Nov 30, 2006
Nov 29, 2006
North floats nosily over some houses during a test run on the OHSU aerial tramway.
By a fairly aggressive program of energy pruning, we've managed to get our powerbill down to under 700kw/month for the past 4 months. Last november, we used 1.049mwh, and this november it was 661 kwh, and that's while leaving three computers running 24x7 (the three computers and associated electronica use
150kwh [edit: I stripped out all the unnecessary network infrastructure and converted to a point-to-point network and got it down to about 107kwh]; I might be able to prune that down a bit if I run the servers
off a battery pack (they are all tiny little VIA EPIA5000 boxes which are too
slow for running Linux+KDE+'Zillafox (sometimes I wonder if anything is fast enough to run Firefox, which has bloated in a truely awe-inspiring fashion), but they're more than fast enough to run a traditional text version of Unix. And they don't use more than 50w even loaded up with a couple of 160gb disks, a CD-rom, a pci ethernet card, and a big 120VAC power supply) and 12vdc->(+/-)12+(+/-)5+(+/-)3.3 power converters, but that's picking away at 150kwh while 500kwh goes forgotten.)
We've already cranked our hot water heater down to 107.5°F, which has probably given us 100kwh/month back, and we've got a nice super-efficient clotheswasher, but we've still got the traditional big energy suckers known
as a clothes dryer, an old inefficient electric stove, and
a regular refrigerator. Surely some of those can be cleaned up.
But, even as it stands it's a pretty good improvement. At the rate we were using energy last year, we would have had to install a 12kw solar array to saw ourselves loose from the grid. That would have been barkingly expensive; the handy pricing calenders that the people who sell solar provide claim that that sort of array would cost upwards of US$70,000. But now, it's "only" a 5-6k array, or in the ballpark of US$40,000. Still barkingly expensive, but
US$30,000 less barkingly expensive than our previous setup.
We could replace our fridge with a brand new Sun Frost unit (~250kwh/year), but those things are somewhat expensive and they'd only save us ~250kwh/year. 250kwh/year is about what all the wall warts in the house use, and I could
get half of that back by (a) replacing pete's motherboard with one that has
4 usb 2.0 ports, (b) replacing the SGI1600 monitor on pete with one that's
got a better power supply, and (c) rearranging the network wiring in the
basement so that I don't have to use a switch [we have three wired computers in the house -- downbelow, the wireless access point, and the backup machine. They're all wired to a switch, and if I could directly connect them to each
other then that would be 5-6w (and another 20 seconds of UPS runtime) clawed
(Note that I'm not even considering energy conservation through behavior modification right now. I want to be energy efficient AND maintain my decadent style of living as long as possible, and if we really wanted to be energy efficient we'd be spending US$40,000 to have the efficiency crews come in to replace our windows, door seals, and insulation; right now we burn around the ballpark of 350 gallons of diesel fuel a year to keep the Big Yellow House warm, and until we can reduce that carbon fountain, sackcloth is nothing more than another version of the Department of Homeland Hysteria's security-by-handwaving policy.)
Nov 28, 2006
After (s-l-o-w-l-y) getting a couple of freebsd 4.8 cdroms, the business of restoring downbelow became mostly easier. It took 45 minutes from the loading of the first CD to the point where the machine was downbelow again, with only three exceptions.
Those exceptions were
dhcpd, which has a tremendous case of "we're free software, we don't NEED to be user friendly!", failed to start because the goddamn piece of open source crapware will not start if it can't find a leases file in /var/db. The sensible thing to do would be to just create the goddamn file and, perhaps, spit up a warning message saying that it had to create this file. So dhcpd doesn't do that; no, what it does is put a long series of messages in the syslog which say, in effect "we're ISC, we're smarter than you, and no you can't get support from us unless you pay us the big bucks" with a little postscript saying "heyy, I can't find dhcpd.leases, so I'm going to die! Try touching the file and restarting me!"
dhcpd, again, combined with its fellow adventurer in user-unfriendliness named. All the zonefiles were in /var, so they were gone, leaving me to spend Two Fucking Hours tweaking the config files and restarting dhcpd (which, because it was written by the beforementioned "smarter than you" ISC, doesn't let you HUP it to make it reread config files.
No, you have to kill the bastard and restart it, because that's User Friendliness™ ISC-style. [And don't get me started on the mighty rube goldberg machine known as omshell, which is the dhclient answer to kill -HUP])
Last, but definitely not least, are our good friends yellow pages, which have spent the last couple of decades single-handedly redefining "user-unfriendly" for people stuck on Un*x machines. Yellow pages are, for lack of a better word, fried crap on a crap-bread sandwich, garnished with crap.
And it doesn't help that in FreeBSDland they've got their own bizarre version of shadow passwords (one of the two essential steps for systems insecurity; combine shadow passwords with "strong passwords" and you've got a recipe for people keeping all of their passwords stored on little easy-to-steal slips of paper.
This one, after a hour or so of poking at the damned yellow pages files, still doesn't work, so I'm going to punt on the whole thing and set the sole surviving yellow pages client up to pick usernames out of my Windows domain. (Because, unlike yellow pages, the stupid undocumented secret proprietary windows domain crap appears to work without having to fight with it EVERY SINGLE TIME the YP master craps itself.
To be fair, this isn't all yellow pages fault. A large part of it is the too-clever-by-half way that FreeBSD sets up user+password databases. Throwing
shadow passwords into the mix (and chasing down the name of the password file) is always one of the fun ways of rediscovering how fucked up FreeBSD is in the systems administration department. Christ, it makes Linux look functional (and Linux has 1/10th the manpages, and most of _those_ are out of date or just plain wrong) -- Linux, for all of its failings, at least lets me kill off sendmail by putting the boot to a single configuration file.
Nov 27, 2006
The Ross Island Sand & Gravel tugboat passes a speedboat while PG&E crews tear down the last bits of the last original power pole(?) on the first long-distance high-tension power line in the world.
Tramcar south heads from the healthcare and plastic surgery boutique up to OHSU on yet another test run for the aerial tramway. Note that the plastic wrap has been pulled away from the doors, and if you look carefully it looks like some of the construction crew (or OHSU notables) are using it for mass transit before the official opening day.
The first fruitcake of the season (from the Moosewood dessert cookbook)
It's not that my home gateway machine fell over dead last night. No, I take a nightly backup (it's a freebsd box, so it's in the traditional bsd dump format) and save that off on three different disks on two different machines. It's not that the freebsd install disk I found was for a different version of freebsd (the gateway runs freebsd 4.8, but the only freebsd install disks I found were for various point releases of versions 1, 2, and 3. FreeBSD is an operating system that makes Linux's promiscuous interface churn seem like a paragon of stability, so the whole idea of "restoring" a 4.8 machine from a 3.5.1 boot cd falls into the realm of a grand and horrible farce.)
No, it's that the stupid boot cd doesn't include such trivial repair facilities
as ed or mount, so if you don't have the second boot CD, all you can do is fire up an "emergency holographic shell" that allows you to, um, er, run cat and echo on the contents of the install cd's emulated floppy images.
Now that's *really* useful. Even more so when you've just pulled the former root disk from a machine (you can tell it's a former root disk because when it's powered up it goes "whirrrrr *clunk!* whirrrrr *clunk!* (repeat until you power off the machine)" when you attempt to access information that's not on the first cylinder.) It's even more useful when you realize that your goose is cooked at about 11:25pm on a Sunday night, and there's nothing left to do but power down the entire network until I can hunt down the full two-disk set of CDs at the freebsd archive and download them to a machine that's got
- a network connection
- a cd burner
- aaaaand an operating system that comes with a version of cdrecord
It does not help, of course, that the ftp connection is running at a whopping 40k/sec (300kbit, or a bit less than a third of a T-1) and will finish
retrieving the 4.8 iso images at approximately 5pm.
Perhaps it's time to buy a 1 gb compact flash and stuff the root filesystem of
my gateway onto it. I'm sure it will have its own spectacular failure cases, but a 1gb filesystem can be smashed down to fit onto a 700mb cd image, and if I'm very lucky I could also stuff a tiny restore kernel onto that cd as well.
Nov 25, 2006
The view south across the Westmoreland Park casting pond ("don't forget to mention that's it's five blocks from our house" -- The Best) at about 5pm today.
We went down to Westmoreland Park this afternoon to see the recently refilled casting pond, and while we were there I took a few really-low-light pictures of the local crowd of aggressively tame ducks and geese.
A mallard and a not-quite-a-mallard wait for a little afternoon snack.
A crowd of ducks and geese cruise threateningly, waiting for that afternoon snack.
A crowd of Canada Geese fly from the Eastmoreland gulf course home to their cozy quarters in Oaks bottom.
Nov 24, 2006
A Dust Mite, swollen to 100 times its regular size, relaxes after thankgiving dinner.
Nov 22, 2006
The north gondola of OHSU's Lathe of Heavenish aerial tramway hovers over First St this morning. If you look closely, you can see it's still wrapped in plastic so it won't get wet before grand opening day.
Nov 20, 2006
Spend a couple of years cheerfully chattering on about railroads, photography, and (for values of "cheerfully chattering" that includes "spittle-flecked ranting") politics, and what do you get? A couple of hundred visits a day, mainly from people looking for pictures and porn.
But put up a little Teen Titans page so I can have all of my Teen Titans addiction conveniently plunked down into one place (no, I don't like the original comic books. I suspect I wouldn't like the manga, either. But 4/5ths of the anime episodes are terrific, and of the other fifth there are only two or three episodes which are not worth watching), wait for a few days, and good lord almighty just watch those hits roll in.
The moral of the story is, apparently, content bad, pop culture links good.
Perhaps I should emulate the editors and publish lots of kitten pictures?
Nov 19, 2006
There was an about 25 minute interval between handing over the big survey ship and the start of bear-related activities, so I took a few pictures of the lego-eating spacecraft before it became an irreplacable play item.
Of course, the ship has undergone a few modifications since the last picture was taken (redoing the upper deck aft of the bridge) so the pictures you see here may not be particularly accurate even before the bears decide to send it to the breakers yard.
Nov 17, 2006
Dust Mites In Space!
Nov 16, 2006
A splendid suggestion from Joe. My. God.:
It was at this time last week that the last bell finally rang on the 2006 election, delivering the House, the Senate, and the majority of state governships into the hands of the Democrats. The map is blue again. And so is the sky. My face is sore from smiling and my feets are aching from all this happy dancing.
And playing a possibly vital, perhaps pivotal role in this triumph was not a politician. Not a party strategist. It was a private citizen. It was a gay man. A man who although he was risking his personal livelihood, risking his arrest, and surely risking his physical safety, he came forward and did the right thing at the right time.
That man is Mike Jones.
Regardless of your personal opinions regarding Jones' chosen field of work, you cannot ignore his unprecedented accomplishment of almost completely upending the Republican Party's last minute campaign to divert the nation's attention from the true issue of the election: the Iraq war.
Talking Heads: "The terrorists have just blah blah....gay marriage referendum blah blah....stem cell legislation blah blah...millions of illegal immigrants blah blah. Um, wait a minute. We have a breaking bulletin: Pastor Ted Haggard! Head of evangelical movement! Homosexual! Prostitution! Crystal meth! Close to the President! More! More! More! More!"
Repeat on every channel.
Headlines on every paper.
For five days.
The five days BEFORE the election.
All the billionaire George Soroses in the world could not have more effectively eclipsed the Republicans' usual last minute diversionary tactics. It was pure delicious serendipity. It was kismet. And most of all, it was KARMA, baby.
We'll never know the exact impact that Mike Jones' revelations had on the national election. He came forward specifically because Ted Haggard was hypocritically supporting Colorado's anti-gay referendum. That referendum passed, anyway. And Jones probably didn't fathom that his story would balloon into a national media orgy and image nightmare for the RNC and President Bush. Jones could not have predicted that his little sex & drugs scandal might have spun unknowable legions of wavering digusted red staters over to blue country.
But it happened. Don't we all want to believe it happened? That it surely helped, maybe, a LOT?
I've been in contact with Mike over the last week. He tells me that the major gay rights organizations have extended nothing but ten-foot poles. He is unemployed and I imagine that for at least the short future, he is unemployable. He is facing the potential of huge legal bills. He has received death threats from Haggard's followers and other peace-loving Christians.
Gentle readers, you and I owe Mike Jones a debt of gratitude. It's a different country than it was seven days ago, and even if you think that Mike Jones had only the tiniest part in effecting that change, we OWE him. Remember those last two Senate seats were decided by just a few thousand votes each.
So please, show your thanks.
Go to PayPal's Send Money screen and throw some love to our unlikely hero, using his email account: "email@example.com" If you ran into Mike Jones in a bar, wouldn't you insist on buying his drinks? There's thousands and thousands of you out there in JMG-land, and I'm willing to bet that you too have sore faces from smiling and aching feet from all that happy dancing. Show some appreciation to the man who might have helped put that smile on your face and the blue back on that map.
If you don't have a PayPal account, they are free and take less than 1 minute to set up. You can send cash directly to Mike from your ATM or credit cards. Send him the $10 you would have spent buying him drinks, if you ran into him in a bar. Send him the $20 you would have spent buying his dinner in a restaurant. Send him $50, $100, maybe more, if you think that maybe, just maybe, Mike Jones had a hand in changing the political landscape of our nation, and possibly, just possibly, a war.
And even if you don't buy any of the above, if you don't think what Jones did had ANY effect on the election, you should thank him. Thank him just for the sheer entertainment of the last week. Thank him for exposing the ugly hypocrisy of the evangelical movement. That alone, is worth a ten-spot. At least.
Nov 15, 2006
Instead of gloating over the election, I've been spending my copious spare time building more lego stuff for the bears to play with. The last survey ship has gone to the breakers yard, but most of the parts have been hoovered up (as well as about a third the rest of the legos, and a lot of parts from Russell's St*r W*rs "Slave 1" ship. ) to make this ship This ship is a whopping 74 studs long, and it's, even without the external warp grids, a lego vacumn. I'm impressed at the people who can make lego ships that are 200 studs long, because it must cost them a small fortune to get the necessary pieces for them.
As an aside, my program of integration continues along. We now have enough "girly" hair pieces and faces so that with careful selection we can get 35 female lego guys, and I've bought another 10 /Lando/Mace/Bespin/ heads, so we're up to about the black/white ratio that Portland has (which is not enough, damnit. I want another 20-30 /Lando/Mace/Bespin/ heads so we can get the ratio up to closer to 50/50, and enough additional "girly" hair pieces to get that ratio up to 50/50, and then the only minority will be the poor skeleton guys, who number (and will continue to number) a whopping five minifigs of the 100 or so we have right now.)
Of course, it's sometimes difficult to be sure just how many lego figures we have. Silas's guy tends to change clothes, equipment, and heads, so he leaves a trail of body parts behind as he goes. I periodically sweep the library picking up partial lego people, so I think that the number of people swings between 100 and 80, depending on how much of a fashion plate Silas's John is on any particular day.
Nov 14, 2006
Nov 12, 2006
Postoffice has been upgraded to version 1.3.7 with the addition of one new feature and continued tweaks to the escape-from feature I started to put in to version 1.3.7.
The new feature is that authdb blacklisting has been (properly) implemented. The previous implementation blacklisted entries by setting the delay time to MAXINT(time_t), which becomes less and less useful as it gets closer to 2038. For 1.3.7, I redid it to use a special blacklist token, so the delay time will always remain insultingly large.
The tweaks to escape-from are to have configure.sh check for the existance of memstr() before enabling the built-in one, and now all local deliveries (in 1.3.6, the only place I did from escaping in was delivery to local mailboxes; 1.3.7 fixes that and also does from escaping when piping to executables) will have embedded '^From 's escaped.
Nov 11, 2006
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Nov 10, 2006
Postoffice has been pushed up to version 1.3.6, not to fix a bug (amazingly enough), but to add a new feature.
The escape-from option in postoffice.cf tells postoffice -- when delivering mail locally -- to scan the body of incoming messages for lines beginning with the pattern 'From ' and prefix them with a > character. Why? Some mail readers (I've gotten a report that Mozilla Thunderbird is one of them) can't handle naked 'From ' lines in messages, and will break them in two.
This feature (escape-from=1 in postoffice.cf) should fix that wagon.
Note that this code is not extensively tested. I use mutt, which is a pretty sucky mail reader, but at least it's a sucky mail reader that can handle embedded From lines, so I don't many places where I can exhaustively test this code. "It works for me!" is still my line, but "It works" covers a pretty small area right now.
I do occasional contracting at a place where I used to be the systems administrator, and, as part of that contracting, I've got a home directory and a mailbox on that machine. I don't actually *use* that mailbox -- my correspondents send mail to pell -- but I left it there as a spamcatcher.
For some reason, I just took a look at it, and it's (in that sort of "crossed the beams" manner) really impressive. At home, the combination of greylist, dial-up and spammer blacklist, and spamassassin have reduced the incoming spam to maybe 5-6 messages a week (out of approximately 2,000 attempts a day), so when I popped open my mailbox and discovered 36565 mail messages -- ALL SPAM -- for the last year and two months, my eyes sort of popped out and fell on the floor.
I think it's time to go back and take a further look at the paranoia code inside postoffice just to see if there is any way to head off the next innovations in spammer technology. For some reason, getting 7-10 spam messages a day just doesn't seem to me to be a way of making electronic mail more useful.
Nov 08, 2006
(quote from Hirohito,
airplane from the Beastie Boys album "Licensed to Ill",
logo from the Evil Party)
Nov 07, 2006
Assuming that (a) the Stupid Party gets control of the Senate and (b) the margins are wide enough so the Evil Party can't steal the election again, it would be an interesting experiment to try and provoke the Evil Party into abolishing filibuster before the chamber changes hands.
After all, it would be bad if the Stupid Party abolished the filibuster, but it would be very useful to not have it in the way if the Stupid Party realized that this would be the time for a sweet and bitter revenge.
Nov 06, 2006
Now that fall is staggering into Oregon, the weather has reverted to classic behavior, and it's raining. A lot. It's raining like it rains in the midwest, which means that in Portland everything is starting to flood.
Our house has a single sewer line running from our garage, through our backyard, and under the house before it heads out into the street to discharge it's appointed effluent. At some time in the past 100 years, one of the (now demised and logged) cherry trees in the backyard managed to twine around the sewer line and break it into a thousand pieces. And in the past 100 years, our house has settled so it sits at the bottom of a shallow moat. So when it rains a lot, we get the double whammy; in the backyard, water (and dirt, earthworms, pieces of rotten wood, and the occasional corpse of a small woodland animal) percolates down to the sewer pipe, then makes a bolt for the city sewer and completely fills it to the point where any prolonged use of water in the house causes the sewer to overflow, and at the same time the water that falls near the house fills up the little moat and percolates through the walls into the basement.
When the sewer is full, it tends to jam. And when it jams, the rising water carries things up through the pipes and out through the drains onto the basement floor. So after a long day's rain, we can go down into the basement and see little biological e. coli troop transports beaching themselves around the drainpipe. The easy solution to this (until we hire a jcb and redo the ENTIRE FUCKING SEWER LINE) should be to stuff an expandable pipe plug into the filthy and disgusting drain, so if the sewer wishes to flood it will have to go up a few more feet before it reaches freedom, but, alas, there's also water coming in through the walls, and if we plug the drain it will slowly fill the basement with (clean-ish, at least until it touches the filth that was left over from the other flooding [and the random bits of cat poop that the pedestrians of the apocolypse have hidden around the basement for us to find]) water from the moat.
It's pretty special. What we do is leave the drain unplugged until we do something that flushes a large amount of water down the drain, at which point someone bolts for the basement to wedge a plug in. And after the water has been given a chance to drain, someone bolts for the basement to remove that plug so that the basement won't fill with the water coming in through the wall.
And, for some odd reason, the best won't let me fill the basement with 6 feet of concrete. Odd.
Annotations has been pushed up to version 188.8.131.52 with the addition of some trivial cleanup to the single-page reindex code I put in to version 184.108.40.206, and some bugfixes to correct new and annoying bugs that I put in when I did the so-called trivial cleanups.
If your rss feeds from pell are all screwed up, this code release should fix them. And if pigs had wings, they could be supersonic transports.
But it's August, and what could be more important than taking a holiday?
Not this, either.
Nov 05, 2006
The bears are making grumbling noises about dismantling it, so I took some pictures of Darth Tiffany's survey ship before they sneak it off to the breaker's yard.
(background image courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope)
Nov 03, 2006
On Halloween, lucky trick or treaters might end up with a Dust Mite in their treat bag.
Some assembly required.
(I blame James Nicoll for this one.)
Nov 02, 2006
When I was going back to work after lunch yesterday, the #70 bus went past a container freight switching at the north end of Brooklyn Yard. I got an interesting shot of the lead SD70m, but reflections off the bus window spoiled the shot. A quick pass through the Irfanview (one of the three killer applications that keep me using Windows; the other two are Civilization II and a consistant user interface that doesn't require a 4p Xeon box to run at a reasonable speed. And, yes, I've evaluated MacOS, and the periodic 5-second mouse hangups got to be too much for me after a whopping two days) sepia filter and the reflections, if not "went away", at least sort of merged into the picture so you have to look to see the reflections of the trees on the west side of 17th.
Nov 01, 2006
Take a look at this collection of 90 lego people. Notice something funny about it? If you look carefully, you might notice 9 or 10 women, but no matter how closely you might look you won't find anyone who has any skin swarthier than Lego yellow. That's ridiculous on both parts; first, women are a little bit more than 50% of the population, but this random population of lego people can only get a little over 10% female (and to add insult to injury, we've got as many robots and skeletons as female minifigs)? And secondly, even a pasty white town like Portland has a 3-4% black population (and lemme tell you that this low percentage is something I notice after living in Chicago, NYC, New Orleans, and That Paradise That Is California™)
If it wasn't for the Lego Star Wars®™© sets, the black population of the lego world would be a few robot heads and three basketball players. This just isn't right. Fortunately for me there is a flourishing aftermarket in Lego parts, so I can get the /Lando/Mace/Bespin/ heads in bulk and go on a massive campaign of integration to bring the black population of legoland up to a more satisfying 30-50% (with a similar campaign to bring the female population up to 50%; this might cost me a small fortune in lego heads and/or hairpieces [yes, it's a stereotype to use "women-styled" hair and headpieces with red lips to represent women, but these are lego minifigs and until I get the sex ratio up to something decent the bears and, sigh, I will continue to assume that unadorned heads with butch haircuts are all men. Yes, it sucks, and that's why I'm engaging in stereotyping] but a 10% woman/0% black population is unacceptable.)