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2 March 2008
It’s not a new idea to base legal, educational, or social prescriptions on scientific findings. It’s not a bad idea, either, unless such arguments are based on bad science, or on good science badly applied. But I’m afraid that in today’s educational policy debates — and not just about segregation of the sexes — the density of bad or misrepresented science is high and rising. In self-defense, our society needs to persuade people like Anastasia Rubis that standard deviations should not be so scrupulously avoided.
3 March 2008
4 March 2008
pamie: I’m… Okay, I’m eating this curry. And it’s seriously the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. After every five minutes I have to stop eating it because my face hurts and my lips start to swell and I’m drooling.
jessica: Heeeeeee. You know, you sound really upset. I was worried.
pamie: Because I’m crying. But this curry is so good! I’m not kidding; I put the bowl down and wait until I can feel my face again, and my skin is getting kinda blotchy, but after five minutes I crave it and I’ve forgotten all about the pain. Then I dig in, shovel four bites into my mouth and then: “Flames! Flames, on the side of my face…heaving!”
John C. Welch, Goodbye, Gary:
Gary helped do that. His creation, along with other people’s creations at the time, led to millions upon millions of creations. The Dragonlance epics. Ed Greenwood helping create the Forgotten Realms, Elminster, and all the rest. Books. Movies, usually bad.
For those of us his creation touched, he changed our lives. He brought me friends and times that I probably wouldn’t have found without him. He created something that anyone could do, and have fun with, and make their own. There’s not a lot of people you can say that about. In truth, I’d rank what he did above what even Woz and Jobs created. Those two created an industry. D&D created worlds.
I was thinking about some of the things people have said about Gary Gygax’s influence, especially how:
Gary Gygax saved more lives than pennacillian (sic). When I was 10, he was 39. He knew he was writing a book for 10 year olds… but never talked down to us. He was the only adult presence in my life from the time I was 10 to the time I was like 15 that didn’t preach, didn’t talk down and didn’t have any parameters.
I, too, was 10 years old when I played my first Dungeons and Dragons game, and this observation really hit me tonight. There was no pandering, no dumbing down of concepts to fit an adolescent game. We may not have understood all Gary and Dave put in front of us, but it challenged us to learn and grow into it. Statistics, economics, cartography, linguistics, storytelling, history, tactics, drama — all were part of the great Dungeons and Dragons tapestry. What’s the difference between a halberd and a glaive-guisarme? Which weapon is more effective, one that causes 1d8+4 or 1d12? What happens when you walk into a town with buckets of gemstones and unload them on the local market? These are questions that this crazy game posed to kids, and you know what? Kids learned.
I credit Dungeons and Dragons for vastly expanding my vocabulary, too. When my High School Literature teacher came across a passage in Gogol that talked about a wraith, I already knew what it was and moved on. When someone asked the teacher what a wraith was, and the bluffed, five hands immediately shot up and corrected him.
I remember how he looked around, more than a little startled, and asked how we all knew about this alternate name for a spectre.
“It’s in the Monster Manual,” I mumbled. Everyone who had raised their hand nodded, and the rest of the class looked at us with a mixture of awe and pity. (At least we didn’t tell him how many Hit Dice it had.)
Years later, one of my co-workers complained to a group of us that a client had corrected her use of e.g. in an email. “Who can keep them straight, anyway?” she vented.
“But e.g. is ‘for example,’ and i.e. is ‘in other words,’” I replied, puzzled. (Admittedly, this was not my best management moment.) Silence fell on the group.
“Do I dare ask how you know that?” asked another co-worker.
“The first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide,” I replied, promptly. “I learned all the latin abbreviations from it when I was a kid.” They still had that mixed look of awe and pity, but I felt nothing but thanks to that book for making me figure out i.e., c.f., n.b., e.g., etc..
So, thank you, Gary Gygax, for all the great things that you gave us. Little or big, we are better for them.
8 March 2008
I’m trying another experiment: Appendix A.
I want this site to be clean, tidy, with a high signal-to-noise ratio. But that desire
sometimes often nearly always conflicts with my desire to share a whole bunch of neat stuff with you. The desire to centralize online stuff can distort one’s focus. So, I’m trying out a separate Tumblr site (yes, again) to post those links, removed from the main flow of this site.
The name comes from one of my favorite books, which makes copious use of appendices. I think nearly half of the book is appendices and footnotes, and some of them are better than the source material! So, I figured it was about time for my own addendum.
It’s only a few days old, but I’d love to know what you think about it.
10 March 2008
Springfield VW wants $95 to tell me what the CEL code is. Not cool.
Not blinking? Not overheating? I’ll take it to Gus in the morning.
(If I don’t make it home tonight, you’ll know why.)
11 March 2008
In a strange display of synchronicity, Merrystar and I both ordered new laptops in the last 24 hours.
Merrystar’s beloved Panasonic Toughbook W2 Tsiolkovsky will soon be joined by, of all things, a Dell XPS M1330. The Panasonic rep really blew the sale and couldn’t get her either a W or Y series within her department’s budget, so she opted for a screamin’ fast dual 2.6GHz instead. After years of making ugly laptops, Dell seems to have finally gotten this one right.
We’ll see how it looks in person when the Alpine White version (with pink hard drive and mouse, naturally) arrives later this week.
I’m actually really excited to see how Ubuntu runs on it.
I wasn’t planning on upgrading my Powerbook G4 Hithlum until its AppleCare expired in November, but the recent release of the iPhone SDK (which requires an Intel chip and Leopard to use) accelerated my timetable. The 1.67GHz Powerbook is the fastest G4 chip out there, but it’s now the punchline in recent Mac benchmarks.
Let’s call it like it is: the G4 is dog slow running Leopard, and it’s not that much faster running Tiger.
So, after convincing myself to get the 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro, I then did an about-face when I got to the ordering page, decided to embrace constraints, and bought what meets my needs now: the Macbook Air. Yes, the one I was waffling about.
And you know what? I don’t regret it for a minute. $1000 less, featherweight, and fewer distractions? Done.
It arrives next week.
While I’ll let you know initial impressions and put up new computer pages next week, Merrystar and I have important decisions to make while we wait.
Namely, what are we going to name them? A quick nomenclature refresher:
- Merrystar has two possible conventions to follow: laptop or dual-core. Laptops are named after science vessels in Star Trek: Oberth-class or Nova-class. (I think Nebula-class vessels are also allowed.) Dual-core machines are Excelsior-class. There’s a lot of options available.
- My convention is to use lands from science-fiction and fantasy: Macs use the lands of J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve been going through a Beleriand phase, but might shift east over the Misty Mountains if the names are right. The areas of Númenor are also options, but not very melodic ones.
Hmmm. Lots of thinking to do here.
15 March 2008
A bit of a surprise announcement: I will be going in for ear surgery on Tuesday. My left eardrum is almost totally gone, the bones in the middle ear are damaged, and the mastoid bone surrounding the ear is filled with material left over from a series of massive infections. The surgery will replace the eardrum, examine the ossicles and possibly replace them with prosthetics, and drill out the infected mastoid bones. This will, in turn, help stop the repeated infections I’ve had over the past few years, and is the first step towards regaining my hearing.
The backstory on this is long and somewhat painful — literally, since it involves having one’s eardrum ripped out — so I will save it for later. Suffice it to say, if you ever wondered why I am a very active listener, yet can’t hear you when other people are talking … well, now you know.
I have mixed feelings about this surgery. I am very nervous about addressing a problem that has lingered for two decades; every time we poke and prod at the problem, the news gets a little worse. Until they open up the middle ear, there’s no way to gauge the extent of the damage. The reconstruction has a chance of making my hearing worse instead of better.
But I’m also a little excited, because I’m finally doing something about these problems. The problems are there. Ignorance of them doesn’t change anything.
17 March 2008
I am happy to announce the arrival of my Macbook Air named Vinyamar.
Vinyamar is named after the capital city of Nevrast in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. “Vinyamar” is Quenya for “New Dwelling.” Built on the western peninsula beneath Mount Taras, Vinyamar was the seat of Turgon’s power before he moved to the Hidden City of Gondolin.
The nomenclature of Vinyamar’s primary network is based upon regions of fantasy novels. Macintoshes are named after lands in J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. Linux machines are named after countries in Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels.
(I have, admittedly, bent the rules slightly here by using the name of a city instead of the name of a region. But it’s my network, I’ll use whichever names I like.)
- Entered service on March 18th, 2008.
- Has the 80GB hard drive option, not the SSD.
- 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo processor.
- Running Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard).
Vinyamar’s intended purpose is as a coding and work laptop, so Xcode and the iPhone SDK will be required. Graphics work will be light to support application development. It will be used as a business laptop, so some internet and encryption utilities will also be required.
My stated reason for choosing the Macbook Air over the Macbook Pro is that the platform embraces constraints and forces me to focus on certain tasks. Only time will tell if this is the right decision.
OS X is preloaded with nearly every tool that I need, so doesn’t require a lot of configuration to be useful. After working with OS X 10.4 (Tiger) for nearly three years on Hithlum, I’ve picked up a lot of modifications and applications that I “can’t live without,” even though I really can. I addressed the UNIX issues first:
Update Hosts File: Replace
/etc/hostswith Dan Pollock’s excellent replacement hosts file to block bad sites. I’ve considered automating this download, but have some reservations with messing around with root-owned files without looking at them first. (I should get over it, but I haven’t.)
This replacement /etc/hosts file blacks out bad parts of the internet — malware sites, aggressive advertisers, data collection companies, clicktrackers — by telling your computer to direct all requests for those hosts to itself, instead of out to the internet. It makes for a much more pleasant computing experience, and I highly recommend it, no matter what platform you’re running.
Disable SSH-1 and Force SSH-2: SSH-1 should only be used if you want to get cracked. I have no idea why it’s enabled at all in any default, but there it is in Tiger. I was happy to see that Leopard has SSH-1 off by default.
Protocol 2and restart
Change Default Shell: I’m generally happy with Apple’s Terminal, but there’s one default that I refuse to accept Apple’s guidance on: the default shell. Once you learn a shell, switching between them becomes a real hassle… and I learned on
bash. This is changed in Terminal’s preferences.
Also, pin the Terminal to the Dock while it’s open, and chose the white-on-black background for new windows.
Configure Passwordless SSH: I do a lot of work with remote servers. To automate SSH connections to these machines, I set up passwordless SSH.
Those are the primary UNIX changes that I felt were absolutely essential. Next, I installed the development environment.
Install Xcode 3: Xcode 3 is the development environment that comes standard with Leopard, though it is not installed as a default. This was remedied by a quick introduction to Remote Disk and installing Xcode from the Leopard disks.
Install iPhone SDK: The iPhone SDK is available via a free download from the ADC site and is an easy install.
While that was installing, I took care of some remaining OS X preferences.
Remap Caps Lock to Control: In the Keyboard and Mouse System Preferences panel, change the Caps Lock Modifier Key to trigger Control, instead. I don’t use Caps Lock, but I do use Control quite a bit.
.Mac Syncing: I copied over a few key files from Hithlum’s home directory, and configured .Mac Syncing to take care of the rest of the data.
Backups: I spent more time than was ever necessary backing up Hithlum. I resolved that Vinyamar would be different, so I bought a Time Capsule and pointed Time Machine at it. Done.
Secret Preferences: Try as I might, there are still a few hidden preferences I seem to always tick off when getting on a new machine. I started off fully intending to switch from TinkerTool to Secrets to manage these preferences, with an assist from SmartSleep to handle the sleep and hibernation behavior, but then I got to thinking.
I’m supposed to be embracing constraints, right? Part of that is living with the defaults. Changing hidden preferences isn’t really doing that. Do I really need any of these behaviors set:
- Disable Dashboard
- Turn off .DS_Stores on the network
- Pin Dock to bottom right hand side (to keep the trash in the same location)
- Turn off glassy Dock
- Enable Twooshsound on 140 character Tweet
No, no, I guess I don’t. So I didn’t.
After the development environment was established, I (cautiously) installed several applications. I debated going entirely stock configuration here, but decided there are some things that are worth it.
Quicksilver: I seriously don’t think I can work without Quicksilver anymore. Buggy? Yes. But very, very useful.
Instant Messaging/VoIP: In addition to iChat, I installed Skype. Merrystar only recently started using IM, and only with Skype, so it makes the cut. (The requirement of “Must be able to communicate with spouse” is implied, and trumps just about every other one.)
Encrypted Email: Even if the rest of the internet seems to get by without it, I still need encryption, so MacGPG and GPGMail are essential add-ons, in addition to the X.509 Thwate Freemail certificates that should be in my Keychain.
Multiple Email Accounts: All of my email accounts have migrated over to IMAP, so I won’t have to move local mail files. Signature Profiler is very helpful at managing signature files between the accounts, however, so it will likely stay.
Password Management: In addition to the Keychain (which is already very useful), I’ve come to rely upon 1Password’s autofill mechanism. (Not to mention how it will have native iPhone password syncing…)
Writing: MarsEdit is my weblog editor of choice, and everyone should have a weblog. It makes the cut.
For writing local files,
emacsis already installed. If I need full screen editing I’ll use it and GLTerminal.
Graphics: I’ve come to like Pixelmator quite a bit in the short time I’ve used it. OS X lacks a decent default image manipulator, so I’ll keep this.
Screensaver: I use just one: GLMatrix from the xscreensaver package. You’ll pry it out of my cold, dead hands.
Interestingly, there are some great applications that didn’t make the initialcut:
Instant Messaging: In a complete about-face from my last ten years of using IM, I ditched Adium X (with its wonderful multi-protocol support) and went with iChat instead. I don’t need as many IM protocols as I used to and iChat’s iSight integration is very appealing. Between Adium and Trillian I’ve managed 10+ accounts over the years; I’m looking forward to cutting that to 3.
At the same time, I’ve been trying out iChat on Hithlum, and it’s going to be a big change from what I’m used to.
Twitter is both a great time suck and a great way to interact with Mac developers. Twitterific is the client of choice here, but I decided to skip it for now, and shifting everything over to iChat/GTalk instead. This will also allow me to mute specific chatty people I follow. (You know who you are.)
RSS Feed Reader: I am seriously conflicted here. NetNewsWire is fantastic and allows me to keep up with hundreds of feeds.
The problem is that I keep up with hundreds of feeds. I’m leaving it off for now, and will revisit it as the RSS withdrawal symptoms kick in.
Full Screen Focus: I use Think on Hithlum to focus my attention on specific apps. By blanking out the background, it is surprisingly effective at doing this. My hope is that if I’ve done the rest of my job well, I won’t need Think. But if I do, then I can always go get it.
Screencaps: I really, really like Snapz Pro X, but it’s a bit of a CPU hog on the Powerbook. I will leave it there for now and see how things go. (I suspect that Snapz Pro X will find its way on to Vinyamar soon enough; it’s too good.)
Performance Monitoring: I admit that I like knowing what’s going on under the hood. iStat provides great visibility there. I’m concerned about getting too distracted by monitoring the hardware instead of working.
Office Software: For now, I’m leaving iWork and NeoOffice off. I’ll reconsider this decision when the time comes.
If you are interested to see how Vinyamar performs, I invite you to follow along in her weblog, as future updates will be posted there. (There’s even a separate RSS feed.)
I basically worked myself into a funk today over tomorrow’s surgery, worrying over every single far-fetched worse case scenario, no matter how implausible. (And some of them were pretty implausible.) I turned a molehill into a mountain. So, my apologies if I was overly dramatic — I’ve had a hole in my ear for over 20 years, and it’s been a part of my identity for that long.
But it’s time to let go of that and move on.
I’d also like to thank numerous people who stopped and shared their own battles with hearing loss, tales of ear surgery gone right, and general well-wishes. I really appreciate you taking the time. I really do.
My surgery’s scheduled for just after 9AM tomorrow in Richmond. Merrystar will be with me, and I should be done around lunchtime. Twitter will, as usual, have the latest news.
And it will all be good, tomorrow.
(Well, good news from me, at least. No comment on the mortgage securities markets.)
21 March 2008
Before my eardrum replacement surgery, the doctor asked me if it would be okay if students observed.
“Of course,” I replied.
“What about pictures?”
“Totally!” I said, excited. “But only if I can get copies!”
So this is why, a few hours later, the doctor was handing my wife totally gross medical pictures of my ear. She’s all, “ew, what are these? He told you to take them? Why would any sane person want them?”
(The funny part is how our mothers reacted. Merrystar’s mom was also confused and grossed out; mine said “Cool!” I guess some things really are learned behavior.)
Anyhow, pictures. Gross, icky, surgical pictures. Of my ear.
I has ‘em. But I have a distribution problem.
See, I don’t want to subject my wife to looking at them again, and she’s one of the primary readers of this weblog. On a normal weblog, I’d hide them ‘below the fold,’ in the extended entry field so that it wouldn’t show on the main page.
Only, uh, I customized this back in the dark ages and used that field for something else. Oops.
So I thought, and thought, and thought, and then remembered that Flickr lets you have guest passes to private photo collections. That would work, right?
Yep. That would work.
So, if you’re feeling brave enough, I invite you to look inside my ear at the before and after pictures.
(But don’t say I didn’t warn you. Merrystar’s right: they are gross.)
23 March 2008
Well, my plans for maintaining Vinyamar as a secondary machine lasted all of about an hour.
In my defense, I’m basically an idiot.
I’ve discovered the magic of Screen Sharing, which allows me to easily control Hithlum and manage all the music and movies stored over there. It’s really cool.
However, there are two flaws which I need to discuss with AppleCare tomorrow:
- Overheating: When the cores are under any sort of moderate load, one of them will eventually shut down. This appears to be a defect with the heat sink.
- N-Wireless: I got the Time Capsule set up today broadcasting an N network (instead of as a client on a G.) Vinyamar detects it fine, but drops the network a little while later and then can’t see anything without turning wireless on and off. This, too, is a known bug in the Apple Support forums, and a potential return issue.
There are plenty of other Air owners who aren’t experiencing this problem. Before I get too caught up in configuring this model, though, let’s make sure that we have a good unit.
24 March 2008
I twittered today:
Post-op recovery sucks. Little things defeat you. Big things are inconceivable. And it’s amazing how many big things there are to do.
Today was my first day without painkillers in a week. The picture in this post was taken yesterday, when the pain was still really bad, but the drug fog was even worse. So I gritted my teeth and stopped taking the Vicodin. It wasn’t great — there were plenty of things that you still can’t do because they hurt too much, and sudden motion is definitely to be avoided — but it wasn’t terrible.
I came enough out of my fog to remember that I really hate having a beard, and shaved it off. I joke that I shave because Merrystar hates it, but really it’s me doing the hating. I feel better with it gone.
I’m not back yet. I still get really tired at the simplest things, and just don’t feel up to most anything. My ear sticks out and I can’t wear my glasses. I can’t drive, or fly, or lift up my son to rock him to sleep.
But I feel a little better today than yesterday. I’m recovering. It takes time.
28 March 2008
If you find yourself using a Macbook Air and wondering why it’s sometimes fast and sometimes slow, and almost always hot and spinning fans on high, check Activity Monitor. If one of your cores is black, you should call AppleCare.
After working with AppleCare all week, the overheating issue with Vinyamar’s CPU warrants a replacement or return. The core should not shut down, under any circumstances, especially not 10 minutes in to any video that I try to play.
So, back she goes. I’ll give the model another chance.
(Apparently, ‘limp mode’ is not actually a feature of the MBAir. Who knew?)