Author Archives: Steve

Make a screencast with ffmpeg

If I did NOT email you a linux cheatsheet you are not the intended recipient of this message. Go ahead and watch it anyway if you want to. The original video is crystal clear. However, it is an 84 MB file in MKV format. How to realistically get that off my computer and share it with others? None of the web hosts I use allow direct upload of MKV.

I haven’t mastered the conversion process as you’ll see in the video – the result after conversion to .mpg is not nearly as clear as the original, and the uploaded version is not even as clear as the converted .mpg file. Someday there will exist a thing called standards, and they will be open and free, NOT set by a cartel of corporate behemoths hell-bent on enslaving the world. But that’s a blog post of its own…

This is ridiculous

How come no one attempted to stop me from this madness?! I’m glad the video full-screen is a bit fuzzy on WordPress – no one should have to view this idiocy! Folks, your life has meaning! Don’t waste it on stuff like this!

Learn Something

Read up on light pollution and how it will kill us all here.

Then do something about it.

Instant frustration

Noticing the large number of desirable titles available to stream Instantly from the big A (Amazon, not Apple – keep up!), I thought I would test the service by viewing a trailer at home on my desktop (Firefox on CentOS 7). Got the infamous Install Adobe Flash message. Went straight for the Feedback link and shared my feedback. Some emails back and forth followed, leading to more frustration (they lie!) and eventually to a chat session with the gracious help at Amazon.

Here’s the transcript:

transcript of the chat, highlighting conflicting information

Yes and no mean the same thing, right?

If, for some reason the image is not convenient for you, or you don’t want to zoom in that far, here’s the highlight (paraphrased):

Amazon: You can stream the videos without Silverlight or Adobe Flash.

Me: How?

Amazon: You need Silverlight and Adobe Flash.

Think I’ll stick with Netflix for now anyway. At least I know where I stand with them.

greenish dreamland

Why do we stare off into space when we’re tired? Well, we know why you do, but why do we generally think about things other than that before our eyes when we’re tired? Is it because we lack the strength to stay focused on the present when we’re tired? Do our minds naturally wonder away when we’re not actively holding them still in the here and now?

These are some of the things I think about when I’m tired. You know what I’m thinking right now, but what are you thinking? This is really a one sided sort of arrangement, isn’t it? And that’s not really fair, now is it? No, of course it isn’t. I’d like to propose a modified situation based on fairness and equality. Write down what you’re thinking right now. Be honest and don’t censor yourself. Write it all down and email it to me. You don’t have my email address? (Yes, you do.) You can just send it to someone else and they’ll get it to me in a jiffy, pronto-like. Rest assured of that.

Now, that’s better. Thank you. I know we would get along just fine. You startled me with some of your thoughts, but I should have known better. You’re a wacky bunch of people, you readers of people’s minds, you.

So, if we concede our minds are wont to wander when we are not corralling them here and now, to where, I wonder, do they wander? Unfinished business? Maybe sometimes. Fantasies? Probably some of the destinations would fall under this category. What about those places that don’t really directly relate to unfinished business and aren’t fantasies, per se, at least not in the vein of desirous dreams, but rather are more like sleeping dreams wherein we are wandering around in a mental landscape at once strange and familiar? Are these places unlike the places we visit when we dream?

Does anyone else end up in the same world when they dream? I mean to say there seems to be a world not entirely unlike this one, but certainly not exactly like it either, where I live when I dream. It’s sort of greenish, sort of how this world may very well be if we tuned the frequency down (or is it up?) a notch. Reptilian and swampy, but at the edges. Subterranean in feel, although I have traveled this land’s skies as well as its Terra Firma.

It features a monopoly board like park that I can’t help but feel is situated in the real world Mall in Washington D.C.

It features streets lined with houses and there’s a desert-like street that sort of ends alongside a cliff and the houses just stop there. It goes on, I think, but I never go past that spot where the street is along the cliff. It’s not a high cliff, only maybe as high as a two story building.

There is a cemetery in this world. It is not far from the cliff street.

There is a roller-coaster I rode in a dream once when I was a child. The lesson was to enjoy the ride – the ups and downs, for they will keep coming out of our control, but our enjoyment, our relaxation and acceptance, is completely in our control. It was a nice dream.

I flew in a rubber-ducky-ish airplane once through the sky not far from where the roller-coaster exists. There were green, reptilian beings present, but they kept to themselves and I wondered about them in a passive sort of way. They seem to live under the ground in the sewers there.

I often ride in a car near the edge of this world. There is a swampy area there and a motel of some kind or other. I think I went inside once, in fact I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember why or what I did there.

Not far from the Monopoly-Washington D.C. Mall park area, or somehow I think it is inside this park area, there is a library like interior filled with tons of records and files on dusty bits of old cards. Like the reference cards one finds in a library of the past. I spent some time in one or two dreams there going through these records. I don’t recall what I was doing or whether I was looking for something or working at filing or organizing the records. The Bush clan is always nearby this Monopoly Park. They are in some measure of control when the dream takes place near here. But I tell them to keep their distance and leave me be when it strikes me to tell them so. This library in the park is disorganized and dusty. Filled to the brim with papers and boxes along with the file cards. I don’t know what all the junk and clutter is, but I don’t feel it would be right to clean it for some reason. It’s somebody else’s mess. They need it like this for some reason so I leave it be. But it makes my work here difficult. This is not unlike real life either, come to think of it, since I am constantly struggling to survive and stay afloat in messes created and cherished by the lazy selfish that populate this world like so many blades of grass in a field.

The Bush clan is very scary. In my dreams. Maybe in the real world too, but I don’t want to draw too many parallels tonight. I wish they would stay out of my dreams. I think it’s rude to intrude into other people’s dreams, don’t you? Speaking of you, how are you making out so far? Have you made any progress ordering those files yet? You have only a few moments left. The alarm is going off in a few minutes.

The Stone – Finale, maybe

And she didn’t. And now here she was, deep below a jewelry store in Miami, standing in a cavernous space where the walls seemed to be made of effulgent crystals of all the different colors of the rainbow, staring at creatures she knew didn’t exist outside of Hollywood, watching as these imaginary beings, with their big bug eyes and their swollen grey heads moved about attending to whatever it was they were attending to. Stacey Florence lost consciousness as Mrs. Sykes began to speak to her about the significance of the stone she received in New Orleans from a man she met on a smelly subway platform in New York last summer.

When she opened her eyes, Stacey gazed into the smiling faces of her mother and father. She watched their eyes light up and knew they were happy to see her awake. But she didn’t understand why. When she tried to ask them what the hell was happening, she found she was too exhausted to speak, even though she had a vague idea that she had just been sleeping for a very long time.

There was a great commotion in the room as voices rejoiced and hugs blossomed in a joyful celebration. But Stacey was in a fog and felt separated from the activities. She didn’t feel bad, per se, just tired and eerily detached. Something was missing. Something wasn’t right, but she had no idea what.

Then it dawned on her. It was her memory that was missing. She didn’t know where the hell she was or how the hell she ended up in this bed. She found she couldn’t remember anything from her past. She struggled and found she could recall her childhood with only a little difficulty. That was good. She walked through the halls of her memory while her family celebrated around her. ‘She must have been out a long time,’ she thought, back to her old habit of referring to herself in the third person. ‘They seem really grateful and excited. Wonder what happened.’

She got through high school and into her early twenties alright. Early boyfriends and part time jobs flashed by as she tried to bring herself current with herself. Remembered her apartment – hey, I wanna go home – and her full time job midtown – they can keep that. Some vacation memories bubbled up. Vacation!

She started to sit up and frightened everyone in the room. A nurse eased her into a half recline and settled her and everyone else down. She found her voice. “I have to catch my flight. Don’t let me miss my flight!”

“Sweetheart,” her mother’s voice was gentle, almost breaking.

“I’ve got to catch my flight. I’m going to San Diego, remember?”

“Sweetheart, that was a long time ago. You don’t remember anything, do you? Do you know you’ve been in a coma? For a while now?”

“Coma? I was in a coma?”

“Yes sweetheart, for a long time. You had an accident. Do you remember? Like you used to have as a child?”

“Accident? I wasn’t in an accident.” Her voice trailed off as she struggled to hold on to sanity.

“You don’t remember passing out on that hot subway platform?”

She shook her head. “No.” Something cried out from the back of her mind, but like a short yelp from a dark alley at night, she did her best to pretend she didn’t hear anything.

“The police said you fainted from the heat. But you hit your head on the way down, dear. You’ve been in a coma for a while now.” Then, to the attending relatives, “but we’re all so glad you’re back, aren’t we?”

There was general merriment amongst the clan. It was fortunate she woke on a Saturday and everyone was present. Had it been a weekday, at best only one relative would have been present. Stacey did her best to not be a downer at her own party of sorts, but she craved a chance to tear open her mind and rescue whatever memory she knew was trapped in there.

“Oh, and these are for you.” With a hopeful smile, her mother handed her a bouquet of flowers. They were pretty enough. Stacey sniffed them and they smelled nice enough.

“They seem fresh. How did you know I would be waking up today?” She laughed at the absurdity of her question, a little nervous at the seriousness of her question.

“Oh, they’re not from us. The note doesn’t say who they’re from. We just assumed they were from some boyfriend of yours.” She smiled a little, then continued: “as for the timing, well, I guess it’s a lucky coincidence!”

“Or maybe the flowers woke you up!” Stacey’s father suggested with a wink.

Stacey took a look at the note. The message was generic and familiar, but something about the flowery font on the card struck a nerve with Stacey and she began to recess a little into her mind. She could almost swear she recently sent a card with the same flowery font to someone… But who? And, apparently, she has been lying in this bed for God knows how long and not sending cards with flowery writing to anyone.

A wrought iron balcony above a gift shop. A selection of trinkets and collectibles. Images floated around in her head like motes of dust in the sunlight. The aroma of seafood triggered a cascade of emotion but Stacey only grew agitated and confused. Why did she send herself flowers and a card?

The nurses ran as fast as they safely could into the room at the sound of her scream. Stacey’s family was ushered out and a doctor appeared with a needle. There was darkness and the calm stillness.

Her mysterious friend appeared as a light in the darkness. All was calm and peaceful here. The two of them were surrounded by a white light which twinkled in all the colors of the rainbow, not unlike the room she remembered – she remembered! She didn’t pass out on any subway platform. She met a man who gave her a stone in New Orleans which she took to be appraised in Miami, where she ended up in an underground cavern filled with aliens… Aliens!

The other spoke to her now telepathically. “Thank you, Stacey, for doing what I asked you to do.

“But what did I do? That part I can’t remember.”

Before her eyes appeared the likeness of a small child. Stacey cried. She knew the child was hers.

“I want you to bear us a child.” That is what he had said. That is what he had asked her to do for him. And she didn’t feel it would be the least bit inconvenient for her to oblige the kind gentleman. Her mind was not her own, and had not been for some time! She began to panic before he spoke again and calmed her with his deep, soothing vibrations, if not with his words.

“We’ve met many times over the years since we selected you for our program. We’ve erased your memory each time and even brought you to what you would consider your past at times to allow you to recoup some of the lost time.”

She remembered now how she had gone to the building he had directed her to go to after they parted company after brunch. It was a gift shop that sold flowers as well as other assorted items. The shop had an elaborate wrought iron balcony over the ground floor and there were flowering plants up there which shed some red petals down to the street in front of the doorway. Stacey stepped inside and handed the clerk the note her friend had provided for her to give to the staff and, when prompted by the clerk, she selected a floral arrangement and a suitable card – he said it was for his sister who was recovering in hospital – and then Stacey was on her way to the next stop on the list her friend had given her. Here her memory did not return to her.

“Would you like to meet her?” Stacey shook in the very core of her being. How can anyone simultaneously want and not want something so strongly? She experienced a fear stronger than any she had ever known was possible. And a yearning for a world bigger and stranger than she ever imagined. But she was afraid to jump off the diving board.

“There will be plenty of time later. You should return to your family now. We’d like to include you as a partner from now on. Would you like that?” Stacey didn’t have a clue what the hell that entailed and he sensed as much.

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to decide now. We will partition your mind so you don’t have to worry about these things for now. We’ll visit you again soon and we can discuss things at greater length then, okay?” Stacey didn’t respond.

She opened her eyes and saw her mother and father in the chairs beside her hospital bed. “I’m hungry. Do they have clams here?” Her mother burst into tears and laughter. Her father rushed to call the staff about getting some food for her. In his haste he knocked the card that came with the flowers from its place on the small table in the corner. He picked it up and placed in on the bed near Stacey’s hand. She reached for it and brought it up to her face to read it again. It said “Get well soon. Can’t wait to see you again.”

Stacey smiled warmly in her heart, although she wasn’t sure why. “How about some clams already!? I’m starving!”

The Stone Part II

Her mind raced trying to find the answers. The man who gave her the stone had said it would lead her into trouble if she wasn’t careful, but when he continued to insist it wasn’t stolen she had brushed aside his warnings. Now she wished she had paid more attention to all that he had told her. She racked her mind trying to remember the details. ‘Did I miss something important?’ she asked herself, panicked to the point of referring to herself in the first person. ‘He said it would be okay to have it appraised but that I should only get it appraised from some jeweler he knew… Damn! He said it wasn’t stolen, so why should it matter where I get it appraised from? Damn! I should have listened, but who knew?!’

She recalled with vivid clarity the moment she met him. She had been in New York waiting for the downtown A train at Columbus Circle. The platform was smelly and hot as usual for that time of year – summer of course – and it was crowded, but only typically so. Someone somewhere was playing a guitar – a pleasant tune that almost made the wait for the train bearable. A homeless woman shuffled slowly by, nearly killing her with the stench of blended shits, young and old. She turned to flee to another part of the platform when she collided with him. Not a football tackle collide, nor an everyone lands on their ass collide, just a gentle bump and ‘excuse me’ collide. But she took note of him immediately all the same. He was dressed slightly… off. Different. And his cologne was unique to her nose. It didn’t completely mask the shit-pourri, but rather distracted from it confusingly. When he said her name she was barely surprised. Something about his presence shifted her consciousness by some non-trivial degree, and she was nearly hypnotized. She wasn’t sexually attracted to him. In fact, the closest she ever felt to this same sensation was at a particularly touching Easter service her then boyfriend had dragged her to some years prior. Not being particularly religious, she had been surprised at her reaction to the service then, and that she was feeling that same sort of warm, fuzzy calm now forced her to full, deep awareness. She remembered in her new found lucidity her name was on her bronze tag – she had never taken if off when she finished work for the day.

She remembered in this strange place laughing at herself on that hot platform all those months ago. She remembered him chatting her up, then offering to buy her a coffee. Trying to avoid the awkwardness, she mentioned that she was heading for the train station and was, in fact, on her way out of town. She remembered her embarrassment when he told her he was heading to Penn Station himself and would like to buy her that coffee if time allowed. Deciding he was harmless enough, she stopped trying to shake him, figuring she may as well drink the coffee, then lose him when she boarded her train. The A train was barreling into the station by now, and when it came to a stop and the doors opened, they boarded the train together. She remembered his oddness, but wondered now at how normal he seemed. If she knew then where she would end up… hell, she wished she knew now where she was.

He handed her the stone over and over again in her mind’s eye. Each time, she accepted it gladly. Never once did she even consider rejecting his offer. The proposition was simple: he would give her the stone, she could keep it or sell it as she willed, and all he asked in return was a simple favor.

The fact that they were booked not only on the same train out of Penn Station, but also the same flight out of Newark Airport that fateful summer afternoon sealed in her mind the inevitability of their crossing and the futility of resisting his harmless offers of chatty companionship and casual chivalry. Besides, she was growing fascinated with his tales of travel and adventure. The way he told them was refreshing, too. He didn’t brag about his adventures, nor did he try the underhanded approach of understating his worldliness in the common style of the name-dropper. He seemed, in some modest way, impressed with himself that he had been to the places he visited, and his eagerness to share his experiences was contagious. He wasn’t American, but she wasn’t sure just where she imagined he hailed from. For some reason she failed to ask him. Every time she thought about it, he seemed almost to sense it, for he would immediately begin anew with some fresh story and distract her from her inquisitive thoughts.

The morning he gave her the stone, over jazz brunch at Antoines in the French Quarter, she had been feeling quite out of herself, she recalled. He had called her a few days earlier, after practically disappearing for a month – not that they were a couple, mind you, and he was certainly under no obligation to keep in constant touch with her – and offered to treat her to New Orleans for the weekend. He offered to arrange the flight for her and take care of the nitty gritty and all she would have to do is catch the flight and meet him in the French Quarter. She had accepted his offer, of course, and met him at Cafe Du Monde, as they had arranged. After the requisite beignet and cafe au lait, they traveled to a small bed and breakfast nearby where he had booked their stay – separate rooms. She remembered feeling very fortunate with her life.

It was late the following morning when she found herself at Antoines, listing to the smooth strumming of the bass and enjoying the lingering essence of soft shell crab Florentine on her tongue. She remembered as if it was yesterday how her eye caught the glimmer of the stone as her friend produced it from a bag he had brought with him to brunch.

“Do you think it pretty?”

“Oh my… yes. It’s gorgeous.” It was huge! Nearly half the size of her palm. Something in her stomach reacted at the time – how she wished she had listened to it. Instead, she had reacted to her gut feeling with suspicion and dismissal. Surely the thing was junk. Plastic even. But it was pretty plastic, for sure. It glimmered like nothing she had ever seen. “What’s it made of?”

“It’s a stone, a rare gem in fact, although I doubt you would be familiar with the name if I told you.”

“Try me.”

He ignored her inquiry and immediately began telling her what he needed from her. It certainly hadn’t seemed like much at the time, although it was a strange request. She agreed and he handed her the stone. She remembered the first time the stone touched the flesh of her hand. A tingling sensation traveled up her arm and into her scalp. It was subtle, but not imaginary, and she loved it. His words interrupted her sensations.

“I’ve got to go now. Don’t forget what I’ve told you, and please don’t hesitate to do what I’ve asked you to do.”

“I won’t…” was all she had time to get out before he was gone.

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