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1 November 2004
Pretty fast mirror of just about every recent political QuickTime of the last few months (including “Fahrenheit 9/11”, “Going Upriver”, John Stewart on Crossfire, etc.)
Updated: email stats. I’m still getting too much spam into my inbox (due to recent upgrades of SpamAssassin), but I hope things stabilize in November as the bayes filters retrain themselves.
3 November 2004
My only consolation is that history will eviscerate this presidency for what it has done, and what it will do.
It’s not much of a consolation, but I will take what I can get today.
“You want to know about voting. I’m here to tell you about voting. Imagine you’re locked in a huge underground night-club filled with sinners, whores, freaks and unnameable things that rape pitbulls for fun. And you ain’t allowed out until you all vote on what you’re going to do tonight. You like to put your feet up and watch ‘Republican Party Reservation’. They like to have sex with normal people using knives, guns, and brand new sexual organs you did not even know existed. So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as your eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That’s voting. You’re welcome.”
Suffer a soul-crushing defeat recently? Be of Good Cheer!:
Well if that’s your attitude, the only thing I have for you is that the Bush Administration will not be able to get out the door before its irremediable clusterfucks . . . fuck clusters. Or whatever. Iraq is not fixable. When it goes definitively kablooey, its architects will not be safely tucked away in their ranches and sinecures, able to tut-tut that if only we had stayed the course ….
The downside? Oh, little things, like returning to office the government that
- *asserted that the executive can unilaterally and unreviewably strip any citizen of citizenship and declare any non-citizen an “enemy combatant” without rights;
- *argued in its work papers that the President is not bound by either domestic or international laws of war because - he’s the President! and it’s a war!
Blackboxvoting.org has raised the largest Freedom of Information request in history. At 8:30 p.m. Election Night, Black Box Voting blanketed the U.S. with the first in a series of public records requests, to obtain internal computer logs and other documents from 3,000 individual counties and townships. Networks called the election before anyone bothered to perform even the most rudimentary audit. Among the first requests sent to counties (with all kinds of voting systems — optical scan, touch-screen, and punch card) is a formal records request for internal audit logs, polling place results slips, modem transmission logs, and computer trouble slips.
My goal was to mass erase these disks from the command line and so far I hadn’t had much luck. With Windows I knew I was going to have to take a different approach, with Linux, I knew exactly what I had to do to kill this system.
I decided to attack Windows from the same attack point as I was hitting Linux. Instead of trying to do a low level erasure of my files I was just going to recursively delete them. So after a little mucking around at the command prompt, I came up with
del /F /S /Q *. Linux was a no brainer. All I had to do was escalate my permissions with sudo,
sudo rm -Rf *to be exact.
A conversation at work demanded I take the Geek Test. I scored 50.88757%, or Super Geek.
4 November 2004
5 November 2004
A conjunction very much like the one occurring on the 5th occurred in August of the year 3 B.C. This historic conjunction occurred on August 12th at 03:00 UTC and was widely visible from the Middle East. That year Venus and Jupiter were only 10 arc-minutes or 0.16 degrees apart in the constellation of Leo the Lion. With such a narrow separation, light reflected from the two would seem to merge into one as seen with the unaided eye.
Some scholars have speculated that this close conjunction may have been interpreted as a sign by a group known as the Magi. The Magi, or wise men, were priests of an ancient religion known as Zoroastrianism. Could this close conjunction have been what sent the wise men traveling to a far of city known as Bethlehem? Unfortunately we can’t draw any definitive conclusions. There are no known written records that tell exactly what the Magi saw, or how they interpreted it.
bellaciao.org has some graphs of the major discrepencies between exit polling and vote counts. They’re pretty incredible! Now, maybe the exit polling methodology is just fundamentally broken, but isn’t it funny when you see pictures like the one at the right, knowing that last year, Diebold’s CEO swore that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to President Bush.”
And in Florida, some numbers and graphs: districts using electronic voting machines tended to skew Republican, while those without electronic voting ran even with predicted ratios. “An analysis of variance conducted on the percent change for each party ([Actual vote minus expected vote]/expected vote) in each county, with ‘machine type’ as a predictive factor, indicated that machine type was a significant predictor of percent change in voting. Counties using E-touch machines showed significantly positive percent changes in vote for both Republican and Democrat candidates, with greater mean percent changes for the Democrat. However counties using Op-scan machines showed significant positive percent change only for the Republican candidate, the mean change for the Democrat being insignificantly greater than zero.”
You don’t steal an election with a landslide, you steal it with 3%. You stay within the margin of error across the board so that it’s not obvious.
7 November 2004
I came upstairs last night, cursing like a sailor. Merrystar raised an eyebrow.
Her eyebrow didn’t move.
“There were no problems. It detected the network card immediately. All I had to do was enter the SSID and WEP key and it was online. It installed mostly everything that I wanted, and not very much that I didn’t; and getting emacs off their site wasn’t difficult at all. Damn it!”
“That’s nice, dear,” she said. I think she’s used to this by now. I stomped back downstairs to continue cursing at something that actually worked out of the box, instead of requiring hours of configuration to get it running.
This morning I came downstairs and everything was still working on Arbonne. I installed rsync so I could reload our home directories off of Tigana. I changed a few of the window behaviors because I wanted to.
Argh! Linux is supposed to be hard, not easy! Especially to configure!
8 November 2004
I may decide to resurrect Al-Rassan (currently loaded with FC 2) so that at least I can keep up to speed with Fedora. Not sure that I want to, but there you have it.
What the hell am I thinking?
Best Buy’s strategies could represent the beginnings of a shift in how retailers approach their customers. As consumers become more savvy, and online shopping continues to grow, you can bet other retailers will watch Best Buy closely. Early results indicate that Best Buy’s test stores are outperforming their established stores by a significant margin, and it’s safe to assume that the trend will continue as they shift to their new sales mode across the board. Of course, if you aren’t Barry, Jill, or Buzz, then who are you and how will you be treated? Customer profiling has a nasty side to it, one which we can attest to. It’s common, for instance, to be utterly ignored in some commission-based sales environments if you look too young, or too poor.
Meanwhile, Dell and others seem to be doing their best to attract those customers Best Buy doesn’t really want. While Best Buy has pulled the plug on their relationships with some of the more well-known bargain sites, Dell is using those same sites to run their promotions and clear out inventory with insane coupon deals. The biggest danger for Best Buy is the prospect of getting upside down. They run the risk of selling out for profit margins at the cost of sales volume.
The Economist — Music’s brighter future:
According to an internal study done by one of the majors, between two-thirds and three-quarters of the drop in sales in America had nothing to do with internet piracy. No-one knows how much weight to assign to each of the other explanations: rising physical CD piracy, shrinking retail space, competition from other media, and the quality of the music itself. But creativity doubtless plays an important part.
Judging the overall quality of the music being sold by the four major record labels is, of course, subjective. But there are some objective measures. A successful touring career of live performances is one indication that a singer or band has lasting talent. Another is how many albums an artist puts out. Many recent singers have toured less and have often faded quickly from sight.
9 November 2004
It’s done! Mozilla Firefox 1.0! Go get it!
10 November 2004
11 November 2004
Wow, is Wired slipping? They seem to forget that the first non-beta version of an open-source Mozilla browser was Mozilla 1.0, released 5 June 2002.
I mean, Firefox 1.0 is really, really sweet and I love it. Love it love it love it. But the Mozilla developers haven’t been working on the platform that supports it since 1998, and that platform went GA two and a half years ago, making Firefox possible.
Ach, just go read the article yourselves — Wired News: Firefox 1.0 Makes Flashy Debut:
The Mozilla Foundation, inheritor of the Netscape programming code base, made the very first non-beta version of its open-source browser available for free at 1 a.m. PT Tuesday. Soon after its release, Mozilla’s servers were overwhelmed.
USA Today has an article? US FREAKIN’ A TODAY???
I swear, this is all the Red Sox’s fault.
People looked at me like I was an idiot back in 1998 for using Mozilla 0.6. And now Mozilla’s in USA Today. And the WSJ. And just about every other technology paper.
Man, am I proud of those guys.
Damnit. Just because my contact list has about 350 people, I’m going to have problems?
The maximum buddy list size for AIM is 200…
15 November 2004
I spent a few hours Saturday morning taking stock of my network, because it’s what I do at 5:45 on a Saturday morning when I can’t sleep. Merrystar is good about not killing me when I wake up obscenely early and march downstairs to engage in my computer drama issues.
Arbonne, my PIII-700 desktop, is now running SuSE 9.1, from the 9.1 Personal CD. I downloaded apache, rsync, and emacs before figuring out how to configure YaST to install from an FTP site. Overall I’m quite pleased with SuSE, but I’ve read some things about Novell’s changes that may not bode well for a lasting relationship with this distro. The configuration was really easy compared to Fedora and Red Hat, but I’m now wary of corporate meddling after Red Hat’s Enterprise debacle.
Anyhow, Arbonne is functioning as the primary server again after a few weeks of being hosed by my yum update from Red Hat 9 to Fedora Core 2. (Mostly due to the change between XFree86 and Xorg, I think. I’m not going to go back to try to replicate.) I was rereading my installation notes for Red Hat 9, and they begin:
“Unplug the machine and move it to wherever your cable modem and router is currently located. At this time, that means take it upstairs, Brett. You cannot activate your wireless network card with the packages installed off the CD, and you will have to update your kernel as well. While you’re lugging a desktop up the stairs, reconsider. By the time you get to the monitor, I bet you’ll have thought of a better way to spend your weekend.”
Al-Rassan, my Thinkpad i1400, made a brief reappearance this weekend. Her screen is stil dead, but I plugged her in to my work Thinkpad’s power cord (no recharge, but at least she turns on) and Arbonne’s monitor and confirmed that everything still booted and that all data was off of it. (Yes, and yes.) I have been toying with the idea of making Al-Rassan the primary public computer and isolating Arbonne more; after looking at her again, this might not be a good idea.
When I ran yum to update the Fedora Core 2 installation, I ran out of disk space. I had 3.3 GB used and only 650 MB free - without any data files. I got rid of some of the bigger packages I was pretty sure I’d never use on it again (openoffice.org, for one) and was able to update everything, but I’m still running low on space (about 900 MB free.) For a server, this is a real weakness. One way around this would be to accept the screen death and uninstall X and all the user-friendly GUI programs. This would free up about 2 gigs of space, if I remember the Fedora Core installs right.
But turning Al-Rassan into a non-graphical machine means I’m only using it as a server, and that’s already handled by Arbonne - and Arbonne has about 33 GB free, even with all my data files. So I’d either need to abstain from graphic and sound files, or get a bigger hard drive. Neither option is appealing. I already have a server set up that takes up enough of my time. If I want to use Al-Rassan on an ongoing basis, I’m already going to need to replace the external power pack. Do I really need to get a new hard drive, too?
I could install another, smaller distro on Al-Rassan to free up some more space, but that avoids the real question - what’s this computer for? I now use Tigana as my main puttering laptop. I don’t need another laptop - at least not one that’s slower and bulkier and louder and has no screen. And as a server, I’ll have to invest some money - not a lot, but some - to get it working again. Like many folks, I initially thought a laptop would make a great server because of the battery backup in case of power failure. It’s true, it will save the computer from crashing. But you’re still offline, unless your modem and router are both also on battery backup. Mine aren’t, and I don’t see putting them on it anytime soon.
But as I was working on Al-Rassan, I thought, you know, this might make a good guest computer. Just put a monitor, keyboard, and mouse on it and it’s a low-profile, small desktop. For guests it wouldn’t matter that there’s not a lot of disk space, and it can still handle things like web browsing and email. I’ll keep this in mind as I get more spare parts - I’ll want to replace Arbonne’s monitor eventually.
Tigana, Merrystar’s old Vaio 505-TR, continues to run Red Hat 7.2 just fine. I’ve patched it with the latest updates from fedoralegacy.org, and wireless with WEP works on it now, which is really all I ever needed to switch over to Linux. There’s a Windows 2000 installation on it, but I only boot into it to occasionally install some critical security updates. I manually installed Mozilla 1.7, since Firefox requires GTK and I’m not willing to install a whole bunch of things on a system that already just works. I don’t mess around with it, it doesn’t mess around with me, and that’s what I tell myself everytime I think I should upgrade it to 7.3.
The T key still falls off occasionally, the space bar doesn’t always work, and one of the mouse butons is kaput. But it’s sub-3 pounds and just works, so I won’ be replacing it anytime soon. I mean, if someone wants to get me a Panasonic R3, I’m not going to turn it down. (Far, far from it.) But I’m not really ready to go blow a couple grand on yet another computer. (If I do, the next machine name to be used is probably Sarantium, although Soryyia is a close second.)
So now you’re all caught up on my sysadmin drama.
16 November 2004
Have I mentioned how much I like the new Mozilla Firefox Start Page?
Well, I do.
It should be no surprise that there are problems with voting. What’s surprising is that there aren’t more problems. So how to make the system work better?
— Simplicity: This is the key to making voting better. Registration should be as simple as possible. The voting process should be as simple as possible. Ballot designs should be simple, and they should be tested. The computer industry understands the science of user-interface — that knowledge should be applied to ballot design.
— Uniformity: Simplicity leads to uniformity. The United States doesn’t have one set of voting rules or one voting system. It has 51 different sets of voting rules — one for every state and the District of Columbia — and even more systems. The more systems are standardized around the country, the more we can learn from each other’s mistakes.
— Verifiability: Computerized voting machines might have a simple user interface, but complexity hides behind the screen and keyboard. To avoid even more problems, these machines should have a voter-verifiable paper ballot. This isn’t a receipt; it’s not something you take home with you. It’s a paper “ballot” with your votes — one that you verify for accuracy and then put in a ballot box. The machine provides quick tallies, but the paper is the basis for any recounts.
— Transparency: All computer code used in voting machines should be public. This allows interested parties to examine the code and point out errors, resulting in continually improving security. Any voting-machine company that claims its code must remain secret for security reasons is lying. Security in computer systems comes from transparency — open systems that pass public scrutiny — and not secrecy.
But those are all solutions for the future. If you’re a voter this year, your options are fewer. My advice is to vote carefully. Read the instructions carefully, and ask questions if you are confused. Follow the instructions carefully, checking every step as you go. Remember that it might be impossible to correct a problem once you’ve finished voting. In many states — including California — you can request a paper ballot if you have any worries about the voting machine.
Great Northern Lights photos from November 8, 2004
17 November 2004
Widsith spoke, unlocked his word-hoard,
he who had travelled most of all men
through tribes and nations across the earth.
Often he had gained great treasure in hall.
He belonged by birth to the Myrging tribe.
Along with Ealhild, the kind peace-weaver,
for the first time, from the Baltic coast,
he sought the home of Eormanric,
king of the Ostrogoths, hostile to traitors.
He began then to speak at length:
“I have heard of many men who ruled over nations.
Every leader should live uprightly,
rule his estates according to custom,
if he wants to succeed to a kingly throne.”
18 November 2004
I would not be surprised if Microsoft abruptly reconsiders its decision to break off negotiations. On the other hand, Microsoft has a demonstrated pattern of stumbling along in litigation until it is thoroughly embarrassed. Novell’s lawyers have obviously thought about their strategy quite a bit. Unless Microsoft can come up with other, stronger defenses, the statute of limitations defense looks poised to unhinge Microsoft’s nondisclosure policies at an early date.
FOSS could be one of the big beneficiaries of this lawsuit by assembling and disseminating the evidence. Do other folks feel that gathering and disseminating information about Novell v. Microsoft is important? Are people ready to help? Your feedback is important.
So the last entry of the Disciples of the Inner Flame has been generating a lot of comment spam lately, which will in turn inflate my inbox numbers by 65 this month. I disabled comments by renaming the cgi script, but is there a better way to handle it? Anyone use the MT Blacklist plugin? One reason I don’t have comments enabled on my personal site is exactly this reason, but if there’s a reliable way around it I’d be willing to try it out.
19 November 2004
TiVo has responded, at least sort of, to the brewing controversy over their plans to introduce banner ads when people fast forward through commercials, with someone from TiVo’s marketing department posting a message on the tivocommunity.com bulletin board trying to explain a little bit more what’s going on. A few people didn’t seem to get that they’re not eliminating fast-forwarding altogether (but it’s the Internet, what do you expect?), and the marketing person wants to make it clear that the ads will not be full-screen and that they’ll be similar to the “thumbs-upâ€� you sometimes see during commercials right now that’ll ask you whether you want to record a TV show. Honestly, it’s not that the whole idea of ads that seem so bothersome, it’s more the idea of buying something, paying a monthly fee for it, and still having to deal with them popping in commercials everywhere (eliminate the monthly fees and we’d be a lot more receptive the ads). It’s like if we started having to listen to a little ad everytime we wanted to check the voicemail on our cellphoneâ€”it’d be one thing if they were giving away the service for free, but we’re paying for this, you know? Plus, given how many other options there out there for digital video recorders, we worry that TiVo, a company we actually like, is only going to hasten its demise with moves like these.
20 November 2004
Well, I don’t think this bodes well. I just spent entirely too long searching the Novell/SuSE sites for their product downloads. Specifically, their free versions of Linux.
I don’t blame them for obscuring the free downloads, but I don’t have to like it. And if it gets too much worse, I’m happy to use a different distribution.
In the meanwhile, the FTP site is at ftp://ftp.suse.com/pub/suse/i386/current/.
21 November 2004
22 November 2004
Okay, so it’s just a Google search page, and one I don’t use very often, what with the built-in search bar (Ctrl-K and Ctrl-J to start a search are becoming second nature, though I usually hit the wrong one for whichever OS I’m in). But it’s still cool that this little browser that, as little as a year ago, left people asking me “why do you use that thing,” now has a Google landing page all its own.
I am, perhaps, not the most rational browser user. I admit it. But sometimes it’s good to get excited about software.
23 November 2004
Next time you make a printout from your color laser printer, shine an LED flashlight beam on it and examine it closely with a magnifying glass. You might be able to see the small, scattered yellow dots printer there that could be used to trace the document back to you.
24 November 2004
Actually, I don’t find this hard to believe at all. This is the biggest reason I don’t get a newspaper.
Imagine what higher-ups at the Post must have thought when focus-group participants declared they wouldn’t accept a Washington Post subscription even if it were free. The main reason (and I’m not making this up): They didn’t like the idea of old newspapers piling up in their houses.
26 November 2004
In between naps this Thanksgiving weekend, I found some time to look over the latest (0.9) release of Mozilla Thunderbird, the stand-alone Mozilla mail client. There are some new features that are quite good, but overall I’m not impressed enough to consider switching over from PINE. I would dump Outlook in a second at work as a mail client, but the integrated calendar features (and their ubiquity at work) keep me using it.
The last release of Thunderbird I used for any length of time was 0.6; at the time I thought it a good, solid successor to Mozilla Mail. There have been some interesting additions since then, but there’s still a ways to go yet.
The addition with the most potential is definitely the integrated RSS newsfeed reader. Someone was using their little gray cells on the Thunderbird design team when they came up with this feature. It pulls up summaries of the articles, or the articles themselves, and organizes them like email messages. By treating blog entries like mail, it takes a step towards intertwingling your inbound data. Having one place to look at all your inbound data is a good thing; conceptually, blog entries that you subscribe to are identical to emailed newsletters.
Unfortunately, there is still a ways to go before. Adding feeds is manual and difficult, but that could be solved with a XUL extension. The biggest drawback is that the blog entries are still separated by feed, instead of mixed together into an inbox. This is a common weakness of many RSS readers - they parse the RSS document and represent them as individual entries, but really it’s a veneer on top of the XML file. Notification on each folder is nice, but a summary folder of all the new ones would be better. Following the email concept entirely would be best of all; once everything is mixed together, one would categorize and break it apart with the same tools, in the same manner, without reference to source. Unity of interface should be the goal.
I’ve been somewhat ambivalent about RSS; I use it to simplify my web browsing, and am glad that it’s becoming more widely available. But email’s still king for outbound notifications, and whomever intertwingles RSS with email first wins. Perhaps this is merely an extension to the law that ‘all software will expand to read email’?
Anyhow, I think Thunderbird has made some great strides with RSS integration, and I’m glad to see that they’re going in that direction. The next big problem remains MS Exchange integration, especially with the calendar. Now that Novell has released the source of Ximian Evolution Exchange Connector, I hope that we’ll see more open source projects like Thunderbird just work with Exchange. In the meantime, the biggest obstacle to converting Outlook users will remain calendaring. (Outlook Express users, however, should switch immediately.)
Still, Thunderbird is a good, solid graphical mail reader. I’m personally not yet convinced that local mail readers are the way to go, but if that’s how you work, Thunderbird is definitely worth a look. It’s not as absolutely compelling an application as Firefox- yet.
I’d keep my eye on it, though.
27 November 2004
Wow. Enterprise continues to be really good! I caught “Awakening” tonight while having dinner while putting up the Christmas tree and was duly impressed. I’m looking forward to Dolly Andorian’s appearance next week.
28 November 2004
29 November 2004
Want to feel old? A survey of a middle, high school, and college students in South Korea found that over two-thirds of students there rarely or never use email and supposedly young people are starting to think of email as something overly formal that you use only for business purposes or to communicate with your less tech savvy parents or grandparents who are still stuck in the Nineties (when email was king). For them it’s all about text and instant messaging, and by comparison, even email seems like an incredibly slow way to communicate. Do they even have postal service in Korea anymore?
Operating systems matter deeply to programmers, but in the big picture, they’re old news. It’s all about the network, and the applications that let you get benefit from the network. Using a computer isn’t an end in itself, it’s merely a means to an end. The focus must always be on the task that the person wants to accomplish, to communicate, to learn, to create, to be entertained. Insofar as the computer itself makes itself known in this process, the computer is an impediment. Do What I Mean! Be humanistic, don’t get bogged down in the details.
It took me several minutes to realize I’d just installed an egg timer into my web broswer.
EggOn! is a Firefox extension for cooking the perfect egg. EggOn has three settings, so you can cook perfect eggs according to your tastes.