Dec 01

Take the WRT54G challenge!

So, LinkSys (formerly independent, now a tentacle of Cisco) has
brought the Linux version of their WRT54GL wireless router back to
life. We’d previously heard that Version 5 of the box would run
proprietary VxWorks firmware. But according to this
story
over at LinuxDevices.com,

LinkSys is shipping a Linux-based WRT54GL model that it says it
created specially for Linux hobbyists, hackers, and aficianados[sic]. The L
version is identical to the “series 4″ WRT54G units that Linux
hobbyists have long enjoyed hacking, according to the company. [...]

Here’s the key ‘graf:

VxWorks allowed the company to halve the amounts of Flash and RAM in
the device, while retaining similar functionality. Apparently,
reducing memory-related BOM (bill-of-materials) costs more than offset
the costs of licensing a proprietary OS

You know, to me that sounds like a challenge. Personally, I have
no firmware-hacking or cross-development skills; my interests lie in
other directions. But some eager band of Linux hackers out there
should strip Linux down far enough that it can fit in the reduced
footprint, just to prove it can be done and undercut the idea that
proprietary firmware is ever a good idea. And I have no
doubt it can be done; heck, we’ve made Linux run on a Z80!

(I maintain the
Linksys
Blue Box Router HOWTO
. There might be a new version, reflecting the
fact that Cisco has dropped its lawsuit against Michael Flynn, up on the
LDP site by the time you read this.)

Dec 01

Mathematics versus reality

In the comments to my posting on the incoherence of Narnia, it has become apparent that some of the respondents are deeply confused about the relationship between mathematical and empirical truth. Symptoms of this confusion have included a superficially plausible but mistaken application of the Law of the Excluded Middle and an an attempt to invoke Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem to suggest constraints on our ability to obtain empirical truth.

It’s time to bust some myths…

Continue reading

Nov 29

C.S. Lewis is morally incoherent

I read C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” books as a child, and have dim memories of enjoying them. Because of this, and because the trailers for the upcoming movie look gorgeous, I have been planning to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when it comes out. As preparation I thought it would be a good idea to reread the series. To my great disappointment, I’ve discovered that they don’t hold up well under adult perception — in fact, that Lewis’s creation is morally and dramatically incoherent in a deep and damaging way.

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Nov 28

Anti-fashion

Manolo the Shoeblogger writes in The
Paradox of Not Caring
: “claiming to not care about the clothes, to
not be concerned about what one wears, it the paradox, for the clothes
worn by one who claims not to care make as much the statement as those
worn by one who dresses with the purpose.” He’s got a point. And yet,
there is a difference between fashionistas like most of his fans and
anti-fashionistas like me, and it’s an important one.

Continue reading

Nov 28

Riots in France declared over

The Brussels Journal reports that the
French government has officially declared the banlieu riots over. The
article continues:

Police figures are at exactly 98 cars torched on Wednesday
night. This, the police say, is a normal average. Consequently
the 20th consecutive night of violence was declared the last one.

Yes, you read that correctly. 98 car-torchings a night is
“normal” in the glorious Fifth Republic in 2005. Civil order in the
banlieus has collapsed, but instead of addressing the breakdown the
French response is to define it out of existence. (In other breaking
news, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ol’ George Orwell is
spinning in his grave.)

The American mainstream media, alas, have so much invested in the belief
that Eurosocialism is what we ought to be doing that they’ll
certainly take this as an excuse to drop the story. They’d rather cover
fictional riots in New Orleans than factual ones in Orleans, if only because
they can more easily blame George Bush for the former.

The article also observes:

…the French state was obliged to borrow money last week to pay the
wages of its civil servants. The money has run out. One must
concede: this is no example of a strong state.

My previous prediction
stands. We’ve seen only the beginnings of the reckoning for decades
of folly. I expect to have the last laugh on every single one of the
useless idiots who insisted on the superiority of “humane” European
welfare-statism over American cowboy capitalism. But I don’t expect to
enjoy that laugh very much, because the payback is going to be brutal,
bloody, and horrible.

Nov 27

2wenty minutes of goo

Went to see the latest Harry Potter flick last night and got —
no, I won’t say “assaulted”, I’ll say “oozed on” by the infomercials
Regal Cinemas started running earlier this year, some sludge called
“The 2wenty” that tries to be trendy and hip and cool and attractive
and fails miserably on all four counts.

I deduce from the existence of this thing that either (a) ad
executives have the brains of planaria, or (b) they’re engaged in a
conspiracy to waste their clients’ money. The 2wenty isn’t even the
kind of in-your-face bad that leaves an impression — it’s just
unbelievably lame-ass bland, a kind of elevator music dressed up
in video effects.

It’s all the more unbelievable that this thing got produced
because, presumably, it was done by people who get paid to be current
with popular culture. I’m just a 47-year-old white computer geek but
it is dead clear that even I have way more street cool than
whatever “creatives” they found to put the 2wenty
together, fo’shizzle. How did that happen? On the
production values alone they have to be sinking at least $300K a pop
into these, and they can’t out-hip one single aging baby-boomer?
Geez…I think I’m offended as much by their incompetence as by
its results.

Neil Postman and Naomi Klein and their ilk have made a growth
industry out of running around whining about consumer culture, how
it’s all a spectacle designed to distract people from what’s really
important. Never mind that their definition of “what’s really
important” is tired Marxist bullshit…if this is
representative of what the merchants of spectacle are pumping out,
they have no worries. The 2wenty couldn’t do an effective job of
distracting a hyperactive three-year-old. It’d be more likely
to put the tyke to sleep.

Ah well. I look on the bright side. When Big Media wastes money
and putative talent on this scale, it’s good news for the rest of us.
It’s resources they’re not spending on screwing up our culture or our
legal/political system in more effective ways.

UPDATE: After some discussion, my wife and I think we may have identified the 2wenty’s target demographic — early-teenage girls of the mall-rat persuasion.

Nov 25

The Ice Harvest

In 1997 I was delighted by Grosse Point Blank, John
Cusack’s masterpiece about a hitman who finds himself (in both senses
of the phrase) at his high-school reunion. I loved that movie for its
action, its dark comedy, and a script that never stopped being
wickedly intelligent for even a second. I’ve been waiting nearly ten
years for Cusack to do a movie as funny and as plain damn
good.

Continue reading

Nov 24

LISP — The Language That Will Not Die

I’ve spent large parts of the last week editing maps for a game
system I’m working on. I’ve been using the GIMP graphics editor, and I’m pretty
impressed with it. I haven’t found anything I can’t easily make it do
— except, oddly enough, draw straight lines between defined
endpoints. (I suspect there’s actually a way to do this using the
path facility.)

I have a requirement to prepare about six different variants of a
base map, using the same topographic map but with different
arrangements of national borders. I’ve handled this by creating a
multi-layered XCF file with the topo map as the background and the
different borders as optional overlays.

OK, so I save the variants to flat PNGs by hand whenever I change the
image, but that’s a pain. What I wanted was a way to put in my makefile
instructions that say, for each variant map, that it depends on the XCF
and the way to make it is to composite a particular selected subset of layers
by running GIMP in batch mode.

Fortunately, GIMP has an embedded Scheme interpreter that’s good
for exactly this kind of thing. Looking at some Python-Fu code by
Carol Spears taught me enough about the API to get started; the fact
that I’m an old LISP head got me the rest of the way.

Here it is.

;; Batch-mode select and save of a layer set as a PNG.
;; Has to be copied into  ~/.gimp-2.2/scripts to work
;;
;; Note: This assumes that gimp-drawable-get-name returns a list with
;; the actual string name as its car.  This is what gimp-2.2 does, but
;; not what the documentation says it should do!

(define (layer-set-saver infile select outfile)
   (let* ((image (car (gimp-file-load RUN-NONINTERACTIVE infile infile)))
	  (layers (cadr (gimp-image-get-layers image)))
	  (ind 0))
     (while (< ind (length layers))
	    (let* ((layer (aref layers ind))
		   (layer-name (car (gimp-drawable-get-name layer))))
	      (gimp-drawable-set-visible layer (if (member layer-name select) 1 0)))
	    (set! ind (+ ind 1)))
     (file-png-save-defaults RUN-NONINTERACTIVE 
		     image 
		     (car (gimp-image-flatten image)) 
		     outfile outfile)
     )
   (gimp-quit 0)
   )

Here's one of my makefile productions. The second arg is a list of layer names.

basic.png: basic.xcf
	gimp -i -b '(layer-set-saver "basic.xcf" (quote ("topographic" "skinny-borders" "grey-switzerland")) "basic.png")'

Apologies for the long line.

LISP truly is The Language That Will Not Die. And that’s a good thing.

Nov 17

Why “Commons” language gives me hives

A bit of blogging for the record here. Doc Searls wrote:

“The Commons” and “the public domain” might be legitimate concepts
with deep and relevant histories, but they’re too arcane to most of
us. Eric Raymond has told me more than once that the Commons Thing
kinda rubs him the wrong way. [...] (Maybe he’ll come in here and
correct me or enlarge on his point.)

This is what I emailed him in response:

Continue reading

Nov 13

Peak Oil — A Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy for Secular Idiots

Secularists and leftists enjoy sneering at conservative Christians who believe in the Rapture and other flavors of millenarianism. Reasonably so: it takes either a drooling idiot or somebody who has deliberately shut off most of his brain, reducing himself to an idiotically low level of critical thinking, to believe such things. The draw, of couse, is that each individual fundamentalist implicitly believes he will be among the saved — privileged to honk a great big I TOLD YOU SO! at all those sinners writhing in the lake of fire.

It is therefore more than a little amusing to notice how prone these ‘sophisticated’ critics are to their own forms of idiotic millenarianism.

Continue reading

Sep 13

Suicidalism

The most important weapons of al-Qaeda and the rest of the Islamist
terror network are the suicide bomber and the suicide thinker. The
suicide bomber is typically a Muslim fanatic whose mission it is to
spread terror; the suicide thinker is typically a Western academic or
journalist or politician whose mission it is to destroy the West’s
will to resist not just terrorism but any ideological challenge at all.

But al-Qaeda didn’t create the ugly streak of nihilism and
self-loathing that afflicts too many Western intellectuals. Nor, I
believe, is it a natural development. It was brought to us by
Department V of the KGB, which was charged during the Cold War with
conducting memetic warfare that would destroy the will of the West’s
intelligentsia to resist a Communist takeover. This they did with
such magnificent effect that the infection outlasted the Soviet Union
itself and remains a pervasive disease of contemporary Western
intellectual life.

Continue reading

Sep 13

Help with WordPress

This is a request for help from my readers. I’m trying to find out how to hack WP so that it will never insert <br> tags in my entries. I want it to ignore hard newlines, treating them as soft.

Sep 12

Site theme no longer completely sucks

OK, the site theme no longer completely sucks. I’m using Jim Vanderveen’s modified version of Steam, with my own custom header and the CSS brutally simplified to get rid of margins and excess whitespace.

I’m extremely relieved to have got rid of the default “Kubrick” WP theme.
Fixed-width, heavy whitespace, gratuitous images — what were the WP developers thinking?

(Grrr. Designers who change the browser-default color and decorations for hyperlinks are depriving readers of valuable navigational cues and should be killed in some horrible way.)

I may make some minor changes to improve the look a little over the next few days.

Sep 11

WordPress theme designers annoy the crap out of me

Having discovered that my WordPress 1.5 upgrade broke the CSS and
customized template I had designed for WordPress 1.2, I’ve been
shopping for a new theme at the WRC Theme
Viewer
site. I’m looking for something clean and simple that I
can customize to my taste.

Having browsed through over a hundred and fifty themes, I’m left with one
burning question in my mind: why are 90% of these themes designed by
utter pinheads who don’t understand basic Web concepts like letting the
viewer control the presentation?

I’ve ranted about the drooling idiocy of pixel-sized fonts before.
Many of these themes not only make that mistake (which hoses anyone in
a screen with a DPI different from the designer’s), they cram the
content into boxes or vertical bands that don’t resize when you
widen or narrow the browser
.

There are a handful of honorable exceptions: Clasikue. Anarchy.
Curtains up. Dixie Belle. Elvgren. Flex. Fullwidth. Gentle
Calm. Gila. Greenwood. Ice. The three “Journalized” themes. Man-ja.
Operate. Placidwide. Psycho. Rampart. RohitKumar.org.
Sixties. Steam. But by and large, almost all of the more than 250
themes at this site (and elsewhere I’ve looked) make the same basic,
unforgiveable error. They treat the display like fancy paper under
the control of the theme designer rather than allowing the
user’s preferences to control font sizes and the width of the
display area.

It’s the web, you morons! Stop wasting readers’ screen
space with frames and diapered borders. They have better use for
their pixels than all that frou-frou crap.

Sep 09

Upgrade in progress

My WordPress instance was just upgraded from 1.2 to 1.5. The visual presentation may have a glitch or two until I edit the template.

UPDATE: Aaargh. It looks like the special magic in the templates has been changed enough that I will have to rebuild my look and feel from scratch. This may take a while…