Friday, December 30, 2005

Today's Interesting Links

Here's what caught my attention trolling the RSS feeds this morning:

Critical Windows XP vulnerability (Windows Metafile):

And another affecting many Symantec products:

San Francisco's WiFi project hasn't even begun, and it's already in trouble:

Ray Kurzweil talks about immortality:

A Florida 16-year-old jaunts off solo to Iraq to salve his social conscience, and escapes alive:

Brownie In Battle: The former FEMA chief's turf wars during the DHS reorg gutted FEMA well before Katrina:

Wired, Diebold touchscreen voting machines hacked easily; optical-scan voting machines are no panacea:,69893-0.html?

Tom's Hardware: How to put Windows XP on a flash drive for disaster-recovery:

Year-in-review stuff

Wired, Best and Worst Gadgets (the PSP gets 4 out of (I assume) 4!):,69912-0.html?

Wired again, Biggest Scientific Discoveries of 2005:,69909-0.html?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005): Bax Seat

Gordon Baxter, Bax Seat: Log of a Pasture Pilot. Bax was the much-beloved columnist for Flying magazine who could really express the joy of flight, right down to the toenails. I ape his writing style somewhat; until I read this book, I'd forgotten whom I was imitating! Highly recommended, for anyone who flies, loves aviation, or wonders what the heck the fuss is all about. Also includes some rather interesting connective tissue in the form of memos, reminisces, and a smattering of well-placed back-shots about what it was like to write for Flying.

If he could do it, I...well, I could try, anyway.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005): Dead Hand

Harold Coyle, Dead Hand. Readable technothriller about a multinational special-forces mission into Russia to disarm "dead-man" fused missile silos after an asteroid hits Siberia with force comparable to multiple nuclear strikes.

Coyle tends to have a somewhat wordy, awkward style, or at least his military characters do. This book had much cleaner dialog and exposition than I've come to expect from him. I like his storytelling and his characters so much that I can forgive him the lack of fluidity; whether he's tightened up or gotten a more ruthless editor, the result here is very welcome indeed.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005): Saucer

James Coonts, Saucer. More sci-fi than technothriller, a fun read about a young man on a seismic survey team who discovers an honest-to-goodness flying saucer entombed in rock. As my wife says, "Zaniness ensues, as..."

I won't tell you if he gets the girl or not. But she's a pilot.

Madison Hackers Dominate Local News

First up, a very smart guy demonstrates it again: Caleb Pourchot gets his pic and story in the Wisconsin State Journal for leveraging a rebate from Wisconsin Focus on Energy (who actually funded a project I worked on--small town, Madison) and some tax credits to make a solar water heater more affordable.(Note that the above link is from their news pages, not their archives; it may decay.)

Next, a Department of Revenue software system is found to have some serious bugs that will probably mean Dane County will have to pay back almost $300 grand in miscomputed sales taxes to the state.

So a Madison writer/hacker responds wth an essay on software quality and transparent process.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It's Open Season On Like, Whatever

Warren, my friend and longtime fellow columnist at Software Development magazine, sent me an interesting essay by Lionel Shriver. In it, she excoriates the use of the word "whatever".

Got me to thinking about the standards of verbal decency here at Maison de Shabby. My eight-year-old son and I both tend to the geeky side (in the manner that a dropped bowling ball tends toward the ground), and so we're constantly picking apart other folks' utterances.

Yeah, I know. But we're fast on our feet, he and I, so we have escaped physical violence thus far.

My wife, no mean wordsmith herself, is less compulsive about rules in general, but certain verbal tics irritate her beyond forbearance. She decided one day that Enough Was Enough, and banned thoughtless use of the word "like" in family conversation. This initially had very little effect on the children's speech...until the day Brendan grinned at her so broadly that she stopped in midsentence.

"Mom", he said, "you said 'like'".

Of course, all she could do was glare and rephrase. The children exchanged looks of wonder and delight. From that moment on, the affair changed from yet another parental precept to a game of Humilate the 'Rents, which is their absolute favorite in the world. The competition is cutthroat, there is no mercy, there are no second chances.

An additional benefit is that I can convulse my children at will merely by uttering the line "So I'm like, whatever..."

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Recommended: Jazzmérica

Bought my friend-and-former-boss's CD "Jazzmérica"the other day. Now, a lot of jazz isn't to my taste; I tend to be a simple man, addicted to the blues, liking simple strong melodic lines. I bought it because (A) she's a friend of mine and (B) I'd heard her sing once or twice, just tootling along to herself, and was struck dumb.

So I have to say that a few of the more sophisticated tracks on this CD flew right by me. Reading her notes at CD Baby, I felt like a simpleton: You mean all that was in there? (But trust me, it's not hard to feel that way when Alexa is in the room.)

Even a jazz novice like me, though, can certainly appreciate her voice, which is lovely, lush, and a wonderfully versatile instrument. Too, there are tracks with strong melodic lines that really get me where I live. Some are haunting, some thoughtful...and then there are "Down in the Everglades" and "Your Love". How to express her singing's effect tactfully and respectfully...let's see...ah, got it:


Ha haa! I don't work for her anymore, so I can say it loud and proud! ROWR! Speaking as a trained first-aider, I assert that any hetero male who can listen to this CD all the way through without a few deep breaths and impure thoughts needs a gland transplant, stat. Hoo hoo hoo! Go get 'em, Alexa! Mow 'em down!

As you can see from the album cover, she is in fact physically gorgeous as well. But that's beside the point, really. Even if she were a dumpy 250-pounder who'd been whomped on bad with the ugly stick...if she could sing like this, I'd still be urging you to give the CD a spin.

Of course, she has been known to read this blog, so my days are probably numbered. Still, I thought you should know.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The New 'Puter Rocks

A month and a half after building myself a new Athlon box, I can report that this thing has been stable as a table, is so quiet I can hardly tell it's running, and can run applications inside of Virtual PC so fast that they don't appear to be virtualized at all. Took me a couple of hours to build it, but then I only do this every few years and am thus EXCEEDINGLY CAUTIOUS about the whole procedure.

The case in particular is outstanding, with fanatic attention to quiet and good workmanship throughout. I was reluctant to spend that much when you can get commodity cases so much cheaper; now I'm really, really glad that I did.

Since I review a lot of big-footprint development tools for a magazine, I prefer to install and run them from within Virtual PC, so that I can be positively sure that every last speck of them is gone when I'm done. This dual-core Athlon 64 machine can run a Windows Server 2003 Enterprise stack, complete with IIS and SQL server, without noticeably slowing down the host OS. I haven't done pedal-to-the-metal performance testing on virtualized OSes, but they're every bit as responsive as a normal desktop. So much so that it's easy to get confused: "Is this live, or is it Virtual PC?"

I had previously picked up a good video card on woot for about eighty bucks; that doesn't appear here. If I got another one, the machine is ready to do SLI (running two graphics cards to improve GPU throughput).

The whole works, as you see was under $900.

1 Antec LifeStyle SONATA II Piano Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case 450Watt SmartPower 2.0 ATX 12V V2.0 for AMD & Intel systems Power Supply - Retail
Item #: N82E16811129155
1 GIGABYTE GA-K8N Pro-SLI Socket 939 NVIDIA nForce4 SLI ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
Item #: N82E16813128301
Gigabyte (626)-854-9338 option 4
1 AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ 1GHz FSB Socket 939 Dual Core Processor Model ADA3800BVBOX - Retail
Item #: N82E16819103562
1 Western Digital Caviar SE WD2500JS 250GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM
Item #: N82E16822144417

1 CORSAIR ValueSelect 1GB (2 x 512MB) 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400 (PC 3200) Unbuffered Dual Channel Kit System Memory Model VS1GBKIT400 - Retail
Item #: N82E16820145440

Here is the song I wrote about building it (to the tune of "Dark Side of the Moon/Brain Damage").

And here is the video of the kids helping me build it.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Larry O'Brien does Another Forehead-Smacker

He wants Borland to do killer Ruby tools. Of course! I mean, "of course" now that he pointed it out.,guid,f8399c41-3fb9-442e-a8e4-97a128cbeff6.aspx

Flock does JMol!

I've been using Flock for my main Web browser lately; I like the easy blogging and having my bookmarks live "in the cloud" instead of on a hard disk or a thumb drive. It's in "developer preview" status right now, but apart from the occasional crash I find it completely usable.

I just discovered that, unlike Firefox, Flock under OS X 10.4 is perfectly happy to run JMol molecular-visualization applets, which is weird because Flock is based on Firefox. But our Virtual Museum displays (example) work dandy-fino. Perhaps it's because Flock is forked from a source drop later than the release of Firefox which I'm using. Whatever...yet another reason to Flock.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

They Biffed My Boss

CMP, publishers of Doctor Dobb's Journal and Software Development as well as the company behind the SD West and SD Best Practices conferences, sacked a bunch of folks last week, including two close friends of mine, who were the editor-in-chief and copy editor of Software Development magazine. For the record, Alexa was a helluva boss to work for. She constantly goaded us all to excellence just by sheer force of example, and I know for a fact that she fought like a tiger for her staff and to insulate the magazine's editorial content from the demands of the vendors advertising in it.

Booting her and Laurie a week before Christmas bodes ill for them (Alexa is five months pregnant) as well as the magazine, IMHO. Business is business, eh? Real classy timing, fellows. I can't really give their side here, because I haven't heard officially from anyone at CMP. Unofficially, I've been told I still have a job, which I like.

Perhaps the management will pull a rabbit out of a hat and find a substitute for these two women's drive, intellectual energy, and brilliant command of the English language. (And if it weren't for Laurie's combination of encouragement and gentle, sure-handed improvement of my writing, I would have given up the trade long ago.)

I sure hope that they manage to keep SD going as a high-quality operation, because I truly think it's the best thing out there for developers. I'm biased now, of course, since I write for it. But I formed that opinion long before I started writing for it in 2000 with the famous pig poop article.

I guess we'll have to wait and see. Regardless, it's the end of a good era.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


By now you've all seen JibJab's hilarious take on W's 2005. But also on JibJab are a couple of extremely bizarre Flash animations...well...dozens, actually. But here are a few that we laughed at:

The Badger Song

The Llama Song

A Thing Falling Down A Hill

Rock, Paper, Saddam

Finger Puppet

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Odious "USA PATRIOT" Act Provisions Restored in Conference Committee

Here's the scoop (emphasis mine) from Russ Feingold's PR materials on the subject. Yes, it's a press release. On the other hand, it's Russ. One guy -- ONE GUY -- voted against USA PATRIOT in the Senate 2001. That gives him a certain amount of cred on this issue.

There's an online petition you can sign to show your support. This is a big one, kids. My comments on the petition included the notion that it's not that the FBI or DoD are inherently evil, or even that a significant number of the people running the show are. The Founding Fathers had it right: Safeguards have to be structural, so that you don't have to rely on the good intentions (and competence!) of the fallible people in power.

Yes, signing the petition will bring you to a page where they ask for money. Deal.

In July, both parties came together in the Senate and approved a reasonable compromise. While this compromise wasn't perfect, I felt that it sufficiently protected our rights and freedoms, and it passed unanimously. It's unfortunate that the Senate and House conference committee has failed to adopt many of the provisions that my Senate colleagues and I believe fix the PATRIOT Act.

Four years ago, I was the only Senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act. I voted against it because I took the time to read it in full. While I strongly support the vast majority of the law, there were some provisions I found deeply disturbing. This week, many of these same provisions will come up for another vote, but I'm not standing alone anymore. A bi-partisan coalition, including Senators Durbin, Craig, Sununu, Salazar, and Murkowski have all agreed with my call to fix the PATRIOT Act.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

New Profile Photo/Concealed Carry

Wisconsin's State Assembly just passed their version of a law that would make it legal to carry concealed firearms.

Now, some of you might pass through this state. Take a good look at the profile photo: Is this the sort of person you want packing heat? I ask you.

(My wife's reaction to the picture: "Would you buy a used car from this man?")

Wait...didn't we do this already?

Forwarded from my sis. Next thing you know we'll be hearing about "outside agitators" on the campuses, a day or two before another crop of student radicals get .223 bullets through them.

 Salon magazine:

We don't have any doubt that the United States sometimes faces threats, and indeed, there's at least one the Bush administration might have taken a little more seriously. But we wonder if a small peace gathering at a Quaker meetinghouse in Florida or an antiwar march at NYU or a rally in Hollywood or a campus protest at Southern Connecticut State University ought to be the sort of "threats" the Defense Department takes seriously.

They are, apparently.

A 400-page database obtained by NBC News confirms scattered reports that the U.S. military is monitoring the activities of peaceful antiwar groups. On page after page, the report identifies meetings and rallies and protests, large and small, as "threats" or "suspicious incidents" to be watched. The Pentagon has also been monitoring Web sites for information on peaceful protests that just might morph into terrorist attacks.

The Defense Department refused an interview request from NBC, but a Pentagon spokesman told the network that all domestic intelligence information is "properly collected" and involves "protection of Defense Department installations, interests and personnel." As NBC notes, that explanation is hard to square with the evidence set forth in the database, which shows that the Pentagon has collected information on a number of antiwar events that occurred far from any military installation that might need protecting.

We'd make a joke here about '60s-era FBI files, if only this were funny. As Bert Tussing, director of homeland defense and security issues at the U.S. Army War College, tells NBC: "There is very little that could justify the collection of domestic intelligence by the United States military. If we start going down this slippery slope it would be too easy to go back to a place we never want to see again."

Video cell phones, nuthin'. You want death? Here's wheeled death.

Nissan plans to rev up a new sports car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in early 2006. The 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive Urge Concept features a driver-integrated cockpit and a built-in Xbox gaming system.

CNet News, Play Xbox while you drive?

Outrageously cool storm pix

OK, serious envy here. This gentleman has some absolutely incredible pictures, especially of supercell thunderstorms. I haven't even looked at his videos yet, I've yet to recover from the stills.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

2006 Auto Insurance Skyrockets As Pedestrians, Bicyclists Mowed Down

Oh. My. God.

Now, I'm sure you've never been endangered by a cellphone-yakking Driving While Oblivious yahoo.

It gets better. Soon they'll be able to WATCH TV ON THE THINGS! Me, I'm planning on travelling exclusively by (1) air or (2) tunnels.

Royal Philips Electronics says watching TV on cell phones isn't just an Asian phenomenon.

The Dutch electronics giant now plans to bring its TV-on-cellular chipset to the United States. Handsets with the chips should hit North American shelves sometime in 2006. To ensure that content and content services will be available, Philips has partnered with Crown Castle Mobile Media.

Crown Castle has acquired terrestrial rights to 5 megahertz of L band spectrum and will launch a mobile broadcast network in 2006.

CNet News 11 Dec 2005

Keep an Eye On Your Congresscritters Via RSS

The Washington Post offers an RSS feed for each Congressional member's votes.

The U.S. Congress Votes Database
RSS feeds
Member-specific feeds

This site offers an RSS feed for every current member of Congress, so you can get notified each time your elected officials vote. Each member-specific feed includes the member's position in the latest 10 votes.To reach a member's feed, navigate to his or her page and look for the "RSS" link.

Recent votes

We also publish a feed of the 10 most recent votes in Congress.Feed updating frequencyGenerally, we update this site, and the feeds, once a day. Please configure your RSS reader to poll our feeds once a day, or less frequently.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

RSS feeds | Congress votes database |

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Larry O'Brien on Tilt-A-Whirl Text Input, SHARK

Seb Wills has hooked the accelerometers in the Toshiba M200 to control the Dasher text-input system (in which letters gradually slide from right-to-left and your vertical motion selects them). Fantastic!One of the most interesting things about the Tablet PC is all the ways we search for alternate input techniques. Personally, I find that SHARK has the highest rate of entry (better than FITALY, better than Dasher, way better than handwriting), but there are aspects of the Java-based input panel that are really frustrating.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

Neal Asher, Cowl (Science Fiction)
A time-travel story that confronts the paradox issue head-on. I found it a bit hard to follow. Interesting imagery and a couple of nicely drawn characters (one of whom is dead throughout most of the book).

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Look up Chandler

Free calendaring s/w

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

JOGL User Guide

Java/OpenGL interface user guide

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Here's the last word on browsers

Mary Beth says it all:
Some of you have reported problems with viewing the website (which, in and of itself, is understandable-- I can hardly bear to look at it myself 99% of the time); specifically, for some, the screen tends to freeze and crash the computer and in general trigger the Apocalypse.The problem is apparently isolated to those using Internet Explorer, which--and I say this with the utmost respect for a very fine product--is a filthy, maggoty sewer hole into every spyware warren imaginable.I emailed Blogger about the problem two weeks ago, and the techs very helpfully responded that I consult a list of FAQ articles such as "How Do I Post?" and "What Is This 'Inter-Net' Of Which You Speak?" So I'm still waiting for assistance from those quarters, and will probably will be sitting here until the Sun crashes into the Earth's crust, so here's a word of loving and grateful advice: Download Firefox and use that instead... not only to view this site, but for every blooming thing viewable. You can even import all your bookmarks from the eeeeevil IE. Mozilla readers haven't reported any browsing issues, and they're not-doing so with a middle finger cheerfully extended in the general direction of Bill Gates.And that's one to grow on.scratch like a monkey at:

Blonde Champagne

Haven't read her stuff? Go do so! OK, so she's a Republican. Trust me, she's funny.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Square-wheeled car prototype

Yep, a teeny little car with 4 square wheels; runs by swinging a weight around.

USB powered Air Darts. I need that.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Martin Fowler on Language Workbenches

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and...

I went back and just went through 'em all. What the heck.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

James Howard, Roar of the Tiger (WWII memoir)

Howard flew with the legendary American Volunteer Group at the outset of WWII, becoming an ace against the Japanese air force. Then he signed up with the US Army Air Corps, flew P-51Cs in Europe, and became an ace again, winning the Congressional Medal of Honor in the process.

It's hard to write about exploits like this in the first person without coming off boastful; Howard, a genuine hero, manages the feat.

If you're interested in the Flying Tigers, you might also want to read the scrupulously researched and smoothly written Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group by Daniel Ford.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

Larry Bond, Dangerous Ground (technothriller)

Formulaic, but readable.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

Joe Marasco, The Software Development Edge

Some good tips on managing software projects.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

Chad Fowler, My Job Went to India (And All I Got Was This Lousy Book)

Fowler's message to fat/dumb/happy American programmers is simple: Globalization is here. Crying ain't gonna change it. Best offer outstanding value, or be outsourced. Written in a witty, lucid style, with concrete recommendations for developers.

Highly recommended.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War (personal narrative of the 2003 invasion of Iraq).

Wright is a reporter, not a Marine, but he rode along with the Force Recon men at the very tip of the spear. His account of the early part of the war mixes heroism, fellowship, incompetence, arrogance, and the fog of war into a narrative that will make you feel like you were in the Humvees too.

Unlike some of the "embedded" reporters, who seem to have quickly become cheerleaders for the war, or those who donned combat fatigues for dramatic dispatches from the safety of their hotels, Wright pulls no punches.

Highly recommended.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (soci0-environmental history)

Popular, and deservedly so. Diamond examines a brace of societies throughout history which collapsed for seemingly unknown reasons, and traces the thread of environmental carelessness through each one. It's no mamby-pamby save-the-spotted owls whine; instead, it's a wakeup call for responsible resource management.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

Jack Nissen, Winning the Radar War (WWII history).

A personal memoir of radar and microwave technology's role in the outcome of World War II, told by someone who was there. Nissen actually accompanied the disastrous Dieppe Raid, hoping to break into and suss out a German radar station. Since he was so knowledgeable about British radar technology, his capture was held to be unacceptable, and so he was accompanied by soldiers tasked to kill him if capture appeared imminent. Nissen only just barely escaped with his life.

It's a bit of an idiosyncratic perspective, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

John Meaney, Paradox. (Science Fiction)

It's got your space opera, your social consciousness, your hard SF. Recommended.

Books I've Read (Fall/Winter 2005)

Jim Wallis, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It.

I'm not religious. But that doesn't mean I don't care about religion's role in society. Jim Wallis does, deeply, and moreover writes about it in compelling fashion. This book is literally inspirational. Written primarily for a Christian audience, it gives marching orders to just about anybody with a strong sense of right and wrong: Get in there and fight! True to the theme of the book, he lambastes both the Left and the Right, though the Bush administration seems to come in for the majority of whacks. Wallis denounces, in eloquent terms, the idea that Christians should believe in greed-is-good economics or wars of aggression.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Choosing Rich Internet Application infrastructure

Here's a pretty pragmatic approach to selecting your content delivery mechanism. Although the author is CEO of a company that sells one of the alternatives, he doesn't overtly push that option.

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Two Thumbs Up for Corpse Bride

It's at the cheap seats now, so you've probably already seen it or decided not to. But Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is just wonderful. Love, death, and a hottie who has to keep reattaching body parts--what more could you ask? The single problem I had with the movie was difficulty catching all the song lyrics, which may have been the fault of the aforementioned cheap seats' sound system.