Scatter/Gather thoughts

by Johan Petersson

A quick review of Prometheus

I'm passionate about science fiction and I keep hoping for good science fiction movies but let's face it: Hollywood's track record is absolutely terrible. With Prometheus I was expecting a mediocre "sci-fi" movie with a shallow story and perhaps some good visual effects. Had that been the case I would not be writing these words.

I was on some level aware that the director of this movie was Ridley Scott, known for the classic science fiction and horror masterpiece Alien. The 1979 movie remains a favorite of mine. It wasn't perfect but its flaws weren't many and I can forgive a lot when the story is interesting, coherent, and convincingly conveyed.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes obvious that Prometheus is desperately trying to be a prequel to Alien while failing to emulate any of the elements that made the original movie great. The premise is ludicrous. The characters have less depth to them than cardboard cut-outs, appear slow-witted, and keeps making irrational decisions. For two hours the implausible plot stumbles on in an anti-scientific and technophobic way with overtly religious tones to an unsatisfying end.

I'm trying very hard to come up with some redeeming quality to Prometheus and I can't find any. It is monumentally stupid on every conceivable level and an insult to all sentient creatures in the known universe. If you haven't already had the misfortune of seeing this movie, avoid it like you would an Ebola virus sprinkler.

PROMETHEUS

17 November, 2012 | feedback (1)

Occasionally while messing around with a *nix system you'll find yourself with a big directory containing symbolic links, some of which are broken. A typical example would be links to shared libraries, but for me this also tends to happen fairly regularly with a collection of SSL certificates. What's a quick way to find the problematic links and remove them?

There is in fact a utility created specifically for situations such as this: symlinks. It was written by Mark Lord, who is perhaps more known for his work on the Linux kernel IDE subsystem. To recursively (-r) delete dangling (-d) links in the directory /etc/ssl/certs you would write:

symlinks -dr /etc/ssl/certs

This command can perform several other nifty symbolic link maintenance tasks, like converting absolute links to relative ones. However, when symlink is not available – and let's face it, it probably won't be installed unless the need to purge broken symbolic links comes up a lot on a given system – you can use find instead:

find -L /etc/ssl/certs -type l -delete

The way this works is somewhat unusual. The -L option causes find to follow symlinks while the -type l test matches symlinks. This combination may seem contradictory at first, but the effect is that only symbolic links find is unable to follow (i.e. dangling links) will match.

As usual with find and recursive directory processing in general, be careful. You may want to omit the -delete part until you're sure it's not recursively deleting everything in the world.

28 September, 2011 | feedback (4)

Generic guide to software editions

The last few years we have seen an increased proliferation of software product "editions": the same version aimed at different user segments. A somewhat recent example is the latest version of Microsoft's operating system, Windows Vista, which comes in no less than six different editions.

People often ask me what differentiates editions of particular products. I could direct them to the manufacturer's web site, which invariably offers "comparison matrices" outlining the differences, but there's really no need to do so once you understand the general pattern. The names of editions for specific products may differ, but the following should serve as a useful guide whenever you are faced with a choice of editions:

The Home edition
This relatively affordable edition is for people who have no idea how to use the software and have no intention of ever learning. It's functionally identical to last year's version of the product but features a colorful and horribly user-unfriendly interface with big shiny buttons to push and "wizards" that helps you do the wrong things fairly quickly.
The Professional edition
The Pro edition is for people that will actually use the software. It is expensive enough to make professionals and small businesses think twice before investing in it, but at least it has a semi-usable user interface and includes all features that matter. This is the edition trade magazines will review and the one always meant when a particular product is recommended.
The Standard edition
The edition for people who want to use the software but can't afford the Professional edition. Basically the same as the Home edition except that you can turn off some of the more obnoxious elements of the user interface, which unfortunately only serve to make its severe limitations all the more obvious. The price point is somewhere between Home and Pro.
The Premium edition
This edition is for people who probably should have bought the Home edition but have more money than common sense. It combines the user interface of Standard with the features of Professional and includes five additional "multimedia" applications, none of which have any practical use. This edition costs a bit more than Professional.
The Enterprise edition
This edition has a price tag one or two magnitudes over that of the Pro edition. It is similar to Professional but has a number of nebulous enterprise features, most notably a suite of poorly designed and buggy multi-user programs and support for machines with ridiculous amounts of RAM and CPUs. Presumably for scalability reasons, its performance while doing common tasks is considerably lower than any other edition so you really need such a machine to run it.

5 May, 2007 | feedback (1)

Copley's Law of Boxes

Today's cute cat moment is brought to you by Padraic Connelly. His parents were taking out some recyclables when a few old cardboard boxes fell off the stack. By the time they got back from the end of the driveway, this is what they saw:

three cats in cardboard boxes

6 September, 2006 | feedback

Safely removing a Safely Remove Hardware notification

I have found a fix for a niggle with the Opteron box I built last year. One of my drives is incorrectly detected as a removable device, causing the Safely Remove Hardware icon to appear in the Windows notification area:

Safely Remove Hardware notification icon shown for non-removable hard drive

I know for a fact that this particular WD Raptor hard drive is securely fastened inside the chassis with four screws; I installed it myself. I suppose it's removable in the strictest sense of the word, but it's certainly not what you'd normally call a removable storage device.

It looks like the SATA drivers for my nForce4-based motherboard causes Windows to believe that it is some kind of hot-swappable device, and it was by investigating the Nvidia driver files I finally found the solution. If you're experiencing the same problem with your nForce board under Windows XP or 2003 I'd expect one of these registry changes to fix it. To convince Windows to treat my SATA devices as non-removable I located the key

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\nvata64

in the registry and created a DWORD value named DisableRemovable with value 1 under it. For the 32-bit version of the Nvidia drivers, you'd create the same value under

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\nvata

Yes, I know I could have gotten rid of the notification area icon simply by instructing the taskbar to hide it. As far as I'm concerned using this taskbar feature is never a solution, it merely hides the symptoms of a problem. Besides, I still want that notification icon to appear when attaching devices that truly are removable.

5 August, 2006 | feedback (7)