March 2004

Chad me harder, baby!


So, after all the fuss about how the dangerously obsolete mechanical voting machines would corrupt the special election held to kick out Davis and elect Arnold, what did I find at my local polling station this morning? The same darn chad-cutters I used last time.

Good thing, too, as reports come in about the problems with the first live test of the new electronic voting machines. Not to mention their complete lack of accountability.

“The chad is great!” (the movie sucked, though)

GarageBand Jam Pack update


A pleasant surprise in Software Update today, a small patch to the GarageBand Jam Pack that adds additional effect presets. It’ll be interesting to see exactly what they’ve done.

There’s also a reliability patch for iDVD, a product I haven’t had a chance to really use yet. Maybe if I get some decent footage of the TI Sirens show on my next trip to Vegas…

McDonalds drops supersizing, fails to replace it with “cooking”


The most annoying thing about this story is that it repeats the bald-faced lie that Michael-Moore-wannabe Morgan Spurlock’s propaganda film somehow qualified as a “documentary”.

That and the fact that his crap flick not only won an award, but is scheduled for wider release this spring. That leaves a worse taste in my mouth than most fast food.

LucasArts buries Sam & Max again


For the first time in quite a few years, I was looking forward to a LucasArts game release. Naturally, they just cancelled it. No doubt they’re focusing their efforts on tie-in games for the next crappy Star Wars flick.

Oh, well; they didn’t need my money anyway, right?

Latchkey Zombies in Solaris


A funny thing happened when we upgraded our servers from Solaris 2.5.1 several years ago: when we killed a process, frequently its parent wouldn’t notice. This was annoying, since a lot of our Operations processes were built around killing and restarting services so they’d notice changes in a controlled fashion.

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No comment


There’s this moron who thinks he has something to say, and he insists on saying it in my comments section under a variety of aliases. So I’ve turned off all comments for a while.

Update: Truth is, I was headed to Vegas for a week, and I didn’t want to leave the little twerp with a private playground while I was offline, especially since he enjoyed ineptly pretending to be me by responding to his own comments. I’ll turn them back on now that I’m home.

Oh, that’s gotta hurt…


From the English translation of the new Iraq Constitution:

This government shall be constituted in accordance with a process of extensive deliberations and consultations with cross-sections of the Iraqi people conducted by the Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority and possibly in consultation with the United Nations.

Emphasis added.

On the other hand, it doesn’t give the people much room to insist on their new rights if the government turns sour:

It shall not be permitted to possess, bear, buy, or sell arms except on licensure issued in accordance with the law.

One might argue that this is a necessary temporary measure until freedom really takes hold in Iraq and the majority of the remaining terrorists have been eliminated, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the government is unlikely to ever believe that such a day has arrived.

The bird-watcher’s MasterCard ad


Camera gear to capture bird sightings: £700.

Membership in British Trust for Ornithology: £26.

Bus to Grimsby to see rare American robin: £15.

Having a sparrowhawk snatch the robin while you’re still setting up your tripod: priceless.

iPod programming?


I’ve seen multiple claims that iPods have a built-in JavaScript interpreter that is user-accessible. Unfortunately, I’ve found zero supporting evidence for this claim. No documentation, no sample code, no SDK, not even a dead link.

I’m left with two possibilities: either it doesn’t exist, or they’ll only tell you about it if your last name is “Belkin”.

Luxor Steakhouse


So how did we manage to stay in this hotel twice (three times for me!) without eating at their steakhouse? What, were we stupid or something? I have never had a better steak. I have never had a better baked potato. I don’t think better desserts exist.

I like the Hilton Steakhouse, which was damn good eight years ago, and is still damn good. I despise the Treasure Island Steakhouse, which takes excellent beef and treats it with less respect than your local Sizzler would, which, come to think of it, also describes their service.

Luxor Steakhouse? Unbelievable. After tipping 30%, filling the comment card with glowing praise, and vigorously thanking everyone we could on the way out, we were still wondering if we’d done enough to express our appreciation for the food and the service.

The only way they could improve the place is to hire the hostesses and waitresses away from Fiamma Trattoria across the street at the MGM Grand. [which is a fine restaurant, but they have so many pretty women working there that they could spare a few for a good cause]

On a related note, we discovered that slot tournaments are just as ridiculous as they sound, but when the party afterwards includes filet mignon from the Luxor Steakhouse, suddenly it seems like a good idea. A really, really good idea. I have no idea how they managed to get 400+ perfect steaks out the door in about fifteen minutes. We felt sorry for any vegetarians in attendance.

Oh, and the player’s club hosts at Mandalay Bay are assholes dedicated to making a mockery of the chain’s “One Club” advertising. I really wonder how much business they’re driving away; their attitude Sunday night certainly convinced me to stop playing there. [I suspect it’s a deliberate attempt to drive away the wrong kind of customers, defined by qualities unrelated to their gambling habits…]

How Newsom’s publicity stunt may backfire…


Latest fallout, emphasis added:

The Social Security Administration has said it would not accept any marriage licenses from San Francisco as proof of marriage until the legal dispute was resolved.

So now straight couples in San Francisco can’t really get married, either, and any who did so recently are in “gay-wedding limbo”. Somehow I don’t think that will increase their support for gay rights.

GarageBand Is (Not Is)


David Was takes GB out for a spin. Being NPR, the commentary also comes with a different sort of spin, but what can you do?

Note to the writers of Stargate: SG-1


Yes, yes, Kinsey is a villain composed of equal parts pure evil and arrogant condescension. We get it already, okay? Could you please drop the Snidely Whiplash act and get on with the story now? Yeesh.

iEatBrainz: not ready for prime time


The idea is sound: identify music by acoustic fingerprints instead of relying on the clumsy CD-hashing approach used by CDDB, which not only produces a lot of collisions, but relies on the presence of the CD in a compatible drive. The poor quality of the CDDB database is a separate issue, one that MusicBrainz doesn’t obviously solve.

iEatBrainz is a beta Mac client for the MusicBrainz database, and if the results it produces are representative of the fingerprinting technology and current database, it’s not worth my time right now.

For a simple test, I fed it a 97-song playlist out of my iTunes library, consisting of tracks ripped to MP3 and AAC from my CD collection over the past few years.

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Above and beyond…


Now this is an example of good citizenship. Not only did this guy spot a suspected killer in a bar, but when the FBI didn’t take him seriously, he went back to the bar, gathered physical evidence, and then drove around the area until he found the guy’s car at a motel. Thank you, Conrad Malsom.

What the FUCK?!?


Could someone please explain to me how the film shown in this trailer could possibly deserve the title I, Robot? Or even how they managed to pull this story out of Asimov’s legacy? “Sci-fi action thriller suggested by the classic short story collection”, my ass!

Adding insult to injury, the official movie site is a steaming pile of Flash.

“Ron Dollar”, please go away


Dear child,

You’re not clever, you’re not funny, you’re certainly not my friend, and you have nothing interesting to say. Stop spamming my comments.

And, by the way, it took me about five seconds to wipe out your latest “contributions”, so you’re not even a real annoyance, just a bug on the windshield.

Oh, and if anyone else reading this wants a good laugh, it took this wannabe-troll three hours to come up with 18 lame comments. All wiped out with one line of SQL code and a quick rebuild.

(oops, miscounted the first time; I counted all the POST events, forgetting the mandatory preview I turned on a while back. I had to go by the logs, since I’d already nuked the actual comments. :-))

(which, by the way, is done with: delete from mt_comment where comment_ip = “nnn.nnn.nnn.nnn” and now() - comment_created_on < 1;)

(oh, and for more amusement, I’ve added each of his IP addresses to my badlife PF blacklist, so he can’t even see the site until he reconnects and gets another one. If he keeps it up, I’ll just block the entire subnet for a while; it’s not like I have so many readers that I actually care about the loss of a few random Class C networks for a few days.)

(and if he ever did rise to the level of an actual annoyance, my badlife system can trivially be extended to automatically add his IP addresses to the blacklist without human intervention; I did most of the work a long time ago to deal with mass downloads of my picture site…)

“So, how does it end?”


Since he brought it up, I thought I’d give my own reaction to the endings of some of the anime series I’ve been watching. For obvious reasons, one should BEWARE OF MILD SPOILERS below.

[update: cleaned up the formatting and added a review of Please! Teacher]

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Howard Stern, freedom fighter?


Found this on a “maybe just a tiny bit slanted” site called Buzzflash:

"As soon as I came out against Bush, that’s when my rights to free speech were taken away. It had nothing to do with indecency," Howard Stern said on March 19, 2004.

On the surface, this statement is absurd, since being kicked off of half a dozen radio stations run by a private corporation has nothing to do with one’s “rights to free speech,” but in the current batch of far-Left conspiracy theories, Clear Channel is part of the Bush administration, due to their well-known membership in the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. So it’s still government censorship, and a First Amendment issue, right?

But it doesn’t actually silence him, because the VRWC apparently hasn’t consolidated its hold on the media. Not only is he still on the air in every major market, the claim that he’s being suppressed has been widely reported! No doubt the underling who allowed the truth to get out will soon be quietly executed.

Personally, I think Stern’s motives more closely resemble Larry Flynt’s than those of any honest free-speech advocate, and I look forward to the day when he really is off the air. Not through government censorship, but due to a sudden outbreak of intelligence and good taste among the general public.

Move over, Stallman!


I think we’ve just found the perfect singer to cover The Free Software Song in the manner it deserves.

I can’t really say “thank you” to Chuq Von Rospach for linking to this, but I’ll try to get even someday.

iPod mini a victim of its own success


Apparently the worldwide rollout of the iPod mini has been delayed, basically because Hitachi can’t make 4GB MicroDrives fast enough to keep up with demand.

As the pleased owner of one (silver, by the way, and I’d have gone for a nice dark gray if they’d made one), I’m not surprised. People who viewed it as a barely-cheaper iPod with much lower capacity were missing the point; it’s not cannibalizing sales of full-sized iPods, it’s capturing the demographic that wasn’t willing to buy an iPod at all, for various reasons.

And gadget freaks like me, of course. The mini is my third iPod, and I still have the second one, which now lives full-time in the car and makes long drives more pleasant. And I spend a lot of time driving, mostly by choice. When the next round of full-sized iPods comes out, there’s a good chance I’ll buy one of those, too, mostly because Apple supposedly has adopted the mini’s excellent controls to replace the unreliable non-buttons on the 3G iPods.

Note that the success of the mini also means that as soon as the demand is met, Hitachi will be able to flood the market with 4GB MicroDrives, and that’s pretty cool, too.

Stupidest. Smart Gun. Ever.


This is such a bad idea that I doubt that even New Jersey is stupid enough to consider it a “safe handgun”. I’m quite certain that cops would rather go unarmed than be saddled with such a piece of garbage. Not that I expect it to actually come to market, of course; like most vaporware, the press release exists to sell stock, not product.

Fire good


Officially, my Weber natural gas grill (Silver B) is defective. They even came out and replaced the guts of it once, to try to bring it back into spec.

The problem? It’s too darn hot. Fantastic for steaks, miserable for anything that requires “low and slow”. The built-in thermometer gave out on medium, and with all three burners on high, I didn’t own anything capable of recording the temperature of the cooking surface. I just knew that it regularly burned the seasoning right off of the cast iron grates.

So, I picked up one of those spiffy non-contact thermometers, which even comes with a small laser sight to tell you what you’re measuring (toy alert! toy alert!). A friend came over yesterday for lunch, and just before we slapped the t-bones onto the grill, we took a few readings with it: 780° Fahrenheit.

Every time I think about having Weber come back out and fix it, I grill a steak, and change my mind. Who needs “low and slow,” anyway?

Corporate fat cats


Why does this sound like a really bad idea? Sprint apparently deliberately designed their new corporate headquarters to force people to do a lot of walking and stair-climbing. For their own good, of course.

Sprint built the car parks a 10-minute walk from the office buildings. So much for getting to meetings on time when you’re running late. And, oh, by the way, this is in Kansas, not Southern California, so they have actual seasons:

"It's not bad, unless it's 110 degrees outside or below freezing and raining and cold."

The campus I work on wasn’t deliberately designed to encourage exercise, as far as I know, but the five two-story buildings are spaced out sufficiently that you will do some walking if you need to go anywhere. And it’s built right next to the Stevens Creek trail, which a lot of people use for exercise and one-on-one meetings with their managers.

Hmm, come to think of it, the internal signage in the buildings is so bad that it’s almost impossible to find conference rooms or offices you’ve never been to before, so maybe they did design it to encourage extra walking. Hey, Sprint, I’ve got another idea for you!

Oh, by the way, less than two weeks after we moved into this campus, there were dozens of those little folding scooters around, and electric golf carts in use by the Facilities group. I suspect similar things happen at Sprint, but it didn’t fit the spin of the story, so it’s not mentioned.

Update: interesting comment from someone at Fark:

What this article neglected to mention is that the major ring road for the campus is BETWEEN the parking garages and the offices, so just as the largest number of people are walking to/from the offices, the largest number of people are also trying to navigate their cars to the garages. Apparently Sprint was too cheap to pay for the skywalks over the ring road.

The Clone Wars


Why does every girl in this film look like a cheap knockoff of some other recently-popular teen actress? Or do they all look like that these days?

Poker women


Darn it, kids today just have it too easy. Do you know how hard we had to work in college to get women to play poker? Okay, we were actually trying to get them to play strip poker, but still.

Some of the reactions suggest that it may be a short-lived fad, but judging from the spring-break crowds in Vegas this year, it’s a big one.

"It is crazy on campus," said Rachel Dorfman, a University of Georgia sophomore who often plays poker for hours with her Sigma Delta Tau sisters. "It is absolutely the thing to do right now."

I can’t complain, though. I feel sorry for the Vegas old-timers who had to suffer through the days when there might be only one woman in the entire room. The only downside to this trend is that women tend to be very good at reading men, giving them a distinct advantage at the table. I don’t even like to think about the advantage that pretty women have…

Of course, no story that mixed college and gambling would be complete without the twin specters of targeting students and addiction. I love this quote:

The 18- to 24-year-old age group has some of the highest rates of gambling addictions, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Good luck finding actual statistics on the NCPG web site, though, and you’ll find even less about the differences (both psychological and financial) between different types of gambling. Not surprising, since they’re hardly the bias-free concerned-citizen watchdog group that the story presents them as. A quick Google reveals that NCPG recently got nailed for antitrust violations for trying to monopolize the lucrative problem-gambling treatment market.

Citi really, really wants me


I thought it was amusing back in January when CitiBank sent me three credit-card offers in one day, all basically identical to the card I already had with them. Today, a knock on my door announced the arrival of an unsolicited Instant Rate Modification offer from CitiMortgage, complete with pen and return next-day air envelope.

They want to lower my interest rate from 4.25% to 4.0%, effective immediately, for the low price of $250. Since it would save me $43 a month, on the surface it looks like a good deal. But the offer is good for one week only, which makes me look at the fine print. As expected, it resets the fixed period on my 3/1 ARM, locking me into this rate until 2007.

I think it’s time to shop around and see what sort of refinancing deals other banks will offer me.

Anime endings: Steel Angel Kurumi 1 & 2


Warning: there’s so little plot in Steel Angel Kurumi that I can’t possibly talk about the ending without revealing most of it. If you’re spoiler-shy, stop reading now.

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