Monthly Archives: March 2007

The problem of multicasting

Bob Cringely has an interesting article about a new service called NeoKast which purports to make internet video broadcasting possible without requiring multicast support at the router or substantial amounts of bandwidth. I’m sure the technology is patented, which is unfortuanate as it would be nice to see some open versions of this software. As far as I can tell the NeoKast service is essentially emulating a multicast network by using peer hosts to spread the feed, in real time, to other viewers in a peer to peer manner. It’s an interesting idea but perhaps its time has already come and gone. While there are some live events that attract enough viewer interest where considerable amounts of bandwidth might be saved, for the most part it seems that the future of Internet video is on demand video which is a horse of a different color and which does not benefit from this method at all, at least in its current incarnation.

Online Amateur Radio Repeater Directory

I recently found the website which contains a listing of many of the amateur radio repeaters in the United States. I actually had a plan at one point to develop a similar PHP/MySQL driven site but simply have way too many other projects going to take on another. That said I do have a few issues with the US Repaters site. First, the site is a mess graphically and navigation leaves a lot ot be desired. The lack of an interface for owners of repaters and/or coordination bodies to make changes, users to search, etc. is also unfortuante. Secondly, the data is copyright instead of being open and freely available. As inexpensive as webhosting is these days and seeing that ham radio has a long tradition of sharing knowledge I am disappointed to see someone attempting to assert control over this factual data. I think a simple ad supported site (not the ads all over approach US Repeaters takes) would be sufficient to support such a directory. If someone out there is interested in working on an open PHP/MySQL repeater directory I would be more than happy to provide web space, bandwidth and my ideas. Contact me if interested.

Converting PAL DVDs to NTSC

Occasionally I’ll find a PAL (European video standard) video which I really want to preserve on an NTSC (US/Japan video standard) video DVD for showing where computers are not at hand. Because the frame rate of the video (the number of still pictures in each second of video) differs but sound must remain synced up this is a difficult thing to do. One of the best sites I’ve found with instructions for doing this with free tools is this one. The downside is that it’s a pretty lengthy and involved process and, at least to my eye, the end result is still sub-optimal. If you have any better resources for making this conversion I encourage you to post a comment and share them.

Remembering Chernobyl

On April 26, 1986 reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union near what is now Pripyat, Ukraine. Nearly twenty one years later this remains the worst nuclear power accidents and a reminder of both the awesome and potential destructive nature of nuclear power. In recent years, as radioactivity levels in the area have decreased and time has marched on, there has been much less discussion about the accident and it often receives only a cursory discussion in schools. To those still living in the area who see constant reminders of the destruction and sacrifice which followed the accident the Internet has provided a medium to ensure the accident is never forgotten.

In many ways the Chernobyl accident remains shrouded in mystery. In part thanks to the suppression of news and reporting during the Soveit era and in part due to the deaths of key figures there remains much we do not know about the accident and the aftermath. In much the same way there is controversy surrounding the discussion of the accident as well as modern exploration of the accident site. The goal of this article is to provide some guidance in the exploration of Chernobyl related resources.

A good place to start for an overview is the Wikipedia article on the Chernobyl disaster but remember that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone and may contain bias or inaccuracies. Another good place for background information and papers is the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Chernobyl page. If you’re specifically interested in the natural implications of the disaster you may want to check out the book Wormwood Forest: A natural history of Chernobyl by Mary Mycio.

Once you have a good understanding of the disaster itself you may want to start looking at some of the modern exploration and notes from the Chernobyl site. One of the most popular sites was created by the so called “Kid of Speed” Filatova Elena Vladimirovna who wrote two photographic stories (Ghost Town and Land of the Wolves) of trips into the exclusion zone and hosts them along with other thoughts on the disaster at her website. It is worth noting that several people have called parts of her stories (particularly early revisions) out as hoaxes but she remains a prominent figure and committed to remembering the disaster and her site contains many interesting photographs from the so-called exclusion area. The Nuclear Flower site, an anti-nuclear power site from Australia, contains some higher resolution photos from the exclusion area. The 26-04-1986 site was setup by seven artists from Moscow, Minsk and Berlin to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster and contains some artistic photos from the area. National Geographic also featured the Chernobyl disaster in their April 2006 issue and this online exhibit. Use the links of the side of that page to see photos, writings, maps, sites and sounds from the area. Looking toward the future you may examine the site, setup by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which bills itself as an “international communications platform on the longterm consequences of the Chernobyl disaster”.

Downloading online Flash video

As with many technologies, the advent on online Flash video (flv) has both an upside an downside. On one hand it eliminates, or at least substantially reduces, the need to have a great variety of platform dependant streaming video tools (a la RealPlayer) but on the other hand there’s a lot of good, or at least interesting, content on YouTube which could either disappear without notice and requires an Internet connection to view. This is an argument I have with most of these Internet based services such as YouTube, Flickr, etc. I think people are setting themselves up for a future problem by posting so much potentially important data at sites with unknown and uncontrollable futures. Enough of my rant though. The point here is to find a solution, or at least a mitigation strategy for viewing Flash videos offline.

Thanks in part to others experiencing the same problem and the popularity of YouTube there are a number of people with an interest in this. Several online sites such as KeepVid and Javimoya offer web-based methods of saving these videos as well as downloadable FLV players for viewing them. Again though, I have a problem with relying on web services which are unpredictable in the future. A better solution would be to use a cross platform script, such as the python based youtube-dl, which does not rely on the cooperation of a third party. Even better is to understand how a script such as youtube-dl works by reading some information on manual FLV downloading from sites like this or this.

Remebering toasters that fly

I was recently reading some excellent interviews Tommy Thomas, of Low End Mac, did with the AfterDark team which brought back some fond memories of the flying toasters. Those who remember the quirky early Macintosh screensaver developed by After Dark (later Berkely Software) often wonder where the creativity went in screen saver development, something Thomas touches on in his interviews.

For the time being those who wish to relive the golden days of the screen saver you’ll either need to find an old copy of these screensavers many of which don’t run on modern operating systems or check out some of the knock off versions such as this free one, which unforunatly doesn’t look much like the original.