This Space for Rent

Feb 28, 2007

A quantum singularity, Lego style

After building some smaller survey ships for the bears to play with, I found myself getting dissatisfied with the way the ships were laid out. So I sat down and started designing a somewhat larger ship that would not be completely ridiculous, just slightly ridiculous.

The rules I settled on were that classical mechanics work, with the one exception of a Battlestar Galactica-style jump drive. To make matters more interesting, I put a couple of restrictions on how the jump drive would work:

  1. Energy is conserved across a jump; if you're travelling at 20km/s and you jump over near a planet that's moving 10 km/s relative to you, that planet will still be moving at 10km/s when you materialize closer to it and you'll have to find some way to make up that differential if you're planning on doing anything other than watch the planet slide slowly away from you.
  2. If you jump down a gravity well, all the particles in your body are squashed closer together, and then spring back to the regular spacing. If you jump up a gravity well, all the particles are spread apart, then spring back to their regular spacing. I don't have a hard and fast rule, but jumping up or down more than 1/10th g is dangerous, because things will tear when springing back if they've been compressed or expanded too much.
  3. And, to make matters even more fun, when you jump deeply into a gravity well you're likely to end up displaced some distance from your target. At 1g, the displacement can be up to 1 earth diameter, which could lead to great hilarity if you ended up one earth diameter up (with less gravity [see #2]) or one earth diameter down (remember that energy is conserved, so you'd land and have everything rushing towards you at quite a few miles a second. Whoops.)

So you can jump, but you can't jump too near a planet or anything else that's got a strong gravity gradient. So how do you speed up and slow down when you're hopping around a solar system? Well, solar systems have planets, and those planets have gravity -- if you're jumping from Earth orbit to Mars, you can either jump behind Mars and do repeated jumpbacks until the planet has dragged you into orbit, or you can do the much more exciting approach of jumping in front of the planet and nudging your ship into a hyperbolic path with a pericenter inside Mar's atmosphere. (And what can you do with such an path? if you've plastered the bottom of your ship with heat-resistant tiles, aerobraking is what you can do. And that's what this survey ship is arranged to do.)

This is a world where spaceflight involves slow transfers from a planet up to where the jumpship orbits, then a flight consisting of low-g burns punctuated by jumps and the occasional bout of planet-surfing. And this survey ship (not a lego SHIP [seriously huge investment in parts], because it's not 100 studs long. (it's 100 studs wide, but that doesn't seem to count.)) is built for that; two decks, 50% fuel mass, a crew of 36 or so lego guys, enough pulse-fusion engines so the ship can maintain 1/3rd g for several weeks, and masses of heat resistant tiles across the bottom so that the ship can go surfing when it needs to burn off relative velocity.

And, yes, it's a lego vacuum. I don't know just how many pieces are in it right now, but some of the bulk lego merchants on bricklink are beginning to recognise me. When it's finished it's going to look like a Milano cookie with a mohawk, except 30x larger and made of battleship gray legos.

Easy answers for simple questions

(regarding the B*sh junta's attempts to legalize torture)

Gets pretty tortured when you try, as the writers do, to establish that it’s okay to kidnap people in other countries and torture them because our government wants to get incorrect information - all that can be obtained through torture. We are using the NATO compact to prove we can arrest and torture ‘suspects’ - who are no longer allowed to contest their arrest - on the streets in other countries? What sort of country are we?

(Ruth at Correntewire)

You could point at the USA's history in Central America and say "so, what else is new?", but at least the USA was ashamed enough about that to just sort of try to pretend that we didn't have anything to do with the torturers we trained, funded, and provided military support to. These days the USA has a government where one of the most important things is to reserve the ability to legally torture people.

And this is a government that is supported by between 40% and 50% of the voting public. The 2006 election didn't turn on the morality of torture, but on the Evil Party's incompetence, so you can easily figure that a distressingly large part of the electorate is *just fine* with torture just as long as the trains run on time.

"What sort of country are we?"


But if you had to ask, I'd bet you already knew that.

Feb 26, 2007


Look who won an Oscar.

That's quite a trifecta; Vice President, President (interrupted by a coup, but he still won the election), and now a spiffy Hollywood medal.


Feb 25, 2007

New Code!

Postoffice has been pushed up to version 1.3.8a with the addition of one major feature, one minor feature, and one major bugfix.

  • The bugfix is the most urgent thing, because it fixes an infinite loop in the resolver. The way the resolver used to work is that it would resolve cnames until it found nothing or a not-cname. This worked fine in a world that didn't include spammers, but, alas, this is not that world; yesterday, I started noticing that Postoffice would spin off a client process that would start spinning itself and named at full speed for, well, basically forever. Upon investigation, I found that it would only do it when the machine at tried to connect. And why did it spin forever? Because the reverse dns for many hosts in that netblock (FUSION-COLO-BLK-III) were cnames pointing back to themself, like this:

    orc@gehenna(orc)$ host is a nickname for is a nickname for

    Now postoffice is not the most trusting MTA out there, but in this case it was as naïve as a newborn baby, and by god it would sit there and chase after its tail forever if it had the opportunity. Not any more it won't, so this is a good reason to upgrade to 1.3.8a.

  • The minor feature is pretty trivial; I've added support for “sendmail -d0”, so versions of the world's least portable autoconf program (and that would be GNU configure; it's bad enough to tweak a makefile, but having to tweak 10,000 lines of machine-generated shellscript makes that look like a bed of roses. And that's not including the editing I need to do to take out the offensive FSF attempts to rename Linux) won't cause postoffice to complain about unknown options.

  • The big feature is that I've added a new option to This option is the “immediate” option, and what it does is to tell postoffice to attempt immediate delivery to remote recipients. If you don't like the way that mail is plunked into /var/spool/mqueue and doesn't get delivered until the next queue run, this is another good reason to upgrade to 1.3.8a (and then modify your to include the new option.)

(edited to replace 1.3.8 with 1.3.8a; fixed a locking problem in 1.3.8)

Feb 24, 2007

Help! Help! I’m being repressed!

Also, the department has launched a new website,, with information on the laws they enforce and how to file a complaint. Justice officials will be distributing informational literature to religious organizations, civil rights groups and community leaders on how to file a complaint

(nasty right-wing fundamentalist link via Americablog)

I don't know about you, but my religious freedom is being greatly infringed upon by not being able to legally marry another man. Perhaps it's time to send Abu Gonzales a little note about how I'm being oppressed by the self-proclaimed "highly moral christians(tm)" who passed a Hate Amendment in Oregon.

Not, of course, that it would do any good, because the B*sh junta has no intention to defend any religious freedoms at all. They'd be perfectly happy to convert the American Imperium into the Republic of Gilead just as long as the religious authorities didn't interfere with the rent taking and private lives of the ultra-wealthy. Remember, when a member of the B*sh junta talks about religious freedom, they mean "brutal theocracy," and the only reason they don't say it is because they're incapable of telling the truth.


Insults against common decency.

So. You're flying back home from a foreign country when someone on the pairplane gets sick and the plane has to do an emergency landing. After the airplane lands, the local police pulls your family out from the passengers waiting to reboard the airplane and toss you into jail.

You must be some sort of horrible criminal, right?

Oh, hohoho no! You're a Canadian citizen, your father is Iranian, the airport your flight was diverted to was on US territory, and that was enough to have the fucking beacon of liberty and freedom kidnap your entire family and toss them into a private prison.

To be fair, the blame isn't completely on the United States here. Mini-Me could have had Canada's New Government(tm) lodge an official complaint against the American Imperium, but I suppose that would have gotten in the way of the American-style campaign of blood libel against the Liberal Party (and, really, you can't sell out Canada to American big business if you're going to be insulting the United States while you do it, because the important thing to the American Imperium isn't that you give in, but that you do it as cravenly as possible.)

I'd say this was a good reason for Canada to get The Bomb, but, shoot, Canada's got Stephen Harper, which appears to be the same thing as taping a "kick me" sign to the back on every able-bodied Canadian citizen who isn't in Mini-Me's circle of friends. If Canada had the bomb, Mini-Me would be too busy waving it at Iran to pay any attention to the malignant despotism spreading on their southern border.

I'll not bother to write my typical spittle-flecked rant against the USA. It's not really changed (yes, it would be nice if the Democratic Party would stop calling me until they repeal the goddamn torture bill and start impeachment proceedings against the Coward in Chief, but I know their cowardly habits have been there for a generation, and are thus hard to break even when a Pol Pot-style despot is busily wrecking the county) and what's the point of cutting and pasting my usual rant when all you need to do is look at the archives?

(links via Verbena-19, Accidental Deliberations)

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Feb 23, 2007

Dorrie is getting old

We've gotten so distracted with children and other cats dying that we keep forgetting how old Dorrie (Tandoori Chicken, because she is a very timid cat) has gotten. The best and I have been involved for ~14 years now, and she had Dorrie before I met her. About the only indications that she's getting old is that she's gotten quite plump (until about two years ago she was quite a skinny little cat, but when Suzzy went into her fatal decline Dorrie became a flitting shadow, only dashing out to eat and pee on the floor), she's started to snore, and she's getting some age spots on her muzzle.

Because she's terminally skittish, it's close to impossible to get her to the vets office; the last time we managed to get her to the vet was about 4 years ago, and she hated it so much that the next time we had vets appointments we had to leave her behind and just take Suzzy. This probably means that, like poor Vanessa, the first indication we'll have that something is wrong when we find her doing an all-too-convincing dead bug imitation on the kitchen floor.

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

it's not really whiskey
After a long and difficult week, a Dust Mite likes to settle down with a glass of whisky/whiskey/bourbon/aqua vita/akvavit on a friday night.

(the sad thing is that, after about a decade, the formerly huge stores of scotch whisky, etc I brought back with me from my trips over to the vicinity of Europe have all gone *poof* in a puff of spirits. Dust Mite is drinking the very last drop of Akvavit from my last trip to Trondheim, and (sniff) there is no more after this.)

Feb 22, 2007

Still life with cat, legos, and random stuff.

mavis settles down in a pile of junk we're sorting

Ever notice that when you're cleaning up a room (there were two old dead macbooks sitting behind the sofa. Imagine that) the cats will come around and take their most photogenic poses right in the middle of the piles of junk?

One of the macintoshes is going to be regutted with a mini-itx motherboard. The cat, on the other hand, will go and find more piles of junk to recline in.

Feb 21, 2007

That’s two

Rhode Island will recognize same sex marriages lawfully performed in Massachusetts as marriages in Rhode Island,” [Rhode Island Attorney General] Lynch said in a letter dated Tuesday and released Wednesday.

That's a good start; that means there are now two states (Oregon isn't one of them) that have reached the minimum standards of morality and simple human decency that are woefully lacking in the rest of this country. Hopefully the handful of states that have adopted the compromise position of "civil unions" will see the light and flip their "civil union" compromises over to their proper status.

(via No Capital)

Cat & bear photos of the day


I bought a new flash unit for the Pentax last week, and it arrived in the mail today. The cats were sitting around the bedroom when I fiddled everything together, so I used them as the first guinea pigs for bouncing the flash off the ceiling (old house -> plastered ceilings -> nice reflective surface -> teh win.)

After I took the cat pictures, I picked up the camera and went bear hunting. I found them in the usual place; parked in front of the computer in the library, looking at Bricklink and the Lego website.

When I put the flash unit on the Pentax, a previously light camera becomes a really heavy and awkward blob. But the flash picture quality is extremely yummy, and that makes up for a host of problems.

Department of unintended consequences, Linux-style

About a decade ago, I contributed some enhanced memory detection code to the Linux kernel so that Linux on ia32 boxes could detect more than 64mb of installed memory. It worked well enough so that Linus sucked it into the mainline kernel, and there it sits, blatting out the same old stupid memory map every time a Linux box boots.

For some reason, I thought that displaying this memory map in hex was a good idea, so that's how it ended up in the kernel.

This year I'm playing around with Yet Another Linux Distribution (not Mastodon, alas, though I've actually got a large enough base of updates and patche that I should sit down with strong drink and start trying to decypher the asm() changes after gcc 2.7 so I can actually compile libc 4 with a modern gcc) and I'm trying to write a little script to compare the e820 output with what the system thinks it has for memory (on some of the IBM x servers, this can vary by up to several hundred megabytes, depending on memory model and kernel/userland split.) What's the ideal scripting language (preferably a scripting language that hasn't fallen prey to the language of the week club) for doing something like this?

How about awk?

Awk, um, er, doesn't do hex.

And it's about 10 years too late to send Linus a revised version of the patch that displays the memory blocks in decimal.


It’s the phone company. They don’t care, because they don’t have to.

At home, we're switching from @Home Attbi Comcast cable to a DSL line. Yesterday afternoon the DSL provider sent me a note claiming that Qwest was about to bring up the DSL connection and I should call them to finalize the setup.

Well, apparently Qwest was chomping at the bit to do something, so when I didn't call the DSL provider yesterday afternoon (because I was foolishly working for a living) they decided that they'd strike while the iron was hot, and so, sometime between 18:00 and 20:30 last night (we're not sure exactly when, because we'd gone out for school related activities and dinner), they disconnected our phone line.

Um, thanks. It's really useful to not have any connectivity to the outside world except for the computer. Qwest, even though they have a spiffy online support center, doesn't provide online support for telephones (they have one, but when I tried to use it it said "sorry, but we don't provide telephone service to your telephone. Hahahaha!") We used to have a acellphone, but the phone itself went walkabout and we foolishly were using the Working Assets cellphone plan (aka Sprint) which is a lovely plan except that you can't request a SIM card if you lose your phone. Oh, no, it's a plan where you have to help speed the extinction of the lowland gorilla by buying a new phone instead of being able to stuff a new SIM card into a used cellphone (we have four of them lying around, two of which have easily accessable SIM cards [three of them are probably locked, but the fourth, which used to be a T-mobile phone, is now unlocked and can accept any SIM card])

Sigh. Double sigh. It's the telephone company and they hate you.

Feb 19, 2007

Oh, right, it’s occasionally summertime in these parts

The old incubator at the Bonneville Dam fish hatchery, photographed sometime last summer.

It's not that I don't love the cold damp short winter days without any snow here (okay, maybe I don't really love them) but it's nice to occasionally be reminded that summer is coming, and it's only going to take another three months of working at The Most Exciting Job In The World before I get there.

No, I’m not surprised in the least.

Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!"

(from the Haaretz review of Uri Dan's biography of Ariel Sharon, via Jonathan Schwarz)

If Maximum Leader Genius isn't a deeply closeted self-loathing gay man, he's certainly doing a really good job of faking it. I can't help but think that if this was a world where gays weren't persecuted he would have ended up a much happier and well-adjusted person, and he wouldn't have to have people tortured to death to get his rocks off.

Feb 16, 2007

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

It is difficult to dip your biscotti into your tea when both the biscotti and the teacup are as large as you are.

Feb 15, 2007

The student is stronger than the master

Two stories from Canada's New Government:


"Extremist elements" in the Liberal caucus are leading party leader Stephane Dion to become soft on terrorism, Prime Minister Stephen Harper alleged in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The prime minister went out of his way on two separate occasions in question period to attack Dion's decision to reverse his party's support of an anti-terror law measures that provides police with additional powers to stop suspected terrorists.


Steven Harper is frankly admitting that he's looking for judges who will back his law-and-order agenda - and provoking cries from his opponents that he's trying to subvert the judiciary for political ends.

"We are bringing forward laws to make sure that we crack down on crime - that we make our streets and communities safer," the prime minister declared in the Commons on Wednesday. "We want to make sure our selection of judges is in correspondence with those objectives."

This is impressive. It took the Evil Party a decade before they could start with the blood libels and blatant court packing, and Mini-Me is doing just more than a year after the Canadian Evil Party (yes, yes, I'm aware that the NDP pulled the plug on the Martin government, but it was the CEP that picked up the electoral bucket and ran with it) suckered the Canadian electorate into voting the Liberals out of power?

That's a dangerous dangerous PM you've got there, Canada. Don't blink or you'll end up with the same sort of country that the United States has become, but without the big wad of money built up over 50 years of postwar dominance.

(links via The Galloping Beaver and Peace, Order, and Good Government, eh?)

Fanboy-ish Squeee!

A long long time ago, I picked up a copy of Tim Barela's collection Domesticity Isn't Pretty (Leonard & Larry #1) which I adored, but couldn't find any follow-on collections or even any place where his comic was syndicated. I should point out that I'm not a bear (well, not that kind of a bear; it's a long story) but more of a stealth twink, so the obvious solution of browsing through various bear magazines never really entered my mind. So Domesticity Isn't Pretty remained forlornly alone in my small collection of orphaned gay comics, to be pulled out every now and then when I (a) had enough time to read something and (b) my reading list worked its way away from railroads to comics collections.

Well, these days I also read a lot of online comics, including a few writers from Minnesota. Today, one of those comics had a cryptic comment about Dreamhaven books, which turned out to be that they'd been robbed recently and they'd love it if people who bought books there would buy one or two extra books to help make up for the uninsured part of the damage.

I don't read scifi anymore -- the deadly combination of successful author's disease (where they fire their editors and as a result the books get longer and longer and longer as the plots get weaker and weaker and weaker,) creeping Epic Fantasy, and the sort of militarism that mirrors the United States movement towards fascism all took the fun out of browsing for new authors -- but I thought it would be worthwhile to quickly browse the bookstore to see if there was anything interesting to see.

And what to my wondering eyes did appear? A sidebar that mentioned a bunch of stuff you can do, a link to a Neil Gaiman bookstore, and then a link to a Hello, now that's a familiar looking name, so time to click it and ...

Squeee! Squeee! Leonard & Larry! Squeee! Squeee!

Tim Barela is, no doubt, shuddering in horror at this very moment.

As for me, I'm buying one of everything.

Feb 14, 2007

Do you think they’re trying to tell me something?

NO LIFE, lego-style

Okay, so it's just possible that I've been spending a little too much time playing with legos over the last couple of months. But after spending so much time adjusting the minifig sex and racial balance, it would be a shame if the bears and I didn't take advantage of it.

Feb 13, 2007

It’s a bird! It’s a train! It’s a, um, aerial tramway.

­ ­

This afternoon, after I left The Most Exciting Job In The World™, I got to the streetcorner just in time to see the #19 bus go whooshing by. So, instead of sitting at the bus stop cooling my heels for (n: n is usually > 30 during rush hour) minutes waiting for the next #19 to come by, I walked up to Gibbs Street and parked myself there for a while so I could get some pictures of the aerial tramway in action.

There's not much new to see, and there's even less to see when you consider that it's dusk on a rainy day, but I got the chance to finally take some pictures from the south and from below the line. Lair Hill is a pretty place, and it doesn't look like it's been too mangled by the depradations of urban development (normally this wouldn't be a problem, except that it's in SW Portland, and in particular it's in the malign development zone known as John's Landing, so the densification it's undergoing has a lot of really tacky horrible modern boxes and apartment blocks. I'll have to go back on a sunny day sometime after I bail on TMEJITW so I can get some better pictures of the place (and, for a change, some pictures of North and South that won't prominently feature rain and overcast.)

Put down that copy of DNS & Bind and back away from that keyboard!

Years ago, I used to be a systems and network administrator for a local software company. As years went by and that company got larger, my job whittled down until it was nothing more than a rump sysadmin job where I did nothing but maintain the DNS and NTP ring for this company on a contract basis (a whopping 4-6 hours a year. Bind might be a walking example of interesting software design [it's from ISC and they have, um, interesting ideas about how to write software] but once you've set up a zone named will cheerfully serve it without complaint up until the day the machine explodes out from under it.)

Recently, that company hired a couple of new system administrators. Eventually, these administrators wanted to Make Their Mark on the company, and decided that the best thing to, um, improve was the dns setup. So, after a bit of rumblings (most of which I wasn't privy to, because I am just the DNS and NTP person) out came a spectacularly complex plan, which included all new nameservers (since the old ones were, apparently, not suitable for hosting the new zonefiles), public key encryption up the wazoo for the (currently nonexistant, because apparently the O'Reilly book doesn't describe administering these systems) internal zone, and, best of all, they'd put ever new name server onto virtual machines that sit on the same physical box.

Hmm. There's just something about this plan that strikes me as, well, a little bit overdone. Could it be the all new nameservers (thus requiring hours of fun to go in and hand-edit /etc/resolv.conf on ~1000 Unix servers, or equally as much time to go in and coax several hundred Windows boxes into regrabbing dhcp info with the new zones?) Could it be the public key encryption on the local network (it's not that employees aren't capable of crime, but, um, that sort of thing is kind of traceable.) Could it be that one of the reasons they wanted to do this was because they'd found some fancy gui program to manage zones (in the horribly complex format that bind uses, which even a three-year-old could administer once they learned how to type.) Or could it be that they're talking about putting the servers onto virtual machines on the same box?

Well, anyway, this plan was proposed, so I went round and round and round in email trying to subdue the more stupid parts of the plan (which is, really, all of it; you'd think that it would be super-trivial to tweak the config files on the internal servers to point at the new gui-program master, but no, that would be too easy) and we finally got them to shut up about the new plan and go back to their previous arrangement of having me edit the zonefile whenever they wanted to rename a machine from "biff" to "sally."

For three weeks.

And then out came the previous New! DNS! Plan! once again, with absolutely no changes. I could have sworn that I'd just spent several hours going round and round with these PFYs about why their Grand! Plan! was not the greatest idea in the world, but, no, apparently they'd not read any of the mail I sent. So, once again, back on the round and round of trying to convince them that, no, this was not a good way to do it, and this time it escalated to a meeting of the entire IT department, where I went round and round and finally got them to agree not to do anything and I'd write a document explaining how to split the zone.

"Not to do anything" appears to include not reading the document, because three weeks later up came the WHOLE STUPID PLAN with not a line changed, as if I'd just imagined spending several lunch hours in meetings arguing out better ways to do things.

Aaaiieee. It burns, it burns!

And, boy, it makes me happy that, aside from this increasingly thankless contract work, the only sysadmin work I'm doing these days is clubbing two colocated boxes and my home network (now down to 2 servers, a cable modem, a router, and two laptops. ~170watts, and I might be able to shave another 30 watts off the top when I replace the power supplies on the EPIA 5000 motherboards in the servers with more energy-efficient models) into submission. At least at home I don't have to deal with PFYs with a book allowance.

Feb 12, 2007

Proof, if you needed it, that the B*sh junta is planning on yet another illegal war

Powerpoint really spiffs up bogus evidence, doesn't it
(image via a p*w*rp**nt document posted on Talking Points Memo)

"Indicates they are of Iranian production," eh? Sure, if you disregard serif vs. sans serif, small caps vs. lowercase, and the different content on the items. Perhaps them being cylindrical proves they're Iranian?

The quality of this "evidence" comes off this document like the stench from a rotting moose. And if there's anything that we've learned about Maximum Leader Genius and his merry pack of war criminals, it's that they don't ever bother to waste any time actually fabricating convincing evidence for, well, anything they intend to do.

Now, I'd be shocked if some Iranian munitions weren't finding their way into the Hobbesian paradise that Iraq has become, because Iran does provide some support to the non-phalangist militias in southern Lebanon and if there's one thing that makes a universal currency in a region that's being pushed into chaos by superpowers, it's munitions. But the obvious distain for actually trying to find any of those weapons (to me, the font on the "known iranian munition™" mortar container looks an awful lot like a container from the United States) is pretty compelling proof that, yes, it's another case where quality is job none and the Coward in Chief is going to attempt to drive the United States into yet another atrocity against christian ethics and simple human decency.

Feb 10, 2007

A blast from the past

Lego set #585, from 1975

When I was a kid, I played with legos a lot until I turned 11 or 12 and was given my first (Lionel HO scale) train set. This, of course, meant that I completely missed the introduction of the minifig (to say nothing of the appalling Homemaker figures) and any further Lego developments because I, reasonably, spent much of the next 20 years traction-spotting and being blissfully unaware of the Lego world.

But about a year and a half ago, legos started to creep into our household again, first with our (me and my brothers Donald and Stephen) old Samsonite sets from 1966 (which aren't actually in our house, but which are at my parent's house in Milwaukie; my parents had saved all our old legos (modulo the pieces we destroyed) and started bringing them out when the bears were old enough to play with them without eating them), then with a few sets we bought when the local toyshop The Enchanted Owl went out of business, a transportation set from Finnegans, and then in a huge rush, a bunch of mid-late 70's sets (including 4 first-generation minifigs with solid-stud heads. Two of those figures have been disassembled and reassembled with newer legos, but two of them were fouled by sticker goo and were set aside long enough for me to realize that they were out of the ordinary, and are now tucked away for special occasions) that we found at SCRAP, some discontinued sets we bought from Finnegans, and a garbage bag full of legos that the best and the bears found down at Goodwill when shopping for Halloween costumes.

From that point, it was a quick descent into the abyss of a severe lego addiction. It didn't help that there's a Lego store in Tigard (No link, because the lego store website sucks) and it really didn't help when my parents bought Russell a Slave 1®™© and I realized that our version of legoland was a caucasion wonderland, couldn't find any girl-styled hair in the Lego online store, then discovered Bricklink and went to town buying female-styled hair, stereotypically female-featured heads, and Bespin Guard®™© heads by the truckload.

But what does this have to do with the picture at the top of this post? Well, if I hadn't discovered railroads but had kept playing with legos, I would have been 15 when the legoland police headquarters was produced. As it was it took until 2007, when I bought a batch of old legos from someone in town, before one of these sets came into our hands. Sure, it was mixed up with a few other sets, because I'd bought someone's old Lego sets from when they were kids, so they were played with. But we finally washed the pieces today, and when the pieces had dried Russell wanted to build the police station. So we did. ~32 years old, and there it sits, complete with first-generation minifigs and only missing about half a dozen pieces (the hinge pieces for one of the bays, and some of the plates and antiroof pieces for the helicopter.)

I've got a soft spot for these old lego sets, particularly if they've been played with before. Even though we've bought more than our share of new lego pieces, it's nice to play with legos that have already been loved by one household and are now going to a new household to be played with again. It will be nice, assuming I live long enough to have grandchildren, to be able to drag these sets out and sit down with Russell and/or Silas and their children to build elaborate constructions out of them.

Cute baby pictures of the day

Russell holds a pebble he yanked out of the wall at the Mekong Grill tonight
Russell holds up a pebble that fell out of the wall at the Mekong Grill tonight.

Silas holds a sprig of biohazard in his mouth
To my horror, Silas appears to have inherited the gene that makes biohazard palatable. Here he's holding a sprig of it in his mouth without spitting it out, gagging, or even making a disgusted face over the horrible taste. Worse yet, he actually ate the horrid stuff after I took this picture. The horror, the horror!

(I took this picture with the f1.4 lens on my *istDS; no flash was needed, and since there was a bank of halogen lights in the background I actually could run the shutter fast enough to take the picture without photographer shake.)

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One thing I've noticed when reading Canadian weblogs is that pretty much all of the US emigres to that country claim that there are no similarities between Stephen "Mini Me" Harper's government and the B*sh junta, while everyone else is a little more dubious about a government that keeps hiring Evil Party consultants and welcoming barking mad christopaths up so they can have made-in-Canada style "Justice Sundays" where they openly agitate for overthrow of Canada in favor of a Mini Me-sized theocracy to go alongside the theocracy they hope to impose on the United States.

I'm afraid I fall into the "suspect the worst" category, despite trying to convince my family to emigrate to Canada. But it's possible that 47 years of exposure to the stated aims of the Evil Party down here has made me cynical about conservative governments everywhere, it's merely a coincidence that every other conservative government I've seen (and that includes the so-called "Labour" party in the UK and the BC "Liberal" party) gravitates towards Hobbesian anarchies like a fly towards the sugar bowl, and that "Canada's New Government™" will not inevitably follow that same path.

But when I read about stunts like:

The Tories dismissed as insignificant a Liberal bill that would require them to table a plan within 60 days explaining how they would meet Canada's commitments under the climate-change treaty.

The bill is slated for a final vote in the House of Commons next Wednesday, having easily sailed through an earlier vote with the support of all three opposition parties.

I begin to suspect that I'm possibly not being cynical enough, and my impression that Mini Me is a smarter version of Maximum Leader Genius is right on the money. There is no signing statement here, but a blunt "we're going to disobey the law" is pretty much the same thing as the boilerplate "I'm rubber and you're glue" signing statement that the B*sh junta attaches to a bill that they intend to disobey.

(Globe and Mail article via My Blahg,The Galloping Beaver, Canadian Cynic, etc.)


It’s the most wonderful healthcare system in the whole wide world

A paraplegic man wearing a soiled hospital gown and a broken colostomy bag was found crawling in a gutter in skid row in Los Angeles on Thursday after allegedly being dumped in the street by a Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center van, police said.

The incident, witnessed by more than two dozen people, was described by police as a particularly outrageous case of "homeless dumping" that has plagued the downtown area.

(from The Chicago Tribune LA Times)

A "case of homeless dumping that has plagued the downtown area.", eh? That would certainly explain why the driver dumped the patient, then sat there and applied makeup before driving back to the hospital. And for this sort of compassionate treatment the USA spends almost twice as much per capita for heathcare than Canada does (more than that if you exclude the 43 million (1.3 Canadian populations) people who don't have health insurance in this godforsaken banana republic.)

(link via My Blagh)


Feb 09, 2007

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

Mavis vs. Dust Mite
Mavis and Dust Mite in a staring contest.

A shining beacon of liberty.

Representatives from 57 countries on Tuesday signed a long-negotiated treaty prohibiting governments from holding people in secret detention.

Yes, but what's behind door #2?

The United States declined to endorse the document, saying its text did not meet U.S. expectations.

And by declined to endorse, the article means did not sign.

It's certainly a more honest approach than the typical B*sh junta approach of interrupting a speech about how the USA would never never torture so that the goddamn Coward in Chief can go out back and play fun with scalpels, but it's not any less despicable.

Am I surprised at this? Actually, yes, because this time around the B*sh junta didn't actually lie about it (by saying "we won't do secret detention" when it's painfully clear that the US does do secret detention) but, for what may be the first time since they overthrew the US government, actually didn't sign an agreement they intended to break.

(Washington Post article via Michael Froomkin)

Here comes the sun

South approaches Gibbs St.
The sun shines on South as it approaches the Gibbs St. pylon at ~8:20am this morning. (The sun is also shining on the approximately quarter inch of road grime that's plastered all over the bus window, in case you're wondering about the unusual "wrapped in transparent wool" look of this picture.)

Feb 08, 2007

The Aliens Have Landed

Aliens?  Or just the sunset?
A ray of light shoots out from the sun as it drops behind Tualatin Mountain (well, in *my* reference frame it's dropping. Pay no attention to classical mechanics) tonight.

I wonder if network reliability means what comcast thinks it means?

I hate comcast

After my last experience with what Comcast, amusingly, calls "support", I started keeping track of just how reliable the network was by the simple expedient of pinging pell 200 times every 15 minutes. I figured that since there was no way I'd get the PFYs at Comcast to actually do something radical like running tcpdump on their network segments (tcpdump is one of those narsty UN*X programs that you need to use a command line to run. And, as everyone knows, only nasty hackers use a command line, while REAL system administrators use point and drool windows programs to debug the network) I could at least keep my own records so I could crosscheck my annoyance level with what my automated logging programs say.

It's been interesting to watch; aside from the eight-hour chunk where a denial-of-service attack (or something) knocked the integris telecom network segment pell lives on off the net, the ping losses have exactly followed the times where the network has hopped into a handbasket and gone off to visit Satan at the old sysadmins rest home. And, you know, having a network outage a week (sometimes the outages last for hours) gets really old really fast.

So, after many years of service (I think I got the cablemodem around the time Russell was born, so that would make it around seven years of service) I've finally snapped. I'm going running back to DSL Northwest and crossing my fingers that they've finally got DSL connectivity out to my neck of the woods. DSL might be slower, but it won't have 200 'bot-infested PCs flooding the network with arp requests for every host in every netblock that C*mc*st owns.

Assuming, of course,that the network works well enough for me to order the new line.

UPDATE: After a hour of trying to wedge this damned article into the weblog in the traditional way, I finally gave up and hand-posted it by telnetting into pell (which didn't fail, which gave me a clue about how this horrible network was failing...), setting the mtu to 256 bytes, and cutting and pasting it into the message database (``date +%s'' is a useful construct to know when hand-generating messages in my weblog program.) Ugh. I officially hate comcast now.

Feb 07, 2007


Democrats, newly in control of Congress, may jettison many of Bush's domestic proposals and have pledged aggressive oversight of Iraq spending. But Democratic leaders have promised not to cut off funding for the troops.

(via a Reuters article on Mt. Doom's proposed orgy of corruptionbudget.)

Where to begin (aside from pounding my head against the table)?

  • If the Stupid Party was going to support the troops, they wouldn't be underwriting keeping them in the utter hell Iraq has become. You don't have to walk very far to see that the Evil Party is not adequately providing for the troops in Iraq.
  • Very little of the additional Pentagon funding will actually make it to The Troops™. There's no profit in providing for the troops, you see. Building bases (with contract labor that good friends of the B*sh junta bill out at several thousand dollars a day, of course) makes money, as does just wrapping up palletfuls of US$100 bills and then just losing them, but if you actually have to supply the troops you have to spend some of that windfall actually purchasing something, which, even if it's worm-infested condemned rations, cuts into the profits.
  • If you say you're not going to cut off funding for the troops, you're just going to encourage the Coward in Chief; by this measure, every additional boot shoved onto the ground in That Paradise That Is Occupied Iraq means additional money that can be shoveled into the bank accounts of the sociopaths who set up this whole disaster just so they could have a clear path to the US treasury.

If the Democratic Party cared about the troops, they'd zero the entire military budget today and not even talk about restoring funding until those poor bastards started to arrive back in the United States. Anything else can be filibustered (thanks, of course, to the Democratic Party not being smart enough to maneuver the Evil Party into abolishing filibuster any time during the last two years.) Of course this would mean that the Democratic Party would have to start listening to voices other than the parasitic group of courtiers who run the A-list parties inside the Washington beltway, and I can understand why it would be more important to get into the right parties than to, oh, perhaps take into consideration the political health of this pathetic second-rate empire I'm condemned to live in.

I'll mark this down as yet another thing that the Stupid Party will have to do before I support them again. And given that they aren't trying to ram an anti-torture bill through, I don't think I'll be bothering to hold my breath waiting for that day to come.

(link to the Reuters article via Arthur Silber)

Okay, so this wasn’t actually bad luck as much as bad ventilation

The computer in the library died yesterday. And by died, I mean well-and-thoroughly deader than a doornail, not the sort of coma that comes from a denial of service attack that killed gehenna on sunday (and came back and took the entire electric lightwave integra telecom network segment offline for about 9 hours on tuesday morning.) And when I got home and was confronted with a computer sitting there humming unhappily while the network and console indicator flickered in a sickly way -- a computer that refused to respond to anything except pulling the SGI1600SW and attaching a regular old LCD console to the box -- I figured that the video card had finally handbasketed and simply needed to be replaced.

So I pulled the machine open to replace the video card and was confronted with about half an inch of dust (and in our house, "dust" means "cat hair") plastered over every bit of the inside, including in and around the processor fan.)

Um, oops. The poor machine didn't even come back to life after I vacumned all of the dust out (it "came back to life" in that it booted, ran for about half an hour, then fell over dead again with a little alert box saying "serious error [ok]" that kept popping up until everything just froze up.)

Perhaps I should have started vacumning it more when we got our second and third cats?

Now I get to decide whether to

  1. get a Mac Mini and a new display (~$900), then use Boot Camp to load Windows XP onto it for Framemaker and Civ 2, or
  2. buy some windows laptop and, sigh, load Windows XP onto it so I don't have to deal with the new Windows LP (New! With added DRM! And you can't move the OS to another computer!) that, surprise!, all the new windows laptops are coming pre-crippled with, or
  3. to just use the old Toshiba 8200 that we had lying around in the junkpile, and learn to live with the frenzied whirring of the little cooling fan whenever we do anything that requires any processor time.

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Feb 05, 2007

Cute baby picture of the day

Little Birdies in a tree

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Feb 04, 2007

It must be bad luck, because it’s coming in threes

The first thing that went wrong this evening is that gehenna, the FreeBSD server that contains all the weblogs, wikis, and WWW directories for the half dozen virtual domains that I host, suddenly fell off the net like a stunned waterbuffalo. I didn't actually know this, because Silas and I were busy cleaning and drying legos (the division of labor was that *I* did the cleaning, while Silas hovered over the drying table picking out interesting legos and trying to sneak them away to his guy's special lego cache. Since this particular batch of legos is dedicated to building my lego spaceship Pipeline [a name that will become obvious when I get around to writing about physics in the lego universe I'm trying to create for the bears], trying to keep pieces from vanishing kept me away from the computer and the discovery that my other 9-year-old AMD server had gone the way of the buffalo.)

The second thing that went wrong is that, after the best and Russell returned from the roller-skating party they had been at all evening, the sink clogged up when some mysterious childs toy got wedged into the drainpipe past the trap. But I didn't actually know this for certain when the best reported that the sink was totally jammed and I went downstairs to grab the pipewrench so I could remove the trap and the clog. No, no, no, the fun part had only just begun, because....

The third thing that went wrong is that, sometime in the distant past, someone (I suspect it was me, but I'm not sure) went to the hardware store to get a replacment pipe for the neck of the drain and brought home a nicely chromed piece of what we thought was a neutral metal. Alas, it was not. When the best asked me to help her plunge and I tried the Big Plunger, she reported that there was water leaking out of the joints in the drainpipe. This was somewhat worrying, but we were paying more attention to the no-longer-draining sink (this is AFTER we plunged up a huge quantity of black slimy electrolyte) and didn't think about it as I fired up the pipe wrench and started to remove the trap. I removed the back connection to the trap first, and then was saved from having to remove the front connection when the trap and the throat pipe plunged into the five gallon bucket we'd placed under the sink before we started playing plumbing games.

After I retrieved ths trap from the ultra disgusting fluid in the bucket, I realized that the reason it had fallen out is that every single bit of the threaded part of the pipe was *gone* and there was no way I'd be fastening that pipe back into the sink unless I used a extra large die to cut new threads.

So, after determining that we wouldn't be using the sink again until tomorrow morning (after I'd had a chance to go over to the hardware store and get a replacement section of pipe, hopefully of a less galvanic nature), we attempted to fish out the offending toy-which-jammed-the-sink, only to discover that that toy was deep within the plumbing and that it was not willing to be fished out without heroic measures.

Okay, so no sink, and even if we had a sink we wouldn't have a drain. Ugh, so I'll just go into the library and look for plumbing advice and.... um, okay, so why isn't the weblog working?

Whoops. I can fix the broken weblog problem by simply copying 700mb worth of images from the backup server (and going down to the colo with a new processor board tomorrow morning, hopefully before all the stupid sendmails out there start bouncing mail), but the other two problems won't be solved without a trip to the hardware store and/or a professional plumber.

Sigh, not a good start to the week.

UPDATE: Well, the second two bugs were easy to fix, but the first, well, it turned out to not be a crash; it appears to have been a massive denial of service attack which overran the AMD Lance card that Gehenna was outfitted with. When I looked at the logs, I saw that the machine had kept running up to the point where I walked into the machine room and powered it off, and that occasional connections (and mail; the spam mail bots are _most_ persistant) kept being able to wedge themselves in between the storm of missed packets and mbuf failures.

Bother. I *liked* having a 480+ day uptime.

Feb 03, 2007

A slightly different view of the aerial tramway

North departs Gibbs street station   South arrives at Gibbs street station   006 pulls into the temporary Gibbs St. terminus

Today, we went out to the *ld Sp*g*htt* F*ct*ry at the south end of the South Macadam developer enrichment project (an experience that had to be seen to believe. The restaurant was empty (70% of the tables were unoccupied) but it still took them 45 minutes to seat us and another 45 minutes to get us our food. Why? Because they only had about 7 staffers in the whole building and they, not surprisingly, couldn't keep up. Yes, yes, TOSF is a Portland business and all that, but if they can't even bring in additional staff on a busy saturday afternoon, it's a sign that they really don't care about the staff or the customers) and when we finally escaped, the best and I drove north past the Gibbs street tram and trolley terminus.

So we had to stop so I could take a few tramway pictures.

North and South pass each other

When we were driving away and looping onto the Ross Island Bridge, I spotted South heading uphill and knew that if I saw South, North was close at hand. Who cares about a few raindrops on the Prius?

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It must be friday night.

[Maximum Leader Genius] is expected to shift $1.3 billion away from raising and armoring levees, installing flood gates and building permanent pumping in Southeast Louisiana to plug long-anticipated funding shortfalls in other hurricane-protection projects,

Well, sure, that makes sense. Even with the olympic class corruption that New Orleans is known for, you can't steal enough if you have to actually hire bulldozer crews to move around piles of sand and gravel. Shoot, there are billionaires out there who would cry bitter tears if they couldn't rake at least a billion off that lovely US$1.3 billion that's being reassigned.

(--The Times-Picayune, via Your Right Hand Thief)

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue

The world's scientists yesterday gave their starkest warning yet that a failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions will bring devastating climate change within a few decades.

Average temperatures could increase by as much as 6.4C by the end of the century if emissions continue to rise, with a rise of 4C most likely, according to the final report of an expert panel set up by the UN to study the problem. The forecast is higher than previous estimates, because scientists have discovered that Earth's land and oceans are becoming less able to absorb carbon dioxide.

(--The Guardian reports on the latest IPCC report)

The climate change denialists are, of course, saying their usual bullshit about "there's no global warming! It's magic sky fairies!" and every conservative government in the world is warming up their "oh, this is serious. We'll do some research and get back to you in 2040" (Apres moi le deluge; it's not just a handy phrase, it's how these fuckheads live their lives) so you can take as a pretty safe bet that the "up to 6.4C" temperature change will, if anything, be the low limit. Perhaps global warming will put the tropical sea temperature up to the boiling point of water, and then we can play the same sort of exciting runaway global warming which has made Venus into such a charming vacation spot.

Aaaaarrrgg. I'm not one to talk, since I'm sitting in a large poorly insulated house typing in front of an always-on computer that eats half a megawatt a year (it's always on because we've got ssh connections to the outside world, and when the computer powers down all those connections go "poof" because the fault tolerance of ssh is somehere between none and less than none.) We might have a Prius, so our carbon footprint isn't that big for an American, but we're still shovelling more CO2 into the atmosphere than 20 people anywhere else but Canada.

What a lovely planet to leave for my grandchildren. "Here's a flash disk with all of the family photos on them. Try to get to the arctic and keep some technology going for seventy generations so your descendants will remember their dumber than a stack of bricks ancestors and hopefully not do the idiotic things we did."

Feb 02, 2007

Friday Dust Mite Blogging™

A pretty lamp ornament
Is Dust Mite lying in wait so it can leap upon its prey, or is it simply being an attractive lampshade?

Feb 01, 2007

Spam of the day

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Gee, I wonder why they think TSFR is the sort of website that might welcome a s3XXor link exchange?


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