Friday, November 14, 2014

I Think I Pissed My Pants

We hit heavy turbulence. Not the "driving down a gravel road" kind but the "holy shut I think I'm going to die" kind where you drop hundreds of feet out of nowhere.

Intellectually I know turbulence is pretty harmless. But my balls don't seem to be aware because they burrowed up into my esophagus seeking safety.

It's now about 6:30 - success!!!  I've had 4 beers (my strategy for passing time in the Mumbai airport). 4 coffee &  bailey's (my strategy for staying awake) and 4 glasses of wine (my strategy for falling asleep). Not even buzzed which just isn't right.

One of the quirks of my personality is that I recall the "shape" of things but not really the details. I have a strong sense of the feeling of Mumbai and India but as time goes on the specifics will fade.

Mumbai was all chaos and a jumbled mess. A city in constant motion with no discernible rules to my Western mind but one that obviously is internally consistent. I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around it. I am going to need to read a bunch about that city because it's fascinating, confusing and deeply sad all at the same time.

In the US neighborhoods are segregated by class for the most part. You can look at a part of a city or neighborhood and get a sense of its rich, poor, middle class. In Mumbai is all spread like peanut butter. Obviously middle-ish class high rises rise in the background as tent cities and shanty towns spring in the foreground. Professionals stride down the street weaving in and out between homeless, shysters and street urchins all melding together naturally in a way that just doesn't feel right to my American sensibilities.

The huge shanty towns with a satellite on every roof is so confusing, but was ubiquitous.

When we arrived in Mumbai airport from Hyderabad we had to take a bus from the plane to the domestic airport (don't ask me why we landed at the International Airport. I have no idea). The bus traveled along the perimeter of the property within spitting distance of the razor wire and machine gun armed guards that surrounded the airport.

Built up along this imposing barrier due the entire 10(?) mile journey was shack after shack. People have built their homes in such an inhospitable environment. Yet it didn't have a feeling of desperation. Clothes were hung outside to dry. There were blinking multicolored Christmas lights everywhere, people were socializing and enjoying meals together.

What, to me, should be an environment of desperation and despair was normal. Routine. It almost causes me embarrassment.

After we got our luggage we needed to travel back to the international airport (no really). We were supposed to have a private car waiting for us but someone dropped the ball. Some random guy said he would take us.  As we approached his car my spidy sense started going haywire - I convinced everyone else to forego that idea and hit the official taxi stand. The guy followed us, hit a little over insistent and perhaps a little belligerent. I stopped and looked him in the eye (I'm also a good 8 inches taller and 100 lbs heavier than him) and informed him that we were well aware that we needed to take a taxi to the international terminal. That we were very capable of arranging a ride through official channels. And that there was no way in hell that we were going to get into his car or any vehicle that didn't have a companies name and official stare license sticker plainly visible). That cowed him briefly but he followed is a ways and when we stopped to strategize about our next step he approached and started to make his case again. I turned around puffed or my chest and may have had a look that could kill because he immediately shutup and walked away.

We found a prepaid taxi stand and while standing in line were approached by no less than 20 people offering taxi services (all pretty slovenly, no name tags of official looking presence which isn't saying much. But the dead give away is that they only approached western looking folks line and not any one obviously native)

So we got our cabs (we needed two) and they tossed out luggage on the roof. Then off we headed for our 20 minutes cab ride to the international terminal. Every 3 minutes the driver would own his door (whether we were moving our not) and would spit. His teeth were blood red. Then I noticed what he was chewing - the heads off of matches. I shit you not. He grabbed two stick matches while I was in the car and bit of the heads and chewed them like tobacco.

And as we made our way slowly to the terminal motor bikes often with two passengers would pass within inches of our vehicle. All the while I'm thinking that there would be nothing that we could do if one of them decided to grab or bags and just drive away. And then there were the street merchants. Often women with infants or little kids trying to sell plastic airplanes. Or simple begging. For some reason the windows were down and at one point we were moving very very slowly and they would just walk along side the car telling us to buy a plane. At one point she stuck it in my ear!!!  No money I said (which was absolutely 100% the truth I didn't bring any cash). Then she held up he baby making said eyes and said 'hungry'.  My heart dropped to my stomach. "I don't have any money". 'no paler money just English coin '. I had to look away ashamed. I didn't have anything of value to give.

When driving from the office to the Hyderabad airport we hit a stop light and two little urchin boys selling cotton candy (I think) started knocking on our windows.  We all shook our head no. He sat down pouring counting his 5 coins over and over. Our driver opened his window and offered him a bottle of water and said "from him" pointing his thumb at me. The boys face lit up like you would not believe and gave me a big thumbs up. I almost started crying - how miserable we are yet have so much.

In the final turn before entering the airport we sat at a busy intersection chaos everywhere. People walking bikes weaving in and out. Honking from all direction huge trucks with their "honk OK please" signs painted in the back. And on the far corner was a mom with two toddlers baked from the waste up. One of them squatting to piss on the street with a small pile of belongings beneath a ratty blanket tied between two posts. This was their home. Amidst the nose and confusion this young mother decided that this was the best option available to her. How can I appropriately demonstrate how fortunate I am that this is not a choice that I will ever have to make?

Part of me would like to say that this was a life altering experience - but we all know better. In weeks or perhaps months I will find myself complaining that the pizza place forgot to put extra sausage on my pizza. Or that I was mildly frightened in my business class swat cause things got a little bumpy and I spilled a bit of my free wine.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

MDL: Some More XBMC Tweaks

I’m now running two instances of XBMC Frodo each sharing a single MySQL database.  Frodo has allowed me to strip out some of the bandaids I put in place to make the experience as seamless as possible.
The box that I have in my family room is an Acer Aspire running Ubuntu.  That is also where MySQL is running.  The box I have in the basement is a Raspberry Pi running RaspBMC.
I used to have to store all of my thumbnails on an NFS mount and create linked directories on every box because XBMC wouldn’t regenerate thumbs locally if the content was already defined in the database.  Now with Frodo that isn’t necessary as XBMC will create thumbnails locally regardless of the existence in the database.
The other piece that I was able to strip out was a kludge of a script that attempted to force regeneration of  metadata and thumbnails when I made changes after the initial discovery.  MediaElch now allows me to edit metadata and force XBMC discovery of those change.
My tweaking is now limited to:
  • Creating symlinked NFS mounts for my content so that they show up in local paths (this is a work around so that I can use both Windows and Linux as XBMC hosts).
  • Some keymap customizations to work around limited remote functionality using Raspberry Pi and CEC.
  • Creating some dependencies for MySQL and XBMC.
Creating the database dependency in my family room was easy since the database was local.  I just needed to edit /etc/init/xbmc-live.conf and add:
start on started mysql 
pre-start script
while [ `mysqladmin ping -h -uxbmc -pxbmc -s | grep -c alive` -eq$
  sleep 1
end script
sleep 5

Creating the dependency on the Pi was a bit more challenging.  After installing mysql-client via apt-get I added this code to the top of /scripts/
#check to see if mySQL is running on the family room PC
while [ `mysqladmin ping -h -uxbmc -pxbmc -s | grep -c alive` -eq 0 ]
  sleep 1

sleep 5

I’m reasonable sure that storing your password cleartext in a configuration script is dumb, but I doubt anyone will be trying to break in and sabotage my music collection.  I also don’t know if this is precisely the correct place to put the delay – but it seems to work so I’m declaring success.

edited to add pre-start script to family room config

Saturday, April 14, 2012

MDL: Maintain the XBMC Library

One of the most frustrating things about XBMC is the static nature of its library.  The forums are full of people asking “How do you force the XBMC library to refresh?”  Many of them are asking specifically about the thumbnails and fanart.  My biggest concern is the metadata.

I have a mild case of OCD and am constantly tweaking the information about my movie collection.  Unfortunately, XBMC doesn’t ever pick up this information.  You can refresh movies manually, one by one.  But that process is tedious at best.

You can also delete the database and rebuild it.  But that kind of defeats the purpose of having a library, doesn’t it?  If you go this path you lose watch history, ratings and other information.

I think that I have developed a script that accomplishes what I need.  It removes just enough information to force re-population without getting rid of the things that I care about.  I currently have it setup to run once per week, which should be more than sufficient for my needs.

The script is in PowerShell, but shouldn’t be overly difficult to rewrite in just about anything.  A couple notes:

a) I am not worried about refreshing pictures here.  Though that can be accomplished pretty easily by deleting the thumbnail cache.

b) Use at your own risk.  I am not 100% certain that this is stable in all circumstances.  I’ve run it a bunch on my setup, but make no guarantees what it will do to yours.

c) I’m pretty sure its inefficient, I am not a programmer by nature.  If you find methods to improve it, please do so and post your results back here.

# You should be able to edit here and the rest of the script should work
# With the very important exception of the section marked !!!!LOOK AT ME!!!! below.
$xbmcuserid = "user"
$xbmcpassword = "pass"
$xbmcIP = ""
$xbmcPort = "8000"
$mySQLIP = ""
$url = "http://" + $xbmcIP + ":" + $xbmcPort + "/jsonrpc"
$xbmcDB = "xbmc_video"

# Connect to the mySQL database
$XBMCConnection = New-Object MySql.Data.MySqlClient.MySqlConnection
$XBMCConnection.ConnectionString = "database=" + $xbmcDB + ";server=" + $mySQLIP + ";Persist Security Info=false;user id=" + $xbmcuserid + ";pwd=" + $xbmcpassword

# Make a copy of the movie table
$copyCommand = $XBMCConnection.CreateCommand()
$copyCommand.CommandText = "CREATE TABLE movie_copy SELECT * FROM movie"

# Clean out the movie table
$cleanCommand = $XBMCConnection.CreateCommand()
$cleanCommand.CommandText = "DELETE FROM movie WHERE idMovie > 0"

# !!!!!!!!!!!!!!LOOK AT ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
# You are going to need to clean out the hashes associated with the movies or the scan will just skip past everything
# You can clear out all of the hashes (movies and TVs) but that will cause everything to rescan
# I prefer to just scan the stuff that I care about YMMV
# !!!!!!!!!!!!!!LOOK AT ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
$cleanHashCommand = $XBMCConnection.CreateCommand()
$cleanHashCommand.CommandText = "UPDATE path` SET `strHash` = '0' WHERE strPath like '%Movies/%';"

# Ask XBMC to look for new videos - this will reload the NFOs into the database
$command = '{"jsonrpc": "2.0", "method": "VideoLibrary.Scan", "id": 1}'
$bytes = [System.Text.Encoding]::ASCII.GetBytes($command)
$web = [System.Net.WebRequest]::Create($url)
$web.Method = "POST"
$web.ContentLength = $bytes.Length
$web.ContentType = "application/x-www-form-urlencoded"
$stream = $web.GetRequestStream()
$reader = New-Object System.IO.Streamreader -ArgumentList $web.GetResponse().GetResponseStream()

# Wait for 30 minutes, this is probably me being lazy. 
# I can't think of a way to see if the scanning has been completed or not
start-sleep -s 1800

# Reset the movie ids back to what they were. 
# This is required if you a) care about Recent Movies being accurate.  b) you use sets c) probably something else too
$ResetIDCommand = $XBMCConnection.CreateCommand()
$ResetIDCommand.CommandText = "UPDATE " + $xbmcDB + ".movie_copy t1, " + $xbmcDB + ".movie t2 SET t2.idMovie=t1.idMovie WHERE t1.idFile = t2.idFile"

# Drop the backed up table
$DropCommand = $XBMCConnection.CreateCommand()
$DropCommand.CommandText = "DROP TABLE " + $xbmcDB + ".movie_copy"

# Clean the database
# Don't know if this is necessary, but it can't hurt, right?
$command = '{"jsonrpc": "2.0", "method": "VideoLibrary.Clean", "id": 1}'
$bytes = [System.Text.Encoding]::ASCII.GetBytes($command)
$web = [System.Net.WebRequest]::Create($url)
$web.Method = "POST"
$web.ContentLength = $bytes.Length
$web.ContentType = "application/x-www-form-urlencoded"
$stream = $web.GetRequestStream()
$reader = New-Object System.IO.Streamreader -ArgumentList $web.GetResponse().GetResponseStream()

Friday, March 30, 2012

Why Scalia's Broccoli Analogy Wasn't Stupid

Mostly because Scalia wasn't making an analogy - he was challenging the government to define a limiting principle.  If it is OK for the government to force someone to buy insurance at what point is it not OK for the government to force someone to buy something that it feels is important?

Scalia may have well have asked - if Congress thinks that forcing citizens to purchase yo-yos because Congress believes that every citizen owning yo-yos will prevent an invasion by little purple men from Alpha Centauri would that be Constitutional?  If it is not Constitutional what is the distinguishing difference between the two cases?

In other words - at what point is Congress prohibited from telling someone that they must buy something?  "Health care is special" is not a limiting principle because it opens the courts to infinite justifications around 'this market is special because:' type of arguments.  For example, yo-yos are special because of their unique place in prohibiting invasion by little-purple men from Alpha Centauri.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Question of the Day

Why are CEO's held liable for any action that their company takes (Sarbanes-Oxley), but public officials aren't even responsible for their own actions (qualified immunity)?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Please God No

I got an email from Consumer Reports today advocating tighter regulation of medical devices by the FDA.  Here is my response with a copy of the original email below:

This approach would simply raise the costs and increase the time associated with getting medical devices into the hands of the people that need them most.  We have already seen how the FDA approval process for drugs has slowed innovation and increased time to market by decades.  The last thing in the world that I want to see is this failed model super-imposed on medical devices.


Dear ,

It's a nightmare scenario. The implant that fixed your knee or your heart may actually be a ticking time bomb that could disable or kill you.

This isn't science fiction. Millions of medical devices including artificial hips, contact lens solution, heart stents, and pacemakers are being recalled - 700 different products a year.

And the vast majority of recalled products were never safety tested in humans, because the manufacturers claimed they were "similar" to products already on the market.

Tell Congress we don't want to be guinea pigs anymore!

Every new prescription drug must undergo rigorous testing on humans before it can be sold, even if it is similar to another drug already in use. Not so with medical devices. Because of this loophole in our safety laws, more than 90 percent of medical devices aren't safety tested before being sold nor are they routinely tracked afterwards to identify safety problems.

For example, a metal hip implant marketed by Johnson & Johnson was approved in 2005 without first undergoing clinical safety trials. It was recalled five years later after having a 1 in 8 failure rate in the UK, and releasing potentially toxic metals into the body. Countless patients had to undergo a second, painful 'revision' surgery.

It's time safety standards for medical devices are as strong as those for prescription drugs! E-mail your members now!

The device industry has unleashed an army of lobbyists and they don't want things to change. It will take a wave of consumers weighing in to make sure medical devices are safe and effective. Please take action, then forward this to friends and family. Thank you!


Jim Guest
President, Consumer Reports
101 Truman Ave
Yonkers, NY 10703

Thursday, October 06, 2011

MDL: XBMC Issues Pausing With Remote SMB

I love my XBMC and have had great success sharing a single datasource and database across multiple clients.
With one exception – my linux box doesn’t like it when you pause TV and movies when the video file is on a remote SMB share – whenever you try the videos stop playing.  Manageable, but it annoys my wife.
I think I finally fixed it.  I created a symbolic link on both the Windows and Linux clients so that XMBC thinks that the file is a local path.  This is necessary because all of the clients need identical paths to the video files in order to share the common database.
So far so good, I can fast forward, rewind, pause and the videos seem to handle it fine. 

Update: Nope, never really fixed it.  I ended up switching to Drobo  and sharing content with both NFS and CIFS.  Ever since I made the changed everything has worked like a charm.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

MDL: Optimizing XBMC

There are a number of tweaks that I had to make on XBMC to make it work a little better with my setup.

First – since I am using MySQL I had to add some indexes and make a small change to the MySQL server.

By default it appears that MySQL wants to do a reverse DNS lookup to all client connections.  This makes the initial connection very slow, to disable this behavior add the following to my.ini in the [mysqld] section:


The following indexes also improve performance:

use XBMC_video;
ALTER TABLE movie ADD INDEX idMovie(idMovie);
ALTER TABLE movie ADD INDEX idFile(idFile);

Another change that is essential because of the shared MySQL database is the sharing of the thumbnail directory – otherwise the thumbnails will only appear on the XBMC client that discovers the media.  To get around this I created a symbolic link on the Linux box to the shared Thumbnail directory on Windows.

Connecting to Windows shares from Linux has caused me all sorts of issues.  I initially tried mounting shares in fstab, but if the Windows box wasn’t available during Linux boot the shares were unavailable.  I switched to automounter which resolved the issue.

There are some other SAMBA tweaks to improve performance – in theory this was supposed to prevent video from stopping if it was paused or looking at info.  So far it is only partially successful.

socket options = TCP_NODELAY SO_RCVBUF=8192 SO_SNDBUF=8192

Finally, ever time I upgrade something in XBMC or a supporting component the autostart fails to actually, you know, autostart XBMC.  To fix this edit the /etc/uxlaunch/uxlaunch file with the correct home directory.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

MDL: Backing Up to Flickr Part I

For better or worse I’ve decided that I would use flickr as my photo backup solution.  For one, it’s not terribly expensive – around $30 for unlimited storage – and it makes picture sharing pretty easy.  There are privacy concerns for some, but I’m simply not sure that I care.
The downside is that there aren’t really any tools out there that automate sending the pictures to flickr.  Foldr Monitr comes close, but its buggy, isn’t updated anymore and I just don’t like the choices that it has made. 
After about two years of complaining I guess I’ll just have to handle the problem myself.  Odds are that you won’t like the choices that I’ve made, but hopefully I’ve given you enough pieces that you can make the necessary modifications without having to start from scratch the way that I did.
You are going to need a database of some kind to keep track of everything – I have a copy of MySQL running already for XBMC so that’s what I’ll use.  I’m also going to use PowerShell since that is what I know which means that I’ll have to install the ODBC driver for MySQL.
Finally, I suck as a programmer.  Don’t use any of this code with the expectations that you’ll learn how to get better at scripting.  Also, don’t point out how if I changed some bit of code around it would be SOOO MUCH BETTER!   I don’t care – if my code functions for me, inefficient or not, I am quite content.
So be warned – this thing works for me and my needs 95% of the time.  And if I run across an anomaly where it doesn’t do what is expected if x & y are true – I stop doing  both x & y at the same time.  The chances that I’ll update the script to accommodate your special circumstances are pretty damn rare.  And adding any functionality at all is all but unthinkable.
All that being said, feel free to borrow the code and adapt it to your own purposes – you just can’t take this and put it into something that you are going to sell.  And if you update the scripts for public consumption – please give me my due by linking back here.  Obviously while noting how crappy the code is and how much work you had to put into it to make it semi-functional for a normal human being.
Part II will get into the script and perhaps the database – assuming that I actually finishing writing the god damned thing.

Update: I have completely abandoned this project.  Flickr is just too much of a pain in the ass.  I am almost completely migrated to CrashPlan for offsite backups of my pictures with the plus of being able to backup non-pictures as well.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

How Microsoft Can Become More Interesting

Paul Thurrott asked the question “How Can Microsoft Fix Microsoft?” - here is my take.

I believe that one of the things that makes Microsoft less 'interesting' than other tech companies is the reliance on being predictable for businesses.  Large organizations simply can’t tolerate constant churn in its core technologies – they have a hard enough time simply keeping up with the plodding pace of change as it exists today.  I think that Microsoft can take a lesson from open source projects and offer frequent innovations while maintaining the predictability that large organizations need.

The key is to offer frequent updates, say every six months but only offer long term support on a subset of those releases - every four releases for example.  This would allow Microsoft to try more experimental features and observe how well they are received in a community that is more forgiving of constant churn while maintaining predictability for its largest customer base.

This approach would avoid forcing Microsoft into splitting its products into separate governance models for different product lines (one of the things that I think slow down development cycles on products like Live Essentials and Windows Phone) and hopefully speed up the rollout of interesting technology for those of us that are enthusiasts.

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