Wednesday, December 17, 2003


I saw Return of the King twice today. This is amazingly dorky of me, I know. But it was fun. A lot of fun. I very much liked this movie.

The visual effects were really nothing short of amazing. The Battle of Pelennor Fields was... wow. just wow.

The Dead were very, very well done. Doesn't Orlando Bloom ever get tired of being in movies where he sails on a ship crewed by the damned? Oh, and Shelob is very cool.

The plot follows the books fairly well. They add a few things, none of which were terribly offensive. They left out the Scouring of the Shire. This annoys me, as the Scouring of the Shire expresses Tolkien's belief that isolationism isn't a viable policy for international relations. They modified the Pyre of Denathor a little, but I like the change they made. The palantiri aren't really mentioned much at all. The romance between Faramir and Eowyn was glossed over. Oh, but other than that :-)

Did I mention wow?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Elegant Universe

Earlier this year, I read Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, which I really enjoyed. I'm a sucker for pop-physics books, you see. Much to my delight, PBS made a series based on that book. I actually marked my calendar (ok, I wrote it in my PDA) for it. How dorky of me. But I missed it. Sadness.

Luckily, they've released it in Quick Time and Real-Video formats, so anybody with a broadband connection (or a slower one and a lot of patience) can watch the
PBS Elegant Universe miniseries. The miniseries doesn't go quite into the depth that the book did. Also, the miniseries brought up a few other issues. One that stuck out in my mind: if gravitons can leave the Brane, wouldn't that violate mass/energy conservation?

I probably just need to read more string theory.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Packaging: Victory

I finally got packages for libgpg-error, libtasn1, libgcrypt, and gnutls that compile and run happily on my fink box. I'm using the 10.2-gcc3.3 distribution. I've had a report from a friend that these info files do not work on a 10.2 box. I'm not sure if that has something to do with 10.2, or if it means that I forgot a dependency somewhere.

These packages work well enough for me to build and link gaim with them, and login to MSN without a segfault. That's my acid test of most of my fink packages. It's pretty disturbing, actually, just how much packaging I do just to get an extra feature or two

If anybody is interested, here are the links to the info and patch files:

Hopefully these packages will get the blessing of the fink Core Developers (note the reverence) soon.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Packaging Woes

I've been trying for the last few weeks to put together fink packages for libgcrypt and gnutls. There was probably something else I packaged as well, in my quest to get fink's gaim to work with MSN and Yahoo, but those are the two packages that give me

For some reason, libgcrypt build cleanly, but doesn't pass its own 'make check'. I've contacted the libgcrypt developers about this (via the libgcrypt-bug email address), but so far they haven't gotten back to me. It's very annoying. Without libgcrypt, there will
be no libgnutls.

I noticed that gaim supports the Mozilla NSS library. So I downloaded the tarball to see if building that was any less painful. The directions aren't even quite clear about what to
compile, much less where to compile it. I'm digging through the documentation in my free time to see what I'll need to build, but NSS seems to be much more annoying than libgcrypt/gnutls.

Oh well. The quest continues.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

MSN Messenger

So, as some of you have been lucky enough to discover, Microsoft changed the login method for Messenger on 15 October. In and of itself this is annoying, because they didn't actually document the new method. Never underestimate the power of geeks in large numbers. The new login method has been reverse-engineered, and most of the open IM clients are smart enough to use the new login method. (plug: I use gaim).

The annoying part about this, is that the new login method requires some TLS/SSL silliness. So to get it to work in gaim, the developers used gnutls. Now, on my Debian box, this is no problem. But on my OS X box, it's a bit annoying. No package exists for gnutls. gnutls requires libgcrypt, which also is not package. libgcrypt requires libtasn1 and libgpg-error. Hey, wow. they're not packaged either.

So lately I've been making a lot of fink .info files for these packages. Some of the libraries, libgcrypt in particular, aren't amenable to compilation under OS X. I think that this might have to do with the way that the compiler chain on OS X is an unholy marriage of BSD, GNU, and Apple's own tools.

On the bright side, this is good practice for me, and eventually (it'd better be soon, dammit), I'll have MSN working on my laptop again. Stuff like this makes me want to convert my friends over to a sane messenger, like jabber.

Sunday, October 05, 2003


Sometimes it requires a finely honed sense of irony in order to be able to keep up with current politics and not run screaming from the roof of the nearest tall building.

In his article Ask not what telemarketers can do to you of 31 Aug, Dave Barry published the toll-free number of the ATA, a large telemarketing association. This organization is one of several that is opposed to the National Do Not Call Registry. The registry is, to my mind, a neat and good idea. If you're on it, telemarketers cannot call you. If they call you anyway, they have to pay an 11,000$ fine.

The telemarketers claim that this registry is somehow a violation of their constitutional rights. I find this argument hard to swallow. Remove the telephone from the argument; now the telemarketers are asserting that salesmen have the right to walk into your home at any time they please.

In any case, the ironic part: after Mr. Barry published the ATA's number, their phone began ringing off the hook, at inconvenient times. It got so bad that they disconnected their phone number.

If this were all, it would merely be funny. But no, it doesn't end there. Apparently the ATA wrote a rather nasty article about Mr. Barry in a direct marketing journal. Highlights from that article can be found in Mr. Barry's column of 05 Oct, So what's their hang-up?

Take home message: telemarketers want to be able to call you whenever they feel like, but it's inconvenient for them and unpleasant when we return the favor.

Monday, September 22, 2003


I had the distinct pleasure of needing to prepare yet another presentation in powerpoint today. In addition to all of the entirely accurate points in Edward R. Tufte's book, "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint" ( a summary can be found on Aaron Swartz's Weblog), there are a number of other things that bother me about powerpoint.

Microsoft continues to ignore every sensible precept of interface design. Their 'personalized menus' particularly annoy me. How is one supposed to remember where things are in a menu when the bloody things keep re-arranging themselves in a futile attempt to be helpful?

I'll never be happy with the way Microsoft handles including other sources in a document. I want something like C's #include. I want to be able to change the source document and have Word or Powerpoint or whatever else actually notice the change. Sadly this ancient concept seems beyond the grasp of MS software engineers.

Why is there no sane way to enter a formula?! I don't want to have to draw the bloody thing in MS Equation (which is the saddest attempt at an equation editor I've ever encountered). I don't want to have to pretend it's a picture, I want to be able to put the entire thing, symbols and all, inline with my text. I want to be able to change its size with font size buttons. In short, I want what lyx does out of the box.

  Sadly, powerpoint is the standard. So I and everyone else must suffer with it. But that doesn't mean I won't complain.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


Ah, how I love that Microsoft sells such quality software. Around three weeks ago security researchers discovered a problem with the way Windows 2000 and Windows XP handle RPC (Remote Procedure Calls). Today the first virus to exploit this problem started to spread. You
can read about it at a number of places:

Information Week - Newly Discovered Worm Attacks Vulnerable Systems
BBC News - Worm Blasts Across the Web
The Register - Blaster Worm Spreading Rapidly
Security Focus - RPC DCOM Worm Hits the Net
Also useful is Black Viper's Blaster FAQ.

Cnet even has an analysis of the worm's structure: 'MSBlast' worm a piecemeal monster.

People are even starting to throw blame around: Worm Exploits Weak Link: PC Users (Of course they're going to blame the users, if they blamed the programmers, they might have to admit that programmers make mistakes).

Researchers found that the MSBlast.exe program contains the following text: billy gates why do you make this possible? Stop making money and fix your software!!.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Spam Filtering

Paul Graham, for those of you who don't know, was the gentleman who first proposed the Baysean spam filter in his article, A Plan for Spam.

He has recently written a new paper, Filters that Fight Back. He proposes in this paper that the next generation of spam filters should, on detecting a spam, follow the links in the body of that spam and download a few copies of the web pages that that they point to. If enough people were using filters that did this, it would have a number of positive effects. Firstly, spammers bandwidth usage would skyrocket, likely costing them lots of money. Secondly, this would probably be enough to crash (or at least slow down so much that they might as well have crashed) the spammer's website, denying people everywhere those extra three inches.

This is an interesting idea. The first thing I thought after reading it was: bandwidth. Depending on whose estimate you read, spam accounts for around 40-60% of all the email on the Internet. This is a huge chunk of bandwidth, and it's starting to choke the servers of some small to medium sized ISPs. Writing a fighting filter would only make this problem worse.

Yes, eventually this technique would probably make spam unprofitable. If spam did become unprofitable, spammers would start to go out of business and the bandwidth devoted to sending and fighting spam would tail off. From the ISP's point of view, relaying a web page from a
server to a customer is a much lower-overhead operation than relaying an email. So maybe my concern is unjustified. Mr. Graham does respond to this very issue in his FFB FAQ, but to me his response seems a bit flippant.

Bandwidth concerns or not, when such a filter becomes an option, I'll use it.

Friday, August 08, 2003


Apparently not very many people know what the BCC field is for on email. BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy. Anyone you list on the BCC field will get a copy of your email, but will not be listed as a recipient.

BCC is the only polite way to send mass email, short of a mailing list. I understand that when you're moving, it's simpler to dash off a quick email to everyone in your address book than it is to deal with us all one at a time. However any mail where the To: field is nearly as long as the body of the message is inherently rude.

So please, people, be polite to the people you correspond with. If you're going to send mail to more than one or two people, just bcc us all, and leave the To: field blank.

Thursday, August 07, 2003


If I were curious, I would google to see just how many people are posting anger in the direction of SCO right now. For those of you not geeky enough to be following this corner of the news (how did you get here?), SCO is suing IBM claiming that IBM shared SCO's intellectual property inappropriately.

As always, there are miles and miles of details I could go into about this. However, I'm lazy. The short version is that SCO doesn't seem to have a case. Some people have expressed the opinion that SCO only began litigations to inflate their stock price.

Well, the other shoe has dropped on SCO. IBM has filed a countersuit. If this was an attempt to boost
SCO's stock price, it would seem to be failing.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

SBC: Not so bad as I thought

Apparently most of the problem with SBC when I talked to them earlier didn't have much to do with their policy being strange. It had more to do with the rep I dealt with forgetting to mention a detail to me. The detail he failed to mention: if I pay for the one additional month of DSL service, regardless of if the DSL is connected, they won't charge me a termination fee.

This makes much more sense than what I was told before. I guess the moral of the story is that it's worth calling back when things just flat don't make sense.

Saturday, August 02, 2003


My five year high school reunion was tonight. I attended it, though I knew before I went that it would probably be bad. It lived up to all of my expectations and more. I got to see a lot of people, but most of them are the ones I kept in touch with anyway. With a few exceptions, most of the attendees were those who never got out of our little hometown.

The reunion was held at Marley's in the Dells. Now there's two bad ideas combined. Let's have a reunion at Marley's, and Let's have a reunion do it on a Saturday night.

About halfway through some friends and I decided that we were hungry and ducked out to get some food. That was probably the highlight of the evening. On the way to the restaurant, we decided that the planners probably decided on Marley's because there was going to be a
DJ there that we wouldn't have to pay anything for.

Oh well. It was a night out at least.

Friday, August 01, 2003

SBC Woes

I called today to schedule cancellation of my phone and DSL service for when I move on the 14 Aug. I thought I was being clever earlier in the year, when I purchased SBC DSL. You'll notice that there is a one-year contract required for that plan. Since I am on a one year lease, that seemed to be perfect. I found out today that they count that one year from the day they connect you.

There was some silliness about connecting my DSL last year. Apparently didn't think, based on their credit reporting company, that I would pay them. Because of this silliness, they didn't connect me until 19 September.

So, in short, they now want to charge me $200 in "termination fees ".

Thursday, July 31, 2003


Why must it be so annoying to do anything useful under windows? I spent more time than I care to consider just trying to get RCS and EMACS to play nice under Windows 2000. I'd blame the GNU software, but I've been able to get it to run flawlessly under Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, and HP-UX. With Win2k, the only way I could get anything useful to happen was to install the cygwin tools. Does it really count as installing under windows if you need to throw in a Linux emulation layer?

Wednesday, July 30, 2003


I saw the movie Memento tonight. Very good movie. Complicated. If you watch it, be prepared to watch it several times. did a very good review/analysis, which you can read if you're curious. (Update 12 Jan 2003: The review seems to have evaporated, and I haven't been able to find another link for it. So it goes.)

There are a few questions that still remain for me. In the scene in Natalie's living room, where Leonard flashes to a syringe of insulin, how much insulin is in that syringe? To my eye, it looks like a whole lot. Even after pausing and zooming, there aren't any numbers visible. This makes me wonder.

There are a number of scenes where Leonard's memory works when it probably shouldn't have. For example, when Natalie is trying to rip the picture of Dodd, Leonard tells her that she needs to burn it. How would he remember that tearing wouldn't work?

I think that Leonard's condition is real, but not because he can't make new memories. There are things that he doesn't want to remember. So he forgets. Some things slip through, though.

The story of Sammy Jankis would seem to be Leonard's story. But since he cannot "remember" it, as it happened after the incident, he projects it onto someone else.

Mrs. Jankis would get Sammy to hide food around the house, and then stop feeding him to see if hunger would cause him to remember where things were hidden. Maybe Sammy/Leonard's memory slipped (or in this case, didn't slip) about some of that spousal abuse. So I ask again, how much insulin was in the syringe that Leonard remembered?

Did Leonard kill his wife in the way that he relates it in the story about Sammy? Or was it more purposeful?

Monday, July 28, 2003

First Entry

It seems like everyone and their little sister has a weblog. Ok, my little sister doesn't but you get the idea. I'm starting to wonder if maybe it might be fun/entertaining for me to keep one. It's tempting to do so, just because I can. However there are some privacy issues with weblogs that I'm not sure I like. You can't exactly control who reads your weblog. It's tempting and comfy to start just expressing whatever opinions you might have as if this were a little personal journal. But it's not personal. It's very public. Well, I'll just do my best to control myself, and we shall see how this goes.

I saw Pirates of the Caribbean yesterday. It was a pretty good movie. I expected it to be silly, being that it is a Disney film. The sword fighting in it wasn't as good as I'd been led to think. But it was probably worth the 7.50, at least insofar as any movie is.