30 Aug 2007

Language in song

During Spring Break of 2003—my last at Brown—I went on a road trip to Québec with my friend Theresa. It was a great trip, but I remember being disappointed in one respect: she vetoed playing French stations on the radio, which I had actually sort of looked forward to. It might be a false feeling, but I like listening to audiostreams in other languages, even ones I don't speak well or at all, because I like the feeling of immersing myself in a different culture. (When I lived in Providence, I would occasionally switch the TV to RTP for the same reason.) If it's in music, it's even better, because you get all that feeling of foreignness while also getting some perfectly good music. Theresa didn't like not being able to understand the lyrics.

This was brought to mind just a few minutes ago when "Honey honey" started playing on my iTunes shuffle—in Swedish. Now, I don't speak a word of Swedish, and that song is even available in English, but somehow I like the foreign version better. Indeed, I have an awful lot of foreign-language stuff in my catalogue, probably more than most, including quite a few languages I don't speak at all.

Which inspired me to write a blog post listing all the languages represented in my iTunes library. :) Here they are, in approximately ascending order of frequency:

  1. Maori
  2. Catalan
  3. Kreyol
  4. Bulgarian
  5. Arabic (Maghreb)
  6. Romanian
  7. Welsh
  8. Hebrew
  9. Swedish
  10. Norwegian
  11. Hindi (?)
  12. One or more from sub-Saharan Africa
  13. Portuguese
  14. Irish
  15. Hawaiian
  16. German
  17. Italian
  18. Yiddish
  19. French
  20. Latin
  21. Spanish
  22. English
Oddly enough, only the first five are singletons. Conspicuous in its absence is the entirety of east and southeast Asia; I certainly have Europe and the Western Hemisphere covered, and at least a scattering from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Actually, it's also a little weird that there's no Russian or Greek. I think I'll have to remedy that. :)

On the Iowa straw poll: "It's an election with no Democrats, in one of the whitest states in the Union, where rich candidates pay you $35 for your vote. Or as the Republicans call it, 'our vision for the future'." --Jon Stewart

Posted by blahedo at 7:19pm | Comments (0)

28 Aug 2007

Ummm... bitte?

This is so gratuitous, and so Apple. I just filled out a survey about my recent AppleCare call, and after I clicked submit, I was presented with the following page:

[Thank you in a dozen languages]

It is, in case you can't tell, a massive (and abused) HTML table with "Thanks" written in a dozen languages.* Of course, the AppleCare call was to their US line, the call was conducted in English, the followup survey was in English, and they certainly know that I'm an English speaker that lives in the US. SO VERY Apple.

*English, French, Spanish, Italian, two different Germans (or maybe "Bedankt" is also Dutch?), Russian, Japanese, I'm guessing Finnish, and three that are evidently related to each other but I don't know what they are.

"The breakthrough idea that seals my allegience to Christ is that goodness may pour out abundantly even from a chalice of wickedness, and so it is in forgiving the wicked that we cultivate what good is to be found, for great good and great evil often mingle inextricably in the same vessel." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 12:24am | Comments (1)

26 Aug 2007


I recently replayed Curses, an interactive fiction offering from 1993 which I'd played back in the mid-90s (although I'm not sure how far I got then—I didn't finish it).

"Interactive fiction" is the name of a whole genre of... works... that was inaugurated in the mid-70s as text adventure games. ADVENT was perhaps not the first, but certainly the first to gain notoriety. Zork became even better known, especially after being split into three parts (to fit micro-PCs of the time) and released by the new company Infocom.

The thing about one of these games is that there are no graphics. Thus, much like reading a book, you are free to establish your own images for how things look, and sound, and everything else. Unlike a book, if there is a piece of the world that catches your interest, you can investigate it further, and there's at least some chance that the program will respond. Other than the very earliest versions of ADVENT, which focussed a great deal on describing one corner of the Mammoth Cave complex in Kentucky, the early games were very much puzzle-driven. Whatever the cover story, the real reason you were there was to solve a whole bunch of puzzles, one after the other, and when you solved the last one you were done. As time went on, the Infocom offerings started becoming much more like a new form of literature, with clear plots and characters, although they never threw off the puzzle paradigm entirely.

Infocom had basically faded from the scene by the end of the 1980s, so when Graham Nelson wrote Curses in 1993 (well, he released it then—he'd been writing it for a while), it was very much following in their tradition. Indeed, he wrote his game in a format that could be run by the same bytecode runtimes that ran the old Infocom games (and to do that, in a rather Knuthian move he first had to write a compiler to compile to that bytecode format, and a programming language for it to compile—known as Inform, it's still in use today).

So, enough history. What about the game?

Well, for starters, it's really really hard. Funny! And extremely erudite. But hard. Which is more than a little frustrating, although of course it makes it all the more rewarding when you can solve the puzzles yourself. I won't lie, I needed quite a bit of help from the walkthrough—I wish it had been in an Invisiclues format, because a few puzzles got spoiled by accident that way—but I also got rather a lot of it on my own. There was a mix of answers that I whacked my head over—I should've gotten that; answers that I was glad I eventually looked up, because the puzzle was one I just never would've gotten; and a few that I felt a little betrayed over because even after seeing the solution I didn't think it was a fair puzzle.

But honestly, I think the game's biggest fault, using the author's own terminology, is that it gives the appearance of being extremely "wide" while actually being relatively "narrow". At one point in the middle of the game (when I'd acquired 195 of 550 points), I identified 28 different puzzles that I had found out about and hadn't solved yet. Of those, two were red herrings, one was a plot device, two pairs solved each other (what is X for?/how do I Y?), but the remainder were really puzzles to figure out. The problem was, most of them simply couldn't be solved at that point, because they were waiting on some other thing to happen first. Some of the things they were waiting on were things I hadn't even identified as puzzles. If there really were 28 different things I could be working on, that'd just be a very "wide" game. But while there seemed like that many, there were actually only five or six things I had the tools to solve then; I just didn't know which ones they were.

Related to that complaint is that the game was unpredictably unforgiving. Better not enter area X yet, because you'll only be able to enter it once, and you don't yet have all the keys to all the puzzles inside. How do you know when you're ready to tackle X? Hell if I know. You just go through, try to solve everything, see if there are any obvious loose ends—and hope you're seeing any loose ends that are there—and if there are, try to solve them or restore to before you entered the area, planning to try again later. There is one in-game mechanism that makes it somewhat forgiving (by letting you return to some areas later), but in order to discover it you have to pay attention to one paragraph very very early in the game, make note of an "action" (if you can call it that) done to one object, and then a few hundred turns later perform the same action on a not-obviously-related object. Or, just read the walkthrough. Even aside from that, though, knowing that there are three areas you can cross into, each irreversible, and they have to be done in a certain order but you can't know what it is... that's just discouraging.

And yet, and yet. You just can't put this game down, because the clever prose and the cleverer responses are worth it. The other has a very dry, very English sense of humour, and throws in classical references like parade candy. There is one throwaway item that you can use that has no real significance but let him throw in the phrase "alea iacta est" in context. And some of the puzzles just need the right background: on at least three occasions, I'd solved a puzzle fairly quickly and easily (though not always without work), only to run across its solution later on in the walkthrough with some apologetic remark about how hard it was and explaining the "tortured" reasoning one might use to get there. Not so! Of course, requiring significant outside knowledge is a bit of a sin for these games usually, and I feel that the very very last puzzle in the game is either dead easy or totally unfair (for me, the former). But solving one of those? It's like being in on a very elabourate in-joke, which always gives a bit of a buzz.

And of course we need to place the work in context. The early 90s were looking to be a dark age for interactive fiction, with Infocom out of the picture and very few people producing any new IF, with much of the output leaning heavily on the puzzle-puzzle-puzzle model. Curses broke that, reviving the best of the Infocom style, and boasting an improved parser and framework that—if imperfectly—reduced the amount of time you'd have to spend playing "guess the verb" or otherwise trying to express your idea in a way the game could understand. It, and Inform, set the stage for an IF renaissance that continues today.

I can't leave this without listing out some of the bugs I found in the game (more or less spoiler-free in case anyone plans to play it):

  • On the ship, there is a flag hanging from a flagpole. In the description, it is described as an ensign; but ENSIGN is taken as a synonym for the flagpole, rather than the flag. This makes the puzzle basically insoluble.
  • In the dream about the octagonal room, if you type WAKE the response is the standard "The dreadful truth is, this is not a dream." Of course, it is a dream, and solving this puzzle requires you to realise this.
  • Perhaps not a bug, but the map of Hamburg claims to have a marked grid. The thing to look up? Looks nothing like grid coordinates.
  • After you have safely sprung the oubliette trap, you can take the stone and the "wedged" message remains.
  • The Rod of Infinity answers to the names FEATURELESS and MAHOGANY even after being identified. This requires a bit of creativity in identifying future rods.
  • In the Lawn Ornaments area, if you go some direction other than east or west, it responds that "there are paths only west and northwest". Oops!

"I can walk into a Christian church and evoke a plethora of symbols that help lead people to compassion. The vast majority of people might suck at loving their enemies and forgiving those who tresspass against them, but at least the words are there to plant the seed of the idea. Whereas I walk into a UU church, and their secular symbols focus entirely on "justice," rewarding the innocent and condemning the guilty." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 11:31pm | Comments (4)

25 Aug 2007

Once again a Sun keyboard, at last!

Alllllmost. When I started out at Brown, the standard computer in use throughout the CS department was the Sun Ultra, with a good old-fashioned Sun keyboard. Some of the keys were in a slightly different location relative to the better-known PC layouts, and as I thought about it, I noticed that it was a lot better. The escape key was immediately to the left of the 1, which made it less of a stretch—and as a vi user that used it all the time, that was a big improvement. The control key was immediately to the left of the A, and again, for users of anything other than a Mac, the Control key is likely to get considerably more use than the caps lock (which is what is in that location on virtually all Mac and PC keyboards, and even Sun has come over to the dark side on this one). And the backspace key was immediately above the enter key, again bringing a more commonly-used key closer than a less-used one (in this case the backslash).

When we migrated to Linux, we got PC keyboards, which I promptly remapped to be like the old Sun keyboards, which were laid out better. Unfortunately, where the Suns had two keys (backquote and backslash), PC keyboards have a single, long backspace key. So the backquote key (and its shifted version, tilde) had to be dealt with—I stuck them on shift-Tab and shift-Esc respectively (which actually put the tilde back where the keyboard has it marked). It wasn't my Sun keyboard, but it was a reasonable facsimile thereof.

I had a problem when I tried to do the same thing on my Mac, though. My remappings involved three different kinds of keys—normal, special, and modifier—and no single remapping tool could deal with all three. On the Linux boxen I had just rebound the keys using xmodmap, a classic X tool, and this was able to handle most of it: but only for X apps, and it couldn't do caps lock. Indeed, caps lock was a special problem, because for a long time, Mac keyboards treated that key differently at the hardware level, with keypresses sending KeyDown and KeyUp events alternately, rather than both for each keypress. I tried a tool called uControl to remap caps lock, and I can't remember if it ever worked, but I know it eventually had problems with lapsing into locked control keys, so I had to abandon it.

Just a few weeks ago I was poking around in the Control Panels, and discovered that 10.4 introduced a new feature in the Keyboard panel: it lets me remap modifier keys at the OS level. So now I have my beloved ergonomic control key!

And that inspired me to go hunting for apps to remap the other keys. It'd been a long time and several OS upgrades since I'd last done so, and it was quite possible that what had been impossible was now possible. Just so! I found a little app called Ukelele (Unicode Keyboard Layout Editor), which can't handle modifiers but can handle both normal and special keys. Specifically, it lets me create a keylayout file, just like all the national keyboard layouts available in the International menu, which theoretically all apps should obey.

In practice, some apps, including a few of Apple's, trap for things like delete at a lower level than they're supposed to, and so the remapping isn't 100% successful. It's asymmetric, though: the keyboard's delete key, which I've remapped to backslash (and pipe), is sometimes trapped as delete. However, the keyboard's backslash key, which I've remapped to delete, is also caught as a delete. The backquote and tilde remapping seem to work everywhere. What that means is, in a behaving application, I get my remapping, and in a misbehaving app, I can't access backslash or pipe. Happily, I only ever type those when I'm coding, which I do inside X11, which behaves. And my better backspace key works everywhere afaict.

Are you a Sun keyboard aficionado who uses Macs? This file should work under any system version since 10.2; just put it inside ~/Library/Keyboard Layouts, and log out and log in again. You should then be able to access it (as "SunLike US") from the Input Menu tab of the International control panel (you'll want to also select the "Use one input source for all documents" radio button).

In my investigating I also ran across an interface for rebinding Control-key combinations to input field actions that are supposed to be universal across all Mac apps, just by making a DefaultKeyBinding.dict file—so I might actually be able to get even more Unixy functionality up and running soon. Woo!

"What makes such briefings disappointing is partly that they often run on far too long and are full of words like 'dread' and 'imbue', and either take themselves very seriously or, which is worse, don't." --Graham Nelson

Posted by blahedo at 9:37pm | Comments (0)

18 Aug 2007


Just saw 300, the violent action movie about the white guys dying to protect their freedom from the brown people, who hate freedom.

Whoops, I seem to be telegraphing my conclusions in advance. Let me back up.

The premise of the show is that Persia is expanding its sphere of influence, and the god-king Xerxes is currently trying to take Sparta and the rest of Greece. Leonidas, the king of Sparta, wants to bring out the army and go fight, but a contingent of the council doesn't want him to go (because the inbred, lecherous priests told them that the gods did not want them to, though it turns out they were corrupt and in the pay of the Persians). Since the threat of the Persians was obvious, Leonidas flouted the law and brought 300 of the best warriors out to battle—and it's a good thing he disregarded the law, because the very freedom that Sparta so valued was at stake. Despite the lack of support from home, and the active work of traitors in the council to degrade their sacrifices, these 300 fight against incredible odds and hold off an enormous army many times their size. The sacrifices of the fallen were not in vain, because in the end the traitors in the Council were exposed, and Sparta was able to send its whole army, and behind them the other free cities of Greece, to defend against the Persian threat. The movie is based on a graphic novel, which is itself very loosely based on the historical battle of Thermopylae.

I'll certainly say this for the movie: the cinematography was very skillful and considered. It gave it a thoroughly surreal look, although on occasion the matte work was poor, moving from "comic book" into "sloppy matte lines". Considering that the aim was a film version of a graphic novel, they were rather successful, and the overuse of the bullet-time effect can, in this instance, be forgiven.

I also have naught but praise for any scene involving Lena Headey, playing Queen Gorgo, the wife of Leonidas. She plays one of the strongest female characters to grace the screen in recent years, and does so without straying into the trap of "strong woman" meaning something like "unemotional" or "manly".

Ok, that's pretty much it for good things I have to say.

This was really an awful movie. Its least unsuccessful aspect was on the surface level, where it was a hack-n-slash action movie. Though not gory in the "intestines spilling out" sense, there is an abundance of sword-and-spear violence, with limbs flying and blood spraying everywhere. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing, although the heat of battle scenes follow the current vogue of cutting the shots so quickly that you can't actually see anything.

On the next level, it's irritating because of the way it glorifies everything about Sparta; the discarding of defective babies was perhaps an incidental point, but there is almost a wistful nostalgia for the raising of kids to fight from the time they can walk, and actively training them to beat each other up from the age of seven. The movie is unabashedly positive about the "with your shield or on it" admonition. The Spartans gave no quarter, and it was even set up as a comic moment when one asks why they can't be civil in a diplomatic meeting with the opponent even as another is plunging his spear into a wounded enemy after the battle. I certainly don't dispute the historicity of these things; but that doesn't make them practices to be put on a pedestal.

Especially when the nation-state practicing them is so clearly meant to be identified with us. By far the most disturbing part of the movie was its transparent allegory, defending those who flout the law and go to war, and linking this with rhetoric about dying to defend freedom and other deep-seated elements of the American national mythos. When Leonidas decides to assemble a tiny army, in contravention of the law, we root for him and against the law, because clearly he's just trying to defend his nation against this grave, imminent threat from Persia. Why are they fighting with a force so inadequate to the threat? Oh, because of traitors to the city of Sparta that have prevented the full military might of the nation from being deployed, but those few are willing to face near-certain death to fight for their liberty.

There was even an "I'm proud of his sacrifice, but I never told him I loved him" moment.

And where the propaganda veers from disturbing into downright offensive is when you notice that not only are all the good guys white (which makes sense, since they're all Greek, although they're perhaps a smidge more northern- and western-European white than most Greeks) but that every single bad guy, other than the traitorous Greeks, is brown or black—you know, what you'd call "Muslim-looking", if you were one of those people that thinks that "Muslim-looking" would mean something. Nevermind that Persia itself as well as most of the lands they controlled were occupied by peoples who would look "white" to us and indeed, in some cases, lighter-skinned than Greeks! No, Xerxes's army was not cast to look like Persians and Persian subjects, but rather to tap into a racist idea of a scary other.

So basically, 300 struck me primarily as a violent, bloody piece of pro-war propaganda. It pays lip service to virtues we approve of and appeals to more base emotions like revenge and fear of the other, in an apologia for militaristic leaders who live outside the rule of law.

"The secret of success in designing the backdrop is originality: once you can imitate that, all else will follow." --Graham Nelson

Posted by blahedo at 12:57am | Comments (2)

17 Aug 2007

Initial reviews of 4th-gen iMac

[a new iMac]And now I'm also the owner of a brand-spanking-new iMac of the new generation just announced and released last week. The monitor has a 24" diagonal, which is absolutely immense. The computer arrived yesterday, and I spent four hours moving stuff over from my desktop machine at work, so that when I first logged in it had successfully migrated all my old settings without a lot of tedious setup.

Actually, you know what? I'm not even sure how it did that. Because among the files that were transferred were a whole bunch of Fink-installed files, which are not in Mac's .app format and were compiled for the old system, which was a PowerPC G5. This one is a new Intel-based Mac. And yet, they work. Now, I know that Rosetta is supposed to let me run old PPC apps more or less seamlessly, but I didn't think that the OS support for legacy code ran quite so deep.

It looks pretty slick; Apple's aesthetic sense triumphs again. It's also noticeably faster at a lot of things. But I have mixed or negative feelings about most of the things that work differently:

  • The keyboard. Honestly, this change is sexier than the change on the main box; it is wafer-thin and somewhat lighter than the previous model, though not so light that it would lack heft. The keys have a rather different feel when it comes to touch-typing, but I'm already adapting to that. My complaint as regards the keyboard has to do with the function key row. Now, in Jobs's presentation he made a big deal about things like brightness controls and sound being right there in the function key row, as if this were a new thing. But I already had those—brightness on my laptop, and volume on both the laptop and the desktop model. But, and this is completely obnoxious, the volume controls are attached to different keys on all three. Apple needs to MAKE UP THEIR GOD DAMN MIND about where they're going to put these keys, and stop moving everything around. The keys for things like Dashboard and Exposé are also, I think, different from where they used to be by default. What makes this all doubly problematic is that afaict the "special functions" (brightness, dashboard, expose, rewind/pause/forward, and volume) are active on some sort of hardware level, with a "fn" key you can hold down to make the F-keys be simple F-keys again. Which, if true, would mean that I can't even rebind them to match what I'm used to. I'm also not sure the physical key caps can be removed and rearranged as they could on earlier models.
  • The monitor. It's very big. That's kind of cool, although I'm finding I need to sit a little further away from it not to be overwhelmed. The problem is, it's really bright. There's a brightness button, but it just spans the range from "painfully bright" to "blindingly bright"—"dim" is simply not an option. I haven't even used the computer that much yet and I'm getting eyestrain from it. This is, as you might imagine, a problem.
  • iPhoto. In the Jobs presentation, I think one of the more exciting things was all the really nice changes they made to iPhoto. The problem is, every time I try to load it up, it tells me I need to upgrade my library before I can use any of my existing photos, but then it utterly hangs less than a minute into this process (which claims it should take about fifteen). Lame.
  • Desktops. In particular, VirtualDesktop, a piece of software I've relied on for many years to manage limited screen real estate. Unfortunately, for some reason, it doesn't appear to work on the new machine. It loads, and its dialogs and preferences seem ok, but it doesn't actually do any of its desktopping. It's awful; even though my onscreen pixel count has gone way up, if I'm not able to keep at least a few virtual extra screens out there, I've lost real estate overall. Lame.

I have a support email out on the last problem and will be calling Apple tomorrow or Monday about the iPhoto thing. The others, though, seem a bit more intrinsic.

"Looking back at the early microcomputers is like looking at the fossils in ancient shale, before evolution took out three quarters of the species, some of them weirder than anything living today." --Graham Nelson

Posted by blahedo at 7:53pm | Comments (3)

14 Aug 2007

Mmm, subversive

I now own one of these:

But that's not the interesting thing. What's interesting is how delightfully subversive someone at Apple is. On the packaging for their flagship music-and-video device, Apple has placed a picture of a pirate. Who gets away with everything. And is grinning at the camera. And this has been the case for quite some time—someone must have noticed, so presumably they don't care.

Piracy and iPods: two great tastes that taste great together!

"My biggest concern in the 107th Congress is that Bill Clinton will be with my wife in the Senate spouses club." --Sen. Gordon Smith, R-OR

Posted by blahedo at 12:25pm | Comments (0)

11 Aug 2007

More TV

I've found a new show that perfectly fills a niche: when I really want to just sit down and watch TV for a little bit, and want to be sure there's something on the Tivo waiting. It's called Cash Cab.

The premise is, there's this Manhattan cabbie who will give you an opportunity, instead of riding quietly and paying at your destination, to answer trivia questions and get paid for them. The catch? If you get more than three wrong, you immediately get kicked out and have to catch another cab.

It's a great little half-hour show. The questions aren't extremely hard, but they're enough to keep you thinking, and there definitely are some people who get three strikes. But there's a really authentic feel: these folks aren't particularly prepped for a game show, they're just New Yorkers getting around their city and sprung with a surprise game show appearance.

Coming twice daily to a Tivo near you!

"I believe it is against my religion to impose my religion on others." --John Ashcroft

Posted by blahedo at 10:34pm | Comments (0)

10 Aug 2007

Hey google, are you listening?

What someone needs to write is a search engine that can search on basic melodies. Even short ones. Optionally with lyrics.

A little while ago, I somehow managed to get stuck in my head a little six-note riff. I couldn't place it, I couldn't have said what lyrics came before it, and actually, I mostly just wanted to know what the first word of the line was. The part I knew was: "___ is better than good." I could tell you the melody, in solfege: Sol mi fa mi re do. And the rhythm, in takadimi: Ta, mi ta ka di, ta. I could even hear the voice of the person singing it: a kind of brassy mid-range female voice. But try searching for any of that!

The lyric was the only searchable thing I had to go on. It turned up? Nothing. Then, I had a sudden brainstorm: this line was from one of the songs in "Into the woods". Aha! Should be easy now.

Except, still nothing, even with my mad google skillz. I was by this point quite certain that's where it was from, but nothing seemed to be turning up. Reflecting on the show also gave me the identity of the singer: this line, at least, was sung by Red Riding Hood.

Fortunately, I knew enough lines from other ITW songs that I was able to rustle up an ITW lyrics site. And reading through several, I finally happened on the line, and I immediately knew it was the line I was looking for, answering two questions: what was the damn word, and why was google not turning this up? The word: "nice". Why wasn't google turning it up? Because nice isn't better than good... just different.

And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.


"Nobody likes us independents. All we do is swing elections." --Jack Mabley

Posted by blahedo at 5:54pm | Comments (1)

9 Aug 2007

#*@&!%@ Annoia

We've all managed to get, say, a roll of tinfoil to pop up its lid and make the drawer hard to open. It's obnoxious, but you either force it or reach in and pop the lid down, and you're fine.

Well, I have a copper funnel, which happens to be just the height of the utensil drawer I keep it in. What I didn't notice when I set it in the drawer was that the back rim was resting on something, so that when I closed the drawer the narrow part of the funnel was just taller than the opening. As I closed the drawer, the top of the gap tipped the funnel this way, and as the drawer shut completely, the funnel cleared the crossboard and fell back into place. Perfectly locking the drawer shut.

And I mean perfectly. I couldn't open it at all. I tried jiggling the drawer up and down, but this helped not at all. In the end, the only way I could get it out was to completely remove the drawer above it (and thank goodness it wasn't the top drawer). I couldn't believe how perfectly all the different utensils had had to line up to get this perfect lock. Argh.

"I have been very displeased to find the term "diva" applied to every off-key warbler with a video and a vagina." --Johnny Atomic

Posted by blahedo at 10:06pm | Comments (0)

8 Aug 2007

The spam arms race

You might have noticed that there's been a recent increase in spam getting through. I was a little worried, but a scan of the logs seemed to indicate that these spams were just as random as all the squillions that didn't get through. Then I noticed: all of them had gotten the "future/past" question. And it turns out that those were judged correct if the correct answer appeared anywhere in the response—which "past" in particular did, since the bots tend to just enter one of their spammy posts into that field.

So there's a new version of BotBlock up, the first in two and a half years, that fixes that. Dunno if anyone else uses it, but it's still the best tool I've seen in the escalating arms race on spam (though I do know it's a little buggy and occasionally rejects correct answers... sorry about that. Just try again!).

"Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." --Edsger W. Dijkstra

Posted by blahedo at 2:54pm | Comments (2)

6 Aug 2007


It's currently 82° in Galesburg, and reaaallly humid. Much like last night, actually. I had been thinking most of today (when it passed 90, like it's supposed to do all week) that I'd turn on the A/C tonight, but actually, I'm more or less comfortable at this point (aside from my back killing me from kneeling in an awkward position to paint the windows, but anyway). Admittedly, I am shirtless and occasionally spritzing myself with water. But given that I haven't had the A/C on yet this year, I'm wondering if I can make it all the way through.

As for the window, I'm not supposed to be painting if it's over 90 or about to rain. So of course, now that I'm all set to paint, the weather sets up to be at least ten days of highs over 90 and/or rain. I'm not really interested in letting it drag out that long, so today when I got home from work around 8, I checked the temperature and weather forecast (and dew point!), and thought, hey, I can do this now. So there I was, frantically trying to get the outside portion done while I still had natural light. I was really glad for an impulse purchase I'd made last week: a little one-quart paint bucket that has a rubber grip for your hand and a magnet to hold the paintbrush. Absolutely vital on a project like this, I found.

The total time from start to finish was about two hours (for the prime coat), but that's higher than it will be for most future windows: it included time to cut and sand a new parting stop, which I'd forgotten to do in advance, as well as time to scrape the peely paint off some of the trim. Not to mention, on most of the windows in this house I won't need to paint the inside of the sashes or the inside trim, and with practice I'll get faster at it anyway.

"I should be able to see Christ in every member of Christ's body, for Christ is in them. It is not Christ's maleness that is of significance, in the Eucharist or in anything else, but his humanity, which obviously includes his maleness, but just as obviously is not limited to or by it. Which brings us to the serious doctrine this position contradicts. For it is taught that what is not assumed (by Christ in the Incarnation) is not redeemed. And Christ assumed the whole of human nature. Otherwise how could women be saved?" --Fr. Tobias Haller

Posted by blahedo at 10:53pm | Comments (0)

3 Aug 2007

Not bagworms!

So after I made that post I did some reading on "bagworms", and the article I carelessly linked seemed to indicate that bagworms were not at all like what I had. Further investigation pointed to the Eastern tent caterpillar, which definitely builds the right kind of cocoonish structure, and attaches to trees in the peach/plum/cherry genus prunus (and my tree is a chokecherry), and at least according to whoever wrote the WP article, is often erroneously called a bagworm. However, it still seemed not quite right, because the ETC builds its tents in the crotches of trees, while mine were at the ends of the branches, and the ETC does its thing in early spring, which was rather a few months ago.

Further googling solved it: yet another unrelated caterpillar, the Fall webworm, which is often mistaken for an ETC, but has all the properties of the actual thing in my tree. Formerly in my tree. And that was probably an overreaction, since most of the sites claim that the Fall webworm is mostly harmless other than aesthetically. Ah well.

"When asked, I describe myself as a ten of all trades." --Gary Leitzell

Posted by blahedo at 10:24pm | Comments (0)


So there I was, standing on my window ledge and cleaning the frame, when one of my neighbours asks if I've noticed my tree out front. Was there something that had happened in the last couple hours? No... I had bagworms.

[Bagworms!]I know for sure that you've seen them before, possibly without registering what they were. I know I thought they were basically some funny kind of spiderweb (hence something I'd leave in place, because spiders are good). But no, in fact, a bagworm case is actually more of a funny cocoon, in which bagworm moth larvae—caterpillars—grow up, chew up leaves, and eventually kill the tree and infest the neighbourhood. Oops!

[Bagworms!]So I had to immediately divert my plans and remove them. This involved a bit of highwire acrobatics, because one of the cases was right up in the middle of the tree; and what you're supposed to do is remove the entire branch they're on, avoid touching any other branches, stick them in a heavy plastic bag, douse with ammonia, and then send them to the landfill.

That done, I went back to the window, and was trying to figure out how many more hours of daylight I had, when I managed to crack the edge of the sash: not a structural part, but one side of the channel the rope/chain goes through. It'd probably be fine if I just left it, but y'know, I had the window sash completely off, no better time to just glue and clamp the sucker.

So the priming has been postponed to tomorrow. The next round will definitely go faster, or at least, it had better. :)

"I have a policy about honesty and ass-kicking, which is, if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it." --Tayor Mali

Posted by blahedo at 9:20pm | Comments (0)

2 Aug 2007


You all know me as a Mac guy, but I'm here to declare my personal affection for good old-fashioned Windows....

[The newest house project: windows]...the double-hung kind. :) All the windows in my house appear to be original; if not, they're certainly period, with every openable window being a double-hung wooden sash window. (With crappy two- or three-track aluminum storms, but anyway.) Virtually all of which desperately need their exterior painted. Many also need to be re-hung.

So the current project is finally underway, after a lot of hemming and hawing and planning. I'm starting in... the kitchen, site of the last major project(s), of course. Then it'll really be done. For now, one whole window structure is removed, as see the photo above—note, by the way, the shards of wood from the parting stop that shattered as I removed it. Ah well, it's just a piece of wood, probably the easiest part to replace anyway.

Today I got all the loose glazing and sloppy paint off the sashes themselves, and re-glazed them. Tomorrow I'll scrape what little paint is left on the exterior casement, and hopefully get the primer coat on that and (where needed) the exterior side of the sashes. I'm taking notes so I can pipeline future windows a little better.

[My sad dog]I'll close with a picture that I initially took for the window frame, and as I snapped it noticed was a really cute framing of my sad little dog sitting in the yard and staring at me. :P

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." --C.S. Lewis

Posted by blahedo at 6:11pm | Comments (0)