August, 2010

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My extreme frustration at Windows Video Libraries

I hate them. No seriously. They are terrible. In fact, I’ll go further and say that dealing with video programatically through C++ has plagued me for almost a decade now. The scenario is this: I’ve recorded some video from one of my experiments and now I want to post-process it and overlay some visualizations on it, so I need a program to read it in. I was using OpenCV with Visual C++ 2008, which includes ffmpeg, but it crapped out on me with an nice error message:

Compiler did not align stack variables. Libavcodec has been miscompiled and may be very slow or crash. This is not a bug in libavcodec, but in the compiler. You may try recompiling using gcc >= 4.2. Do not report crashes to FFmpeg developers.

Yeah nice. Plus, OpenCV’s video support via ffmpeg doesn’t support 64-bit programs. I messed around with recompiling with different options and doing some quick web-searching, but didn’t find any easy solutions. So what to do? Well I could go directly to Microsoft’s solution of DirectShow via DirectX but that requires an insane amount of setup and often times the DirectX SDK doesn’t even compile cleanly with the latest versions of Visual Studio. I remembered I had solved this problem years ago in my time at Robotics Lab @ UCF by compiling all the DirectX stuff into a DLL so you could just include the header file and go. So I dug that up and compiled it just fine, but then it crashed because it was compiled with Visual C++ 2005 runtime DLLs. And of course you can’t mix & match. I wasn’t about to recompile from source because that meant setting up DirectX SDK.

So I had heard good things about ffmpeg and/or gstreamer as being generic video libraries with lots and lots of codes available. But unfortunately, ffmpeg developers are a big slobby about Visual C++ (with good reason since it’s not standards complaint), but it’s a super pain. So after a long arduous journey of like 5 hours, I finally arrived at using gstreamer’s Windows SDK to compile an ffmpeg sample that loaded a video and wrote out the first 5 frames to disk as ppms.

I’m thinking of creating a generic video server over sockets or shared memory so I never have to compile in the video  reading/writing stuff every again (at least until the binaries break). I don’t know, is there a good Windows Video Library that I’m missing?

Unsigned int has to go

I’m sure unsigned int has had its place in the eons gone by; however, I think it’s outlived it’s useful lifespan. The number of times I’ve tried to do math with it and shot myself in the foot is quite astonishing. The root of the problem is you simply can’t do subtraction and expect sane results because it will underflow. Let’s take a look at an innoculous piece of code.

// Process all but the last element in the queue

for (int i =  0; i < queue.size()-1; i++)

All we want to do here is process all the items in a queue except the last one. And since we’ve declared our counter as int, everything should be fine, right? If there is nothing in the array, queue.size()-1 will be 0-1 which evaluates to -1 and will not satisfiy the loop condition.

However, this crashes. Why? Because I discovered queue.size() returns an unsigned int. And of course with unsigned int, only positive numbers are represented so when you do 0-1, the result will not be -1 but 4294967295. Brilliant, now my loop will execute 4 billion times when the queue is empty. Ahhh! Why would people code like this? If you need more than 2 billion items (the max size of a normal int), and use unsigned int instead, chances are the max size of 4 billion won’t be sufficient anyhow.

In conclusion, if I had to re-design C or C++, I would totally leave out unsigned int. Or at least re-define the underflow/overflow behavior so that 0-1 in unsigned int land will trigger an underflow and automatically reset the result to 0. Disabling the underflow/overflow behavior by default would also prevent your treasury from becoming -32768 gold if you gain too much money in Civilization II.

Oh my, perilous journeys

Often, I join Internet sites to find out information about people I know or am going to know. The reason I joined Facebook was to find out more information about my new (and at the time, unmet) roommates.  Thus it stands to reason that when a girl (let’s call her Laura, possibly because that’s her name) started showing interest, I looked her up on Of course, they make it difficult to find anything if you don’t setup at least a basic a profile, so I figured why not? I’m single and while I don’t plan on getting romantically attached anytime soon (mostly because I live at school), I figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep my options open. I put up what I call a “Veridian Dynamics” profile (if you don’t know what that is, you must stop reading immediately and go watch the first episode of the show “Better Off Ted” because it’s amazing in a Dilbertesque type of way), which contains what I wish I could say if I didn’t have to worry about appearances. I threw up a few photos, including some joke ones where I was holding up an excised pig eye (hmm…now that I think about it, I’m not sure I want to meet anybody who thinks dead pig eyes are a turn on) and another one where I looked terrible because I had been up all night. You know, just to be completely honest, because I hear honesty is totally what online dating sites are all about – besides chicks totally dig hearing about a guy’s faults, right? No? Really? Oh bother, as Winnie the Pooh would say.

Anyhow, so I got to look at this girl’s profile which added to my creepiness factor (it doesn’t help that I professionally stalk people on Facebook).  I left my profile up without any proofreading or anything as a free member and just a few days ago I got notification that I had an email from a GIRL! Gasp! Of course, my first mental image was of a sad, lonely, older tween on the heavier side desperately searching for a soulmate, which is sad. My second mental image is of two of my more prankster inclined friends hunched over a computer, filling out a fake account as a “girl” and then contacting me through the site to have some fun with me. I guess that shows how cynical I am because only did my fourth or fifth mental image feature a normal girl. Anyhow I log on and see that I have to become a subscriber (i.e. pay money) to actually see the email.

Thus began the several day debate with myself whether to pay the money. 47 people had viewed my profile and if I know anything about statistics with online dating, it’s that a hit rate of 1 out 47 people seems a little too good to be true. Reading online horror stories about Nigerian scams and creepy old men didn’t make me feel much better either. But in the end I decided I’d spent money on worse things so I signed up for a few months. Right after signing up it took me to a specials offer page with magazines such as Playboy, where I immediately performed an involuntary face-palm as a gut reaction to the “oh this is already so not panning out very well.” I also wanted to turn off auto-renew, which involved actually going all the way through the cancellation process, which is weird because it makes you think you are going to lose access when in reality it just cancels auto-renew.

OK, so time to read the email right? Nope! Being the geek that I am, I wanted to blog about the experience first! So that’s where I am now…now to Alt+Tab and see what I will find? Let me guess. Overweight desperate girl (40%) or prankster friends (30%) or people who recognize me on (15%) or random dude who is inactive on the site (10%) or fake profile sent by employee to get me to pay (5%) or dream girl (<0.1%)? All part of the experience I suppose. Do I have a response for each one of these scenarios? Yup. Well actually not for the dream girl scenario. OK, now I’m just blogging to procrastinate actually reading the email. Bad Brian.

Alt + Tabbing….clicking 1 New Email….VIP Email? What nonsense is this! Just take me to the email already, I’ve just paid good money for what most likely will be nothing! Aww….19 years old? I’m leaning towards fake profile…clicking on profile…hmmm profile picture looking pretty young here, with the not quite classic, but (I imagine) common lying on my back in bed with arm thrown back pose. The grab-ya-attention blurb thingie (whatever it’s officially called) seems to align with my beliefs pretty well. That reduces the probability of a fake account at least. But it introduces a possibility I hadn’t thought of yet: the “much younger than me” girl. Usually people are complaining about the other way around. Ahh! Her age is 18? What happened to 19? I’m 24…what are girls thinking nowadays??? According to the US Center for Disease and Control, I have a life expectancy of another ~51 years and she has a life expectancy of ~62 years. Me being 6 years older now on average translates to me being dead for 10+ years of her life. I suppose that may be over-analyzing it too much….as one of my Canadian friends tells me, those are the worst years of your life anyhow. So I tell myself to keep reading….and oh man she’s a “I just graduated high school” kid. I’m going into my 8th year of college (4th as a PhD) and she’s going into her first year of undergrad?

[An hour later] Well that disturbed me enough to to have to go work off my anxiety, which resulted in some pacing around the apartment and trying to concentrate enough on playing some songs on my keyboard from my meager store of memory – it’s hard when my mind keeps doing math without my permission and telling me I’m a good 1/3 older than she is. Now that I’m completely traumatized and it’s 4 am in the morning, I’m going to go break open a box of mini-wheats, curl up in my bed, read a book and try to figure out how to respond to this girl, who seems quite nice otherwise. I suppose all in all, this is far from the worst I could have experienced and in fact I’m sure there are much worse things to come, but in the mean time, I will take refuge in geekiness and thoughts of creating a program that will crawl and save a dataset that I can do interesting things with later. Maybe I’ll compile a list of the top 10 adjectives people use to describe themselves on dating sites.

Actually, the OkCupid founders, who are math majors, made a blog named OkTrends that analyzes all things dating and it is super amazing! For instance, they got half a million users to rate their self-confidence and then plotted it by state. They concluded with “Generally speaking, the colder it is, the more likely you are to hate yourself.” Swell! And I just lost another hour to reading all sorts of random statistics (men lie on their height by an average of 2 inches, really short men and really tall women are 3 times less likely to get messaged, you are more likely to get a reply if you begin your message with “howdy” instead of “hey”, and probably most surprising, men get the most messages if they are not smiling and not looking at the camera for their profile pictures). And now it’s 6 AM and I think it’s time to go bed because it’s getting light outside. So there you have it: a night in the life of Brian.

Still up for another sunrise, for unusual reasons though

Brina Moving Trip

Periodically somebody manages to graduate from the robotics institute and moves away, which is both a glad and sad time. This year it is Brina moving to Philly, which is close enough and an interesting enough place to da Pitts that we decided to road trip with her. So Friday night we loaded up her truck, slept for a few hours, and then went to Philly. On the way we stopped in Breezewood at the Bob Evans, where we saw a giant caterpillar. Brina was all like “oh my, you are the cutest thing I’ve EVAR seen!” and commented that it added to her dining experience.

So now we are ready to go for breakfast and move Brina’s whole life up three floors into here apartment, including her very heavy marimba instrument. Yay!