June 2000

1 Jun 2000[link to here]

The local supermarket sells live food. I now have a small basil plant in my room. I'm going to slaughter it tomorrow for lunch. I'll probably garnish it with some vegetables. I have a leek that needs fixing.

I hate how most computerized calendars have month boundaries. I can accept the limitation of paper calendars, but computer versions shouldn't just show the current month. They should show a week or two behind and a few weeks ahead, regardless of where the month boundaries are. It's crazy that there are times when tomorrow is not shown on my calendar, especially when instead there's just a blank square indicating that the day is part of next month and couldn't possibly be shown.

I was reminded of that pet peeve just now when I moved the past month's entropic droppings into the archives and wiped this page clean. I admit it, I'm lazy. I add entries to this page using tools chipped from stone. Sigh. I'm part of the precipitate.

I just realized that while many people show their age by making references to the pop culture of their time, I tend to show my weirdness by making references to unpop culture of my time. Home is where people understand what you say. It's also why meeting new people can seem like such a chore compared to chatting with old friends. Loneliness is when no one gets your jokes. Though, come to think of it, I have that problem everwhere.

2 Jun 2000[link to here]

Tito Puente died last night. I think I'll focus my experiments on his music today.

I'm very happy with my Linksys EtherFast 10/100 PCMCIA ethernet card. I connect and disconnect the dongle two or three times a day, and it shows no signs of wear. I had a 3Com card once that had a plastic clip. It broke quickly and was forever unplugging itself. I felt like playing with the macro mode on my camera, so I took a picture of this stalwart connector. Only then did I notice how wrong the instructions are. (To release the clip, I squeeze the little handles on the sides in the directions the arrows indicate.)

Velcro orchard, aerial view.

3 Jun 2000[link to here]

Last night I stayed up late. I noticed at 3:45 that it was starting to get light out. By 4:30 it was like an overcast afternoon. This is so weird. I've been much farther north on a vacation and experienced 11pm dusk, but that was vacation. Things are supposed to be weird when you travel; it's different to have weird things happen at home. It'd make staying up all night pretty easy; the hardest part for me has always been from about 4:30 until it was light out.

4 Jun 2000[link to here]

I saw Maybe Baby last night. It was very funny. It looks like it's only being released in the UK, Singapore, and the Netherlands. I guess it's too funny for the US.

5 Jun 2000[link to here]

Got knees? My mom wins the surfing prize today for finding the perfect description of my recent knee problems, including a simple therapy. We're all constructed approximately the same, and I've heard from numerous sources that my knee troubles are common, but it's still unnerving to read a stranger's detailed account of a recent part of my life. The good news for everyone else is that strengthening the vastus medialis is quick and easy, and would prevent many knee problems from occurring in the first place. (Woe to the ignorant knee!)

That web site is in Moldovia's namespace, presumably because "MD" is a hip top-level domain for a medical site. It's so unfair that sovereign nations get TLDs and I don't. My face could be on every milk carton, and the UN still wouldn't recognize me.

6 Jun 2000[link to here]

It just occurred to me that although I don't use Blogger to maintain these pages, I could make them think I do by automatically sending each entry there too. Then I'd appear on their blog list, my text would be searchable on their system, and I'd generally seem to be a part of their community, all without having to broadcast my password across open networks or give up my authoring tools.

But on closer inspection, it doesn't seem to be worth it. Blogger's about page sports white text on a white background. Brilliant. Same for their signup page and user agreement (the URL for which I had to find by digging in HTML source, since I don't use Javascript). I made it through account creation, but more than that would drain my will to live below critical levels. It's lame that they can't make simple things work without resorting to Javascript.

7 Jun 2000[link to here]

According to an article in the NY Times, ICANN is trying to get national TLD operators to pay some of its expenses, though they never agreed to. I still want one though.

I've had too much wine and I'm musing about how unix file descriptors are underused. (Moral: Don't let Seth drink too much.) Just so no one is left out, I'll explain what they are. File descriptors are like channel numbers. When a program wants to read or write a file, it assigns a number to the file, and all the read and write commands use that number to refer to the open file. For extra fun, there are three special ones: channel 0 ("stdin") is read from the console (the keyboard), channel 1 ("stdout") goes out to the console (the screen or text window), and channel 2 ("stderr") also goes to the console, but is meant to contain only error and diagnostic messages.

One of the great things that makes unix worth using is that you can plug programs into each other pretty easily. So instead of one program printing its output to the screen and the next program reading from the keyboard, you just plug them together so that the first one feeds its output into the second one. These are called pipes. Decent command shells will let you arbitrarily plug anything into stdin and send stdout and stderr independently wherever you want, to files, other windows, or into other programs. Chaining commands together to automate menial work is what makes unix users feel smug even though 99% of computer games don't run on unix.

I think it'd be neat if unix programs used more file descriptors. Instead of emitting data in a known format on one channel, it'd be simpler in some ways if programs emitted each data field in parallel using different descriptors. The same thing could be done with input too. There are two problems though: you can't save N parallel data streams to one file, you have to save them to N files. That would get messy, as would orchestrating the command lines. The other problem is that as long as everything gets stuffed into to one stream, the console can substitute for the whole thing. Output can be printed to a text window, and input can be read from a keyboard. That's pretty handy.

So maybe the descriptor superhighway wouldn't be so grand. But it would still be nice if, in all cases where you can currently specify a file to be read from or written to, you could instead specify a file descriptor and feed things in via another redirected stream. It's probably too late now though. Sigh.

Remember: friends don't let friends drink and write about file descriptors.

8 Jun 2000[link to here]

A new RoShamBo programming contest is happening soon. I wish I had time to write an entry; it sounds like great fun. Last year's cheater category also sounds like great fun, though was a completely different kind of contest.

gfurby lets you remote control a Furby from a computer with an IrDA port. I love browsing freshmeat.

9 Jun 2000[link to here]

Today was a rainy day. I walked somewhere in the rain, and I noticed that all the cars were driving on a rainy day too, and all those drivers had to drive in the rain. I hate driving in the rain, but walking isn't a big deal. Today was yet another day of being happier without a car.

Since I've been in Scotland, I've spent at least ten times as much on registering and insuring my car in California as I have on hiring local transportation. I kept my car because I'll need it when I get back, but I wish I wouldn't. I'm enjoying a carfree existence, but the SF Bay Area is too sprawled to support this kind of lifestyle. I guess that's why people tolerate living in New York.

On my way home tonight, a clip holding the shoulder strap on my bag broke, and my bag fell to the ground. My computer case cracked a bit, but everything seems to work and I was able to snap it back together again with the aid of some street cleaner bristles. (Maybe I should rename this machine to Humpty.) I carry thousands of dollars worth of fragile electronics in my bag every day, and it never occurred to me to check the integrity of the seven-year-old bag. The remaining clip is pretty worn, so I don't have to wonder what happened.

10 Jun 2000[link to here]

I've been enjoying Michael Morrissey's stories of alternative transportation. As much biking and walking as I did when I lived in Sunnyvale, I still used my car a few times a week. I'm planning to go out more than I used to, but I'm also hoping to cut my car use down to once or twice a week. I'm inspired mostly by how much I enjoy my life right now, but I'm also encouraged just by hearing from other people who structure their lives around not needing to drive. I draw strength from having a community, even though they don't know I exist. That reminds me of the first time I read about hacker writing style in The Jargon File, and discovered I wasn't alone.

If you do need to drive, you'll want a car with all the snazzy futuristic features listed in a recent NY Times article.

A related article extols quantum cryptography, claiming that it will bring impenetrable privacy to the masses. Unfortunately, that's hogwash. Decent encryption is already available. How many people use it? The only thing that brings security to the masses is ease of use. If it takes any effort at all, no one will use it. Besides, encryption is only a small part of security.

11 Jun 2000[link to here]

view from my room

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. These photos are actually from yesterday, but it's even nicer out today.

view from the kitchen

Yesterday, Lilly mentioned that the obscure profession of chicken catching is being automated. I first heard about chicken catching last term because local researchers have automated the process of figuring out when to catch the chickens.

12 Jun 2000[link to here]

People who liked Lilly's recent comments about Q-Zone also liked these NY Times articles about C-Guard and the impact of hands-free cell phones on dialog cues and etiquette. C-Guard is a less sophisticated but more reliable version of Q-Zone. Instead of politely asking cooperative cell phones to be quiet, it jams all signals, forcing compliance from all phones without requiring phones to have special features. The two drawbacks are that polite people can't even get notified that someone tried to call, and it's illegal in the US.

About a year ago, I was in a public library and some guy answered his cell phone and proceeded to have a conversation at full volume. It was clearly a business call, and I guess he thought it was important. He even reassured the person he was talking to that he was outside, and that it was ok to talk. I almost shouted "No, you're in a library and you're disturbing people." just to embarrass him. I wish I had, and I still fantasize about having done it and seeing his apoplectic impotent fury at having been exposed.

I recently read Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson. It's about the colonization of Mars, and it's very good. It focuses as much on the people as on the planet and the technology, and is a rare example of good writing applied to science fiction. I'm halfway through the next one in the series, Green Mars. All three (Red, Green, Blue) have been recommended to me many times, and soon I'll add my voice to the chorus of devotees. I mention them now, before having finished the trilogy, because life is mirroring art and I wanted to catch it in the act. A large study has been semi-released predicting some effects of global warming on Earth over the next ten years. The NY Times has an overview.

13 Jun 2000[link to here]

"This is why I got you to go to Sabishii."
"What? You told me I shouldn't go! You said it would ruin me!"
"That was how I got you to go."

Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson

14 Jun 2000[link to here]

Today I reduced the entropy of my project by adding code to measure the entropy of audio signals.

15 Jun 2000[link to here]

I recently decided to enjoy SF night life more often if/when I return to that area, but it may be gone by then. If you're in the area, consider joining the protests against the basic human rights violations the local cops are resorting to.

Today it got perfectly warm out. It might even have hit 75F. Tonight we picnicked in the park, and at 9pm we were still basking in the sun.

Nico, playing frisbee at 11:10pm

17 Jun 2000[link to here]

The local cinema includes genre labels on their film schedule. They get pretty specific. The comedies this week include "comedy", "romantic comedy", "teen comedy", and "British comedy". Also on the menu are "Roman epic", "Muppet adventure", "courtroom drama", "submarine drama", "disney animation", and "horror sequel". If only they added whether the films were any good, they could ditch the titles entirely.

According to USA Today, Dark Side of the Moon will be simulcast to a showing of The Wizard of Oz on TCM. This is an artifact of increasing connectivity. It no longer surprises me, but it reminds me of when it did.

I was surprised when the Vonnegut/Schmich sunscreen bit started spouting out of my radio every ten minutes. I was shocked when, way back in December 1994, CNN reported "Microsoft is denying rumors that it will aquire the Catholic Church", in response to a widely circulated joke article that claimed otherwise. (This was the first of the many "Microsoft to acquire ..." joke articles, as far as I know.)

18 Jun 2000[link to here]

It's been a month since the event, so I spent the day finishing up pictures from a friend's wedding.

19 Jun 2000[link to here]

rc3.org mentioned that some folks in Washington DC are trying to change the local license plate slogan to "taxation without representation", but he missed the obvious followup: if congress vetoes the change, residents will have to throw a shipload of politicians into the bay.

The NYT has a piece about how fewer kids are doing The Summer Job these days. Some people think it's good, since then the kids can do things they enjoy more, or that more obviously lead to a career. Other folks think that working a normal job with a slice of the real community is a better educational experience than any office work.

I had a summer job when I was 16, but writing software and reporting to MIT grads aren't the caste-leveling experiences I guess I was supposed to have at that age. While I don't envy my friends who've worked in retail, I do think that much of the best education is had outside of classrooms, and that it's important to meet and work with a diverse range of people at an early age.

My favorite bit of the article is the very last quote. It's so true, and so undervalued. There's too much snobbery in our culture.

"I've heard the money in construction is good, $10 an hour to start," she said. "I think it's important to know how to build things."

20 Jun 2000[link to here]

I went to a Salsa Celtica gig a couple nights ago. Imagine a salsa band with the usual percussion and brass sections and keyboard, then add a fiddle and bagpipes (usually Irish, though the fiddler and piper both played Scottish pipes for one song). They're not the tightest salsa band I've heard, but their new album is worth listening to, especially if you like Celtic trad.

21 Jun 2000[link to here]

Dinah advises, "If you visit a site and you like it, give them some money.". I disagree.

25 Jun 2000[link to here]

My department library has about a zillion books and I want to read approximately all of them. Sigh. It would take several months just to read everything relevant to my research, but I'm too busy producing redundant work. My work is more for my own benefit than for the research community, but I still feel a bit silly producing on old ground. All the more reason to GPL my code; the next person should at least have some code to build on in case they know what they're doing.

27 Jun 2000[link to here]

Lyn has a smiley survey, asking whether people use the ")" in ":-)" to close a surrounding parenthetical block. Alas, none of the available responses are a close match for me. I need an option that states:

I exist in a state of constant turmoil, my body and mind torn between the dogs of syntax and the wolves of aesthetics. My nights are long and sleepless as I thrash in my bed, wracked with indecision. My dilemma is thus solved; I never smile.

I do smile though, I just try not to do it parenthetically.

This reminds me of something that happened a few years ago. I wrote a ":-)" in email, and Emacs dutifully highlighted the matching open parenthesis, which was a ":-(" I'd written in an earlier paragraph. It seemed silly at first, but they do match in a karmic sort of way. I got to wondering what my overall smiley karma balance was, so for the next 14 months I ran all my incoming and outgoing personal email through a smiley counter. It turns out I was (at least for that year, as expressed through smileys) as happy as my friends, and that we were pretty happy overall.

Smiley count for 26 Sept 1995 - 5 Dec 1996

Sent848 (100%)882 (78%)85 ( 7%)152 (13%)
Received1929 (100%)2019 (75%)93 ( 7%)474 (17%)
TOTAL2777 (100%)2901 (76%)78 ( 7%)626 (16%)

Yes, I know I'm a geek.