Otis Fodder

Band of the Day! Today it is Otis Fodder. I first heard him on the awesome Two Zombies Later compilation album from Comfort Stand. Now he has a whole album of his material, also on Comfort Stand, called Music to Drive Cross-Country By which is available for download at Comfort Stand or the Internet Archive. You can also choose to stream it rather than download it.

It’s good trippy stuff, with some Negativeland style cutups, but also some good solid swinging space age, cocktail nation musicianship. I really dig this album and will be downloading all the stuff to print up covers and make it a “real album”. I recommend it, and will be checking out more from Otis. He’s from Seattle and has played in Portland while I was there, but I never knew about him. That’s my loss.

In these times…

I’m vaguely following the whole business of Condoleeza Rice, her bosses and their disconcerting unwillingness to testify to the 9/11 commission under oath and in public. Every morning and evening I hear more of the news about it in my car. What I do hear disturbs me. Government officials, testifying to a commission investigating the operation of the government, are unwilling to do it under oath? They are calling the shots about who they will testify to, under what conditions and for how long? That right there, ladies and gentleman, is what you call a warning sign that something is up.

It is an unpleasant irony that after two and a half years of hearing why – because we live in a different world after 9/11 – we Americans must yield back our liberties, accept less privacy in our lives, watch our constitutional protections whittled away, all in the name of safety and security. At the same time, our top officials in the executive branch use that as a reason why they deserve more protections (“executive privilege” for the National Security Advisor?), more privacy and basically calling the shots without being accountable to you and me. They work for us, you know, and I’m not happy with their job performance. If they aren’t even willing to tell me the truth about what they are doing, I’m thinking about firing the lot of them. How about you?

Cygwin and Subversion

Back in October when I found myself having to build a copy of the subversion command line client for
Cygwin, I thought “Hey, I already had to do this once. Why don’t I volunteer to become the package maintainer of this?” It seemed reasonable enough and I made the initial overtures via the proper mailing lists. When I sat down to do it, though, there were lots of details and TBDs and then I got busy and it never happened. It was one of those looming things that I would think about every single weekend and many weeknights – “Damn, I should be working on that cygwin package.” Well, an email from a dude spurred me to get back in gear. Luckily, the Subversion team has been cranking along since my last attempts, so it really wasn’t that difficult to get it built for cygwin. The tricky part was to trick the install into going not into the main cygwin directories but into one that I could tar up to become my package. Failing a nice elegant, permanent way to do that I just rewrote the Makefile for now.

I did that, tarred it, bzipped it and then I had what in theory would be the basis of the package. I tried it on a virgin cygwin that had never had subversion installed. I had to phony up the setup.ini file and then do a “install from local packages” but lo and behold – it works! I installed it, and then used the svn binary that came from it to check out the whole of the svn project from the official project source repository. I’m 90% of the way there!

Now I have to figure out the permanent way to do what I did. Whether that is a flag to the configure script that says –cygwin-distribution or something like that or whatever, I want to have this such that after I’m done anyone can build this package from source without really doing anything special. I’ll email the lists tonight and get this process rolling again. It could be possible that the subversion client (all this is for client only) is in the official cygwin setup in a matter of weeks or even days.

Fly the Surly Skies

We watched Airline last night. I have a little more sympathy for the workers of airlines since watching this show. That doesn’t mean that I’m happy when they screw me, but they do catch a lot of shit just for doing their jobs. It struck me last night how many of these issues that people were freaking out about were of their own making. In one, a woman didn’t make the flight because Southwest didn’t get her the wheelchair assistance in time. That’s their fault. However, the woman’s luggage made the trip and it had her medication in it which apparently was life threatening to miss. The daughter of the family spent lots of time raising sand about how bad this was. In the first place, DON’T PUT MISSION CRITICAL THINGS THAT WILL KILL YOU TO NOT HAVE IN THE CHECKED LUGGAGE! Suppose the luggage got lost, which happens occasionally. Then you equally don’t have it. Would it have been so burdensome to put this shit in your purse? Second, they seemed uninterested in solving the core problem or even identifying the core problem. As I read it, the core problem was “mom will die if she misses her pills tonight.” They seemed to be focussing on getting her from LA to New York to get to where the pills and luggage are. You know, a phone call to your doctor’s office can get an emergency prescription. I’ve done it before in cases like that. This appeared to be the middle of the day, so why didn’t they just find a close by pharmacy and call the doctor? It would have solved the root problem without all the histrionics.

In the other one, a family was flying with their mother/grandmother, who required oxygen. You can’t take the tank on the plane, and the whole thing centered on whether or not she could make it from Chicago to Las Vegas without the oxygen. The SWA employees weren’t going to do it without a written note from the doctor, and the daughter was raising a fit. “Of course she can make it that far, what’s going to happen. It’s our responsibility” and other stuff. That’s all well and good, but the liability is still on Southwest. If the woman dies on the plane from missing her bottled oxygen, I could easily see her beeyatch daughter turning around and suing for negligence, even though she busted balls all day to try to get mom on the plane. I’m not sure why the two sentences were not enough for her: “We can’t take the bottled oxygen on board because if we lose pressure it will explode and hurt or kill people.” and “If your mom dies because she doesn’t have that oxygen, the responsibility is ours not yours.” I thought the daughter was completely unreasonable.

All that said, why don’t planes have a seat or two specially with oxygen tubes for this situation? They already have it onboard in a tank somewhere for those little masks that pop out. Couldn’t they bring a little extra and allow for a senior or two to have a nose tube the whole time?

Stepping Up

This is the beginning of my second week without sodas. Other than adjusting to the lower amount of caffeine I get, it has been pretty much without incident. I suffered from some bad Diet Coke cravings at the beginning, but that has diminshed over time. Now I just drink a lot of water. I’ve also been cutting down on the lattes and coffee that I drink, so I’m having maybe two or three cups of caffeinated coffee a week and maybe four or five cups of decaf a week. Added up, that’s a pretty dramatic caffeine reduction from where I was, with a couple cups of coffee each day and 6 or 8 cans of soda each day.

I’m almost done with the Walter Willett book on which I’ll give a comprehensive review when I’m done. I have started to adjust my diet in directions it suggests, reducing or eliminating the processed sugars, white flours and trans-fat from my diet. I’m eating more fruits and vegatables and trying to get more whole grain foods in there. It can be tough. I tried in vain to find brown rice at a restaurant in my part of the Chicago loop.

I have yet to add back in a formal exercise program. I am making a few little choices differently in my day to day life, like avoiding escalators in favor of the stairs beside them. I’ve also been taking the elevator to a few floors underneath mine and walking up the balance. This is no substitue for a workout routine, but I am trying to make more active and less sedentary choices in my behavior.

I’m going to start doing something Bruce does that I like and post my weight weekly. I think I need a newer better bathroom scale because our current one is highly subject to fiddling. By leaning one way or the other I can cause a 15 pound difference in the reading! My feet also hang off of it and make it hard to figure out the best place to stand to get the most correct reading. Still, imperfect as it is it says I was 239 yesterday. That’s a lot for a guy a little under 5′ 9″. In fact, it puts me 80 pounds (50%!) over my ideal weight. Luckily for me, I can hide the first 30 or 40 pounds of that so I don’t look as heavy as I am. That’s cold comfort when you know that you are crossing the line into morbid obesity. I’m pretty determined to shed the pounds and reestablish a better level of fitness, so it’s just a matter of time. Healthier me, here I come!

Optimism Management

Here’s an interesting post from Incipient Thoughts posting the opinion that perhaps it isn’t risk management as much as “optimism management” that software projects need. He points out that optimism is often a contributor or cause of problems, because it downplays the risks. “We don’t have to plan for that, we can just knock it out” and other kiss of death phrases always give me the cold sweats when I hear them.

Rolling Back Freedoms

Here we go. Police in Lousiana no longer need warrants to search your home. A quote from the article:

New Orleans Police Department spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo said the new power will go into effect immediately and won’t be abused.

“We have to have a legitimate problem to be there in the first place, and if we don’t, we can’t conduct the search,” Defillo said.

I think we’re all getting a feel for how this works, and when the spokesman says “This power won’t be abused”, that is code for “This power will definitely be abused.” So apparently, any police officer can now say “I’m scared” and then come into your house without a warrant. Very nice. Maybe I should rethink my rhetoric about how great it would be to move to Crowley LA.

Via newsfromme.

Georgia Tech in the Final Four

Georgia Tech beat Kansas to advance to the Final Four! I think this is the first time since I was a student there in the late 80’s. Very nice. Like I say, I’m not a huge basketball fan. In fact, I used to live across the parking lot from the coliseum in one of two fraternity houses that were as close as you could possibly live to it, and spent lots of time working in the same building at WREK and I never once attended a GT basketball game. Something about waiting in line for tickets, I’m not sure why I never went. I’m sure I wasn’t too busy studying, probably I was to busy drinking all nights of home games.

All that aside, you want your school to do things, so Go Jackets!

More Linux Handhelds

Via correspondent Mike comes two more Linux based handhelds that I never would have known about without his heads up. Royal has the Linea LX coming out soon. It seems to have similar specs to the Zaurus (although lacking a few of the goodies I most like.) The nicest part is that it has a built in SD and will feature CF via a detachable sled which will have its own battery. Thus, the draw of CF devices will not run the PDA dead quite so quickly. That’s good thinking. This device, which will have a 320X240 screen is targeted at the $400 price.

Picopeta has the Simputer, designed for use by the developing world (India is the first target). It runs on AAA batteries so that wall power isn’t needed, and it is voice activated to account for the fact that many that use it might be illiterate. Interesting notions, although as that article points out, the $220 is a years wages for most of the people it is targeted towards.

Shrook Thoughts, Day Two

I am too much of an impatient spazzmo to wait, so even though I was pissed off at not being able to import my OPML file, I went ahead and migrated most of my subscriptions the hard way. I copied the link from my FeedOnFeeds panel, and one at a time created new channels in Shrook. That’s when Drawback Prime started to kick in – Shrook crashes. Not like once in a blue moon, but a lot. It did four or five times while I was importing my subscriptions and approaching a dozen times since. I don’t believe I have seen it run for a solid hour yet. Whether this is related to the brand new support for OS X 10.2 in the 2.0 product I don’t know. I do know that it is pretty hard to use a tool that disappears on you with such alarming regularity. I’m half considering setting the same keep-alive script as I did to keep the also crash prone RadioLover (which has gotten much better in recent releases) up and running. Thus far, it is a little disconcerting. At least it seems to be keeping most of my state between crashes, so I’m not losing that much.

Big Drawback #2: The web client isn’t really usable for serious work. Last night I tried to use it the same way as I would the FeedOnFeeds. Reading the posts in one of the blogs I follow, I clicked the “mark as read” link. As tedious as it would be to do it 8 times to mark the 8 of 10 articles I wanted to mark, I was willing to try it. The results of that didn’t leave me in the same page – the group view – with that article gone but took me back to my front page. To do the next one would have required navigating back to it to follow the second link. The tedium of doing this just went up dramatically. I can’t see myself really using the web client in this incarnation.

Another annoying bit of usability problem is that the 2-panel view that I prefer (the leftmost of the 4 panels is nearly useless to me and the third not that much better) seems to be tied to actually viewing a post. If you go navigating through your groups, whenever you reach a point where are are not actively looking at a post, you automatically bounce back to the 4 panel view. I hate that. In fact, until you pick an article to read you can’t even get to the 2-panel view because the place where that happens is a button in the article panel that isn’t there when there is no article being viewed. I think that’s bad UI design. If you are reading along and hit the end of your new blogs, the “move me one down” logic bubbles all the way to the left, when it moves me from “Library” (my subscriptions) to “Channel guide” (canned list of RSS channels from when you first started.) Is there any real need for reading my subscriptions to flow into this list of suggested channels? By definition, anything in there to which you subscribed has already been viewed so this list is now composed of a mix of things you’ve already read and that you don’t care enough about to subscribe to. Navigating into it does nothing for the user. Where this tool needs to be optimized is playing to the strong suit of the folks who would want to use this – people who are trying to manage many RSS feeds and want to quickly and easily read their new news. I’m finding lots of impediments to that in ways large and small.

Even though this might sound like I’m down on the program, I still quite like it. I can even see registering it just to keep the money flowing and increasing the chances of it being improved in the directions I would like. It still does need the work though. The crashing frequency is unbearable.

Shrook Thoughts, Day One

So this is both my general thoughts on Shrook to everyone as well as an open letter to Graham Parks, who shows up regular as kibo every time I mention Shrook. I assume he’s following Feedster or something to catch folks blogging about it. After having read about it a few days ago and seeing it had the OS X 1.3 dependency, I was waiting. Yesterday mornng I saw a reference on the page to the fact that Graham was working on making it work with OS X 1.2 and by the time I checked yesterday it was done and available for download! I installed it yesterday and have only been using for about 18 hours. These are my early impressions.

I’ll talk first about the web page and the integration, because the combination of Mac client and web client is the attractive part of this app for me. They two appear to link together quite well. The latency between changes in one appearing in the other is quite low, low enough that as I move back and forth I haven’t really noticed it not being in sync. The web client is usable, but really needs some work. In my view, Graham should download a copy of FeedOnFeeds and check it out to steal everything good from that interface. On Shrook.com, there is a button to click to mark an individual story read, or a button to mark all stories read. 99 out of a hundred times, I will want something in between those two points. Usually with FoF, that is marking most but not all items read, leaving behind the ones I want to explore further or perhaps blog later. I suppose that as I get used to this, I might begin to use the “flag for later” to take the role that I currently assign to unread articles. I really think, though, that any action you can take on an individual article in the web client should be able to be batched with checkboxes and a “mark all selected read” and a “flag all selected for later” type action. If those were available, I’d be in hog heaven.

The client is pretty good, using the multipanel left to right style that the OS X Finder does, where selecting something in one panel gives a look into that in the next rightmost panel. I like the way the icon in the system tray gives the count of unread items, ala Mail or NetNewsWire. There are a lot of bits though that aren’t that intuitive. For example, in my view of all incoming items, some are greyed out and in some the title is still dark. What is the difference between these two? They have all been read, but there is some form of difference that I can’t yet figure out. In the Channel menu list is “Check All” and “Update All.” Call me stupid, but without reading the manual I have no idea why those two should be different. They sound like the same thing to me.

I like the ability to quickly bop between the 4 panel view and the 2 panel (just the list of items and a view window). I predict that I and almost everyone will spend most of their time in the 2 panel view. I like the snappiness of the checking, and the generally intuitive nature of the UI (with the exceptions noted.) If you are a fan of the brushed metal look of iTunes and such, you’ll like this UI. In fact, it looks a lot like iTunes. Overall I like this tool and find it useful.

Now the negatives. What is a glaring functionality omission is the same thing that was missing in FeedOnFeeds until I patched it – searching. It is highly common to know you’ve read something in one of your blogs but not remember which or when. Searching is essential for me, and to lack it here is a problem. Another huge operational problem – I can tell by watching my server logs when it checks my own blog that it is not using the Last-Modified header. Every 30 minutes it is checking to see if there are new articles by downloading the whole RSS. That is not cool. Even with the synchronized checking to spread out and reduce the load, I think it is a minimum of any modern RSS aggregator to utilize the basic HTTP headers to avoid loading where possible. Even if using a tool that doesn’t make it easy to do the If-Modified-Since in the request, it’s simple enough to do a HEAD first, compare the timestamp in the Last-Modified to the most recent check and avoid loading if unnecessary. Why use bandwidth you don’t need to? If your tool gets popular, this simple omission in your product makes it a part of the problem.

In this tool, new items come in and are unread. You can read them or manually mark them as read, or also flag them for later. Confusingly though, this distinction is called “mark read” and “mark” in the menus, which means you have to pay attention to make sure you are doing the right thing between two choices with opposite intentions that are named almost the same.

Another very large problem for me and why I only have a few subscriptions now is that it will not read the OPML file that FeedOnFeeds generates for me. On attempting to import it, it gives me an error that says “Unable to parse XML – Shrook can only import channels from a valid OPML file”. This is highly frustrating, as the file is obviously good XML. I can import it in Mozilla without parse errors. I have enough subscriptions that I’m not too keen on the idea of cutting and pasting them in one at a time. This is a big problem, because it is one that can make potential users (like me) decide that the cost of switching to this tool is too high. Some people have hundreds – if the OPML import isn’t robust those people are going to bail. I can provide the OPML that won’t import if it helps get this fixed.

Overall, I like it and will consider popping for the $20 to register it before my 30 days are up. It really desperately needs these couple of issues fixed, though – import most of all and Last-Modified compliance nearly as badly. It’s a great start but needs work to become an unqualified killer app.

DRM Woes for Cory

On Boingboing, Cory posts about his problems with DRM’d iTunes purchases. He points out that he is a edge use case that gets hammered because he buys so many Apple products that he is caught in a bind where he can no longer authorize new machines. As he points out:

But I couldn’t. Between my mom’s iBook (3,000 miles away in another country), my original Powerbook (broken up for parts by Apple) and the replacement Powerbook (back in the shop due to a manufacturing defect), I’d done all the authorizations that Apple’s “speed bump” DRM would allow me. The Help links on Apple’s site went to pages with support forms that returned errors when I filled them in. So, the “FairPlay” system was punishing me for:

  1. Buying so much iTMS music that burning it to CD and ripping it back as MP3 (and re-entering all the metadata) was too big a chore to contemplate
  2. Buying a new Powerbook at full retail every 10 months
  3. Buying new Powerbooks as soon as they are announced, before all the manufacturing bugs have been shaken out

Apple tells us that its DRM “keeps honest users honest.” I’m a pretty honest user. Apple’s DRM hasn’t kept me honest, though: it’s kept me angry with Apple. It’s kept me feeling like a sucker for giving them my money. It’s kept me in chains.

This is not so different from my situation with my PalmDigitalMedia books that I can’t read on my Zaurus now. It differs in magnitude (I have a lot less money at stake than Cory does) but not in root causes. The consumer dumb enough to buy these DRM’d books and music finds themselves locked in or losing access to material they actually spent real cash to buy. Because the media companies find the risk of piracy too much to bear, they make you and I bear the risk in the form of losing access. From their perspective, what do they care? They win either way – if they’re lucky you’ll be such a sucker to buy the same thing again on the new machine/platform/format.

YACOT (Yet Another Change Of Tool)

I seem to be in that realm of geeks who is nomadic and restless in my toolset. I swear it seems like every week I’m doing something – learning a new programming language, changing my spam fighting technique, my referer spam fighting, my blogging tool, etc. I’ve been using FeedOnFeeds for 9 months now and I’m just to the point where I think I’ve outgrown it. You update it by loading a webpage, which you can do yourself with a broswer or periodically via a cron job that loads the page as I do. It is timing out at five minutes, which is usually not quite long enough to get to the bottom of my list. Thus, the top of the list is always updated and there is this ragged line of blogs at the bottom, some of which have been updated in the last hour, some 10 hours ago and some not for days. When the planets align and all the previously loads are fast enough, the bottom blogs get refreshed.

I would like to move to Shrook (whose author Graham was kind enough to leave me a comment explaining the 10.3 dependence) but this will have to wait until either I upgrade or he builds in 10.2 compatability. I cast around for a Java servlet based equivalent of FeedOnFeeds, a server side aggregator preferably with one that could have multiple users and share common subscriptions, but I never found one. The web based portion of Shrook does what I want with the bonus of having a Mac client for value addition, so that does seem like the way to go to me.

FeedOnFeeds Searching for 0.1.2

A few months ago I released a patch for FeedOnFeeds 0.1.0 to do searching. Here is the same patch for 0.1.2. Just download this zip file and unzip it into the same directory as your FOF 0.1.2 install. It will ask if you want to replace view.php. Say yes and voila – you will have searching! As always, leave me feedback (positive and negative accepted equally gladly) if you use this, please.

The State

An unrelated query on Google turned up some information about the comedy troupe The State, late of MTV. I have long been wanting a DVD collection of everything they did, which I think is the finest sketch comedy show ever – yes, even better than Monty Python. At least, that’s how I remember it and I’d like to see some of the shows to see if that assessment is correct. Well, you can after a fashion at State Media Resources which has lots of information about the show as well as an episode guide with links to Quicktime versions of the skits!. I can’t actually view them on the machine I’m on now, but tonight I’m going to pick out a few favorites and view them (“porcupine porcupine porcupine race track”, “let me dip my BALLS in it!”, “It’s-a the Pope!”, etc). That site also has a link to the the official The State site, and information about the CBS special they did. I found a link to an article about the fiasco that was that special. It must have been awfully poorly promoted because I never even heard of it, despite being a big fan of the show and having been a regular viewer of the show (American Gothic) that it preempted to run. All good stuff.

I also ran across this very funny piece by Michael Ian Black called “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Meeting People More Famous Than You”.

First of all, relax. Famous people are just like you. Yes, we have more money. Yes, we are invited to parties so fabulous your head would explode were you ever to get past the velvet ropes. But after the flashbulbs have stopped popping and we roll out of bed around noon, we have people who put our pants on us one leg at a time.

Approach a celebrity the way you would an old friend. An old friend who doesn’t remember you. Just walk up, extend your hand, and give a hearty, “Ahoy!” Everybody enjoys a familiar naval greeting, especially stars. If you have the time to don Naval dress whites, all the better.

Lastly, here’s an online petition to get Viacom to release the collected episodes on DVD and VHS.

Gentle Readers

After my post about Paul Melancon the other day, in which I mentioned how much I like his guitarist Lee Cuthbert and her band Gentle Readers I was in a mood to spin them. Thus I do. I brought a stack of CDs to work, listened to them all and now I’m listening to Hi Honey and You in Black and White in alternation all day. It’s a real bummer that I found them right about the time they went on what turned out to be a multi-year hiatus. I’ve been thinking for a long time that I need to write them a fan letter just so they know how useful I find their music as an antidepressant. The music is great, Susan Fitzsimmon’s voice is so perfect for their tunes being slightly gravelly and imperfect but warm and human. I’m listening to the last track on Hi Honey, “California Part 2” (Part 1 is what I interpret as an indictment of the music industry). It is so hardassed in the lyrics, I love it:

Since you went to California
It’s like you don’t exist
Here I am just sifting through the clues I must have missed
About this stupid place
You’re not free and I’m not stuck
You never were that gifted
I never was that dumb

Now imagine those harsh words sung in Susan’s wonderfully expressive voice, with this pure “California sound” lush music underneath it, replete with bird sounds and sun drenched atmosphere. It’s a beautiful song with ugly sentiments, which is exactly the stuff that floats my boat. Gentle Readers, please make some more music! I need it.

Eat Drink and Be Healthy

On the word of JonnyX I ran out and bought the Walter Willett book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy. Willett is suggesting that the USDA food pyramid is part of the reason why Americans are getting so fat. As he points out, it wasn’t developed by an agency promoting health but one charged with making sure that agribusiness has a market to sell its wares. The book is pretty highly rated on Amazon, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

I think it is entirely possible that the eating patterns prescribed by Willett and similar books such as Body for Life are actually in scientific agreement with Atkins. If their thesis is correct (and it certiainly appears to be the case) then the highly refined carbohydrate heavy food we have been eating as “low fat” causes a lot of harm to our bodies. This leads to lots of insulin response to our food, which then leads to us being hungrier, etc. It seems entirely possible that Atkins is a correct and effective way of losing weight, but not the most correct. Atkins is kind of a brute force, zero tolerance way of dealing with the fact that some carbo heavy foods are harmful. They subtract the things that need to be subtracted, but lots of other things as well. From my brief glances at the book and reading interviews with him, Willett promotes eating whole grain food, fresh fruit and vegetables, and not avoiding “healthy oils” like olive oil and that found in nuts while cutting out highly refined foods with lots of sugars, trans-fatty acids and saturated fat.

I’ll report back here after I’ve read the book. I’m hoping that this has some insights. I know it has a lot of data, being based on a study of medical workers for over 25 years and correlating their diets with their health issues.

The Referer Spam Continues

So a few weeks ago I wrote up my solution to my persistent referer spam. I adapted a script I had that would parse out the loads of my web page that include a banned referer URL and add them to hosts.deny. The only problem with that – Apache doesn’t use hosts.deny. Doh! So while my idea was sound, it didn’t work. I had a false positive where I thought it did, but that turns out to just have been a breather on the part of the scumbags. So, with a very small bit of further adaptation, I now have that script writing out “Deny from” lines into my .htaccess file. This one will do the trick. I also set that on the cron job so that it will parse out whichever scumbags made it through in the last day right before the logs rotate. Man am I getting tired of this arms race.