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Category Archives: computers

Since I haven’t written anything in months I thought I would put something semi-informative here.

I’ve been slowly capturing all my family’s VHS home movies onto my computer and making (even slower then the capturing) DVDs. My main goal right now is just to get everything digital since the VHS aren’t exactly going to improve as they age (and some of them already look kind of bad). I may describe how I capture later but right now I want to talk about burning DVDs a little.

I make the DVDs on my Mac (a G4 powerbook running Leopard). I was trying to burn DVDs of three tapes before last weekend and ran into some very annoying trouble. I used iMovie and iDVD to make menus and all that and then made a disk image with iDVD. Then I tried to burn the dmg file using Disk (the standard Apple thing).

The disk got through the burning fine but then would fail in the verify step every time. This lead to a pile of discarded DVDs before I looked into it closer. Disk gave no useful info so I checked the log file it pointed it. And for each failed verify there was an error


Oddly, these failing DVDs all played just fine in a DVD player or a computer. Thanks to the error code this seemed like something I could google pretty easily. But I was wrong. Some people claimed it was due to bad media. Others claimed you need to repair disk permissions. A few said it was because of corrupted plist files (but they wouldn’t say which one). Made me really miss how useful the gentoo forums were where people actually know things and will share info.

In the end I tried the permissions and plist things with no luck. Finally, I tried burning a different brand of DVD and amazingly, it would verify fine. I’m not sure why the FujiFilm DVD-R fail at the verify step while the other disks worked. It could be related to the brand. Or it could be related to the -R and +R difference. I don’t have enough different disks to figure that out.

It seems to me that the verification error 0x80020063 is pretty much worthless since disks can fail that and still work fine. I’m not thrilled with this conclusion, but for now it’s all I’ve got.

After at least a month with no updates, I finally decided to do an emerge world to update ganon, my desktop. Generally I’ve found with gentoo that updates work great if you do them regularly, but wait to long and let too many build up and bad things can happen. A month or so definitely puts me in dangerous waters.

So when I saw the results of the emerge –sync that I have as cronjob, I decided nearly 200 packages to update was probably as far as I could push it before finally updating.

Before leaving this morning I started an update, and other than a minor problem with apache (due to a change in the package which they explained how to deal with very well), everything worked. New kernel and all. Considering all the talk gentoo’s problems have been getting, I was worried, but it seems to have been for nothing.

I’m a little concerned that the battery in my 12 inch powerbook is no longer working very well. This is my second battery so it isn’t even that old (the first one was replaced in a recall). I understand and expect the general loss of capacity. But the times reported both for charging and time left make no sense any more. And even worse, the plug it self (which glows orange for charging and green for charged) doesn’t seem to make sense. I can understand software being screwy about reading battery levels, but the plug glows even when the computer is turned off, so this seems to live in the hardware realm.

This would all be less troubling except that with upcoming painting and other work in my office, plus some traveling next month, I’m sort of going to have to rely on this laptop more than usual. I guess to a computer, this would be the ideal time for problems.

And I do not want to get started on my cell phone issues right now.

It seems like all I’m doing today is deleting email. I’ve received hundreds (around 100 an hour) of bounced, rejected, or similar emails. Looks like an email address at one of my domains is being used as the From address in some spam. I understand when mail servers send replies for “no such address”, but it just seems unnecessary to bounce things that are flagged as spam. Everyone knows spammers use forged addresses. So these bounces don’t hurt them. It just makes the problem worse. So I can’t imagine why people do it.

The worst part is since these are mostly legit error messages from servers (most of which are phrased in the first person which I didn’t think was okay for computers to use) I can’t feed them to spamassassin so it can take care of them for me. I guess I could add a rule to flag anything going to the specific address as spam since I don’t use it. If the problem doesn’t go away soon, I think I’ll do that.

Since Kayhan asked, I finally got around to finishing up my script to backup the mail in a gmail account to a local files.

The only requirement this has (besides python and a gmail account of course) is libgmail.

This is in keeping with the theme from my blogger backup that no matter how much I like or trust a company, the only backups I really trust are my own.

First a disclaimer, then a few notes about the script. I cannot stress enough that I take no responsibility for how Google will take you using this to access your account. It waits 10 seconds between each folder for safety, although that can be changes. That being said, I used this a ton of times on my email account while testing today and haven’t noticed any problems. And I know other people do much worse with their accounts. But still, use some common sense and be careful (although I’m not sure what that means in this case).

Now, on to more interesting stuff. This script downloads each label (including inbox, spam, starred, and all) and saves each one as a separate mbox file. Although the ‘all’ label is redundant for the most part, it is necessary to catch any unlabelled mail. The mbox files should be readable by most mail programs, but the have only been tested with pine, mutt, and BSD mail (the standard mail command). These actually seem a bit pickier than the documentation on mbox seemed to imply. Currently, all mail is listed as new, but I hope to fix that in the next release. Incremental backups are not possible at the moment, but I think if I play around with the message ids that may be possible.

Unlike some other things I’ve done, I do actually plan on updating this in the near future. libgmail can access gmail contacts too, so I may even decide to grab that info as well.

I trust Google. I really do. At least more than I trust any other company that I deal with regularly.

At the same time, I’ve been using computers long enough that there is only one kind of backup I trust completely: a backup that I control on local medium.

So, in light of that, I have a python script to help create backups of blogs on blogger.

The script, is available on my webpage under the GPL v2.0.

This is a fairly primitive script, but it does have some nice features (especially the fact that it works well unsupervised as a cronjob). There are two main requirements. First, you must have python installed. Any halfway reasonable UNIX-like system will have it, and it exists for Windows as well. Second, you must set the feeds in the blogger dashboard to ‘full’.

Once those two things are taken care of, just run the script followed by the name of the blog. In my case, it would be:

./ netpurgatory

This gets an xml file with the 100 most recent posts and the 100 most recent comments. (Kayhan pointed out that contrary to what I thought, you can only grab 100 of each thing, not 1000 with this script. Hopefully I can find some way around it before moving to using the Google API.) It cannot get more than that or get photos that are up (probably in a picasa album). I hope to fix those by moving from a simple python script to the Google API for blogger and picasa. Those provide much more powerful features (but they require installed libraries) and should allow for a more complete backup. For the moment however, my script will do.

I’ve got something in the works to backup gmail accounts as well (using the libgmail libraries), but that will have to wait a bit.

I keep some really strange backups….

I was looking for an older file. Nothing terribly important, but if I could find it the electronic copy, I could get rid of some old transparencies from talks for classes. Finding it was made harder by the fact that while I tend to backup very well, it is only in the last few years that I learned to label well.

For the record, “Backup stuff N”, where N is a number between one and five is a terrible way to label CD backups.

I did find the file. Along with it, I found a bunch of other files that I can’t imagine why I felt the need to save. The most interesting were the setup files for Netscape Gold, Internet Explorer 4.0, and telent. Ignoring that fact that I used telent then (everyone was doing it in those days), I didn’t even remember that there was a time when Windows (probably 95 based on when this is from) didn’t come with telent.

Even funnier, these backup were on CD. I know I didn’t have access to a CD burner until the middle days of Windows 98. So by that time, why would I possibly think that I would need the install files for Netscape Navigator Gold. Or Internet Explorer 4.0?

For the first time in months at least, I have no emails in my INBOX that are more than a month old. In fact, the oldest unanswered or un-dealt-with email is less than three weeks old. I still haven’t managed to completely empty my INBOX (a dream I’ve had for years), but this is just about the closest I’ve been in just about forever with only three emails in there, and none of them super old.

Now if only I can figure out how to keep it up.

I never intended to make this blog nothing but me complaining about computers, but since no one reads it, I can indulge myself one or two more times. And to make up for it, I will post something none computer related next time.

I hate udev.

For some background, udev is the system Linux (the kernel, this has nothing to do with GNU) uses to handles devices. Back in the 2.4 series kernel, devfs was used. This was a sort of ugly system that required making device nodes for all sorts of things ahead of time and didn’t really handle removable things (like all the USB devices that are now common) very well.

udev was supposed to fix this. udev was supposed to use a set of rules to create device files (in /dev) for things when they get plugged in and set permissions for them. Somehow, this hasn’t lead to a cleaner /dev. There still seem to be just as many files pointing to nonexistent devices there. I never quite got things to work right with my Palm Tungsten E and udev. I always had to manually make links and set permissions, which is exactly what udev is supposed to prevent.

I always figured that this was partly my fault since my Gentoo installation started out with devfs and I switched to udev only when I got to a kernel that required it. But now I’ve had udev permission trouble with a digital camera on Beth’s computer which is a clean install of Ubuntu that has only had udev.

I wonder how the other free Unixes handle devices. I bet Plan 9 does something interesting.

I’ve been pretty much Windows free for a while now. My desktop at home has Gentoo on it and my school desktop has Mandrake (whatever the last version was before the name changed to Mandriva) and neither are dual boot. Even Beth’s desktop runs Gentoo. My laptop is a Powerbook (still working on Ubuntu on that, but the live CD has a stupid bug with the Synaptics trackpad).

So that is just a long way of saying I’ve been away from Windows for a while. I thought things were supposed to have improved with the random reboots and blue screens. But maybe not.

On Black Friday, Beth and I got up too early for my tastes and got a Magellan RoadMate 2000 GPS. I really like it. Probably the most excited I’ve been about a new toy since the TiVo.

I would never have know it ran on Windows CE (or whatever they call it now) except for the little sticker on the back. But since the OS is in ROM and you cannot interact with it at all, this isn’t a big deal. Except when it reboots for no good reason. Twice. In a row. While driving. Maybe it isn’t fair to blame Windows. But I would expect a more graceful way to deal with a loss of sync with the GPS satellites. And it is just a little funny that the one time I have something with a Microsoft OS on it (even if it is a totally embedded one), it reboots for no good reason (hardware failures or software updates are the only good reasons I’m away of).