Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Monday, 30 September 2002

# 2:40 PM

Another John-Wood-ism, from another post in the same thread that invented nasal demons:

...the C compiler itself MUST issue a diagnostic IF this is the first required diagnostic resulting from your program, and then MAY itself cause demons to fly from your nose (which, by the way, could well BE the documented diagnostic message)

concisely and accurately describing the (lack of) specification in the C standard about what constitutes a diagnostic message. I like the mental image of turning over a page in a compiler manual and discovering a sentence like "in the event that the compiler detects a syntactic or semantic error, you will be notified by means of a demon flying out of your nose."

Sunday, 29 September 2002

# 2:50 PM

c99 section 6.5 paragraph 7 rears its controversial head again

It happens about once a year. Some programmer discovers that their code has been "mis-optimized" by GCC, files a bug report, and we point out that it doesn't obey the rules in the above-mentioned section of the C standard. Thus GCC is allowed to do whatever it pleases to their code, up to and including replacing it with an invocation to make demons fly out of your nose (when executed, not at compile time). They come back with "but it's obvious what this code is intended to do, you should get it right anyway!" and the thread degenerates into name-calling and references to the Halting Problem.

The 1999 instance of this argument is particularly long, painful, and has Richard Stallman in it; but thankfully I seem to have stayed out of it. Alas, not so this year.

The "demons fly out of your nose" quip is due to John Woods, who also invented a line which I had on a button on my backpack for a long time:

SCSI is NOT magic. There are fundamental technical reasons why you have to sacrifice a young goat to your SCSI chain every now and then.

The button had no attribution. I'd just like to say thank you, John.

# 1:50 AM

Because I'm tired and procrastinating... let's have a tinfoil hat joke, from Warehouse 23:

you open one of the 1008 boxes on this floor and find...

A set of one dozen MIB-grade tinfoil hat-liners with complete instructions on their construction and use to prevent the effects of mind-control rays. They would work, but are now of merely historical interest, as the mind control system has since been upgraded and will bypass protection of this nature.

In the other random thoughts department, a number of new apartment buildings around here have this nifty racked storage system for cars. It's basically two fixed platforms on a hydraulic lift, which can rise or fall to bring either platform to the level of the garage floor. This lets them get twice as many cars into the floorspace. But to do it, they have to dig a pit under the platforms, to give the lift somewhere to go. There's space for another row of cars there, but it can't be used.

How would your friendly local mad scientist fit more cars into this space? Consider the humble fifteen puzzle. Any of the tiles can be brought to the lower right-hand corner. Now imagine that you have a parking garage laid out like this. Instead of tiles, you have motorized platforms with cars on them. To get a car out of this garage, you rearrange the platforms until the one you want is adjacent to the entrance, then drive the car away. To put it back, rearrange the platforms until an empty one is at the entrance, then drive the car on.

There's no reason to restrict this system to two dimensions; the platforms could easily be stacked to fill whatever space is available. It can store as many cars as could theoretically be crammed into the space, less one for the required empty cell. (Assuming of course that all cars are the same size, but this assumption is shared by the original system I described.)

Wednesday, 25 September 2002

# 10 PM

The FSF has released a lengthy FAQ on why, in their opinion, one should speak of "GNU/Linux" instead of just "Linux."

I don't wish to address that issue, but I do want to respond to one of their questions:

"Why not just say "Linux is the GNU kernel" and release some existing version of GNU/Linux under the name "GNU"?"

It might have been a good idea to adopt Linux as the GNU kernel back in 1992. If we had realized, then, how long it would take to get the GNU Hurd to work, we might have done that. (Alas, that is hindsight.) Today, with the GNU Hurd working, it would not make sense to do this. We don't want to release a GNU/Linux system as "GNU", because we are getting ready to package and release the real GNU system.

There is another reason why we don't want to take some existing version of GNU/Linux and relabel it as "GNU": that would be somewhat like making a version the GNU system and labeling it "Linux".

I take issue with the description of the Hurd as a working kernel. It's never going to be efficient, nor has adequate attention been paid to security; features have been thrown in for no good reason; all the interesting things that the Hurd claimed to make possible are also possible with the Linux kernel. It is my personal opinion that the Hurd should be scrapped immediately, and the resources currently devoted to its development redirected to work on Linux or EROS. The latter is an interesting experimental kernel, which genuinely does have capabilities (no pun intended) that Linux lacks; further, serious attention has been paid to elegance, efficiency, and security.

# 9:15 PM

more politics

Very interesting two-part article in the Sierra Times: "Dis-Mything 9-11: Is The USA PATRIOT Act Patriotic?" (part 1, part 2). I smell kookery in both the article and the Sierra Times generally. For instance, Mr. White refers to a "hard money clause" of the Constitution, which he implies made the 1933 Act abolishing the gold standard unconstitutional. There is a sentence in the Constitution which could be described as a hard money clause (in article I, section 10, paragraph 1) but it does not make that Act unconstitutional. It is a restriction on the powers of the individual states, not of Congress; it's clearly intended to ensure that the states do not issue their own currencies (as they did under the Articles of Confederation).

A few paragraphs before that, in section 8, Congress is given unrestricted power to "coin money and regulate the value thereof," without any mention of what material the coin must be made of, or what if anything its value must be backed by. There is no justification for an assertion that the Constitution requires a hard currency.

However, that's a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent pair of articles. Mr. White is correct to object to legislation passed without due consideration, and to the PATRIOT Act specifically. I would like to encourage all my readers who are resident in the USA to sign the online petition for its repeal.

Another good article is in this week's SF Weekly: Matt Smith reports on a professional architect's conclusions about the most effective ways to respond to the destruction of the World Trad Center. Apparently simple and cheap-to-implement changes to the fire codes could ensure that skyscrapers can be evacuated safely in the event of another such disaster.


Also in this week's SF Weekly is a review of Das Experiment, a German movie based on the 1971 Stanford prison experiment. It sounds well worth seeing.

In last week's SF Weekly there was a feature article on why the Bay Area has stopped producing big-time rock bands. I especially want to call your attention to the segment beginning on page two, "This Band Should Be Your Life," profiling the Pattern. This is a new, happening band that deserves more attention. I've downloaded their MP3s and I like what I hear. They're playing Slim's in San Francisco on October 7th; I think I'll go.

from the out-of-total-left-field dept.

I'm walking home today and some guy buttonholes me and asks where he can score some pot. What I wanna know is, where did he get the idea that clean-shaven T-shirt-and-jeans white-boy me knows where to score pot? Maybe it's the ponytail.

# 3:20 PM


It's not a good thing when updating your weblog becomes one of the things that you avoid doing because you're already ages behind on it. So I'm just going to throw out a bunch of random things that come to mind and we'll call it caught up, okay?

duct tape

This weekend I bought more stackable CD racks because I was out of space, only to discover that the Crate&Barrel and IKEA brands are incompatible. (I would link to pictures of each, but just try to find a specific product in either store's online catalog.) Duct tape and coat hanger wire to the rescue! I bent a coat hanger into an adapter between the two kinds of stacker tab, and duct-taped all the joints together so it wouldn't fall apart. It does want to tip over, but that's okay, it's up against the wall.

mad linkage

The reply brief for the petitioners in the Eldred v. Ashcroft case is well worth reading. Free the Mouse!

Speaking of which, BumperActive is a pretty cool thing in its own right. As are Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour and Junction City. I bet the tour would be right up the SF Mime Troupe's alley; perhaps I'll try to hook them up.

As long as I'm on the subject of politics, Anna has a fascinating discourse on Socialism and Peter Maass has a number of interesting comments on the Iraq juggernaut. And I think it's high time I added Avedon Carol to the links on the right.

It turns out that Lore Fitzgerald Sjöberg lives in Berkeley and patronizes Cafe Elodie, which is also one of my favorite downtown cafes. He also has a "mysterious letter" of advice for web-log-writers, which is worth reading. I am not sure I measure up. And finally, he proposes the glossing links concept, which is nifty, and I may decide to play with it. The link density on this page is arguably too high.


Rael has a new version of Blosxom out. I'm not sure I will upgrade. I've already heavily customized this version, and he seems to be taking it in a different direction from me, anyway. (Can someone explain to me what RSS is for and why I should care, please?)

A more interesting possibility: an anonymous correspondent sent me a reference to a comment add-on for Blosxom. This is something I'd really like to have, except that it doesn't seem to work on that guy's site, which means I'd probably have to do a bunch of debugging, which I do not have time for right now.

Movable Type's standalone trackback utility is also interesting, although perhaps I should just switch to Movable Type...

babylonian mythology was never so bishonen

Utukki is being updated again.

Wednesday, 18 September 2002

# 6:15 PM

continuing saga of the car radio

Several different places which actually sell car radios have now told me that no, they don't sell adapter cables for Radio Shack radios, and have I tried Radio Shack?

Monday, 16 September 2002

# 1:30 PM

We crammed all of Dara's stuff into my car, and she drove off to Stanford. I have to stay here and work.

# 3:05 AM

Just now back from Woodminster. You don't normally think of the Continental Congress as a bunch of cranky middle-aged men, but such was the (historically accurate!) depiction. The libretto and the story it told were both excellent. The music and singing were not as good, but acceptable for a low-key production like this one.

Bed now.

Sunday, 15 September 2002

# 7 PM

Decided to try to replace the radio in my car, with Dara's help. (The amplifier is kaput.) I've had a replacement sitting in my closet for months. We got the old radio out of the dash with no real trouble. Then we discovered that the cables between the radio and the rest of the car are not standardized. So I spent the past hour chasing around town looking for an appropriate adapter. The replacement was made by Radio Shack and their website claims that they have adapters for most car models, but the local store told me smugly that the chain no longer carries any car-radio-related anything. (I got the replacement at a swap meet.) All other potential sources are either closed because it's Sunday or closed for renovations. Feh.

# 5:40 PM

Dara's come back from Los Angeles; I picked her up at the airport. Tonight we're going to go see 1776 (the musical) at Woodminster.

Saturday, 14 September 2002

# 2:10 AM

Went to see Garmarna at the Freight and Salvage with friends. Garmarna are described as a "Swedish contemporary folk fusion ensemble" in the Freight and Salvage's calendar flyer. I'm not sure what they mean by "fusion," but if you're into Swedish traditional folk tunes done with rock'n'roll stylings on violins, and/or a hurdy gurdy being made to do things more conventionally associated with electric guitars, Garmarna is the band for you. Me, I thought it kicked ass.

Thursday, 12 September 2002

# 4:25 PM

Why Socialists Don't Believe in Fun, by George Orwell: a look at why utopias aren't usually places one would want to live. Worth reading.

Wednesday, 11 September 2002

# 3:25 PM

Here we are one year after terrorists crashed planes into New York City and Washington DC. There's a lot of sound and fury in the media right now; I won't be looking at any of it. Sound and fury, as the man said, signifies nothing.

There are, however, a number of thoughtful, constructive observations that various people are making, which I encourage you all to go read:

  1. Patrick Nielsen Hayden's observation that all grief is local.
  2. And Teresa's expression of what it's like to be a New Yorker after the event. I used to live there; I've been in that subway station; I know how she feels. (Haven't been back since. Something to be remedied.)
  3. Moving from the personal to the political, the Christian Science Monitor has a special report in four articles, asking the question Is America the "good guy"?
  4. Joshua Marshall had an excellent piece in the Washington Monthly back in June, examining the plans to attack Iraq and the political figures behind both sides.
  5. Once again you should read the proclamation of Enough Day.

Now I'm going to get up on my soapbox: I want every one of you who reads this to go out today and create something new. It can be anything; I'm not picky. Pick up that hammer, or that pen, or whatever tool you feel most comfortable with; do it with your bare hands even. Put something into the world that wasn't there before, something bright and beautiful. Do it because you can, do it to show the world that even in the face of such catastrophe you will not be broken. And when you've done it, don't hide it away; show your friends what you have done, and make them create something too.

We did. Now it's your turn.

Saturday, 7 September 2002

# 3:05 PM

Note to self: do not make pancakes with rice flour in future.

# 12:25 AM

It's mildly entertaining to read through the lists of bugs I've submitted to Debian. There's still-unfixed (minor) bugs more than four years old in there...

Friday, 6 September 2002

# 7:45 PM

Enough Day.

A-fucking-men, and right on, and well said, and all that good stuff.

# 7:40 PM

There's a nifty interview with Larry Wall on Slashdot today. I'm pleasantly surprised to discover that he is familar with the Liavek stories.

# 2:40 AM

self-reference for fun and profit

When people come to your webpage because it showed up in an Google search listing, the referer URL says what they searched for. Here's some things that people searched for and wound up here:

"Joel Rosenberg" jeweler
"Shadowrun spells"
"black people in brazil"
"lightning damage" car
"persistence of vision" led
"segmentation fault" kazaa
"spider" "noe venable"
"steam" + "inject" + "wash" + "machine"
BATHtub overflow rust repair
Bayesian spam outlook
Cast iron steam radiator rebuild
Crap Assert perl Linux
EMP Seattle slick technology
Luther Wright and the Wrongs' Rebuild the Wall: Part 1 mp3
Noe Venable
Shadowrun "object resistance"
Shadowrun Adepts
Trurl's Machine
anbaric -pullman
ankh mushrooms
band logo fonts ramones
bayesian filter spam outlook
beanbag pellets
blosxom and style head
blosxom download
cinder blocks from home depot
closet organizer with permanent wall board
conor quinn linguistics
convex ass
convex shelves

customer reviews on Ikea kitchen cabinets
cvs "is in the way" bug
denver the city of shadows review shadowrun
diablo 2 hacks grandfather sword
dreamwalking technique
elder futhark
electric samovar parts
fast beverage immersion heater
form filed scroll css style
free trail download resize partition
furniture foam padding florida
include "check-in comments" source code
induction furnace+tesla coil
inpassing.org weblog
judis teixeira
linguistics Protos
nightclub set stage
persistence of vision color LED
qmtest archives
rpccore backend client
saint elmo fire healing
shadowrun 3 magician's way adept
soldering formulae tin
steam-heat pointer MP3 download
unclog shower drain
vacuum cleaner burning smell
zack blog
zack weinberg

Also, someone is reading this page in Italian. I don't speak that language well enough to guess how good the (machine) translation is, alas. Interestingly, it stops translating about three-quarters of the way down the page.

Thursday, 5 September 2002

# 10:45 PM

This post by John Trussell is highly amusing.

Somewhere in America, a rock band is missing an opportunity, because frozenvermin.com is available. The only question is where to put the umlauts. (My suggestion: over the "o" and the "i".)

# 12:40 PM

I dreamed a fairy tale last night. Rather than recount it as I saw it, I think I'll tell the tale the way it would be told in a book:

once upon a time...

there was a monastery, and in that monastery there was a young monk. Next to the monastery was an apple orchard. In the apple orchard lived a farmer, his wife, and their son. The monk and the son were great friends. But what the monk didn't know was that all three of that family were secretly man-eating giants.

One day all the monks were to go on a pilgrimage. Our hero made an error calculating the supplies that would be needed. When the abbot found out, he was furious, and he forbade the monk to come on the pilgrimage with the rest of them. He had to stay behind and copy books in the scriptorium.

The apple farmer saw all the monks leave, so he snuck into the monastery to steal a pig (when you're secretly a man-eating giant, you take what you can find). He found the monk asleep on his lectern. He decided to steal the monk and eat him instead. But when he brought the monk home, his son protested: "That's my friend, we can't eat him!" So instead they let him wake up, and traded him some of their magic apple cider for a pig.

What the monk did with the magic cider ... is another story.1

Sunday, 1 September 2002

# 1:25 PM

Maersk Sealand, a huge shipping conglomerate, has put online all their schedules and rates; you can book yourself a cargo shipment from just about anywhere to anywhere else. Well, you can if you know what you're doing. I tried to get a rate quote out of them and was faced with questions like "Do any Shippers Export Declarations apply? Choose [none] [1] [2] ... [10]" with no explanation of what Shippers Export Declarations 1 through 10 might be, but a strong implication that answering incorrectly could get you in legal trouble.

Sending a single 20-foot container from the USA to Hong Kong will run you about $3000. Sending more appears to be an additional $2000 per container, but I could have gotten confused.