Monday, December 31, 2007

Telemarketers, Be Gone!

You forget about these things. Changing one of our telephone numbers from a land-line to Verzion FIOS involved dropping the old number and getting a new one. One minor annoyance is that Verizon (copper) and Verizon FIOS don't seem to talk much, so Verizon (copper) never seems to put a change-of-number message on our old number. We've called, emailed, etc., it's been two weeks, and still nothing.

That, however, is not the major problem. The major problem is that we'd forgotten the persistence of telemarketers. Hence we didn't sign the new number up on the National Do Not Call Registry.

Oops.

It took telemarketers about 10 days to figure this out. Since Saturday, we've had a bunch of telemarketing calls. Of course, once I realized the mistake I immediately registered the number, but since it hasn't filtered through the system yet, we still get a few calls, including the annoying machine call that was half cut off by our answering machine's greeting.

It makes you appreciate the fact that the Do-Not-Call list is a Federal program that actually works. OK, a few calls get through, but the volume of calls we got on the old number was next-to-nothing, and now we're getting them daily.

Now if there was just an enforceable do-not-spam law.

Note: Why, in the name of all that's holy, would any marketing firm suppose that anyone would respond well to a call placed at 9 am anytime between Christmas and New Year's Day? It's almost anti-marketing. Hint: I'm sure not going to buy anything from DISH network any time soon.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Gnome, Gnome on the Range

I'm playing with switching window managers. For maybe ten years I've been using FVWM in one or another of its incarnations. I'm thinking it might finally be time to change to a more “modern” window manager. No particular dissatisfaction with FVWM, but I'd like a different look to the screen. It's sort of in the same thing as my Comcast/Verizon switch, except that no one's offering me a TV.

Since the default Window manager for plain-old-vanilla Ubuntu is Gnome, let's try that. It's as simple as changing your session before you log in.

Of course, that gives you plain-old-vanilla Ubuntu Gnome. I like to make my desktop look like my desktop, not some office stiff. So modifications are necessary. Most are based on my belief that a Window Manager must perform tasks that I want it to do, not the way favored by some group of software designers, no matter how talented. In FVWM these modifications were performed in the $HOME/.fvwm/.fvwmrc file. In Gnome most things things can be done from menus, to wit:

  • Launch the applications I want opened on startup: Gnome does this in the Systems => Preferences => Sessions.
  • Move applications onto another part of the desktop: With FVWM, you drag across the screen. Gnome doesn't have a virtual desktop, it has several workspaces. You can move programs between workspaces by dragging them along in the Workspace switcher, which is usually down on the right-hand side of the screen.
  • Add applications to the Menu: and generally muck up the way information is presented. With FVWM you edit the menu. In Gnome the Menu edits you. OK, not really. Right-click on Applications and select Edit Menus. When you add an application, you can also select an appropriate icon by clicking on the default icon in the application editing box.
  • Change the wallpaper randomly: This isn't a property of FVWM, but I wrote a Perl script to do it. In Gnome get the Python script background.py, and launch it on startup. What it doesn't do, at the moment, is change pictures at random intervals. That shouldn't be too hard to fix. Learning Python is one of my software goals for 2008 in any case.
  • Make programs appear in assigned workspaces: That is, I want Thunderbird to come up in workspace 1, Firefox in workspace 2, Emacs in workspace 3, etc. One application per workspace, and I can switch through them with ctrl-alt-arrowkey. To switch between windows in the same workspace, you use alt-tab.

    This isn't a part of Gnome, unfortunately. However, since this is Open Source, there are ways around it. The solution of choice here is Devil's Pie, available from the Ubuntu repositories. Install it, make sure it's running when you log in (see above), and create a directory $HOME/.devilspie that contains files like this:
    $cat ~/.devilspie/firefox.ds 
    (if
    (is (application_name) "Firefox")
    (begin
    (set_workspace 2)
    )
    )
    
    which assigns Firefox to workspace 2. Note that this doesn't launch Firefox, you have to do that yourself. When you do launch Firefox, however, it will appear in workspace 2. (Note: I originally did cut-and-paste from a published tutorial. That led to the strange Unexpected token encountered: 226 error, which apparently is because the examples use Unicode quotation marks. If you get this error you might as well type in the script by hand, it's short in any case.

There are undoubtedly a lot of tutorials out there on how to use Gnome efficiently. They're probably useful. However, remember that this is software we're talking about: back up everything you want to save, then play around. If you hopelessly frak something up, go to your backup and start over. For gnome, the simplest backup is just:

$ cd
$ mv .gnome .old_gnome
$ mv .gnome2 .old_gnome2
$ cp -r .old_gnome .gnome
$ cp -r .old_gnome2 .gnome2

which preserves your original files. Now restart Gnome, and play around. If you find you're hopelessly lost, just:

$ rm -fr .gnome .gnome2
$ mv .old_gnome .gnome
$ mv .old_gnome2 .gnome2

and you're back where you started.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Vista Experience

Friend TK sent these along. Blame him, not me:


Vista True Info - For more funny videos, click here

And here's how to install Vista in two minutes or less (I can do this in about 30 seconds):

Monday, December 24, 2007

Cronic Emailing

So now Comcast knows we're leaving. I'm assuming that this means that they will eventually shut off my old Comcast email address. I could check this by logging onto my old Comcast account every day, but I decided it would be simpler to let the computer do it: Comcast currently forwards email to my Verizon account, so let's send my Comcast account an email. Either I'll get it, via Verizon, or it will be bounced, in which case I'll get an email from Comcast telling me to buzz off. I'd like this to be done daily, say at 1 am. Then when I check my email in the morning I know immediately if Comcast is still forwarding mail.

To do this, we need several utilities. First, we need a command to allow the computer to send mail, preferably from the command line. In Unix-like systems, this is called mail (Duh). Well, that's not quite right. First we need a mail server. We'll use Gmail's SMTP server, located at smtp.gmail.com. (Who thinks up these names?) Second, we need a program to access Gmail's SMTP. That would be msmtp, which we've discussed before. Finally, we need a command line program mailer. That would be the aforementioned mail, except that it's not the standard one that's loaded in with Ubuntu. Ubuntu comes with mail from the GNU mailutils package. That doesn't work well with msmtp. Instead, you want the simpler mailx package. So fire up a command-line prompt and type:

$ sudo apt-get install mailx

adding msmtp to that line if you don't have it installed. This will remove mailutils and install mailx.

Now that all our tools are in place, we just need to set things up. First, let's work on msmtp. We need to create, or edit, the file $HOME/.msmtprc. The contents have changed just a bit from the original install. Here, with some obvious changes, is my current file:

account default
host smtp.gmail.com
from dubya@gmail.com
auth on
password nuculer
user dubya@gmail.com
tls on
port 587
tls_certcheck off

port 587 is Google's preferred email port, and tls_certcheck off tells the program to not bother about doing certificate checks — which means that you should probably not use this method to send anything of value. Also note that your password is in clear, so you'd better set the permissions of $HOME/.mtmsprc to keep anyone else from reading it:

$ chmod 600 $HOME/.mtmsprc

Now, let's set up the message. I want a script, basically, that sends a short message to my Comcast account. So I set up this little bit of code:

$ cat > $HOME/cmailtest
mail dubya@comcast.net -s "Comcast Mail Forwarding Check" << endmail
Today, it's still working.
endmail
^D
$ chmod 700 $HOME/cmailtest

Which creates a file, called cmailtest, in my home directory, that sends a simple email. The file is made readable and executable by me and me alone, just in case someone else stumbles upon it and starts sending it to me at random times.

Send the email by executing the file from the command line:

$ $HOME/cmailtest

That's fine, but how do I get it sent at 1 am every day?

That requires the cron and crontab commands. cron is a daemon that searches for things to do. Most of these are specified in the /etc/cron* directories, but you can add things to the list as well. In my case, we do this:

$ cat > cfile
0 1 * * * /home/dubya/cmailtest

^D
$ crontab cfile

This creates a file, cfile, which will tell cron to run the cmailtest script at the 0th minute of the first hour of every (the “*”) day, week, and month. The blank line is to ensure that there is an end-of-line after cmailtest, otherwise cron won't recognize it. The command is entered into the system with the crontab command.

And that's it. From now on, Hal will send a message to my old Comcast account early in each day. As long as the account exists, I'll get it at my Verizon email. Once the account dies, Gmail will get a bounce message.

So when that happens how do I turn the thing off? Simple. I just use the

$ crontab -r

to delete all of my cron jobs. Or, if I want to add other things to the list, edit the cron jobs with

$ crontab -e

For more examples, see the previously mentioned link, a more Ubuntu-specific page or, of course, try

$ man cron
$ man crontab

Comcast Unplugged

With no unpleasantness, really. Just a polite “why?” Not something I have a really good answer for. Corrupted by Verizon marketing, I guess.

Anyway, we have ten days to return the box. Let's see how long the web pages and email stay up after that.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Three Days With Verizon

And so far, everything's working pretty much the same as it did with Comcast.

This is not a bad thing. The best thing and ISP can do for you is to not be noticed: Just give me the Internet, Sir, and we'll all be fine.

We have two TVs, one connected to a Verizon High Def DVR box, and the other one, downstairs here with me, is just plugged into the cable. Comcast let the later TV access local plus about 40 cable analog channels, while Verizon only gives you local channels, plus, for some reason, Chicago's WGN. Probably some Cubs fans around. I only use the downstairs TV to watch local sports, anyway, so that's OK. The downstairs picture is clearer than Comcast provided, probably because Verizon put in a brand-new high-speed connection from the street, while Comcast used the cable left over from the 1970s, which was sensitive to interference from the local PBS station's tower. The digital connection doesn't seem to break up as much as Comcast's did, but then it's Christmas time, so there isn't a lot to watch right now. The OnDemand feature seems to respond faster than Comcast's did. This is a function of bandwidth, and we had problems with Comcast in that regard.

The DVR software is a little annoying, in that you can set a global option to record only first run TV series, but you can't set it for individual shows, unlike Comcast's system. I can't comment on how it actually works, because, again, it's Christmas, so there aren't any new shows to record.

The phone service has been perfect, except for the fact the Verizon still hasn't put a “this number has changed” message on our old phone number.

The Internet connection has been pretty stable. The hard-wired computers haven't lost connection at all, except for the moments after I accidentally hit the off switch on the power strip. The wireless connection: well, as you probably know, Verizon provides you with their own combination modem/wireless router. The router only has WEP encryption. I'm not terribly happy with that, but then again we live in a neighborhood with widely separated houses — signals we get from other wireless systems are pretty weak, and I don't think it would be profitable for anyone to try to hack in. If somebody drives up in a car close enough to access our signal, I think we'd notice the driver hunched over a keyboard after a while.

We did have one initial problem with the wireless connection: Wednesday night it just stopped working, as in wouldn't let you connect. This was frustrating, because I could see the router from Hal's Evil Twin, but I couldn't connect to it, no matter how many times I tried. The problem cleared itself up by Thursday morning. Spouse was talking to Customer Support about getting the message on our old phone number and mentioned the wireless problem. She got the response “sometimes that happens the first day,” which may be true but isn't exactly encouraging. Nevertheless, it has worked well since then.

I also had a slight problem getting logged on to the router so that I could change security settings. (I think we'll go to MAC authentication, just to help out against hypothetical war-driving attacks. It's not like we have a lot of people who need to hook up to our network.) I couldn't log on. Verizon provided me with the IP address of the router, and the administrative account name, but not the password. I looked up the router on the net and found the default password, but still couldn't log on. Eventually I called the Customer Support number. The “we're pretending to be a computer, ignore that man behind the curtain” help system kicked me over to a live person in about five minutes, and I was only on hold there for a couple of minutes — that may be how long it takes the signal to travel to India. Anyway, the tech figured out the problem in about thirty seconds — sometimes the default password has a “1” after it. I logged onto the router, which has a reasonably clean interface, and changed that password. This week I make it as secure as possible with a WEP system. If I get really paranoid, I suppose, I can turn off the wireless function of the router and plug in our old D-Link router, but I doubt I'll bother.

Speed: we're paying for 5MB/s download and 2MB/s upload, and we're getting something close to that, if you believe all those Internet Speed Test sites. It's fast enough that I don't notice any difference from Comcast. For what it's work, the sales people at the kiosk in the Mall said that we'll be upgraded to 10/4 in a month or two.

Oh yeah, the same sales people mentioned that we'd get support to forward our email for a month after leaving Comcast. No one else seems to know about it. There is something that lets you copy your email from one web service to Verizon's, but we pop our email to the house, so that isn't particularly useful. Well, we've notified friends and family, and we'll get to our customer service emails this week, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem.

All in all, and so far, I'm happy with the service. We'll see how it goes over the next few months. I'll be particularly interested to see how the battery handles our phone service the next time the power goes out.

One more note: I still haven't activated Verizon's oh-so-generous 10 MB of web space. Hopefully later this week. It may be that the links to our old Comcast web space on the right may die before I get things changed. If so, my apologies, but remember that everything except some of the cat pictures is still here in the blog.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Seven Step Program

The Washington Post's tech columnist Rob Pegoraro has some advice for those of you that get a new computer this Christmas: 7 Steps to Get Your New Computer Running Right. It's heavily Windows oriented, of course, since that's where the major problems come from. However, here's the Linux version:

  1. Virus Protection: Not necessary. There isn't one Linux virus in the wild, and, even if there was, not running as a user, not root, will keep your operating system safe from harm, if not your datafiles.
  2. Security Updates: Available more or less automatically with any modern Linux distribution, just as for Windows.
  3. Update Flash, Java, and QuickTime: For Windows, you've gotta do this separately for each program. Depending on your Linux distribution, and how Free you want to be, Flash and Java updates might be available at the same time you perform the previous step. There's no QuickTime for Linux, of course, but there are programs that play QuickTime files, again depending on your definition of Free.
  4. Get Rid of Unnecessary Programs: According to Rob, “Most Windows machines arrive loaded with junk programs that mostly waste space.” You think? Anyway, that's not a problem with a Linux distribution. Just choose the programs you want while you're doing the installation. No “trial” versions of programs on a Linux CD, either — you get a fully working, fully paid-for (i.e., free) version of every program.
  5. Selective Upgrades: Uh, Rob means dumping IE for Firefox and Outlook for Thunderbird. Of course, Linux has a veritable plethora of web browsers and mail clients. Pick the ones you like best, or go all-in-one with SeaMonkey.
  6. Don't Rush to Reinstall Old Programs: For, verily, some of them won't work on your new computer. This happens, occasionally, with Linux, but in most cases you don't have to worry about restoring old programs — there will be an up-to-date version of each of your programs with your new Linux distribution.
  7. Pick Up Some Inexpensive Hardware: Like Pen Drives, UPS, ... Agreed. The Sunday Supplement advertisements for Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, etc., have some amazing loss-leader bargains, like the 500 GB external disk I got for $50, after rebate. Check out the ads religiously every Sunday — you might just find what you need. Just remember, you don't have to buy anything else when you go there. You are permitted to drool over the 96" plasma screen.

You'll note that many of these points apply to Linux users as well as Winnies or Macophiles. You'll also note that the Linux version of the solution is mostly faster, easier, and cheaper. Not to mention more secure. And, if you don't want to install it yourself, you can buy a preloaded machine. What's that about Linux not being ready for the home?

Here endeth today's sermon to the choir.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Well, It's Done

We're running on Verzion FIOS. The installation process actually went pretty smoothly. Well, the Tech couldn't get Hal's Other Twin's Windows XP account to register with Verizon. I have no idea why. So we went upstairs to Hal's Evil Twin, an XP machine, and she couldn't use the D-Link card to connect to Verizon's Wireless router. I suspect that she just didn't know how to do it, and I'll fix it later, but she gave us a USB-port wireless router, which works just fine. I didn't have any trouble connecting the Mac via wireless, either.

Initial setup was done with Windoze, but I've done all the account tweaking at verizon.net from Hal, using Firefox. I even have the email accounts set up.

Now, those of you who like to look at Cat Pictures, be warned: when I shut down the Comcast account, some of the pictures will vanish. I'll do my best to replace them, not on Verizon's server, which only gives me 10 MB of “Personal Disk Space” unless I want to pony up extra money per month. Until I find a cheaper alternative I'll move as much as I can to Verizon-space, and the rest will just have to stay on Hal's disk and live on in DVD backups. I'll do my best to change the links from Comcast to Verizon, but it'll take some time, and some links might never be updated. If you see a dead Comcast link that you'd like to view, let me know and I'll try to expedite matters.

How's it work? Speed seems the same as Comcast, meaning, “faster than I need.” The analog TV picture seems clearer than Comcast, which was always getting interference from the local TV tower. Of course, the analog signal is only good for the local TV channels, unlike Comcast, which gave you 30-40 cable channels as well. Eventually I'll have to get another TV box.

Verizon also seems to have fewer free movies, but that might just mean I haven't found all of them yet. The OnDemand feature seems to respond faster than Comcast's did.

And the phones work perfectly: One copper, one fiber.

Undoubtedly there will be problems, and I'll bitch about them when the time comes. But for now, everything looks good.

Still Here

Remember a few days ago, when Verizon came over and installed the fiber line from street to house, shredding (and repairing) the coax and copper lines in the process?

Well, they didn't install the fiber correctly, so they've spent the last few hours redoing that. They do have the box installed in the garage, and we're only about 45 minutes from finishing, once they have the fiber line dug.

The Verizon tech's pretty cool about all this, he's doing as much as he can while the line is being dug up.

Fortunately, my lawn is 90% trees and weeds, otherwise I'd be rather upset by all of this. Instead, I'm just bemused. I've got the whole day off, and the most stressful thing I'll have to do is cancel the Comcast subscription.

And They're Here

No sooner posted than the Verizon truck showed up. Some things I sort of knew, but hadn't really worried about before:

  • The box lives in the garage.
  • It needs to be plugged in — OK, I knew that, but I didn't realize the implication: We really should have an outlet on the inside of the garage's outside wall. We don't. So probably another long extension cord snaking around the ceiling of the garage. Must get an electrician in here to rewire the place.
  • It'll take 4-6 hours.
  • The tech assures me we'll keep the copper line we're meant to keep.

Waiting for FIOS

Well, it's 9:30 am, and Verizon isn't here yet.

The morning is not lost, however. We're putting in some new doors off the den. The delivery man got here right at 8 am, well before he said he'd arrive. So one visit is taken care of, just not the one I'd expected.

Verizon's FIOS page hints that they will only support Win$ and Macs. The people I talked to at the Mall, however, assured me that there would be no problem, and the comments to this article seem to suggest that. I just need to hook up to DHCP, and find out where the smtp and pop servers live, right? The consensus seems to be that some Techs will be happiest checking out the connection using a Windows machine. That's OK, Hal's Other Twin has a Windows XP partition, used only to play Pinball. If I have to re-install that to remove any Verizony software it's not big deal. In fact, it might even motivate me to try getting Windows running under QEMU. If it's fast enough, I can play XP's Pinball game right here on Hal. If it's really fast, I can convert Hal's Evil Twin to Hal's Nice Twin with Windows on QEMU, one small step towards moving the house out from under the Shadow of Redmond.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fear and Trepidation in Davidsonville

Verizon FIOS is coming tomorrow morning, “between 8 and 12 a.m. (sic)” I'm going to stay home for the event, mainly to insure that the copper line that Verizon restored (after cutting) (1) stays in the ground, and (2) stays connected to our AT&T phone service.

After that, make sure the new computer, phone, and cable connections work, then say “bye-bye” to Comcast and send out emails to all friends and family describing the change of address.

Some of the links in the right-hand column are on Comcast's web space, I'll move them when I get the Verizon-equivalent, or find another host for the pictures, descriptions, and accounts of my weblife.

First post tomorrow will undoubtedly be “Verzon isn't here yet.” What, or when, the next post will be depends on how well things go here.

See y'all tomorrow.

Maybe.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Best Place to See a Basketball Game

We could go on about the Mitchell report, and the fact that a couple of newly acquired Nationals are on it. But let's not.

Instead, let's celebrate what The Sporting News calls the Trip of a lifetime: Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse.

I spent many a happy hour in the Phog from '69-'73. Some not so happy ones, too, as KU wasn't all that good in '72 and '73.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simpler, Gentler Times

It's often thought that in the past people were nicer to each other. In particular, people didn't use “four letter Anglo-Saxon words.”

This turns out not to be the case, at least among baseball players.

Note: if watching shows on BBC America offends you, then you don't want to click on this link.

Note2: Otherwise, be sure to click on the images of the original document.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I, For One, Welcome Our New Telecom Overlords

I'm filled with wonder, hope, excitement, fear, and dread.

Yes, my children, we're changing our broadband, cable, and ½ of our phone service from Comcast (broadband & cable) and Verizon (phone) to Verizon FIOS.

Specifically, we're getting the Verizon package for all three services, which is supposed to cost $99/month, but actually costs about $135/month when you factor in the DVR, and the movie package (we chose HBO) that they require you get in order to get the installation charges dropped. That's about what we pay now for Comcast's cable and broadband service, and it allows us to drop a copper phone line.

Of course, Comcast has its own “Triple Play” which costs about the same. However, that all goes through the same coax that provides our service now, and which is sometimes inadequate (it was first laid over 20 years ago, what do you expect?). And friends have Verizon's FIOS phone and broadband, which seems to be decent. No one I know has the TV yet, as far as I know. We're pioneers. Hence my dread.

But we get this really neat $200, 19 inch high def TV, which I plan to mount right by my computer, so that I never have to leave this chair — OK, maybe to go to work, but otherwise. (Or we can get a $200 Best Buy gift card, for a down payment on a really big HDTV.)

Anyway, installation is scheduled for Wednesday next week, so I'll let you know how it goes.

Such as today: Last Friday Miss Utility came out and painted orange paint on the snow in our yard, along with flags marking various cables. Today, the line-digging crew came out and installed the fiber from the street to the house.

Along the way they cut the Comcast cable — unfortunate, as we're still using the cable until Wednesday next. They did manage to repair that.

The Verizon-owned copper phone line, however, they shredded.

This does not comfort me.

I'm sure it was unintentional, as we told them that we wanted to keep one of our copper phone lines, because we've had many power problems in the past. True, the FIOS box comes with an 8-hour telephone battery, but there have been times when I'm sure we would have run through that. Hence we want to keep the copper.

Verizon is supposed to come back tomorrow and replace the copper. If the don't cut anything else I'll report later in the week.

Oh, yeah, the deal's for two years. We'll see what kind of offer Comcast has then.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

“Units”

The other day I had to convert the quantity 150 wavenumbers (the inverse of the wavelength of a certain frequency of light) to meV (the energy of a photon of that wavelength, in milli-electron Volts). I have a spreadsheet somewhere that does this, as it has the values of Planck's constant and the speed of light encoded. I could also have gotten the current best value of these constants and done the calculation on a calculator. However, this time I had an epiphany: I opened up a terminal window and entered:

$ units
2438 units, 71 prefixes, 32 nonlinear units

You have: 150 wavenumbers
You want: meV
        * 18.597628
        / 0.053770298

A yes, I'd finally remembered the old unix command units, available in Ubuntu with the command

$ sudo apt-get install units

It's a pretty powerful program. It has some weird roundoff errors, though. For example

$ units
2438 units, 71 prefixes, 32 nonlinear units

You have: 1 mile^2
You want: acre
        * 639.99744
        / 0.0015625063

Instead of 640 acres exactly. But you can ask the age old question of what is the speed of light in a somewhat popular unit:

$ units
2438 units, 71 prefixes, 32 nonlinear units

You have: 299792458 m/sec
You want: furlongs/fortnight
        * 1.8026175e+12
        / 5.5474886e-13

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Strange Search

Occasionally I look at the SiteMeter logs for this blog. Other than the fact that readership has been going down lately, probably because I've concentrated on “Things” rather than “Linux,” this lets me know what people are interested in. (Mainly in making transparent PNGs, it seems. It hasn't changed, people, unlike much of the GIMP.)

Anyway, we get sometimes get strange search requests, like this one:

images of hawk girl, courtesy of Prodigy (that's still around?)

Note that they had to match hawk out of hawknotes to get anything at all.

While Google® found:

Hawkgirl pictures

Immediately.

Trust our Guaranteed Non-Evil Masters®, fellow websurfers.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Drat

And other, stronger, words I said during the game.

KU got beat by a better team. Hopefully MU will beat Oklahoma this time, which should get KU into one of the BCS bowls.

Go Tigers!

Just for next week, mind.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Who'll Travel to New Orleans

Yeah, this is another college football post. Deal with it. We've waited over a century for this, we're going to make the most of it.

As previously noted, I'm not a huge fan of the BCS. I'd rather have an eight or sixteen team playoff. We've got from Dec. 1 to January 8, so it's not like there isn't enough time. However, since my team has a reasonable chance of getting into the final game, let's have some fun with it:

In addition to its noticing KU, the Washington Post examines possible match-ups in the BCS title game. Part of the story isn't in the online edition, a list of possible scenarios, e.g.,

  • LSU and KU win out. No question who plays in New Orleans.
  • LSU and Misery win out. Almost no question. MU should get to go.
  • LSU wins out, Oklahoma wins Big 12 title game: Probably West Virginia plays LSU.

I've got another one, wilder than the last:

LSU loses to Tennessee in the SEC title game. Arizona gets beat by USC. West Virginia loses one of its remaining games. Meanwhile the Kansas-Missouri game is close, both teams play well, and the game is decided in the last two minutes or in overtime. The winner blows out Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Ordinarily you'd think Ohio state would back into the title game to play the Big 12 champion, but it's possible the voters would go for:

A KU-MU rematch.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Border War

As you probably know, on August 21, 1863, a band of Bushwackers led by William Clark Quantrill sacked and burned the town of Lawrence, Kansas. What you probably don't know was that shortly thereafter a group of Jayhawkers traveled to Columbia, Missouri. They left the town standing, a horrific act of revenge that has since been condemned by international tribunals.

Things have been somewhat calmer over the last twelve dozen years, but there is still considerable animosity between the citizens of Lawrence and Columbia, particularly during football and basketball games between the University of Kansas and the University of Misery. These days they call it the “Border War” (now politically correctly called the “Border Showdown”). Actually, when I went to KU it didn't really have a name. We just knew that the only reason to go to Missouri was to see the Royals, and to visit bars that served something other than 3.2% beer. Otherwise, these two schools plain don't like each other.

It's also either the oldest continuous college rivalry west of the Mississippi, or the oldest Division I rivalry west of the Mississippi, I'm not sure which. We've been doing this for 116 years. If your schools have been doing it longer, leave a note below.

And come Saturday is the biggest game in the history of the KU-MU rivalry. Ever. With KU at 11-0 and ranked number 2 in the BCS, and Missouri 10-1 and ranked number 4, the winner of this game gets to play either Oklahoma or Texas for the Big 12 championship on December 1. If they win that, they will almost certainly (KU for sure, MU probably) play for the National Championship on January 7 in New Orleans. (Probably against LSU. What's this about a neutral site?)

Anyway, though KU has had quite a bit of success in basketball, the KU-MU game has never had National Title implications. This game does.

I don't want to get too emotionally involved in all this. I've had a few sports disappointments in my life, not counting the time we lost to Natoma in the Regional Basketball quarter-final. This KU team is a surprise and a pleasure, and a loss will not diminish what they've done.

But a win Saturday, and next Saturday, and then the long wait until January ... Hmm. I'm supposed to go to New Orleans in March, maybe I can show up a few months early. Got a spare room, cousin Ted?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Just Don't Call Him a Monkey

Well, I finally upgraded to Ubuntu 7.10, “Gutsy Gibbon.”

Yawn Maybe it's because I still use FVWM as a window manager, but I don't see a lot of difference between this and 7.04. OK, they've upgraded to Thunderbird 2.0, and changed the executable name from mozilla-thunderbird to thunderbird, which messed up my FVWM configuration script. There have also been enough changes to the Gnome Toolkit that my venerable copy of the old “Electric Eyes” image viewer doesn't work, even after I recompiled it. Fortunately I was quickly able to find a substitute image viewer, qiv, which is just about as light-weight and serves my need to read web comics without actually going to the web page.

There's also an updated version of the Gimp, but Penguin Pete has already told you about that.

So, nothing all that interesting. Which, in a way, is quite comforting.

And it leaves me plenty of time for tonight's Kansas — Oklahoma State game, which is on National TV everywhere except here, where we are going to be graced with Maryland — Boston College.

Rock Chalk, y'all.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The First Generation (Part II)

Once upon a time I think I mentioned the Trek TV-fanfic Star Trek: New Voyages, which purports to tell us of the last two years of the NCC-1701's five-year mission. Tonight I finally got around to watching the latest episode, “World Enough and Time,” which features a guest appearance by Mr. Sulu himself, George Takei, who plays Sulu thirty years out of time.

Of course, there's another (amateur) actor playing the young Sulu, John Lim. The script has to explain how Sulu can be both 30 and 60 in a one hour episode. It does so reasonably well, much better than in New Voyages' previous attempt, “To Serve All My Days,” which has Walter Koenig as an older Chekov. That script sucked, IMNSHO, not to mention it was non-canon, even within the context of New Voyages.

So how was it? The sets are superb, better than the original series. The special effects make you wonder how we settled for the simple models-on-a-starry-background of TOS. The acting, except for Takei, is definitely amateur.

But Sulu's not the star of the show. That role falls to one Christina Moses, who has all of one other role to her credit, when she must have been about five years old. How can I say it? She can act, folks. It doesn't hurt that she's beautiful, but she can out-act half the cast of ER or Boston Legal. This girl needs to get a good agent, 'cause she's got a career in show business.

You can watch the show online, or download it via BitTorent (except, of course, on Comcast).

Go get it. Watch and enjoy.

Spoilers below, folks...

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Still here? OK, I warned you. The script is a reworking of Tom Godwin's classic “The Cold Equations”. There is no miracle save at the end. If you want a happy ending, don't go here. A hopeful ending? Yes. A happy ending? No.

Those of you who have heard Takei lately will find it ironic that Sulu finally has a female love interest, even though that takes place off-screen. Of course, an actor acts, but it's interesting that Sulu-finally-gets-the-girl happens just as Takei tells us he prefers men. Oh, well, it's not a big deal.

Next up for the series is the introduction of Peter (nephew of) Kirk, from a script by David Gerrold. From the trailer, it looks as though Peter and Sulu have something in common, but I might have misinterpreted.

Next up after that is one Harcourt Fenton Mudd.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Bemused Kansas Jayhawk Football FAQ

I haven't posted for a while, possibly because I'm in a state of shock. In case you haven't heard, the Jayhawks are 9-0. In Football, no less. (In basketball, a team that doesn't start 9-0 is considered suspect. Anything worse that 7-2 is considered a failed season.)

Since this is a rather unusual situation for us all, I thought I'd put together a small FAQ:

  1. Is our RPI good enough to get us into the tournament? Uh, well, ... You see, there isn't a tournament.
  2. Huh? No, the NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, does not hold football playoffs for NCAA Division I schools. All other divisions, including Division I-AA (don't ask), have a championship tournament, but D-I does not.
  3. Then how does the NCAA determine a Division I champion? It doesn't.
  4. This is going to sound repetitive, but ... Huh? No, there is no NCAA D-I football champion. There is, however, a Bowl Championship Series, and the winner of the BCS is usually considered the D-I champion.
  5. So is KU in the BCS tournament? Uh, there's no tournament. It's only one game.
  6. ???? I agree.
  7. So who picks the teams in the game? Some writers and some computers.
  8. Sigh All right, how are we doing with them? This week, we're fourth, behind Ohio State, LSU, and Oregon.
  9. But LSU and Oregon have a loss! Yup, but the writers and the computers think KU is a weaker team.
  10. Why's that? Two words: Southeastern Louisiana
  11. Oh. OK, what has to happen for us to get into the game? KU has to win out, beating Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Missouri, and the win the Big XII Championship Game. And the opponent there better be Oklahoma. LSU & Oregon have to lose another game, and it wouldn't hurt if Ohio State loses to Michigan. If all that happens, we'll get into the BCS game.
  12. Otherwise the season's over after the Big XII Championship? No, we'll get to go to a bowl game, if we win out. Probably in the Orange Bowl game, if we win out.
  13. And that's, oh, a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving? No, it's on January 1.
  14. After the BCS Championship game? No, that's not until January 7.
  15. What? You mean that the supposed two best teams in the nation have to wait for a month to play each other? Yup.
  16. Why? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
  17. Oh.
  18. So basketball will be in full swing before this BCS game? Yes.
  19. Won't people forget about the BCS by then? Strange as it may seem, in many parts of the country football is more popular than basketball. I don't know why, either, but for some reason people care about football.
  20. But they still don't have a true National Champion? No.
  21. So apparently they don't care all that much. Well ... they do, but it's mostly about professional football.
  22. What's that? I wouldn't know. I root for the Washington Redskins.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Best Thing He's Ever Done

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I'm Going to Bed Now. Really

One More

I may not be able to stop myself.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Motivate Yourself

Augh! I should be in bed, and instead I'm doing this:

Remember those Star Trek Inspirational Posters? Well, I was downloading a few more tonight for use as wallpaper when it hit me, “gee, Dave, there really ought to be some StarGate Inspirational Posters on the web somewhere.” And, of course, there are.

This led me directly to the Motivator: Creator site, which lets you put in your own pictures and sayings. Neat, huh?

So, in honor of last weekend's NCAA Midnight Madness, and in keeping with the theme of this blog, let me get rid of any illusions you may have about the coming season:

Saturday, October 13, 2007

How I Spent Columbus Day (Observed)

Last Monday was a Federal Holiday, and I'd done all the yard work I was going to do over the weekend. So how to spend the day? I know! said my Internal Optimist, Let's rebuild the Windows machine!! It will be fun!!! I should have shot him after the first exclamation point.

Follow: Some months ago I had to reinstall Windows XP on Hal's Evil Twin. Well, I pretty much made a hash of it. It's extremely slow. (I'm a Geek, but I don't claim to be a Competent Geek.) Nevertheless, I don't use Windows, and the complaints from the natives were rather quiet, spouse having consented to read her email on Hal.

Then I read that Penguin Pete was playing around with a Windows machine, just to see how fast he could make it. I also remembered that I'd done a test install of XP on Hal's Other Twin, where, unencumbered by anti-virus protection, it boots up very fast (convenient when I want a quick game of Pinball).

I suspect that my problems come from loading up GooglePack and the Comcast supplied McAfee anti-virus software. Both of these packages add a large number of tasks to the start menu. Well, I mainly put in GooglePack to install Firefox and Thunderbird, and McAfee anti-virus because it was free. Pete, however, turned me on to the Open Disc project, a successor to the Open CD, which includes Firefox, the ClamWin anti-virus scanner, and a whole lot more. Good enough, I think.

So to start we:

  • Back up Hal's “Documents and Settings” directory, which contains most user settings, as well as the shared “My Music” and “My Pictures” directories. This is much easier than last time, as I now have a 400 GB external disk. It's also easier to do this from the dual-boot Ubuntu partition I put on the Evil Twin. Just go into root and copy everything over as needed.
  • Put a copy of the Network Install version of Windows XP Service Pack 2 on a CD, along with the Updated drivers for the Wacom CTE-430 (Sapphire, aka Graphire3) tablet/wireless mouse that we use for drawing. I downloaded both the newest tested version, 5.03, and the 5.01-9 driver I used last time. I'll try 5.03 first, knowing that I have a backup. (It works fine.)
  • Make a copy of the OpenDisc CD
  • Get a copy of Going Postal, which I'm re-reading before I get to Making Money, since I've forgotten such important plot points as who Adora Bell Dearheart is, and why she's so interested in Golems. I need a refresher course. (Look it up. I Could Tell You, but then I'd have to Lend You Thirty-Some Books.)
  • Make sure the current Windows setup can read the backup data.
  • Print out all the steps I took last time — something surprisingly difficult to do from my current Blogger template — to serve as a template.
  • Take a deep breath — it's too early for a shot of whiskey.

Oh dear me, here we go again. Note that the times noted below are skewed by the fact that I'm doing other things while this long, long process is going on.

  1. 12 noon: Put Dell's SP1 Windows Restore drive into the computer. Boot. Do the “Press Any Key” option. Note that the computer has found the Microsoft Wireless Keyboard, and, presumably, the mouse. Wait a bit for the system to load up.
  2. 12:15 pm: Choose the “Fresh Install” option.
  3. I'd previously divided Twin's 120 GB disk into two partitions — one NTFS, for Windows, and one FAT32, where files can be easily shared with Linux. Well, now we can also share with NTFS, but let's keep everything as before, and put Windows on the 70$nbsp;GB NTFS partition. Reformat the partition, just to avoid problems.
  4. 12:38 pm: Setup starts copying files to the Windows Installation folders.
  5. 12:44 pm: Windows doesn't like something on one of the hard drives, probably the one holding Linux. That drive's failure started the first reinstallation. Go ahead with boot. The screen says 39 minutes left.
  6. 12:48 pm: Missed the world famous 34 minute installation bug. Chose Regional and Language options, US/East Coast, naturally.
  7. Give the computer its name: Hal's Evil Twin.
  8. Windows wants to know how to make phone calls. Silly Windows.
  9. 1:01 pm: Windows reboots, allegedly improving my screen settings — well, it might, but first we have to install the missing Drivers from the Dell driver list:
    • Audio
    • Mouse
    • Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility
    • Intel 845 G/Gl Integrated Video (Had to do this twice. My mistake, I think.)
    • Broadcom 4401 Integrated NIC Driver
    and reboot.
  10. 1:24 pm: Change resolution to 1024x768 and 32 color (was 800x600 after driver installation.)
  11. 1:26 pm: Install D-Link wireless driver. Reboot.
  12. 1:29 pm: Set up wireless network. Well, try. D-Link's software doesn't seem to want to work. Reboot and try, try, again.
  13. 1:36 pm: Wireless card still won't find network. Turn off everything before being tempted to throw it out the window.
  14. 2:20 pm: Somewhat calmed down, bring up computer again. Still doesn't work. Get the installation manuals off the CD, which requires I install Adobe Reader 6.0. Yuck.
  15. 2:27 pm: Finally. You have to uncheck the box that tells Windows to set up the network, then click OK, then wait for D-Link to get around to pulling up its utility. From there you configure access to a WPA-PSK network.
  16. 2:29 pm: Network access established.
  17. 2:30 pm: WACOM tablet driver, now. Hopefully this will cause it to come up early in the log-on sequence. Reboot.
  18. 2:37 pm: Install Service Pack 2. Turn off network while we're doing this, just in case.
  19. 2:50 pm: Finished with SP2. Reboot.
  20. 2:53 pm: Turn on automatic updates, set up user accounts. Tell Windows that we have an anti-virus program, and keep the Firewall on.
  21. 2:58 pm: Install first round of post-SP2 updates.
  22. 2:59 pm: Reboot.
  23. 3:00 pm: Get out the OpenDisc CD and install:
    • Firefox
    • Thunderbird
    • ClamWin anti-virus scanner. Since it doesn't do on-the-fly scanning, have it do its work at 1 am every day. Note that it takes a while to update the data files off the web. Also note that it only does a scan when someone is logged on, so remember to “switch user” rather than “log off” if we're not going to shut down the machine.
    • GIMP (graphics manipulation)
    • 7-Zip compression/decompression program.
    • OpenOffice.org version 2.3
    • PDF Creator (Note that OpenOffice can create PDFs out of the box, this is for other programs.)
  24. 6:01 pm: No, it didn't take that long. We went out to run errands. As we were shutting down, Windows did another update, and now we have to accept yet another set of updates.
  25. 6:04 pm: Reboot
  26. 6:06 pm: Have ClamWin do a virus scan, just as a safety measure.
  27. 8:50 pm: OK, I took another break, but it took a couple of hours to complete the scan on a more-or-less empty machine.
  28. 8:52 pm: Install Microsoft Wireless Keyboard/Mouse software, just in case we need it.
  29. 8:57 pm: Install drivers for Canon printer.
  30. 9:07 pm: Install drivers for Visioneer 4400 Scanner.
  31. 9:11 pm: Reboot
  32. 9:15 pm: Install the ancient copy of Photoshop Elements (2.0) that came with the equally ancient scanner.
  33. 9:18 pm: Install Nero CD/DVD burning software.
  34. 9:25 pm: More XP updates have shown up. Load them up and reboot.
  35. 9:31 pm: Load in the ancient copy of Office (97). (Why do we need this if we have OpenOffice.org? Because sometimes even really old real PowerPoint looks better than Oo.o's simulated PowerPoint. Don't like it, but there it is.)
  36. 9:47 pm: Odd. Internet Explorer, I assume 6.0, hangs up every time I try to run it. Which means no updates, except by AutoUpdate? Scary.
  37. 9:51 pm: OK, a reboot fixes that. Go through the update process, installing the “new” version of Windows update, including that Windows Genuine Advantage thing.
  38. 9:59 pm: Install files that the users of this computer need, then quit for the night.

And then I ran out of energy to write anything down anymore. In short, the next evening I:

  • Set up the individual user accounts: all with administrative access, of course, since you can't easily run Windows without it — actually I think I did this on Monday, but I've repressed many memories from that day.
  • Found all possible updates to Office 97.
  • Updated Internet Explorer from dreadful to barely acceptable — uh, I mean from 6 to 7.
  • Installed VLC off the OpenDisc to enable movie-watching.
  • Killed off Adobe Reader 6.0, installed the newest version (8.1?).
  • Installed Java.
  • Hey, what do you know? It's Update Tuesday. Download and reboot.
  • Killed off start menu and bootup items that seem unnecessary.
  • Restored everybody's files.
  • Say “Good Night,” Dick. “Good Night, Dick.”

And done. So far, one week out, ClamWin has only claimed to discover two viruses, both of which are Win 97 files, which makes the detection look suspect.

And the system runs much faster. I guess we'll keep it this way for now.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

50 Years in the Making

The future began 50 years ago today. I should probably make a long post about what the launching of Sputnik meant — for one thing, it directly led to my becoming a physicist instead of, say, a doctor or engineer (though an engineer might actually have worked in the space program). It also gave a big impetus to the fledgling semiconductor industry, as the US needed light-weight satellites to go on its relatively small rockets. As the Washington Post pointed out, Sputnik also lead to the founding of DARPA, which became ARPA, and, before becoming DARPA again formed something called ARPAnet. Wonder what happened to that?

Anyway, here's NASA's version of the day that changed the world.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Quote on the L^He^Hf^Ht^H R^H^i^Hg^Hh^Ht^H Top

Is courtesy of Blog U, though I didn't try to fix my template to make it appear above these posts, I just picked the topmost "Add a Page Element" that was already there.

That, and a search for pTerry quotes on the web.

Yeah, I got bored and changed the template.

If you move Blogger's "Page Elements" around enough, you eventually get them where you want them to go.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ubuntizing Red Hat Liberation Fonts

You've probably heard that Red Hat has released a set of Liberation Fonts, which are metric equivalents of the Microsoft Arial, Courier New, and Times New Roman fonts; thus you can use, e.g., Liberation Serif and your OpenOffice.org document should be exactly the same size as a Word document with the Times New Roman font. Note that they don't look exactly like the Microsoft fonts, for that would be copyright infringement, and rightly so.

The fonts aren't available in Ubuntu at the moment, but following a Ubuntu Forums thread, I extracted the relevant part of the installation script. (The rest of the script is supposed to improve font rendering on your screen — my fonts render well enough for my needs, so I'm leaving that alone. YMMV.)

To install the Liberation fonts, save this script as red_hat_lib_install:

#! /bin/bash

## See http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=515947&highlight=red+hat+liberation+fonts

## Or http://ubuntuforums.org/showpost.php?p=3123244&postcount=3

## We'll only add Red Hat Liberation Fonts, forget the sub-pixel stuff
##  for now.

## Download the fonts from Red Hat
wget https://www.redhat.com/f/fonts/liberation-fonts-ttf-3.tar.gz

## Extract the package
tar -xvf liberation-fonts-ttf-3.tar.gz

## Copy the fonts to the proper directory
cp -r liberation-fonts-0.2 /usr/share/fonts/truetype/

## Delete temporary files
rm -r liberation-fonts-0.2/ liberation-fonts-ttf-3.tar.gz

## Rebuilt the font cache
fc-cache

and then

sudo ./red_hat_lib_install

Open up an applications such as OpenOffice, and admire the fonts (or not, again, YMMV, but you don't have to use them if you don't like them).

And while you're at it, look at all of these already Debianed fonts. There may be something there you really like — just don't send me your resume in flatline regular.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Blogger Play

This is probably a statement about how much privacy we're willing to surrender in exchange for free web presence.

Or, maybe, it's just interesting:

http://play.blogger.com/

“Real Time” viewing of images uploaded to Blogger.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Welcoming Back an Old Friend

My favorite old calendaring software package is called ical, but it's got nothing to do with Apple. It's an old tcl/tk program, and I've discussed its installation many times before.

For whatever reason, I hadn't been able to run ical under Ubuntu Feisty. Today I decided to try, once again, to do something about it. A bit of Googling found that there's a bugfix version of ical, 2.3.2. I downloaded that, then followed the directions for creating a proper makefile:

$ tar xvf ical-2.3.2.tar.gz
$ cd ical-2.3.2
$ ./configure --with-tclconfig=/usr/lib/tcl8.4 \
--with-tkconfig=/usr/lib/tk8.4 \
--with-tclhdir=/usr/include/tcl8.4 \
--with-tkhdir=/usr/include/tcl8.4
$ make
$ sudo make install

Which puts the program in /usr/local/bin. Of course, you have to have the Tcl and Tk packages and -dev files (headers) installed:

$ dpkg -S /usr/lib/tcl8.4
tcl8.4, tcl8.4-dev: /usr/lib/tcl8.4

$ dpkg -S /usr/lib/tk8.4
tk8.4, tk8.4-dev: /usr/lib/tk8.4

$ dpkg -S /usr/include/tcl8.4
tcl8.4-dev, expect-dev, tk8.4-dev: /usr/include/tcl8.4

So at the very least you'll need tcl8.4, tk8.4, tcl8.4-dev and tk8.4-dev.

And so, once again, I have my favorite calendering program.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Corfu, Greece

For some reason, not all of the pictures are displayed in this entry. I've uploaded the whole post to my personal web pages at
http://home.comcast.net/~mikemehl/corfu/
note that the pictures are significantly bigger there, so it will take longer to download.

Given our switch from Comcast to Verizon, I don't expect that link to stay up very long, so I've tried replacing the pictures in this blog. If they vanish again, I'll put them on my new web page, wherever that may be.

I spent the last week of August on the island of Corfu (Kerkyra), Greece, attending ISMANAM 2007 (which highly amused the immigration lady in London). The meeting was quite good, I learned a fair amount and, as with all good meetings, made contacts with people I'd never met before.

But I don't want to talk about that. I want to show you some of Corfu:

  • My hotel, the Louis Corcyra Beach, is a “resort” hotel. The view is quite nice:



    but the rooms aren't what you'd think of as American quality: there's a window air conditioner, the beds are small, and the floor is tile. If you want a resort that has fancy American style hotel rooms, for about the same price (or cheaper), go to Cancun. They did have a reasonable American-style (eggs, ham, bacon, etc.) breakfast included in the price (110 €/night).
  • The Louis Corcyra is in Gouvia, which is sort of the Ocean City, Maryland, of the island. That is, lots of bars, lots of tourists running around. This time of year it was mostly Brits, and every bar had a giant TV showing Premier League Soccer. I wish I'd taken pictures of the night-life, but all I have are shots like Thursday Morning, 10 a.m.:

  • Some of the hotels (but not the Louis C) have internet access, at a rate of about 6 €/hour. (1 € ≈ $ 1.40, at least last week). A better deal, after 6 p.m., at least, is to go up to Dassia (about 3 km from Gouvia) and stop at Great Shakes, a British pub serving Indian food prepared by a Welsh chef. They have free Internet access. Well, not exactly free, you're expected to buy something, but for 5 € you can get:



    which you can nurse for an hour or more. Good curries, too.

    (Note the abomination on the glass, required by the EU's slavish adherence to the metric system. I love the metric system, but some things are sacred.)
  • More interesting was Corfu City itself. I got to spend most of last Friday there, waiting for my plane to take off. Here I stayed at the Cavalieri Hotel, a refurbished 17th century mansion. The room was nicer than the one at the Louis C, cheaper (75 $euro;, with a smaller breakfast buffet), and had a bed that was way too soft, and a really small, two-level, bathtub that almost killed me (and may still, my ribs still hurt from where I fell).

  • Corfu contains several museums. I spent a half-hour (that's all it takes, really) in the Archaeological Museum, which features exhibits from the last 2,600 years. I particularly liked the lion from the 7th century B.C. tomb of Menecrates (the poet, I think):



    and the Gorgon pediment from the temple to Artemis:
  • Corfu is dominated by two forts, the Old Fort and the New Fort (duh). The Cavalieri is near the Old Fort,



    which was originally built by the Venetians, who controlled the island in the 15-18th centuries, and modified by just about everyone who since. The fort is on an islet that was artificially separated from the mainland.



    It's a long way up. Take a look at the view coming into the fort,



    and then a view of the cross from the level of the clock tower (but off to one side),



    and then look at how tall the cross itself is:



    Finally, take a look back at the town, from the top of the fort. The Cavalieri is off to the left just behind the park:



  • For one last shot, let's see if Blogger really can upload movies now:

    video

Galen Frysinger has much, much, much, more about Corfu, along with just about every other place in the world.

(Pictures taken with a Canon PowerShot A550, downloaded to this computer using gthumb, though digikam also works.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

AL Central, 18 August 2007

When your team is out of the cellar in August for the first time in four years, it's time to celebrate:

Team W L Streak Pct. GB
Cleveland68 54 W3 .557
Detroit67 56 L2 .545 1 ½
Minnestota61 61 L1 .500 7
Kansas City55 67 W3 .451 13
Chicago54 68 L7 .443 14

Since 2004, the KC number in the “GB” column has usually been in the 30's, so being only 13 games back is a considerable improvement.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Holyrood Cats

For reasons that escape me, this blogs pictures of our cats are very popular. In a shameless attempt to get more hits, Linux & Things presents:

The Cats of Holyrood, Kansas

Taken on a recent visit. Note that slight resemblance to our cats. These however, are only about eight months old, though the black one has already had one litter.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Final Frontier

Haven't posted for a long time, I know. We're doing lots of traveling in August. In the meantime, here's something to hold you over:

This is what it felt like to be a space geek in the '60s.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Doing the Wave

Be vewy, vewy quiet. I'm practicing waving.

I'm off to Kansas for a family reunion. While there, I'll engage in the Midwesterner's inalienable right to drive long distances to get groceries, go to the movies, and shop at WalMart.

It's not unlike living in suburbia.

The difference is that when driving in suburbia you're sitting with hundreds, if not thousands, of cars, all moving at about five miles per hour, down eight-lane superhighways.

In Kansas, you're meeting one car every five to ten minutes coming at you on a two lane road at a combined speed of well over 100 miles per hour.

And, likely as not, the driver knows you.

This requires some form of acknowledgment in the brief time you're going to be making eye contact. It might be, e.g., your third cousin's favorite niece's third husband's mother. If you don't acknowledge your existence you'll get a call from your aunt, along the lines of “ Michael John Mehl, you drove right passed Matilda Hollister and didn't even say hello!”

Or it might be someone from a school whose team you beat forty years ago for the Quivera League championship. “Did you see that Mehl kid? He just drove on buy without saying anything. He's gotten pretty stuck up since he got that job out East.”

On the other hand, you can't just stick up your hand and wave it back and forth, like Queen Elizabeth. Trust me, you look like a dork. You need a subtle wave, one that's visible to the other driver, but not looking like you're trying to flag down the bus to Salina.

It's kind of a half salute, really. You start to move your right hand off the steering wheel toward your forehead, but it never gets there. If it turns out you don't know the person, your thumb need never leave the wheel. If it's someone you know fairly well, say your Senior Prom date, it's OK to lift the hand halfway to your forehead and open the palm in a slight waving motion, possibly touching the brim of your cap, if you're wearing one.

Other people get proportionately smaller waves.

When I was out in Kansas last month I noticed that I'd forgotten most of this. Hence the remedial wave practice. So if you see me driving down the road today, hand moving up and down in random fashion, you'll know what I'm doing.

See y'all in a week or so.

From Our Wish-This-Happened-In-Real-Life Department

The way error reporting should be.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Frakin' Universe Re-explained

Some time ago I did a minor bit of playing around with Flash animations, using the "Export to SWF" option in OpenOffice.org.

It wasn't all that pretty, and you had to repeatedly click on the picture to move from frame to frame.

Then, a few weeks ago, Penguin Pete started a series of Flash tutorials. The first post used the SWFTOOLS package, which looked like it would be fun to play with. So I stripped out all of the frames from my original OpenOffice Impress file, translated them into JPEG, renamed them frame01.jpg, frame02.jpg, frame03.jpg, ..., give the command:

$ jpeg2swf --rate 0.2 frame*.jpg -o cbm2.swf

and produced the following:

(Click here for the animation)

Neat, huh? A few comments:

  • swftools isn't available through Ubuntu, so I complied it myself, with the standard options. This was fine, using ./configure with no options, except:
    • The gif2swf program was not compiled, because I didn't have the libgif4 library. libgif4 is available under Ubuntu, but its installation requires a bunch of programs to be removed from the system, including emacs. This makes it toxic, so I'll forget about converting gifs into flash. Fortunately, we have ImageMagick's convert program, and why is anyone using gifs in favor of pngs anyway?
    • When I did “make install” the man pages weren't copied into /usr/local/man/man1. I had to do it by hand.
    • There are some library files which are also compiled, and they aren't installed, either. I don't have any use for them right now, but someday I might, right?
  • I'd like to have the titles and pictures fade in. This doesn't seem to be available in swftools, so I'll have to look for another program.
  • It would also be neat to have the BSG theme playing in the background, but swftools doesn't seem to import sound files, either. Yet another reason to search more.
  • To be true to the original opening, the “many copies” picture should be a montage of Ann Coulter pictures. Anybody got one?
  • And the punchline should probably have Obama instead of Teddy.

So consider this the 0.2 version of the animation. More to follow, someday.

In the Beginning

Linus created the Kernel

(Don't you just hate it when bloggers create bookmark entries?)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Silver Anniversary

At least according to Scientific American, the first computer virus was created twenty-five years ago, in 1982.

It ran on an Apple ][. I bought an Apple //e went it first came out, in 1983, but I never heard of this virus.

I seem to remember something about computer viruses in David Gerrold's When HARLIE was One (1972), but I may not have the correct reference. Certainly the idea of a computer virus was present before 1982, but it the development of the personal computer to make propagation possible.

Monday, July 09, 2007

My Job Description

People often ask me what I do to make money, as opposed to post this inane stuff.

This pretty much describes it:

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Dang, Missed It Again

Maybe next year:

A belated Happy Roswell Day to you all.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Treatise On the Number of Wizards

In preparation for the biggest first-edition press run in the history of the world, I'm rereading all of the first six Harry Potter books. While doing that, I came up with a question that's not answered adequately in the books: Just how many wizards are there?

While we can't get an exact answer, we do have enough information to allow a Fermi estimate of the answer. (Named after Enrico Fermi, a Fermi estimate attempts to get to within an order of magnitude of the correct answer to a problem based on a limited amount of information and reasonable estimates of the rest.)

The crucial fact we know is that Harry Potter's boys' dormitory room in Gryffindor has five beds. Assuming that the girls' dorm has the same number of beds, and each of the four houses has the same number of students, we see that Hogwarts admits forty students a year. We know of three schools of wizardry in the world, so that means that there are 120 wizards of a given age, all throughout the world. Hogwarts itself would have something less than 40×7 = 280 students, since many students leave before the end of the seventh year.

Of course, not every wizard is admitted to a school. We know of some wizard family members, such as Fitch, who have extremely limited powers. Presumably they aren't generally admitted into schools — though the admission of Neville Longbottom must mean that the schools are willing to scrape near the bottom of the barrel, at least for legacies. Then, too, an unknown number of Muggles are admitted to the school.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the schools admit ten percent of all who could conceivably be called wizards. This is probably too low a figure, so our final number will be on the high side. Since the schools admit 120 students a year, there are approximately 1200 wizards of a given age, in the teen years, at least.

We then assume that a typical wizard lives for about 100 years — if they don't live longer than us, then they aren't really trying, after all. And we know that Dumbledore has been a teacher at Hogwarts for at least fifty years, so he's at least seventy, and showed no sign of slowing down until his untimely misfortune in the sixth book. One hundred years is about right, I'd say.

If we then take 100×1200, we get a really rough estimate of 120,000 wizards in the world. This is probably on the high side, given the Neville problem and the fact that many wizards will die before they get to 100.

One hundred thousand wizards in the world, give or take. This is a bit small, I'd think, for all the wizards that populate the books, including complete sets of professional Quidditch leagues. So let's see if we can increase the count.

Apparently, J. K. Rowling once said that Hogwarts has about 600 students. This means that Harry's class is a aberration, in that it's about half the sizes of an average class, but then Harry was born during the Voldemort years, when the birthrate was no doubt rather low. In this case, each school admits on average about 100 students per year, so our numbers go up by about a factor of 3, to, say, 350,000 wizards in the world.

That's still too low, probably because the books are Euro-centric: as far as I recall, every character is from Europe or the Near East. In particular, there aren't native Asian or North/South Americans in the books. So let's assume that the three schools mentioned draw from Europe (including European Russia) and Northern Africa — a population of roughly 500 million, one twelfth of the world's total. Presumably there are then are about 33 other schools in the world to teach the other wizards, or maybe the rest of the world is run by the White Council.

So we must multiply the 350,000 answer above by 12, which gives us a total of about 4 million wizards in the world, and that's probably an upper bound.

And that's not a bad answer. It's big enough to form a society (think of the Jews in pre-war Europe) that interacts with the rest of the world but keeps itself separate. And, as you'll note if you've been following my arithmetic, this is an order of magnitude calculation, meaning that there could be as few as 500,000 wizards in the world, and as many as 40 million. I'm pretty sure there aren't more than 40 million wizards in the world, or we'd see more of them.

Four million wizards, give or take, and they'll all be ahead of you in line on July 21.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

An Infinite Number of Browsers

It's hard to believe, but even in this day and age some websites insist that you must use some version of Internet Explorer before you are allowed to enter, even if the site uses no special features of Windows or IE (e.g. ActiveX).

This is the rational behind the User Agent Switcher extension for Firefox.

The Switcher comes with a default set of browser ID strings: IE6, Opera, and Netscape, I believe. But what if you want more? What if you need to see if a site will recognize IE on a Mac running OS 9?

Thanks to Matt Parnell's post, I've found a site which will solve all your problems. Just go to Tech Patterns, download this file, and install it using the directions in Parnell's blog. Now you have a gazillion (more or less) browser possibilities. The Tech Patterns forum has some suggestions as to how to use them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Two Weeks in Oz

I've been gone for a couple of weeks, back in Kansas because of a family medical emergency, successfully resolved, thanks. During that time, I spent most days driving back and forth between Holyrood and Hutchinson. It's about sixty-five miles, house to hospital, and takes about 70 minutes. In contrast, my daily commute in the DC area is 28 miles and takes about 45 minutes. Oddly, I hit more stoplights & stop signs on my Kansas commute than I do on my regular DC commute. Anyway, here's my observations of the trip:

  • If you have to get someplace, fast, consider Southwest Airlines. I got full-fare round-trip tickets from BWI to KC for under $500, leaving about six hours after I ordered the tickets. Other airlines wanted about $1,000, and one offered to fly me on the ever popular BWI-Salt Lake City-Atlanta-Wichita route.
  • Of course, this meant I still had to get from KC to Holyrood. On the way in I was picked up by another family member. On the return, I flew from Salina to KC on Air Midwest, operating as US Airways Express. This cost about $65, as opposed to $45 for a trip on the bus. Since the bus would have dropped me off in downtown KC and the plane took me to the airport, this works out to be a cheaper way to travel.
  • Because I had full-fare tickets, Southwest and Air Midwest let me change my reservations numerous times, as the situation changed. I was fearful this would put me on the no-fly list ;-) but fortunately it didn't.
  • The flight from Salina to KCI was interesting: there was one Air Midwest employee at the ticket counter, three TSA people for security, two pilots, and an unknown number of people in the control tower. There were two passengers. I don't know how long they can keep that route open.
  • As you may have heard, Kansas has been extraordinarily wet this summer. In addition to the Greensburg tornado, there has been lots and lots of rain. In an average year, for example, Hutchinson gets 32.7 inches of rain. In May, Salina got 15.94 inches, and in many places it was much higher. (Very unofficially, Holyrood got 25 inches of rain in May.)
  • This leads to never-before seen phenomena. Cheyenne Bottoms, a marshy area which usually covers about 50 square miles, is rather full. As in not-for-at-least-the-last-eighty-years full. Note the sentence in the above article that reads “The only safe entrance to the Wildlife Area was from the west of U.S. 281, but now that approach has about 19 inches of water on it and is not passable.” Highway K-156, which skirts the southeast edge of the bottoms, is surrounded by water on both sides. The roadbed is only about 4 feet above water level, and the mile roads which run through the bottoms are all under water.
  • The usually placid Plum Creek, which runs to the east of Holyrood, flooded one night, covering the K-156 bridge, fortunately closed because of construction. The bridge is about 20 feet above the normal level of the creek. Given the topography of the area, the flooded creek was at least a quarter-mile wide. A distant cousin, somewhat more daring than I, took pictures, if he sends them to me and gives permission I'll put them online. Four bulls were surprised by the rushing water and were killed, fortunately no humans were injured during the storm.
  • Well after the storm, Plum Creek has enough water to support a family of ducklings, something I'd never seen before.
  • In addition to ducklings, the entire area is suffering a small-scale plague of frogs — only small scale because they're about 1 inch long. Thousands of them die each day trying to cross the roads, done in because they are thick enough that drivers can't avoid them.
  • The aforementioned Salina Airport's terminal building was flooded twice, and has a resident frog population.
  • What with planting season drought and early spring freezing, this rain has pretty much done in the wheat harvest. Yields are low: a friend who hauls wheat says it's taking about three times as long as last year for a combine to fill up a truck to take to the grain elevator. And the wheat is poor quality: nominally a bushel of wheat weighs 60 pounds, but this years crop weighs in at anywhere between 42 and 55 pounds. Even though wheat now sells for over $6.00 per bushel, a lot of farmers are going to be hurting this year.
  • I need to get a second digital camera, so I can have one on these expeditions and the family can have one as well.