Saturday, August 26, 2006

Movie Reviews

While claiming I have had no time over the last couple of months, I've watched a whole bunch of DVDs. Here's my take on them:

1. Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)

Austin Powers goes to battle Dr. Evil's latest plan involving an evil villain (name a villain that isn't evil BTW) Goldmember and save the world as usual.

A plotless movie with hopeless jokes. Similar in content and style to Scary Movie 1/2/3.

I haven't seen the previous Austin Powers so I'm probably missing some in-jokes. According to the credits, Mike Myers plays several of the main characters - must be one incredibly good actor with one incredibly good makeup artist.

The only funny parts worth mentioning are the incomprehensible "English English" (English that only makes sense to people from England, not even Australia or New Zealand) and Powers' reading of some subtitles (for some evil dude who chooses to speak Japanese, even though he knows English).

2. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

The next ice age has arrived. People are frozen solid. Some people are trapped in a library. Overrated. I could continue with more short sentences. Action story with plenty of special effects. Overacted vice-president. Nice watch but not exactly the greatest movie.

3. The Grudge (2004)

Remake of a Japanese movie - even parts of the DVD extras are in Japanese with no English subtitles. Buffy (not her real name), a health care worker, goes to a haunted house but does not feature as prominently in the movie as the trailers might have suggested. Spooky, inconclusive plot - little is actually explained. A refreshingly different approach to horror movies. Think Tarantino style but not boring.

4. Interview with The Vampire (1994)

One of those deep, artistic movies tend to win awards. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater and a young, Kirsten Dunsk (Bring It On, Spiderman). Unnecessarily excessive use of horror in some places and fairly lacklustre. Something you might watch for a literature course (to appreciate otherwise unappreciated movies) but not for fun. If you liked Fargo (1996), The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988), The Piano (1993) or other such boring movies, you'll like this one. But I'd rather have gone to sleep (why did I stay up late to watch this one?).

5. The Island (2005)

A bunch of human clones (oops, spoiled the plot, sorry :)) live in a world where they are constantly watched and are not supposed to have the intelligence to question their purpose.

A disturbing movie about human behaviour and survival incorporating elements from Blade Runner and 1984/Brave New World. Plenty of nice action sequences (the DVD extras said that they really did blow up a helicopter!) but fairly drawn out.

Probably only sold because of the trailer and Scarlett Johansson who I did not recognise from The Horse Whisperer (1998).

6. Miss Congeniality 2 (2005)

Sandra Bullock needs to save the kidnapped Miss United States (from the previous Miss Congeniality (2000)). Some funny bits esp. when her attempts to foil a bank robbery are foiled by her own fame but not as good as the original.

7. Sweet Home Alabama (2002)

Reese Witherspoon has moved to New York and has just released a fashion line. She is about to marry a high profile politician but has an unfortunate problem: her previous husband in - you guessed it - Alabama hasn't divorced her yet. So she heads south in order to tie up this loose end.

An unexpected twist at the end with plenty of clues that one would have forgotten by the end and don't make sense unless one watches the movie again.

One hour into the movie, there's a song "Falling Down" by, the then not famous, Avril Lavigne (who does not update her website and I can tell you first hand: she cannot sing live; nevertheless, you can't actually buy that track on iTunes).

A couple of laughs here and there but a fairly average movie.

8. The Transporter (2002)

Jason Statham goes around transporting packages for criminals. After discovering that one such package contains a kidnapped girl, an assassination attempt is made against him.

A excellent mix of action and wise remarks, between Statham and the detective, that will keep you surprised and laughing (unfortunately, IMDB doesn't list the good quotes). Die Hard without the brainless, monotonous action. Lethal Weapon but not as intense. One of the best action movies I've ever seen. Absolutely recommended.

I normally don't comment on movie goofs but this one was just too obvious:

One hour into the movie, an evil security guard puts down a bottle of beer he was not holding.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fedora Core 5 pirut bug/feature

I've been using Fedora since mid 2004. I quite like it - bleeding edge and with minimal patches on top of the upstream source so there isn't much bloat nor extra bugs (which is why I switched from Mandrake/Mandriva - that story some other day). The distro's not perfect but like democracy, I've found that it's the least worst.

Now, I've been using Fedora Core 4 for a while now. I decided it would be interesting to try out Fedora 5 for the new development machine
kindly donated by Brad Hards.

Other than updated software, it seems the same as Fedora Core 4 but with an extra "feature":

For the first time in Fedora, we have a tightly integrated package-management system, Pirut.

    -- Inside Fedora Core 5, Red Hat Magazine

Only, it cannot install packages from CD by default! It reminds me of that Michelle Branch song:

Goodbye to user friendliness.
Goodbye to the sanity that I knew.
You were the one thing I tried to install.

[ok, that was terrible, I admit :)]

This is a shocking regression and I'm stunned that this made it past quality control, into the release.

Luckily, it's not that bleak as there are solutions:

The first is to create a repository on your hard disk containing all 5 CDs' RPMs. Of course, this takes a lot of disk space... When following those instructions, if you have the CDs, copy the RPMS and the comps.xml directly - don't bother creating an ISO and dealing with the loopback filesystem business (-o loop). The confusing line for me was:

rpm -Uvh RPMS/createrepo*

That was just a tricky way of saying make sure you install the version of "createrepo" RPM stored on the CDs.

The second method I haven't tried but only found a few minutes ago. You can apparently just point yum to the CD ROM drive. This appears to work just like Fedora 4 - requires no extra disk space as it reads straight from the CDs. I'm wondering: if I'm searching for packages, will it search the current CD in the drive or all of them?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Order of the zoom actions - vote for your favourite toolbar layout here

In a previous post I talked about taking the number of KolourPaint toolbar buttons down to a minimum, partly in response to the new KDE 4 default of "Text Under Icons" and partly, to fix the dumping ground the toolbar has become.

Thanks very much to everyone who commented on the proposal.

Recall that KolourPaint in KDE 3 looked like this:

New Proposal for KolourPaint / KDE 4

And now, based on your feedback, my latest proposal for KolourPaint in KDE 4 is:

Due to popular demand, I've added back the "Open" and "Save" buttons. I feel that just having a "Save" button as suggested is not sufficient for a paint app where one may open pictures often - this is different to a database app, like Kexi, where one usually manipulates just one DB.

As for concerns regarding removing buttons effectively hiding functionality from users less comfortable with computers, it is difficult to cater for a broad audience but I think overall, the new toolbar layout is more useful for more people since it's less cluttered and has bigger, easier to click buttons. It is of course configurable - this discussion is merely about the most popular defaults.

As you can see from above, I've also made fixed those Undo / Redo buttons so that they don't keep changing their labels (e.g. from "Undo: Text" to "Undo: Connected Lines") so that their sizes remain small (otherwise, think about the German translationa) and constant.

Also, thanks for some of the more creative ideas that were posed but unfortunately, I won't have time to implement them for now.

Dumping Text from the Zoom Actions

It was suggested that I dump the text from the zoom buttons (like KDE 3) to save space. I played with this but unfortunately, the smaller buttons are much harder to click:

So, large buttons with text it is.

Order of the Zoom Actions

But a remaining issue is the order of the zoom actions:

Which one is the best? Answer: I don't know.

B1 is used by KolourPaint in KDE 4 and Acrobat Reader. The ordering of the zoom actions is certainly more conventional but for some reason, seems clunkier.

B2 is used by okular. But the zoom actions look reversed. Yet, for some reason, the order feels more natural (I guess I zoom in "[+]" more often and as a left-to-right reader, it should come first?).

C2 is used by KolourPaint in KDE 3. The advantage of this scheme is that I frequently press [+] a few times until it's zoomed in enough and then I can just move the mouse a short distance to [-] to adjust. In contrast, this adjusting is made more difficult by the [+] and [-] buttons being far apart as in the cases of B1 and B2. So C2 is my favourite.

But I haven't really decided and in any case, this should be standardised across KDE apps so it would be great if you could vote for the one you prefer by adding a comment to this blog entry.

The final design will be chosen based on your votes so vote now!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

No one checks credit card signatures

Everyone, I think, knows this. Was just pointed to this article at

The Credit Card Prank. Absolutely hilarious, starting with the second page.

Have not had time to read Part 2 because I've spent too much time blogging :)

Log system events to VC 12 (CTRL+ALT+F12)

... as inspired by Mandrake 7.2 (2000):

The service syslog starts the system logger syslogd,
which reads /etc/syslog.conf. Add *.* /dev/tty12
to this config file and voila!

ssh tunnelling, tunneling or port forwarding

This is the most straightforward explanation of SSH tunnelling I have ever found. Unfortunately, this page doesn't show up as the first hit in google if you spell "tunnelling" with one 'l'.

This command is equivalent to the example given on that page:

ssh myuserid@gate -L 7777:work:22 cat -

Now for some clarification of this weird but effective syntax:

1. Traffic on port 7777 on your local machine goes to "gate" via the ordinary ssh port. "gate" forwards this traffic on to port 22 on "work".

As port 7777 is a local port, you can choose this to be pretty much anything from 1024 onwards and don't have to reconfigure your firewall.

You can change port 22 (ssh) to e.g. http to access the web server on "work" as if you were sitting at "gate". Now access http://localhost:7777/!

2. The name lookup for "work" occurs on "gate", not your local machine. This is very useful.

3. The "cat -" is a hack to keep the tunnel open.

I'm no network guru and have been wanting to learn this for ages but only found explanations that go on for pages about how great ssh forwarding is without actually giving a straightforward example. Others were obsessed with the intricacies of command line options.

For these reasons and because I don't have time to read a tutorial longer than documents I give to lawyers, I still have no idea how to write iptables rules by hand. If all documentation was like that we would all be spending most of our lives reading instead using computers. Hardly, a "simple primer" as claimed. So when I find a simple tutorial about iptables, I'll blog it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The fun of politics 2: Tuckey vs Beazley

If you think the antics inside Australian parliament are funny, wait till you see our favourite politicians outside of parliament. Wilson Tuckey, a hard right-wing government member takes on I'm-trying-be-prime-minister-for-the-3rd-time, Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley:

Beazley: Take your tablets mate.
Tuckey: Don't you insult me with tablets ... I am as entitled to stand here as you are.
Beazley: Why don't you take your weak worthless self in there with the weak worthless legislation?
Tuckey: Don't you call me weak and worthless you [mouths "stupid"] fat so and so.

But there's nothing like the actual video. Use one of the following links from most direct to least (sometimes, embedded video in Linux can be painful):

Direct WMV Stream

Page with embedded stream

Commentary (click on "clip")

Google News search (it's hard to get to the original story as it seems to have been censored off most news sites' main pages)

This whole confrontation was about the government's proposed, tough, new immigration laws that will have boat people being imprisoned at sea! In fact, so tough that several government members later crossed the floor and one resigned. Notice that Beazley was caught off guard in that video and accused the legislation of being "weak", as Tuckey picked up on.

Other interesting happenings include an opposition member bringing in a
stuffed chicken (check out the pic!), getting ejected from parliament along with a fellow member who exclaimed "such a poultry offence" (pun intended).

Lastly, sorry, I haven't checked my email for a few days. I'm very busy but just couldn't help but put up this gag that made my day. I'll deal with email and LCA preparations on Sunday (I promise this time). If something's urgent, please email me through my yahoo account.