web log free

Welcome

Welcome to this blog. To make a short story even shorter, here's what I plan: I will not use this as a usual blog, writing post after post. Instead, I will cover some topics with one article each, and expand this articles as I go along.

This may seem backwards, but think of it as an experiment. If the writing gets refined enough, maybe someday someone will like to read it.

That said, judging from the comment spammers (for this article), it seems someone is reading.

New: Something funny is now a section of its own. A new version of the last played script is out now (2005-09-03). And I'm still looking for a job.

iPod shuffle

Like many interesting people, I got me an iPod shuffle. It is my first piece of apple hardware, and I must say, I'm impressed with the quality and design. Of course, in the small package comes a lot of fun:

The obvious thing

Listen to music, of course, be it ripped from CDs or bought via iTMS. Or from some competitor who reengineered the Apple DRM. Or downloaded from a podcast. Or digitalised from vinyl. Or...you get the picture. Also you can listen to audiobooks (although the limited capacity should preclude longer titles) and podcasts (see also wikipedia). But what could you listen to other than that?
  • Create small sound loops, play in shuffle mode to create semi-aleatoric music. (I'll do that some day)
  • Want to learn a language? Exercise your vocabulary by recording words with their translation and play them in shuffle mode (there should be some repository for those to faciliate exchange)
  • Write a story that can be shuffled for a twist
    • on sub-sentence level (more a whacky poem than a story): N Degrees of separation
    • On a sentence level - (Short-story style, describing a moment): Leaving New York
    • On a section level - this might be more serious, think of a whodunit as seen by different characters unfolding at random (An interesting thought: The order of sections might change the meaning)
  • Record some fortunes to hear some motivating quotes between your music. Using flite and lame: fortune | flite -o tmp.wav && lame -h tmp.wav result.mp3 It sounds ugly, absolutely distorted (probably due to the speech samples being compressed in the first place). Maybe using festival instead of flite will improve this?
  • Record instructions for real-world games (shuffle-equipped smart mobs anyone?)
Of course even just listening to music has some interesting sides:

Using it as a hard disk (and other ways to get music on it)

If you use iTunes under MS Windows (sorry, I'm pretty much an x86 guy), you have to partition your shuffle into one music and one data partition. However, though I still use iTunes sometimes (when I'm on Windows), I found that the shuffle will not object to putting some data files into the standard (music) partition under GNU/Linux.

And while you're at it, you can also put music on your shuffle without iTunes: gtkpod, gnuPod and Martin Fiedler's shuffle DB builder. I use the latter exclusively, for it has the absolutely fabulous smart shuffle and is quite hackable (in fact I helped with some refactorings). Since I got it, I have not started up iTunes once.

Software Hacking

As the ipod.hackaday.com tutorial on how to dismantle the iPod shuffle shows, the patient contains a highly integrated DSP powerful enough to decode AAC, MP3 and a slew of other formats from a vfat FS on flash memory as well as driving a LCD, recording from a line in, and stuff (although the latter features are not used in the shuffle). What would I do next, if I had the skills to pull it off?
  • Learn how to flash the iPod shuffle (the firmware on the original iPod is on-disk, but the shuffle has no sign of it. Where can it be? A potential way of attack is to ask the iPod firmware updater using USB snooping.
  • Learn how to program the CPU, a SigmaTel SMTP3550b
  • Enable new features
    • Change details like gap between songs, or enable sound output while the shuffle is plugged into USB, maybe even enabling real time USB sound output
    • Introduce some other codecs (other players with the same DSP can do WMA, so why not ogg, flac, or speex?)
    • The killer: enable executable files, create an API for key input and sound output
    • Find out if you can grab the keys software-wise to do other things than going back and forth and manipulating the volume - get interactive...
    • Activate line-in (possibly with some major hardware hacking?)
    • Write an executable that tells the time
Note that the iPod-on-Linux (a SourceForge project to put linux on iPods) will not support the shuffle "for obvious reasons". They do have some info on the files used to determine playing order and stuff, though.

Hardware Hacking

Modifications rate from very easy to very interesting. You can find a lot of those hacks on shuffle hacks or hack a day. However, I like my shuffle the way it is.

Other stuff

Telemarketers

(and what to do against them)

There are those times when your phone rings, you answer, unsuspecting, and are greeted with "Hi, this is XY from the FOO company, I just want to knock you over the head with our sooper-dooper-prices for various artifacts you will never need but should just want anyway because their... (cue 5 minutes sales pitch - without breathing)

I call those folks CCS and thought they were the lowest scum to wander on this very earth (or below, I am not sure of this). Nevertheless, they can be turned away easily or even highly entertaining:

Leave me alone

There are times when you do not want to be disturbed or even pulled into a time consuming debate of dubious merit. In this cases, just shut them up. Say calm, but loudly: "Leave me alone." (You can add "Now." if you feel like it) and hang up.

The law is on your side

In most countries unsolicited phone calls are forbidden (Note that some countries may have an opt-out solution like a Robinson list, where you need to register to make sure you may not be legally disturbed). Telemarketing operations willfully risk lawsuits by giving lists they buy from other sources (remember when you got this "customer card", you had to sign away your right of restricting what they can do with your personal data including your phone number? Now you know why) to their CCS. The CCS may not carry the responsibility for this offense, their employers do.

You can turn this knowledge to your advantage by requesting the name and location of the company and telling the CCS politely that he calling you is illegal and you will sue the company.

Retaliate for fun and profit

Even without invoking the power of law, there are methods to silence even the most bothersome specimen.
  • From Andy Hunt comes the "I like cheese" defense.
  • Andrea Harner adds the "Nemesis" defense.
  • My own "Ad nauseam" defense - adopt a position and stay with it until the specimen gives (in this case: hangs) up. An example that I pulled with a real nag (this can probably be used on almost any specimen):
    Me:
    You are stealing my time!
    CCS:
    What? You are stealing my time!
    Me:
    Oh, so sorry, won't happen again. (hang up)
    (he actually had the gall to call again.)
    Me:
    Your time can't be that valuable then. Try to get a job that pays, man. (hang up again)
  • Let them wait - just say: "Please wait a second..." and talk to someone (even funnier if you talk to yourself). For fun you can keep high scores of how long you made them wait before they hung up.
  • Ask them if they object to you recording the exchange "for educational purposes".
  • Just say no: No matter how unreasonable, no matter how funny, keep your cool and just say no. If the CCS wants to sell you an extension for your phone, tell him that no, you have no phone. Argue ad nauseam. Like I do:
    CCS:
    Hi there, [name withheld] from XY phone company. Did you know that you are paying to much for your phone?
    Me:
    I don't have no phone.
    CCS:
    That's impossible. How can I be calling you then?
    Me:
    You aren't calling me.
    CCS:
    Is this some sort of joke?
    Me:
    No, I'm absolutely serious.
    CCS:
    (hangs up)
    (You may or may not be so wordy. A simple "No" can work wonders, too, especially if the specimen will not hear anything else from you for some time...)
  • Haggle with them, try to sell them a half-eaten imaginary donut or whatever you like.
  • Try your acting skills. In the middle of the call, shout loudly "Oh my god!", then hang up. As a bonus, you can add the obligatory "They have found me!", "They're everywhere!", "They're coming for me!" or "He shot me" or even a long, loud "NOOOOO!" (accompanied by suitable noise)...(Note that this is probably not legal in many countries)

Fun on the web

Here is where I collect links to sites I find funny, engaging, disgusting, hilarious or all of the aforementioned.

Uncyclopedia

In which Scotland was once inhabited by space bunnies (it no longer is), and we learn about kitten huffing and a strange kind of gun called "Lederhosen"...

Fight to teh Death, Flickr Tags!

Flickr Tag Fight is a hoot. Pity you can not link to it easily. However, with the judicious use of HTML, forms, My wishes for a nice good permalink have been answered, so here goes: Note there is a great party multiplayer gaming possibility - sit in front of your computer with your friends, take turns to suggest a fight and then guess who wins. Whoever is right gets a point. Winner is who has the most points after 5 rounds. (via kottke)