11/28/02 - 01:04
Room 121, Gresham Hyde Park Hotel, London
Tuesday night we went to see our play. It was "The History of America, Abrigded" and was put on by three Americans who are part of a troupe called The Reduced Shakespeare Company (and who, to their credit, have been living in London for like 10 years). We saw it at The Criterion theatre in Picadilly (it's literally right outside one of the entrances to the Picadilly tube station). It's a cool theatre; it's underground. The Criterion, by the way, was England's first gaslamp theatre and consequently England's first air conditioned building (they had to vent the carbon monoxide from buring all that natural gas). It was a good show, and I almost missed it.
I was feeling awful that night (just unspecified gastronomic issues; the smell of fried food sort of kept putting me off) and wasn't really up to going to a play. Tracy and I had some time to kill since we thought the play started at 7, when it really started at 8 (and we had taken a cab since we thought we were late). We ducked into a place called Tiger Tiger. It was a meat market, London style. That meant that nobody paid any attention to us (except for that British national pastime "Stare at the Non-Hip Tourists"), which was fine by me. I just wanted to sit where it was warm. I had this Bad Mood settle over me about an hour before we had to leave for the play and sitting was a good thing at that point. While we were there I mentioned to Tracy that I hoped the show wasn't interactive at all since I was feeling more like I had to throw up than be expressive in a large crowd. She said she tought there was some interaction, but she didn't know how much. We figured we'd be fine.
We got to the theatre and found out seats: row A, numbers 12 and 13. That's literally front and center. Nothing to worry about. Plenty of people to choose from, and I can always beg off any public shenanigans. The only problems I had rolling around in my head was that I'd have to look up a lot. Then the stage manager came over and started talking to me.
She said (I think, she had quite the accent and it was kind of loud in the theatre since it was comprised mostly of Americans) that there was a slide projector under my seat and asked if I wouldn't mind being involved in the play. I asked what I had to do, she replied that all I had to do was watch out for when "somone" on stage asked if anyone had a projector, I was to raise my hand and say that I did. And then reach underneath and hand it over, of course. She said that they might ask me something, or that I might have to get involved in some way, and if I could give it a go then I'd then I'd be a sport. Or words to that effect.
I made little gurlging noises for a couple seconds and nothing really came out of my mouth. I was afraid to even burp since I though vomit might come out, and now I had to talk to a the stage manager about interacting with the cast of the play? Now I might have to talk to members of the cast, in front of everyone? Sheer panic set in, because I *knew* that I'd have an uncontrollable gastric urge right at that very minute. I mean, I was surveying exits when I first came in and sat down, wondering if I could climb over people and get to a toilet between the time heaves just started and when they started getting serious about exposing my stomach contents to air. You can hold it for a bit, and you can feel them coming, but a false alarm would ruin the play for a lot of people. (It's a peculiarity of my psyche that I never have to go to the bathroom unless I can't. I never have to throw up unless there's no contingency arranged which would allow me to do so. I'm as regular as clockwork until the only toilet is the nastiest one imaginable. I never have to sneeze loudly until I'm at a crowded table with a mouth full of food. Happens all the time, and I've learned to hold in various urges and fluids with more than a little vigor. Ask Tess about my secret super powers. She can atest to my powers of "incorporation".) Anyway, I mewed around for a bit and she started getting concerned; it was a full house and we'd have to switch seats unless I was game. I realized this eventually and agreed to give up the projector (with, I thought, as little fanfare as I could muster).
As if to cheer me up, as she was leaving she said, with much cheer-up-ness, "Look up now, love... It's your West End debut!". I didn't understand the last part of what she said and just sort of kept on with the gaping mouth sea bass imitation. The word "debut" came out as "DAY-byoo", with a heavy, drawn-out first syllable about three times longer lasting than the second. And I wasn't aware, at that very moment in time, that I was in the West End. I know where the West End is, and I know what it is, and I know we were seeing a play there (although I thought of it more as being in Picadilly Circus, since the theatre is right across the street from all the famous lights), but I didn't connect my having to stand up in front of everyone and throw up as happening in London's West End. But this is how these things happen.
I asked her to repeat what she had said, she leaned in close, and I caught the words. Mostly. It was my debut. I was still trying to decphier the "West End" part, which I asked Tess about (using my best imitation of the stage manager, just in case). Tracy said "Honey, we're in the West End now". All I could say was "Oh". I was thinking of projectile vomiting in front of 500 people and the resulting tube ride home.
I spent the first 30 minutes of the show watching for them to ask for the projector. I figured I'd miss my cueand the only people that would see me throw up was the guy sitting next to me and Tracy. Then I realized that they would probably make a stink about it and I wouldn't have to worry. They did exactly that. Right about in the middle (before the intermission) they did a little skit where they wanted to show people a photographic retrospective of the early 20th century. They set up the screen, and put a little can on stage to set the projector on, then looked around at each other and asked who brought the projector. They scratched their heads and finally looked out towards the audience saying, "Did anyone think to bring a projector with them?" I waited for a couple seconds and then put my hand up.
They did the predictable "Oh great!" and "What luck someone thought to bring a projector..." and such. So I reached underneath my seat and handed it over saying, "Well, I thought this would come in handy". I don't know why I said it, it was like a natural reaction. In fact, I didn't even recall saying it until Tracy said it was a nice ad lib; it just sort of came out. They worked it in, saying how right that was, etc, etc and each one shook my hand (they all had sweaty hands, in case you were curious). When they were shaking my hand, I said "Hey, no trouble" and "You're welcome" and such. To one guy I said "Rock on" and he chuckled and said in this weird Kevin Kline voice "Rock on? Very well... Rock on!" It was pretty funny (to me at least).
The only thing that bothered me was that for some reason I didn't stand up when I gave them the projector. I was glued to my seat and the poor guys had to bend over very far to get the projector and shake hands. It's my nature not to get up in front of everyone during a show. I'm just not mentally wired to obstruct people's views. It all worked though and they set up their gag.
(There never was a slide show. One guy put the projector on the can and then one of them grabbed the cord looking for a place to pug it in. The wound up dragging the unit off the can and it hit the floor, breaking into pieces. I remembered thinking that there was loose things on it when I grabbed it, and I wondered if maybe I had kicked it or something.)
That wasn't my only West End acting moment, however. After the intermission, they stopped the play and asked the audience if anyone had any questions at that point, that it was time for them to clear anything up, go back over anything they glossed over, etc. It was a time for them to do a little ad lib of their own. So after about 30 seconds of nobody in the audience saying anything, I figured since I was already part of the show, I might as well pipe up.
I raised my hand and said "So can you explain to me why it is that if we can send a man to the moon, we can't send a man to the moon?" They looked around and such and weren't real sure what I was talking about, so I said "We sent men to the moon in the 60's but now we've forgotten how to build a rocket. We don't know how to send a man to the moon anymore. Why is that?" One of them said "Well, why would we? There's nothing up there anyway..." and it was pretty funny. Then they all looked at me and one guy said, "But you don't believe that any of that happened, do you?" I figured I play along and said "Well, I know the score, it's all fake. It was all filmed on some Hollywood sound stage. I've seen Capricorn One". They had no idea what I meant and looked at each shaking their heads. I pointed an accusing finger at them and said "You call yourselves geeks and you haven't seen Capricorn One?" (See, the program had bios for everyone and one guy had Star Wars stuff in it, another had some sci-fi thing, so I figured they would know what I meant.) One guy said he knew that REM song and started humming it. I said something like "Oh, singing REM, now that's offsides..." They eventually said there's no reason to go to the moon anymore and then called me a wag and moved on. Someone else asked when vomen were given the vote, and they didn't know (I was guessing 1922, but a British lady in the upper balcony said "It was 1920.") Another fellow then asked something else and the show went on. Someone has to be the first person to speak up I guess.
Anyway, that was my West End stage acting debut. One more thing to tick off the list.
11/26/02 - 10:34
Room 121, Gresham Hyde Park Hotel, London
The best cure for a hangover? Codeine with paracetamol and coffee.
11/25/02 - 18:22
Room 121, Gresham Hyde Park Hotel, London
We're back in the room after a half day at the British Museum, seeing stuff we missed last time. A half day is enough; we both have museum feet. We have no real plans tonight save for dinner at the Leinster Arms, a pub near here.
Tracy's freshening up with a cup of tea now (using a little electric hot pot in our room which makes extremely hot water). I have the laptop out to download pics from the camera. I thought now would be a good time to install AOL. Last Friday, I got a copy of their stub installer from aol.co.uk and after it had downloaded it's main installer (the little 200K one does nothing but grab the real 40MB installer) I had copied it to a temp directory. I just ran it now while I was typing this and AOL is installed.
I figured AOL was the only decent way to get online. The rooms here are being upgraded with "ISDN" (which is really an ethernet jack in the suite that is patched into a pretty standard LAN and fromthere to the Net at large) and may also have dedicated fax/modem jacks. Our room has neither and it's going to cost 34p per minute to get online (that's roughly $35 per hour, but if I'm online more than an hour total this whole week then something's not been right with my vacation). AOL is icky and screws up your PC but it's an easy way to get online when fussing around costs money. Besides, I'm going to re-image this machine when I get back.
AOL said I have to reboot now to finish the install, presumably so it can finishing ruining the poor laptop's registry and TCP/IP stack...
11/25/02 - 21:07
The Swan pub, London
Tracy and I just had dinner here at a pub called The Swan. It's kind of tourist trap, but I'm surprised at how many local Brits there are. We met one of them. His name is Ted. The place was crowded and he asked to sit down at our large table. We said sure, he sat down. He waited until we finished dinner ("roast of the day" -- a leg of pork in this case -- and potatoes with veggies) before striking up a conversation. He is 82 years old, and married to a German woman that he met while in France during World War II, in which he was a diver. British soldiers were paid 14 shillings a week, but divers got three pence (pronounced "threhpence") more and so he signed up for mine de-activation duty. When ever I meet someone that has a "real" history like that, it never ceases to amaze me. Doing what he did only to laugh about it now. I bitch about electric bills being too high, or traffic being bad. He invaded Vichy France and swam with German mines.
Before I forget: London at night in November smells like, in order:
- cold, wet pavement
- wood (hickory?) smoke, from the roasted chestnut carts
- car exhaust
- wet leaves
- old wood
- cooking (all varieties)
- cigarette smoke from passersby
One more temporal note: Tracy's favorite new beer is Kronenbourg. I quite liked John Smith's, although it left a bit of an aftertaste.
Guess what I just discovered? An Orinoco card which is in discovery mode can eat through tiny, circe-1997 laptop batteries in about an hour. My battery has, just now, gone from about 70% to 40% in the 15 minutes I've had the lid open. I had it on batteries last night and ran it for like an hour and a half. Should have at least downloaded Netstumbler before I left the States. I need to find an access point. I could go meander over by it long enough to squirt these up to the web if I did. Maybe I'll try that Internet Cafe near the hotel...
11/24/02 - 15:56
Room 121, Gresham Hyde Park Hotel, London
Well, we're here. I just set the timezone to GMT +0 on the "disposable" laptop I brought and my watch got switched somewhere near Greenland so it's official. The trip was fairly uneventful, with only a few bumps along the way.
We got to LAX a tiny bit late (2 1/2 hours before departure, technically within airline guidelines) and when we made it to the counter, the guy told us that "the computer has run out of seats". He said we had to go to the gate where they'd assign a seat to us. That made me hellaciously nervous. We dutifully went to the counter only to be told, by the snottiest airline employee I've ever met, that "he just made an announcement which said they'd be calling people's names and so would we *please* just have a seat and wait". I didn't hear what he said on the PA, and said so. I felt like spitting on him, but I was nice. We went and sat down like nice sheep. About 15 minutes before actual bording, I got antsy and decided to be the squeeky wheel that got some grease.
As politely as possible, I told the guy (different guy; the assmonkey who "helped" us earlier was doing passport checks in the boarding line) that someone said earlier that our names would be called, but our names have not been among the dozen or so that had already been called. I said I was getting nervous, what with boarding almost over and us with no seats. He was very nice and had a look at what was what. Turns out we'd been fogotten about. Boy Wonder was *supposed* to take our temp, no-seat boarding passes and put them in a queue. When seated people volunteered to give up their seats, he'd assign seats from the queue. They had a bunch of boarding passes all laid out on the gate counter like tarot cards, and he waved ours over them methodically, looking for our names. When they weren't found, he got a very nervous look. A quick phone call, some fervent keyboarding banging and we had seats. We not only got to sit together (I overheard two other groups who were sitting apart), but we also got seats behind the toilet bulkhead. That meant an extra fold out table to put stuff on and about two whole feet of legroom. It was a nice aversion of a near-disaster.
We had another bump due to the need to buy some Immodium before takeoff. Tess got something unsettled and so had a less than pleasant flying experience. Then I got something unsettled. I'm in the room now. Tracy's out at Hyde Park checking out Speaker's Corner. I started feeling really unwell after slamming a Red Bull and I'm staying near a bathroom. I've got that jet-lagged, no sleep dizziness. Every once in a while, the room will start spinning around a bit and then stop. The floor will feel like it's moving up and down just slightly (imagine an elevator right before it comes to a stop). I'm not prone to vomiting, but the queasiness makes me want a restroom close by. Besides, I have to unpack and such.
I've got the laptop out, and I need to make sure the power transformer works. Then I'm going to go see what locals outgoing calls cost so I can try to get online. I just bit the bullet yesterday and downloaded AOL's client from a UK web site. It'll find a new number, dial up and then get online. Picking a screen name will be a hoot.
In fact, I think I need to take a nap, even though 4:00am is really going to suck if I do. I could use like an hour of nap time, though. Besides, it's stormy out (real lightning and thunder) and so seems like the weather gods are telling me to curl up in a blanket.
11/25/02 - 01:38
Room 121, Gresham Hyde Park Hotel, London
So that one hour nap turned into a 7 hour sleep. I napped at and slept for almost exactly the worst time/duration I could have and now I'm doubly screwed: it's 1:30am local time and 5:30pm "internal body". It's too late to do anything locally about my body's perceived need for dinner. And obviously I'm not tired, so boredom makes the lack of options worse.
I decided to admit defeat and wake up for a bit. I turned on Sky News (kind of like an independant CNN; I watched them a lot last time I was here). Sky News has rather somber reporters which put a realistic face on world news that's more refreshing than you'd think. I especially like the part were they hold up the morning's newpapers (which haven't yet hit newstands) and literally show you what the headlines will look like.
After taking in some news and getting over my bleary eyes, I looked around for sleep aids. I couldn't find much except for some codeine left over from recent (and more than little paintful) dentalwork and some Barcardi I bought (10 pounds for a litre bottle) from the duty free cart on board our flight. Sounded like just the ticket. I downed a tab, and poured about a centilitre of rum into a water glass. All I had for a mixer was a sparkling water chaser. It's five o'clock somewhere. At least that's what my internal clock says.
Harry Potter is on TV downstairs. I've been avoiding Harry Potter like it was ebola. I've not seen the movies, not read the books, and not bought the toys (primarily because I was "supposed to" since everyone else had, was, and did). And before anyone trots out that tired, anti-curmudgeonly old saw, I don't need to eat dogshit to know I don't like it. I know I don't like Harry Potter -- if for no other reason than because it's been so incredibly hard to avoid the damn thing. (When it all first came out, I actually thought that Harry Potter was a Disney product/brand for this very reason. Disney has made an art form out of telling people what it is they need to be seeing and reading.)
I got to watch a couple minutes of the movie while I ate. It's the Taco Bell of entertainment: light, predictable, non-spicy, pre-packaged; a bland imitation of other, more real food made for people who wouldn't care to know any better. I could feel myself getting simpler by the minute.
Someone needs to tell that Rowling person what deus ex machina means. She must not have even been trying to come up with a viable story. There's some magic thing that does this other thing, or some character nearby who's in the know, no explanation or thought needed throughout the entire process. Escapism is fine, obviousness not so much. The whole thing is just so tired. It's played out. We've seen this all before, and now we have it shoved down our throats every ten goddam minutes by some marketing conglomerate. On the other hand, Rowling's made a mint separating numbskulls from their money with that magical non-plot tripe, so I suppose I should salute her. I'm conflicted on that matter.
It's not that I don't like fantasy or anything (although it's not my favorite genre; I'm not the biggest Tolkien fan in the world, but I can recognize what he did for the world). It just kills me that this kind of mindless fluff gets media and big-screen attention and something actually good and thought-provoking like Neverwhere doesn't. Harry friggin' Potter gets "people" reading again while Douglas Adams never did. Most people don't even know how to pronounce Michael Crichton's name or that George Orwell is a pen name. Everyone knows who Britney is and what new shape Michael Jackson has himself kinked into.
America is made up of corn-fed morons. Before too long, there won't be anyone left who can think for themselves. We'll all read books published by Bertelsman and see Disney movies and watch CNN news on a Time-Warner TV system and access AOL-approved web sites and listen to music Sony released and which Clear Channel decided was fit for airplay. In short, bags and bags of money are being spent as fast as possible to ensure that we're going to get more and more Harry Potters as time wears on. That's really sad.
James Coburn died today. That's too bad; I liked his work a lot. I suppose everyone has to go at some point, although there are worse ways. He was just sitting there, happily listening to music. That'd be my preferred way I think.
Red Hat has this thing called the "Red Hat Network", and it has some programs that allow you get get notified when there are updates to your system. Well, it has this little Python script called 'rhn-applet-gui' which places an icon in your system tray. It checks for updates and when one you really need is available, it shows this flashing red "X". I like it, it's a good visual reminder, and I use it at home. At work, however, I couldn't get it to show up. A quick check on the newsgroups shows that there are a couple bugs in the applet and a few people have been having this problem. The posts I've seen have pertained to GNOME, whereas I had the issue with KDE. I finally figured out the solution to why it wasn't showing up. You need to provide a place for it to show up. The applet itself is to dumb to figure this out and warn you if it can't display the icon. Here's what you do:
The thing that was confusing me for so long was the fact that the System Tray wasn't started. It always has been by default, and I don't know why it wasn't now.
After you've logged back in, click on the flashing "X" to configure rhn-update via the menus. One thing you should probably configure is ignoring the kernel updates. They are good to know about, but you don't want to have them installed automatically anyway. In addition, if you are running a custom kernel, you might get something similar to this notice:
You are running kernel-2.4.19-ac4, but it is not installed in RPM format. It is highly recommended that you run the official Red Hat Linux kernels. By running a custom kernel, you will miss out on any security fixes and functionality enhancements provided by Red Hat Linux, and your configuration is unsupported.
This will appear every time you try to get an update, and it's annoying. Go to "Ignored Packages" and move 'kernel' and 'kernel-source' into the ignored packages area to get rid of the notice.
My last entry about adding users to MySQL got me thinking. It might be more than a little silly to duplicate that sort of information here. A simple Google search will probably lead to thousands of pages with that very same information. Yet it's way easier for me to come here and search through my entries than to go to through my old code or notes or even Google -- since I know just where to find it. Hence that entry (and, in fact, the very raison dêtre of this site). So it's not silly as much as scary.
I firmly believe that my memory has gotten worse since the Net and then Google came around. After all, why remember stuff when you can just remember where and how stuff can be looked up? It's easier for me to store pointers to information than the actual information itself as long as retrieval is straightforward and inexpensive. I used to have books and a library and notes; now I've got the economy of scale that is the Internet satisfying both conditions to the extreme. I don't have to remember that the numeric entity reference for an e with a circumflex is 234, for example, as long as I remember that htmlhelp.com has a nice Latin-1 entity reference two clicks from their home page. Now all I need is some sort of hard-wired neural interface (think Snow Crash or a Gibson novel) into Google I'll really be able to off-load mental storage capacity. The one thing I'd have to remember "locally" is to stay on top of applying the latest security patches to my head.
Of course, my system breaks down if either me or the places my "pointers" point to are offline. Which makes this a little worrisome for me. I'd be in trouble without the Net since it's holding so much of my memory. If I ever move to the boonies where Net access is slow or unavailable I'll have to actually start remembering things again.
I had to make a new database today on one of my testing servers at home and for the 75th time, I had to look up the syntax for adding a new user to all the grant tables. So I decided to make a handy cheat sheet for myself here:
From the shell, create the database and then get into MySQL's monitor:
$ mysqladmin -u root -p create db_name;
$ mysql -u root -p mysql
Then when in the monitor do the following:
INSERT INTO host
VALUES ('localhost','db_name','Y', 'Y', 'Y', 'Y', 'Y', 'Y');
INSERT INTO user
INSERT INTO db
There: local priviledges for "username" on a handy, easy-to-find page fit for cut-n-paste.
The National Fire Prevention Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have more than a lot of info about Christmas tree safety. I especially liked the videos of a dry tree going up in flames. It was insanely, mind-bogglingly fast. I knew dry trees were flammable, but this was amazing to watch:
"Within three seconds of ignition, the dry Scotch pine is completely ablaze. At five seconds, the fire extends up the tree and black smoke with searing gases streaks across the ceiling. Fresh air near the floor feeds the fire. The sofa, coffee table and the carpet ignite prior to any flame contact. Within 40 seconds "flashover" occurs -- that's when an entire room erupts into flames, oxygen is depleted and dense, deadly toxic smoke engulfs the scene."
Nothing says "Merry Christmas!" like flashover and deadly toxic smoke. Definitely have to make sure the tree is watered real well this year.
So I had a nice long nap today/tonight, and woke up feeling every bit as bad as I did when I went to sleep. I decided to play video games until I got tired again. I noticed Return to Castle Wolfenstein on the shelf and it occurred to me that I hadn't played it in some time. I installed it. Figuring there was an update out, I checked online and sure enough there was.
During the install of the patch, I noticed that it had two EULAs, one for RtCW and one for something I'd not heard of before called Punkbuster. I alt+tabbed to opera and looked it up. It's apparently some sort of anti-cheating thing.
I'm all for playing without cheaters, so I decided to read the license agreement they wanted me to agree to. After reading it, I'm going to take my chances with the cheaters. It's a scary license. Here's the part that caught my eye:
Licensee acknowledges that PunkBuster software is optional and is not a requirement in any respect for using or enjoying games that integrate PunkBuster software technology. Licensee also acknowledges and agrees that PunkBuster software is self-updating, which means that future updates will, from time to time and without any notice, automatically be downloaded and installed as a normal and expected function of PunkBuster software. Licensee consents to this automatic update function. Licensee further acknowledges and accepts that PunkBuster software may be considered invasive. Licensee understands that PunkBuster software inspects and reports information about the computer on which it is installed to other connected computers and Licensee agrees to allow PunkBuster software to inspect and report such information about the computer on which Licensee installs PunkBuster software. Licensee understands and agrees that the information that may be inspected and reported by PunkBuster software includes, but is not limited to, devices and any files residing on the hard-drive and in the memory of the computer on which PunkBuster software is installed. Further, Licensee consents to allow PunkBuster software to transfer actual screenshots taken of Licensee's computer during the operation of PunkBuster software for possible publication. Licensee understands that the purpose and goal of PunkBuster is to ensure a cheat-free environment for all participants in online games. Licensee agrees that the invasive nature of PunkBuster software is necessary to meet this purpose and goal. Licensee agrees that any harm or lack of privacy resulting from the installation and use of PunkBuster software is not as valuable to Licensee as the potential ability to play interactive online games with the benefits afforded by using PunkBuster software.
The hell I agree. Not a chance.
I don't consent to any "function" which automatically performs updates without telling me. While I certainly do agree that it's invasive software, I don't agree that it needs to inspect my computer and report on any files/settings/etc I have. I certainly have nothing to hide, but I don't have to prove that to anyone either. I also don't consent to them taking screenshots for publication. Notice they say they can take screengrabs when their software is running, which is not necessarily the same as when I'm running game software. How do I know when their software is running? It could start up every hour on the hour and take a screenshot for all I know -- and that would be acceptable since I agreed to it.
Finally, I most certainly do not agree that any harm or lack of privacy resulting from the use of Punkbuster is better than encountering cheaters in online games. You'll always find them online, with or without stuff like Punkbuster. The only way to stop cheaters is to play alone. Installing Big Brother onto your machine will not solve the problem.
There's a really scary trend lately towards unreasonable software license agreements. Software is so complex that there's no real way to know everything that is happening at any given time (even if you do have the source; having source isn't the answer, but it does help). Most people simply click "Yes" to everything and place their trust in the software vendor. The answer isn't blind trust; that can get you into trouble. The answer is openness and honesty and ethics, not invasiveness and seedy behavior. Sometimes the cure really is more harmful than the disease.
The real cure? Read the EULAs that come with software. Know what is being installed. If possible, use software with available source code. We have enough of our privacy leaking out every day without making it worse by actually inviting to happen and giving it away. If enough people complained about this sort of thing, it wouldn't happen nearly as much. Sadly, I think most people don't care.
I'm glad I read this EULA, and I'm glad I said no to it. If I happen across cheaters, I'll just do what everyone else has done for years now: find a new server or play a different game.
I'm sick at home (again: two days in a row, although I worked from home yesterday; today I'm far to looped (get it?) to write code). I have some throat ailment that prevents me from speaking until I croak for a couple hours. Then I just have this raspy voice and annoying phlegm/cough problem associated with that tickle in the back of your throat which causes a non-productive cough. You know the one: that cough you get when you breathe in too much and some reflex gets triggered. That one. This morning I finally got a fever. I was wondering when I'd get sick all the way.
Anyway, I decided to medicate with Dayquil. About an hour after I did so, I realized that I was sitting in front of my PC staring at nothing who knows how long. I was in some weird trance-like state, and all I could think about was this game called Scorched Earth I used to play a lot on my 25 MHz 386SX. It's a simple shooting-across-the-hill game, were you have tiny guns and you take turns setting the barrel angle and powder charge. It has computer players and different weapons you can by and physics models and weather and such. My old roommate in Tucson once made hot toddies when we were both at home sick, and we played Scorch for about 18 hours straight. I think that was what reminded me of it.
I decided I really wanted to play again. Instead of go online and find a copy (duh), I went hunting through my 10-year-old collection of about 500 floppies for it. I finally found it after about 100 tries. Sadly, floppies aren't the most robust storage medium; I couldn't copy all the files I needed off the disk. Oddly enough my interest in playing Scorch waned right about that time, and I started digging through more floppies in sort of unspecified treasure hunt. I suppose if you're not looking for anything in particular, you're bound to find something.
I came across a couple disks (that I could actually read; I'd estimate about 1/2 of the ones I tried were defective in some way) that had old web stuff. One had the very first web site I ever made, circa summer 1994. Another had Tucson BBS info. One had various winsock utilities (Windows 3.1 didn't have a TCP/IP stack, and you had to install one to get on the Net). Another had a copy of the first graphical web browser I ever used: Mosiac Netscape 0.9 beta. Let me tell ya, when you're coming off using Lynx on a dial-up through a SLIP account from the university library, seeing online pictures and marked-up text was quite the spectacle. No more saving geological images off gopher, no sir. You get your pics right there. I wish I had saved the browser cache. I'd love to see if those sites are still up and what they looked like back then.
I got a jabber message from Tess just now, and it's one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time:
It's like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when they find that cave where the dead guy had time to chisel into the wall "Aaaarrrrrggghhh..." before he died. Dammit. Now I have to go google for a transcript.
Here it is:
MAYNARD: It reads, 'Here may be found the last words of Joseph of Arimathea. He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the Castle of aaarrrrggh'.
MAYNARD: '...The Castle of aaarrrrggh'.
BEDEVERE: What is that?
MAYNARD: He must have died while carving it.
LAUNCELOT: Oh, come on!
MAYNARD: Well, that's what it says.
ARTHUR: Look, if he was dying, he wouldn't bother to carve 'aarrggh'. He'd just say it!
MAYNARD: Well, that's what's carved in the rock!
GALAHAD: Perhaps he was dictating.
ARTHUR: Oh, shut up.
That's the one I was thinking of.
I decided to get my Linux-based cash register site all spiffed up. In case you haven't been keeping up, this time the machine is not going to turn into a register. Rather, it's going to be a tiny, dedicated web server (and formal LED-on-a-stick platform). The question at hand was one of construction, and I've devised and implemented my solution.
Tess has a post titled Every Umbrella Is Yours. She says to ask me about the title if you're curious. People were, so I'm answering here.
The quote is not mine; it's from a book I once had called Life's Little Destruction Book. It's meant to be a play on those sappy, Jack Handy-esque "Life's Little Instruction Book" things which were going around a few years back. They were pretty silly. The destruction one was extremely funny.
I was writing to Tracy shortly after we first met, and I sent her some of those quotes along with some of my own random thoughts (I'm not sure why; I think we were talking about a fortune cookie program or something). She seemed to like the umbrella one in particular. I thought it was funny for completely different reasons than Tracy's. Growing up in AZ, I never owned an umbrella, and thought it was just something of a non-sequitur: you see an umbrella gathering dust some place, you grab it since nobody would need it. Or something.
Anyway, when I went to Oregon to see Tracy for the first time, we went to a Mexican restaurant. Right inside by the front door they had a 4x6 foot area with a bunch of wet, open umbrellas sitting there all jumbled together. Instead of benches to wait on, they had an umbrella waiting area. When I walked in and saw it I started laughing uncontrollably, remembering the email I had sent months ago. I thought it was the funniest thing I'd seen in a while. Oddly, Tracy wasn't scared off by this and married me anyway. More evidence that we'll be together forever.
Just in case people want to see the other quotes from that book (and because they are still pretty funny), I added a random destruction quote printer to the nav bar on the right side of the main page.
...while we're on the topic of music: AC/DC's "Back in Black" is one of the best albums ever made. It has a level of "so bad it's good" which transcends the whole notion of being so bad as to be good. I'm not at all ashamed to say it's still one of my favorite albums of all time (I've owned it on vinyl and/or CD since I can remember).
And every song on it has a snappin' beat....
I think I could listen to Benny Goodman all night long. And all day. And twice on Sunday. For some reason, I love clarinet music. It's as enjoyable as flute music isn't.
On a related note, I just discovered Glen Gray & His Casa Loma Orchestra. They do a song called "Smoke Rings" which is probably the best big band song I've ever heard (and likely one of the best songs of any variety I've ever heard; I've been listening to it over and over for like 45 minutes). It's got that metronomic beat that really appeals to my autistic inner child (I'm not kidding, by the way -- I swear I'm at least one-quarter autistic).
This might sound weird, but I like most Rage Against The Machine songs for just this reason. And Rev. Horton Heat, too. All their songs have that rhythmic "ticking" beat. Same thing applies to R.A.T.M's "Voice Of The Voiceless" and Led Zeppelin's "Ten Years Gone" and "The Ocean". Count Ween's "Voodoo Lady", Los Fabulosos Cadillacs' "El Matador", The Breeders' "Saints", and Veruca Salt's "Twinstar" in that list as well. All those songs have a thing in them which makes it virtually impossible for me to not tap something in time to the beat. Revho's "I Can't Surf", "Lie Detector" and "Now, Right Now" are songs I could listen to over and over. And have. Most of eudora.com got built that way.
I just made a playlist with all of them, and I'm going to go listen to it.
I'm compiling a new kernel. And I'm finding out how slow a 233MHz processor really is under "normal" use:
[root@register tmp]# cat /proc/loadavg
2.67 1.56 0.75 1/57 6101
That's with some RPM use, some compiling, some tar'ing things over NFS, some downloading new packages, etc. The cash register is really bogging down pretty badly. Everything is plenty usable, though, and I'm surprised at its responsiveness. I kinda want to start a news reader or a gopher client just for old time's sake. :-)
But I bet I'm doing more at once than I could if I had been running Windows. In fact, I don't even think the newest version of Windows will run on a Pentium 233 with 48MB of RAM, much less allow me to be doing five I/O and CPU-intensive tasks at once while running a web server that's streaming MP3s.
I guess some people just need to pay for more hardware than they need...
I finally found a use for my cash register: a web server. Yeah, why not? It's really small, takes up hardly any juice, has a big enough drive for an OS (I'm doing the web server's docroot as a read-only NFS mount from my main shared fileserver), and has a strong enough CPU (233MHz) to serve plain (or slightly PHP'ed/Perl'ed) web pages. And its most important feature of all is its LED-on-a-stick.
I'm putting Linux on it. It's Red Hat 8.0 for now (just because I think think it's hilarious, and I want to get in shape for Red Hat's appearance at SD Tech Books on Sunday), but I'll eventually wind up with one of the tiny linux distributions (like the ones that boot off a write-protected floppy). I may even do it diskless. It depends on how much work I want to put into it. Gentoo would be super cool...
Why the new install? Well, the LED-on-a-stick simply demands use. It's been languishing for a long time for wont of a good purpose. I also need to separate my main fileserver from the outside world. I have port 80 open to it now, and that isn't good. I want a little separation. I can harden the web server system fairly tightly without inconveniencing anyone overly much if it is its own entity. I also have the hardware available; the cash register has just been sitting there doing nothing. And I've been wanting to write stuff that gets displayed on the stick real bad.
What goes on the stick? Well, I have stock quotes, weather, and system load already written. I need to add the currently streaming MP3, the last login name and time, uptime, free memory, disk use, and the date/time. I'm also going to make it flash "12:00". I have to. And before you laugh at me, you must first admit that if you had an LED-on-a-stick, you would make it flash "12:00" too. Check your own self. That's all I'm saying.
As an aside, the fine folks at LCDproc are making this all possible. They wrote me when my cash register page somehow got posted to Slashdot. (BTW, I'm still wondering why it made Slashdot; it really wasn't all that interesting. I must admit that it was worth it just for this comment, however. I searched the Slashdot story page for 'tracy' and just got another 3 minutes worth of chcukle. Tess really does r0x0r.) They said they'd be happy to have their software write to vacuum flourescent displays, and I wrote them back saying I'd be happy to help them get the drivers working. After the story was posted, I also got a lot of email from people saying that they'd love to have drivers for their VFDs, so it's for a good cause.
What I won't be doing is printing from it. I finally found out why the thermal printer stopped working. Something happened to the parallel port and the printer shuts off as soon as I connect it to the main unit. It works fine on any other system. I'm going to have to dig around inside the cash register's main unit and find out what the story is. I checked the BIOS and nothing was amiss. If worst comes to worst, I might be able to get Trey to swap out a new motherboard. I could put my NIC and disk in a new case and it should work. Although Trey wouldn't be able to use a unit that can't print, so I don't think he'll be too amenable to that solution. Still, it'll server web pages fine.
Install is done. Time to configure stuff...
I was searching for some shell command help last night and came across another hints and tips type page that I found useful. Most old-timers won't find anything surprising, but I found a couple tidbits that made it worth keeping the link alive. The shell script which finds the sizes of the largest directories was kinda neat too. I have one I wrote years ago, but it wasn't that great. My find-fu has never, IMO, been up to snuff.
Also on that site is a page called GIMP for the Artistically Challenged which I found useful. I never knew how to make construction lines in GIMP.
I thought this was a pretty funny take on Todd's site, zoomer.net. My favorite quote:
"Millions of chitlins throughout da US gots to be beggin' muthas fo' junk food. Couldn't ax fo' a mo' appropriate birthdizzay."
You have to imagine Toddler saying it for maximum effect.
A friend was looking online for a picture of Mike Myers' Simon character from Saturday Night Live. He was having some trouble finding a largish image so I decided to look for one (and I was curious as to what the Simon character was all about since I'd never seen that skit before).
Here is my Google search.
Google is weird. It has these intelligent algorithms for finding out what you want to know by finding your search terms close together (among other ways). So searching for "foo bar" will yield pages with those two words close together.Well, I don't always want that. Every once in a while, I want to see pages which have exactly a certain phrase. I mean, usually Google does a great job finding what I want with its built-in assumptions; it's very smart. But sometimes, I know that I want one word followed by another, as a phrase. Wait -- that's not quite right. Sometimes I want my search terms to be treated like a string, actually, since I don't care about phrases.
For example, say that I want to search for pages that contain the phrase "once in a while". That's a trivial example, I know, but bear with me. If I search Google with the phrase once in a while, I get results for pages that have most of those terms. It you click that link, you'll see in faint grey above the search boxes: "The following words are very common and were not included in your search: in a." It certainly speeds up their search algorithms if they automatically discount some common words, but I wanted to see pages which have that exact string of letters in them, no matter how common the search terms might be.
One way to do this is to go to google.com, then click on Advanced Search, then type in your search terms. But I use my nifty Opera Google shortcuts, and so I never see Google's front page. That means to do exact match searching, I have to search once, then search again to see what I want. That's annoying, and so I found a better way.
It hit me one day that since Google will do searches for pages only within certain domains, that must mean that the dot between the parts of the hostname in the search terms were treated specially. I could easily search for only pages within the domain 'working.without.a.net', and Google would have to not throw away the 'a' as being too common. This must mean, therefore, that any regular search terms separated by periods would be treated specially.
So having tried the search for the terms 'once in a while', now try the search when the bits are separated by periods. You'll see that you get no notice saying that your terms were too common. And you also notice that all 100 results on the search page have the exact phrase 'once in a while'.
Although you can easily get the same results by doing an advanced search and then entering the search terms in the box labeled 'with the exact phrase', this doesn't fit with my shortcuts. Knowing that periods do the exact same thing, all I need to do for advanced searches is hit F8, then the letter g, then 'mike.myers simon' to get my results. This also works well when you've searched for something and want to narrow it down, too. You can just tab up to the search terms box and add periods where necessary and hit return.
One more note: although you might think you can do the same thing with quotes, I've noticed subtle differences. I can't come up with an example right now, but I used to use double quotes to denote phrases (this was what AltaVista used), and I saw that I got slightly different results that way. I think it's because Google might cache certain search terms. It also might treat double quoted search items as phrases and not exact strings. I'm not sure. I do know that I get better results with periods than with quotes.
I decided, for no reason at all, to get with the California lifestyle 100%. I've got a hot tub on a redwood deck, I eat semi-soft cheeses, I wear a coat when the temperature drops below 65 degrees, I figured I might as well go all the way and get a personalized license plate. I originally wanted to get '11011', but that was taken. So I chose the next best thing. And when anyone askes me what it means I can say, with a completely straight face, "27". As it turned out, the lady at the DMV window brought out the envelope with the plates and the first thing she said when she pulled them out was "So what is 3 cubed?". I replied, with a not so straight a face, "27". You had to be there I guess. Or maybe not, even. It was funny to me anyway...
The DMV here is great in that you can make an appointment instead of go down there and wait. I was in and out in about 45 minutes, including a trip to the ATM to get cash (they take cash, checks, money orders and I've been living la vida debit card for so long I don't even know what color our checks are). You can call them and arrange a time over the phone through their automated system, or you can do it online. The problem with both systems is that you can make an apointment for either vehicle registration things or driver's license things, but not both -- even though the windows for each type of transaction are right next to each other. I found out recently that my license was expired and wanted to get it renewed, but I had to make a new appointment. (Although now that I think about it, I believe I wanted to get the custom plates because I knew I had to get a license, which involved a trip there anyway. I think.) I tried to sneak over to the driver's license window and sign in, but they are obviously accustomed to dealing with my sort of not-so-clever subterfuge and they sent me packing. I didn't mind so much, since it would have meant another trip to the ATM to get cash. And I didn't really comb my hair that much before I left the house.
From now on, I think I'm going to do as much as I can at the AAA office. They do almost everything (as long as it doesn't involve a new picture).