Monday, October 18, 2010

Take this GUI and Shove It

Here's a great explanation of why GUI's suck and should only be built on top of command-line interfaces.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dan Savage May Be On To Something Here

Dan Savage has this to say about September 11th (while walking around Manhattan):

On some level I think social conservatives are angry that the terrorists attacked New York City and not Branson, Missouri. Al-Qaeda wanted to attack real America—and real Americans—and they knew that here is where you find both. So in addition to murdering 3,000 innocent people in New York City on September 11, 2001, the terrorists insulted the vanity of America's social conservatives and demonstrated that they shared their prejudices. They're still reeling from the blow.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Not Scared Yet of Atmospheric CO2? You Should Be

It's my impression that most people, even those fully convinced by the science of global climate change, picture the changes that are coming as being pretty gradual, and being such that we (even if only the "we" in high-tech Western countries that don't share borders with low-lying poor countries) will be able to adapt to them to some degree, whatever (nasty) pain they inflict. I've pretty much been thinking that way.

That is: we'll see hotter summers, changing rainfall patterns, more and more powerful storms (Minnesota beat Texas this year in number of tornadoes), beach erosion, and so on. Not to mention the social and political and military implications of climate refugees (the Pentagon is taking this very seriously). But, we think, life will go on, and the human race will survive -- even if life is a lot harder and there's a lot of suffering.

I am no longer so sanguine.

This Scientific American article, How Acidification Threatens Oceans from the Inside Out, is one of the scariest things I've ever read. (The full article is not available online; it's in the August 2010 issue.)

The oceans are getting more acidic due to dissolved carbon dioxide, which forms carbonic acid. (Dissolved carbon dioxide one of the main reasons that Coca-Cola has a pH around 3 in the can.) Not coincidentally, the oceans have been absorbing huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air -- keeping the atmospheric CO2 levels from increasing even faster than they already are.

Ocean acidification is seriously problematic because most plants and animals in the ocean have evolved to live in a given range of acidity -- and changing that acidity can seriously mess up body chemistry. We're already seeing corals damaged by it, and experiments have shown that small shifts in acidity levels can have big effects on ocean life — reducing reproduction rates, impairing immune system function, and so on: even before acidity gets to the point of simply destroying life, cells and systems in oceanic life forms have to work harder to maintain their internal acidity levels, which takes more resources and impairs their ability to reproduce and thrive.

We're nearing the acidity range where we'll see serious impairment for a large range of sea life — and it might happen quickly, rather than gradually.

The REALLY scary thing about this is that if the acidity messes with phytoplankton (the source of half our atmospheric oxygen), then it's quite simply game over. We're not just talking about a lot of pain and suffering. We're not talking about merely the end of human civilization, or even the end of the human species: we're talking about the end of the biosphere as we know it. Game over, we took off and nuked it from orbit — but we forgot to take off first.


The thing about ocean acidification is that there's no wiggle room at all for global warming denialists. We've got the data on ocean acidity. We've got the experiments on various sea life and the effects of acidity change. There's no remediation possible — no giant space mirror or sulfur in the stratosphere is going to help this. (Sorry, Space Cadets.)

We simply have to lower (or eliminate) our carbon dioxide output. End of story — or end of us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

PhD, In Pictures

The illustrated guide to a Ph.D.. This seems pretty accurate to me.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over

In what world is it a reasonable Sysadmin action to stop cron entirely, just to avoid an (otherwise-harmless) email alert from one cron job out of 30+ jobs on a host?

I am not sure why this particular insanity is boggling my mind so much today. (Perhaps some of it is due to the Sysadmin in question first trying to use 'svcadm diable cron' -- FOUR TIMES -- before realizing their typo.)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Space Science Win

This video of a solar eruption may be the coolest thing I've seen in months.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What would the Earth Look like if it didn't Rotate?

Via BoingBoing, scientists calculate what the oceans and land masses would look like if the Earth stopped spinning. It's a lot weirder than I thought.

I love this kind of stuff!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Funny and Bizarre

I saw this bizarre and hilarious blog post about TV shows and, well, bizarrity linked last week from Facebook. It's well worth a read. (The author was a writer/producer for The Sarah Connor Chronicles amongst other things.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

The History Channel is SOOO unrealistic!

Via boingboing, a hilarious rant on why the History Channel's World War 2 season is so unrealistic -- even more so than Doctor Who!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Emo, How'd You Get out of the Attic?

(Emo Philips, that is.)

Emo Philips has posted a bunch of videos on his site, which were otherwise unavailable. This makes me very happy.

My favorite, I think, has to be the Golden Gate Bridge bit. (This is the "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912" bit.) Absolutely brilliant.

How Many People Moved Where?

Forbes has an interactive map that shows how many people moved from between US counties based on 2008 data from the IRS. This is very cool.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Caffeine Helps You Get Over Caffeine Withdrawal

This explains so much:

Bristol University researchers found that drinkers develop a tolerance to both the anxiety-producing and the stimulating effects of caffeine, meaning that it only brings them back to baseline levels of alertness, not above them.

"Although frequent consumers feel alerted by caffeine, especially by their morning tea, coffee, or other caffeine-containing drink, evidence suggests that this is actually merely the reversal of the fatiguing effects of acute caffeine withdrawal," wrote the scientists, led by Peter Rogers of Bristol's department of experimental psychology.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

New Favorite Blog

New Favorite Blog: You Are Not So Smart, "a blog devoted to self delusion and irrational thinking."

Especially The Just World Fallacy, which explains a lot about certain political types, and The Duchenne Smile, just 'cause it's neat.

Monday, June 07, 2010

LOST explained in a 3-second Animated GIF

This is hilarious, but if you haven't seen the end of LOST, don't click through.

Animated GIF explains LOST in 3 seconds.


(Via BoingBoing.)

Saturday, June 05, 2010


Arizona School Demands Black & Latino Students’ Faces On Mural Be Changed To White.

What the fuck is going on in Arizona?

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, a State Senator describes an Indian-American candidate for governor[1] (and President Obama) as a "raghead".

What the fuck is going on in South Carolina?


(I do realize that idiotic and appalling racism is not limited to Sunbelt states full of cranky white retirees and the state which was the epicenter of the Confederacy. I will not be surprised -- saddened, but not surprised -- if I have to ask what the fuck is going on in Massachusetts in the near future. My point is: what the fuck?)


[1]This is the same Family Values candidate who appears to have had an affair with a political blogger. Yes, she's a Republican.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Clerk Fail

So I'm at our local Science Fiction/Fantasy Bookstore, and I'm asking the clerk about when a book is coming out, and in the course of the conversation he utters these words:

I don't really like SF that much. I don't really read.

I suppose it's possible that the owner is scraping the bottom of the barrel on clerks here, but still.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Amazon WTF of the Day

I was going to to check something and on the front page, saw some really weird recommendations (given that my Amazon ordering and lookup history is pretty much square and vanilla). Then I realized that they were due to me putting something into my Cart for pre-order:

Really?  People who like Max Headroom want to order "Sleazy Stags from Dad's Secret Stash"???

Is this a small-sample-size effect or are people who like groundbreaking SF TV from the 1980s simply into bad porn?  (Don't answer that.)  Or is some search term I actually don't want to know getting hits on "Headroom"?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PowerPoint and the Military

PowerPoint is destroying military readiness.

I'm waiting for Fox News to call Bill Gates an enemy of America.


Max Headroom finally arrives on DVD. Unfortunately, we still have to wait till August 10th, but it's coming.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Unclear on the Concept

Found in a perl script:

my $end_time         = `perl -e '{print time(), "\n"}'`;

<voice source="South Park" imitate="Butters">Oww...that hurt my brains. Owwww.</voice>

Saturday, March 27, 2010

White House Seder

Whatever issues I have with Obama, this makes me very happy.

Can you imagine George W. Bush attending a seder, much less hosting one?

Monday, March 08, 2010

BEEP! Thanks for the Warning, Ubuntu

So I updated one of my servers to Ubuntu 9.10 recently (I like to stay back from the bleeding edge), and it took me a while to realize that somewhere in there — possibly in the recent kernel update — my system beep went away. A little searching showed that a lot of people hate the system beep and were looking ways to turn it off. Fair enough, but apparently Ubuntu thought that it was a good idea to turn off the system beep by default. Bad Ubuntu!

To fix this, I did

modprobe pcspkr

and to make this stick at reboot, I had to un-blacklist the 'pcspkr' module, which I did by removing the

blacklist pcspkr

line in /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Solaris Zones + pkgserv Hose Zone Boots (Nerdity Level: High)

So SunOracle Solaris has Zones, which are a light-weight virtual server platform that we use a lot at work.

We're finally rebuilding our "chassis" servers -- the ones that host all of our virtual Solaris servers (mostly web and mail apps). Our normal zone creation script kept crapping out )at the point of first booting the new zone) with

zoneadm: zone 'ZONE': These file-systems are mounted on subdirectories of /fs/zones-1/ZONE/root:
zoneadm: zone 'ZONE':   /fs/zones-1/ZONE/root/var/sadm/install/.door
zoneadm: zone 'ZONE': call to zoneadmd failed

(I've redacted the hostname to protect my company. :-))

The first boot of the zone happens — or rather, fails to happen — after zoneadm -z ZONE install and some file copies into the new zone directory tree.

Doing Internet searches for these strings doesn't really help much.

After many hours of digging, I discovered that I could run zoneadm -z ZONE boot and get the zone to boot — but only if I waited quite a while after doing the zoneadm -z ZONE install — at least ten minutes.

I was able to see that a pkgserv process was running:

root 23107 1   0 14:55:27 ?  0:02 pkgserv -d /fs/zones-1/ZONE/root/var/sadm/install -N pkgadd

— and that took between 3 and 4 minutes to quit out.

Now, pkgserv seems to be part of an effort to speed up building and patching zones, which can take a long time. The particular setup we're seeing appears to have shown up with the 2010-01-08 Recommended Patch Cluster (though it might have shown up earlier -- we stepped from the 2009-05-08 cluster to the 2010-01-08 cluster, so if it showed up earlier we wouldn't have seen it).

Once pkgserv finally quit, if I immediately tried zoneadm -z ZONE boot or zoneadm -z ZONE ready, it would give me the same "call to zoneadmd failed". truss showed me that a call to zone_create() was failing with EBUSY, and that was propagating up the stack. The thing that's bizarre is that it never seemed to clear. (If I left it alone, it would eventually clear [as I saw empirically] but I never actually managed to pin down how long the error would take to clear — the loop time was way too long.) I think that running zoneadm -z ZONE ready actually prolongs the error.

I finally gave up and tried

umount -f /fs/zones-1/ZONE/root/var/sadm/install/.door

(plain umount didn't work), and that magically cleared the problem. Both umount and umount -f threw errors, too:

umount: warning: /fs/zones-1/ZONE/root/var/sadm/install/.door not in mnttab
umount: /fs/zones-1/ZONE/root/var/sadm/install/.door not mounted

(The door file was never showing in /etc/mnttab or in mount output. I could never find a clean way to find the mount.

I think it's clear that the pkgserv setup is a bit buggy and needs to be fixed.

How Gay is the Super Bowl?

Mark Dery asks How Gay is the Superbowl?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What the Oracle-Sun Merger says about U.S. Politics

Interesting article from a Sun employee laid off in Germany, and how the Sun-Oracle merger and resulting layoffsreductions in force illuminate the political landscape in the US.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Context Sensitivity

If you were going to install a new version of, say, apache, and saw

lrwxrwxrwx   1 root root   13 Jan  9  2009 apache -> 
drwxr-sr-x   9 root root  512 May 10  2001 apache-1.3.26/
drwxr-sr-x   9 root root  512 Jan 27  2004 apache-1.3.29/

in /usr/local, how would you install your new version of apache? I would hope that you wouldn't just install it into an "apache" directory like this:

drwxr-sr-x  10 root root 512 Feb  9 09:38 apache/
drwxr-sr-x   9 root root 512 May 10  2001 apache-1.3.26/
drwxr-sr-x   9 root root 512 Jan 27  2004 apache-1.3.29/

I swear, this needs to be an interview question with a hard FAIL mode (as in "Sorry, we're done. Goodbye."). If you can't figure out to preserve the existing pattern, you shouldn't be a sysadmin.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Dear Firefox,

Please don't suddenly and randomly flip the value of the "Always use the cursor keys to navigate within pages" option. Having the down-arrow key change from "scroll the window down a few pixels" to "jump to the next link" is brain-shearingly annoying.



Dear Web Application Programmers,

If your web page presents a very complex form to fill out, which can take up to 20 minutes to do correctly, PLEASE program it so that if the user hits Backspace when not actually clicked into a form entry field, it doesn't just happily do the equivalent of hitting the Back button. I.e. ask me if I really want to navigate away from the form I just spent 20 minutes filling in and let me click "no" so I don't scream "NO!" and want to poke out my own eye.

A Nearly One-Eyed Ranting Nerd


P.S. Feh.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

Immorality of Power

Jonah Lehrer has an interesting post up about how having (or even just remembering having) power over others make people far less empathetic than normal.

The conclusion is not surprising, but is well put:

Of course, we live in an age when our most powerful people - they tend to also have lots of money - are also the most isolated. They live in gated communities with private drivers. They eat at different restaurants and stay at different resorts. They wear different clothes and skip the security lines at airports, before sitting at the front of the plane. We shouldn't be surprised that they're also assholes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


The Spouse and I saw Avatar yesterday. We enjoyed it. It's spectacular (in the sense of being a spectacle). Pity about the script, though.

ETA: The Spouse and I both think that the movie would have been much more interesting if Sigourney Weaver had played Colonel Quaritch.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Fox is developing a US version of Torchwood.

Favorite quote from the story:

A more straight-faced spin-off of "Doctor Who," "Torchwood" is about a covert group that investigates and fights alien activity.

("straight-faced"? Have they watched this show?)

(Thanks to Wilmar for the heads-up.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

SF Reading Protocols

Jo Walton explains how reading SF takes different kinds of reading skills from other genres.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Attention Grumpy Old People

(And I count myself as one....)

Complaining about the Youth Of Today is far from new:

An Assyrian clay tablet dating to around 2800 B.C. bears the inscription: “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

(Via Making Light.)

Up! In the Air! It's a's a Plane! No, it's a Double Movie Review

So The Spouse and I finally watched Up last week, and then saw Up in the Air (in an actual theater) over the weekend.

Up, while technically brilliant and often gorgeous to look at, is one of the bleakest movies we've ever seen. The first 10 minutes of the movie are fascinating to watch, but veer into serious tear-jerk territory fairly quickly. The rest is just bleak and weird, with a few minutes of heartwarming content at the end. The dogs are cute, though.

Up in the Air is also bleak -- but it's supposed to be. It's a very sardonic, and an actual adult comedy (R-rated, even), and has some real bite. It also has George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick (who is (a) young and (b) very good). It may not make cinematic history, but it's a solid couple of hours of film, and I strongly wish there were more movies like it.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Decade

Good riddance to the Aughties, the 200X's, the Big Zero, or whatever else we want to call the last decade.