This Space for Rent

Jul 31, 2004

Bees and thistles

This year there have been approximately 100,000 honeybees wandering around our corner of Portland. As each type of flower comes into bloom, all of a sufdden there are hundreds of honeybees, bumblebees, sweat bees, burrowing bees, and their assorted groupies flying around and pigging out. A couple of weeks ago, the feral mint was in bloom and the bees were out in force, but eventually they started to run out of flowers and the bees left. This week a wild thistle besides the house came into bloom, and pop! the honeybees came back.

I wonder where the beesnest is?

Starting a new piece of carpentry.

A few weeks ago, I bought a mess of tiles at SCRAP in North Portland (the same trip where I bought the linoleum that I made into the workbench.) I was planning on using the tiles to put on the top of something; either a countertop or a tabletop.

They are two inch tiles, so this makes a 16" square tabletop. I'm trying to decide whether I should put a wood apron around the tiles or simply have the tiles cover the entire tabletop. If I put an apron around the tiles, then it can be used to play chess or checkers, but if I don't, then it's a lot easier to build.

New Code!

Postoffice is now up to version 1.0.8, which is a strictly bugfix release. Bounces, you see, were all bouncing back to the postmaster instead of the person who sent the mail.


It's fixed now, and I've also made postoffice work on netbsd (for the oggOmatic), as well as cleaned up a few little buglets here and there.

The next release will add virtual host support, so I can use it on gehenna.

Jul 29, 2004

The July Surprise

On Sunday, the Pakistanis captured a fairly important Al Qaeda operative (Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who may have been the fellow who planned the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. MSNBC reports that Mr. Ghailani is cooperating, which is the PC way of saying being tortured). Big news, isn't it? News that you'd think that would be reported on Sunday or Monday, right?

Wrong. How about Thursday instead?

A couple of weeks ago, The New Republic claimed that the Bushies had strongly encouraged Pakistan to produce a senior Al Qaeda operative at the time of the Democratic Convention. Now, what could be happening on Thursday? Oh, right, John Kerry is making his pro-forma acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention.

What a coincidence! I mean, the chances are a million to one that the GOP would be so lucky to be able to delay a public announcement about the (otherwise ignored) War On Terror™ until it just happened to be at the same time as something that would otherwise kick Maximum Leader Genius in the ass. And to happen the 20 or so times that it's happened now, why, Maximum Leader Genius must be the luckiest unelected despot in the whole wide world.


Apparently there's going to be a Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy movie. Done by Disney.

Oh joy.

Why do I get the horrible feeling that this will deviate from the (already deviating from each other) radio series/books/television series even more than the latest round of Tolkien movies deviated from their books?

What was that line? Commence simultaneous panic on my mark ?

Oh, I am a happy camper today!

I found a way to make stupid flash animations STFU in mozilla's dieselwombat. This tips my browser preference away from Microsoft IE (fast, clean, can't disable any of the stupid ads, popups, popunders, or flash animations) back over to mozilla's electricbat (not so fast, fragile, lets me disable the stupid ads, popups, popunders, and flash animations.)

Die, flash, die!

Of course, wateriguana makes my new laptop catch on fire (or close to that; the little built-in fan on the machine goes instantly into high gear when I start dieselklumpen) so I'll probably be forced to buy a nice via C3 laptop with water cooling, but cutting down on the evil flash makes up for it.

The Inquirer had some nasty newegg flash ads that actually stuck around for a while, even after stubborn refresh, but they appear to now be gone now.

Jul 28, 2004

Syntax highlighting considered harmful.

At work, I'm working with r*hd*t Linux. It's not Unix, of course (but then again none of them are; R*dh*t has merely seized the most-incompatable-with banner from AIX and is now fighting with MacOS 10 for possession of it), but I've decided that the WORST thing about it is that sometimes it seems like everything on the system is colorised (and, because R*dh*t is dimly related to Unix, all the colorisation is done in different ways and has different undocumented switches to turn it on and off.)

The big nasty about syntax highlighting is that it assumes that you'll have a particular color scheme, which I suspect is black text on a white background (because, of course, books have black text on a white background, and the teeny detail that books don't glow is not important enough for computer programmers to notice) and if you don't have the particular color scheme, large swaths of the syntax highlighting will become unreadable messes.

color-ls, for instance, likes to display directories in blue, which is not so readable on a black background. vim (the nasty editor that mimics the one true editor) takes that one bit further and does shellscript (and makefile) comments as blue on black. My first reaction when faced with this sort of visual trainwreck (the screen is glowing, so it must have text on it, but I can't read it) is to get out of the editor and go home, but since I'm being paid to work I can't very well do that. (And I can't very easily build the one true editor, because R*sh*t uses ncurses, which is subtly tweaked to not work with code that relies on real curses.)

So to try and fix it; color-ls (aliased to ls) DOES NOT use the dumb little environment variables COLORS and DIR_COLORS (when I unset them, the nasty program still does colors), but if I unalias the bastard it stops being sucky (and then I only have to unalias it in about a dozen .rc files to keep it dead.) vim, on the other hand, has a spiffy little set syntax=no setting that doesn't actually work if you put it into your .exrc, thus leaving me with a screen full of unreadable fuzz.(but, apparently, if you put it into your .exrc and then set something after it it will happily set it. Gotta love Open Source®™© software.)

I've been using color in Mastodon; Redhat has taught me the error of my ways, and in my copious spare time I'll correct this design mistake before the next release.

Jul 27, 2004


To get around Mozilla Firewombat being slower than molasses on jupiter, I tweaked this weblog program to restrict the number of posts it actually puts on the homepage. This had all sorts of fun side-effects relating to the teeny detail that I use mmap() to map files into memory and out again (a regrettable habit I picked up from a brief contract doing AS400 programming -- the AS400 is a machine with devotees that make the worst P*th*n bigot look like an open-minded liberal, so I'm reluctant to admit that they do anything right, but the whole business of having files magically map themselves into your address space is pretty cool.) Unfortunately, if I don't then unmmap the offending files, I can write new versions of it until the cows come home and the changes won't pick up.

Finding this out took a couple of hours of work last night. Unravelling the, um, interesting side effects (like having the weblog completely vanish after posting a new article) is still going on.

Think of this post as one of the annoying TEST ME posts that people see on usenet.


And, of course, it didn't work. Perhaps this round will work better

Jul 26, 2004

biscotti recipes

I've been doing variants on the Moosewood biscotti recipes for a while, and have gotten fairly comfortable tweaking ingredients in and out. Some of the variations (ginger/hazelnut/whole wheat pastry flour) have worked out very well, some have not.

Last night I used the power mixer to make a (blueberry/pecan/whole wheat pastry flour+oat flour/brown sugar) version of the Moosewood currant+pecan biscotti. Um, not a good idea; the earthy-crunchy taste of the whole wheat flour, the oat flour, and the brown sugar combine to overpower almost everything else in the biscotti (except the pecans, which are already pretty earthy-crunchy) -- unless I hit a blueberry, I can't even tell it's there.

But the power mixer worked out very nicely, and I can always eat my mistakes and follow up with some different variation.

The core biscotti recipe, btw, is

Earthy-Crunchy biscotti

Start heating the oven to 350°F, and Mix

  • Two eggs
  • One egg white

Stir in

  • One tablespoon anise seed.
  • One teaspoon almond extract (can also substitute 1 teaspoon orange extract)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper.
  • 1 cup sugar

Sift in

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4th teaspoon salt

After conversion to dough, mix in

  1. Somewhere in the ballpark of 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  2. Somewhere in the ballpark of 1/2 cup finely chopped candied ginger
  3. Somewhere in the ballpark of 1/3 cup raisins

Grease a big cookie sheet, then form the dough into a 3 inch diameter cylinder, which you then flatten to a 1 inch high loaf on the cookie sheet. (It doesn't have to be one loaf, of course; if it's too long split it into two or three loafs).

Cook it for 35-40 minutes, let cool (on a cooling rack) for 15 minutes, cut into thin slices, then toast those thin slices in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 325°F.

Cool them, eat them, and terrify your Atkins-diet friends. You get bonus points if you use nothing but organic (offer does not apply to USDA organic) ingredients.

Extra Extra bonus points if you don't try this recipe until you've verified that I've not left anything out from the Moosewood original.

1 comment

I broke google?

When looking for Sage mozilla firebird:

    Server Error
    The service you requested is not available at this time.
    Service error -27.

I think it's time for another cup of coffee, or maybe I should just go back to bed.

Oh, now this makes me feel safe and secure

The mighty wurlitzer reports that if you want to protest against the Democratic Party at the (pretend) convention in Boston, you're perfectly free to do so, if you're willing to do it from inside a sealed cage under the green line El.

As much as the idea of locking fascists up appeals to me, I'm still kind of old fashioned about not wanting to lock people up until they've done something wrong; and last time I checked, freedom of assembly still was written into the US Constitution. I'm sure that freedom of assembly was written into the Soviet Constitution too, but I always thought there was a little bit more than state-mandated judaism (plus spinoffs; if the religious bigots in the USA ever realized that their G-d was the same G-d of the Jews, they'd rip the mandatory worship off the coin of the realm and the pledge of allegence so fast that there'd be burn marks in them.) that separated the United States from the largest and most spectacular of the many shining examples of how to run a centralized state into the ground.

I'm sure the fascist convention in NYC will be worse, but that doesn't excuse this stunt. The Democratic party should have just cancelled the convention when the whole idea of locking down Boston was floated.


Via a website called cpr4democracy, an article with pictures of the thrice-damned "free speech zone." Nice little democracy we had there; too bad we broke it.

Jul 25, 2004


At around 10pm, we managed to get the bears to bed. At around 11pm, some moron on a motorized scooter decided to come RRRROOOAAARRRIINNGG down 17th Ave, then up 17th Ave, then down Milwaukie, then up Milwaukie, then g-d only knows where else on their quest to wake up every single child in southeastern Portland.

Silas woke up, terrified. And he didn't settle down for, oh, about a hour.


If I was emperor of the world, I'd add bozos on motorised scooters to the long list of painful retribution. I couldn't cube the scooters (who could tell the difference?), but maybe I'd cube their family SUVs instead (though, most likely those SUVs would have already failed the dirt or demolition test and would already be little blocks of metal decorating a front lawn in suburbia.)

Two Engineers

When we were in North Carolina, we visited the North Carolina Transportation Museum, and, without telling The Bears, we joined them up as junior engineers.

A couple of days ago, their little membership packs of coloring books, railroad pins (Silas got a McGinnis-style Boston and Maine one, Russell got a Chessie cat), and they started playing with them today. One of the things each pack came with was a little Operation Lifesaver pretend engineer hat, and, well, they just had to wear them.

They're the cutest babies in the whole wide world!

1 comment

Russell the great railway engineer

At about 4pm, Russell wanted the workbench up in the library. I said that we'd need to clean up before it went up there, so he made some room and I brought the table in. While Julie and I cleaned up, the great railway engineer went to work, and by 4:30 the railroad climbed up into the Yalps.

Someone in our household, and it's not me, has a great civil engineering future ahead of him.

1 comment

After a hard day sacking Rome

The mongol hordes settle down to read a good book.

Jul 24, 2004

A very happy early birthday present to me!

Julie and I have been talking about getting a Kitchenaid power mixer for the kitchen for about, oh, the past 12 years, and never actually got around to it. Yesterday, while hiding from the weather in the Lloyd Center mall we saw a table of power mixers in all sorts of different colors.

Today I suggested we should go back and buy one. Julie thought we should comparison shop for a bit. I countered that it would be my birthday present.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Trivial project of the day

A few weeks ago, I bought 3 ugly chairs at a garage sale. These chairs were built either in the 1950s or 1960s, and the main reason they were ugly is that they either were manufactured or reupholstered in horrid green burlap-style fabric.

Julie loathed them, for good reason, and I immediately took them down into the basement to keep them out of the way.

Today, Silas and I reupholstered one of them in a blue fabric (leftover from when we had Rose City Furniture make us dining room chairs) -- it took about 35 minutes and the offending chair looks a lot better now.

Whining about the weather

So the weather channels say it's going to be 100° today. Again. I'll start preemptively whining about it now and avoid the rush. Maybe the bears and I will avoid the rush by going to the hobby shop this afternoon.

I guess my weblog software isn’t quite as horrible as it looks.

I've managed to add support for both the dsw syndication formats in a form that doesn't cause the tiny subset of syndication viewers I use to completely freeze up and die. First I added support for rss 2.0, and then it took me about 55 minutes to add support for Atom.

Of the two formats, I much prefer rss. It's dumb, but it gets the job done without too much verbiage. Atom, on the other hand, is like a swiss army knife; it might be much better if you wanted to use it for posting articles while skydiving, but it really lards up the syndication file with redundant crap.

But at least it's in and it appears to validate, so I won't have to worry about it until the people at wherever the format comes from decide to redo it in a completely incompatable way (cf: Perl, php, C [grrr!], C++, etc etc etc)

Jul 23, 2004


I thought I'd seen the last of this sort of weather when I said goodbye to Chicago in 1993. Oh, well, the joys of global warming; you can never get away from those blastingly hot tropical days even if you no longer have an elevated railroad that you can ride when it's too damn hot(tm) to do anything else.

Making my head hurt the RSS way

I've added (instead of doing trivial things like, um, fixing the input parser to be a little less stupid or adding a xml-rpc input method) an rss feed. I think. The fluffy self-promotional documents that describe the format are less clear than my brain likes, so I'm not certain it actually works.

But this file should be a rss2 version of all the articles posted this month.

Valid RSS feed.

Jul 22, 2004

Not the desktop I was looking for.

The new laptop came with Windows 95 on it, but on a fairly loud disk. So I replaced it with one of my quietquietquiet 20gb fujitsu disks (with Mastodon on it), only to discover that Mastodon couldn't talk to the pcmcia slots properly. Okay, easy to get around, right?

I couldn't put FreeBSD on, because it doesn't properly support 32 bit pcmcia slots. I could put NetBSD on, and after pushing a bunch of files off to downbelow, I reloaded NetBSD onto the whole disk. But I couldn't get X11 to work. Okay, sez I, I'm stuck working with R*dh*t at work, so I'll sacrifice this machine to the boys in the Research Triangle. R*dh*t is considerably larger than NetBSD, so I did a custom installation and yanked out a whole bunch of p*th*n crap to get the install size down to only (hahahahaha!) 1.3gb. R*dh*t took a lot longer than NetBSD to install (but with the benefit that Linux doesn't have the nasty little briarpatch that ports have become), and let me configure X11 from a the pretty little graphical installer and everything. I configured X11, then finished up the install, rebooted, and (after a loooooong time) the computer came up to......

A login: prompt?


I logged in, looked in the twisty little maze of rc files, found no references to xdm. Head aching, I booted up xdm, and was presented by a plain vanilla straight from the !open Group xdm screen, and logging in got me to (ta daaa!) twm, in all of its grotty glory.


Mastodon may be old enough to be eligible for senior citizens discounts, but at least when I configure it for a graphical interface it comes up with a graphical interface that's actually been tweaked a bit to look pretty. R*dh*t apparently won't give you jack unless you install KDE or anti-KDE.

I don't think so. But I think that until I can rev Mastodon up to a 2.6 kernel (and modern pcmcia utilities) I'll be sticking with Microsoft products on this laptop.

The proper response to fascism

read it here

The i205 trolley line.

Tri-Met has got a nice Quicktime movie showing a trolley running down the proposed i205 trolley line to Clackamas "town center". It looks very pretty, and I'm anxious to see the line built, but there are a few tiny problems with their scheme.

  1. What's with the stations? Almost every single station is set to the north or the south of the street it's supposed to be associated with. And on streets with bus service (and that would be most of them), having to walk several hundred feet north or south to a connecting trolley doesn't exactly cry out "this is a convenient transfer". And most of these stations are located just before an underpass or trolley bridge -- why not put the trolley station on the bridge like rapid transit companies have been doing for approximately the past 100 years? You might have to put in a elevator or a ramp to get wheelchair access, but (a) an elevator would be faster than going several hundred feet up and down a ramp and (b) even if there was a ramp, I'd suspect it would be shorter to double back to a station on the bridge.

  2. Are they really thinking about ripping out the Clackamas mall transit stop and relocating it to a distant corner of the parking lots? Won't that depress the ridership on the bus lines coming into that transit mall even further (not that I'd want to shop by bus out in that hell of big-box stores and shopping malls, but people do use the bus to get out there -- I think I've even done it once or twice -- and having to walk a quarter mile through parking lots will not make one want to do it ever again.)

  3. Why don't they build the station platforms longer so they could run three-car trains if need be? Yes, yes, I know that Portland city ordinances have said forever that you can't run trains longer than a city block downtown, but the trains are full now and if Tri-Met ever wants to push passengers per hour up they're going to have to do something to increase capacity (without converting downtown into a railroad yard; even with trains on the transit mall (a dumb dumb dumb idea, unless more bus lines are moved off the transit mall) there are still going to be a metric shitload of trains downtown when the airport line, the interstate line, the Gresham-Hillsboro interurban, and Clackamas via i205 are all in rush hour mode.

I'm sure that Tri-Met will welcome my comments on the station locations as much as they welcomed my comments about using the Portland Traction ROW from downtown to Sellwood for the S/ side of the S/N trolley line. But I'll still comment on their plans, for whatever good it (won't) do.

No eyes

The last pair of glasses I bought before my previous eyeglasses insurance went belly up were the subject of a massive argument with my eye doctor. He had decided that since my vision was getting old that I should have bifocals, and didn't believe that having to twist my head around to peer through the little tiny near-vision window of a pair of bifocals would be a pain. After long argument, he wrote me a single-vision prescription. It sucked. But because I was unemployed I couldn't actually spend the money to get a better prescription, and I've had to deal with these glasses for the past couple of years.

While wearing them, I've watched my eyes fight to be able to focus through them, and in the past six or seven months they've officially given up; unless I've got very very bright light, I have to take my glasses off to see anything close up, and then my eyes don't like to readjust to the terrible prescription again.

Enough. I suspect that I'm old enough so that my eyes won't be focusing between near and distant vision ever again (barring a miraculous cure for both mortality and aging body parts), but I'm going to hunt down the nearest eyedoctor this week and get a new eye exam that, for a change, doesn't prescribe for driving automobiles or being an army sharpshooter in the Sudetenland.

Jul 21, 2004

Gee, you think they might be looking for web exploits?

Some of the 404 (page not found) page requests on pell today. All of them are POST requests, oddly enough:


I've set up pages for each of these, out of the kindness of my heart. I hope the spammers take the contents of those pages in the spirit that they're intended to be taken.

New laptop

My little brother, who just moved out here, just gave me his old junk laptop ; a Toshiba portégé 7020CT (a PII/366, but NetBSD says it's a Celeron/200; I suspect the power-saving mode I've got it in has something to do with it.) This junk laptop is approximately 4 times as powerful as my previously most powerful laptop, which is a Micron Transport Trek with a P/233 (and which eats power supplies, so I don't use it anymore)

This laptop is fairly old, but it's still newer than the version of pcmcia card services in Mastodon, so it didn't actually talk to the outside world when I moved the system disk off the power-eater Micron. I blew away /boot and the swap partition to get 366 mb to put enough NetBSD onto it so I could have it talk to the network (but not the external pcmcia cd-rom drive my brother also gave me.)

I don't know if it's sad or good that this machine is so much more powerful than my other laptops. Mastodon doesn't need much in the way of computing horsepower (except during fsck, which takes forever on a 20gb disk attached to a 486/75), so it's not as if I'm starving for the increased horsepower of the modern unit. But I am starving for hardware that doesn't have dead batteries (my Thinkpad 701c, the NEC 486 laptop, the C1X picturebook, the apple notebook I've got (a 68000/10 with 2mb of memory), or the ancient Acer P75 that I bought, sold to my friend Michele, and was given back several years later when she upgraded to some Dell PII/600 laptop), dead power connectors (the Thinkpad 701c, where I have to carefully wedge the power connector in and never move it if I won't want the machine to just shut off in midflight), hard drives with a bad case of stiction (the apple notebook), or various hardware misfeatures (the Micron that eats power supplies) that make a notebook unusable (I'll not even talk about the HP Omnibook; it has a working battery, but the IDE chipset and bios are so broken that it makes the 701c seem like a state of the art machine.)

I'm sure that the portégé has some problems with it (aside from the masses of catfur that covered every surface), but even if it does it's still a long step upwards for the laptop computer division at Chateau Chaos.

It may even be enough to provoke me into upgrading the Mastodon kernel to 2.6, so I can stuff in a new version of pcmcia card services, a new kernel (provided I can get gcc 2.4 to (a) compile as a.out, (b) produce a.out binaries, and (c) work with all the gcc 2.7 inlive assembly that's liberally spread around libc 4.8.4.

Jul 20, 2004

Not as elegant as the userspace solution, but it’s a whole bunch faster.

One of the gotchas in the tarpit that is R*dh*t 8.0 is that when you've got 6000 processes and 12gb used, the fuser command tends to drag the machine down to hell because it has to open and read from approximately 30,000 files (at work, we use fuser to make sure people are logged off a port when a new telnet connection comes in on that port. And we use it several times) either because it takes too long or (more likely) because it has to allocate kernel memory approximately 60,000 times as part of figuring out who has what file.

I've put in a horrible hack:

This might not be quite as elegant as searching through 6000 subdirectories in /proc, then opening 3 or 4 files in each subdirectory, having the kernel convert binary data into ascii, then converting the ascii back to binary and then piecing it all together, but it has the tiny advantages of

  1. it doesn't try to allocate any pages, and
  2. it's about 1000 times as fast even when the system has enough free pages so that fuser doesn't cause a paging storm.

I'll just have to suffer the indignity of not following the conventional kernel hacking wisdom. All die. Oh the embarrassment.

Jul 19, 2004

The joy of P*yp*l

I've been using P*yp*l while buying things online, because it nicely collapses the whole business of credit cards down to what I though was one easy to audit and manage lump. Recently, I bought a teenytiny SBC through eb*y, used p*yp*l, and ended up getting about half of what I ordered (with one of the missing components hidden because the scoundrel who sold it to me clipped a cheapo cpu fan over the socket. Imagine my joy when I discovered that bit of indirection.) After several exchanges between me and the seller (more exchanges on my part, because this seller didn't bother to reply to easily 75% of my mail) and several promises of "oh, I'll send it out tomorrow", I cut to the chase and complained to eb*y.

They suggested a whole bunch of pretty useless things (including "get in touch with the seller", which, thanks, I already did), including taking it up with p*yp*l. So, I took it up with p*yp*l; I wrote a nice little note to them via their stupid web form, sent it off, then foregrounded my mutt window, only to see a form letter from p*yp*l saying we've investigated your complaint and you're shit out of luck.


This would be the sort of investigated where they have an autoresponder that bounces all incoming mail with some generic boilerplate? On the assumption, I guess, that all mail is coming in via uucp, so when you get it a day will have passed and you'll think that some human has replied?

This letter had a nice little postscript saying oh, don't bother replying to this email; we'll just ignore it (translation: drop dead)

It's a bummer that p*yp*l is going to have to submit this charge to my credit card company, which actually is somewhat responsive when I complain about ripoffs. It's a bummer for p*yp*l, but perhaps not for me, until the day when I want to buy something that only takes p*yp*l.

Oh well, I'll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Does this count as the dumbest political advertisement ever?

Magnetic Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers.

So, if Maximum Leader Genius steals the election, you can simply strip the magnetic bumper sticksrs off and pretend you were a fascist all the time?


Jul 18, 2004

Dorrie in a fog.

She's always in a fog.

The workbench, finished(ish)

With the weathering sanded off, and if you're far enough away to not see the gaps between the pieces of linoleum (or the crooked leg, whoops!) it looks like real furniture.

Maybe I'll start working with hardwood soon; I suspect I'm going to have to use hardwood when I start making fingerjointed drawers.

Jul 17, 2004

The latest bit of carpentry

Is a little workbench for the bears. It's going to have a linoleum top (made up from linoleum samples from SCRAP in North Portland), the wood is yet more scrapwood from the now-demised deck. As an experiment, the only metal fasteners on this workbench are the nails I used to hold the top on while I was gluing it up (and I'm probably going to put metal angles over the top edges, so they will need nails to hold them in place); everything else is held together with glue and wooden pegs.

In case you're wondering, yes, I'm sanding down the wood so the ugly deck color won't be visible anymore.


Vinyl glue is a real pain; it's sticky enough to get all over my hands, and thus all over the top of the linoleum panels, but not quite sticky enough to keep the panels butted up against each other. At least this is a worktable, so it doesn't matter quite so much if there are some mysterious gaps in the surface.

But at least the top is all glued on, and tomorrow it may be done.

Jul 16, 2004

It may look like Linux 2.4.18, but it’s actually a tarpit.

At work, we've spent at least a month trying to beat what R*dh*t laughingly calls 2.4.18 into a shape where it will actually work on a large machine (4x Xeon 3.0ghz, 12[was 8]gb) without doing impolite things like running out of memory and causing a large collection of software (that was written during one of the times when people did think that computers have infinite memory and thus would never run out of memory) to fail.


We thought we'd manage to club the stupid OS into submission, so we rolled the patch onto a client machine, made the changes, and let it fly while I was whisked away to the unrelenting tedium of jury duty.

I returned to work today to find that, yes, our spiffy client machine was doing the usual stunt of looking at 15gb of empty swapspace, then rejecting it as an inferior product. Fork() was happy, but the system was down to some tiny number of buffers, so a simple fuser command was enough to bring the whole machine down in flames three times on Thursday.

Aiieeee! Aiiieeee! The pain! The pain!

A glutton for weblinks

I tend to pile up interesting links to drop onto the bookmarks page, where they will sit, being stirred occasionally, until either

  1. I die (oh, the embarrassment!)
  2. gehenna goes up in flames, or
  3. the heat death of the universe.

Being a HIP AND WITH IT member of the B..Bl...Bl.. (I'm sorry, but there are certain words I will not say, even for the sake of being sarcastic) I don't pay much attention to who actually sees these links, so I was very surprised to discover (via one of those google-clone weblog indexer sites) that the writer of The Maggot Hammer had actually discovered my site. That makes, um, two weblogs that have noticed yours truly, even if one of them was still locked up behind the teeny detail that I don't have a automatic export of my bookmarks to tsfr.

It's probably another reason to drink heavily and grind out a nice xml interface for my weblog software; if I've got a good xml system, I can change mkbookmarks to generate a nice wad of xml that I can pass around, like an overripe banana (or the uncooked hot dog that I forgot to put into the freezer last night), without having to do gross export games on downbelow.

Not, of course, that that will stop me from doing gross export games. I don't really expect that I'll be doing much in the way of site updates after I'm dead, so the machines will totter on until something fails, and then the bears can shake their head over their luddite father and his steam-powered computing hardware, then disconnect the rack from the party line and finish giving the obsolete computers a viking funeral. In any case, the horrible kludges that I've put into place won't be needed at that time.

Jul 15, 2004

Another day, another round of voir dire

In Portland, people are called up for jury duty every 24 months or so, for either two days of sitting in the jury room or one trial. This was my second day, and, like clockwork, around 10:30 in the morning I got tapped for yet another jury pruning session. This time was for a civil case involving a car accident. 40 jury candidates for a 12 (or 12 plus two alternates; I'm not completely sure) person jury. Around and around went the questions, including the really odd "do you drive?" question that seems to be a standard jury weeding question (and, once again, out of 40 people, only one person -- and that would be me -- didn't drive), up to and including have ever been in a car accident that might bias you in the case?

Funny they should mention this. Up went my hand; I've been hit by a car three times; once when I was on foot, twice while I was riding a bicycle.

I didn't get tossed out the door at that moment, but half an hour later I was sent back to the potential juror stable, thanking my (nonexistant) G-ds that I had been spared trying to decide a case between a lawyer who couldn't speak plainly and a lawyer that thought he was Perry Mason.

Oh, well, better luck in 2006.

Jul 14, 2004

48 to 50. Hahaha! 48 to 50!

The Evil party couldn't even get a majority on their Hate Amendment vote.

Jury duty

I was summoned to jury duty this morning (at the ungodly hour of 7:30am) and spent most of of the morning cooling my heels in the spartanly furnished jury room. Finally, at 10:30am or so, I was dragged off to a courtroom for a rousing session of voir dire for a drug trial.

So, there I go, with my shiny new tracing spammers tee-shirt, off to Whitehall street so the lawyers can determine if I've got the correct moral standing to decide whether someone is a worthy victim of the *WAR* on some drugs. And I tell them the regular answers to the question; that I'm a

  1. computer programmer
  2. living with the best and our recombinant DNA experiments.
  3. not equipped with a drivers license, and I have
  4. two relatives who are involved with the legal system (and I'm not counting the hotshot Washington lawyer sister in law and her hotshot Washington lawyer husband, either.)

And then they asked. Kid, do you think that drugs should be legal?

Why, yes, I do. Why do you ask?

Well, they asked a couple of rudimentary followup questions, but I could tell their hearts weren't in it. The prosecuting attorney (who looked like he was just out of law school) had this sort of sick Oh my G-d! There's a libertarian in the courtroom! look on his face.

In case you're wondering, I am not a libertarian. I'm also not sitting on a jury today.

Jul 13, 2004

A new addition to the weblog

The John Kerry link. I'm not the greatest fan of John Kerry (I much prefer Howard Dean), but both John Kerry and John Edwards are liberal and honest, which makes a wonderful difference from the band of fascist thugs who are now occupying the United States.

Give Kerry money; the democracy it saves may be your own.

1 comment

Jul 12, 2004

Fun with computer modifications

A year or so ago, I traded a bunch of computer hardware that I don't use anymore for parts of a disassembled iMac which the original owner had stripped because he wanted to make it into a rackmount box. After I got the parts, I filed them away for later assembly (using one part -- a Morex D2D -- as the power supply on the oggOmatic) and only got down to that layer of computer junk this weekend.

One of the annoying things about Apple is that they want to thimk different, even with the hardware they use. For example, they used SCSI drives until the point where IDE drives cost about 1/10th that of the SCSI parts (yes, there are some really high performance SCSI parts out there, but you can throw a lot of IDE hardware at the problem for less money, and if you're looking at small file servers (<1/4th terabyte) it's really cheap to just bung in 5 80GB IDE drives and a hardware disk array controller, plus a couple of 250gb drives on the backup machine.) On the iMac, they thumk differently by using a power supply that was almost, but not quite, an ATX supply (they didn't use the -5V line, and they changed the signalling on the PS_ON line.) This, by itself, isn't a problem, but to make things wierder they put a power filter card into their machine that takes input power on 24 pins and puts out power on 26 pins.

No new voltages. No new signal lines, just an additional 2 pins.

But this isn't the problem either.

There's a fairly large community of people who modify their iMacs into other cases. Some of them do it for fun (if I'd had a functional iMac instead of a carcass, I would have ended up ripping it apart because I don't like having big CRTs on my desk) but, at least from reading the web, most of them do it because the part of the power supply that drives the tube has the annoying habit of self-destructing, leaving them with a perfectly functional PowerPC box that has (a) no head and (b) an OS that isn't usable without a head. So those people rip the boxes apart and mod them so they won't be out an iMac. But they way they do it is to pull out the system board (not a motherboard, because the iMac is a single board computer), the power filter board, and glue the power filter board to an ATX power supply.

All of the webpages I've found for modding iMacs give quite detailed descriptions of how to glue the power filter board to an ATX power supply. Many of those pages then give a quick description of the pinout of the power attachment to the system board (26 pins for +3.3v, +5v, +12v, -12v, PS_ON#, +5v standby, and ground; nothing like redundancy) and, as a quick aside, say "we decided not to connect to the powerfilter, but instead to the system board."

No description of how they did this, of course.

I can sort of see why you wouldn't do this; after all, you're ripping apart a PC and reassembling it, so it should be fairly trivial to just tie across the lines and solder together the magic transister hack to make PS_ON work, but this is Apple and you can never know whether one of the line has the invisible note (connect input pin 1 to output pin 7 or your IDE subsystem will melt) attached to it.

My great plan (assuming I can get home early enough to solder everything together tonight and I don't get distracted assembling the worktable I'm building for the bears, is to build an adaptor that connects the pins together like:

ATXsignaliMac filteriMac mboard

Hopefully, after doing this the little iMac will give the ping of wanting a boot disk, and then I can wedge it into a new tiny case and make it look pretty.

Now this is a surprise.

That the flying monkeys in the B*sh junta are passing around plans to "delay" the 2004 election in case some horrible act of terrorism occurs. Some horrible act of terrorism like, um, I dunno, John Kerry being 10 points up in the polls.

I guess the horrifying discovery that the Spanish electorate didn't really like to be systematically lied to by their government after Osama's boys blew up a few commuter trains means that the terrorists aren't working as planned and that more drastic measures are needed.

Jul 11, 2004

Another block masterpiece

Russell has a new career as a housebuilder:

This little house is for Spencer, the Intel bunny-person doll we got from a garage sale yesterday. As befitting an Intel executive, this palatial manse will have a swimming pool (the big yellow piece of plastic is half of the swimming pool, but it's a big huge swimming pool, so the pool is three of those pieces of plastic.)

It has an uncommon decoration called a slider, and a nice Brio-track patio.

Jul 10, 2004

How to not be verbose, in one easy lesson

Spend 10 days on vacation, then spend 12 days (including the fourth of July weekend) trying to fix the thrice-damned memory manager that the R*dh*t 8.0 Linux distribution uses. After 16 hours of tweaking, running tests, being exposed to extreme programming, and other worktime indignaties, it's hard to find enough enthusiasm to do anything more exhausting that try to figure out what I'm going to do once I get enough enthusiasm to do anything.

Hopefully I'll correct this situation today; I'm going to try and build a computer desk for Julie, so we're going to look at lumber today and maybe I'll have enough time to start planning it tomorrow.

Two Architects at play

(The ancient Nikon Coolpix 100 camera I use for quick snapshots is nice in some ways -- it comes on instantly and produces nice tiny images that are just the right size for webpages -- but it's, um, somewhat lacking in things like focusing, color reproduction, and lack of pincushioning.)

Jul 08, 2004

I guess the polls are going against Beloved Leader Genius

Ohmigod! Terror alert! Terror alert! It's much more important than the next US president choosing a veep, because, look, SaddamHusseinOsamaBinLadenAdolfHitler are going to do a terrorist attack to make you vote for John Kerry for president.

Terror alert! Terror alert!

It would be funny if the Evil Party wasn't at the throttle. It will be a lot funnier when the lot of them are up on charges of treason.

Jul 07, 2004

The architect at play

Russell has been getting terrifyingly skillful at building things. Yesterday he built (with Julie's help) a model of the Hawthorne playschool, and today he built (all by himself) a freelance castle on the second-floor landing.

Jul 05, 2004

My measured, reasonable response to the anti-same sex marriage bigots.

If you don't want to live in the United States of America, go somewhere else.

There are plenty of places in the world where the only rights you get are the ones explicitly written down, and the whole idea of We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness is merely a laughable sentiment held by kooky seditionists, so why the fuck don't you go there instead of trying to screw up a country where that sentiment is the whole point of the place?

Failing that, you can just go directly to hell; Satan will welcome his followers home with welcome arms.

Jul 04, 2004

eXtreme Programming sucks

We've been trying to clean up the thrice-damned Linux 2.4.18 memory manager at work (if we switch to a different version of the kernel, a huge wad of applications have to be revalidated against the new kernel, but if we use the current kernel and just patch it into oblivion, the QA people will be happy just to test the patches instead), and I've ended up working in harness with another programmer while a member of the sysadmin team has been patching away by himself.

If I had even the slightest bit of interest in eXtreme Programming™©®, this would be a nice bit of filler for my résume, but it sucks dead bunnies through a straw as far as actually being able to get anything done; while we've been able to determine that the linux 2.4.18 memory manager is horrible, the sysadmin has put in and experimentally verified a couple of patches that, um, seem to actually work on our test systems. But I'm sure that I've got a much better rating for buzzword compliance now.

At least I'm able to work at home over the July 4th holiday, so I've not managed to be a complete waste of company resources.

Jul 03, 2004

Weblog software bug list (after a few months of playing with it)

  1. I need to minimally verify the html, so I can close off dangling tags that will EAT THE WEBSITE if they aren't caught.
  2. While doing this, I need to do some sort of sanity checking on <img> and <a> tags, so that they won't point at relative destinations.
  3. Reindex is somewhat confused. When I do reindex -fv /~orc/ 2004, it gets confused and links all the archive pages at may, even if the archive in question is not may.
  4. If I specify a image width with {pic:foo}{size}, I should generate something like <a href=foo><img src=foo width=size></a>, so that readers can then click on the image and get the full-sized one.

There are a couple of features I want to add, like the XML-rpc posting interface (one of the more terrible interfaces I've seen. XML shoves all this random verbiage around your content, but XML-rpc doesn't take advantage of this by naming parameters. Nope, it's just the regular old RPC style of you'd better know what the parameters are, but much more verbosely.) and maybe some documentation, but it would be nice to have manual indexing working and webpage posting working without booby traps.

Jul 02, 2004

Small project of the week

While we were out east, we visited a relative with a sewing machine, and I spent a few minutes building slipcovers for my palmpilot and the oggOmatic. The nice thing about making slipcovers is that, at least for the oggOmatic, it doesn't matter if there are places where the stitching picked up a handbasket and went for a ride, because the fabric is dark and will only be used while the computer is being transported from stereo to stereo.

I also sewed a little blanket for Silas's doll Mona, which proved to be a lot harder because the lower bobbin of the sewing machine decided to stop working about halfway through, so I spent a lot of time carefully sewing seams that immediately unravelled.

The important part of this project, of course, is that it used up one piece of the 15 pounds of random fabric samples I've bought at Trillium Artisans despite Julie's objections that they would simply clutter up the house. Ha! Only 14 pounds 12 ounces to go and they'll all be used!

The pedestrians of the apocolypse at work

The blue hankerchiefs are a flood covering the railroad

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."
The free?
Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!
--Langston Hughes

Jul 01, 2004

Fun software bug

thttpd tries to use writev() to write out files. Apparently this doesn't work very well when the file is 48 megabytes long; thttpd simply dumps core and exits. Bug with libc4.8? bug with thttpd? I'll find out later, but for now I'm just moving my big files over to gehenna

Silas and the alphabet puzzle

When we went out east, we bought an alphabet puzzle so that Silas and Russell could spend a few days learning how to put it all together. On the first or second day we were at the beach, I pulled out the puzzle for them; Silas and I were staying in the beachhouse for a while, and he wanted something to do. He needed my help once (to pull the H out from the space for the N, and then to tell him how to rearrange the H so it was rightside up), then played happily with it for a while until he decided to go down to the water.

The next day, Julie decided to help him do the puzzle, and discovered that he didn't actually need any help, because he was putting the puzzle together all by timeself. Later that day, Julie's mother was trying to help Silas, but ended up watching in amazement as he put the puzzle together in no time flat.

The next time Silas did the puzzle, I had the camera at the ready and filmed a movie of him doing the last 2/3rds of the puzzle (WARNING: this is a 48 megabyte .avi file that lasts about two minutes). Note that this is the fourth time Silas did the puzzle, and he'd never seen it before the first time he did it. Note also that he's just over two years old.

The beach (wide-angle view)

Before I took the wide-angle picture of the Spencer roundhouse, I took a couple of experimental pictures of the beach.

(I had a better one, but forgot to take one of the pictures in the middle)

The swamp-pit that is the Linux memory manager (2.4.18 version)

There are a lot of documented knobs, valves, and levers that you can tweak to set the behavior of what calls itself a memory manager in various versions of 2.4. Unfortunately, the version of Linux we're stuck with at work is one of the transitional versions where the core team (no longer just Linus) ripped one broken memory manager out and replaced it with another broken memory manager, so we've got a version of the memory manager that's can't handle a busy (8000+ processes, 8gigabytes, 4x 3ghz Xeon) machine and which doesn't have any documented -- even in the kernel source and documents -- ways to correct the spiffy way it sandbags when the machine gets down to 15.8gigabytes of swap. So I'm tweaking values by hand, and trying to guess about which goddamn magic setting (which will be obsolete as soon as we migrate to the next dot-release of the linux kernel) will convince the system to start writing out dirty pages before we get 5 minutes behind.


I say again; Aaaaarrrrgggghhhh!