blarg?

I’m sorry. I have no idea what I was thinking; I put a lot of effort
into getting that last post to look right, with the cutting and the
pasting and the grepping and the
1,$s/ /\ /g
and after all that, not only did it look exactly the way I’d intended
it to, it was the most boring thing I’ve ever produced.

My dearest but minuscule readership, I apologize for my substandard
effort. There’s an old line that says “Some people talk because
they have something to say. Most people talk because they have
to say something.” The world is clearly saturated with the
latter; God help me if I ever slump to the level of, say, a href="http://www.livejournal.com/random.bml">random LiveJournal
user. I assure you; my writing will be gooder from now on.

If you’ve got a sensible sysadmin, you’ve already got href="http://spamassassin.rediris.es/index.html">SpamAssassin
up and going. It’s a great little program – it looks at your
incoming mail and awards it a score based on a couple of href="http://spamassassin.rediris.es/tests.html"> straighforward
criteria. If it this piece of incoming mail rates more than a couple
of points, the program cuts it automatically. So far, I’ve had exactly
zero false positives. Nevertheless, I’m going tweak my install a little;
very shortly, email that contains HTML will never cross my screen again,
can I get an Amen. No more “targetted advertisements” offering to increase
both my bust size and the size of my penis, no more herbal Viagra or
shady Nigerian officials. Paradise.

Just to give you an idea how this works, here’s the SpamAssassin report
on the highest-rating spam I’ve ever received. I keep the champion around
for my own amusement – not the mail itself, mind you, just the report.

Strangely, this
doesn’t have a link to href="http://www.apple.com/trailers/miramax/comedian.html">this
in it as of press time, (update: probably because it’s an old movie
-MH
) the second “this” being one of the funniest movie trailers
I’ve ever seen. Between the Comedian trailer and the fact that the href="http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/tomb_raider/thecradleoflife/">Tomb
Raider trailer was set to the old Prodigy tune, “Smack My Bitch Up”,
my evening’s been made.

I saw Reloaded last night, a complicated though clearly second-of-three
movie, and I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn’t had
to sit through what must have been at least a half-hour long trailer for
“Legally Blonde 2″, which is a lot like having an escaped inmate pry
your eyes four feet out of their sockets with a rusted shiv and letting
them bleach in the desert sun. I could actually feel my brain smoothing
itself and curling into a ball to minimize the surface area that was
being exposed to this trailer. It’s a good thing there were plenty of
nutritious, wholesome fight scenes in Reloaded, because otherwise my
brain would never have ventured out of its shell ever again.

I’ve retired some of the sidebar links for the time being because,
well, two months is a long time, get it together guys. In “internet
time” that’s sixteen and a half nobody-knows-you’re-a-dog years, or
something. Take some advice from me – as a rule of thumb, if you’re
going to have sober second
thoughts
at all, you should have way, way more than I have.

If you were lucky enough to read Bill Joy’s Wired Magazine href="http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.html">article
on the dangers of nanotechnology,
you might recall the now-classic “Grey Goo” argument – that is, we invent
some tiny device that is capable of building other, similar devices, one
or two of them find their way out into the wild and pretty soon we’re all
knee deep in replicant nanobot paste. Joy’s response to this, apparently,
is that he won’t work on nanotech, and while his skills are href="http://www.sun.com/aboutsun/media/ceo/mgt_joy.html">clearly
of the “mad” variety, the argument that if an
emerging technology can be used for evil the moral individual
should not get involved has been recognized as dumb for two or three href="http://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/The_Myths/Creation_of_Man_by_Prometheus/creation_of_man_by_prometheus.html">thousand
years now. But enough, I’m not here to talk about grandiose ideas:
I’m here today to tell you about a far more insidious, though definitely
shinier, threat to all of us.

If you’re the right age you might remember that
time when, if you left a mix tape or two in the
car long enough, you’d somehow end up with a copy of href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B000000OBY/">Classic
Queen. Nobody was really clear on how it happened; was one of the
old mix tapes transmogrified? Did they breed? Nobody knows,
but clearly there was some unexplained phenomenon at work.

Mercifully those days passed with the shift in preferred in-car
media; I fear, though, that they may have come again. Just weeks ago,
I retrieved my only, and I stress that word only, copy of U2’s
“Best Of 1990-2000″ from Mehmet. I put it into rotation, weeks passed,
I switched it out of the player, put it back in, and now I have two
copies. I didn’t buy two copies. I don’t know anyone else who owns,
or owned, these CDs, and I am experiencing fear. This is clearly worse
than the Goo; CDs have sharp edges. You can be blinded
by a CD. This is two copies of both the A-sides and the B-sides
I’m talking about here.

The Classic Queen Epidemic only started getting a serious foothold at
about the time tapes were on their way out as a medium. Not only that,
but audio tapes were analog – CDs are digital, each malignant copy
a perfect duplicate of its evil antecedent, and CDs aren’t anywhere
near obsolescence. Does this only happen to “Best Of” compilations from
long-standing bands? Has the abject evil of the RIAA somehow seeped into
the CDs themselves? Is there some correlation between size-of-discography
and breeding rate, and do twins always beget twins? Again, nobody
knows
.

We need to put our top people on this. It won’t just be Queen or U2
– if we ignore the problem, next it will be alt-rock and rapcore,
and pretty soon we’ll all be waist-deep in country music and crappy
hair-rock. And then, we’ll have nobody to blame but ourselves.

The Loblaws in Kingston inadvertently achieved Zen today when the
segue between songs by Bobby Brown and Mariah Carey was a price check
on cheese whiz.

Saigon Delight, in Kingston, will serve you a very excellent bowl
of noodles with Vietnamese stuff on them. Their pho is only OK, but
the rice-paper rolls, which contain shrimp and are dipped in a peanut
sauce, are top notch hors-d’oeuvring. If you visit you can tell them
Mike sent you, but since they have no idea who I am they’ll probably
just look at you funny. Still, they deserve your time and money. I’d
avoid the Vietnamese Pancakes, too heavy even for me, but if you put
the Vietnamese Meatloaf in front of me I might not even stop eating to
inhale. And if you’re in the market for a bowl of noodles, #6 and #14
are where the action is.

Understanding the next paragraph, and it’s a doozy, requires you to know
that Arlene does not own a butter dish. When there is bread, she just
puts the whole brick out with it, still in the foil. Myself aside, this
is her one nod towards abject barbarism, and apparently it has always
been this way. I had a butter dish when I was living in a third-world
country
, for crying out loud. How can one not own a butter dish?

If you’ve visited Kingston in the summer, you’re probably aware of
the farmer’s market, which on a Sunday holds a bunch of people hawking
chintzy-looking old stuff. Not “antiques” per se, because I’m pretty
sure that antiques are supposed to appreciate in value over time. Not
to be clever about this, but there wasn’t a lot of appreciation going
on at the market this Sunday – I didn’t appreciate any of it,
none of it looked like it would ever appreciate in value, and the
vendors looked like they were intensely aware of that fact, and didn’t
appreciate it one bit. The guy with the out-of-tune guitar belting
out off-key whitebread lite-rock that hadn’t aged any better than
the merchandise wasn’t helping the general mood either. Anyhow, after
we climbed out of this spiritual negative-feedback loop to seek out
the aforementioned butter dish, we found a store called “HomeSense”
which contained acres of the same crap, but it was all brand new. It was
appalling; the place really seemed to be putting up a half-hearted
struggle to defy description. It was a dumping ground for all things
drab, tasteless and badly misinspired, as though a Wayne-Newton-only
karaoke machine had staggered monstrously to life and chosen a career
in home furnishings, leaving the contents of HomeSense in its horrible
wake to waste away under cheap flourescent lights until the fabled Day
of Deep Discounting arrives.

This brought me to a theory that Kingston has in it a whole
a self-contained chintz ecosystem, a kind of SeaMonkey jar for
second-rate kitsch. I have two data points for this: the stuff on the
racks at HomeSense looked an awful lot like the unfermented ingredients
of the Farmer’s Market and, really, none of it was worth the effort to
move out of town. I was humming “circle of life” as we got back to the
car. If I take no other wisdom away from this weekend, I’ve learned that
whether it’s wrapped around an actual leopard or not, “leopard-print”
is one of Nature’s warning signs, like the bright colours on poisonous
frogs or racing stripes on a Chevette; it means “stay away.”

Summer appears to have finally arrived in earnest. By this I mean
that Mr. Sun and Mr. Temperatures Above Zero seem to have settled their
differences, and are willing to show up at the same time. It’s about damn
time. My friend Matthew observed yesterday that the rain we’d had for
the last week or two was very important; without all the extra moisture,
we wouldn’t be guaranteed to get the cloying, jungle-thick humidity
that goes so well with our thirty-eight degree midsummer weather. Me,
I’m just happy that they’re predicting a nice day for our first game
of the season.

I neglected to mention one thing that we recovered from Casa Angelo, my
near-blind friend’s house; a copy of “Scripta”, apparently some kind of
arts publication from Lisgar, the high school that a number of my good
friends attended. Shaver,
for example is on the letterhead, though only in a technical
capacity. Other luminaries whose words are included therein
include my sister, Nick Hamilton, Sarah Namer and a slew of
other people I hang out with, and in a word, Wow. This is the
Poetry of High School, folks, and it is nothing but a rich vein
of purest cringe-inducing comedy gold, like watching Jackass in href="http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/cmp/sfx-bullet_text.html">bullet-time
slo-mo. I am grateful beyond words that no evidence remains of my
brief, self-indulgent foray into teenage auteurship, from that tender
age when I was demonstrably dumber than a pot roast. Just thinking
about it shames me to the bone.

At the moment that I finished typing that previous sentence, Arlene
looked over my shoulder and asked “How do you know that you’re not dumber
than a pot roast now? Well, I feel I’ve made a certain progress since
then and if I, given said progress, were that dumb now a decade ago
I would have to have been a fern. At least nowadays if I get maudlin
and introspective I stand half a chance of actually finding something
in there.

According to these
screenshots
, the Zion Mainframe is secured with SSH1. Minsky can href="http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,58714,00.html">complain
about artificial intelligence all he likes; at least the rest of
us can be confident that three hundred years from now, machines will be
pretty much as
stupid
as we
are
.

As an aside, and look closely at those screen caps, I’m willing to bet
the first money I find that every self-styled 1337 h4X0r’s root password
is going to be “Z10N0101″ by the end of the month, the p0z3rz.

Now, I realize that I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’, but I think that
Minksy guy is off his nut. Whenever an academic says “my field is at a
dead-end, there’s nothing new or interesting going on here”, all I hear
is “nobody’s taking my old ideas seriously anymore, and I haven’t got any
new ones”.

From any kind of historical perspective, this kind of
behaviour is just embarassing to watch. It happens href="http://www.wku.edu/~sullib/history.htm">over and href="http://www.varsity.utoronto.ca/archives/119/oct26/feature/eco.html">over
again, and it’s as novel and fascinating as watching a wind-up toy tumble
down a flight of stairs. Back around the end of the eighteenth century,
many of the prominent physicists of the day were patting each other on
the back and talking about how all the Important Work had been done –
all that was left to do in their field was some mop-up work, maybe
a little polishing around the edges, something best left to “lesser
lights”. We just need some experimental confirmation of the Ether, put
a grad student or three on that little disagreement we’re having with
Mercury about its orbit and maybe send a fourth one out for cocktail
umbrellas and Maraschino cherries. In a few years we can just put it
all to paper once and for all, retire and leave the engineers with a
couple of thorny double-integrals to futz around with.

Whoops.

I spent tonight helping clean out a friend of mine’s house, a fellow
who’s a few rods and cones shy of complete blindness. It was a real
eye-… excuse me; it was very informative. One of the most suprising
problems turned out to be the number of things that are apparently no
longer possible with modern technology. My friend wants a white-on-black,
high-contrast screen with the largest fonts possible; his video
card can’t be turned down that far. We can turn the resolution
up far enough that the screen looks like microfiche, but I can’t
easily set it to 320×400, for example, or less than 256 colors.

The real showstopper, though, is that when you set the colour scheme
to a Windows-provided large-font white-on-black, the title="Win2k">OS is immediately, almost irrevocably
crippled. To pick one example of many, the ‘x’s in checkboxes stay
black
, so it’s impossible to tell if you’ve selected them or
not.
Couple that with the fact that the extra-large font
drives the “OK”, “Cancel” and “Apply” buttons off the bottom of the
non-resizable Video-mode preference window
, and that’s the moment
that my jaw muscles tensed like they were coiling up to bite the front
of my face off. I got a screen-magnifier program installed, but when
its half-assed antialiasing, which involves naively rounding off the
edges of quarter-inch-wide magnified pixels, was coupled with Windows
insistence that nonselected options be, well, pixelated, the result
was a screen that looked like I’d sneezed on a microscope slide.

I can’t even begin to guess how many things have to be done before
computers can even vaguely be called “accessible”. One thing’s for sure,
though – Microsoft’s “Accessibility Options” are a sick, malicious joke.

This guy hates href="http://www.livejournal.com/users/jwz/193866.html">CSS,
and that’s hardly surprising once you’ve seen href="http://www.macedition.com/cb/cb_20010604.shtml">this. href="http://diveintomark.org/archives/2003/01/13/semantic_obsolescence.html">This
guy hates these guys, mostly
because they’re busy taking this
and getting all Mary
Shelley
with it (an analogy that is href="http://tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/03/16/XML-Prog">not
wildly inappropriate) and it ends up looking like href="http://weather.wkowtv.com/images/donkey.jpg">this anyway.

Me, I’m not that demanding. I’m a pretty simple guy. A reader wrote me
today and said “Sixteen points of font seems excessive. Why not let the
browser defaults kick in, and let people decide for themselves what
they’re happy with?” Totally reasonable, so I did that. It’s pretty
much all the same size, except for my name up in the corner there,
but that’s just some big percentage bigger. I can live with that. I
made the line-height 120% of the font height, just to unclutter things
a little and make it easier to read, but that’s it.

He went on, though, to ask me to do the same thing for the sidebar –
size it automatically, as a percentage, rather than the fixed 180px
width, and I said I’d get back to him – how to properly muck around
with percentages, anchor points and “width: auto” style tags one of
those things that’s supiciously absent from the nearly-illegible spec,
and my kung-fu in this field is not all that powerful.

Still, it’s not an unreasonable request; two columns, one as narrow as
possible (width: auto; takes care of that, no sweat) and the
next one immediately adjacent, and flowing to the other side of the
page. It’s that middle bit, the “immediately adjacent” bit, that as
far as I can tell is precisely impossible. Not “impossible”, strictly
speaking, but not CSS-possible. Tables will do it. Grab a fistful of
markup tags that have worked right since electrons-on-phosphor supplanted
elk-femur-on-head as the preferred primate-compliant interface, set
borders to zero and phasers to stun, yo Joe. I can’t seem to shoehorn
divs into tables, but that’s probably my fault.

But with this newfangled, high-tech CSS? No
way. All the examples I can find, even the href="http://bluerobot.com/web/layouts/layout1.html">BlueRobot
folks, have to throw in the fixed-pixel-width columns and fixed (and
usually damn near subatomic) font sizes. What I really want, I think,
is to be able in a stylesheet to refer to a completely different
attribute in a previously cascaded style section and
perform
basic math with it
. Even basic math on its own would be
nice. Say, left: .sidebar->right + 2; or left: 22% +
2;
, or something a lot like that. Maybe I’m just using the existing
tools wrong, but without fixed-width divs, I’m just not sure how to
keep a nice clean left-right fit and accomodate wildly variable font
sizing at the same time.

Nesting the div tags in some span tags, maybe? Urk. That can’t be
right. Seems like a lot of effort for something that would have worked
fine with some forgivable <table> abuse back in, oh,
1992.

Apropos of nothing, today the fortune program on my machine told me
the following joke:

“How many mathematicians does it take to screw in a light
bulb?”
“One. He gives it to six Californians.”

I’ve been chuckling to myself all day. I’m such a geek.

Shaver is kind, though he href="http://off.net/~shaver/diary/2003/05/#20030511">mistakenly
writes “association” where he means “comparison”.

Interview today! More news soon!

Here is the more news: Good. It is good news. I not only had
one great interview, I stumbled blindly into a second that also
went well, and came home to find two people asking me for my
references. They weren’t actually at my house, you understand; I’m
not nearly that popular. But their phone messages were.

The most interesting part of my day was going to talk to a
wireless-services company, only to find a painter, a ton of
swanky office furniture all piled up, and a note on the door saying
“This is a notice of distress, you owe us half a million dollars
in rent, we’re taking your stuff.” Well, that’s the end of that.
Right across the hall, though, there’s a company that’s apparently
just seized a huge Government contract to do network support, and
who agreed to speak to me the moment I walked in the door.

This can’t possibly be karma, ’cause I know where I stand on Cosmic
Justice front. That’s why I have insurance. Still, I have one trick
here, such as it is, and it might be what’s helping me.

First off, you remember in back in high school chemistry, where they
taught you “wafting”? That’s the bit where you’re trying to sniff your
experiment, so you cup a bit of the air over your experiment and waft it
towards yourself. This is a pretty obvious safety measure – if you’re
dealing with something unexpectedly noxious or actively volatile you
don’t want to stick your snout right into it, just so you can catch
a lungful of tetracholoromethylsomething. You get a slight, harmless
whiff of it and you work with that.

Well, “wafting” is to “drinking the contents of the beaker” as “websites
and newsgroups” are to “getting a job”. If you don’t hit the bricks and
find some way to differentiate yourself from the biblical deluge of
e-mail that every every organization with a job opening gets in this
economic clime, you’re going into the circular file. Other than that,
when you’re in a building downtown to talk to one person, look at the
building’s occupant list. In Ottawa, at least, there’s likely to be a
dozen organizations there you’ve never heard of that are looking for
people, that might even want to talk to you right then and there.

That’s all I’ve got, really. I might just be lucky, but it seems to be
working so I’m going to stick with it. Isaac Asimov once claimed that
a dullard was somebody who opened a dictionary, looked up the word they
were looking for and then closed the dictionary. As clever phrases go,
this might be a good candidate for generalization.

Everything I said about Linux sucking, I take it all back. I don’t,
really, but I’ve had some perspective shoved down my throat today. I
had to fix a friend’s computer this afternoon, and it was running
Win98 on a Pentium 233, and I
had completely forgotten how mindbendingly awful Win95/98 can get.
A Hoover/Penthouse collaboration with a Pentagon budget could not suck
that hard.

So, I bad-mouth Linux, and Linux somehow senses it, and
refuses to do what I tell it and let me sftp into the machine.. Awww,
Linux. C’mon. Why you gotta be like that, girl?

In more horrific news, check this out. It’s From Laura:

“I so meant to check up on you after too, how’s your head? The dentist was
able to put things back right away and I have a splint holding the teeth in
place. As long as I don’t have any more impacts to my mouth in the next
bit, i’m pretty sure everything will set just fine. There is a chance that
i might need a root canal, but also a chance that the damaged nerve could
heal.”

I had a great interview today. I think I’m going to seriously consider
a drink or six now, though. My head’s fine, Laura. I don’t use it for
anything important.

Dammit.