Archive - 2006

August 21st

Audio Resources

I spend a lot of time listening to and working with music, so I thought I'd post a list of some of the more useful audio-related sites and software I use. If you know of any good resources that I've left out, please add them in the comments section.

Rippers:
Exact Audio Copy is a fantastic CD ripping and burning program for Windows. I use it for it's abaility to create perfect duplicate backups using CUE sheets.

AutoFLAC is a "frontend" (for lack of a better term) for EAC that automates the process of ripping to and burning from FLAC files.

abcde is a command-line ripper for Linux. It's very quick and easy to use, and used to be my preferred ripper until I began using CUE sheets.

DVD Audio Extractor is a Windows program that rips audio from DVDs to standard audio formats such as FLAC or Ogg Vorbis. This would typically be used to rip live concert DVDs so you can enjoy the music on your computer or portable audio device. Two notes should be mentioned. 1) Despite its somewhat misleading name, this does not support DVD-Audio discs (although you can usually rip the DVD-Video compatability layer). 2) It forces the use of Dynamic Range Compression on DVDs that contain this information, which is a good option to have, but can unfortunately be very noticeable and intrusive when trying to make a good backup copy. I've asked that they make this an optional feature, but they don't seem interested.

Players
Winamp is one of the oldest and best known media players. This is still my preferred audio player for Windows.

XMMS is the de facto media player for Linux systems. It is modelled heavily on the original Winamp, and despite showing its age these days it's still a very stable and capable audio player.

amaroK is the "new hotness" of media players for KDE. It supports various backends for actual media playback (such as xine-lib), which allows it to support a very wide breadth of formats and capabilities, and also provides a very capable playlist management system. These are the two features that won me over (finally, a decent Linux media player capable of playing multi-channel Vorbis and FLAC files!). However, amaroK tends to be extremely unstable on my system. Also, while the user interface sports all of the latest eye candy, the developers seem unmotivated to add commonly available features such as ReplayGain support or even proper TRACKNUMBER support when dealing with tag information. Development is still very active, however, so I'm hopeful these issues will be addressed in the future.

foobar2000 is another audio player for Windows. Audio enthusiests tend to promote it as the end-all, be-all of audio players, but I personally find the interface rather horrid. It does, however, support a very wide variety of formats and capabilities, and includes tagging and transcoding plugins that are second to none. I use it as an audio utility rather than an audio player.

Codecs:
FLAC is a free, open source lossless compression codec. Lossless compression means that it's a perfect copy of the original recording, as opposed to a lossy codec which actually discards audio data in order to acheive a better compression ratio. FLAC is a great format to use for archival purposes, but it's usually impractical for use with portable audio devices.

Ogg Vorbis is a free, open source lossy compression codec. While a lossless compression codec should be used for archiving, Ogg Vorbis can still produce very high quality tracks with a much greater compression ratio.

Editing:
Audacity is a powerful, cross-platform, open source audio editing application. It can be used for anything ranging from recording audio to editing and mixing existing tracks to applying effect filters.

Help and Information:
The Hydrogenaudio Forums is a fantastic resource for audio enthusiests to share the latest news and assist each other.

The Hydrogenaudio Knowledgebase should also be mentioned. This wiki is probably the most comprehensive source of computer audio related information available.

The Wikipedia article List of albums containing a hidden track is exactly what you'd expect from the title - a list of CDs that contain hidden songs, and brief instructions on how to locate them. If you know of any hidden songs not listed there, please add them! You may also want to check out HiddenSongs.com, which does essentially the same thing but provised and indexed and searchable interface.

The Internet Archive Live Music Archive contains a huge selection of live concert bootlegs available for download.

August 20th

Recovering deleted text files from an ext3 filesystem

As I mentioned a couple posts ago, I accidentally deleted a directory of very important files on my server, primarily scripts and programs that I've written for various purposes. The server is running Gentoo Linux, and I'm using an ext3 filesystem on the affected partition. For those of you not familiar with filesystems, explaining it is beyond the scope of this post, but you can find a decent write-up about it on Wikipedia.

ext3 is very similar to and backwards-compatible with ext2, which is the default filesystem for Linux. It's essentially ext2 with journaling capabilities (which basically helps prevent data corruption). Now, there are quite a few methods and programs available to recover files from an ext2 filesystem. So, given that ext3 is backwards-compatible with ext2, I thought I could use those same techniques to recover my data. Sadly, that was not the case.

It turns out that ext3 handles file deletions significantly differently than ext2. According to the official ext3 FAQ:

In order to ensure that ext3 can safely resume an unlink after a crash, it actually zeros out the block pointers in the inode, whereas ext2 just marks these blocks as unused in the block bitmaps and marks the inode as "deleted" and leaves the block pointers alone.
Your only hope is to "grep" for parts of your files that have been deleted and hope for the best.

Needless to say, this was quite disheartening. However, after some more searching I found this clever solution. I'm certainly familiar with the strings command, which outputs a list of printable strings of text from a binary file, but I probably wouldn't have considered using it against the actual hard disk device. The results were actually quite successful - I was able to fully recover and restore my most important programs, and I'm currently working through a testing and identifying a list of smaller miscellaneous scripts that I was also able to recover.

Of course, this wasn't a pleasant experience by any means, and I was extremely lucky that I only needed to recover source code. Had I deleted a directory full of pictures or documents or basically anything other than plain text files, I would've likely been completely out of luck. As soon as I completely finish my recovery process, I will implement a newer and much more thorough backup process. It's only a matter of time before a mistake like this happens again, and the next time it does I want to simply copy files over from my backup drive rather than going through this ordeal again.

I plan on writing up a more thorough guide to recovering text files should you ever find yourself in the same situation. Stay tuned.

August 19th

In South Korea, online rumors can hit hard

As reported on Slashdot:

"Imagine your life ruined by an organized mob that convicts with scant, unreliable evidence. Fueled only by hearsay and rumors, an invisible horde of your fellow citizens begins bombarding your snailbox, email, phone, work, school and family with threats, insults and general harassment. You are forced to drop out of school and quit your job as a result of constant attacks. You are shunned and ridiculed in public as anywhere you go, you are instantly recognized. Although it may seem to be just a second-rate Hollywood nightmare scenario reminiscent of "The Net," this sort of "organized mob" justice is being dealt out freely in South Korea where net usage is booming. So freely, in fact, that almost 1 in 10 of 13-65 year-olds has felt its sting. Could this trend hit the U.S.? Will policing net behavior eventually become necessary?"

This rather eye-opening article is a good example of what can happen when mob mentality rules and an individual's personal rights are simply ignored.

Full article:  http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/08/14/news/korea.php

August 18th

New Orleans blog

I recently discovered a very good weblog focusing on current events in New Orleans. Anyone interested should head over to Metroblogging New Orleans.

On a related note, Network World recently published an article on communcations network disruptions in the wake of Katrina, and what businesses are doing now to mitigate risk from a future storm. It's a very interesting article, and well worth taking a few minutes to read.

Full links:
Metroblogging New Orleans - http://neworleans.metblogs.com/
Hell or High Water - http://www.networkworld.com/research/2006/081406-katrina-rewiring-neworleans.html

LegRoom Status

I had to take LegRoom down for most of the day on Friday, but as of about 5:30pm everything should be up and running again. The reason for the outage was that I accidently deleted some important files on the server late Thursday night, and had to immediately power down the server to prevent any further data loss. Needless to say, the server had to remain offline while I worked to recover my files.

I was, very fortunately, able to recover most of my data. It was a very long and painful process (and in fact I still have a lot of work to do before I'm finished), but I'm just lucky I was able to recover as much as I did. Let this be Yet Another Reminder - always backup your data!

August 17th

Judge Halts Warrantless Wiretapping Program

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) reported earlier today about the victory by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in their lawsuit to halt the illegal and unconstitional domestic spying program being performed by the NSA at the request of the Bush administration. This is an important early victory, and strengthens the EFF's own case against AT&T for "violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive and illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications."

More details can be found in the EFF summary: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/004880.php
as well as the AP report: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060817/ap_on_go_pr_wh/warrantless_surveillance

Firefox Extensions

With the release of Mozilla Firefox 1.5.0.6, I once again spent some time refreshing my extension list. Not a whole lot has changed since my 1.5 update, but I did add a few new ones to my existing set. Newly added are ColorZilla, PageSaver Basic, and Session Manager.

I definitely recommend that any Firefox users out there check out the full list for some additional ideas.