Friday, July 30, 2004

How do I love Windows XP, let me count the ways.

My employer just got me a new laptop with XP on it after I'd been using Windows 2000 for quite a while. I'm sure a lot of bad things have been said about Windows XP, but I'm here to say one more. I don't know why they felt the need to meddle with the interface anymore, but working with XP is like working on my own teeth with a pair of pliers and a cleaver.

I'd sit here and enumerate the facets of this pain, but, sadly, I have work to do, and it's going to take a lot longer now that I have a brand new computer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

filelight - show where your diskspace is being used

I think filelight is pretty cool. I set it loose on my home directory, and it pretty well confirmed what I already knew: 3/4 of my disk usage is music. I was a little surprised at how much of my music is still in a state of disorganization, but in retrospect, it's not such a shocker.

Routine: a contradiction.

Routine is what always happens.

Routine is not always what happens.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Picky scavenger.

Bailey (our golden retriever) barked for more food tonight; that's not unusual. Blond Bailey Big Belly Barker has a voice that makes me jump when I'm standing next to it, a bark to rattle windows, a bark to rattle cages, a bark to rattle hardened criminals.

Once I figured out why he was barking, I gave him the food. This is also not unusual. When it comes to food and the dogs, our attitude is, "you whine, you win."

What is unusual is that he declined to eat it. He barked at me again! I put his food in the other dog's bowl, and Bailey wouldn't stand for it. I couldn't believe it! The dog eats trash; the dog eats plastic, spoiled meat, or virtually anything food-like that we leave laying around, but it's beneath him to eat out of another dog's bowl.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

The bunny never sleeps.

In my quick research into our new pet rabbit, I learned that rabbits are crepuscular, which means they sleep day and night but not at twilight or dawn. That's interesting in a house with a hamster who's nocturnal, dogs that sleep at their leisure, parents who sleep on accident, and a child who sleeps when directed. It'd be interesting too if it happened.

We've had this adorable bunny for a while now, and I've never seen her with her eyes closed. Every time I go near her cage, she's awake, little pink eyes wide open. Sometimes I see her stretched out like she's relaxing. Sometimes I see her with her feet tucked in like she's a fur log with a bunny face, but never sleeping.

Maybe I'm crepuscular and I don't know it. Maybe I make such a racket, even walking on carpet in socks, that Vanilla can never sleep through my approach. Whatever it is, it's gotten uncanny.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Mitochondria and ALS.

This came in my daily news alert, and it says more about the connection between mitochondria and ALS. In the mice used in the study, mitochondria were also affected in the muscle cells. Since mitochondria are responsible for energy in cells, they fed some mice a fatty, high energy diet, and those mice lived 20% longer than the ALS mice who had a normal diet. The article didn't mention whether the longer-living mice ballooned to twice their normal size and got heart disease, but it does say that more research is needed.

Monday, July 19, 2004

What our President is not.

You can't define something by what it isn't. Consider if "chair" were defined as "not a table." It doesn't tell you anything. Still, the Negative Capability page is interesting. It's a list of statement President Bush has made about himself that all say what he is not. My favorite:

I'm not a precision guy.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

College lies

Sometime during my freshman year of college (that was 1991), I had this in my .plan file.

1. I was just about to log out.
2. I'm going to get up early tomorrow.
3. I'm awake (really).
4. I go home every weekend.
5. Dorm food is even better than my mom's.
6. I'm not ticklish (so don't even try it).
7. I've never missed a class.
8. I never wait till the last minute.
9. I think multitasking is silly.
10. I know my roommate better than my computer.
I could say a lot about my first year of college, but what I usually say about it is only that it was the worst year of my life. What the above says to me is that I've forgotten so much about that year that I no longer understand what was funny about those ten lines. They brought a sardonic smile to my face back then. Now I scratch my head, stroke my chin, and I wonder if I've forgotten too much.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Copyright in the movies

I saw "About a Boy" and "Uptown Girls" when they were in theaters. The main character in each has something in common: they're both living off the proceeds of copyrights held by their deceased parents. There are two ways to look at the situation.
  1. People living off their parents' works are leaches on our society.
  2. It's so cool that we have the opportunity to live comfortably from our parents' efforts.
That's simplified, and it may be clear that I favor the "leach" interpretation.

When I saw these movies I didn't even think of the latter interpretation, and I wondered to myself if someone were trying to show what's wrong with copyright. Later I realize that many viewers could have looked at those characters as some kind of American dream. I want to be a copyright leach too, the thinking goes. After all, these characters are protagonists; we're supposed to like them.

Maybe this is Hollywood propaganda, but I doubt it. In poking around about these movies, I saw reviewers compare one to the other, as if the second were a gender changed version of the first. Perhaps a lazy writer couldn't be bothered to come up with a different zero-effort income source. And I doubt most people noticed the whole copyright issue; it's not exactly a hot topic on the minds of moviegoers.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Gene-based ALS treatment

This is basically an advertisement for the company that's making the treatment. It makes sure to mention that they have an exclusive license, blah blah, etc., etc.

In any case, it talks about using gene therapy on mice who have familial Lou Gehrig's disease. Apparently their treatment halts the progress of the disease. I am extra skeptical due to the tone of the piece (specifically, the tone is "please invest in us").

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Terrorists attacking our elections.

So, the government is considering rescheduling the elections in case of attack. I've been hearing about this for a while now, and since I'm such a crackpot, the first thing it made me think of is our President declaring himself dictator for life. It sounds crazy, even to me, so I've refrained from talking about it lest I be carted off by federal health care agent professionals to a place I'm not allowed to leave and not allowed to be unhappy.

Last night while watching The Daily Show, I finally figured out what's really wrong with rescheduling the elections. Consider! For the elections to be safe from terrorist attack, the terrorists must not know where the elections are, or be unprepared to attack them, or there are no terrorists.

You could argue that the problem is solved by eliminating the terrorists or catching them unprepared. Given that last year was the worst for international terrorism since we started monitoring that sort of thing, I think we can safely assume that the terrorists are not on the verge of extinction, and they're not unprepared.

Thusly, it follows that we must secretly reschedule the election. We have to tell all the Americans where and when to vote without telling any of the terrorists.

How do we do that?

I have a modest proposal. The President will schedule the election at least a month in advance and tell people who he knows are not terrorists. Those people will tell others who they know are not terrorists, and so on. By the time the scheduled date rolls around, all the true Americans will know when and where to cast their vote, and all the terrorists will be left in the dark.

You heard it here first.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Nerve cells' powerhouse 'clogged' in Lou Gehrig's disease

Here's another from the news alert. It's essentially the same story that I posted about earlier but with different details.

Nerve cells' powerhouse 'clogged' in Lou Gehrig's disease

Akiyoshi's illusion pages

The first time I saw one of Akiyoshi's illusion pages, I thought it must be done with animated GIFs. I remember simple "lines of the same length appear to be different lengths" illusions when I was a kid, but these are far beyond that.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Tips from my lousy hard drive experience.

I have two 40G drives that I bought at the same time. I consider them identical. About a week ago, one of them failed.

Tip one: Back up early and often! I wrote a script that takes the most important files, and packages them into nice CD-sized chunks. It doesn't back up my music, or a handful of other things, but it's the minimum of what I'd call "full." Another script takes just files that have been changed or added since the last "full" backup. The first one I run when I think of it, and the second one runs nightly. Long story short, I have my most important files safe every day.

Given that, I was able to stay calm in the face of failure. Ten years ago, I could "drop everything" and spend as long as necessary addressing some random computer problem. I can't do that anymore. Recent backups make that easier for me.

I tried some repair tactics, but it wasn't having it. It was having trouble reading certain parts of the disk. I used the backups I had to determine what files were not in my "full" copy, and I set the software to work on copying as much of that as possible.

Tip two: Pay attention to error messages. When tar would hit a file it couldn't read, it would say it was padding it with zeroes. I wrote down filenames thinking that I might look at them individually later. I gave up after a while; I'd already turned my piece of paper over once. In any case, that error message was important later.

For fun, once the evacuation was done, I reformatted the disk and ran a bad blocks check on it. It came up clean. Clean? Yes, clean. I checked again. I did a destructive check. Burned to the ground, it rose from the ashes.

I figured this might be a good time to reformat the other drive also. I'd put them under ext3 ages ago, when I was still suspicious of this whole "journaling" thing, and I wanted an easy way back to my tried-and-true ext2. It turns out, ext3 doesn't always perform as well as the alternatives.

Tip three: Trust, but verify. To copy the data from the good drive to the suspiciously born-again drive, I did this:

tar -cf - /good-drive | gpg -z 0 -so /bad-drive/good-drive.tar.gpg

This means the resulting archive was signed, but with no compression and no encryption. Turning off compression probably helped it go a little faster. What I really wanted was a way to get a good checksum of the file without having to reread it. In retrospect, I could have done this:

tar -cf - /good-drive | tee /bad-drive/good-drive.tar | sha1sum - > /good-drive/sha1

In any case, once the good drive's data were all on the suspicious drive, and signed, I did a verify with GnuPG something like four times, and it always came up valid. Each one took about four hours.

Note that since the failure last week, that drive has been working almost constantly.

Satisfied that my copy of the good drive could be read reliably off the suspicious drive, I reformatted the good drive and then restored its contents.

When it came time to restore those non-essential files I'd copied, I noticed that tar would extract right up to a file that had a problem and then halt. It was still reading the archive, but it didn't extract anything. That list of bad files came in handy; I could tell immediately that it was a bad file that it hit before failure.

I had a look at the documentation for some option that might say "keep working even if you hit a bump." It turns out the '-i' option does this. Actually, it ignores a block of zeroes that normally indicate the end of the archive, y'know, like the zeroes that tar wrote there in the first place when it encountered a truncated input file.

Since I had no place of my own to put all this data, I relied on my wife's new Mac PowerBook running OS X. It was really handy to use netcat for the restore.

Tip four: When using someone else's computer, be nice. Any time I ran anything over there, I'd 'nice -19' the thing. I couldn't help but notice that her Microsoft programs were taking 10% of the processor even when idle, but I deferred to them anyway. It's not my computer.

Tip five: Keep more than the most recent backups. The drive probably failed days before I noticed it. I may be able to consult those earlier backups to find problems that aren't obvious right away.

I'm still not sure what all I've lost, but I'm sure that it's nothing important or irreplaceable, and I'm sure I can find out what it is. I'm not sure the suspicious drive will continue to work, but I know better than to trust it with anything important. All in all, this lousy failing hard drive experience has been the best I can recall.

Requiem for a Dream

"Requiem for a Dream" has a credit for "Refrigerator Puppeteer" (Django Martel). That's all I have to say about that.

My sister was right; the movie was disturbing. I must say, though, I made it worse through anticipation. I kept expecting it to do something even worse than it did.

At some lull in the movie I mused on the fact that every character in it was dreaming, either of a future or the past. I heard Yoda in my head saying, "Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing." I've spent a lot of time dreaming, and a lot of time escaping, but I'm happy to say I never did it with chemicals.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Mitochondria in spinal cords is ALS target

This came up in a daily news alert.

Mitochondria in spinal cords is ALS target according to UCSD medical researchers

It seems that mutant SOD1 (which we've heard of before) does something to the mitochondria in the spinal chord. It doesn't affect cells elsewhere, just the large motor neurons there. The result is that the mitochondria don't produce as much energy, and they may be triggering cell death.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


DAEMON Tools let me use some .bin/.cue files without having to waste a CD on them (and without having to find software that will handle them). The install was small and easy, and in no time I had that CD image made into a virtual drive on my PC. It makes me want to turn some of my other CDs into images just so I don't have to lug the discs around all the time. It's a glorious day.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

I saw "Fahrenheit 9/11" on Saturday, and I've spent some time since then reading the various attacks on it. Here are a couple of the better ones I've seen:I haven't read every word in either of those.

I did read "Michael Moore Makes the Same Movie Again," which is a broader analysis of Michael Moore's work with "Fahrenheit 9/11" in mind. It contains a synopsis of the arguments made in the movie, and it makes a couple of points that I agree with.

One is that people arguing over the "facts" in Moore's film often are as biased as Moore is. It's been shown that Moore implies a lot that he doesn't say and defends it by pointing out the veracity of what he said. There's certainly a dishonesty there. On the other hand, one of the deceits listed in the above article is that Moore has said in the past that we should not have sent any troops to Afghanistan, but in the movie he says we should have sent more. If Moore has changed his mind, or even if he's not sincere, that doesn't make the idea in the movie "false." Saying that this is a deceit within the movie is stretching.

The other point I agree with is that it doesn't matter if some of the implications in the movie are not true. Moore presents lots of things that would make me dislike the current administration. Even if only a quarter of them really are as they are made to appear, that's enough.

Ultimately what I like about the movie is that it has people talking. Folks come out of the theater discussing politics. They're thinking more about the presidential election than they would have with the usual campaigning from the candidates. That's a good thing.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I, fan of robots.

I read the book something like ten years ago. When I saw the first trailer for "I, Robot" the movie, it looked like it was a far cry from what Asimov had in mind. I don't like seeing books I've enjoyed made into lousy Hollywood craptaculars, but this one seemed to bother me more than that.

In discussing this at the theater this weekend, my sister said she remembered a story where it looked as if a robot had murdered its master, but I couldn't remember one. I looked through story summaries, and I remembered most of them but still couldn't find one like that.

I finally ran across the Wikipedia entry for the movie, and it all came together.
  • The screenplay was written before they took Asimov's title!
  • There was already a good faithful screenplay written!
I saw Harlan Ellison's screenplay published in Asimov's magazine way back when. I couldn't remember that fact, but I remembered to be confused when I saw a trailer that didn't match what I read as a boy.

For all I know, it's a good movie. Unfortunately, being saddled with the name of a great book means it has a lot more to live up to than if they'd just kept the original name ("Hardwired"). I don't see Bridget Moynahan as Dr. Susan Calvin, but she could have been fine as some similar character in a movie with its own title.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Silica gel hazard.

We know not to eat it. When I got a laptop about 20 months ago, unbeknownst to me, there was a little packet of the stuff in the bag. It ruptured and spilled its non-toxic little payload somewhere in the bottom of the bag, where I generally stuff the mouse.

I never saw the beads themselves, hiding in the bottom of the bag, but every once in a while I'd notice that one of the beads had gotten stuck between the mouse button and the mouse case so I couldn't click anything. It's not a big deal since I can get the little buggers out with my fingernail or a pen.

This morning, I noticed two beads in the USB connector on the mouse. This would explain why it seems I can't get the connector all the way in anymore. Getting them out was a pain, using a bent paper clip, and I was afraid briefly that I wouldn't get them out at all.

So now I'm on a crusade to eliminate millimeter-sized spheres from the interior of my computer's otherwise happy home. Humidity be damned, these things must die.

President Bush asked real questions in Ireland

I read through the transcript of an interview President Bush did with Carole Coleman in Ireland a couple of days ago. I heard about it through Boing Boing, which was linking to a column by John Nichols.

The story, briefly, is that this reporter asked some hard questions, and our President didn't handle it well. Some people who have seen the interview are outraged. The White House then canceled Laura Bush's interview with the same reporter and filed a complaint with the Irish Embassy.

Our President can't orate his way out of a wet paper bag. I remember this every time I read or hear anything he says, but it's driven home so much harder when former President Clinton speaks. I saw him on a show the other night, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him. If you've forgotten too, read this transcript of an impromptu interview he did a few years ago. He called a radio station just to support Al Gore and Hillary Clinton in their elections, and the journalists at the station started asking him some good questions.

I know that ability with language does not equal intelligence. The fact that I sound like a four-year-old to a native Spanish speaker when I try to use their language doesn't make me an idiot. Still, there's something wrong here.