blarg?

Intense frustration today. Unclear demands from patronizing
professors make Mike angry! Mike make angry code. Code segfault,
smash stack and take long walk off short array! Listen
to Rage Against
The Machine
while coding, random smatterings of href="http://www.ratm.com/new2/sound/lyrics.html#testify"
target="_top">/* Now Testify! */ and
/* Turn that shit up! */ throughout programs!

Nothing quite like dealing with a prof who, confronted with this query
from one of my classmates:

“Since the assignment did not specify either way,
I opened the input file in my code instead of passing it as an
argument at the command line. I assume this is OK as long as I
remain consistent throughout my code. In addition to this, I chose
to pass the variable byte size for variations 3 and 4 through the
command line instead of running a loop. This makes testing much
easier.”

responds with this:

“You should read the question first and then if you do
not understand it (which is obviously the case) ask before passing
unqualified and wrong judgment.”

Cute, eh?

Henry Louis Mencken said that “every normal man must be tempted
at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin
slitting throats”, and after after what turned into a pretty
miserable ultimate game Sunday afternoon and an evening and morning
of dealing with this guy’s crap immediately afterwards I’ve got
three cups of black coffee in my stomach and a black mood clouding
my vision. Thank God for
Geoff’s
copy of target="_top">The C Programming Language which is making my
life much, much easier. The soothing, easily-parsed references
contained therein are currently the difference between my finishing
this assignment and going on to lead a full and rewarding life and
the other option, which will involve tying a monitor cord around
the neck of the next idiot that crosses my path and throwing them
down a flight of stairs.

UPDATE: Code completed, deep, deep tedium begun. Going home. To
hell with the data entry for now. Marginally interesting things
have resulted, like information about tuning block I/O properly,
but really not enough to justify the abject busyworkness of this
ridiculous exercise. My head hurts, something that won’t typically
happen even if you hit it with a brick or pour enough alcohol over
it to kill a moose, a plan B I would be seriously considering
if other people weren’t relying on this week’s performance on a
number of fronts. I am hungry and bitter, and it’s time for me to
end my day.

Give a man a fish, the expression goes, you feed him for a day. Teach
a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. If, on the other
hand, you slap a man with a fish, just wind up and give
him a big trouty gill-to-gill smack, then you can sleep content;
this man will never forget you, and will learn to fish on his
own
, just so that someday he can whallop you with a tuna or run
you through with a Marlin or something. Do it, I say. You’ve got
to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder but hey,
you got to clout a guy with a halibut. Good on ya.

I’ve got try and calm down here, but this isn’t going to be a pretty
week or two. There’s a couple of people that are getting on my
nerves, and there’s no three-day waiting period for a mackerel. My
“Intro To OSes” prof has given us a dandy little assignment,
possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen, that involves writing
a sixteen megabyte file to /dev/null (the great void, for you
non-unixey folks) and then timing and graphing it. Whee. Four
different methods on five different operating systems. Double, nay,
quadruple-quintuple-for-a-total-of-twenty-whee. Those of
you who are saying “So he wants you to do nothing four different
ways in five different environments, and time it?” are correct –
we actually have a sixteen-megabyte file which we are going to read
and subsequently do nothing with, because these newfangled computers
being what they are, they can do nothing at a horrific rate.

Now, 16 megs isn’t a lot, but I’m not on broadband, and 16 megs
is much, much larger than a floppy. Not nearly as big as the
Zip drive I recently acquired, though. This is marginally sweet:
I don’t know why Zip disks still costs four or five bucks apiece,
when CD-RWs cost about 50 cents each, but enh, whatever, and it did
force me to go and deal with sysadmin at the Carleton’s SCS, which is
unpleasant at the best of times. It’s surprising that he’d decide to
work here when he’d obviously be much happier peeling bananas with
his feet or flinging dung at tourists, but I guess an MCSE doesn’t
really qualify you for that. So the Zip drives aren’t working,
and unless they have broadband or a Superdisk, my classmates are
pretty much hosed for working at home, until the nebulous “later”
that he gets around to fixing it. At least this time he didn’t say
“You’re in computers, fix it yourself”.

This is not all bad. The code itself takes about twenty minutes
to write, it turns out, and ANSI C runs, in theory, just about
anywhere. The graphing, the write-up, though, these will be tedious,
tedious, things.

I’m going to Markham next weekend, looking for a killer showing with
Carleton’s Ultimate team. Between now and then, books books books.

Important news today: this is Arlene’s Birthday, which I have
not forgotten, because I am smart. She’ll be on call
tomorrow, and on Sunday, so I won’t have much of a time to call her
this evening. While she is in all regards a kind and gentle person,
if I forget to do so she will no doubt rake me with her fearsome
talons while I am scalded by the fiery beams that shoot forth from
her eyes, so I should probably write that on my hand or something.

UPDATE: It’s hardly a weblog without some links. Otherwise it’s just a
high-maintenance post-it note.

  • Nasa’s
    Astronomy Picture Of The Day
    is going into the bookmarks on the
    strength of some of the most astonishing imagery I’ve ever seen. One
    fascinating bit target="_top">here is exceptionally cool.

  • Hollywood has apparently
    decided to continue their grand tradition of href="http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&cid=91&ncid=786&e=4&u=/bpihw/20020925/en_bpihw/_doom__looms_at_warners"
    target="_top">movies based on href="http://www.idsoftware.com/games/doom/doom-final/" target="_top">
    video games. Movie fans and ardent gamers alike can expect the same
    delicate, respectful treatment of the genre that we have come to expect
    from the creators of such fine movies as
    target="_top">Tomb Raider, target="_top">Mario Brothers and, well, ah, er… Hrm. We should
    never, ever talk about Street Fighter, Double Dragon, Mortal Kombat
    or Resident Evil ever again.

  • Interesting technical and/or karmic tidbit: clicking on the “Memorable
    quotes” link on the target="_top">Mario Brothers page actually crashes my browser. This
    is probably a feature.

  • If this zip-drive problem doesn’t get fixed in the next 24 hours, I’m
    going to set somebody on fire.

“If you love somebody”, the old saying goes, “set them
free.” In practical terms, I would suggest that this means
“untie them”. That’s part of how my weekend went: Arlene and
I went rock
climbing
. After all, nothing says love like helping your
significant other unknot themselves from a climbing rope after
they’ve just scaled a wall, and when the smackdown I’m going to
get for this paragraph comes due, you’ll probably be able to see
the crater from orbit.

The Boiler Room is kind of neat, but nothing particularly
special. It’s got some OK bouldering and a number of indoor
climbs, including what is billed as the tallest indoor climb in
Canada. It goes up this narrow chimney thing about a hundred feet,
and I made it all the way up. It’s tall, for sure, but it’s not
particularly challenging; the most challenging thing about the
place was being patient through the seemingly-endless introductory
spiel on how to tie a figure-eight knot and belay. Good fun, but
not Vertical
Reality
for sure.

Over the last few visits to Kingston, I’ve been lucky enough
to find really, really good food. If you happen to be wandering
down Princess near Montreal street and thinking to yourself, “I
fancy a bit of Vietnamese or Thai food right now”, you’d be doing
yourself a great disservice if you didn’t step into the “Wok-In” (I
swear, that’s the name) and grab a bite to eat. The Sleepless Goat
further down Princess serves decent coffee and a Samosa that can
hold its own against any I’ve eaten anywhere. The Max Restaurant,
a Portuguese place near the Market Square, will sell you a lunch
sandwich that will open up a niche in your head for a brand new
craving. There’s more; I’ll compare notes with Arlene about place
names and locations and provide an update. Maybe I’ll even put in a
“Kingston” slot under the places section. Anyhow, for less
than the price of a Subway sub, you can eat a really, really good
plate of food from just about anywhere, and consider yourself well
ahead of the curve when you’re done.

This week, school in earnest and work the rest of the time. News
about what kind of projects I’ll be working on for the next month
or so, if anyone actually cares, are on the way.

UPDATE: Late at night, it turns out that CMT, our otherwise
tooth-grinding Country Music Televison station, plays some of the
most amazing stuff I’ve ever seen. Tonight, they had a flamenco
session followed by a live SRV performance. A few days ago they had
Buddy Guy, a blues-guitar God, with the Saturday Night Live
band playing backup for about an hour. I’ve got to learn how to
work my VCR properly.

Moved stuff over to an archive – am considering Perl, or the
always-potent Bash script, as a tool for regular and well-scheduled
archiving, but for now this is a non-issue. For another month,
at least.

Those of you who aren’t up on cutting-edge current
events might not have heard that another layer has been
scraped off the bottom of the barrel, revealing its href="http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/09/16/1032054760816.html"
target="_blank">wondrous mysteries to all the world. For those
of you wary of clicking on strange links, the gist of it is that
Starburst, the candy company, paid some marketing agency to market
their product. This marketing company subsequently wrote a pop song
called “Get Your Juices Flowing”, ostensibly by this fictional band
called “Starburst” and without revealing the merchandising
connection started pimping it out for radio airplay.

This is already a pretty miserable comment about the state of pop
music, marketing and commercial radio, but the fact that the song
made it into the top forty is a miserable comment on humanity in
general, and one that’s not all that hard to believe. I’m in complete
accord with Tycho over at target="_top">Penny Arcade, who had a much better write-up on
the topic than this one, and am reminded of an old Bill Hicks’
line: “If any of you here tonight are in advertising, kill
yourselves. There’s no justification for what you do, and you are
Satan’s little helpers.”

It reminds me of the bus ride bit in Fahrenheit 451.

The upside of my day has been my classes. My User Interfaces course
is looking promisingly good-fun, because the prof apparently finds
Windows XP to be as stupid and patronizing as I do. The boys over
at Mac Hall
have hit one of my profs, and my reaction to him, right on the nose,
and this term should be pretty good.

I’m going to have to set up some kind of a script to deal with this page.
That’ll take a while, my Perl skills not being the kind of thing you
spell with a ‘z’, but I think it’ll be worth the effort.

It was my great privilege this weekend to be awarded the coveted Most
Valuable Defensive Player award for our summer Ultimate team, though
Geoff’s absence was,
I think, a contributing factor. I’m proud of my foot speed, as well as
my unjustly-derided handling, but given that Geoff can out-jump me
without actually having to leave the ground, he could certainly
have given me some competition.

More news to come, but for the moment there are a slew of new
pictures from Antoine and
Alethea’s wedding
up on the site, replete with a dignified,
romantic goodness that is going to result in my apologizing to
Shaver for abusing his bandwidth and everyone else for the terrible
photographs that Advantix film produces under anything but ideal
conditions. Advantix does take some neat-o panorama pictures (see
the group shot, for example) but with scanners and printers being
both crazy-good and reasonably inexpensive these days, the failings
in the quality of that initial shot have made up my mind that my
next camera is going to be a standard 35mm.

I’m on my way to try out for Carleton’s Ultimate team, which should be
interesting.

UPDATE: Somewhat bittersweet; I made the team, but the team isn’t going
to be able to make it to nationals. We’re badly understaffed, and it’s
not realistic to send less than a dozen guys to Winnipeg for University
Nats. Especially at five hundred dollars a head. We’re hoping
to kick every ass east of the prairies at Markham regionals, though, and
thereby gain funding for next year.

I woke up to a tremendous industrial racket this morning, and discovered
that the City had sent by a truck full of guys to cut down the tree in front
of my house. This was saddening; we’re talking about a good and noble tree
here, a four story tall arbor stalwart that has sheltered my home from
blistering sun and howling winds for more years than I can remember, and
has survived more snowstorms, thundershowers and idiot plastic-horn-blowing
football fans I would care to count. The Ice Storm finally did it in,
though, and the split in its foliage that had James Harynuk calling it
the Chicken Tree actually wishboned it down to within a few feet of the
ground. We had to have cables bolted into the upper limbs to prevent it
it from falling on our neighbors shortly after that, and our hope that
it would somehow repair itself apparently came to nought.

Well, our house is going to be about five degrees warmer in the summer,
I guess. And I can think of at least half a dozen of my friends who might
never find my house again with our worthy landmark gone. Ah, well.

I’ve just recently got my Photoshop on again, this time
focussing my target="_top">digital-image-modifying skillz in my Dad’s direction.
Be warned, though, they’re biggish files. I’m going to recompress them,
but for now they’re a quarter and a half a meg, respectively.

UPDATE: I’ve just sat down on my porch, and looked at the sky. It’s
the first time I’ve ever been able to look up at the sky from my front
steps. Christ, it’s depressing.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to clarify my own politics. I’m
not sure why. It seems, though, that most people I’ve talked
politics with tend to hit a point on the right-to-left spectrum and
not stray too far from it. This might be a function of the kind of
conversations (read: “arguments”) I periodically get roped into,
but it seems like there’s an awful lot of certainty available to
somebody who can consolidate their perspective like that.

So, I’m sitting on a bus, reading Harpers on my way to Kingston,
and reading this piece of intellectual whatnot called “Consuming
Culture” by Lee Siegel, the September issue if you’re looking. We’re
getting towards the anniversary of the destruction of the World
Trade Center, and while everyone seems like their working hard to
get their bit in it’s also apparent that those people whose bit is
to look closely at and comment upon other people’s bits are also
trying to get their bit in.

A tangent, for a moment, and then I’ll come back. I’ve been
introduced in the last few weeks, purely by coincidence, to two
people’s theories on how to get people to buy into just about any
old thing you might want to tell them. How to lie convincingly,
in other words. The first one, from my own father, is pretty
straightforward. His theory is that you can get people to believe the
most outrageous nonsense if you provide some very specific details
about that nonsense in the process. Nobody would accept the bald
statement that you’d run into Fidel Castro the other day in the
mall, but if you said that you’d run into Fidel, and that you were
a little surprised to see he’d trimmed his sideburns and lost a few
pounds, and seemed to be getting around OK, then you’ve garnished
your nonsense in such a way as to make it seem appealing.

Alex Rootham has a slightly subtler approach, a three-step process
that works a lot like sleight-of-hand. His bit goes like this:
you throw the lie right out there, swing it in the breeze, and
then you say something that mitigates it in some way. Then you say
some third thing, and this is key, that people will pretty much
always agree with and that’s got something to do with the mitigating
element. His example was “Men are way better cooks than women,
it’s just that they usually aren’t really trying. Guys are usually
pretty lazy.”

You see that happening? By the end of it you’re looking at the “guys
== lazy” bit and nodding your head or asking yourself when Fidel
Castro started with the sideburns, buying the pretty bow and paying
for the whole parcel. The coin is now in the other hand. There’s not
even enough substance there to call it a false syllogism or some
other logical flaw; it’s a head fake. It can be a subtle thing,
too, but there are some keywords that I’ve discovered that raise
the flag. “After all”, “of course” and “obviously”, among others,
just about anything that asks you to accept what you’re reading as a
truism and move on, a surprising number of which appeared in Seigel’s
mentioned-way-the-hell-back-there article. I spent a lot of time in
there thinking “Red light, back up. What am I agreeing to here?”

Like I say, this is a problem for me. I actually caught myself
thinking something along the lines of “If I figure out how to
properly label my own politics, maybe I can find things that agree
with what I think, and read them.” Boy, what a miserable thing it
is to realize that a thought of that low calibre has just trickled
through your mind. On the other hand, though, it sure would be nice
to be able to find a spot on the spectrum where everything
I come across would either clearly ring good and noble and true,
or be an obviously bald-faced pinko fascist commie plot, assuming I
don’t turn out to be a pinko fascist commie conspirator myself. It
would sure introduce some clarity to my otherwise muddy life.

Nevertheless, I find myself pulled to both the right and left
sides of the spectrum with seemingly equal tensions lately. I
like to look for well-expressed ideas and good writing, something
that’s goddamned hard to find in Popular Science or indeed Popular
Anything these days. My local newspapers are the Citizen and
the Sun (two gripes for another time) so you can see why I’d be
a thirsty man on that front. The difficulty is that whenever I’m
reading Harper’s lately, I find myself in three superposed states:
I feel interested or swayed by some of the ideas that I run into,
I am just appalled by the self-satisfied smugness of the entire
thing, and I find myself having to read some of those sentences
over and over again, while they continue to not make any sense.

I discussed this with Pierre, Antoine’s father, and one of the
things he mentioned is that this could just be a consequence of
Harper’s target audience – leftist intellectuals, or at least
wannabe-intellectuals, do not want to be addressed in the language
of a left-wing high-school student, or a right-wing anything. It
seems, though, that often this language is used for its own sake,
not because it’s the best way to communicate an idea but because it
assures the reader that the author is “one of us”. And the downside
to that, if you lose track of why you’re using the words you’re
using, is that you end up participating in one of these methods
that I’ve described above.

I might well be wrong about this. All of it, really, but I don’t
think so. My impression might change on a more careful reading,
but the general structure of the article does seem to follow Alex’s
technique, and a number of the eddies in the flow of the text seem
to be of the same pattern as the above-mentioned HOWTOs. By the
end of it, Seigel has certainly said a few pithy things, and even
a few things that I agree with. His comparison of styles and the
motivation behind them is interesting, at least in the first case,
but his writing is so technical and occasionally obtuse that
it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he’s picked these two
polar opposite data points out of the blue and made a sweeping
generalization about them that’s almost completely orthogonal to
the claims made in the first quarter of the text.

And it’s disenchanting as hell, on a couple of levels. First
off, I consider myself a pretty well-read, literate kind of guy,
but when somebody drops a bomb like

“Criticism that
doesn’t get beyond the media’s representation of experience ends up
failing conciousness because it obscures politics, and experience
generally.”

in the middle of an article, immediately
after pulling Alex’s stunt with the line

“The
media only become dangerous, after all, when politics grow
poisonous.”

I’m left to wonder if I’m a complete
illiterate and the definition of a number of words has changed
recently, or whether dude here has just decided that it’s time to
whip out his critical-analysis johnson and get the ruler. Either
I’m an idiot or he’s a wanker; I’m not terribly enthusiastic about
either option. I’m suddenly committed to read to the end to find
out, though, which doesn’t thrill me either because at this point
I can see The Alex Technique in its early stages.

Go read the article, if you like, and href="mailto:mhoye@neon.polkaroo.net">mail me if you’ve got some
insight. My conclusion was that he had a couple of interesting points
and a couple of good lines, but that they belonged in about three
separate essays with friends, not shoehorned into that thing. He’s
found one person he worships, and successfully compares him to
two people who he obviously believes to suck, and he does it well. But
seriously, read the last paragraph or two of that article and tell
me if it’s got anything at all to do with the first bit.

Oh, well. My politics aren’t cleared up much, but maybe my critical
faculties are a bit further along.

“The story you are about to see is a fib, but it’s
short. The names are made up but the problems are
real.”

Those of you lucky enough to remember href="http://dmoz.org/Arts/Television/Programs/Children's/Square_One_TV
/Mathnet/" target="_top">Square One’s Mathnet will remember those
opening lines. I’m putting them here because I’m going to tell you
a couple of outrageous lies just to segue between a couple of
photos that I’ve now been able to scan and put online. That’s right,
baby; my scanner is working. And I’ve got Photoshop, and that makes
me the most dangerous man on the second floor of my house.

All of these photos are from Antoine and Alethea’s wedding. Remember
the “perfection” I mentioned that surrounded that fateful day?
Strangely, the camera seemed to find all of the cracks, flaws and
out-and-out debauchery that I neglected to mention. Mehmet tried to href="http://neon.polkaroo.net/~mhoye/wedding/pics/met-with-alethea.jpg">get
in good with the bride early, even though it href="http://neon.polkaroo.net/~mhoye/wedding/pics/met-without-alethea.jpg">didn’t
play out in the end. Where was
Antoine when this was going on? I tell you, href="http://neon.polkaroo.net/~mhoye/wedding/pics/antoine-with-kids.jpg">the
chicks were all over him. We caught Arjun trying to href="http://neon.polkaroo.net/~mhoye/wedding/pics/grand_theft_arjun.jpg">make
off with the flowers before the ceremony, and to cap it all off href="http://neon.polkaroo.net/~mhoye/wedding/pics/valeries-kid.jpg">some
kid tried to put a hex on me. Thankfully, it all href="http://neon.polkaroo.net/~mhoye/wedding/pics/antoine-with-alethea.jpg">worked
out in the end. Indeed, the majestic panorama of the href="http://neon.polkaroo.net/~mhoye/wedding/pics/groupshot.jpg">Group
Photo would seem to indicate that, what with all the smiling and
the making of the happy, and so forth. Huzzah!

More scans are on the way, though perhaps I’ll keep the fibbing to
a minimum for the next round.

I had planned to say something interesting and perhaps
even useful about Neon today, wishing I could help
out and so forth, but one of my relatives has dropped
a target="_top">bomb in my inbox. Do you see what I mean
about me and photos? Good Christ. I look like a leprechaun
working a soul-collection contract.

It’s one thing to be racked with doubt; all of us over the age of
about thirteen deal with that sometimes. Confronted by religion,
politics, or relationships; these are weighty, difficult questions,
and only the worst among us have never felt that nagging uncertainty
when trying to think ahead and weigh merits against consequences.

It is entirely another thing, however, be racked with doubt when
confronted with unassembled Ikea office furniture.

Let us first be up-front about this; a man cannot walk away in defeat
from an Ikea product and still call himself a man. This is the way
of things. Everything you should need less a wrench, a Phillips
screwdriver and a brain stem comes included in the package. Bolts,
washers, basic instructions, even Allen keys. It’s all there, you
follow the very-simple instructions, you insert your bolt A
into your slot B and you’ve got your new Blondenwanken,
or whatever. The only thing that can possibly fail in this whole
process is, you guessed it, the brain, and in purely intellectual,
successful-tool-user terms failing to correctly assemble an Ikea
product is roughly on par with losing a chess match to a golden
retriever.

Now usually I’d be Undercover Brother all the way with this;
clearly this ain’t no, under normal circumstances, thang. However,
the person I’m making this desk for is both my boss’ boss
and the wife of the owner, and while the instructions for any
one part of this somewhat-elaborate desk are reasonably clear,
these are also the instructions for about fifteen other desks,
depending on which options you’ve taken. There are, consequently,
ambiguous diagrams and question marks all over the damn place, and
I’ve got this horrible, grainy steadicam image in my mind of three
or four hundred pounds worth of plywood, metal frame, computers,
printers, fax machines and everything else on this badly-assembled
desk suddenly leaping up and cavorting around the room like the
killer whales in some RealTV Goes To Seaworld Extravaganza.

Critical issues such as “where do you put the table legs” are marked
in question-marks; you would either put a table leg here or one of
the provided placeholders, depending on which accessories you chose.
This desk uses two end-tables and employs five place-holding non-legs
that I have to dole out. Every single leg is marked with
a helpful “Could be. Who knows?” diagram. The instruction manual
reads like a Choose Your Own Misadventure book, and it’s 12:30
A.M. at this point: lucidity is becoming a scarce resource.

By then, I’d already assembled a dozen identical Ikea chairs, half
a dozen Ikea desks (a product with he demoralizing name “Jerker”, if
you’ll believe that) and I’ve got this one job left. I’m supposed to
be the I.T. guy. The only thing this has to do with I.T. is that
the tables will hold computers off the ground. This is clearly
hell. I’m glad I get paid by the hour.

There’s no dramatic conclusion to this one, no clever twist at the
end. I stayed until 2:00 A.M. getting the whole thing together,
put in properly and levelled. I have successfully defeated eighteen
peices of Ikea furniture before going to confront the Boss Desk,
which fell to my wily application of wrench and Phillips. Victory
is assured, and I claim my prize of twenty-one identical Allen
keys. Huzzah!

UPDATE: There is a clever twist at the end. Apparently “we”
(somebody specific trying to generalize the blame, in fact) ordered
the wrong tabletops. So I spent a significant part of Friday
disassembling
Ikea furniture, and was up at seven A.M. Saturday
reassembling it. God damn.