June 2003 Archives


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For the past few weeks, during the recent server upgrade, I've had seriously debilitating migraine headaches. I occasionally get mild migraines, but only one or two per year. And suddenly I get a blinding migraine every day at exactly 4PM. That's the biggest reason this server upgrade took so long, the harder I worked, the more pain I was in.
I looked intensely at my life to see what was triggering the migraines, there must be a pattern if they occurred with such regularity. I changed a few things just about the time the headaches started, maybe they were responsible. I thought it might be due to my new pillow, maybe it gave me a stiff neck. Maybe it was my new electric toothbrush vibrating my teeth in their sockets. Maybe it was because I was eating on an irregular schedule and I had hypoglycemia. Maybe it was bad ergonomics, I moved my desk around for some temporary rewiring. I looked at every aspect of my life and avoided the possible triggers. I could not figure out any pattern, except that I'd been intensely working on the server. Maybe it was just plain old stress. I was looking for an easy solution, it's easy to change your pillow, or your diet, but it's a lot harder to change the fundamental stress involved in your work.
At that point, I thought about an old friend who ran a respected graphics service bureau in Los Angeles. One day while he was in the middle of his usual stressful routine, he developed a thrombosis, it migrated to his heart and lungs, and he had a heart attack. As he recovered, he announced that his doctor advised him to find a less stressful job, something that didn't involve sitting in front of a computer all day and listening to stressed-out customers with short deadlines, some job with a bit more physical activity. He sold his company within a couple of weeks and left the business forever.
I started to feel a little disconsolate over the situation I was in. Every day the headaches got worse. I considered tossing out my whole computer career and becoming a lumberjack or something. As I worked on my computer, amidst a migraine so severe I considered going to the hospital, a funny thing happened. I accidentally switched my monitor to the wrong setting. And then it struck me, the problem was staring me in the face the whole time. It was my computer monitor! I have an old Sony 300sf CRT, it can go up to insanely high resolutions like 2048x1536, but only at low refresh rates. I always set my monitor to 1600x1200 at 60hz refresh. Many people report that refresh rates below 75hz cause eyestrain and migraines, but even 60hz never bothered me before. So I switched to a lower rez at 75hz, and I got immediate relief. My headache started to dissipate, and the daily 4PM migraines have not returned. Oh man do I feel stupid, I've been torturing myself unnecessarily. If only I'd figured it out earlier! I made more progress on the server in a couple of days than I did in 2 weeks of self-torture.

BlogTV: Back On The Air

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Success! I have finally fixed the streaming video server and BlogTV is back on the air. Now everybody should be able to see the videos, even if they're behind a firewall. I am gradually repairing each video so they work with the new configuration. It will take a while to repair everything, but for now, you can test the new server by trying the How To Start A Crime Wave video, it has already been repaired and should play on all systems. If anyone has problems seeing that video, please leave a comment. I will fix the other videos as soon as possible.
There are a few adjustments still remaining. I'm running the new server configuration off my slowest disk drive, once I get everything adjusted perfectly I'll back it all up and restore it back onto my ultra-fast drive. In the meantime, performance may be a little slower than usual.
Update, July 1: I have repaired all the videos and everything should be working better than ever. If anyone encounters a video that is unplayable, please leave a comment, and be sure to let me know which video, your QuickTime connection speed preferences setting, and the error message you received. This will greatly help me in identifying any videos that need further repair.
Server performance is still poor due to the slow disk drive I've used for this configuration. Some videos may stream poorly from this slow disk, so I will migrate the server back to my high-speed drive as soon as possible. There will be a minor service outage during the migration, and then everything will be running optimally.

Well This Almost Doesn't Suck

I managed to get the two major components of this server working together, MovableType's Perl config, and QuickTime Streaming Server. I had to do a complete reformat and reinstall, but this time it went rather rapidly, since I didn't let the system upgrade to Perl 5.8 like it wanted to. Now everything is happy with the Perl 5.6 configuration. Perl has been the sole source of misery with this server upgrade. Perl sucks.
Now I just have to get a few things back in operation, like SSH keys, log monitoring, etc. I'm waiting for some details from Apple on one last QTSS configuration option, then I should have the BlogTV services back up and running better than ever. With luck I'll have the answer tomorrow, if the Apple techs aren't too busy watching the Apple WWDC announcements, or goofing around at MacHack.

Well This Still Sucks

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From the lack of updates, it must be obvious by now that I'm still struggling with the server upgrade. I haven't been able to get the streaming server back online because I upgraded to Perl 5.8 and QTSS is incompatible with version 5.8. I could downgrade to 5.6, but it is nearly impossible to downgrade Perl under MacOS X Server. So I may have to do a complete OS reinstall. That would really suck. I'm working with some support listservs but answers don't come immediately, so bear with me and I'll have this all cleaned up and working better than ever within a few more days. I promise.

Well This Really Really Sucks

I'm not sure if anyone is seeing this site outside my local network, so if you are reading this, please leave a comment (you can be anonymous). I just need to know if I'm completely off the net, or not.
I've just gone to extreme trouble getting everything working, and now it has all fallen apart. I spent days getting Perl 5.8 working correctly, and now it turns out that QTSS administration requires Perl 5.6. So I might have to do this installation all over from scratch, that's almost the only way to get back to the virgin Perl 5.6 install on MacOS X Server. At least it should be easier a second time around.
Video is still unavailable. This server may go down for rework, and will be unavailable at times. We Apologize For The Inconvenience.

Well That Sucked

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It obviously took me a lot longer to get the server upgraded than I thought. It took me 2 extra days to get Perl working, because MacOS X Server apparently does not set the token HOSTNAME like the regular client MacOS X version.
So now that I've spent 2 days wrestling with an obscure bug, it's time to see if the system works. This message is mostly for testing purposes, text messages and graphics appear to work but it will take a little longer before the videos are back online.

Disinfotainment Site News

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I'm preparing for a big upgrade to my server's software, so Disinfotainment may be temporarily unavailable at times over the next few days. I've decided to upgrade to MacOS X Server, which supposedly offers superior management capabilites for QuickTime Streaming Server. I played with the OS for a few minutes and it appears that it solves the problems that prevent some people from viewing BlogTV. But I won't know if the problem is truly solved until I get this site running on the new OS.

Presidential Breakfast

Whenever I'm bored and feel like I have nothing to say, I go through my old files and pull some old images. Here's a strange piece of politicial artwork I made back in the days of the first Gulf War.

Presidential Breakfast

When I made this image, nobody understood it. I guess you had to know the backstory. I hate explaining my work, but I guess I have to. George H.W. Bush was infamous for a saying he hated broccoli. In one amusing incident, Bush spoke at a college commencement and the students all wore corsages of broccoli. About that same time, Iraq took some British hostages, and released a video with Saddam Hussein showing how he made sure they had humane treatment. A young boy is shown sitting at a breakfast table with a big box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and Saddam asks if he's getting enough milk with his corn flakes. Apparently Saddam thought it would be great propaganda if he showed the British hostage kid eating something that was rare and extremely expensive in Iraq, imported corn flakes with real milk.


I've had difficulty finding out the precise capacity of a DVD-R disk, but thanks to an obscure footnote in the DVD Studio Pro documentation, now I know. A DVD-R holds 4,699,979,766 bytes. I use Toast to burn discs, it only reports disc size in blocks, and I've never figured out how big a block is. I'm sure it's documented somewhere but I sure can't find it.
I like doing DVD-R backups but it's always a hassle to create archives just the right size. I like to use as much of the disk as possible, with no unused space. But since the files you're burning never precisely add up to 4,699,979,766 bytes, there's always some unused space left over. It can take a considerable amount of effort to find a proper mix of file sizes to make a full DVD image. This particular problem may seem like a lot of extra effort expended chasing after efficiency, but the problem has also occupied some of the great mathematical minds of our time. It is known as the Bin-Packing Problem. It has been mathematically proven that there is no optimal bin packing algorithm, so I feel a lot better when I have trouble with the same problem when preparing DVD-R images.

BlogTV: How To Start A Crime Wave

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Japanese TV news always shows the strangest things, and covers events in the strangest manner. This FujiTV video (6min40sec, English and Japanese subtitles) vividly demonstrates the one thing that I find totally incomprehensible about Japanese news reportage.

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The crime wave of home burglaries is a constant source of news coverage and analysis. This story is about the recent arrest of a gang of burglars that used a novel technique to break in. The method is called yakiaburi, a very interesting combination of two verbs, yaku and aburu, which both mean "to heat." The video actually shows the yakiaburi technique, first you heat the window for 20 seconds with a small butane torch. Then you spray water on the hot spot, the window silently cracks into pieces. The thief can gain silent entry rather than causing a commotion by smashing the glass.
And this is what I cannot understand about Japanese TV news. In their reporting of the crime, they reenact the methods of the crime in such detail that it is practically an instructional video for criminals. If you never knew how to break into a home, now you are an expert. We see demonstrations in a glazier's office, he prepares typical home windows and shows how easily they can be bypassed. Then he shows another technique, using a glass cutter in a triangle pattern, a neat wedge is silently removed right next to the latch, just enough room for a finger to reach in and unlock the window. The video uses a blur effect to conceal the precise movements of the glass cutter, but the methods are obvious despite the blurring. The glazier finally shows a secure safety glass, which of course costs ten times what the typical window glass costs.
I am continually astonished at this type of news coverage. I suppose they think this modus operandi is already common knowledge in Japan, so it is safe to let the public know how the thieves work. But I still can't help thinking they are educating a whole new generation of criminals with these detailed demonstrations.
I've only ever seen one similar incident in the USA. When I lived in San Francisco, there was a rash of broken parking meters. The local TV station investigated, and discovered some thieves were breaking into parking meters with an automotive dent puller and stealing the coins. And then they demonstrated the actual technique on camera. Within a week, there was not a single working parking meter in San Francisco. The City had to replace every meter in the entire city at a huge expense, and boy were they hopping mad at the TV station. They promised not to ever do anything like that again, but a few weeks later, they showed how to break bicycle locks with a car jack. The same result: a crime wave of bicycle thefts.
I am also painfully conscious that this technique may not be widely known and I may be importing yakiaburi into the US. But that is ultimately FujiTV's fault. Or so I will keep telling myself.