Monthly Archives: January 2009


I am a big, corpulent fan of thesauruses and mplayer. Mplayer has about a billion command line options, as any respectable linux staple should. Unfortunately, I’ve had some difficulty tracking down some of the more useful options. For instance, I was looking for a way to trim a sound file from the command line.

With mplayer you can specify output devices, so the command to play a song through your speakers and the command to write a new file often differ only by the output specification. Where this comes in is that the command I was looking for is also useful for playing a segment of a sound file.

I googled around for “mplayer trim audio file”, “mplayer crop audio file”, “mplayer start end command line options” (to see if the ones I wanted were in the main list), and “mplayer start end positions”. I think I ended up going through my own shell history until I found the commands I used for creating GIFs from movies (like I said mplayer/mencoder is great). There I found the elusive -ss and -endpos command line arguments. Why ss is ss and not startpos, I don’t know.

Next time you’re looking to trim anything or play anything, use the following commands as a template.

mplayer -ss 16 -endpos 1:21:33 [additional options] [input files]

Note that ss and endpos have the same input specification. So you can go by number of seconds, or mm:ss, or hh:mm:ss. endpos is the number of seconds you want to capture/play, so ss=5 and endpos=10 will play the 10 seconds starting at the 5th second.

(Note here that I had some strange results on one file, but that could have just been mplayer.)

Anyway, I hope that was helpful. As a postscript, here are some other examples for you.

Create a trimmed wavefile from an input file, including ripping audio from video files:

mplayer -ss [time] -endpos [time] -ao pcm:file=output.wav [input_file]

If you want to trim a video, you’ll have to switch to mencoder. Don’t worry, ss and endpos still work:

mencoder -ss [time] -endpos [time] -ovc copy -oac copy -o mytrimmed.avi [input_file]

(There might be a way to do it with mplayer, but I don’t know how. This works fine though 🙂 )

I drew some pictures

Here they are.

the iron gym is great

The Iron-clad Gym, itself.

The Iron-clad Gym, itself.

I recently purchased an Iron Gym, ” the multifunction training system that raises the bar on upper body exercises.” It’s a pull-up bar. But get this: it requires no installation. And it’s surprisingly great, despite its As Seen On TV nature, so here’s a brief review.

First, it’s not made of Fe; it seems more like Al and good amout of FoRu (foam rubber). Also, it’s not fully made. Some minor assembly is required, takes like 4 minutes, after which it feels pretty sturdy. I tossed it up on my dorm door frame and slammajammed some iron. Four whole gyms worth of iron, by the feel of it. But the good news is that the IG took it all and then some. It really does work very well.

Now that you know it’s great, you probably want that keen insight and sharp criticism you’ve gotten used to in my 5-post run as a blogger. First, it is about $30. This is kind of high-priced, but I think a regular pullup bar will probably run you about $15-20 anyway, so I guess it’s not much more. Also, the foam rubber might wear over time, but by then you’ve probably gotten your 30 bucks out of it anyway.

Supposedly this is useful for other exercises. About that: it’s not really that useful for other exercises. You can do pushups on it, but it’s about the same as holding dumbells. There are “ab straps” you can get for free to do hanging exercises, but those cost 8 dollars in shipping and handling and I can do plenty of ab work without them.

It’s still great though. If you like you can buy it from Walmart or a less evil establishment, perhaps. Then if you don’t like it you can return it. But pull-ups are by far my favorite exercise, as they allow me to 3-2-1 blast-off or do David Blaine levitation impressions, all while working your biceps, lats, and rear-shoulders. Combined with dips, you get a pretty full-featured upper-body workout. Checkout how to do them with two chairs (I recommend putting weights on the chairs if they’re like the ones we get in the dorms).

So, yes, go purchase it. You’ll find yourself cranking out a couple pull-ups here and there as you walk through your door throughout the day. Get one for the office. Have a competition. Be healthy, etc. Next time I promise to post pics of me gettin’ ripped and jacked.

Shopping for munitions

In a time of war and strife, one might find oneself desiring a few armaments of one’s own. Well, this post is here to provide you with all sorts of advice.

First, don’t buy Palestinian rockets. They’re crap. In fact, you probably can’t buy them, you’ll have to hand make them, just like the Palestinians. Handmake the sugar-based propellant, scrounge up some urea and a couple kgs of TNT so you have some explosives. And then you’ll have one of these.

A Palestinian rocket, and its exxxtreme damage infliction

A Palestinian rocket, and its exxxtreme damage infliction

Yeah, total crap. No guidance system and no reliable way of targeting, period. I’ve seen sweeter rockets in SkyMall.

Instead, I recommend becoming fast friends with the U.S., they’ll give you sweet stuff, even if it’s against their own laws. Like the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, which requires that each nation that receives weapons from the United States is not using the weapons for any form of conflict escalation. But let the results speak for themselves.

That's more like it.

Israeli weapons: That's more like it.

See, that’s what I expect when I hear ‘missile fire’ or ‘shelling’. I mean, you can’t even tell if there was a shack, shanty, or shed there. Also, they got the medical van, which was wise, as I learned from some very wise World of Warcraft players: you should go after the healers first.

Anyway, this post brought to you by’s Scenes from the Gaza Strip.

t&e update

Those who know me know that I’m a big fan of Tim and Eric: bigbig fan. Most recently, their Awesome Show Great Job! has delivered three seasons of fantastic shows. However, what are they up to besides the show, and more importantly, what should one watch when the show’s not airing new episodes?

Well, lately there have been a few videos for the watching. Eric has apparently been working on a few music videos, so let me get you some links:

T&E aren’t in all of them, in fact I think they’re only in the Ben Folds one. And I think that one might even have the real Ben Folds. Regardless, the style is priceless and very recognizable (Phantom Planet has a uke and a tiny cat [vs hat]). There are even some parts that could be claimed as overly similar, but you be the judge.  Also, the Polite Dance Song one has been out for ages, but it had to be included.

And if you haven’t caught the Vodka Movie miniseries featuring Zach Galifianakis, here’s another compilation for youyouyouyou

Enjoy, but hide your chubs!

Update: I couldn’t get enough of this either, but it doesn’t really fit anywhere.

On authority; documentaries

Between the last post and this one, I realized why I disdain my blog. Personally, I generally only happen upon blogs that are

  1. Not blogs at all.
  2. Webcomic-driven
  3. Authorities on a subject

Because this blog is 1) most certainly a blog, 2) presently lacking in humour and artistic skill and 3) written by someone who has no delusions of claims to authority, I realized that I probably wouldn’t find much merit in my own blog. That said, I’m going to strive to produce information on what I know/do best. At the end of winter break, I can comfortably say that my command over media (motion pictures and the like), is about as authoritative as I can afford to make it.

So now, without further ado, a brief review of some highly excellent and engaging documentaries. (with imdb links and ratings)

  1. Checkpoint (2003) – 8.1 – A must-watch documentary. No narration, just footage of the interactions between Palestinians and Israeli border police. There is very little violence, no deaths or serious injury, just a very sharp and clear image of a dynamic not seen anywhere else in the world. It humanizes not just the Palestinian plight, but also the Israeli soldiers, many of them younger than I.
  2. White Light, Black Rain (2007) – 8.4 – The film gives a very balanced and human-centered view of the 1945 Hiroshima/Nagasaki nuclear bombings. It steers clear of making too many assertions about modern-day implications, which makes it a very independent source, and it’s about time; this is likely the last generation that will have access to the human side that the film documents so well. All that said, if you’re not particularly interested in the subject, you may find some parts a bit tedious.
  3. Ralph Nader – An Unreasonable Man (2006) – 7.9  – I love me some Ralph Nader; I hate me some status quo. I found the film extremely informative and at times, even fun. It covers Nader biographically, with a particular focus on his role in the 2000 elections, where many claim he robbed Gore and stuck us with Bush.
  4. BBC Horizon – Allergy Planet – Not actually a feature-length documentary, it was probably the best BBC Horizon I’ve seen yet. Traditional, familiar style, but very engaging and interesting. Short and sweet.
  5. Walmart – The High Cost of Low Price (2005) – 6.9 – Another interesting one, but it lagged at times. The conclusion is predictable, but it might give you some perspective as to the degree. Also, it did go the extra mile by going to China and Bangladesh, which I appreciated.
  6. Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) – 7.7 – Very nice presentation, and despite the seemingly small scope, pretty engaging. Most of the United States was and probably still is unaware of just how advanced the electric car had gotten by 1996. We probably still think it impractical, I mean, otherwise why would we only have hybrids? California had sweet electric cars because they had some interesting laws, then the car companies got the laws repealed, and then the car companies recalled the perfectly fine cars and destroyed them. If you’re into the environment and haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend.
  7. Maxed Out: Our Credit (2006) – 7.4 – This film will probably disgust you, exactly the reason why you have to see it. For anyone curious as to how banks actually make money, prepare for the enlightenment. It’s not from you and me, payin’ our bills, reading the fine print, no, but rather the people who do it all wrong. The higher the risk the better. Note the date, note the financial crisis, note that you can get a better bead on what’s going on by simply watching a movie. (Short version: the less chance someone has of paying back a loan, the higher the risk for the lender. The higher the risk, the higher the rate. Rate = return. These high-rate loans were sold on markets for beaucoup bucks and never got paid back, duh.) I surmise that the low rating was because it had a couple draggy parts and because the whole issue had very few manifestations in the economy at the time.
  8. Confessions of a Superhero (2007) – 7.3 – Semi-interesting portraits of some people who dress up and act like superheroes (with whom tourists may take pictures) in Hollywood. Not tremendously informative, but you’ll see some characters for sure.

I watched some documentaries this last semester that were pretty good and the ones I would recommend there are Breaking the Silence – Truth and Lies in the War On Terror, The War on Democracy, and Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden. I’ve only got one documentary left to watch, and that’s Taxi to the Dark Side. I’ve heard great things.

Digikam is great

I recently spent 3 days going through back photos, culling and organizing, in an attempt to tidy up my file structure and generally feel more caught up. After all that, I felt like the job was somewhat incomplete, since folders arranged by date, location, and sometimes subject don’t really amount to much in the way of findability.

What I need is tagging and search functionality in a fast package. I’m not big into posting photos online, even on more professional services like smugmug. It takes too long to upload and the proportion of photos I want to share is very low. Because all of this stuff is on my server’s RAID5, and my server runs kde 3.5 on gentoo, there’s basically only one legitimate choice, digikam. It tags, it searches, and it’s fast. It handles RAW files (definitely don’t want to upload those). It can even embed the tags in the comments in the JPEG files (though not by default). All metadata is stored in a sqlite database that it keeps in sync with the files.

It does make a copy of whatever pictures you point it at though. But, the filestructure is preserved and everything looks just like it used to, so I can’t think of a reason to keep the untracked files around.

It’s served me and my 20GB or so of pictures well. There’s a screenshot attached.

a screenshot of my install of digikam on kde 3.5

a screenshot of my install of digikam on kde 3.5

Addendum: I’ll be upgrading from digikam 0.9 to 0.10 when I upgrade from kde 3.5 to 4.1 when it’s released (later this month I think). KDE 4.1 uses qt4, which is gonna be dandy for amarok 2.0. I’ll probably post about that, toowoowoowoo.