Thursday, January 26, 2006

Stepping over the stones

Yesterday I headed on up to what's affectionately referred to as the Business Center. It's where a lot of our hardware is located and also serves as offices for some of my colleagues who aren't quite in the same organization as me yet I have to deal with them regardless. They're nice enough folk but their mindset is a bit different than ours. They would argue that we don't necessarily "get" the grand plan while we would counter that our direct interaction with customers, as opposed to just fellow employees, doesn't allow us such a luxury.

So in the bi-weekly meeting that I attend up there I dropped the bombshell that I was planning on using Ruby on Rails in the rewrite of our web portal. Now understand that our current version, which was written before I started working there, is nowhere near what was promised to upper management in terms of capability and speed. Add onto that the enormous costs and the fact that the final product still hasn't been delivered and you can see how the people I answer to would be a bit anxious to get something rolling.

But naturally my colleagues didn't see it that way. Immediately a furor was raised over how I was going against the ingrained standards of the company and how difficult it would be to support an application written in an "alien" language. They made it seem as if it was Sean vs. The Holy J2EE Standard. Regardless, I know that the way to get Ruby through the system is not with direct confrontation. I did plenty of that at my last job and would much prefer to build bridges here. So I'm going the other route: I'm gonna charm 'em.

Upon return to the sanctuary of my cube I immediately set about creating accounts on my Linux box for each of those programmers who raised an objection. I then gathered all the helpful tutorials and links that I used when I was learning Ruby on Rails and put all the information into a nicely formatted, kindly worded email. The idea is that once they see the true power of this amazing framework they will better understand why I am going this route. I don't expect to make converts out of them overnight but I do hope that they drop their blind reluctance to it and give it the chance it deserves.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Detective Robert Goren, modern-day superhero

Superheroes amaze our senses and make us question what's possible. Detective Robert Goren, the star character of Law & Order: Criminal Intent is no different. He makes intellectually Herculean tasks look like child's play. From the very first episode where he connected a suspect's sexual habits to their need for control to his colossal battles with arch-nemesis Nicole Wallace, Goren is constantly observing and putting together the puzzle that will eventually solve the crime.

But with this highly developed ability comes some peculiar habits. For one, there is the famous "head-cock" which is employed in nearly every episode and to great effect. It allows him to get in the suspect's face without having to come down to their level. And his penchant for stopping mid-sentence while digesting a new piece of evidence causes everyone to look in his direction in an attempt to glean any information from whatever new insight has just come across. These habits may put off those unfamiliar with his style but to his immediate colleagues they have become endearing.

The famous Goren "head-cock"

There is no doubt that the fictional streets of New York are safer thanks to this police detective's hard work and dedication. But without that uncanny instinct for deciphering a case, the sense that guides him down the true path to solving a crime, he would be just another member of the Major Case Squad. Hats off to Dick Wolf for creating a superhero that lives and breathes as we do.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Back in the saddle again

Whilst some people like to keep their computers on the cutting edge constantly upgrading it, I have always tended to do mine in large leaps. My current setup is a real beauty: 2.8GHz Intel-based product with 1.5GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon X700 video card all wrapped up in a Shuttle form factor case by Chenming. Up until very recently this computer had actually become somewhat of a bane. It had a funny habit of rebooting whenever I turned it off. It required me turning off the monitor beforehand so that it would not randomly restart.

All this changed two days ago when I replaced my old & busted 9600 video card with the X700. Not only did Counter Strike Source look 100x better but the random rebooting stopped as well. And when I played Battlefield 2 for the first time with this beast, I was absolutely blown away. Details that had remained hidden from me jumped out in full vivid color at 1024x768 resolution. With this setup, I finally feel like I have the gaming box I have always wanted. Now the question is, how long until it becomes outdated?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Compiling MPlayer on SUSE 10

For those of you brave enough to have installed SUSE 10 you are no doubt getting increased productivity thanks to better apps, a well-thought out interface and nearly seamless integration with 3rd party software. I say nearly because in attempting to compile MPlayer for SUSE 10, I came upon the problem of having GCC 4.0 installed by default. Being as it is such a new compiler, most dev teams haven't had the time to fully test and integrate with it. Remember the 2.96 debacle? I just hope the SUSE team's enthusiasm for cutting-edge software will not cause their product to get slammed like RH7 was.

So the first order of business is downloading everything you'll need. Go to the MPlayer homepage and grab the source tarball and a skin tarball. I chose proton although I'm thinking of going back to the classic Blue theme. If you'd like to play Windows media files then download the 'all codecs' package as well. In addition, you will need to download an older version of GCC. I chose 3.4.5 as that was the last stable version in the 3.x tree.

Once you get yourself a previous version of GCC downloaded and untar'd, create a directory titled gcc-3.4.5 in your /opt directory. Assuming you are in the newly untar'd directory, configure your build of GCC with the following command:
shell> ./configure --prefix=/opt/gcc-3.4.5

If everything goes well, you should get no errors. Follow up with the requisite make and make install commands. To test your new version of GCC out, cd to /opt/gcc-3.4.5/bin and type ./gcc. The help screen for version 3.4.5 should thus be displayed.

Now that we have our previous version of GCC up and running, it is time to compile MPlayer. Untar each of the downloaded files. Copy all the files in the directory which contains the Windows codecs into /usr/local/lib/codecs if you will be using them. Change back to the MPlayer untar'd directory and type the following command:
shell> ./configure --enable-gui --cc=/opt/gcc-3.4.5/bin/gcc

This tells the compiler to enable the GUI and to use the older version of GCC that we installed. Again, follow up this command with the requisite make and make install to complete the installation of MPlayer. As well, be sure to copy the contents of the downloaded skin directory into the installed mplayer/Skin directory, by default located at /usr/local/share/mplayer/Skin/. Type gmplayer at the shell to bring up the graphical version of MPlayer.