Fiona Apple New Release

Two years ago, Fiona Apple submitted her third album, Extraordinary Machine, to her record label. Since both of her previous albums had gone multi-platinum in sales, you’d think her label would be eager to get it into the stores. But for some inexplicable reason, they instead decided that the album did not have commercial appeal and shelved it instead.

Earlier this year, mp3s of this album leaked out onto the net and garnered rave reviews from those able to get their hands on it. My own opinion is that it is easily a match to her earlier albums, if not a bit better. For anyone who was puzzled by her album being shelved, this removed all doubts as to whether the record label was justified in shelving the album.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to open the weekly iTunes Music Store newsletter to see a new release from Fiona Apple. No, it’s not the whole album. But it is a small taste of the album. The release is of the album track O’ Sailor and a b-side track, Parting Gift.

If you already have the bootleg mp3s, here are some reasons to buy this single:

1) It is likely that the label will base their decision on whether to release the album or not on whether this single sells well or not. Buying it is a vote in favor of an album release.

2) It’s the right thing to do to replace your bootleg copies once a legit release is available.

3) You don’t have the b-side yet.

4) The single features an updated mix of the track. (As well as a different spelling from your bootleg!)

Click here: Fiona Apple – O’ Sailor / Parting Gift (iTunes Music Store US)

Ooh La La

Today I got my long awaited parcel from HMV UK containing the new Goldfrapp singles. Goldfrapp has been one of my favorite groups since shortly after rosminah introduced me to their work. My wife asked me what kind of music they are and I honestly have no idea. It’s a bit like trip hop electronica, but that’s still not quite it.

Anyways, according to my profile (formerly audioscrobbler), Goldfrapp is my second favorite band, and I’m the 6th biggest Goldfrapp fan on the site. So I guess that’s a pretty good indication of how much I listen to them.

Goldfrapp is composed of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory. I’d actually first heard Alison Goldfrapp on Tricky’s debut album Maxinquaye which I rank as one of the best albums every made. She sang with Tricky on the track “Pumpkin” on that album. She also sang with the obscure group Add N to (X) before hooking up with Will Gregory to form their own group. They’ve released two albums so farm, Felt Mountain and Black Cherry, and I think they are both brilliant.

Their third album, Supernature is out on 8/24, and they’ve so far released two CD singles and one DVD single in the UK of the song “Ooh La La.” And that’s what came in the mail today. The first single has the single version and a b-side. The second single has three remixes, and the DVD has the music video, a behind-the-scenes video and an audio-only remix of Ooh La La.

Maybe it’s a bit obsessive to get all three of these, but after listening/watching them, I can’t say that any one of them is not worth it. The b-side on the first CD is great, the second single contains some pretty good remixes, and the video on the DVD is not to be missed, nor is the Andy Bell/Manhattan Clique remix on it. I think the only disappointing thing is that while the video is widescreen, it’s encoded in 4:3 format, which means lower resolution than if they’d encoded at 16:9.

If you’re not quite so obsessed, you might just wait for the regular CD release later in the month. For now you can click through to their website and preview the album. Myself, I have the special limited edition album/dvd set already on order.

The problem of politically correct terminology

Usage of politically correct terminology sometimes results in situations where the usage is factually incorrect. One example is included in a poster celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. This poster lists the 51 nations who were signatories of the June 26, 1945 founding of the UN. This poster lists the People’s Republic of China as one of the signatories.

There’s one small problem with that: the People’s Republic of China didn’t exist in 1945. The signatory was actually the Republic of China. But the UN can’t put down Republic of China because the PRC would have a fit. So they have to put down the PRC as a founder, even though it’s wrong.

PHP problem solved

Last week I was trying to help Pazu in Vienna debug a problem where file uploads in a PHP application weren’t working on my web server. We’d been running around in circles trying to figure out what was wrong. First we thought it was the PHP version, but that wasn’t it. Then we thought permissions, but that wasn’t it. The bizarre thing was the using an alternate instance of Apache on the same server using the same software and an only slightly altered httpd.conf worked fine.

Today I was able to get the Apache configs converged to the point where there were only about 4 lines in the two configs that were different, and those were only paths and port numbers. The only other difference was that the broken server had all the virtual hosts configured, while the working server only had one virtual host configured. Thinking it might be that it worked on the first (default) vhost, I added a second, but the test program still worked on both. Then I added ALL the virtual hosts, and suddenly it broke.

So here’s what the root problem turned out to be:

Basically, the old stdio method of handling file descriptors has a limit of 256 file descriptors. Most modern OSes can support many more (usually 1-64K), but to be able to use them you need to make minor changes to the code. Unfortunately, parts of the PHP code still use the old method and are therefore limited to 256 descriptors. One of the parts so limited is the file uploading code. This particular bug with file uploading has been fixed in the current development version, but not in a released version of PHP yet.

Fortunately, we were just a little bit over the 256 file limit, so I was able to squeeze things down to below that by removing some old defunct vhosts, and merging vhosts that refer to the same server under different names (for example, and may have had different vhosts but all got served out of the same directory). Once the server had less than 256 open files, the file upload problem disappeared.

The aggravating factor in this is that I have per-vhost log files, and log files in apache are all held open constantly, so each one means one more file open for all the children of the main httpd. I probably should get with modern times and roll things back to one main log file with an extra field for the vhost.

These kinds of obscure problems are very difficult to diagnose.

Chinese on the comics page

The first panel of today’s Luann comic strip is in Chinese. Apparently Luann’s old flame Aaron Hill is shacking up with a Chinese girl in Hawaii and is learning to speak Chinese. Since the strip doesn’t provide subtitles, as a public service here’s what they said:

Aaron: 對不起 (pronounced dui bu qi): Sorry.
Girl: 沒關係 (pronounced mei guan xi): It doesn’t matter.

OK, maybe not too exciting, but it’s kinda neat seeing actual Chinese instead of the random scribbles that often are used instead.

Databases, streaming video and PHP

Got a good bit of work done today. One of the projects I’d had on the todo list for a while is an automatic reminder system for my user’s domain renewals. I don’t have a whole lot of these, so I had been doing it semi-automated. But that means that I was a bit inconsistent on how often and how soon I’d send out reminders.

I already have a mysql db on my server for some forum boards and a game, so I figured I’d make a new db in that and use it for storing the info. I had to go through a few iterations before getting the schema right, but not too bad. I have a feeling I’ll want to expand it in the future though.

Then I created a few perl scripts to manage the data. I entered most of the data manually through one perl script, and just for domains expiring through the end of the year. The one piece of data that is automatically updated is the expiration date for each domain, which is automatically fetched in a perl script from whois queries and then updated in the db if needed.. I’ll have to add a way to only do intermittent updates of these though, as whois servers dislike it when one server makes lots of queries in a short period of time.

Then the third perl script goes through the db and sends out renewal notices for domains expiring in less than 60 days, urgent renewal notices for less than 14 days, and an urgent expired domain notice from when the domain expired until it is actually deleted. This reminder service is scheduled to run weekly. I want to expand it though so it runs daily but only sends biweekly notices until less than 14 days, and then weekly from then until it is deleted.

While there’s still some improvements to be made, including automatically seeding the db from the server’s DNS and/or web server configs, it’s all up and working after only a few hours of hacking on it. Not bad.

Yesterday I was playing around with streaming video after edwardv demoed his streaming audio experiments with Windows Media Encoder. I have a video server back in Santa Clara where I can record US TV and download it to watch here. I’d thought about doing video streaming as well, but hadn’t really looked at what would be required. After seeing what edwardv had thrown together, I decided to look into it myself.

It was actually surprisingly easy to set things up. I have a 768kbps uplink over there, so I played around with various encoding rates to see what was stable. I found that 525kbps video and 64kbps audio was very stable and while not great quality, was quite watchable. Unfortunately, the satellite receiver on it has flaked out, so I need to wait for Voodoo to get home and give it a kick. For testing, I was streaming AVI files, though I verified that streaming from inputs worked, though all I could see were the receiver’s menus.

If the NHL gets their act together, this will be nice for watching hockey games live. It’ll be interesting to see how well watchable fast action like hockey is with those kinds of bitrates. Thanks edwardv for giving me a push on video streaming.

The last technical puzzle this week is one my friend in Austria, Pazu and I have been trying to solve for a while. He has a PHP application that is supposed to allow one to upload files to the server, except on my server it doesn’t work. Our first suspicion was that it was because my server runs PHP5 which is incompatible with some apps designed for PHP4.

This week we got it to the point where if he ran his own instance of Apache on my server that it would work. Since we thought it was the PHP version, and since he tested with an installation of PHP4, I downgraded the main server to PHP4, and it still failed. We then did various tests to show that his personal version of Apache could run it under PHP5, so eliminated that as a problem. There’s still several differences between his install and the main server’s so I’ll need to sit down and test each change one at a time to see what makes it break. We’ve already eliminated the most obvious one of what user id the server runs as.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Wait a minute! It’s not February!

One of the things about living in another country is that some things you’d expect to be the same are different from back home. Two of these events occur this week.

Today is what is called either Chinese Valentine’s Day or Chinese Lover’s Day. This occurs each year on July 7th. Now you’re probably thinking that I’ve gone completely off the rocker, because today is clearly August 11, 2005. But it’s also July 7, 94. The July 7 part comes from the lunar calendar which is aligned to the 28 day lunar cycle. That’s why you get Chinese New Year sometime in January of February depending, literally, on the phase of the moon. The 94 part comes from the Republic of China having been officially founded in 1912, or year 1 on the Republican calendar.

In everyday life, most people follow the Western calendar for months and days. For the year, it’s a bit more common to see the Republican year being used, though the Western year is also fairly commonly used. For most of the traditional holidays, the lunar calendar is still primarily used. Since most people use the Western calendar, this means that there’s a bit confusion about exactly what dates holidays fall on each year. Some people celebrate their birthday on the lunar date, some celebrate on the Western date, or some celebrate both. As for Valentine’s Day, both the western and Chinese version are celebrated by most people.

The other holiday this week is Father’s Day which is celebrated on August 8 (on the Western calendar). Mother’s Day is celebrated on the same day as in the West, but Father’s Day is different. There’s a good reason for that though. The date of August 8 in Chinese is 八月八日 (8 Month 8 Day, pronounced ba yue ba ri), and can be abbreviated as å…«å…« (88, pronounced baba) which sounds similar to 爸爸 which is also pronounce baba (though in different tone), and is the Chinese word for Dad. This is fine with me, since the Western Father’s Day is about a week after my birthday, so this spreads things out a bit.

So Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Father’s Day!

Mixed Feelings

Earlier this week the government information office announced that seven TV stations had lost their licenses and had to stop broadcasting on Tuesday. The reasons given were that the programming was detrimental to society. I already had some mixed feelings because actually, some of the channels here are pretty bad. But on the other hand, the government deciding who does and doesn’t get a license leaves me a bit uneasy. It’s been 18 years since martial law, but it seems like authoritarian practices still lurk in the government.

I don’t watch a whole lot of TV here. Most of the time if I’m watching TV, it’s watching a DVD of an American TV show. When I actually watch something off cable it’s usually CNN. So it was only today that I had a chance to flip around the channels to see what’s changed. Now I have even more mixed feelings.

That’s because they’ve added some pretty interesting new channels. To top the list, there’s BBC World, with BBC News. Ah, lovely BBC. As well, Star World which shows American TV shows was moved from the obscure channel it sometimes appeared on to a lower channel, ABC (the Australian one, not the American one), Animax and Nickelodeon were all added to the lineup. Is it bad to be in favor of government repression just because you like the result?

Surprise Typhoon

Typhoon Matsa didn’t get a whole lot of coverage over the last few days. It was expected to move northwesterly off the east coast of Taiwan heading up towards the Shanghai area. We were expecting some good rain, but it was expected to mostly just scoot by without much impact. Since we only got the edge of it, we were spared a lot of the strong winds, but we did get a lot of rain. All last night here we got heavy rain, pretty much continuously. Plus the typhoon has started moving slowly in a westerly direction off the north of the island, which means we’ll probably get even more rain through tomorrow. Readings in the Taipei area are as high as 578mm of rainfall, and some places are reporting more than a meter of rainfall. Plenty of mudslides, roads buried or washed out, rivers overflowing, etc. Schools and businesses are officially closed today in Taipei, though there are still quite a few shops that have opened up. No flooding in this area.