Paging Dr. Bronner

Woman ordered to remove words from home
The Community Improvement Commission ordered a Shoreview resident Wednesday to remove cryptic messages written on her home or face as much as $5,000 in fines.

Estrella Benevides, 46, has until Feb. 14 to erase the painted script from her home in the 1800 block of Cottage Grove Avenue, which has been covered with an inscrutable text containing biblical references, conspiracy theories and glimpses into a painful personal history.

Benevides vowed not to remove the messages, which she believes come from God, and to fight the commission's decision, citing her First Amendment rights to free speech.

Benevides' home is almost completely blanketed in words, which combine to warn in part of a worldwide conspiracy that employs mind-control to oppress the poor. Benevides began painting the messages on her sometime in 2005.

In a letter she submitted to the commission, Benevides wrote that the government is persecuting her because she "discovered that they are using witchcraft and technology against the people who are not aware of and who are not part of this mafia group."

Benevides told the commission that she writes the messages on her home as a plea for help in her attempt to regain custody of her 4-year-old son, who lives in Hayward with his father. Benevides lost custody of the child after she began acting erratically in 2005, according to court documents.


photo booth update

We've got the hardware mostly built, and I believed the software to be done, until we actually tried it out in the club and discovered that, yes, the iSight camera is a piece of shit. It's terrible in low light where "low" means "less bright than the surface of the sun". It's so bad that even using a spotlight in the booth won't help, because it would have to be so bright that it would illuminate the whole room. And possibly cause skin cancer.

So one option is to get a Firewire DV camcorder that is good in low light and use that. But I don't know which, and I don't have one, and I don't know if that'd be good enough in low light either. (I'm guessing "probably not": even those Sony Nightshots we use for the webcast cameras aren't exactly "photo quality" in the dark.)

The other option is to use a digital still camera with a flash, which is what Photoboof uses (running on Windows). The trick there is that you want the photo camera to behave like a video camera by giving you frames continuously, and only fire the flash when requested.

We've got this groundscore Canon PowerShot S30 that we were thinking of using, and when you use Canon's RemoteCapture software, it does exactly what we need: it shows live video (at maybe 10FPS), and when you click, saves a flash picture, all without a CF card being involved.

But, we can't just use RemoteCapture, because it's a hairy UI (not "kiosk-y" at all), and it's not AppleScriptable. Still, it shows that this camera hardware is at least capable of doing what we need...

netik fought with gphoto2 for a while, and found that it can fire the camera and get the picture out, but it can't do video. Me, I can't even get gphoto2 to build on my iMac. DarwinPorts has libgphoto2, but it's two years old, and apparently the oldest gphoto2 that is still available doesn't work with that verion of the library. Or something. I have an instinctual aversion to this software anyway; it has the Linux Stink on it in a big way.

So then I thought I'd try doing it by hand with libptp, and just hack out the raw commands to the camera that way. But, on MacOS, that just dumps core at startup. I patched around that, but now I can't make any sense out of the data coming out of libusb. Like, you get this list of USB busses and those have a list of devices on them (sensible enough). But the numbers in these device structures -- vendor ID, product ID, etc. -- have no correlation to the vendor and product IDs that are printed by System Profiler! The camera shows up in System Profiler, but when I'm looking at the data structures in ptpcam.c, I can't even figure out which of the device structs represents the camera. Let alone why it passes it by as if it's not a camera at all.

This is BS. There's got to be an easier way.

(Before you suggest it: using two cameras, one for video and one for stills, is a stupid idea that would work terribly.)

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the care and breaking of computers

Here's how I spent my day.

For the benefit of anyone who manages to turn an ancient Mac into a doorstop by trying to use XPostFacto to install a more recent OS on it, here's how I screwed up, and how I got out of it without having to wipe the disk and re-install:

<LJ-CUT text=" --More--(14%) ">

I've got this old G3 Powerbook running 10.3, and I wanted to upgrade it to 10.4. Apple says thou shalt not do that, but I've had luck doing so on even older machines with XPostFacto, so I figured what the hell.

The way it works is, you run this program and it does some magic to make your old machine claim that it is a newer machine, so that the Apple install DVDs don't refuse to run. After that, the normal OSX install will mostly work fine.

The mistake I made was that the install DVD I had was one that came with a G4 Powerbook, and apparently those gray DVDs that come with the computer are hardware specific, and refuse to install on anything else, even after XPostFacto fakes them out. It seems that if you want to use XPostFacto, you need to have the non-bundled OSX discs.

But then when I rebooted, the Powerbook got a kernel panic saying "wrong hardware". Oops, it was apparently still in "impersonate a G4" mode, and now because of that it wouldn't even boot off its own drive...

I had no idea where XPostFacto had installed its magic (and, in fact, I still don't.) Resetting NVRAM didn't help, and mounting the drive on another machine and deleting the one XPF* bundle under /System/Library/Extensions/ didn't help either (and yeah, I recreated Extensions.kextcache and Extensions.mkext too.)

What did eventually work was:

  • Boot with Cmd-S (single user, to get a tty shell)
  • mount -uw /
  • sh /etc/rc multiuser -x
    most things seem to start up, including networking and sshd, but never appears; presumably some other part of the startup process is freaking about "wrong hardware"...
  • log in via ssh
  • killall SystemStart
    (since it is hung)
  • cd /System/Library/CoreServices
    and start a bunch of likely-sounding stuff manually:
  • open System\
  • open
  • open
  • open
  • open
  • open
    Bingo! Now you can log in normally.
  • Run again, select "Uninstall" from the menu, and reboot.

I strongly suspect that there was just some set of files I could have deleted by hand to fix this, but I couldn't find them.

It's lucky (and somewhat surprising) that the kernel didn't throw a "wrong hardware" panic when running in single-user mode, nor when bringing up multi-user mode from single-user. But that was what got me out of it...

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Science Marches On

Dear Lazyweb,

I need a copy of some shitty Windows software called "Tranax Graphics Conversion Utility". Can you find it?

Long version:

So, we've got this ATM. And the bank insisted we "upgrade" it recently, which seems to have dragged us, kicking and screaming, from 1976 technology to 1981 technology.

It used to be that I could type in several pages of snarky comments for the ATM to cycle through while idle. But you can't do that any more: now, you have to upload those screens as images instead of typing in text.

That's right: 320x240, 1-bit, amber-on-purple images.

Whoa, teh future.

Anyway, the manual says you have to convert them from "PCX" to some proprietary format with this free Windows software... which I can't find, because apparently the manufacturer took all their downloads offline after the idiotic "ATM default password" bloggorrhea last year. I'm guessing they just trashed their entire download directory to prevent people from finding the PDF of the manual. Of course, the PDF of the manual is still easy to find, but the stuff I actually need -- the software to convert the images, and the software to upload them over the serial port -- is nowhere to be found.

I mailed them and asked, and they said, "no, go jump through someone else's hoops and have your distributor mail you a CD." Gee, thanks.

In the meantime, do any of you know where to find a mirror of the former download area of, probably somewhere in the vicinity of man_sw.cfm?

The creatively-named programs I'm looking for are called "Tranax Graphics Conversion Utility" and "CDOWN6.EXE" (or possibly "DOWNLOAD.EXE").

(If you're curious, details are in appendix D (page 94) of that still-easy-to-find manual.)

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MFF vs The Evil Dead

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Current Music: Monkey Farm Frankenstein - MFF vs The Evil Dead

software solutions to hardware problems, and outbreaks of the future

So, my Roomba started misbehaving: it kept turning to the right and backing up, and generally acting like one of its sensors was gummed up. I tried the things their web site suggested to no avail, and took the whole wheel assembly apart, and couldn't find anything amiss. It's out of warranty, but I mailed iRobot anyway to find out if they had a repair program, or if I'd just need to buy a whole new one.

Their response? "The Roomba's behavior is indicating that the internal wheel sensor has malfunctioned. We will send you a device called an osmo that will update the Roomba's software and most likely eliminate the issue."

So they sent me this stylish little dongle that plugs into the serial port and flashes the firmware, and an envelope to mail it back afterward.

And it works fine now. So the new firmware apparently detects broken wheel sensors and compensates for them. Which is awesome.

And, they did this for free, which is also awesome.

But let me rephrase that story:

  • My personal cleaning robot has malfunctioning hardware.
  • The manufacturer sent me a piece of hardware to update the software.
  • That software fixed the hardware.

I just felt a bit like I was living in the future for a minute there. I got a little chill.

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Pseudomamma my ass

To the ten percent of you who gave an answer other than "2" in the nipple poll:

I don't believe you. And therefore I demand photos.

You may post them here now.

PS: This is not a call for furry fan art, fuck you very much.
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today's vocabulary word is "Pseudomamma"

Pseudomamma on the foot: An unusual presentation of supernumerary breast tissue

On physical examination, the breasts were symmetrical having no nodes or retractions. In the plantar region of the patient's left foot, there was a well-formed nipple was surrounded by areola and hair on the surface, measuring 4.0 cm in diameter, with no palpable nodes. The remaining physical examination was normal, including the mammary line.

[ LJ Poll 906264 ]

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grim bunnymeat future.

Fat German Rabbits to Feed Poor: Monster Bunnies For North Korea.

North Korea's Idolization - 40% of National Budget.

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dnalounge update

DNA Lounge update, wherein we bring the zany.
Current Music: Lulabox -- Ride On ♬