Blog Refactoring underway

It really was time.
Planet-Geek’s style really was getting long in the tooth. When I first set up the blog, I hacked the templates and stylesheet enormously to get it to look a certain way. What that meant though was I ended up with templates that could not be updated in any sane fashion.
Tonight I took the nuclear option, and wiped out all my old templates, applied a new ‘standard’ style to the site, and regenerated all the archives from scratch. I did do a little bit of fiddling to get the AdSense ads back in place, and a few other small layout tweaks, but mostly the current design is right out of the MovableType Style Library.
What this means, though, is now that I’m back on standard templates, I can start enabling some of the features that were missing with the old setup. I won’t let the cat out of the bag, but at least two of the features are things folks have been clamoring for. Stay tuned!
If you notice anything wonky in the layout or styles, please let me know. I’ll be tuning for a little while still.

Speaking of webcomics. What are your favorites?

While on the topic of webcomics, I’m curious what strips folks read regularly? I have all of mine loaded up in Google Reader (currently one of my favorite toys), and while I’m not necessarily looking for other good strips to add to my lineup, I’m always interested in finding new interesting comics. Some I add to my daily read, some I let slip…

Anyway, here’s my current reading list.

So, got any suggestions of strips I absolutely should read, no matter what?

Upgraded to MT4

We’ve upgraded all our blog software to MovableType 4, as well as changed hosts. We don’t have the crossposting to Livejournal working yet, so folks over there are going to have to go hungry for a bit.
Please let me know if there’s any instability or oddities

Modernized Maxims

From a conversation on IRC today:

“Never underestimate the bandwidth of a backpack full of USB thumb drives and a bike messenger.” -Nathan Mehl

This arose after I remarked that copying files to a pen drive and walking it over to the server is a faster way of moving a couple gig of data than uploading it over the wire.

Want to be a lighthouse keeper?

Saw this come across a sailing list I’m on. Scituate Lighthouse is looking for a new keeper…

“A lot of people have a romantic notion of living in a lighthouse,” said historical society president David Ball. “There are responsibilities that go with it. There’s a lot more to it than people think. It takes a special person, no doubt about it.”

For the past 22 years, that special person has been Ruth Downton. Since 1986 she has lived in the keeper’s cottage at the picturesque, 198-year-old lighthouse that marks the entrance of Scituate Harbor. But Downton is set to retire this fall.

I know for me, being a lighthouse keeper definitely had that romantic edge of being on your own, doing a job that others depend on, isolated but there for the ships and travelers that pass nearby. I suppose nowadays I’d need to have a net connection…

See the entire article on

My Gibbons Runneth Over

Now there’s a topic that won’t make much sense unless you’re in the Linux community.
This week saw the release of Ubuntu 7.10, aka ‘Gutsy Gibbon’. I’ve been firmly in the “Stick with the stable releases” Linux camp for quite a while, even when Debian was pushing 2 years behind on their ‘stable’ release.
I’ve been running Ubuntu 7.04 (aka ‘Feisty Fawn’) on yawl for the last year or so, and have had nothing but good things to say about it. It’s been stable, useable, and lets me do my work. Excellent.
Yesterday I ran the update process and told the system to update itself to 7.10. The total processing time would be about 2.5 hours, due to a gig and change of data that needed to be downloaded (okay, I have a lot of packages), so I decided to go to lunch.
Upon returning, I answered 2 questions about local files I had modified, let the installation finish, and, with a small dose of trepidation, rebooted.
It came back fine.
In fact, everything came back fine. I have seen not the tiniest indication of a problem. Ubuntu just upgraded something like 1100 packages on this machine to newer versions, and everything Just Plain Works. All my basic tools are fine, if upgraded and showing some new bells and whistles. The traditional boondoggles of Linux system maintenance never even flinched. Sound, network, accelerated graphics (I have an nVidia card) – all came back up flawlessly, even with my desktop back as it looked before.
There are some noteable changes in the new release. The file manager has been replaced with ‘Dolphin’, which I have to say the jury is still out on. Initially I was very nervous about replacing my beloved Konqueror file system browser with something new, but my initial impressions of Dolphin are good. Everything seems there, if a little heavy on the big icons. I’ll play with it a while and see if it will cut the mustard.
This is how computers are supposed to work. No license hassles, no nightmare changes from one revision to another, no “Burn it to bedrock and reinstall from scratch” problems with upgrades, or problems with “This app worked with my old OS, but doesn’t work with the new one!” – one big distribution contributed to by everyone, with everything updated at once and confirmed to work together.
Yay Ubuntu!

Radio Silence

And now a word from our intrepid explorer…
I’ve been quiet the last couple of days due to some health issues involving an abcessed tooth, hence the reason there’s been a shortage of geeky blatherings of late. Through the magic of Amoxicilin and liberal use of Tylenol, I’m back to almost human again, though there’s a long road of further dental work ahead.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about pain though.
I’ve never had direct experience with chronic pain. The sort of pain that is omnipresent, and can never really be ignored. The last 3 days though have given me a glimpse of what it’s like. Even with vast doses of Tylenol, the ache is always there, and I can tell within minutes when it’s time to re-dose.
On the one hand, I can generally deal with pain on a point by point basis. “This is going to hurt” “Okay.” What I can’t deal with is the constant, wavering hurt that never goes away. The worst part of it is it completely destroyed any attempts at concentration. I couldn’t latch onto a concept for more than a few minutes before being distracted or whiny. For someone like me who is VERY active mentally, this was horrifying. My pain level was waffling between “Ow” and “I want to curl up in a ball and whimper”. I hated every minute of it.
Now I’m back on something approaching functionality, and there is a sigh of relief heard in the land. Not only from me but from other important folks in my life, who have had to deal with me being far wiftier than I am even on my worst days.
Thanks for everyone for their patience. We now return you to your previously scheduled life, already in progress.

Vague amusement at technology.

I find it terribly amusing, coming from a long history of data communications involvement, that my tactic, when deciding to walk away from my computer, is to turn the volume down so I don’t disturb others.

Why is this amusing?  Because I don’t even bat an eye at the fact that I’m streaming 128kbps worth of music from a server in California through 4 companies’ networks and 2 dozen routers, moving something like 20k worth of data a second (that’s 10 full pages of text, to give it context) into my machine where… it is not heard, and discarded.

We’ve become so bandwidth-jaded.

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Looking for a poster? Or maybe an album cover?

Back in high school I remember an image of a full size sailing vessel – a galleon or the like (we’re talking old school wooden round hull), but it was up on ice runners, and was zipping along on the ice, rather than in water.

It might have been part of the black light poster set, as so well catered to by Spencers or the like, or maybe it was an album cover?  Does anyone remember this image, or better yet, have a pointer to it? <a href=””></a> is not helping me.

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ScribeFire – A handy blog posting tool?

I’m trying out a new tool today called ScribeFire. 

The idea is to provide a rich user interface for doing blog postings via a Firefox plugin.  I’ve tried this a few times before with other tools, and have always gone back to just using plain old HTML pages.

So far, the interface is useable, and appears to support many different blogs (including Livejournal, WordPress, and other content management systems). 

It appears to also support editing existing postings and content, but maybe it’s because PG has several thousand posts, the list never actually came up.

The intriguing thing is that ScribeFire is supposed to support Drupal, which would be awfully handy for some of the work we’re doing, but I can’t seem to get it working.

Folks who do LiveJournal, WordPress,, or Movable Type should definately give it a try.

Lo, I am blocked

So I frequently park myself at the local Panera to partake of their free wireless, tasty coffee, and comfy chairs. It’s also convenient that it’s halfway between home and my son’s school.
Yesterday, I stopped by just to get out of the heat. Since I had an hour to kill, I worked up my last blog post, put it together and posted it. So far so good. I traditionally look at the site at it’s base URL ( just to make sure everything is okay. This time, apparently everything was NOT okay.
Apparently access to my blog has been blocked by the infamous Sonicwall ‘content protection’ system. Nice of them, eh?
Further research into this problem, by following their url, showed that I was not blocked for my abysmal spelling, my poor site layout, or my lack of meaningful content, but that I was simply classified as… pornography.
I had no idea geekitude had slipped so far into the internet’s dark underworld.
Naturally, I immediately put in a request to have it reclassified, and demanded an explanation as to WHY my little corner of geekness has been classified as Pornography. Alas, Sonicwall doesn’t provide such information, you may simply ask for a reclassification, and they might get around to it. In 8-10 days. What do you bet that I won’t hear a thing from them in that timeframe?
If you’d like to grease the wheels against this idiocy, please go to Sonicwalls’ ratings page, look up ‘’, and request to have it reclassified as an “Information Technology” website.
I still would very much like to hear from Sonicwall, or from anyone else, who has had their site randomly excluded from anyone who uses their product, with no notification and no recourse except for a ‘request for reclassification’, why this occurs and what can be done about it. I’d also recommend that ANYONE who hosts or runs a website to plug their URL into that page and check to see if they’re being blocked.

Kids Programming?

There’s been a lot of chatter around the net lately about trying to find programming and introduction to computers-type software for kids to learn on. I mean, we all know where we started, right? TRS-80 and a READY prompt, or the wonderful ] prompt. 5 1/4″ floppies, simple programs, and tinkering through the weekends were how we learned.
But how do you get a young one into these environments nowadays?
There’s been various attempts at a ‘kids’ software environment, things like Logo and the like. The problem is nowadays finding implementations that are either free or useful. The only real Logo environment I’ve been happy with is KTurtle, a Logo implemention for the KDE desktop. On the one hand, I’m terribly amused that by far the best Logo setup I’ve seen REQUIRES Linux to run, and at the moment, Zach doesn’t have a Linux desktop to work with. This sorely tempts me to set it up for him, I have to admit.
But Logo has limitations as a fully useful programming environment. In the modern age of “games a click away”, kids really want to start writing adventures and excitement right off the bat. We all remember spending weeks debugging “PICK A NUMBER FROM 1 TO 10” programs. How do you code Tetris in a few weeks when you’re still learning your multiplication tables?
A long time ago I read an article on SmallTalk in BYTE magazine (yes, a REALLY long time ago, like 1980). It was a discussion about object oriented languages and environments, and described the model of “Everything is an object”. At the time, it was somewhat of an intellectual oddity, though many folks really got into it.
Apparently there is an outstanding opensource project to build a comfortable Smalltalk based environment that can be geared toward kids. It’s called Squeak, and I first learned about it associated with the One Laptop Per Child project, which incorporates some of the Squeak environment. Once I got past some of the initial environment oddities, I found that Squeak provides a platform independent runtime environment, where object-oriented programs can be run compeltely independent of the OS they’re running under. This means apps written on a Mac will work fine on a PC or a Linux box.
Squeak really isn’t something ready to take on the Windows desktop or an environment to write accounting packages in. However, in educational circles, distributions in Squeak have really gotten quite a following. The Squeakland site is designed for educators who are looking for Squeak based information.
I’ll be writing more about Squeak as I get more and more comfortable with it, but unless someone else tells me about another educational / intro to programming environment that’s available for kids, that does NOT require a commercial license, Squeak is where I’m going to put my energy.

Chasing the Power

Every once in a while I get a good dose of greeniness, and look around my little corner of geekiness and sort of wonder “How much juice is this actually using?” After asking Cat what our monthly electric bill was ($300!), I decided this question needed a closer look.
A month or two ago I had picked up a Kill-a-watt (terrible name, ain’t it?) power monitor. This little gadget plugs into a wall outlet, and tells how much power is being used by things drawing through it. Today I jacked it into the single outlet that feeds my nest o machines, and powered things up.
The meter dutifully reported the load as things came online, and steadied out at about 280 watts. All in all, that’s not too bad for 3 computers, 3 lamps, and associated peripherals, but I was curious how that load was distributed. What was actually pulling all that juice?
Unsurprisingly, the single largest draw is yawl, my 2.2gig P4 Linux box. It accounted for about 85watts of power (without monitor). The second biggest draw was, oddly enough, lights. I have 2 compact flourescent desk lamps (about 15watts each), and a single halogen desk lamp (35 watts). I knew the halogen light was pretty dreadful, and this pretty much confirms it. That chalks another 65 or so watts. Which leaves me with 140 unaccounted for.
Well, the two laptops were about 30 watts each (pretty nice considering the horsepower in clipper and hunter). Down to 80 now. This last chunk was pretty much the combined load of the LCD monitors, various chargers and other desktop doodads, a pair of external USB drives, and the like.
So what’s to be done about it? Well, I’ve been considering moving to LED based lights for a while. They’re small, cool, draw -very- little power, but have the current drawback of being ridiculously expensive. A single bulb equivelent to a 100 watt incandescent bulb would cost around $52. The equivelent compact flourescent bulb costs around $5. The advantage to using LED is the current draw is miniscule. For the equivelent amount of light, the bulb would only consume about 2watts of power, AND have the advantage of being dimmable – something impossible with CF bulbs.
If I replaced my 3 desktop lamps with LED lamps, I could cut my power consumption by a third. I also have 4 other lamps in the room that could be replaced as well. The question is, is it worth it?
I’m still puzzling this one out. If anyone has suggestions for good sources for inexpensive LED fixtures and lamps, please let me know!

Idiot AP Reporters

What is it with supposedly ‘technical’ reporters? They apparently haven’t clue ONE about the material they’re writing about.

Take for example an article appearing in the Herald Tribune – Europe. The subject is a good one, Tim Berners-Lee discussing research into the future of the ‘net. A worthy topic, but the short article contains this little gem:

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist who is credited with creating the Internet, said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that the way the Web is used should be examined by a broad spectrum of experts.

NO. WRONG. TBL had nothing to do with the ‘Invention of the Internet’. TBL is credited with first linking hypertext documents with a mechanism for linking these documents to remote servers. He wrote the first webserver, and the first web browser, and coined the term ‘World Wide Web’. This is an application that runs OVER the internet.