log  ->  quadium.net

Sat 2003-02-01 16:33

Space shuttle fall down go boom. :-(

Earth below us
drifting, falling.
Floating weightless
coming, coming

Major Tom (Coming Home)

I've never really been massively affected by news of tragedy from afar; I mean, I felt sad about things like the WTC attack because people died, but not to where I was overwhelmed with sorrow, rage, and jingoism. Everybody's time comes eventually, I guess is the main subconscious reasoning behind my subdued reaction. But the Columbia thing is really a bummer for me, and I've been trying to figure out why.

I've come to the conclusion that it's probably because of the whole communications blackout thing. I don't suppose anyone really wants to die alone. There's an extra element of bleak sadness when the radio cuts out, as is usual when entering the atmosphere, and just never comes back. No bodies, only a few pieces of metal scattered over Texas to prove they were even real.

Well, my hat is off to them. I have to say this, though: I was listening to the NASA press conference on NPR on my way home, and they say the incident occurred at 200,000ft in the air while going Mach 18. I mean, what a way to go; no mundane death for these guys.

So now the big question is what caused the accident. Columbia was apparently ~18 years old, so it's possible it was simple wear. But really, if the airlines know the MTBF of each part in a jetliner and replace it before it breaks, how much more is NASA going to do that? (I'm really hoping this is a rhetorical question...)

No one I saw or heard really mentioned the possibility of terrorism. And while I cringe at the word being tossed around lightly, and I've come to conclude that Al Qaeda seems to be a very convenient scapegoat for the world's police forces, there are some facts which are either important clues or extremely coincidental:

Not to mention the extremely strange fact that it apparently happened very near to ci.palestine.tx.us.

If this does turn out to be the result of some sort of terrorist action (or some group decides to claim responsibility, truthfully or not), I can easily see the situation degenerating: Israel gets tired of sitting on the sidelines so as not to annoy the Arabs, and they send the Mossad after who is responsible, or who they think is responsible (they have made mistakes; rarely, but they have). Saddam decides it's time to start lobbing Scuds into Jerusalem again. Seeing an Arab vs. Jew war, the Arab nations band together, and with Venezuela's export situation all screwed up, this jeopardizes USA oil supplies. Some European countries, Russia, and/or China side against Israel, claiming they are overreacting. The United States takes Israel's side. And it's World War 3. But this is extremely pessimistic.

The other violent possibilities, besides an outside group planting a bomb on the shuttle, are:

Anyway, I'm relieved to see that fingers are not immediately being pointed. Not that the various authority figures aren't at leisure to do so, should they need a scapegoat. I don't mean to be quite so skeptical, it just happens...

Assuming it was just a tragic accident, I see these possible outcomes:

I really don't see the public questioning whether space flights should continue; sadly, it seems that space exploration has faded to a mere novelty for most. And with good reason; while I do greatly respect those putting their lives on the line to do what exploration they can of the final frontier, nothing really seems to be happening to capture people's imaginations. Really, why aren't we heading to Mars yet?

My only hope is that this tragedy inspires some truly remarkable space exploration efforts. I would be very sad to see these brave astronauts memorialized as merely a link in the long chain of status quo. Let's get a manned Mars mission already!

Fri 2003-02-07 - 13:48

not like i need any ideas, mind you

While poking around on E2 and learning something about various types of VTEC engines (mine's a 1.6L SOHC), I ran across Highway Tales:

We cringed in horror as we heard a loud thud, followed immediately by crunch, a moment of silence, and then another crunch and one last thud. Images of my WRX rolling over flashed into our heads. Then we all started running like maniacs, hoping we could make it back to the Type-R before the cops showed up.

See, we weren't particularly worried about Barry. He can fend for himself.

and this is what they dominated the market with?

So I know that the party line is supposed to be I support free software and I want to see Linux on the desktop [whatever that means], but there's no way we can ever hope to get Microsoft Office out of the way. Excel does so much, blah blah blah. That's a big load of horse hooey, see.

My job involves 2 things, basically: paperwork and Excel. And every day, I get a little less impressed with Excel. Among the things that are broken (in Excel 97 SP2):

Protection is broken.
It's possible to change the spreadsheet in a way that you shouldn't be able to if the spreadsheet is protected, but the protection prevents you from putting it back. The easiest way to do this is to drag a value from 1 cell to another with a different style, or to drag a value from a cell that is included in a formula. There are 3 legitimate ways for drag-and-drop to behave:
  1. Dragging only moves values, not formatting or formulas.
  2. Dragging moves everything associated with a cell and changes formulas that reference it. It gives an error if you try dragging when protection is enabled.
  3. Dragging normally moves everything, but when protection is enabled it only moves the cell's value.
And dragging with the right mouse button should let the user choose what to move. Maybe it does; I'll have to try it tonight.
You can't edit or view macros if macros are disabled.
The help screen claims you can, but there seems to be no way to open a template and edit its auto-open macro without triggering it, or to check a foreign spreadsheet's macros for maliciousness.
Cells sometimes don't recalculate/redisplay unless you scroll off the current screen and back again.
I've wasted hours due to this.
Automated deletion works, sometimes.
I had a macro that did Range.Delete(xlShiftUp). It works when I step through the macro, it works when I delete the range through the GUI, but when I run the macro it doesn't move everything up. I had to change it to 2 separate statements, and now it works.
If you're editing a template, you can't create a document based on that template.
The user is required to close the template before creating a new document. This, as you might expect, makes it quite difficult to do development on said template. I think what I'll do is make an icon somewhere which runs a batch file to copy the template to a dummy file, which I can then create an instance of. To my unindoctrinated mind, this seems quite backwards.

At least I've pretty much got our internal stuff down, so I can do it without supervision now. My boss is a good guy and all, but he's kind of new to computers, and he gets freaked out if I do strange things like clicking on the trough instead of the arrows on the scrollbar, or using the mousewheel's flying mode, or whatever the term is. And on that subject:

Mouse wheel flying mode doesn't stop at end of spreadsheet.
The scrollbars let you scroll past the end of the sheet, but it only covers what actually has data. Why can't the flying mode do the same thing? Like, it'd be nice that instead of letting me launch myself to ZZ999 just as it picks up speed, it slows me down or stops me when I'm getting close to the edge. Just a thought.

It may have less features, but at least Gnumeric updates calculations when I change their inputs.


I ran into my ex-girlfriend when I was at the Chipotle in Westminster with Erik. That was kind of awkward. Funny, whenever I asked her to go to Chipotle with me, she said she didn't like it.

Discovered on Cell Phone Hacks, a site dedicated to, among other things, finding codes to get free airtime, use more provider bandwidth for better audio quality, and clone phones:

and for everyone else that keeps relentlessly asking these questions, it never hurts to call your provider. they are not your enemy
mastering the art of phreaking one phone at a time

Fri 2003-02-14 - 09:58

Posted Sun 2003-02-16 - 13:58

more fun with Microsoft Office

"Before printing, insert envelopes in your printer's auto."

I've also had the joy of running into yet another Excel situation in which the macro works when being stepped through, but not when simply being run. Luckily this one doesn't need to be run very often.

I checked, and it turns out that dragging a selection in Excel using the right mouse button does present a menu of copying and moving options. Still doesn't answer the question of why it lets the user break the protection system. I guess they thought their users wouldn't feel at home without some sort of security hole.

Excel 2002 still doesn't let you view the source of a macro if you've disabled macros. So if someone sends you a spreadsheet with macros, your choices are:

  1. Allow macros and possibly get hit with a virus.
  2. Disable all macros and lose functionality. Note that Excel doesn't tell you whether it's an auto-open macro or not.
  3. View the macro source and decide whether it's safe to run.

[Excel macro dialog with "Edit" button disabled]

I'm also wondering why Microsoft felt compelled to create multiple macro warning dialogs, depending on whether the spreadsheet is being opened from the Explorer or from within Excel, and on whether it's a template or not. And, of course, why there's no "always say yes for this spreadsheet" button. (Why, for the same reason Outlook prompts on all attachments, even JPEG files...)

And just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, I decided I needed to insert a formula. Nothing complicated, just a horizontal division bar. First, Excel doesn't have an Edit > Insert... > Equation... menu item. I searched help, and it turns out the correct thing to do is Edit > Insert... > Object... > "Microsoft Equation 3.0".

Now, nothing could possibly be more useless than Microsoft Equation 3.0, except maybe the combination of Microsoft Equation and Excel. Excel apparently has no way to size an object to 1 or more cells. You can tell it to change the size of an object if the cells beneath it are resized, but that's it. No I want object A to be the contents of cell B for you! Microsoft Equation likes to spontaneously resize the object depending on the order you enter parts of the formula in, and when its object is resized, it changes not only its aspect ratio, but its alignment. By which I mean, division bars don't match their contents in length, equals signs overlayed across everything else, parts of the formula getting cropped by the edge of the object, ....

Microsoft is why I had a headache last night. Give me LATEX for documents and Gnumeric for spreadsheets any day. Ooh, and Gnumeric has a TEX plugin of some sort. I must explore this in greater detail.

Thanks to AnalogX Capture for the first screenshot, and to Gimp for Windows for allowing me to make the corners of the second one transparent.

super spiffy software of the day

Nuke Image. It works in plain Mozilla too.


And when we were just getting over the inanity of the useless excuse for a word that is "blog", Google endorses it. And AOL is planning to let its poorly informed users spew yet more poorly formated opinions onto the Web.

Like we needed any more proof that Clear Channel is evil.

Down with MLK Jr., that racist pig, with his will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character tripe!


I'm adding bylines to my entries from now on, because the title of each entry is the time I started, and it can take while for me to get it finished up sometimes.

Wed 2003-02-26 12:57

writings I found

Here's a nice rant on the state of commercial software:

What the Open Source movment has done is a refreshing breath of fresh air and IMHO it is the ONLY way that the programmers of the future are going to stand any chance of avoiding the endentured servant trap that closed source software creates.


Anatta talks about the disconnect between Bush's (oh-so-subtle) humane response to those who have succumbed to drug abuse and the policies his Attorney General is promulgating. I still wonder what happens to those that are not dying of cancer, nor are they tragically stuck in the grip of heroin, but just like to smoke a bowl every once in a while. Especially considering that tobacco and alcohol are still legal, and caffeine isn't even a Drug.

Yet another logfile anecdote led me to the essay The Valley is a Harsh Mistress. It starts out reading like some kind of mass book review, but goes into detail about common reasons for the failure of software companies:

I don't think I've seen anything sum it up so well in quite a while.


Joie's been getting more and more into the *nix thing lately. Besides just starting the "must try every window manager" phase that everyone seems to go through (I've only just now settled down with WindowMaker), she's apparently planning to script everything under the sun. So far she has scripts to automatically restart the Internet connection, download and build the latest copy of Gaim, set her terminal window titles, and today she wrote one which builds a Blackbox menu for setting her background to one of her drawings.

These are all things she's written herself (using me as a sort of intelligent man page index) and she seems to be picking up more on the relationship between something she wants the computer to do and the steps she needs to make the computer do to accomplish it. She's shown more aptitude for computer skills in general and Unix specifically, and has more of a genuine interest in learning, than anyone I've met that wasn't already hopelessly obsessed. I'm incredibly proud of her, and I'm glad I'm lucky enough to have a fiancée I can discuss my, er, obsession with intelligently.

Lucky because of that and, you know, the love. So.


My laptop seems to be toast. Something seems to have shorted out, because bumping or moving it, or even stepping heavily near whatever it's sitting on, will cause it to reboot. Considering I probably only paid about $120 for it, I'm not too upset, considering how long it lasted. I'm currently saving up for a refurbished ThinkPad.

Anyway, this has kind of stalled Pinot development for a little while, just because I didn't have any kind of real development environment set up on spork. I now have current versions of WindowMaker, XEmacs (although Joie and I seem to have gotten unlucky with this build; it's quite crashy, although I personally don't do any of the things that trigger it (read: anything involving dialog boxes), zsh, and CLISP. Joie's computer, thumper, is x86-based and so can run CMUCL, so development should recommence soon.

Most of what I have left to do is just preparing it for its first deployment onto quadium.net, and then release. It's taken far longer than I expected to establish basic functionality, but hopefully the time and effort spent on establishing this base will pay off in extensibility.


The byline thing was dumb the way I had it set up; I hacked something up to fill in the heading with the time the entry was posted. It also takes care of inserting each entry into the appropriate files, which I was doing by hand and which tended to cause procrastination in posting. I had a Perl script to do this quite a while ago, but I lost it. I'm planning to post my code shortly.

Fri 2003-02-28 15:45

parade of morons

Wednesday night I had the misfortune of getting stuck behind some kind of convoy on its way to Steamboat. I don't think I've seen that many people heading there at night before. The snow earlier in the day had left a dusting on the ground, though, which means the locals slow down from 60mi/hr to 40-45mi/hr. In a 65mi/hr zone.

Luckily, when I got to a straight stretch of road, one that usually has to have 1 or 2 cars puttering past in the other lane, it was clear, so from the back I changed into the left lane, upped the speed in my little FWD Civic, and watched as the Outbacks, Durangos, F-150s, and Blazers fell behind, all proudly displaying their "4x4" or "AWD" stickers. I had perfect traction for the rest of the drive, too.

I'm normally averse to government regulation, but I wouldn't complain about restrictions on trucks and SUVs. It's not about the resource consumption, although I think the mileage of these behemoths is shameful; I think that simply passing on more of the true environmental costs to the consumer will take care of that in short order. It's that these vehicles present a genuine safety hazard in their lighting. The lights are right at eye height for drivers of normal vehicles, and the vehicles (trucks especially) seem to come with 2 or 3 times a normal vehicle's complement of lights, which are usually the brightest bulbs they can find. I want traffic stops for people leaving their brights on. I also want to make it a requirement that anyone driving a truck or SUV have taken their driving test in such a vehicle. Much of the excessive slowness I see comes from people who are still a menace even when they've slowed down, just because they can't make their vehicle handle properly.

excuse me while i clean the vomit from my keyboard, please

<ruumis> http://gelatinous.com/danh/temp/Absolute_Worst_Thing_Ever/
<synec> thanks for sharing
<synec> note: never, EVER click on a url that ruumis posts
<ruumis> hey, you could have read the text first. 
<ruumis> you had ample warning.

— #dnalounge


Some different views on the push for a war in Iraq: a cynical one suggesting that it's about Halliburton, Dick Cheney's old company, getting to rebuild trashed oil wells and build staging bases. (Newsmax syndicated a story back in 2001 claiming Cheney had his fingers in more Iraqi pies than he claimed.) Meanwhile, jwz provides a link to the thoughts of John Perry Barlow (of the EFF) regarding Cheney and the USA's policy:

...they want the rest of the world to think that we are the ultimate weaving driver. Not to be trusted, but certainly not to be messed with either.

By these terrible means, they will create a world where war conducted by any country but the United States will seem simply too risky and the Great American Peace will begin. Unregulated Global Corporatism will be the only permissible ideology, every human will have access to McDonald's and the Home Shopping Network, all `news' will come through some variant of AOLTimeWarnerCNN, the Internet will be run by Microsoft, and so it will remain for a long time. Peace. On Prozac.

I've given the situation thought for some time. My first political thoughts of any kind on September 11th were centered around a concern that this would lead to jingoism, creeping totalitarianism, and a search for scapegoats. Sadly, I seem to have been proven correct.

The thought foremost in my mind, even at this point — and I suppose this is somewhat selfish when pondering the potential violent invasion of a land of impoverished conscripts — is that the measures taken to restrict civil liberties will continue and harshen. And the thing that saddens me most is that it seems as if issues related to war are merely a distraction, the contemplation of sending soldiers off to kill, be killed, and prop up another USA-created puppet state only a shiny bauble to generate protests and debates while corporate power becomes more entrenched, copyright and drug laws are strengthened beyond all reason, and they plan to strip citizenship for trumped-up charges.

I supported Ashcroft during his nomination. A lot of people were complaining about his religious beliefs, specifically related to abortion (something I should note, for the sake of full disclosure, that I personally despise), but he stood up and said (paraphrased) As Attorney General, I will follow the law.. I wish I could go back and somehow forsee the rampantly unconstitutional and unethical laws he is now promulgating, and I think it's time to stand up and pick a side, before the frog boils, before any fascism can take root, and before all we can do is condemn our own silence and historical amnesia.

Before I go to into much more depth, I'd like to quote some laws I can stand behind:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

With that said, here is my current position on Iraq specifically. Saddam Hussein is a brutal and evil man. He has brutalized his own citizens and neighboring states for far too long. But Bush and his allies are not demanding to invade based on human rights violations, nor is Hussein acting in a belligerent manner as he did in the invasion of Kuwait. The claim is that he has a cache of all sorts of nefarious weapons, and is planning some sort of horrid terrorist attack. It's entirely plausible that he is.

But if the evidence is so clear-cut, why do Bush and Blair hold back? Why hold out for more allies? Why continue pushing Hussein against the wall and goad him into making the first move? Why not simply invade, seize the weapons, and hold them up to the world as evidence? Perhaps the "proof" is not so readily available as they would like us to believe, and they want others to collectively share the blame with. I think this demands further examination, especially when major media outlets conveniently abridge parts of Blix's report favorable to Iraq.

Having chosen to go the route of seeking international approval, having made war conditional upon Iraq's refusal to allow UN inspectors or destroy weapons (both of which he has been doing at a furious pace, seeing Wrath approaching), Bush must now wait until the world is somewhat satisfied with his claims. The United States simply cannot go it alone at this point, for the simple fact that it has earned the mistrust of the world with its previous military adventures involving tinpot dictators. And should this turn out to be far more messy than the glib PR being put forth, the invaders will need world support. That's something that will not be achieved by destroying the economies of countries that disagree with us.


I tried to boot up the laptop to copy some files, and it complained about "bad RAM," then reduced my system memory from 256MB to 128MB. So I took the second DIMM out, and I don't know yet if it's the module or the socket, but all the stability problems went away, even when shifting the laptop around, picking it up, running X11+XEmacs+Mozilla, etc. I'm not going to complain that it's working, but I know I tested the memory....

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