blarg?

Every time I try to move away from the Evil Empire’s software, I’m reminded
of why they’re winning. I spent a big chunk of this weekend trying to
get Mandrake running and talking to the outside world with a new NIC,
and it only took my entire weekend to find out that this NIC doesn’t
work. It might be the NIC, but Google Groups is whispering to me that
it might be the shortcomings of the driver. Plugging another NIC in,
my tragically-ISA eePro, it seems to work right. Why does the old
non-Plug-and-Play stuff work, but the brand-new ostensibly-PNP toys
just sit and blink furiously at me?

Once I got that done, I now-easily moved my MP3s over to the Linux box,
which has my only burner in it, with the idea of burning a few mixes
before bedtime. I can remember the days when this was a simple thing –
I dragged, I dropped, I clicked the little fiery-looking icon and we were
ready to go. In Mandrake 9, though, I apparently have to convert all of
my MP3s to .WAV files in a console before I can then burn them to CD.

I’ve been screwing around with Linux now since RedHat four and change,
always just for toy projects – I don’t need much more than gcc, make,
vi and gdb to do my thing. And that’s a relief, because every time
I look at something that’s supposed to make it more “user-friendly”
I’m reminded how much of Linux is exactly like so many of the people
I know who love Linux: technically brilliant and socially crippled.

I’m going to sleep.

I haven’t really gotten home early enough to watch any daytime
TV lately – I don’t usually watch much TV at all, barring href="http://www.comedycentral.com/tv_shows/thedailyshowwithjonstewart/">The
Daily Show and CNN. I tell
you, though, if you speak enough french to keep up, get yourself
over to TV5; between them and href="http://www.cbc.ca/programs/sites/pe.html">The Passionate Eye,
CNN looks pretty childish.

The rest of daytime television is just
a write-off.

  • I don’t think it’s so much that everyone loves Raymond, but
    I think that given their alternatives, everybody will tolerate Raymond.

  • According to Global, in response to the recent href="http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2003/03/28/sars_ottawa030328">SARS
    outbreak, Air Canada is going to refuse passage into Canada to people
    who have symptoms of an infections disease. Apparently a surprising
    number of ticket-wicket chair-moisteners have advanced medical training
    which they would be glad to employ in the defence of our country at no
    charge. I feel safer already.

  • Home Improvements is still on. Who new? Who cares, really, but
    who knew?

  • Note to CanCon types: you are making our country
    look pathetic. It’s embarrassing, it really is. Just as
    a practical reality, if I may, it is not enough for a href="http://staging.snapmedia.com/openmike/">comedian to be
    Canadian. They must also be funny.

  • I really believe that there is such a thing as Canadian culture,
    and Canadian humour, but shows like “Canadian Idol” and “An American
    In Canada” just make us look like a bunch of third-rate wannabees.
    “An American In Canada” isn’t “a classic fish-out-of-water” story,
    you dorks. It’s a tired joke that plays to our freshly-reinforced
    national insecurities. Try making something new and interesting, for
    a pleasant change.

  • Are “travel alarm clocks” a natural resource of some kind, maybe
    some tribal holdover rewarding the skilled hunter? Apparently, there
    is very little that you can do that, if you do it in the next ten
    minutes
    , will not earn you a travel alarm clock. How good a plan
    can that be? How often do people who sit at home watching TV during
    the day leave their own time zone?

Ok, yo – if any of you know a reason that compiling a kernel would cause
my machine to spontaneously reboot in mid-compile, let me know. This is
intensely frustrating, and I don’t understand what’s going on. It doesn’t
hang or generate an error message or anything – it actually power-cycles,
and then e2fsck tells me the file system is completely hosed if I’m
lucky
, and if I’m unlucky the machine gets part of the way
through the boot process and then spontaneously reboots again.

Even the eminently useful Tomsrtbt
isn’t booting properly, even though I had Win98 and then Mandrake working
without complaint on this machine not long ago. This is extraordinarily,
tooth-gnashingly frustrating. Time to get some fresh install CDs,
it looks like, and maybe a fresh CPU/mobo.

No news today – cleaned up my stylesheets a bit, so it might look a
tiny bit different to those of you who desperately need to go outside.
I’ve simplified a couple of things that will make my life easier during
the Great Realignment next month, when the Master Plan approaches phase
two. This will mostly involve Future-Proofing and some Automagic Page
Generation and Many Other Opportunities To Talk With Capital Letters;
I could do all of this with other people’s stuff, of course, but I’d
rather roll my Own.

In the mean time, I’ve had a couple of new responses about
some of the XP stuff that I’m going to compile and post,
mostly about pair href="http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?PairProgramming">programming. For those
of you who not only don’t program but don’t care about programming
in the least I promise that I will also try to make with the funny;
even the non-geeks out there will have something at which they may look
down their noses at their leisure. Think of the possibilities!

Oh, yeah – sorry if you happened upon this page while I was messing
around with it. My fault, not yours.

I apologize for using the word “paradigm” in in the previous
entry without so much as a hint of irony. I feel terrible about that.
I promise not to do it again.

I’ve had a pretty hectic weekend. I’m going to clear the geek
talk out quickly here with the following bullet points, and move
on to the fun stuff.

  • On Friday, I completed my turn to the Dark Side, and made
    a well-received presentation about to my software QA class on
    regression test selection techniques and their relationship with
    extreme programming methodologies. Relevant papers can be found in
    the April 2001 issue of “ACM Transactions On Software Engineering
    and Methodology” – they’re called “An Empirical Study Of Regression
    Test Selection Techniques” and “An Comparative Study Of Coarse-
    And Fine-Grained Safe Regression Test Selection Techniques.”

  • If you’re not the kind of person who likes both software
    development and empiricism, these papers are as exciting as watching
    a wall-paint lifecycle in slow motion. Paint drying, waiting,
    paint peeling, be still my heart. Me, I thought that the second
    paper was only OK, but the first one was supercool. Way to go,
    Todd Graves et al.

  • All done with the geeking now.

I pulled into Kingston at 8:00, and jumped immediately into
Arlene’s car for the drive to Toronto. The conditions were miserable,
hard rain and patchy fog, but the temperature stayed mercifully
positive for the whole trip, something I was a bit concerned about;
at highway speeds freezing rain is thirty atmospheres worth of
selection pressure, which thankfully didn’t happen. That said,
I did make a few observations about cars and driving in general
that I’d like to share with you:

  • Toronto roads are clearly a contested ground between the forces
    of good and evil; they invoke a stark theological angst in the
    thoughtful driver. Can God create a pothole so large that even He
    could not drive around it? Would a just and loving God allow such
    a road to exist? At what point do you stop using the word “pothole”
    and start using, say, “crevasse”? “Lake”, possibly?

  • I only have plenty of time to formalize these thoughts because
    my girlfriend, love of my life, sleeps like an olympic-calibre
    narcoleptic the moment I turn the ignition. It’s astonishing.

  • While I’m sure that this has been said a million times, I
    humbly suggest that if you don’t have any intention of actually
    passing people, maybe the passing lane isn’t for you. It hardly
    bears mentioning, really. But if you, humble reader, happen to be
    the morbidly obese owner of a lime-green minivan I spent a full
    half-hour diligently tailing this weekend, I’d really like you to
    take this advice to heart.

  • I have the same reaction when I see a bunch of bumper stickers
    on a car that I do when I see somebody walking around in public with
    their ass sticking out past the top of their sweat pants. “This
    person has given up”, I think. I’m reminded of the “Sacrifice
    Zones” from Snow Crash, huge chunks of real estate so disastrously
    polluted that the cost of cleaning them up outstrips any possible
    future value they might have; the government just puts a fence up
    and writes them off. As far as I’m concerned, bumper stickers are
    the warning signs they hang on the fence.

The reason for my visit, aside from the uncomplicated joys of
Arlene’s company, was that two of Arlene’s friends from medical
school, Stephen and Sabira, were married this weekend. It was an
incredibly civilized ceremony, minimalist in every way. Less than
eighty people by my guess, succinct and tasteful in all respects. So
much so that I was almost taking notes; a small but very tastefully
furnished venue, a simple, elegant menu… the same words are
going to come up again and again if I describe the whole thing,
but suffice to say that this was the Haiku of wedding ceremonies,
a finely cut diamond in a simple setting.

That elegance, I should note, was only my Saturday. Sunday was
an unmitigated nightmare of gaudy, garish furnishings housed in
unspeakably stripmallesque, um… strip malls.

Arlene and I went shopping for a coffee table for her Sunday
morning, and I can only briefly describe the Lovecraftian,
things-man-was-not-meant-to-know amount of truly awful furniture
that is available in concentrated form on Kennedy Street. It is
a physically palpable thing; a great disturbance in the force, as
if millions of interior decorators suddenly cried out in terror,
and were suddenly silenced. I have seen furniture this weekend
that mortal man should not be made to gaze upon with the naked
eye. I swear that next time Arlene and I go shopping for furniture
I’m bringing welder’s goggles. I am reluctant to share with you a
full account of the Kennedy Street Expedition, of strip mall after
strip mall laden with discount, bargain, indeed all qualities cheap
and chintzy, furniture, but I will tell you of the glass ovals. If
I limit myself to a narrow slice of all the horrors I witnessed,
the “glass oval held off the ground by something” school of coffee
tables, my mortal eyes saw glass ovals held off the ground by the
following:

  • Butter-coloured dolphins cavorting in butter-coloured surf.
  • An enormous metallic hand with bronze nails.
  • A huge plastic orchid.
  • A painted metal fish skeleton.
  • A large, walnut-coloured wooden mermaid.
  • Off-white, or faux-leather brown ceramic books, three feet by five feet.
  • Atlas.

I was just thinking to myself “You know what would complete
the decor in my place? A wood carving of a midget Atlas, holding a
frilly glass oval off the ground. I will brook nothing less in my
quest to keep my coffee off the ground.”

The horror… the horror…

Check out this week’s href="http://www.theonion.com/">Onion. Seriously.

Today, one of my classmates observed that when they’re wearing
hands-free earpieces, it’s impossible to tell people who are on their
cellphones brokering stocks or whatever from the crazy people who
wander around the downtown core talking to themselves. My man Yandu
turned this into a problem-solving tool just by turning it on its head;
he suggested that we could get rid of all the crazy people by giving
them cellphone earpieces. That way they’d fit right in.

Update: I’m in Roosters at Carleton right now, proving my
thirteenthirtysevenness by being able to use an NT box without a mouse.
Better still, it’s only got older versions of IE and Netscape on it,
too; no Phoenix, no Mozilla… It’s
really retro, like the pane of my browser window has been shattered and
reassembled into a stained-glass pastiche of its intended appearance.

It’s really surprising how badly crippled the Windows UI is without
a point-and-clicky type device. I’m kind of used to it, or at least I
know what needs to be done – I’ve been doing this for a long time, and
I guess I’m numb to the tooth-pulling experience of having to install a
COM port and a mouse without being able to actually click on anything.
Still, it’s been a long time and I see that if anything, the experience
has gotten a lot worse. One woman here was openly surprised that I was
able to make it work at all, with that fairly basic part missing.

I can’t imagine what the whole computer experience must be like
for people who can’t use, or can use only, a pointing device. Unless
there’s some pretty heavy-duty and completely unused juju under the hood
in these things, there’s no way I can see to even hook in a passable
workaround.

One of the things that I like most about Linux is that the most
powerful tools in it can be accessed from the command line. Let’s be
clear about the fact that the command line sucks as an interface; it’s
a throwback to the social structure of old-school shamanism, when only
the priest-king knew the secret way to summon the spirits. As powerful
as it is, we all kind of realize that the CLI isn’t really advancing
the cause. It’s OK for the geek sect, but if Joe User ends up having
to type something into a command prompt there’s not much to be done
except lighting a candle and remembering his machine fondly. But one
of the ideas that I cherish most from all of my hypertext work is the
idea of graceful degradation; do things precisely right if you can,
but if not, do things the next best way available. You really don’t
have anywhere to degrade to in a G-only UI, though.

I’m going to be looking at SVGAtext 1.9 this evening, just
as an experiment to see if I can give my machine a few more ways
of falling out of one thing and into another. I like the idea of
graceful degradation as an engineering paradigm, more than just
as a data manipulation process.

It’s been a good day. It’s not often you get to push forward the
state of the art, but in some small way I did today when one of my
colleagues and I figured out how to beat the previous-best (that’s
O(n3), for those of you playing along at home) matrix
chain-multiplication optimization algorithm efficiency by almost
two whole exponents. Got big matrices to multiply together? I’m
your man.

Like href="http://www.klio.org/marks/2003_03_archive.html#entry-27">other
people, I’ve
thrashed around with what to say about war, and about this war, and
I’ve had no luck. I’ve started typing a dozen incomplete screeds,
deleted them as the rage faded to resignation. What’s one more
diatribe going to do, after all the others, the demonstrations,
the diplomacy, the pleading? Not a damn thing, really.

I don’t think there’s much to say except that in hindsight it is
now clear that there was nothing that Iraq could have done, nothing
that U.N. inspectors could have reported and nothing that could
have been said by the U.N. membership that would have prevented this
from happening. The American diplomatic efforts have fared so badly
because they never really mattered in the first place; they were a
stall, nothing more. I don’t want to sound like I’m in the anti-war
crowd, here: I’m not. But you’d need to be on an all-crayon diet to
think that asking the nations of the world to participate in a long,
drawn out con job is going to garner anything but hard feelings and,
hey look, that’s exactly what’s happened.

It infuriates me that it’s come to this, but mostly
it’s how it came to this that rankles. No part
of what has led up to this war is not repugnant; the href="http://www.thememoryhole.org/war/khalid-resurrection.htm">astonishing
href="http://argument.independent.co.uk/regular_columnists/simon_carr/story.jsp?story=371597">duplicity
of the media, the hypocrisy of the French, the
complete and utter impotence of the U.N., the href="http://www.sfbg.com/37/25/x_news_war.html">unforgiveable href="http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0312/sutton.php">stupidity
of the href="http://www.commondreams.org/views02/1028-02.htm">peace href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-2476249,00.html">movement
and the unbelievable href="http://www.msnbc.com/news/885222.asp?0cv=KA01&cp1=1">diplomatic
incompetence of the White House. Listening to
semisentient peaceniks chanting “no blood for oil”
is just as grating as the absurd pro-war claims
of making the world a safer place, the pro-war “ href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2855697.stm">evidence”
cribbed from a graduate thesis and forged documents as empty as
Sean
Penn’s
moral authority.

There is a chance, I think, that the Iraqi people will come out
of this with a decent shot at peace and prosperity. Certainly,
it will come with a huge up-front price tag. I the meantime, I
guess things like a stagnant economy and a missile-throwing North
Korea will have to wait. In the meantime, I will feast my eyes on
the moving human-interest stories that seem to make up the bulk of
the Olympic-Games-esqe war coverage. It warms my heart that people
are “going on with their lives”, bravely staring danger in the eye
and declaring that southern Wisconsin will never give in to
terror. I wonder what America’s teens think of this war? I’m sure
CNN can tell me.

I really don’t mind all the attention you get when somebody
like Shaver says you have something interesting to say, but
finding out that your server has been mirrored by some href="http://pack.soksok.jp/y/.n55a/~mhoye/">bizzare Japanese
singles site is something else entirely. You probably
shouldn’t click on too many of those links if you’re at
work, by the way. Thanks, Mika, for letting me know what the hell
that was.

Today, I biked to school for the first time
this year, and I’m going to take a minute to tell
you about something I think every home should have –
a Shimano
Megarange
cassette, basically a special edition of the gears on
the back of the bike. It’s got an incredible, indeed Mega,
gear range, going from twelve teeth in the smallest gear to a
monstrous thirty-four in the largest. In short, the highest gear
gives me a grown-up version of the incredible liberation you felt
as a kid when you went from one gear to three, and with the largest
gear I feel like I could pedal my bike up a vertical ladder.

I’m so, so glad that spring is here.

Update: Apparently, Tyla
also wields a mysterious
power. Together, the two
of them might be unstoppable. Flee!

Some of the responses I’ve had to the recent entries have
been fascinating – we’ve all been familiar for a long time
with the benefits of “human-readable” code, as opposed to good
old Hexadecimal, but the idea of high-level code as a social
construction or social contract is enthralling. I’ve never,
ever heard it formalized like that before. It dovetails
very nicely with a number of other ideas about implicit
communication and societal behaviour that I’ve picked up over
in the English Lit. side of my life; it reads a lot like href="http://www.cwu.edu/~millerj/nietzsche/gs116-125.html">
Nietzsche, if you’ll believe that. I’ll have more on that soon;
I’ll even have some future-proofing around here next month, but
since I’m rolling my own solution here for the experience, I’ll ask
the casual reader for patience while I toy with, indeed iterate
through
, this whole Getting Things Right process. Those of you
who chew your nails to the quick as you hang on my every word will no
doubt feel as unto a gnat in the hurricane of my indulged narcissism,
but if you really feel like that you probably deserve some abuse
so I’m not going to lose too much sleep over it. Seriously, take
a Paxil and go outside.

I’d like to add something here about my Kingston trip,
a wondrous thing that involved some outstanding Pad Thai,
strawberries coated in lemon-zested caramelized sugar, the
most beautiful woman since the invention the ribcage and a href="http://www.visitkingston.com/dining.html#pan">damn fine
sandwich, but these things will have to wait until sleep is had,
and perhaps clarity is achieved.