Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Playing DVDs with Ubuntu Desktop (10.10)…

August 2nd, 2011 No comments

This is more of an aide-mémoire for me than a public guide. If it is helpful for other people then I am happy to make it available. If anyone has any comments or suggestion please contact me.

. . .

After installing Ubuntu Desktop (10.10) you need a few extra packages to read/play DVDs. These packages are provided by:

First thing to do is open up a terminal window and add the new source locations to APT:

$ sudo wget -O /etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list

Then update APT and install the mediabuntu keyring:

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install medibuntu-keyring
$ sudo apt-get update

Then install the required packages:

$ sudo apt-get install libdvdcss2

(Optionally) Install the w32 codecs to support (wmv, quicktime, realplayer):

$ sudo apt-get install w32codecs

If you haven’t already done so install VLC (the absolute king of media players):

$ sudo apt-get install vlc

If all went well you should now be able to play DVDs…

Categories: Computer Hardware, DVD, Films, Linux, Ubuntu Tags:


January 13th, 2010 No comments

There has been some concern raised about the comment Eric Schmidt made on a CNBC interview recently. However, like most things the press and the general public get their hands on, it has been grossly misinterpreted. Here is the quote everyone is going on about:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

However if you look at the original transcript/video of the interview it makes a little more sense and isn’t as outrageous as previously thought. Here is his full answer:

Q: People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?

A: I think judgement matters… If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities.

Here is a clip from the interview:

Granted he did make a mistake, the “you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” bit is misleading. However he was answering a very specific question, whether or not you should treat Google like a friend. I believe that anyone with half a brain can understand what he was trying to say. What he should have said is something along the lines of:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be discussing it on-line in the first place.

What I find most difficult to understand is the innocence and naivety of the on-line community. Google (and their like) are service providers, they deal with data, they search through it and index it. At a very basic level, they bring order to chaos…

Imagine (just for a moment) that the internet didn’t exist, and instead, we had massive notice boards on every street corner, where anyone could leave a message, ask a question or stick a picture. Google would be the company that goes around collecting and collating the contents on each and every one of these boards. It would then publish a directory listing the contents. Now, if you didn’t want anyone to know about something specific would you put it on these boards? I think the answer would be a universal “No!”… And you’re back in the real world!

I think the problem we have is with the anonymity that the internet appears to give us. We have access to the internet in the relative privacy of our homes and we project that feeling of security onto the internet. When we’re browsing onto the Financial Times, Fred’s Blog or any of the billions of pages available, we are doing it in the privacy of our home. There isn’t anyone looking over our shoulder watching our every move! You would see them, right?

Wrong… Every request that your computer makes over the internet has the potential of being recorded and logged. The internet is a tool, nothing more. It links and exchanges data between two or more computers. It is this that the innocents must be made aware of. The internet isn’t your friend, there is no such thing as privacy on the internet (unless you really know what you’re doing*).

There is one area where I do have some sympathy for the naive users and that is the intrusion and interception of email by Google and their like. It would be the same as postal workers opening your mail, reading the contents and pushing mailshots through your door based on what they had just seen. Here in the UK we have very strict laws related to mail interception, with lengthy imprisonments, the postal workers even have to sign the official secrets act.

When you sign up for an email service on-line you waive your rights to privacy and to me that is unfair. On top of that you are also forced to adhere to whatever laws are in place in the country where the company is run, independent of where you are located. For example, if you had a Google email account and lived in the UK, your messages could come under the US Patriot Act, giving the US government unrestricted access to your data.

This is a very complex area, with solid arguments both for and against and it needs discussing. International laws need to be agreed upon regarding personal on-line privacy. As we shift more and more of our personal and working lives on-line the safety barriers need to be in place, the primary goal should be the education of on-line users in security and privacy matters. Ignorance is most definitely not bliss!!

* Securing your personal data is a relatively simple process. There are applications freely available that enable the encryption of data and emails such as PGP and TrueCrypt. For more information see my section of personal privacy.

Categories: Culture, Musings, Politics, Rants & Raves, YouTube Tags:

Derren Brown lottery result explained…

September 14th, 2009 No comments

As you may (or may not) have seen, Derren Brown broadcast a live show last week in which he (correctly) predicted the results of the National Lottery. Very impressive! But not in the way he would like us to think.

On the follow-up show he tried to explain how this was done. This was for want of a better word ‘Guff and mumbo-jumbo’. His explanation was that he used 24 people to predict the results, using the ‘wisdom of crowds’ method,  See []. While this system works for predicting the weight of an Ox (where there is an actual ‘guessable’ weight) it doesn’t work for completely random numbers. See []…

There have been hundreds of ideas circulating the net since his show, trying to explain how he did the ‘trick’, as he obviously didn’t do it for real! Most use the semi-plausible use of split screens and hidden helpers replacing the balls. These explanations are (in youth speak) ‘so yesterday’. Things have moved on, technology has advanced…

I have no insider information on how it was done. Only an explanation of how I would have done it. So here goes…

Here are the two magic words “augmented reality“. This is a process where a computer generated image is superimposed over live video footage. The live footage has a number of ‘markers’ that the software tracks and a computer generated image is rendered matching the camera position and angle. It is a very complex process and I don’t have the time to explain it fully here, See [].

I would have used the balls themselves as the markers and tracking points. You wouldn’t even need to render the balls, just the numbers to be superimposed. So, as the live results are drawn, someone simply enters the numbers onto the computer and magic!… I nice use of technology to perform a very simple trick.

More to follow in my “Derren Brown, where are you going with this” post…

Categories: BBC, Culture, Musings, Rants & Raves, TV, YouTube Tags:

Star Trek

May 19th, 2009 No comments

Hmmm, where to start? The quick and easy answer is I liked it… However (and there is always an ‘however’ as you will soon come to realise) I came out of the cinema feeling, I suppose the word is cheated. Something just didn’t sit right. Before I explore my issue(s) with the film (and in accordance with the well understood management tactic of ‘praise – criticise – praise’) I will point out its many amiable qualities.

Would he be choked up..?

Would he be choked up..?

The casting was very well done – Kirk, Spock and Bones were very convincing. Zachary Quinto’s Spock was very well done indeed. Sulu and Uhura didn’t quite feel right, however I am sure that they will grow on me over the next instalments (of which I’m sure there will be many*). Chekov was the least convincing of the crew/cast, all I can say is he that he sounded Russian. Scotty, played by Simon Pegg looked and sounded the part, but I have a terrible feeling they will use this character as comic relief from now on, he even has a Disney-esque buddy sidekick (who I’m sure will get up to some hilarious antics!).

The set design was fantastic, with Vulcan being my favourite (I loved the stalactite/stalagmite design with the buildings almost dripping from the stone edifices). The Enterprise was also very well done, maintaining the original identifiable shape but with a few sleek add-ons. My only concern with the Enterprise was the over use of silo storage tanks and huge ‘tubes’ for engineering, giving it a 1940’s battleship feel, it also looked cheap (shining swirling lights on the end of a stainless steel tank is, quite frankly, naff!).

Now for the nasty bit! The plot and its execution was (in the vernacular ‘piss’) poor, this I suspect was because of the underlying direction in which I believe the production team wished to push it. When using ‘time travel’ as a core plot device in a film (or any story for that matter) you have to be very careful with how you handle the ‘time-line’ or ‘time-lines’. The Star Trek franchise has made use of time travel a number of times, it being a central theme in the fourth film ‘The Voyage Home’ (the one with the whales), and in all their travels through time it has always been assumed that time is linear, i.e. you can move back and forward along this time-line but it is always the same line (no splits!). This new film changes all that…

It is the use of a split in the Star Trek history line that I feel is unneeded and unwelcome. This film drives a wedge into the Star Trek universe and splits it in two; one slice being every other film and TV episode ever made, and the other slice being this film (and all future films). It is this disregard to the ‘history’ (both past and present) of the Star Trek universe that I dislike the most. The production team is basically saying: “Forget everything that happened, we have changed it!”.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why they have done it, it gives them a clean sheet with which they can create whole new adventures. It may even work, and its not as if I’ll be boycotting future film releases. Part of me (probably the anti-trekkie bit) agrees with their decision to do it. However I still think it was unnecessary. There is unlimited scope in the original Star Trek universe to play out future stories. With careful writing you could even build in elements from the original TV series.

Another of the plus points were the occasional nods and winks the films made. Such as the old ‘if you’re in red and heading down to the planet, you’re not coming back’… Or the long forgotten love interest, no not that one, the other one!

All in all I’d give it a 3 out of 5, and I would recommend it to others. A good effort, but could do better next time…

Categories: Culture, Films Tags: