Sunday, October 31, 2004

Blogger Stats

While not watching the game (John Kerry's Election Prospects are looking very good.) I've been hitting the next blog link at the top of this page. Some observations based on really bad statistics (meaning these are only kept in my mind):

  • About half of the Blogs are from outside the US. Most of those are in another language, so I can't really comment. There are some interesting ones from Iraq, Iran, and other places in the Mideast.
  • It takes an average of 10 clicks to find a page which doesn't have the "next blog" link. I suppose these are outside of the domain, hosted on individual's web sites.
  • 10% or so of the pages come with annoying pop-ups that welcome you to the page -- uh, people, I'd feel a lot more welcome if you'd just let me read the page, rather than have to click the OK button.
  • Many of you spend a lot of time on setting up the background.
  • I don't understand a lot of the pages that are in English. Some pages are written in shorthand, some just don't make sense.

OK, This Is Mainly a Test

I'm looking at the "Blog This" function at the top of the Blogger page and came upon Passing Clouds while repeatedly hitting the "Next Blog" link.

Why stop there? Well, look at this post. Pay particular attention to this link about what can happen on Tuesday.

Mplayer Update

Rather than watch the Redskins season go absolutely, positively down the tubes, or contemplate the election, let's discuss mplayer, one of Linux's two video players (the other being xine) that has a chance of playing files made in Windows (a trademark of Microsoft).

This was prompted by a Slashdot posting of a video of the recent lunar eclipse. Unfortunately, the video was made with Adobe's Premiere Pro and saved in a .wav file with some codec that I didn't have, and wouldn't play in mplayer or xine. The Slashdot solution was to download the newest codec tarball and recompile. This seemed like a lot of work. So I went to the mplayer site and found the RPMs for Fedora Core 1. Looking around the site, I finally determined that I needed:


You'll need to search around for all of these. Look under both "essential" and "optional" downloads.

Problem: So of these RPMs conflict with my current mplayer setup. Which I got from the Fedora Core 1 distribution, which isn't supported anymore, meaning that I might not be able to get it back, as it's not included in the Fedora Core Legacy RPMs. At least, I never saw it. But, I went ahead, crossed my fingures, and deleted the old mplayer RPMs, then installed all of the others in one go:

$ rpm -ivh mplayer*.rpm

And it works. I can view the video.

Unfortunately, it's not very good.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Liberal Problem

I'd just finished reading Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas when the author showed up in the Style section of the Washington Post. In case you've missed it, Frank's thesis is:

  • The Right has used the "Great Cultural Backlash" against "Liberalism" to unite social conservatives and business conservatives.
  • They then propose social programs which they know will not pass, (e.g., no abortion, anti-gay marriage amendments to the Constitution, the Ten Commandments in courtrooms) as a screen to pass pro-business laws (tax cuts, allowance for Enron-like flim-flams, gutting of environmental laws, and so on.)
  • The business conservative half of this equation profits, the social half goes back and tries again.
  • Kansas, surprisingly a leader in social inovation (think populism, prohibition, and desegregation) is leading the way in this trend.
  • It's a great mystery why the social conservatives let this happen. It didn't used to be this way, William Jennings Bryan was a populist leader (the Cross of Gold speech) and the prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Kansas is used as an example, being the author's home state, as he grew up outside of Kansas City. (Note: as I learned at KU, there is the state of Kansas, and the part of Kansas near Kansas City. Sometimes people from the later believe they belong to the former. This is not necessarily the case.) Once somewhat Liberal for a Republican state, it's now firmly in the Red. This happened in the early 1990s, when abortion crusades swept through the state.

Frank, of course, is mystified as to why people go along with this. He goes searching. He visits leaders of the social conservative movement, most of whom can be classified as working class. He likes most of them. But he doesn't really figure out why the would go against their economic interest.

It should be said that I agree with most of Frank's points. We are going to pay for reckless tax cuts with higher debt, and so higher interest rates. Our children are going to have to make up the difference later. The poor are going to be hurt first. So these people, laid-off Boeing employees, people working the Hallmark plant, should be in line for a new populist revolution, right?

Except that Frank never asks the question "are you part of the working poor?" of any of his interviews. I don't think it occurred to him. Of course these people were working poor.

But they don't think so. I know. I grew up in Kansas. We didn't have much money, but we didn't think of ourselves as poor. And we weren't. We heard about the depression, when everyone was poor. We were far beyond that. And most Kansans are.

If you're not poor, then you don't worry so much about economic issues. After all, you might need that tax cut some day. And if you don't have enough money for retirement, your children will help you out. Having this freedom from economic want (and, be fair, most Americans are far, far more prosperous than any people in previous history) you can devote your time to social issues. And, like it or not, most people are socially conservative. They might be more forgiving on an individual basis (think Sony Bono and Chastity, Dick Cheney and Mary), but overall they want certain standards upheld. Republicans currently promise to uphold these standards, even though they don't always (remind me to go off on Rupert Murdoch, protector of the nation and producer of some of the sleaziest TV shows of all time).

Abortion is a good wedge issue. You can be in favor of a woman's right to have an abortion, but be uneasy (or even horrified) at the thought of an abortion. It is a possible human life, after all. And government does interfer with things people like to do. Paying taxes for someone else's school kids might seem a waste of money. Of course, if those kids don't get to school they might spend their teens and twenties mugging people, but that's off in the future. Most socially conservative positions have some basis in reality. Liberals (and people like me) should keep this in mind.

What this book does, though, is say "people don't vote their self-interest, gee aren't they dumb." OK, not in so many words. But People do vote their self-interest. It's just not what Thomas Frank sees as their proper self-interest. You'll note that the one Democrat who got this right got himself re-elected President. Yet Frank derides the new-Democrat pro-business movement. How else, though, are you going to get a Democrat elected? Again, most people don't think of themselves as poor. If they don't have much money, they're going to get some someday.

So if we want to promote the Liberal message (by which I mean greater tolerance of diverging life-styles, and government protecting capitalism from itself) we're going to have to go out to people and convince them that this is a good thing. That means going out to talk to them, not just wondering "What's the Matter With" them.

Firefox Search Box Resizing

Firefox comes with a search box to the right of the address bar. Type something in the box, and you can search Google, Yahoo,, etc., depending on your default choice. That's good, but the search box is quite small. Before 1.0PR there was one way to resize the box, now there's another, as revealed in Darrel Norton's Blog. In the Linux version, find the directory ~/.mozilla/firefox/something.default/chrome, where something is a random string of characters. In this directory, create or edit a file named userChrome.css, adding these lines:

 * New way from

/* Make the Search box flex wider */

#search-container {
   -moz-box-flex: 400 !important;
#searchbar {
   -moz-box-flex: 400 !important;

Pick a number that works for you. As you increase the size of the search box, you decrease the size of the address bar, so there's a trade-off involved.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Almost Ready for Prime Time

A month or so ago, Mozilla put out the ``Pre-release'' 1.0 version of Firefox, the browser for the Internet. I finally installed it a few nights ago. Installation was rather painless, though I did run the installer script as root, as at work we've had problems with the browser when permissions are not set correctly.

As usual, I didn't trust Firefox to remember my preferences, and the instructions say to turn off all extensions before migrating. To get around this, I renamed my ~/.mozilla/firefox directory and let Firefox set me up again. I then copied my bookmarks.html file from my old installation to the new one.

There are 1.0PR versions of the Adblock, Sage, and CookieCuller extensions, so I installed those. I looked around for a new version of mozex, but there isn't one. I did find an article on NewsForge showing how to how to use an old version of mozex. I was going to use that when I realized that Firefox now seems to respect the Preferred Applications in gnome-control-center. Using that, it was easy to set up evolution to use my version of newfire to put clicked-on-links into a browser tab, and to set up mailto: links in Firefox to bring up evolution. Since that's all I used mozex for, I'm not going to install the extension until a 1.0 compatible version comes out.

I should note that newfire has changed along with Firefox. The newest version looks like this:


# See

# Workaround for bug in Firefox script which determines if a window
#  is open


FFOX_REMOTE="${FFOX} -a firefox -remote"

#    $FFOX_REMOTE "openurl($URL,new-window)"
    $FFOX_REMOTE "openurl($URL,new-tab)"

    $FFOX $URL

if $FFOX_REMOTE "ping()" 2>&1 | grep "Error:" >/dev/null; then

Note that Mozilla is really trying to make a big splash when Firefox 1.0 is officially released. There will even be full-page ads in the New York Times. On that same page is an announcement for release candidate 1 for Firefox 1.0. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Playoffs

No, I'm not going to talk about the future of the Red Sox, nor if St. Louis's bats can keep bailing out the Cardinal's pitching. Instead, I want to talk about which playoffs are the best.

  1. Baseball: It builds. Night after night, week after week. Things that happened three games ago are relevant tonight. Heck, things that happened in 1918 are still relevant.
  2. Football (NFL): Twelve teams, one month. Lose and you're out.
  3. NCAA Div. I Baskeball: 64(5) teams, one month, lose and you're out. Not as exclusive as the NFL, since any team has a theoretical chance to get in via the conference tournament, and the 30+ at-large teams make the regular season irrelevant. But the passions run higher than in the NFL.
  4. NHL (if played): It goes on way too long. But the skating of the Stanley Cup is the best thing about sports.
  5. NBA: Too long, period. The only time worth watching is when there are two teams with a long history. Unfortunately, Larry and Magic retired over a decade ago.
  6. NCAA Div. I Football: (Herman Edwards' voice:) Hello!!?? Is anybody listening? I said playoffs.

The Conservative Mr. Bush

One of the unusual things about this election is that many conservatives have noticed that the current President doesn't behave like a conservative. OK, he's not a Liberal, but he doesn't have trouble, say, with unbalancing the budget or starting a land war in Asia.

Readers of Doonesbury know that Garry Trudeau has been following this trend by listing web commentary from conservatives. (Has John Eisenhower ever, really, been a conservative? OK, George Will certainly is.) The addresses are listed in the cartoons, but it's easiest to get them from the Doonesbury FAQ page. Note: this page apparently lists the last FAQ added. You may have to search the Archives to find the right FAQ. Search for Honest Voter Reading List.

OK, this is cherry-picking, but it's still rather interesting that some conservatives actually wonder if their hand-picked President is a true conservative.

Fedora Legacy

OK, it's been a while since the last post. Many reasons. Bills to pay, baseball playoffs, football games, and, mostly, computer burnout. When you sit at a terminal for 8 hours a day at work, sometimes it takes a bit of motivation to get back online at home.

Anyway, back to the original purpose for this blog: keeping Fedora Core as an up-to-date OS on this computer.

As you may recall, I installed Fedora Core 1. Several months ago, Fedora Core 2 was released, and now Fedora Core 3 is at the Test 3 level. As a result of all this, there is no further support for Fedora Core 1.

What to do? Upgrade? Well, that's a distinct possibility, but I've waited this long through the Fedora Core 2 cycle I might as well wait for Fedora Core 3 to be officially released. But I still want to keep this computer updated, especially for security reasons.

The solution is the Fedora Legacy Project, which keeps older versions of Red Hat Linux and Fedora alive for some time. Used with yum it's simple. Go to the Download page and find the instructions for updating the /etc/yum.conf file.

OK, I did that, and yum now looks to Fedora Legacy for updates. Except that there have been no updates for a week or more. Maybe FC1 is perfect? Doubtful, I just hope that I've got everything set up to detect new updates when they do come along.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Hazard of Being Right

OK, in the last post I said "don't get too excited." And then the Redskins go out an lose twice, in the process making Warner and Testaverde look like decent quarterbacks again.

I saw the Dallas game from high up in FedEx field. What can I say? We were so high that we were, literally, in the clouds. OK, the remnants of hurricane Jeanne were in the area, but still. If it had been light, we could have seen the pilots in the planes that were coming in for a landing at Andrews

We were high enough to be able to see coverage and receivers better than Mark Brunnell, but not as well as Vinny. We could see pass interference calls better then certain referees.

This week Washington plays a truly bad team, Cleveland. Of course, I thought the Giants were a truly bad team. Who knew?

It's not quite time to panic. I sort of thought that the Skins would go 8-8 this year, and next year, when Joe's gotten his feet wet again, would be the year for a long playoff drive. Now, I just hope that Gibbs doesn't get too exhausted from all of these losses and Spurier-like mistakes.