2011-09-14 09:17 pm

Once in a blue moon...

I do not post nearly as much as I wish I did, but I feel this warranted me to post something: http://shebshi.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/some-real-shock-and-awe-racially-profiled-and-cuffed-in-detroit/
2010-11-07 12:58 pm
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Automated RSS Downloading

I wrote previously about an automated system for downloading files from an RSS feed. RSSDler started giving me issues with some characters inside the linked .torrent file's name. Since it has been over a year since RSSDler was last updated, I decided to look around for a replacement.

Enter FlexGet. FlexGet is another command-line program that downloads files automatically from a variety of sources, be they RSS feeds, HTML file, and others. Better yet, FelxGet offers a lot of control over what is downloaded, including RegExp filtering. FlexGet is also capable of parsing some data from linked files (such as HD resolutions, seasons and episodes).

I am fine-tuning my install, but right now it looks like FlexGet will be able to do everything I want it to do. One concern with RSSDler was that I have an RSS feed for automotive videos, but I primarily just want F1 races. Being able to RegExp for Formula1 - FullRace .* BBC x264 means I can now let FlexGet go at the feed without fear of it downloading dozens of .torrents a day.

FlexGet is available from Fink in addition to building manually. FlexGet does not natively support running as a daemon, but using Launchd to run it on an interval is not a problem.
2010-01-31 06:19 pm
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iPad without Flash

The people complaining about the iPad not having Flash sound a lot like the people complaining when the original iMac was released without a floppy drive. The product is going to fail, how can people get along without such a requisite technology, etc.

Well, people did, and finding a computer with a floppy drive has become rather difficult these days. Flash is a resource-hogging, bloated security risk on computers these days, and while technologies like HTML5 might not be a complete solution just yet, Apple leaving Flash off of such devices as the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad are a nudge in the correct direction.
2010-01-10 08:39 pm
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Why are we still "over there"?

Another compilation of a couple of Glenn Greenwald articles that have caught my eye.

In 2004, Donald Rumsfeld directed the Defense Science Board Task Force to study something I have been talking about all along - the theory that our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq - as well as our actions at Guantanamo Bay - are actually creating more terrorists than we are "eliminating". I am pleased, if a bit surprised, that Rumsfeld ordered such a study, but I would be even more pleased, and even more surprised, if anyone actually took action based on its findings. (.PDF)

What, exactly, did the report find? )
I recommend you read the entire lj-cut, but if you do not, here it is summed up:
American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists
Another PDF worth reading is a resignation letter from a former Marine Captain who was the the senior U.S. civilian in the Taliban-dominated Southern Afghanistan province of Zabul. One of his points is that most insurgents do not fight for the Taliban, but rather just against foreign soldiers.
2009-12-10 03:22 pm
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On Facebook's New "Privacy Controls"

So Facebook announced a change in their Privacy Controls. I am a big privacy advocate, and I was excited to see a change in what I have considered a confusing and difficult to use system for controlling who sees what on your profile.

One of my biggest issues has been with the "transition tool" that Facebook is requiring all users to go through this week.

An image under the cut... )

The problem? I had my facebook profile locked down pretty tightly.

In the middle we have a list of objects on a facebook profile, with options regarding who can see what. Facebook seems to be suggesting that opening up my profile so more people can see things would somehow be more secure. In addition, I have no way of seeing on this page what my "old settings" are. How am I supposed to make an informed decision with this complete lack of information?

On the right side I am told that facebook now shares, with everyone, *more* information than previously, and I have no way of controlling or limiting that access.

So how, again, is this helping me controlling my privacy?
2009-09-25 10:49 am

Measuring Success

I admit I am a bit of a Facebook junky. I like to blame that on my lifestyle - I have met a lot of people in my travels/life/jobs, and I definitely enjoy keeping up with everyone and their adventures. The last month or so I have tried to get back in touch with friends from back in elementary and middle school.

One thing that keeps kicking around in the back of my head, though, is the fact that most of my friends from that time period are now mid-career and are fairly successful. I wonder where I would be if my life had taken a more conventional route. I definitely enjoy moving around, seeing new things, meeting new people, but there is something to be said for slowly working up the food chain at the same employer.
2009-09-16 07:14 pm
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perl -p -e 's/\r/\n/g'

Just spent the entire day trying to track down a bug that was haunting a work script only to find that the file I was working on in Perl had Mac linebreaks.

Fixing that solved the problems immediately.

Do not ask me why an OS X program is spitting out data files with Mac linebreaks, but...
2009-09-09 11:10 pm
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Is this what we have become?

This evening, I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.

-From South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's apology for yelling "You lie!" during the President's speech to Congress

Have we gotten to the point where one of the two major parties seems to campaign and run using falsehoods? I would say that it started with the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry, but I realize that one could look at the justification for the invasion of Iraq as maybe the first salvo. Either way, we are now faced with people at these town hall meetings yelling complete falsehoods. Where, for example, did this idea of Death Panels come from? More importantly, though, how are members Congress bringing up the idea of Death Panels as if there is any basis in fact for them?

What bothers me so much about the above quote from Rep. Wilson is this one line. I want to repeat it and give it emphasis again:
I disagree with the president's statement
So Rep. Wilson is still calling the President a liar? I can really not get any other meaning out of this quote from his statement. Is there any other possible meaning?
2009-09-04 04:11 pm
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Things That Bug Me...

A random list of things that really bug me on a very regular basis, in no real order at all:

1) Web pages that insist on opening links in new windows. Really, I use tabs. I am a power user. I can do window management on my own. I really do not need some random web developer somewhere trying to determine when I need a new window open. The worst was a web page I went to to today for a retirement fund of mine. About the only link on the home page? "Member Log-In". That link opens a log-in page in another page. What is the use of that? Why do I need to keep the original home page open in a background window?

On a related note, I use Safari for web-browsing. Why is there no option for "ignore open in new window"?

2) Sinks that have a huge basin but a short faucet. I am using "short" to mean the distance from the rear wall of the basin to where the faucet actually has water come out of it. I have seen countless sinks that have huge basins, but I still bang my hands on the back of the basin when I am rinsing my hands. Why do faucet manufacturers not take advantage of the ever-expanding basins they are being installed in?

3) Baby pictures as profile pictures. I have been trying to track down childhood friends of mine on Facebook. I have a a difficult enough time trying to remember people's names, not to mention trying to recognize faces that have aged many, many years. Add to that when people put their new baby's face (and only the baby's face) up as a profile picture and my job has just gotten much more difficult. Why not just put up a picture of you HOLDING your baby instead?

4) Web pages asking for credit card information that refuse to realize that most every credit card has its expiration date listed as numbers, not a month written out. If my credit card has an expiration date of 5/11, I should not have to count through the months to remember that May is the fifth month because I have to choose it in a list consisting of January, February, and so on. Why not instead write them as numbers? Or, even better, write them as "1 - January, 2 - February" and so on? Make it easier on everyone!

On a related note, why does every credit card entry page require me to tell them what kind of card it is? Do they not realize that the first couple of digits of the actual credit card number indicates what kind of card it is?

5) Bike riders on sidewalk/one-way streets. As someone who has been without a car for over five years now, I use a lot of alternative forms of transportation. In the last year or so I have been riding my bike more and more. As a result I have started paying more attention to how other bike riders choose to ride. The ones that stand out as bothering me the most are the ones that choose to ride on sidewalks when there are a lot of pedestrians. In several cities it is illegal to operate a bike on the sidewalks, and yet here they are. Get on the road.

And while you are on the road, do not go the wrong way on a one-way street. it is dangerous, and gives bike riders everywhere a bad name.

The worst, however, are the bike riders who choose to ride on the sidewalk when there is a bike lane! I realize that a bike lane is not the ultimate in safety, but use it!

Anyway, those are my rants for today.
2009-08-30 09:04 am
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How I hate Home Depot...

So I decided to replace the lightbulbs in my ceiling fan with some CFLs. Easy enough, I figured, just make a quick trip to Ikea or Target. Having been to both of these places, I returned home without any CFLs. Turns out that the fan uses a rare sized light bulb and neither place carried a bulb that would fit.

I did some research and found that I was not alone. Looks like this was due to a loophole in the Energy Policy Act of 1005 that required, among other things, that ceiling fans that have lights ship with CFLs to fit inside all medium sized bases (E26). The loophole is that if the fan does not have any medium-sized bases, the fan can ship with whatever lights it wants provided they do not use more than 190W.

What does the fan industry do, as best seen by Home Depot and their Hampton Bay house brand? They switch their fans from Medium bases (E26) to intermediate bases (E17). That allows them to ship with the cheaper (energy-wasting) incandescent bulbs.

Home Depot will make it up to you - they are just about the only place you can buy an E17 CFL bulb. So first they save money on the fan (and avoiding the spirit of the Energy Bill), and then make more money on you when you want to get CFLs for the fan they sold you.

(As a point of reference - the fan in question shipped with four 40W bulbs - a total of 160W. I am looking to replace them with bulbs between about 7W-10W, for a total of 40W)
2009-07-31 12:55 pm
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Is this the "change" you were looking for?

For some time now I have been meaning to write an entry talking about the glaring differences between Obama the Candidate and Obama the President. A political blogger, Glenn Greenwald, did a fairly good recap of the hypocrisy of the Obama administration, at least with regards to Obama's campaign "promise" to bring more openness and transparency to the government.

Obama's administration, for all of you campaigning so hard for him last year, has seemingly embraced the Bush administration's stance on dozens of very important policies regarding secrecy.

Most bothersome, and as Mr. Greenwald points out in later entries, is Obama's acceptance of torture. You might be saying to yourself "But CIA-sanctioned torture ended under the Bush administration!" I would agree, although with some reservations given both administrations' views on keeping bad things secret so far. Obama, however, endorses torture by not investigating the people responsible for what most people agree was probably against the Geneva Convention and international law, if not in fact than at least in spirit. If Obama sets a president by which we say that we will not investigate past war crimes committed by US politicians, it opens the doors for current and future politicians, Obama included, to continue to ignore these laws.

We hold other countries accountable to international law. We berate Iran for violently putting down protests. We urge China to get better about human rights. And yet we cannot even investigate the possibility that we went against these very laws ourselves?

No, this is not the "change" people were expecting when they voted for Obama. This seems to be a continuation of Bush's policies.
2009-04-27 01:27 pm
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On Garmin GPS and Foot Pods for Training

So last year I wrote about using Nike+, TrailRunner, and RunnerPlus. Last summer, though, my Nike+ Sportband fell victim to what turned out to be a recall-worthy problem with its screen. As a result, this past Christmas I bought a Garmin Forerunner 405 with heartrate monitor. So far I have really liked it a lot.

It is definitely more bulky than the Nike+ kit, but gives me a lot more information. Distance, pace, heart race, course, and a bunch of other things. One problem I have with the 405, however, is its inability to give reliable realtime pace data. This is due to the GPS method it uses to determine distance. One "fix" for this is an accelerometer-based footpod. The Nike+ system uses just such a system, and Garmin does offer one as an add-on to the 405.

The older Garmin footpod, though, is fairly bulky. They are coming out with a new one with the same form factor as the Nike+, but is going to cost $119 when it comes out next month. For point of comparison, Nike sells their footpod on its own for $19.

I have not read anything about the new Garmin footpod, but one big concern I have is battery life. Friends with the Nike+ unit find that the non-replaceable battery in the footpod lasts about a year or so. Then they just plop down another $19 and go on their way. I am not ready to drop $120 a year on the Garmin unit, though. I will have to wait and see when they come out, I suppose.

In all I really like the 405. I am constantly amazed that I have a GPS on my wrist.
2009-04-18 07:47 pm
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MobileMe Backup API idea

Just a quick question: Why does MobileMe (nee .Mac) not offer developers a quick and easy API for backing up data to the user's iDisk? The corresponding restore API would be nice, as well.

I am generally thinking of configuration and preferences files, not necessarily user data.

So an application run for the first time could check to see if the user has a MobileMe account and, if so, see if there is a backup already saved to the iDisk. A quick prompt to see if the user wants to restore the data and POOF! - the data is back.

I realize Apple is pushing Time Machine, but this does not help with offsite backups, and nothing short of making sure you backup /Library and ~/Library with it can you guarantee you are backing up configuration files. Even then, there is no easy way of knowing which preferences file you need to restore with Time Machine.
2009-02-24 06:00 pm
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On doing the AT in 2010

I have been thinking a lot about getting back on the AT. Most of my thoughts have been centered around gear changes for the next trip. I wrote about this previously, and with some more research (along with a larger budget and access to incredible deals through work), I have come up with an ambitious goal of eliminating 10 lbs. from the dry weight (before food and water) of my pack.

This requires rethinking (and re-buying) almost everything in the pack, including the pack itself. I can save more than 4 ozs., for example, by buying a nice rain jacket. I have even started comparing the number of grams I can save by going to a watch-battery powered LED headlamp, rather than one that is powered by more powerful, but heavier, AAA batteries.

What will be next, sawing off the end of my toothbrush?

I think 10 lbs. is a reasonable, if ambitious, goal.

For all of the gentle readers out there, though, this is where I appeal to you. I am looking for volunteers to hike with me for short stretches of time. Anywhere from 2/3-day outing all the way up to a week or more would be welcome. One of the things I am reevaluating about the last attempt is that I definitely had issues with loneliness on the trail.

Details: I plan on starting the first week or so of July, 2010 in Maine and hopefully making it to the top of Springer Mountain, Georgia, by Thanksgiving. The trail comes within a few hours of basically every major city on the East Coast. If desired I can give rough dates of when I will be close to places like New York City, Washington, DC and so on.

You will be hiking quite a bit each day - I would say roughly 10-12 miles a day. We may or may not hike together every step; it might work out that we will get up in the morning, agree on a stopping point that day, and meet up at camp that evening. If our paces work out, you are definitely welcome to keep me company during the day, as well.

I will primarily be staying in AT shelters along the way, meaning if you plan it right you would not need to bring a tent with you. I will be carrying a stove, so you would be able to do without that, as well. A pack, some clothes, a sleeping bag and pad and you should be pretty well set. Oh, and your food. Need to bring some of that, obviously.

I plan on keeping about the same schedule as the last time I was on the Trail, hitching into town every 3-4 days to resupply.

Anyway, that is about what I have for now. I will post when I have more details, but contact me if this sounds like something you would be interested in.
2009-01-30 03:58 pm

On finding old friends...

Recently I befriended (re-friended?) some friends of mine from middle school on FaceBook. These are people I have not spoken to in almost twenty years.

One of my big regrets in my life is not having lifelong friends. Through my travels and explorations I have met a lot of people, but I have not really stayed in touch with any of them extremely long term. I had friends when I was growing up, but I have no idea where they are now. I suppose part of this is due to changing schools as I grew up, but regardless of the reason, I feel it is something I am missing from my life.

I am glad Facebook has given me the chance to reconnect with some of these old friends. The memories have been pouring back all week.
2009-01-13 05:07 pm
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Occupation: Intellectual Vagabond

So I have written about my lifestyle before. I have often run into issues with government identification. I have often wondered why a driver's license requires an address (which in turn has fairly strict proof-of-residence requirements). Tax forms become difficult. Most years I have income from three or more states.

When my addresses change on more of a monthly basis than yearly, it is one thing to update addresses in various online places so that tax forms, shipping addresses, and so on find me. Updating my driver's license becomes an expense and time-waste I do not need in my life.

So now I find myself updating my passport. I am not a fan, since the new US passports contain RFID chips and other troublesome technologies. My lifestyle and desire to travel out of the country requires me to do this, however, and so I start the process.

I start on the paperwork only to find that there is now a required field labelled "Occupation". There is another one, optional, labelled "Employer".

What kind of question is that? Why is this needed at all? What should I list, given my current lifestyle and the fact that the passport will be good for ten years?

Any suggestions from the peanut gallery on what I should list in this field?
2008-12-20 11:50 pm
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Why, oh why?

Why, oh why, will the stupid cat not eat?

Just eat the food!
2008-12-15 07:10 pm
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On jobs, kittens, and life as it currently is...

Since my last report, things have been a bit busy.

In no real order:

* The new job is going really well. I am still in the midst of training, in part due to the number of responsibilities I have, and in part due to the massive change in management at the store. I like my coworkers, I like the job, and I am enjoying the job. Of course I am breaking the promise I made to myself (and to my family) saying that I would not work retail during another holiday season, but such is life in the economy.

* The kittens are doing fairly well. I just realized that I never wrote a proper introduction to them, so here goes. Sprocket and Dino are the two little kittens, believed to be sisters. They were adopted from DC Metro Ferals and are now about six months old. They were caught in the wild somewhere in Southeast D.C. They have completely opposite personalities. Dino is extremely reserved (although she is definitely coming out of her shell) and Sprocket is about as curious and fearless as you could ever find in a kitten. Sprocket is also quite the lap-whore, demanding to sit in whatever lap she can find.

A little over a month ago, though, Sprocket developed two symptoms. One was a definite headtilt, and the other was a permanently congested head. The amazing people at Friendship Hospital for Animals diagnosed this as inflammatory polyps growing in her middle ear. The recommended course of treatment for this is Ventral Bulla Osteotomy (warning: Some mildly graphic medical images on the linked page). Poor Sprocket had bilateral polyps, meaning they had developed in both ears.

Dropped off on Tuesday evening at the hospital, Sprocket underwent the surgery on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately Sprocket developed an uncommon complication of the surgery, swelling in her Eustachian tubes, along with a large amount of mucous drainage. This led to loss of her airway, requiring first a breathing tube and later that day a tracheostomy. Originally she was supposed to come home Thursday evening. She eventually made it home yesterday, Sunday.

The only major issue now is that she is not eating. This requires several syringe feedings a day, along with eight syringes worth of medication each day. She has started pecking at her food (both dry and wet), but really has not eaten much of anything on her own.

* I have been trying to visit as many of the free museums and memorials that D.C. has to offer. My family came here dozens of times while I was growing up and I have seen many of them before, but it is nice to see them again as an adult. My favorite right now has to be the National Portrait Gallery. Luckily this is also just down the street from work, meaning I can go there on my lunch break.

* I cannot say enough about the recent Presidential election. Not since 12 Sept. 2001 have I seen such a unification of the American populace. The only way I can describe it is as the French must have felt after they finally beheaded the King. This time, however, it was done in a democratic method. We have turned the page as a country, and we all have such high hopes. The veil has been lifted.

* On a related note, I am extremely lucky to be living in D.C. during this time, and I am looking forward to 20 January 2009.
2008-10-08 02:59 pm
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Dead computer...

So some electricians were working on the apartment today. Threw a fuse and moments later my computer refuses to boot up. Sounds and looks like a bad hard drive.

Ugh...

Anyway, I suppose I am now in the market for a new computer. I had been eyeing a new 24" iMac. Not sure that is in my immediate budget, though.

Damnit.

Looks like my backups made it through, though, so no real serious loss of data.

Anyone with leads on a new computer, now is the time to speak up.
2008-10-05 10:48 pm
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15 Years Ago Today...

On 5 October 1993, I sent an email message from a Macintosh computer using Eudora, a mail client licensed by Cornell University for its students to use. This was not the first time I had done this. I had been at Cornell for over a month by the time this event occurred, and had been emailing regularly. What made this message different is that I saved it, moved it to my main computer at the time, and therefore still have it in my main mail client's mailboxes today.

I had been sending and receiving emails for at least two years by this date in the fall of 1993, but most of them have been lost to the sands of time.

This message has made its way through at least five different computers, countless versions of Eudora, and now OS X's Mail.app.

It is joined by about 5000 other outgoing messages saved on my main computer now, and probably well over 15,000 incoming messages.

How far the Internet has come in those same fifteen years, but email stays as it always has.