Automatically Mount a USB Drive Before Login on Mac OS X

I’ve been playing about with OS X on a Dell Mini 9 netbook. A major hassle is that it only has 8GB of on-board disk space (albeit on a lovely silent SSD). I bought a 16GB Class 4 SDHC card to use for my home directory, but it turns out OS X only automatically mounts external drives — such as USB drives, Firewire drives and memory cards — after you’ve logged in, which is too late for the OS to find your home directory, so you don’t get all your normal desktop customisations: preferences, dock icons, wallpaper, etc. However, after some magic googling, I found the solution:

sudo cat << EOM > /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/autodiskmount.plist
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
<dict>
  <key>AutomountDisksWithoutUserLogin</key><true/>
</dict>
</plist>
EOM

Reboot. Sorted.

Battlestar Galactica’s Endgame

When I was a kid, one of the stand-out moments of the week was getting to watch an awesome American action-adventure serial on TV. Airwolf, Street Hawk, Manimal, Automan, The A-Team, Quantum Leap, Star Trek, The Fall Guy, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Knight Rider, even Blue Thunder. What drove me to keep watching (and re-watching in some cases) was a blend of good characters, fun stories, and usually mind-blowing technology. These shows gave us über-advanced helicopters, talking cars, massive starships, morphing holograms and time travelling scientists.

I want to talk about Battlestar Galactica, to many just another one of those weekly shows with guns, action and silly plots. So, before I start waffling about the end of the 2003-2009 re-imagined version, and if you’ll indulge me, some history.

After 1978, Battlestar Galactica was amongst that select group which truly captivated me. Adama, the father-figure leader; Apollo, the straight-shooting fighter ace; Starbuck, the Han Solo scoundrel; Boomer, the wise-cracking buddy; Baltar, the baddy you could really hate versus the faceless metal Cylons; the Vipers, sleekly designed star fighters; and the Galactica itself: a massive, lumbering, heavily armed city-cum-aircraft-carrier in space. It wasn’t smooth in shape like the USS Enterprise, yet not as ugly and mashed together as the Millennium Falcon. The distinctive shape helped it retain its character as separate from the human players, yet recognisable as a character on its own as opposed to simply being a prop or plot device, like those two other popular fictional spaceships.

Unfortunately, the stories told in this universe rarely matched up to the stunning premise: that the Galactica was leading a “rag tag” fleet of civilian spacecraft away from their homes, which had been destroyed in an attack by their sworn enemies, the robotic Cylons, and with luck, they would be led to a world where their distant cousins had long since fled to: Earth. There was a chance for reflection on how a civilisation survives so close to extinction, yet the show quickly devolved into standard action-adventure fare, with little story or character arc development. But when you’re a kid, you don’t notice this as being a flaw. Each week is another chance to see Apollo fly around in a Viper and shoot Cylons, to see Starbuck get into more hot water and to see the Galactica swoop around majestically in front of the camera.

Many declare the point when Battlestar Galactica jumped the shark when the fleet found modern-day Earth, the show was renamed Galactica: 1980, and the bulk of the original cast departed. I wanted to see Apollo and Starbuck, not Dick van Dyke’s son (playing the grown-up version of the kid Boxey from earlier episodes). The show was quickly cancelled, but for me the jump-the-shark moment happened in the previous season, when we had a Western-themed episode. Ugh.

Well, 25 years later, after many misfires, BSG returned to TV screens on the Sci Fi Channel in late 2003 with a 3-hour “mini-series”, broadcast in two parts over two nights. Its success was rewarded with a 13-episode season order from Sci Fi and Sky (who co-finance the show). In showrunner (and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine alumnus) Ronald D. Moore’s own words, they “kept in the things that worked and threw away the things that didn’t” from the original 70s-era BSG. With this came a sense of reality, darkness and humanity that simply didn’t exist in the original. Themes were openly explored like a surgeon attacking an open wound, themes which were often grounded in our own reality and our own current events. A sliver of humanity was escaping a nuclear holocaust, enacted by the mechanical Cylons, but enabled by one of humanity’s own: Baltar, the traitor, just as in the original, yet portrayed with so much more depth than the simple evil genius, wringing his hands together and belly laughing maniacally. The Cylons themselves were extended from mere killer robots to both robots and human versions also. These human versions of Cylons would become integral to almost every plot thread unwound over the course of four seasons of television, no longer action-adventure, but a space opera, with dark drama running through its heart.

I won’t deign to recap over five years worth of television here, as it’s not my intent. Suffice to say, if you haven’t seen any of BSG yet, seek out the DVDs, starting with the mini-series. Even if that doesn’t engage you, keep going: the first season opener “33″ flies the flag of the series’ intent high and clear: the narrative is merciless, unflinching, engaging and tremendously interesting. All that follows, save some inevitable stumbles in an episode here and there, simply continued to raise the bar of what was possible in dramatic television. There’s been so much craic posted around the ‘net about the very final regular episode of BSG that I can’t remember the source to cite this, but as someone out there has said, BSG’s season finale cliffhangers always managed to seemingly paint the scriptwriters into a wall, and instead of cowardly retreating from that wall, they threw their caps over, and just kept going. That they could do this and still keep the story hanging together — and well, I might add — will be one of this show’s legacies: how to really just go balls out and make good television instead of pandering to ratings, Standards & Practices and poor viewer sensibilities. Fuck it, if we want to kill a major character off in the interests of moving the story forward, we will: no-one is safe.

And barring another one-off special later this year (“The Plan”, another two-hour special a la 2007′s “Razor”), BSG had its last episode aired last Friday night. Two hours and eleven minutes long (including the inevitable advert breaks), this immense piece of television to me stands as one of the ultimate triumphs of modern television, utterly stunning, always captivating, and again, unflinching. Series finales run the danger of falling either into self-parody, inadequacy, or sheer farce. What we saw last week had none of that. Virtually every plot line was given closure, albeit not always with a full explanation, as was every character. This show has been so immersive over its regular lifetime that to not deliver the “what, where, when, why, how” (or at least four of that five) would cheat the characters and the story just as much as the viewers. I’m not going to go into any details as to what actually happens during the finale, as there are too many spoilerful reviews already out there, and I’m not sure I could do the narrative justice by recapping it here in a critical manner. I enjoyed it way too much to pick holes at it, even if I wanted to.

I say the finale was a triumph. The story — which I won’t go into the specifics of here as I’d hate to rob anyone who hasn’t seen it of the delight of actually seeing it, and also it’s still airing on Sky One here in the UK as I type — was crafted like a movie (albeit one with years of backstory), the acting by all as utterly sublime, the visual effects as always were beautiful without distracting from the acting, and the music: how I could go on about the music. And I will, in a minute. I’ve never seen a show end in a way that answers so many questions and leave me feel wanting, or leaves so many questions unanswered but not piss me off in doing so. I like that there are some things left unsaid, unanswered, unresolved (and believe me, there are a couple of humdingers here). There are some what feel like natural finish lines in the finale after which I’m sure the screen could have faded to black, and I’d have been fully sated, but it just kept going, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King-style. When it happened in RotK, I was shifting about in my seat in the cinema, wondering when it was going to end. While watching the BSG finale, and being caught out again by another possible ending gliding by, I was in joy that we were being given even more. But I’ve never felt more satisfied than when the Executive Producer credits appeared on screen to signify the story’s ultimate end. I can’t remember when any television show which has performed this well on bringing story arcs to conclusion without messing things up for us; employing deus ex machina with a straight face to try and close out a tale is usually bad news, and luckily this doesn’t happen to BSG. Well, not much, and even then it’s not catastrophic to the narrative, although there’s a strong tabula rasa element which some may find hard to swallow.

As I mentioned, one of the standout moments of the finale — hell, of the whole series — was the music (my last.fm profile will probably show you how strongly I think that). I’m a movie and television soundtrack geek; this isn’t news to most people, I realise. Television soundtracks often don’t interest me as much as those from the movies. They’re usually created on a much tighter timescale and budget, and they sometimes suffer as a result. However, this is a trend that’s been changing over the last few years, with shows such as BSG, Lost, even Doctor Who, getting “proper” orchestral scores. Now, I’ve complained about Doctor Who’s lack of musical panache compared to BSG before, so I won’t belabour the point here, but BSG’s score is remarkable in many ways. Leitmotifs are used intelligently, the music takes a step back when needed and never hogs the stage, and both diegetic and non-diegetic bridges are made to music from our own world, working themselves into the plot rather than standing apart and completely breaking our immersive bond with what’s going on on-screen. Bear McCreary‘s contribution to the show is similar to the comparison I made with the ship itself in the original show: the score is a living, breathing character in the story, and gives BSG a cinematic, even operatic feel that enhances almost every scene it appears in.

The score to the finale rounds out the storytelling being made here, giving us new cues to reflect the events occurring on-screen, while revisiting and refreshing the character and story motifs built up over the years. Never mawkish, and carrying a power as strong as any great actor, image or sound effect, it pulls on our heartstrings at just the right moments with just the right amount of force.

Incidentally, Doctor Who just never seems able to completely add music seamlessly to scenes, and its habit of continually jumps out of the screen and slapping you about the face, screaming “something’s happening, look, stupid, something’s happening!” is jarring, which is a disappointment. McCreary is now scoring Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and doing a good job of it, so listen out for it if you’re watching on Fox or Virgin 1. Perhaps the BBC could give him a call for the future series of Who …

So, thanks for five years of great television, Battlestar Galactica.

Thanks, Ronald D. Moore and David Eick. Thanks, Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, Jamie Bamber, Katee Sackhoff, Tahmoh Penikett, Grace Park, Alessandro Juliani, Kandyse McClure, Aaron Douglas, Kate Vernon, Michael Hogan, Nickie Cline, Bodie Olmos, Leah Cairns. Thanks, Bear McCreary. Thanks for showing the world how to make great television. Hopefully re-watching your work so often won’t inure me to the tale, the craft or the messages. Thanks for giving me something to do on Saturday mornings. What’s left? A one-off prequel, “The Plan”, later this year, and next year “Caprica”, a prequel mini-series. But for now, BSG is still, and silent.

What do we hear now? Nothin’ but the rain.

The Four Ubuntu Yorkshiremen

(With apologies to Monty Python)

Four well-dressed men sitting together at a LUG meeting, surrounding a laptop running Ubuntu 9.04.

First Yorkshireman (1Y): Ahh … Very passable, this, very passable.

Second Yorkshireman (2Y): Nothing like a good install of Ubuntu Jaunty, eh Gessiah?

Third Yorkshireman (3Y): You’re right there, Obediah.

Fourth Yorkshireman (4Y): Who’d a thought fifteen years ago we’d all be sittin’ here recordin’ a podcast usin’ Jokosher on Ubuntu?

1Y: Aye. In them days, we’d a’ been glad to have Slackware installed on t’hard disk.

2Y: A beta of Slackware.

3Y: Without network card or CD-ROM drive.

4Y: Or a hard disk!

1Y: In a filthy Packard Bell.

3Y: We never used to have Packard Bell. We used to have to use RM Nimbuses.

2Y: The best we could manage was to suck on a piece of a Sinclair QL.

4Y: But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

1Y: Aye. Because we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, “Money doesn’t buy you operatin’ systems.”

3Y: ‘E was right. I was happier then and I had nothin’. We used to use Yggdrasil Linux on an old Compaq with half of case missin’.

2Y: Case? You were lucky to have a case! We used to have motherboards and components scattered about floor for ‘servers, all hundred and twenty-six of ‘em, no cable ties. Half the things were un-updated; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of being DDoSed!

4Y: You were lucky to have updates! *We* used to have to hand-patch kernels every week!

1Y: Ohhhh we used to dream of hand-patching kernels! Woulda been a weight lifted to us. We used to infiltrate remote systems to snoop on the kernel to see what’d been changed the night before to reverse engineer t’changes back on our own kernels. Patches!? Hmph.

3Y: Well when I say “patch” it was a hard copy of a diff printed on continuous paper with the green lines on it, but it were a patch to us.

2Y: We stopped gettin’ our hard copies; we had to fly to Finland and get Linus to transcribe bloody diffs onto notebooks!

4Y: You were lucky to have notebooks! There were a hundred and sixty of us passing code changes across Europe by t’game of Chinese Whispers.

1Y: By phone?

4Y: Aye.

1Y: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a telephone exchange intercepting phone calls on the off-chance we’d catch your Chinese Whispers. We’d scratch the diffs onto nearby bits of copper wire, swallow ‘em and spend fourteen hours on bog trying to get em back again when we got home. Then our Dad would thrash us t’sleep with his copy of BYTE!

2Y: Luxury. We use to have to swim t’Finland at three o’clock in the morning, sneak up to Torvalds’ house, spy on him until he typed in the bits we thought he was changing, scribble them down on newspaper and post them and ourselves back by DHL, come home, and Dad would beat us around the head and neck with a broken Tulip network card, if we were lucky!

4Y: Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up at twelve o’clock at night, figure out t’diffs by mental projection, lick t’diffs onto EEPROMs for 1,166 Swatch Internet beats, debug the compiler with a slide rule, and when we got home, our Dad would slice us in two with unsheathed Cat 5.

3Y: Right. I had to steal kernel diffs from you bastards, invent time machine, go back in time, give diffs to Torvalds to implement as the first version of the code instead of the twentieth, go forward in time, and find all the diffs already implemented in the kernel I got with Slackware, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing the Free Software Song.

1Y: But you try and tell the young people today that … and they won’t believe ya’.

ALL: Nope, nope …

The BBC, along with BSkyB, have decided not to air an advertisement for DEC‘s Gaza appeal, asking for donations to go towards essential aid from thirteen charities for those affected by the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Not only have they linked to the bloody DEC website in a news story about how they won’t promote DEC’s appeal — and thus are promoting DEC’s appeal — they’ve now been schooled by Tony Benn, whose cachet has risen even further since yesterday. Spare three minutes and watch Tony absolutely stomp all over Maxine Mawhinney on BBC News.

[via Graham Linehan]

R.I.P. Another Part of My Youth

Tony Hart has died, as has Patrick McGoohan and Richardo Montalban. I’m always stunned at how poignant it can be hearing a celebrity you remember most from when you were a kid has died, even though you’ve likely had only a very peripheral attachment to them, perhaps seeing them on TV or in movies. I guess it’s just another reminder that we’re all getting older. This picture on b3ta is especially gut wrenching.

Obama’s Class Act

I woke up this morning to find Barack Obama has been elected to become the next President of the United States. And what has struck me the most was the way the supporters reacted when the name of the opponent was mentioned by each candidate in their speeches.

McCain addressed his supporters in his concession speech, saying he had called Obama to congratulate him. At the mention of Obama’s name, boos and hisses erupted from the crowd. At least twice in 30 seconds, he had to put his hands up to the crowd to basically shut them up. Meanwhile, at Obama’s speech, he said the same thing, and was met with a ripple of polite applause from the crowd. He went on to praise McCain’s efforts, and still the crowd did nothing but applaud.

Obama, your supporters, the record number of people who turned out to vote for you, they’re a class act. Just don’t let them — and the rest of us in the world — down, because we so want to love America again.

Woss All the Fuss About?

Is it just me, or has this furore over Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross prank calling Andrew Sachs’ answerphone on a radio show been blown out of all proportion? Both men involved have apologised to Sachs, and that should be the end of it. Instead, they are now suspended from their BBC broadcasts, and Sachs’ granddaughter wants them fired (yet she waited until today to express that to The Sun, after all this publicity has kicked off).

However, this situation is entirely the making of the press — most notably the Daily Mail. Look at the figures. The original broadcast was on Russell Brand’s late night Saturday show on BBC Radio 2, on the 18th of October. Brand apologised on his show the following Saturday, the 25th. On Sunday the 26th, the BBC said it had received 67 complaints. After the press coverage on Monday morning, that number reached 1,500. By Tuesday, it was 18,000.

How many of these 18,000 people heard the original broadcast in its original context, over a week ago? How many heard it first on YouTube (in two parts)? How many didn’t actually hear it at all, but consider Brand and Ross to be the worst of the ‘elite’ and ‘overpaid’ celebs at the BBC? Only 67 actually considered it worthy of complaint at the time, and I’m not the only one to have noticed this.

And what of the granddaughter, Georgina Baillie? The Daily Mail has been horrified by all this, horrified enough to publish large photos of Baillie in burlesque outfits (plus a photo of her at 10 months old, to redress the balance, or something) which can’t be doing her career as a self-labelled “satanic slut” any harm. And just a click away, Piers Morgan calls Brand “sex-obsessed”. In the Daily Mail. Take a look their website’s front page. Look at the right-hand column, and scroll down. It reads like a cross between Heat and tmz.com, it’s the worst kind of paparazzi-driven celeb trash.

Still, I guess with the US presidential election looming, and a massive global financial crisis still ongoing, we need something else to fill our headlines. How stupid, as a society, do we have to get before we unnaturally evolve into idiocracy?

UPDATE 2008-10-29 18:25 UTC: Brand has resigned from his BBC show, Gia Milinovich is asking for your comments of support to pass back to Jonathan Ross. Hello, CNN.com readers.

UPDATE 2008-10-30 09:19 UTC: BBC now reporting 27,000 complaints. How is it possible to accept complaints about something that has (a) received such a high level of media attention, thus skewing public opinion, and (b) happened nearly two weeks ago?

Strange iTunes Censorship

I was flicking through the iTunes Store this morning and noticed something odd … some words in reviews and track titles had asterisks in them as though they were swear words (e.g. ‘b*ll*cks’). But they didn’t appear to be swear words. iTunes uses allmusic for the bulk of their album and single reviews, so luckily it’s possible to go back and ‘decode’ some of these words. They include: “porno”, “teen”, “cream”, “sexy”, “hot”. Strangely, variants like “sex”, “creamy”, “teenage” aren’t being censored. This seems to be a blanket effect on iTunes — Katy Perry’s current single “Hot ‘n’ Cold” is listed on the UK iTunes Store main page under ‘Top Songs’ as “H*t ‘n’ Cold’.

This seems to me to be really odd behaviour. They’ve done the same thing to some common swear words, but to censor “cream”? And it’s inconsistent to boot. Look at the review for Tenacious D’s eponymous album. The tracks “Fuck Her Gently” and “Cock Pushups” are censored with asterisks, but the title “Sex Supreme” in the review is not. The Roots’ track “Pussy Galore” has its title censored, but not the name of the band Pussy Galore.

And it’s not even like people at Apple don’t swear.

Lunch Club

Lunch Club

The first rule of Lunch Club is you do not talk about Lunch Club

The second rule of Lunch Club is you do not talk about Lunch Club

Third rule: If someone says “nachos!”, orders a garlic bread, or eats with their fingers, the lunch is over

Fourth rule: Only one plate to a person

Fifth rule: One course at a time

Sixth rule: No napkins, no salad forks

Seventh rule: Lunches will go on as long as they have to

And the eighth and final rule: If this your first day at Lunch Club, you have to munch

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