Video about SVS-like School

This is a GREAT video posted on YouTube – it’s part of a documentary about the Fairhaven School in Maryland. Fairhaven is a Sudbury Valley-like school, which is where my son Zach goes. This video covers all aspects of the school, interviewing students and showing what life is like in a environment democratically run by the students.
BoingBoing has the link to the video.
If you’ve ever had any questions about the Sudbury Valley School, this is a fantastic overview of what it’s like.

Fox News Questionable Business Practices?

One of the functions of my blogging software is to keep an eye on who is posting comments to the blog, and where they come from. Over the last few months, I’ve been seeing several posts of this variety showing up, always pointing to Fox News, and having -nothing- to do with the topic being replied to.

A new comment has been posted on your blog Planet Geek!, on entry #2674 (10 Years Ago...).
View this comment: 
IP Address:
Name: defwjkd
Email Address:
<A HREF=",2933,193083,00.html">Zarqawi:
'What Is Coming Is Even Worse'</A>
this is so scary - cannot believe this...

This is obviously spam, something bloggers are well used to (we use various measures to block spammers). Blogspam’s purpose is to raise the google ranking of the target site by providing more links to it. It’s somewhat the bane of bloggers in general, though most blog software has decent countermeasures, but traditionally, these types of spam were promoting sex enhancement drugs (real or fake), or the like. However in this case, it’s a known, established, and high profile business. Fox news.

I can’t think of any legitimate reason a comment like this would be posted to my blog. I’m assuming Fox has hired some marketing company to up their news ranking, and the marketing company is resorting to blogspam to accomplish their goal. Heads up, Fox, this is not the way to do business, and will get your site banned from commentary pretty quickly.



Originally uploaded by eidolon.

I do like taking walks. After a morning helping out family members, I spent almost 2 hours in the woods near Bolton, MA on the conservation trails. Toward the end the sun was beginning to go down, and the trail crossed this stream.

I don’t think I’d ever been on this bridge before, but I loved the patterns of the light and the water.


Gosh, it seemed like a good idea. I have a Bluetooth phone (sort of, the Treo 650 is… not the best bluetooth platform out there). I have a Bluetooth enabled laptop. I listen to music on my laptop via headphones all the time. And the laptop has a microphone. Bluetooth phones support remote ‘hands free’ models, I should be able to use the laptop as a HF device on the phone, right? Anyone? Right? Anyone?
Well, not quite. The bluetooth support in Linux is quite good for many things, such as file transfer support and wireless modems, but the handsfree module that was part of the KDE bluetooth package seems to have gone missing.
And, I have to admit, I’m really less than thrilled with the Bluetooth stack on the Treo. It’s painful.

Real Estate Valuation via

I’m a little late coming to this, but NPR’s All Things Considered aired an interview with the CEO of and I had to give it a shot. Forget Mrs. Grundy, this tool lets you find out how much your house, your neighbors house, your bosses house, or any house in fact is worth given current market conditions. The folks at Zillow are the first to admit it’s not 100% accurate (in fact, looking at when we sold our last house, the chart showing property values rates that house at 20% higher than what we sold it for. Sort of sad, actually), but it’s fascinating looking up house prices and history of sales for not only the house you’re in, but the houses around you as well.
Update: fixed broken HTML. Sorry

The Continued Improvement of KDE

The Continued Improvement of KDE
I’ve written before about the fairly detailed advances that have been occurring in the KDE desktop environment. This past week I got a chance to test out a few more, and for me the environment gets better and better with each passing week.
USB Device Support
One could argue this is better attributable to Kernel level and OS-level improvements, but history has seen that desktop enhancements often lag far behind kernel and OS changes. In this case, they’re moving forward hand in hand.
I use several ‘external’ USB devices that I connect to either yawl or to hunter. These consist of any of the following:

  • A 256 meg pen drive (used for ‘hot’ backups of databases while at events)
  • A generic 190gig external USB drive for backups and general storage
  • an Olympus C-770 camera
  • A Palm Treo-650
  • An Apple iPod

Traditionally, using ‘removable’ filesystem devices under Linux would involve much finagling of automounting device confifgurations, as well as the ‘Pray and Pull’ approach to disconnection. It might disconnect cleanly, it might not.
With the switch to devfs in the 2.6 Linux kernel, USB devices are mounted and unmounted automatically upon detection. I have been able, without doing any filesystem tuning, to simply jack in any of the above devices, and both of my machines mount the device immediately. Under KDE, the devices even show up on the desktop as an active icon, and I’ve configured KDE to automatically open the device in a file browse window upon detection. This makes moving pictures and other items on and off the drives a breeze. A simple drag and drop. For camera operations, this is sufficient, but read on for considerations for other devices.
iPod support in Amarok
The Apple iPod is an unusual device. It does function as a USB drive, and shows up on the filesystem with appropriate file structures and the like, but it’s really not meant to be manipulated as a filesystem directly. Music is stored in ‘numbered’ directories, with cryptic names on each. Not very helpful when simply browsing with a filesystem view. Fortunately, some bright lights have come up with a great interim system.
I had originally been using GTKPod as a tool for working with the iPod, but I found the interface less than intuitive, and it didn’t integrate well with the rest of my desktop. It was a typical standalone Gnome app, with only the faintest nods to the concept of desktop interaction and interface sharing.
When confronted with “Hm how am I going to sync my music collection to my iPod”, I noticed in the Amarok window a selection for ‘media devices’. And sure enough, in there, there was the iPod, available for synchronizing. I went through my already selected playlists (I use Amarok constantly), selected a handful of new songs, and said “Add these to media device queue”. Once they were all set, I simply clicked “Synchronize”, and the system connected up to the iPod properly, synced the music over to it, and shut down cleanly. Total time, about 8 seconds.
My understanding is this is similar to how iTunes works (I’ve only run it briefly – my exposure to it under Windows only brought up feelings of ‘bulky, slow, unintuitive, and not native. Looks like an Apple port’, and after that I didn’t bother. With Amarok, I’m using my own music collection via a tool that is an absolute joy to use (Amarok). The iPod synchronizing is just icing on the cake, but a pleasant find nonetheless.
A good desktop
All in all, the KDE desktop simply continues to improve and improve and improve more. Yes, some of these functions are things that others have been doing for a while. But when was the last time anything really revolutionary was done in the desktop environment? The gap between the ‘stable, consistent Windows desktop’, the ‘warm and fuzzy and friendly mac desktop’, and the opensource rogue of KDE is far narrower than many would say. At the moment, I’d put the useability, capability, and flexibility of KDE over the Mac, and in many ways, far over Windows as well.

Oh to have an EE clue.

My expertise in geekythings is limited to what I can do in the software of a system. Given a fully built linux box, I can run just about any program, write anything, do what I want with it. Bend it to my will as my whim directs.
But once outside that box, interfacing with the real world, my skills fall off. Some of my more geekier ambitions fall into interfacing with the computer and systems in ways other than just a keyboard, mouse and screen. Secondary controllers, mobile electronics, small devices that do ‘something’ for you and communicate amongst themselves. Fascinating, but really beyond my base knowledge.
So when I come across absolutely stunning projects like this one, it makes me keenly aware of the holes in my education. Embedded systems are a fascinating field, but one I don’t have the time to explore. Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate things like this though:
The CLIVE Project is a combination hardware/software/art project that is on display at Burning Man The setting is an archway sculpture in the middle of the playa, with a large countdown clock on it, as well as a green laser shining up into the sky :

A giant digital clock that hangs from that arch counts down from 00:01:30. The warning spinners go still, having gotten your attention. The beam, still pointing oddly at nothing as the countdown marches on, slowly dims. As the clock reaches the last fifteen seconds a tiny dot in the sky gets just bright enough to be seen… moving swiftly towards the green pencil of light.
The dot is barely visible at first; in only seconds it’s brighter than the stars near it and then gets brighter yet. As it crosses the beam its light peaks — shimmering a good eight times brighter than anything else in the sky. It’s moving fast. Not so fast as a falling star, but quicker than most anything else one would see in the natural night sky.
Just as quickly it pases, fading; the laser dimmed to nothing, the entire archway gone dormant. No light; no sound… just that same travelling pinpoint of light dipping out of sight into blackness again. A few long seconds pass; maybe a halfminute or so. With a gentle whirr and flicker of green light the archway returns to life, counter resetting. “NEXT FLARE:” scrolls up on the display across the archway’s main beam, the 10-foot-long clock resetting and starting the countdown anew.
You just witnessed the magnitude -8 flare of an Iridium satellite, reflecting the sun straight at you as it passes overhead.
The large copper structure you’re standing under? It’s an almagest of sorts; a guide to the stars. We like to call it CLIVE: the Celestial Laser Identification / Visualization Experiment.

How cool is that?

When it rains it pours.

I think it’s a sign of the apocalypse. In the space of about 15 minutes, I not only smoked a video board (no, didn’t toke it up… it literally started smouldering while installed in the machine. The fan bearing had failed on the cooler), not only crashed said XP box right in the middle of getting information i was looking for, but in a fit of excitement, I apparently broke the seat of my nice Size C Aeron chair.
Since this was basically an ebay special, warranties are out of the question. I’ve had the chair about 7 months now, and use it daily day in and day out. I guess I wasn’t sitting on it properly or the like, but I’m not an -enormous- guy. I weigh about 270. The chair is a ‘large’ scale, it’s built to carry large people.
Now to find out what repairs or replacement costs will be for parts. Yippee.

Mini-Rant: ebay ‘keep me signed in’

I’ve been using ebay forever. And I mean, forever. DId you know that eBay wasn’t the original name of the project? It was called ‘Auctionweb’, and eBay was just the hosting company.
For as long as I can remember, that little checkbox on the login screen said “Keep me signed in”. I check it, I uncheck it, I yell at it, I try different browsers and platforms, and it has NEVER actually kept me signed in. I go away for an hour or three, yep! Gotta sign in again!
I can’t imagine I’m the only person this happens to. I can only assume eBay simply has no interest in fixing it.

The Cyclists Haggadah

(As written by Evan Parks of NYC on The Cycling Forum :

All who are in need of spring training, come and ride with us.
All who are hungry, come and partake of our carbohydrate-laden treats.
[The bottle of cytomax is held up and the blessing is recited:]
Blessed are You, our G-d, Universal Ruling Presence, who has created the
fruit of the laboratory.
The youngest rider asks:
1. On all other rides, we eat all kinds of bars. On this ride, why do we
only eat hard, unleavened Power Bars?
2. On all other rides, we might consume a wide range of fruits. On this
ride, why do we eat bananas?
3. On all other rides, we might not dip our bananas even once in our gu.
On this ride, why do we dip our bananas twice?
4. On all other rides, we ride sitting up straight. On this ride, why do
we ride in a reclining position on recumbents?
The answer my children, may be found in the story of Passover.
This is the power bar of our affliction, which our ancestors baked 400
years ago.
Many years ago, we were slaves to our automobiles, driving hither and
thither, not knowing that a better way existed. If the Holy One, blessed be
He, had not shown us the way of the bicycle, then we, our children and
our children’s children would have remained enslaved to motor vehicle. Even
if all of us were wise, all of us understanding, all of us knowing the book
of Effective Cycling, we would still be obligated to discuss the liberation
through cycling; and everyone who discusses this liberation at length is
There are four types of children who ask questions on this ride: the
wise one, the bad one, the simple one, and the one who does not know to ask.
– What does the wise one ask? I don’t know; I couldn’t understand him
either. Him you must send to a school for gifted children.
– What does the bad one ask? He says, “What is this ride to you?”
Because he excludes himself from the community of cyclists, you must exclude him from your ride, and he will go back to his employer and get paid double-time and a half for working on a holiday.
– What does the simple one ask? He simply asks, “What is this?” You will
say to him, “This is a bike ride.”
– As for the one who does not know to ask, you must go to his room, wake
him up and say, “Next year, come to the bike ride on time!”
These are the Ten Plagues which the Holy One, blessed be He, brought
upon the motorists, namely as follows:
[When saying the ten plagues, spill a drop of cytomax from the sports
bottle itself ten times for each plague:]
High gas prices
Registration fees
Pot holes
Expensive parking
Speeding tickets
Sedendary lifestyle
First-born getting a driver’s licence
How many levels of favors has the Eternal One bestowed upon us?
If we would be wearing padded bike shorts, but not have clipless pedals,
it would have been enough.
If we would have clipless pedals, but not at least Shimano 105
components, it would have been enough.
If we would be equipped with at least Shimano 105 components, but not a
delicious post-ride dinner, it would have been enough.
If we would been served a delicious dinner and no dessert, it would have been enough.
If we would eaten dessert, but not have a hangover from too much carousing, it would have been enough.
(Pick up the cytomax and say:) Thus how much more so should we be
grateful to the Eternal One for the doubled and redoubled goodness that He has bestowed upon us! We do wear padded bike shorts, we do have clipless pedals, and we do have at least Shimano 105 components (and some of us have Ultegra and even Campy Chorus, and many other wonders), and we did eat a delicious post-ride dinner, and we did get dessert, and now we pray that we do not get a hangover from too much carousing — let us say, Amen!
Thus it is our duty to thank, to laud, to praise, to glorify, to exalt,
to adore, to bless, to elevate and to honor the One who did all these
miracles for cyclists before us and for us. He took us from car-driving slavery
to bicycling freedom, from steel-caged enclosed sorrow to the open road of
joy, and from bondage to redemption.
Blessed are You, our G-d, Universal Ruling Presence, who has redeemed us
and redeemed our ancestors, and enabled us on this ride to eat power bars
and bananas. So too, G-d, our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, enable us to
attain other rides and cycling events that will come to us in peace with
happiness, and with rejoicing in Your service.
This year we watch the Tour De France in the living room, next year may
we see it in person!

(Thanks… or something… to my father in law for forwarding this to me.)

New Toy!

Well, I think this means I’ve finally gone overboard. Ever since I’ve been playing ‘seriously’ with the band and actually going out and -gigging-, I’ve had to knuckle under and come to the realization that yes. I am a musician. In fact, I’m a bass player. I play a lovely Fender J-bass electric guitar I got on eBay 2 years ago, with hardshell case, for $190. I can’t complain, really. The guitar has been wonderful. I’m on my second amp with it (my original practice amp went missing after a weekend long retreat. Long story there). I’m happy with the Boehringer amp I have now, but there’s been one nagging problem.
I like folk music. Though much of my music collection is ‘classic’ rock with blues for the underpinnings, the stuff I really enjoy playing is folk acoustic, including older folk arrangements such as irish dance music. Though I’ve had a few occasions to try it, my big black electric bass just doesn’t meld into that scenario well, and its awfully hard to haul an 80lb amp out into the middle of a field or next to a campfire to play tunes.
I’ve looked at acoustic bass guitars for quite a while. The quality and price ranges all over the board. There’s a series that runs about $200 or so, but every review I’ve seen has been in the “Yeah, it’s a $200 bass acoustic. Sound is iffy, action is bleah, it’s a cheap acoustic bass. You get what you pay for.” I can’t bring myself to pay real money for one of these. There’s not a lot of demand for these instruments, so I don’t see them come across eBay or Craigslist very often.
Tonight I decided to stop into Guitar Center again to noodle on their acoustics. Dragging a recalcitrant Zach along with me, we wandered into their quiet ‘acoustic’ room, and there I saw something odd. A used decent quality acoustic bass right there on the stand, and marked at a reasonable price even. I took the instrument down and started playing on it. It had a good feel, good size, decent strings and action on it. It was an acoustic/electric – meaning it has pickups on the inside, and a small EQ and pre-amp built into the side. The cable patch is in the strap-mount on the bottom of the body.
But, was I ready to spend $300? That, was the real question. I checked in with Cat, and she said “Well, if you REALLY want it…”, which is always good to make me stop and think about things before impulse-buying. I knew however this was a good price for the guitar, and I wasn’t likely to get another opportunity like this for a while. It’s not like bass guitars are dropping in price like other technologies.
Finally I called up the salesdroid, and said “So, this Fender bass. Come with a gig bag?” “Nope, just what you see.” – he picked it up and noodled around – he had some chops on it, but I didn’t let that distract me. “Hmm, well, this is at the top of what I was thinking of spending, though I like it.” I sort of let it dangle there, and he got the hint. “Well, maybe I can get you a discount on a gig bag, lets go see.”
So we looked at gig bags. Now, acoustic basses are BIG. This was ‘shallow body’, but it was still the size of a normal ‘large’ guitar. Plus, bass guitars have long necks. None of hte ‘soft’ gig bags would work. He said something like “Let me check in the back. If we have one, I can let you have it for half price.” “Well, lets look at it.” Gig bags were listed right there for $40. $20? $320 for guitar and soft gigbag? Eh, I’m tempted, but still not satisfied.
After 10 minutes of waiting for him to reappear, I almost gave up. I started to write a note with my name and phone number, when he reappeared. “Couldn’t find it, but we found a hardshell case that should fit it. How bout that? They’re only $120.” “Umm.” “It’s right around the corner, lemme get it, you can check it out.” “Uh, okay.”
The case is unremarkable, but it fit the guitar, with a little wiggle room. It was a standard acoustic ‘cardboard-y’ case, with padding and stowage inside. It was definately not worth $120. “I’ll let you have it for $50.” Okay, this is sounding better. “Tell you what. Throw in an el cheapo nylon guitar strap, and we’ll call it a deal.” He turned around, pulled one off the rack (standard black with ties for the guitar head), tossed it in, and we were all set.
So, I got an awesome condition Fender BG29 Acoustic/Electric bass guitar, strap, and hard case for $350. I consider it a win all around. Naturally, when I got home, I started looking around the net for prices on these guitars. They seem to go for between $480 and $700 new, without cases, so I think I’ve done okay. The reviews I’m seeing are positive, noting things like a non-full length neck, and decent pricing. I feel fairly vindicated in the price I paid for it, and what I’m going to be using it for.
I spent a bit playing on it tonight, and I’m happy with the sound and feel. I’ll let ya’ll know how things go this weekend at NEFFA. Next I hae to learn how to accompany irish folk music! I’ll be bringing it to band practice tomorrow night to get more comfortable with it (and to test out the internal pickups). Wheee!

Pictbridge Licensing and CIPA Annoyances

While trying to get Blk‘s Sanyo 7500 phone hooked up to some reasonable system for downloading images, I came across the vileness that is the ‘PictBridge’ technology. Wikipedia has an excellent article about this.

The gist is, you can’t talk to a device that uses PictBridge technology unless you pay the Camera and Imaging Products Association some… confusing amount of money for ‘certification’. Their FAQ is confusing, but they say:

An initial application fee for certification of PictBridge compliant products will cost 500,000 yen. It costs 700,000 yen for CIPA members and non-CIPA members. When a logo certification tool is purchased, an additional 1,400,000 yen for printer, 800,000 yen for digital still camera respectively is required.”

What this means is basically if I wanted to write a driver for Linux that would support a PictBridge device – I’d have to shell out $15k or thereabouts, just for the privilege of writing support for their device.

Can someone please tell me how this is a good idea for anyone EXCEPT the CIPA? It sounds suspiciously like a way to not only stifle competition on the device, but also make sure the device standard never gets widely accepted.

GeekState 1.1

After a week of whining about things broken and whys, this has been a day or two of resolution and fixing, so lets put some positive things down on the Geekscale…

  • MythTV
    The MythTV box has been resurrected. Thanks to the joy that is KnoppMyth, and the foresight to put all my ‘file storage’ (music, movies, games, etc) on secondary drives, I was able to rip out the blown drive and drop in a spare 20gigger, and have it up and running in no time.
    Oh, and half a terabyte of storage? Kicks.

    dbs@deathstar:~$ df -h
    Filesystem            Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
    /dev/hda1              17G  2.3G   14G  15% /
    /dev/hdb1             233G  137G   85G  62% /myth
    /dev/hdd              230G  198G   21G  91% /myth2
  • WinXP
    Thanks to Barb’s help, the WinXP box has been rebuilt. Or reinstalled. or something. We waved an XP installer CD at it, and said “Thou shalt rebuild yon self!” – naturally, this didn’t even come close to ‘just plain working’. There’s a whole nother series of rants on the idiocy that is the WindowsXP operating system – suffice to say, at one point I had to boot said KnoppMyth CD on the Windows box _JUST_ to find out what sort of video board I had via lspci. Cuz. Ya know. Windows cant’ just TELL you. That would be… uh. Something.
  • Eclipse
    So, that problem with the ‘Array out of bounds’? Turns out that WTP doesn’t like if you’ve not defined any servers for deployment, and the WebServices WSDL builder gets really ticked off without any targets at all. That was easily fixed. Alas, my workspace (Eclipses’ term for where you do configuration, have projects checked out, etc), finally got too confusing to debug, so we’re trashing and starting over. Fortunately, everything is in Subversion, so there’s really nothing lost. Folks on the Eclipse support channel have been great.

All in all, not too shabby. I can almost feel my productivity coming back to normal! Now, hm, I wonder how my Eve character is doing…

Sidenote – when I was but a young geek, I regularly read Steve Ciarcia’s ‘Circuit Cellar‘ in Byte magazine. Every month he’d talk about all the cool projects he had around the house – stuff he was building, things that worked, things that didn’t. I thought it was one of the coolest lifestyles around. I suspect I’m slowly, inexorably, following in his footsteps. Cept he was a better writer. 🙂