xela: Photo of me (me)
I was just reading email at work: skimming a message from new co-worker, who was commenting on a thread I'm not involved in. Maybe a dozen lines in, my ears pricked up when I came across a nice turn of phrase. Nothing brilliant, but a phrase that expressed a thought well, and in an unexpected way. The sort of thing that makes those of us who love language smile a little --- not least because we suspect we've come across a kindred spirit.

So I slowed down; started actually reading, not just skimming. All mentally prepared to find a couple more nice turns of phrase: Enough evidence to drop by the guy's desk and say "Hey, nice touch in that email." Engineers who can write are rare, and a clever little flourish in email, like the funny but on-point remark in a meeting, makes the work day better.

So I'm all mentally geared up for another smile of nerdy pleasure. And I'm reading along. And three or four lines later, comes the first misspelling. One that dropped an entire syllable. Then, on that same line, a first missing comma.

Disappointment. The devil is in the details, as they say.


Mar. 22nd, 2012 08:30 pm
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Sitting here, doing five other things, but watching with half an eye as tcpdump tells me the newly-installed DHCP server on my Ubuntu box is getting requests from my MBP, but not replying. And I suddenly remember one of the very first seriously hackish things I did: installing a Sun3 motherboard in a 4/260 chassis (along with the 4-260's own half-dozen or so VME boards), so as to turn the Sun3 into an X-terminal, giving us a second head on the 4/260. Hardly bleeding-edge computer recycling even in 1995 (though, remarkably, Google finds a 2008 discussion of the same hack).

The DHCP packets appear on my terminal window, one of almost a dozen I have open, sprawling over the remarkably cheap four-and-a-half megapixels of display in front of me, so rapidly I'm only really sure it's changed by comparing the timestamp to my menubar clock. Yet it is somehow fundamentally the same thing as the BOOTP messages scrolling by at stately pace on the Sun3's CRT all those years ago. Exactly the same thing. And at the same time, entirely different.
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I can now attest from first-hand experience that Prof. Winston's "How to Speak" lecture entirely deserves its reputation.

I even sent him a fan letter. Something I last did almost 20 years ago, and have done fewer than five times in my entire life.
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I've been taking Philip Greenspun's Three-day database class this week,where they have everyone install virtualbox and download a VM preloaded with the tools we're using. Which is a fine idea, but I've found it annoying as all hell in a handful of ways, all of which basically come down to familiar things not working in quite the way I expect. (The integration with MacOS is poor: virtual box steals apple-tab and the claimed clipboard integration doesn't work. And X11 copy-paste doesn't work in the VM's desktop.)

All of which would be easily worked around if I could ssh into the VM from the Mac. Talking to one of the class TAs (confirmed by a little Googling) tells me that adding a "Host Only" network interface (or changing the existing one to that type) should make that possible. But when I try, Virtualbox's GUI gives me a not-useful error message and leaves the "OK" button greyed out.

So I got out my Yak razor and created a fresh VM. And got the same behaviour when I it up with a host-only interface. At which point I considered looking for the I'm-sure-it's-here-somewhere command-line interface, which would presumably give me a better error message.

And then I dropped my razor and backed away from the Yak, leaving behind the tiniest of bald patches.
xela: Photo of me (Default)

Does anyone have a hub I could borrow? (I'm thinking my DHCP troubleshooting might be helped by being able to watch the failure alongside a simultaneous success --- like we used to do routinely when Ethernet was CDMA.)

Posted via LiveJournal.app.

RCN Clue?

Jan. 11th, 2012 12:20 am
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In 4+ years with RCN for Internet, I have generally been able to avoid contacting their tech support. But the couple of times I have, they've been as clueless as I expected. And now I have a problem that I know damned well front-line support will waste a massive amount of my time with if I let them. So before I call: has anyone discovered the trick of getting quickly passed on to someone with a clue at RCN?

(The situation is this: I pay for a second dynamic IP address. Until a few weeks ago, I was using one on a NAT box and another on a Mac Mini. I took the Mini down in preparation for repurposing a different machine. Today, finally, everything was in place to bring that machine up. And it couldn't get an IP address from RCN. It's not a cable problem: With all the same cabling, but my own DHCP server in place of the cable modem, it gets an address just fine. The NAT box is still getting its address just fine. I haven't yet run tcpdump — I do that infrequently enough anymore that I'll have to RTFM first, and I didn't have time today. But I will of course do so before I call RCN. I'm reminded of the bad old days, when you had to phone your ISP with the new MAC address to change machines. Seems unlikely — but depending on what tcpdump shows, it may be my best working theory.)

At any rate, if I do end up having to call them, I'd really appreciate being able to route directly to someone with a clue. Anyone have a secret formula?
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My printer (Xerox Phaser 6120) has stopped booting in a way that seems odd to me but that I suspect would look ordinary to someone who worked with them a lot: When I power cycle it, it seems to go through its normal boot routine - but never gets to the step of printing its configuration page. Instead, it goes into power save mode, and is not visible to my Mac either via ethernet or via usb. I can wake it with the front panel controls - but can't seem to get it to actually do anything with them.

So I'm looking for a printer repair company, and wondering if anyone here knows of a good one. There used to be quite a few, several of them decent: last time I looked into this, close to ten years ago, I was putting a printer support contract out to bid for a company with about 20 printers, and IIRC had no trouble getting three good bids. But the company that won the contract appears to no longer exist, and I don't remember the names of any of the other bidders — and none of the top ten Google hits on Boston printer repair rings a bell.

(Of those ten Google hits, the most promising looks to be terminal.com in Brookline. That link is an HP-specific page, but the company appears to have been around a while (domain registered in 1995), which has some appeal. Still, that's not much to go on, so if anyone knows anything about them in particular, I'd appreciate hearing from you.)


Sep. 23rd, 2011 09:01 pm
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(I've tagged this geek, but I'll preface it with a further warning that it will mean nothing to many of you.)

On the off chance that there was anyone left with any illusion that verislime/network pollutions might have an iota of pride remaining, I bring you this, discovered by querying

whois -h whois.networksolutions.com gdocs.com

Promote your business to millions of viewers for only $1 a month
Learn how you can get an Enhanced Business Listing here for your domain name.
Learn more at http://www.NetworkSolutions.com/
Verislime: We leave no conceivable opportunity to take some damned fool for a nickle unexploited!
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A few days ago, I watched the BBC's Joy of Stats. And it was fascinating



So much so, I want to turn you on to it too.

The presenter is Hans Rosling, whose TED talk on Global Population a few years ago has been a hit ever since it was released on the 'net. I can only assume someone at the BBC saw the TED talk and said We should see that this guy can do with an hour and a production budget. The Joy of Stats is the happy result.

You can watch some scenes from it courtesy of The Open University. Unfortunately, unless you already have an account on uknova (which can be hard to come by), I don't know where you can download it.

I plan to watch it again sometime in first half of January, and would be happy to make it a social event if people are interested.

(Hat-tip to [livejournal.com profile] sammason.)
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Is anyone here connected with Artisan's Asylum? I certainly like the idea, but I expect this sort of thing can be fantastic or terrible, with not a lot of room in between — the difference being pretty much entirely a matter of the people involved.

That said, unless someone I trust warns me off, I've pretty much decided that it's worth spending $25 on the joining fee plus devoting four Friday evenings on "Learning by Building the Asylum" (about 1/3 of the way down the page) to find out just how promising it is. Plus, maybe by participating I can make it a little more promising. Anyone else in with me?
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So, I have a problem, and I think I have a solution (or at least a significant improvement).

This is, roughly, what I look like as I'm typing this:

Picture of me wearing my glasses over my large, hard-shell eyepatch

An astute observer (or even a fairly oblivious one) may note that the large plastic cup taped over my left eye is causing me to have to wear my glasses nearly on the end of my nose. Said observer may also notice the indentation between my eyebrow and the bridge of my nose where my glasses normally sit. These are two very different places — different enough that I can't spend much time reading. To say nothing of the fact that every time I glance downward, I'm at risk of my glasses falling off. Which, since I'm not supposed to bend over for the duration, would be especially poor.

You may also note that my left lens is useless. And will be, permanently, since the brand new lens in my eye is nearsighted, and the left lens of my glasses is intended for a farsighted eye.

These glasses consist of two temples and a bridge, held together by the lenses. I know from experience, by breaking a temple, that I can wear them somewhat functionally without one temple — and what made that hard was the weight of the lens that was only supported by the bridge.

I have never examined them closely (chicken and egg problem there), but I can only imagine the lenses are attached to the frames by screws, And that if I were to detach the left lens from the bridge, I would in effect have a monocle, supported by the bridge of my nose and one ear. Which I believe I would be able to wear in something far closer to my normal position.

So if someone with good eyes and small tools would be interested in coming over and trying to take my glasses apart, I would be most grateful.....
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I am something of a design junkie, always on the lookout for objects where a need is met with both engineering elegance and appeal to the senses.

Anyone who's ever plugged something in to a wall outlet in the UK has noticed that UK power plugs are big and bulky and pretty much unavoidably ugly. Royal College of Art student Min-Kyu Choi thought this was a problem that needed solving. The result is simply brilliant.

Yet another reason to wish I could live in England: So I could replace my ugly plugs with these when they reach the market....

(Hat-tip to [livejournal.com profile] nakor, inasmuch as it's his fault that I was skimming Joel Raymond's twitter feed, where I found this.)
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My getting on to ten-year-old Apple base station is getting to the point where it flakes out more than I'm willing to put up with. I want to replace it, and I don't especially want to pay Apple prices.

What I need:
  • Like the Apple, a single NAT served simultaneously to 100baseT (or would it be 1000 these days?) and 802.11
  • WPA2 support

What I'd like:
  • The ability to manage the NAT from the command line, preferably via a serial console
  • The ability to map IP addresses to MACs, without being locked into only using computers whose MACs I've registered with the NAT
  • The ability to run a second, open wireless NAT, along with
  • The ability to choke how much bandwidth to the 'Net a given NAT can use.

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Most of us (by which I mean me and the handful of people who regularly read my LJ) are, however much we may dislike the term, knowledge workers; many of us also manage other knowledge workers. And most of us — or at any rate, those with whom I have, over the years, had conversations about the subject — feel that, once you're making a decent living, money isn't anywhere near as good a motivator, for ourselves and those of our colleagues we respect, as upper management seems to think it is.

But until now I didn't know there was science to back that belief up. Indeed, science to show that financial incentives are in fact de-motivatiing for creative intellectual work.

Deniel Pink's TED talk. Ninteen minutes. Well worth watching.

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It may be my earliest memory that I can date. I was staying with family friends, the Ellisons. (I suppose my dad must have been on a bad drunk — that was usually the reason my mom sent me to stay with friends.) I'm sure the whole family must have been gathered around the old black-and-white TV, but I don't remember them. I remember the fuzzy space-suited man jumping what seemed so far down that last step, in slow motion. I remember his famously flubbed first words. And I remember ABC's Science reporter, Jules Bergman, talking over a picture of the face of the moon, showing where the landing site was. (I think I even remember a little (though vastly out of scale) cardboard-cutout of a LEM). I remember at some point going out on the front porch and looking at the moon, trying desperately to spot the Eagle. (I was aware that it was very far away, but I was too young to have any real sense of what a quarter million miles meant, and I hoped there'd be a reflection or ... something.) Someone (one of their teenage daughters (Marilyn, I think) explained to me that it was too far away, and coaxed a by the very sleep and up-way-past-his-bed-time little boy inside.

I'm sure I followed the rest of Apollo 11 with fascination, but aside from a few scattered images (a splashdown that may not be that splashdown; the isolation chamber on the deck of an aircraft carrier, looking as I recall like nothing so much as an airstream trailer), I remember no details. I'm sure I followed Apollo 12 as well, but it was with Apollo 13 that I became an obsessive little geek. I kept my own little mission log, writing down the exact time of launch,first stage separation, second stage separation, Earth orbit, translunar injection.... (When the first reports of "Houston, we have a problem" came in, I was sure that my logging the mission had somehow jinxed the mission.)

But forty years ago tonight, that was all in the future. Forty years ago tonight a little boy stared intently at a crescent moon, hanging over over a wheat field near Puget Sound, and knew that, even though he couldn't see it, he was looking at the most amazing thing ever.
xela: ligature of the letters w, t, and f (wtf)
The last several times I've bought external hard drive enclosures, they've come with power bricks that connected to the enclosure via a mini-DIN connector. I thought this was stupid — there are a lot of other connectors that are far less likely to slip out accidentally. But everyone seemed to have settled on it, so I shrugged, made sure to check my connectors every couple weeks, and didn't give it much more thought.

In the ongoing saga of unpacking, i just came across an external USB drive that isn't labeled. I'm pretty sure I know what's on it, but wanted to check. Unfortunately, it seems to have gotten separated from it's power supply No problem, thinks I, I'll just borrow the power supply from this other drive.

Wrong: this enclosure uses 4-pin mini-DIN. The other one uses 6-pin. So someone decided to use someone else's daft idea — but just differently enough to be incompatible.
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It is once again time to go through my web browser's hundred or so open tabs and share the best of them with my friends.

For those who've always wondered: What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Estimating the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow:
Hashing out the classic question with Strouhal numbers and simplified flight waveforms.

After spending some time last month trying to develop alternate graphic presentations for kinematic ratios in winged flight, I decided to try to answer one of the timeless questions of science....

Read the full article.

Got this one from [livejournal.com profile] siderea: Dancing Bach on the FAO Schwartz Keyboard:

This in turn led me down two fruitful (or at any rate, entertaining) tangents. First, the title, "Girls Rock" (which I thought might be the name of this duo) found me the trailer for a movie of that title — a documentary about a rock camp for adolescent girls. Which probably makes it sound like "yeah, whatever." But the trailer brought tears to my eyes, and I am going to find this movie and watch it.

More about Girls Rock: The Movie..

On a lighter and note, Googling to make sure I was correctly identifying the piece the two young women were dancing on the giant keyboard (I was; it's the Toccata and Fugue in D minor) led me to this wonderfully geeky animation of that same piece:

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If you're a nerd who grew up wrenching on cars — well, I expect you'll have the same reaction to this that I did:

(Yes, it's for real. Click on the image to go to the Haynes page on the book.)
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My MacBook started acting up a couple months ago, in a particularly disturbing way: It would sometimes wake itself up when asleep. Including when it was closed and in my bag: Opening your padded laptop zipcase to pull out a laptop whose fan is going full blast — a laptop that is hot to the touch — is seriously wrong.

It was intermittent, and I really didn't have time to deal with it. OTOH, I knew its third birthday (and thus the expiration of my AppleCare) were coming up this month. Then Tuesday morning it did it again, lighting up its screen, making CD-eject noises, and running its fan on the breakfast table, ten minutes after I'd closed it. And when I went to log in to try to put it to sleep again, it locked up.

So I took it (in it's locked-up state, so they could do the reboot themselves and look for clues) to the shop (the shop being The Computer Loft in Allston, which as best I can tell is the last of what was always a rare breed: independent computer dealers with clue.) This afternoon they called me to say it was ready: they had replaced the main logic board, where a USB chip had gone wonky, under AppleCare. They had also noticed a small crack in its case (which I had noticed long ago and forgotten. This turns out to be a known defect in early MacBooks, so they also replaced that under AppleCare. On MacBooks, the keyboard and trackpad are integral to the top case. Which means that the part of the computer I actually touch, and consequently the part that shows physical wear, is now brand new. As is the main logic board.

So if you squint a little, I essentially I got a new MacBook today. For free.

I'm good with that.
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Google recently announced Google Native Client, which allows arbitrary x86 code to run inside a web application. (For the non-geeks, that potentially means web applications significantly more powerful than are now possible.)

They also anounced a Native Client Security Contest, in which hackers are invited to find security flaws in Google Native client, with the possibility of winning significant bug bounties and even more significant resumé points. This is a brilliant marketing move. It will attract a whole lot of nerds who might otherwise have waited to see if Google Native Code had legs to play with it while it's still new. And inviting that kind of to probe it can do nothing but enhance Google Naive Native Code's security reputation.


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