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MIT Team Working On a $12 Apple (II) Desktop

TTK Ciar Re:PC on a chip (401 comments)

This isn't precisely a pc on a chip (the core is MIPS-based), but Microchip's PIC32 offerings gives you a fully 32-bit processor with integrated RAM, ROM, and some peripherals for about $5 per unit. Perhaps not useful if you need x86, but plenty useful if you just want to compile and run ANSI-C applications (GCC has an appropriate MIPS target).

more than 6 years ago

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Time to PAUSE, and DFS Progress (of sorts)

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 4 years ago

I got a PAUSE account!

As of today I am "TTKCIAR" at pause.perl.org, a full-fledged member of the open source perl community, and capable of contributing software to CPAN, the central repository of perl modules, for others to download and use! Exciting day!

I have a bunch of code to contribute too .. but there's one problem: most of it totally falls short of PAUSE's standards for contributed code.

Look at the KS module, for instance. KS is a repository of handy functions which I have accumulated over the last nine years. They're useful and mature functions, but scarcely documented and need to be broken out into category-specific submodules. It's not "the way" to have functions for converting Brinell Hardness units to Vickers Hardness units rubbing elbows with file-locking functions and networking functions and string manipulation functions, all in the same module. The unit conversion functions need to go into modules in the "Physics" namespace, and the network functions need to go into modules in the "Net" namespace, etc. The documentation needs to be brought up to PAUSE standards as well.

It's work I knew I needed to do, but it was easy to put it off as long as I didn't have a PAUSE account. But now that I do, there's no more putting it off! I just need to find time to do it.

The first module I publish might be a relatively young one, a concurrency library called Dopkit. It's something I've been wanting to write for years, but I just finished writing and debugging it yesterday. There are many concurrency modules in CPAN already, but most of them require considerable programming overhead and require that the programmer wrap their head around the way concurrency works. These are reasonable things to do, but I've often thought it would be nice if it could be made trivially easy for the programmer to make loop iterations perform in parallel, without changing from the familiar loop construct. Dopkit ("Do Parallel Kit") provides functions that look and act like the familiar perl loop syntax -- do, for, foreach, and while -- and chops up the loop into parts which execute concurrently on however many cores the machine has. The idea is to put very few demands on the programmer, who needs only to load the module, create a dopkit object, and then use dop(), forp(), foreachp, and whilefilep() where they'd normally use do, for, foreach, and while(defined(<SOMEFILE>)). There are some limitations to the implementation, so the programmer can't use Dopkit *everywhere* they'd normally use a loop, but within its limitations Dopkit is an easy and powerful way to get code running on multiple cores fast.

Dopkit suffers from the same documentation deficit as KS, but at least it's already "categorized" -- as soon as I can get the documentation written, it should be published as Parallel::Dopkit. KS will take significant refactoring.

Most of the perl in my codecloset is embarrassingly primitive (I wrote most of it in my early days of perl, before I was very proficient with it), but there are a few other modules on my priority list to get into shape and publish. My "dy" utility has proven a tremendously useful tool over the years, but is in desperate need of rewriting. It started out life as a tiny throwaway script, and grew features organically without any design or regard for maintainability. I've been rewriting its functionality in two modules, FileID and DY (which should probably get renamed to something more verbose). When they're done, the "dy" utility itself should be trivially implementable as a light wrapper around these two modules. Another tool I use almost every day is "select", which is also in need of being rewritten as a module. I haven't started that one yet.

In other news I stopped dorking around with FUSE and linux drivers, and dug into the guts of my distributed filesystem project. Instead of worrying about how to make it available at the OS level for now, I've simply written a perl module for abstracting the perl filesystem API. As long as my applications use the methods from my FS::AnyFS module instead of perl's standard file functions, transitioning them from using the OS's "native" filesystems to the distributed filesystem should be seamless. This is only an interim measure. I want to make the DFS a full-fledged operating-system-level filesystem eventually, but right now that's getting in the way of development. Writing a linux filesystem driver will come later. Right now I'm quite pleased to be spending my time on the code which actually stores and retrieves file data.

Questions posted by other slashdot users focussed my attention on how I expect to distinguish my DFS from the various other distributed filesystem projects out there (like BTRFS and HadoopFS). I want it to do a few core things that others do not:

(1) I want it to utilize the Reed-Solomon algorithm so it can provide RAID5 and RAID6-like functionality. This will produce a data cluster which could lose any two or three (or however many the system administrators specify) servers without losing the ability to serve data, without the need to store all data in triplicate or quadrupilate. BTRFS only provides RAID0, RAID1, and RAID10 style redundancy -- if you want the ability to lose two BTRFS servers without losing the ability to serve all your data, all data has to be stored in triplicate. That is not a limitation I'm willing to tolerate. Similarly, the other distributed filesystems have "special" nodes which the entire cluster depends on. These special servers represent SPOFs -- "Single Points Of Failure". If the "master" server goes down, the entire distributed filesystem is unusable. Avoiding SPOFs is a mostly-solved problem. For many applications (such as database and web servers), IPVS and Keepalived provide both, load-balancing and rapid failover capability. There's no reason not to have similar rapid failover for the "special" nodes in a distributed filesystem.

(2) I want the filesystem to be continuous. Adding storage, replacing hardware, or allocating storage between multiple filesystem instances should not require interruption of service. This is a necessary feature if the filesystem is to be used for mission-critical applications expected to stay running 24x7. Fortunately I've done a lot of this sort of thing, and haven't needed to strain thusfar to achieve it. (On a related note, I still chuckle at the memory of Brewster calling me in the middle of the night from Amsterdam in a near-panic, following The PetaBox's first deployment. The system kept connecting to The Archive's cluster in San Francisco and keeping itself in sync, and nothing brewster could do would make it stop. The data cluster's software interpreted all of his attempts to turn the service off as "system failures" which it promptly auto-corrected and restored. It was a simple matter to tell the service to stop, but Brewster has a thing against documentation.)

(3) I want the filesystem to perform well with large numbers of small files. This is the hard part for filesystems in general, and it's something I've struggled with for years on production systems. None of the existing filesystems handle large sets of very small files very well, and most distributed filesystems such as RAID5 do not address the problem (and in some ways compound it -- as RAID5 arrays get larger, the minimum data that must be read/written for any operation also gets larger). In my experience, most real-life production systems have to deal with large numbers of small files. Just running stat() on a few million files is a disgustingly resource-intensive exercise. RAID1 helps, but the CPU quickly becomes the bottleneck. One of my strongest motivations for developing my own filesystem is to address this problem. I don't want to be struggling with it for the next ten years. I am tackling this problem in three ways: First, filesystem metadata is replicated across multiple nodes, for concurrent read-access. Second, filesystem metadata is stored in a much more compact format than the traditional inode permits. Many file attributes are inherited from the directory, and attribute data is only stored on a per-file basis when it is different from the directory's. This should improve its utilization of main and cache memories. Third, the filesystem API provides low-level methods for performing operations on files in batches, and implementations of standard filesystem functions (such as stat()) could take advantage of these to provide superior performance. For instance, when stat() was called to return information about a file, the filesystem could provide that information for many of the files in the same directory. This information would be cached in the calling process' memor space by the library implementing stat() (with mechanisms in place for invalidating that cache should the filesystem metadata change), and subsequent calls to stat() would return locally cached information when possible. This wouldn't help in all situations, but it would help when the calling application was trying to stat() all of the files in a directory heirarchy -- a common case where high performance would be appreciated.

I don't know how long it will take to implement such a system. What work I've already done is satisfying, but it just scratches the surface of what needs to be done, and I can barely find time to refactor and comment my perl modules, much less spend hard hours on design work! But I'll keep at it until it's done or until the industry comes up with something which renders it moot.

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Eating fruit

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 6 years ago

This journal entry was originally titled "Getting bought and eating fruit" because I wanted to talk a little about Discovery Mining (the small datamining company which has employed me these past few months) getting purchased by Interwoven. But I kept writing paragraphs and deleting them, keeping in mind the scary documents they made me sign which, paraphrased, read "don't you say nuthin' about nuthin'". I'll just vaguely mention that it seems to be a good thing, and people are generally happy about it, and I'm not getting rich from the transaction. My responsibilities and compensation have remained about the same. Now, onward to something which I can say something about: The House!

Cobalt and I just got back from doing some yardwork on the new property, hacking off dead tree limbs and resalting the water softener and putting together some furniture, that sort of thing. It wasn't all work, however. We also wandered around the property, looking at things and grazing on random things we found growing on trees and bushes. We found plums ready to be picked and eaten, and some apples, and more blackberry berries than you can shake a stick at. I commented to her that if the world ended we could just hide there and eat berries for the rest of our lives. There's really more fruit there than the two of us can possibly eat. I think my co-workers will be getting more than just free eggs! There was also a pear tree, but none of its pears were even close to ripe.

The contractor has been doing really good work. We have a totally redone electrical system now, and new raised redwood decks in the front and back, and various other things the house was sorely needing. We were discussing today how much of the painting we wanted him to do, and how much we would do ourselves. We purchased about eight gallons of paint at Kelly Moore (of various colors) and unloaded them when we were there to work on the grounds. I have many, many pictures of the place, but haven't gotten them online because I haven't had the time to write captions for them. I like to do that, but maybe getting them up is more important than captioning them. I'll update here when they're up.

This has been a rather boring journal entry. It is boring because I am extremely tired, but wanted to get something into my journal, but most of the interesting things in my life right now I cannot talk about. Perhaps the next entry will be more interesting.

-- TTK

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Brief update: calc, dvm, distributed filesystem

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Quick Rundown

Progress on the new house is .. well, progressing. We're having a really hard time of it, but may be getting more help soon. At least our contractor is doing a brisk job on his end -- the deathtrap electrical system has been redone, and cat6 connects patch panels in various rooms to a master panel in the room that will be my office, and the repaired bathroom will have its fixtures installed soon. We got a riding lawn mower, which is kind of annoying to use but also thrilling at times -- there are some pronounced hills in our front yard. I need to trim some low-hanging tree branches before next using it, though.

Calc3 is almost, but not quite, useful. This despite its being 150% the size of calc2. I've been abstracting things nicely and putting in hooks for all the things I want it to eventually become, which eats time and lines of code. I'm also impatient enough, though, that next time I get to it, I'll just focus on getting the calculator mode minimally useful. If it's useful enough that I start using it for my day-to-day work, it should become obvious what my priorities should be, and what features need rethinking.

Some time ago, I was hot after developing a distributed filesystem, not only because I needed one for my own use, but because I wanted to make some money. I know of a guy who runs a business which would benefit tremendously from being able to offer a distributed filesystem on his products, and figured he might be willing to license the thing, if I could get something working.

When I switched jobs, money ceased to be so much of an issue (did I mention that The Archive pays its employees about 2/3 what they're worth? Consider it mentioned), so I backburnered the idea. Lately I've been revisiting it because, well, I still need one. The original plan was to develop a "tolerably functional" interim solution fast, then work on the "preferred" solution.

My idea for the interim solution was to use linux's "network device" (nnd) driver to make really big network-mounted RAID5 and/or RAID6 filesystems, then use SAMBA to export them, and write some automated monitoring and control logic to manage the system and to provide users and administrative interface. This would have the advantage of being relatively fast and easy to develop, and would leverage linux's existing software-RAID technology to make the cluster's disks look like one huge filesystem (or a few). It would also have several disadvantages, though: Users' accesses to each distributed RAID array would be funnelled through a single server, making it both a SPOF and a performance bottleneck. Adding new space to existing filesystems would not be seamless, necessitating significant service disruption as the array rebuilt itself. Linux's RAID6 bites, performance-wise, and would limit the robustness of the cluster -- if three hosts went down, or even the wrong three disks, the filesystem would cease functioning. Finally, it turns out that nnd is not really ready for production use, so basing the filesystem on nnd would be like building a house on sand.

On top of it all, very little (if any) of the work I'd put into this interim solution could then be used to develop the preferred solution. It would all be throwaway code. The only real appeal was that I'd perhaps get a sellable product sooner, and be making a little money (hopefully) while developing the preferred solution.

Since I'm no longer feeling pressured to get something out fast, I'd might as well just start work on the preferred solution, which would provide distributed access (so users' connections could use any host's network connection for their accesses, alleviating the most severe bottleneck), better-than-RAID6 redundancy, and seamless addition of new space to existing filesystems.

Towards this goal, it makes sense to start with a project I've already been working on: DVM. It would provide the robust messaging system the cluster would need to chat amongst itself, and I need it for other projects anyway. It also makes sense to get DVM working first, because things might happen in the meantime which makes the distributed filesystem project moot. Google might publish its GFS and make it free for everyone to use. Ceph might come out with a better distributed filesystem than mine (I had sought a job there, but it didn't work out -- they have more technical talent than business-running talent). EMC or some other company might open-source their solution. Hell, I might even lose interest. If any of these things happen, then any work I've done which is specific to my distributed filesystem project will be wasted effort. But if I've spent my time working on DVM, then none of my work will have been wasted, because DVM has many uses.

Sometimes it seems like all roads lead back to DVM. Some of the functionality I want for calc3 will want DVM, too. So I'm working on DVM. This iteration is being developed in C, so it's slow going. I have a hash library which implements perl-like hash tables ("dictionaries", for the philistines amongst my readership), which helps speed things up, but it's still going to be a long while before I get it to a useful state. One advantage to my frustration is that it's encouraging me to really, *really* avoid early optimizations and unnecessary features (which one should avoid anyway -- it's just good engineering). Those can come later. This iteration is looking a lot more like conventional old-school unixy networking code than my other attempts, with big select()-and-loop constructs and the like. Maybe that's a good thing. We'll see.

-- TTK

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Quick interlude: select

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 6 years ago

I just posted the latest iteration of the "select" utility (for unixy systems) here.

"select" selects rows and columns from STDIN like the SQL "SELECT" statement selects rows and columns from a table (more or less). It understands how to parse tab-delimited text, CSV, hash, XML (poorly), and JSON. It can also emit any of these formats to STDOUT .. even if the format coming in on STDIN is different. This can make it also handy for simply translating between different text formats.

At The Internet Archive, I was living in data format hell. Our third-party contributors were pushing metadata at us in all manner of formats, the (very powerful) Petabox department refused to deal with anything other than XML, and the Collections department (where I worked for the last couple of years) had a whole lot of existing tools which used hash-format, but I was personally transitioning from hash to JSON. I already had a "selectcol" utility which could read tab and hash formats, so I evolved it in the direction I so very desperately needed.

At my current position at Discovery Mining, I've needed to translate between even more data formats, and the need for selecting rows and columns from large tabulated datasets has become even more pressing, so I forked "select" into a public domain part and a proprietary part. Improvements I develop on my own time will go into both, while improvements made during company hours will go into DM's copy. Since I'll be actively using this tool to get real work done, its development is likely to stay lively. So if you find the need, feel free to check on its status from time to time. I'll try to push out changes at least every other month.

Another recent update: prefix, which is mostly a timestamping tool. I'll write some documentation when I get around to it. Without arguments, it simply loops through STDIN, prepending a timestamp and emitting the result to STDOUT. With arguments it can prepend/append many other things to its input to generate realtime-annotated output. Yeah, I'll write some documentation.

-- TTK

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House!, Geekly Stuff, and Yet More Projects

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 6 years ago

House!, Geekly Stuff, and Yet More Projects

Touching on some other subjects: House!, cloning the sfgate site, dvm, and calc3.

Yay! The Escrow Has CLOSED!

Well, we finally did it! We are the proud owners of a house, with a key and everything! Cobalt and I are beside ourselves with joy and excitement. We've felt as though our lives were on haitus for these last few years, while we lived in this rental cottage and saved our pennies. The housing market kept going up as we saved, but with the market in a slump, and with considerable help from my parents (thanks, guys!) we've finally caught up with our dream.

For years, when cobalt or I talked about something we wanted to do, the talk would start with, "When we have our house, ..". Cobalt got really tired of that, so we amended it to "When we have our new life, ..", which added enough sarcasm to take the edge off the reality of our situation. We just haven't had the indoor space to do any of a number of things. The kitchen is too small to cook together, and there isn't room for a table on which to work leather, solder a circuit, fix gadgets, sew, or even draft a drawing. This rental has a huge yard (the largest yard we've ever had), but because it is a rental we're sharply limited in what we may do with it.

I have stubbornly tried working on various projects on the front porch, but it has been very frustrating having to unbox my tools and materials, work on them for a while, then box them back up and bring them back inside. The setup/teardown process eats half the time I should be using to get stuff done. Also, when it's even a bit windy outside, projects get bits of windborne dirt, pollen, leaves, and twigs stuck to them -- a big problem when glue, varnish, or bearings are involved!

Cobalt has been frustrated too. Most of her critters have been living in "slum" habitats for years now, and that's taken its toll on their health and on her enjoyment of them. It's one thing to have geckos living in a glass terrarium set out in the living room and filled with living plants, and quite another to have those geckos living in sterilite boxes stacked on shelves with paper towels for bedding.

Living here has taken its toll on our health as well. Because every single wall and every single corner is filled with "vertical storage" (bookshelves, cabinets, dressers, etc) to hold our critters and our stuff, it's very difficult to keep the cottage clean. Combine that with the entropic influence of four cats, two dogs, and a parrot, and the influx of dust kicked up outside by the chickens, and the windborne pollen endemic to Sonoma County, and this place can get really toxic very fast. My allergies kicked into high gear a few years ago, and I'm having to take singulair, nasonex, and loratadine to keep them under control. Cobalt's allergies have been starting to give her trouble, too, in the form of sinus headaches. She also gets so grossed out by the filth that she stops eating, and gets very depressed and agitated. We both do what we can to keep it clean, but it's not always enough .. in fact, it's often not enough. Like, almost all of the time, it's not enough.

The new house is going to be different. We are resolute in this. The living spaces will be kept sparsely-populated with furniture, to make cleaning easier, and we will keep work spaces separate from storage space, to keep our living and work areas roomy and free of clutter (and thus easy to keep clean, or at least that's the theory).

Having spaces in which to work will be such a blast! Cobalt and I have been huddling together over drawings of the house's floorspace, deciding who will use what, which spaces can usefully be shared, and what spaces will be purposed to what tasks. One room will have my drafting table and a workbench for small, "clean" projects (fiddling with computer hardware and repairing small appliances) and cobalt's sewing and crafts. Another will be my office, which will be a welcome change from my current "office" (consisting of one corner of the couch in the living room, with a bookshelf to my left and a 2'x2' "desk" which I share with the 1'x1' parrot's cage). We will share the garage for "dirty" projects (wood and metal work, mostly -- cutting, drilling, sanding, etc), and will set up a shed for the "very dirty" projects -- painting, varnishing, gluing, and welding.

There will need to be yet another space for another class of projects .. I hadn't told cobalt about all of the projects I wanted to do, and figured I'd better so we could plan for them and so it wouldn't come as a surprise to her when I got around to doing them. The turbine is a good example. I've been reading about turbine engines for the last few years. The concept seems to have a lot of untapped potential. For instance, the power generated by a turbine is influenced by many things, but is proportional to the rate of mass flowing through it. In a fuel- burning gas turbine, most of this mass is air. This necessarily means gas turbines are at their most effective (generating high power and torque for their volume) at extremely high speeds (since the only way to move a lot of air is with large and/or fast-moving blades), which dominates all other aspects of their design. Low mass, high strength, and thin blades are deemed absolutely necessary. Complex recuperators are used to squeeze as much power as possible out of the work the turbine produces, and the size and shape of air ramps, ducts, and compressors have to be carefully engineered to produce and manage high air flows and pressures.

Turbines can actually be extremely simple machines, and simple turbines can be made to work well at low speeds. Unfortunately low speed means low air flow, which means low mass flow, which means low power and torque production. I have some ideas on ways to remedy this problem, though, and would like to try them out. The new house has a fairly large property attached to it, and I was hoping to be able to set up a workshop out away from the house to work on the turbines and other similarly noisy/fiery things. Upon discussing it with cobalt, though, she'd much rather see this work done off the property altogether. We talked about perhaps finding someone else in the area who I could partner with to rent an offsite industrial space. Since my schedule really prevents me from spending a lot of time on my projects (just look at how long it takes me to write a simple journal entry!), we should be able to timeshare the space easily, without stepping on each others' toes. I'm totally game for that.

I would also like to set up a melting/molding rig for thermoplastics. Some amazing things have been published in the material engineering journals lately about plastic/ceramic composites, and I would like to see if I can reproduce the published effects using commodity (read: cheap) plastics and ceramic materials. Surface modification of ceramic granules will be necessary to replicate the described effects, so that will require some space, too, to set up a "pressure cooker" where chemicals can be introduced to granules under controlled (high) pressures and temperatures. The strength and other properties of a plastic/ceramic matrix depends not only on the properties of the plastic and the of the ceramic, but also on how and how well the two adhere to one another. Vinylesters and epoxies, for instance, tend to be pretty similar in most aspects, and their adhesion strength to aluminum oxide tends to be nearly the same, but since vinylesters bond with aluminum oxide near the ends of their polymer chains while epoxies bond near the middle, the vinylester/aluminum-oxide composite tends to have significantly higher resilience and compressive strength (since the granules are slightly more free to move at the ends of the chains, they can form up mutually supporting columns, like the aggregate in concrete).

Most commodity plastics will not adhere to ceramics very well at all. Polyethylene absolutely will not. Polyethylene terephthalate tends not to, but could be coaxed into it if the ceramic is given the appropriate surface modification. Surface modification is a matter of changing the exposed surfaces of the granules (either chemically or in their physical shape). "Sharper" surfaces have more surface area, and surface area is a linear factor in determining adhesion strength, so sharpening the granules' surfaces can improve adhesion some. The real gains are to be had by convincing things like cyanates, amines, or simple raw carbon to bond tightly with the granules' surfaces. Many plastics will then bond well with these intermediary chemical coatings. I look forward to finding out how easy it will be to produce these effects, and the effectiveness of the resulting composites.

Unfortunately, the house needs a lot of work before we can move in. We're meeting with a general contractor in a couple of days, and we anticipate it will be a couple of months before we can start lugging in our stuff and making it into a home (and a workshop, and a reptile habitat, and and and and ..!).

SFGate: Yeah, We Want To Do That

Switching gears a little, now that cobalt and I have quashed all doubts that YES, we are going to live right HERE for a while, and set down roots, we'd like to start work on a mutual project we've been talking about for years. Most denizens of California's bay area are familiar with the website sfgate.com. It provides a lot of handy information about local resources, news, and events. It's a fantastic site .. if you leave in or near the bay area. Unfortunately, content regarding our neck of the woods tends to be fairly sparse. Even when websites (like sfgate, yahoo local, or craigslist) have information about California's northern counties, it tends to be mixed up with an overwhelming volume of information about locales further south. Even the radio station I use to get traffic reports (KCBS) tends to cover "north bay" traffic very little. It would be really nice to have a site which focussed primarily on areas north of the bay area. So nice, in fact, that we're going to try to make it.

The site would be a mutual effort of myself, cobalt, and perhaps a few other people. We would try to gather and present information that someone would find useful if they were not already familiar with the area: restaurants, movie theaters, radio stations, local traffic patterns, and the like. Most of the information would be static (since that's easy to maintain), but we would also like to regularly add articles about local concerns (like the local economy, indian casinos, etc) and (especially!) reviews of restaurants and stores.

You'd think that Sonoma County would be rife with really good restaurants, since it relies on tourism for much of its income, and the place has a reputation for being posh and high-class, but really most of the restaurants here are terribly subpar. Cobalt and I keep trying new places, seeking to expand our small-but-growing list of places fit for dining. We've found a couple of italian places, some diners, a chinese joint, and two good mexican restaurants, but so far no good japanese food. We have to go to San Francisco to get decent sushi (Ichiraku, on the corner of 2nd and Geary, is our favorite "dive", though we also like Isobune in SF's japantown and Tsugaru in San Jose). We'll keep looking for a local place, though.

As we find places we like, they'll get reviewed and put on the site, along with our impressions and some standard metrics (for things like ambiance, price, variety, food quality, etc). Maybe it will catch on .. maybe not. But at the very least it'll be a place to organize our own interests. :-) A bit more work than pinning handwritten notes to the refrigerator door, perhaps, but more fun too.

A side rant -- why is the Bay Area called "Northern California" when it's located in the middle of the state? What do people call the 27 of California's 58 counties which lie north of "Northern California"? Oh that's right, they generally don't! Or they lump it into the Bay Area, despite its cultural, legal, and industrial differences. Maybe it's time to resurrect an old idea. It's not like the rest of the state would miss us anyway. "Huh? What? There's stuff between San Francisco and Oregon? *blank stare*" sums up most people's take on the subject.

Okay, mini-rant over.

On To Increasingly Geekly Topics

Calc3 (which I've blathered about quite a bit in my previous journal entry) is shaping up nicely. As I've found time, I've added more than four hundred lines of code to it (calc 2.5 is only 247 lines). The basic framework is nearly done. Another hundred lines or so and the essential functionality for the "perl calculator" mode should be there. Another hundred beyond that and I should have the "C calculator" mode working. The hooks are in place for the "sql" and "shell" modes, but I want to focus for now on getting the calculator modes running, so I can start actually using the thing in my day-to-day activities. The other functionality can wait, and I'll suffer in silence with tcsh, bash, and the mysql/pg clients.

One of the things I've often, *often*, often wished for, both in calc and in my shell, was a sharable history, so that I could work in one shell for a while, then switch to another shell session in a different window (perhaps running on an entirely different computer) but still have the other shell's history available for me to draw upon. Calc3 will have that, to a degree. I've written it such that every command gets appended to the history file in the user's home directory, and before evaluating a command Calc3 will look at the shared history file to see if new commands have been appended, and import new commands into its own history buffer. This at least gives me shared history on the same computer (or on multiple computers if they're using an NFS-shared /home, but right now none of the systems I use do that). Histories are heavily annotated with things like the pid of the contributing shell instance, the controlling tty, a timestamp, etc. Using tcsh most of my life has gotten me used to using the history file to audit my own activities, and this richer history format will enable me to do more of that. It will also make it possible for the user to specify subsets of the history to draw upon when performing a history-related operation (like, "!rm" -- should default to repeating the last command issued by the *current* shell that began with "rm", but the user should have the option of specifying that other shells' histories should be drawn from too).

Other features I've wanted for about a decade now are the ability to rearrange shell pipes after the processes being piped together have launched, and the un-unixy ability to daemonize commands by specifying that the last process's stdout should be piped to the first process' stdin, like thus:
# ssh bob@somehost | host_fiddler.pl |
.. which would pipe the stdout of ssh to host_fiddler.pl's stdin, and pipe host_fiddler's stdout to ssh's stdin. This could be attained without too much difficulty by having the shell fork() after the two processes have been created (and after their pids, fd's, etc have been pushed to the stack), and having the child process read from host_fiddler.pl's stdout and write to ssh's stdin in a loop (while also monitoring a "control" pipe to/from the parent process). And since the processes are "exposed" on the stack, manipulating them after they've been launched should be possible in ways not available under bash, tcsh, and zsh. Want to disconnect ssh from host_fiddler.pl and feed it your own keystrokes for a while before re-attaching them? Sure, why not! And if you modify host_fiddler.pl and want to use the new version without restarting the entire session, it should be easy to launch a new host_fiddler.pl process, detach ssh's stdin/stdout from the old process, attach them to the new process, and kill the old host_fiddler.pl process.

Yeah, Calc3 is going to be nice. 8-]

Flip-Flopping on DVM Yet Again

The first time I tried implementing DVM (my Distributed Virtual Machine, similar to PVM, the Parallel Virtual Machine), I tried making its messaging TCP-based. Then I switched to UDP because I wanted to take advantage of some of UDP's qualities and I thought connectionless messaging would be easier. Well, I've restarted my implementation yet again, using TCP as my transport layer. In the past I've implemented UDP-based protocols with more TCP-like reliability, and UDP-based protocols with authentication, and thought implementing a UDP-based protocol with reliability and authentication would be piece of cake. And it was! If your cake has big hard rocks baked into it. A few broken teeth later, I'm switching back to connection-based transport.

I was very eager to take advantage of UDP's ease of broadcast transmission, which is a handy way to get the same data to a bunch of different remote nodes without having to send the same data twice. The network switches take care of the retransmission for you, which removes one of the major bottlenecks in distributed systems scalability. I also wanted to use DVM as part of an ad-hoc network, in which it is the basic assumption that unreliability and a lack persistent connections is the common case (due to the limitations of the link layer and the supposed mobility of the communicating nodes). What I'm going to do instead is have DVM use UDP broadcast as a side-channel in a LAN environment for specific applications, and roll a completely different messaging framework for ad-hoc environments. Hopefully I can implement that as a light wrapper around DVM, or at least re-use some of DVM's code.

I'm eager to get something working. My systems will just have to continue using http-rpc and PVM in the meantime :-P

Okay, that's plenty of blather for now .. onwards and upwards!

-- TTK

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Calc v3

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Back by popular demand! .. Okay, maybe not so popular.

Just as I was sitting down to write this, yardwork popped up, and now I'm exhausted. And I need to go to bed .. oh half an hour ago :-P whee!

But first, a little blather about Calc v3.

Eleven years ago, I started programming a little in Perl. I'd been reading through the "perlfunc" manual, and had successfully written the classic "Hello, World" program in perl, when my eyes lighted upon the eval() function. It occurred to me that this function would make it really easy to write a simple calculator, so I did. My second perl program ever was a simple loop that read input from the user, stuck an "$a =" in front of it, and passed it to eval(), which interpreted the data as though it were valid perl code .. which it usually was. If the user typed "2 + 3", the value "5" would get put into variable $a, and then it would display the contents of $a before repeating the loop. Perl also made it easy to push $a onto a stack and then display the top few slots of the stack, so I did that too. The resulting program was so amazingly wonderful that I've used it almost every day since then, and added new functionality to it incrementally. Over the years It's accumulated more and more code, much of it pretty bad code.

Version two-point-something (2.5? 2.6?) is here. It's become quite featureful, but any half-experienced perl programmer would cringe if they looked under the hood.

I've been wanting to rewrite it cleanly for a few years now, but have been mindful that perl is on its way out, and I need to learn a new language. Since writing calc was so instrumental in learning how to use perl (not only developing calc, but also using it as a sort of interactive perl shell, so I could test snippits of code at its prompt and see the results), I figured that rewriting it in "the new language" would be a good way to learn the new language too.

Well, I'm pretty sure "the new language" is Python, but Python would be a pretty poor language for the next version of calc. Also, writing calc in a language I barely knew was a sure-fire way to make it just as amateurish and haphazard as the perl version it was replacing. I've convinced myself, at this point, that I want to write v3 in perl. I was discussing this point with some friends on ResearchMUCK, and someone jokingly suggested I write it in C++.

It was a cheap joke, but it got me thinking. The language it's written in wouldn't have to necessarily be the language it accepted as input. I have another utility, called "c", available here which takes mixed C and perl on the command line, wraps a template C program around the input, compiles it, and runs the result. That's written in perl. Also, when I was tired of the shortcomings of postgreSQL's interactive client, and tired of switching back and forth between postgreSQL and MySQL clients in a heterogenous database environment, I forked calc and rewrote its guts to understand SQL and manage connections to multiple MySQL and PostgreSQL environments. That code is the intellectual property of The Internet Archive now, but I could rewrite it from scratch pretty easily.

These interactive clients were all developed separately, but thinking about them all together made me realize that if they could be combined into a single modeful utility with a shared stack, it would be quite powerful. I could, for instance, switch it to SQL mode, select some data from a database onto the stack, then switch back to perl mode and write perl that fiddled with the selected values. I decided this idea of modes would be an integral part of calc v3's design. I would also like to try giving it a "shell" mode, so that it was appropriate to use as a login shell. The processes and shell pipes would be exposed to the perl, C, and SQL modes through the shared stack, making for some very powerful opportunities for process manipulation and dynamic shell pipe redirection.

Other things high on my list for calc v3 are dynamic loading of modules and better saved history. The current version of calc has horrible history interaction. Other new features can wait. Loading too much complexity into the design from the get-go would get in the way of a clean, well-functioning rewrite (qv: Second System Syndrome). It will be better to write it with an eye towards allowing for these features, and then filling in the features incrementally later (and hopefully in a more orderly fashion than before).

I started writing it last week. So far it's going well. When I have something minimally useful I will put it up on my codecloset page.

Okay, it's way too late now. I go make the bed. One unfortunate detail of my new job is that I have to be in the Presidio every morning by 9am, which means I need to leave home by 7am, which means I have to go to sleep by 10pm if I want eight hours of sleep (and I really need eight hours of sleep to function correctly). I'll touch on other subjects in my next journal entry.

-- TTK

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Whoo boy .. much much

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Woo! Finally posting!

A lot has happened, but I haven't much time, so I'll make it brief.

I (finally!) left the Internet Archive to work for a stealth startup, which was great except that it couldn't actually pay me until it received capital investment funds. Two months of that motivated me to look for employment elsewhere. and I found a gem of a place just a few blocks from Archive HQ. It's called Discovery Mining and I'm very happy there. I'm in a room with a dozen other programmers cranking out perl and wrestling with a complicated data-mining system of interconnected databases and special-purposed data servers and processing nodes. I'm learning a lot, which makes it a welcome change from The Archive. My position there hadn't exposed me to anything new for nearly a year. This new work is a happy mix of the new and the familiar -- it's familiar enough that I could get up to speed quickly and make myself useful, but new enough to stretch me and teach me useful stuff. I've been there about a month, and they seem as pleased with me as I am of them. We'll see how it goes, but I'm optimistic. They made me sign the nondisclosure agreement from hell, so there isn't much I can actually say about what I do .. so, moving right along ..

As you might remember, I've been giving Enlightenment17 a try. Several months later, I regretfully report that it just didn't work out. The developers decided to lose the third dimension of virtual desktops, and even after using E17 for all this time I miss that feature most terribly. E17 also seemed much less stable than E16, and stability is always at the top of my priority list when it comes to technology. Speaking with the developers proved fruitless. So I'm back on E16 at home and at work, and wondering what I'm going to do. E16 just isn't supported very well on newer versions of linux distributions. It relies on the freetype1 libraries, which haven't been ported/maintained for years, and the newer distributions are different enough from what freetype1 expects that the freetype1 installation process gets weirded out and refuses to proceed. E17 has been weaned off of freetype1, and uses freetype2 exclusively (later versions of E16 use both, freetype1 and freetype2, which raises its own set of problems).

If I really want to stick with E16, I have a few choices:

(1) I could stick with an older linux distribution version which still supports freetype1. On one hand this means I'm just putting off the inevitable, but on the other hand it coincides with my upgrade habits anyway. I tend to stay with what works for me, incrementally installing security patches and bugfixes, until I am presented with an irresistable reason to change to a newer operating system version. Then I put off upgrading some more until I can find a version which is stable enough to be worth my while. Instability in my operating system is utterly intolerable to me, and bad versions crop up far more often than they should. My migration path since 1996 was: Slackware 3.0 to Slackware 7.1, to Slackware 8.1, to Slackware 10.2. But anyway, even though 10.2 has been working very well for me for a long time, I know eventually modern applications will stop building under 10.2 and I will have to change again. So I'd rather have a backup plan.

(2) I could take up porting/maintenance of freetype1, and make sure it will install on future systems, thus ensuring the longitivity of E16 as well. This doesn't appeal to me much, as freetype1 is something of a pain in the arse. There's a reason the developers rewrote it, and I don't relish the notion of picking up someone else's can of worms.

(3) I could fork E16 and maintain my own version of it. The E17 code is available, so I could conceivably figure out what they did to shed freetype1 and apply those changes to the E16 codebase, hopefully without losing the three axes of virtual desktops in the process. Similarly I could incorporate bugfixes (if relevant) from the E17 code to the forked E16, and have the best of both worlds. This approach has a lot of appeal, but it's also a hell of a lot of work. I don't shy away from work, but I don't have a lot of time these days, and what time I do have I prefer to spend on other projects. My window manager is just supposed to *work*, and maintaining it is not something I want to do just for the sake of doing it.

So .. I don't know what I'm going to do. It's not critical yet, so I'll be pondering it some more.

House! We finally closed escrow on a house! W00t! Finally, a place of our own, a proper workshop, privacy, security, stability! I'm looking forward to it. I've got some pictures up here with more on their way. More on this later.

Aaaaaand I ran out of time! Maybe I'll get to write more tomorrow. Topics I want to touch on: calc3, dvm, and more about the house.

-- TTK

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LinkedIn, Enlightenment, and the Return of Cobalt

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 6 years ago

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

I am happy to report that cobalt's strength is returning. She has been on the ropes for about a year now, fighting ulcerative colitis and side-effects from the drugs which fought the colitis. This weekend we dusted off the toolbox and constructed a fence around the back porch, to keep the chickens (and their slimy little poops) off of it. It was good to see her in action again -- she insisted on swinging the hammer whenever one needed to be swung, and she obviously enjoyed being out of bed and having the energy to actually do something! (And yes, I've asked her if we perhaps should just beef up the chicken run to contain the chickens better, but she said no, she wants to let them out of the run periodically anyway, so we'd still have the issue with free-roaming chickens polluting our elevated porch.)

The Remicade is definitely kicking the colitis' butt, and she's no longer on the steroids which were giving her the worse of the side effects. On the downside, she has developed some bad anemia (low red blood cell density), for which her specialist has prescribed some uber-powerful special-formulation iron supplements. If her red blood cell count drops much lower, she's going to have to get some transfusions, but hopefully we can pull her back from the brink. We're both keeping out fingers crossed. Yay modern medicine!

Professional Linkage

During my last round of job-seeking, I joined LinkedIn, one of those newfangled social networking sites. This one is optimized towards getting professionals in contact with other professionals, and it does a pretty good job. I actually got an interview out of a professional link on LinkedIn, though I actually didn't follow up on it (the NASA Archive job trumped other offers).

Looking at my list of "connections", I realized that this would potentially be a powerful tool for someone seeking to start up a new business. Many of the people I know are right there in my connection list, with their skills laid out for easy browsing. Were I to found (another) startup, it would be the easiest thing to run down that list saying "I need one of those, one of those, and one of those as new employees" and send them messages to that effect. Associates who were not interested but knew someone who might could then easily "link" me to someone in their own connection network. Nifty!

Enlightenment

For several years now I have enjoyed using the Enlightenment Window Manager to organize my computer workspace. It has precisely the features and behavior I need to manage a very large (200+) number of open windows. In particular, I have found its notion of "virtual desktops" very useful. A "virtual desktop" looks exactly like what you see when you sit down and use your computer -- a screenful of windows, icons, etc. Under Enlightenment, one can have many virtual desktops, like having many computers sharing the same screen. If I have Firefox, Xterm, and XPaint open in one virtual desktop, then I can switch to a different (empty) desktop, open a bunch of other windows, and then pop over the the other virtual desktop and there's my Firefox, Xterm, and XPaint again, exactly as they were before.

Enlightenment16 supports a 3D array of virtual desktops, multiple 3x3 "grids" of desktops which can be easily switched and shared. I have used Alt-F1, Alt-F2, etc to switch between different grids, and alt-arrow to navigate around the grid of desktops. This has enabled me to partition my workspace according to application.

Banks 1 and 2 (of 2D grids of virtual desktops) are for xterms related to programming, email, and system administration. These eighteen virtual desktops tend to be the most crowded. Bank 3 is for firefox windows (one full-screen firefox window per virtual desktop, for a total of nine firefox windows). Bank 4 is for realtime chat sessions and other "fun" stuff. This arrangement makes it easy for me to find the instance of the application I need with minimum fuss. If I want to find the open text editor window I was just using, I can just press Alt-F2 to switch to the second grid, and maybe navigate up/down, left/right one virtual desktop's worth to find the xterm I was looking for. Similarly, if I want a firefox window, Alt-F3 will get me to whichever one I was using most recently (though I tend to reserve the middle and bottom rows of virtual desktops for work-related firefox windows, and the top row for "fun" browsing).

Enlightenment16 has been getting harder and harder to install in newer systems, unfortunately (not Enlightenment itself, but rather some of the libraries Enlightenment depends on .. some of the older libraries are particularly problematic on 64-bit systems). Getting Enlightenment16 installed on my new work desktop system (replacing workstation20) proved very difficult. I eventually gave up and switched to Enlightenment17.

Enlightenment17 has dropped support for the 3rd dimension of virtual desktops, limiting me to a 2D grid of virtual desktops only. Alt-F1 through Alt-F12 now switch me between the first 12 virtual desktops, rather than between banks of grids of virtual desktops. Needless to say, after five years of using Enlightenment16, this is tripping me up and making me cranky.

At first I tried using a 5x4 grid of virtual desktops, with the first two rows reserved for xterms, the third row for firefox, and the fourth row for fun (thus corresponding the y-axis of the grid to the z-axis of the array I was using under E16), but this proved quite unsatisfactory -- lots of keypresses were necessary to navigate around and find my stuff, and I quickly became "cramped" with only five virtual desktops per category (whereas before I had nine).

As of today I am taking a different approach, turning my partitions ninety degrees into a 4x7 grid of virtual desktops, with each column of 7 virtual desktops representing an application category (columns 1 and 2 for xterms, 3 for firefox, and 4 for fun). This allows me to continue using my Alt-F1/Alt-F2/etc "muscle memory" to switch between categories (since Alt-F1 will take me to the top of column 1, Alt-F3 to the top of column 3, etc) and gives me seven virtual desktops per category.

To further facilitate navigation, I am going to try to start new tasks in a row corresponding to the day of the week, with Monday corresponding to the first row, Tuesday to the second row, etc. Thus on a Friday if I wanted to start writing a new program, I would hit Alt-F2 to go to the top of my second column, then alt-downarrow four times to the row corresponding to Friday. In that virtual desktop I would open all of my xterms related to that new programming project. Since I keep written notes about my daily operations and keep them annotated by date, finding that programming project should be even easier than it was under E16.

However, I have also gotten in touch with the Enlightenment developers, and asked why the feature was dropped from E17. Depending on how they respond, some or all of the following options may be feasible for moving forward: (1) Talk them into porting this feature back into future versions of Enlightenment; (2) Convince them to port this feature into E17 by ways of monetary donation; (3) Port the feature to E17 myself; (4) Perform the necessary coding/hackery myself to get E16 working on modern operating systems and abandon E17; (5) Suck it up and put up with E17 and its less-useful virtual desktop management featureset; or (6) Abandon Enlightenment altogether and try to make FVWM2 (another window manager) do what I want.

For now I await the Enlightenment developers' response to my emails. Perhaps in the meantime this new arrangement will grow on me. Time will tell!

-- TTK

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Remicade, NASA, and the Passing of Needles

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  about 7 years ago

Remicade, NASA, and the Passing of Needles

Man, things have been busy lately! And it's been a month since my last journal entry .. scowl. So I'd better write something, eh?

Remicade

My wife's condition has been getting nothing but worse for a few months now, and the steroids she's been taking to control her internal ulcerations have had a little effect, but also many negative side effects (weakness, tiredness, sleeping 14+ hours a day, loss of balance .. icky things). After much discussion with doctors (one GP and two specialists!) and our insurance company, we finally got the go-ahead to put her on Remicade. Her first infusion was a little over a week ago, and it usually takes two or three weeks for it to show effects. We're crossing our fingers real hard for this, because if the Remicade doesn't work there are only a couple of options left open to us, all of which are scary and unpleasant.

I'm looking forward to her being well enough that she can come with me to a Houseness BBQ party and meet some of my new SF geek friends. They're great people, and I think cobalt would get along with them well. Also, some of my friends who have never met cobalt may be starting to think she's my imaginary friend :-) There is a reason people invite all of their friends and relatives to their wedding -- there's something to be said about showing a relationship, and demonstrating the wonderfulness of one's life partner. It will also do cobalt some good to get out of the house and meet new people.

NASA

I was determined -- determined! -- to leave The Archive for a less dysfunctional company. I was interviewing places and even got a couple of highly generous (perhaps even overly generous) offers from some cool companies, but then something really wonderful happened. The Director of Data Collections at The Archive offered me an extremely desirable role in his newly founded NASA Archive project. We are going to be digitizing, categorizing, archiving, and making available online a huge volume of NASA-produced content, and as soon as we hire someone to take over my old role as catch-all Data Collections engineer, it will be my full-time job to help make the NASA Archive happen. If I'm being a little vague on the details of what that entails, well, unfortunately there's a reason for it. All I can say is that this opportunity is like a dream come true for me. I will own several problems which intensely interest me, will be archiving vast volumes of hard scientific content (and pretty pictures, too!), and will do it while working with people I know and like. For the past few weeks I have been splitting my hours between general Data Collections tasks and NASA Archive tasks, and not really getting enough done on either, despite working even longer hours than usual.

So, please, if anyone out there knows a good software engineer who works well independently (by which I mean "submerged in utter chaos") and is excited at the notion of archiving hundreds of terabytes of new content, point them at this job description and encourage them to drop us their resume. It can be a wonderful company if you have the temperament for it, and I would work closely with my replacement for a couple of months before shifting entirely to NASA Archive tasks. The skills requirements isn't too much -- candidates need some PHP experience (preferably PHP5), experience with XML (parsing it, generating it, and using it in PHP5), and practical knowledge of using linux remotely (connecting to remote machines via ssh, using "df" to see if disks are full, looking at process lists to see what programs are misbehaving, simple stuff). Knowledge of another language well-suited to file manipulation (especially perl or python) is a plus, but not totally necessary as long as the candidate is willing to learn some perl (there is some legacy software written in perl that the Archive Engineer will need to maintain -- or totally rewrite in a different language, if they want). About half of the day-to-day work involves writing software that translates third party metadata (which might be XML, Excel, text files, or whatever) into Archive-compliant XML metadata. The other half tends to be more interesting, comprised of many things which we can talk about in person.

Farewell, Needles

Needleclaws, my beloved cat, had been struggling with her body for a long time (dementia, respiratory problems, arthritis, blindness, and other issues brought on by old age). On August 2nd of 2007, she gave up the struggle and passed away.

When I got home about 9:30pm she was panting and intermittently gasping for air, and would not sit or stand. She was barely responsive to cobalt and me touching her. Cobalt got a towel as I held my cat, and we wrapped her loosely to keep her warm and to contain the "nature" which would surely flow. I held her in my arms, talking to her, touching her face and head and neck.

Soon her pants faded to bare whispers of breath, and her gasps became more violent but less frequent. A corner of my mind couldn't help but count the clock ticks between her gasps. Ten seconds for a while, then twelve, then sixteen, twenty-four, thirty-two for a while .. then sixty-two, once, and she stopped breathing altogether. I still held her for a long while, with cobalt next to me. We wept, and talked about her life, and sometimes what we said made us laugh. She was a goofy cat.

She had been blind for about four years. She was a bulldog of a cat, my "battleaxe cat". She was insane in a way that made the other cats give her room when she wanted her turn at the food or water. One of her signs of affection was to rub her cheek and jowl against your hand, such that her overhanging fang would scrape lightly against your flesh. Cobalt loved it, called it "tusking". I took cobalt's hand and ran it lightly over my dead cat's tusk. Surprised, she laughed, and then cried.

Cobalt looked for something "more dignified" to wrap Needles in, while I went outside to finish the casket I had mostly built for this eventuality. I had wanted to go to the hardware store to find two more pieces of wood which were not warped and were the same length for the bottom of the casket, but there was no more time. I picked the two flattest pieces of wood which were more or less the same length, and finished building the casket bottom. Meanwhile, cobalt had laid Needles down on the t-shirt I had donated to the burial shroud (my old black "Codewarrior '96" shirts; it seemed appropriate) and snipped tufts of hair from my cat's body. It's a tradition she invented two decades ago, to make keepsakes of her dead pets' hair tufts. She would cut a tuft, lay it on the sticky side of a segment of clear packing tape, then fold the other end of the tape over the top, sealing the hair tuft in. Homespun lamination. She made three for me, two for herself.

I was very sad, but wanted to make something with my hands for her. A casket seemed just perfect. Apologies to the neighbors for the four nails I had to hammer that night. The following day I put the bottom on, put my cat inside, and nailed down the lid. It wasn't until the following day that cobalt and I were up and active at the same time, and we had a dignified but informal burial. I looped two lengths of rope under the casket, and left them in place when I buried it. The other end of the loops are showing above ground, and they will help me find the thing later and help me raise it up when we move to a different house. I want Needles to be buried on our own property. Where she is now is only temporary, like too much in our life right now.

Cobalt wrote up her own entry for this sad but inevitable passing.

I was very, very sad until I dug a four foot deep hole big enough to hold Needles' overly-large casket. The process burned away much of my grief and unhappiness. I still miss her, but not as harshly as I did before digging that hole. I surmise from this that people who hire a funeral parlor to bury their loved ones for them are doing themselves a disservice. Those who loved their deceased might find a lot of therapy in burying them themselves (or at least digging as much of the hole as they are physically able, and letting family and friends take over if necessary).

-- TTK

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Domesticity Suits Us

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 7 years ago

I said: "I love you, you know."

She replied: "And that is your saving grace."

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Pork of July

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Fourth of July at Home

Well, cobalt and I had a quiet July 4th evening at home. After dinner we sat on our front lawn and watched the fireworks. The modern fireworks are nifty, but sometimes I miss the incredibly dangerous stuff they let kids run around with when I was a kid. But there's no point in dwelling on the past .. the candle things that shoot the magnesium-splodeys in the air and the smell of cobalt's hair made for a memorable evening.

For dinner, I wanted to make something special, but still familiar enough that I could cook it up with confidence and not screw it up. I started by cutting up some potatos and letting them boil in a salted pot while I pulled out the other ingredients, preheated the oven to 500degF, and arrayed them within easy reach. The main dish would be braised porkchops, which I laid out on foil and sprinkled liberally with the pepper grinder. The head of garlic was fresh, and I cut its buds lengthwise, arranging them cut-side-down on top of the chops. Over all of this I applied a light coating of olive oil, from a hand-pumped areosol can cobalt filled with some of the snooty "good stuff" from marin county. That went into a pan in the oven, after setting a 25 minute timer.

The side dish would be stir-fry. I put some canola oil and minced garlic into a wok, and chopped my onion while letting the oil heat up. I prefer canola oil over olive oil for sautee because it gets much hotter than olive oil without burning, and getting the oil hot enough is always a challenge on our wimpy stovetop. The wok was ready before the onions were, so I threw in my mushrooms to keep it from overheating. The onions soon followed. While those were sauteeing I chopped up two zucchini and some leftover chicken breast which had been sitting in the fridge with pepper all over it for the last few days. One great thing about leftovers is that the time they spend sitting gives the spices opportunity to seep deep into the food, something that cannot be duplicated in the kitchen .. some things just take time.

The chicken and zucchini would be the last to go into the wok -- I wanted my mushrooms and onions to singe nicely before dumping in all that extra mass. It was time to drain the potatos anyway. I mashed them with a fork, put the heat-spreader down, turned my heat to low, and let them sit for a while to steam off some of their excess moisture while I added the zucchini and stirred them up to make sure they got separated from each other and in contact with the hot oil. That done, I poured a fair amount of milk into the potatos and stirred it in. Now a real cook would let the potatos continue to steam on low heat, but I always end up either burning them or overstirring them (which will turn otherwise good mashed potato into a sticky paste, suitable for posting advertisements onto brick walls), so I took the easy way out: I piled them onto a plate (which maximizes exposed surface area, and thus rate of evaporation) and let them bask in the rays of our microwave oven for a good five minutes.

In went the chicken, into the wok, and it was time to check the porkchops. They looked pretty good, with just a hint of browning on the tops of the garlic buds, but they lacked the crispy edge I love so dearly. Sticking one with a thermometer indicated a core temperature of 155degF, just shy of "medium done" (which would show up as 160degF), so I figured I had a little room to play with them without drying out the meat. Heating and oiling a high-edged teflon frying pan, I seared the bottoms of the chops, trying to use the edge of the pan to get the edge of the pork a little brown, with limited success. The bottoms got nicely roasted, though, and I pulled them off the heat and onto our plates because I was afraid of overcooking them.

The stir-fry was about done, and just needed one more touch to pull it all together. I drizzled soy sauce lightly over everything, and the water steamed away almost instantly, leaving a dark stain pattern on the chicken and mushrooms. This would add taste (mostly from the salt) and visual depth, without drawing water out of the chicken or zucchini and drying it out. I had a bowl lined with paper towels standing by, and I dumped the wok's contents out into this, for the excess oil to drain while I arranged the rest of our food for serving. The potatos had a really good consistency when I pulled them out of the microwave, and those went into a bowl (which is better for serving than the plate). That and the porkchops and our utensils went onto a tray, and I dumped the stir-fry off the paper towels into the bowl, which also went on the tray. I found many things to fault about the end result (the lack of browning on the chops, the slightly overdone zucchini, and a lack of seasoning in the potatos beyond salt and milk), but cobalt seemed happy enough. We ate in bed, while the dogs sat by and begged their little hearts out. Sorry girls, there was no way in hell you were getting any of this. I made it up to them later, after the fireworks, with a plateful of Alpo sprinkled with chicken bouillon. They love that.

And for something completely different, an old friend has been on a multi-year trip to various countries across the pond. Read all about his adventures! One of the best things about his journal is that it provides an honest perspective into life in these people and places. Every other media source is shaped by some agenda to the point of complete untrustworthiness, but Adam writes it just as you or I would experience it, if we travelled to Africa and the Middle/Far East. He recently left Lebanon, and is now in Barcelona. At the time of this writing he hasn't chornicled his experiences in Lebanon, but I'm looking forward to it.

-- TTK

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Developing DVM and Learning Python

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 7 years ago

My last journal entry is already "archived" :-P so I can't respond to robp there.. Might as well make a new entry while I have a minute.

The only times I've successfully collaborated with others on open-source projects, I developed something with minimum functionality first, then invited others to extend it. I've served as project lead at work, where I could communicate much and easily with co-workers, but OSS projects don't allow for the same luxury.

In that light, I'm inclined to try to develop some minimalist working/useful DVM first, and then share the source code for collaboration.

On the Python front .. I've learned some (still a lot to go), but so far I haven't seen that Python does anything better than Perl. Almost everything it can do, I can do in Perl more easily (even with my verbose, C-like Perl coding style). Also Perl is about twice as fast as Python on my system for arithmetic operations, marginally faster for other things. One nice advantage to Python is that its arrays are much more space-efficient (about the same as C arrays, which means a ~20x improvement over Perl's in some cases). Python seems gratuitously object-oriented, too. Objects can be handy, but do they really have to be the only way to manipulate files, strings, regular expressions, etc? Seems silly.

These are discouraging, but I'm sticking with it because Perl is slowly falling out of favor. People are using Python now to do systemish things, which were once done in Perl. So if I want to improve my chances of getting a job working on the kinds of problems I consider interesting, it's in my best interest to learn Python. Also, several applications I'm interested in modifying (bittornado, ccpublisher, myfile, and others) are written in Python. I'm hoping that with practice it'll grow on me.

As an aside, please check out Nick's spiffy new online game, BrainChef! It's free and a lot of fun. When you create an account, choose zombie ("THEM" when it asks you to pick between "US" or "THEM"), they're more fun to play and it needs more zombie players :-)

-- TTK

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House Hunting, MBT Wikification, Bye-Bye to MPI

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 7 years ago

Wow, my previous attempt to keep up on this journal failed miserably.. five months since my last entry! I just haven't had time .. well, I still don't, so I'll keep this short.

The most wonderful news in my life right now is that my wife (cobalt, aka invisiblecrazy) and I are finally shopping for a house! We are looking for something in Sonoma County (about fifty miles north of San Francisco) with a large lot. An acre would be okay, two acres would be great, and more would probably be a waste. I'm hoping we will find something in an unincorporated area (outside of any city's limits). Our current rental is in an unincorporated area, and we're loving it. There aren't many neighbors, no city laws (just state + county), no police (just a sheriff), a nearby well for water, and plenty of space for our chickens.

Sonoma County allows landowners to build permanent structures of up to 100 square feet without a permit, as long as they don't have a poured foundation and aren't used for permanent human habitation. I'm looking forward to knocking a few of those together for outdoor workshops, spare storage, and a mini datacenter. cobalt's looking forward to expanding her chicken horde, putting a garden in the ground (as opposed to the wine barrels she's currently using) and getting some goats.

Some less wonderful news is cobalt's worsening health problems. Her organs continue to ulcerate, despite the medication, and we've switched to a more local specialist. Her old one was great at first, but sort of dumped us a few months ago ("you're cured! no, really! goodbye!") and we don't need to drive to San Francisco just to be given the brush-off. She'll be going in for some exams this week, and her new specialist may proceed from there to some of the more serious drugs. It's a little scary, because the potential side effects are pretty bad ("spontaneous central nervous system demylenation" is about as bad as things get). But we have to do something. She's in daily agony.

A friend and I have decided to implement some software of possible commercial merit, and sell or license it to interested parties (or possibly run it ourselves, and charge end-users directly for the service). Forgive me for not saying too much about it. It doesn't seem like all that hard of a problem, and if I blab about it someone else might say "Hey! Good idea!" and jam out their own version before we can bring ours to market. But it needs to be said here because, hey, it's significant.

I've given up on MPI. It just blows. I've started work on DVM ("distributed virtual machine"), my own message-passing system. I'm shooting for something a lot like PVM but without its drawbacks. We'll see how it pans out.

Lately I've been plowing ahead on the wikification of my MBT Resources website. I have a lot of new material, about 13GB in 180,000 documents, which I intend to "wrap" in Wiki pages and make available in a heirarchical organization which a select dozen or so trusted editors can update/modify, while everyone else on the internet is free to discuss them (every wiki page has its own discussion page). The bulk of the work thusfar has been the writing of a few thousand regular expressions. Software will look at each document's pathname and contents, and decide how to categorize the document. Then it will wrap the document in an appropriate Wiki page. A couple of days ago I wrote a mockup of a few such pages, and discovered that OddMuse's markup wasn't quite up to the task. After much pondering, I decided that the best way to go would be to rewrite OddMuse's ApplyRules function, essentially replacing their markup with my own. I'm trying to make it simple and powerful, and familiar to those with previous experience with MediaWiki (like Wikipedia) and BBCode. This seemed like the right thing to do because aside from the markup, OddMuse is a really good fit for my needs -- it allows three levels of editing (administrative, editor, and discussion), provides anti-spamming features via a blacklist which I can import automatically from other OddMuse sites, and is already familiar to me and implemented in perl. I've already modified it some to divide pages and administrators into "domains", so that different administrators can have authority over different subsections. I've fiddled with OddMuse enough that I think I understand where its bumps and warts lie, and I think after I've rewritten ApplyRules I will be happy with it. If I switched to a different wiki system, I'd have to learn its bumps and warts, and might find myself in more trouble than I already am. Anyway, my replacement ApplyRules is coming along fine. Now-dusty memories of compiler engineering are coming back and providing me with all the right solutions. We shall see how it goes.

Oh, and one more thing: I don't think I'll be writing about politics anymore. It's just too disgusting. This country's going to hell in a handbasket, and people are too caught up in it to break free of their dysfunctional misconceptions and change course. My plan is to find a nice cave somewhere tucked out of the way and try to ride things out.

-- TTK

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More Minor Jibber-Jabber

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 7 years ago

2006-11-14: More Minor Jibber-Jabber

These Are Minor Journal Entries so don't expect too much from them, 'k?

2006-11-14: That Went Well, and Hey PVM!

My previous major journal entry, Here Comes The Old Boss, Same As The Old Boss, was well-received for all that it was hastily-pounded-out, mostly-unsupported crap! :-) I felt badly for not backing up my position with more concrete evidence, but people seem to like it anyway. Guess I'll make more!

A friend of mine who stays more informed than I do about the details of individual politicians' activities says that I'm a little too harsh on our political leaders. I've told him that I'll keep an open mind, and would like to document examples he comes up with of politicians who display noncorrupt, responsible behavior. I'd like my perspectives to be fair.

In other news, I've been working lately to like MPI, the "new" message-passing interface which has largely replaced PVM. I've been working really hard to like it. MPI makes liking it extremely difficult. It is a bloated, needlessly convoluted system with some odd gaps in its capabilities. I get the distinct impression that PVM was developed by engineers to get real-world work done, whereas MPI was developed by academicians to get their names on little pieces of paper.

Today I broke with my discipline and wrote some code for work which uses PVM. It felt so good! The coding was fun and easy, debugging was short, and the (admittedly simple) application works like a dream. I went from zero to fully-functioning service in about four hours. I whugglez my PVM.

Nevertheless, I really should learn MPI. Why? Well, a few reasons. First, nobody's hiring distributed system engineers for their PVM skills. Everyone wants MPI. At The Archive I'm left to my own devices, but I might not be there forever, so getting some MPI experience under my belt could improve my chances of working with distributed systems for my next employer. Aside from that, PVM has some shortcomings which MPI addresses. MPI passes messages directly between individual processes, which incurs less overhead than PVM's process->master->process relayed path (or process->master->master->process when communicating between servers). Also, PVM is intrinsically limited to 4096 nodes per virtual machine, is vulnerable to decapitation (the PVM "master node" represents a single point of failure which cannot be failed-over), and provides only a very limited means of incorporating new nodes into the virtual machine (rsh or ssh connections made from the master node to the new node, over which pvmd handshaking is negotiated).

I would like to work with a virtual machine framework that lacks these shortcomings, and so far my best idea is to implement one on top of MPI (which is just a message-passing system, and not a virtual machine like PVM). If MPI proves too annoying, I'll implement my own message-passing system, but would rather avoid that. (Well, sort of. I'd love to implement a nice message-passing system, but have limited time and too many other projects, and should put MPI on my resume too.)

Okay, enough blather for today.

-- TTK

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Here Comes The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 7 years ago

2006-11-12: Here Comes The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

So the Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives and of the Senate -- barely. On one hand this could be a good thing, as control of our government will be closely divided and it therefore might get less done. On the other hand I'm somewhat distressed by the attitudes of the people around me (most of whom are Dem-aligned), who show great faith that "their guys" are the champions of all that is good and just, and that they can be trusted to do the right thing. Some give lip-service-level recognition to the idea that maybe the Democrats are as corrupt and given to graft and bribery as the Republicans, but in general the dissatisfaction with our government has dropped tangibly.

I remember the same thing happening in reverse, when the Clinton administration went out and the Bush administration came in. Republicans, who had been foaming at the mouth at the evils perpetrated upong the american people by their government, suddenly started thumping each other on the back and singing the fed's praises, as if anything had meaningfully changed. Of course the Bush administration picked up where the Clinton administration left off, and americans' civil liberties continued their free-fall. On Clinton's watch we saw the expansion of police powers (re-interpretation of RICO to permit massive increases in Civil Forfeitures, no-knock searches, warrantless searches), abuse of eminent domain, weakening of posse comitatus, the Clipper Chip, and the deployment of face recognition technology to airports and bus stations. Bush picked up the ball and ran in the same direction, giving us domestic spying programs, institutionalized torture of suspects, intense weakening of habeas corpus (qv the Military Commissions Act of 2006, aka "Quisling Act", aka S3930), further police power expansions under the PATRIOT Act, and the creation of massive protest-free zones around political presentations.

Politicians are not champions of freedom or justice, whether they align themselves with the Democrats or Republicans. Partisans who believe either party will work to make life better for the american people are deluding themselves.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a friend who identifies as Republican. When I mentioned that the Republicans only give lip service to the right to keep and bear arms, he stated that he was a Republican, and that he supported the right to keep and bear arms. It didn't occur to me until then that for most people the demarcation between politicians and their constituents is fairly unclear. Republican constituents by and large believe in less governmental intervention, fiscal responsibility, the right to keep and bear arms, a stiff national defense, and free trade. Democratic constituents by and large believe in civil liberties, education, checks on corporate abuses, religious and racial tolerance, development of communal resources, and a robust health care system.

If Democratic and Republican politicians upheld the same values as their constituents, the world would be a much better place. As it is, however, politicians of every stripe value getting elected, first and foremost. They give lip service to their constituents in order to gain their votes, and when elected they will make a big show out of enacting some piece of legislation or policy which seems to further their constituents' agendas. But underneath this veneer of goodwill, politicians are not interested in upholding their constituents' values, or even doing the jobs they were elected to perform. They consistently work against the interests of the people in order to further their own political careers, and to enrich themselves, their families, their friends, and their political allies.

After six years of Republican domination, we have a government which is more intrusive and controlling, less fiscally responsible, less capable of defending the country, and more hostile towards entrepreneurship than ever before. They did allow the so-called "assault weapons ban" to die, but have otherwise done nothing to reduce the obstacles piled up against the citizens' ability to obtain and responsibly use firearms. It wasn't that they tried and failed to improve the state of the nation -- they deliberately neglected opportunities to make the government better and instead prioritized the acquisition and consolidation of wealth and political power. Bush and his administration, for instance, deliberately passed up multiple opportunities to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, both before and after the 9/11 attacks, putting the country's security at risk, because it was politically expedient to do so.

This is from Jeffrey Clair's book, Grand Theft Pentagon , in which he documents actual events illustrating the irresponsible behavior of the Bush and Clinton administrations (pp22-26, copied without permission, mistakes are probly my typos made in transription):

Kabir Mohammed is a 48-year-old businessman living in Houston, Texas. Born in Paktia province in southern Afghanistan, he's from the Jaji clan (from which also came Afghanistan's last king). Educated at St. Louis University, he spent much of the 1980s supervising foreign relations for the Afghan mujahiddeen, where he developed extensive contracts with the US foreign police establishment, also with senior members of the Taliban.

After the eviction of the Soviets, Mohammed returned to the United States to develop an export business with Afghanistan and became a US citizen. Figuring in his extensive dealings with the Taliban in the late 1990s was much investment of time and effort for a contract to develop the proposed oil pipeline through northern Afghanistan.

In a lengthly interview and in a memorandum supplied by his lawyer, Kabir Mohammed has given a detailed account and documentation to buttress his charge that the Bush administration could have had Osama bin Laden and his senior staff either delivered to the US or to allies as prisoners, or killed at their Afghan base. Portions of Mohammed's role have been the subject of a number of news reports, including a CBS news stroy by Alan Pizzey aired September 25, 2001. This is the first he has made public the first story.

By the end of 1999 US sactions and near-world-wide political ostracism were costing the Taliban dearly and they had come to see Osama bin Laden and his training camps as, in Mohammed's words, "just a damned liability". Mohammed says the Taliban leadership had also been informed in the clearest possible terms by a US diplomat that if any US citizen was harmed as a consequence of an Al Qaeda action, the US would hold the Taliban responsible and target Mullah Omar and the Taliban leaders.

In the summer of 2000, on one of his regular trips to Afghanistan, Mohammed had a summit session with the Taliban high command in Kandahar. They asked him to arrange a meeting with appropriate officials in the European Union, to broker a way in which they could hand over Osama bin Laden. Mohammed recommended they send bin Laden to the World Criminal Court in the Hague.

Shortly thereafter, in August of 2000, Mohammed set up a meeting at the Sheraton hotel in Frankfurt between a delegation from the Taliban and Reiner Weiland of the EU. The Taliban envoys repeated the offer to deport bin Laden. Weiland told them he would take the proposal to Elmar Brok, foreign relations director for the European Union. According to Mohammed, Brok then informed the US Ambassador to Germany of the offer.

At this point the US State Department called Mohammed and said the government wanted to retain his services, even before his official period on the payroll, which lasted from November of 2000 to late September, 2001, by which time he tells us he had been paid $115,000.

On the morning of October 12, 2000, Mohammed was in Washington DC, preparing for an 11am meeting at the State Department, when he got a call from State, telling him to turn on the TV and then come right over. The USS Cole had just been bombed. Mohammed had a session with the head of State's South East Asia desk and with officials from the NSC. They told him the US was going to "bomb the hell out of Afghanistan". "Give me three weeks," Mohammed answered, "and I will deliver Osama to your doorstep." They gave him a month.

Mohammed went to Kandahar and communicated the news of imminent bombing to the Taliban. They asked him to set up a meeting with US officials to arrange the circumstances of their handover of Osama. On November 2, 2000, less than a week before the US election, Mohammed arranged a face-to-face meeting, in that same Sheraton hotel in Frankfurt, between Taliban leaders and a US government team.

After a rocky start on the first day of the Frankfurt session, Mohammed says the Taliban realized the gravity of US threats and outlined various ways bin Laden could be dealt with. He could be turned over to the EU, killed by the Taliban, or made available as a target for cruise missiles. In the end, Mohammed says, the Taliban promised the "unconditional surrender of bin Laden". "We all agreed," Mohammed tells us, "the best way was to gather Osama and all his lieutenants in one location and the US would send one or two cruise missiles."

Up to that time Osama had been living on the outskirts of Kandahar. At some time shortly after the Frankfurt meeting, the Taliban moved Osama and placed him and his retinue under house arrest at Daronta, thirty miles from Kabul.

In the wake of the 2000 election Mohammed travelled to Islamabad and met with William Milam, US ambassador to Pakistan and the person designated by the Clinton administration to deal with the Taliban on the fate of bin Laden. Milam told Mohammed that it was a done deal but that the actual bombing of bin Laden would have to be handled by the incoming Bush administration.

On November 23, 2000, Mohammed got a call from the NSC saying they wanted to put him officially on the payroll as the US government's contact man for the Taliban. He agreed. A few weeks later an official from the newly installed Bush National Security Council asked him to continue in the same role and shortly thereafter he was given a letter from the administration (Mohammed showed us a copy of this document), apologizing to the Taliban for not having dealt with bin Laden, explaining that the new government was still settling in, and asking for a meeting in February 2001.

The Bush administration sent Mohammed back, carrying kindred tidings of delay and regret to the Taliban three more times in 2001, the last in September after the 9/11 attack. Each time he was asked to communicate similar regrets about the fairlure to act on the plan agreed to in Frankfurt. This procrastination became a standing joke with the Taliban. Mohammed tells us, "They made an offer to me that if the US didn't have fueld for the cruise missiles to attack Osama in Daronta, where he was under house arrest, they would pay for it."

Kabir Mohammed's final trip to Afghanistan on the US government payroll took place on September 3, 2001. On September 11 Mohammed acted as translator for some of the Taliban leadership in Kabul as they watched TV coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Four days later the US State Department asked Mohammed to set up a meeting with the Taliban. Mohammed says the Taliban were flown to Quetta in two C-130s. The US team issued three demands:

1. Immediate handover of bin Laden;

2. Extradition of foreigners in Al Qaeda who were wanted in their home countries;

3. Shut-down of bin Laden's bases and training camps.

Mohammed says the Taliban agreed to all three conditions.

This meeting in Quetta was reported in carefully vague terms by Pizzey on September 25, where Mohammed was mentioned by name. He tells us that the Bush administration was far more exercised by this story than by any other event in the whole delayed and ultimately abandoned schedule of killing Osama.

In October 18, Mohammed tells us, he was invited to the US embassy in Islamabad and told that "there was light at the end of the tunnel for him", which translated into an invitation to ocupy the role later assigned to Karzai. Mohammed declined, saying he had no desire for the role of puppet and probable fall guy.

A few days later the Pizzey story was aired and Mohammed drew the ire of the Bush administration where he already had an enemy in the form of Zalmay Khalilzad, appointed on September 22 as the US special envoy to Afghanistan. After giving him a dressing-down, US officials told Mohammed the game had changed, and he should tell the Taliban the new terms: surrender or be killed. Mohammed declined to be the bearer of this news and went off the US government payroll.

Towards the end of that same month of October, 2001 Mohammed was successfully negotiating with the Taliban for the release of hostage Heather Mercer (acting in a private capacity at the request of her father) when the Taliban once again said they would hand over Osama bin Laden unconditionally. Mohammed tells us he relayed the offer to David Donohue, the US consulate general in Islamabad. He was told, in his words, that "the train had moved". Shortly thereafter the US bombings of Afghanistan began.

In December Mohammed was in Pakistan following with wry amusement the assault on Osama bin Laden's supposed mountain redoubt in Tora Bora, in the mountains bordering Pakistan. At the time, he said, he informed US embassy officials the attack was a waste of time. Taliban leaders had told him that bin Laden was nowhere near Tora Bora but in Waziristan. Knowing that the US was monitoring his cellphone traffic, Osama had sent a decoy to Tora Bora.

From the documents he has supplied to us and from his detailed account we regard Kabir Mohammed's story as credible and are glad to make public his story of the truly incredible failure of the Bush administration to accept the Taliban's offer to eliminate bin Laden. As a consequence of this failure more than 3,000 Americans and thousands of Afghans died. Mohammed himself narrowly escaped death on two occasions when Al Qaeda, apprised of his role, tried to kill him. In Kabul in February, 2001, a bomb was detonated in his hotel. Later that year, in July, a hand grenade thrown in his room in a hotel in Kandahar failed to explode.

He told his story to the 9/11 Commission whose main concern, he tells us, was that he not divulge his testimony to anyone else, also to the 9/11 Families who were pursuing a lawsuit based on the assumption of US intelligence blunders by the FBI and CIA. He says his statements to the 9/11 commissions were not much use to the families since his judgement was, and still remains, that it was not intelligence failures that allowed the 9/11 attacks, but the political negligence of the Bush administration.

I wish there were authors who were willing to turn their critical eye (and pen) to politicians of both parties, rather than criticising one party's leaders while overlooking the abuses and incompetencies of the other party's leaders. Unfortunately they all seem to have cast their lot in with one side or the other, and selectively demonize only the members and actions of the opposition. In so doing, I feel that they undermine their own credibility, and foresake opportunities to analyze and discuss political corruption as a whole. I think we could learn a lot by looking at what all political dysfunction has in common, without focussing unduly upon the liberal or conservative manifestations of it. It seems to me that the similarities of Democratic and Republican corruption are more important than their differences, and that there are probably common social factors underlying the promotion of all government corruption. If we learned more about what we, The People, are doing to enable dysfunction and abuse, then we might be able to do something about it. Unfortunately a necessary prerequisite of this analysis is the recognition that both sides suffer from the same affliction, and that is something people are simply unwilling to do. It would reveal the belief that "if we just vote Our Guys into power, it will solve all our problems", as a sham. This belief is the foundation of partisan political activity among the constituents of both major political parties.

So now the tables have turned, and the Democrats have "Their Guys" in control of the legislature. Doubtless the Democratic constituency will turn a blind eye to the incompentence, corrpution, and abuses which will follow, while the Republican constituency will strive to eradicate this corruption by voting "Their Guys" back into power. All the while pretending that the corrupt practices enacted by "Their Guys" before the Democrats gained power, never happened.

I fear that the country will only sink deeper into a quagmire of financial, industrial, and social ruin as long as people cling to their delusions and keep voting in the same rotten lying self-serving aristocrats, election after election. Will the american people ever wake the hell up?

-- TTK

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Minor Jibber-Jabber

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 7 years ago

These Are Minor Journal Entries so don't expect too much from them, 'k?

2006-11-11: Yet Another Critter (Sorta)

My wife really loves me! I know this because she caught a big, nasty spider and gave it to me, even though she fears big, nasty spiders. (I mean, really and truly fears -- she isn't your stereotypical girlie female most ways, but when a spider emerges from the dark corners of her critter-room she screams and has me come in to dispose of it!)

I've named her Sil, and we set her up in a spare critter-keeper with some moss and a twig. She's happily hanging out in one corner of it in her web, occasionally feasting on the crickets and flies we put in there with her. I got into the practice of catching flies in the early morning stumbling-around still-waking-up hours when I had my first spider, and it's coming back pretty easily now. I'm using the Too Much Coffee Man method of waiting for a fly to land on a flat surface, then putting my hand edge-down over that surface, and sweeping it quickly through the air just an inch above the fly in a grasping motion. The first thing flies do when they sense danger is leap straight up and then get their wings going, so they fall into my hand quite nicely.

-- TTK

2006-11-05: Stray Political Thoughts

It seems to me that the basis of "progressive" ideology is the idea that human beings have not yet lived the best life they possibly can, and that we can progress into a better life, one that has never been lived before. Liberalism is a type of progressivism, but with a (IMO) fucked-up idea of what "better" means, and of what constitutes "progress".

Along these lines, the basis of "conservative" ideology is that the best life humanity can hope for is either already here, or was lived at some time in the past (or at least, that the life humans once lived was better than what we have today). It can express itself in the form of wanting to preserve what is good about the status quo, which is (IMO) understandable and laudable. Unfortunately there are also some really messed-up, evil elements in modern conservatism which I cannot overlook.

I think the essence of "neo-conservatism" is that the "past" which is held up as the ideal towards which humanity should strive is actually fictional, and never actually existed. So in a twisted way, neo-conservatives are actually progressives, but they appeal to conservative sensibilities to dishonestly further their agendas.

As a libertarian anarchist, I consider myself a progressive. I have some ideas of how mankind might live in a better world than any we have yet seen. Unfortunately in this hyper-polarized modern America, idealism is often overlooked. People are preoccupied instead with the struggle between liberals and conservatives to control the resources and people of the world. Both sides have taken a position of "you're either with us, or against us", and see me as just another wasted vote, helping the other side by not pitching in with their side.

That doesn't bother me, though. What bothers me is that so few people are keeping their eye on the prize. What good is it if "your guy" wins the election, if the ideals your guy upholds are antithetical to justice? I believe I have my priorities straight, by putting my ideals first.

-- TTK

2006-11-01: The Joys of Semi-Rural Living

I live in a semi-rural area, where neighbors are far away, the streets are unlit, and the wildlife runs pretty wild. This combination provides ample opportunity for hillarity.

One neighbor has a halogen light in their front yard, which is so bright it hurts my eyes from our own yard, a couple hundred meters away. Fortunately there are some trees and bushes between us, so the light only shines through in patches. I have never liked this light, cursed it constantly, and have considered asking them to change it somehow, or "change" it myself with a rifle. But all that changed last Monday.

I was taking out the trash Monday night, in a bit of a mood, when I saw a dark shape slinking across the unlit street. It was about the right shape and mass for Sam, our big doofus "gorilla-cat", and I thought maybe I'd get behind him and shout "boo!" or something, and watch him levitate up a tree for my amusement.

So I crept up on the shape, and had raised my arms and filled my lungs with air just as it was passing through one of those patches of light from the neighbor's halogen to reveal not Sam's grey hair, but black hair. Black hair marked by two white stripes. Stripes pointing directly at me. It looked something like this.

I froze in my tracks as surely as the breath froze in my lungs. I backed away sloooooowly, not daring to make a sound. Making good my escape, I reflected that should I ever meet the neighbor who installed that halogen, I just might kiss them.

-- TTK

2006-10-31: Never, Ever Do This

I like my soda cold and flat, so I opened a diet 7up and put it in the freezer. I forgot about it, and it froze solid. So I put it on the stove to thaw it back out. Soda was forgotten, and I heard it start to boil. Soda was pulled off the stove, and when it had cooled slightly I put it back in the freezer. When it was cold again, I chugged it.

I think the boiling did something to it.

Something horrible.

It tasted normal enough, a little stronger than usual, but soon afterwards I grew nauseous.

The nausea grew. Oh dear gr0d, it grew.

I'll spare you what came afterwards. Anyway, take it from me, don't ever, ever do that.

-- TTK

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Trying Something New and Different

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 7 years ago

And now for something a little different..

Last saturday I had a chat with a long-distance friend who says I don't write enough in my journal. This wasn't exacly news to me, but he said something interesting. When I observed that most days there isn't much more to my life than "woke up, worked hard, came home late, went to bed way too late", he replied that that was okay, he'd like to read it.

So I mulled that over, worried a bit that the dozens of "crap" journal entries would drown out the occasional "quality" entry, and realized I could remedy that with a new format. I'd make an "Everyday Life" journal entry, and then reply to it on the days that followed with the latest "Everyday Life" report. Then when I got around to making a quality entry, it would be a new entry on its own, so it would stand out from the "Everyday Life" entries, and then I'd start a new "Everyday Life" journal entry after it, so that all entries would logically remain in chronological order. (If that didn't make much sense, that's okay, you'll see.)

So, it's two days later and still no journal entry. WTF? Well, there's another problem -- one of timing. When do I talk about my day? Not in the morning, because my day hasn't happened yet. Not during business hours, because I work my ass off trying to get stuff done. I'm buried in enough work to keep two engineers busy -- there is no chance of my getting ahead of the workload, all I can do is try to minimize the number of projects that get dropped entirely. Not after I get home, because I prefer spending time with my wife over the computer (this journal entry you're reading now being an exception; she is currently engrossed on something on her own computer). Also, that's really the most interesting part of my day, and little of it if any would get put in the day's entry. It lasts until we're both too outrageously tired to really enjoy being awake any longer and we drag ourselves to bed. Then it's too late, and memories of the more interesting bits of the previous day are swept aside by the hectic new day.

So, where does that leave me? It leaves me with the option of putting something else into my "low-calorie" journal entries, something other than a few short words about my day. And there is plenty of material to draw from -- I have a rich internal life, and my three hours a day of commute gives me much time to ponder. I just don't usually like to put it into written words unless I'm going to do a proper job of it -- and I seem to get around to that maybe once every few months. So I'll just have to practice doing an improper, half-assed job of it, so I can post entries more often.

And that's the plan. We'll see how it goes.

-- TTK

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On Wikis and Computer Racks

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 8 years ago

Gaaah! Too long since last journal entry!

Six months, and no journal entry .. how utterly pathetic. In the meantime cobalt (aka "invisiblecrazy") has been writing up a storm. Well, here's a new one.

Chronicles of The Beast, Part One

A friend of mine was getting rid of a computer cabinet, and asked if I wanted it. Naturally, I leapt at the opportunity. I've been meaning to build a server rack from wood for a while now, and I had a place set aside in our shed outside for just that.

So I woke up at 6am, borrowed my wife's truck for the day, and picked the beast up. And it was quite the beast. I'd been expecting something like the cheesy minimalist computer racks we use at The Archive, but this was anything but. The steel load-bearing structure was completely encapsulated in aluminum walls, with a locking tinted polycarbonate door. I could barely fit it into the back of cobalt's little truck! But that was really the easy part.

After work, I took the beast home, where it stayed for another day before I found the time to get it into the shed. And this is where the story really begins.

Getting the beast into the truck was made relatively easy by the caster wheels on its bottomside, and the nice flat pavement from my friend's carport to his driveway. The grounds around my house are not paved, but rather dirt covered by a four inch or so layer of pebbles. Nor are the grounds flat, the soil is too marshy for that. It flows around and makes little slopes everywhere. Nonetheless, I figured I had a pretty clear shot from the driveway through the side yard and into the shed, and I figured our handcart's 12-inch wheels would be up to the task of transporting it across the rocks.

So I got the casters off, lowered the beast onto the push cart, strapped it to the cart for good measure, and started down the side yard. I didn't get it very far. The ground had a distinct slope to the left, away from the house and towards the fence that separated the side yard from the drainage ditch. The pebbles were mostly navigable, but when the cart got stuck anywhere I couldn't jar it or rock it out or the entire cabinet would try to topple downhill. I worked at it for about an hour before rethinking my approach. If I kept it up, the cabinet would end up crashing through the fence and getting stuck in the ditch, where I would surely never dislodge it. So I laid down some wood to give myself a flatter surface, and used different thicknesses so that the cabinet would be more level in its trek.

Did I mention it was heavy? At seven feet tall and two feet wide, this thing was really damn heavy. Keeping it from toppling over was like wrestling with a poltergeist-infested coke machine.

Anyway, I finally got it to the shed, which I had prepared carefully to make room for its passage, and only then realized that I'd committed a grave oversight: Though I had carefully measured the space in which it was going, I had not thought to measure the entrance to the shed itself, which was far, far too short to allow the cabinet's passage. In the end I had to tip it over so it was laying down flat, with my body underneath it, then lift it straight up and push it through the shed entrance. Damn it was heavy.

After that, it should have been smooth sailing, but once again I fell prey to the hazard of unlevel surfaces. The floor of our shed was made of shipping palettes, and they were not all the same height, so the cabinet listed somewhat to the left. I had carefully measured the width of the shed's central aisle, and even at its tightest points it was a few inches wider than the cabinet -- or at least, a few inches wider than a *perfectly upright* cabinet. The leftward list was sufficient to close this slim margin, and a few items got knocked over before I again used tactically-positioned pieces of wood to give the cabinet a level surface on which to ride.

After that, it was smooth sailing. Three hours of hot, back-breaking tedium was all it took to get the beast into place. And now it is mine, and I have a newfound appreciation for level paved surfaces. :-) Time to start rackin' up those computers!

Little Black Car, Revisited

Soon after my previous blog entry, I got my little honda's tires more fully inflated and its oil changed, and now it's regularly getting 35 miles to the gallon -- one mpg more if I drive it nicely, one mpg less if I abuse it mercilessly. I have to admit to be getting 34mpg more often than I get 36mpg, because half the joy of having a stick-shift transmission is abusing it mercilessly.

I also settled on a bumper sticker, but have yet to put it on my actual bumper. The sticker itself was a row of three anarchist circle-A symbols (in the old style, not the Anarcho-Punk style made popular in the 1970's), but I cut it into three pieces so now I have three square-shaped anarchist circle-A stickers. One I put on the back of my laptop. One I will put on my car, but haven't yet. I haven't decided what to do with the third.

That rear bumper is not completely unadorned, however; my beloved wife found a "duct tape is like the force" sticker and stuck it on my bumper while I wasn't looking. :-)

Falling Prey to the Wiki Meme

I have been writing a little software for importing masses of data into a MediaWiki, an online resource which generates and manages webpages which anyone (or a whitelisted userbase) can update or edit. This is in response to two problems which I think Wiki-hosting material might address.

First, the system I have been using to manage my MBT Resources pages is woefully inadequate. One of my passtimes is researching battletank technology, and resources which seem rare or of scientific or engineering value get saved to my home workstation's hard drive. I then have a tool which can be used to curate this content, and export it into a simple webpage format.

This system has problems. It is tedious and time-consuming to sift through all this content, the resulting web pages are rather sparse and featureless, and once the content is cast into this web format it is difficult to update. As a result I have updated my site little in the last couple of years, even though I have amassed enough new material to easily triple it in size.

Second, Tank Net, a vibrant and valuable online forum for tank enthusiasts, has problems of its own. People there like to talk about tanks, but they don't like to read old discussions. This results in a lot of newbie questions and myths being posed over and over again, and the old regulars are getting tired of repeating the same answers and rebuttals. There are members who are visibly at odds with the disorganized and transient nature of BBS content, and I get the impression these members would appreciate a more organized and longer-lasting medium to target with their online muse.

I think a Wiki would address both, my problems with my website, and the tanknetters' frustrations, with a little help from software I have been developing at The Archive to sort disorganized content. I can automatically organize my new content into something approximating the right layout (tanks here, other afv's there, armor on its own set of pages, and munitions in their own, etc), and then use MediaWiki's powerful content curation tools to reorganize misplaced content and add descriptions to them in an ad-hoc fashion. The resulting documents would be nicely cross-linked (one of the features of Wikis is that when a term shows up in a document, and that term has its own document associated with it, that term is made into a hyperlink for its document).

Furthermore, since MediaWiki allows users to discuss the content of Wiki documents (each page has a "discuss" link attached to it, which leads to a forum interface, sort of), users can pose their questions and observations about the material, and a FAQ in the content page from which the discussion is linked might cut down on the repeatedly posed newbie questions. I would whitelist a select body of users (mostly tanknetters) and allow them to contribute to the Wiki in general. Hopefully this will lead to a more generally useful and better put-together resource than my current MBT pages.

Anyway, that's The Plan and the theory behind it. Execution of that plan remains to be seen.

Postscript

Those of you who are familiar with what's going on with my life lately might be surprised that I failed to mention a few important developments. This is not because I do not consider these developments meaningful, but rather it is because I do not want to talk about them in my public journal.

-- TTK

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General Rant, More to Come Soon (I hope)

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 8 years ago

General Rant

Lots has happened .. and I haven't had time to write. Where to begin?

Work! Work is familiar territory. I spend enough time there. I will start there.

My long, dark midnight in the Collections Department is breaking. We have hired a Manager of QA, who has kicked some major, major ass, and freed me from the constant firefighting which has consumed all of my time for the past few months. I'm spending about half my hours actually developing software (ooooh!). :-) It feels wonderful.

It's just in time, too -- John, the Director of Operations, came back to work after a short (but all too long!) leave of absence. He takes the problems facing the organization very seriously, and pulls resources from anywhere and everywhere to solve them. Since I'm one of the resources at his disposal, he has assigned me some solutions to work on. Wow, now that I've written that out, it doesn't seem like such a wonderful thing, but really, truly, I am elated -- he "owns" the problemset in which I am most interested, and for which I applied to work at The Archive in the first place.

For instance, I've been developing new functionality into the software I use to track the data "items" on the three data clusters, so that I can answer questions about what's where, and what isn't where it's supposed to be, how quickly we are filling up the servers with different kinds of items, and (perhaps most importantly) what is supposed to be the same between the clusters which isn't. I haven't been using my ItemTracker system to do this; that system is still not in production. I've been using an ad-hoc collections of perl scripts which operates on flat files of columnated data, which build up different perspectives of the data, starting from raw "manifests" -- simple lists of all of the items on each host in every cluster (as generated by the dy utility) which are automatically generated every night and uploaded to a central server.

Right now I'm building these perspectives and generating reports as needed, but at John's request I am automating it, so that these reports are generated every week without human attention, and made available via a web interface. Once that's working, I am hoping to spend some time working on ItemTracker, which will not only make new kinds of information available, but also allow users to describe the kinds of reports they want, and have them generated on demand without me.

Switching gears a bit, Brewster sat on a panel at last Friday's Commonwealth Club of California meeting, where he and other relevant individuals talked about the future and present of book digitization. I didn't deliberately time it this way, but I happened to get out of work and into my car (my car! more on that later) to go home just as the meeting began, and got to listen to it on the radio on the way home.

He was a little muted, which surprised me at first, but as the meeting progressed I started to see why it might be a good idea for him to withold some information and conceal some of his zeal. Some people are really upset about book digitization, and view it with suspicion if not outright hostility. Publishing industry professionals see it as a threat to their future profitability, authors are concerned about potential infringements on their copyrights, and the lawyers are circling like sharks smelling blood in the water. Right now those lawyers are making their passes at Google, and I don't blame Brewster a bit for not wanting to attract their attention. Furthermore, most of the books The Archive has available for download are from the Million Books Project, which was a huge learning experience in how not to scan books. The quality of most of these is horrible, and I can understand him not wanting to give people the wrong idea about the books we're scanning today. The quality we're getting out of the Scribe is nothing short of amazing.

Oh yeah, my car! I finally, finally, finally got a car, to replace the 1999 Toyota Corolla I totalled last November. The main reason it took so long is because it had to have a manual transmission. I'm addicted to the stick. But manual transmissions are getting really hard to find! Moreover, I wanted a car with a maintenance record that Consumer Reports liked, and that got good gas mileage for my commute. I finally found what I wanted in a Fremont used car lot -- a black 2001 Honda Civic.

I've been driving it for a couple of weeks now, and I'm really happy with it. It's a bit noisier than I would like (lots of engine noise, and no room between the engine and the firewall to add soundproofing -- still pondering this), but it gets 33 miles to the gallon (vs, the Corolla's 35), has more than enough zip, and has a toy I've never enjoyed in a car before -- a cd player.

So, I dug out the dusty binder that contains my entire cd collection and put it in the car .. there isn't much to it, since I've always had tape players in my cars, and most of the music I like is on tape, and tape players are less expensive than cd players anyway, so why not take advantage of my existing investment and buy a tape player to replace a broken tape player, rather than buying a cd player? So I haven't bought many cd's.

Here's what I do have: NIN: pretty hate machine, NIN: broken, NIN: downward spiral, Stabbing Westward, Gravity Kills, Eagles: Hotel California, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Sisters of Mercy: Greatest Hits, Ministry: Filth Pig, Aerosmith: Get a Grip, Faith No More: King for a Day, Ozzie Ozbourne: Ozzmosis, Depeche Mode: Violator, Psychedelic Furs: Midnight to Midnight, Duran Duran: Decade, Tears for Fears: Tears Roll Down, Led Zeppelin: II, Pet Shop Boys: Discography, Pet Shop Boys: Very, Garbage, Def Leppard: Vault, No Doubt: Tragic Kingdom, Alice Cooper: Hey Stoopid, Blondie: The Best of Blondie, Berlin: The Best of Berlin 1979-1988, Roxette: Look Sharp, White Zombie: Astrocreep2000, White Zombie: La Sexorcisto - Devil Music, Rage Against the Machine: Evil Empire, Marylin Manson: Coma, and Eurythmics: Greatest Hits.

I want: more Ministry, Ozzie, LedZep, Marylin Manson, .. and I want my Foetus on cd! I have been missing Foetus a lot during my commute. I've been listening to No Doubt, Garbage, and Ministry instead. I'll see what I can find on Amazon!

There's something else, too -- this is the first time in something like ten years I've actually owned my car. My last two cars, I got on finance, and totalled them just as they were getting paid off. But this one we simply bought outright. It's not the bank's car, it's my car. I own it, I can drill holes in it if I want to, and I really, really want to put a bumper sticker on it.

Preferably a bumper-sticker with an Anarcho-Capitalist message, which has proven remarkably difficult to come by. I've poured through Cafe Press and similar sites looking for one, but mostly I've turned up stickers being sold with Anarcho-Syndicalist or Anarcho-Communist messages. (Which is pretty entertaining, if you think about it!) I wouldn't mind a more generic anarchic message, and found a few which resonate with my personal convictions (like, "There's No Government Like No Government"), but none which would go over very well if seen in The Archive's parking lot -- we rely a lot on government contracts and grants, and certain important persons working there are of the conviction that our government is the only means by which certain charities may morally or pragmatically be provided to those who need them. This may sound out of character for a self-proclaimed anarchist, but I am loathe to ruffle any feathers.

That's all the time I have for tonight, but I hope to get back to this journal soonish. There's much more on my mind.

-- TTK

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Minor Life Notes

TTK Ciar TTK Ciar writes  |  more than 8 years ago

Minor Life Notes, 2006-01-07

My mouth is finally starting to heal up, again, after this, the third surgery in two months .. my diet is still mostly soup and eggs, and I'm still popping ibuprofen every six hours, but at least I'm not waking up early in the morning in agony anymore.

As of Friday, I was still spending ten hours a day at the office trying to do three people's jobs in the Collections Department of The Archive, and doing it somewhat poorly as a result. A new hire starts this Monday, though, dedicated to QA and technical user support, which is terrific. I'm hoping that with a little training, she'll be able to take a large load off my shoulders. Also, John Berry is back as Director of Operations, which means I get to perform some tasks for the Data Repository group again (which is really the job I signed on to do, and what I want to spend more of my hours doing). I'm really glad he's back.

One of the consequences of the new hire coming in is that I had to pack up some of my personal machines which I had stashed in the Collections office and take them home. Fungus, Dusty, Rooikat, and Dragon all got taped up and tucked into the closet. I kept hoping to have some time to work with them at the office, but aside from running Fungus for a couple of months as a secondary archival storage box, and firing up Rooikat a couple of times, they remained neglected.

-- TTK

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