Terminally Incoherent

Utterly random, incoherent and disjointed rants and ramblings...

Friday, March 31, 2006

Eolas Patent will B0rk IE in April

You may or may not heard about the stupid Eolas patent on plugins. They won, and MS will now have to break IE and change the way ActiveX, media and applets load in the browser. Wohoo! We are protecting innovation by forcing a company to break compatibility, and re-write parts of it's application due to a submarine patent. As much as I hate Microsoft, this is fucking dumb!

On the other hand, the retardation of ActiveX may be a good thing. Perhaps web developers will now think twice before using it. Perhaps more people will choose browser independent AJAX based and un-broken-by-silly-patents solutions if possible.

What's funny is that Opera, Mozilla and Firefox are still allowed to have plugins... After all, after squeezing millions out of MS, there is nothing that Opera could offer them... And it is really hard to exort money from non-profits like Mozzila. :P

This of course led to a totally hilarious exchange on slashdot:

Tackhead (54550):

They're going to fucking bury that technology. They have done it before, and they will do it again. They're going to fucking kill ActiveX.
And someone, somewhere, will get an ActiveChair flung at them.

Syberghost (10557):

Now that I've stopped laughing at this line, I can reply with who that will be:

Developers, developers, developers, developers.

Z0mb1eman (629653):

Mushroom, mushroom!


I think someone should make a Badger-Badger spoof starring ballmer :P

Developers, developers, developers, Googoe, Google, Chair! Oh! A Chair! Developers, developers...

What I learned at Coffe Hour yesterday.

The CS department has a weekly Coffee Hour on Thursdays at 3:30 in the conference room on the third floor. Both students and faculty are invited. It is a very informal setting where you can chat just about anything with some of your professors or other students.

Yesterday, for example, I learned that Dr. Bredlau is an Anime fan. I would have never guessed that in my life! zewrestler brought me DVD's of Gungrave. He highly recommended the show so I decided to give it a try. He was giving me the DVD's during the coffee hour, and when Bredlau saw them, he commented that he likes Anime. :O

Apparently he lived in Japan for a while, and he can actually speak a little of broken Japanese. Another student there was actually learning Japanese, so this turned into a fascinating conversation about the language and culture of that country. Apparently when you are a guy, and you try to speak Japanese it is important not to "sound like a girl". Males and females speak differently, apparently and it is very common for westerners to sound effeminate if they don't know the right tone and etc... It was quite fascinating actually.

This makes you think... How many of the small details and nuances do we loose in translation when we watch anime? I'm bilingual myself, and I know that there is no such thing as lossless translation. When you translate from one language to another you need to be very careful - and most of the time you will loose something, or inadvertently add some meaning that was not in the original.

I know this, because i watched allot of english movies, subtitled in Polish, and vice versa. And let me tell you - in both cases, the experience is painful, bordering on comical. I would venture a guess than over 30-35% of actual content is completely lost. Puns, idioms, culture specific references, and some of the pop culture related jokes are virtually untranslatable.

70% is not bad - you get the plot, you get all the twist, and turns, you understand your characters and all. What you don't get is the icing on the cake - the subtle interactions, the stuff implied or hinted at. Good translators may attempt to capture that stuff, but then they run a risk of adding to the original. So sometimes you will see culturally adjusted translations which try to capture the spirit, but not the actual content of the original. So you swap a US-centric cultural reference to a native one, or an english idiom, to roughly equivalent one in the targeted language.

If you do it well, it blends in so seamlessly that hardly anyone notices... That is until someone decides that this is the "best line" in the movie/book and starts using it as a catchphrase. When that happens, a simple linguistic trick aimed at "capturing the spirit" of what was said, by using a native reference or idiom turns into "added content". That "brilliant line" was not in the original - you added it when translating. This means that while something was gained here, some meaning was also lost. Your version is slightly different from the original! This is the danger of translation. This is where I get that 30%.

This makes me want to learn more about Japanese language and culture so I can get more out of my anime and manga :P

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Banker's Algorithm

I just found out that I was the only student in class who actually produced a working implementation of Banker's Algorithm for the OS class. My weekend was totally shot, but I submitted a finished product that was runnable some 20 minutes before the deadline.

It's now 4 days past the deadline, and no one else got even close to a working implementation. I'm not claiming my solution is good, or even that it is entirely correct. But it runs, and it appears to be doing what it is supposed to do.

The assignment didn't seem all that difficult to me. It was allot of work, but I have seen harder things that needed to be done. But then again, maybe my implementation is totally wrong. Perhaps I totally glossed over some of the hard parts everyone seemed to get stuck on... I don't know.

Dr. Robila said he will not count that problem towards the homework grade, but he will give extra credit to all people who got close to solving it. I guess that's good, because even if I'm wrong - I might get nice extra credit out of it...

If he checks it and it turns out to be correct though, I'm going to post it somewhere so that future generations can see a working java version :)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

To Wordpress of not to Wordpress

I'm seriously thinking about moving away from blogger... The other day Matt jumped ship and switched to Wordpress. Following his suggestion I created a free account: terminally.wordpress.com.

As you can see, it seamlessly imported my whole blog which is great. The layout is clean and neat. But the best part of wordpress, is probably the Ajaxified user interface. They take the full advantage of the ajax goodies providing all kinds of bells and whistles like drag-and-drop interfaces for arranging your sidebar and etc...

But, it is done at the cost of customizability. Ever wondered why every wordpress blog looks the same? Because they don't let you to tweak the templates! This really sucks! I would jump ship in a heartbeat if I was allowed the same level of customizability as here on blogger. If I switched today I would have to abandon the following things:

  • Nicetitles: the nifty javascript that draws those nice squares when you hover over links

  • Floating captions under images - they are done with css. I really like doing the captions...

  • Custom handling of the <code> tags - I make sure that white space is preserved when I post code snippets using css. This is not the default handling.

  • Automatic XFN icons - I use a css hack that puts appropriate icon image on links with the rel attribute

  • Collapsible Posts - I use a small javascript that lets me collapse and expand parts of really long posts. I don't use it often, but it is a nice trick to have!

  • Using obscure HTML tags - I like to use these "weird" tags that no one ever knows about like <acronym>, <dfn> or <address>. They are in the W3C spec, but to make sure they are handled properly I define css for them

These are all the little tweaks that I have adopted over the last year or so, and I don't feel like giving them up...

My other beef with wordpress is that the default post editor is WYSYWIG. I hate that. I always type my posts in plain HTML mode. This gives me more control over my post and let's me use all the obscure HTML tags that I want. Wordpress does give you an option to edit HTML but it is not very convenient. It seems to be designed only for quick and minor tweaks - not actual day to day use. Ugh...

So for now, I think I'll stay with good old blogger. At least here I can tear down the template and adapt it to whatever theme or layout I need.

But sometime down the road, I might get my own hosting... And then wordpress would be a viable solution. Because if I have the code, I can tweak the templates and the layouts till I'm happy with them :)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fingering with Finger!

This... This is just too funny! Boingboing reports that teledildonics devices can now be controlled via finger:

This program is a rudimentary teledildonics application built around the finger daemon - hence bringing generations of CS undergrad innuendo full circle.

It has two modes in addition to what you're seeing now - if you finger [any string]@[this host], a series of random pulses will be generated, proportional to the length of the string.

Alternatively, fingering 0x[hex digits]@[this host] will instead send a direct stream of motor speeds to the vibrator, one per second.


You have to love our field... Unix world is full of funy innuendos. Sometimes I wonder what do the "uninitiated" people think when they hear conversations like this:

  • "Dude, just finger freddie to see if he is on" (freddie is one of the main unix servers in our dept - we were trying to see if one of our classmates is logged in so we can message him with the write command)

  • "Hold on, let me mount your stick..." (uttered while mounting the USB flash memory stick)

  • "Can you grep the cat?" (as in, can you do cat on that file and then grep for whatever we are looking for)

  • "Just take a dump and bring it to my office so we can look at it" (as in, make a hex dump of that file, and let's examine it)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Entertainment Industry is Terminally Ill

I came to a conclusion. The entertainment industry is dying. It will be done within the next few years, unless it completely restructures itself and drops the failing business models it is clinging too. And as every dying thing on earth, it is currently going through the classic 5 stages of accepting the inevitable demise: Denial, Anger/Presentiment, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

You don't believe me? Let's break this down:
  • Denial: "There is nothing wrong with our business model! You guys just want a free ride!"

  • Anger/Presentiment: "We are loosing money because of damn pirates! Let's sue them! Let's sue all of them! Even the 12 year olds! Let them feel our legal wrath! PH34R my L3G4L SK1LZ n00B!!

  • Bargaining: "Listen, if you use DRM we will give you all the content you want! Seriously, it's better for you. We'll even stop suing people! Everything will be good if you only agree to use DRM! Really!"

So, we have 2 more stages to go. Depression and Acceptance. Not bad, eh? So please expect these symptoms intensify as the industry is heading toward an inevitable crash.

There will be big DRM disputes, and DRM related lawsuits. Entertainment people will loose several of them and incur heavy losses. As a result some big technology companies will get locked out of content because of failure to comply with DRM requirements. People will stop buying media they can't play in their receivers.

Allot of people will realize that their iTunes collection cannot be ported to a new computer and will drop the service. Entertainment industry will go under. Facing lawsuits, money draining DRM schemes, and lockout contracts some big studios will close the doors and go out of business...

Those who survive will accept the death of the old business models, and adjust to the new reality. We will win this war.

Ph34R the C0NSUM3R B1tCH3Z!

Saturday, March 25, 2006


I don't know who made this, but LOL!

Don't try this at home...

б^H tries to connect to the internet

Today I have found bunch of interesting entries in my firewall log. Apparently an application named б^H was trying to access the internet at various times. Now, I don't know about you - but if I see a weird sting like that I get suspicious. So I started digging.

From the logs I figured that this thing was trying to do DNS lookups (all the hits were aiming at port 53 on the remote hosts). This is not unusuall - any piece of mallware could be doing this... But, since my anti-virus and spybot scans that run just this morning did not find anything, I started looking for legit apps that could generate port 53 traffic.

I spotted my DynDNS Updater icon in the taskbar which was red (to indicate failure to update). I did a few quick tests, enabling and disabling the rule for my mysterious application and I got it. It was the damn DynDNS updater!

Question is, why the hell does it show up in my logs as б^H? Why haven't I noticed this before? And what the hell were they thinking?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Vaguest Exam Question Ever

One of the question on my Operating Systems exam today was to show two examples where multi-threaded implementation does not provide better performance than single threaded implementation. We were supposed to write some code/pseudocode to illustrate this...

Every person I asked put down something different for this question. No one was sure what the hell we were supposed to do. Some people used "hello world" as one of the examples. Others mentioned processing keyboard input in a word processor. In fact, allot of people gave purely iterative examples that could not be multi-threaded to begin with...

I'm pretty sure "hello world" was the wrong answer here. The question was worth 30 points - you usually don't see tricky questions like that being worth so much. I scribbled some half-assed code with big loop statements in critical section so that the threads would block and have to wait on each other. I figured the same loop implemented as a single thread would execute faster because there would be no context switching overhead, thread creation and etc..

Other example was treads locking on a shared buffer object and performing some critical section while holding onto that buffer... Still, I'm only guessing that the performance would be worse with a multi-threaded implementation. There is no way to tell for sure without actually testing this.

Of course we could not ask Dr. Robila what he meant in this question because he was not there. I hope he curves or throws out this one completely...

Monday, March 20, 2006

.xxx vs .kids

There is this idea circulating in the minds of our lawmakers and politicians, that there should be a .xxx tld reserved for pr0n. This idea gets shot down every time, and yet it keeps coming back like a boomerang. All these people keep yelling: "think of the children" as they try to shove their prudish moral values down our throat. But this is not about children. An xxx tld does nothing to protect children from anything! Why?

Maybe because Internet != USA. If you make a law forcing all the pr0n into an xxx tld, this law will only apply in US. If you try to police it abroad many people will become very angry. Do you think UN will like that US courts have the absolute power to decide who is allowed to register .com domain? How about China? Nope, we can't enforce US law onto foreign owned domains - even if we control the top level servers.

So you end up with all the foreign hosted pr0n still owning their .com, .net and .org domains. How does that help to keep children away from pr0n? How does that help filtering software to do anything? This is simply a jab at the porn industry. It is no secret that our government is waging a war on pornography. In fact, I think that war on pr0n, gets more resources and attention than war on terror and on drugs combined. Not mentioning that we have yet to see ANY tangible results of any of those wars... How long are we into the war on drugs? Did we win yet?

If you really want to do something for children, set up a tightly regulated .kids tld. Set it up so that only educational, and child friendly stuff would be allowed there. Problem solved. Now just set up your filter to block everything but .kids and you can let the little bastards browse till they get carpal tunnel. And you are almost guaranteed that they will never run into anything inappropriate while the filter is on.

So why are people pushing for that xxx tld so much? What is the big deal here? The sad truth is that none of these .xxx pushing maniacs gives a shit about children. This is not about protecting kids. This is about protecting you from the "evil pornography" - whether you want it or not.

Karmic Bitchslap for Tony Soprano

Is it just me, or was Tony Soprano on a receiving end of a karmic bitch slap? If you dream about being slapped in the face by a bhuddist monk you are probably a despicable human being :P

Seeing Tony as dorky salesman is just beyond bizarre. Is this how his life would be if he was not in the mob? Man, that blows... I think he was better off as a crime boss. I seriously think this is actually what hell is like. You wake up as a lame salesman, stuck in a shitty convention town and no matter what you do you can't get out :P

Last week I was sure that Tony will be just fine, but now I just don't know. I have this sneaky suspicion that he might be comatose for the rest of the season... That would be seriously gay!

BTW, I would like to thank Jamie-Lyn Discala for not wearing a bra in this episode. I guess it was cold in there or something because I could clearly see nipples in more than one scene. Yay! :)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Conqueror of Shamballa

I just watched the last episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, and right after I poped in Conquerror of Shamballa. To my knowledge CoS was never dubbed. My version was in Japanese with English subtitles. Ed's voice just sounded so bizarre... I guess I was just so used to the English dub :P

The movie was good, but I was not all that impressed. I think the best part of Fullmetal was the slowly unveiling mystery of the philosopher stone, alchemy and the haemonculi. The show started bright, and cheerful and then it got progressively darker, and more sinister and the Elric brothers uncovered the secrets of alchemy. In CoS all the secrets have been revealed. The plot is fairly straightforward. It is definitely worth watching but please do not expect something out of this world. The movie is essentially as solid as a good stand-alone, Fullmetal episode. It's top notch anime but simply not as capturing as the last few episodes of the series.

[Minor spoilage may lurk below]

The plot is simple - you have two brothers, one stuck at each side of the gate. Al is trying to bring his brother back. Ed wants to go home but unfortunately in our world alchemy does not work... So he is stuck in Munich where he can witness the birth of the Nazi party.

A German occult organization called Thule Society manages to find Envy in his dragon form (last shape he assumed when traveling through the gate) and use his body to temporarily open the gate to the other world. Ed finds about it.

And it goes from there. You can expect to see people on both sides attempting to create a stable gate, brothers getting reunited, a war between worlds, and appearances by all the main characters. You can probably figure out what happens in the movie just from this description.

But this is Fullmetal, right? One would expect some shocking, mind boggling revelations at some point during the movie. But, unfortunately there is no deep underlying mystery. There are no shocking revelations about the nature of alchemy or the world. It's just action and adventure. Not that there is anything wrong in this. I just expected more.

German Hues comes off as a real dick. Munich Bradley on the other hand is a good guy. We also see Scar driving a truck at the end of the movie :P

I give it a solid B. It really could have been so much more if they just added some of that of that Fullmetal mystery and shocking twists into it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

No breaking DRM, even if it may kill you

Wow... Just wow... The *AA organizations just transcended to another level of unspeakable evilness. This is from Freedom to Tinker:

There were many suggestions to legalize breaking DRM if it would compromise critical infrastructure and/or directly endanger human life. The response from the RIAA and MPAA corner was a categorical no.

They’re worried that there might be “serious doubt” about whether their future DRM access control systems are covered by these exemptions, and they think the doubt “would be even more severe” if the “exemption would turn on whether access controls ‘threaten critical infrastructure and potentially endanger lives’.”


One would have thought they’d make awfully sure that a DRM measure didn’t threaten critical infrastructure or endanger lives, before they deployed that measure. But apparently they want to keep open the option of deploying DRM even when there are severe doubts about whether it threatens critical infrastructure and potentially endangers lives.

And here’s the really amazing part. In order to protect their ability to deploy this dangerous DRM, they want the Copyright Office to withhold from users permission to uninstall DRM software that actually does threaten critical infrastructure and endanger lives.

So there you have it... It seems that they haven't learned a damn thing from the Sony debacle. Now they are trying to buy themselves laws that would allow them to continue using dangerous rootkits...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Tech Support Stories

Part of my job is tech support for our field employees... On most days the calls I get are easy to fix, but sometimes I get these bizarre issues that just boggle my mind.

I encountered the weirdest email problem ever today.

A guy called me up complaining that his Outlook won't pull email anymore. I run him through the usual hoops, checking and retyping all the settings, creating a new Outlook profile and etc... Nothing worked.

He can ping both the POP and SMTP servers. He can telnet to both servers and issue commands. When creating a new profile (via Control Panel), the "Test Account Settings" shows him that everything is set up correctly, and he can connect without a problem. And yet, when he runs the same test in Outlook it fails to even connect.

Something is preventing Outlook from connecting, but it's not the firewall. The guy swears up and down that the firewall is disabled, and switched off. I made him check it like 20 times. But there has to be something blocking it - I just can't get any useful info out of him. Clueless people make phone support really difficult...

I told him to install tightvnc - and on Monday I will make him plug the laptop directly to the modem so that I can remotely get in and poke around. I bet this is something fucking trivial - he is just to clueless to notice...

Another guy actually managed to completely destroy a fresh install of Win2k in 3 days. I sent him a clean laptop with Norton AV and Windows AntiSpyware crap on Tuesday. I run a virus and spyware scans before I packed it into a box. Today his machine was barely moving at all. Norton is completely disabled, and something is locking his task-manager (when he does Ctrl+Alt+Del, or right clicks on taskbar the Task Manager option is grayed out). He said that AntiSpyware found tons of things and removed it yesterday. When Norton was still working, it also removed 5 or 6 viruses in the past few days. And then it just died. I actually don't know if it is even possible to recover from this shit. It sounds like his system was completely overrun...

I seriously don't know how people do this... How can you get your system so badly infected? Sometimes I think it would just be easier to have a training session on how to download pr0n without destroying your system. I'm pretty sure this would really cut down on the amount of tech support we need to do here...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Some days are just weird...

Today was a weird day...

I think I saw the stupid ProLiant logo in my dream... Damn that stupid server. This is the only thing it does these days - it shows ProLiant on the screen and stops. I have seen so much of that logo in the past 2 days that I think it got burned into my retina...

When I was getting ready for work today, the TV was on some news station (I think CNN). I actually caught a glimpse of a HP commercial on TV at some point. Guess what were they selling? Pro fucking Liant servers! Agh!

HP technician finally showed up to replace the mobo. After he plugged in all the hardware into place, but before he put the air-guards, latches and all the other funky bullshit in place he did a test. The server zoomed through the ProLiant logo and started doing the POST. I was ready to hug him! But my joy was short lived... Soon after POST finished we run into a non-system-disk error.

The technician said not to worry, because we might need to fiddle with the BIOS a bit to get the RAID working and all. He powered the machine down, put it together, closed it and and booted back up... Only to see the static ProLiant logo. He spent the next hour and a half fiddling with the parts and scratching his head.

He is supposed to come back tomorrow with a new CPU and power supply... Will it get fixed? Who knows. This damn thing is shot... I'm just praying that the MySQL database and the nightly backup dumps are on the backup tapes... If the drives are dead, I am going to puke.

Fast forward till after the lunch. One of my co workers went absolutely hysterical. Apparently her boyfriend tried to commit suicide, took something and then called her at work while being barely coherent. It sounded really serious... There was really nothing we could do. We all sat there listening to her pleading on the phone with him. Petrified... Another girl quickly called in an ambulance for him (while he was still on the phone), and then offered to drive her home. That was pretty much all the assistance we could give.

What do you say in that situation? What do you do? It's messed up.

When I got home I saw another ProLiant commercial... Fuck ProLiant! I hate their guts!

Some days are just weird like that...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Plan B? There is no plan B!

Our server at work went down... It went down hard... So hard that it's out of comission till tomorrow, when a new mobo and cpu get here. Sigh...

Why on earth did we cheep out on the super-duper HP care package warranty thingy? I really wish I we had it now - I could have a tech at my location in 4 hours flat. When you deal with a critical server, next business day service just doesn't cut it.

I hope to God that this is just a bad mobo. If the drives died I will fucking shoot someone... But since we had a RAID setup we should be ok. Both drives would have to die... Of course, with my luck that is certainly not ouf of question. So I keep my fingers crossed and pray for the best.

Of course we do have a a tape backup - but that's only data. Setting up this system from scratch will drive me up the wall.

We are pretty much dead till the new mobo is sitting in the case. This server was our domain controller and hosted our DNS server, DHCP server, SMTP server and HTTP server. This was a really bad idea to have all that shit on one machine. And we have no backup strategy, no contingency plan, no nothing. If the server goes, we are royally fucked. And it just happened.

I turned our sonicwall into a temporary DHCP for the office so at least people can use internet in the morning. That's as much as I could do today. I can't just plug in my RAID SCISI disks or the SCISI tape drive to our low end Dell office boxen... Sigh...

Once we get up and running I'm thinking about distributing the workload to more than one machine. I would really prefer to have a separate box for the webserver and another one for mailserver. We will probably need to keep the file and printer sharing, DNS and DHCP on the windows box... But there is just no reason why we should not have a dedicated webserver and mailserver in the office...

It doesn't have to be a beefed up server beast either, as we are only hosting web apps user internally by the employees. This is all low traffic stuff. Our official webpage is hosted offsite (and is crappy as hell, but it's not my pair of shoes so screw that). We can probably put in some low end Dell server to accommodate our mail and web needs - as long as we have a backup strategy for it it should be ok.

I need to run it by the boss. As it is right now our biggest issue is 50+ employees in the field trying to push their outgoing mail through our dead server, and trying to access out web apps. If we had that on a separate machine, we still would be fucked but at least it would be an internal thing - leaving all the people in the field unaffected...

I never thought I'd say that, but thank god that our POP3 server is hosted and maintained offsite by a consulting company. It is usually annoying as hell to go through them to set up new accounts and do tweaking... But at least our employees can still receive email now.

Update Wed, March 15 2006, 09:30 PM

Server is still down :( HP dispatch did not have my parts. The motherboard will be shipped tomorrow morning, but the CPU is on back order and they don't know when they will have one. This is absolutely ridiculus. If this is not fixed by tomorrow my boss will explode... HP tech support blows!

Update Thu, March 16 2006, 15:17 PM

Replacing mobo on the server did not help. The technician should be back tomorrow with a new CPU and a power supply backplane. This is day 2 of downtime, going into day 3... We have never been down so long... Fuck!

Update Fri, March 17 2006, 08:59 PM

Server is finally up! Yaaay!

Donnie Darko

I just watched Donnie Darko. I can honestly say this must be one of the best movies I have ever seen. Amazing, profound, thought provoking movie. Zewrestler mentioned it was good, but damn - I was completely blown away.

I'm not even going to talk about the plot here - this movie just needs to be watched. The director actually managed to make Drew Barrymore act in this one - something I didn't think was physically possible. If he got her to actually work for once, you can just imagine how the the rest of the cast performed.

This is one of those movies that causes an instant thoughtstorm start brewing under your skull. I still can't shake it off. Was the tangent universe real or only a figment of Donnie's imagination - a side effect of his mental illness? Does it really matter? What is reality anyway?

We all assume that reality is the objective state of truth. We establish reality by comparing and contrasting our own subjective perceptions, against those of other individuals around you. You take what you perceive to be true, and what other's do and take a simple set intersection operation. Whatever you get is the objective truth. The rest are subjective distortions, dreams, hallucinations, and illusions.

But there is a problem here. What if my brain is not working correctly? Why if the individuals whose views I use to generate my definition of objective reality are only figments of my imagination? The only way I can even try to establish what is real, is by process of subjective, and biased observation. Everything that I ever knew, saw or experienced may have been a dream. How do I know it wasn't if I haven't woken up yet?

Do you really exist as a separate entity? Or do you only exist with respect to me? This is the dilemma of the Demirug. Am I a lonely architect of my own personal universe that lives and dies with me? We are truly tragic beings, yearning to connect with each other but destined to exist in solitude. As Granny Death said in the movie: every living thing dies alone...

Sorry for the existential outburst. Just go and watch the movie and you will understand :)

Monday, March 13, 2006

6 Firefox Extensions I could not live without

Here is the list of 6 Firefox extensions I could not live without:
  1. Adblock - I do not consider Adblock an extension anymore. I feel that this is an essential part of the browser. Adblock is the reason why I refuse to use any other browser ever. This extension allows me to enjoy the web the way it should be - clean, and without blinking banners, and loud annoying flash ads. If you are not using Adblock, you are missing out.

  2. Session Saver - this must be one of the most useful extensions of all times (except for the king of extensions - Adblock of course). It will save your browsing session, and restore it next time you open your browser. Have you ever closed the browser window by mistake, loosing your long blog post or comment? Have you ever lost a link to a really cool website because of a sudden crash? If you did, then this is an extension for you. I absolutely love this extension, and it made my life so much easier - I can simply close the browser whenever I want and have all my tabs restored for me, from a cashed version - complete with scrolling, and data entered into text forms. This one is a must-have.

  3. Spellbound - spellbound is a spell checker for online text forms. It allows you to check and correct text in virtually any web form. I can't spell to save my life, so this extension comes extremely handy when I post comments to other people's blogs, or use online forms that do not have a built in spell-checker. I use it even on sites that provide spell-checking features - because my SpellBound is trained to my style, and contains a custom dictionary of geeky words that I use on daily basis.

  4. del.icio.us - as the name suggests this extension allows you to post del.icio.us bookmarks with a click of a button. The dialog box provided by this extension, replicates all the functionality of you get when using the bookmarklet.

  5. Gmail Manager - the ultimate Gmail extension. Unlike some other extensions that I tried, this on just works. It always shows the updated state of your inbox, and never "gets stuck" on some rogue email. In addition, it allows you to manage multiple accounts.

  6. Greasemonkey - Greasemonkey is one of these extensions that you either don't care about, or absolutely love. I would die without Greasemonkey. I mainly use it to streamline adding technorati tags to my blogger posts. Until Blogger adds folksonomy tagging, I use a Greasemonkey script to add that feature to my Create Post pages :)

These are my favorites. Few others that do warrant a honorable mention are ImageZoom, Disable Targets for Downloads and Timestamp.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Woke up this morning, got myself a gun...

Sopranos are back! Yay!

First things first - Medow's strip dance thing scene was definitely to short. Was that a flashback scene or was this new? The whole beginning sequence was kinda funky, mix so I don't know anymore. I don't remember seeing it before though, and I can't google up anything at this moment so I guess this is new. And I want more.

Could someone please explain to me the whole Burrough's Western Lands quote? It went totally over my head the first time around (mostly due to distracting Jamie-Lynn DiScala's sexy dancing thing). Burroug's piece is talking about the 7 souls in Egyptian mythology. Here is the actual text:

The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls.

Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren the Secret name. This corresponds to my Director. He directs the film of your life from conception to death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that's where Ren came in.

Second soul, and second one off the sinking ship, is Sekem: Energy, Power. Light. The Director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons.

Number three is Khu, the Guardian Angel. He, she or it is third man out...depicted as flying away across a full moon, a bird with luminous wings and head of light. sort of thing you might see on a screen in an Indian restaurant in Panama. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defense - but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go back to Heaven for another vessel. The four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the land of the dead.

Number four is Ba, the Heart, often treacherous. This is a hawk's body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down, like Samson, by a perfidious Ba.

Number five is Ka, the double, most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the Western Lands.

Number six is Khaibit, the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives.

Number seven is Sekhu, the Remains.

- William Burroughs, The Western Lands

I'm to tired to actually do some proper analysis but I bet this is supposed to be some really deep shit right there. The die-hard Soprano fans should get cracking on deciphering the symbolism here.

I'm guessing this is about Tony's life falling apart and him slowly dying inside, and getting more fucked up (and thus loosing his souls) or something like that. Although he seemed to really be doing well recently... Maybe this is supposed to be foreshadowing, or whatnot? I don't know. I'll leave it to the true soprano-heads to figure this one out.

I know one thing - there is no way Tony is dying. He is the show, so killing him off in the first episode of a new season would be ridiculous. Nice attempt at a cliffhanger, but we know better than this. :P

Saturday, March 11, 2006

New Caprica is a Dump!

Some comments on the Battlestar Galactica Season Finale last night:

Why the hell did Cylon's send Al from the Quantum Leap to deliver a peace message to Galactica? Wouldn't it be easier to send another Boomer or #9? Now humans know about another Cylon model... I guess this was supposed to be a show of good will or something. By outing their our own agent they wanted to show humans that they are serious about it... I think this was really stupid. Humans would be skeptical whether or not an agent was outed.

New Caprica is a dump! The settlement was a dumb idea. I would much rather live in one of those cozy apartments on Cloud Nine than in a fucking tent on the surface. What were these people thinking?

Wouldn't a year be enough to actually build some normal houses? Or at least some sort of huts and whatnot? Baltar lives in his nice starship landed on the surface, and the rest of the population sleeps in crappy tents. I understand that the planet may have few natural resource, but come on. Even little mud huts would be better than the shitty refugee camp they built.

I also don't get why all the people were living clumped together in this really poor looking camp. I mean, they have a whole planet for themselves. It's not like they are running out of space. Why does the camp look so congested then? Shouldn't the people be farming the shit out of the land, building settlements and stuff? The camp looked like it was built last week, not a year ago...

Sigh... I don't know - I just had hard time buying this 1 year gap. I feel like we missed up on some good character development. What happened to Sharon in that year? Is she still locked up on Galactica? What happened between Starbuck and Apollo? How did Chief and whatshername patch things up?

I guess we will get to see at least part of this stuff in flashback scenes but.. Meh...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Karina from MobuzzTV is Hot!
Recently I discovered a great little vlog news site called MobuzzTV. It is a daily 3 minute vidcast, talking about the things that are currently hot news on the interwebs.

The site describes itself as "A vlog for the mobile generation". The self imposed goal of the Mobuzz people is to provide us daily news in byte sized chunks that can be easily watched on a mobile phone or an ipod. I like this format. My attention span is way to short these days, and I just don't have time to sit through the lengthy podcasts.

Mobuzz is done very professionally, the commentary is clever and witty and the news presenter Karina is hot. I swear, there is nothing hotter than an attractive girl delivering an intelligent, and passionate commentary on technology related news, quoting slashdot, boingboing and the like. The fact that she really seems to know what she is talking about and this makes her so much more irresistible :P

So this is not just some random silly vlog. This is the fresh web and tech buzz, professionally delivered by hot chicks in byte sized increments for people without any attention span. I think I'm addicted...

Picky Fast Food Eaters

One of the most annoying things in the world is a picky fast food customer. I bet you saw one of them at least once in your life. Those are the people who make ridiculously complex orders at Burger King or Taco bell. For example they order a Whopper without mayo, onions pickles and tomatoes. Or a Big Mack without the middle bun... Or a chicken Quesadila without the spicy sauce.

Meanwhile you are on your short lunch break trying to eat something really quick and go back to work. But no... You have to wait 15 minutes, as the picky eater makes up their mind on the order, then changes it, and then complains when they mess up his crazy ass order. And the fast food employees always mess it up - partly because they are not the smartest or motivated folks on the block to begin with (otherwise they would not be flipping burgers) and partly because these orders are plain stupid.

When I go to a fast food place, I'm not picky. Hell, all fast foods sell you garbage. If you want to customize your sandwich go to Subway or something. But when you are at Burger King just picked a numbered combo item, and move along... It's all the same shitty food anyway.

Open Letter to Earthlink Wireless

Dear Earthlink Wireless,

You suck! If you want to stay in this business, please get your shit together. You already lost me1 as a customer, and I will make sure I tell all my friends and business contacts to stay away from your wireless services.

Let me give you a hint - when you send your customer a new blackberry using next day delivery, that said customer expects the device to work upon arrival. Not 3-5 days later. Not 2 weeks later. Not a month later. We really want to take the device out of the box, and stat using it.

Why is it so difficult to get a blackberry activated on your system? I went through this process 3 times in the last few months, and each time it's the same old story. After the mandatory 5 day wait, your customer service apologizes profusely, offers me downtime credit and escalates my case. I am told to wait another week. Another week goes by, and my device is still not working. I call you, threaten cancellation. Usually at this point one of your managers promises me to "personally" take care of the case.

This happens every single time!

Is it really that hard to get these thins squared away quickly? Why do you make your customers wait half a month, and make no less than 6 customer service calls just to get their mobile device registered on the network?

On more than one occasion I have been told by your reps, that the communication system you use is really bad and not all the requests go through. I don't care about that. This is your problem! This is not an excuse. All I need is a working blackberry - I really don't care how you guys do this. I don't care about the poor implementation of your systems, or the lack of communication between the departments. If it is so bad, then fix it! I really couldn't care less.

How can you call yourself a service provider, if you failt to provide me with any kind of timely adequate service. I do not need my blackberry to be activated in April - I need it working NOW! What is this so damn difficult?

I do understand that according to the blackberry warranty the replacement device will be a refurbished one. However, last time I checked "refurbished" in the dictionary it did not mean "broken piece of garbage". That is exactly what you have sent me 2 weeks ago. The blackberry refuses to sync up with the PC. The only thing your tech support is able to offer me is a new another refurbished blackberry.

I have waited 3 weeks to activate my replacement device. There is no way I'm waiting another 3 weeks again. I had enough of this. I'm switching to Verizon. You people suck.

1 - when I say me, I actually mean my boss. It is his blackberry, but I figured that this letter would sound better if written in first person. Especially since I am the person doing all the footwork and making all the calls in this case. :)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Patriot Act Renewed

Sigh... It seems that Patriot Act is here to stay.

Please excuse my language but the only thing I can say to this is: [click to view]

But hey, we are much safer now, right? I feel so much more confident knowing that the Thought Police Homeland Security will be there to make sure that people are not watching online porn or that they don't pay off their credit card bills to fast.

The man says Patriot Act is doubleplusgood so it must be true! And we get new provisions! Wohoo! We can probably expect more of the same in 4 years, unless we get some sane, people in the government. At this pace the bill of rights should be completely dissolved within my lifetime...

The blatant anal rape on freedom continues.

I just want you people to know that if you voted for bush, it is all your fault :P

Monday, March 06, 2006

Homeworks From Hell

I just spent an inordinate amount of time on Dr. Deremer's BNF homework. I'm still not sure if I got everything right but I just don't feel like looking at it again. I still haven't figured out a way to typeset BNF's in latex.

What I do is I use the inline math environment to treat the BNF as a math formula. This has an unfortunate side effect, as the default latex behavior is to break line on inequality symbols. Most BNF tokens are of the form <token> so, if the line is broken on < or > it looks absolutely ridiculous. I simply enforced manual line breaks, and forced alternate spacing using \quad and \qquad. This is far from optimal solution. I need to find a better way to do this for the future.

On the other hand, I found a great way to draw parse trees using the pstricks package which should be bundled by default with most modern latex installations. I drew all my trees by hand, and then just coded them up. The syntax is super easy:

\pstree{ \TR{root} }

\pstree{ \TR{child-2} }

It was quite painless to modify and change these things. I really don't envy people who were doing these things in Word. I wouldn't even attempt to make tree's in word if someone paid me to do this. As far as I'm concerned, WYSIWYG office suites are retarded. The only proper way to write documents is to typeset in latex. But that's just me...

Btw, if you are wondering about problem 13 here is a hint: the parse tree for the grammar needs to grow symmetrically on both right and left. Focus on the middle node. Think "christmas tree". The grammar is a one liner actually - very simple and elegant in a way. It took me hours to figure this damn thing out. I think I was over thinking it way to much.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

AOL Determined to Suck Even More!

AOL seems to be determined to implement their email tax scheme. As if they didn't suck already... If people didn't see a reason to quit this shitty ISP before, this should be a good incentive.

My dad used to used to give his AOL email to his customers. He doesn't really have a need a professional email account or anything but he likes to be reachable that way. I'm concerned he might miss important emails due to the whole AOL tax issue. I'm considering setting him up with gmail or something like that.

I should probably set him up a domain, so that he can have a professionally sounding email for business use. The bottom line however is, that we can't trust AOL anymore.

Btw, go and sign the open letter to aol. They already said they don't give a shit about it, but hey... It can't hurt, can it?

Dumb Internet Laws... Again

I really think that our NJ Assemblyman Peter J. Biondi got flamed on some messageboard recently. I'm saying this because he apparently introduced a bill that would institute mandatory online identification.

Yup, this guy wants to abolish online anonymity. It is very obvious that he does not understand the internet. If I had a penny for every jackass who wants to legislate the internet, I would probably be invited to join the Skull and Bones club by now :P

I wonder if Mr. Biondi knows that Internet != USA NJ. I wonder how he plans to enforce this bill on message boards hosted outside the US state? Does he realize that this bill will close down free blogging services, severely impact online social networks and force hundreds of American most NJ interner companies out of business to move out of state.

How would you enforce this for email? For java or AJAX based chat clients? For IRC? If google implements an identity check for Blogger, it will likely loose 80% of it's user base. There is no way anyone in their right mind would even consider complying with this. The only people who will benefit from this are... Canadians. Because if such a bill would pass, there would be a mass exodus away from US based hosting to Canadian based :P

If this bill passes, then we are not better than China...The only thing this bill can achieve is to create a gigantic traffic jam on interstate highways, as people move the servers to more internet friendly states.

We please send some letters to this dude and tell him that he just ruined his political career? I would never vote for someone who actively tries to break the internet.

Update Tue Mar 7 09:49:43 EST 2006

Um... I updated the post slighly, because zewrestler mentioned this bill will only apply to NJ - not the whole country. I appologize for spazzing out. :P

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Scope of Support

One of the students approached me yesterday after class, and asked me to take a look at his laptop. He had some major issues with it and wanted some advice. I find it funny how people always assume that if you are computer scientist, you must also be a "computer guy" and a tech support wizard. In my case this assumption is true, but I know allot of people that were brilliant programmers but could not take care of their computer if their life depended on it. Hell, I don't consider myself a "hardware guy" either. Whenever I need to buy a part I just call Marinos and ask him what is good out there and where can I get the best price. But that's a topic for a whole other rant.

First thing I wanted to do when the student approached me is to suggest contacting helpdesk. I really don't have time to fix computers for my students - and I'm not getting paid to do it. However, I'm always willing to take a look and give advice if they need it.

I was shocked to find out that OIT Helpdesk turned him down saying that there was nothing they could do... So I decided I check out the machine. The laptop had a classic BSOD on boot-up issue. When your computer consistently BSOD's while booting, even in safe mode, you probably have probably a corrupted registry hive.

Windows registry is funky, and when it gets trashed it usually takes down the whole system. You can of course try to copy some system files from the installation CD hoping that you will restore it to a usable state. But I have never, ever seen that working. Essentially the best course of action in this type of problems is, recover data and reinstall the OS.

Is this stuff out of scope for helpdesk? I really don't know. I sent them an email describing the issue and asking for advice. Let's see if they respond.

It's not like this is a complicated process. All they need to do is to grab a 2.5" enclosure and extract the students' data. Either that or use Knoppix to burn his stuff to CD's/DVD's. Or walk him through a parallel install of windows... This is really not rocket science. Especially that last step seems to be reasonable.

All this poor guy wants is to get his iTunes music,and his homeworks out of there :P Of course there might be an issue with the DRM and transferring songs between computers... But once again - this is a topic for a whole new rant.

Isn't this the type of stuff we have the helpdesk for though? Helping students to fix their machines when they break, and help them recover homeworks when the machines die? Maybe I'm wrong here...

Ill update this post when I get a response form the helpdesk... Let's see if I end up being quoted at Giant Robots for this one :P

Update Fri Mar 3 13:57:26 EST 2006

Yes, this seems to be out of scope for the helpdesk. Korun who works for OIT says that they are only supporting faculty, and only with computers that are MSU property.

If you ask me, this kinda sucks... We should really have some tech support for students on campus. I saw people doing the "Virus Clinic" thing in SC several times... I think we should have something like that running all the time somewhere extend the services they offer to stuff like data recovery, and OS reinstallation assistance.

Update Fri Mar 3 15:21:29 EST 2006

Here is the official response from the helpdesk:

Thank you for contacting the Technology Solutions Center about your student's computer problem. At this time, the TSC cannot assist this student further. The Technology Solutions Center can only provide limited technical support to students on the following three issues:

1-Virus Removal
2-Spyware Removal
3-Campus Network connectivity

It is suggested that the student contact their computer manufacturer for further support. Again thank you for contacting the TSC.

So there you have it... Case closed :( I suspect that there is a reason why they only offer such limited support. Maye they don't want to be liable for loosing student data, voiding their warranties, or breaching wierd manufacturer EULAS. Eh...

Update Tue Mar 7 09:53:09 EST 2006

I talked to the student yesterday. I'm happy to report that a Knoppix CD that I gave him allowed his more computer literate firend to save all his data to an external drive. Then they reformated, and as of yesterday he is back in business.

I'm telling you - knoppix saves lives! Always have a Knoppix CD's on you!

How good are Digital Pens?

Logitech Digital Pen
I keep looking for a good way to take notes in school. I like to have digital copies of my stuff, because they are easy to backup, transfer and share. Paper based notes are by far the most efficient note-taking method, but they have a big downside. They need to be scanned in at some point - otherwise they are just clunky, physical objects. Scanning notes is tedious, and resulting documents tend to be large and not very printer friendly.

Taking notes on my laptop is not very convenient either. I still haven't found anything on linux that could even approach to match the flexibility of OneNote. But there is no way I'm booting windoze just to use that app.

Besides, drawing with a mouse is a pain... And I'm not planning to get a tabletop anytime soon. These things are nice for note taking, but kinda clunky for almost everything else. And the Linux support for these things is nearly non-existent, so they are useless to me.

Recently I began noticing these digital pens popping up on the market. Probably the most notable example is the Logitech IO2. This thing is a regular pen, with a built in motion sensor that tracks the movements of the pen on paper, are records them. Sounds great, but I'm wondering how good is it in practice. Drop me a comment if you had any experience with one of these things. How good are they at actually capturing the handwriting?

I'm not planning to buy the Logitech product. I just picked it because it comes up in the top 5 in a google search for digital pens. But it just to damn expensive for me. I am not willing to shell out $200 on a pen, that I may never use because it's tracking or storage capacity sucks. Or because it does not work with linux...

The system requirements blurb on the Logitech store page only seems to acknowledge windows. This probably means that unless I hack it myself, I will not be able to use it in a non-windows system. To get it working you need to install proprietary drivers, and support software. The target consumers here are obviously only windows users. In other words, this product is completely useless to me.

What I really need, is a pen just like that - but with a built in solid state memory stick. I want to be able to plug this pen directly into a USB port and find my documents neatly saved as files in an open format (preferably eps or svg, pdf or something related). Just give me raw data in some kind of standardized format, and I'll convert it to whatever I need it to be.

The pen should be able to take in standard, off-the shelf ink replacements (pick a popular size carried by Bic or someone else and stick with it). It should not require me to install any software, but you can provide some premium conversion app for lazy windows users.

The pen can take a small battery, or charge from the USB port. Battery would make it heavier, but also more reliable. You can always replace a battery in a middle of a lecture, without missing to much notes. You can't do that with a USB charged gadget though. So I would be willing to trade the extra weight in for added reliability.

So, is there anything like that out there on the market? And if not, how hard would it be to make one? People would buy this stuff, if the price was right!

Who is going to make my pen?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Does anyone get any support from CORE?

I know that I complained about CORE before, and that got me misquoted over at Billy Gray's Giant Robots Blog. I assume I will be throughly scrutinized analyzed this time also... But, oh well...

Here is the prime example of how CORE sucks. I was trying to install ENVI on that spiffy new JDS Machine. ENVI is expensive proprietary software, so of course we need to obtain a license, activate and all that stuff. Dr. Robila called up CORE to figure out how to do this. They told him the name of the license server, and the port that he needs to use and not much more... 2 minutes later, he got a notification that CORE opened a ticked for his call, and then closed it showing that the problem was resolved.

Funny thing is, that while checking up our bran new "resolved in 10-seconds flat" ticket Dr. Robila noticed that he still had few open tickets in their system. One of them was open since April of last year... And I think that one also dealt with ENVI licensing stuff...

To make the long story short, I'm running ENVI in demo mode till we figure out the license deal. I only need it to view results of my image transformations in a reliable way so demo is good enough for my purposes. But still...

My complaint number 2 is, could someone PLEASE fix up the RI 108 lab? The comweb boxes are literally sprawled on the floor or hanging between student's legs by the power cable. The kids keep kicking the cables out and that takes down their whole machine.

Sometimes it seems that the only way to get something done is to actually go downstairs and personally nab one of the CORE guys and keep pestering him till he agrees to help you.

I have nothing against these guys personally. They are good people... It's just the turnaround time for most of the requests is... Well, less than satisfactory.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Skull and Bones - American Iluminati

Check out these wacky videos posted by synackal.

If you like conspiracy theories, occult stuff, or just wierd shit you will get a kick out of them. The scarry part is that some parts of these may actually be true...

If you have nothing to hide...

I had one of these lunch conversations today... It actually started when one of the girls expressed her concern about the well being of the music industry. For some reason she really believed in the RIAA propaganda. So I explained to her how they actually calculate their "lost sales". I explained how they are clinging to an outdated business model that will die within next 4-5 years. I told them that the only way for entertainment industry to make profit using it's current model, is to stop all technological progress in the digital media. Hell, not only stop but roll back and outlaw some of the technologies we enjoy today.

It actually made them think for a bit. They just realized that there were actually 2 sides to this story. I figured that there is still hope for humanity :)

Unfortunately, I lost the thread of the conversation and somehow the topic ended up on wiretaps. Not a good topic because people tend to get really worked up when you talk about politics.

What do you say to a director when she claims "If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about" and follows it up with "People who don't like how we do things here in US can just pack up and leave"? Sigh... This is what we call a politically induced cognitive blockage. Further discussion of the subject is pointless.

In cases like that I usually shut up, and let people sort it out themselves. The last thing I want is to have an all out political argument at the workplace :P It is very difficult to change people's views on political matters. It's just like trying to convince someone that their religion might be wrong about something. In both cases you need to shatter world views - otherwise the discussion wont go anywhere.

What saddens me the most though, is that the outrageous breach of constitution like the unlawful wiretapping was diminished to a minor political issue. This is something all Americans should be angry about...