This Space for Rent

Jul 31, 2006

Best Birthday Present Ever

Laugh while you can, monkey-boy!

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At home, I run a couple of servers 24x7. One of the servers is our main connection to the outside world, and it does remote backup of the two public servers that sit downtown, so I can't really turn it off, and the other server is the network backup for the first one, so, because I've got a somewhat stupid rsync backup scheme (rsync, because it's Open Source®™©, does not come with the most coherent documentation, so once having set up a working backup system, I really don't want to go back in and tweak it so that I can have the backup machine turn itself on, do the backup, then turn itself off.) These servers consume 104 watts, or about 75 kwh/month.

We also have a (single) desktop machine that sits up in the library, leaning out the window and calling "hooyoo!" like a Bourbon Street prostitute. Because we're lazy, we never turn it off (if we turned it off, we'd lose our ssh connections back to Pell), so it consumes 94 watts every day and every night, for a total of 68 kwh/month.

This costs us about US$12/month to run the machines (and this is down from the US$20 or so it used to cost before I bought a couple of kill-a-watt units and went on a soviet-style energy audit.) This is about 20% of our monthly energy consumption (the major part of our electricity bill is an electric water heater which has been eating, like clockwork, between 400 and 500 kwh/month) and it was originally my plan to swap it over to a solar/wind generator array to get everything except kitchen+heat off the grid. At least that was the plan; the reality is that to save US$12/month (and to save it in such a way that I can take advantage of all of the rebates that are available), I'd need to spend between US$6000 and US$14000 (I'd get back between US$5000 and US$8000 in federal and state tax credits, which are certainly nothing to be sneezed at, but I'm still out US$bignum to begin with.) And at US$12/month, that means that I'd recoup the initial investment in, um, 55 to 100 years (and, since today is conveniently my birthday, this means I could celebrate break-even day on my 101st to 146th birthday.)

Nnnnnnnnnok. And these figures are for grid-tie systems, aka "no grid == no power" unless it's between 10am and 3pm. Perhaps it would be worth my while to try and figure out a way to keep ssh connections from timing out when you disconnect a machine for 16 hours.

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Jul 29, 2006

Railroad picture of the day

Silas and I went down to OMSI for a few hours this afternoon, and just as we left to walk over to 11th St to catch the #70 bus back home, we heard a train coming through downtown. We stopped and after a a few minutes a southbound freight led by Yellow Menace #4914 came around the corner and accelerated south.

Why, yes, there is a fence between the Eng!s and me. Sigh.

Jul 28, 2006

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Blueberries are in season and we're all eating them until we turn bright blue.

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Jul 27, 2006

Accidents will happen.

And it's purely the sheerest coincidence that a US missile should hit exactly in the center of the red cross on top of this Red Cross ambulance. It's really quite amazing how Israel, despite using precision missiles and laser-guided bombs, can so often accidentally hit ambulances, three-story UN outposts that were clearly marked as UN buildings (and which had, during the eight hours that they were being accidentally attacked by Israel, made repeated attempts to get Israel to stop bombing them), and civilian automobiles. Shoot, Hezbollah, who are officially freedom-hating terrorists™, have only killed 1/10th as many civilians with their deliberate targetting of civilians as Israel has accidentally killed during this attempted invasion.

If I was in charge of the IOF's weapons procurement agency, I'd be saying "no thanks" to those shiploads of precision missiles and laser-guided bombs that the American Imperium is rushing over and instead be shopping around for some of those state-of-the-1970s Iranian munitions that Hezbollah is defending Lebanon with.

If, on the other hand, the IOF is deliberately committing war crimes, they should stick to the precision munitions. After all, you wouldn't want one of your cluster bombs to go off-target and accidentially kill an enemy soldier, because that would totally mess up your kill rates.

(links via sfgate,Liberal Catnip)

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Sold down the river (pt 2)

The gerrymander worked out well in the American Imperium, so why not try it in Canada? It's that sort of personalized service that you've come to expect from the right wing, and, hey, at least this time they're not selling out to another country!

Jul 26, 2006

One train a day

These days, I can expect basically one train every time I stop by Brooklyn Yard on the way home from work. Today it was a container train, which pulled out of the yard about a minute after I got off the bus at Haig Street, and which had some interesting (in a stoner goth way) poetry written on the side of one of the empty container cars.

Bee picture of the day

A bumblebee works a butterfly bush near the 1st and Arthur bus stop on Tuesday afternoon.

Jul 25, 2006

Wedging 820 square feet into a 21x20 footprint.

If you leave out trivial things like a washer or dryer ("leave out" is possibly an exaggeration; there are two places where a washer/dryer pair can be placed without too much fussing) and use a tankless water heater and baseboard heat, the 20x21 foot garage can actually make a nice cozy little two-bedroom studio with a ~20x9 workroom on the ground floor.

There's not much room for frills, though, so this structure is pretty much forced into being a modernist (craftsman-style) design.

What, doesn't everyone use lined writing paper to draw up house plans?

Railroad graffiti from Brooklyn Yard

This graffiti is on the Toonerville bridge over the SP Yellow Menace mainline at Lafayette Street. I was feeling too tired to go and watch trains today, so I took the lazy way out and just collaged these graffiti pictures together. I'll imagemap them later tonight, as soon as I fire up the gimp and fabricate the map.

Update: the image map is complete. A larger version of the graffiti collage is (heh, heh) here.

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Jul 24, 2006

It’s too hot for railroad pictures.

How about some frogs instead?

Fun with power outages and ancient computing hardware

We had a hour and a half power outage last night, and when I went down into the basement to restart the server farm (the power outage woke me up, and by the time the lights stopped flickering offffffffff, then on, then offfffffff, then on, then offfffff I was, oddly enough, wide awake, so I took the opportunity to dash down into the basement and plug a UPS into the circuit that powers the servers. I didn't turn the UPS on, because it would have just whimpered gently until it ran out of power, so I just plugged it in and went back to sleep until the thunderous roaring of boxfans announced the return of mains power) the backup server started, ran for a couple of seconds, then shut itself permanently off with the delicate aroma of dead power supply drifting in the air. And then the spare I had down there started up with the unmistakable sound of a fan that had run out of lubricant and was now in the throes of chewing its own hub apart.

It is fortunate, I suppose, that my home computing needs have dropped down to the point where all I need is enough power to run a couple of file servers, so the basement is full of components scavenged from scrapped boxes and I could scrounge a spare power supply for the broken spare power supply.

As an aside, Energytrust gives some pretty tasty incentives for putting solar arrays in, but they require that those arrays be grid-tied. One "feature" of a grid-tie array is that if the grid is down and it's not the middle of the day, you don't have any power. At 3:19am, I'd imagine that it would be difficult to feel particularly happy about the earthy-crunchiness of a grid-tie system when you're wandering around the house by the light of a 4-led flashlight.


Jul 23, 2006

One advantage of having a slow processor on a network server

"That's funny, natd seems to be taking 30% of the processor time on the machine. I wonder why...?" <clickity clickity> "... oh, great, some virus got onto the windows box. What's that you're saying, PC? I want you to replace me with a Macintel? Okay, we can do that."

Sigh. I don't think this infestation has been there for very long (though the existence of the goddamn Alexa toolbar -- when I don't even use Internet big-bag-of-security-violations on the machine -- isn't a particularly good testimonial to the effectiveness of clamav as anything other than a mail scanner. Grr.

Jul 22, 2006

How to save 50kwh a month without much effort.

Replace with .

We've a couple of servers in the basement that run all the time; our primary home server, which has all of our digital photos, recordings of tiny children chattering away, master copies of all of the free software projects I've ever worked on, tax forms, etc etc etc stored on it, and which serves as the primary domain controller for the NT domain at Chateau Chaos, and our backup server, which holds the nightly backup images from the primary server. A few months ago I bought a kill-a-watt electricity meter, and have been running around attaching it to various house things to see what's taking the most power out of the house, and discovered that the basement stack-of-computers was eating ~300 watts. Some of that was easy to deal with; I'd been leaving my Mastodon development machine on all the time, even though the only Mastodon development I've been doing was on pell, so I got back 130 watts by the simple expedient of turning the damned machine off. But that left the remaining two machines (a K7 and a P2/500) eating approximately 170 watts, which is TOO MUCH for a computing stack I intend to power from a solar array or a wind generator. So today I went to a motherboard swapping spree; OUT with the K7, IN with a VIA EPIA 5000, saving me ~50 watts. OUT with the P2/500, IN with another VIA EPIA 5000, saving me ~7 watts (older Pentia are nowhere near as energy hungry as K7s are.) And, finally, OUT went the Netgear gigabit fiber switch, IN went a dinky little linksys 5 port switch (I got back 20 watts by dumping the Netgear switch, but lost 4 of that to the linksys switch.)

The C3s are noticably slower when I compile things, so I will be well and thoroughly screwed if I need to do a 'make all' on the freebsd source stack on downbelow, but for shuffling files and domain information around, it probably wouldn't matter if I backed down to a 386, so the C3s are overkill enough for me.

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Jul 21, 2006

Perhaps it’s time for a silk purse

Our house came with an old two car garage (20x25 20x21 feet, more or less) which had seen better days before previous owners had

  1. ripped out the windows and stuffed wooden folding door panels in to replace them
  2. hacked a large chunk out of the front so they could replace one of the car doors with a couple of flimsy plywood doors suitable for campers or small diesel locomotives.
  3. Let the back rot out, and then crudely hammered plywood over the rotten beadboard on the walls.

The elegant dip in the roof (and corresponding bulging forward of the front wall) is courtesy of the new flimsy plywood doors and the teeny detail that when those doors were put in they cut the truss holding the front of the garage in half, then propped the stub up with 4 ganged 2x4s. It hasn't fallen down yet, but that's only because it's tucked away where the wind can't get at it.

We only have one car, and we never park it in the garage (in Portland? With global warning? You have got to be kidding), so there's not much point in rebuilding it as a garage. We could tear it down and have a 30x50 backyard, which would be nice, but once we tear the structure down the zoning laws will make it very difficult to put up again, so I was thinking that the thing to do would be to remove the roof, put a couple of floors in, put the roof back with a couple of shed dormers, and use it as a small studio/office that's far from the madding crowd. It's almost tall enough to make a two story structure right now, so if I took off the roof, raised it about a foot, and rebuilt it the second floor would be the right size for a cozy little studio. (It would be even cozier if I stripped it down to the studs and rebuilt it as a straw-bale insulated structure, which is what I'm thinking; it would make a nice place to retrench to on these hothothot summer nights when the heat overcomes the insulation in the big house.)

If I left one bay as a garage I would have room to set up a small shop (with a straight run to the street, so long pieces of wood would not have to navigate around corners to reach their doom) and I could convert it into a room at a later date.

We'd lose the garage, but Chateau Chaos is not exactly what I'd call chock-a-block full of modern amenities anyway. I'd rather have a little detached workspace/guest cottage than a garage, and it's small enough to build without going over the $10k/$25k "we're going to reassess you and charge you US$10k/year in property taxes!" limit.


Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

An all too familiar scene these days as friday evening rolls around and I realize that Dust Mite is nowhere to be seen.

A quick question

Is there anyone who still adheres to the Geneva conventions? And, if so, do they get little love letters from the local two-headed superpower (Israel and the American Imperium, which appear to have fused into a single super-efficient atrocity machine) telling them that they're suckers?

It's not as if the United Nations can actually do anything, given that the American Imperium has veto power over everything it does, and none of the other great powers (which appear to have lost interest in maintaining a large colonial network, and are willing to allow the two-headed superpower to create a large wasteland of failed states and bombed-over ghettos with no more than a pro-forma "gosh, Wally, it's not nice to bomb entire states into rubble!") are willing to threaten war to actually attempt to enforce those treaties. So why pretend that those treaties still exist? Oh, right, so you can use them as a club to wave at the various guerrilla and resistance movements who spring up everywhere where the malign gaze of the two-headed superpower happens to fall.

I don't think that the Geneva conventions will really be functional treaties until at least one large heavily armed (with nuclear weapons; if all you have is conventional weapons, it's just an excuse for More Bombing!) superpower can emerge in opposition to the American Imperium.

And even then I don't think that will provoke any sort of humanitarian reaction from the people who lead the American Imperium, because the last time we had a superpower opposing the United States all it managed to do was provoke witchhunts and get laws passed putting "Under God" into the official state obedience song.

Jul 20, 2006

Short shameful confession

It's probably illegal for someone who grew up in a prairie-style house in Wisconsin and who is interested in Prairie Style, Arts and Crafts, and Craftsman-style architecture, but I really don't like Frank Lloyd Wright very much.


Two days in a row. Imagine that.

A quiet day down at Brooklyn Yard, but today the quiet included a container freight sitting dead on the west main. The crew must have shown up around the time I was leaving, because I heard the engines crank to life as I was doing my daily flirting with death by climbing up the Toonerville Bridge at Lafayette St.

The Opiate of the Masses

We had to go washing-machine shopping today, because it turns out that the great flood was caused not by the traditional method of the sewer stopping up, but by the equally traditional but somewhat less expensive method of our 9 year old washing machine deciding that it would no longer be a machine that actually held the water we wanted to wash clothes in.

This, believe it or not, is a good thing, because it's a lot cheaper (at, gasp!, US$900) to replace the existing washing machine than it is to jackhammer up the floor and replace the sewer lines. We still have to replace the sewer lines, because of their annoying habit of backing up during the rainy season, but we don't have to replace them right now before our limited supply of clean laundry runs out.

So we trotted off to the local locally-owned warehouse store and bought a new washing machine. "We" includes the bears, who, as befitting a couple of children who are being raised in a family that doesn't watch much television, made beelines for the TV section and watched Cute Baby Animals Get Eaten By Crocodiles (Animal Planet) and some sort of CGI music video show for about 25 minutes while the best haggled with a salesman and chose the energy-efficient front-loading washing machine of our dreams. (which , in one fell swoop, ate up half the money I'd set aside for the demonstration wind+solar power installation I'm setting up at home. But the washing machine doesn't use much power, so we won't be paying as much to the scumsucking pirates at Enron, or whatever the offical name of the holding company that owns the local power company is these days.)

The bears plunk themselves in front of the TV.

Jul 19, 2006

Engs! at Brooklyn Yard. What a pleasant surprise!

After several days of changing busses at the north end of Brooklyn Yard and seeing absolutely nothing in the railroad motive power department, I finally spotted a couple of yellow menace freights; the afternoon transfer was pulling out of the yard, and a second freight was sitting on the mainline as the crew tried to get its third engine back online.

My delusional dream

On days that start with me bailing out the basement, and which look like they'll end with me frantically putting reflective sheets on every window on the west side of the house (38°C predicted for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The forecast for tomorrow is "only" 34°C. And, no, we don't have air conditioning at Chateau Chaos) makes the idea of bailing out, retrenching to the country, and building a new house seem very appealing.

Something like this:

This house (#70 from The Craftsman) is, by any stretch of the imagination, a mansion. It's 3000 square feet just on the two main floors, and it's got 10(!) rooms in it. But, since it's a house from 100+ years ago, how many bathrooms does it have? One. It's got a pair of extra toilets downstairs, but if you want to take a bath you've got to go upstairs and use the single bathtub the house comes with.

Putting aside the teeny detail that it's about twice the size of a reasonable house, it does have some nice features. Note how the staircase splits into two legs, one going into the kitchen and one into the front hall? Note that there's a honest-to-god library (labelled as a "billiard room") on the ground floor. And that there are a couple of huge bedrooms that are almost designed to be hidey-holes for teenagers, who would no doubt want to retreat back into them and never emerge after being shanghaied into helping construct this ark (the really big room with a fireplace is not well suited as a bedroom, because it's right above the living room, but it would make an ideal studio space or guest room.)

Note that there's no attic shown in these plans. That's because it has to be secret, because thats where I'd have to put the portrait to keep it out of the way.

In reality, it's a little bit too big, and the dust bunny drifts would sweep aimlessly around the mess for decades until the roof collapsed into the structure. But a little bit of judicious headshrinking could collapse the rooms around the central core and give it the same feel, but in a less terrifying way to clean.

Oh, this is unpleasant

I just went down into the basement to put some clothes into the dryer and discovered that tonight was the night the washing machine chose to dump two inches of water all over the basement floor.


Once upon a time my income would have been enough to actually pay to get this sort of crap repaired, but, no, US$100,000/year appears to be enough to have a nice sunken swimming pool in my basement whether or not I want one.


Jul 18, 2006

Evil Party Moral Values (pt 13)

The Department of State reminds American citizens that the U.S. government does not provide no-cost transportation but does have the authority to provide repatriation loans to those in financial need. For the portion of your trip directly handled by the U.S. Government we will ask you to sign a promissory note and we will bill you at a later date. In a subsequent message, when we have specific details about the transporation arrangments, we will inform you about the costs you will incur.

--The government of the United States of America.

American Citizen? Stuck in a warzone? Your government will be happy to get you out of there if you're willing to pay for it.

What, you expected that your taxes might pay for something like this? Silly; if the government provided services to the non-rich, then how could it make well-connected friends of the B*sh junta wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice? If you wanted your government to defend you, you picked the wrong country. Perhaps Canada? Ooops, sorry, we've replaced the folgers crystals in that government with neocon dogshit, so I guess you're just completely shit out of luck!

Perhaps you'll choose to be a billionaire in your next life, and then the US government will happy to get you out of a warzone for free.

The joy of Open Source®©™ software

The r*dh*t package management system (egotistically self-named) uses a spiffy (if your definition of spiffy includes such features as unreliable kernel locking and a collection of source code that has been known to drive people to clinical insanity) little program called rpm to do the dirty work of installing packages, updating packages, doing queries on packages, and verifying that packages are properly installed. (It also, unintuitively, calls a background daemon to rebuild the internal databases, so if you start a database rebuild, realize that this was a mistake, then kill the process you're actually killing the user interface while the rebuilder continues unstoppably along in the background. What a lovely feature this is, he said, cursing under his breath.)

One thing that's almost useful, but not quite, is the verify mode you can put rpm into. There are many settings you can feed to the verifier to tell the code to check or not check links, md5 checksums, phase of the moon, and whether the rms password is blank or not, but one setting that is not provided is a way to tell the verifier to not check config files to see if they've changed (config files, since they're, um, config files, tend to change on a site-by-site basis.) At work, we want to use the verifier to check to see if all the packages on our distribution have installed happily, but since we actually modify config files, many many many packages just won't verify because, oh the horror, the config files are different.

No problem, I'll just patch rpm with a --less-stupid flag to tell the verifier to STFU about config files. Easy, no?

Um, actually, no. And I'm not sure why. But, first some history.

In the old days (version 7), there wasn't any standardised way to handle command line arguments on Unix, so everyone just did their own command line mangling inside of their programs. This was all fine and good, but it wasn't particularly maintainable and it allowed some fairly spectacularly nonstandard ways of doing options. To help solve this feature, some brilliant programmer (at AT&T?) wrote the getopt() function, which nicely encapsulated the whole business of picking apart arguments so you didn't have to deal with the joy of doing it yourself. It had a few oddities, but if you used getopt() you could be pretty confident that your program would process command line options pretty much the same way that everybody else would.

Some people think that the traditional Unix commandline arrangement has some flaws in it. In particular, there is a small but powerful group that loooooves VMS-style command options, and constantly regrets that it's "ls -l" instead of "dir /LONG". So they wrote their own version of getopt() that handled long arguments, and boy, was it clunky. So some other people wrote their own versions of long argument getopt, and eventually it became a party with at least a dozen or so completely incompatible getopt() replacements (I'm not completely innocent here), each of which has their own collection of special features to fight with.

A case in point is the one that rpm uses. You'd think that all you need to do is to stuff a new option into the getopt table (this one is called popt(), and it's an invented-at-r*dh*t "solution" to the NIH problem), set up a stanza in the big switch for options processing, and bob's your uncle. Um, no. Instead of just setting the options up in the argument processing code, you need to play hunt the trucks all over the guts of a pile of code that's the architectural equivalent of a 40 car pileup on the interstate.

Maybe it's time to become a farmer, or a sewage management technician.

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Jul 17, 2006

He’s a quick learner.

So. Eight Canadian citizens are killed during an Israeli attack on civilians inside Lebanon, and Mini-Me won't even lift a finger to criticize Israel for killing them? That's pretty impressive, even in the context of Mini-Me's attempts to do the Cliff's Notes version of "how to be a neocon dictator" as if it was the full study guide.

Shoot, in the United States the B*sh junta at least waited for the WTC to be destroyed before writing off large chunks of the population as not being worthy of note. But the Tories are busily sawing off Canadian citizens left and right because to defend them would mean offending their new nuclear-armed BFF.

That's one hell of a government that Canada put in place. Mini-Me appears to be an unprincipled version of George W B*sh, and that's a difficult position to fill. I'll bet that Mini-Me can do for the Canadian reputation what B*sh has done to the US's reputation, and Canada doesn't even have hundreds of years of bloody foreign interventions to base a bad reputation on.

It wasn’t meant to be heard”? Sure, and I’d like a pony.

I'm sure that it was completely accidential that the microphone was turned on, and cameras were facing B*sh and his lapdog, when Maximum Leader Genius said "[...]they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit[...]" because, heavens, the B*sh junta would never want to stoop so low as to publically say something that would make their dimwitted militarist supporters think that some bit of militarist stupidity (Israel is, if nothing else, the Near Eastern version of Wile E. Coyote) is being orchestrated with the full approval of the American Imperium. Well, okay, aside from Iraq. And the ongoing saber rattling over Iran. And Syria. And North Korea. But aside from that, I'm sure it was a complete mistake that the microphone was turned on.

Sheesh. And this is news?

Three Stickley Houses

  1. The Lewis T Gilliland house, in Portland, Oregon, is a "True Craftsman" house. It's based on a plan in Stickley's Craftsman magazine (which was based on drawings sent in by George Rand, who designed (and had built) it for his summer camp in New Hampshire.) Before the Gilliland house was built, the plans from The Craftsman were modified by the Portland architect Ellis Lawrence, but nevertheless it's still a Twue Cwaftsman™ house.
  2. The Nicolai-Cake-Olson house, also in Portland, Oregon, is not a "True Craftsman" house. It's a mirror image (the architect Emil Schacht's name is applied to this house) of a house that was built from a plan in The Craftsman at 1727 NW Aspen in Portland. But it's not a Twue Cwaftsman™ house. Why? Um, good question. Presumably because Mr. Nicolai didn't mail the "can you please send me the plans for this house?" letter off to Mr. Stickley, but instead got copies of the plans for the completed house at 1727 NW Aspen, and had Mr. Schacht flip it over for his house in Irvington?
  3. This house, which is a slightly modernised version (modernisation done by Todd Stanley, of Gordon Stanley Architecture) of A Cottage Planned with a Special Idea to Economical Heating is still not finished, but I'll bet that the idiots who coined the phrase "True Craftsman" won't consider it to be one. Why? Really good question. It's obviously not an identical copy (the front roof does not have the graceful swoop that the original plan has), but it's really close. You'd think that by any meaningful definition that this house (built approximately 100 years after the plans were published) would count, but I suspect that the whole point behind the whole "True Craftsman" label is to set up some sort of artificial category that people can use to extract more money out of credulous homebuilders.

It would be kind of neat, in a "hey, look at this!" category, to live in a house that Stickley actually had built to his blueprints. But, as far as I can tell, there's aren't very many of those houses (the clubhouse at Craftsman Farms in New Jersey is one,and it's been seized by the local government as part of a scheme to retain the remaining parts of the farm as open space in a still-rapidly-urbanizing part of New Jersey, so even if I had US$100 million burning a hole in my pocket it's not likely I could purchase it.) But, aside from this one house, it looks like the arrangement Stickley had with house plans in The Craftsman is that people were expected to take the plans and either build the house themselves or hire local housebuilders to build the house. It's not like a FLW house, where for a mere few thousand dollars (in 1900s money; in today's money, you'd probably be talking something on the order of US$500,000 just for six sets of blueprints) he'd make a house plan that you could use to build a single house, never to be (officially) duplicated. So if the plans were readily available, and the houses were to be built by local people, is there any meaningful way to take one modified houseplan and call it a Twue Cwaftsman, but then take another modified houseplan and not?

No. The people who say differently just have too much time on their hands.

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Jul 16, 2006

Spider picture of the day

When I went downstairs to make tea this morning, I had to rinse out the teapot before I could put new tea into it. As I was absent-mindedly washing it out, I realized that something was watching me. This little spider was sitting at the end of a dragline, just hanging out and trying to figure out if it could poison me, wrap me in silk, and drag me off to its lair. So what if I'm approximately 50,000 times as large as it was? After all, what's life without hope and dreams?


Jul 14, 2006

Slim pickings down at Brooklyn Yard

It appears as if the rescheduling of Amtrak train #507 has managed to provoke the Yellow Menace into getting the afternoon collection of trains out of the yard. The last few days have been, um, not exactly the highlights of my trainspotting career.

Sigh. Time to start riding my bicycle in to work; at least that way I'll be using the Portland Traction trail and I might see a SW1, SW7, or SW1500 as I go to and from work.

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Dust Mite goes for a ride.

Jul 13, 2006

It must be a slow news week

Because all of the local weeklies are coming out with silly articles about Oregon politics. The Portland Tribune published their entry before Willamette Week was able to, but the WW entry has the air of a prizewinner already. This one (which is already being hyperventilated over by Oregon Evil Party members like it was a new [and not-yet debunked] John Lott tract about how guns are like pretty flowers) shows a picture of the state of Oregon being painted red by a vaguely satanic looking elephant (which is turned half away from the picture, so you can't see the "I [heart] Torture!" button.)

Um, this is news? The flipover of rural counties from Stupid to Evil Party (done in lockstep with the Evil Party policies that impoverished and depopulated them, which is a pretty good stunt) isn't something that just happened. But this breathless article says that the red counties are seeing Huge! Population! Increases! and there might be more Republicans than Democrats in Oregon soon, because, mysteriously, people just aren't joining the new model (curled up in a whimpering ball, crying "don't hurt me" and promising to sell someone down the river whenever a member of the Evil Party walks by) Democratic Party.

There are some funnily annoying things about this article, too. Some Reed professor claims that Portland voters are "liberal, but also libertarian [...] they don't want to pay taxes or be told what to do," in the context of Portland voters approving the ancien regime law (measure 37, which puts a class system into the Oregon constitution) and the hate amendment (which writes discrimination, you guessed it, into the Oregon constitution.) You might think that the libertarian approach would disapprove of government-mandated discrimination, but here in the real world "libertarian" simply means "secular Republican", and trivialities such as civil and property rights just get in the way (yes, I deliberately include property rights, because measure 37 does not give me the right to develop my property in the way I choose, because I am a recent immigrant. You'd think that a "real" libertarian would have kittens about this, but, no, this is not the case.)

The chirpy postscript to the article is, of course, from some Evil Party shill who forsees an endless future of Evil Party boots trampling Oregon into a bright new future of 5-acre miniranches as far as the eye can see. And this would be different from the current situation in what way? The urban areas of the Willamette Valley are already subsidizing the rest of the state (thank you measure five!), so Salem (which, as befitting a city that contains the state government and has more than its fair share of libertarians firmly attached to the government teat, is an Evil Party city) can continue to screw over Portland because, hey, the subsidies are in place and where else will the liberals go? Measure 36 has already enshrined hatred into the state constitution, and if you moved up here since the day when Tom McCall (a REPUBLICAN, from back in the days when you'd occasionally find Republicans who weren't pathetic totalitarians) signed the urban growth boundary bill you already don't have the rights that the (rich and well connected; if you're poor, it doesn't matter if you've been in the Pacific Northwest since 8000BC) old timers have. About all Oregon doesn't have are anti-abortion bills (yet) and an act making some christian sect the official religion of the state.

Oh, boo hoo, the Republicans are coming, and I should be scared. The Democratic Party doesn't strike me as an organization that is capable of defending me from the industrial-scale corruption and Taliban-style morality that is all the Evil Party can offer, so why should I care about their declining voter registrations?

Jul 12, 2006

Zoning is baaad, except when it’s good.

The Portland Tribune has an article about how Metro (Portland, Oregon, and surrounding cities) is trying to plan for the expected influx of a million additional people. Metro has a planning committee that's been spitting out plans on how to fit the people in, and many of those plans are recommendations that Portland and the surrounding cities relax their zoning requirements to allow denser development.

This bit of creeping libertarianism is, not unexpectedly, causing the faux-libertarians at the Cascade Policy Institute (motto: auto uber alles!) to have a pretty severe case of the vapors. Why, it would be wrong to insist that cities relax those zoning regulations when there's all this wasted farmland that you can rezone instead (but, I presume, not to rezone too much, because then the developers would build densely packed developments instead of the libertarian ideal of a 5 acre farmette with a 20,000 square foot mansion squatting in the middle of it. The money quote is "homes with enough property for their young children" -- children don't need "property", they need places to play, and in a proper city there are plenty of places where kids can play without requiring a long car trip to get to the park. (I grew up in a small city, in a place where the lot size was a fairly large 120x50, but the house I lived in was on a 50x50 half lot (-10 feet for alleyway). Oddly enough, I had no trouble finding places to play, and most of those places still exist 35 years on because they are either federally protected wetlands or city parks.)

But sense is not something I really expect from the Cascade Policy Institute; libertarians in the United States tend to suffer from a belief in magic (highways are magic! They spring up from the ground like fairy circles after a rainstorm, and they never never need to be repaired unless the Evil State™ comes along and puts umbrellas over them! Railroads, on the other hand, are EVIL, and the (nonexistent, except for laws, police, the military, and the highway department) government needs to build roads to protect us from possibly having to come in contact with some other human!) and these people make the bog-standard libertoonian look like a paragon of sanity. "If you fly over Oregon in a helicopter, there is plenty of undeveloped land" ? Yeah, right. Who needs farms, when in the future we'll just drink petroleum-based squeeze pops?


Idle hands are the devils playthings

At work, we've got a IT department that's mainly concerned with keeping the windows machines running. This usually keeps them out of trouble, because Windows is traditionally a nonstop supply of bug-ridden fun. However, it appears that we've finally got a version of Windows XP supersupremo + patches that's moderately stable (== the antivirus scanner doesn't detect any bugs), so they've got time to go back and work on some of the executive-level punchlist. Like, oh, making it possible to audit network traffic by the simple expedient of forcing all outgoing network connections to go through some horrible microsoft proxy server which makes you log into it before it will route your traffic.

For web traffic, this is no problem™, even when the stupid server flakes out and makes you login for each item on a webpage. But if you've got a telnet or ssh connection, it's not quite so easy, so they just blocked them altogether. Which is tremendously useful if you need to get offsite for any reason, like if you want to download Linux source code that's hosted on a webserver on port!=80.

If my old management was in place, it would have been much more annoying, because my old management allowed me to do some work from home and I would use ssh to retrieve files that I forgot to copy in when I was using the stupid rube goldberg remote access method that Microsoft uses. Fortunately the new management doesn't allow working from home (or flextime, because programmers are much more productive when they have to punch a timeclock!), so I'll never write code at home and then forget to copy it over to the dark satanic coding mills.

It's like I'm being managed by a bunch of ferrets. Sharp teeth, short attention spans, and .... Ooooh, shiny! If it wasn't for the sucky American "healthcare" system, I'd say that this is G-d's way of telling me it's time for me to have my midlife crisis.


Jul 11, 2006

File under “joys of old age, the”

Oh sunday, I somehow managed to pull a muscle in my right shoulder while I was grubbing out the goddamn english ivy that is trying to infest the back of our property (and this after pulling out a truckload of yard debris, pulling out a truckload of general garbage, splitting and moving a trees worth of firewood into the garage, and digging the foundation and framing the shed I'm building in the formerly ivy-infested yard.) It's, um, interesting trying to function with a sprained shoulder -- I didn't realize just how much normal run of the mill physical motion depends on me having two functional shoulders, and just how exquisitely painful it is when when I've sprained a muscle that runs across a heavily used universal joint.

Using the computer was (and is, given how long it took me to compose this note) pretty much right out, but to look on the bright side the sling I'm using looks very fashionable, and being completely out of action has given me the chance to reread almost all of C. S. Lewis's Narnia stories (except for The Last Battle; I didn't pick up all of the objectional "muscular Christianity" and english classism in the books when I read them the first few times as a kid, but the whole whiny "the unbelievers are winning, so we're going to take our toys and, just like Jadis did in The Magicians Nephew, break the world" finale to the series made me not want to read that book again.)

As an aside to The Last Battle, the whole business of Susan forgetting about Narnia is not particularly believable given that she lived there for many years. The whole when you grow up you will give up childish toys theme doesn't really apply if, you know, you've already grown up. It would have been wonderful if C. S. Lewis had revisited the Pevensie children post-TLTWTW, and written a story about how they interacted with the rest of the world as middle-aged royals in childrens bodies. It would have been much more interesting than having the local deus ex machina blow off Susan by saying "oh, she doesn't believe®™© anymore."

And, from the viewpoint of this unbeliever, the Christian allegory in these stories isn't really all that good. When I read the books as a kid, I didn't have the slightest idea that Jadis's attempt to kill the d-e-m on the stone table was supposed to be like the brutal torture and murder of Jesus of Nazareth, Esq, so you can imagine that the rest of the carefully crafted allegory in this series went right over my head. These days, well, okay, I can see some of the blatant christian allegory, but it could also be read as a nice wet kiss on the tuckus of the British Empire or to the oppressive classism that used to be a trademark of that empire. I don't see how it would be effective allegory unless you were already a Christian and you wanted some warm fuzziness to reassure you that you weren't just being a superstitious fool.

And, you know something? Even with the liberal helping of fuzzy allegory and the aggressive pruning of plots to make the story more digestible for 10 year olds, C. S. Lewis still wrote a great fantasy series. The d-e-m (primarily in cuddly feline form) is merely part of the long tradition of "I'm godly, so I've got better magic items" that started back at the beginning of literary time (so Narnia has G-d himself helping people out? Shoot, Jerusalem Delivered has all that, plus huge caches of magic weapons just falling out of the woodwork for the G-dly to use to smite the unbelievers™.) It will never get me to convert (unless you use the d-e-m's "if you're nice, you worship meMeMe! no matter what you think you might be doing") to any of the Jewish heresies, but I don't think that figures on a tallyboard are the goal of great literature anyway.

Jul 08, 2006

One more day at Brooklyn Yard

Amtrak has adjusted the schedule for train #507 so that it leaves Portland Union Station at 18:15 instead of 17:30. This makes the north end of the yard just a little bit more boring than it used to be. And any thoughts I had of hiking in to the middle edge of the yard has to be put on hold for a while, because at the same time some vandals were attempting to burn down the Toonerville bridge some other criminals were breaking into Brooklyn Roundhouse and (I presume) prying parts off the steam Eng!s for resale to scrappers and unscrupulous locomotive parts collectors, and this means that the railroad police will be in a more-paranoid-than-Stazi mode for quite some time.

Perhaps I'll be able to get some different pictures from the Holgate bridge. I'll have to try that next week.

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class 6 flower

[a honeybee hangs on to the edge of a cluster of mint flowers]

Life on the river (#11)

The Ross Island Sand & Gravel tugboat returns to the remains of Ross Island after dropping off a load of Ross Island for conversion into ready-mix.

Jul 07, 2006

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™ – Gone walkabout edition

Dust Mite has been kidnapped by the bears, so the purple stuffed mastodon is going out to recover the elusive household pest.

Now that’s odd behavior

One would think that when you look over the fence and see a massive multi-train headon collision, that you'd bolt the other way as fast as you could to get away from flying debris. But this is apparently not what's happening in Nova Scotia; they're worried about the way that health-care costs are jacking up (mainly due to the rapacious pirates who run the big pharmaceutical companies; I'd think that the best way to deal with price gouging would be to just repeal the letter of marque [drug patent protection] that was given to them, but that's just me), so, in the interests of inclusiveness, they are considering the worst possible alternative in allowing private (==profit-making) vendors into the healthcare system. Presumably under the logic that a non-profit organization with 32 million clients will not have the sort of leverage a dinky little profit-making hmo with, at best, several hundred thousand clients can have with the abovementioned rapacious pirates.

After all, it's worked out so well in the United States; that's why we pay more money for healthcare than Canadians do, that's why we have 43 million or so uninsured people, most of which only see hospital care when they end up in an emergency room that is not allowed to turn them away, and that is why we have a lower life expectancy and, on average, are more sick for longer than Canadians are. But we do pay more money, which means that a small group of unelected bureaucrats can make money beyond the dreams of avarice, so I can see why a Tory government would think that this is the bestest idea in the whole wide world!

It's good (in a horrifying way) to see that the self-immolation sickness that is infecting the entire English-speaking world has leapt the Maple Curtain and is now running wild in Canada. After all, it would be embarrassing to the United States if our system completely collapsed and the educated classes could migrate to a state with a functional government.

Homophobia means never having to be coherent.

It's pretty universally accepted in the first world that a woman does not need to have a license from the state to give birth and raise children, and it's almost as accepted in the first world that single men can adopt children and raise them as their own. So it's not a matter of debate that single people, unlicensed heterosexual couples, and gay families are, right now, raising children.

It's certainly not a matter of debate in the state of New York; everyone there, including the most ignorant bigots you can find, should know about this, right?

Well, no, apparently not. The Appeals court in New York state just ruled that the state could legally treat gay couples as second class citizens, and their judgement included some statements that makes me think that the majority in the case were just flown in from the dark side of James Dobson's ass. This is a case about marriage, not child custody, so what were the judges thinking when they wrote "Heterosexual intercourse has a natural tendency to lead to the birth of children; homosexual intercourse does not. Despite the advances of science, it remains true that the vast majority of children are born as a result of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and the Legislature could find that this will continue to be true." ?

Huh? Remember that people, even in New York State, can have children without being married and people, even in New York State, can get married without having children! So why vomit out this bit of focus-on-the-bigotry propaganda unless it's their way of painting themselves blue, putting on their fundamentalist tutus, and dancing around saying "we don't care about the rule of law when it conflicts with our prejudices" ?

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Jul 06, 2006

A mess of eng!s

If I was deadset on an Amtrak train, this would not have been the best day to be down at Brooklyn Yard. But, as it was, there were enough Yellow Menace engines running into and out of the yard to make the 20 minutes I spent by the Toonerville Bridge interesting. (It would have been more interesting 28 years ago, but, alas, I wasn't paying much attention to Brooklyn Yard when I came through on the Coast Starlight in 1978. I did get a picture of a Portland Terminal Alco, but that was a few miles north and on a different railroad.)

I left at 6pm, and, as is too often usual, there was no Amtrak train to be seen. Perhaps tomorrow will be different (and perhaps pigs will soar majestically against the evening sky.)

Gadget Lust

This knife comes with the usual array of implements of destruction, and in addition it has a needle, thread, a nail file, a mirror(?), and a secret compartment to hold perfume. I'm not really a perfume person (I don't wear it and I generally don't like it when my lust objects wear it [an English woman who I engaged in a mutual train wreck with used a scented bath soap which I rather liked, and there's something about the smell of a freshly washed man that makes my knees weak, but neither of those fragrances really count as perfume]), but having a knife with a needle, thread, and file would be very useful when you're on a vacation and have a garment emergency.

And it's pink, and it has a little heart logo on it. Could there be anything more manly than that?

Regrettably, Feministing is probably right when they say it's sexist. For some inexplicable reason, sensible appliances on a swiss army knife make it a girly object (men, presumably, will use their swiss army knives to hunt down, kill, skin, and eat full-grown polar bears, but are are not able to mend damaged clothing.) Oh, well, more for me.

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When riding in towards work on the #70 bus, I noticed a cut of cars moving towards Brooklyn Yard. I didn't know if it was a train or just switching until I saw Yellow Menace #1117 and another ex-SP unit pushing the cars. The SPUP mainline is separated from 17th by PGE material yards and a couple of blocks of light industry, so there weren't very many good places to take a picture from the bus, but fortunately the Eng!s crossed Pershing street at the same time the bus did, so I was able to get a not-completely-blocked picture of this SW1500 as the bus swept majestically by.

Jul 05, 2006

like two peas in a pod

Yellow menace SD40-2's #3686 and #3685 (EMD #796297-28, #796297-27) prepare to take a freight northwards out of Brooklyn Yard. I presume they were waiting for the southbound Amtrak train, but we've got family visitors so I couldn't linger at the yard today.

Jul 04, 2006

Despite everything, the United States still does a pretty good fireworks show

The Oaks Park fireworks display on July 4th, 2006.

ce n'est pas une abeille

[A nectar-eating fly]

I was planning on pottering around the yard a bit this afternoon, but as I went outside I saw this gorgeous fly flitting around the mintpatch, so I had to take some pictures of it. It's huge! (I'm guessing it is about twice as large as the bumblebee in the last post) and was not the sort of thing that I'd be likely to miss even if I wasn't already looking to see if there was anything interesting flying around the briar patch.

More bee pictures!

[Honeybee (top view)] [Yellow bumblebee (front view)]

On the left, a common honeybee; I was trying to get a picture of her navigational eyes (the little black dots on the center of her forehead.)

On the right, a garden-variety yellow bumblebee (I don't know the exact type.)

There must be something in the water in Washington, DC

Why else would previously-sensible Democratic senators get elected, and within a couple of years start giving speeches that include nuggets like this:

Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation - context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase “under God.” I didn’t.

So, Mr. Obama, who appears to be a Christian, didn't feel oppressed or brainwashed by having to recite the Christian propaganda that was wedged into the Pledge of Allegiance by the 1950s version of the Moral Majority. Well, that's awfully Christian of him, to think that if he's not offended, why, nobody else will be.

And it's not true. When I was a kid, I was offended by the promiscuous addition of Christian propaganda into the little loyalty oath that the school tried to make us recite every morning, and, as best as I can recall, I never recited the goddamn pledge from the moment that I realized that it contained that bit of propaganda (the whole business of pledging allegiance to a flag was pretty offensive, too, but not as offensive as coerced into a little bit of extra added g-d worship.) But I'm not a Jew or a follower of one of the popular Jewish heresies (Christianity, Islam), and thus in this tolerant country there's no chance I'll ever be elected to any public office more powerful than dogcatcher, so the tiny detail that I did feel oppressed and I did feel brainwashed by "under G-d" just won't matter to the tolerant public officials who give speeches telling me that I should just shut the fuck up and not rattle the doors in their carefully crafted Potemkin villages.

It's particularly rich, too, that self-admitted Christians should get all indignant about attempts to cut back vainglorious use of their G-d's name, given that a certain Jesus of Nazareth pretty explicitly disapproved of that sort of stunt (Matthew 6: «And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.» And that was polite; he was a little more intemperate in Luke 11.) It might be true that the entire history of the Christian faith is filled to overflowing with examples of hypocrites twisting the faith to support their selfishness, but that's no reason to pander to those hypocrites.

Jul 03, 2006

Building a prototype house (pt 2)

The shed we're building in the backyard isn't moving very quickly, but it is moving. The foundation has not advanced at all in the past couple of weeks (I intend to remove part of the driveway and use the rubble from that demolition to finish the foundation), but we have managed to build part of the frame, using wood salvaged from our ex-deck, wood salvaged from a dumpster, and some wood I actually bought new.

The shed is small enough so that I can build the balloon frame, tape it together to check dimensions, then collapse it and store the walls in the garage until later. "Later", in this case, will be when the foundation and ground floor deck is complete.

Part of the floor (shown installed in this picture) is a 5x3 slab of terranzo that I got from SCRAP. My nephew Tyler thinks that it might be a spare piece of terranzo from the Portland airport, which makes sense to me (I am no longer a frequent enough visitor to be able to remember much about the way airport terminal is furnished.) There's a foot gap at the head of the terranzo, so I'm going to put a built-in bench there so that people can go into the shed and take off their muddy shoes before going further into the expansive 6'x8' interior.

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A bee of a different color

[A leafcutter bee]

A leafcutter bee takes a break from doing important bee work to pop on down to the mintpatch for a quick snort or two.

Not the easiest creature to photograph

[An out of focus butterfly on final approach to a cluster of mint flowers]
On final approach to the lunch counter.

[A butterfly, slurping up nectar from a blue flower]
The pause that refreshes

I’m on vacation

So, instead of an endless stream of railroad pictures taken from the north end of Brooklyn Yard, I take pictures of interesting things closer to home.

This honeybee was not going to let me spoil her nectar-gathering, even if she kept bumping into the lens every time she backed up.


There's one company now you can sign up and you can get a movie delivered to your house daily by delivery service. Okay. And currently it comes to your house, it gets put in the mail box when you get home and you change your order but you pay for that, right.

But this service isn't going to go through the interent and what you do is you just go to a place on the internet and you order your movie and guess what you can order ten of them delivered to you and the delivery charge is free.

Ten of them streaming across that internet and what happens to your own personal internet?

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

(--Ted Stevens (E-AK), quoted by "wired blogs")

I'm amazed. There are plenty of "libertarian" Evil Party sympathisers in the computer world, including quite a few people involved with networking (shoot, you still can't swing a cat on Usenet without running into someone beabling about the evil government™ blocking human creativity™ for some imagined offense against capitalism), so you'd think that Mr. Stevens might have been able to hire someone that could give this, um, argument the slick professionalism of actually making sense.

But I suppose that might be embarrassing to the learned gentleman from Alaska, and it would destroy the perfect equality of a country dominated by Evil Party apparachniks.

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.

(Kurt Vonnegut describes the GOP version of paradise)

Jul 02, 2006

Slowest construction project in the whole wide world

Our ongoing project to clear the stupid room proceeds, slowly, along. It's been almost a year since the last round of demolition, but today I finally ripped the countertop out of the stupid room, leaving nothing there except for the kitchen sink (and plumbing) suspended precariously on a couple of slabs of plywood.

Now to cut the plumbing pipes down, remove the (castiron) sink, and rip out the wall that separates this room from Julie's office (this last step is still being argued over).


A mysteriously tiny bee

This tiny grey and black striped bee (or wasp?) is about 1/10th the size of a honeybee. I'm not sure just what it is, but it's pretty when you get close enough to actually see it.

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Colors not found in nature

Jul 01, 2006

Bee picture of the day

A honeybee lifts off from a bunch of mint flowers.