Monday, February 26, 2007

Ripping DVDs with Free Software!

Just today, a friend of mine needed a copy of a DVD that she could take around with her on a hard drive. So I thought, "well, I'll just take the disk image of it..."

But Apple's DVD player won't play DRM'd disk images, of course.

However! Here's a very nice howto for some very friendly software for Linux, Mac OS X, and BeOS (I know you've all got BeBoxes out there) that'll make video files from your DVDs, no sweat. Super-easy to use. Your mom could do it.

Thanks for the link, Cory Doctorow!

programmable tab completion: you may already have it!

Not long ago, I was doing some mundane upgrade task on the Ubuntu box on my desk. I'd switched out monitors and video cards, and I wanted to make it reconfigure I type out "dpkg-reconfigure x..." (details are orthogonal, I suppose). But the amazing thing was, I hit tab out of habit, and bash magically filled in the name of the package and some other options, appropriate for the context!

It turns out that this is a feature known as Programmable Completion, available in modern versions of bash and enabled by default in Ubuntu! Who knew?

For example, the Ubuntu version of the programmable completion only fills in ".java" files when you're issuing a "javac" command, and it auto-completes class names (but not .class files) when you're trying to run a Java program from the command line. Flippin' sweet.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Programmatic poetry: oh noetry!

Automatic generation of texts has been on my mind for rather a while. Particularly, I've been thinking about poetry and the what characterizes it, in contrast to, say, technical manuals or want ads. Some (five?) years ago, my cohort Esther and I had set at the generation problem from an ontology standpoint, trying to figure out what it would take to get thematic relationships into an automatic poem. We didn't get very far, probably because at that point my first instinct was to code everything from scratch in C!

Anyway, it turns out that there are non-me people interested in this sort of thing, and the ever-helpful Graham has pointed out a bunch of interesting things happening in the field!

- The prosthetic imagination is a blog by a one Jim Carpenter, who's been working on Erica T. Carter (aka "the electronic text composition project", mentioned on GrandTextAuto here), which uses probabilistic grammars to generate free verse poems. I think the output is pretty convincing ("convincingly what?"); according to Mr. Carpenter, it's rather unnerving to readers who've been informed that they were composed by machine.

It's interesting how people react, when confronted with "creativity" from a non-human source; one is reminded of Douglas Hofstadter's surprising reaction to David Cope's lovely work with algorithmic music composition, which makes music, in a sense, in the style of other composers.

I'll have to read more, but I'm not entirely sure, if it's just using hierarchical grammars, how Erica is different from The Postmodernism Generator (the best-known use of the world-famous dada engine)... but I'll report back on this later.

- There is an Electronic Poetry Center at Buffalo. Interesting!

- Gnoetry is another system out there, and a very prolific one at that, apparently connected to this super-fascinating Beard of Bees publishing group. Language is a prosthesis of an ancient neuro-chemical regime; but now the chemical author is dead. Gnoetry places language at a remove from its typical sources: pre-conscious governance, psycho-historical flux, conscious-mind narration. YES. I will be getting in contact with these guys.

- At upenn, they have a series of readings, M^<4|\3, with all sorts of "literary uses of technology" things going on, including, next week, Flarf poetry (!) .

- Speaking of literary uses of technology, the GTR Language Workbench looks like something between Eclipse and a word processor... I'm not quite sure what to make of it yet.

I'm all excited. Let's get hacking.