Archive for the ‘Rants & Rambles’ Category

IEEE Sez: Open Source == Terrorism!

No, that’s not a typo, and not (much) of an exaggeration*. For a limited time, you can read the full article here in IEEE Spectrum of all places (IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). But basically, it exists to draw none-too-subtle comparisons between Iraqi insurgence and the Open Source movement, drawing heavily from essays and interviews with John Robb.

“Need a missile-guidance system? Buy yourself a Sony PlayStation 2. Need more capability? Just upgrade to a PS3. Need satellite photos? Download them from Google Earth or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. Need to know the current thinking on IED attacks? Watch the latest videos created by insurgents and posted on any one of hundreds of Web sites or log on to chat rooms where you can exchange technical details with like-minded folks.

Robb calls this new type of conflict “open-source warfare,” because the manner in which insurgent groups are organizing themselves, sharing information, and adapting their strategies bears a strong resemblance to the open-source movement in software development. Insurgent groups, like open-source software hackers, tend to form loose and nonhierarchical networks to pursue a common vision, Robb says. United by that vision, they exchange information and work collaboratively on tasks of mutual interest.


To understand open-source warfare, it’s instructive to revisit Eric S. Raymond’s 1997 manifesto, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, in which he describes how a large community of open-source software hackers created the operating system Linux. […] Mimicking open-source developers, insurgent groups “hack at the source code of warfare,” Robb says.”

Wow. This reads like an article about Youth Culture in Reader’s Digest. (In addition to parroting that familiar old “kitchen science two-part explosives” canard.)

*Necessary qualifications: 1) “IEEE” here means IEEE’s Spectrum magazine, and contributing editor Robert N. Charette. The IEEE itself has not actually released an RFC or policy statement to this effect. 2) The article initially refers to the Bad Guys as “Iraqi insurgents”, later defining them equal to terrorists and using the terms interchangeably. (I’m a little rusty on my war, but I think you lose the ability to cleanly label your opponent “terrorists” once engaged in a formally-declared war with each other, even if they fight dirtier than you.)

Warning to Verizon cuss-tomers

In about 30 days, Verizon will begin selling your calling records to marketing companies, unless you call their opt-out number. (Yeah, this does sound like some kind of bad chain letter, except not.) This information (CPNI, or customer proprietary network information) includes the numbers you call, how long, how often, and how much it cost you.

In a letter supposedly being sent to Verizon customers (I didn’t receive one… at least, not yet – I had to read it on Slashdot), customers are told to dial 1-800-333-9956 and follow the prompts to opt-out. (I just did it; an automated voice welcomes you to the Verizon CPNI opt-out center, asks for your number, billing zip code and the last 4 digits of your SSN, then yet another confirmation to opt-out (apparently picking up the phone and dialing the OPT-OUT NUMBER still leaves your desire rather ambiguous).) Luckily* you don’t actually have to jaw with a live human.

The Skydeck blog digs deeper into the privacy notice, noting at the bottom of Page 8 dealing with sharing CPNI with ‘affiliates’ to deliver targeted advertising right on the phone as you use it. The mailing seems to suggest that the only way to “opt out” of this is to not use the phone. Verizon’s defense? That they’re not actually violating the law. “[Verizon] Spokesman Jeffrey Nelson insisted the new policy adheres to the FCC’s rules, but declined to address specifics.”

Call records (you know, those things people get in a tizzy about Uncle Sam having a look at) are not something one should have to take specific action to “opt out” of every Tom, Dick and Harry willing to pay a nickel having access to. If I wasn’t stuck in a 2-year contract, I’d consider opting-out of Verizon too.

* for me and for the human.

Just another day, you and me in paradise

So, today I did this massive circuit board layout for our big Shaft Seal test fixture controller. All right, I mean, I really meant to. Honest.

Oh, and got on about half the company’s shit lists within a few days. It’s not everyday you can piss off two entire departments by accident.

Anyway, last Friday one of our Mechies CC’ed the EEs on an email about product development, and why a certain (halfway-developed-sitting-on-the-shelf*) electronic product of ours isn’t on our web site as a product, with some well-intentioned suggestions on how to get it there (such as license it to our huge competitor, who already has a product line of these things). I replied to it with an explanation of what would be involved in getting it there and unwittingly set off this whole firestorm. As previously mentioned, “List it on your own website and wait for Google to find it” does not a marketing strategy make. Sure, this strategy (along with qDot pimping it heavily at conferences, and links in The Register and a print magazine) made sales of the Drmn’ Trance Vibe soar to over 6 a month at one point, but in a Real Company, 6 sales a month does not brisk business make. (My company’s energy harvesting product, using the same “marketing strategy” (minus qDot), has comparable sales volumes.) Anyway, this did not go over well – our Marketing Department (webmaster), miffed that his mighty HTML efforts had gone underappreciated, shot back with some product placement suggestions of his own.

Now today, Production (2 guys) announces that the high voltage amplifier they’ve been borrowing in ELAB for the last year or so has been relocated to Production for the time being. Knowing why this is the case (they broke theirs a year ago and have been using ours rather than pay the upkeep on their own equipment), I wrote back a reply privately asking why they haven’t replaced their own yet, noting it isn’t really fair to push their operating costs off onto other departments. Crap, ‘nother firestorm.

Not two hours later, one of the production guys catches me at lunch with Yet Another Router Emergency. I had to ask him if he was serious at least twice, thinking ProdGuy2 copied him in on the shitstorm and he was dicking me around as payback, but I come downstairs to humor him and sure enough, the router is juddering around like a freshly-swatted hornet in response to any attempt to command it to home position. The problem only manifests right when it gets to the optical home switch (after which it fine-tunes its position using an index wheel), so it looks like an open-and-shut case of hosing some dust off the index wheel and going back upstairs to get some real work done.


Okay, how about changing out the indexer for a spare. Get into the storage room, and find that someone threw away one of the spare CNC routers, along with its accompanying sound-proofing dust hood. Not eBayed, not Craigslisted, not taken it home… put it out next to the dumpster without asking anyone, because it was taking space. What. The. Fuck. (Granted, this machine was non-functional due to previous part pilferings, but these machines go for about $50K new, and with some creativity, suitable replacement parts would have run less than a grand.) (Had I known, that shit would be safely in my basement, carving me some furniture right now.) Anyway, there was one indexer left and by the time 5:00 rolls around I’ve found the actual source of the problem, after changing out the indexer just made things worse (machine just sits there with the jitters). It was a worn-out control box connector; plugging it out and in to add wires for a ‘scope caused the machine to unfail, in true heisenbug fashion. Yeah, now I feel like an idiot, but a vaguely angry one at that.

* Hardware-wise, the device is developed, in the sense that there are working prototypes; we’re even using them in the lab and they blow the pants off of Futek’s boards and any of Omega’s anonymous little black shitboxes. The initial design was completed literally in two days during an oh-shit-emergency-we-need-this-yesterday installfest at a customer’s site. However, the other 90% needed to actually make a product of it — characterizing it over an entire range of temperatures, input voltages and other conditions, qualifying it, coming up with guaranteed specs, making a datasheet and user’s manual, idiotproofing, design-for-manufacture and setting up a production run, to say nothing of all the ass-kissing / gladhanding / marketing dollars needed to get it exposed — weren’t in the cards.

Done with people

This feeling has been steadily building, but really reached boilover this weekend or so. I kind of don’t want to see or hear any other humans, at least for a while. Nothing personal; just being around people, friends etc. – too many, too frequently and for too long – causes them in general to become unbelievably irritating and I just want to get as far away as possible. Kr* figured out the term I couldn’t fish for… “me-time”. I take that to mean the theoretical possibility of allocating a suitably large block of time and just holing up in a well-locked room somewhere, curling up with a good book (and/or a good project), with no interruptions, no social obligations and nobody monopolizing my time. In many ways, it’s great not to be alone… but once in a while I long for the days when I didn’t have any remotely close (and/or local) friends and could actually get my own shit done.

To fully describe the feeling of the moment would keep me up far too late to be useful at work tomorrow, which I somewhat need to be, so I’m going to go to bed instead… I have serious blog-catching-up to do (someday in the not-too-distant future. Probably eating a bit of my valuable no-people-time).

PQI Sucks

UPDATE 2007/10/12: PQI have now replaced the card with a brand new one which appears to be in perfect working condition. In an apologetic note, PQI’s warranty department mention that Eddie (the guy who handled my original RMA) “is not longer working with PQI.” So, the issue ranted on below is most likely a fluke and not representative of the company as a whole.

The 2GB PQI ( branded SD card for my camera started going south and developed some bad sectors. Normally, I’d run chkdsk /r to seek out the bad sectors and mark them as such, but an SD card isn’t a hard drive: the computer talks to a (typically USB) card reader which talks to the device, and atttempting to read a bad sector causes different readers to fail in various unpredictable and reader-specific ways. Mine simply locks up and throws errors, refuses to perform any further reads or writes, which causes chkdsk to die with an “An unspecified error occurred” halfway through. Since the sectors can’t be marked bad, the camera will always try to write pictures to them*, which means I lose pictures (per Murphy’s Law, the very best ones). Not acceptable. So I go through the whole process of RMA’ing the defective card, since it claims to have a LIFETIME WARRANTY.

Anyway, I get a replacement card in the mail, sealed in a shiny new clamshell pack (that popular new kind of packaging that it takes three scissors and the Jaws of Life to open). Extricate it and…hmm, there’s already some wear on the contacts. Production testing? Sweet, they must have tested the shit out of this one, and it passed mustard. Hot stuff! Err…Ok, it’s more likely somebody’s old used refurb. So being ever curious, I decided to open it up in a sector editor and see if they’d at least wiped all the data off the card. It would really suck if they didn’t and my (hypothetical) nekkid pictures were being mailed to someone else after running the secret “remap spare hidden sectors over the bad ones” command not available to mere mortals and fixing it up. Sure enough, after a nice blank FAT indicating a formatted disk, I find a bunch of data beginning with a JPEG header.

Hmm… sure enough, the remnants of some poor sap’s pictures are on here. Wonder if they’re interesting… A few minutes with a file recovery tool later…

Hey, Bryce Canyon, I’ve been here! …Hey wait, these are MY pictures!

They repackaged and sent my same fucking defective card right back to me! ZAR (and chkdsk, etc.) also reveal that all the bad sectors are right where I left them…

PQI sucks.

"Hey, that guy with the beard looks familiar…"

*This of course assumes that the camera, or any other device the card is plugged into, contains a full FAT16 implementation, which for embedded devices is often not the case. Many cameras, mp3 players and similar gadgets will not reliably handle bad sector markings or even fragmented files, happily hosing any files it didn’t put there itself – or even ones it did, if you’ve deleted some other files nearby and left a hunk of free space just a wee bit smaller than the file it’s currently writing.


So, apparently my bank has noticed that I’ve just transferred a huge hunk of money over to my checking account. Not a week later, I get this.

Yeah, I think they know what’s happening. Looking up this “circle gold” business, among its main selling points are ‘preferred’ rates on loans, and various amenities concerning home equity credit lines (you know, those things that come along with mortgages sometimes). One thing this superduper account does NOT provide is escape from Citizens Bank’s minimum balance requirement. No matter what precious metal account you have, if you don’t have $20,000 or more in your bank account (which I soon won’t!), they charge a maintenance fee of $20.00/mo. That’s more than the cost of basic cable, and worse than simply keeping your money in a tube sock under your mattress. Meanwhile, ING Direct sounds too good to be true (4+% APY, compared to the one-point-forget-it I’m getting now, and no minimum balance requirement), but several friends swear by it.

Wicked Smaht idea of the day – re: sucky office suites


So I’m at the office writing up some BS in MS Word and I’ve just typed “(blah blah blah) as shown in Figure…”, because I’m about to refer to a figure. Now to make a crossreference. I select crossreference, the window pops up and defaults to “Table”. WTF? With a modern computer’s gigahertz of processing at its disposal, is it really so hard to recognize that the last six letters I typed were F-I-G-U-R-E, and do something remotely smart with this information?

Beyond that, I should be able to define, and store in my template, a list of standard crossreference-able items (Figure, Table, Section, Task, Claim, etc.). Then, every time I type something in a paragraph that matches one of these patterns ( e.g. “Figure 1”), it should turn gray and (if it exists) automatically become a cross-reference to that item. Alternatively, I should be able to right-click on the “Figure 1” I just typed and select ‘AutoCrossreference’. Or simply type Figure, right-click on it and have a popup box of Figures (and of course, NOT Tables, Claims, etc.) appear.

Notes on Windows 2000 Server Edition…

Windows should not be used for servers. End of discussion.
OSes which have a Registry should not be used for servers.
OSes which can only be configured through a GUI should not be used for servers.

Three guesses why I didn’t get jack done today, why the entire office has no website or email, and what I’ll likely be doing tomorrow.

Cars with Stupid Smarts

Note to self: Never buy a modern car unless you can disable all the “smarts” in a sneaky enough way as to not void the warranty. I’m sure the engineers who build in said “smarts” have the best of intentions, but it doesn’t do much good for confidence when a large, dangerous piece of machinery under your control is continually second-guessing you. My rental in MD had several of these traits, which did a great job of making me glad my own car (’96 vintage) is smart enough to play dumb.

Here are some specific stupid smarts I never want to see in a vehicle:

  • Window-Knows-Best
  • Ok, you’re the driver, master of this metal beast, doing 85 down 95 and you want to open your window a crack – just a crack – to get some air, without turning your drive into an impromptu wind tunnel test. So you ever so briefly tap the window-down button and ZZZZZT! It gets a mind of its own, zips all the way to the bottom and blows all your important papers out the window. Not an electrical fault; they’re actually designing ’em that way now. Seriously, wtf?

  • Car alarm with an attachment disorder
  • The purpose of a car alarm is to keep thieves–as in real ones–out of your vehicle. The alarm should not go off when you validly unlock the vehicle first, using its own key, then open the door. If keys are no longer considered a strong enough form of authentication, they shouldn’t unlock the door in the first place, let alone start the vehicle. The rental did exactly this, including right at the entrance to a secure facility, which I was sure would bring beefy coppers running. I figured out eventually that if I only ever locked or unlocked it with the keyless entry fob, it wouldn’t alarm when opened. (Since in my 8+ years of driving, I’ve only ever owned cars that you unlock with a key, that’s kind of the habit I’m in.)

    Now, I’m sure there’s some “system” to these newer, nondeterministic styles of car alarms, but I certainly don’t have the time or give-a-shit to psychoanalyze each manufacturer’s alarm engineer and work out just what the hell he was thinking. I think some have operation that’s dependent on which method you used to lock the door most recently (power lock button, manual lock button, key, or keyfob lock button), forcing you to remember which you used each time and use the exact same procedure to unlock when you return. Some, like my old man’s ‘Vette, punish you for using the keyfob button to lock (alarm sets if the fob is used, not if the switch is used), and some the exact other way around. I think some just alarm randomly because they like the attention.

    (For this particular car, opening the door – alarm or not – also caused the hazard blinkers to sometimes, but not always, turn on and blink until the key was inserted. I still have no idea what the triggering factor(s) for that were.)

  • Auto-locking doors
  • Which brings me to another one in the same vein, doors that lock themselves, whether anyone is inside or not. Even if the car knows the keys are not on the driver but in fact in the ignition with the engine running. My uncle had this happen on one memorable occasion with a Buick Skylark. We were meeting up for a nice family-reunion dinner at this lodge, so he pulls up right in front and gets out to help my grandma inside, leaving the engine idling because he’ll only be a minute. The moment all doors were shut, however, the car locked itself. There he is with a running car stranded in the fire lane. At that moment the vehicle was destined for a date with wirecutters to fix this design flaw, but not without a date with the locksmith first.

    (As an aside, compounding this idiotic misfeature is the trend toward manual lock buttons that slide all the way down into the door when locked–probably to make it harder to jigger open with a coathanger–but also making it difficult or impossible to exit the vehicle if the electrical system fails, the way it might during a fiery head-on or a close encounter with a body of water.)

    For my rental this week (and hopefully industry-wide), the schmarts folks have relented, at least somewhat: the doors only auto-locked once the vehicle exceeded about 15mph (albeit with the disappearing lock levers mentioned above). Perhaps some previous-gen autolock trapped keys and a baby in a car during a heatwave, resulting in a death while waiting for the locksmith and a subsequent lawsuit, ultimately sparing future motorists from this particular flavor of idiocy.

  • Semiautomatic shifters
  • This could take a bit of explaining. There once were two types of transmission: automatic and manual (stick). Now, for the BMW owners who will mostly use it for transporting groceries and kids to soccer practice, but still fancy themselves performance drivers (waiting to drop the hammer on that 17 year old in his mom’s minivan, boy did he have it coming), there are a few different variants of auto-manual hybrid. Some are a mostly-auto that can be “bumped” up and down for those times when one really needs to show the Audi next lane over who’s boss; at the other end of the spectrum are those that, most of the time, look and feel like a real stick shift. But if it doesn’t like the way you’re shifting, it will go ahead and do it for you. Many 6-speed manuals have some built-in nannyware to select the next gear for you, physically locking out the one you actually wanted. (Depending on speed, throttle position, engine temp and probably the phase of the moon, these will “skip-shift”, locking out 2nd and 3rd gear so you have to shift from 1st directly to 4th. Do a quick poke for skip-shift and the entire result set will consist of products, services and instructions on how to GET RID OF THIS STUPID FEATURE. That should tell you something.)

    (Note: Bureaucrats own most of the blame for this one, not auto manufacturers directly: per the Energy Tax Act of 1978, “performance” vehicles (lower city gas mileage than the average grocery-getter for equivalent weight) are often saddled with a Gas Guzzler tax, but adding a skip-shift feature lets them off the hook. Note this only applies to sportscars; light trucks (read: SUVs) are specifically excluded and can guzzle all they like penalty-free.)

  • “Smart” (timered) dome/headlights/radio
  • The #1 cause of a dead car battery is leaving the headlights or dome light on overnight. This is one of those mistakes most motorists make exactly once.

    The first place I saw timered “courtesy” lighting was my folks’ 93 Nissan minivan. Upon exiting the vehicle, rather than turn off once all the doors shut, the interior lights stay full-on for a preprogrammed 15 seconds, then perform a slow and dramatic fade-out as if for Act 1 at the Dashboard Orpheum. Or not, depending on the positions of two independent 3-way switches for the front and rear dome lights.

    By now (see previous examples), you’ve learned to distrust all these “smart” behaviors as cases of defective by design, behaving as they do, sometimes in one way, sometimes in another, with seemingly no rhyme or reason. So when you turn off the headlights but they don’t shut off, or you take the keys out but the radio stays on (shutting off only the moment all doors are closed again, like an acoustic analogue of the refrigerator light), or you close and lock it only to notice that the interior lights are still on, this does not exactly instill confidence (rather, visions of jumper cables might start dancing in your head). So the driver accustomed to stupid smarts feels obligated to watch and wait to make sure that all the lights and gizmos actually do turn off after the manufacturer’s various courtesy timers for each gizmo expire.

But for shit drivers… the SMART feature I want:
You know how for obnoxious jerks, AIM has a warn button? Cars should have a paintball button.

Protected: Darwin “Award” – dumb kid flips his bike, jury awards $41 mil

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Dear User, Something Bad Happened

I’ve figured out why the whole process of installing XP (sorry folks… the OS and its manufacturer are crap, but most of the good bread only works with their toasters) was such a nightmare. I gave a good hard think, and realized that of nearly a dozen error conditions that prevented this from occurring successfully, not one of them actually produced an error message. At least, not one that would give the slightest idea of what the hell the error actually was.

I’ll spare the story of the long, dark tea-time of the Windows XP install*, but this whole error message situation is eerily reminiscent of “I’m upset with you but won’t tell you why”. (Gender stereotypes are left as an exercise to the reader.)

I love this little popup bubble I’m getting now that the OS is, indeed, installed: “ERROR: A duplicate name already exists on the network.” This is one of those notifications that appears in a cartoon bubble at the bottom-right of the screen with a little “pop!” sound. So um… what kind of name* are we referring to here? DNS name? Computer name? Workgroup name? Computer name inside of a workgroup? Which workgroup then? I haven’t set any names OR workgroups yet, so it must be some braindead default. What that braindead default is, however, is apparently classified information.

Clicking on the error bubble, or any attempt whatsoever to interact with it, like right-clicking, hovering over or attempted dragging, causes it to –pop!– disappear without a trace. Not provide any information whatsoever on which network, which kind of “name” it’s referring to, where else it exists, or how serious this problem is. (I figure “not very”, because everything seems to be working and the screen hasn’t turned blue.)

PS. Since writing this, the screen has started turning blue. A lot. One of several different BSOD codes each time, and multiple different drivers implicated by name (if any). One is the infamous DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL… heh, I like that. Rough translation: Driver not respecting the kernel’s authoritah. Nevermind the drivers I have for every piece of hardware in this machine are the latest available versions and all WHQL-signed, which, up until a couple days ago, I presumed to mean tested, digitally signed and certified by Microsoft to not have stupid bugs like this. Ok, at least I’m not getting this “duplicate name” popup anymore. (Maybe the other machine decided to change its name to The Machine Formerly Known By a Duplicated Name.)

* what’s “slipstreaming”? Hacking your own driver packs (etc.) into a custom burned Windows install CD because it doesn’t support RAID out of the torrentbox. Or your CD-ROM drive, mind you, that it is currently installing Windows from, because at that small portion of the install process it decides there’s not actually a CD-ROM drive there. Or your floppy drive containing the drivers it wouldn’t load from your motherboard drivers CD, a floppy drive which it reads just fine to get the names of all the drivers and ask you if you’d like to use them, then loads them, then is unable to find them on this very same floppy disk 6 minutes later to copy them to your Windows installation in progress (nevermind that these drivers are already resident in memory, probably NOT self-modifying/polymorphic/WOM), OR the other two (2) backup floppies you made because you don’t trust dusty old floppy disks.

** and don’t even suggest the possibility that “name” is meant as a user-friendly euphemism for e.g. an IP or MAC address…

Yeah, any excuse to build a new machine…

Today’s entry, involving cool things that blink at VNV concerts, will not be seen at this time, because all the pictures are on the computer that just bit the dust.

Ok, the computer’s fine (or as well as it was for the last several years), but one of the drives took to making this loud sharp metallic WHIIIINNNNNE that means it’s time to start praying to the data recovery deities of my choosing*. The machine has two drives, and they’re too close together to determine by ear which is failing, so I decided to turn the machine off and leave it off** until I have a replacement ready.

Anyway, this is the kick in the pants I’ve been needing to justify the purchase of an obscenely fast new machine to myself, and fix all of the issues in the backup rant. Hey, if I’m going to buy a new drive, it might as well be SATA because the old IDE are fast going obsolete, and motherboards are stopping supporting them. So if I have a SATA drive, I need a new motherboard. And if I have a new motherboard, it needs this sexy dual-core Athlon X2….

* Long diversion to talk about backups here:
As a (long ago, far away) IT-person, I know the importance of keeping backups religiously. So to prove how religious I was, I bought a shiny new DVD+-(*&^%etc.)RW (and RMA’d it after it didn’t work) (and RMA’d the replacement too) (and returned it and got another brand at Bestbuy) to back up all my data on a regular basis. By now you’re noticing that didn’t work so well. After three non-working drives (all burned coasters), I can only guess some weird issue between my motherboard / BIOS / hacks to BIOS to fix unexplained missing IDE channels and broken ATA100 support (long rant here, scroll down) and DVD writers was to blame***. So I said ‘yeah, I mean to fix that…’ and took to periodically copying the important stuff of drive 1 to drive 2 and vice versa, up until the point where both run out of space (yeah, I’ve been meaning to fix that…). This backup is a series of big WinRAR archives, not just for the compression, but mainly because every Windows version to date has been fscking BRAINDEAD in any kind of file copying****, while WinRAR, upon finding one file it can’t copy out of 1000, will actually copy the other perfectly copyable 999. But now, WinRAR has been having this issue where it will no longer backup a specific set of data (being most of a drive) to the other drive. Maybe it does something stupid like create a temp file on the C drive, which only has a few hundred megs free, then barf quietly with a Windows ‘ding’ and NO error message even though the destination drive has 50GB free. (Yeah, I’ve been meaning to look into that…) So yeah, at this moment I have a bunch of data on at least one of the drives that has no reliable or recent backup. But it’s not my fault, I tellya. I’m an ECE, I can design these things at the gate level, I’m a former IT-person, I know what IRQ, DMA and PCI stand for, I’m A+ certified, dammit, I know my shit. It was THEM. Them being everybody who isn’t me. Not my fault, I tellya. I was defeated by cumulative creeping idiocy on the part of others. Not my fault. Not my fau…

** Technically, turning off a drive with a mechanical/bearing issue–especially one not used to being turned off–is a no-no…the drive may not spin back up again, at least without a night in the freezer or some “percussive maintenance” (smacking it around) to unstick the spindle, also big no-nos. But leaving it to grind itself up for a few days waiting on a replacement is a big no-no too.

*** It could be some underperformance or latency somewhere in the chain was causing buffer underruns (even though the computer exceeded all ‘minimum’ specs by the drive manufacturer), which, because DVD burners seem to all have some “underrun safe” technology (all of which work in some necessarily unreliable way, like cutting power to the laser and trying to sync back to ‘within a few frames’ of where it left off when restarting, or worse methods like simply writing zeroes there but not stopping the burn), mask any underrun errors that may have occurred. Again, ‘coaster-proof’ anti-underrun features work by relying on the statistics deities to smile upon you for one or two small errors on the disk, and with hundreds or thousands of such errors scattered across the surface, their generosity is pretty well exhausted.

**** If you try to e.g. grab your entire C drive’s contents and copy them to a backup folder, you are sooner or later guaranteed to run into a file that can’t be copied because it’s “in use” (often by another program simply READING it, because a programmer didn’t specifically tell Windows the program is reading a file in read-only mode). So, it just skips that file and continues copying all the rest of them, right? BZZZT! Wrong. It throws up an error message, making you click OK, and then completely aborts the copy. Good luck dragging a huge folder somewhere and letting it copy overnight while you’re sleeping instead of babysitting it. But you can at least remember that filename, and just re-select all the ones after it and try to copy it again, secure in the knowledge that at least all the files before that one have copied, right? BZZZT! Wrong. The order in which the files are copied is completely arbitrary (in fact, a longstanding Windows bug often causes the LAST file selected to be copied first, followed by the first file selected, and then who knows…), so there’s no guarantee that if it dies on a file starting with ‘G’, all the files starting with A-F have been copied.

How does a pimp count?

From the archives, when I was (more of) an OCD freak and taped every morning radio show to maintain my exhaustive song parody collection:

“How does a pimp count? Ho, ho, ho! Which reminds me – merry Christmas, from Mancow’s moooorning madhouse! On Rock 103.5, Chicago.”

I read an opinion piece in the WSJ today (yeah yeah I know… gotta stop doing that) with somebody with an unfortunate name* (on further research, a well-respected Rutgers professor) voicing their views about a recent media controversy after radio hack Don Imus** referred to the Rutgers womens’ basketball team as “nappy-headed hoes”, getting himself essentially perma-banned from the air (massive public outcry, a metric asston of advertisers bailing, then permanent cancellation of the Imus in the Morning show). It took specific offense to the “hoes” part, going on about how this meant “whores” (which was terrible-whorrible-no-good-very-bad), but that the pronunciation made it specifically racist, and segued from there into a lengthy psychoanalysis of (template <class T> ambient_generic maleRapArtist();) and his sad insecurity and lack of a father figure causing his preoccupation with Bitches ‘n Hos.

Waitaminnute… hoes?

I remember hearing about some race-related accusational controversy regarding the children’s book Nappy Hair a while back (guessing wildly: the author is probably not racist). But waitaminnit.


If that’s the deal, I’m not sure what the fuss is about. Hell, I use that term casually.

I’ve heard plenty of tasteless shit on the radio in my day, and while this certainly qualifies, equally foul shit (or arguably fouler) from other shock jocks has never generated this much of a reaction (unless there’s a nipple involved). For example, check out how KSFO in San Francisco feels about racist talk, hate speech and death threats. Mind you, this is a Disney-owned station (via ABC). In this case, when someone organized a boycott and encouraged advertisers to pull out, ABC/Disney’s response was to hit the organizer with a cease-and-desist, not censure the on-air personalities***.

I wonder if some of the folks involved in outcries like these**** have ever experienced true racist hate speech — like (NSFW!)this shit, pressed and sold in record stores as recently as the 1960s.

PS. The jury’s still out on whether the plural of Ho is Hos, Ho’s or Hoes. The Associated Press has standardized on “hos” as the preferred spelling; running a Googlefight also confirms it. I don’t like it, because the word’s pronunciation and spelling are then unnecessarily inconsistent. I guess with my preferred spelling, “The garden shed is full of hoes” is ambiguous. Then again, as soon as you go on the radio with it, all hell breaks loose either way (even if you’re not Don Imus) because the pronunciation is still ambiguous. For example, “garden hose” could refer either to something you wash your car with, or a job opening for a security guard at a brothel.

* “Lionel Tiger” (and bears, oh my).

** I didn’t care for the show. Although at 7:31am, my basic objection went along the lines of: *wake up* Agh, fuckin’ politics. Agh, fuckin’ country music….

*** perhaps the key difference is that they were saying “Allah is a whore” on-air, not “ho”.

**** a friend on LJ recently linked me to a thread on a Vegan recipes group, consisting essentially of 3 pages of racism allegations after someone mistakenly referred to Africa as a country. I replied with an amusing tale about my buddy GJM’s experiences at the DMV as a pasty white ‘African-American’, and mistakenly referred to Namibia as a city of South Africa :(

Medford street sweeping today

This is a datestamp entry.


(Where all the Tufts students live, the day after a major holiday people typically spend back home with their families. Methinks somebody’s cousin in Mefud needed money to repaint his boat or something.)

In the unlikely event that I live in Medford long enough, I’m going to generate a plot of these days as some sort of a probability function (with error bars, as appropriate).

Ok, last rant on these for a while, I swear :P

“This is Habib with Industrial Machinery Magazine(…)”
“No thanks.”
“It’s an entirely free subscription, which I’ll send out just as soon–”
“We’re not interested, we get too many magazines.”
“OK, can I just confirm your information–”
“Not interested.”
“It’ll only take a minute–”
“Not interested.”
“When should I call back?”
“Er… call back? If you call back tomorrow, we still won’t be interested.”
“OK, I will do that then. Thank you and have a ni–”

(joke’s on him – tomorrow was a holiday…)
Does every other industry get these same knuckleheads? Or is electronics a special haven of junky free publications (in exchange for sellable personal info)?

Odds & ends

fr33 mp3z d00dz

Here’s a kickass site I found: Jamendo. Download and share mp3s, free & legal, without worrying about keeping the RIAA out of your cornhole. All albums released under a Creative Commons license. (And they’re actually pretty good!)

Sync on Green, or something to that effect

I’ve long been bothered by an unparseable street sign endemic to New England: “Bicycle Stop On Line for GREEN”

Err.. does that mean stop while(green) (a la “I brake for teddy bears”), to avoid being clobbered by people making right turns? Or does that mean stop UNTIL green (while(!green)), the way the secret red/green traffic signal color code works in most other places? A mixture of boredom and curiosity had me research this today.

Short answer: NEITHER.

According to this, this strange sign was originally supposed to say/mean “Bicycles stop on (indicated spot) to request green”, since bicycles don’t have enough metal in them to trigger the inductive car-detector loops embedded in the road in most places (same reason you can’t walk up on a drive-thru and get service). The plan was to place a mark* to indicate the edge of the loop, where it’s most sensitive. The actual sign text, and the lack of any actual mark (or correctly placed mark) on most streets is, as you guessed, the result of Mass. Highway Department bungling.

the smell of vinyl in the morning

My office building was recently recarpeted. As part of the lease, everyone in possession of a wheely chair now has to have one of these silly plastic chair mats under their desk. They’re brand-new, and whatever plastic they’re made out of is the same kind they use to make inner tubes and other swimming pool toys. Now everytime I come into my office it reminds me of inflatable alligators.

(Between that and the fumes from the new carpet and carpet glue, I’m really enjoying coming in…just not getting much done…)

Have ye tried… the power button?

Speaking of the office, it’s great that we have an electronic engineering department. During the recarpeting, our Pure Water Technologies water cooler, which btw is a piece of crap and in for repairs it seems on a weekly basis, had to be unhooked and temporarily moved. When it was hooked back up by AC, MvS sent out an email saying the cooler was hooked back up, but the “hot” tap wouldn’t be hot for a little while yet. A couple minutes later (presumably not seeing this message), AC sends out an email saying the cooler is back, but to wait a little while for hot water. Pretty much word-for-word identical. This email pair was amusing (again, in the you-had-to-be-there way), resulting in a cascade of humorous replies which won’t be repeated here. Anyway, this morning the hot tap still wasn’t hot, so more emails. AC scratching head, and there’s talk of sending the unit back (again) for repair. This is when the EE swoops in to save the day, finding the big red “Hot Tank” switch on the back and flipping it from the OFF position to the ON position. Eh…

Tests Tim Can’t Pass (check all that apply): [x] Math [x] Blood [x] Field Sobriety [x] Turing [x] Voght-Kampff

So I was surfing teh intarweb yesterday, on a Japanese site via Google Translator (I was, er, mostly interested in the pictures). All of the sudden, instead of unintelligible translations I’m getting this error page. Google thinks I’m spyware! (Now granted, the typical male specimen looking at the internet’s primary content-type* may approach the task at “hand” with machine-like precision, but seriously. Run a virus scanner?)

This part amused me: “We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope we’ll see you again on Google.” Actually, if you’re Google, and think I’m a zombie botnet machine, you’re (aside from undertaking technical measures to ensure same) hoping you’ll NOT see me again :-) This line is as authentic as “I don’t mean to be a dick….”

*There aren’t, and never were, any lines. There’s supposed to be a white bike symbol, but many contractors claimed that they were unable to paint a symbol that small. Pardon? They should talk to the local graffiti artisans in my area, who can scrawl on jagged cinderblock with a resolution of < 1/8". ** Content-Type: Image/jpeg Content-Disposition: Smokin'

SpaceAliens and ponies

Not a rant on politics (and indeed, I’m not stating a position), but a rant on language.

At one point when I was a young ‘un, there was this high-sugar kids’ cereal commercial (I think it was for Cap’n Crunch) where one of the characters was rattling off a long list of those who couldn’t have any*. All I remember of it was “…and space aliens, and ponies, …”. I asked my dad why they explicitly said space aliens, because weren’t all aliens from space? He explained that they were probably trying to avoid offensive connotations, because “alien” could also be taken to mean illegal alien, a term I had never heard before (and which required some explaining).

Over the years, this fell out of favor for (along the lines of the well-known George Carlin euphemisms rant) illegal immigrants, then migrant workers. I had to laugh a bit (in a totally non-funny way, the way one laughs in a graveyard) in GJM’s car yesterday when he was listening to a debate on NPR and they kept referring to guest workers. GUEST WORKERS.

*Common theme in kids’ cereal commercials, silly rabbit: the assertion that the product is enjoyed exclusively by an elite class. Hardly surprising from an industry that derives much of its methodology used to this day from experiments performed in token-economy systems in mental hospitals.

Category: Things heard while coming out of sleep (hey FCC, do your job!)

For suitably large values of emo singer, “inside of me” and “in sodomy” sound exactly alike.

Wicked Smaht(tm) idea of the week

My dishwasher is running. There are knives in it. With wooden handles.

Back home, this would have been a good way to get howled at. Or possibly get one’s hide tanned. Apparently dishwashers are bad for wooden silverware. Now, being an old-fartass adult, I have a better solution to this quandary. Put the wood-handled knives, which I think belonged to a former housemate, in the dishwasher anyway. Use them in this manner to failure (possibly years from now), then get smart and replace them with knives that can be dishwashed.

* * *

One of these days, whether it sounds like an appealing idea at this stage in my life or not, I will probably end up married. (Considering that the typical alternative is dying alone, yeah, getting hitched is sooner or later going to sound like a pretty good idea.) And once this happens to a guy, he’s begun inexorably down that slippery slope toward Kidsville. (The coefficient of friction on that slope varies for each relationship, but is typically less than infinity.) Upon entering the town of Marriageville (population: 2, in ideal cases) on a full head of steam, the first thing to do is settle into a house, fleshing it out with good furniture, power tools, big speakers eh-hem, floral patterns, and all this other weird stuff. One of these pieces of furniture will contain Fine China. Let’s ignore that one for now; if one of those appears in my house, it will be equipped with high voltage, caltrops and laser death rays just to avoid the howling when a piece in an undersecured china cabinet invariably gets broken. Which brings us to the Lesser Dinnerware, the kind mortals actually eat off of. My first post-marriage task (after carrying her over the threshold, letting go of her hair, and putting down the club) will be to source replaceable dinnerware. Because, upon crossing the city line into Kidsville, they hand you some free kids, which like to run around and, in the course of said running around, break shit. Advanced statistical models tell us that dishes are going to get accidentally smashed, dropped, fumbled, and/or pulverized by errant baseballs multiple times throughout the MTBF of a typical marriage-with-kids. Although a common parenting mistake (so says I as not-a-parent), there is no sense in getting universe-crashingly upset about this; it’s going to happen. Therefore, Limited Edition, Matched (unsigned int)n-piece Sets are a sucker’s game.

In tech products, be they electronic, mechanical (engine components), whatever, a discontinued part in an end product means a costly oh-shit-whaddwe-do-now redesign–those companies know this, and try hard to have a reputation of having their parts available for years, with a well-established and published lifecycle (Advance/Preliminary, Active production, Mature, End-Of-Life, Discontinued) so that engineers, fearing those costly Discontinueds, will comfortably use their parts. The same is not true for dishes. The final dinnerware specification will weigh such factors as aesthetics, volume capacity, microwave and dishwasher compatibility against the ability to replace elements of the set, i.e. expected production status over the next 10-15 years. If any non-crappo dishware maker applied this component-sourcing strategy and could make the promise of long-term stable production of each item, they’d make a killing.

Asshole Mirror (drivers piss me off)

A road-doofus encountered on the way back from skiing reminded me of this old newsgroup post I made somewhere, so I dug it up:

I want an automatically-actuated “asshole mirror”. I keep one in the center console for those special occasions, but it just isn’t the same. It’s for that asshole, you know the one, in the SUV who sits two inches off your back bumper giving you a suntan with his brights. That’s when the asshole mirror comes out – hm, down a little…a little to the left…Bingo! He’s slowing way down.

…wait a minute dude, that wasn’t supposed to mean “pull into that ditch over there, roll over twice and burst into flames”. Damn.

QOTD: “I assume that’s not meant for us, right?” –Backseat passengers, noticing my “1-bit digital communication” to the motorist behind us.