The life and times of Zack Weinberg.
Thursday, 30 May 2002
# 2 PM
A dream: I was helping someone assemble a complex map-of-the-world puzzle, with a nasty twist. All the pieces had the same shape, and if you put one in the wrong place it would melt. There was also some concern about pieces having been used up already — they gave the owner magic powers, rather like the cards in Card Captor Sakura, but only when loose, and using them that way could make them vanish. It was really important that the puzzle get completed.
Also there was something about a can of spray paint but I don't remember that bit clearly,
# 1 AM
I'm playing with Galeon, which is a web browser. The authors basically took Mozilla, peeled off the layers and layers of bloat wrapped around its rendering engine, and put in a nice thin GTK-based user interface instead. Thoughts so far:
On the up side:
On the down side:
Wednesday, 29 May 2002
# 11 PM
Powell's Books interviews Norton Juster (author of The Phantom Tollbooth).
(So has Salon, last year.)
# 10 PM
It's hot. It's not ever supposed to get hot here, dammit. I cannot cope with temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (Half kidding.)
I've bought more cinder blocks and boards with an eye to enlarging my bookshelves again. Two more tiers on the shelves on the far wall of the living room, should hold me for another six months or so.
Home Depot does not carry the right kind of cinder blocks. I think the pavers I bought instead will work, but they are disturbingly thin.
# 4:30 AM
Dave Trowbridge (linked from Electrolite) proposes a solution for the "excruciating dialogue" of Attack of the Clones: set the language on your DVD player to one you don't speak, and pretend it's opera.
I have not seen this movie, and after all the bad reviews I don't plan to bother. If you want to see a big-ticket action movie, consider Spider-Man instead: it's well written, believable (as much as a superhero movie ever is) and has three-dimensional, interesting characters. I do have to agree with Roger Ebert (review - mild spoilers) that the movie doesn't portray Spider-Man as well as it does Peter Parker, but I didn't mind that so much as he seems to have.
Dammit, I miss New York City.
Tuesday, 28 May 2002
# 11 PM
This afternoon, I spent a good hour in the bank putting two years' worth of small change (pennies, nickels, dimes) into rolls so that I could deposit them. It came to $40.22, which is not trivial; however, I'm left somewhat disgusted at the bank. Why on earth don't they have a counting machine? Bank-scale models only cost about two thousand dollars, which is chump change from their point of view, and I'm sure they have plenty of customers who could use it (think small businesses; two grand is not small change to your typical low-margin restaurant).
# 3 PM
Neglected to mention, yesterday, that while Dara and I were loading the futon onto my car we saw and heard some military jets scream by overhead. I don't know what they were doing, and it didn't make even the local news. It still makes me nervous.
On a related note, here's a feature article for the Washington Monthly discussing whether or not the USA should attack Iraq.
# 12:30 AM
I picked my sister up at the airport this morning, she was flying back from having spent Memorial Day weekend down in L.A. We visited the SF MoMA; they were showing a bunch of themed selections from their permanent collection, and a retrospective on the work of this photographer whose name I unfortunately cannot remember (and their website is timing out on me so I can't look it up either). He lived in Carmel and took hundreds of photos of, at, and around Point Lobos.
After that, we went to pick up a futon she was buying from this guy who was moving out, and deliver it to the apartment she'll be living in this summer. That would have been easier if the frame had come apart all the way. They're supposed to break down into five or six relatively flat pieces that fit into my car's cargo space. This one's fasteners were frozen, so we wound up lashing most of it — still a three-dimensional object — to the roof. Driving up and down San Francisco hills with this thing up there was, well, an experience. But we did arrive with no injuries and nothing broken.
Finally, we went to the Cliff House for dinner. We were too tired to visit the camera obscura afterward, which was kind of a shame; I've done that before and it's really nifty.
Monday, 27 May 2002
# 12 AM
My grandfather has been hospitalized after suffering a heart attack and a whole cascade of complications. He might well recover; the doctors are talking about doing an angioplasty to reopen the blocked artery, and optimistic about the prospects for success. We won't know if it worked for several days though.
Sunday, 26 May 2002
# 3 AM
Shweta's friend Conor Quinn (possibly Connor) was visiting for the past couple of days. He's a linguistics student at Harvard, and was in town on his way to Indonesia, where he's doing a month of field work. He speaks half a dozen languages, most of which I had never heard of, and will happily animadvert on the resemblance of words or names that come up in casual conversation, to words in other languages.
We (me, him, Shweta, Nathaniel)went out to lunch at Vik's, which is a really great Indian chaat house down on Fourth and Addison. Then we wandered up and down the Farmer's Market and the Telegraph bookstore row for awhile, and in the evening we went to see Spider-Man (the movie).
Saturday, 25 May 2002
# 3:30 AM
I ran into Seth on the street, but I don't think he saw me.
Friday, 24 May 2002
# 9 PM
zack does the happy chainsaw dance
Delete file. DELETE FILE. DELETE FILE!!!!! DIE ZOMBIES DIE!!! Forty-four thousand lines of rotten spaghetti code! GONE! MWAHAHAHAHAHHAAHAHAA!!!!1!!!11!
# 12:30 PM
At about five AM someone started rolling a noisy cart up and down the sidewalk in front of my building. Clatter, clatter, clatter. This continued until around seven. At first I was woken up; after awhile I drifted into a dream in which the exact same thing was happening, only I was staying in a cheap motel somewhere.
# 3:30 AM
Monthly Berkeley-area SF kaffeklatsch. Shweta and I went, and I convinced Shweta's friends Conner and Pat to come along too. A good time was had by all. I got to meet Heather Nicoll (aka Darkhawk) which was nice - have read her Usenet posts for some time and thought she might be interesting to talk to in person, and so it proved.
Thursday, 23 May 2002
# 10:30 PM
For some reason, whenever I do laundry, none of the socks get dry. They are all spread out on my bed now, drying the rest of the way.
Everything else gets dry, you understand, just not the socks.
# 1:45 PM
Joshua Micah Marshall on the Vice President's opposition to an independent inquiry into intelligence failures pre-Sept. 11:
To which, the only thing one can say is "Right on." And hope that various members of Congress read his column.
Wednesday, 22 May 2002
# 5:30 PM
I dreamt I was asked to perform a marriage between two of my old college friends. A full-fledged Jewish religious marriage. One is not obliged to be a rabbi to do this; however, the rabbi is less likely to make a total mess of it, which is what I did. (It would have helped if I'd had a prayer book to work with. I had to make up most of the ritual.) For some reason all this was happening on the top of a hill and everyone was wearing beach clothes.
Ted Barlow has a lot of good commentary, and links to commentary, about the intelligence failures leading up to Sept. 11 and the current political arguments over same. Go read.
Meantime, Electrolite links to a bone-chilling post by Charlie Stross:
Makes our little political dust-ups seem real insignificant by comparison.
Over here on Willamette Week Online, we got four articles about marijuana. One in particular argues that legalizing pot will kill pot culture, and that this would be a Good Thing. I am not convinced of either prong of this assertion, but it's still a fun read.
They also have a more serious interview with New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who advocates legalization of pot and possibly other recreational drugs on the grounds that prohibition is a failure, and one with horrible side effects:
This is a position I wholeheartedly agree with; it's nice to see a serious politician (and a conservative, no less!) espousing it.
(Also from Ted Barlow.)
Two of my all time favorite Mozilla bugs, 76431 and 101016, have been fixed. Now if they would just do something about 29838...
# 12:15 AM
Groceries have now been bought. Berkeley Bowl is a local non-chain supermarket, which has any number of interesting quirks. For example, it's the only market I've ever seen which has Ready Made and the Utne Reader but not the National Enquirer on its check-out magazine rack. Also, they do not stock any Coca-Cola products. I do not know why, but it's likely to be because the store is run by ex-hippies (they have a complete selection of organic and other good-for-the-environment stuff) and they have some issue with Coca-Cola. However, they stock plenty of other megacorporate products (Kleenex, for instance) so I am not sure.
Emacs 20 has
an irritating bug in its "customization" code. When you ask
the customizer to save your changes, it writes a bunch of Lisp
forms at the end of your initialization file (
However, if you have byte-compiled your initialization file, which you might like to do if you have lots of Lisp functions in there, then it goes and writes its stuff at the end of the compiled file. It does not know how to remove the existing byte-compiled version of its stuff from before, which means all the settings get applied twice, and any side effects happen twice. Worse, the next time you modify your personal set of Lisp routines and recompile the file, those settings get clobbered.
The Right Thing would be to modify the source file, which will cause Emacs to ignore the out-of-date compiled version, and notify the user that they may want to recompile. (You don't want to recompile every time you tweak something, it's quite expensive.) A user who has a byte-compiled init file can be assumed to know what the program is talking about. For all I know this has been fixed in Emacs 21, but I'm not particulary interested in upgrading (it's likely to break a lot of my complicated custom Lisp...)
Tuesday, 21 May 2002
# 7:30 PM
One is not entirely clear as to where the month went. One also suspects that one has forgotten to move one's car to avoid street sweeping and will now owe the city $26.
The computer got a lot quieter after I removed one of the fans, which seems to have a vibration problem. I upgraded to a 2.4 kernel; despite earlier concerns, it seems to work quite well for my purposes, and is noticeably faster in some situations. (It's not obvious which of those are due to better hardware though.) Bonus, the combination of the new machine's video card and the new kernel enables accelerated 3D graphics, which means that if I ever feel like playing elaborate 3D games it'll be possible.
Desperately need to buy groceries.
Saturday, 18 May 2002
# 2:40 PM
Robert Dewar's attitude (exhibits A, B, C) is really starting to grate.
# 2:15 PM
I've upgraded from a two-year-old computer to a one-and-a-half-year-old computer. It's faster, has more memory, more disk, and a spiffier sound card. On the other hand, it's got four fans and two noisy hard drives... it's loud. I'll be looking into noise-reduction technology.
Sumana had her graduation party yesterday. Lots of people came. There were samosas. Seth captivated everyone with his EFF rants.
Today I go watch Shweta get her masters' degree.
Wednesday, 15 May 2002
# 8 PM
Turns out there's a ton of Internet resources for car buyers. Of course, it also turns out to be hella complicated and require wheeling and dealing. I hate wheeling and dealing. But I hate getting suckered more.
# 7:30 PM
So I'm looking into getting a new car. This is unpleasantly difficult. First off, car salesmen are really big on high-pressure tactics. You would think that if I walk into a dealership and say "I want to buy a car sometime in the next two months, I am looking to spend less than $25,000, whadya got?" this would put the discussion on a somewhat more relaxed footing. But no. They do not take my word that I want to buy a car. They try to convince me anyway. This does not strike me as good customer relations.
More seriously, the car companies are all assuming that their customers (a) have a track record of buying cars already, and (b) drive at least a thousand miles a month. Thus, for instance, the warranty on the drivetrain on a Toyota runs five years or 60,000 miles. In five years, assuming no major lifestyle changes, I will drive less than 20,000 miles. (Perhaps this is an unsafe assumption.)
Accordingly, all of the helpful calculate-your-payments webpages that the auto manufacturers have ask me multiple-choice questions to which the correct answer is invariably "none of the above" and I'm left not having any clue how much money will be involved. Well, the sticker price gives a ballpark figure, but 9% interest for however many years does add up.
# 2:40 PM
There's a whole village of spiders living in the window frame of my bathroom. I saw three this morning while showering. As I've said previously, I like spiders. And anything that stops flies getting in that window (which is open most of the time for ventilation) is good by me.
However, I am getting a little concerned. They don't seem to understand that it is not safe for them to come onto the inner windowsill, because they'll fall into the bathtub and be drowned. I would rather not have to worry about this every time I take a shower. Also, guests that need to use the shower may not be as egalitarian as me about sharing the apartment with spiders.
(Insects, mind, are not welcome.)
A week in deep hack mode means another sink full of dirty dishes. Once again I have to do two loads because there isn't enough space in the dishrack. I wonder how expensive those portable dishwashers that latch onto the sink spout are, and how difficult it would be to get one up the stairs.
# 12 PM
Trying to get back to a reasonable frequency of bloggery... let's start with some
One honest-to-gosh anxiety nightmare that left me not wanting to go back to sleep, in which my parents were being disappointed that I'd failed them by washing out of graduate school.
One surreal situation in which I was trying to play a complicated card game to which I did not know the rules, on a table piled high with kipple much of which was part of the card game. And impress a girl at the same time.
And another surreal situation in which all the GCC developers had gathered at someone's house to celebrate the release of 3.1 but I was having to talk someone down who was upset that his patches hadn't been included.
Here is the final paper I wrote for CS 260, and the presentation I gave.
Tuesday, 14 May 2002
# 5 AM
There was a minor earthquake (more details) a few hours ago. The USGS reports it as magnitude 5.2 at the epicenter, which is getting up there. But it was quite a ways south, near Gilroy. In Berkeley, the building rattled a bit and that was all. Still a creepy feeling... I haven't been in an earthquake since the big 6.7 in Northridge back in 1994. For a moment I was expecting it to keep shaking and get worse.
The paper's done. I go to bed now, and do the presentation in the morning (which will be a simple matter of cloning text out of the paper and turning it into bullet points).
# 1:10 AM
That was one bloody awful week, followed by a kick-ass weekend, and if I can just finish the paper that's due tomorrow, I'll be done with coursework, which will give this week a chance to be kick-ass too.
But I have to finish the paper first. I just want to show you my evil rock star made of Legos:
Done with the Mini-Mizer.
Monday, 6 May 2002
# 10:20 PM
Sumana points out that Eric Raymond is giving a talk, er, right now, at Soda Hall. I have seen him talk before, so I'm not particularly interested in going (besides, that would involve getting up and dragging my ass all the way back across campus). In fact, I am singularly unimpressed with the stuff he's been writing recently. The issues he presents are all either so obvious as to be not worth saying, or a lot more controversial than he makes them sound.
It occurs to me that I'm singularly unimpressed with an awful lot of free software advocates—and developers too, come to that. The movement, like any other movement with a political component to it, attracts political kooks. Some political kookery can be necessary and even useful—there probably wouldn't be any free operating systems today if not for the Free Software Foundation's efforts, and the FSF was started by a kook of the first water. (Disclaimer: I hack GCC, which is an FSF project).
But compare this article with this letter. The fundamental message is the same, but one was written by a kook, the other by a professional politician and his staff. It's pretty clear which brand of advocacy is more effective, I think.
(To be fair, the politician has a distinct advantage here: he is responding to a specific letter which is written with so little understanding of the thing it attacks, that it might as well be a straw man. Except it isn't. Please note that the link above is a translation from Spanish; the grammar issues are not the fault of the original author, but I think it's safe to say the content issues are.)
# 10 PM
There was a fire in an apartment building down on Shattuck, not so far from where I live. I went by there on the way to the grocery store, and there were three fire trucks on the block and policemen directing traffic. Wonder what happened. It'll probably be in the local newspaper tomorrow.
I got my notebook back! Apparently I left it at the Other Change of Hobbit (local bookstore). The staff were kind enough to hold it for me. Now I don't have an excuse not to finish the Minicon report.
Sunday, 5 May 2002
# 5:45 PM
My art project is done: twenty-four obsidian (I think) pebbles with symbols carved into them:
ᚠᚢᚦᚫᚱᚲ ᚷᚹᚺᚾᛁᛃ ᛇᛈᛉᛋᛏᛒ ᛖᛗᛚᛜᛟᛞ
—that is, the Elder Futhark, also known as the runic alphabet. If you transliterate all the symbols into the Latin alphabet it comes out "FUThARKGWHNIJYPZSTBEMLNgOD", and now perhaps you see where "futhark" comes from: it's the first six letters glommed together, as if we were to call our alphabet the abcdef. Which, if you think about it, we do, only in Greek.
There are a lot of "extended" futharkim: all the cultures that borrowed the original set from the Norse added letters so they could have all their phonemes represented. This one doesn't do so badly for English; the only letters missing, compared to the conventional orthography, are CQVX, and in exchange you get single letters for "th" and "ng" which would come in handy. In fact, in older books (we're talking Old and Middle English here), "the" was occasionally written þe. This was misread by medieval monks as "ye", and now you know where that alternate spelling came from.
I think it's interesting that the correct plural for "futhark" uses the Hebraic "-im" suffix. Ain't English fun?
Wednesday, 1 May 2002
# 1 PM
Hyperfocus is a phenomenon observed mostly in people with ADD. Most of the time ADD individuals cannot concentrate on much of anything. However, they often have the ability to concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of anything else, for hours on end, if they really want to.
I can do this sometimes; for me it's more like "if I really need to". I did it on Monday, putting in about eight hours straight to complete the big merge I mentioned then.
The problem is it leaves me utterly wiped out for up to a day afterward.