I admit to finding it amusing that Barack Obama’s gift to Gordon Brown of 25 classic American movies ended up illustrating one of my hot buttons – Mr. Brown couldn’t watch the Region 1-encoded DVDs on his Region 2 player. Here’s TechDirt’s take on the story (link from Volker Weber).

I have been in many discussions with wet-behind-the-ears idiots in consumer electronics stores who parrot the Hollywood line that region-encoding is just fine and reasonable. Asking them why sending DVDs from the US to Europe is bad and should be stopped meets with a “huh?” answer. Asking them why my toddler should not be able to watch DVDs sent to us from friends in Australia elicits more of the same.

Eventually we bought a DVD player that plays from other regions as well, making it possible for me to buy German-language DVDs suitable for my children (not easy to find in Region 1 encoding). To my mind, the fact that the regions were set up to put Mexico in with Australia and New Zealand shows how nonsensical the whole concept is. I really don’t understand why so many DVD manufacturers automatically region-encoded the DVDs rather than making them region-free, and I’m pleased to see that even though Blu-Ray repeats the whole region idiocy, many manufacturers are in fact making their Blu-Ray discs region-free.

I assume at least part of that response is due to the wide availability of DVD players that don’t worry about regions, and the availability of instructions to mod other DVD players. There’s an interesting write-up of the law case against Sony in Australia as well, which points out that “retailers of DVD players are not bound by the terms of the CSS licence and the accompanying technical specifications”.

This whole thing is one of the reasons I was so concerned about the copyright legislation Canada’s Conservative government was trying to have passed last year. It currently seems to be stalled, so I can show my kids their German-language DVDs, and DVDs from Australia, with a clear conscience a while longer.

I have some minor sites running on the basement OpenSolaris box, and since our IP address changes regularly, I use ddclient to notify DynDNS of the changes. It was working just fine on the old Debian box, but of course OpenSolaris does things differently, and the ddclient package doesn’t come with all the bits you need to make it work.

Step one: download the ddclient package from Sourceforge, and follow the instructions in the README as to where to install it. Easy enough, done.

Step two: go to the DynDNS site, log in to the account, go to the Support Tools section of the website, and click on the “Update Client Configurator”. This takes you to a page that will automatically generate the configuration file for ddclient for your account. This is one of the reasons I like DynDNS, by the way, they think of little useful tools like this.

Step three: make the configuration changes in the ddclient.conf file, and try running the ddclient Perl script to see if it works, using ddclient -daemon=0 -debug -verbose -noquiet to get all the error messages. One tip: if you have spaces in your password, surround it with single quotes, not double quotes. The latter don’t work.

Step four: the hardest for someone new to OpenSolaris is to figure out how to run the daemon. It turns out that Solaris has a “Services Management Facility” (SMF). The specific instructions to follow, once you’ve figured out the basic concepts, are at Chris Gerhard’s ddclient meets SMF. Mind you, I did need to read the documentation on Managing Services to find out where to put the file (/var/svc/manifest). Just as well Sun lets lots of people blog, it certainly makes it easier to find information. I do wish they could figure out how to give their standard documentation memorable URIs though.

Now I just have to wait until our local IP address changes to see if it works. [Update: yup, it works.]

I’ve never been to one of the really big conferences with thousands of people; I’ve heard the energy can be amazing, and there is always something interesting going on. I tend to find myself at smaller conferences where you have a chance to see people again whom you saw in the last talk, and can ask a question of a speaker in a quieter moment than the immediate post-talk rush.

Which is a way of reminding those interested in the finer details of markup technologies (XML, SGML, and other related technologies), that submissions for one of my favourite small conferences, Balisage, are due in a little over a month (April 24th, to be precise). I’ve signed up to be a peer reviewer, though I haven’t been active enough in markup research and technologies recently to submit a paper myself.

If you are writing a paper, I have some requests to make my life as a peer reviewer easier (and make it more likely that I recommend your talk be accepted). Please explain what it’s all about clearly, defining terms that may not be familiar to everyone, and above all, explain why it’s interesting! Too many papers I’ve seen assume that outsiders will magically understand what’s valuable; usually a poor assumption. Spell-check the whole paper, and get someone else to proof it looking for grammatical errors, sentences that ramble on for too long, and phrases that make no sense. The tone should be professional but not boring, as I will be making assumptions as to whether you can give a good talk based on the paper you submit (it’s a blind review, so I won’t know who you are when I review your paper). And do follow the guidelines; they’re there for good reasons.

And the most important thing, failure to observe which resulted in my recommending talks not be accepted last year despite potentially interesting topics: make sure the paper is long enough! A brief summary with details to be filled in later is not sufficient to let the peer reviewer know whether there is real substance that can stand up to 45 minutes of presentation and discussion.