Mar 202009

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.

Mar 192009

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.]

Mar 182009

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.