Wednesday, 18 October 2006

SLU email sucks

At the moment, the email system at SLU is pretty much choked, with no sign of a solution coming any time soon (and, no, ITS throwing more money at the problem is not a solution, it's a stopgap). I think it’s time for a replacement.

Friday, 13 October 2006

Woot this

If I’m not careful, I may get addicted to Woot!; I’ve already gotten a rather nice set of Bluetooth headphones to use with my laptop and a better set of computer speakers, both at bargain-basement prices.

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

The one cool thing I learned this afternoon

KWord imports PDF files. I wish I’d learned that before I shelled out $50 at Office Depot for a Windows program that did the same thing.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Adverse selection and Best Buy warranties

Tyler Cowen is the latest to observe that extended warranties are a profit center for electronics retailers. The only products I buy extended warranties on these days are laptop computers—I can fix a desktop fairly readily (and usually quite cheaply, thanks to Newegg), but if anything other than a hard drive or memory bites the dust on a laptop you’re basically screwed.

Laptops tend toward the unreliable side; with heavy use and normal levels of abuse, I’m lucky to get through 12 months without some sort of failure. I’m also a complete klutz… I’ve fried two laptops with liquids over the past four years, making an accidental repair plan pretty much a necessity.

The extended warranty isn’t a complete panacea; I’ve had repaired laptops come back with the wrong power connector and the wrong motherboard (I recently sent off my Compaq V4000T for repair with an ATI Radeon X700 graphics chip, and it came back with an Intel i915GM, a decidedly inferior part). But it beats shelling out $1000+ every 18 months.

Monday, 14 August 2006

reportbug gaining interfaces

After what charitably may be two years of stagnation, reportbug is gaining a couple of new interfaces soon. Probably the more high-profile effort—and the one that’s closer to primetime—is Philipp Kern’s “Summer of Code” project to add a Gnome2 interface to reportbug, which should be hitting the experimental distribution soon.

Meanwhile, I’ve started fiddling with the urwid library and have made startlingly rapid progress constructing a UI with it, even though I am still getting the hang of the widget system… some widgets just refuse to go inside other widgets in ways that are not completely obvious to me, leading to strange runtime exceptions that are hard to debug. In any event, before it hits the mirrors, there’s more stuff to be done—most notably, the bug tracking system query interface (I haven’t even started tackling that yet) and figuring out how to suspend the urwid session to launch an editor that may want to use the console. On the latter point, I may go back to running each dialog as a separate session, which would also give me the console log back.

Friday, 11 August 2006

Me want Mac Pro

Reminder to self: specify that I want a Mac Pro on my desk when negotiating my tenure-track contract this fall (with whomever that might be).

Friday, 4 August 2006

Keyboard woes

My fancy Belkin MediaPilot wireless keyboard doesn’t play nicely with my new USB KVM switch (the Mac handles it OK, but Windows XP doesn’t like it for some reason, alas), so I’m back to using my trusty IBM Active Response Pro keyboard with one of those PS/2-USB adapters.

Frankly, I’m surprised that’s the only real problem I’ve had so far in setting up my computer stuff. I was expecting (knock on wood) to blow out a fuse or three instead.

Wednesday, 5 July 2006

What I learned about OS X today

Here’s one very handy command to know, particularly when you’re 700+ miles away from your OS X box: sudo softwareupdate -i -a. It goes very nicely with fink selfupdate && fink update-all.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Am I becoming a Mac geek?

I got an email today announcing the big grand opening of the Apple Store in Raleigh at Crabtree Valley Mall (I’d have figured on them going to Triangle Town Center, but whatevs) and, disturbingly, I am actually contemplating dragging my butt out there at an ungodly hour for a free T-shirt and to enter a drawing. So long as I don’t end up buying anything—cash flow being a tad on the negative side these days since I’m basically unemployed for the next two months—I suppose it could be fun.

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Student paper rant of the day

When kids learn how to do word processing (whenever and however they learn it—I know I don’t teach it), apparently nobody bothers to teach them to create page breaks by using the “Page Break” function instead of just hitting return a bunch of times. Thus, when I print it out on my printer, everything ends up FUBAR.

This is, in one word, annoying—so annoying, in fact, that I am considering a “no sending me papers via email” rule in the future.

Update: Of all the posts that someone would complain about, it would have to be this one… sheesh.

Monday, 17 April 2006

Figuring Time Warner out

Now I’ve figured out the internal logic of Time Warner’s local HDTV channel numbers here in Durham, I guess I’m a little less confused:

  • WRAL (CBS) 5’s HD stream is channel 255.
  • ABC 11’s HD stream is channel 211.
  • NBC 17’s HD stream is channel 217.
  • Fox 50’s HD stream is channel 250.

It leaves the choice of 201 for PBS still somewhat arbitrary, but what can you do?

Thursday, 6 April 2006

Continuing to work on the timeline

Ralph Luker links a NBC 17 story from last Friday that includes some quotes from an attorney representing one of the leaseholders on the 610 house that I hadn’t seen before (most interesting part bolded):

Meanwhile, defense attorneys continued on Friday to question the allegations of wrongdoing, including a 911 call made shortly before the alleged rape was reported.

In that call, a distraught woman said men in the house where the lacrosse team party was being held shouted racial slurs at her outside. Attorneys pointed out some discrepancies in the caller’s version of the incident and in the timing of the call.

“I listened to that first call, and I thought, ‘You called 911 because someone said something offensive to you?’ That’s just weird,” said Kerry Sutton, who represents lacrosse team member Matt Evans.

Evans is one of three captains of the team and lives at the Buchanan Boulevard house where the party was held. Sutton said Evans cleared out the house and locked it up when the party got too raucous.

“I believe my client. He says he didn’t do anything, and he believes nobody else did anything,” Sutton said. “No matter how this turns out, it’s a terrible thing for somebody.”

That explains why everyone disappeared from the house, although it doesn’t explain why nobody (including the nosy neighbor) seems to have witnessed it.

This raises the need to better pin down the timeline. Team member Ryan McFadyen’s email is apparently one of many sent in the period after the alleged rape went down, but the only one we have evidence of to this point. Duke’s email system records timestamps on every message passed through it, and all emails sent or received via the Duke email system require a username and password—so where’s the subpeona for all these records? Is it hiding somewhere under seal along with the search of McFadyen’s room, which only came to light because a student witnessed Durham police entering Edens 2C?

There were laptops and wireless cards siezed at the party—were there emails sent before, during, and after the entertainment? Not to mention timestamps on digital camera photos and call records and GPS locations of players’ cellphones—the latter of which would at least be able to show who (or whose phones) were there.

I’m not asking for a lot of Charlie Epps rocket science here… just the basics. Use the technology help to figure out what the hell actually was going on here, and cut out the nonsense.

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Anamorphisize this

You know, if you were going to go to the trouble of remastering a movie for DVD, including adding 5.1 Dolby Surround sound, you’d think it would be trivial to master the DVD in anamorphic mode so I’d get more than about 300 lines of effective vertical resolution on my 16:9 HDTV. Grr.

TiVo Series 3 HD speculation

PVRblog links a post by Dave Zatz that takes note of a new TiVo contest in which the grand prize is the long-awaited Series 3 HD TiVo; Zatz has started a side contest in which readers are asked to speculate on a release date and price for the unit. Although the official word from TiVo is “second half of 2006,” the betting money is apparently on “early September” at this point.

QandO posts so I don't have to

Over at QandO, Dale Franks mocks James Miller’s idea that what the voters are clamoring for is a space elevator—for starters, the name “space elevator” needs to go, since who wants to spend a week listening to The Girl from Ipanema while they trundle towards geostationary orbit?—and McQ does a post-mortem on the DP World ports deal.

The latter of course points out the futility of trying to ask the American public questions about Middle Eastern politics; if the average American has the emirate of Dubai (which has been a consistent U.S. ally for its entire existence) equated to al Qaeda in their heads, what hope could he or she possibly have of meaningfully distingushing between Saddam Hussein (a known bad guy) and al Qaeda?

Sunday, 12 March 2006

Your IPTV primer

Ars Technica explains IPTV to the masses. In theory, IPTV will be the telephone companies’ (i.e. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon’s) response to the cable companies’ offering of “bundled” services, although it seems like with the exception of Verizon (and, even in Verizon’s case, only in limited areas) the phone companies don’t seem to be all that interested in rolling out these services. At least from my perspective, the phone companies are going to have to do a much better job in pricing and bandwidth to get me back from the cablecos.

Thursday, 9 March 2006

My secret life as a Condorcet voter

As of this posting, I am one of 290 Debian developers who have thus far bothered to vote on the first General Resolution of 2006, which will state Debian’s position on the GNU Free Documentation License and decide whether (and under what conditions) GFDL-licensed documents will be allowed in Debian’s “main” distribution.

My sense is that the spirit of the Debian Free Software Guidelines is most consistent with the interpretation embodied in Amendment A—I seriously doubt the Free Software Foundation will go after people who distribute GFDL-licensed documents on DRMed media and the “transparent formats” issue is probably a non-issue in practice, judging from the distinct lack of interest by the FSF in going after people who violate the GPL’s “you must make source available for three years” rule, but the invariant sections rule is clearly non-free and cannot be ignored.

Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on your perspective) this means Debian users will not have access to most of the documentation that uses invariant sections—primarily those documents distributed by the FSF themselves. On the upside, it will at least spare our users from having reams of Richard Stallman’s political rants foisted upon them and their hard drives in exchange for the privilege of having the Emacs manual available.

So, anyway, here’s how I voted, since it will be public at the close of the vote anyway: 2143—or, in other words, Amendment A [GFDL allowed if invariant sections not used] > Original Resolution [GFDL not allowed at all] > Further Discussion > Amendment B [anything GFDL'd goes].

Next up: the elections for Debian Project Leader, featuring a smorgasbord of seven candidates.

Wacky prof follies of the day

Via email from FCS, a story on a professor at Suffolk University who apparently can’t work Fn-F4 (the internal/external display switch) on his laptop properly:

A Suffolk University professor is under investigation by university officials following accusations of alleged pornographic misconduct.

According to Emily Macdonald, a student in the class, [the professor] allegedly watched porn on his computer, which was unknowingly connected to a monitor that was behind him.

The class ended half an hour following the display, and the students never tried to intervene.

All sorts of intriguing questions arise here: was he multitasking at the time, both lecturing and watching Hung Jury 17 simultaneously? How does one “unknowingly” hook up one’s own computer to a monitor? Perhaps most importantly, from a pedagogical standpoint, did the porn in the background hurt or help students’ comprehension of the other material presented in class that day?

Update: The boss has additional thoughts on this matter.

Update (19 July 2007): At the request of the individual involved in this unfortunate incident and after some reflection, I have removed his name from this post; his identity was really not all that important to the point of this post.

Monday, 6 March 2006

On the road linkfest

Since I am off on an interview today, posting may be restricted to this linkfest:

  • Hei Lun Chan of Begging to Differ dissects the NFL labor dispute to the bare essentials; if only he were as hot as Rachel Nichols, I might never need to watch ESPN again.
  • Clint Ecker of Ars Technica reviews the Intel Mac mini for those who have not experienced for themselves the bliss that is Core Duo.
  • The Solomon Amendment case was another 8–0 slam dunk for those right-wing extremists on the Supreme Court, and probably the right decision on precedent (in my mind, it would be hard to strike down the Solomon Amendment but uphold much of the Civil Rights Act of 1964); overall, I tend to agree with Will Baude’s assessment that policymakers (explicitly excluding, being the attitudinalist I am, the Court) on all sides of the issue are wrong. Baude also ponders the possibility that private universities might choose to divest themselves of their law schools to avoid any adverse effect should they chose to continue to bar military recruiters.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

Saturday, 4 March 2006

Blog transition complete

The blog is now running on the Mac mini, apparently without incident. The blog seems a little zippier in responding to requests now that it’s not running over the wireless network; the dual cores on the Mini may also be helping the zippy feeling, as the computer is compiling an Emacs 22 prerelease from fink in the background.

Thursday, 2 March 2006

I've been mini-ized

Meet the new addition to the Lawrence household, an Intel Mac mini (1.66 GHz Core Duo, 512MB RAM and 80GB hard drive):

Mac mini, installed

See all of the photos here.

Thus far, it’s been pretty spiffy. I can’t really sit all the way across the room and use it, except when in Front Row, and I’m still getting used to the slightly different key shortcuts for things with the Belkin MediaPilot wireless keyboard/thumbmouse I bought to go with it, but those aren’t problems with the computer per se. I haven’t sat down and done much Unixy stuff with it yet; all I have really done is a brief foray into Terminal to copy a file from my work machine to email to someone this evening, during which I found that the backspace keybinding acts funny in ssh sessions to my Debian boxes (undoubtably a simple setting I’ll have to Google for later on).

Anyway… back to watching NewsRadio Season 3…

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Integrate this

Well, at least now I feel better about the news that the Intel Mac mini has an integrated graphics chipset (þ: Ars Technica).

Mind you, since I wasn’t really planning to run games on it—that is, after all, why I have an Xbox—it didn’t really bother me in the first place. I may end up upgrading the RAM from the default 512MB sooner rather than later, depending on how much of a memory hog fetchmail, Apache, and the blog end up being, but waiting around for Apple to install a memory upgrade before shipping it didn’t exactly appeal to me.

Tuesday, 28 February 2006

My tax refund, made manifest

Thanks to the IRS’s massive overwitholding, I’ll be helping stimulate the Chinese economy (and the share price of AAPL) with the purchase of one of these for the living room so I can finally get rid of the ancient Pentium III/450MHz in my study and put the blog on the right—i.e. wired to the cable company—end of the wireless bridge in my apartment.

Friday, 6 January 2006

TiVo Series 3 (HD) announced at CES

PVRblog and MegaZone have the scoop on the upcoming HDTV-capable TiVo, which will include over-the-air and cable HDTV tuners. Although no retail price has been announced, I probably should start saving my pennies now.

Tuesday, 6 December 2005


Apropos the previous post, now I’m leaning towards this model from Westinghouse, which has the twin virtues of being slightly bigger than the Samsung and about $150 cheaper at retail; it also looks pretty comparable in person, seems to be getting good reviews at AVSForum, and has all the same inputs—well, except it has DVI-HDCP instead of HDMI, but I can live with that.

On the other hand, it may be prudent to hold out until March, when the digital tuner mandate kicks in for 25-inch and larger TVs, although it’s unclear how many of these TVs will include CableCARD too—the newer sub-$1000 models seem to be only including over-the-air ATSC (digital TV) tuners, since apparently slapping a PCMCIA slot in a TV is more expensive than you’d think.