November 30, 2014

Update

So my database crashed like five years ago and I figured, well, I don’t update this anymore so why bother to restore it? I just gave it a 410 status code and moved on. But I know more about MySQL now than I used to, and I managed to restore the posts table the other day, so here we go. Problem is I have nothing interesting to say, although that never stopped me before.

I do have a couple things bouncing around in my brain, actually, that I’d like to get down here so I can move on. Blogs are good for that sort of thing, a sort of mental toilet. Although that’s not the best analogy for anyone out there reading them…

August 13, 2009

” ‘Shut Up’, she explained”

Facebook conversation

December 8, 2008

Constitutional changes I’d like to see

Like many of you, my idle thoughts often go to how I would like to see the Constitution changed. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s an amazingly well-designed document, and all the praise due to it is deserved. But there’s always room for improvement. Here’s my thoughts:

  1. The Vice-President. This is a rather bizarre contraption; basically having a guy sit around waiting for the President to die, and, randomly enough, to break Senate ties. Aside from those two events he has nothing to do. It was designed as a sort of consolation prize to whoever came in second in the Presidential election, which was silly even then, but after we ended up becoming a two–political party system and ratified the 12th Amendment to reflect that, it became completely pointless. Parties nominate VP candidates for all kinds of reasons aside from whether they’d be good to take over when the President died, and we end up with a lot of idiots on the ticket (not to mention that Presidents have an incentive to not pick somebody who might be more qualified and/or appealing than they are).Why are we bothering? Can’t we just have a new election if the President dies? Most Western democracies are Parliamentry systems, and manage to hold national elections on short notice. I think we could handle this too. Just have the Secretary of State or the Secretary of the Treasury exercise executive powers between the death/incapacitation of the President until the winner of the new election is sworn in.
  2. The Emoluments Clause. I have to admit I always pretty much skimmed over this part, and I never really thought about it until recently; it’s in the news now because it probably disqualifies Hillary Clinton from being Secretary of State. It seems like a rather pointless rule; I guess the concern is that the Congress would vote themselves a bunch of cushy jobs and then get appointed to them. This doesn’t seem like a real problem to me; Congressmen want to be Congressmen, not overpaid civil servants. They’re interested in power, not money; anyway they can always cash out as lobbyists if they lose their seats. It seems to mainly get in the way of the President appointing Congressmen to cabinet posts, which is a bug, not a feature.
  3. The Natural-Born Citizenship requirement for the Presidency. This always struck me as vaguely un-American. In no other circumstance that I can think of do we distinguish between native-born and naturalized citizens; why here? What advantage is there to blocking people like, say, Jennifer Granholm (who has lived in the United States since she was four), from being President? Or Schwarzenegger, or Joseph Cao? I wouldn’t have a problem with saying they need to have been a citizen for 20 years or something like that, but blocking Americans just because they happen to have been born somewhere else doesn’t benefit anyone.
  4. Repeal the 17th Amendment. I know this will never happen, but I’d still like to see it. I think we get better results when there’s an extra later of elections, and we used to get better Senators before this was passed. Having the House be directly elected and the Senate indirectly elected was a good compromise; the point of the Senate is somewhat lost with direct elections. I’d also like to see states have more power versus the national government.
  5. A new anti-gerrymandering amendment. One of the biggest problems with the House these days is that states have drawn districts in such a way that Representatives are virtually immune to being defeated. While this is hardly a new problem, computers have made it especially bad. I’d like to see something to curb this abuse, although I’m not sure exactly how to go about it. Perhaps combining a rule that the ratio of the circumference to the area of a district not exceed x with language taken from Iowa’s constitution about the relationship of districts to counties would do the trick.
  6. Truly “limit” terms of copyright. Okay, this is my pet peeve, but what the heck. Since the Supreme Court held in Eldred v. Ashcroft that the “limited” terms of copyright referred to in the Constitution means basically anything short of infinity, I think we need to actually spell it out. I think two terms of 28 years should be more than enough for anybody, but I would say nearly any specified term would be better than the current rule, which is “keep extending the copyright terms whenever it looks like Mickey Mouse is going to become public domain”.
  7. Put some teeth in the commerce clause. This would be even harder to spell out than the anti-gerrymandering amendment above, but maybe we could figure out some way to define “commerce” to mean, well, commerce, and not “anything and everything that may ever happen”.
  8. CSA import #1: Anti-protectionism clause. This and the next two ideas come from, of all places, the constitution of the Confederate States of America. I don’t approve of the guaranteed right to slaves they had, but there were a few other ideas which I think we should adopt. First is this one: that no “duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry” (from Article I, Section 8, Sub-Section 1). Free trade, like free speech, is one of those issues that is easier to implement as a general concept than it is to adhere to in every specific instance, so it would a prime candidate for a Constitutional amendment.
  9. CSA import #2: Anti-rider amendment. Here’s the text of Article I, Section 9, Sub-Section 20:

    Every law, or resolution having the force of law, shall relate to but one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.

    This strikes me as a sound goo-goo addition. Let’s stop the sneaky practice of Congressmen attaching all kinds of nefarious pork to unrelated bills by this simple clause.

  10. CSA import #3: Close the “recess appointment” loophole. This is pretty straightforward language (from Article II, Section 2, Subsection 4):

    [N]o person rejected by the Senate shall be reappointed to the same office during their ensuing recess.

    This would stop a rather obnoxious practice of recent years where the President can ignore the will of Congress by means of recess appointment chicanry (both Clinton and Bush did this, so this is a bipartisan problem).

That should do it for now. I’ll let you know if I think of any others.

November 15, 2008

Nothing to see here, move along

A parenthetical aside from Slate:

(Despite a current of thought that insists that Roosevelt’s economic policies did nothing, they in fact helped the economy and improved the lives of millions of needy Americans in both the short and long terms.)

Well okay then! Glad that’s cleared up.

November 5, 2008

Random election night thoughts

So this is a weird feeling; I actually wanted Obama to win (at least, more than McCain) but now that it’s happened I’m feeling worse about it than I thought I would. I guess it’s mainly the reaction that is getting on my nerves. My friends on Facebook are saying barf-worthy things like “going to bed with joy in my heart” and “Breathe in the air. Isn’t it sweet?” He’s a politician, people. Yes, for a politician, he seems to be a decent guy—but that’s a pretty big caveat there. Politicians are not nice people. Obama got to where he is by screwing over and double-crossing a lot of people, and you never would have heard of him if he hadn’t. And he’ll double-cross you too, and break your heart if you’re in love with him. So just calm down.

For my part, I’m mentally accessing the damage. He probably won’t pass the Fairness Doctrine, so I don’t need to freak out there. He was actually better on health care than Hillary, so hopefully we won’t end up with single-payer, at least. Net Neutrality probably will go through with Obama-appointed FCC commissioners, which sucks, but there are worse things. He made noises about mucking with NAFTA but I assume he’s lying about that. So overall I guess I’m cautiously optimistic. Of course he won’t do anything I like, but at least he’ll be ineffective in doing most of the things I dislike.

I note that National Review Online’s “The Corner” is being surprisingly gracious. Far more than, say, Daily Kos was four years ago. Take what you will from that.

October 8, 2008

Something I’ve Noticed About Web Comics

I read a lot of web comics, and I’ve noticed something which strikes me as odd. Dinosaur Comics, Cat and Girl, Diesel Sweeties, Scary Go Round, Goats, xkcd, and Wondermark all basically link to each other… but none of them link to Sluggy Freelance, which is as just as important and well-known. I wonder why? I’d say it’s because Sluggy Freelance doesn’t have a links page with which to reciprocate, but neither does Achewood, and they pretty much all link there… so what’s up? Do they just all not like it, or did Pete Abrams did something to piss everyone off?

August 7, 2008

Ten Artists I’d Like to See Illustrate Harvey Pekar Stories

  1. George Perez
  2. Ralph Steadman
  3. Lynda Barry
  4. Bill Sienkiewicz
  5. Gary Trudeau
  6. Cathy Guisewite
  7. Steve Ditko
  8. Larry Marder
  9. D.T. Devareaux
  10. Peter Bagge

August 5, 2008

Correct and Incorrect Sources of Profit

Okay, so according to Obama, only profits gained because of “management skill or investment decisions” are legitimate; profits due to fluctuation of demand and supply are bad and must be confiscated. Good to know that our next president will vet the moral purity of your business’s income.

Of course, never mind that ExxonMobil’s current 8.5% profit, a peak after 20 years, is about equal to most industries’ average profits, as Coyote points out. And also never mind that when it’s farmers attempting to profit due to changes in supply and demand, Obama wants to subsidize them instead of taxing them.

August 1, 2008

Just a Thought

If you think that the heavier something is, the faster it falls, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing science articles.

July 17, 2008

My First-Ever Political Donation

I’m sure I disagree with this guy about a lot of stuff, but I was sufficiently amused by his request for donations that I ponied up the $8.34. I also love the idea of this fat old mossback—who, I’m sure, expected to keep his seat for the rest of his life—being thrown out by some young punk because of this internet thing.

June 27, 2008

A better tinyURL bookmarklet

TinyURL.com provides a bookmarklet you can put on your toolbar which you can use to make a “tinyurl” of whatever page you’re currently viewing. It’s really handy, I use it all the time… however, a problem with it is that it doesn’t make tiny URLs with anchors, even though that is supported if you submit the URL at their page. This has been annoying me for some time, and I finally figured out a fix. Instead of using their bookmarklet, use this:

javascript:void(location.href='http://tinyurl.com/create.php?url='+location.protocol+'//'+location.hostname+location.pathname+escape(location.hash))

That will render a redirect to the URL with anchor. You’re welcome.

WTC conspiracy theories

So I just got a MySpace bulletin from an old friend going on and on about some new evidence about the WTC conspiracy, etc., etc. I’ve more or less accepted that otherwise intelligent people are going to go off on these bizarre paranoid rants—I suppose it fills a need for most people that would normally be taken up by religion. But here’s what I don’t get. Most of the JFK wackiness is at least logically consistent in theory: if there really were a lot of people in on the assassination plot, then there’s a motive to alter evidence if you want people to think it was one person. Of course, it’s still a load of crap, but at least you have to look at the evidence to a certain extent to understand why.

But the WTC conspiracy theories, at least the ones I’ve heard, mostly seem to involve somebody planting explosives in one of the buildings. I don’t get this. If the government was really behind it, why would they plant explosives in addition to having people hijack planes? Presumably whatever nefarious motives these shadowy folks were up to would be equally served by just planes hitting the Towers; what would be the point of having explosives go off at the same time? All that would do is make it more likely you’d be found out, and also have more people involved. And if for some reason you had to plant a bomb, why not just say that the “terrorists” planted explosives in addition to hijacking airplanes, just to cover yourself?

Oh well. I suppose it’s a waste of time to try to apply logic to stuff like this, but I still find it interesting, like an anthropologist researching cargo cults.

May 23, 2008

Charles Mudede, scumbag

I had never heard of “cultural critic” Charles Mudede before, but now that I’ve read this stunningly vile blog post I think I’ll remember his name. It’s really amazing how much sleaze he managed to pack into just four sentences: a completely unfounded accusation of murder, based on nothing but racism; a suggestion that ethnically-Chinese people are not “American”; and the suggestion that adopted siblings aren’t really siblings (at least when they’re of different races).

Stranger editor Dan Savage lays into him in the first two comments, which is a good sign. I almost never want to see people fired over something they wrote or said; I think that happens far too often, chilling discourse. But at some point you really can cross the line, and it has been crossed here. I hope Savage cans this vicious turd.

May 22, 2008

On Twitter

Am I a late or early adopter? Well, either way, I’m on Twitter now. So please add me for all your exciting Kim-related news.

April 30, 2008

Unix complaint #5,737,215

Yes, you’d think I’d remember to check this after a billion FreeBSD & Linux installs, but… how come when the install process asks you if your BIOS clock is set to UTC, it doesn’t show you the current time? How hard would that be? I never can remember how the damn hardware clock is set up. Maybe some distro does this, but FreeBSD and CentOS don’t, which are pretty much all my installs these days.

April 28, 2008

English-to-English translation

I don’t understand why when an English writer has an American character, he doesn’t show the draft to an American before publishing. It seems like an easy step to avoid some howlers. Last night I watched Bunny Lake Is Missing, and the lead character, an American woman, says she’s about to go “marketing”. I didn’t know what on Earth she meant until the next scene in a grocery. I remember reading an English murder mystery in which a Miami police inspector described a suspect, saying that he “usually speaks English with an American accent, but can shed any trace of an accent if he wishes and can even pass for an Englishman”.

Even Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore will make mistakes like this. The Joker referred to a “ghost train” and “softbacks” in The Killing Joke, and in an issue of Sandman an American girl visiting England for the first time says she’s from “the States”. I know they have lots of American friends, so why won’t they do some basic sanity checking?

Of course, this works the other way as well. See this list of goofs in Frenzy for a couple Americanisms; apparently Hitchcock had been away for so long at that point he didn’t notice, although it’s odd the Brit actors didn’t point them out.

April 22, 2008

How to batch extract images from ID3 tags

I wanted to extract all the cover images from my MP3 library, and it was surprisingly difficult, so I’m noting it here for future reference, and perhaps for Googlers in the same situation. I’m on OS X, FYI.

The hardest thing was finding a CLI program that reliably extracts the image from the ID3. After much searching, I found just the thing: Image::Exiftool. I just did a CPAN install, which worked fine.

Now, when extracting, I only wanted to do it for one song per album so I wouldn’t have zillions of duplicates. I also wanted each image to have the name of the album, not the song. After a bit of trial and error, I ended up with this:

cd ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes\ Music &&
find . -mindepth 3 -name 01\ \* |
while read X ;
do exiftool -B -Picture "$X" > \
~/Documents/Projects/covers/"$(basename "$(dirname "$X")" | sed s/\ /_/g).jpg" ;
done

Ugly! I know, but it works. The find assembles a list of the first song in every album directory, then the list is sent to exiftool to grab the image, which writes it to your chosen directory with as “ALBUM_NAME.jpg”.

There are two small problems. There’s no real way to test ahead of time if an MP3 has an image embedded (exiftool gives the same exit code regardless), so this will create an empty file for each album without an image. So you’ll want to delete all the zero byte files (although you may want to make a list of them first so you know what images you need to find). Also, this script assumes the embedded image is a JPEG, which is usually true but not always. You can just do file * | grep -v JPEG (after you’ve removed the empty files) in the directory to find PNGs and GIFs.

Of course, this assumes that all your cover images actually reside in the ID3s. If iTunes has downloaded them for you, then that’s not the case; they’re stored externally. See this article for a fix for that.

April 18, 2008

Adaptation Overload

The punchline to this post reminded me of something absurd I saw for sale at a used bookstore a couple months ago: this. An audio tape of a novelization of a movie of a comic book. Maybe someday there’ll be a musical comedy based on the tape.

April 8, 2008

Cuss-o-Meter

Had to try this:
The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

Not too bad. However, Dinosaur Gardens is another story:
The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

Heh. This post from Trademark G probably put us over the edge.

What the Hell?

Does the Treasury have an annual prize or something given to whoever can make the money uglier? Every new revision looks worst than the last. I thought this was a joke when I first saw it:

[image of new $5 bill]

Yes, that is a giant purple Helvetica 5 in the corner there. What’s next, getting the guy who designed the Murray’s Discount Auto logo to redo the Lincoln portrait?

April 2, 2008

Songs I’d Like to Play in “Guitar Hero”

  1. I Heard Her Call My Name
  2. Interstellar Overdrive
  3. Last Fair Deal Gone Down
  4. Sex Bomb
  5. Blank Frank

Happy April Fool’s

This is the first time I can remember that I was actually tricked by an April Fool’s joke on the web. The Paul Rand part is true, though.

March 24, 2008

“Twee Bobo sociopaths”

Great post by Megan McArdle on anti-scientific morons who refuse to immunize their children. I’m sure that the people in the Times article would be against their children’s schools teaching creationism, but they’re just as bad. Actually, they’re far worse: creationists only spread ignorance, not fatal diseases.

Be sure to check out the comments thread, where a couple of these idiots show up and are righteously pummelled by the majority of commenters.

March 5, 2008

Interesting old Ann Arbor photos

Wystan Stevens found a 1920s scrapbook in eBay owned by a University of Michigan student, with a bunch of great, never-published photos of Ann Arbor, and he’s posted them on Flickr. Check them out.

February 22, 2008

Music catalog

This is hopelessly nerdy (but I guess I’m too far down that path to worry about it at this point anyway), but I’ve uploaded my iTunes catalog to my website. Check it out here if for some reason you care (but beware; it’s 369MB).

February 20, 2008

Cliches that are bugging me today

Can we kill the following cliches immediately, please?

  1. “Downright” un-American. Why is “downright” always the modifier here? Call anything you like un-American, but for God’s sake let’s come up with some new adverbs to use.
  2. Nixon going to China. Enough with that being the all-purpose comparison whenever any politician does something against his lifetime tendencies (or, more often, when an opinion writer wishes he would). I’m sick of it. I wish Bush would go to Cuba for no other reason then we wouldn’t have to hear about Nixon anymore.

February 8, 2008

Women I think are cute

Hmm… is there a pattern here?

February 5, 2008

Yay Chicago

Sigh…

January 19, 2008

Bobby Fischer, R.I.P.

I surprised myself today by being somewhat saddened at Bobby Fischer’s death. Normally I’m not too sympathetic to anti-Semitic, anti-American nutjobs that scream about how we deserved 9/11, and indeed I wasn’t to him while he was alive. But now that there won’t be any more to it, his life really takes on a tragic quality which I suppose was there all along but only seems obvious to me now.

I mean, the guy obviously wasn’t right in the head. He was a Jewish Nazi, basically. When a Jewish guy from Brooklyn spends the second half of his life talking about how the Jews should be exterminated, you should probably make allowances for the fellow’s mental state. And seeing him going from being the golden boy, the hope of the West, to a fugitive lunatic ranting on short-wave radio about international bankers, was sad, no matter how loathsome his views were.

It’s a cliche to say that he’s finally freed from the demons that plagued him, but it’s all I keep thinking. I would encourage anyone who would like to remember Fischer the brilliant, revolutionary young chess player rather than Fischer the sad nutcase to download this PGN of Byrne vs. Fischer, 1956—still one of the most exciting matches ever played.

October 11, 2007

No more Little People

This is old news, but I had no idea they no longer make Fisher Price Little People. How sad! I’ll have to pick up a bunch so my kids will be able to play with them (along with a classic Candy Land—the current version looks like crap). Luckily, they made about a billion of those guys, so they’re still pretty cheap on eBay. And I’ll have to start picking them up at flea markets.

October 9, 2007

3-D Glasses at Walgreens

Walgreens is giving away free 3-D glasses for some TV show, so now you don’t have an excuse to not check out my fab anaglyph photos. Go pick a few pairs up right now.

June 10, 2007

Originals and Covers

It’s always an odd experience for me when I hear the original version of a song I’ve been listening to for a long time. Examples I can think of off the top of my head are Irma Thomas’s “Time Is on My Side” (like most people, I had only heard the Rolling Stones’ version), Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog”, and the Stones’ “Hitch-Hike” (whose riff the Velvet Underground lifted for “There She Goes Again”; probably most people are more familiar with the Stones than the VU but I had every album, bootleg, and recorded burp the VU did years before I became a Stones fan).

Add to this: today I heard “I’m Blue (The Gong-Gong Song)” by The Ikettes… and I was puzzling over it for a few minutes; why is this song so familiar? Of course! I know it as “We Do Wie Du” by The Monks. Of course, you’ll never have a single observation that somebody else on the Internet hasn’t had already (this is on The Monks’ official site, no less), but despite the article, this isn’t just an “offspring”; it’s an out-and-out cover. My copy of Black Monk Time claims “All tracks written by Burger/Clark/Day/Johnston/Shaw” but I can’t imagine that holding up in court… although somehow I doubt there’s enough money in in The Monks’ songwriting royalties to make up for Ike Turner’s potential legal fees.

May 19, 2007

Questions About Song Lyrics

  1. In The Clash’s song Should I Stay or Should I Go, the implication is that it’s a difficult decision. However, the chorus goes “if I go there will be trouble… if I stay it will be double”. Given those assumptions, it seems pretty clear what he should do. So what’s the problem?
  2. Elvis sings in Jailhouse Rock:

    Number Forty-Seven said to Number Three:
    You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see.
    I sure would be delighted with your company,
    Come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me.

    Are Lieber and Stoller suggesting here that this is a co-ed prison? Did such a thing ever exist? Or is this a reference to prison homosexuality? In a prominent 1950s pop song?

  3. In the song Red Hot, is the chorus, when they say “your girl ain’t doodley-squat”, addressing the lead singer or the listener? If it’s the singer, why doesn’t he sound more irritated? You’d think at the very least he’d be more emphatic the next time he states she’s “red hot”. And if they’re addressing the listener… how do you know I even have a girl? What if a girl is listening to the song? And why would you insult your audience?
  4. “Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping… into the future…” WTF does that even mean?

May 5, 2007

Bad Coffee Shop

So something occurred to me yesterday: I live in a big city, I pretend to be somewhat intellectual, and I even have a Mac now (courtesy Uncle Hef)—I really should be hanging out in a coffee shop.

The problem was that I have no idea where a good coffee shop is. My all-time favorite, Don’s in Rogers Park, was perfect: dimly lit, comfortable chairs, lots of old books to give the place a nice old musty smell, big band & jazz on the stereo, a couple cats wandering around… it was perfect to wander into on a cold winter’s night.

Naturally, it didn’t last. Don moved to Florida and took his cats… some kid bought the place and called it “Where’s Don?”, but it didn’t last. Last time I was down there it had been gutted and turned into some boring yuppie place with lots of natural light. Blah.

So now what? I looked at New City’s “Best of Chicago” and saw they had some place called “Intelligentsia” at the top of their coffee shop list. I figure fine, whatever… they’re in Lakeview so I can pick up a cheesesteak from Philly’s Best and some comics from Chicago Comics on the way (it’s Free Comic Day!). Which I do, and then wander down there… or “here”, I should say, as I’m typing this there now.

Ugh. What crap. Teach me to go to the most popular of anything. First of all, this place smells awful. Somebody burned some beans and the smell is just permanently lingering. The track lighting is too damn bright, and the place is too wide-open—it’s like a warehouse. Coffee shops should be intimate. They didn’t have any flavored syrups, fine, whatever, but it it adds to the feeling that they don’t know what they’re doing. The music sucks too… awful indie/college rock stuff so loud I can’t even drown it out on headphones. On top of everything else, they charge for wireless. Ha ha, screw you guys—work gave me a broadband wireless card too. Although if I wasn’t so bloated and lazy from that gigantic cheesesteak, I’d leave just to get away from the smell.

So… I dunno how many Chicago people are reading this, but… can you send me some coffee shop recommendations?

April 16, 2007

Tard at the Herald

I’ve been following a couple LiveJournals of people who were at the Virginia Tech shooting, and under a few entries is this query from a reporter:

This struck me as rather unseemly, at least so soon after the event. I was going to leave a snarky comment on the LJ entry but I didn’t want to get the poor guy involved, so I e-mailed the reporter:

A few minutes later, I get this reply:

WTF? A reporter for the Boston Herald couldn’t possibly be that retarded, could she? Is she just pretending to not understand I was insulting her, or does she really have serious reading comprehension issues? So I Google her… and find this. Yay nepotism! An endless source of amusement.

February 6, 2007

My top 25 musicians, 2006

According to Last.fm, here’s the top 25 artists I listened to in 2006:

  1. The Beach Boys
  2. The Rolling Stones
  3. Fatboy Slim
  4. Joel Cohen/The Otaré Pit Band
  5. Sixpence None the Richer
  6. Oscar Alemán
  7. The Fiery Furnaces
  8. The New York Shakespeare Festival
  9. Brian Wilson
  10. The Velvet Underground
  11. Elvis Presley
  12. Portishead
  13. Siouxsie and the Banshees
  14. Only a Mother
  15. Tin Hat Trio
  16. Sleater-Kinney
  17. Alemayehu Eshete
  18. Luscious Jackson
  19. BS 2000
  20. The Outsiders
  21. People Like Us
  22. Negativland
  23. Michelle Shocked
  24. Mr. Bungle
  25. John Zorn

Hmm… the surprise here for me is Oscar Alemán; I had no idea I’d been listening to him that much. Two of the odder entries, Joel Cohen and The New York Shakespeare Festival, are because I’m not really sure what to put in the ID3 “artist” field for theatre cast recordings. For Johnny Johnson, I put the name of the conductor and the band; for The Threepenny Opera (posted on Dinosaur Gardens, by the way), I put the name of the theatre company. Should I have put the singer of each individual song? Who knows.

I wonder how many other people have Sixpence None the Richer and John Zorn in their top 25.

Thanks to Blair for the idea.

January 7, 2007

Radio show archives

I didn’t mention this, since I don’t think anyone who lives on the South Side of Chicago reads this, but I started doing radio again at WHPK last October. I kept hoping we’d be streaming before the semester ended, but no dice.

Anyway, it worked out pretty well, mainly because I got my friend Stacey to co-host the show. She was perfect to work with, and made it so these are the only shows I’ve done for WHPK that I’ve been happy with. Anyway, if anybody reading this is interested in hearing them, I have the archives available; send me an e-mail for the URL. I have the playlists here.

January 5, 2007

New Scientific Breakthrough

A great change has taken within a few years in the ideas entertained in the scientific world in respect to the nature of heat—a change which has led, and is still leading, to the most important practical results. It entirely alters all the reasonings and calculations, and greatly modifies the action, of men, in the management of those vast mechanical operations which constitute so important a part of the movement of civilization at the present day…

The change which has recently taken place in scientific opinion on this subject is substantially this—that whereas heat was formerly regarded as a substance, it is now regarded as a force or power.

And inasmuch as we seem to be able to form no other conception of force than that of motion communicated, heat is now believed to be, not as it has been heretofore considered, a specific substance, producing its effects by insinuating itself among the particles of other bodies—but as a simple force or motion taking place among those particles themselves.

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, August, 1869.

Another article in the same issue is titled “Can We Foretell the Weather?” “If we could only foretell the weather a few days, or even a few hours in advance, it would be a boon of the greatest value to agriculture, navigation, and indeed to all the arts of life.”

January 1, 2007

Thoughts about cards

I’m sure I’m not the first person to have thought of this, but I thought it was interesting. It occurred to me the other day that there are so many possible arrangements of a deck of cards that every time you shuffle one, you almost certainly have generated an order that has never existed before, in the history of the world. It’s completely unprecedented.

This sounds wrong, but only because humans aren’t very good at comprehending really large numbers. The reaction most people have when I tell them this is “Well, sure, there are a lot of combinations of playing cards. But there have been a lot of people shuffling cards in history”. But this fails to consider how truly astronomical the number of possible arrangements of a 52-card deck is.

To calculate the possible combinations of a deck of cards, we do the factorial of 52: 52 × 51 × 50 × 49 … etc. down to 1. This gives us, roughly, 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,404,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 combinations.

Now for the fun part. We of course don’t know how many times cards have been shuffled in history, but let’s make some assumptions for the sake of argument. The world’s population currently is around 6 billion. Say that every single person in the world does nothing but shuffle cards, 24 hours a day. No sleeping, eating, or anything else. Furthermore, let’s assume that to properly shuffle a pack of cards takes only one second. Finally, let’s also postulate that the world’s population has been doing this nonstop shuffling, somehow, for the last one thousand years. So:

6,000,000,000 × 365.25 × 24 × 60 × 60 × 1000 = 189,345,600,000,000,000,000 possible shuffles.

So even with absurdly inflated assumptions, we’ve only exhausted about 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000023% of the possibilities.

Am I missing something here? I think this is solid, but there might be some obvious point that’s eluding me. Anyway, if this is true, I think it’s a rather fun conversational piece.

December 30, 2006

Harper’s images

The bookstore by me is selling issues of Harper’s from 1855–1880 for $4 apiece. They were quite illustration-laden for the time, and since they’re public domain now I’ve been picking them up to find images to add to Wikipedia. So far I’ve added images to the following articles:

Anyway, that’s been keeping me busy for a while. I still have several issues to go through.

December 4, 2006

Straight Dope

From: TheStrDope@aol.com
Date: Sun, 3 Dec 2006 09:38:24 EST
Subject: Your question to THE STRAIGHT DOPE about apples as forbidden fruit
To: sluggo@unknown.nu

Recently, you wrote to Cecil Adams of THE STRAIGHT DOPE asking about apples
as forbidden fruit. I think I responded briefly, but Cecil decided to tackle
it himself. Count yourself one of the lucky ones!

Cecil has answered your question in his column on 24 Nov 2006, in the
Chicago READER and various other alternative newspapers around the country. You
can also find Cecil's answer on our website at _www.straightdope.com_
(http://www.straightdope.com/) in the section called "Archives." Here's a direct link:
_The Straight Dope: Was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden an apple?_
(http://www.straightdope.com/columns/061124.html)

And, of course, it's illustrated by Slug in his own inimitable way.

Congratulations on being one of the lucky few! We hope you're pleased...
and don't let the fame go to your head.
CK Dexter Haven
Straight Dope Staff

PS - You can buy Cecil's books and other neat stuff on our website, in the
section called "Buy Stuff." Cecil can use the money.

November 7, 2006

A Groucho story

From The Marx Brothers Scrapbook, 1973:

Groucho Marx: I’ve got to tell you something that just came to mind even though it has nothing to do with what we’re talking about.There used to be a guy by the name of David Geiger. He lived in the same building where I was brought up on 93rd Street in New York. He was Jewish and his father ran a butter and egg store over on Third Avenue. I don’t think they have those anymore. All they have today are supermarkets, but in those days it was little stores.

Richard Anobile: A dairy store?

Yes, you could get a pound of butter and some eggs and things like that. David used to play with us all the time. We’d play marbles or stoop ball or whatever. We all thought that David would grow up to be at least a Supreme Court Justice because he was so smart and well educated.

Now then, 15 or 20 years go by and my brothers and I are doing Cocoanuts [on Broadway]. I had a scene in there where I used to jump over chairs. David Geiger came to see the show one night and he sends his card back to me: David Geiger, Attorney-at-Law. So I invited him backstage and he came to see me in my dressing room while I was taking off my make-up. So, he’s standing there and I ask him how he liked the show. Now at the time we were the biggest laughing hit of Broadway but this schmuck says, “It was all right, I guess.”

Then he says, “Julius, I was out front watching you. You’re not a boy anymore and it looks ridiculous to see you jumping over chairs. Don’t you think it’s about time for you to quit this sort of thing and get a regular job?” So I asked him what he did and he told me he was an attorney. I said, “That’s pretty good. How much salary do you get a week?” “I’m getting $150.00 a week,” he answered. He didn’t know I was getting $1200.00 a week at the time.

“Julius,” he said, “you’ve got a good mind. I think I can get you a job as an apprentice in my law firm. You look ridiculous on that stage and besides you have no dignity jumping over chairs and cracking jokes. I think you ought to quit.” So I told him I’d think about it and he left.

A couple of years pass and now I’m doing Animal Crackers. One evening there’s a knock on my dressing room door and I’m handed a card: David Geiger, Attorney-at-Law. So I invite him backstage again. Now I was getting $1500.00 a week!

“How are you, David!” I greeted him. “You must be quite a success by now. Christ you must be making a fortune! How much are you making now?” He said, “I’m getting $250.00 a week.” “Well, Dave,” I said, “I’m beginning to think about what you told me. I’m getting pretty old to be in show business. Maybe someday you can get me a job and I can quit this.”

I never told him how much money I was making or what a success I was. Four or five years later I meet him again at the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue. Here he is walking down the street with his two small kids. “Julius, how are you?” he says. I told him that I was still in show business and he said, “Well, you never took my advice. You could have been a lawyer now. I’m getting $350.00 a week.” Well, by that time we had a picture contract. I was still making $1500.00 a week. That’s all there is to the story. I could never convince the cocksucker that I was a big success!

It struck me as so funny that here was this schmuck, this half-assed lawyer for a crummy company, who obviously never read the papers. Here I am a big star with my name in lights over Broadway and he never knew it. And I have to go meet him again at the Easter Parade with these two gorillas walking by his side. I realized that he was such a stupid square that it would be impossible to tell him how successful I was. And at one time I thought he’d be a Supreme Court Justice!

But, Jesus, his father had great butter and eggs!

I wonder if he’s still alive. He might be. Just in case he is alive I wish you’d use this story just so that cocksucker can read it!

That’s a promise.

He was such a horse’s ass!

October 4, 2006

Great router name

Kudos to network provider Illinois Century Network for this hostname I saw on a traceroute: “atm-1-0-10-liberace-fat-elvis.springfield.lincon.net”.

Traceroutes should always amuse me, dammit.

September 27, 2006

Ask Google: When Was the Height of the Cold War?

We all know that the “Cold War” took place between 1946 and 1989. But when was its “height”? Let’s ask Google!

1947? 1948? 1949? 1950? 1951? 1952? 1953? 1954? 1955? 1956? 1957? 1958? 1959? 1960? 1961? 1962? 1963? 1964? 1965? 1966? 1967? 1968? 1969? 1970? 1971? 1972? 1973? 1974? 1975? 1976? 1977? 1978? 1979? 1980? 1981? 1982? 1983? 1984? 1985? 1986? The 1950s? The 1960? The 1970s? The 1980s?

Glad we got that cleared up. (thanks to David Connell)

September 9, 2006

Typographers Take Note

I was not aware that somebody has unofficially allocated Unicode mappings for the extra letters in Dr. Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra.

August 12, 2006

Gettysburg Address

I had forgotten that the Gettysburg Address included this:

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

It’s ironic because it’s the opposite of what happened; the Battle of Gettysburg is now remembered, if at all, as what prompted Lincoln’s speech.

July 16, 2006

Pictures

I get a fair amount of e-mail and IM messages from strangers, taking on a flirtatious tone. At least some of these can be attributed to a Google image search for “Kim Scarborough” bringing up a photo of this hot chick as its first result.

Once the Google image database is re-generated, probably the image from this page will be the first result, which should cut down the traffic a fair amount.

July 10, 2006

Davy Rothbart

I don’t know who did this, but I am very amused.

July 5, 2006

Net Neutrality

I don’t often disagree with the Lessig/Slashdot/BoingBoing crowd on domestic issues, but I have to say I think almost everyone’s off-base with this net neutrality business. I thought we all agreed that we didn’t want the goverment policing how the Internet works, but now everyone suddenly thinks that we need FCC bureaucrats constantly inspecting bandwidth providers’ pipes to ensure they’re neutral enough. It sounds to me like a nightmare–every time there’s some random backhoe outage somewhere, there’ll have to be a goverment investigation to make sure it wasn’t intentional.

What on earth is everyone so worried about? No upstream provider is just going to cut off access to Operation Rescue or Democratic Underground, despite what the more hysterical folks are saying. The outrage would be too great, and why would they care anyway? What will really happen in absence of this new goverment interference is that you might get an extra 10KBps when downloading the trailer for the latest dumb Warner Brothers movie. This is the great evil we need to avoid at all costs?

The other part I can’t understand is why does this have to be done right this minute? We can always pass net neutrality legislation later if it turns out that really bad things are happening–this isn’t irrevocable. Why don’t we err on the side of less goverment regulation, at least until we have a chance to see what happens without it?

Of course this whole discussion avoids the moral questions. Why can’t upstream providers do what they want with their property? But arguments like that never seem to get anywhere–witness restaurant smoking bans.

I still can’t shake the feeling I’m missing something here. I definitely don’t like siding with Ted Stevens against Cory Doctorow. But this sure seems like a mass hysteria on the part of the tech community.

June 18, 2006

Stupid program of the month

Wikipediafs “is a mountable Linux virtual file system that enables you to deal with Wikipedia… articles as if they were real files.”

Dear god. How depraved do you have to be to come up with something like this?

Via Sabrina, discovered by grumpy_sysadmin, who wonders what the fsck would be like.

June 10, 2006

Stereo photography

Finally got some stereo pictures up on Flickr… check them out.

June 4, 2006

Through the Looking Glass PGN

Here’s something I’ve been looking for for awhile: a PGN of Through the Looking Glass. This guy did a pretty good job, considering the game as written violates chess rules pretty seriously.

Explanation thread here.

April 6, 2006

Latest Project

Here’s my latest project—a multimedia archive blog that I started with a couple friends. Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed—there should be a lot of cool stuff coming down the wire in the coming months.

March 29, 2006

Buy My Stamp!

[a stamp I designed]

March 22, 2006

The Velvet Underground and Lawrence Welk

Looking through my logs, I see that my computer song playlist archive has gotten several hits from people searching for “lawrence welk velvet underground”. I think it’s funny that my playlists combine both, but what’s extra funny is that I actually know what these people are looking for.

February 23, 2006

Muhammad Cartoons

The whole Muhammad cartoons thing has really depressed me. It’s not really the reaction of the Muslim extremists—after all, we already knew they’re fanatics, or at least those of us paying attention knew—it’s the reaction of people here in the west.

I thought we were all agreed that people should be able to write and publish what they want, free from initimidation. Even if some people are really offended by it. Isn’t this pretty basic? I would have thought this was a core belief of our culture.

Apparently not. I’ve had friends and relatives basically weigh in against people drawing cartoons on the side of people threatening to kill people drawing cartoons, or at least drawing some sort of moral equivalence between the two. This chilling article from a professor at Seton Hall calls for criminal punishment of the cartoonist. I thought it was scary enough that a man who thinks the ideals behind the first amendment are in error is teaching law—but then I look at his bio and see he’s on the board of directors of the New Jersey ACLU!

Something is seriously wrong here. I guess that explains why they’re against a war against theocratic fascism—they’re not all that convinced that tolerant liberal secularism is a better choice. Maybe I’m reading too much into it—but it seems that freedom of speech is as basic of as you can get to our system. One of our pillars, so to speak. It’s very disheartening.

This Iraqi blogger’s reaction is also too even-handed, but I had to laugh at this:

I wake up, go to the fridge, do a sleepy-eye makeshift inspection, and voila, there in the treacherous corner of the first drawer….what the? An almost depelted package of Danish butter Lurpak… Blood and sugar pressures went to the devil immediately…this is outrage! This is blasphemous, how can a Danish product survive in our god-abiding, muslim household…La, and a thousand La…I took out the cursed vile from the refrigerator and recalimed the appliance in the name of Islam. I whipped out a knife, and with a ear-piercing ‘Allahu Akbar’ that startled my half-deaf gradnma I charged, cutting up the cursed butter into slices, frantically, I spread that on bread and added the nice aftertouch of strawberry blood – munching up the dreaded work of Satan quickly into oblivion, my mission to eradicate the evil conspiracy off the face of the planet was a resounding success!

Burp.

February 10, 2006

Weird Phone Call

So I’m sitting at my desk at work, and I get a phone call:

“Hello, may I speak to Hugh Hefner?”

“Uh… is this a joke? Why are you dialing my direct line to talk to Hugh Hefner?”

“This number came up in our system as belonging to Mr. Hugh Hefner, and we need to speak to him.”

“Well, uh… this is a Playboy line, but I’m pretty low on the totem pole here. I have no idea how you would get ahold of… who is this, anyway?”

“I’m with ‘Nordac’.”

“Okay, and what’s your name?”

“Chris Duffy.”

“What is this regarding?”

He hangs up.

Just wanted to copy that down before I forgot it. The guy seemed dead serious—I would have thought it was a joke otherwise. Apparently he either has no idea who Hefner is, or he’s just stupid. A Google search for “Nordac” brings up a lot of stuff which seems completely unrelated. I didn’t copy the number down, unfortunately, but I remember it started with 888-404.

February 6, 2006

The Butterfly Effect

I just watched The Buttefly Effect on cable; I vaguely remembered it had gotten bad reviews, but I’m a sucker for gimmicky time travel–paradox stories, so I checked it out. Not bad, I thought. It could have been a lot better, but the story was just missing something indescribable—it wasn’t quite ambitious enough. Kutchner couldn’t really pull off the acting, either, although he wasn’t awful. All in all, a decent, mean little movie that was just frustrating because you could imagine it being much better.

Then I read the reviews. It was stunning how venomous they were. Critics hated this film, to an extent that I find completely mysterious. It’s a cliche, but I honestly found myself wondering if I had seen the same film. Typical is this writeup from Salon, which doesn’t even really explain why the movie is bad; the review boils down to “this movie feature child molestation and a puppy being burned, therefore it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen”. For this we need reviewers? My grandmother thought that accused child molesters shouldn’t even get trials. This is the film critic’s equivalent—any movie that burns up a puppy doesn’t get a discussion on the merits.

I was amused to find that one of the few reviewers who gave it the review it deserved—an interesting but flawed experiment—was Jeffrey M. Anderson, writing for Combustible Celluloid. I discovered Anderson almost three years ago when doing a survey of movie critics; I immediately became a huge fan of his when I saw that he was the only reviewer that hated the two most pretentious films I ever saw: The Truth About Tully and Laurel Canyon. I need to make a point to never miss his reviews.

February 3, 2006

In case you were wondering about the history of some of the more obscure complaints in the Declaration of Independence, here’s an annotated copy explaining them. I always wondered about some of the things in there, like the bit about “abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province”; turns out that’s a complaint about the Crown’s recent decision to revert Quebec to a French legal system.

Somewhat less useful is this page I put up a while ago, but fun on a nerdy level. I tried to mirror as closely as possible with HTML and CSS the earliest printed copy of the Declaration, known as the “Dunlap Broadside”. I even included the long “S”’s.

January 27, 2006

Questions for Lawyers (#1)

Whenever there’s a criminal case where it turns out the defendant or defendants were innocent but pled “guilty” to a crime (for instance, the Central Park Jogger or the “Capturing the Friedmans” case), you will hear a few people say, “Well, he must have done it—he pled ‘guilty’!”

Such people clearly have no knowledge of the criminal justice system, or how plea bargaining works. I’d like to think that if I were arrested and faced trial for something I didn’t do, I’d plead “not guilty” no matter what the eventual consequences might be. But in reality, I may feel less inclined to stick to my principles if, say, I were facing a five-year sentence with a guilty plea as opposed to the possibility of spending my entire life in prison if I took it to trial and lost.

So my question is this: one can somewhat spilt the difference with this kind of ethical dilemma with a nolo contendre plea. Meaning “no contest”, this basically says, “I’m not admitting I did this, but I choose not to fight these charges for some reason”. So why don’t more people take this option? There was a case a couple years ago—the details escape me, but I think it was one of these mother-kills-her-babies-trials—where the defendent pled “guilty” and then immediately denied her guilt to reporters outside the courtroom. The judge was not amused: he called her back in and told her that he was revoking his decision to accept her plea. Wouldn’t a “no contest” plea have avoided this farce? Is it just not the law in several states? Or are prosecutors less willing to accept it?

The Onion Predicts

The Onion predicting real events has been noted several times. But I’m not sure if anyone has noted that it’s also good at predicting fakes. Seven years before a prominent civil rights activist claimed that Katrina victims in the Superdome were resorting to cannibalism (after four days!), the Onion published this. And now I can’t read about James Frey’s lies without thinking about this article from 2001.

January 11, 2006

Then and Now

My project these days, in case you’re interested, is finding old pictures of Chicago and taking a new picture at the same spot. You can follow my progress here.

International phone call prices, 1932

While looking through a 1932 Chicago phone book, I noticed a list of prices for international calls (first three minutes). I figured they’d be expensive, but not that expensive. A samping:

Country Price Price (adjusted for inflation)
Australia 48.00 583.25
Canada (Quebec) 3.58 43.50
Cuba 10.50 127.50
Danzig 38.25 464.75
England 33.00 401.00
Germany 38.25 464.74
Holland 34.50 419.25
Poland 40.50 492.00

So the next time some geezer starts going on and on about how expensive things are today, remind him of this.

January 6, 2006

Wow

localhost: /home/kscarboro> df -h 
Filesystem      Size  Used  Avail Use% Mounted on  
/dev/sda3       66G   1002M  61G  2%   /  
/dev/sda1       251M    16M 223M  7%   /boot  
none            506M      0 506M  0%   /dev/shm  
/dev/sdb1       825G   109M 783G  1%   /data

I’m sure that won’t be too impressive soon enough, but it sure is striking today.

News flash: Eudora *still* sucks

It’s been years since I’ve tried Eudora. Thought I’d drop by, see what it’s like these days.

[Eudora screenshot]

This was less than five minutes after setting it up.

January 2, 2006

Worst-Selling Cars of All Time

  1. AMC Slug
  2. Plymouth Gimp
  3. Nash Maggot
  4. Mazda Lackey
  5. Pontiac Cripple
  6. Hyundai Dipshit

December 20, 2005

What to do, that’s the question

Dr. Helen quotes from an article about a 1982 psychological study of Leftist radicals. This is great:

The unwillingness to offer alternatives reveals a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. If they offered their own policy ideas they would be vulnerable to criticism. They would run the risk that their ideas would fail, or would not seem persuasive to others… Psychologically, it is easier to blame America for not finding a solution than it is to put one’s own ideas on the line.

This really struck a chord with me, because probably the #1 most annoying thing I’ve found about the anti-war left is how they never, ever offer any alternative solution to our foreign policy troubles, aside from “stop”. Nearly every conversation I’ve had with strident anti-war types about Iraq, Afghanistan, or the war in general, ends up with my saying, “Well, what do you suggest we do instead?” and getting back a lot of evasion and double-talk.

It’s very frustrating. These are real problems—adherents to a popular global movement really did destroy our buildings and kill thousands of our people, the same people really are trying to obtain nuclear weapons, Saddam Hussein really was an irrational, unpredictable tyrant that brutalized his people—so, if you’re unhappy with the neocon’s solution, you need to come up with an alternative. Like the song says, “We’d all love to see the plan”. But ”No” is not a plan.

As I said, I usually can’t pin anti-war types down to a solution at all, about any part of the war. It’s always clear that whomever I’m talking to has never thought about it in those terms at all. When I do manage (after much repetition and browbeating) to coax out suggestions for alternatives, they’re typically things like “kick Iraq out of the UN” or “just close off the border to terrorists” (both actual things that have been said to me). Well, you’ll forgive me if I don’t hand over the NSA to Dennis Kucinich just yet. I’ll stick with the neocons.

December 13, 2005

Cory Maye

Speaking of the death penalty… in case you don’t read Instapundit, you should check this out.

Radley Balko has this whole Call Northside 777 thing going with this truly horrifying tale of a man who was woken up in the middle of the night by men breaking down his door… not knowing what was going on but fearing for the life of his infant daughter he shot and killed one of the men. Turns out it was a police raid on the wrong address. Despite this obviously being the fault of the police, the man was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. I realize alleged racial bias is trotted out probably more than is accurate, but it’s hard to imagine in this case that the man being poor and black had nothing to do with it. Did I mention this was in Mississippi? And that the cop was the son of the police chief?

This is probably a rare case where the NRA and the NAACP can agree. And everybody else. Anyway, the newspapers haven’t gotten on to this yet, but they will. If you want to follow this case, start here.

Bringing them back

I haven’t been following the “Tookie” Williams case and don’t really have an opinion on it. But of course, that doesn’t stop me from being annoyed about something.

Whenever there’s a debate about a specific capital case or about the death penalty in general, you can count on somebody saying that it “won’t bring them back”, meaning the victims (for example, see here—between the original post, the quotes in the posts, and the commenters, there are five people that say it in one way or another. Isn’t this, like, the biggest possible straw man one could trot out? Is anyone suggesting that it would bring them back? And why does this apply specifically to the death penalty? A life sentence wouldn’t bring the victims back, nor any jail time at all, or a fine or probation or getting poked in the eye with a stick. If the measurement of fairness of a given penalty is whether or not the dead will walk the earth, we probably need to reassess our correctional system.

December 7, 2005

Thanksgiving Conversation

“So what is it that you do, exactly?” asks a relative at Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s not that he doesn’t know my job title, or where I work—it’s just that he has no idea what my job actually entails.

I’ve long thought that being a system administrator was the modern equivalent of a tool-and-die maker, or a carpenter; it requires a certain degree of intelligence and specialized training, but it’s not really a job where a liberal arts education would have any application. A major difference, however, is that while non-initiates don’t know the intricacies of, say, plumbing or electrical work, they at least understand in general terms what a plumber or electrician does. A system administrator, by contrast, is a complete mystery to almost everyone who’s not already in the tech field.

“Uh… well… it’s kinda hard to explain…”, I reply lamely.

“Well, try. Like, what do you do in your day-to-day work? Or like in the last few days, what have you been working on?”

What could I say? My current project at that time was taking the multiple virtual host redirect rules we have in an Apache config on a box we were retiring, and translating them into F5’s obscure TCL-ish syntax so that we could just have our load balancers handle them directly. How could I even begin to translate that into English?

“I really can’t explain it. Here, think about it like this. You remember the movie Modern Times? Remember that muscular guy who would pull the giant levers? I’m sort of like that guy. Only now the levers are really small, so they can be pulled by lazy overweight guys like me.”

This analogy was found wanting by my family, unsurprisingly. I can’t think of another job that would be this difficult. Even other computer jobs—if I were an HTML designer, or even a coder or a DBA, I could probably explain it so that it sorta made sense. But with sysadmin, I’m stuck. What was really striking was the unspoken sense of skepticism—almost like I’m putting something over on them.

December 5, 2005

Mikko Jack!

I might have to start the Mikko Jack Fan Club.

(via WFMU, which reminds you that “the cathode ray glass… is there for your protection”.)

November 29, 2005

419 Eater tops himself

I’ve been a big fan of 419 Eater for some time, but now I’m in awe.

Richard Scarry retouching

Via Colin, here’s some vaguely disturbing revisions of a classic children’s book.

Incidentally, the fellow who posted this is the same guy who did the great Megapenny project.

November 15, 2005

People who should not be videoblogging

… or one person, anyway. I’ve been reading Mickey Kaus for years, but I never saw a picture of him. His witty, insightful, and slightly neurotic blog postings have always been a delight, and I guess I built up a mental image of him based on those’somebody dashing and yet intellectual, perhaps a Robert Donat–type.

Well, now he’s got a “video blog”. Big mistake. Now everyone can see what he looks like—a cross between one of the monsters doing background vocals in a Muppet Show skit and a Gary Larson cartoon. I haven’t been this traumatized since the first time I saw Garrison Keillor.

November 13, 2005

Netflix question

A question for anybody who’s reading this: do you use Netflix? I ask because the “friends” feature is kinda cool. I’d like to add more people but everyone I can think of uses Greencine.

Netflix lets you put in any address when requesting new friends, but I’m scared to think of what they’ll do with non-subscriber addresses I feed them. So if you’re a subscriber, drop me a note.

Old Yahoo Logo

I haven’t seen this anywhere else, and it seems to be gone from where it used to be buried deep on Yahoo’s site, so I thought I’d put this up for posterity:

[Yahoo's original logo]

This was their logo/navigation bar for 1994 and part of 1995. Not sure when they got rid of it exactly, but it was definitely gone by January 1, 1996.

New blog name

This is hopelessly meta, but I’ve changed the name of my blog yet again. The new title is “I am a monkey, and I’ve come to do monkey business”. The thing is that with my new format, the title doesn’t even show up. You can only see it in the RSS feed.

November 12, 2005

“Nuclear”

Jimmy Carter used to pronounce it “nucular”, too.

Just needed to get that off my chest.

November 4, 2005

Abbey Road pictures on Flickr

Flickr is fun because you can search for stuff like this.

I feel bad for the people who live around there. Must be irritating to always have to wait for tourists to finish posing before going through the intersection.

Update: Just noticed this one. It should win a prize for “weirdest pop cultural juxtaposition”.

November 3, 2005

Happy Halloween

This makes me sorry Halloween is over.

(thanks to Colin)

October 14, 2005

Internet Archive finds

Some great movies at the Internet Archive I’ve found or learned about lately:

October 7, 2005

Latest fun internet toy

I just started playing with Pandora, a customizable internet station that’s what Last.fm really ought to be. If you enter enough stuff that you like, and are generous with the “thumbs down” ratings, you’ll probably end up learning about some music you like. I’ve already added a couple things to my Amazon wish list because of it.

An entertaining feature is that it tells you why it picks a song for you. Right now, it’s playing “Shut Up” by the Monks for me; it picked it because I specifically told it I like the Monks, but here’s its hifalutin claim about why it picked it:

Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features mild rhythmic syncopation, a vocal-centric aesthetic, major key tonality, repetitive melodic phrasing and call and answer vocal harmony (antiphony).

Ah yes. “Mild” is my favorite kind of rhythmic syncopation!

September 17, 2005

Wow

It’s now official: every single bad thing that happens will be attributed to a conspiracy by the U.S. government.

I liked Misha’s reaction: “Yeah, the government caused Katrina. Because it made them look so good.”

Yeah, well, screw you too

 
Date: Fri, 16 Sep 2005 21:52:25 +0100 
From: "Matthew Burgess" <matthew@linuxfromscratch.org> 
To: <kscarboro@playboy.com>
Subject: Re: New mirror 

Kim Scarborough wrote: 
> Hi, 
> I've set up an LFS HTTP mirror on our mirrors server. It can be accessed 
> at <http://lfs.mirrors.playboy.com/>. We're in Chicago, Ill., United 
> States. The bandwidth is 15Mbps. 

Your offer to provide mirroring for our website is greatly appreciated. 
However, there are some concerns regarding the association of the Linux 
From Scratch name with the Playboy brand. As such, we politely request 
that you refrain from mirroring our website or FTP server. 

Best Regards, 
Matt Burgess LFS Project Coordinator 

September 6, 2005

Link of the day

Obliterating animal carcasses with explosives HOWTO.

September 4, 2005

We don’t need no stinkin’ perl; OR, How to find friends on LiveJournal

So, I was curious to see with whom on LiveJournal I share the most interests. I thought I read somewhere that LJ offered this information at one point, but shut it down due to DB strain. Anyway… after searching a while, I couldn’t find anything that did it so I thought I’d do it myself.

Now, most people would use Perl for something like this; after installing Parse::LiveJournal or whatever the hell and its 80 gazillion prerequisite modules you can probably type “get friends;” in a script and have it just work. I’m not smart enough for that, though, so I just did it in bash. Here’s how.

First, you need to get your interests. If you just have a few, you can type them in, but if you’ve maxed it out at 150 as I have, you’ll want to parse it. LiveJournal requests that you get an interest list from http://www.livejournal.com/misc/interestdata.bml?user=username rather than scraping the profile page, so we’ll do that. It will make it easier, anyway, as it gives you a line-separated list. We’ll want to strip the comments as well as the numbers that prepend each entry, and we want to replace spaces with pluses so that we can make URLs out of them. So, putting it all together, we get:

lynx -dump "http://www.livejournal.com/misc/interestdata.bml?user=username" | \ grep -v ^# | \ sed s/^\[0-9\]\*\ \[0-9\]\*\ // | \ sed s/\ /\+/g > interests

Okay, now you’ve got your list of interests ready for parsing. Now all we need to is download the userlist for each one. LiveJournal also requests that when doing any bot-like activity you put your e-mail address in the user-agent string, so substitute your address in the command below. If you dump out an interest page in Lynx, it will prepend each user or group with * [info], so that’s what we look for. Once we’ve got that, we want to strip out everything but the username (or group name). We can do all of this with grep and sed. Here’s our command:

for INT in $(cat interests) ; \ do lynx -dump -nolist \ -useragent "Hi, I'm Lynx being called by a shell script, run by user@example.com" \ "http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=$INT" |\ grep \\\[info\\\] |\ sed s/^.\*info.\ // |\ sed s/\ .\*// >> userlist ; done

All right, now we have a big list of unsorted users. It’s pretty easy to get what we want now:

sort userlist | uniq -c | sort -nr > userlist.final

And now you’ve got it. The first entry will be you, and after that will be people or groups who share the most interests.

Of course, all the people at the top of my list are raving antiwar leftists, but that’s to be expected. I’m the only Andre Williams/Chris Ware/Raymond Scott/Maya Deren fan in the world who voted for Bush.

August 31, 2005

In case you were wondering

The Onion uses MySQL:

user error: Lost connection to MySQL server during query query: SELECT * FROM term_data WHERE LOWER('4135') LIKE LOWER(name) in /www/redesign.theonion.com/content/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 66.

user error: You have an error in your SQL syntax. Check the manual that corresponds to your MySQL server version for the right syntax to use near ')' at line 1 query: SELECT COUNT(n.nid) FROM node n INNER JOIN term_node tn0 ON n.nid = tn0.nid INNER JOIN term_node tn1 ON n.nid = tn1.nid WHERE (n.status = 1 ) AND tn0.tid IN (95) AND tn1.tid IN () in /www/redesign.theonion.com/content/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 66.

user error: You have an error in your SQL syntax. Check the manual that corresponds to your MySQL server version for the right syntax to use near ') ORDER BY n.sticky DESC, n.created DESC LIMIT 0, 20' at line 1 query: SELECT n.nid, n.sticky, n.title, n.created FROM node n INNER JOIN term_node tn0 ON n.nid = tn0.nid INNER JOIN term_node tn1 ON n.nid = tn1.nid WHERE (n.status = 1 ) AND tn0.tid IN (95) AND tn1.tid IN () ORDER BY n.sticky DESC, n.created DESC LIMIT 0, 20 in /www/redesign.theonion.com/content/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 66.

Preserved like a bug in amber, for those of you wondering about their file system structure, or whatnot.

August 17, 2005

Marx Brothers Show

To anybody who’s interested: I’ll be on WHPK’s “Friday Focus Show” this Friday, 7–9 PM, doing a tribute to the Marx Brothers. I have a lot of good stuff lined up, so be sure to tune in. That is, if you’re on the South Side of Chicago. They still don’t have streaming active, sigh…

August 11, 2005

RSS Tickers

I’m amazed that there still isn’t an even remotely decent RSS ticker app out there. I spent last night installing the ones I could find, and they all suck. Here’s why:

My conclusion is that RDF-Ticker is the best of a bad lot. I wish it was still being developed—probably it would have been all right by now.

July 28, 2005

Random conversations with strangers

In the last few days:

  1. I’m waiting for the bus with a bunch of people. A middle-aged black man starts singing:

    “When the cool summer breeze
    Sends a chill down my spine
    And I long for my love’s sweet caress…”

    “The Wind”, I said.

    He looked really surprised. “That’s right!” he said. “By the Jesters.”

    “Yep,” I said. “And Nolan Strong.”

    “That’s right! You know this stuff!”

  2. I’m in a candy shop downtown. A “trolley” drives by.

    CANDY STORE WORKER #1: I’ve never been on one of those trolleys.
    CANDY STORE WORKER #2 and ME (in unison): That’s not a trolley!
    CSW #1: Huh? What is it, then?
    CSW #2: It’s a bus. There’s no cables or tracks.
    CSW #1: It looks like a trolley to me.
    ME: If you saw a car shaped like a cow, would you say it was a cow?

  3. I’m on the elevator at work. Right as a guy gets off on a floor before mine, he sees my T-shirt.

    GUY: What’s “Apache Beehive”?
    ME: Well, it’s…

    The door shuts between us.

July 1, 2005

Yeah, that really sucks

“What bothers me is when music becomes entertainment.” —Billy Corgan

May 8, 2005

Bush & Putin

I’m glad to see Bush irritating Putin. The one time I got really annoyed with Bush in the debates was when he got all mealy-mouthed regarding Russia, not just coming out and condemning Putin for re-instituting a dictatorship. No more. He’s saying all the things that need to be said: that Russia illegally occupied the Baltic, that we made a big mistake trusting the Soviets at Yalta, that they need to quit making mischief in Ukraine, etc., and that Belarus needs to democratize. I honestly can’t understand anymore why Bush is so hated.

April 24, 2005

New CD #1

I’ve picked up a lot of new CDs lately. Right now, I just put on In Their Own Voices: The U.S. Presidential Elections of 1908 and 1912. It’s a collection of recordings made by Edison, Victor, and Columbia of the candidates in those years. Initial thoughts:

  1. The sound quality so far is stunning. A very slight hiss, but it’s really striking how much better it is than many blues recordings I have from 20–25 years later.
  2. William Jennings Bryan had a strong Northern accent. I was surprised to hear it, and I went and looked up his biography to make sure he hadn’t grown up in Minnesota before moving to Nebraska. Nope; he was born and raised in Illinois. How odd that he doesn’t have what we would now consider a midwestern accent. I wonder if this was just idiosyncratic to him, or if around the late 19th–early 20th century everyone in the midwest spoke in a dialect that now for whatever reason is only found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northern Michigan?
  3. Bryan’s reassuring explanations that no harm will come from direct election of senators are annoying.

April 12, 2005

The horror, the horror

If I had been neutral on the John Bolton nomination before, this article would have been all it took to convince it was a good idea. It’s about as good an argument in favor of Bolton as you’re likely to find. Oddly enough, it seems to be phrased as an argument against Bolton.

I love this list. He’s against UN Bureaucracy! He—Good God!—prefers democratic Taiwan to communist China! Perhaps most frightening, he won’t enjoy the support of U.S. diplomats around the world! Won’t somebody think of the children. Of course, compounding all these sins is that he may actually retain his beliefs after confirmation.

This is clearly unacceptable. The U.N. and the State Department have such a proven track record, why rock the boat? And certainly we can’t have any “flamethrowers” questioning our China policy; we might upset the dictators!

April 10, 2005

QE II and the Yardbirds

I know this is a few months out of date, but it’s still irritating me. In January, Queen Elizabeth went to a reception where she met Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page and had no clue who they were.

Think of it; the supposed “leader” hasn’t the faintest interest in or knowledge of the culture of her own country. We’re not talking about some newly popular teenybopper star; these are three of the most famous musicians in the world who have been active and well-known for forty years. Clapton would probably be on most people’s list of the 25 most famous Britons.

I’m not saying an old lady should be a fan or even a listener of rock music; but to not even have heard of people who have profoundly shaped her own culture for decades shows an utter contempt for her supposed subjects. The Queen is paid millions of dollars for doing nothing other than being a symbolic representative of her nation; is it too much to ask that she at least have a slight familiarity with it?

Caped Crusader

I hadn’t read Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in several years, but it came up in a conversation I had with Misha last month so she picked up the original issues off Ebay.

I was reading the last issue today, and it occurred to me that in the end, Bruce Wayne essentially becomes Osama Bin Laden. Think about it: he’s a multi-millionaire hiding out in a cave, training an army of devoted, fanatical, murderous zealots to eventually impose his vision of order on the world.

I haven’t read the sequel, though (and I don’t plan to), so I’m not sure if that messes up my analogy.

April 5, 2005

Trivial connections with the rich and famous

March 28, 2005

Keeping the animals active

Adding an additional IP to a Windows server is ridiculous. I have to:

  1. Right-click Network Neighborhood and go to “Properties”
  2. Right-click the relevant ethernet controller and go to “Properties”
  3. Select “TCP/IP” and click “Properties”
  4. On the new window, click “Advanced”
  5. On the new new window, click “Add”
  6. In the new new new window, enter the new IP and netmask and click “Add” again
  7. Click “OK” to or close the gazillion windows you now have open.

Probably nobody else has this association, but the entire process reminds me of lunch. Let me explain. Misha’s been packing my lunches lately, which means I’m having much yummier lunches, but the process… I actually counted the layers of stuff she puts around a sandwich today. Here’s the preparation process, as I’ve reconstructed it from the forensic evidence:

  1. She makes a (really tasty) sandwich
  2. She wraps it in cellophane
  3. She wraps it in cellophane, again
  4. She cuts it in half
  5. She wraps it in cellophane, again
  6. She wraps it in cellophane, again
  7. She wraps it in tinfoil
  8. She puts it in a sandwich bag
  9. She ties up the sandwich bag with a bread tie
  10. She puts it in another sandwich bag
  11. She ties up the sandwich bag with a bread tie
  12. She puts it in a paper lunch bag
  13. She puts the paper bag in a plastic shopping bag

I spend more time unwrapping than I do eating. Perhaps this is her thinking. Who knows, maybe it’s Microsoft’s too.

March 27, 2005

(Sorta) new CDs

I’ve picked up a lot of really good CDs in the last few months, and I haven’t posted about them. So I’ll try to catch up. Best new acquisitions:

I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting some stuff, but that’s what’s sticking in my head.

March 26, 2005

Computer standards

Why is it that computer technology advances at blinding speeds, but computer standards bodies are the slowest-moving non-governmental bureaucracies in existence? Why is CSS3 still a “draft” five years after work started on it? How come IANA takes a year or more to approve new MIME types? Why is the “temporary” moratorium on new .us locality-based domains now in its third year? Why is there still no URI scheme for SSH, ten years after its invention? Grr…