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My Left Arm Imploded in Anticipation
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Posted 2012-11-18 00:27:39

So a friend of mine just had her PC die and was looking for recommendations. I've had good luck with the generally-low-crapware Dell Vostros in the past, so I cruised over to dell.com to configure something and send her a PDF of what to get. Lo and behold, you can't add RAM to any of the low-end PCs--they all come with (crap) 2GB of RAM and no place in the quote form to add more (though you can add no shortage of MS Office variants, extended warranty, and other junk). I wonder if this means that Dell has finally realized that CPU is nearly-irrelevant to most PC users (and pretty much has been for 5 years). No reason someone buying a PC today couldn't get by with a Core2 Duo and 8GB of RAM, e.g...
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Posted 2012-02-08 15:48:06

This soup is magical:

Ingredients

  • 8oz raw chicken (I like boneless/skinless thighs) cut into bite-size strips.
  • 1 strip bacon, cut into wee bits
  • 1oz crushed or minced garlic
  • 1 qt water
  • 1 cube chicken bouillion or equivalent (really!)
  • 1/2 tub deli-type fresh salsa (really!)
  • herbs/spices to taste. I like dried Italian-type seasoning here.
  • one "extra" ingredient (a handful of wild rice, some hominy, a handful of carrots, etc. Exactly one, no more)

Procedure

Toss the bacon into a pot (a pressure cooker with the lid off, a large saucier, something like that--NOT NON-STICK!) and start frying.

When the bacon is partially rendered, toss in the chicken and fry. Leave the bacon grease in.

Add the water and deglaze the pot with a wire whisk (that's the reason for not using a nonstick pot, btw).

Toss in the garlic while you're waiting for a boil.

At boilage, add the pasta, salsa and the rest of the ingredients (yes, just dump the salsa in there!). Bring back to a boil.

Bring it back down to a simmer and let it go for about 15 minutes. Then serve. Toss in some fresh herbs (parsley or basil is good) if you have 'em handy.

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Posted 2010-12-01 22:13:12

So I found I needed a word to describe the following scenario:

When you want to automatically break up a continuous range according to some criterion, you want to "autodiscontinuify."

For example, let's say you have the range of integers from 1 to 10. A nice continuous range. If you want to automatically remove all the prime numbers, you want to autodiscontinuify primes from the range. In this example, you'd end up with [(1) (4) (6) (8-10)].

Let's see if it catches on.

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Posted 2010-11-21 02:00:37

Just upgraded to a new machine at home (Quad-Core Phenom--Yay!) and Ubuntu 10.10 comes with Thunderbird 3.1.6. Improvements (at least from my perspective):

  • Both simple filters (ala TBird 2) and the intergalactic search (ala earlier TBird 3).
  • VERY simplified account setup. Damn. Really stupid simple. I'm not sure that Outlook+Exchange is easier to set up. Email address + password is all you need--everything else is automatic.
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Posted 2010-10-25 22:38:26

GNU Parted is rather useful software, able to (among other things) create GPT partitions. One of the nicer bits of syntax is the ability to specify negative numbers as partition ends (so you can, for example, specify a partition that takes up the rest of the disk easily). The bummer? While you can do a lot at the command line, trying something like this will fail:
parted /dev/sdb mkpart primary ext3 1MB -1MB
The solution? Add quotes!
parted /dev/sdb "mkpart primary ext3 1MB -1MB"
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Posted 2010-10-17 17:24:48

Do NOT contact me with regard to the post below. Period. I don't personally use Windows (or at least I do so as little as I can get away with) and haven't been a Windows sysadmin in at least 5 years. Five bliss-filled, almost-Microsoft-free years.

That said, my recommendations for the first couple of (free) tools to install after a Windows install are:

  • Microsoft Security Essentials - Nowhere near the "best" at catching spyware and viruses, but the least likely to mess your system up in the process. I figure MS is about the only system tool vendor with half a prayer of keeping up with their constant updates, so... (Former winners: AVG and Avast)
  • Comodo System Cleaner - Windows has the dubious distinction of having a central registry that seems to get hosed every damn time you sneeze at it. This utility seems to be pretty good at fixing it up. It'd be nice if MS would just fix their damn OS (I dunno, maybe 7 isn't so bad?). Anyway, it's a good free tool that has a five-star editor rating on CNET and does the job.
  • Firefox - For G-d's sake, please stop using Internet Explorer. Really. Ditto Outlook.
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Posted 2010-05-13 18:45:11

On the whole, I quite like the improvements in Ubuntu 10.04. Things seem to be running better than ever and the purpleness is quite nice.

I don't, however, like the new top-left location of the close button and friends:

Ubuntu 9.10 vs Ubuntu 10.04 Window Button Placement

This article shows you how to fix that (at least until the Ubuntu folks put a nice UI for this somewhere).

Warning: This tutorial uses the gconf-editor program, which (like messing with the Windows registry) can screw up your system (though honestly not AS bad as messing with the reg). Caveat to the reader...

  1. From a terminal (or by using Alt+F2), run the gconf-editor program.
    Run gconf-editor
  2. Go to Apps -> Metacity -> General and check out the button_layout option:
    Adjust Button Layout (button_layout)

By default, the layout will be "close,minimize,maximize:" as shown. Anything before the colon (:) ends up in the top-left while anything after ends up in the top-right. Check out these examples:

Various button layouts

(Note that "menu" is the whole window operation dropdown menu, that has all the options on it).

That's all there is to it. As soon as you type something in and hit enter, it takes effect immediately (take that, Windows registry!).

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Posted 2010-03-22 19:10:54

Making decisions is hard. Sometimes.

While George W. Bush was the Decider, making a call and sticking to it with insane fervor, the rest of us sane folk need to be somewhat more circumspect in our decision-making process. I suggest a three-pronged attack:

  • If possible, have a quantifiable measure of goodness by which you can evaluate the alternatives.
  • Have a fixed algorithm for distinguishing alternatives that seem to be tied according to your measure of goodness.
  • Learn to live with the fact that most decisions don't need to be optimal, just good enough--it's likely that the majority of your decisions aren't going to make that much difference and a bad decision just isn't that important in the grand scheme of things.

Once you have these down, convincing yourself that you did the right thing should be easier. Once you have that, confidence in your decisions should follow and you'll have the appearance of decisiveness.

Measures of Goodness

One of the first things that Engineering students are taught is to define the problem. Part of that problem definition process is figuring out which things are must-haves and which things are optimized for as secondary consideration. For example, you may want to design a car that's inexpensive and gets good gas mileage, but it MUST pass basic government safety standards. The factors that are variable (price, mileage) are design objectives while the safety standard is a design requirement.

If one of the alternatives doesn't meet all the design requirements while another does, you simply reject the failing alternative in favor of the passing one. Easy.

Once the unworkable alternatives are gone, it's time to evaluate the workable ones. That's where the measures of goodness come in. In the car example above, a designer would weigh the price and mileage metrics, figure out which is more important, and come up with a scale. A one-mile-per-gallon improvement that costs only $200 to implement may (or may not) be worth it, for example. Is it more important to pinch every penny or more important to have the competitive advantage of higher mileage? Being able to identify one or more measures of goodness and their relative importances is key to being able to make an informed (and defensible) decision.

Don't forget to pick metrics that are quantitative whenever possible (though a qualitative metric is OK, it's less defensible to other people).

Evaluating Equal Alternatives

The odds that you'll ever have two alternatives that are COMPLETELY equal with regards to your measures of goodness are low (since new measures of goodness, such as "how big of a pain in the butt is it to do this?" tend to creep up). That said, you may feel that two or more alternatives are nearly identical, so what do you do?

Flip a coin. No, really. You've already been as thoughtful as you can about picking an alternative that logic dictates is the "better" one and come up with more than one choice. You just have to pick SOMETHING. If you don't like flipping a coin, pick the one that more closely matches your favorite color. Or the one that has the nicer-sounding name. Or the one that weighs more. If you've already exhausted your measures of goodness, it's unlikely to matter much which you pick (but not picking SOMETHING will cause harm), so just go with your alternative tie-breaking metric (whatever that is).

Pick an alternative metric and use it consistently, since not making a decision quickly is more harmful than taking the wrong side in a 51-49 split decision.

Sometimes, It Just Doesn't Matter

At this point, you've already made a reasonable decision based on the available data, several measures of goodness and perhaps a tiebreaker. Now you're done. Don't agonize. If you had to go down to the wire and pick based on your tiebreaker, you can't have made a horrible decision (perhaps a mildly suboptimal one, but that's all).

Now you sell it. Like any good salesperson, accentuate the positive elements of your decision and downplay the bad. If you have to defend your decision, focus on your measures of goodness and what's important. As long as you were thoughtful in your analysis, you should get at least grudging approval from your peers.

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Posted 2010-02-22 00:30:09

So my wife and I had a belated Valentine's Day weekend and decided to spend it overnight at Cameron's in Half Moon Bay. Positives:
  • Right...over...a...bar (an English-style pub, in fact, with great food).
  • Saturday night karaoke.
  • Not too expensive ($109 for the night).
  • A free beer with night's stay.
Negatives:
  • The room was quirky. Very quirky. Almost too quirky for us (and our tolerance of quirk is legendary).
In summary, we were glad to have the one-night adventure and it was fun but not worth doing again. It was the sort of experience everyone should have exactly once. Enumerated list of quirks after the break. So like I said, the room was quirky. I was quite relieved that the heating in the room was up to the rather chilly HMB night (surprising), and that the bedclothes were also up to the task (even more surprising). The decor was full of nice throwback bric-a-brac, as well. The room was very clean, warm, and dry. I have no complaints with the fundamentals (which means that it was quite acceptable overall), but that's where the positives end...
  1. The door was, I believe, an office door at one point. With a large glass window and some rather funky mini-blinds for privacy (ish). Walking into the room gave an initial impression that we'd walked into some weird 1930s film noir porno of some sort. Imagine Sam Spade: Private Dick.
  2. Someone had a real fondness for hanging coats. I counted no less than 15 places to hang one. I almost felt bad for putting my shoes on the floor--I should've hung them instead.
  3. The bed (there was a queen and I believe a double in the room--we took the queen) was firm and reasonably comfortable. And squeaky. Every movement on its surface came with a seven-note chord that noted the shifting of its mattressy load. I'm pretty sure that, with a couple of microphones and some advanced software, enough information would be available from bednoise alone to accurately predict where its occupants lie and calculate their sleep disorders to three decimal places.
  4. Below the surface, the bedclothes seemed rather threadbare. I was very relieved to find them up to the task of keeping us warm, but I was tempted to run out and grab something to augment them for fear of waking up chilled.
  5. The lighting was equally iffy, though surprisingly effective. The overhead lighting was of the two-fluorescent-tube variety that looked more like kitchen lighting (and worked well, though out of place). One of the lamps looked to be the breeding ground of a new generation of electrical fires (but I'm probably overreacting).
  6. Mixed in and among the wonderful retro bric-a-brac was a industrial-grade-bathroom-style soap dispenser and paper towel dispenser above a small sink surrounded by laminate countertop. Easy to maintain, I imagine, but it detracts from the feel of the room horribly.
  7. Speaking of retro, the TV was a of a 1980s vintage, with broken rabbit ears and a nice new satellite receiver on top. The picture quality varied depending on whether the restaurant climate control was running or not...
  8. ...which also varied the amount of vibration that could be felt on the outer walls. Seriously, when the climate control was humming, so were the walls. We stayed in the master bedroom which was right below the physical plant for the building, so it may have been better in the other rooms.
  9. The master room, by the way, is the only one with its own bath. The other rooms share a bath that's accessed from the hallway.
We were also warned that we might experience noise from the restaurant below. We had no problem with this at all (the humming from above easily drowned out anything from below). If you decide to stay at Cameron's, you are above one of the best English-style pubs in the US (modulo the fact that their liquor license is beer/wine only). You will not be disappointed in the overall hospitality of the people or the cleanliness of the room--these things are above reproach. You will, however, experience the closest thing to a scene from a National Lampoon's movie possible without the likelihood of physical harm. I can recommend having the Cameron's overnight experience for exactly one night only--any longer will probably drive you mad.
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Posted 2010-02-02 23:53:38

Update: Safeway's not changing their minds and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's directives are out-of-date. See below! I've recently run into some ambiguity with regard to whether passport cards can be used for the same identification purposes that a conventional passport card can. While I've verified that the passport card is valid for Form I-9 (the form you have to fill out when you start working at a new place. See the top of list A on the last page), I asked the California Secretary of State for clarification. See the email I received in response below: (Note: This message has been edited for formatting ONLY)
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2010 16:32:15 -0800
From: "Notaries@sos.ca.gov" <notariesmail@sos.ca.gov>
To: <bj@wjblack.com>
Subject: RE: Federal Definition of Passport

Dear Mr. Black:
 
Thank you for contacting our office with regard to passport card.
 
Based on the following federal definitions, the passport card is
acceptable as identification under Civil Code section 1185.

    Title 22 Code of Federal Regulations:

    Section 51.1(d) Passport means a travel document regardless of
    format issued under the authority of the Secretary of State 
    attesting to the identity and nationality of the bearer.

    Section 51.3 Types of passports.
    (a) Regular passport . A regular passport is issued to a
    national of the United States.  

    (b) Official passport . An official passport is issued to an
    official or employee of the U.S. Government traveling abroad to
    carry out official duties. When authorized by the Department, 
    spouses and family members of such persons may be issued 
    official passports. When authorized by the Department, an 
    official passport may be issued to a U.S. government contractor 
    traveling abroad to carry out official duties on behalf of the 
    U.S. government.

    (c) Diplomatic passport . A diplomatic passport is issued to a
    Foreign Service officer or to a person having diplomatic status 
    or comparable status because he or she is traveling abroad to 
    carry out diplomatic duties on behalf of the U.S. Government. 
    When authorized by the Department, spouses and family members 
    of such persons may be issued diplomatic passports. When 
    authorized by the Department, a diplomatic passport may be 
    issued to a U.S. Government contractor if the contractor meets 
    the eligibility requirements for a diplomatic passport and the 
    diplomatic passport is necessary to complete his or her mission.

    (d) Passport card. A passport card is issued to a national of 
    the United States on the same basis as a regular passport. It is 
    valid only for departure from and entry to the United States 
    through land and sea ports of entry between the United States 
    and Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda. It is not a 
    globally interoperable international travel document. 

Sincerely,
 
Notary Public Section
The short version is that the California Secretary of State's office verifies that the passport card carries the same weight for notary purposes as a conventional passport. I've since written a letter to Safeway corporate headquarters detailing a bunch of research I've done regarding various rules regarding Passport Cards, their efficacy and legitimacy, and agencies that explicitly list the Passport Card as valid ID. Hopefully those who may be confused can find this page on the almighty Google and it will be helpful to them. Update: Safeway sent the following response:
Dear Mr. Black:

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding your dissatisfaction
with the passport card [sic] not being accepted as a legal form of
identification when purchasing alcohol at your local Safeway store.

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience you experienced on your
recent shopping trip.  Our employees are required to verify proper
identification before selling any liquor to customers that appear to be
under 30 years of age.  It is essential that we enforce this policy to
avoid selling liquor to minors.  By California state [sic] law, acceptable
forms of identification must have name, date of birth, physical
description (height and weight), and a photo.  The ID must be issued by a
government agency and not be expired.  Our employees are very cautious
with the sale of alcohol because they can be held legally liable if
alcohol is sold to minors and if they have not verified valid
identification.  Passports and any other ID's [sic] which do not fit all
of these criteria are not legally acceptable.  We will direct your
comments to the appropriate department for review.

...[contact and other miscellany]...
The statement that there may be legal liability is inconguous with California Business And Professions Code Section 25660, which reads:
Bona fide evidence of majority and identity of the person is a document
issued by a federal, state, county, or municipal government, or
subdivision or agency thereof, including, but not limited to, a motor
vehicle operator's license, an identification card issued to a member of
the Armed Forces that contains the name, date of birth, description, and
picture of the person, or a valid passport issued by the United States or
by a foreign government.
The last part about passports was apparently added by Assembly Bill 1191 last year, so this is a relatively new change to the law. I can certainly understand Safeway lagging the times a few months... ...I can't, however, condone the fact that the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is also behind the times. From their FAQ:
Q. 74. What is documentary evidence of age and identity?

A. To be suitable as evidence for a defense, the identification card
must be issued by a governmental agency and have a current description
and a picture of the person presenting it which reasonably describes
the person as to date of birth weight, height, sex and color of eyes
and hair. No defense will exist if the card has obviously been altered
or has expired. A registration certificate issued under the Federal
Selective Service Act is no longer considered documentary evidence of
age, identity and date of birth. (Section 25660)
...which isn't exactly what Section 25660 says anymore. I've responded to Safeway, noting that their understanding of the law is out of date, along with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Disclaimer: I am a software engineer by trade, not a lawyer. This post should not be construed as legal advice.
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