Movies Movies Movies!

I have a post about Ubercon brewing, but until that’s ready to come off the burner, lets talk about movies for a few minutes.
I Love ’em.
This will come as a surprise to no one, but still I must go on. While at the MIT Flea market last Sunday, I picked up another bag load of DVD’s from Yet Another movie store closing down. At $3 each, it totally falls under my “never pay more than $10 for a movie” rule.
I updated my listing, sorted them onto the shelves, and added in 2 movies given to me as a gift from blk, and totalled things up. I’m over 315 DVD’s now, and my appetite is not yet sated! More! More! I’m still not satisfied!
What I hadn’t updated in a while was updating my wishlist, so taking some cues from Dumb Distractions (thanks crouchback), I filled out the list of movies I don’t have, but feel should be part of the collection.
I’m sure I’m missing some good ones. Whadya think? Any suggestions?
See the collection and wishlist here.

Okay okay okay.

Fine. Ya’ll can stop tempting me further.
Rock band is mighty cool.
I’ve been avoiding it. I totally loved DDR, not only for the plain fun of the game, but it gave me a workout! Double bonus.
In the last 24 hours I’ve played about 2 hours of Rock Band, and I gotta admit, drumming is a lot of fun. Not as aerobic as DDR, but certainly not couch potato material.
Course, a full setup would cost a couple hundred bucks I don’t have, so I don’t see picking up in the near future, but, er, if folks are playing, er, lemme know? 🙂

Cons, Gaming, and Machines!

I’m off to UberCon for the weekend! This’ll be a bit different than the last 9 events (8? I’ve lost count). IMG_4584.JPGThis weekend, Zach is coming with me as a con attendee (and gopher for reg). Barb and her son Justin will be there as well, so Zach will have a friend he knows to hang out with.
I packed up the Mame Cabinet into the van. The new pipe-and-fixture arrangement worked well for quick disassembly, but it’s still a large cabinet. This’ll be the second ‘field test’ for the arrangement. I brought it to the last Ubercon, but it was missing much of the upper half. I’ve also replaced MythTV and MythGame with Kubuntu 8.04 and KXMame, which seem to be working very very well. We’ll see how it all goes.
Might be blogging from the event, otherwise, see ya’ll Sunday!

Go go gadget Greylisting!

Our spam levels here at Chez Geek are, shall we say, astronomical. About a year ago, we installed and configured SQLGrey, a tool for Postfix that enables Greylisting on inbound mail. Initially, it had a great impact, but somewhere along the lines, our configuration got modified in a way that stopped the greylist from working.

Last week, the spam levels got to be too much, and I checked into the greylisting configuration on our main server. It wasn’t enabled! Somehow our postfix entries had gotten removed (we’re guessing an overzealous edit with an RCS checkout overwriting things).

Anyway, after restarting, I’ve had a few days to see what impact there is. The spam dropoff has been ridiculously dramatic, as my spam reporter shows:

Breakdown by day: (10172 posts, average of 1453.1 posts per day.)
Apr 20 | Apr 19 | Apr 18 | Apr 17 | Apr 16 | Apr 15 | Apr 14
130  |   143  |   136  |   1393  |   3038  |   2417  |   2915

This is showing only mail that comes into my inbox, and has been tagged as spam by Amavis. This doesn’t show how much mail is being rejected, but it’s pretty obvious since I enabled greylisting (middle of the day on Apr 17th), things have… fallen off to something like 5% of the original level.

Now that’s good stuff.

Alas Windjammer Cruises

the_cloud_at_coopers_island.jpgBack around, oh, 1996? Something like that, Cat and I took our first trip to the British Virgin Islands to spend a week aboard the Flying Cloud, a 207ft Barque (3 masts, square rigged on the first mast). It was a delightful trip, and our first time in the BVI’s. We were hooked.

We’d end up taking 4 more trips down there, once with her company, then 3 doing our own bareboat chartering (the picture above is from one of those trips, where we caught sight of the Flying Cloud while stopping at Normal Island). Our last trip was in 2002, after which most of our time and money was being sunk into Mosaic, so we haven’t been back since. I miss it!

I’ve been off and on keeping an eye on Windjammer Cruises, thinking it might be nice to take a trip again. We thoroughly enjoyed our first time – it was very laid back and comfortable. They don’t call it ‘Barefoot Cruising’ for nuthin.

Alas, the Windjammer company has basically fallen apart. There are many suggestions as to why this has happened, but it appears it’s mostly due to infighting among the Burkes, the family that owns the business. The fleet is completely laid up, and even though the website is active, they haven’t sailed in over a year. They are essentially closed up permanently.

I hope another comes along to take up the concept. Having a cruise that is part sailing, part exploring, part cruising, without all the stuffiness that tends to come with your standard ‘big ship’ cruising was very nice, and I’d hate to not have that opportunity in the future.

Edit, 11:40am – There is a fantastic, lengthy article on that details the entire history of Windjammer, and how badly they’ve come apart. Highly recommended.

Goings on

A couple quick What’s Going On updates…

April 20th – MIT Flea Market
As part of the great cleanout, I’ll be hauling a vanload of gear to the MIT Fleamarket on Sunday, along with a couple other cohousing friends. This is not a ‘for profit’ sell-off. I’m getting RID of stuff. A quarter for that 1U dual opteron? Go for it! (okay, not really), but I will have piles of stuff that I just don’t need or want anymore, please take it away?

April 25-27 – Ubercon X
Yep, another Ubercon! Yay! I’ll be down in NJ again working registration. The change this time? Zach will be coming with me (his first gaming con!). Pretty exciting stuff.

Piece by piece, Mame cabinet progress


Originally uploaded by eidolon

With Ubercon coming up next week, and the successful debut of my cabinet at the last event, I wanted to get some more work done on the assembly before we shipped out. To that end, I had been pondering using industrial pipe assemblies to build a sort of ‘framework’ to hang the monitor on.

With some advice from my brother in law, I ordered up the pieces from MSCDirect (in conjunction with a fortuitous find on ebay), and tonight, with most of the parts in, I set about assembling the stand.

This is the one part of the build I had NOT worked out on paper ahead of time, but working with metal assemblies has the advantage of “Don’t like it? Disassemble it and try it a different way!” They’re just like big tinker toys.

The piping is 1 1/4″ aluminum conduit courtesy of Lowes. It was relatively low cost, convenient, and easily strong enough for what I was doing (in fact, I could probably have done this with 1″ piping – the fittings are sort of overkill for this type of work, but it lends to that industrial look 🙂

The monitor hanger is another ebay find (got 5 of them for about $15), though I needed to modify the mount to fit into the crosspiece (it’s times like this I pine for some shop tools I don’t have, like a drill press. Drilling holes in an clamped aluminum pipe with a handheld drill is NOT fun).

The two assemblies right above the control panel are going to be braces going up to the monitor hangar. Because I’m missing some pieces still, they’re not yet hooked up.

I also took the time to fasten down the control panel properly using angle brackets and some machine bolts I had.

All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the result. Next step will be to make sure the software interface and emulators all work properly.

Linux vs Windows XP Bootup Speed

I got into a conversation on IRC today about relative performance between Linux and Windows XP machines. A true blue dyed in the wool fellow was falling all over himself about how much faster WIndows XP was, and how sluggish Linux was, and he couldn’t see how anyone would use Linux because it was such a performance hog.

I have on my desk two machines that are relatively equal in use configuration. They are both development machines, configured with MySQL, Apache, various editors and other environments, including chat clients and a variety of daemons. In general terms, they’re equivelent.

So I decided to boot each machine from scratch, starting a timer at the end of POST, when the first part of the OS loads. Stop-timer was when CPU usage went down to ‘idle’. Windows XP meant the Task Manager CPU usage indicator was hovering around 6%, and on my Linux box, when my load manager showed the job queue was basically empty.

Machine 1 : yawl (Kubuntu Linux, Pentium 4 2.26gig, 2 gig memory):
Time to startup: 2 minutes, 0 seconds.

Machine 2 : clipper (Windows XP, Dual core 2.16gig, 2 gig memory):
Time to startup: 2 minutes, 53 seconds.

The XP machine was slower, but it shouldn’t have been. It is a dual core machine. While that doesn’t translate immediately to 2x the performance, it should at least show an improvement over the older, slower single core machine. Apparently not.

Lets try some other bits.

yawl: Time to start up eclipse: 22 seconds.

clipper: Time to start up eclipse: 34 seconds.

I don’t know what other benchmarks I can run here. XP is a slower OS than Linux.

I’ll caveat something though. There are tools for XP that are optimized for it. Some GUI apps are far faster under XP than they are under Linux. But to my mind that shows that things can be made to run faster on an XP box. But for folks who make blanket statements about XP being faster / less bloated / whatever than Linux, think a little more about what you’re using as a basis for that statement.

Coconut gets a facelift

Ever since I first wrote Coconut, the web interface to CONGO, I’ve been using the same stylesheet. It was really my first foray into stylesheet-driven design and layout, and while it was a good first try, it was ugly as sin.
Last night I finally sat down to rewrite the stylesheet into something reasonably attractive. I got rid of the dark background and greytones, and the ‘All Caps’ font styles, and used more pastels.
I’m pretty happy with the result, but for the hundred or so folks who are used to the old look and feel, it’ll be a dramatic change!



Originally uploaded by eidolon

Everyone is prepping for their move to Mosaic in their own way. Having worked with groups of friends many times on big projects, it always seems at the end that you end up holding a hammer going “Okay, whose is this?”

If we’re all living in the same place, we’re going to be sharing tools and the like constantly. Why not adopt the same scheme we’ve used in the Techno-Fandom world, and use paint pens (or tool dip) to mark tools and personal items with a unique color scheme?

My scheme, used in the TF crew, has been Black-Blue-Silver for about 10 years now, so it makes sense to use that in Mosaic as well. Most of my convention gear is already tagged, but a lot of my tools haven’t been yet.

A nice rainy Saturday morning, and some spare time, and voila – another handful of items marked up.

I still have to do my big toolbox, but at least this part is done.

Oh Apple, you guys crack me up!

Those crazy guys at Apple. Look at this wonderful April Fools joke they did.
So. So. Check this out. They modified their Apple Updater on Windows machines to pop up a window, and… I swear, I can’t stop laughing… even though I don’t even HAVE Safari or iTunes installed, they’ve put them on the updater list (as a “Software Update” *BWAH*), and automatically CHECKED them! Not only that, the highlighted button on the dialog is to “Install 3 Items”, so anyone could easily come along, see the update window “Oh yes, I need the Quicktime update” and… and… BANG! They have another 88 megs of software installed that they probably don’t even want!
I tell you, those guys have the best designs, the best platforms, and they make some great stuff, but it’s the little tweaks like this, the little jokes, that just crack me up. I mean, cmon. An updater that tried to trick you into installing software you don’t have. Hee hee hee!
Thanks Apple, for making my week!

Musings on fuel economy, vehicles, and commuting

This is a somewhat long post, and has been brewing in my head for a while. Grab a cup of coffee, make yourself comfortable.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about commuting, fuel economy, vehicle types, and general transportation habits. There are changes afoot in my life that will change my driving needs, and with the ever rising price of fuel, it makes sense to take a good long look at my driving habits, and possibly make some changes.

Some Background

Between Cat and myself, we own 3 vehicles. Well, two and a half. My 2005 Saturn Relay van, Cat’s Toyota Prius, and my 25 year old Suzuki GS850 motorcycle. I can’t really consider the bike too much, as I ride it perhaps once a summer, due to it’s age and general condition, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it.

Why do we have a van? Well, there’s a couple reasons. When I bought it, I was doing regular conventions, which require hauling a series of crates and hardware to the event. In addition, we own a ski boat, a camping trailer, and a utility trailer, all of which need a tow vehicle. The van does these things just fine, but these are incidental uses. Primarily, I just drive the van around – picking up Zach from school, running errands, etc. That’s not to say it isn’t useful – having that much cargo space is VERY handy, and is regularly used for hauling furniture, garbage, kids, supplies, and, yes, the occasional convention gear.

The problem is, I’m getting increasingly worried about the cost of running the van as my primary transportation. It’s poor efficiency, plus the ever rising price of gas, requires me to take a close look at things.

Usage patterns

When evaluating this sort of thing, it’s important to take into account how you use your vehicle(s). Cat drives her Prius to work and to Zach’s school every day, around 30 miles a day. That is every day, pretty much without fail. There are additional trips to Burlington, Berlin, and other points, but the daily commute is the one that is important.

On the other hand, I have no daily commute. I work at home. When I go out to lunch, three out of four times I walk or ride my bicycle to wherever I’m going. However, I still do drive to pick up Zach at school each day, around 9 miles each way. This I have to do in the van.

Now, realistically, there’s pattern changes in the wind. The school year ends in 8 weeks or so. After that, the driving patterns change, and won’t resume, since by the time fall rolls around, our move to Mosaic will be imminent. After we move, we’ll be able to carpool with other Sudbury Valley parents in Mosaic, and we haven’t worked out what that will look like yet, but there’s a reasonable chance I won’t need to drive to SudVal every day (Around 15 miles each way).

Also, post-move, there’s a reasonable change I’ll be moving to an office nearby – within 2-3 miles, easy bikeriding range, but I’ll also spend a lot of time at Mosaic, since my job doesn’t require me to be in the office constantly.

Costs of usage

Looking at usage is only part of the story. The next step is figuring out cost of operation. I’m going to go with pure fuel costs here, not taking into account cost of vehicle, maintenance, etc. Those are really not in flux right now.

When I filled up the Prius last night, the fuel pump showed $3.20 a gallon. Per-barrel costs of crude topped $110 yesterday as well, and there’s no indication this situation will reverse – many analysts are easily calling $4/gallon prices this summer. So for the sake of comparison, lets assume a $3.50 a gallon price point for gas. I know the mileage we’re getting out of both vehicles, so here’s how it breaks down, as it compares with other vehicles I’m considering:

Vehicle Observed MPG Fuel type Fuel Price Cost per mile

Prius 45 Gas $3.50 7 cents/mile
Relay 19 Gas $3.50 18 cents/mile
Golf 42 Diesel $4.25 10 cents/mile
BMW R1200RT 65 Gas $3.50 5 cents/mile
VW Jetta Wagon 30 Gas $3.50 11cents/mile

I include the Diesel Golf in there because most folks know I had a Diesel Golf for several years, and really enjoyed it. But at that time, prices for diesel fuel were lower than gasoline. The current ridiculous diesel prices have to be considered when thinking about what vehicle makes sense.

So the question comes to mind. What makes sense for my usage patterns? I’m distinctly uncomfortable toodling around in the van to go to lunch, run to the store for something simple, go to a meeting, not to mention my regular drives down to NJ and back (500 miles total, $90 in gasoline right there).

The Cycle Option…

p5080205I included the BMW in there because I do love motorcycles, and have been wondering about having something to have fun with. The old GS850 really isn’t going to cut it as a dependable ride – if I need to drive 500 miles to NJ and back, I want something I can really depend on. I’d have to outfit it for road travel as well (waterproof bags, etc), and putting that sort of money into the Beast just doesn’t make sense.

If I’m also just commuting to the office nearby, keeping the van for “work” and driving the bike (or riding the bicycle) seems like it makes a lot of sense.

Now, natch, there’s drawbacks. I can’t take Zach with me on a motorcycle (not for a while at least), and a lot of my shuttling around is driving Z from place to place. The bike can’t haul cargo other than a couple small items, and realistically, it’s a toy for me that can be used for ‘real’ transportation, not the other way around.


Having said that, I do feel our lifestyle needs some sort of work vehicle for hauling, towing, and general moving stuff around. We use the van at least twice a month for something ‘heavy’ – in the summer even more so, whether it’s moving trailers, hauling big stuff, whatever. And in the coming 2-3 years, we’re going to be doing a LOT of home construction, as our houses at Mosaic are quite skeletal. We’ll be installing floors, trim, painting – not to mention all the outside work (such as installing walkways and doing general landscaping). Having a vehicle that can pick up two dozen bags of mulch quickly will be invaluable.

So, I guess this all comes down to what options do I have. The way I see it, here’s the possibilities…

  • We keep things as they are, and suck it up and deal. Make decisions in a year, when we know what life at Mosaic will be like, and what our requirements are, not to mention our financial situation.
  • I buy a motorcycle this summer (used). I’ll be happier because I’ll have something I enjoy driving, and I’ll save some money on fuel usage.
  • We sell the van, and I get something smaller, such as VW Jetta wagon, for my regular vehicle. The top end GLS wagon gets about 30mpg (giving me a 11cents/mile operational cost), which is better than the van, but not as good as I could get. It would be a decent compromise.
  • We sell the van, and I go for something super-efficient, such as a Prius or the like. This would virtually eliminate the ‘work’ capacity, and I’d be beholden to other people for doing any sort of hauling. We’re considering a ‘work’ vehicle for shared use at Mosaic, and we have friends with trucks and the like. I like this option the least, as I think we need the ‘work’ capacity fairly often, and not having it at hand would be a real problem.
  • We sell the van, I get something super-efficient, and also pick up some ‘beater’ work vehicle. Some pickup truck or the like that would be used for hauling and moving and towing, but would be restricted to just that, not for general ‘run to the store’ sort of things. I like this option a lot, of course it means “another vehicle”, which is distinctly odd, but may be the most efficient way of operating.


I don’t have any! I really wanted to get that chart together, to sort of understand what the actual cost of owning and operating a vehicle is like given todays fuel prices. It makes me think pretty hard everytime I drive from place to place “yep, that drive to the store cost me two bucks in gas.” And while the cost is foremost on my mind, I have to make sure I remember that I’m also burning fuel with every dollar spent, and there’s other reasons to consider fuel economy other than just the cost of fuel.

A new term for me. “Uncanny Valley”

Somewhere along the line, I apparently missed this term. Wikipedia has a great short definition of it:

The uncanny valley is a hypothesis that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost, but not entirely, like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.

The first time I saw this term was in a post on Triggur’s livejournal showing some creepy animatronics singing. I looked up the definition, and while discussing it on IRC, Nathan pointed me at a flash page showing a CGI generated woman, who reacts to mouse motions.
As far as I know, that entire image is computer generated, and has some truly scary lifelike elements to it (such as the fact that she’s breathing). Interestingly, it does NOT trigger the ‘revulsion’ response in me nearly as much as some others do, but watching this animation quietly move and look about as I do my work is truly an eerie experience.