This Space for Rent

May 31, 2006

They’re all alike, aren’t they?

It turns out that it might be a war crime if Canadian armed forces are handing over prisoners to a government that's known to torture them (they're not talking about the United States in this case; no, this one is about handing them over to the Afghani puppet government, which isn't quite the same.) This is a surprisingly civilized arrangement that you'd think that every western country would do; when you offer quarter, the moral thing to do is to not then fling your captives into the the local torture chambers. But, alas, the Canadian branch of the Evil Party now runs the country, so the simple solution of not handing prisoners over to torturers is not the one to follow. No, the CPC has been paying attention to the fledgling fascist state to their south, and they've got a much more politically correct way to deal with the problem:

  1. "I don't consider this war." --Defence Ministor O'Connor, interviewed on CTV
  2. Captured fighters don't deserve these rights because this isn't a war between countries, says Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, who commands the Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command and thus oversees all Canadian Forces deployed abroad.

So, it's officially OK to chuck your prisoners into torture chambers, because the standards of SIMPLE HUMAN DECENCY might get in the way of ramming your little brown nose up between the buttocks of the B*sh junta.

Christ. This is what happens when a secular society begins to fray. The thrice-damned religious lunatics take over the government and begin to systematically apply every evil practice that their little pretend religions officially forbid.

Torture. Approved by the Canadian government. It doesn't take much washing to make one fundamentalist look like the rest of them, does it?

(links via Creekside)


May 30, 2006

Another good reason to have a space program

[a picture of hurricane Ivan from the ISS]
Hurricane Ivan, viewed from 120 miles up.

(NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day for 15-Sep-2004)

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A healthful afternoon walk


A banana slug takes its afternoon constitutional out at Cape Meares.

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Life on the river (#0ah)

Another morning, another 100 tons of gravel sent down the river.

Cute overload, baby style

When the bears are at the beach, they take their shovels and dig...

... and dig ...

... and explore ...

.. and continue to be the cutest babies in the whole wide world!

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Cape Meares

Silas runs down the path towards the Cape Meares lighthouse yesterday afternoon

(It took an amazing amount of fiddling with shutter speed vs. aperture vs. the pesky afternoon sun to get this sort of intentional underexposure effect.)

May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend, locomotive by locomotive

On Saturday, we spotted a logging locomotive on display in Garibaldi, OR.

On Sunday, we rode on a train from Garibaldi to Rockaway Beach

On Monday, we saw some operational POTB SD-7/9s of both BN and SP ancestry.

And we also saw a few not-quite-so-operational units in the Tillamook deadline.

As well as some parts from a 1:1 scale Shay kit

A bedraggled little Heisler that's in a little better shape.

And something that's not a locomotive, but which was nicely posed next to a fairly large airship hanger.

May 26, 2006

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Dust Mite wants to go on a little vacation trip this weekend.

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Best music video ever

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May 25, 2006

The advantage of vanity publishing vs. letters to the editor

When you're posting on your own weblog and manage to completely mangle your post, you can fix it. But if you leave a comment that looks like it's a candidate for most incoherent post of the century, well, you're stuck with it until someone can order down an anvil delivery to the server room where the comment is kept.

(and, apropos of nothing, I appear to be the #1 giggle result for orbital anvil delivery system. Interesting, but not particularly useful when I really want to get the phone # of X industries.)

Not getting it, east-coast journalist style

I don't know how I stumbled upon it, but yesterday I read an editorial by the Today show food editor (*snort*) where this editor claimed that banning sodapop from schools was a bad idea because instead of banning the sodapop, the schools should instead be stocking healthy sodapop, like the sodapop you can find in your local libertarian-owned anti-union chain store.

Um, er. Healthy sodapop? It's carbonated sugar water, and the problem with it is not that it's got corn syrup instead of cane or fruit sugars, but that's it's sugar water.

«Letís fix the problem, not fool ourselves in thinking that just by limiting the hours of sales we are accomplishing our objective. Many of the products being sold in school beverage vending machines today are beneficial. Juices, fitness and sports drinks all serve distinct purposes and should be allowed to be sold 24/7, right alongside healthier sodas.»

He's an idiot. The ADM ad department must high-five themselves whenever he opens his mouth on the television set. "Distinct purposes" ? Oh, no, not at all. The only "distinct purpose" vending machine drinks serves is to fatten up the bottom line of the vending machine company, the sodapop "sports drink" manufacturer, and the bloated conglomerate that provides the "certified organic" corn syrup that's pumped into these "beneficial" drinks.

Next from the Today Show! Why eating LARD SUNDAES makes your children more competitive in the hot new business of being human curling pucks!

May 24, 2006

Decisions, decisions

We've got a fairly large wad of money that's been sitting in a CD for the past 6 months, and it just came due yesterday. I could roll it back into a CD, of course, but CDs are not all that portable and would leave my money at the risk of becoming pretty wallpaper if last year's 3.5% inflation decided to speed up a bit for the summer season.

Of course, there's the traditional survivalist investment strategy of BUY GOLD! AND GUNS! (and then, presumably, you can make the gold into bullets and use it to defend yourself against other libertarian survivalists), but that's just too Heinlein to be considered seriously.

So what I'm thinking about is the treehugger US$600 diy solar kit, which could be upgraded into a small solar+wind setup for about US$2000 (with a 30% tax credit on the solar component of the system [as far as I can tell, the only tax shelter for wind power is if you're an industrial producer] which would translate into about a US$450 tax credit.)

With a beefed-up setup like this, I could pull my home servers (~170w for the servers, the switch, and the cable modem; US$14/month + "taxes" paid directly to Enron) off the grid now, and get some experience running a small solar array so when we get around to moving to Canada building our summer camp in Canada somewhere in the countryside, I could put together a off-grid system to provide us with electrical essentials (lights, icebox, water heater(?), computers) without running quite so much of a risk of converting our nice little wheatfield-in-a-box into a big charcoal briquette (can't use that word, because it's not in English!) block. It wouldn't be enough to say "screw you!" to Enron (Portland is not traditionally one of those high sunshine parts of the world, and our house does not really have the roofline to properly handle the solar array, nor does it have enough of a backyard to be able to support a tall tower, but my servers don't eat that much power (we have a plague of wall warts that eat almost as much power as the elderly K7 that runs downbelow, and that's the most power-hungry processor that's running in the house today.) I would probably want to downpower the servers, and possibly even collapse them into one box (the VIA C3/533 is pretty appealing for this sort of repackaging, because it eats about as much power as a 100-lumen compact fluorescent bulb) because then I could have some extra power to run lightbulbs if I needed to.

If I spent my money on a mini power generating system, I'd probably do

  • 1 24V solar panel (GE165?) [$719]
  • 1 24V Air-X windmill [$539]
  • 6 batteries (do I need that many?) [$780]
  • 1 morningstar 15A 12/24V charge controller [$155]
  • 1 800W inverter [$65]
  • mess of cables, connectors, and whatnot to glue the whole shebang together

Okay, it's a bit over US$2000, but it's pretty close, and the little windmill will be good during winter when the pissy poor weather guarantees a steady supply of wind blowing up or down the Willamette valley (and at dusk during summertime, when the wind kicks up for just long enough to get your hopes up before it settles down to being fairly still.) And when I get the summerhouse built, I can pull the whole powerplant and relocate it out to Canada the country.

(It's not what I really want; I really want a 20' head of water and a water turbine, which will give me more megawatts than I know what to do with, but those things start at around US$10,000 and we're not going to have that money available unless I win the lottery.)


May 23, 2006

Cute bear picture of the day

The bears model their new SP&S 700 caps while sitting on 700's pilot (the rest of #700 is back in the Brooklyn roundhouse -- they had to take the pilot off to get the pilot truck, which was damaged in the Santa train derailment, out from under the engine so they could fix it. It's all fixed now, but they hadn't gotten around to putting the pilot back on before the swarm of Gorgerail attendees descended on the roundhouse for the Sunday tour) last Sunday afternoon.

May 22, 2006

Exercising the macro lens

[a couple of pretty blue flowers.  WARNING! The linked image is HUGE!]

When we got home from trainspotting yesterday, the bears went out into the front yard to play and I took the chance to pull out the macro lens and go bee-hunting. For some odd reason, the bees weren't out (you'd think that since they're Portland bees, they wouldn't even notice the rain, but, no) but that didn't stop the flowers. It was dark enough, even at 5:30pm, so that I had to fire the little built-in flash on the Pentax before I got any sort of shutter speed, and even then I only got a couple of good pictures before the pesky wind and rain started up again.

May 21, 2006

Danger! Babies At Play!

Silas and Russell help verify that Portland's own GS-4 is still in working order.

Sunday photo dump (part 2 – a trip to Brooklyn roundhouse)

The SDP40F isn't there now (it's been leased to the P&W and is out running on the (not electrified anymore, and at US$2.00+/gallon, some people might be regretting the de-electrification) Oregon Electric), but there are still quite a few Eng!s sitting at the Brooklyn roundhouse. There are the three steam engines, of course:

But there are also five diesel engines (plus a PS&P GP30, which is possibly the first GP-30 I've ever seen in the flesh), four of which were nicely lined up on the roundhouse apron tracks, attracting photographers like a big old pot of honey attracts honeybees:

The other two diesels were tucked behind the roundhouse; the F9 (which used to be covered with a tarp, but has now been mended) is prominently displayed, but the FA-1 (ex LIRR, ex-ex SP&S) is tucked further out of the way. The M420B carcass that used to be parked on one of the roundhouse tracks has finally been completely scrapped, and all that's left of it are 4 wheelsets with traction motors, ready to be installed in the F-M trucks that the PA4 is now riding on.

Sunday photo dump

Today, we all went down to the Portland Traction yard to take a fantrip over most of the remaining Portland Traction line. This trip was part of the gorgerail railfan weekend, so all of the engines in the yard had been pulled out and lined up along the yard mainline for people to photograph.

Why waste the opportunity?

I also got a few pictures on the trip, but most of them were taken from inside the cupola of the passenger car, so they didn't turn out spectacularly well. On the return trip, Silas wanted to ride (== be carried) out in the open part of the car, so I got a couple of pictures of the cab of #100 and the crowd of railfans.

May 20, 2006

How to make an airplane disappear

A few years ago (1988), some people at Sandia were working on a project on nuclear reactor safety, and decided that a good test would be to fly an airplane into a nice thick concrete wall, just to see what would happen. So they attached at F4 to a rocket sled, put a 12' thick concrete block and a bunch of high-speed movie cameras at the end of the railroad line, and fired up the rocket.

There were some complaints about this test; the concrete block wasn't anchored, so the jet managed to push it back a few feet when it collided (the anti-nuclear people complained *bitterly* about this, because the film makes it look like "jet hits thick wall, jet goes away, and there's no damage to the wall!" when, in reality, the protective shell around a nuclear reactor *won't* be moving and the heavy parts of the airplane may end up punching through or shattering the shell instead of simply pushing it forward.

But this was in 1988, when the whole idea of flying aircraft into structures was (at least according to the B*sh junta) not something anyone would think about. These days, well, this video is interesting in a somewhat different way; today, there's a large and annoying group of conspiracy theories wrapped around the 9/11 version of the Reichstag fire, including one that claims that the B*sh junta had AA77 hijacked, then made it disappear and either (a) launched a missile into the Pentagon, (b) set off explosions in the Pentagon, or (c) I dunno, faked the whole thing? And the primary piece of evidence supporting this theory is "but where is the airplane?!? You can't just have a big old airplane disappear when it rams a reinforced concrete structure at 500mph!!!"

Oh, really? It certainly doesn't look like there's much in the department of recognisable airplane parts detaching from this F4 when it magically disappears in a puff of smoke. But, given the intellectual rigor of the various 9/11 conspiracy theories (which combine a wilful ignorance of structural mechanics [I'm not an engineer, but you don't have to look very far to find copious quantities of fire safety documents regarding the effect of fire on steel-framed buildings. They don't give insulation 4 and 5 hour ratings for nothing, you know] with a firm-held belief that the B*sh junta can pull off a large and elaborate evil plot when everything else they've done has been done so sloppily that it gives incompetence a bad name) I'm not really expecting that I'll convince any of them. It would be nice, though, if I could convince some of the otherwise-sensible lefties to stop believing this crap, because, boy, it's really annoying when regular old lefties buy into this "we don't believe in reality!" mindset.

[Oh, and a note to the conspiracy theorists. Mathematics might convince me, but proof by repeated assertion will not. I will delete comments that attempt proofs by repeated assertion, so you can save your breath.]

(video link via a comment on xymphora)

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May 19, 2006

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

It's been quite hot (for Portland) for this past week, but today it was rainy and comparatively cold, so dust mite needed to cuddle up under a blanket to keep warm.

May 18, 2006

Evil Party Moral Values (pt 12)

Rebuilding less than 100 miles worth of New Orleans levees? Oh, can't do that, it wouldn't be prudent.

Building 700+ miles of brand new border fence to keep the hispanics out of North America? Sure! Money is no object!

Perhaps the illegal immigrants that Halliburton imported to "fix" New Orleans will be available to help build this fence before they're kicked across the border?

Fun with cameras

I decided to take the #17 bus home this afternoon to see if there was anything interesting at Brooklyn yard. There wasn't much activity there, but a freight headed by SD40-2 3231 was parked at the north end of the yard, just begging to be experimented on.

Most of the photography I do is via the traditional point and grunt method of pointing my Pentax at the offending Eng! and letting the computer figure out the best exposure, but most is not all, as you can see.

The first two photos were taken with the camera in full auto mode, the second two were taken with manual aperture, and the last two were taken with manual shutter. I've got the camera set to save the pictures as high-quality jpegs, so I didn't do one lick of postprocessing on any of the large images (the thumbnails were simply square-cropped and saved; jpegs corrode when edited, so I don't tend to postprocess unless the pictures are painfully crooked.)

F8.0, 1/750th sec.

F9.5, 1/500th sec.

F32, 1/45th sec.

F27, 1/60th sec.

F4.0, 1/1000th sec.

F4.0, 1/4000th sec.

May 17, 2006

bellum omnium contra omnes

Life in Iraq is now:
Mission Accomplished!

(links via My Blahg, Juan Cole, No Capital, Hugo Zoom)


May 16, 2006

New Code!

Postoffice has been pushed up to version 1.3.2. This is a bugfix release that doesn't add any new features, but which cleans up one known-fatal bug (if you attempt to send mail to a nonexistant user in a virtual domain, that smtp session will dump core), one possibly-fatal bug (an alloca() stack overrun, and one piece of misbehavior (sendmail filters fail open EXCEPT when you're processing the end of a message, and then they fail closed. I have code hooks for fail open/fail closed in, and I want the default behavior to be consistant so I can add in the alternate behavior at a later date.)

If you're running postoffice 1.3.1, updating to 1.3.2 would be a very good idea.

The changelog
userok.c Before checking for the special '*:*@' valias, make certain that we've actually GOT a '*' alias in the first place
mf.c Clean up a possible stack overflow, the "all EOF during DATA are fatal, no matter whether SOFT or HARD filter", change all the (flags & SOFT) == 0 to (flags & HARD)
smtp.c Change the "system error" message to one that's a little more, um, descriptive

Oh, no, not again

It's springtime and the flowers are beginning to bloom, so you know what that means...

More Bee Pictures!

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Welcome to Gilead

New federal guidelines ask all females capable of conceiving a baby to treat themselves -- and to be treated by the health care system -- as pre-pregnant, regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant anytime soon.

--January W. Payne, The Washington Post

We don't care about women, but we must protect the Chiiiiiiiiiiiildren.

(via Yowling from the Fencepost)

May 15, 2006

Killing spam the old fashioned way

Over the past couple of years, the only spam that's been making its way into pell (except for a few really dedicated junk mailers) are variants of the traditional nigerian 419 spam (mainly DEAR FRIEND, but with a healthy side of YOU'VE WON THE WESCAMYOU LOTTERY!) In the past few weeks, this trickle of spam has increased, not to torrental portions, but enough to bring it up to 4-5 pieces a day. So, since I'd put sendmail filter support into postoffice just in case I wanted to do more enthusiastic spamtrapping, I decided that this was a good time to go out and wedge a spamassassin filter onto gehenna so I could do 419 catching from all of my public web machines.

This is, of course, easier said than done. gehenna ran perl 5.00000000005, and spamassassin wanted perl topofthegarbageheap, so I had to schedule a perl upgrade, and then run around like a rabid ferret for a while when the perl upgrade broke every single perl program on the stupid box. But after that was done, it seemed like it would be trivial to install spamassassin, then install the already made sendmail filter for it, and bob would be your uncle just the same way he was on the Centos3 box I used as the milter server platform when writing the code in the first place.

Well, it turns out that I don't have an uncle bob. The spamassassin<->sendmail filter translation program is written in butt-ugly c++, and it takes full advantage of that thrice-damned language. It's not modular, it doesn't appear to reuse code very well, but it certainly takes full advantage of c++. And it does stop spam! Spamassassin detect the spam, spits up a spam status (which I then massage to produce a listing of the tests that say "you're a spammer!" so I can have the committee properly report failures. However, it also does the same to non-spam messages; I toss one-line "this is a test" messages into pell to test the mail server, and spamassassin or spamass-milter (I'm not sure which one, because they don't log anything even with logging turned on and the machine running in full debug) returns -- silently -- a "refuse this for it is spam" status (without a message! Or any status! Or any indication of what the fuck is going on.)

Well, now that's useful. That's almost as useful as unplugging the computer for keeping out the bad email while allowing the good email to come in.

So far I'm two for two with sendmail filters. The clamav filter was merely annoying when it croaked because I! didn't! have! a! /etc/! on a machine which I've systematically SCRUBBED CLEAN of sendmail poop for just that reason, but I still had to patch the stupid thing before it would actually work. The spamassassin filter, on the other hand, has been patched and printf'ed (actually syslogged()) at least six times now, and it's still (silently!) telling me that it won't accept any of my non-test messages.

When I get some free time, I'm going to rewrite the spamassassin filter in a proper language (C, and by C I most vehemently don't mean C99 [motto: C++ without the useful parts!]) and strip out all of the grade-A prime junk features which infest the current one. Until then, I'll just look for a different nigerian 419 detector and see if I can get that to talk sendmail filter to me.

Trolley picture of the day

An airport-bound train of SD600s pauses at the 7th Ave NE station at about 5:30pm today.

May 14, 2006

The hazards of trainspotting from a car

Pesky trees, pesky cars, pesky windowframe.

Mother’s Day at the Oregon Pacific shops

We were driving down into darkest Clackamas County today to have a mother's day brunch with my parents, and, of course, we had to make the tiny detour to go past the Eng!s. To our delight, 1202, 100, 1810,and 5100 were all lined up on the, um, mainline looking like they were being posed for formal portraits. It would have been impolite to pass them by without taking at least one picture.

Alas, 100, 1810, and 5100 had been pushed back into the shop yard before we returned from lunch.

May 13, 2006

A Tragic Tale

After I built the running gear (the siderods on that machine are functional), the bears built this magnificent lego, um, thing, then drove it out into the hall. I went out to take a picture of it, and as I was taking picture it attracted the attention of the cats.

Leo sniffed at the thing for a little bit, then decided that the little lifeboat looked tasty.



May 12, 2006

Feline vermin pictures of the day

Our new cats were being incredibly cute on Tuesday, so I took a couple of pictures of them, figuring that I'd post them in the next day or so. Unfortunately, I'd already been infected with the Southeast Portland ick, and by the time wednesday evening rolled around I was too busy trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid being horribly ill.

If there's anything good to say about stomach viruses, it's that if they don't kill you right off the bat you get over them pretty quickly. It took about 46 hours from the first visible onset of the virus to the point where my muse was able to drag me over to the computer to write some code, and then to publish incriminating cat pictures.

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Dust Mite and Silas pose for a picture.

New Code! (pt 2)

Postoffice has been pushed up to version 1.3.1 to correct an annoying smtp daemon feature where if the socket wedges and needs to be reopened, the reopen will occasionally run aground on a TIME_WAIT (or FIN_WAIT; this sort of wedging never actually happens when I'm near the console, so I can't be sure which tcp state is the offending state of the moment) and, instead of sleeping a while and then retrying the reopen, it would just error exit.

This is obviously not a good way for a networking service to act. so I've removed that feature and replaced it by a traditional brute-force

    while ( (fd = reattach(25)) == -1)

Aside from this, there's not much to this release. Just this bugfix, removal of an extraneous debugging syslog message, tweaks to setproctitle() so it works similarly on Mastodon, the commercial Linuxes, and the *BSDs, and one feature I added in when I had to use my public web server as a secondary mail server when pell crashed on monday evening:

  1. Add special handling for *@domain aliases (expands to vuser@domain for all vusers)
  2. Redo the once-connected reconnect logic so that once postoffice has connected it will never error exit if it has trouble reconnecting, but will instead just stubbornly loop on attach() until it reconnects.
  3. Don't prefix the proctitle with the program name, because the *bsds automatically generate a program name prefix
  4. Take out the "runq" syslog message

New Code!

Annotations has been pushed up to version with some portability revisions that make portability somewhat less of a grim and horrible joke. (Note that by portability I mean "the code will compile" -- interaction with webservers other than thttpd is still, um, not well tested.)

The changelog gives the whole horrible story:

  1. Tweak the makefile so if -luncgi can't be found we'll just use our own copy of the uncgi library
  2. Tweak the nrposts detection so that the weblog will never truncate an index page in the middle of a day
  3. Use html response code 401 if REMOTE_USER is not set
  4. Make the art/dydir/mo buffers larger, call strftime() at the start of the article grabber loop instead of once before the start of the loop and once at the end
  5. Correct the slightly broken argument parsing for reindexing a particular year/month/day
  6. A putchar? In format.c?

May 10, 2006

The joy of pet ownership

We used to have two cats. One died last year, and after a few months we went out and got two more cats. Since the surviving cat from the first pair is stupid even for a cat, we made some fairly elaborate preparations so that her tiny little feline brain wouldn't go pop, including setting down a new kitty litter box close to where she would go downstairs and cower.

This proved to be a bit of a mistake. Dorrie has taken to peeing right over the edge of the kitty litter box, which is bad enough in our (100-year-old) tiled bathroom, but we put the cowering kittybox in a corner of our dining room. On our 100 year old oak floor, which had survived such indignaties as 35 years of being a student slum for Reedies. So, after a few days of having to wipe up pee from the hardwood floor, we snapped and moved the kittybox upstairs to the EXACT SAME PLACE IT HAD BEEN FOR THE PAST EIGHT YEARS PREVIOUSLY.

So, did the cat stop peeing downstairs? Fuck, no; during the day, Dorrie sleeps in one of the upstairs closets, but her new routine is to get up, go downstairs (past two kittyboxes), PEE ON THE FLOOR, then come back upstairs and go back into her little den.

I'm not sure who started propagating the myth that cats are tidy, but it's obviously someone who has never lived around cats. The oak floor in that corner of the living room is, of course, ruined (you'd normally think that this would take years, but the cat is like clockwork; she pees on the floor three times a day every day, and half the pee soaks into the wood before we come along and try to clean it up), and if we ever want to sell the house we're going to have to hire someone to come in to saw out and replace about a square meter or so of nice old oak (ditto, of course, if we want to keep the house and have a dining room that doesn't smell like cat urine.

Our summerhouse? I was thinking about nice bamboo or hardwood scrap flooring, but I'm now thinking about a single sheet of stainless steel, 7x10 meters with a 1 meter lip. The stupid cat will pee on it, of course, but at least we'll be able to bring in a firehose and wash it away without being stuck with the smell forever.)

Maybe it's time to cage the backyard and hurl all of the cats out there.


Sorry, John

But Maximum Leader Genius prefers to keep the US government under his family's control.

May 09, 2006

Staggering back to life

At lunchtime, I went down to the colo where Pell lives to see if there was anything left to recover. I walked into the machine room there, only to see pell sitting there looking just like normal, with no smoke, no flames, no, well, nothing that would seem to indicate that it was out for lunch. And, oddly enough, syslog was still running and it said that pell actually had stopped working at 17:25, after which nothing happened except for the increasingly frantic complaints of the surviving daemons (innd and ntpd ran out of resources and abended pretty quickly, but postoffice kept announcing "421 WE'D LOVE TO TALK TO YOU BUT OUR DISK IS ON FIRE" up until the moment where I walked into the machine room and powered off the system.)

Even though I couldn't see anything broken with the system, I decided that it would be worth my while to pull the motherboard and power supply and replace them with the dumpster special motherboard from scene 15. I fitted them in, wired everything up, and when I powered everything back up everything turned itself without any fuss, muss, or bother. Ok. Not having to replace the system disk (at least not during lunchtime) is good.

When I looked at the offending K7 motherboard later, I smelled the tell-tale smell of scorched insulating varnish, and noticed that the processor fan rotated with loud SCRAPE noises, so I suspect that the culprit is the fan died enough so that the processor overheated and managed to fatally fumble a disk request, at which point pell became nothing more than a vociferous boatanchor.

I wonder how long the C2600 will last before it, too, becomes a vociferous boatanchor?

Phooey (#5)

I'm doing a burn-in test on a new motherboard for Pell. Since the old motherboard (an AMD k7/550) is at least six years old, it's probably a good time to replace it with a newer one. And what makes a better newer motherboard than the C2600 equipped eMachines motherboard that my mother threw out when she abandoned the Windows world for a Macintel? The C2600 is

  1. cheap
  2. cheap
  3. cheap
  4. and, most importantly, cheap
So what would make a better motherboard for one of my network servers? When Apple comes out with their Macintel xserve boxes, I might buy one of them to replace Pell (provided, of course, that I can fit SLS linux onto an xserve...) but until then I'm certainly not going to go out of my way to spend money on the upgrade.

Phooey (#4)

Another feature of having to temporarily move the weblog from pell to gehenna is that mail still wants to go to pell, which is answering the phone with a "421 WE'D LOVE TO TALK TO YOU BUT OUR DISK IS ON FIRE" instead of picking up the mail and dropping it on the floor. Most machines will keep retrying the mail for a day or so, but some of the big ISPs (m*cr*s*ft and **l come immediately to mind) have a timeout that's much shorter than a day. By the time I get to pell tomorrow (sometime around noon, because There! Are! Important! Things! I! Have! To! Do! At! Work! Tomorrow! Morning!) mail will have been down for about 20 hours, so anyone who mails from a big ISP will have had the stupid ISP return the mail with some ABSOLUTELY BOGUS error code, and I'll have to spend the next two months explaining to people that, no, I still have an account on Pell and yes, they can keep sending mail, but it might be worthwhile to find a mail provider that's not quite so stupid about transient mail server errors.

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Phooey (#3)

And, to make matters worse, the STUPID STUPID STUPID webserver throws a 500 error if I pass it a 306 redirect after annotations has managed to post a new article. The article is still posted, of course, but I'll never know about it until I manually return to the homepage, because the swiss army battleship has cheerfully sent me off to "A SYSTEM ERROR HAS OCCURRED. CALL YOUR SYSADMIN AND TELL THEM THAT A SYSTEM ERROR... WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT BULK TAPE ERASER?" error page land, just like it's going to do now as soon as I press the [post] button.

Phooey (#2)

To make basic auth work on the swiss army battleship, I have to

  1. Have a .htaccess file that says AuthType Basic,
  2. and which says Require user orc,
  3. and which refers to a AuthUserFile that is owned by the webserver user and group,
  4. AND which is in a path that's owned by the webserver user and group.

If any of these requirements don't get filled, I either get a cryptic "SYSTEM ERROR! CALL YOUR SYSADMIN AND TELL THEM THAT A SYSTEM ERROR HAPPENED!" or the STUPID STUPID STUPID webserver just keeps silently refusing the login attempt.


May 08, 2006


Around 5:08pm today, I walked out of my downtown office to catch the bus home. Around 5:22pm, just around the time I walked in my front door, pell decided that this was just the time to play the fun game known as "Controlled Flight into Terrain", thus converting my mail and weblog machine into a small pile of smoldering rubble.

Fortunately I keep nightly backups, so I could move the weblog over to a different machine until I can get back into my colocation facilty and reset the damned machine.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of spiffy features with the backup machine that make the emergency relocated TSFR a little less than totally useful. The first was that my pell backup was located at home, so that if the colo burned down the backups would be safe. "At home" is located on the other side of a cable modem, which has a 128kb upstream link. And the backup is 560 megabytes, which has to creep slowly back across the wire to the other machine I've got in the colo. But that's not the worst problem. No, the worst problem is that once I copied tsfr over to the backup machine, I ended up with the files on a FreeBSD machine that runs the swiss army battleship of webservers (apache, in case you're wondering.) This means that I end up with the weblog on a machine where annotations doesn't work quite right, and where I have to fight to the death with the goddamn web server to get it to do _anything_ without a fight. So, even if annotations did work properly, I still couldn't post to tsfr because the STUPID STUPID STUPID webserver will not read .htaccess files and authenticate users. (and when annotations spits back a 401 or 500 webpage, the STUPID STUPID STUPID webserver swallows the error page and spits out one of its own that contains not one single piece of useful information. Thttpd sucks in its own little annoying way, but it's so small that I can actually track down the mystical "hi, I'm not working and I'm not going to tell you why" message and replace it with one that says something useful.

Yes, I know. All hardware sucks, all software sucks. Tomorrow I suspect I'll be doing some debugging with a bulk tape eraser and a 5 pound sledgehammer.

May 07, 2006

Cute baby picture of the day

Silas talks his grandmother into inviting him over for a visit.


Trolley picture of the day

Tri-Met #511 [Gomaco 1991] approaches the westbound platforms at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, Oregon.

May 06, 2006

Saturday picture dump

Russell and I went down to OMSI today to burn off some of his excess energy (I don't have that problem. One of the features of time [well, it's either time or me being completely out of shape) is that I don't really have any excess energy these days.) When we left and were walking along the road heading southwest from Station L, we heard the tooting of an Eng! coming south along the SP UP.

When the train popped into sight, I wedged the Pentax up against the chainlink fence that separates the road from the remains of Portland Traction's East Portland Yard and started clicking away. I'd set the camera to save the pictures in raw mode (10+mb/image!), so my usual routine of taking 20 pictures and keeping the best two or three was rudely thwarted by the camera taking a loooong time to save the images to disk.

A cheapie point-and-drool one-piece camera would, of course, been easier to wedge up against the fence because they tend to have teeny tiny lenses which can fit between the cracks. As it stood, I had to crop about half of each picture away to cut out the diagonal grey fuzzy lines on the original images.

May 05, 2006

Unusual photo etiquette

I had someone send me email asking for permission to use one of the photos I've put up on TSFR. It was a fairly strange request. They wanted to use one of the Olympic Death March photos for a commercial project, but they weren't willing to either pay me or credit me for my work. Oh, and they wanted me to foot the cost of mailing the release form back to them.

Umm, okay, but what's in it for me? The general rule I follow is that if you want to have some sort of publication right to something I've created (mainly software, but I have sold artwork in the past) is that you pay me, and then you get the rights. This isn't a hard and fast rule, of course; I write free software, and publish it so that anyone who wants it (and who is willing to adhere to the license terms) can use it for free, but I don't recall any case yet where someone wants me to pay them (as in paying the cost of the mailing) so they can use my work anonymously (I'm not particularly keen on the whole anonymous publication scheme anyway; that's why I tend to release the code I write under an attribution, damnit! BSD-style license.)

Perhaps this is a common policy in the photo world (I wouldn't know, because I'm not a professional photographer) but if it is it's not a policy I'm willing to offer. I'm getting old, and if people like my work enough to want to publish it I would like to get visible credit -- either via attribution or via cheque -- for it.

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Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Dust Mite's ship, laden with booty, returns from the Spanish Main.

Now this is interesting news

Canada has cut many of their permanent residence application fees in half. Of course, this comes as the USD:CAD ratio approaches 1:1, so in Imperial dollars it's only about a 30% decrease in costs over last year, but every little bit helps.

I am still bottlenecked on trying to find the street addresses of everywhere I've lived in the past 27 years, but at least the barrier on the other side of the bottleneck has become cheaper now.

May 04, 2006

Thursday photo dump

I had to go up to Portland Union Station at noon today to do some volunteer sysadmin work (moving and pruning a network), and, by happy coincidence, you can find railroad trains at this railroad station. Aside from the usual crop of F69s and Twinkies, one of the Tri-Met hybrid busses drove past, a trolley crossed the steel bridge, and there were also a couple of UP trains; one of the regular transfer jobs waiting for clearance through the eastside, and, just as I was leaving, some sort of motive power transfer with about 15 UP locomotives leading a train of indeterminate length.

May 03, 2006

Wasting energy begins at home

Every time our local power company is shuffled between holding companies, they raise their rates a little bit to cover the costs of the loans, lawyers, and golden parachutes each transaction spins off. Our local PUC, which used to have some reputation as a regulator, has been hobbled to the point where all they are capable of doing is stamping [OK!] on the rate increases, with the expected result that our monthly energy bills have doubled in the last 8 years without any extraordinary changes in our monthly power consumption.

One of the things I've been doing in my attempts to bring down the power bills is that I bought a pair of kill-a-watt power meters, and I've been running around attaching them to various pieces of computer hardware. It's, um, enlightening, but not in a particularly good way; when I first brought in the k-a-w units, I was running three machines in the basement -- a P3/500, a K7/900, and a K7/1300, all attached through a kvm switch to an old Amdek VGA display (they used to be attached to a rackmounted ViewSonic LCD display, but we're in PGE territory and the power supply for that monitor died in one of our (frequent) power outages -- which turned out to be eating something on the order of 300w or US$23.75/month (300w * 720hr * US$.00011 per kwh) plus another PC in the library (P3/933 + SGI 1600sw) that eats ~100w or US$8/month.

Leaving aside the tiny detail that the rest of the house is consuming between 700 and 1000 kwh every month, this is a lot of power that's being eaten up by PCs. Ugh. I was thinking of upgrading downbelow to a P4 platform (like the little half-size P4 board that I bought to replace the factory case when I realized that a VIA C3/533 + SuSE + KDE + firefox ran like a drunken slug on that platform. I can't run Mastodon there because I don't have kernel support for the ethernet device, ACPI power management, and a raft of other things that have been stuffed onto motherboards since Linux 2.0.28 was released. And, no, R*dh*t wasn't any better on the performance front) but that fairly sedate P4/1800 motherboard consumes 75 watts just by itself; toss in the two-port ethernet card and the two disks on downbelow and I don't think I'll save any electricity over the old and inefficient K7/900) but instead I think I might just strip the motherboard out of the factory case (VIA EPIA 5000 -- 10.4w when running) and make downbelow a little bit slower for Jesus.

I don't know what I'll do with the PC in the library. The new Pentium M descendants that Apple uses in their new Macintels are supposed to be very energy efficient, but it's fairly difficult to dig out the wattage requirements for them. Older motherboards might be gratifyingly efficient, but they won't deal gracefully with modern big hard disks, and will take approximately 300 years to run fsck on the 160gb disks that are now the standard server disks at home. I'd offsource data storage to the datacenter where Pell and Gehenna live, but that would make getting to my data a very slow process.

Perhaps I will get an array of photoelectric panels. If I can get about 200watts worth of solar panel, that will give me ~150watts * 10 hours/day * 30 days/month == 45kwh, which might be enough to run downbelow + the backup server off-grid if I replace the system boards in them with low-power boards and use 12v-input power supplies (to avoid the power losses from going 12vdc->120vac->12vdc+5vdc+3.3vdc) fed directly off the batteries. It would cost about US$1200, but there is something to be said for taking some of the hobby power consumption off our monthly power bills.

May 02, 2006

The best foreign intelligence money can buy!


Nope. No terrorists here.
It's as safe as an ice cream float.

While praising Canada for playing "an important counterterrorism leadership role worldwide" -- specifically through its military presence in Afghanistan -- the State Department said the Arar case had cast a chill over relations between the countries' intelligence agencies.

Arar, an Ottawa engineer and Canadian citizen, was detained by U.S. authorities in September 2002 during a stopover in New York on a flight from Tunisia to Canada.

Suspected of terrorism ties, he was sent to Syria under a policy called "extraordinary rendition." A federal inquiry into Arar's detention found he had been tortured while in Syrian custody.


"The Arar case underscores a greater concern for the United States: the presence in Canada of numerous suspected terrorists and terror supporters."

It's amazing how much more interesting US security analyses have gotten now that the old Clinton-era policy of trying to analyze the facts has been discarded for the more politically correct method of just making shit up while trying to flim-flam the rubes.

You think that the Coward in Chief would have taken this opportunity to send a few love kisses towards Canada as a token of his appreciation for Canada being stupid enough to give Mini-Me a country for the looting, but, no, the Blame Canada! crowd is still in control at Mount Doom on the Potomac, and they'll waste no opportunity in their grand scheme of pissing off the entire world (except maybe Airstrip One, and that only because the bulk of the B*sh junta is hoping to pick up a dukedom or twenty.)

(link via creekside)

May 01, 2006

The Prius gives, the 3600 f2 house takes away

Last year, we used about 150 gallons of gasoline in the Prius. Total cost, somewhere in the ballpark of US$350. Which is good, and energy efficient, but which is horribly dwarfed by the house, which was built back in 1909 or thereabouts, when the idea of "insulation" didn't go much further than "if you have an sealed air gap, it will keep the drafts out" and then crudely insulated in the 1980s, which has so far eaten something over US$1200 in heating bills (not including the two visits by the furnace repairman when the stupid oil pump ate a tarball) this last winter.

Ugh. US$1200 is about what it would cost for me to buy enough strawbales to insulate the summer cabin. And if I was feeling ambitious, I suppose I could gut the house down to the studs, reinsulate with drawbale, then hire someone to replaster the whole shebang. The less ambitious plan of putting solar water heater panels into the roof, then gang them together with the hot water heat so that I could use the solar power to heat (some) of the house is thwarted by the teeny detail that the roof is pitched east-west, where the sun doesn't shine enough to make it worthwhile. That's the fun thing about old houses; it's expensive to retrofit them so that they aren't complete money holes, because they were designed in the good old days™ when fuel was dirt-cheap and a family well off enough to afford a nice house in the suburbs could afford all the fuel that the house needed to operate. (Our house probably started with a coal or hog fuel burner, which was retrofitted to a diesel burner when the homeowner decided that they'd had enough of maintaining an automatic stoker. The old grates and furnace door are still floating around in the basement, so we could convert back to coal if we wanted to hand-fire our furnace. But that's approaching the build a new strawbale house, please! department.)

What's the point of this little rant? I'm not sure; the city is convenient for mass transit and local shops (thus 1 car, one bus pass, US$350 for gasoline), but the old house is not good for power and the completely fucked up Oregon tax system means that the City of Portland is so starved for revenue that it ends up looking for any excuse to reappraise houses. And with our house, a reappraisal means that our property tax might triple to ~US$10,000/year, which would make it a much less appealing investment.

Perhaps I'll buy a truckload of strawbales, gut and reoutfit the garage and make it into our own little version of Bath, in case we are forced to retrench next winter. We can live in the garage and tell the bears stories about how nice it will be to move into the big empty house when the weather has moderated to the point where we can go into the house without freezing our wimpy tuckuses off.

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“Workers of the World, Awaken”

Workers of the world, awaken!
Break your chains, demand your rights.
All the wealth you make is taken
By exploiting parasites.
Shall you kneel in deep submission
From your cradles to your graves?
Is the height of your ambition
To be good and willing slaves?

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!
Fight for your own emancipation;
Arise, ye slaves of ev'ry nation, in One Union Grand.
Our little ones for bread are crying;
And millions are from hunger dying;
The end the means is justifying,
'Tis the final stand.

If the workers take a notion,
They can stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean
They can tie with mighty chains;
Every wheel in the creation,
Every mine and every mill,
Fleets and armies of the nation,
Will at their command stand still.


Join the union, fellow workers,
Men and women, side by side;
We will crush the greedy shirkers
Like a sweeping, surging tide;
For united we are standing,
But divided we will fall;
Let this be our understanding-
"All for one and one for all."


Workers of the world, awaken!
Rise in all your splendid might;
Take the wealth that you are making --
It belongs to you by right.
No one for bread will be crying,
We'll have freedom, love and health,
When the grand red flag is flying
In the Worker's commonwealth.


(--Joe Hill)


Mount Doom on the Potomac has decreed that May Day (the US government used to call it "Law Day" according to the logic that if you don't let the proletariat know that they have any power, they won't realize they have any power) is now going to be called "Loyalty Day."

I am impressed. It's not as if very many people in the United States even pay attention to the day, because it's not even a government holiday, but it's nice to see that the B*sh junta is considerate enough to leave no leftist behind in the "kick them when they're down" competition.

May Day

Workers of the world unite,
you have nothing to lose but your chains.

Besmirching the family name

A $243 million contract awarded to Parsons Corp., a Pasadena, California-based construction company, to build and equip 150 primary health centers in Iraq is already running short. After $186 million spent, only six health centers are complete and only 14 more will be finished by Parsons, the report said.

--Jeff St.Onge, Bloomberg