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My Archives: May 2003

Friday, May 30, 2003

Forgetting
Posted by CKL @ 08:45 PM PST
I talk to myself a lot. Sometimes in monologue, sometimes in dialogue. Sometimes using funny voices. But usually, whatever profound or interesting thing I had to say to myself, I've forgotten by the time I think that it might be nice to write it down somewhere so I can preserve the thought.

And why, you ask, don't I use the voice recorder so conveniently included in my PalmPilot? Because it takes me five to ten seconds to fumble the damn thing out of my satchel or pocket or backpack or wherever I've got it stashed so I don't lose it or drop it, and by then the moment is gone.

If I could get the retrieval time down to a second or two, or at least under five, it might be worth it. I'd probably use my PalmPilot for a lot more stuff-- taking pictures, taking notes, whatever. Right now it still takes a concentrated and specific effort to get it out and turned on.

I can't wait until wearable computers are the norm, and it literally takes the blink of an eye to snap a photograph or start a video recorder. For now, though, I guess I just have to train myself. Or start wearing my shoulder holster again.

[Link]

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Automated Lament
Posted by CKL @ 11:47 PM PST
My Linux box is leaking. Memory, that is. But let me start at the beginning.

This machine, which I've named "Queeg," is an antique with a Pentium II MMX chip at its core. It was built in mid-1997 on an Intel PD440FX motherboard, one of the last pre-AGP boards. I bought it primarily because I wanted to play the new Starfleet Academy game (actually, I was reviewing it for PC World Online), and my old 486 didn't meet the minimum system requirements.

I know, I'm slow to upgrade. Sue me.

Queeg has 128MB of RAM, which is as much as its motherboard will take, as much memory as I've got in my Rio 500, and much less than I can jam into my PalmPilot (a Sony CLIE, actually) on a Memory Stick. I've set up Queeg with the recommended amount of swap space, or virtual memory: twice physical memory, 256MB. Now Queeg is leaking memory.

I came home one night last week to find Queeg thrashing like crazy. Thrashing, for those who don't know and might actually care, is when the operating system is "swapping"-- reading and writing between memory and disk-- so often that it doesn't have time to do anything else. My pointer wasn't responding to mouse motions, and I couldn't even get Caps Lock to illuminate (a sure sign that a computer is hung).

So I rebooted, and everything was back to normal. But intermittent calls to "free" or "top" over the next few days showed that swap space was being allocated, but not released. Normally I wouldn't have thought this was a problem, but after the thrashing incident, I'm a bit wary. Right now, I'm running Red Hat 8.0's "up2date" package manager to make sure my kernel and any other critical software is patched to current levels.

What's the point of all this? I'm not sure yet. Certainly, that the best operating system in the world won't fix basic problems with your hardware. I'm running Queeg flat out right now, with X Windows in 16-bit color and all kinds of unnecessary daemons in the background. I should clean up the latter for security, if nothing else, but I suspect this old hardware is getting creaky regardless.

I'm a lazy sysadmin. Sometimes I enjoy tinkering, but I never like having to debug package installations. They're not meaningful problems. Usually it's some dependency issue, or a typo in a Makefile, or some other silly thing, and the solution is esoteric and applicable to nothing else you will ever do.

Computers are not easy to use, no matter what Bill Gates or Steve Jobs would like you to believe. Computers are far from perfect, and when they break, they're very difficult to repair. Automation is hard. The computer will not do your work for you. There is no magic bullet. Good sysadmins are worth their weight in gold-pressed latinum.

And I should probably stop tempting fate by naming my computers after neurotic characters.

[Link]

Buffy Lingers
Posted by CKL @ 11:04 AM PST
So says Annalee Newitz:

"I loved Buffy [the Vampire Slayer] because realism is so fucking tiring. I don't want to see another gritty story about dashed hopes and ambiguous desires. I'm sick of watching the same mundane, attention-seeking 'real people' parading into humiliating games of superstardom, survival, and surveillance. There's enough reality in my life, thank you very much, and what I need most is a chance to stretch my imagination."

To put it another way, in words that fen have uttered since time immemorial: "Reality is for those who can't handle Science Fiction."

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Friday, May 23, 2003

Where Do We Go from Here?
Posted by CKL @ 11:17 PM PST
"BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" is the best show in the history of television.
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Thursday, May 22, 2003

Writers Write
Posted by CKL @ 01:56 AM PST
Here's the thing: we all write bad poetry in high school. Whether it's to impress a girl, a boy, a teacher-- whatever. We all write bad poetry when we're young. But we either get better at it, or we stop.

I'm about halfway through Hyperion by Dan Simmons, and lemme tellya, I'm really glad I already have the rest of the series (four books altogether) sitting on my bookshelf. I picked up the whole series on a whim, at a science fiction convention a year or two ago, and hadn't gotten around to reading them until last week.

Better late than never, I guess.

The world of Hyperion (or the Hyperion Cantos series, if you want to be highfalutin about it) is fully imagined, and Simmons does a great job of weaving backstory into the unfolding narrative. IMHO, this is one of the marks of a great science fiction writer: the ability to describe a world that no one has ever seen in a way which makes it not only real, but true.

Dan Simmons writes densely, in marvelous prose that skates the edge of obscurity, but is not quite as long-winded or professorial as, say, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books. One of the main characters, Martin Silenius, routinely and casually tosses off references to Greek mythology, English Romantic poets, science fiction novels, and dozens of other scholarly topics. He doesn't do this to be boastful, though he is quite an ass; he does this because it's in his nature.

Shit, is this turning into a book report, or what?

Back to my original point... I wrote a lot of bad poetry in high school. Some of it was pretty good, and even got published in the school literary journal, but most of it was just plain ghodawful.

I've gotten better since then. I don't write much poetry these days; in fact, I don't write much at all, outside of this HotSheet and scores of e-mail messages every day. I haven't even been reading that much in recent years. Books, I mean. Sure, I read web sites and magazines and such, but I hadn't been cracking books on a regular basis until earlier this year.

First, I finished reading Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, which appears on several lists of "classic" science fiction works, and though not badly written, the overall theme is pretty depressing. Then, by pure coincidence, I picked up The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy, which has a very similar premise-- most of the world's population is killed by a massive plague-- but a much more uplifting message. I suppose you could call them the country mouse and city mouse of post-apocalyptic survival stories. (Let's not talk about "Jeremiah" at all, okay?)

Curiously enough, both stories take place in the San Francisco bay area, and both start in the East Bay. Earth stays there for the most part; City moves into San Francisco proper. Earth is primarily a "what-if" tale, and takes a very detached, almost sterile, anthropological look at its subject. City is more fantastic, with blatantly magical elements and near-future technology but-- ironically-- a more human perspective.

(Not central to this discussion, but also interesting: Earth was written in the 1950s, before civil rights, the Cold War, Vietnam, and cyberpunk. City was written on the other side of history. Both show certain prejudices.)

Am I rambling? I am.

One of City's central philosophies is this: art changes the artist. By putting something of yourself into your creation, you alter the world and your relation to it. The driving narrative of City is how the residents of San Francisco, a motley bunch of artists and nonconformists, repel an invasion by a military force without lethal force. Instead of following the invaders' rules of engagement, the city dwellers choose to fight their own kind of war, with art and artifice.

It's true, what they say in Rent: the opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation.

I haven't been reading much, which, in turn, has contributed to my lack of motivation to write. I think I had started to forget the power of words. Sure, the dialogue on Buffy and Gilmore Girls is to die for, but television is different. I've been forgetting how much power the written word carries, and how good I am at shaping that power.

No longer. Thank you, George and Pat and Dan.

I don't plan to dive back into poetry immediately, but I need to start writing again. Every day. Something. Maybe I'll continue the novel I started for NaNoWriMo last year. Maybe I'll finally finish Freefall: No Fate. Maybe I'll just set a timer and let my fingers pound out whatever's in my head.

Writers write. I write.

[Link]

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Male Chauvinism
Posted by CKL @ 11:28 AM PST
From Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas:

"Sarah Michelle [Gellar] is not my type. I prefer brunettes like Faith... But I think the mom on Gilmore Girls is hotter than Faith. If this were about watching babes, I'd be watching that show and cheering for a vampire to snack on Rory's throat."

I, myself, watch both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls, and I have only this to say: Alyson Hannigan is going to make me pay actual money to see American Wedding.

[Link]

Friday, May 16, 2003

San Francisco...
Posted by CKL @ 12:46 AM PST
Insert "open your Golden Gate" joke here.

DSC00157 (116k image)
[more]

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Tuesday, May 13, 2003

BiHnuch!
Posted by CKL @ 12:25 PM PST
As reported by the Associated Press:

"The office that treats mental health patients in Multnomah County had included Klingon on a list of 55 languages that could be spoken by incoming patients. But the inclusion of the Star Trek language drew a spate of tongue-in-cheek headlines. And now the county has rescinded its call, stressing that it hasn't spent a penny of public money on Klingon interpretation..."

Mundanes are no fun at all.

[Link]

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Parlez-Vous Klingon, petaQ?
Posted by CKL @ 06:40 PM PST
As reported on TrekToday:

"The Multnomah County, Oregon Department of Human Services is looking for a Klingon interpreter in case patients arrive at an emergency room speaking that language. Because the county is obligated to provide information in all languages, according to procurement specialist Jerry Jelusich, the office that treats approximately 60,000 mentally ill individuals wants to be prepared in case a Klingon speaker arrives..."

Before you snicker, sneer, or shake your head, remember: every human language exists because a group of people created it. "Dagger" wasn't a word before Shakespeare made it up. Who's to say that an "artificial" language, like Esperanto, is any less legitimate?

Heck, even Google speaks Klingon!

[Link]

Saturday, May 10, 2003

makeashorterlink.com
Posted by CKL @ 04:29 PM PST
Are you tired of long, ugly web links that get line-wrapped or otherwise mangled when you try to send them by e-mail? Why not Make A Shorter Link? (Power users may also want to investigate PURLs and MeRSes.)

If you want to nitpick, yes, this arrangement fixes one problem-- long URLs which are difficult to communicate-- but causes another: dependence on a third-party database to associate keys (the shorter link) with values (the original URL). If the makeashorterlink.com site goes down, your shorter link will no longer work. With line-wrapped URLs, you at least have a chance to manually reconstruct the original link.

I'm still convinced there's a way to use compression to shorten URLs; the trick is finding a lossless algorithm which will be efficient for such small and highly random data sets...

[Link]

Thursday, May 8, 2003

I am not a specialist...
Posted by CKL @ 12:08 PM PST
...though I often play one in real life. The thing is, though I have expertise in many fields, I don't want to restrict my work life to a single field of expertise. I'm happy being a jack-of-all-trades-- but not a dilettante! I'm a writer, a singer, an actor, an engineer, a scientist, an artist. And I'm pretty damn good at what I do in all those fields.

It's not a matter of ability; it's a matter of motivation. I can do anything I want. And I want to do a lot more than I'm doing now. I just have to commit to that choice.

Sure, full-time employment is stable, but I don't get to pursue all my various passions. Corporate culture likes to label and limit people. I have an employee number, but I am not a number... (wait for it...) I am a free man! I'm not just a webmaster, and I'm afraid that my other talents will atrophy if I don't exercise them.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes are coming.

[Link]

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Brit Wit
Posted by CKL @ 03:15 PM PST
British people are cool. I saw Simon Winchester at Kepler's bookstore last night, reading from his new book, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883. Sure, he tosses off words like "valedictory" (used as a noun) in his prose, but he actually speaks with the same uniquely English demeanor. He says "angler," instead of "fisherman," and "double entendre" with the correct French pronounciation. Cool.

As the title implies, the book is more concerned with the aftereffects of the eruption than the event itself-- those looking for physical, chemical, or geological dissertations will need to look elsewhere. Winchester is fascinated by the ripples in human history, and held forth with great energy on topics like submarine telegraph lines. International telegraphy enabled Bostonians to learn of the Krakatoa disaster just hours after it occurred. Eighteen years earlier, Londoners did not know that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated until nearly two weeks after his death, since the news had to travel across the Atlantic by ship.

Winchester is now moving to San Francisco to work on his next book, a non-fiction account of the 1906 earthquake. He wants to finish it in time to be published before the centennial anniversary of the quake.

[Link]

Friday, May 2, 2003

Hail to the Chief
Posted by CKL @ 10:37 AM PST
I took the Light Rail into work today, and we didn't stop at the NASA/Bayshore station because of the President's visit. Air Force One had landed at Moffett Field, and the Secret Service had several nearby roads blocked off all morning. As we passed the station, I saw police cars, barricades, uniformed officers, and a SWAT team on the platform.

The next stop was the Lockheed Martin station, where protesters had been gathering just last week. None today.

I'll go out on a limb and say that George W. Bush isn't my favorite President of all time. But, as the Dixie Chicks have learned, it doesn't matter if you dislike the person; you still have to respect the office. And also respect the people sworn to protect it.

The President is surrounded by men and women armed to the teeth and trained to kill. I'm sure it's exciting and satisfying for them to take down a bad guy, but I suspect that their greatest victories are when nothing happens. The best security in the world means you have a boring watch. You never draw your weapon. You never let the bad guy get that close.

The true hallmark of civilization is having options of deadly force, but being wise enough to succeed by other means.

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