July 29, 2003

Autistic License

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

Fatal server error:
could not open default font 'fixed'

If you know anything about computers, you know that not being
able to load a font is an outstanding reason for a catastrophic
failure. It’s nice that I can ssh into my laptop to try and fix it
and all but for crying out loud, what the hell happened to graceful
degradation or useful error messages? The damn thing just sits there
like a discount
and flickers its liquid crystals at me, presumably restarting
the X server over and over again. I was very briefly given a chance
to look at the error message before it asked me if I wanted to run the
configuration program again. The only thing that accomplished is that
it hasn’t asked again; now it just flickers at me. Sweet.

I’m filing this one in the same drawer as info pages, rpm and two thirds
of the available documentation, the drawer with “GNU’s Not Useable”
on the front in big red letters.

The G in “GNU” stands for GNU, you see. It’s recursive. If you’re the
kind of person that titters when you think about that, then you’re
almost certainly one of the people I’d like to slap in the shins
with a pipe right now.

My day’s improved after a bowl of pho – there’s a place in Chinatown,
the little area that we call a Chinatown here in Ottawa, at least,
called Thu Do, and if you’re looking for a good bowl of noodles and
meat, you should get on your horse and get out there. I made a deal with
Arlene a few years ago to never eat franchise food with her again, and
Thu Do was one of the main inspirations for it. For substantially less
than the cost of a MacDonald’s meal, you can get a bowl of noodles the
size of your head, a plate of greens to mix into it, and some iced tea
that they bring to your table just ’cause. In addition to tasting better
and being approximately a million times healthier, it’s also a hell of
a lot more civilized than eating greasy soyburgers out of wax paper.

Pulling out of a gas station on my way there I was pulled over by a
policeman, who pointed out to me that I’d forgotten to put my gas cap
back in. I didn’t even have to get out of the car, he did it for me. I
just had to wave hello, and thanks. I do like living in this city.

July 23, 2003

On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone.

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

Today real work was accomplished, and I feel a bit better. I worked
through lunch, volonteered over the course of the afternoon to pick up
the slack in some other jobs that needed doing, and am happier thereby.
My boss accidentally became my hero this morning when he tore a long,
thin strip off the side of the mismanagement group that’s ostensibly
responsible for the move, ’cause things started picking right up
afterwards. Bliss.

has written some good stuff about cruft,
the stuff that builds
in a system through a combination of bad design and bad
habits. MPT’s mostly concerned with the buildup of cruft in user
interfaces, but it really is a pervasive phenomenon, and when you’re
a poke-it-with-a-stick-until-it-works guy like me, it makes a lot of
things kind of hard to figure out.

There’s an old line that describes two kinds of fools, one who says “this
is old and therefore good” and one who says “this is new and therefore
better”. It applies to software, processes, widgets, whatever. I’ve
been poking around my Linux box lately, and I’ve apparently discovered
a new, hybridized strain of fool – the one that says “let’s keep both
of them. I want to have it both ways”.

Disk space is dirt cheap, sure, and it’s not like memory is all that
scarce a resource either, but my attention span sure is. So are the
number of seconds left in my life. I don’t know how big that number is,
precisely, but those seconds sure aren’t going to get cheaper as they
tick by.

Just to pick one example out of an expansive and colourful chapeau,
I have no idea why if gdm is really the “drop-in replacement” for
xdm that it’s billed to be, why xdm is still on my system at all. To
confuse me, possibly, when I’m trying to figure stuff out. Seriously:
just pick one and run with it, you losers. I wish there was a lot less
stuff like that in here; if this machine didn’t have eight different
ways of doing the same damn thing lurking in six different dimly-lit
corners, I bet would be a lot easier to figure out what (or perhaps
more precisely what the hell) is going on.

Believe you me, at my level of experience it feels like this happens all
the time. I’m going to apply to the National Research Council’s Special
Commission For The Figuring Out Of What The Hell Is Going On Here,
NRCSCFTFOOWTHIGOH as they’re commonly known, for some kind of grant.

Confidential to the gdm guys: I got a good hearty belly-laugh out of the
contrast between this
in the gdm manual, specifically the part that says “users should
never, ever have to use the command line to customize or troubleshoot
gdm”, and the actual process of figuring out how to make it acknowledge
the existence of a new window manager. Finding that, after winging the
entire process, made me giggle quietly to myself. I hate you.

Never Around When You Need One.

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

I got this from a recuiter today:

Hi Michael,
> Hope you are doing well.
> Have not heard from you in awhile.

It’s good to get that personal touch in.

July 21, 2003

It Comes With The Job

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

So, I’m freshly employed. I’d be enthusiastic, under most
circumstances; money, woo. It’s at Carleton, though, and it’s so
poorly organized… One of the things that you know in your bones
if you’ve ever worked I.T. is that bad management flows downhill,
and I.T. is pretty much at the bottom of the hill. The place I work,
with the Piles of Roughly Similar Stuff, the Cables Kind Of Everywhere,
the Items Of Suspect Provenance and Parts Of Dubious Functionality, has
all the hallmarks of a team of guys who are Winging It. I can hardly
blame them, when the morning’s to-do list gets turned into tomorrow’s,
possibly, to-do list by a phone call from a manager who’s calling to
let you know that the movers haven’t actually moved stuff yet, so we’ve
got to find something else for you to do. My co-workers are coping
admirably, but it’s still coping.

So I’m taking money from them, in exchange for my ill-guided time,
which I’m going to use to pay my tuition later, and it’s pissing me
off. You don’t shit where you eat, is basically what I’m saying. I
don’t like seeing the waste, knowing that I’ve got to help pay for it
in about two months.

You know it’s a bad sign when one of your co-workers tells you that if
you stop caring, the pain stops.

July 20, 2003

Little Fish Versus Big Hook

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

I decided to take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Kingston this weekend,
and thought Doctor Arlene was on call for most of it, she had enough
spare time to describe my nose as “gigantuan”.

“What word am I thinking of?”
“Gigantic? Gargantuan, possibly?”
“Maybe I’m trying to use both of those words at the same

After five years of intense training in the Strained Facial
Expressions that this kind of conversation produces, I could probably
bend a penny with my eyebrows.

My spirits have been improved immensely, however, because a brief
but much more serious discussion on the sensitive topic of What
The Hell Was That All About has been safely brought to earth in
Still-Together-Ville. I’d have thought that the fact that you shouldn’t
ever do this to somebody you care about would be about as plain as the
nose on your face, but apparently my measuring stick in nose-on-your-face
matters is Not To Scale, so you be the judge. Let me share with you a
clever little stunt you can pull on your significant other when they’re
expressing some kind of affection for you, particularly if it’s of
the “undying” variety; ask them right at that moment exactly how they
“know for sure”.

If you could muster a really sad voice when you did that, believe me,
that makes the whole thing work even better.

Now, I’m not the most attentive guy in the world, but wow, that
sure looked like a dead canary in a long-distance-relationship coal mine
to me. So if you’re looking for a way to make sure your significant
other is going to be staring at ceiling tiles at four in the morning,
that would be it. Thankfully all’s well that ends well, was just sad,
didn’t mean it, miscommunication, though I did have to roll out the
Stern Voice for a few minutes of don’t-ever-do-that-again.

July 16, 2003

Apropos Of Nothing.

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

This is just a brief note to the owner of the white Buick Grand Marquis,
or perhaps some similarly-named late model, twelve-cylinder sedan, that
decided to add some excitement to my day. I realize I don’t usually look
like I’m having the most exciting day of my life. I might look like I
need some livening up – that can happen. Usually, though, I like to get
that extra bit of pep in my step from a coffee or three; definitely not
from having to leap bodily out of the way of your careening vehicle. I
understand you were only trying to cheer me up, I really do, but when
I see things like a 50 kph limit, flashing crosswalk lights and a big,
red triangular Yield sign, with the note below it in both official
languages that says “yield to pedestrians”, I usually take those things
at face value. If I’m scowling, it’s probably because I’m thinking hard
about something, not because I’m unhappy. And even when I am unhappy,
I don’t think that the words “Boy, you know what would cheer me up right
now? If I got smeared all over this three-lane thoroughfare by a sturdy
American-built sedan” have ever really crossed my mind. I know it’s hard
to get a clear view of things like that through the space between the
dashboard and the wheel, so for next time, this is just so you know.

Basically, while I’m sure you meant well I’d appreciate it if in the
future, at those times you see me crossing at a clearly marked crosswalk,
you could simply to move your foot off the gas, perhaps to apply it to
the brake, and to let me finish my humble traverse in peace. You know,
rather than trying to kill me with the grill of your fucking medicare


July 10, 2003

Brought To You By The Letter R.

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

Madhava, if you’re out there, this one’s for you.

July 9, 2003

In Which Beads Of Sweat And Blood Mingle On Mike’s Forehead.

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

Watch this. You’ll love this.

[root@eiffel RPMS]# rpm -e bind-9.2.1-16.i386.rpm
error: package bind-9.2.1-16.i386.rpm is not installed
[root@eiffel RPMS]# rpm -i ./bind-9.2.1-16.i386.rpm
warning: ./bind-9.2.1-16.i386.rpm: V3 DSA signature: NOKEY, key ID db42a60e
     package bind-9.2.1-16 is already installed
[root@eiffel RPMS]# rpm -e bind-9.2.1-16.i386.rpm
error: package bind-9.2.1-16.i386.rpm is not installed
[root@eiffel RPMS]# _

Fucking Christ.

Update: I got a helpful e-mail today telling me that the trick is
“rpm -e bind-9.2.1-16”, as opposed to the whole package name. Which,
you know, makes total sense. The news came a bit late – I got completely
fed up with it and just did a reinstall. I’m thin on disk space, and I
needed the disk space more than I needed to bang my head on an unhelpful
package manager.

I really don’t know if that would have done it, but I’ll remember
that for next time. I tried uninstalling bind through RedHat’s
graphical add-remove programs widget, whose stated purpose I was
assured was to both add and remove programs, and it insisted
on an entirely different set of stupid, unreasonable things – that
in order to uninstall a whack of stuff I needed to first install
a suspiciously-similar-looking list of stuff that was, of course,
already installed. Just to pick one example, you understand.

I don’t think a bug report that consists entirely of “rpm: what the
hell?” or “Package Manager Bug – Does Not Manage Packages” would be
all that useful, but I don’t know what else to say. I’m a big fan
of technology, but it’s hard to love something that doesn’t do the
job it was named for. I don’t care how advanced or complicated
it might be or what else it might do, my dishwasher had damn well better
wash my dishes or it’s out the door.

I want apt-get back.

July 7, 2003

Rewired Creeding

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

The thing that I’ve discovered over the last two weeks is that without
at least two cups of coffee a day, I’m completely crippled. It verges
on paralysis; I’m a total waste of mineral content. It would be agony,
if I could find the energy to notice. Normally, at between two and eight
cups a day, I don’t sleep much, and I’m generally irritable. I figured
it was time to cut back, though, so I cut the caffeine right out of my
diet. And what do I get from my efforts? Now, I can barely do anything
but sleep, I get debilitating withdrawal headaches and the rest
of the time, when I can muster the energy, I’m generally irritable. Boy,
that’s a win.

To hell with that. I’d like two large cups of coffee and a double
espresso, please. Yes, and if you could just empty out a largeish
horse-tranquilizer syringe and serve it to me in that, that is my
vessel of choice, yes indeed. Why yes, I am glad to hear that you offer
refills. I’m thrilled about that.

I’ve been working on a little project lately (by which I mean “an
independent study upon which I will be graded, so I’d better get my
collective shit together.” Hi, boss!) that, now that I’ve been properly
recaffeinated, is working out very well. I’m pleased with my progress
in the last 24 hours. You might have seen the pictures of the Amish Mobile
that were making the rounds a while back – this is basically
the same idea, except with less Amish farmers and more silicon. And no
barn. I’m building a framework for ad-hoc distributed processing over
local networks. I’ll tell you more about it if you ask politely, but
please, don’t tell me it’s been done. It better not have, or I’m going to
feel kind of silly. Don’t point me to anything that smells even vaguely
of RMI, though. I
know all about it, and it’s not nearly flexible enough for what I’m
doing. Having to know something about what your system is doing ahead
of time is so 90’s. And these Grid Computing people, trying to
re-enact Night of the Living Mainframes Dead? “Ladies
and gentlemen, there has been a slight change to tonight’s program; this
evening the Armies of Shambling Undead will be played by seventies-era
business models.”

You guys aren’t fooling me, no way.

So anyway, hubris aside, the most interesting things that I’ve been
learning is that the difficulties in networked applications are, once
the code strays past the boundaries of its home machine, entirely
social ones. Are you dealing with just a handful of people you know
and trust? No problem – you can form a consensus and move on. More than
about six people? Time to start delegating or voting – time to pick a
leader, at the very least. We’ve all been there: there’s no way you can
send a dozen people to the video store and hope to ever, ever leave.
More than that, and you’re going to start needing some more elaborate
systems – ideally, something that works OK when you’ve got a dozen
participants and that still works OK when you’ve got, say, a million.
And you can bet that it won’t involve piling them all circus-clown-style
into one overcrowded sedan and drowning your local Blockbuster in a
tsunami of opinionated meat. For starters, you’d need a hell of a huge
tiny little car.

So like Real Life, there are ways of dealing with groups that scale up,
and ways that don’t, and like Real Life, if you don’t bring some measure
of empiricism to bear you’ll never have any idea why that thing that
worked OK before, your inadvertently O(n3) process, suddenly
turns into a logistical nightmare just because there’s five more people
involved. Likewise, moving messages around can be thorny. It’s easy
for one person to give ten thousand people instructions, informing them
that you’re a Berliner or that you have a dream, you know, whatever –
it’s hard for ten thousand people to call back with their results all
at once, if those results are at all more significant than “Rah Rah
Rah”. You should probably set up something in your appointment book,
or what we in the bit-prodding business call a locking mechanism. A
secretary or three wouldn’t hurt, either.

The supercool part about networked applications is that the
social-network metaphor just keeps going and going – what happens if
one of your network nodes starts behaving suspiciously, not showing
up for work, giving you suspect results and so forth? You’ve got to
have processes in place to deal with it. And the best part is, the
relationship with things social has the potential to be reciprocal –
there’s no reason that innovations in computer organization can’t
be applied to social structures as well, to see if an organization’s
efficiency can be improved thereby.

Apropos of nothing those of you who looked at that last paragraph, in
which I proposed experimentally applying CompSci principles to human
behaviour, and got a little technophobe frisson out of it, who possibly
had thoughts involving the word “Orwellian” or fleeting images of the
Terminator movies, y’all need to do three things: reread the paragraph,
reread (more likely, though, just “read”) 1984, and take a good hard
look at the self-mutilation that an astounding number of organizations
have gone through to accomodate prefabricated and deeply inflexible
enterprise software. For years now no small number of corporations and
government agencies have been cutting off their own fingers so that
they fit the SAP glove just right,
for example, happily bleeding green the whole time.

“Science”, the old saw goes, is to “Computer Science” as hydrodynamics
is to plumbing. One Stan Kelly-Bootle said that; Stan didn’t think
much of compsci, I guess, but it’s pretty obvious to me that Stan also
didn’t get it. “Finite Mathematics is to Computer Programming what
Hydrodynamics is to Plumbing”, maybe. I’d buy that. I’m much more
fond of Edsgar Dijkstra’s line: “Computer science is as much about
computers as astronomy is about telescopes”. Computer Science, as in
“the science of computing”, is the application of the scientific method
to the mustering and application of limited resources, and there may
be no more social science than that. At its finest, it really is the
engineering of engineering. And,
if I’m a little bit lucky and a little bit good, I’ll be able to push
back the bounds of what’s possible a little bit.

This next bit’s not quite as preachy, so if you want to go get a coffee
or have a smoke or something, that’s cool. Take five. This page will
probably be here when you get back.

As you can see, I’ve added Alex back to the sidebar, because he’s found
a workaround for the Videotron Problem, which can be succinctly stated
as “Videotron Sucks”. To celebrate Alex’s reappearance, he’s put many
colorful, embarrassing and, I might add, freaking huge photos up,
that I’ve mirrored here:

  • Here
    you can see the finest photo available on the inter-web of my
    beautiful girlfriend, being shamelessly molested by my
    receding hairline.

  • I don’t like being photographed, and I try to avoid it. But
    sometimes, with these newfangled digital cameras, people who
    think they’re trying to avoiding being photographed are actually being filmed
    in the act of trying to avoid being photographed
    . Alex, I hate you.

  • My attempt to avenge this humiliation by incinerating
    Alex with my heat-ray vision
    did not produce the results I had hoped for.

I’ll get you next time, Gadget; next time.

July 1, 2003

Whiskey +Tango +Foxtrot

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

On the heels of the recent
“Is Google God?”
articles, I have taken a moment to examine
my referrer logs to find out what people have come to this site in
the hopes of finding. Google clearly moves in mysterious ways, Its
wonders to reveal. It is an arbitray, capricious God of the old school,
treating humans like pawns in some idle game of its own devising. At
least, that’s what my referrer logs say. Google might be the first
divinity whose potency is subject to analysis, and the results are not
promising. I recall an old MASH episode where the Father asks somebody
“Does God answer all prayers?” to which he replied “Yes. And sometimes,
the answer is No.”

Well, if my referrer logs are any indication, Google
periodically says “No” and then points and makes the Nelson Muntz
laugh. Last month, people found my website searching for, among less
interesting things, the following:

  • 1337 speak
  • 50 cents mario brothers song
  • artificial ingredients cheese whiz
  • asperger syndrome blog
  • hedonist ontario sex
  • big code of bruschetta japan
  • blarg virus
  • boxing related headaches
  • calvin hobbes love
  • canadian idol is a joke
  • cooking classes in downtown Toronto
  • cracked ribs
  • crap game dice throwing methods
  • damned jpg
  • definition of blarg
  • dishearteningly
  • disney lifejacket
  • electroshock stop smoking program
  • faded pants
  • greeting card ladder fall
  • halley’s comet swatch
  • hoye board game 2001 software free
  • hulk movie oshawa
  • hydro tooth fairies come out in the night
  • ikea jerker
  • incredible hulk model CGI
  • it looks like you’re trying to write clippy
  • Jean Chretien Sound Files Funny
  • jerker desk instructions
  • JuJu canadian idol
  • lifejacket child
  • mac hall cthulhu conscience
  • Martha Stewart old maps
  • microcephalic teens
  • moose ponds
  • morbidly obese friendly furniture
  • oshawa psychic fair 2003
  • peices of world trade center
  • photoshop counterintuitive load of crap
  • QA methods tailing server logs
  • quicksort java multiThread
  • reading the snows of kilimanjaro i learned
  • sartre deathbed conversion
  • scientific method biology cell
  • seratonin reuptake inhibitors
  • servis shoes
  • sex therapy playa del carmen
  • shock and awe calvin hobbes
  • standard human temperature
  • steve jobs +Arlene -pirates
  • stupidest package instructions
  • tooth pulling
  • two pierced ears
  • union station big clock
  • unsuspecting poutine
  • when did wizard magazine comic prices start sucking
  • where to buy a batman shirt in ottawa
  • Which film contains “This is why Superman works alone”

I’m a little concerned about the “Steve Jobs +Arlene -pirates” thing,
and I can certainly forgive Google for not really understanding what
somebody asking for the Japanese Code of Bruschetta or “Unsuspecting
Poutine” might really be after, but I’m having a hard time believing that
anybody would end up here looking for faded pants or a Disney lifejacket.

And the fact that this site shows up on a search for the word
“dishearteningly” is, well… Hrm.

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