blarg?

Another streetlight

I was visiting some family for Chinese new year’s, and some of the younger kids were watching (the execrably bad) Spy Kids 3-D in the den as I wandered in at some key point in the quote-story-unquote. The movie’s theme, which I reiterate was bad, was about how they’re “in a video game” and presumably have to win at video-gamey things, woo, and at the moment I came in one of the characters loses their last “life” and dies.

I said, “Enh, she’ll be back once she puts another quarter in”, which elicited the following two reactions:

  1. All the kids under twelve ignored the crazy old guy and kept watching the movie, and
  2. Everyone else, up to and including university students, looked at me as if to say “what the hell are you talking about, crazy old guy”.

“Last life? Put a quarter in?” Nothing, blank looks all ’round. Turns out, I was the only person in the building who’d ever put a quarter into a video game. The idea was totally alien to these kids; one of them asked “Why would you do that? Wouldn’t you break it?”

Well, yes, I suppose it would.

Which is all to say that I’m taking the Desoto down to the soda shop to buy a coke for a nickel and have my joints recrotcheted, and that all of you should be off my lawn by the time I get back.

Still

Every time I have to open up a wall in this house, I know I’m going to find something horrifying. Every single time.

This week, I moved some power outlets; it should have been a trivial job – pop the breaker, cut the drywall, move the box up half a foot so that it would fit over the new trim, drywall, sand, paint, done. Easy.

While I was in there I noticed a piece of old knob and tube wiring hanging loose in the wall, so I cut it out of my way before plastering it back up, and turned the breaker back on. And two of my lights on the 2nd floor didn’t work. Now, there should be no knob and tube in the house – none of it’s visible from any socket – but somebody wired up the neutral wire on my second floor to the old wiring and hid it in the wall, away from the junction box, so that when I finally cut out that one supposed-to-be-dead wire a bunch of stuff on the second floor stopped working.

In this modern age you can’t get home insurance with any hot knob and tube in the building; I’d bet that if that crap had shorted out and lit something my insurance company would have said “thanks for your patronage, but no money for you.” More wiring, more plaster, one more weekend lost on a project that should have been done a month ago, and hopefully that’s the last of that.

Today, I had to get a snake and replace some cracked plumbing because we had a leaking kitchen sink. The last time we had to have a drain snaked, the guy pulled swatches of carpet up out of it; this time nothing wierd came out, but I managed to clear up whatever the blockage was. But, what? Nylon carpet? Why would anyone put that stuff down a sink drain?

This stuff’s not hard, you know? You just need to care enough to do a little maintenance now and then, to show a little pride in your work. But the people who owned this house way back whenever, they didn’t care. They just did a half-assed job and covered it up and, when they couldn’t stand it anymore, moved away.

Be Safe And Considerate

Another technical note, of no particular interest to people who come here coveting the funny. It’s about software deployment, which isn’t even funny when it goes wrong, so there is no funny today. There will be more of the funny later, I promise. I hope, at least.

A friend of mine asked me some questions about Symantec, formerly Norton, Ghost; it was giving him grief, but he knows that I love it very much and that it loves me back and he felt (and I’ll admit to putting words in his mouth here) that he wasn’t getting any of that love, which was making him sad. I said (and I’ll admit to putting words in my mouth here) that baby, it doesn’t need to be like that, you just need to know how to treat it right. So, for the sake of posterity and Google and so forth, this is how you treat it right. His actual goal was a piece of bootable standalone media that would quickly blow a clean Windows machine image onto a standard(ish) standalone PC with minimal human intervention. There are two files mentioned here that I won’t link to, for fear of abusing my gracious hosts’ bandwidth, but I’ll mail you the disk image and the sysprep.inf file if you need them.

Oddly enough, the original recipient’s mail filter sent all this back to me twice for reasons of profanity, urging me to be more polite while also including the full text of the mail-filtering rule, a surprisingly complete list of variations on the offending terms. Which made me laugh: “Our politeness filter doesn’t want our delicate users to see this, but also thinks you’d be interested in this elaborate, comprehensive fecal howto!”

You must be this tall to ride the mail server, I guess. This sort of thing is, incidentally, the reason the inside of my head is such a sewer.

Ok, so are you all seated comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

You’ll need:

  • WinImage from here : http://www.winimage.com/ for manipulating floppy images.
  • IsoBuster from here: http://www.isobuster.com/isobusterdownload.php is helpful for tearing apart existing .iso images and getting the floppy image out of them, but not necessary to this process.
  • Nero is my preferred burner for this – it’s got very clear options about making bootable media. Making sure you’ve picked “2.88 MB floppy image” is I think the only thing you need to remember, during that process.

So, using WinImage on the floppy image that I mentioned above (a modified Win98 recovery disk), extract Autoexec.bat and look at these lines:

LOADHIGH MSCDEX /D:MSCD001 /M:8 /L:X
LOADHIGH SMARTDRV
LOADHIGH DOSKEY /INS
x:\ghost.exe -clone,mode=restore,src=x:\winxp_img.gho,dst=1 -fni

The “/L:X” bit in the first line chooses the drive letter to assign to the contents of the CD, and it’s used immediately in the last line. You’ll need to change the name of the file specified in “src=X:\whatever” to whatever the name of your ghost image is. Make your modifications and use winimage to reinsert it. The “dst=1″ bit means “restore to the first drive”. The -fni option, though, is critical. It is hard-won knowledge, and you will respect it as such; none of this will work on SATA drives if you don’t have that switch in that place, and that shit isn’t written down anywhere, because it’s Symantec and fuck those guys.

So, all you need to do is to change src=x:\winxp_img.gho to whatever.gho and burn the CD with ghost.exe and whatever.gho in the root directory, and the floppy image you’ve appropriately-modified as the magic 2.88MB booty thing, and the DVD that comes out the other end will boot straight into Ghost and ask the monkey in front of the screen if they want to restore that image, and they say yes, and you’re off. On modern systems, that should be done in less than half an hour.

So, that’s what happens if you have no hardware drift ever, and those machines never coexist on the same network. If so, you need to create that image using Sysprep and the sysprep.inf file that I mentioned above. You can read about sysprep here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/302577 but the gist of it is “copy my sysprep file over the default, modified so that where it says

[UserData]
ProductKey=XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX
FullName=”Guy LeGuy”
OrgName=”GuyCorp”

… you have a legit Windows prodkey, username and orgname, then run sysprep.” Check the “use minisetup” option and click the “reseal”, not “factory prep” button. All this does is that instead of ghosting an image onto random hardware and then losing its mind when it boots and finds out that it’s a spirit inhabiting a different body, it boots into a defensive posture and does a hardware autodetect and autoinstall before moving on.

That should about cover it. Let me know if you’ve got any questions about the process.

I thought that, since I was hungry as I sometimes am, I would supplement my meal today with some street meat from the hot-dog vendor outside. Which worked fine, until I got to the condiments, which were frozen. Not quite solid, they’d been stirred into a kind of slush, and (like a fool) I assumed they’d heat up against the barbecued sausage.

But the condiments won that fight.

It was like eating a hot-dog-flavored snow-cone.

Some of you may have had the thought cross your mind that, say, since you enjoy italian sausage, and you also enjoy frozen treats, you know what would really be good? A hot-dog-flavored snow-cone, you might have said to yourself.

You people may now put your minds at ease. I assure you, in the strongest possible terms, that idea won’t fly.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

Anyone remember the end of The Blob, from 1958? At the end of it, the words “The End” morph, blob-like, into a question mark; it was one of the earliest applications of this now-painfully-clichéd cliffhanger treatment and, sure enough, there was a sequel.

So: this is classic, straight out of the old Cold-War-realpolitik backroom-machination playbook. It’s something you’d expect from John LeCarré’s better work, not the morning news; Hoover and Kissinger have nothing on this guy. Ending his tenure just a thin handlebar moustache and a cat away from supervillainy, Dick Cheney watched the inauguration from a wheelchair having hurt his back while moving boxes during his move out.

This is not the kind of person who needs to lift his own boxes, of course. So, on top of the document shredding he’s already done, he’s got boxes too heavy for him to lift that contain stuff he doesn’t trust anyone else to touch.

Whatever’s in those boxes, you can be sure that it’s something that he has on somebody else, lots of somebody elses. And it must be awful. So, let the conspiracy theories begin. The End of the Cheney administration… or is it?

Dun dun dun…

UPDATE! And a fantastic update: Via Metafilter, “Russell Tice, former NSA security analyst, just came on the Keith Olbermann show revealing that the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs were not only far greater in scope than formerly thought, but also were specifically targeted at journalists.” Want to know why impeachment was off the table so many moons ago? That’s why. Because you can’t impeach somebody for a crime you’re complicit in, especially when as a result of that crime, they’ve got something on you.

Soft-focus Keyboard

Today in “the government they deserve” news, the blurb on this NY Times article reads:

Barack Obama’s love of language and reading has helped him to communicate and shaped his sense of the world.

The fact that the President of the United States reads books and can communicate well is news. And don’t get me wrong, it’s great news.

But come on.

Bridge Plus Graffiti

Ok, internets, I did your silly 7 Things, and now you owe me. And this is a meme I can get behind:

Let’s face it. You’re in a blog rut.

Most of the time, you write about more of the same kinda stuff that you usually write about.

Maybe it’s your day-to-day life, the stuff you did. Maybe it’s topical news response. Maybe it’s short fiction. Maybe it’s re-linking random stuff you see on the internet. Maybe it’s LOLCAT porn. (I hope it’s not LOLCAT porn.) Maybe it’s here on LiveJournal, or it’s over on Vox, or Blogspot or Blogger or Blogblog or Postablogablowablog, or WordPress or Facebook or FacePress or FacePlant or maybe it’s just your Twitter account. It’s what you’re comfortable with, I know, I know…

…but why not try doing something different, just for a day?

Two weeks from today, Tuesday January 27th, is Lewis Carroll’s 177th birthday. Carroll, you’ll recall, wrote about a girl who fell down a rabbit hole and found herself in a place where all the rules had changed. In two weeks, on Lewis Carroll’s 177th birthday, you should do the same.

That’s right: the 5th Annual Rabbit Hole Day is coming.

When you wake up on the 27th, instead of writing about your usual work and school and politics and friends and news and stuff, experience life down the Rabbit Hole and write about the work, the school, the politics, the friends, the news, the stuff that you find there instead. Travel through time. Turn into an animal. Flee from assassins. Talk to your goldfish. Conquer Greenland. Sprout some extra limbs. Learn how to walk on water. Marry an insect.

Take a break from the Every Day and write about your Rabbit Hole Day. Your normal life will be waiting for you when you get back.

Get on that, people.

Thin Ice

Tagged twice, ugh. Thankfully, I only need to reply once. Robcee, I don’t hate you, and Shaver: indeed.

So, apparently the rules of this game are:

  • Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged.

I was tempted to fabricate a variety of lunatic claims here, but I am seized with a fit of frank honestly for some reason. And I save most of my short-burst lunacy for Twitter these days, which is a true statement but because I am feeling charitable will not count against my total.

So my seven facts (microanecdotes?) are:

  1. I used to have a terrible, crushing fear of public speaking. Late in high school, though, I realized all of a sudden (though I wouldn’t have the words to describe what I’d realized until much later) that being embarassed in public is exactly like being bullied in public, and the only way out from under that is to push back. Since then I’ve been told more than once that perhaps I have pushed a bit (and often a lot) too far but, hey, it beats putting random strangers in charge of how you feel and living in fear.
  2. Like beltzner I have a movie credit, though doesn’t appear in IMDB. It was a small indie horror film by Mark Zanin, in which I am credited as “Zombie #1″.
  3. I shaved my goatee for my wedding, which I didn’t particularly like, even though my wife and parents did. I had an earring then as well, which I took out the night before the wedding and haven’t put back.
  4. I am about three-quarters of the way to three different degrees (English Literature, Math and Computer Science) from three different universities, and am working ever so slowly on finishing one of them up at a fourth. I hope to graduate from some University somewhere before futurekid gets out of kindergarten.
  5. At the apartment we lived in just before buying our house, we had a mouse problem, including mice running around in the drop ceiling over our bed. We deployed some effective but pretty shockingly cruel sticky-traps to try to deal with the problem, but my wife was so upset by the thrashing of the mice in the traps that she insisted I set them free. Which you can only do, it turns out, by using oil as a solvent. So I have spent several nights of my life standing in a dark alley in my pajamas, in the snow, pouring cooking oil on stuck, terrified and doubtless also very confused, mice. Most of them on being finally freed would run about two meters, turn around and look back at me with what I assumed to be the mousy equivalent of a frightened what-the-hell-just-happened-here expression before taking off, and I can’t say that I felt all that different.
  6. If I go to bed before 1:00 AM or so, I inevitably I wake up between three and four in the morning for no reason I can discern. I can usually get to bed again after half an hour or so, but not always; I haven’t slept through the night without substantial chemical assistance in something like fifteen years.
  7. I once owned a pristine copy of Secret Wars #8, in which Spider-man gets his iconic black-and-white outfit. I sold it for quarters, which promptly went towards a few games of Tiger Road at the local corner store. I used to regret that decision, but it turns out you can get the whole set now in hardcover, but I doubt I’ll ever play Tiger Road again, so who knows?

Red rover, red rover, I call Ben, Libid, Luke, Rob, Nikita, Julie and Johnath over.

(Confidential, from Pierre to Gaston: If you’re going to hide the fact that you’ve got a blogue, make the URL less guessable, mon ami!)

The other day:

00:25 < mhoye> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYSULkXcVYw
00:25 <@humph> howdy hoye
00:25 <@humph> I watched this from your blog and didn't get it
00:26 * nadavers is watching now, also doesn't get it
00:26 < mhoye> "get it"?

Ok, so:

I’ve been a fan for a long time of The Dresden Dolls, the piano-and-drums duo of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, the sole occupants of the “Brechtian punk cabaret” niche of the music world. A nice gentle introduction to their music might be this video for Coin-Operated Boy off their live album “A Is For Accident” and the twitchy, frenetic oddity of Girl Anachronism. But some of my favorite (and quite a bit darker) music comes from their earlier self-titled EP and later also-self-titled full-length album, including Half Jack and Bad Habit, though the Jeep Song, Glass Slipper and The Perfect Fit are perennial favorites as well.

The more recent album, “Yes, Virginia…” is a lot more polished than their earlier work, and it’s really good too, (Necessary Evil and Me & The Minibar are among my favorites there) but after a couple of listens I felt like the raw, sparse sound of the earlier albums was missing, and didn’t have anything really substantial in its place.

Which brings me up to Leeds United, the single off Amanda Palmer’s new solo album, produced by Ben Folds. I’d understood that this was an Amanda-Palmer-only album, and I was expecting a generous dollop of the sort of thing Palmer’s done well before – slower, distressingly passionate songs about damaged people and the uglier edge cases of modern romance. The name is a reference to Twin Peaks, another slow, distressingly passionate show, so I thought I couldn’t be all that wrong.

For the first bit the song shows every sign of going that way, opening up with a ragged, whiskey-and-cigarred Palmer singing over some sparse piano, a promising opener indeed. But over the course of a verse that goes “who needs love when there’s law & order, and who needs love when there’s southern comfort”, a drum kit wanders off the street and starts stomping out unexpectedly upbeat rhythm, and now here we are in a totally different song. And even that doesn’t last long; a verse later and about two minutes in, right after a line ending “who needs love when the sandwiches are wicked and they know you at the Mac Store” (100% awesome in its own right, and the first new thing I’ve heard in a love song this century) the song gets ambushed by an entire horn section that jumps out of nowhere and into the song with both feet.

The horn section brings that fat brass sound and some ridiculously exuberant, over-the-top enthusiasm in with them, and like all good horn sections before long it sounds like they’re all competing to out-joi-de-vivre the next guy over. And I thought this, this is what the last album needed to fill that void. It needed a bunch of talented lunatics with horns.

That’s roughly when the song shifts gears again, going back to it being just Palmer, her half-cracked sandpaper voice and her piano and just a little quiet cymbal work before the horns start to ramp back up to 11. Then it’s this big, rumbling soccer-mob push to the finish; it’s every brass instrument for itself with the horns now going determinedly all over the place, the drummer trying to chase the horns down More Is Better Lane, and everything building up to this great, jangly, screaming finale.

So, there you go. That’s why I like the song, because listening to it is like joining some sort of wierd musical pub crawl with a bunch of too-enthusiastic fans.

If you like it, you can see videos for the album at the Who Killed Amanda Palmer site, and the Dresden Dolls download page and Automatic Joy (whose name comes from a line from Coin Operated Boy) are also worth checking out. Throw a few bucks their way if you like it.

Provided without comment:

A: Man, who knew that this was going to be this complicated?

M: Not me. Man, forget this. The kid can walk. We’ll feed him until he’s four, and then ship him off to the salt mines.

A: Feed him what?

M: Salt!

A: No.