Archive for the ‘tech’ Category

Summer and Opolyish

June 30, 2010

So it’s summer.  At last.  We’ve been waiting for it all year and it’s finally here.  I’ve celebrated by playing computer games, going on social outings, and writing a simple in-terminal game called Opolyish.  Feel free to to try it out.  Hopefully you can have some fun with it.  It’ll probably be better once I put up a more complete set of configuration files so you don’t need to make your own.  A friend of mine has volunteered to add the ability to play over a network to it, so that should also be good.  I’ll keep you posted.

Opolyish aside, I’ve also studied for the Wifu course I’m taking.  It’s a class made by those who maintain Backtrack Linux, and it’s rather fun stuff.  After that I need to do some more miscellaneous learning and focus on algorithms and preparation for USACO, the USA Computing Olympiads.  Then I’ve got reading to do and summer homework to do.  That’s my summer in a nutshell, except for the various trips which I’ll be taking approximately every other week.

well, thanks for reading tonight’s post.  I’ll probably be posting about once a week but on no particular schedule throughout the summer.

My Fancy New Watch that Plays Movies

June 3, 2010

My birthday was a couple days ago, and I got a series of very unique gifts.  The usual gift cards aside, I’ve been given three movies, two books, a stuffed animal, and a watch (and money to enroll in a class).  The Movies are Tron, Wargames, and Hackers; all excellent films if you need something to do.  I’ve not yet made a dent in either book (one is still on its way here from amazon), but they both look good.  One of the most important gifts was the foot-tall stuffed tux (the linux penguin).  He is currently sitting here on my desk and keeping me company.  Lots of fun.

My final gift was a watch.  Now this was no ordinary watch.  This watch plays movies and songs, displays images and text files, records audio, has a few little games, and acts as an 8GB USB drive.  It’s a super-amazing watch.  I am yet to actually wear it (The band needs to be adjusted), but I can’t wait.  It’s currently charging.  The downside of having all those features in a watch is that it has something between 1-3 hours of battery life.  It makes up for this by turning off the display and only giving the time when a certain button is pressed (it’ll be a weird site for people who walk by and see my faceless watch).  A particularly amusing feature is that the watch comes from an obscure chinese company and is called an mp4 player on the box.

You may not be familiar with cheap portable chinese multimedia gadgets, but they have the most cryptic manuals in history.  The translation was so bad that one of the issues on the troubleshooting page was ‘promiscuous words.’  Also, very few sentences had completely correct grammar.  To make matters worse, the pictures provided had chinese text in the dialogue boxes.  You may think that this made the process of setting up the watch a pain, but it really made it so much more fun.  The interface was really easy to figure out.

One detail which I feel others should be aware of is that many of these devices of chinese origin only support the .mtv file format (designed to avoid having to pay royalties for the other formats), so you need to get a converter to change your files to mtv files.  Although they do give you a cd with a converter on it, it is for windows only.  You can get converters to work on linux through WINE (the linux windows compatibility layer), but it’s a pain.  So much of a pain in fact, that I think I’ll just have to use someone else’s windows computer to convert my videos (for now).

In any case, I’ve had excellent fun these past few days, and I hope it continues despite the imminent final exams.

Miscellaneous Stuff I’m Working On and My Site

May 30, 2010

Well, you may have noticed that I have as yet failed to post today, and it is rather late.  This is because I spent all day at a festival and had no time on my computer.  Yes, believe it or not, I don’t always live behind the screen.  Seeing as that it is beginning to become morning and I have a day of work with my robotics team ahead of me, I dont really have the time or energy to write a detailed post on some piece of technology, so I’ll just start out by giving you a rundown on a bunch of problems I’ve been working on and then go on to talk about the content on my web site.

  • For starters, my laptop has this issue where it takes a long time to start applications the first time after booting, and some of the other applications fail to start properly or have weird pauses.  I’ve been working on this intermittently for weeks now and have so far been unable to figure it out (which is a really rare occurence for me).  If anyone can give me a hand, I’m running fluxbox on arch linux on a thinkpad t60p
  • It occured to me yesterday that I would like to run linux on that old ipod I don’t use.  I looked it up, and sure enough there is a project to get linux on the ipod.  Unfortunately, the ipod I have is unsupported due to changes in apples encryption stuff.  There is a project to get linux working on my device, but it has not progressed too far yet.  If you have an old ipod, try it out and tell me how it goes.
  • I’m trying to move my printer from being connected to my desktop to my server box.  I’m having trouble with this.  I think a post I plan to do later on will explain why this is being an issue for me, focusing on the nature of the server.
  • Inverted Productions has made some decent web games that are definitely worth checking out.  It’s all the more impressive when you know that their entire team is made up of high schoolers.

Well, that’s enough of that.  The last thing I’d like to talk about is my own personal web site, (previously known as  I’ve just recently restarted it after a hiatus of a few years, and it is not yet at 100%.  That said, I’m putting up more content all the time, so please check back on it often.  Currently, there are sections for tutorials and then ‘my stuff’, an incredibly vague category which presently encompasses the two scripts I’ve featured on this blog.  I would now like to share with you some of my plans for expansion on the site.

I need to finish the Java tutorials.  I’m making these tutorials to benefit the computer science students at my school who are stuck working with a very bad textbook.  Part 1 of 5 is currently complete, but I’ll get to the rest soon.  The super quick-start guide for BASH scripting that I promised last week is also in the works, with part 1 of 2 completed.  My linux getting started guide is actually completely empty, largely because it is such a wide subject area that I don’t really know where to start.  One simple howto that I have completed is my guide on how to save a game in nethack even if your character dies.  Although they are mostly incomplete, I’ve put what I have up for now.  Future tutorials will include an introduction to programming for the FIRST robotics competition for the benefit of my school’s robotics team programmers, a getting started guide for nethack, and a basic tutorial on the vim text editor, among other things.  In the ‘My Stuff’ page, I’m going to add a personal info page for you to get to know me better.  I also intend to put up essays and other pieces of writing that I compose, in addition to screenshots or pictures of adventures that I may have (after all, it is a personal site).

Now that I’ve written the last bit of my energy into this task, its time for some sleep.  Or maybe not.  I have some interesting reading to do (and a website to work on).

My Indispensable USB Toolkit

May 28, 2010

Many people carry around a USB stick to store and transfer files from place to place.  It is a crying shame that most of them are not aware of the incredible powers latent within their USB sticks.  The worst part is that much of this power is sitting right under their noses, untapped and wasted.  Lucky for you, I plan to give a quick description of what I do with my thumb drives, hopefully inspiring you to push the limits of your own flash drive.

The first, incredibly obvious, thing that you can do with a flash drive is to put small programs on it that you can take with you.  For example, I keep nethack (a game that features prominently in my post on gaming in linux) on my flash drives for use any time I’m stuck with a computer and not  much to do.  This happens an awful lot at school.  Others with more modern taste in games keep halo or starcraft handy (on a related note, I would really recommend the computer science classes at my school).

Although carrying around games in your pocket is fun, it’s not always really useful.  A much more useful tool to have around is a Putty client.  Putty is an ssh client, meaning that it allows you to connect to a secure shell (ssh) server on any computer, anywhere.  This means that if you’ve got an ssh server running on your computer (I do, makes life a lot easier), you can simply remotely log in from anywhere.  Need some obscure tool that you’ve only got on your home machine? Got it.  Forgot some important file? Found it.  Not only does this method give you a great deal of peace of mind, but it also causes everybody around you to ask you if you are hacking.  For some reason there is an unbreakable connection in the public mind between terminals, like the remote command prompt putty gives you,  and malicious computer use.

It is a distinct possibility that at this point you’re thinking that you a) already knew this, or b) have no use for it because you may not have an ssh server or don’t know how to operate a computer remotely from a command prompt.  Don’t give up on me yet, I’ve saved the best part for last.  You may or may not be aware that most newish computers and USBs give you the option to boot from a USB drive in much the same way as you could boot from a CD, Floppy disk (remember those?), or even a typical Hard Drive.  This means that you can install a whole operating system to your USB stick and boot it up anywhere you find a computer!  You can configure the operating system on the USB as much as you like and always boot into a familiar environment with all of your programs and settings already loaded, no matter where you go.

Personally, I have an 8gb usb  with BackTrack 4 (a Linux distribution dedicated to providing a platform for penetration testing) installed on it.  You can find an easy tutorial on how to do this here.  For brave souls who are undaunted by gentoo linux (the most configurable and therefore most difficult to set up linux distribution out there), my friend Jeff installed gentoo to his USB drive when his laptop’s hard disk gave out.  He now uses that as his primary operating system.  Although I haven’t tried them all myself, I believe you could install any Linux distribution to a USB drive.  In fact, I plan to set one up sometime soon with a basic arch linux configuration — I’ll let you know how that goes.  Another option, if you don’t have a massive USB stick available, is to go with Damn Small Linux (DSL).  DSL is a distribution that is commited to providing a functional environment that takes less than 50MB of space.  For a slightly larger variant, try DSL-N, DSL’s big brother.  I also plan to get myself a DSL usb stick, so I can have a different linux distro ready for any situation.  In fact, the options for installing Linux to a USB drive are so plentiful that there is a whole website dedicated to it.

As a final housekeeping note, you’ll note that the URL of my website has changed from to  Although still works for now, it is going to be phased out, so you should update your bookmarks.  I’m having some trouble getting my email and blog addresses changed, but I’ll make sure to let you know when I finally figure that out.