Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl


Thursday, 31 May 2007

May Mix

And on this the final day of May, here’s the May mix from DrFaustus:

  1. Ben Lee: Catch My Disease
  2. Patrick & Eugene: The Birds and the Bees
  3. Tears for Fears: Everybody Wants to Rule the World
  4. The Talking Heads: (Nothing but) Flowers
  5. U2: The Sweetest Thing
  6. Zwan: Yeah
  7. Owsley: Coming Up Roses
  8. Ween: Push th’ Little Daisies
  9. Bobby Hebb: Sunny
  10. Wes Cunningham: Good Good Feeling
  11. The Beatles: And Your Bird Can Sing
  12. The Polyphonic Spree: Light and Day/Reach for the Sun

Yet another fun monthly mix. I’ll be sad when December arrives and I’ll have heard them all. Of course, that just means I can turn around & queue ‘em up again!

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Your Homework Done for Free

Have to write a book report on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but don’t want to read over a thousand pages? No problem—just check out this helpful plot summary.

Those of us who have read the books might enjoy the summary too…

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

The Allison Stokke Affair

A few weeks back, a picture hit the Internet. It depicted a pole vaulter named Allison Stokke, and it quickly became a huge phenomenon, for quite obvious reasons. Unfortunately, she’s not exactly happy with all the attention; I can’t say I blame her. Being fawned over my dirty old men online can’t exactly be pleasant. The one problem with the Washington Post article is that it doesn’t show the original picture, which is quite striking. It’s getting harder to find than it was (the photographer is trying to pull it), but here, here and here all currently work. It’s actually a testament to how important lighting, composition and luck are in photography: you can see that in other photos she’s merely pleasant looking, but in that one everything comes together to great effect.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Review: Linux System Administration

I’ve just finished reading O’Reilly’s latest GNU/Linux title, Linux System Administration (full disclosure: I was sent a reviewer’s copy). Bottom line up front: it’s a handy introduction for the beginner GNU/Linux sysadmin, and a useful addition to an experienced sysadmin’s bookshelf.

The book is essentially a survey of various Linux system-administration tasks: installing Debian; setting up LAMP; configuring a load-balancing, high-availability environment; working with virtualisation. None of the chapters are in-depth examinations of their subjects; rather, they’re enough to get you started and familiar with the concepts involved, and headed in the right direction. I like this approach, as it increases the likelihood that any particular admin will be able to use the material presented. I’ve been working with Apache for almost a decade now, but I’ve not done any virtualisation; some other fellow may have played with Linux for supercomputing, but never done any web serving with it; we both can use the chapters which cover subjects new to us.

I really like some of the choices the authors made. A lot of GNU/Linux ’administration’ books focus on GUI tools—I’ve seen some which don’t even bother addressing the command line! I’ve long said that if one isn’t intimately familiar with the shell—if one cannot get one’s job done with it—then one isn’t really a sysadmin. Linux System Administration approaches nearly everything from the CLI, right from the get-go. Kudos!

The authors also deserve praise for showing, early on, how to replace Sendmail with Postfix. In 2007, there’s very, very little reason to use Sendmail: unless you know why you need it, you almost certainly don’t. Postfix is more stable and far more secure.

Another nice thing is how many alternatives are showcased: Xen & VMware; Debian, Fedora & Xandros; CIFS/SMB & NFS; shell, Perl, PHP & Python and so forth. One really great advantage of Unix in general and GNU/Linux in particular is choice—it’s good to see a reference work which implicitly acknowledges that.

The authors are also pretty good about calling out common pitfalls—several got me, once upon a time. It’d have been nice to have had a book like this when I was cutting my teeth…

Lastly, I liked that the authors & their editor weren’t afraid to refer readers to books from other publishers, in addition to O’Reilly’s (uniformly excellent) offerings. Not all publishers would be so forthright; O’Reilly merits recognition for their openness.

The book’s not quite perfect, though. I wish that PostgreSQL had at least been mentioned as a more powerful, more stable (and often faster in practice) alternative to MySQL, and one doesn’t actually need to register a domain in order to set up static IP addressing. Still, these are pretty minor quibbles.

I’d say that the ideal audience for this book is a small-to-medium business admin who’d like to start using Linux, or who already is but doesn’t really feel confident yet. It covers enough categories that at least a few are likely to be relevant. Even an experienced admin will probably find some useful stuff in here.

Women in Film

The same bloke wot did women in art has also done a sequence of women in photographs. It’s good, although not quite as good as the centuries’ worth of paintings.

Women in Paintings

A fellow has made a lovely montage of women in paintings over the centuries. Strangely enough, the partial morphs between two different paintings are often the most attractive faces.

Oh, and modern art isn’t.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Let's All Give Money to the Rick Man!

Reason magazine have a wonderfully hilarious review of stadium-building issues. Read it; learn it; love it.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

RIAA-Free Indie 100

RIAA Radar provide a cool indie top 100 list based on non-RIAA CDs and Amazon sales figures. Pretty nice tool and a way to get your music without supporting the RIAA.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Star Trek Engineering

We all know that Star Trek’s science was absurd. What’s little considered is that its engineering was just as bad. So: bad plots; bad writing; bad acting; bad science; bad engineering. Remind me why people enjoy it so?

Enertia Homes

How’d you like to never pay another heating or air conditioning bill again? Enertia build homes which require no heating or cooling system (they typically come with a very small one anyway, solely qualify for a mortgage). How cool is that?

Apparently they rely on the fact that the Earth stays roughly 50 degrees year-round; they then use the sun to heat that up to a pleasant temperature no matter what it’s like outside. Very cool technology requiring no energy whatsoever to operate.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Battle of New Market

Today is the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of New Market in which 257 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute (aged 12–17) helped a much larger force of Confederate regulars force a Union, army twice as large as they were, out of the Shenandoah Valley. Ten cadets fell in the action; one was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson himself.

Birthday Wishlist

When one hits a certain age, one no longer really expects (or needs) birthday/Christmas/what-have-you presents. However, on the off-chance that someone wants to get me something, I’ve an amazon.com wishlist with a pretty good selection. I really use it to keep track of stuff I want to buy for myself—but if you have bags of money and no idea what to spend them on, feel free to squander your sums on me:-)

Cycling Faster than Driving?

It appears that cycling to work can be faster than driving, if you take into account not needing to work as long to afford a car, not needing to exercise as much and so forth.

If the calculator above doesn’t appear for you, you can visit the site instead.

How to Save Gas

There’s an email making the rounds proposing that folks ’boycott’ gas today, buying yesterday or tomorrow instead. It’s stupid, as it won’t affect gas prices one bit—buying one day off just transfers profits from one day to another. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t send a message, it’s just dumb. If you want to save gas, drive less! Take the train, use the bus, ride a bike, or walk. Or, if you must drive, here are some simple ways to cut your gasoline usage. OTOH, this article suggests that cutting your commute by 3,522 feet (a little over half a mile) a day will be enough to drop gas prices. That means parking ten minutes away from the office and walking in. You’d not only be helping the economy and the environment—you be helping your health.

Am I buying gas today? Nope. Am I buying gas this week? Nope. Am I planning to buy gas this month? Nope. I managed to go over three months (late December–early March) without a fillup; I filled my tank in late April; I still have half a tank left (and went to Bailey, Colo. on that tank!) and see no reason for it to be used in the next fortnight. Yes, I’ve filled my tank twice this year; I’m fairly certain this makes me a better person. Also, more handsome. Well, maybe not better or good-looking—but definitely more frugal.

The Drug War Finances Terrorism

How does Al Qaida finance its terror operations? How did the Taliban make their money? Where does FARC get its funds? The drug war fills their pockets with profits. Just as alcohol prohibition enriched criminals in the early twentieth century, so too drug prohibition enriches criminals in the twenty-first.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Jamestown Quadricentennial

Four hundred years ago today the first permanent English colony was started at Jamestown in Virginia. That settlement was the seed which grew into a mighty republic stretching from one ocean to the next; a republic whose system of government has been used as a model by many, many others (arguably, even Great Britain took some ideas back from her child…). In a very real sense, today is America’s four hundredth birthday. Happy birthday!

Oh, and the Mayflower didn’t land in Massachusetts until 13½ years later. Nyaah nyaah nyaah:-)

How Three Million Germans Died After V-E Day

The Telegraph report on a little-known tale: the post-war massacre of Germans in Europe. Something like a million soldiers and two million civilians were murdered; nearly every woman and girl in Russian-controlled territory was raped; a quarter-million Sudetenlanders were simply slaughtered.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Latest Health Food Items

From men’s Health, the latest in nutritious health food:

  • pork rinds
  • alcohol
  • beef jerky
  • sour cream
  • coconut
  • chocolate

Looks like Woody Allen’s predictions in Sleeper are coming true…

Episode III: Backstroke of the West

Ever wondered what Revenge of the Sith translated into Chinese and then back into English is like? Well, wonder no more…

Apparently, the Jedi Council are the Presbyterian Church. Who knew?

$200-300 No-Frills Kitchen

The New York Times has an article on getting a basic kitchen setup. The full article has information on what’s important, what trade-offs to make, when it’s worth buying extra and when it’s not; here’s the basic list of items:

  • 7 qt. saucepan
  • 3 qt. saucepan
  • 1 qt saucepan
  • pot cover (for above)
  • 10 in. nonstick frying pan
  • 14 in. steep-sided skillet with handles
  • 13x18 in. sheet pan
  • loaf pan, nonstick
  • roasting pan
  • 1½ qt. mixing bowl
  • 3 qt. mixing bowl
  • 5 qt. mixing bowl
  • measuring cup
  • 6 in. strainer
  • vegetable peeler
  • skimmer
  • 14 in. colander
  • 2 wooden spoons
  • slotted spoon
  • 13 in. solid spoon
  • bread knife
  • 8 in. chef’s knife
  • paring knife
  • heat-resistant spatula
  • 9 in. tongs
  • 12 in. whisk
  • 6 oz. ladle
  • 12x18 in. cutting board
  • instant-read thermometer
  • can opener
  • mandoline
  • grater
  • salad spinner
  • food processor
  • coffee/spice grinder
  • whetstone
  • measuring spoons

I have most of this stuff, and most of it’s useful. I think I have a skimmer somewhere, but I’ve never used it—frankly, a slotted spoon works just as well IMHO. I have no idea why one would need a thermometer for cooking; somehow mankind managed to survive for millennia without thermometers. I do have a floating thermometer for brewing, and a clip-on for cheesemaking, and a meat thermometer which I don’t think I’ve ever used. I think I have a whisk, but I don’t really have much call for it. I don’t see the point of a mandoline: I can cut with a knife, after all.

I’m thinking that maybe a food processor would be handy, but again: somehow I’ve lasted this long without one, and our race has survived even longer without them. Cooking for one is pretty quick as it is, after all.

One thing he doesn’t mention that I have is a hand mixer. Honestly, though, it’s not worth much: mashed potatoes can be made by hand, without electricity. The mixer has bread kneading attachments, but I always knead by hand anyway—so what’s the point?

Tuesday, 08 May 2007

The First Hiberno-Gallic War

Jacques Chirac, The French President, is sitting in his office when his telephone rings.

Hallo, Mr. Chirac! a heavily accented voice said. This is Paddy down at the Harp Pub in County Clare, Ireland. I am ringing to inform you that we are officially declaring war on you!

Well, Paddy, Chirac replied, This is indeed important news! How big is your army?

Right now, says Paddy, after a moment's calculation, there is meself, me Cousin Sean, me next door neighbour Seamus, and the entire darts team from the pub. That makes eight!

Chirac paused. I must tell you, Paddy, that I have 100,000 men in my army waiting to move on my command.

Begorra! says Paddy. I'll have to ring you back.

Sure enough, the next day, Paddy calls again. Mr. Chirac, the war is still on. We have managed to get us some infantry equipment!

And what equipment would that be Paddy? Chirac asks.

Well, we have two combines, a bulldozer, and Marphy's farm tractor.

Chirac sighs amused. I must tell you, Paddy, that I have 6,000 tanks and 5,000 armored personnel carriers. Also, I have increased my army to 150,000 since we last spoke.

Saints preserve us! says Paddy. I'll have to get back to you.

Sure enough, Paddy rings again the next day. Mr. Chirac, the war is still on! We have managed to get ourselves airborne! We have modified Jackie McLaughlin's ultra-light with a couple of shotguns in the cockpit, and four boys from the Shamrock Bar have joined us as well!

Chirac was silent for a minute and then cleared his throat. I must tell you, Paddy, that I have 100 bombers and 200 fighter planes. My military bases are surrounded by laser-guided, surface-to-air missile sites. And since we last spoke, I have increased my army to 200,000!

Mary and Joseph! says Paddy, I will have to ring you back.

Sure enough, Paddy calls again the next day. Top o' the mornin', Mr. Chirac! I am sorry to inform you that we have had to call off the war.

Really? I am sorry to hear that, says Chirac. Why the sudden change of heart?

Well, says Paddy, we had a long chat over a few pints of Guinness and decided there's no way we can feed 200,000 French prisoners.

My Very Own 128-bit Number

Freedom to Tinker have a way for you too to own your own 128-bit number—legally giving you the ability to prevent anyone else from using it. Mine is 7E 9E 6B F0 4F 5C 9B 42 36 38 53 1D D9 04 46 66. If you use it I’m siccing my lawyers on you.

Friday, 04 May 2007

Hyperspatial Text Classification

While reading the docs for CRM114 (a text classification engine; text classification can be used to determine if email is spam; if a log entry is important; or if a newspaper article is worth reading) I discovered that it supports a hyperspatial classifier. It’s a pretty neat idea: a document is broken into its component features (e.g. phrases and individual words; this step is pretty standard for classifiers); each feature is then hashed to a 32-bit integer value; the document is then considered to be a point in a 2^32-dimensional space—if a feature is present once, then the value of that dimension is one; if twice, then two and so forth.

So documents are points in this 4,294,967,296-dimensional space; what’s this buy? Well, imagine that every already-classified document is a star emitting light, and that an unknown-class document is a planet receiving light from all stars. One simply adds up the light each class sheds on the planet (nearer stars are brighter; those further away are dimmer); whichever class sheds the most light is the class of the document in question.

This sounds very complex, but it turns out to be very easy to represent and calculate. A document is represented by a sorted list of integers; each integer is the hash of a particular feature; only those features which are present are listed (this saves space since the vast majority of the 4,294,967,296 possible features are absent in any one document). To calculate the difference between two documents, just walk two indices along them, keeping track of features found in one, the other or both.

I’ve already got some working code which I’m training to recognise plain text versus HTML. We’ll see how good I can get it…


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