April 20, 2014

.comment: The Trouble with January - page 3

The cruelest month?

  • January 16, 2002
  • By Dennis E. Powell

The reason I was so eager to get the printer working is that last fall I photographed a wedding, and my wife was going to see the new bride this week. I wanted to produce a nice album to go along with the stack of CDs of the pictures that I was now going to produce.

I think that CDs are the wave of the future in distributing photographs to family and friends. A CD will hold hundreds of pictures, even if duplicate images are stored (in my case, 1600x1200, which are for use if the picture is to be printed either at a photo shop or by someone who has had better luck with CUPS and gimp-print than I have, and 800x600 for viewing on the computer itself). Putting together easily navigated CDs is facilitated by a dandy little perl script called "Album," available at http://marginalhacks.com/Hacks/album/, which I've modified a little -- for instance, I want the "Up" and "Back" buttons to take me to ../index.html, not ../. It generates nicely linked thumbnail pages, handled subdirectories -- of special use if it's being used to create a Web page, so all the thumbnails don't need to be loaded at once -- and generates nice HTML that than can be edited as needed. It is tremendously useful in projects where lots if images need to be indexed and made available to those who do not care to spend time looking at directory listings.

Again, I hadn't used the CD burner for awhile, but it is fairly straightforward if one uses XCDRoast. (There is a very pretty KDE application for the purpose, KonCD, and if ever I get it to work I'll write about it. I burned an hour trying to get it to work this time and all that it did was demonstrate that on my machine it would not behave in the manner described in the documentation.)

Due to the terribly broken YaST2 Update function, the move from SuSE 7.2 to SuSE 7.3 had involved wiping the / and /usr partitions, so I have no idea what I was doing earlier with XCDRoast. It was installed but unconfigured. Additionally, the new version shipped with SuSE 7.3 is considerably different from the version I had earlier. I did get it configured and, employing the counterintuitive controls of XCDRoast, got an image file built.

Came time to burn the CDs. In projects like this, I like to produce a dozen or more CDs to distribute to family and friends. Imagine my chagrin when I got the message that the image was not ISO-9660 compliant. (This could be due to the inclusion of both Rock Ridge and Joliet extensions, but I don't think so; my understanding of ISO-9660 is that it specifies the manner in which the tracks will be placed on the CD, not their content, but I could be wrong.)

I burned one anyway. Then I took it to my lab rat machine to see what XCDRoast hath wrought. It is January, so you should not be surprised to learn that the CD reader on the lab rat sent the message, "no media found." For the same reason, it is no innovation that the CD reader in my wife's machine said the same thing. Still, I was beginning to see a trend, and I concluded that there was something terribly wrong with the way I was burning the CDs. Fortunately, and entirely on a whim, I plugged my little PCMCIA CD reader into the notebook, which happened to have a drive containing OS/2. The CD was visible, as were the images. But none of the links worked; even the thumbnail pages were long rows of boxes containing broken links and question marks.

This was starting to turn into a very long day.

Email from my friend Mark Davis confirmed that, in his words, "There's a bug in Netscape 4.61 for OS/2 that replaces extra dots in names of downloaded files with underscores." Album creates files with names like "picture.jpg.html," and this drove the OS/2 version of Netscape crazy. I was beginning to think I was walking blindly across an open space littered with few obstacles, but managing to hit everyone of them. But, hey, this is January.

So I pulled the CD reader and took it upstairs and plugged it into an old laptop that has Windows 95 on it because it hasn't been replaced yet. And the CD came up just fine, and the HTML generated by Album under Linux was perfect.

I still don't know what the ISO-9660 error was about. Maybe it's a little dab of code that says that if it's January, then wildgoosechase=1.

Anyway, apparently this year's variation on the January theme is that unlike the previous standard, in which applications and hardware pretend to work but don't -- as in CUPS and gimp-print and the Epson Stylus Photo 780, as well as two CD readers here -- applications and hardware can also pretend not to work when in fact it's functioning as designed to function.

And once again I shake my head, mystified. This kind of thing happens every single January, and has happened every single January for as long as I've used computers, and I'm at a total loss to explain it.

The good news is that in a little over two weeks January will be behind us. After which, if history is a guide, our machines will no longer be, well, etherized upon the table.

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