Sunday, January 30, 2005

Aubrey-Maturin Cliff Notes

I'm reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin stories, in order. At the moment I've just finished Treason's Harbour, and am waiting for my next trip to the library to get The Far Side of the World. I find the books better than C. S. Forester's Hornblower series.

What's missing from the books are some footnotes, to let us know what's going on in the world. OK, you can pick up some of the things (like the War of 1812, which lasts through about five of the novels, each of which takes about a year of time), but it would be nice to have some more details. This was done best by George MacDonald Fraser in his Flashman series. The footnotes there could almost form a history book. If Harry didn't screw everything in sight we could probably get the school system to use the books.

There is some hope, though. A site called The Gunroom has much information about the series, including a timeline. I'd really like an annotation site, as been done with Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Maybe there's one out on the web already? If not, can someone with a better knowledge of Napoleonic history than mine set one up? Thanks.

Winter Wonderland

See, here's the problem. If we chase off the squirrel, the bird flies away, too. Suggestions for removing the rodent in a relatively humane manner are welcome.

Iraqi Elections

There's apparently a large turnout for the elections in Iraq. If the turnout is as large as initial reports suggest then there's a fighting chance of pulling this off. Let's all pray for that.

Dan's At It Again

Visa commercials say that their card is the "only one accepted at the Superbowl." Apparently the New England Patriots have a similar plan.

Dan Snyder has done them one better. Starting next season, must use a Redskins-branded MasterCard if you want to pay for your tickets with plastic. Cash and checks are still accepted, for now.

"An NFL official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said cards such as the Redskins Extra Points MasterCard benefit teams financially." You think?

Your Money's No Good Here

Thanks to the College Basketball Blog, we know that the NCAA has signed an agreement with, allowing NCAA Tournament Games "On Demand" for every game outside my region. And, if I sign up before February 8, it's only $9.95, after that $19.95.

Great! Where do I sign up? Oh, wait. There are these System Requirements:

  • Windows operating system version 98se, 2000, XP, ME
  • Internet Explorer browser 5.5 or higher
  • Flash 6.0 or higher Session cookies must be enabled
  • Windows Media Player 9 or higher

Obviously, the first two of these aren't going to fly here. I did send a email to the company, asking them when they would be able to take my money, but I doubt it will be anytime soon.

On the other hand, if they hear from a lot of Linux and Mac users, all of whom offer them riches, maybe they'll realize that it's possible to make money off of us. If you're interested in the offer, go to, find the "Problems or Questions" link, and tell them that they have a problem.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

KU 90 UT 65

Seemingly everybody thinks that the Villanova game was a wake-up call for KU. I'm not so sure, but that's because I'm a born pessimist. Having one NCAA championship in 52 years does that to you. But, tonight's game, though at home, and against a Texas team that isn't as good as in the past, was the best game KU's played since Kentucky. In addition, it's apparent that Simien's back.

There is hope.

I'm probably going to be punished for saying that.

Blog Stats

Just for fun, I hit the "Next Blog" button 100 (OK, 103) times, and filed each new blog into a category, not counting the 3 or so that weren't found. Here's the results, such as they are:

Non-English. Not that there is anything wrong with that, just hard to categorize otherwise. 24
My Life. What's happening to ordinary people. 20
My Life, LiveJournal Version. What's happening to teenage girls. 10
Incomprehensible. Either format or language. 10
Photography. Pictures, with or without comments. 8
First Post. "Gee, this is my first post to my first blog." 6
Advertising. Blogs that exist only to promote a product. 5
Tech. Things of interest to geeks. 3
Bookmarks. Well, this way you can access your bookmarks from any computer. 2
Commentary -- Mostly Liberal 2
Commentary -- Mostly Conservative 1
No discernable category. Heck, I didn't know where to put it. 1
Film (discussion) 1
Psychology/Sociology 1
Music 1
Not current. i.e., an abandoned blog. 1
Genealogy 1
Advice 1
Food 1
Middle East 1
Social Causes 1
Gaming 1
Religious 1

I put things in somewhat arbitrary categories, based on my own reaction to the blog. Your mileage may vary. What's interesting here is that many people just want to record what's happening in their lives, and to let other people see and comment about it. I suppose I could say that this is just the "Survivor" syndrome, i.e., people will do anything to get noticed. However, I suspect it's because we really don't have that many people we can talk to anymore. Consider -- unless you live in a really small town, there isn't a large percentage of people in your community who know who you are. There aren't that many people who know all about you, which means that in order to explain a specific moment in your life you have to give your whole backstory. A blog is one way of letting people know that backstory. And, if someone chooses to comment on your blog, you can be pretty sure that they have some idea of who you are and where you're coming from, because they've had the chance to read your blog. It provides an instant frame of reference, like I have in my home town. For example, a few months ago I was home and someone asked me "who did you go to school with?" And I said, "Besthorn, Schaeffer, Phelan, ..." and he said, "OK, I know Phelan." Even though he moved into the area after I moved out, the small community meant that he knew someone I went to school with, so we had a connection. In the big cities most of us live in there isn't that connection. A blog provides some of that.

You'll notice I don't post a lot about my life here. That's because I do come from a small town, and there are already far to many people who know way too much about me.

Kansas Day

Kansas was admitted to the union as the 34th state on January 29, 1861. That makes today Kansas Day. It's not that big a deal, at least until 2011, but it was always something we "celebrated" in school, back in the day.

Random Things From Today's Post

Actually, these are Random Things from the Saturday and Sunday editions of the Washington Post. We get the Sunday Suppliment on Saturday. These will only be free from the Post for a couple of weeks, so look now:

Sunday, January 23, 2005


I can remember Jack Parr hosting, and sometimes leaving, NBC's Tonight Show. But the host of Tonight of my youth and very early middle age was Johnny Carson, who died today. This was the show you'd watch at the end of the day, watching the show to see who was hot and listening to the monologue to see who was in hot water. And God, I miss Carnac.

Here are a few early obituaries, all of which will stay on line for a long time:

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Trivial Censorship

The American Library Association has published a list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of the last decade. It's not entirely clear, but it appears that these are requests for books to be pulled from public and/or school libraries. The challenges are mostly by parents, with a good fraction made by "administrators" (principals?, school board members?).

Anyway, what's amazing is the banality of most of the books on the list. You'd expect that the top books would be those that really disturbed you? Advocated some horrid political system? Other countries have banned books. You know, like the old USSR banning The Gulag Archipelago. The Nazis' burning books of "Jewish Science". You'd like to think, if a book was being banned, that it would be actively dangerous to the society involved.

So what's the top "challenged" book of the last decade? Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories series. Which, in my ignorance, I'd never heard of. On the surface, it appears to be a set of scary stories for children. Apparently, it's a threat to the Republic.

Others on the list have titles like Daddy’s Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies. Well, we know what those are about. Heaven forbid that kids should read books about what they see in real life.

Then there are the books like It’s Perfectly Normal, which tries to teach kids about the physical and psychological changes they go through while growing up. You know, to save parents from "birds and bees" talks. But, I guess, that offends some people. Funny, I suspect that those people don't do the birds and bees things very well, either.

And then we have the trivial. While I enjoy Harry Potter, and am anxiously waiting for the 6th book, I recognize that it's not Shakespeare, it's not Jane Austin, it's not even Dickens. Heck, E. E. Smith gives Rowling a run for the money. I suppose the HP books could be said to "encourage" witchcraft, but, you know, the witchcraft they encourage requires lots of hard work and study, works in a logical fashion, and has dire consequences if wrongly used. In other words, it's a stand-in for modern day science and technology.

And what about Anastasia Krupnik? I've seen the books, my kids read the books, you know, they've survived so far.

OK, there's one book on the list that should never have been written. Private Parts, by Howard Stern. But who'd want to read it anyway?

This is the problem with living in a more or less free society, I guess. If you allow political dissent, then you can't ban political books. And if you can't ban political books, you're left with wanting to pull books which reference body parts.

The encouraging thing was that there were only 6,364 challenges reported. In the whole decade. Meaning only 650 or so per year, or two a day. Over the whole country. To me, this is encouraging, like finding out that only 9 people protested the showing of naked statues during the Athens Games' opening ceremonies.

In the next decade may the number be in three figures.

Footnote: Yeah, I'm ignoring some books, like Huck Finn and Caged Bird Sings. These books, of course, require you to think about injustice, and how society functioned then and functions now. (Huck's a good read, as well.) People who want these banned don't want to think, and so should be ignored.

Well, That Sucked

I knew we wouldn't have to worry about KU finishing the season without a loss. I even suspected it might happen today, another one of those "Hey! Let's play against a major non-conference opponent, on his court, in the middle of the Big 12 Season!!" brilliant ideas.

What I didn't expect was 83-62.

If you've been reading, you'll suspect that I didn't watch much of this game.

You'd be correct in your supposition.

What's In A Name?

A Windows machine by any other name would still crash and burn frequently ...

Oh. Hi. One of the things mentioned in All About Linux is how to change the hostname of your machine from the default localhost.localdomain. I knew this was possible, I was just too lazy to look it up before.

Note: Remember to put the new name of the machine in /etc/hosts.

Well That's Completely Different

Remember the promise to " support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture?"

Well, Never Mind

Another Linux Blog

Just found, via Blogarama:

All About Linux, by Ravi

It's sort of like this Blog, except he actually writes about Linux. It will appear in the Useful Links list and the Favorite Newsfeeds, as soon as I get around to editing them.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sounds Better

Remember the sound card bug?. Well, it took an update to alsalib, followed by muting the headphone jack sense (whatever that is) option on alsamixer to fix the sound. Funny, with the old kernel I had to turn the headphones all the way up to get sound.

I wouldn't exactly call this a triumph for open source, since I doubt Microsoft would have let something like this ship, but it didn't take too long, and Fedora left the old kernel around so that I could get sound if I needed it.

Monday, January 17, 2005

From the I-Swear-I'm-Not-Making-This-Up Department:

A dentist Wednesday found the source of the toothache Patrick Lawler was complaining about: a 4-inch nail the construction worker had unknowingly embedded in his skull six days earlier. (Newsday)


Lawler's nail gun backfired on Jan. 6 as he worked in Breckenridge, a resort town in central Colorado. The tool sent a nail into a piece of wood nearby, but Lawler didn't realize a second nail had shot through his mouth, said his sister, Lisa Metcalse.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Kernel Change "Fixes" Sound Card

So I upgrade the the version 2.6.10 of Fedora Core's kernel, and my sound card stops working. Without errors, just no sound. It's been reported by many, so we can hope that it will be fixed soon. The problem seems to involve the interaction of the Kernel with the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture (ALSA), particularly with our old friend, the Intel Integrated Audio card.

For now, I can get sound by going back to the 2.6.9 kernel and fiddling with the sound settings via alsamixer. This gets changed by 2.6.10, but you can put it back to settings that work in 2.6.9.

Here's a Little Gem

"Conventional" wisdom (aka, Conservative Talk Radio) has it that Democrats like to live high off the tax dollars of ordinary citizens, while Republicans believe in fiscal responsibility.

So it's interesting to compare the election results (by county, here it is by state) to the net flow of cash between states and the federal government (I wish this one was by county).

That's right, folks, states that voted Republican tend to take in more money from the federal government than they give, and states that voted Democratic tend to pay more to the government than they get back.

There are many reasons for this, including population density, federal highway funding, national park locations, etc., but it's interesting, nevertheless.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Four of Twenty-Three

I'm going to make a confession here: I don't really watch basketball games featuring teams I care about, at least when I'm alone. Anything bad happens and I change the channel. Eventually I'll click it back, but only after a few minutes. In a football game, if your team makes a mistake, they go to a TV time out after the score and you've got time to cool off. In baseball, you've got a minute or so before the next hitter comes up, and you can consult the rule book to see how to score the play ("why CAN'T I give him three errors on one play?"). You've got cooling off time. In basketball you don't get this. If time is called, you've got to listen to Billy or Dick explain how great the other team is -- especially if the other team is from the ACC, and they've made Kentucky an honorary ACC team. To give me time to cool off, I didn't really watch the first 38 minutes of the KU-UK game. Not unusual -- I "watched" the KU-Syracuse '03 title game mostly during commericals of the Stargate SG-1 reruns on Sci-Fi. Given the series history, I was expecting a blowout, plus, I really expected a better Minnesota-Green Bay game, so I spent a lot of time on Fox.

I don't think I missed all that much, it was a horrible game -- bad execution, terrible free throw shooting, and no offensive flow on either side, except for the cameras constantly panning to Ashley Judd (good choice, even if she is a Wildcat fan). But I watched (most) of the last two minutes -- because we won. Well, not quite. At that point I would have stayed anyway.

So I don't have any brilliant analysis of the game, how the Jayhawks gutted out a win on the road without Simeon, or the play of Moody, or how irritating Bill Packer really is. All I know is, we won. Like a Red Sox fan, I hope this reverses the curse, and we'll spend the next century beating the pants off of Kentucky.

Anyway, it's a start.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

We Should Never Have Sent Them Rupp

KU plays Kentucky (aka UK) tomorrow night. Why we're playing a non-conference, top 10 team in mid-January is beyond me (I know, $$$), but I wanted to focus on this "rivalry".

Folks, I knew it was bad, but it's not just bad, it's really bad. If Red Sox-Yankees was this bad, John Henry would have shot himself before Game 4 of the ALCS got to the 9th inning.

How bad is it? I should have a string of jokes here, but really, it's pathetic.

has the gory details: 3-19. Ted won one (of 13, the masochist), Larry one (of 3) and Roy one (of 4). The worst game, IMHO, was in 1978, when KU was ahead by about 6 with a minute left to play at Kentucky. Owens was dancing around the sidelines. No shot clock then, remember, and no 3-point line. Yet KU lost, 67-66. I was watching this on a Louisville's channel 3. Since I was in Bloomington, IN, this made for a very fuzzy screen. Fortunately, it was my roommate's TV, as if it had been mine, the TV would have been out on the street.

Can Bill Self turn things around? I hope so, but after watching the A&M and Georgia Tech games, I'm going to go way out on a limb and say that if KU wins, it's going to be a nail-biter.

Hey Buddy ... Want to Draw to an Inside Straight?

I've been playing a bit of free, online Texas Holdem, and found it useful to start a page on poker odds. There are other pages like this on line (some referenced here), but I like to do it myself:

Friday, January 07, 2005

Ogg Like MP3

For various reasons, I needed to be able to convert sound files from Ogg Vorbis (.ogg) to MP3. The default method to do this is via SoX (Sound eXchange), "the swiss army knife of sound processing programs." Say, for example, I had a copy of the Beatle's "Yesterday" in Ogg format. Then I should be able to do this:

$ sox yesterday.ogg yesterday.mp3

Funny thing, though, is that because of some fears about copyright, Fedora Core doesn't ship with any MP3 libraries. So, in this case, we'd get the message:

$ sox: Unknown output file format for 'yesterday.mp3': File type 'mp3' is not known

It didn't take long for Google (TM) to find a solution, in the form of this thread on freshrpms-list, which tells you how to get an MP3 enabled SoX file. Basically

  1. Download and from
  2. Remove the old SoX files. This takes a bit of doing, because there may be some dependencies:
    $ sudo rpm -e sox sox-devel --nodeps
  3. Install the new files (maybe --update would have worked?):
    $ sudo rpm -i sox*.rpm

So far it works.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows

Let us ponder, for a moment, the story of Sir Sidney Ponson, who, as you may remember, was arrested on Christmas Day for getting into a situation involving a jet ski, a fist, and a judge, complicated by the fact that it took place in Aruba, which has no bail. Now, Sir Sidney's been released, and the Washington Post [registration required, use] has the story of his incarceration and release

I love this part:

The two acquaintances who were arrested along with Ponson released themselves on their own recognizance four days later by cutting through the bars of their cells with a saw and bending them apart. The escapees were apprehended on Sunday, reportedly in possession of $20,000 cash, drugs, jewelry and a police scanner.

The Updated Command Line

Some years ago, when he wasn't writing novels about Isaac Newton and company, Neal Stephenson wrote an article called In the Beginning Was the Command Line, an extended musing on the development of computer operating systems.

Just recently, as noted in Slashdot, Garrett Birkel posted an annotated version, with updates. Birkel's more Mac-centric than I am, but it's still a good read.