Breaking the build

Andy Marks talks about determining how broken your build is. Two solutions are offered separately, in separate blogs:

I think that Cedric means "full product build", and in that sense I think he's right. The last time I worked for a company large enough to have dedicated configuration management staff, they were responsible for the shipping build—not the developers. Unfortunately, many of us work for companies or organizations so small we barely have a development team, much less a dedicated CM team.

I really like Vincent's idea. The thing that's a little scary about it is the asynchronous nature of the SCM commit—I don't know if that's possible with current tools. I may have to play with this idea once I get a continuous integration server running locally.

How to fix Mom's computer

Thank you, Gina, thank you for your guide to cleaning up a Windows box. I haven't used Windows for anything more than compatibility testing for over four years now, so I've lost whatever mad skillz I may have had in that department. With this guide in hand, I'm cleaning up my wife's computer. I'll also be sending it to my father (for fixing Mom's computer) and my brother-in-law (his mother has been complaining of problems with her computer).

(Then again, the last Windows box in our house may become a thing of the past, if rumors of a sub-US$600 iMac come to pass.)

Christmas, apparently, is over.

Our tree just fell over, still fully loaded with ornaments. So far, it looks like we lost only one glass ball, but until I can put the tree back upright, we won't know for sure.


It... is... alive!

Some time back (I can tell already that this entry is going to get edited a lot) the backlight in my laptop died. Normally, this would be a problem——what good is a laptop if you can't see what you're doing?—but, as it's a PowerBook G3 Firewire, I plugged in the monitor on my desk and went on with that. (I did have to configure the external monitor as a mirror of the dead display, which involved shining a bright light on the display so as to see what my mouse was doing, but I digress.) Since I don't have a wireless network, and both batteries for the laptop are dead, I was pretty much tethered to my desk anyway.

I've been meaning all this time to replace the backlight. In anticipation of an upcoming business trip, I finally knuckled down and did so today. It wasn't as hard as I expected it to be. Now, a couple of hours later, I've got a working laptop display. I'd forgotten how bright and crisp this thing could be. The old display had been suffering from the PowerBook "pink screen of pain" for some time, and I'm happy to report that it's gone, gone, gone.

Heaping helpings of gratitude, for making this job possible, easier, and more enjoyable, go out to:

  • the unfortunately departed website of "Scadboy" at http://homepage.mac.com/scadboy/lcd/, without which I never would have had the courage to attempt this myself
  • js_30 on eBay, who sold me a display inverter board, at a reasonable price
  • PowerBook Tech, who sold me a new backlight (shipped as a known-busted display with a working backlight attached to it), also at a reasonable price
  • the disassembly guide at PBFixIt, which made removing the lid and display from my PowerBook much easier than if I'd tried to figure it out myself
  • Connie Dover and Scartaglen, Sarah McLachlan, and Depeche Mode for providing the soundtrack


Whose life is it, anyway?

A Massachusetts telecom company is offering unlimited VoIP calls for life. What's left unsaid is whether that's your life, or theirs. (Thanks to A Welsh View for the link.)

A jukebox of my own

For the fourth or fifth time, I'm ripping our CD collection to MP3s. The first time I did this, I burned them to CDs to take to work. That was before I learned about ID3 tags, so they're basically a jumbled mess of files that depend on the file system for structure and identification.

The second, third, and possibly fourth times (I lost track somewhere) I ended up having to dump the MP3s to make room for something more important (and more ephemeral—at least the MP3s are backed by CDs). We have a decent amount of hard drive storage in the house; the problem is that it's spread out over 10 or so disks. That, and I could never figure out how to get iTunes to look both on my local drive and a remote drive for MP3s.

A couple of weeks back, I bought an 80GB drive for a terrific price after rebate. Even after replacing the three drives in my Linux box with this new one, I still have plenty of space left over. Enough, in fact, to comfortably hold our entire CD collection as MP3s.

Last night, the final piece fell into place—I finally figured out how to turn the Linux box into an iTunes server. There are instructions to be found in several places around the Web, but the simplest turned out to be from the guy who built a Debian package for the necessary software. One thing I had to figure out on my own is that the path to the MP3 directory in /etc/daapd.conf can't contain spaces—even if you escape them with backslashes.

Picking knits

Shortly before Halloween, links to the Hallowig—a knitted yarn wig—made their way around the blogosphere. Now, those wacky crafters at knitty.com are back with another, um, unusual project: a knitted yarn model of the human female reproductive organs. (Internal, not external. This is a (mostly) family-friendly blog.)

Angela just had her first knitting lesson on Monday, and while I'm not anticipating a spate of wigs or uteri any time soon, I do think it would be cool to have a knitted Tux for the top of my monitor.


Breaking News: Slashdot Reviews Flickr

Slashdot | Flickr Online Photo Service Reviewed.

In related news, Slashdot commenters prove once again that they just don't get it.

This... makes my head hurt

Inverting the Inversion of Control. (Warning: nerdy by nature.)

Worst. Holiday specials. Ever.

Whatever: The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time.

A marriage made in heaven?

Yesterday, I had one of those "million dollar" revelations that I occasionally have. The problem is, that I invariably have them too late to do anything about them. (This explains why I'm still working for someone else instead of sitting on a beach, drinking beer and getting a tan. But I digress.) Nevertheless, I'm still going to commit this one to the ages, so if it comes to pass I can point at it and say, "Look how smart I am!".

The latest rage seems to be Microsoft's Media Center PCs—computers that integrate into your home entertainment system, bringing the multimedia capabilities of modern PCs to the living room. With one of these, you can (I gather; I haven't seen one of these in person yet) play CDs, MP3s, DVDs, and PC games, view photos, and probably just about anything else that doesn't require a keyboard, while sitting on your sofa. The display is your TV, and the input device is a remote control. Built-in networking means that you're not limited to what's on the Media Center PC; you can pull data from any other computer on the network.

This feels like it's smack in the middle of the "digital convergence" space that Apple has been talking about for several years now. As a result, one is starting to hear rumblings about when they're going to move into this market. For example, The Register reports that "Merrill Lynch looks to 'killer' Apple home media server". This is why I figure that I'm too late with this idea; I suspect that Apple either has soemthing in the works already, or has decided to move in a completely different direction altogether.

Almost everything Media Center PCs can do, Apple hardware and software can also do, today. (I have used a 1999-era Powerbook as a DVD deck for our TV and an MP3 jukebox for our stereo in the past.) The only things missing that I can think of are the ability to run PC games, the hi-fi stack form factor, and the TV/remote control interface. I'm not going to spend any time on the first one; PC games won't run on Macintosh hardware, and while some games have Macintosh versions, many more don't. We're going to have to write this one off as unsolvable—although I have a peripheral idea that I'll get to at the end, assuming I remember to.

Apple tried the stereo component form factor before, with the Pippin. It failed to go anywhere, probably as much for being ahead of its time as anything else. Nevertheless, there's no magic in this form factor; it's just a laptop without a display or keyboard, and with more (but not substantially different) jacks and sockets. There's no technical reason Apple couldn't produce a Macintosh in a stereo component box.

As far as the TV/remote control interface goes, very few companies do user interface like Apple. They're not perfect—just ask Tog—but in my (admittedly biased) opinion, they know how to do simple, clean, usable interfaces. Just as important, they recognize good interfaces when others create them, and put them to good use; for instance, the iPod interface originally came from Pixo. So, while Apple could produce their own interface for a "digital convergence hub", I think they'd be better off turning to another company who has already done it, and done it well.


The CPU in TiVo PVRs is the PowerPC, same as in Macintosh. They run Linux, but I suspect that it could be replaced with Darwin (the foundation of Mac OS X). (Conversely, the Mac OS X applications that would power such a box could probably be ported to Linux without much difficulty. I'm not saying we'll ever see Linux versions of them outside of any such box, but porting from Darwin to Linux should be a lot easier than, say, porting from Darwin to Windows.) Series 2 TiVos already have many of the hardware bits necessary to make this work, so all that really remains is to get Apple and TiVo together.

Imagine that Apple licenses the hardware reference design and software from TiVo. They add the "digital convergence" applications that already exist—iTunes, iPhoto, iCal, GarageBand. Put Apple and TiVo logos on the front. Call it "iTiVo". Watch them sell like iPods. :-)

I've got some ideas for some new synergies that could come out of this, but I'm already running long. Two final thoughts, one of which was referenced above.

  • Series 2 TiVos have jacks for cable TV and Ethernet. Add a wireless Ethernet connection (and why wouldn't you?) and cable modem hardware and you have a broadband router/firewall for the whole house.
  • Remember how I said that a Macintosh-based box can't run PC games? While you could do it by emulating a PC in software, I doubt that the performance would be acceptable. Instead, consider that gaming consoles like the PlayStation/2 could probably be condensed to the size of a PCI card....


Barenaked Ladies: Barenaked for the Holidays

Our holiday CD this year is Barenaked for the Holidays by Barenaked Ladies, and let me tell you, this may be the holiday CD to end all holiday CDs. On one (one!) CD they give us:

  • a rendition "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" recorded backstage at a concert (with guest vocals by Sarah McLachlan)
  • "Green Christmas" from the soundtrack to How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • their own version of "Do They Know It's Christmas" that, while sounding sincere, makes you think that they're poking fun at Bob Geldof
  • "Jingle Bells" and "O Holy Night" performed on the Hammond organ (Angela's reaction: "It sounds like they're at a baseball game")
  • and "Deck the Stills"—the tune is "Deck the Halls", but the words are "Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young" repeated over and over

That last one has to be heard to be believed.


Enabling SSH access through the firewall

This isn't going to make any sense to the vast majority of you, and the others will point and laugh at something that can be looked up elsewhere. But I've been carrying this little piece of paper around for almost a year now, so I figure it must be important enough to write down somewhere a little more permanent.

At home:

    ssh -R 9722:localhost:22 servername

On the server:

    ssh -p 9722 username@localhost

How to de-stink a Volvo

From David Weinberger: How to de-stink a Volvo. It reminds me of how Dave Barry used to write:

Our Volvo has heated seats ("The Warm Ass that Cluetrain Bought"), so you have to remove some electrical bits first. On the bottom of the seat are two black boxes, each held on by a single torx screw. Remove and deposit at the bottom of a storm drain, just to teach yourself a lesson.


Trying out ecto

I'm giving ecto a spin 'round the block. Not that expect a fancy tool to make my blog posts any more interesting... or frequent, for that matter.


And so it begins

The turkey carcass is barely cold, and we already have our Christmas tree. We took advantage of the fact that we have an SUV for the week (long story, not worth repeating) to save ourselves the trouble of trying to cram it in the trunk of my Civic this year.

One bittersweet note is that our favorite tree farm is closing its doors (gates?) after this season. Granted, we've gotten a fir, imported from Michigan or some such, every year for the past 5 or so instead of a locally-grown Scotch pine (we got tired of the itchy, swollen hands that result from trimming the latter, with its stubby, inflexible needles). We should be able to go just about anywhere to get a fir, imported from Michigan or some such. Anywhere else we go, however, is going to lack the atmosphere that Warren's has. They will be missed.


We got snow

That's not why I didn't post yesterday. Yesterday was spent running around making preparations for today.

This wasn't just a light dusting of snow, either. We got about 6 inches. Not a bad way to start the holiday season.


First pass at the new layout

It's still a little rough, but it's most of the way there. Serious thanks to Tonico Strasser for his flexible layout; the good stuff is his, while any CSS bogosity is all mine.


We're all nit-pickers about something

My wife used to hate watching a movie with me where computers figure prominently in the story line. (That's probably incorrect. I'm sure she still hates it, but doesn't bother complaining to me anymore.) I've been a computer professional for about 15 years, and an enthusiast for almost 25, so I have a hard time suspending my disbelief long enough to swallow some of the computer-related nonsense we're shown—and a harder time keeping quiet about it. (I'll refrain from posting any specific examples; if you know computers, I'm sure you can think of your own examples. If you don't, a simple rule of thumb is this: If you find yourself asking, "Can computers really do that?", the answer is usually "no".)

Not that she's entirely guiltless herself. She used to work in television, so that's her area of relative expertise, and the topic for which she can't let inaccurate representations slide. I remember when we saw Up Close and Personal, and Michelle Pfeiffer's character broadcasts live from deep within a prison during a riot. My wife kept shaking her head. "How are they transmitting live footage? They left the live truck outside the prison walls. Did they drag cables all the way with them? If so, where are the cables?"

I bring this up because, well, I can. Someone once said that everyone is an expert on something. (According to Google, apparently everyone has said this.) And whatever you're expert at, you can nit-pick at.

Case in point. Mark Simonson, a professional font designer (and, therefore, an expert on typography), has catalogued on his website "the use (and misuse) of period typography in movies". In other words, what he notices is whether a movie set in the 1950's shows a typeface that wasn't designed until the 1980's.

An expert after my own heart.

It's beginning to smell a lot like...

I'm not going to finish that. It's bad enough that I'm alluding to (Holiday+1).

We've had a zip-top bag full of cinnamon sticks in the cabinet for several years now, waiting for a reason to use them. Now we have a reason, but we figured they're probably too old, so we bought a fresh new bag at Penzey's. It seemed a shame to throw out the old ones—just because they're old doesn't mean they're worthless—so I dropped five or six of them into a pan of water simmering on the stove. Instant ambiance!


Some of my 43 Things

I've started making my list. Have you?

Eating your own poorly-styled dogfood

I know what you're thinking:

If you're spending so much time lately learning CSS, why don't you apply some of that newfound knowledge to your own blog? Huh?

Part of the answer is in the question. Time outside of work has been scarce lately, and since this blog is apparently just me talking to myself, it's not exactly at the top of my list of priorities.

Still, one of the joys of newfound knowledge is learning how to wreckchange the world with it, so a redesign will take place. Someday. Maybe.

In the meantime, I leave you with some links to how I'd rather be spending my free time.

The first day of the rest of my life

See, I'm already blogging on a daily basis. :-)

We're getting geared up for having Thanksgiving dinner at our house this year. Whether we're getting sufficiently geared up remains to be seen. Fortunately, our only guests are Angela's brother and sister-in-law, so it's not like we'll set off an international incident if dishes fail to be ready to eat at the same time.


You never write anymore.

And there's a perfectly good reason. Well, at least a reason, if not perfectly good. Okay, there's really no reason. Sort of.

I keep not writing, because I'm thinking that there's nothing I'm thinking that's worth writing about. Or else I think of something worth writing about, but only when I'm not at the computer. Recently, however, I've run across two things that I hope will help break me out of this endless cycle of whatever it's an endless cycle of:

  1. A blog entry at thinair entitled "Don't think. Write.".
  2. 43 Things (warning: potentially non-PC, but we're all big kids here, right?). Their basic premise is that "...by writing down your goals you greatly increase the chances of actually completing them. Part of it is just knowing what your goals are. Another is being able to hold yourself accountable."

So I've decided that one of my 43 things is to post to my blog regularly. So volume will go up, hopefully. Not making guarantees that any of it will be a reasonable expediture of electrons.


Talk about your minimalist website

On one hand, it's a refreshing departure from the usual graphics-and-Flash-laden corporate website. On the other, it's just about as usable.



AskTog: The High Price of Not Listening

Bruce Tognazzini is an interaction designer and a principal with The Nielsen Norman Group. He has a monthly column called Ask Tog in which he addresses various interaction concerns—often human-computer interaction (aka user interface), but not always—much like Alertbox from Jakob Nielsen (yes, as in Nielsen Norman Group). His latest column is called The High Price of Not Listening, and it's about why it's important for companies to make it easy to receive feedback from their customers, and return feedback to their customers that they've been heard.

I can't take issue with the bulk of this column; I think he's spot on. It's mostly common sense, but as a friend of mine used to say, "common sense isn't". Unfortunately, if Tog falls short, it's in that he addresses only part of the conversation between customer and company, and appears to place the bulk of responsibility on the company without addressing the customer's responsibility.

He even provides what I think is a near-perfect example in his column, in the form of a letter from a frustrated Mac OS X user from Canada who is having trouble getting valuable feedback to receptive ears at Apple:

There are three Canadian options in the International System Preference: Canadian CSA, Canadian ISO, and French Canadian. All three are French. Why is there no Canadian English option? Why are there three French options? HELLO!!! Over 90 percent of the Population of Canada speaks English as their first language.

HELLO!!! Only 10 percent of the population of Canada speaks French. It is like having all US Macintoshes default to Spanish because 10 percent of the US population speaks Spanish.

Virtually every new Mac user in Canada chooses the Canadian CSA option (the preselected default option with the Canadian flag) on their first startup in OS 10, unaware that this is French Canadian. How much effort would it take to change the text from “Canadian CSA” to “French Canadian”, so people would at least know what they are selecting? FIX THIS!!!

And it goes on like that, in similar vein.

I agree that the problems he describes should be fixed. I understand the writer's frustration at not being able to get this message to someone who can do something about it. And I get Tog's point that a company can't afford to ignore this kind of feedback if they want to keep their customers happy. But while I was reading this letter, agreeing in the front of my brain, in the back of my brain one phrase kept bouncing around: "petulant whiner".

In twelve paragraphs, the writer types phrases in all caps eleven times. Six of them are "FIX THIS!!!"; two are "HELLO!!!". Nine end with three exclamation points. He uses the word "idiotic" twice, and even writes

…and giving Apple computers a bad name for no reason at all, except that somebody at Apple is too lazy to FIX THIS!!!

To recap: he yells (in text); he uses inflammatory language; and he accuses the entity he's addressing of being lazy.

I used to work customer service in the circulation department for a local newspaper. We were the paper's "first line of defense"—most complaints about the newspaper ended up in our department, whether or not they had anything to do with the customer not getting his or her paper. I like to think we handled every complaint professionally, and didn't intentionally give preferential treatment to the ones who were calm and reasonable over those who were abrasive. However, I'm sure that it happened unintentionally. If nothing else, when you hang up the phone after taking a complaint from a calm, reasonable customer, you feel pretty good about yourself and your job; here's a person who needs help, and by golly you're the person who can help them.

I understand being frustrated when something's not taken care of in a timely fashion. I agree that there's a time and a place to raise your voice. I had to do this recently with a billing clerk who told us three times that she'd taken care of something when she hadn't, and as a result we were getting thinly-veiled threats from a collection agency. The fourth time we spoke to her, I raised my voice—I honestly hope I didn't actually yell—and not only did she finally take care of it, she sent hard-copy confirmation with a handwritten note of apology.

My point? Companies have a responsibility to their customers to make it easy to submit feedback, to receive that feedback and act on it in a timely fashion, and to let the customer know that he or she has been heard. At the same time, while customers don't have a similar responsibility to the company, there are things they can do to make the process more pleasant (and thereby more efficient) for everyone. In a way, customer service representatives are customers, too.


CSS will be the death of me

Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, I have been visited by an apparition which has shown me my ultimate fate. Unlike Scrooge, however, my particular harbinger was not the Ghost of Christmases to Come, but Inconsistencies in How Various Browsers Implement CSS 2.0. Also unlike Scrooge, I haven't been offered the opportunity to alter my ultimate fate, no matter how much I scream: "Wait, spirit! I can change! I can change!"


Not another one of those days

All kinds of firsts today, relatively speaking:

  • I had lunch out of the house, with an adult I'm not married to, and talked about work. I don't think I've done this since last December.
  • I replaced the photo black ink cartridge in my wife's printer, and there was a small pool of ink inside the little protective cap, and most of it ended up on my hands. For future reference, Canon BCI-6BK ink does not wash off with soap and water. Neither does it succumb to rubbing alcohol. I'm going to give acetone a try later, but I'm starting to think that I'm stuck looking like I have a skin disease for the next month or so. If there's a silver lining, it's that Halloween is coming up.
  • I got a phone call from our state governor, and I hung up on her. Okay, it was a prerecorded message, and it was whatever is the telephone equivalent of spam, and it was on my work phone, which I haven't registered with the no-call list as I just recently had it installed. I can't remember if I voted for her or not—there's something painfully American in that admission, isn't there?


Fellowship 9/11

A few more of these, and people are going to think I do nothing but watch movies on the Internet....

Fellowship 9/11—how Michael Moore might have done The Lord of the Rings. (Is it just me, or is there more than a passing resemblance between Michael Moore and Peter Jackson?)

Try loading the movie through Coral if the first one doesn't work. You'll also need QuickTime.

Thanks to Darren Barefoot for the link.



This short movie (or try loading it from CoralCache if that's slashdotted) is laugh-out-loud funny and a little scary at the same time. I suspect that this scenario isn't all that far-fetched for some people.

(Apologies to whomever I got this link from. I'd give you credit if I could remember which blog I read it on.)

Update. A friend of a friend tells me that this is from The Brendan Leonard Show, which until this season ran on ABC Family, but (of course) has since been cancelled. A little bit of Googling reveals that Brendan Leonard is up to new hijinx at http://campjinx.pictureshowfilms.com/ .


So much for the Next Big Thing

Yesterday, I saw a blog post somewhere (sorry, I forget where, but probably either from Boing Boing or Jason Kottke) about Snap, a new search engine. (No link; we'll get to that later.) The unique and interesting thing about Snap is that it pushes some of the power to the browser. After entering your initial search terms and getting a list of results, you can refine your query by entering additional search terms, and through the power of Javascript, the list of results gets updated as you type.

I've never been a big fan of Javascript; my initial experiences were unfavorable (e.g. the energy you had to expend just to deal with differences in implementation between browsers), and the payoff was minimal (e.g. fiddly little UI tweaks that ran more to "look what I can do" than "really useful"). I'm starting to come around, though, thanks to useful browser-side scripting examples like TiddlyWiki and (I'm told) GMail. And Snap.


Cory Doctorow read far enough into Snap's website to discover that Snap has a "unforgivably stupid and evil linking policy". So no linking to it here. I'm feeling a little guilty about even describing Snap—not for legal reasons, but because bad publicity is still publicity.

Maybe they'll come around, and embrace openness in linking. Or maybe we'll just keep referencing Snap without linking, as a cautionary tale.

HTML without style

From Eric Meyer: Really Undoing html.css. He describes how to turn off all the default CSS styling in your web browser. Since it involves messing with files on your hard drive, it's not exactly something you can use in your website template, but it looks like a good way to learn what assumptions the authors of our browsers (and, by extension, we who use them) make about how our HTML is presented. It makes me nostalgic for the days of disassembling executable files to peek at the machine code, back when people still knew what those terms meant. :-)

Update. Eric has a followup article called Fractionally Restoring html.css that describes the minimal reasonable stylesheet (setting the display: block property on block elements, for instance). He also floats the idea of having a copy of your favorite browser with minimal styles, and testing your websites to ensure that the styling is coming from CSS and not from markup (in other words, embedded in the HTML).


It's del.icio.us

I don't know what took me so long. After seeing any number of posts on various weblogs about del.icio.us, I finally took a look. Then took the plunge. Now, I think we can safely say, I'm obsessed.

For those of you even later to the party than me, del.icio.us is an online bookmark manager, sort of. After you create an account, you can start adding URLs to your list through a form on their site or with a handy bookmarklet. Your bookmarks are stored in one place, available from multiple locations or even multiple browsers on the same computer.

If that's as far as you look, you probably won't be impressed. Rather than trying to present your bookmarks in some kind of fancy dynamic tree structure, they get dumped into a simple list. The real power (and fun) begins with the tags you can add to each URL.

Think keywords—more precisely, think terms you would use if you were searching for the URL. For instance, I used the tags "food cheese england" for the URL http://www.teddingtoncheese.co.uk/acatalog/de339.htm, which describes an English cheese called Stinking Bishop. The right side of the del.icio.us page has a list of all of the tags I've used for all of the bookmarks I've stored. I click on "cheese" and get a list of only those bookmarks that are tagged with "cheese".

To quote Al Pacino, "I'm just gettin' started!"

When you click on a tag, like "cheese", you also get a link to other URLs, from all users, that have the same tag. If a URL has been added people besides you, you'll get a link under it that reads "and X other people"; click on it and you can see what tags other people used for that URL.

Whether or not they intended it, the people behind del.icio.us have created something in the gap between Yahoo! (or DMOZ) and Google. Maybe the thing it's closest to is that "people who bought X also bought..." feature at Amazon.com.

Update. No sooner do I post this than I check NewsFire and find that Tom Coates has said it better than I have, and goes on to do something useful with the idea rather than just blathering on about how neat it is. (Thanks to Jason Kottke for the link.) Just another reminder that I either need to learn to write better or get out of the writing-in-my-spare-time-for-the-fun-of-it business.


Blink and you'll miss it

This is hardly news at this point: SpaceShipOne has unofficially won the Ansara X-Prize. You can read more, better commentary about it than I can provide, so I won't try. Instead, I've got a slightly different perspective to share.

When I remembered that the second flight for the X-Prize was today (should I be embarassed that it wasn't the first thing I thought of when I woke up?) I hustled downstairs to look for live coverage on TV. NBC? Nope. Fox? Nope. ABC? Nope. CBS? Nope. The Discovery Channel? CNN? CNN Headline News? Fox News? (I hope you can see the pattern.)

I finally found coverage on MSNBC, about the time that White Knight was taking off. They didn't go to minute-by-minute coverage until shortly before SSO separation, but I can't blame them for that; there's only so many times and ways you can say "they're still circling to gain altitude". However, they did go to continuous coverage a few minutes before SSO separation, and stayed with it until touchdown.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd have thought (or, rather, hoped) that one of the major news networks would have been following this. After all, they saw fit to broadcast the entire funeral procession for Ronald Reagan. I'm especially surprised that The Discovery Channel wasn't all over this. Yes, I'm sure they're not normally set up for live broadcasts, but IIRC they're owned (at least partially) by NBC, so it's not like they don't have access to resources.

(It just occurred to me that the fact that MSNBC was covering the flight may have had less to do with the "NBC" part than with the "MS" part, what with primary funding for SpaceShipOne coming from Paul Allen, one of the cofounders of Microsoft.)

I'm reminded of a night a month or so back when tornado sirens started sounding in our city. We were watching TV at the time, so we started flipping around the local affiliates for weather information. (How to identify a Kansas City resident: if tornado sirens go off in the daytime, we go outside to see if we can spot it; if they go off at night, we turn on the TV to watch the storm coverage.) Everybody was broadcasting regularly scheduled programming. Finally, one of the affiliates broke in with weather coverage, and stayed with it until the storm had passed. Only one.


How time flies

My local development server has twice in recent days lost track of the current time. The first time it happened, I only noticed because Maven complained with a bizarre error when I tried to run it. After Googling and digging and whatnot, I finally decided to reboot the machine. It wasn't until after that that I noticed that the system time had been off. I made sure that Webmin was set up to sync the clock from an NTP server, and filed it away in the "how often does that happen" category.

Well, it just happened again. Again, it was the bizarre error from Maven that tipped me off. This time, I had the sense to check the system time before rebooting, and sure enough, apparently I'd slid back to 1970 when I wasn't looking. I went into Webmin to force an NTP resync and noticed that the hardware clock was still correct; only the system clock was wrong. Webmin has the ability to set the system clock from the hardware clock, which I did, and was promptly booted out of Webmin because:

Session timed out after 54069110 minutes of inactivity.

102 years, 10 months, 13 days, 15 hours, and 15 minutes passed when I wasn't paying attention? No wonder I'm feeling old. :-)


60/- Scottish Ale

I bottled the 60/- Scottish ale tonight. The gravity and ABV were right where they're supposed to be, at least according to the BJCP guidelines. It's hard to tell by taste at this point (since it's not carbonated, and warm) but it's malty rather than hoppy -- not a rich malty like an Oktoberfest, but a clean malty.

That reminds me... I need to check the keg of Oktoberfest to see if it's carbonated yet, or if (as I suspect) I have a slow leak in the keg that keeps it from holding pressure.

Frankenstein revisited

It wasn't the inverter board. Now I'm working on the assumption that it's the backlight. I found a replacement relatively cheap on the Internet; it was shipped as a working backlight attached to a shot display. (Given that the backlight is about 11 inches long and about 2mm in diameter, I suppose it was the only safe way to ship it.) Now I just have to make time to tear the laptop apart.


Paging Dr. Frankenstein

The display on my PowerBook failed this morning. From what I can tell, it's just the inverter for the backlight -- I can still sort of see the display, as long as there's lots of ambient light (or a flashlight) shining on it.

Fortunately, the PowerBook G3 FireWire (aka "Pismo") has a VGA connector on the back. I plugged in the monitor from my Linux box and, with a judicious amount of squinting, set up display mirroring. Now I can at least see what I'm typing.

I just picked up a new inverter board on eBay for about US$12 after shipping. (Note: I believe in supporting my local certified Apple repair shop, but I figure the minimum labor charge would be at least US$75, which is getting dangerously close to how much I'm willing to spend on this laptop.) One of these days I should try to find a new backlight; for some time this one has been exhibiting the dreaded "pink Pismo display" problem.


Drive-by linking

Nigritude Ultramarine


Drive-by linking

GeekDIY (like I need any more spare-time projects).


The dishwasher has attempted an illegal operation....

Last night, I did something I've never had to do before: I rebooted the dishwasher.

About 18 months ago, we bought a GE Triton dishwasher. Is verry nice; in a vast improvement over the old dishwasher, this one's quiet enough that you can talk on the phone while standing next to it when it's running.

Instead of having knobs and buttons that actually open and close electrical contacts (I can hear Scotty saying, "How quaint"), it has a set of momentary-contact touchpads. Just close the door, push the "Start" touchpad, and off it goes. An embedded microcontroller takes care of the rest.

I tried to start it last night, and it wouldn't. None of the LEDs for the options (like the pot scrubber cycle) would light, but it would beep like it's supposed to when the door closed, so I knew it was getting power. The most response I could get out of it was that every once in a while, the LED on the start button would flash momentarily.

I toyed with the idea of taking the door apart, to look for a loose connection, when I thought, if this were a PC, what would I do?

The answer was, of course, "reboot it". So I unplugged it, waited 5 seconds, then plugged it back in. Opened and closed the door, and it started right up.

There's a moral in here somewhere, but I'm not sure yet what it is.


My first homebrewing competition

I entered my first homebrewing competition... and didn't place.

The thing about the 1st Annual Austin ZEALOTS Homebrew Inquisition that appealed to me was that beers are judged on their own merits, not according to BJCP or AHA guidelines. I don't have a lot of experience with different styles, and right now I'm more interested in brewing beer that tastes good than in brewing "authentic" beer.

Unfortunately, as the Homebrew Inquisition claims that it is "based only on a homebrewer's ability to produce quality beer", the fact that I didn't place in either category in which I entered must mean that I failed to produce quality beer. :-) I'm looking forward to getting the scoresheets, to see what comments they have.

Drive-by linking

Top 10 Reasons to Not Shop On Line


Big Brew recap

Big Brew was a success. It also was two weeks ago. I really need to post more often. The only bad thing was that while unpacking all of my gear at home, I dropped my hydrometer and broke it.


Coming up in the brewery

The next few weeks in the home brewery are going to be busy. There are a lot of things to do, and keeping track of them all is going to be something of a juggling act.

  • Batch #9, the first 5 gallons of Craig's 37 for Brewfest, is currently in the secondary fermenter. I had problems with the false bottom in the mash tun again, so apparently I didn't fix it properly last time. I have purchased more hardware and am planning to implement three separate measures:
    1. Add stainless steel hex head bolts as standoffs to support the false bottom
    2. Add a perforated piece of copper tubing below the outlet elbow in the false bottom to hold it up off the bottom (interestingly, another member of the Lawrence Brewers Guild independently recommended this in response to a query on the Homebrew Digest mailing list)
    3. As an "all-else-fails" measure, cut slots in the copper outlet tube from the false bottom to the bulkhead fitting
  • We're having a mini block party Memorial Day weekend, and one of my neighbors asked if I'm bringing any homebrew. Since he's a Macrobrew drinker, I decided to brew a batch of something similar. To make my life easier, I decided to try one of the no-boil kits from Brew King. I chose the Canadian Pilsner as a trade-off between what I think my neighbors will drink and what I'm willing to make 5 gallons of. :-) It was very easy; the pre-hopped wort comes in a plastic bag, and you just pour it into the fermenter with about 3 gallons of water and pitch your yeast. I chose to pitch the yeast cake from Batch #9 (WLP029); the description for this strain mentions a "slight sulfur" production, which in this case is an understatement. Fortunately, it has dissipated three days after pitching.
  • Big Brew is next Saturday. We're making the IPA recipe, and using a new oak barrel for secondary fermentation. Primary will probably take two weeks, so I think I'm going to need to purchase an additional fermenter.
  • I need to start Batch #10, the second 5 gallons of Craig's 37 for Brewfest, sometime soon. I'm going to boost the hops just a little; Batch #9 tastes a little low.


Drive-by linking

The Memespread Project


Auto-summarizing for fun, if not profit

Jason Kottke has posted a 100-word summary of Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture, as produced by Microsoft Word's AutoSummary function. That got me to thinking, what would other books look like, condensed to 100 words?

I mentioned this in an IM conversation with a friend, who has Word installed on his computer. He supplied this 100-word summary of Moby Dick:

"WHALE. "WHALE. WHALE,               ICELANDIC. 
WHALE,               ENGLISH. 
WHALE, 1839. 
whale himself.  man.  whale-hunters.  men.  man!  man?  WHALE. 
Whale.  whales; bunched whales; under-jawed whales and rostrated whales, are 
Greenland whale.  whale-ship at sea.  whale yet.  white whale.  men.  men.  white whale, shirr! whaling.  the whale.  whale.  whales.  sperm whale.  Whaling Scenes. 
the whale.  the whale.  whale." 
Whale's head.  Whale's head. 
Whale's case. 
the whale.  whale's head?  Whales.  this whale." 
"WHAT whale?" 
sick whale!  men. 
whale?  whales.  whale. 

Man, man! 
man.  hated whale.  "The whale!  "The whale, the whale!  grinning whale!  whale!   

I'm looking for a comparable function in OpenOffice, so I can start posting other summaries.

Still slacking

Yes, I promised some posts earlier. No, I haven't posted them yet. I will. Someday. Maybe.


Brewing update

The Munich lager turned out tasty. It's been in the bottle only about a week and a half, so it still needs some more carbonation time. I hope I still have a bottle of Bob's 47 sitting around to compare it to.

I bottled my seventh batch tonight. It's supposed to be a knockoff of Shiner Bock, but judging from the details I can glean from the website for the real thing, it's not very close. However, the important thing (as with all homebrew) is whether or not it tastes good.

Finally, there's another 5 gallon batch of pale ale in the primary fermenter. I finally figured out why I couldn't lauter out of my mash tun (I never blogged about that, did I?) and fixed it, though I had to remove all of the mash from the tun first. The starting gravity was a little low, but not as bad as the previous batch. (I never blogged about that, either.) I'll add details for posterity tomorrow (okay, later today).


Dragging myself, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century

I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my Linux workstation to Debian testing. Since something's been wrong with my install of WindowMaker for some time (the application menu does not get updated when I add or remove packages from Debian), I decided to give GNOME another try. (Yes, I know they're not the same thing, and that WindowMaker will work with GNOME.) Updates will follow as I get comfortable with the new setup.


Brewing update

The Munich lager is happily bubbling away in the garage, where the ambient temperature is currently more favorable to lager yeast. It sometimes swings a little higher than the recommended 50°-55°F, but seems to be averaging around 54°F. As temperatures outside warm up, I guess I'll have to move lager fermentation to the basement.


Brewing update

Gearing up for this year's BrewFest. One of the beers I'm trying to make is a Munich-style lager, similar to Bob's 47 from Boulevard. I cobbled together what I thought would be a reasonable starting recipe and brewed a 2½ gallon batch tonight, during the Oscars broadcast.

I'm still having problems getting decent efficiency from my mash. The temperature consistently read low, but for all I know that could be due to a faulty thermometer. Starch conversion was complete, but the starting gravity was a lot lower than it should of been, so I threw in a half pound of light DME to boost it. The color's a little lighter than I'd like, so next time I'll add more crystal malt.


How I spent a wasted evening

So much for the borrowed laptop running Windows XP. When I first got it, it was configured for dial-up networking only. I managed to get the built-in Ethernet adapter working on my home network, and was able to do some compatability testing.

Then I turned it off for a while.

Now, it refuses to recognize the wired network. (Yes, I've turned it back on.) Every time I try to access a site on the Internet in IE, I'm presented with the dial-up connection dialog. If I close that, IE switches to offline mode. When I turn that off, I'm presented with the dial-up connection dialog again.

I've been working with computers professionally for something like 18 years, and recreationally for some years before that. If I can't figure this out, how is the average user supposed to be able to do it?

Is it too much to ask?

I think this is a telling point; of what I'm not entirely sure. If you Google on "ie6 css", the first ten hits you get have to do with bugs in IE's handling of CSS. Note that I didn't search for "ie6 css bug", as was my first inclination.

For my current project at work, I decided to bring my HTML skills into the twenty-first century and start using the CSS box model for positioning elements on the screen instead of nesting tables. It took some getting used to at first, but before long I had it working the way I wanted.

Then I demoed it to one of our beta testers, who is running IE6. She couldn't see some of the elements, and others were presented with no formatting. (I should note that I develop against Mozilla Firebird, and spot-test with Opera 7 and Camino/OS X. I don't test IE6, because the only Windows machine I normally have access to only has IE5.) Naturally, the demo didn't go so well.

I was able to borrow a laptop with Windows XP and IE6, so I'm currently figuring out the problems IE6 has with standard CSS, and workarounds for them. Still, it's almost enough to drive me back to nested tables.

Things to do with a new laptop

Ad hoc supercomputing (how long before PowerBook users figure out they can do this with Xgrid?)


User has been idle for (aleph-null) minutes

Yeah, I haven't blogged in a long time. I have a hard time accepting that anyone (including me) has much to care about what I write here. Kinda makes it hard to get motivated.