2011-10-28

#OccupyDWS - My Afternoon Outside the Dublin Web Summit

So I was free in Dublin today, and decided to go on down to the Dublin Web Summit - having watched some talks last night and interested in getting more of the personal experience today. I got there, but was told that all the tickets had sold out weeks before, and that none were available. So I strolled outside, waited at the bus stop for a stretch, and then realised that I could hack myself my own little Web Summit, with all the experience of the attendees. So was the Occupy Dublin Web Summit movement born. (#OccupyDWS)

The #OccupyDWS Rallying Sign (v1.5)

At first a little timid, and absorbed by the mighty #dws tweet-feed, I sat to one side of the RDS Anglesea Road entrance, and tweeted an initial declaration that I was outside the #dws and would fancy someone to chat with about whatever was going on inside. After a few minutes in which my huge crowd of potential Occupiers failed to appear, I decided that I needed to identify myself a little better - and so I created a sign out of an envelope I happened to be carrying in my bag.

After a good few people passed by, I realised that the sign wasn’t obvious enough, so I relocated to directly in front of the pedestrian entrance. That’s how most people saw me - tweeting away or watching the talks “live”, sitting cross-legged in the sun. I was having a great time; many people would glance down and ignore me, but the grand majority coming out of the event had a smile or a laugh for my solitary “protest”. Most of them would stop and chat about the Web Summit, the people they’d met, the interesting start-ups or the best talk. Most people seemed to agree that the night before had been better than this morning; more famous speakers, or maybe just more attendees.

I explained that I wasn’t able to get in because I didn’t have a ticket, which led more than one person to offer me some money. A little shocked by this, I changed my sign from “No ticket :( ” to “No tickets for Sale :( ”. I got offered more than one wrist-band as people departed, but I explained that I was having so much fun, that I’d given up on going inside and that I didn’t actually want to sneak in that I declined. One man ignored all that, and gave me his wrist-band anyway. Thanks, but I didn’t use it.

Free Access! All I’d have to do is abandon my principles.

Like every protester, I started off just sitting outside the Web Summit with a pretty simple point, but I found that as I explained it to more and more people, that I was becoming more and more involved in the issue. I found myself saying things like:

“No room? They don’t even know how many people are in the building!”
“Sounds like the kind of thing we use computers to sort out!”
and
“People keep leaving, there’s gotta be room for me!”
but later got a little more fervent -
“The internet is all about instant access!”

Whoops - was my ironic “protest” actually starting to take itself seriously? Turns out, that as I talked to people about it, my thoughts turned to how to solve the problem of limited space in a venue, but having a number of people in the venue well below that limit and people outside that you have to turn away. After my phone battery failed, I refined these ideas on the bus home – but more of that in another post.

As I sat there, a steady stream of people went by, and I was rarely without someone to talk to about the days events. I was briefly interviewed by Silicon Republic, and had my photo taken a few times. One person commiserated that I didn't have my laptop with me, so that I could be doing some web dev. I explained that all I have is a behemoth of a Dell, and that I don't carry it around much. I got handed quite a few business cards, and one person in particular seemed to believe that my surname was another kind of elaborate joke when I mimed the two words (the protest though, was deadly serious).

I got a pretty good impression of the Dublin Web Summit - many people seemed excited, and about all manner of different things. The Journalism / News talk had evoked a lot of strong emotion, the Payments talk was equally interesting. Most people seemed pretty amused that I was sitting outside the event, but was still able to talk to them about something that had just happened. One guy was just happy he’d gotten to see Moot. I’m pretty disappointed that I missed that – maybe if I bring a Guy Fawkes mask, he’ll visit me next year. :P

I’ve actually got nothing to do with Anon, but it might get his attention.

One of the RDS security guards decided that he wanted me to move on, but once I agreed to leave if the organisers had a problem with me being there, that worked out all right. It really helped that when he came along, I was deep into a technical discussion with someone with a badge, who leapt to my defence with:

“The organisers won’t care - This is exactly the right spirit for this kind of thing.”
He was right - most of the attendees I talked to got a bit of a kick from seeing me there. If you’re reading this, I didn’t catch your name, but thanks.

So the guard wandered off to find an organiser irate enough to justify removing me (from the public footpath, but I digress). Actually, he went to ask the very person that I’d tried to buy a ticket from, and had gotten along pretty well with! That exchange had gone something like:

Me: “I don’t have a ticket, I haven’t booked or anything, I’d just like to give you some cash and go inside”
Him: “I’d love to take your money, but we’re just not allowed”

He came out, I explained that it wasn’t a serious protest (which he had already understood by reading my sign), and he told the security guy to leave me alone. The guard then spent the next hour watching me from afar, and (probably) telling anyone who would listen about me - judging from the pointing and the looks in my direction. I gave him a thumbs-up whenever I noticed. He probably got #OccupyDWS way more PR than I could have managed otherwise. :)

Once the lunch crowd died down, my battery had drained so I couldn’t watch any more talks and I was starting to feel a little cold, so I headed home. I had a great time at the Dublin Web Summit, and might even book in advance for next year!

Here’s my parting tweet:

“Battery low means I can’t watch video streams, so #OccupyDWS is shutting down. Met loads of friendly, smart people. #dws was fun!”

2011-10-17

Irish Oil Exploration Licences 2011 - Worth It?

This is an attempt to analyse the benefits to the Irish Exchequer from the licensing of areas of the Atlantic Margin for exploration for Oil and Gas, in order to promote informed debate.

Any numbers here are my own interpretation of the publicly available documents, and may be incorrect. Comments, suggestions and amendments are welcome, but please cite your sources. Please note, that any figures I give will use an SI postfix system1, as there seems to be significant public confusion between the relative significance of 'millions' versus 'billions' of Euro.

Applications

15 applications were filed, 13 accepted[1]. Against the cost of assessing the applications, we have the application fee of €1520 - so
€1520 × 15 = €22.8k
in total[4].

As the Dept. is supposed to assess the "quality of the work programme proposed", "the level of technical competence and offshore experience of the team" and "evidence of the financial capacity"[4], any one of which would cost more than €1520 per applicant, the State is already at a loss. Perhaps the Department could comment on the total amount spent assessing these applications, including Civil Service time, as well as any outside consultancy they undertook?

As far as I can understand, the purpose of these Exploration Licences is for the State to obtain a seismic survey of the Atlantic Margin and determine whether there is exploitable oil or gas in sufficient quantity to justify exploitation. There is no guarantee of a license to exploit anything discovered. The licenses allow "geological groundtruthing techniques such as seabed coring and shallow drilling", but full well-drilling is not allowed without a subsequent Frontier Exploration Licence, which basically seems to require a similar application/vetting process, and which may not be filed for a year from the granting of a Licencing Option. This "for consideration by the Minister" and with no "automatically entitle(ment)" to the exploitation license. It seems to me that Joe Higgins TD is premature in criticising this process, although he is absolutely correct in stating that the survey results should be available to the State and to the people prior to the granting of any subsequent licence.

I feel that Minister Rabbitte is absolutely correct to say that exploratory surveys are vastly too expensive and risky for the State to undertake; if we take the figures he gives in the interview, at €80M per exploratory drilling, with less than Norway's 1:4 success ratio. If we take TD Higgins' figures, there have been 4 successful finds, with 14 ongoing explorations and 118 failures. In context, if we estimate that the Government would have to invest €150M to perform an exploration of a single 'Block', the prior probability of success would be 4/118 = 3.4% (excluding incomplete surveys).

By contrast, by licensing out these surveys, the State is not involved in the financial risk (nor do we have the ready cash to invest in such a venture!). For reference, the figure 'one in five' or 'one in four' given by Minister Rabbitte equates to a prior-probability of between 20% and 25%; so a significantly less risky investment, at least in the past.

I think that the idea of attempting to set up a State agency or semi-State company to perform these explorations would entail vast expenditure on personnel, material, with no guarantees of return. With our Budget in such imbalance, this proposal sounds risky and impractical.

It occurs to me that these licenses are vastly cheaper than the Licence fees imposed on the Telecommunications for use of Spectrum; which is subject to auction. I do not understand why prices should be fixed if there is significant interest in performing these explorations -- I would also be interested in details of the two failed applications; why were they rejected? If they represented competition for the same area, then why not expose these applicants to a market-like approach, with the end-benefit being the people of the State? (This is supposition, it is possible that they failed due to their work programme, technical competence or financial backing).

Sea Rental (Who knew?)

The rate imposed by the Government on companies taking out these Licensing Options is €29 per km2. The April Acreage Update states that the 996 Full Blocks and 58 Part Blocks available have a total area of 252,500 km2, giving a total possible rent of:
€29/km2 × 252,500km2 = €7.3 M
if all of the Atlantic Margin were licensed. That seems like a completely insignificant figure, compared to the possible benefits from an oil find.

According to the Notice[4], this is linked to the Consumer Price Index, but I really wonder how they are performing that calculation -- for example, a quick Daft search for commercial property, and Property.ie for Agricultural land gives me2:

  • €29 / km2 - One Year of Sea for Oil Prospecting
  • €228 / km2 - One Year of Grazing ground in Galway
  • €108,000,000 / km2 - One Year of Industrial floorspace in Clonee

Although, there's very little chance of prospecting for gold or other mine-ables in either location, I thought that it would be nice to compare to market rates, so I'm not being entirely facetious. The rate for exclusive(?) use of this sea-space is orders-of-magnitude lower than either of these -- is Ireland a good location for those considering Sea Steading with rates like this?

The ocean-area under discussion is broken into Major-Blocks of approximately 80km × 120km, each broken into 30 Blocks of 16km × 20 km each.
Each Block thus has an area of approximately:
16km × 20 km = 320 km2
and carries a rent at €29 / km2 leaving
€29 / km2 × 320 km2 = €9.2k

53 full Blocks and 11 Partial-Blocks have just been licensed for exploration, giving a total rented area of approximately3 17,131km2 × €29 / km2 = €496,000.

Surely we could have done a little better than that.

Profits and Taxation

TD Higgins mentioned that future licensors of any 'gold-mine' oil find could expect to extract 10 G Barrels, of oil, pay tax (less exploration costs) and then sell it at 'market rates' to consumers. Looking at mean oil price on Bloomberg and OilPrice.net over the last 5 years, it seems somewhat reasonable to assume that the price of crude oil per barrel will continue to lie between $75-$100. Wiki on the Irish Corporate Taxation Rate gives a rate of 25% for "profits from so-called "exempted trades", including land-dealing, income from working minerals, and petroleum activities", which accounts for Minister Rabbitte's figure, which combined with the Profit Resource Rent Tax [11] may increase to 40% of profits for particularly profitable fields. Prior to this, I was unaware of the PRRT, but it seems like a fantastic idea. The Revenue page is strangely silent on the specifics of this scheme.

If a quarter of Joe Higgins' 10G barrels were to be extracted, and the State were to receive between 25% and 40% in tax from the profits therefrom, that would render somewhere between:
(2.5 × 1000000000) × $75 × 0.25 = $46.88 G
and
(2.5 × 1000000000) × $100 × 0.40 = $100 G
(and $100 Billion would put a sizeable dent in the National Debt).

Obviously this is a very simple analysis, and is probably significantly flawed.

Still, it remains to be noted that we should exploit our petroleum resources now before alternatives are ready, which may force the price down, and get ready to produce in quantity if another oil-crisis happens to reap the benefits of a price spike (in the next 20 years, who knows?)

Sources:

  1. RTE News 2011-10-17 - "13 licenses granted for oil & gas exploration"
  2. Morning Ireland 2011-10-17 - Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, announces licensing
  3. Morning Ireland 2011-10-17 - Joe Higgins, TD, decries licensing
  4. Dept Comms, Energy, NatRes: Petroleum Affairs Division - Atlantic Margin Licensing Page
  5. DCENR 2010-10-07 Notice of Licensing Round
  6. DCENR 2011-04-01 Acreage Update (Final monthly update prior to end of submissions)
  7. DCENR 2011-05-01 "Clarification Request" (Responses)
  8. DCENR 2011-10-17 Licenses Granted, with Map
  9. DCENR 2011-06-01 "Minister Rabbitte's speech at Energy Ireland Conference"
  10. DCENR - Types of Petroleum Licence
  11. DCENR - 2007-09-01 - Announcement of Profit Resource Rent Tax

Footnotes

1 SI-postfix

  • €1k = €1,000
  • €1M = €1000k = €1,000,000
  • €1G = €1,000M = €1,000,000k = €1,000,000,000
  • 10G Oil Barrels = 10,000,000,000 Barrels.

2 Remembering that 1 acre = 4,046.85 m2, and that 1 m2 = 0.000001 km2, land costs of €837,864 for 7,758 m2 to rent an Industrial Unit in Clonee and €600 for 6.5 acres for grazing outside Galway - giving €108 / m2 or €108M / km2 for industrial floor-space and €0.023 / m2 or €228 / km2 for grazing land in Galway.

3 Taking partial blocks as half the area of a full block: (53 × 320 km2) + (11 × 320 km2/2) = 17,131km2

2011-10-15

UFO - British TV from the '70s combines X-Com and Thunderbirds


First thoughts: Holy god, an X-Com TV series? Sign me right up!

Of course, my chronology is completely backwards, but that's certainly what this 1970's ITC TV show feels like. A covert international organisation set up to fight the unknown threat from space. The first episode even deals with the technological arms-race that is the background of the game. According to the X-Com wiki page, UFO was an inspiration for the X-Com games, and it shows. Still, I encountered X-Com (actually, TFTD) first, so that is my primary point of reference.
Some differences; interceptors are detected by an A.I. in orbit, interceptors are launched from a Moon-base and the SHADO main-base is located under a film studio in England. Still, the inspiration is obvious. Later: Other interceptors launch from the submarine. Oh yes.
Even more obvious are the elements of this show that mirror those of the earlier Thunderbirds. The show has the same aesthetic - very 1970s all around, with the same style of music (I don't even know how to describe it!). There is the same focus on the different classes of vehicles, a futuristic Concorde, a Submarine, the Sattelite and the Interceptors. I would have loved this show as a child. Perhaps it owes more to Captain Scarlet than Thunderbirds, the UFOs have the same inscrutable quality as the Mysterons (except without their characteristic announcements of their plans). A glance at the wiki tells me that the satellite-computer is voiced by the same guy who voiced the Mysterons.
"These clouds give more cover than the G-string on a Belly-Dancer" ... yeah, it's the '70s all right.
A fighter has just show down an UFO. The pilot is about to land and check it out. I literally can't wait.
Damn, it fell into the sea - but they're picking up a body. Again, this couldn't be more like the game.
Well, I won't continue with first-episode spoilers, but suffice it to say that I'm going to stick with this one for the remainder. I only wish that it had still been on TV years ago!
There are even occasional hints of The Prisoner!

Major thanks to Jason O'Mahony for pointing me in the direction of this show.

2011-09-25

The 7th Guest (DOS) in Windows XP

Having recently received a copy of The 7th Guest from a relative cleaning out their attic, I've finally found time to give it a try. Now back in the day, this game had a serious reputation as being absolutely terrifying, so I've no idea what to expect. It's funny how the era of FMV completely ran out of steam. Was it the sheer cost of filming? The materials costs (I remember playing Wing Commander IV on 6 CDs, which seemed like madness at the time). Lack of interest? In any event, it's a little ironic that now that we're approaching photo-realistic in-game rendering, we seem to be going back to cinema-styles as a means of story-telling for games.

So my initial problem is going to be getting it to run in Windows XP. I have a copy of Windows 7 on my desktop, but my trusty laptop still runs WinXP (it has a Vista licence on the back, but lets not go there ... ). Looks as though it's fully supported by DOSBox, which is helpful; an abortive attempt to run the installer using cmd.exe got me errors due to having too many partitions, and my CD drive not being D:. For convenience, I've ripped the CDs to .isos, since I've no interest in carrying them around.

It's kind of funny going back to 1993-era BBSes (mirrors, obviously) looking for patches, seeing FILE_ID.DIZ and the like. There are a few guides to getting this game to work in WinXP, but I wanted to chip in my own experience.

It looks as though the game was patched a few times, and there are three initial "graphics" patches, and other "version" patches. First off, the graphics patches, distributed separately as: T7GF3A.zip, T7GF3B.zipand later combined into T7GFIX3.zip.

Perhaps T7GFA and B were released separately, but I don't have those details. What's important though is to figure out what's actually required for a fully-patched install of the game.

Conclusion: You do not need T7GF3A.zip or T7GF3B.zip, which some other sites seem to think should be installed before the T7GFIX3 contents. The only major difference is save.z, but this is probably also in the 1.30 patcher. You should still install the contents of T7GFIX3.zip.

To do the comparison yourself, do the following (but it's not necessary)
$ for i in T7GFIX3 T7GF3A T7GF3B ; do 
  mkdir -p $i ; cd $i ; unzip ../$i ; cd .. ; 
done
You might notice that both T7GF3A.zip and T7GF3B.zip contain versions of INSTALL.EXE and V.EXE, but a quick Simple File Verification with your tool of choice will tell you that they're the same.
$ cksfv T7GF3*/INSTALL.EXE T7GF3*/V.EXE
; Generated by cksfv v1.3.14 on 2011-09-25 at 12:49.16
; Project web site: http://www.iki.fi/shd/foss/cksfv/
;
;        23473  14:19.44 1993-08-10 T7GF3A/V.EXE
;        23473  14:19.44 1993-08-10 T7GF3B/V.EXE
;        43704  18:55.52 1993-07-23 T7GF3A/INSTALL.EXE
;        43704  18:55.52 1993-07-23 T7GF3B/INSTALL.EXE
T7GF3A/V.EXE 8E727A9E
T7GF3B/V.EXE 8E727A9E
T7GF3A/INSTALL.EXE 4033D8EE
T7GF3B/INSTALL.EXE 4033D8EE
Now let's see if there's any difference between the combined patches and the released combined version.
$ diff -r T7GF3combo T7GFIX3
Only in T7GF3combo/: README.TXT
Only in T7GF3combo/: READTHIS.NOW
Only in T7GF3combo/: SAVE.Z
Only in T7GF3combo/: T7G.BAT
Only in T7GF3combo/: T7GDEMO.BAT
Only in T7GFIX3/: T7GFIX3.TXT
Files T7GF3combo//V.EXE and T7GFIX3//V.EXE differ
So lets take a look at the differences. README.TXT is a copy of the original Readme which shipped with the game, and READTHIS.NOW is an advert for the BBS which must have hosted the files at some point. (If you haven't seen the excellent BBS: The Documentary, then go and get hold of a copy and learn something new about internet history. I'll put a copy of the BBS advert at the bottom of this post.

T7GFIX3.TXT announces a new version of V.EXE which "only requires 450K of memory". We'll bear this in mind later.

So that leaves the batch files, which contain:
$ cat T7GF3combo/T7G.BAT
@v !
$ cat T7GF3combo/T7GDEMO.BAT
@v @

So they both call v.exe, one passing arguments, the other dropping them(? I'm not going to spend any time looking up what they actually do, I have no interest in learning Dos / Batch )
On to SAVE.Z, which only exists in the separate version of the patching. I don't know what its function is. I know that later patches enable "Open House" mode, which allows access to all the puzzles but without the Adventure aspect of the game. Perhaps this is an early release of this, that they left out of the combined patch(?) Here are the contents:
$ hexedit T7GF3combo/SAVE.Z # for lack of a better tool
$ # (copy and paste the contents ...)
00000000   11 12 1F 22  24 15 14 10  17 11 1D 15  F4 00 00 00  00 00 00 00  00 00 00 00  ..."$........
... which doesn't mean much to me.
This leaves two versions of V.EXE, on top of the one installed direct from the CD. For reference, I'll include the output of my VERSION.BAT which, if it does what it claims, is a pretty nifty idea that many other games could have done with (I may also update the article with details of the post-patch install's version of v.exe).
$ cmd
C:\Games\7thguest> version
WELCOME TO THE 7TH GUEST
European Version 1.2
C:\Games\7thguest> exit
$ cksfv /cygdrive/c/Games/7thguest/V.EXE T7GF3combo/V.EXE T7GFIX3/V.EXE
; Generated by cksfv v1.3.14 on 2011-09-25 at 14:15.27
; Project web site: http://www.iki.fi/shd/foss/cksfv/
;
;        21473  16:55.28 1993-05-20 /cygdrive/c/Games/7thguest/V.EXE
;        23473  12:45.34 2011-09-25 T7GF3combo/V.EXE
;        23425  14:44.28 1993-07-21 T7GFIX3/V.EXE
/cygdrive/c/Games/7thguest/V.EXE C7D27409
T7GF3combo/V.EXE 8E727A9E
T7GFIX3/V.EXE 6FD2868B
$ ls -la  /cygdrive/c/Games/7thguest/V.EXE T7GF3A/V.EXE T7GF3B/V.EXE T7GFIX3/V.EXE
-rwxrwxrwx 1 broadhej None 21473 May 20  1993 /cygdrive/c/Games/7thguest/V.EXE
-rw-r--r-- 1 broadhej None 23473 Aug 10  1993 T7GF3A/V.EXE
-rw-r--r-- 1 broadhej None 23473 Aug 10  1993 T7GF3B/V.EXE
-rw-r--r-- 1 broadhej None 23425 Jul 21  1993 T7GFIX3/V.EXE
So the separately packaged patch actually has a different binary, with the combined patch having the newer version.
So there we have it -- the only effective difference between installing the separate patches first, and then the later release is that you end up with Save.z. I don't know what it does, but I'm willing to guess that it's Open House mode which the later 1.30 patch will install anyway.

Here's the ad for the BBS.
$ cat T7GF3combo/READTHIS.NOW
   ÉÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍ»
   º P-80 Has been online full      ÌÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍ»
   º      time since HALLOWEEN      º  !!! P-80 SYSTEMS !!! º
   º      ---------1980--------     º       ÉÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÊÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍ»
   º      _____________________     º       º If you would like to order   º
   º      110 Baud Through 57,600   º       º THE HACKER CHRONICLES CD or  º
   º      U.S. Robotics Courrier    ÌÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÊÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍ» you would like to  º
   º      Multiline HST/Dual/V.all  º Data:50000+Filesº Join the P-80 BBS! º
   º                                º                 º                    º
   º      24 Hrs US. Eastern Time   º  Fun For All    º Call:              º
   º      All Files=Virus Prescan   º  All For Fun.   º 304-744-2253 BBS   º
   ÈÍÍËÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍËÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍͼ                 º                    º
      º Call today º  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * º                    º
      º and take a º  Multi Laser Disk system with a  ÌÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍËÍÍͼ
      º trip with  º  combined logical storage of overº We are one of  º
      º   out a    º  15,000 Megabytes (15 Gigabytes) º the first ten  º
      º  suitcase  ÈÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍËÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍËÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍͼ BBS's in the   º
      º                      º             º U.S. to go online. ^*^    º
      º Fax on Dial-Back!    º             º Sysop: Scan Man    \_/    º
      ÈÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍͼ             ÈÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍÍͼ

2011-03-19

sed made comprehensible!

I needed a regex for a Makefile in an ebuild I was working on, and hit a problem. I needed to match part of a line, discarding the rest and repacing it with something else. This was slightly beyond my experience, having only ever done
:%s/foo/bar/g
in vim before.

I joined #sed on freenode for some advice, and being a good internet citizen I followed their links in the /topic before I asked. Wow, was I in for a surprise finally a sed introduction that is easy to follow and clear. Thank you so much!

My first proper regex, of which I am inordinately proud (put together with no interactive help or direct advice).
sed 's:\(VERSION \=\).*:\1 foo:'
Thank you Grymoire!

--> This blog now has syntax highlighting!

2011-02-15

Giniro no Kami no Agito Review

I just watched "Giniro no Kami no Agito" -- Agito of the Silver Hair or
"Origin: Secrets of the Past" if you're going with the Western release.
(although the Western title doesn't really make sense)



Now, I'll admit that I've had this anime on my hard-disk for years. Literally years. It was the first anime to hit the scene in HD, many years ago, and also (maybe) my first contact with mkv. I fired up my laptop, and after ages downloading (HD is big!) I tried to play it, and my laptop choked. The box I later had connected to my projector was a Pentium-4 which could _just about_ handle HD, but the humbling experience of not having been able to play it left me with a reluctance to go back to it. That, and the poor reviews. Anyway -- I've been working through stuff that I've had lying around for ages recently, and it hit the top of the pile.



So how was it? Well; I'll admit after all those years flicking past it, I almost switched it off the minute the Gonzo logo appeared on my screen. Still, I wasn't looking for a masterpiece, so I gave it a go anyway.



Giniro tells the story of Agito, who lives in a future-Earth that's been destroyed by an ecological disaster. Humans are barely getting by, and plants dominate the globe, sucking all of the available water away. One day he discovers an artifact from the past, which may tip the balance in the war for survival between the plants and mankind... (surprise surprise, a girl in suspended animation).



The premise isn't particularly believable, but you just have to suspend disbelief. The visual style and technology design is very reminiscent of Last Exile - beautiful. The smartphone-analogue is a really cool idea, watching the show is worth it just for this if you're into that kind of thing. The backgrounds are absolutely stunning, and it really shows off all 720 of those pixels. It's a perfect first-HD anime (shame I never got to watch it!).



In terms of the implied depth of the setting, I'm actually quite surprised that there isn't a manga it's based on; there seems much more to the world than they have time to show it. This is Gonzo through and through -- they've once again managed to mis-judge the appropriate amount to animate. This feels like it should be the setting for a 13-episode series (or maybe 6 OVAs). Then again, maybe it's better to under-play something than over-play it (something they fall afoul of much more often). The characters are bland and predictable in general, nothing much special there. The macguffin, the eponymous white hair, is barely explained, and it feels as though you're supposed to have read the programme notes before viewing. The really interesting-seeming stuff, like the defenders of the forest, and their spokesperson are glossed over. Instead, we get twenty minutes of exposition, about a half-hour of 'life in the village', then a rushed conflict leading to climax.



The show is Gonzo through and through, that's all I really have to say. They misjudged the quality of the art and the setting, and failed to put together a decent story. They also either cut the script and lost important details, lost sight of the narrative, or I was just too dense/asleep to notice when they explained the significance of the hair (until quite late into the movie). All in all, a pretty, but disappointing movie. Not a bad one for a casual gathering maybe, but nothing amazing.

What a fucking awesome image!

2011-01-31

Converting Nokia Ovi Suite Contacts for Android (nbu2gmail, or nbu2csv)

== 2012 Update == This has gotten easier! I've posted a more up-to-date version here. == Too Long, I'm Lazy Version ==
Since most people getting to this page will just want a quick solution, here's the quick-and-easy version of the post. If you're in the mood for how I got to this awful hack of a way to convert contacts, read on ...

Phone -> OVI Suite -> NBUExplorer -> Microsoft Live Mail Address Book -> Gmail
On-phone -> .nbu -> (many) VCards -> .csv -> Online

If you're not stuck in Windows waiting for an interminable Ovi Suite synchronisation, you may have more luck with the scripts I discuss later in the post.

Update 2011-09-25 : Made this summary a little easier to follow, since this post is being read by way more people than I would have expected.
== Full Post ==

I just bought an HTC Desire, upgrading from my Nokia E66 which suddenly started to feel dated when I saw how fast Opera loaded on one owned by a friend of mine.

The problem is that in 2008, Nokia decided to do a complete overhaul of their mobile software, rebranding it from "Nokia PC Suite" to "Ovi Suite". They massively simplified the UI, introduced many bugs, and slowed it down to a crawl. Most importantly for me, they removed any way of extracting my Contacts in any useful format. All I could get with the most up-to-date version of Ovi (as of Jan 2011) was a "Nokia BackUp" .nbu file, which is intended to lock you into Nokia's Ovi platform. Fantastic.

According to the article on wiki, they've just added the ability to receive delivery reports to the phone, having sent a text message from Ovi. This despite the many hundreds (thousands?) of posts I have read asking for .csv output. Oh well.

Open-source to the rescue though - thank you to petrusek for his excellent NbuExplorer, which extracted all of my contacts with ease.

Bizarrely, it seems that the contact details stored in the .nbu file are in a perfectly simple and open format, VCard. I can't think of a reason that OVI doesn't allow users to extract them aside from platform lock-in. I'm very glad that the rest of the world seems to be moving away from this kind of thinking.

So now I was left with 334 VCards, only to find that Gmail Contacts would only allow me to upload one at a time. Poor thinking Google!

I have used VCards in KAddressbook before, so I knew that it was possible to create a single .vcf file with many VCard entries in it, but Gmail doesn't support this. There goes my easy
$ cat * >> contacts.vcf ! The only multiple-entry format that Gmail seems to support seems to be tried-and-tested CSV.

I first tried VCF-to-CSV-converter, but the VCards that OVI output were VCARD-2.1, and the converter only supports VCARD-3.0. Maybe it will someday. It also fails silently, adding a WARNING tag to the output csv file, but printing nothing to the console. Tut tut.

In retrospect, I should have tried replacing the version string in my VCards and trying vcf-to-csv-converter again, but it didn't occur to me at the time, and it seemed obvious(!) that there would be a script to do this incredibly common conversion.

Being stuck in Windows while Ovi Suite did its thing, I wasn't able to run VCFConvert, since PHP wasn't available through the Cygwin installer. If you are less paranoid than me, you could use the online version though.
I downloaded VCF2CSV, but had a solution before Cygwin installed a compiler for me (I use this Windows install so infrequently, I didn't even have an editor!)

Rather unbelievably, Annesoft wanted $20 for this trivial task. I didn't try their software either.

I tried CKHung's vcf2csv, the only script-based tool that I could get to work. Bizarrely though, "vcf2csv ignores the problematic FN field. (First Name)", which seriously limits its usefulness. I wonder what makes it harder to deal with than other fields. Again, this is probably easily fixed, but I was getting impatient to try my new phone!

In parallel with these attempts, I installed Thunderbird, confident that any decent open-source program as mature as TBird would be able to deal with common plaintext formats like VCard for me. Imagine my surprise when it couldn't! Oh, it would import from Outlook Express for me, but not VCard! The "More Functions for AddressBook" extension promised to do this for me, but I could not get it to work.

Seeing as Thunderbird had alerted me to it's presence, I next tried Outlook Express, and I was shocked to see exactly the same program my parents had been using the year that we bought our Pentium 4. Needless to say, Outlook Express didn't support importing multiple VCards at once.

Some more googling found me a blog post suggesting Windows Live Mail, which as it turned out was also installed on my machine. Lets not get into talking about finding new programs installed by stealth by a system update utility... Despite all that, it worked! The only hiccup was that I had to pretend to have a pop3 account just to use the Address Book feature. Importing the VCards took a long time (20-30 minutes?), but I was able to import them all, and then export to CSV. Success!

Minutes later, my Gmail Contacts were fully populated with phone numbers. Whew.

// This post was written while listening to a really catchy tune

2011-01-18

Chromium, Tab completion

So I'm typing out the first few letters of a URL into the Chromium Omnibox (that box for addresses and search strings), and Chromium happily auto-completes it for me. Cool, now I can get to reader.google.com just by typing 'r'!

Except not - conditioned bash user that I am, my subconscious sometimes expects Tab-completion - so I hit TAB before I hit Enter. Suddenly I'm at some other website, Tab has changed the focus to the first link on the page contents. Gah!

When I started writing this post, I hadn't quite figured that out -- but Tab to change focus is perfectly normal UI behaviour. Still, it's pretty aggravating; not that I can see a way around it, since using Tab to iterate through the links on a page is pretty useful (say, when you have no access to a mouse). Oh well ...