Jul 15

Off to Summer Weapons Retreat 2014

Blogging will be light and possibly nonexistent for the next week, as I’m off to Summer Weapons Retreat 2014 for fun and swordplay.

Keep out of trouble until I get back…oh, who am I kidding. Go make interesting trouble.

Jul 03

UPS I did it again

I had to buy a new UPS for my desktop machine yesterday after the old one succumbed to battery death, so Cathy and I made a run to the local MicroCenter.

UPS designers have been pissing me off since forever with designs that require you to throw away the entire device when the battery craps out, unless you’re willing to go to great length to avoid this – finding the exact right replacement battery from a specialty supplier, then taking the unit apart and reassembling it yourself.

This is never practical under time pressure, and I’ve never had the luxury of no time pressure when trying to cope with a dead UPS. Sure didn’t this time; my area was under a severe-thunderstorm watch.

Imagine my pleased surprise when I found a big stack of varied models branded APC that are not just significantly less expensive and with longer dwell times than when I was last UPS-shopping, but designed with removeable and replaceable batteries, too.

Progress does get made. Dunno whether this is a standard feature on all UPS brands yet, but doubtless it will be within a few years.

Some of you may find my UPS HOWTO of interest. I’ve shipped a 3.0 update with the glad news of replaceable batteries and a few other minor updates; it may be up by the time you read this.

Jul 01

Feline behavioral convergence

The new cat, Zola has been with us for about a month now. My wife and I observe an interesting convergence; as he feels increasingly secure around us, his behavior is coming to resemble Sugar’s more and more, to the point that it sometimes feels like having her back with us.

What makes this a surprising observation is that Sugar was not your behaviorally average cat. She was up against the right-hand end of the feline bell curve for sociability, gentleness, and good manners. Having Zola match that so exactly is a little startling even if we did improve our odds by keeping an eye out for a Maine Coon that liked us on sight. It still feels rather like having 00 come up twice in succession on a roulette wheel.

This is ethologically interesting; it suggests some things about how the personalities of cats – and even specific behavioral propensities – are generated. In the remainder of this post I will use detailed observations to explore this point.

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Jun 21

Replacing freecode: a proposal

“Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…” Three days ago freecode.com abruptly shut down, claiming “low traffic”, but there has been enough public mourning since to make me pretty sure it fills a need that’s still there. There was nowhere else you could go that was quite so good for getting a cross-sectional view of what the open-source world is doing, independently of any given forge site or distro.

Web frameworks have gotten much more powerful since the original Freshmeat was built 17 years ago; today, I think building a replacement wouldn’t be a huge project. It is not, however, something I am willing to try to do alone. Whether or not this goes forward will depend on how many people are willing to step up and join me. I figure we need a team of about three core co-developers, at least one of whom needs to have some prior expertise at whatever framework we end up using.

In the remainder of this post I’m going to sketch a set of project goals, including both some trimming away of freshmeat/freecode features I thought were unnecessary and some new ideas to address problems in its design.

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Jun 20

Why VA bought Slashdot

Jeff Covey has responded to the demise of freshmeat/freecode by reminiscing about his past at Freshmeat. He reports a rumor that VA bought Andover just because the CEO thought it would be cool to own Slashdot.

I set the record straight in a comment on the post. No, that’s not why it happened; Larry Augustin never would have made a business decision for a reason that flimsy. In fact, buying Slashdot was my idea, and I had a solid reason for proposing it. The rest of my comment explaining this follows.

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Jun 19

freecode-submit is dead – because freecode.com is

Well, that’s annoying. The freecode.com release-announcement site stopped accepting updates yesterday. The site says it shut down due to low traffic.

Accordingly, I’ve issued a final archival version of freecode-submit and shipped a version of shipper that no longer tries to do freecode notifications, issuing a complaint instead.

Had to revise the How to Become a Hacker, too. I used to advise newbs to watch that site for projects they might want to join. Can’t do that any more.

With this site gone, where can people go for a cross-sectional view of what open source is doing? Bummer….

May 29

New cat soon to arrive here

Cathy and I signed papers to adopt a cat from a rescue network last night. It would be here already, but it’s being treated for a mild ear infection picked up at the pet store.

“It” is actually a he, a golden-eyed ginger-and-cream Maine Coon about two years old. The name is “Gorgonzola”, which we’ll probably shorten to “Zola”.

Why this cat? Because we’re of the school of thought that believes you should let a cat choose you rather than trying to choose a cat. Of all the ones we met, it seemed to take to Cathy the most strongly, and we viewed this as the more important compatibility check because we both know I have stronger cat-fu than she does. If a cat doesn’t take an active dislike to me (which is so unusual I can’t remember when it last happened) I will charm it eventually; this one likes me well enough to begin with that I’m sure we’ll do just fine.

It’s hard to avoid making comparisons with Sugar. First impression is that Zola is almost as human-friendly as Sugar was (which sounds like faint praise but is really like saying “almost as deep as the Pacific Ocean”) with a more placid, less active temperament. I’m not expecting him to be quite as outgoing with our houseguests, but I don’t think he’ll hide behind the furniture either. Likely he’ll just hang out nearby being mellow and making nice at anyone who approaches him. That’s typical behavior for Coon toms and he seems quite typical that way. He seems to be very gentle and un-clawful even by Coon standards, which is going some. I’d bet he’s great with small children.

We’re a little nervous, for all the obvious reasons. What if Zola has un-obvious behavior problems? Ill health? But it’s time. Our home feels a bit empty without a cat in it. Not for much longer!

May 01

Penguicon A&D party heads up!

I, and a largish crew of the usual suspects, are at Penguicon.

Friends of Armed & Dangerous party will be 9PM tomorrow in 403 at the Westin Southfield Detroit.

Bloodmouth Carnist T-shirts will be on sale.

Apr 23

Sugar has passed on

Sugar’s NYT appearance last week was her last hurrah. We had to have her euthanized today. She died peacefully about an hour ago.

Her decline had been extremely rapid. Three weeks ago, even, Sugar barely looked aged and it was still possible to believe she might live another year. But the chronic nephritis, and possibly other organ failures, caught up with her. She started losing weight rapidly and her legs (already affected by arthritis) weakened. Her appetite waned, and her frequency of self-grooming diminished.

The signs were clear, but we hoped that she would bounce back – she was a very tough cat and had surprised us and our veterinarians that way before. Over the weekend she showed serious problems walking. When I saw her fall partway down the basement stairs Saturday evening because she couldn’t keep her footing, I suspected it was time. Sunday she almost couldn’t walk, and began sounding distress calls a few times an hour – stopped eating and drinking. Then I knew it was time. So did Cathy.

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Apr 13

Sugar’s health may finally be failing

This is an update for friends of Sugar only; you know who you are.

Sugar may not have much time left. She’s been losing weight rapidly the last couple weeks, her appetite is intermittent, and she’s been having nausea episodes. She seems remarkably cheerful under the circumstances and still likes human company as much as ever, but … she really does seem old and frail now, which wasn’t so as recently as her 21st birthday in early February.

We’re bracing ourselves. If the rate she’s fading doesn’t change I think we’re going to have to euthanize her within six weeks or so. Possibly sooner. Possibly a lot sooner.

Sugar’s had a good long run. We’ll miss her a lot, but Cathy and I are both clear that it is our duty not to see her suffering prolonged unnecessarily.

If you’re a friend of Sugar and have any option to visit here to say your farewells, best do it immediately.

If you’ve somehow read this far without having met Sugar: I don’t normally blog about strictly personal things, but Sugar is a bit of an institution. She’s been a friend to the many hackers who have guested in our storied basement; I’ve seen her innocent joyfulness light up a lot of faces. We’re not the only people who will be affected by losing her.

Apr 10

Does the Heartbleed bug refute Linus’s Law?

The Heartbleed bug made the Washington Post. And that means it’s time for the reminder about things seen versus things unseen that I have to re-issue every couple of years.

Actually, this time around I answered it in advance, in an Ask Me Anything on Slashdot just about exactly a month ago. The following is a lightly edited and somewhat expanded version of that answer.

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Apr 04

Pushing back against the bullies

When I heard that Brendan Eich had been forced to resign his new job as CEO at Mozilla, my first thought was “Congratulations, gay activists. You have become the bullies you hate.”

On reflection, I think the appalling display of political thuggery we’ve just witnessed demands a more muscular response. Eich was forced out for donating $1000 to an anti-gay-marriage initiative? Then I think it is now the duty of every friend of free speech and every enemy of political bullying to pledge not only to donate $1000 to the next anti-gay-marriage initiative to come along, but to say publicly that they have done so as a protest against bullying.

This is my statement that I am doing so. I hope others will join me.

It is irrelevant whether we approve of gay marriage or not. The point here is that bullying must have consequences that deter the bullies, or we will get more of it. We must let these thugs know that they have sown dragon’s teeth, defeating themselves. Only in this way can we head off future abuses of similar kind.

And while I’m at it – shame on you, Mozilla, for knuckling under. I’ll switch to Chrome over this, if it’s not totally unusable.

Mar 22

All the Tropes That Are My Life

Sometimes art imitates life. Sometimes life imitates art. So, for your dubious biographical pleasure, here is my life in tropes. Warning: the TV Tropes site is addictive; beware of chasing links lest it eat the rest of your day. Or several days.

First, a trope disclaimer: I am not the Eric Raymond from Jem. As any fule kno, I am not a power-hungry Corrupt Corporate Executive; if I were going to be evil, it would definitely be as a power-hungry Mad Scientist. Learn the difference; know the difference!

I am, or I like to think of myself as, a Smart Guy who Minored in Badass. I show some tendency towards Boisterous Bruiser, having slightly too physical a presence to fit Badass Bookworm perfectly. And yes, I’m a Playful Hacker who is Proud To Be A Geek.

I like swords, but I’m actually a Musketeer who cheerfully uses firearms. (I have also been known to wield the dreaded Epic Flail).

It is certainly the case that I married the required Fiery Redhead. I own a Badass Longcoat but don’t wear it often, as it’s heavy and not very comfortable.

Some people think I’m a Glory Seeker, but in fact I don’t much like being famous; one of the few things I genuinely fear is Becoming the Mask.

Feb 09

Storm Nika crisis is over

I’m back home with the power on. Normal hacking and blogging will resume.

There’s four days I don’t want to have to do over again. Cold, stress, constant fatigue, consequent inability to concentrate…being a disaster-displaced person, it turns out, is psychologically difficult even if you have money and a good support network and a hotel in a First World country to fall back on.

The difference between voluntarily breaking your routine and having it forcibly ruptured for you really matters. I’m a pretty adventurous sort, normally utterly unfazed by travel and novelty and cheerfully willing to go on extended away missions, but this time I got barely a lick of work done on my laptop – I found myself aching for my desk and my computer and my routine.

Not just me, either. Cathy was working hard on not complaining but she was looking rather pinched and drawn by day two. I think of the three of us our cat coped best; by the time we relocated her from the frigid shell of Chez Raymond to my mother’s house on Day Three her attitude was clearly “as long as beloved humans are nearby, I’m OK”.

Sugar is so amiable that it’s easy not to notice that she’s as tough as old boot leather. She turned 21 during the storm. And no, you wouldn’t have been able to tell she’s the feline equivalent of a centenarian; she investigated my mother’s place as bright-eyed and curiously as a kitten. Did us both good to see it.

Upcoming: More on the Dark Enlightenment, a progress report on the Emacs repository conversion, and maybe a review of the Julia language. But I have to dig myself out from under some backlog first.

Feb 05

From an undisclosed location…

The title was a joke. The rest of this is not.

Cathy Raymond and I evacuated from our home this morning. We’ve never had to do that before.

Storm Nika has totally messed over the five-county area around Philadelphia. I’ve seen more downed power lines today than in my entire life until yesterday. Many roads are blocked by fallen trees. Over 600,000 people are without power; PECO has declared an all-hands emergency but says even so service may not be fully restored until the weekend.

This is much, much worse than Hurricane Sandy was. Regional rail is shut down. Most businesses are closed. So many homes are becoming uninhabitable that the county is setting up emergency shelters in schools.

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Jan 31

FOAD 2014 Party Pre-Announcemrnt

This is a pre-announcement of the second third Friends of Armed & Dangerous party.

FOAD 2014 will be held at Penguicon 2014, in Southfield, MI, almost certainly on the evening of Saturday May 3rd (but we don’t have a confirmed party-floor booking yet).

I believe John Bell is planning to run a Geeks with Guns the Friday before, so come equipped. Yes, personal weapons are considered an article of proper attire for the FOAD party – especially firearms or swords.

More details as they become available.

Jan 16

Dragging Emacs forward

This is a brief heads-up that the reason I’ve been blog silent lately is that I’m concentrating hard on a sprint with what I consider a large payoff: getting the Emacs project fully converted to git. In retrospect, choosing Bazaar as DVCS was a mistake that has presented unnecessary friction costs to a lot of contributors. RMS gets this and we’re moving.

I’m also talking with RMS about the possibility that it’s time to shoot Texinfo through the head and go with a more modern, Web-friendly master format. Oh, and time to abolish info entirely in favor of HTML. He’s not entirely convinced yet of this, but he’s listening.

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Oct 30

Dell UltraSharp 2713 monitor – bait and switch warning

I bought a Dell-branded product this afternoon. That was a mistake I will not repeat.

Summary: the 2713UM only reaches its rated 2560×1440 resolution when connected via DVI-D. On HDMI it is limited to 1920×1080; on VGA to 2048×1152. This $700 and supposedly professional-grade monitor is thus functionally inferior to the $300 Auria I still have connected to the other head of the same video card, which does 2560×1440 over any of these cables.

Two things make this extra infuriating:

I spent more than four hours on the phone with three different Dell technical-support people to find out that not only don’t they know how to fix this, nobody can give any reason for it. It’s a completely arbitrary, senseless limit. The monitor’s EDID hardware apparently tells lies to the host system that low-ball its capabilities. This couldn’t happen by accident; somebody designed in this nonsense.

And then neglected to tell potential customers about it. Nothing anywhere in the promotional material for this monitor even hints at these limits, and Dell’s own technical support people haven’t been clued in either. Bait and switch taken to a whole new level.

(Why did I buy a Dell product? Because it was the only thing I could get my hands on same-day that matched the specs of my other Auria, which went flickery-crazy early this afternoon.)

When I unloaded about this on Tech Support Guy #3, he passed me to a marketing representative. I explained, relatively politely under the circumstances, that I has over 15K social-media followers and was planning to give Dell a public black eye over their repeated bungling unless somebody gave me a really good reason not to.

She declined to send me $400 so I wouldn’t have been taken worse than by buying another Auria, then passed me to somebody she described as a manager. But I could tell by the accent he was just another drone in a call center in East Fuckistan who had neither the ability nor the intention to improve my day. After two more iterations of this I had had enough and hung up.

Dell. You pay more, but you’ll get less. Pass it on.

(Yes, I typoed the model number originally.)