This Space for Rent

Dec 31, 2005

Wanker of the year, railroad edition

If I was doing a Wanker Of The Year award for railroads, it would be a pretty dull award. There just aren't enough railroads left to be horrified about, and at least over the past few years one railroad has been pretty consistantly the worst. That railroad is, of course, the Union Pacific, and the reason I feel compelled to mention it is not because of their special Abu Ghraib locomotive painted in honor of the pretend boss of ex-board member Dick "asshole" Cheney. No, as offensive as that might be, it's pretty much par for the course for an Evil Party super deluxe team leader company.

Instead, the wanker award for the Union Pacific is because of their goddamn licensing of every symbol of the Union Pacific and the railroads it has absorbed over the years. So if you want to actually model a western railroad which has UP (or a hundred or so other railroads), the fucking railroad is now demanding licensing fees for the "privilege" of using their name. What sort of licensing fees? Well, if you want to buy a prepainted Roundhouse Athearn (name to be determined later) RS-3 in a dozen western railroad names, you get to pay US$5.00 to the stupid railroad for the privilege of doing so.

If I was trying to model the stinking yellow elephant of the west, I'd be a pretty unhappy camper over this turn of events. In the old days, the railroads paid a pretty penny for the sort of good publicity you could get for having every single model railroad in North America having little model boxcars, flatcars, hopper cars, tank cars, and whatnot labelled Union Pacific, but apparently now that they've got a regional monopoly and a close personal friend as dictator of the United States, the public can be damned.

Sometime in the future, after the smoke has cleared from the second American Revolution, there'll be a big honking antitrust lawsuit that has Union Pacific written all over it. And all the goodwill the Union Pacific might have had will be whittled away in dribs and drabs of US$5.00 royalty cheques.

New Years Resolutions, pt 1

Perhaps 2006 is a good time to put the new 160gb hard drives into my home fileserver and backup computers? After all, they've only been sitting around the house for four months now.

The unpleasant side-effect of having a basement is …

... if your drainage isn't good, it will turn into a particularly nasty sort of interior swimming pool.

Our house is coming up on 100 years old, so when it was built the solution to drainage problems was to gutter the dickens out of the house and feed the water into the city sewage (aka "The Willamette River") system. Given the (clayey) soil that the house is built on, it may have been a good idea then, but it's not a good idea now; the underground drains have filled up, some of the gutters have been shingled over, and the house has, over the course of 96 rainy winters, been slowly inching down the hill towards Crystal Springs Creek. So, the landscaping that started out as

        |     |
 __     |     |
   --..-|     |-..  east->
        |     |   .
        =-----= <- basement

Has become, due to the miracle of gravity

         |     |
 __      |     |
   --..._|     |_.
         |~~~~~|  .
         =-----= <- lap pool

And now the rain that used to flow away from the house is instead flowing up next to the house, percolating down besides the basement, forcing itself through cracks in the basement, and giving us our own lap pool!

It doesn't help that's it's been raining cats and dogs off and on for the last few weeks.

Sigh. At least there are solutions to this problem. "All" I have to do is dig a trench around the perimeter of the house, lay a drainage tile in a gravel bed, reshape the ground so that it slopes away from the house down to the drainage tile, then wait for the basement to dry so I can deal with the sewer pipes (we have a combined drain system for the house and detached garage; at some time in the past one of the big cherry trees in the backyard cracked the sewer line running from the garage to the house, which means that when it rains a lot the backyard becomes a puddle which drains into the convenient pipe, and then UP, along with whatever unspeakable filth is in the sewer pipe, into the basement.)

My workshop, conveniently, is in the basement. Along with the servers on my home network. Neither of these will be particularly happy when someone jackhammers up a large chunk of the basement floor to replace the no-doubt-disgusting sewer pipes.


The 101 square meter small house (without a basement!) seems more and more appealing every time I think about it.

Geekery -R- Us

I've completely changed the way Annotations handles comments, so if they should explode, set fire, or do something else unpleasant, everything is broken by design and you should try (and I emphasise try, because if they've broken elsewhere, they're also broken here) to leave a comment here describing the horrible catastrophe of the day.

1 comment

Dec 30, 2005

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Dust Mite, Mona, and Piñata get an early start on their New Years celebration.

Not connected to the real world

A gorgeous house, but watch out for that price tag

An New York Times article on a pretty modern house boasts that it's When a Small Budget Thinks Big, and goes on and on about the design compromises that were done to make the house fit into the tiny budget. And it is a nice house; all sleek modern lines (and real windows! with windowframes!) with what looks like very few of the classic stupid mistakes of modern architecture (the big one being that it's got a flat roof. In New York State. Leak city, here we come! The nasty open balcony to the second floor is redeemed by not being ostentatious. But other than that it's a very comfortable space that I'd [but not the best] would feel very happy to live in.) So, how much did this experimental, light-filled and relatively cheap house cost?

US$500,000. (Including land!, the article breathlessly adds. The land cost US$36000, which leaves the house costing, um, US$464,000, or approximately US$171 a square foot.)

Umm, okay. And here I was thinking cheap was something on the order of US$25/square foot (or US$60 square foot if I hired people to help me with house assembly.)

The article gives some idea of how the NY Times figures something is cheap. Sliding glass doors; 3 x US$2500. A custom-made bookcase-stairs that cost, um, US$35,000 (and looks like it cost about US$1500, but perhaps I was involved with high-end audio for long enough to trust the value of hideously overpriced components.) Heated floors; US$15/square foot, or what I'd guess is about US$22000 (and this isn't a luxury; I suspect that warm feet means that you could dial the thermostat down a lot and still feel comfortable, which would mean that you wouldn't burn off as much energy while the New York snows are slowly collapsing your flat shed roofs.

But, and this is important, there's still several hundred thousand dollars floating around unaccounted for here, and even in the Northeast you can get tracthouses of comparable size for less than US$464000. Where does the money go? A house like this is, just from an aesthetic point of view, infinitely superior to the modern crop of faux-colonial minimansions with 5 car garages, but you can buy brand new fragments of suburban hell that are cheaper than this, and people who aren't project directors at the Guggenheim will bite their tongues and buy the cheaper house.

If the New York Times had stressed the beauty of this house instead of going after the pretend economy of it, the article would have been less annoying. But that's a curse of modern design I keep seeing; people gush about how affordable modern design is, and it turns out that their idea of affordable is 3x the average cost of new houses in that area.

You're not going to get people out of their tracthouses that way. If you want to beautify the suburbs, you're going to do a lot better if you don't sell city-style house prices as the bargain of the century.


Never attribute to stupidity that which can be adequately explained by greed.

"Corps never pursued design doubts" is the claim on the article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Apparently it was not simply Katrina's storm surge that flooded the city of New Orleans (causing approximately 900 counted fatalities and a large part of the US$57 billion dollars of insured damage from the storm); no, it was the improperly engineered levees that collapsed when the storm surge hit them. Who knew that peat doesn't give good support when you anchor a levee in it? (Well, someone knew, because otherwise they wouldn't have bothered to do their core samples from below the level of the peats.)

And it turns out that the Army Corps of Engineers knew about these design failures in 1990, but didn't bother to do anything except hide the reports away until after the levees collapsed and the city flooded.

Ho ho ho.

And, in unrelated news, Tropical Storm Zeta -- the 27th named Atlantic storm of the year! -- has spun up in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean.

1 comment

Dec 29, 2005

The Earthy-Crunchy strikes —[more]—

I've gotten a little bit obsessive about the summer camp project. We actually have enough money these days so the project can be launched, so (modulo the teeny detail of doing most of the work myself, which may prove problematic) the idea of actually building myself my own home has grabbed me by its sticky tentacles.

A few rounds of discussion of what would make a good home, with the best, the bears, and with people commenting on my previous posts on the subject has gotten it into my head that strawbale might actually be a good plan. There are more than enough online references to get totally confused (I can't help but notice that a lot of these references are Canadian, and it certainly looks like the Canadian Government, the various mortgage underwriters, and the zoning laws are a lot friendlier to strawbale than the US is), but if you can avoid the confusion (and the so-earthy-crunchy-that-you-want-to-die websites) you can find some stunning conventional houses where the earthy-crunchy only comes out in sensible ways.

So, I've revised the summer camp a little bit, so that it's suitable for being a summer camp or a house in a (Canadian) city:

I'm not an architect, so the design of this house is going slowly. The big changes with this plan is that it will probably end up being a post and beam frame instead of a balloon frame (I'm not sure how I'd erect a post and beam frame, but since you can actually buy post-and-beam house kits, I suspect that that problem has already been addressed) and that it's been redesigned to take advantage of passive solar heating. Note that this house looks something like the Big Yellow House -- this was not deliberate (except for the porch layout), but was simply a fallout from the interior design. It's a little bit larger now; it's up to 101 square meters (1088 square feet), because I added a bay to the ground floor to stick the south-facing windows out a bit.

If you look inside the house, you will probably not see the lack of a basement, but the house doesn't need one. I've kept the downstairs bathroom, but have tucked the washer, drier, and water heater (which will be an on-demand one for efficiency) under the stairs, accessable from a door under the stairs.

Why no basement? Why, because basements appear to be expensive (I did some online searches for contractors who build basements, but none of them bothered to have any sort of online estimation process. This spells expen$ive to me) while a simple rubble trench foundation appears to be not so expensive. And if I can knock US$25000 off the price of the house, that's US$25000 that I don't have to earn before I build the house. And it's a bonus that it would make it easier to build a masonry footing for a masonry heater, if I (and the local air pollution people) decided that that was the way to go to heat the house.

The upstairs of the house has a sneaky little trick in it; I've discarded the long wide corridor running from side to side in favor of adding closets for each bedroom (and a linen closet for the hall.) But, instead of having the closets go all the way up to the ceiling, I plan to make them 2 meters high and place a cathedral ceiling over them and the corridor. This brings in light from the two tiny windows placed up at the top of the eaves, plus it gives me 4.5 square meters (48 square feet) which I can use as a couple of little mini-lofts for people to climb up into if they need to work or want some (semi)-privacy.

I'm still not sure what to do with The Stucco Problem™ -- the University Of Oregon had a straw bale dorm experiment where they mentioned putting an air gap between the strawbale and the evil stucco. And if you're going to put an air gap in, why not just put a better surface on, one that will resist water and won't make us run screaming from the neighborhood? But that will take a little more research.


Why, yes, I am getting tired of the short cloudy winter days

1 comment

Dec 28, 2005

Railroad picture of the day

A fall afternoon up by the UP yards, reminding me that the midwinter routine of approximately 8 hours of daylight will not last forever.

Call for features

Sometime soon I'm going to sit down for a couple of days and start coding up a 1.1 release of Annotations. Do I have a userbase? I dunno. But, hypothetically, if you were someone who used it instead of one of the big weblog programs written in perl|php|python|anything-but-C, what features would you like to see?

I welcome comments, not only for features but to reassure myself that people actually read TSFR and don't just get here browsing for poachable bandwidth.


Dec 27, 2005

Nice Try

Apparently TSFR is now getting enough traffic so that some of the more marginal links-spammers are taking note of it. Last night, some Indian sweatshop worker waded through and carefully commented a string of posts with link spam, which managed to survive a whopping 10 hours before I went in and deleted it.

Now, I don't work for Google, so I don't know their magical link rating algorithm, but even assuming that Google does stupid link-gathering (in that once a link is entered into their database, it will never go away) it seems like it would be a dumb idea to hope that your linkspam will get spidered before someone comes along and either deletes it or modifies all the links to point at the Saudi Arabian ministry of proper conduct.

Ah, well, at least this will give me an opportunity to finish setting up some of the antispam filter code I've been meaning to put in.


Dec 26, 2005

New Code!

Annotations (this weblog program) has been rolled up to version 1.0.3. What does 1.0.3 have for features? Well, it's been a while since the last release, so I've probably moved around some of the bugs, but the official features include:

  1. After only 19 months or so, I've finally written some DOCUMENTATION for the silly program.
  2. And to go along with the documentation, I've written a weblog setup program that a user can use to initialize their weblog.
  3. To simplify batch posting, I've written an xml posting program that lets me do a post via xml (which is, um, interesting to try and research).
  4. I've redone the format of the configuration file, and renamed it to weblog.conf.
  5. And I've removed a huge honking security hole in the way the programs decide what weblogs to edit.

Everything else should look the same, because I've not cleaned up the horrible gaps in administration, but it's a somewhat cleaner pile of bugs and kludges now. And it's still written in the One True Language.

Dec 25, 2005

Before The Deluge

  1. Clean?
  2. And tidy?
  3. Stockings hung by the chimney with care?
  4. Visited by St Nicholas?
  5. Visited by Bears?

If you stand very still and pay close attention, you may feel the earth rumbling under your feet. It's quite possible that this is not caused by an earthquake or passing train, but instead that my children have cried havoc and are now unleashing the dogs of entropy.

1 comment

Dec 24, 2005

Not the most accurate prediction

Sometime last year, I got a piece of spiritualist spam which, for some inexplicable reason, I stored in the annotations source directory. I just looked at it again:

Control has been yielded to the SYSTEM PERIL DISTRIBUTED REFLEX.
This medium is classified, and has a STRONG INTRUSIVE INCLINATION.
In 2 days, network throttling will erode.
In 16 days this medium will metastasize.
Make your decisions accordingly.

Okay. I saved this spam on the 26th of July, 2004. Anything unexpected happen since then? I certainly haven't noticed anything.

Dec 23, 2005

Not as earthy-crunchy as thou

I've been planning various versions of a summer house, and keep getting lured towards the idea of using straw for wall structure. This means some changes in the plan, but not much. But to counteract the better insulating abilities of a 16-18 inch thick wall (and the pleasant side-effects of having nice deep window wells, which I've always thought was a plus in a house design), the straw bale house world comes with a whole constellation of flaky earthy-crunchy features. It's not enough that it's a straw-bale house, but you've got to have beaten earth floors!, cob builtins encrusting the inside of your house!, and (and you can guess this is the thing that completely escapes me) a little featurette called a "truth window", which is a window that faces into the inside of a structural wall so you can see that the house -- or, at least the part of the house behind the stupid window -- is made of straw bales.

This is, I presume, for people who can't figure out that having 50-60 centimeter thick walls would indicate that the house is built from something other than 2x4 wooden framing. Personally, I don't get it. If the summer house is built of straw (an appealing idea if I can keep it from getting wet and turning into a condominium for mold spores), I won't feel any need to constantly reassure myself that, yes, it's still made of straw. Picking bits of straw out of my hair for sixteen months following the last coat of plaster will be enough proof of that.

If strawbale is in my future, I may do a liars window; I'll frame up part of the wall with 2x4 and fiberglass insulation, then put a little window in facing into that. And when I get bored of the liars window, I'll rip it out and make the pretend balloon frame into a little cupboard.


Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Oh what fun it is to ride on a Dust Mite open sleigh.

The joys of living in a dictatorship

So you're an innocent civilian swept up in a dragnet and stuffed into the New American Gulag. Eventually (because the Evil Party hadn't get gotten around to abolishing Habeas Corpus yet) a lawsuit is started under the not unreasonable grounds that when you're innocent, it's not a fair cop to be tossed into a deathcamp indefinitely.

This particular judge could not be bribed with a Supreme Court seat, and stated that, um, no, "This indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay is unlawful". But, alas, the gulag is property of the president, so "I find that a federal court has no relief to offer".


  1. depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;
  2. transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses;
  3. taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments;
  4. suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever;

And that's just with two kidnapped foreign nationals. Just think of what they're doing with the rest of the so-called war on terror.

(via Obsidian Wings)

1 comment

Fun thttpd feature

If I put a cgi script into a password protected directory, thttpd assigns the auth username to REMOTE_USER, then passes it down to the cgi script. All well and good, and as you'd expect.

But if that cgi script is actually a softlink to a cgi script somewhere else, thttpd cheerfully discards the REMOTE_USER variable and passes, um, nothing down to the cgi script, despite the teeny detail that you need to actually auth your way into the directory that contains this softlink to elsewhere.


So I need to continue using the traditional bodge of having a shell script in the protected directory that execs the actual cgi script that's sitting somewhere else. Grumble grumble http grumble grumble security hole grumble.

Dec 22, 2005

Testing One-Two-Three

If you can read this, I've managed to get the xml posting program to actually work.


Trolley picture of the day

Portland Streetcar's 007 lays over at the (temporary) Riverplace terminal on December 22, 2005. Why, yes, it was pouring down rain, but I certainly don't think that's a good reason to stop taking trolley pictures.


Ihre Papiere bitte!

The legislation (HR 4437, Section 707) would create a sea-change in federal employment rules by requiring all workers in the country to obtain a federal agency’s permission to work. All employers would be required to participate in a national employment eligibility verification program in an expansion of the faulty but voluntary "Basic Pilot" program in current law. Like Basic Pilot, the new program would use an Internet-based system to check the names and social security numbers of all employees -- citizens and non-citizen alike -- against a Department of Homeland Security database.

Remember the days when a social security card was most certainly not a government ID that you had to show for anything, and how once upon a time you couldn't officially use one as an ID number anywhere? Apparently this is no longer operative, and letting people get a job without having official right-to-work papers means that The Terrorists(tm) have won.

Now, having to get government permission slips to work is a long-standing tradition in many countries around the world, but the United States has not traditionally been one of those countries. What next? Will we (and by "we", I mean everyone who makes less than US$1 million a year) have to get government permission to move from state to state?

I can just smell the freedom™ rising from this bill.

(h/t to Lambert at Correntewire)


Dec 21, 2005

Christmas comes early for the B*sh junta

QUESTION: Attorney General Gonzales, if the Senate does not reauthorize this provision for the Patriot Act, does the president have the authority under Article 2 and the authorization of use of force to give the go-ahead for these procedures on his own?

GONZALES: What I will say is we continue to have hope that these provisions will be reauthorized.

To the extent that they’re not reauthorized, we will look at the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies throughout the government to see what authorities do exist. And we will do what we can do under existing authorities to continue to protect America.

If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator.

1 comment

Dec 20, 2005

From the “not paying close attention” department

America is not ruled by executive whim, instinct, or fiat.

Oh, really?

I would have thought that the blatant theft of the 2000 election, conveniently going to war just in time for the 2002 election, and the 10,000 lucky coincidences that happened in the 2004 election would have been pretty good signs that the traditional way the United States was governed was no longer operative.

Those people were willing to let New Orleans die because it was a Democratic stronghold in a Evil Party dominated state, and who regularly torture people to death just because they think that's the sort of thing the United States should be able to do. Get used to secret wiretaps, at the very least; if the B*sh junta is going to illegally spy on PETA, they're not going to spend any time paying attention to people who believe that the US Constitution actually means anything.

(quote from The American Prospect)


Dec 18, 2005

Railroad picture of the day

The best and I made Russell a pair of tank engine (one a Forney-type 2-4-4, the other a simple 2-4-2 well-tank -- you have to pretend the trailing wheels are present under the cab of both of these, because I didn't want to sacrifice cake to carve out a recess for the wheels) birthday cakes for his birthday party at the Brooklyn Bay. Unlike the sort of locomotive cake you can get from the store, these tank engines actually have their wheels mounted to frames instead of directly to the boiler.

It's the little details that make all the difference. We could have bought a pre-built locomotive cake from the store, but then it wouldn't have a frame and that would be wrong.

Snow Day

The best and I went out this afternoon to pick up a Christmas present at OMSI and to drop a bunch of other presents off at the post office to mail to points east. When we left home, it had just started snowing, but not enough snow had fallen to make the roads treacherous yet. We arrived at OMSI at about 1:45, and of course couldn't help noticing that the 4449 was steamed up and ready to go on the 2pm Holiday Express train.

We went into the OMSI shop and looked around for a while, but soon the lure of actual steam engines in steam pulled me out of OMSI and across the street, where nothing separated me from the Eng!s except a chainlink fence which I could wedge the camera lens up against and get a mainly-clear shot of the 4449 and 100. While I was doing this, the clock must have struck 2pm, because the 4449 gave a toot!, spat out a huge billow of steam, and started moving.

As the 4449 moved backwards, the billows of steam blew over the 100, covering it completely.

While all this was going on, I was hearing the toot! toot! of a diesel somewhere along the line, but I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have. But as the clouds of steam began to blow away from the 100, a Union Pacific C44AC appeared behind the 100, running long hood first towards Brooklyn Yard.

I got one more picture of the three engines before the 4449 backed too far away from the 100.

And finally, just before the 4449 had backed far enough away so I couldn't fit the camera (mainly) between the rungs of the chain-link fence, the C44AC moved enough into view to see that it was coupled nose-to-nose to a SD70.

The sad thing about this snow is that it's supposed to turn into freezing rain later this evening, and we've got tickets for the 8pm trip of the Holiday Express. It's not very likely that we'll be able to actually ride the Holiday Express if there is freezing rain and the roads are impassible; the roads were getting slick enough with just the snow, and a coat of freezing rain on top of them will not make matters any better (UPDATE: and, yes, we know now that tickets for the 7pm and 8pm trains will be honored on the 6pm train, but it took us about 40 minutes to get from Powell and Milwaukie to home, and got the information for the latest cancellations from the OMSI webpage for the holiday express at 5:30. 5:30 + 40 minutes == Ooops.)

Dec 17, 2005

Compare and Contrast (pt 11)

"I am not a crook"
"I am a crook"

(Photo of the Coward in Chief via Rox Populi)


The joy of home ownership

It was bad enough that the oil furnace ran nearly out of oil on thursday. It was worse when, at Friday at 5:22pm, I pushed the "on" button and was greeted with 20 seconds of contented roaring from the burner, punctuated nastily by an air bubble in the line reaching the pump and putting it into the mechanical equivalent of cardiac arrest. It got even worse when it happened on a weekend where every day was in the 20s, reinforced by nasty gale-force winds howling out of the Columbia gorge. And it's late December, and we have parties to plan and parties to go to and shopping and packing and... (and it doesn't really matter, because it's basically impossible to get a furnace repair person on the weekends aaaand there doesn't seem to be anyone out there who is willing to part with the arcane knowledge of how to reprime an oil suction pump without being paid for it first.)

Two days, so far, of sawing apart scrapwood and feeding it to the ravenous maw of the downstairs fireplace (with the oh-so-ugly but oh-so-efficient woodburner insert.) And the weather service is talking about freezing rain (aka Portland will be a really big ice rink) tomorrow evening and monday, so it may be two more days of sawing apart scrapwood (punctuated by hurried trips out to salvage old pallets that can be fed to the dark god of household heating. Oh, joy.

On the bright side, it's all the exercise I could ever want. And then some.

When I build the summer camp, it's going to have a boiler with a self-priming fuel pump. Assuming, of course, that I don't die from exhaustion this weekend.

1 comment

Down at Brooklyn Yard

We went to the Brooklyn Bay this morning for Russell's birthday party, and on the way back to our (temporarily furnaceless and very cold) big yellow house, we spotted the 700 sitting on the Brooklyn Roundhouse turntable. Now, normally the big steam engines aren't just left sitting outside (they had enough of that at Oaks Park), so we drove over by the roundhouse to see if anything interesting was going to happen.

First generation Alco hood units are so pretty it's almost criminal.

When we got there, the 700 was just sitting on the turntable, but as I hopped out of the car to get a picture of it and the ex-Utah RSD-5 that was idling away on one of the ready tracks, the shop switcher (a little trackmobile) came puttering out of one of the bays, coupled on to the 700, and with a mighty HEAVE started pulling it into the roundhouse.

The mighty trackmobile in action.

We would have stayed longer, but it was cold and the bears were getting hungry.

Dec 16, 2005

Compare and Contrast (pt 10)


We are only a few years removed from the rule of the terrorists, when women were denied education and every basic human right. That tyranny has been replaced by a young democracy, and the power of freedom is on display across Afghanistan.

--Mrs. Maximum Leader Genius

Suspected Taliban guerrillas dragged a teacher from a classroom of teenagers in southern Afghanistan and killed him at the school gate after he ignored their orders to stop teaching girls, police said on Friday.

(via MNObserver at Yowling from the Fencepost)

Christmas won’t be Christmas without trolley cars, grumbled Jo

#005 demonstrates that it's possible for streetcars
to share traffic lanes with automobiles.

I went down to one of the downtown Portland postoffices to (finally) do another step in my project to GTFOOD; today I mailed in the (very late) renewal form for my passport, since it's basically impossible to visit (let alone move to) Canada without having a valid passport. On the way back, I spotted Portland Streetcar's #005 coming down Madison, and stopped to take a couple of pictures before hopping on a bus back to work.

Not going as far as work, which is why I wasn't on it.

A cold morning in the East Portland yard

EPT #100 and SP/City of Portland #4449 sit behind the fence separating the yard from the hordes of curious children who come and go from OMSI. The 4449 is going to be hauling passenger trains this afternoon, and I suspect that the #100 is positioned here in case there's another derailment (the #700 is not going to be doubleheading with the 4449, so the chances of an engine spreading the rails again is much reduced.)

(I spent most of this week trying to get pictures of #100 and #4449 with a telephoto lens from a moving bus on the Ross Island Bridge. As you can imagine, this was not a particularly successful endeavor. So today, I hitched a ride with the best and got her to swing by the Eng!s on the way towards downtown.)

(derailment pictures link to Dogcaught)

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Oh Holy Mite!

Dec 15, 2005

A bad night to run low on oil

It's a cold night in Portland tonight (-5C, with wind gusts up to 40(!)mph), and, of course, the time when we last filled the oil tank we only filled in to half full because we filled it on the second of September, three days after the US Government abandoned New Orleans to the wolves. So this week it ran down to just about nothing, and when we looked in at the oil gauge this evening it was at a cup or two above bone dry.

Fortunately we've got a cheapy heater insert in our downstair stove, and we've got a big pile of scraps of wood left over from building furniture out of palletwood. We've not run the fireplace for several years, due to it being an irresistable Baby Magnet (running to the emergency room in the middle of the night with a sick or injured baby in tow is, at least as far as I'm concerned, vastly overrated) but given the choice between putting up a fence between the bears and the inferno, or freezing our little butts off in a large and poorly insulated house, putting up the fence is the warmest choice.

We'll order more oil in the morning, but for tonight it's time to convert wood into ash, co2, and bucketloads of heat.

Open Source ®™© user friendliness

In firefox 1.5, the user interface was changed so that

  • [home] and [end] don't work any more. You need to do [ctrl] (or [alt] -- I already forget) [home] or [?][end] to jump to the start or end of a page.
  • Uparrow and downarrow? Forget it.
  • [pageup] and [pagedown] sometimes take you up a screenful or down a screenful. They also sometimes take you to the top or bottom of the webpage and just noisily refresh the screen when you hit them again.
  • Using the mouse to navigate inside a textbox? Sure. Remember that the arrow pointer is at the bottom of the little grabbing hand, not the top like it is everywhere else.
  • And what's this nonsense of putting up little select bars besides text and graphics objects if you use the mouse to select focus on a webpage?
  • Oh, and I mustn't forget the dumb little "we're having trouble connecting to this website. Try again?" alert box that 1.5 spits up when it can't connect to a website.

The firefox people claim that 1.5 has better keyboard support. If "better" means "completely reworked so it doesn't work like any other web browser including firefox 0.01 through 1.0.7", why, yes, it does.

Now, I really like the extension support in firefox; being able to block ads is worth firefox being twice to three times as slow as internet explorer (and when you're running Linux, which is no great speed demon itself, you can't even get IE) and firefox generally has a better approach to the missing media player feature (IE spits up alert box after alert box pestering you to install whatever useless spyware and exploits show up, while firefox just puts up a [completely uninformative, but inobtrusive]) alert line at the top of the screen. But the stupid nonsense of changing the user interface so doesn't work like anything else? Pffft on that. If I have to play "hunt the user interface" to use firefox, I'll use IE or Safari and set up a big honking proxy server to sanitize webpages before they reach my browser.

At least I can still get to 1.0.7 via the mozilla ftp site, so it was simply a matter of uninstalling 1.5 and putting back the old, obsolete, but working version that I used to use. And now the keyboard commands work again!


Dec 14, 2005

Details will be left vague

... but I've discovered that an easy way to drive me into a screaming rage is to change, without notification, a long-standing policy and then pretend that the new policy is the way it's always been. Life it too short to have to whip out an ouija board every time I need to know what the goddamn immortal truths of the day are.


A little bit of Christmas cheer.

Recently, the American Fascist (spelled "family", but they aren't called fundamentalists because of their leet spelling skills) Association claimed to have bullied the Ford Motor Company into backing off from their support for lgbt organizations (what could be better for a struggling automaker than to piss off a large number of customers? The AFA doesn't care if you make any money, or even if you survive as an organization; all they want to do is have people help them plunge daggers into the backs of their enemies.) This was not greeted with any particular enthusiasm by anyone aside from the bigots, and some energy was spent in discussions with Ford where certain commercial and moral realities were mentioned.

Well, today, Ford slammed the door on the bigots in a fairly convincing manner, and promised that they would go out of their way to convince the lgbt community that the Ford Motor Company was not in bed with the forces of hate and intolerance.

Ho ho ho! It's starting to look a lot like Christmas around here!

(via AMERICAblog)

Oh, bother

The secret transit police who were just in the headlines for gunning down someone for the crime of being mentally ill have got a Brand! New! Job! Now people who ride mass transit in several big cities on the east and west coast (plus Houston, which is notable for having had the temerity to put in a trolley line over the pouty objections of Tom Delay) get the opportunity to be gunned down by their government for the crime of being suspicious-looking.

Oh, joy. I've been a dedicated rider of mass transit for all of my life, but it would sort of take the relaxing out of the nice relaxing ride to work and back if I had to worry about being shot because I did something suspicious like wearing an impeach the bastard button. I wonder if Tri-Met is going to try to get into this little program, and, if so, how quickly I can learn to drive a car, and how different the traffic laws are in Canada.

(link via a comment at We Move to Canada)


Annoying firefox discovery of the day

firefox 1.5 has not only broken firesomething, but has completely screwed up navigation with [home][end][pageup][pagedown] and [space]. They've "improved" the key bindings by making them work almost completely differently from seaklumpen 1.0.7 (look! firesomething works in that release!); there's just something about pressing [pagedown] and having your browser window immediately jump up to the top of the page and then sit there, whining, like a domestic housecat stuck up a tree.

Digital cameras vs the Railfan Photographer, Pt 3

The railfan magazine The Railroad Press is primarily a photographers magazine, and, as such, has a regular photography column. The fellow who writes this column is not fond of digital cameras, and has been explaining, in great detail (if not completely coherently), why digital cameras are crap compared to chemical cameras.

He's finally gotten around to actually test-driving a digital camera, and he doesn't like it. His reasons are good; he claims that the images coming off the camera have compression artifacts while the film cameras just don't (I've seen people claim that the Nikon NEF format is not exactly lossless, but I don't think he's saving his images as NEF because he mentions that the staff at the camera place told him that he needed to buy a program to convert NEF to something else, but, gosh, they just didn't have it in stock!) and, yes, it's true, if you store something as a jpeg you're going to get nasty compression artifacts. But the route he took to get to this point was, um, irregular and littered with roadblocks put up by greedy camera salesmen.

Did you know, for instance, that digital SLRs are incredibly fragile and break at the slightest bump? That's what the salesmen said when they were trying to sell him a $330 two-year service contract (I spent $120 for a 1 year service contract on my *istDS, but, despite carrying the camera around in my purse and occasionally dropping the lenses on the floor (oops!) have not gotten anything broken past getting the optics covered with soot from steam locomotives, and that brokenness I could fix by simply propping the mirror open and using an air squirter to blow the soot off the CCD. But I went in having already decided that I was going to get the *istDS + two lenses kit, plus whatever storage I wanted, and I only let myself get talked into spending the extra $120 because I was planning on buying a service contract in the first place.)

But, ignoring the greedy salesmen who tried (and succeeded) in flim-flamming this poor photographer into spending an additional $400, there are a few peculiar complaints he makes about digital cameras (and keeps making over and over);

First of all, he's really got an obsession about things, in that if you take a picture with a film camera you end up (after processing) with a slide that you can hold in your hand and keep other people from having unless they pay you for them. And he claims that you don't get that with a digital camera, which makes the resulting images worthless unless you can sell them right off the bat. Personally, I find it difficult to believe that people will only pay money for slides, because I don't have to go very far to see people making money selling prints of almost any subject you might want. And I'm sure if you really wanted to, you could find a developing shop that would cheerfully print your digital images onto slides, so you could have your things that you can hold on to and not let people have copies of unless they pay you for them.

Secondly, he first (reasonably) says "what happens if you're out for several days and you fill up your memory card. Why, you have to buy a computer or more memory cards!" Why, yes, this is true, and that pushes the initial cost of your first digital camera up a bit, but when he mentions elsewhere (when commenting on the startup cost for his experimental digital camera) that $1400 will buy him 127 rolls of Velvia 100 with processing, but he mentions elsewhere that if he shoots two (36 exposure) rolls of Velvia 100 a month it would take five years to catch up with the cost of the camera (when I got my *istDS, it took me about 8 months to run through about 6000 images; even assuming that half of those images are junk, I'm still looking at a film+lab cost of around $1000, compared to the $1200 I spent for camera+sd card+warranty). A single 1gb compact flash card should hold about 160 6.1mb images, or the equivalent of 4.5 rolls of Velvia. At two rolls a month, that means he's away from his lab for 2 months, or he's actually consuming film at a rate much much greater than 2 rolls a month? Once you're up to 4.5 rolls of Velvia on a trip, you're up to around $50 in film+lab (he mentions $11-12 for film plus lab, which is why I keep mentioning lab costs), which is almost the price for a 1gb compact flash card from some vendor who is not a photography shop. (The other alternative he mentions, which is to buy a laptop, is only useful if you're planning on doing some photo processing when you're out in the field because for the cost of even a dinky little laptop you can buy about 8gb -- space for 1300 images (the equivalent of 36 rolls of Velvia) -- in compact flash cards, and if you're not dying to clean up your pictures right there, it's pretty pointless.)

There's the usual round of snark about how nobody keeps a computer more than 5 years, which I just laugh grimly at; the current motherboards in Pell and Gehenna predate Russell (turns six next week!), and the system board in Pete is rapidly approaching the five year mark, even though the speed of code bloat in the desktop world is rapidly making the machine obsolete before its time.

But, to be fair, it's asking a lot to expect a non-computer person to know about this, when they're being constantly bombarded with Buy Something New! Buy Something New! from the computer and consumer electronics industries. Shoot, I can't even get programmers to report back the context for kernel panics when their machines belly up ("it died, and you have to fix it now!" "okay, what was the error message?" "I don't know. It just died." "Okay, let me go look at the console." "You can't; I rebooted the machine."), and they don't even have the excuse that they don't have any experience working with computers. But it would be nice if, before you write an article slagging on digital cameras, you spent some time getting a more accurate view of the costs of the media compared with the old fashioned chemical methods.

Dec 13, 2005

Ah, the joy of software

Windows 2000 + Firefox 1.5 + Windows Media Player or Quicktime == too much load for a 1ghz P3 with 400mb of core.

Aaaaaah, the joy of dealing with operating systems and applications written in "Object Oriented" languages.

What he said

Of course, if people stopped using Christmas as an excuse for an orgy of (unchristian, unless I've missed the part of the bible that says that potlatches are next to godliness) consumption, the mighty bubble that is the US economy would immediately pop and force many of the super-rich to actually do something productive with their lives. And we couldn't allow that!

(via By Neddie Jingo!)

Dec 12, 2005

The cure for a cold and rainy day

Red-Blue heads into the sun on a late April afternoon.

Dec 11, 2005

Fun with email

Postoffice, from almost the beginning of time (March 15, 2004), has used Evan Harris's greylisting scheme to cut down on the amount of spam that shows up in mailboxes on pell. For most of the time it's had greylisting, relatives have been able to (at least when they're not blocked by the ever-changing greylist) send mail to me, even if it's occasionally delayed a few hours by the greylist.

Last week, relatives who use cableone discovered, to their (and my) annoyance, that cableone has apparently "upgraded" their mail software to one that treats a 451 (temporary failure; local error) as a 5xx (permanent failure, don't retry.) This has the unsurprising side-effect of ensuring that mail sent through new and different copies of the mail server will bounce, even if the client MTA is just telling it to cool its jets for a little while.

Perhaps it's because I'm polite and return a 451, instead of simply spitting out a 421 (hey! I don't like you! Go away! [pulls plug and dies]) and disconnecting. Maybe I'll try that method tonight.

1 comment

Doing my part in the Liberal Conspiracy To Destroy Christmas

And how will I do my part of the nefarious plan? Why, that's easy; I'll just post my Christmas list (in order of reasonable to stupidly ridiculous):

  1. a set of sharpening stones
  2. a jack plane or two
  3. a one man crosscut saw (36 or 40 inch blade; we've got a pair of big old dead cherry trees out in the back yard that have to come down before I can build my prototype sheds out there.)
  4. A sewing machine.
  5. A low f-stop lens for my *istDS, because the camera gets really unhappy trying to take photos when there's not much light, and I've seen (and lusted after) the amount of light that some of the really big lenses for Canon cameras can capture.
  6. A 25' ladder (so I can climb up into the dead cherry trees and lop off chunks that won't topple into our house, the neighbor's house, or our garage.)

    and now I will leap immediately to the ridiculous part of the list...

  7. Land in the country suitable for building a cabin on.
  8. (and I almost forgot this one): Canadian citizenship, or at least a migrant visa.

If you're not actually related to me, you can ignore this attempt to further destroy Christmas.

Dec 10, 2005

The Polar Express Oops!

It may be one of Santa's elves, but this is not a steam locomotive

Since the 4449 and the 700 were going to be doubleheading one of the Polar Expresses today, we arranged to be down near OMSI when one of the trains was scheduled to come back. But when we got there, it was quiet, and we didn't hear any steam engines. We waited a tiny amount of time, then walked up the Springwater trail a little way, and encountered a railfan who was walking back. We were informed that there had been a bit of a derailment and both 4449 and 700 had left the tracks, and that furthermore the 700 may have broken a non-driving wheel.

Oops. I guess there will be no pictures of double-headed engines this winter, particularly if the doubleheaders end up killing the Portland Traction mainline.

Dec 09, 2005

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Trying to give Dust Mite a nice massage proves to be less than completely useful.

The Polar Express, courtesy of SP 4449 & SP&S 700

Who knew the North Pole was at Portland Traction's (long-abandoned) Tacoma street station?

OMSI, the Friends of the 4449, the Pacific Railroad Preservation Association , and Portland Traction The Oregon Pacific Railroad got together to run mini Polar Expresses from East Portland Junction up to Tacoma Street station and back. They started running the trains today, and the best, Silas, and I spotted the smoke from one of the trains as we headed north to get passport photos late this afternoon, so we immediately changed our plans to include a brief stop to take photos (and get our tickets, which we had somehow forgotten to get around to getting.)

1 comment

The Friendly Skies™

Just don't try to leave the airplane while it's boarding , because then the government will kill you. Now that certainly adds that extra touch of security to flying commercial airlines : "the terrorists won't get you, because the US goverment will shoot you first!"

Dec 08, 2005

Ahh, the joys of model railroading. Or not.

One of the things I've traditionally liked about being a model railroader and trainspotter is that I can rub virtual shoulders with the most conservative people on the planet (for example, Paul Weyrich, christopath and homophobe extraordinaire, is a rabid trolley enthusiast and I happily subscribed to [and once was quoted by] his magazine The New Electric Railroad Journal for many many years despite knowing that we'd be exchanging gunfire if we ever met outside of the trolley-spotting world. And he's not the only one; the model railroad world is easily the most conservative circle I am even remotely associated with) without immediately falling into a screaming match about politics. It made a nice change from the rest of my life, which has become a non-stop political battle.

Apparently this little truce has been declared over. I just received the December issue of Railroad Model Craftsman and, to my intense disgust, saw that one of the more jingoistic brass importers (their product line is heavily tilted towards Union Pacific [Evil Party super deluxe sparkle team leaders all] equipment) has produced a limited edition Abu Gharib edition model of a Union Pacific engine, painted in B*sh junta colors and with the name of the Coward in Chief scribbled across the sides of the engine, and, to announce it, put a FULL PAGE ad for it right in the middle of the magazine.

Gee, thanks, that's just what I needed, to have someone stuff a blatant political ad right into the middle of a railroad magazine, assuming that everyone who reads it will not immediately bolt for the computer to dash off an indignant letter to the editor (or, in my case, rip the goddamn page out of the magazine, then hurl the magazine to the floor with great force.) I've always liked RMC; it's always been a more hands on, if somewhat flaky, magazine than the 800 pound behemoth that is Model Railroader, but ads for a special! Maximum Leader Genius locomotive are right up with with Osama Bin Laden 9-11 commemorative decal sets in the "what were they thinking???" category.

I guess I can always cancel my subscription and write to Mr. Weyrich asking if he's going to ever reincarnate TNERJ (when TNERJ quoted me, they carefully snipped the ascii pink triangle off my usenet post, so it's not as if they didn't know that I was a pinko commie semi-fag when I was saying nice things about TNERJ), but it would be nice to be able to subscribe to a generalist model railroad magazine from this continent, even though my railroad doesn't have much to do with North American railroading anymore.


Dec 07, 2005

New Code!

When I put virtual host support into Postoffice, I hacked my the old sendmail based virtual passwd/alias programs into working with Postoffice. They didn't work properly (valias kept looking for the file named alias [not aliases] and I had to remember to hand-rebuild the virtual host databases after every change to the alias files.

This shameful state persisted until this week, when I published Postoffice 1.1.9 and remembered that virtual host management was still at the clack rocks together and grunt encouragingly state that is found in too many open source projects. So I stayed up late last night and clubbed vpasswd and vpoppasswd into a state where they can be built with configure on both Mastodon Linux and FreeBSD. There are still a bunch of rough edges, but here it is, ready for building.

To build vpasswd, do

          make install

The usual crop of configure options are available, plus a few vpasswd specific-ones:


valias runs newaliases after changing an aliases file; this tells it where to find the newaliases program


The user who manages the virtual hosts. This needs to be the user you configured to be the owner of your vpopd and Postoffice installations. You may specify the vuser as a user name, a username, a period, and a group name, a userid, or a userid , a period, and a group id (default: mail)


Where do the vhost configuration, password, and alias files live? (default: $confdir/virtual)


Where is vhost mail stored? (default: $spooldir/virtual)

(This post was updated for the .2 release, which I hacked in soon after arriving home this evening.)

It must be the wrong kind of Merry Christmas

In Oklahoma, it's apparently some sort of tradition for the governor to ask schoolchildren to trim a tree which is then plunked down in the state capitol for a certain holiday that the fundies are getting their undergarments all twisted about. This year, a lot of the students decided to make the ornaments from lottery tickets, which had the undesired effect of driving the fundies loopy, which, after what must have been a few screaming sessions, resulted in the tree being pulled from the capitol building.

If you want a good reason to enforce separation of church and state, this is it; christmas trees are a pretty inoffensive violation of church and state, but if you put them there the people who get worked up about them are almost universally not going to be the atheists, but the crazy fundamentalists who want to implement a religious state and who get really worked up when the wrong religious influences creep into the government sphere. If the state of Oklahoma said "no christmas trees in the capitol, sorry" they wouldn't be put into the situation of stomping on the christmas decorations that were made by people the American Taliban considers insufficiently worthy of contaminating the government sphere with.

One of the fundies who complained about this is threatening to go to a school and lecture them about the "true" meaning of christmas. I wonder how many of the students will take the day off for those root canal surgeries they've been putting off?

(via No Capital)

1 comment

Preemptive war? Not a good plan.

well, okay, you destroyed the pacific fleet
Do not tease Mr. Happy Fun Superpower, because you are crunchy and good with fava beans.

  1. Surprise attack? (which drives your foe into an unreasoning rage)
  2. Well planned?
  3. Well executed?
  4. Weakened the enemy?
  5. Destroyed their means of production? (so they can't build a brand new navy and ram your preemptive war down your throat with extreme prejudice?)

Unfortunately for them, Imperial Japan forgot that you needed to get a perfect score on this test, and they particularly forgot to read the parts written in invisible ink (highlight the quiz to reveal those parts). It took a few years for the United States to compose a response to this little letter, and it could be argued that the response may have been a little bit intemperate, but unprovoked aggressive war tends to bring out the irrational in people.

we can blow up more stuff than you can
See what happens when you don't destroy your enemy's means of production?

1 comment

Dec 06, 2005

Yes, the Democrats are still the Stupid Party

Senator Clinton (S-NY) is co-sponsoring an Evil Party bill that would make unapproved flagburning a federal crime (The Newsday article doesn't say this, but it says that a protester intimidating any person by burning the flag is committing a crime. A durian by any other name would stink just as much.) This is a fine example of a member of the Stupid Party leaping headfirst into a trap that the Evil Party just left lying around; when push comes to shove and an antiwar protester is dragged off to jail for unapproved views, the headlines will prominently say "the DEMOCRATIC bill to restrict flag burning will come up for review in the <n>th circuit court when the case of J. Random Anarchist v. The United States of America is heard next week."

Canada will take a break from the 47th round of NAFTA vs. US softwood tariffs to snicker at the majesty of the law in the American Imperium, while patriots who are still stuck here will take the opportunity to roll into foetal balls and start whimpering helplessly. Again.

(via New Patriot)

Dec 05, 2005

Now that’s the way to instill Christian Piety

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has been made into a (shudder) movie, and as can be expected with any story that has even the slightest hint of being christopath propaganda, has been leapt upon by the same set of fundies that made The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre into such a big hit. They're not even slightly bothered by the teeny detail that tLtWtW is a children's book (and a good children's book at that; I must have read the first six books in the Chronicles of Narnia a dozen times each -- The Last Battle, alas, was too filled with Christian defeatism [Gosh! Giving up, bolting for the escape hole, then dynamiting the whole place is just the sort of thing that makes me want to convert on the spot] to withstand more than one reading), and all they're doing is modifying the propaganda push to suit the target audience.

So, instead of genuine replica cross nails (suitable for flagellation and auto-crucifiction!) they've got tiny plastic dolls of Aslan, the White Witch, and the children. And you know that nothing expresses the Christian faith better than cheapo plastic dolls that were made in China.


1 comment

New Code!

Postoffice has been pushed up to version 1.1.9. 1.1.9 is mainly a cosmetic release; I've modified the error codes that it returns when something goes wrong in a SMTP session (so that anal-compulsive sysadmins won't get confused when the fatal error they get is not the fatal error they want. Don't laugh; I had a case where it took me three days to resolve a routing problem because the system administrator wasn't seeing the smtp error code that he though meant "I can't route this mail to your system!") and I've changed the way I reject MAIL FROM:<> so that it doesn't fail the mail transaction until the DATA command is issued.

Internally, I've cleaned up some of the code that handles running the outgoing mail queue; some of the more fun problems with mail resending itself even after successfully being delivered have been found and stomped on, and the bounce logging has become a little less bizarre than it used to be.

Dec 04, 2005

High tech ambulance chasers

On saturday, the mail delivery included a couple of ledger-sized envelopes, which looked like they might contain legal documents. On the hope that they were the legal documents telling me that I had inherited US$1 bazillion from a previously unknown benefactor, I opened one up, to find a little yellow cover sheet saying that I might qualify to get money as part of a class action suit against Red Hat for something that happened during their IPO. Ooo-kay, it's dimly possible that the wannabe open source Microsoft may have been up to something fishy during their IPO during the bubbly .com boom. The second envelope, on the other hand, contained a little yellow cover sheet saying that I might qualify to get money as part of a class action suit against VA Research Linux Software for (and I suspect that you can see this coming) something that happened during their IPO. And, wonderous to relate, both of these documents came from the exact same legal firms.

So I looked over the documents a little more carefully, and realized that my original read was incorrect; I wasn't not actually someone who might qualify to get money as part of a class action suit, but the law firms are instead shopping around for people to back the proposed class action suits against Red Hat and VA whatever. The sums are not huge -- US$4.5 million against Red Hat, US$14 million against VA whatever -- but the class action lawyers intend to keep a third of the gross from the case for their own, plus take their "litigation expenses" out of the remaining two thirds before distributing it to the people who bought into the scheme. I searched for details on some of the named lawyers, and they are pretty much uniformly considered to be expensive lawyers even in the fairly expensive territory of Wall Street. So I would not be at all surprised to discover that the people who signed on to these proposed lawsuits are walking away with (before taxes) approximately US$zero (not counting stock losses if this class action lawsuit causes one or more of the companies to fail), while the lawyers walk away with considerably more than that.

And it's not just these two companies, either! The longer form that came with the little yellow cover sheets listed, as an appendix, 296 other companies that they're also suing, and which have nothing in common with Red Hat or VA whatever except that they also IPOed during the peak tech bubble frenzy.

I've heard of this sort of thing before; some company doesn't have their stock raise to stratospheric levels during the IPO, and is thus immediately sued by some sharpies claiming that the stock not going up is because of malfeasance on the part of the company, or some company has an IPO bubble deflate and is immediately sued by some sharpies who claim that the stock not staying up is because of malfeasance on the part of the company. But I've never heard of it on this scale before. 298 companies, all being dinged for small possibly not company-threatening sums, and all of which will require spending considerable cash to defend themselves against unproven claims of financial recklessness because some sharpies see the .com crash as evidence of some sort of massive criminal conspiracy.

To my untrained eye, it looks an awful lot like a shakedown attempt. But these are lawyers, and I'm sure they have a good reason for doing this. I'd certainly like to see the reasoning for doing something that looks for all the world like the legal version of pulling out a shotgun and blasting away into a flock of passenger pigeons.

But I'm not holding my breath.


But where’s the pit?

Principia, at the Oregon Convention Center.

Dec 03, 2005

Saturday picture dump

The sun goes down over 21st street in east Portland, just south of Division.

A UP switcher pulling a long train of empty trailer flats (not that you can see them) blasts by the 11th St crossing just after sunset, late enough so that the regular lens can't capture enough light to show anything more than a blur.

Fattening up for the winter

Now that they've eaten all the walnuts in the backyard, the fox squirrels have moved into the front yard and are attempting to pig out on the teeny-tiny seeds that our Japanese Maple produces.

Wasn’t there some sort of hurricane-related disaster in the United States this year?

Somewhere in the south? A city?

No, I didn't think so either -- it's just a bunch of Democrats, so why should we trouble our pretty little heads over it?

Now if they were Republicans from a swing state, well, the sky would be the limit!

(via Kevin Drum and Suburban Guerrilla)

Global warming? No, I can’t believe that’s happening

It's perfectly natural to have hurricanes in December.

Dec 02, 2005

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Dust Mite is preparing for the holiday season.

Umm, o-kay

If you watch television or read political weblogs, you may be aware that some of the stupider right-wing "pundits" out there have decided that the whole notion of separation of church and state is an evil communist plot against the christopaths, and that they are being discriminated against if anyone dares wish them Happy Holidays! during the Saturnalia season. And, because these are stupid right-wing pundits, they are busily threatening pogroms against those people (with a side order of violence against organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, which, admirably, repeatedly goes to the mat to defend fascists and worse when some "well meaning" citizens try to muzzle them.)

Now some of the dimmer right-wing idiots on the net have, apparently, thought of what they think is the q00lest idea ever. They want to send Christmas cards to the director of the ACLU.

Nnnmmmm, okay, and this will do exactly what? If they're Christmas cards (and they won't be. Remember that this is right wingers who are plotting this, so it's likely to be a torrent of hatemail and outright threats of violence [with christmas stamps on the letters, of course! To a right-winger, that counts as a christmas card!]) they'll either be an unexpected nice gesture during the holiday season or they'll be junk mail. Certainly as a "boy, we're so clever!" gesture it doesn't make much sense; being able to send someone Christmas cards is part of that freedom of speech thing that the ACLU has spent so much time and effort defending.

But they should certainly go ahead; wasting Scaife's (et alii) money on postage will make the post office happy, and the greeting card companies can certainly use the extra sales. But as a statement, well, it's the sort of dumber-than-a-rock spectacle that I've come to expect from the right wing kookoosphere in the United States.

Not the most compelling earthy-crunchy argument.

The Trust for Public Land, a conservation group that I was previously unaware of, sent me a pretend survey today in the mail (it asked about 10 questions about land use, including a couple that are "and how much money will you give us now that we've sent you this pretend survey?") with a typical fundraising "TheSkyIsFalling! YouMustGiveUsMoneyNow!" cover letter.

The coverletter wasn't particularly exceptional, except for a couple of passages. On the one hand...

Pristine forests, farms, and meadows you once took for granted are now lost forever. Developed for housing, bulldozed for shopping malls, paved over for parking lots.

... and ...

Because once land is bulldozed, paved over and built on, it is gone forever.

But on the other hand...

A citizens group will ask us to work with a developer to help turn an abandoned asphalt lot into a kids' playground.

So. Lost forever vs. not lost forever. Which is it? And, for that matter, just how pristine is a farm anyway? I grew up in Wisconsin, which is a heavily forested state with plenty of farms and meadows. The vast majority of those farms were cut out of the woods (Lake Pepin, of Little House in the Big Woods fame, is about 75(?) miles north of where I grew up. The replica little house is now situated in a little park surrounded by a field, and when the original little house finally collapsed into a pile, it was surrounded by fields in the same way that many farmers houses were. When the Ingalls family lived there, it was surrounded by an old-growth forest, all of which is now gone except possibly one or two surviving trees tucked into ravines and other places where it wasn't worth it for the farmers and loggers to cut them down and drag them out.

Sure, I can see the point of preserving untouched old-growth forest and pre-columbian ecosystems; if someone set aside a few hundred thousand acres to restore to a pre-columbian state, it would take several hundred years to get to that point and, barring some cure for mortality coming out of the medical labs in the far east, nobody living today will get to see the 300 year old trees that would grow up in the precolumbian-to-go preserve. But to preserve farms because they are some sort of unrecoverable utopian paradise? That's just delusional; if you want to preserve farms, get the American Imperium to stop subsidizing factory farms; once those factory "farmers" can't sit back and pick up millions of dollars from Uncle Sugar, there will be more little family farms than you could shake a stick at, because people like to eat even if they have to suffer through knowing that the money they pay won't go to a GOP super team leader deluxe.

But I digress. The cover letter here is first saying that if land is developed, well, that's it, it's gone forever. And then it turns around and says that one of the things they do is work with developers to reclaim developed land. One of these statements does not match with a couple of the other statements (and, for that matter, reality; there are plenty of cases of developed land that have reverted back to forest and meadow, with nothing left to show for the development except the rusted carcass of a steam locomotive or automobile, or even two vast and trunkless legs of stone), and I'm not likely to pay much attention to a begathon letter that tells me "OhG-dTheSkyIsFalling!" and then, as an aside, says "we repair fallen skies. Inquire within for rates."

And they didn't put return postage on their envelope, so I couldn't even drop them a note complaining about the incoherence of their whinathon letter.

Dec 01, 2005

Four, soon to be five.

South Africa Court Removes Barriers to Same-Sex Marriages

South Africa's top court said on Thursday it was unconstitutional to deny gay people the right to marry, putting it on track to become the first African country to legalize same-sex marriage.

(Reuters, via the New York Times, via The Stranger)

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There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression

People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

Fifty years ago today, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks boarded the Cleveland Ave bus for the ride home from work. Eventually the bus filled up and she was told that she needed to move to the back of the bus so that a white man could have her seat, as was the law in those days. Unfortunately for the Mongomery City Lines, this shit had been applied just a few too many times and the black community was ready to react.

Ms. Parks was dragged off to the police station and charged with riding a bus while black, and almost immediately the mimeograph machines started, printing 35000 copies of a flier reading

Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing. This has to be stopped. Negroes have rights, too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three-fourths of the riders are Negroes, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother. This woman's case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don't ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don't ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses Monday.

On Monday, December 5th, the city of Mongomery found Rosa Parks guilty of riding the bus while black, and charged her US$10 + US$4 court costs. And that might have been it, except that " On the morning of Parks's trial, buses rumbled nearly empty through the streets of Montgomery" -- The boycott was on, and Montgomery City Lines discovered, to their horror, that all of their black customers had decided to stop riding the busses. And they stayed off the busses, despite heroic efforts by the bigoted city fathers to force those ungrateful negros™ back on to the busses where they could stand next to empty seats like G-d himself intended!

In November 1956, the US Supreme Court agreed with the district court that the segregation laws for mass transit were unconstitutional, and on December 21st the boycott was over.