I'd make into one blog post.

Jumping into a 7,964 mile deep hole

Seen here:The Pale Blue Dot

Friday, June 13, 2008

Why your ubuntu box is stuck with blender version 2.42

I have kubuntu installed on one box. I became concerned that the adept package manager was holding out on me. I noticed that the version available for blender was stuck at 2.42, whereas the had available 2.45, and some other distros as live CD even came with it. For a while, until I did some more research, I was tempted to believe that ubuntu "didn't care" about us having the latest software upgrades. Then I realized the down-level-ness of the software at the ubuntu repositories may have been due to a very good reason.

Quoting at length from the UbuntuBackports page,
"Ubuntu releases a new version of its OS every 6 months. After a release, the version of all packages stays constant for the entire 6 months. For example, if Ubuntu ships with 2.0.x, it will remain at 2.0.x for the entire 6-month release cycle, even if a later version gets released during this time. The Ubuntu team may apply important security fixes to 2.0.x, but any new features or non-security bugfixes will not be made available.

This is where Ubuntu Backports comes in. The Backports team believes that the best update policy is a mix of Ubuntu's security-only policy AND providing new versions of some programs. Candidates for version updates are primarily desktop applications, such as your web browser, word processor, IRC client, or IM client. These programs can be updated without replacing a large part of the operating system that would affect stability of the whole system."
This makes a lot of sense.

Looking at the ubuntu repository package page for blender, one can see that feisty is "stuck at" 2.43, but feisty backports allows one to get blender 2.45. Instructions that ubuntu provides for adding backports are shown here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

McCain vs. Obama: speaking

I've heard the pundits made a big deal about the differences in speaking quality between the two candidates at recent speaking engagements over the past week. McCain doesn't seem sooo anemic here. I offer posts to Youtube videos of the two speeches as a public service. (If anyone would like to comment and offer a link to a lengthy campaign speech of either candidate at their better, I'll consider and replace those posted here.)

McCain at Kenner, Louisana, June 3rd 2008

McCain Part 1:

McCain Part 2:

McCain Part 3:

McCain Part 4:

Obama at St. Paul, MN, June 3rd, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Candle Experiment

This was just so incredibly cool, that it made me smile watching it. I always loved playing with candles as a kid.

Find more Science experiments videos

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A source of last-minute bible studies

Have you ever been under the gun to lead a bible study on a chapter of the Bible and suddenly ran out of time? Looking for a way to compliment the questions and study material from a lackluster study guide you already have? I found an amazing resource at Intervarsity Press. The tricky thing is that the studies are not easy to find through google, nor even through any table of contents at Intervarsity's web site.

But if you type into your browser,
h t t p : / / w w w . i v p r e s s . c o m . / b i b l e / [name of book in lower case],

(removing the spaces, you'll have a pretty good chance of finding an index to a list of chapter-by-chapter studies prepared by Intervarsity for most important books of the bible. I found them to be scholarly, responsible, appropriately thought-provoking, and good for a small group, one-hour setting.

Here are some examples.

but not:

Monday, June 09, 2008

Knoppix 5.3.1, HDD-installed, USB stick workaround

Knoppix 5.3.1 is one of the coolest Linux distributions around as a live CD. Some folks say you should keep it that way: don't install it to your hard disk drive as a bootable OS. I'll leave that question up to you, but I have found a workaround for two likely problems that could occur if one were to HDD install. The problems can occur due to how Knoppix handles permissions for USB drives and the sound system.

As a live CD, Knoppix gives permissions to the user named "knoppix." If you HDD install Knoppix, these permissions are still given to the user named "knoppix". This causes a problem because most people are not going to log in with a userid of "knoppix". If you have problems with a USB stick or audio in Knoppix, look to see if the permissions file is not set up properly.

The problem is that this bug had been around since at least Knoppix 5.0.

Here's the fix:

Edit the file /etc/udev/knoppix.rules.
(You might try sudo gedit /etc/udev/knoppix.rules )

For the items which say "knoppix" in the original file, change them to $USER.

ACTION=="add",SUBSYSTEM=="block",KERNEL=="[sh]d*" RUN+="/bin/sh -c '/usr/sbin/rebuildfstab -u knoppix -g knoppix -i &'" ACTION=="remove",SUBSYSTEM=="block", RUN+="/bin/sh -c '/usr/sbin/rebuildfstab -r -u knoppix -g knoppix -i &'"

change it to:

ACTION=="add",SUBSYSTEM=="block",KERNEL=="[sh]d*" RUN+="/bin/sh -c '/usr/sbin/rebuildfstab -u $USER -g $USER -i &'" ACTION=="remove",SUBSYSTEM=="block", RUN+="/bin/sh -c '/usr/sbin/rebuildfstab -r -u $USER -g $USER -i &'"


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hair for mancandy

Here, I used two "Empties" to set up a Wind and Spherical Curve Guide to the hair. It even works in blender 2.43! The figure is mancandy.

Based of course on the blender nation article on hair, which made reference to this avi video from the site.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Supporting the Troops, but not in the way YOU think.

In this episode of "A Prairie Home Campanion", in the "News from Lake Wobegon" segment, Garrison Keillor offers an interesting tribute to our service personnel. He talks of a Memorial Day Service that takes place in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Listen especially to the monologue at around 9:38. Link to mp3 download from the show's webpage.

"[These] ... young men put on the uniform of anonymity in loyalty to us. And who went out there although they had grave doubts and misgivings. Grave doubts about this cause. They were full of doubt. And also feelings of terror. They went off in defense of the South, they went off to fight the Kaiser, they went off in defense of democracy in Korea and Vietnam and in Iraq they went off with grave misgivings, but nonetheless they were loyal to us, even at our worst, full of political foolishness and cruelty, they nonetheless they were loyal to us, knowing that we had better angels than these. And so they did what they needed to do."

And then Garrison led the crowd in singing the National Anthem. Moving.

Too often, today's prophets of political foolishness and cruelty use the words "Support our Troops" to hush any reflection on the grave doubts we've all had, about whether it's time to bring them home.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Settings for stylish hair in blender 2.46

I told my wife I was getting involved in designing hair styles. She said, "Might be stylish to SOME."

Anyway, here are some screen grabs of the parameters I found useful in making hair for a character in blender 2.46. If you click on an image you should be able to see a higher-pixel version where the parms are legible.

It was fun for me to make these images if this post is not actually value-add to anyone else.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Does God love Woody Allen?

I saw this video at boingboing. In it, Billy Graham addresses the question of whether God finds Woody Allen lovable. Oh come on, he's so adorable here, you have to say yes.

Billy does a good job of witnessing to God as having love (even for Woody!) and to the beneficent intent behind God's law. (Yes, even fun things can hurt us if misused). No one could have done a better job. I applaud Billy for going and for how he carried himself. The interesting thing is how can a Theology of the Cross get expressed in such a situation? Does it lend itself to the genteel and glamor of a 1960's talk shows? Is it nice? If you're saying it right, does the host offer you an invitation to return, or a handful of stones?

I guess if a Theology of the Cross might require "saying a thing like it is," it may be just as important to realize that it's not merely being a jerk. I've met religious conversationalists who seem to confuse the two.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A review of blender-containing live CD's

Nineteen different live CD Linux distros were tested on a laptop. Knoppix 5.3.1, SLAMPP, and Wolvix make the cut in my first round of evaluation of the best live Linux CD for 3D graphics work. Artistix and Sabayon showed some problems but get an honorable mention for the sheer quantities of graphics software available.

Don't go messing with live CD's on a computer where you cannot afford the risk of losing all the data on your HDD. If a distro were poorly designed, or you were not to pay attention to what you are doing, you could end up installing Linux ON TOP OF the existing files on the computer. You could also end up erasing files on the HDD. Get experience with linux and with a particular distro's quirks before putting a loved one's computer at risk.

These opinions are solely those of my own. My day job has to do with computer hardware. I studied Materials Science in college.

It is theoretically possible that an improper DVD burn could have cause some the distros in this list not to boot properly on my computer. (Good distro, bad physical media.) In discussions with some distro developers in years past, they were quick to point out how a bad burn could ruin one's impression of an otherwise fully functioning distro. I would ask why some distros seem to be more prone to problems with the DVD burning process. :)

A live CD is a CD that contains a bootable operating system, usually Linux. You put the CD in your computer, turn it on, make some arrangements for it to boot the CD, and you are running Linux! It's great fun to be able to try out radically different versions of Linux. And so this post is a review of live CD's. Here's a description of the two things I think that live CD's are good for:

I have some associates that are smart enough that they were able to install Vista on their own computers, but perhaps not so well-informed that they chose to do so. A live CD is the perfect introduction to Linux, at no cost. Towards that end, I look for a live CD that "comes with" as much as possible. Why force a newbie to go to such lengths as downloading drivers for things like a wireless driver card? Why cannot the distro come with flash or video display drivers? If you're getting the drivers eventually from the same server that you got the "distro" from, then it's a moot point as far as legality or any moral principle about free-as-in-speech software.

I've been on computers in hotels or at my in-laws, or even borrowed my wife's work laptop, and wanted to be able to tinker with my favorite computer graphics applications: povray and blender. There's no sense, for example, in going to the trouble of installing blender on my wife's computer if I were able to boot an OS from the CD which already had the applications I like on them. The point about a Linux distribution "coming with" appropriate drivers becomes poignant when a live CD won't even run your favorite application. Consider what happened when I tried to use blender with a version of edubuntu booted as a live CD.

As a result, here are the criteria I look for in choosing the best live CD distro.
Does it boot on a variety of machines?
Does it come with povray and blender?
Does it work well on a box with an ATI graphics card?
Can it render a scene in blender and/or "play" a game in blender?
Does it come with the madwifi driver for wireless cards, maybe with Flash, maybe with ATI graphics cards?
Can it recognize a USB stick? Can it play an MP3 file off the USB stick? Can it play an MPEG-I animation off the USB stick?

Too often, I've seen Linux enthusiasts argue against some of the above criteria as being important; I've seen them argue that these are bad things to ask for out-of-the-box in a distro. Ten minutes later they turn around and whine that it's only the evil schemes of Microsoft and the stupidity of the American people that prevents widespread adoption of Linux. Go figure. Too many enthusiasts are too complacent with all these barriers to adoption.

I was originally looking for distros that come with blender or povray. Some distros gave me the impression that they might have these apps from the googling I did about them. Some were simply important distros that merited a mention.

An IBM Thinkpad, T41, with 1600 MHz chip, and ATI Graphics card.
The laptop has a trackpoint mouse and I plugged in a Belkin USB mouse.
I plugged in a 4GB Memorex USB thumb drive which had some MP3's (podcasts) and an MPEG-I animation that I myself had created.

Some of the reports below show a screen shot of the distro. This is an indication that I was able to find some screen capture software and save a file to a USB thumb drive.


Notes: contains enough applications to choke a horse.
Did not boot on this laptop. (This screen grab is from a session on my desktop).
Verdict: survives this round, just on the basis of the amount of software.

Notes: Trackpoint mouse moved around randomly
Belkin mouse only worked in vertical movement.
Graphics apps: blender
Verdict: Not recommended

Version: 3.1
Graphic Apps: no povray, no blender
Played MP3 off USB stick with MPlayer.
Verdict: not for this purpose

DYNE 2.5
Version: dyne-2.5.2.iso
Graphics apps: blender, but not povray
Notes: Belkin mouse acts freaky
Blender will render a scene, but the screen refreshment is not correct afterwards.
USB stick worked
Played MP3's and MPEG-1
Live distro session did not shut down well: "kernel panic" message.
Verdict: not recommended

Version: elive_1.7_unstable.iso
Note: Gives error message: "Elive do not recommends to use ATI graphic cards, it gives graphical problems and freezes the system, especially the FGLRX, is recommended that you try all of these options ..."
Verdict: Greg do not recommends to use Elive distro, it gives graphical problems.

Version: 5
Notes: "isolinux disk error 80 AX = 42DE" "Boot failed: press a key to retry"
Verdict: Not recommended

Version: GNUSTEP-i486-1.iso
Graphic apps: Blender, no povray
Notes: Blender rendered. Trying to resize the window froze the OS.
Could not see any way to get to the USB stick
Did not log off properly.
Verdict: not recommended

Graphics files: povray, but not blender
Notes: long boot up
Difficult to find a way to see files on HDD
Some German language on screen:
Verdict: not for this purpose


Version: Knoppix-v.5.3.1DVD-2008-03-26EN.iso
Graphic apps: Blender, no povray
Blender rendered, played a game
Saw files on USB stick
Clicking MP3 played it with XMMS 1.2.10
Clicking MPEG-I invoked Kaffeine, but it didn't play. MPEG-I didn't play with MPlayer, but did with Totem Movie Player 2.20.3. I ask, why the heck do they ship with all these crippled apps?
Verdict: a winner!


Graphic apps: neither povray nor blender
Notes: played MPEG-I with XMMS, MP3 with XMMS.
It contains enough math-related software to choke a horse. Makes me want to go back to school and be a math major!
Verdict: Very cool, but not for this purpose.


Version: LinuxMint-4.0-KDE-CE.iso
Graphics Apps: neither povray nor blender
Notes: Played MP3 with Amarok
Comes with Flash-- you can play YouTube videos out of the box.
Verdict: Commendation for ease of use, but not for this purpose. This is the distro I would recommend to that person who was smart enough to install Vista, but was caught off guard by the difficulties associated with it. Meanwhile, some advocates of Open Source Software may bristle at Linux Mint's inclusion of all sorts of closed-source drivers. I say if you're bothered, get to work on ease-of-use for Linux, folks!

Version: PAIPIX-i386-7.10-etch
Graphic Apps: no blender
Notes: did not see HDD
Verdict: Not for this purpose. I thought earlier versions of this distro had a better selection of software.


Version: PC LINUX OS 2007
Notes: auto-configuration of wireless is handily displayed on the screen.
Graphic apps: no povray, no blender
Played MP3 w/ Amarok, MPEG-I with MPlayer
Verdict: not for this purpose


Version: puppy-4.00-K2.6.2.17-seamokey.iso
Notes: Gave error when tried to mount the HDD, giving notice that it had detected a hibernated Windows NFT partition. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.
Played MP3 and MPEG-I.
Graphics Apps: No povray, no blender, no GIMP.

Graphic apps: Blender, povray
Notes: Played MPEG-I, MP3, both with XMMS
Blender crashes when you ask it to render!
Verdict: Not recommended at this time, but with improved driver set it could be the best ever. Last release was in 2006.


Sabayon linux is a distro that is dear to my heart because it is the only distro that ships with code I wrote! I wrote some scene files that get shipped with povray, and Sabayon has povray's example files. The screen shot for Sabayon shows how my file is rendering.
Notes: Long boot up
No immediate access to the HDD
Graphics Apps: povray, but not Blender
MP3 test: worked with Noatun.
Verdict: makes it to next round for sentimental reasons


Version: 1.1
Graphics apps: blender 2.37a
Notes: Blender rendered, played a game
File manager sees files on USB stick, but doesn't play with any right click option. Was able to get them to play with Beep Media Player.
Verdict: Makes it to next round

Did not boot well.
Graphic Apps: none
Did not shut down properly.
Verdict: Not recommended


Version: Wolvix-Hunter-1.1.iso
Graphic apps: Blender, no povray
Notes: Both mice worked
MP3 played off of USB stick with MPlayer
Blender rendered, but game engine was disabled.
Look and feel: No offense guys, but just not that cool.
Verdict: Makes it to the next round.

Nineteen different live CD Linux distros were tested on a laptop. Knoppix 5.3.1, SLAMPP, and Wolvix make the cut in my first round of evaluation of the best live Linux CD for 3D graphics work. Artistix and Sabayon showed some problems but get an honorable mention by virtue of the sheer quantities of graphics software they have available.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The suspects are in!

Here's a collage of a set of characters I'm starting to create with MakeHuman and blender. So far, the women all look too much alike. It's interesting that with the men, I can just tweak the parms like crazy in order to make different characters, and all the characters are still male. With the women, trying to keep them feminine caused me to hamper my tweaking, ending up with the same form to the upper torso. Oh, and I ended up with one really creepy character that I think i should delete-- its picture peeks out in the lower right above.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Democracy with Liberty (Sheeps and Wolves)

I've heard the quote,
Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
Liberty is a well-armed sheep contesting the vote.
This slogan is supposed to show the differences between libertarianism and mob rule democracy.

Here's my spin on the matter. I believe we have as much to fear from conservative libertarians (libertarian-think-tank-ism) as we do from mob rule. Because of everything from global warming denial to winking at torture and massive borrowing (i.e., "tax cuts"). Here are my spins on the matter:
Neo-conservatism is one wolf telling three sheep that fences deprive all of us of our God-given liberty.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Blender hair: render time vs. number of hairs

Here's an experiment I did to compare the render time and image quality as a function of the number of hairs in a hair simulation. I found a sweet spot around 3k to 10k hairs before render time appreciably increased.

Hair problems in Blender 2.46

Here's some tinkering with hair in Blender 2.46.

The first image is a funny mistake I made. Somehow I ended up selecting the wrong vertex group, so hair came out of every place EXCEPT the top of the head. I LOL'ed at that.
The second one represents a problem you might run into with blender's hair system. Putting hair on a character may make those meshes invisible to the render. In order to see it in the render, you need to click on the Emitter button under the Render section of your particle physics dialog.