Archive for the '@Uncategorized' Category

Tear down this wall

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Quoth MacJournals:

Thaler says, “But really, seriously, dude. The kid is cool. Don’t be like that. Don’t be a ZFS hater.” No one who reads our analysis in MWJ 2007.06.11 could possibly accuse us of hating ZFS.

Yes, but nobody read that analysis, because it is behind a pay wall; you can get a free trial subscription to read it, but nobody wants to do that either.

Of course, by “nobody”, I don’t mean literally zero people. Obviously, there are a few people with subscriptions, because otherwise MacJournals is not profitable. But it is irrational to assume that the entire internet should have read the article because you generously provide a free trial; most people, upon seeing your subscription wall, will say “fuck that” (or a cleaner equivalent) and move onto some other activity.

That’s assuming they even see a link to the walled-off article. I never did. The small (one-page) public article they had was the only one I saw.

Reddit and Digg compared

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Parallel coverage of this hoax on the two sites.

The titles:

The comments (summarized):

  • Reddit: It’s fake. You can tell because the frame shown in the “screenshot” doesn’t appear anywhere in the actual YouTube question.
  • Digg: This was really really funny and the candidates deserved it, but it embarrassed the internet on national TV, and CNN will never do a debate like this again because of it. BTW, it’s fake.

The scores:

  • Reddit: +179-132=47 (and dropping)
  • Digg: 2510 (and climbing)

UPDATE 2007-07-25:: See Simone’s rebuttal in the comments.

Free stuff on iTunes: TV edition

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Turns out that the iTunes Store has a complete list of all free TV episodes—more complete than the list of free stuff on iTunes that you can have on the main store page.

Still no free movies, though.

What’s in your menubar?

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

Synapse forwards the question: What’s in your menubar?

Here's a screenshot.
Screenshot taken 2007-06-23.

From right to left:

  1. MenuCalendarClock
  2. User MenuExtra (AKA Fast User Switching)
  3. Volume MenuExtra
  4. Text Input MenuExtra
  5. Keychain MenuExtra
  6. MemMeter (MenuMeters)
  7. NetMeter (MenuMeters)
  8. URLWell
  9. Strings Menu (lets me insert strings from a list I’ve predefined; eventually I’ll port this to a service and release it)
  10. GrowlTunes
  11. (Not shown) Adium

Of course, that’s not nearly as bad as it used to be…


Reddit for Digg users: A tutorial

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Fresh from Digg? Welcome to Reddit!

You’ll find that Reddit has a lot of advantages over Digg. In order to save you a lot of time, I’ve compiled a list of them. These are the same things I had to learn when I came over from Digg, about a year ago IIRC.

  1. Reddit doesn’t have descriptions.

    When you submit a link to Digg, you have to enter a description. Reddit doesn’t have this feature; instead, you must completely sell the article in the title.

    The field that appears when you submit the article is not a description field—it’s the comment field. What you enter there is a comment, not a description, so it won’t show up on the new page, the recommended page, or any other list of articles.

    That means that it won’t help you sell the article. Your title must stand alone.

    (And don’t worry about the length limit. It’s high enough; trust me.)

  2. Comments support rich text.

    Unlike Digg, which has no styling support whatsoever (except for auto-linking), Reddit uses Markdown, a really, really easy plain-text mark-up format. The syntax makes emphasis, links, blockquotes, lists, etc. almost as easy as plain text. Yes, really. And you’ll find it makes your comments so much better (and be received so much more happily) when you style them correctly.

  3. You can reply to any comment.

    Digg only has single-level threading: you can reply to top-level comments, but not to other replies. Reddit allows virtually any amount of nesting. This means you never need to say “@someotheruser: My comment here”—replying directly to that comment automatically implies that you are addressing that comment and no other.

    And definitely do not use the comment field at the top of the page. That’s for top-level comments only, not replies; you look quite silly if you try to reply with it. ☺

  4. “DUPE” is not appreciated here.

    First off, it isn’t uncommon at all to resubmit a page that didn’t do well before—in fact, it’s explicitly allowed by Reddiquette. (When it’s the exact same URL as the previous submission, the resubmission has a query string on it—usually just an empty “?”.) Second, if you do have a real dupe to speak of (one that actually made the front page by getting over 100 points), then link to the original Reddit story so that we know that you aren’t just crying “DUPE” for no reason—we won’t search for it for you. If you do that, then your comment will be voted up instead of down.

    Also, sometimes when a submission doesn’t do well, the submitter deletes it and tries again (maybe with a different title). This is normal and in line with Reddiquette, and doesn’t count as a duplicate. This is another reason to search for the original before crying dupe—if the original doesn’t come up in the search results, this suggests (not conclusively) that this is what happened.

    Speaking of Reddiquette…

  5. Reddit has a code of conduct that we all expect you to follow.

    You will be much better-liked by the community if you follow the rules set forth in Reddiquette. That and other help pages provide broader coverage of the advice I’m giving you here.

  6. You can easily see replies to your comments.

    Since comment threading isn’t the clusterfuck it is on Digg, Reddit is able to provide an “inbox” that shows all replies to anything you’ve said. (The same page shows private messages that have been sent you by other users, but this is much rarer.) The inbox is marked by a ✉ (envelope) icon in the top-right corner of the page, and if you have replies or messages waiting for you, it will be colored red.

    On a related note, you can click on your username in the same corner to get an “overview” of every comment and article you’ve posted. You can use this to quickly see how your articles and comments are doing.

  7. We have a very small definition of “spam”.

    On Digg, an article submitted by its author must meet a very high standard of quality in order to not get booted from the front page (or forestalled from even reaching the front page) for being “spam”. On Reddit, self-submission of articles is allowed and even encouraged (as you’ve seen already if you’ve already read the Reddiquette page), as long as your article is good (by the same standard as any other article).

    So please don’t cry “spam” or hit the report button just because the author and the submitter are the same person—that’s not enough. It’s only spam if the submitter lifted it from somewhere else and copied it to his site (that is, linkjacked it).

  8. We don’t mind curse words, but wanton cursing will get you downmodded.

    By this, I mean two things.

    First, you don’t need to say things like “f*ck”, “fcuk”, etc. There is no swear-filter to evade, so don’t worry about it. If you’re going to use that kind of language anyway, I think most of us would prefer that you use the real word.

    Second, you can use words like “clusterfuck”, “bullshit”, etc. without problem, as long as you use them judiciously. If you just throw every swear word you know into every comment, you’re wasting good words and you will be downmodded for it.

    Wanton cursing doesn’t make you look more adult, it makes you look less adult. Please think about using alternative words (or omitting the curse word entirely if you can’t think of one) rather than slathering your message in an excessive amount of curse words. If you use too many, it drowns out your message.

  9. If you have nothing to say, please don’t say it.

    I have seen many comments lately along the lines of “hahaha great link”, or “this article sucks, downmodded”. These comments invariably get downmodded because they are essentially empty.

    If all you want to do is express your like or dislike for the article, then vote up or vote down and move on. You don’t need to comment for that. And if you’re thinking of karma, it didn’t work: Comments don’t count toward karma.

    In a similar vein, random bashing of Bush/Microsoft/Apple/the Cookie Monster does not impress people here. You need to have a point, and make a salient argument backed by facts and logic. Otherwise, you will be downmodded.

    So you should only post a comment when you want to:

    • contribute a meaningful point to the discussion, or
    • make a joke (in which case, please make it funny—bad jokes are worse than no jokes)
  10. You can edit your comment at any time.

    On Digg, the ability to edit a comment expires three minutes after you post it. Reddit, on the other hand, does not impose a time limit on comment editing. So there’s no need to reply to your own comment to get in an edit that missed the window—there is no window.

Thank you for reading through my list of advice, and thank you in advance for following it. By doing so, you’ll help keep Reddit a better place.

And if you’re one of my regular readers and wondering what brought this on: Digg blew up recently, and a legion of its users moved over to Reddit. With this post, I hope to help them fit in in their new environment with its slightly-different social rules.

Well, this sucks

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

Just as I had almost finished writing the blog post for Apple Bug Friday! #56, my display blinked off. “Rats—here comes a power failure”, I thought.

But the computer didn’t turn off, nor did the lights.

By listening to the hard drive, I was able to establish that my computer was not only still on, but working. I even restarted (forcibly, as I had xterms running and X11 always complains when you try to quit when xterms are running)—the display still did not come on.

My display is an Apple Studio Display 17″ LCD, from 2003 (IIRC, I bought it just after they discontinued the Studio Display). Because of its age, it uses ADC, rather than DVI, to connect to the computer. My Mac Pro has DVI, so I had to buy the DVI to ADC Adapter to use the Studio Display.

I had the Studio Display long before I had the Mac Pro; I’d been using it on my G4 Cube for years. I still have the Cube, so I had a way to test whether it was the display that crapped out, or the adapter (or the video card). So I unplugged the display from the adapter, fished my Cube and its power supply out of the Mac Pro box (where it normally inhabits, with all the other peripherals that I bought for it that my Mac Pro has built-in), and set it up in the kitchen.

To quote the operator on the Zero Wing, “WE GET SIGNAL !!

So either my DVI-to-ADC adapter is borked, or my video card is borked. Later today Monday, I’ll head on down to the Apple Store and find out which. Fortunately, they’re both still under warranty.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what I’m typing this on: my mom’s iBook G4, which I borrowed to help pass the time.

Today is Mitch Hedberg Day

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Here are three of my favorite Mitch Hedberg quotes.

  • Hey, if you find yourself lost in the woods, fuck it—build a house. “Well, I was lost, but now I live here! I have severely improved my predicament.”

  • Imagine being killed by a bow-and-arrow. That would suck; a arrow killed you? They would never solve the crime. “Look at that dead guy!—Let’s go that way.”

  • [A commercial] says “You can have this product for four easy payments for $19.95”. I would like to have a product that was available for three easy payments, and one fuckin’ complicated payment. “We can’t tell you which payment it is, but one of these payments is gonna be a bitch!

    “The envelope will not seal,
    the mailman will get shot to death,
    and the stamp will be in the wrong denomination.

    “Good luck, fucker!”

    The last payment must be made in wampum!

RIP, The Show

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

the show with zefrank has ended.

And he went out the way he came in.


Prepaid cell-phones in the US

Monday, March 12th, 2007

This post makes for a fascinating display of how a thread can evolve.

Simone, in the comments for my post about the HP M425 camera’s drivers, links to his own experiences with the HP PSC1210 printer+scanner+copier+paperweight. In that post, he says:

This is one thing that really annoys me about technology. Companies try to make their products do so many things that it just makes them do everything crappily. No, I do not want a cell phone that plays games or does web browsing or plays MP3s or takes SHITTY-ASS PICTURES. If I want a cell phone, I want to be able to store contacts (and sync with my Mac), I want to be able to make calls, and receive calls and voice mails. That’s it! (Oh, and I DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO SIGN UP FOR A MONTHLY CONTRACT — NEWS FLASH TO CELL PHONE COMPANIES IN THE U.S.: HAVE YOU HEARD OF THE WORD “PRE-PAID”?!)

I suspect that many other people in the US don’t know about prepaid cell-phones. Hopefully I can make a dent in that.

Prepaid cell-phones have been around in the US for years and years, and they’ve proliferated lately.

First, all cell providers have prepaid service and they’ve pretty much always had it, though they don’t make a very big deal about its existence. Verizon Wireless currently has two prepaid plans called “InPulse” (sic) and “EasyPay”; they used to have only one and they’ve gone through at least three different names for it. Cingular calls it “GoPhone”. I’m not sure what T-Mobile and Sprint call it. Nextel (now part of Sprint) calls it Boost Mobile (which used to be a separate company reselling Nextel service, but which Nextel bought out and now runs itself).

Tracfone was always the one lone company puttering around offering crappy prepaid service while all the actual cell phone providers (Tracfone is a reseller, as Boost was and as most of the prepaid-only companies are) made big profits using regular billing plans, just like landline companies. But now there are several other companies offering prepaid service, including:

Usually, these phones are aimed at younger demographics: kids and teenagers, with lots of subtle hinting toward the parents. The appeal for the parents is that since a prepaid phone makes you define a hard limit ahead of time (put $x on the phone and you only have $x‘ worth of airtime+SMS), the kid is limited in how much time he can spend irradiating his brain.

Prepaid service—especially Tracfone—used to be vastly inferior to the regular service: you had a black-and-white screen, and you couldn’t get a flip-phone, and you couldn’t play games. Now, except for videos (which only Verizon and Sprint have, and which are not available on their prepaid phones AFAIK), prepaid service is on par with regular service.

So yes, Virginia, there are prepaid cell-phones. I, for one, have Boost Mobile (having had Verizon previously), and am happy with it.

Also, 7-Eleven sells refill cards that you can bring back to the store to put more money on—after you use it the first time, it’s tied to your phone, so putting more money on it forwards it directly to your phone without you having to go through the “please enter your ten-digit phone number” bit again.

Strange voice mail message

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

Check this out. Any ideas as to what it is? (BTW, the chattering noise in the background is just RFI from the phone. It’s not part of the message.)

Amazing Fantasy #15

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

So I was leafing through tomorrow’s Orange County Register and found this:

Amazing Fantasy #15 — the debut issue of Spider-Man.

It’s a reprint, of course. Apparently this is some kind of Marvel promotion — each Sunday Register will have a reprint of the next issue of Spider-Man. I suggest looking in your local Sunday paper to see if they have the same promotion.

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Monday, July 31st, 2006

For those of you who don’t know, I have a account. My username, as usual, is boredzo.

I’ve started posting there again recently, so if you like my blog, you should check that out too. Some of the most recent links I’ve posted there:

  • unifdef — remove ifdef’d lines: “unifdef is useful for removing ifdef’ed lines from a file while otherwise leaving the file alone. unifdef acts on #ifdef, #ifndef, #else, and #endif lines, and it knows only enough about C to know when one of these is inactive …”
  • -[NSView cacheDisplayInRect:toBitmapImageRep:]: The easy way to draw an NSView into an NSBitmapImageRep (e.g. for generating a TIFF or PNG screenshot, or for creating a CIImage), since 10.4.
  • TextMate Blog — Multi-stroke Key Bindings: A way to easily insert characters like ⌘⇧⌥↑↓ in OS X.
  • OSAtomic.h: Atomic-operation functions in the OS X Kernel framework (yes, there is a Kernel framework). Handy in threaded situations. Google “rentzsch atomic” if you don’t know why these are important.
  • AppleScript Terminology and Apple Event Codes: A complete list of symbols in AppleScript from the language itself, the Standard Additions, and System Event. Includes OSTypes and what kind of symbol each symbol is.

A math koan

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

One sheet of toilet paper is L long. The inner circumference of the roll is C1 and the outer circumference is C2. Each sheet is T thick.

How many sheets are there on a fully-loaded roll? Please post here if you have an answer.

And no cheating by peeking at the package. ;)

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About Mac OS 9

Monday, June 5th, 2006

No! Wait! Come back!

Simone Manganelli‘s -1st post references an AppleXnet article he wrote in response to an article that Matthew Paul Thomas wrote.

I agree with the AppleXnet article on the whole, but I do have some rebuttal to it.

Apple sanctions the use of “extensions”, which modify the use of the operating system in unintended ways that often lead to conflicts with other applications and extensions, one of the worst usability problems of Mac OS 9. Troubleshooting extensions is one of the worst things to have to diagnose.

Trivia: Extensions were originally unsupported. They were only for Apple to use to patch the OS without requiring a full OS update. But third-party developers figured out how to do it. Apple made it supported so that they could set forth certain ground rules to help ameliorate the problem of extension conflicts.

For disabled users, there is no way in Mac OS 9 to click any menu item or drop down any menu without using the mouse or buying additional software. This makes using the operating system very difficult out of the box for many disabled Mac users.

OS 9′s Easy Access control panel offered a feature called Mouse Keys. You use the numeric keypad to move the cursor, except for the 5 and 0 keys, which click the button. OS X has it too, since Jaguar.

Exercise for the reader: Figure out how Mouse Keys changed between OS 9 and OS X. (Yes, there is at least one change.)

While admittedly minor, some applications’ menus are white colored, from the System 7 days, while other ones are gray colored, the new color scheme adopted by Mac OS 8 and later.

The applications with white menus used custom MDEFs (menu definitions), most commonly an old version of Mercutio. These custom MDEFs were usually employed to allow for exotic key combinations that Apple’s MDEF didn’t allow until 8.5.

Mac OS 8.5 and later, and OS X, allow any key combo.

A remnant from earlier systems from Mac OS 9 is the desk accessory, which violates many of the regular human interface guidelines (even though it’s usually just a small application). For example, the Calculator has a black menu bar…

First, you mean title bar.

Second, its appearance is because it’s a desk accessory. DAs didn’t always behave like applications; before System 7, they floated on top of the active application. The reason is that DAs were the very first way in which you could do things that weren’t actually part of the application you were in, invented because this was before MultiFinder allowed multiple applications to run at the same time.

Third (and irrelevantly to UI issues), DAs are not applications. They are device drivers. (Yes, really. That’s how they were loaded when you could only have one application running at a time.)

Sounds a little like input managers, actually, now that I think about it…

The Apple menu and application menu under Mac OS 9 are curiously not located at the top-left and top-right corners of the screen, respectively. For some reason, Apple decided to put about 10 pixels between each menu and the side of the screen, violating Fitt’s Law in the process.

But you could click on them anyway.

Immediately after startup after a crash, the Finder often places “rescued items” in the Trash. This is wrong for multiple reasons: …

Ostensibly, the application saved your unsaved work to a swap file that it would have cleaned up when you saved or closed the document, and you could recover this data from the Rescued Items folder after the restart. Unfortunately, even when there was such a swap file, I was never able to open one and recover anything.

Good idea, but it didn’t work out.

OS X does have the same feature, but most applications do not use the Temporary Items folder anymore. I think developers figure that Macs have too much RAM for it to be worth anything anymore.

Pop-up windows violate most of the normal expectations that a user has when interacting with them.

Ah, but they were so handy. :)

It has not one but TWO resize widgets.

Clearly-defined resize widgets.

For no reason at all, the icons of desktop printers cannot be changed.

The reason is that the icon may change to reflect information. Most of these can be accomplished by badging, but what do you do for the black stroke that means “default printer”?

It’s puzzling why an application called “Finder” doesn’t contain a feature that does what it’s name implies, instead relegating that to Sherlock. (Earlier versions of Mac OS X also carried over this problem, but it has since been rectified in Jaguar and improved in Panther.)

And ruined in Tiger. :(

Good thing there’s NotLight.

Many diehard Mac OS 9 users that I’ve met seem to adopt an attitude of thinking that Mac OS 9 is perfect and should be Apple’s current operating system, when Mac OS 9 was full of more usability problems than the current version of Mac OS X.

I was there. The first time I used OS X (10.1.3), I hated it for all the ways that it was different from OS 9. Eventually I went back. But I came to miss all the things that were good about OS X, and also wanted to start writing Mac applications (an expensive proposition on OS 9, except with MPW, the compiler in which was creaky; free on OS X). So, after getting a newer G3 (333 MHz; my previous one was 267 MHz), I installed OS X 10.1.5, and never looked back.

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Separated at birth?

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

V for Vendetta is a great graphic novel. I couldn’t put it down. So now, even more than before, I’m looking forward to the DVD of the movie.

I noticed when I picked it up, though, how much the Guy Fawkes mask resembles the image of Big Brother on the cover of my copy of 1984:

1984, with an rendition of Big Brother on the cover, next to V for Vendetta, with V in his Guy Fawkes mask on the cover.

A thought experiment: Negative money

Thursday, May 18th, 2006

Excerpt (with permission) from the Adium channel on IRC.

00:51:25: <Mac-arena> Heh, I just had a wacky idea.
00:51:38: <Mac-arena> Replace the 1- and 5-cent coins with +2- and -3-cent coins.
00:51:55: <Mac-arena> So, for example, 7 cents would be a dime and a -3. 9 cents would be a dime, a +2, and a -3.
00:52:10: <Catfish_Man> people don't want to carry negative money dude
00:52:19: <Catfish_Man> it's like debt that weighs something
00:52:18: <Mac-arena> It would make robberies interesting.
00:52:33: <Mac-arena> Robbers would run up to people and shove rolls of -3s into their pockets. :D
00:52:39: <Catfish_Man> hahaha
00:53:05: <LostBurner> lol
00:53:45: <LostBurner> people couldn't even handle that kind of math though
00:53:59: <Mac-arena> I know. It'd have to be smart people's money.
00:54:09: <Mac-arena> Only usable by people with a certain level of brightness.
00:54:23: <LostBurner> smart people would throw away their negative money
00:54:52: <Mac-arena> The other way would be to cast it as a status symbol.
00:54:58: <Mac-arena> "Only the cool people use negative money."
00:56:51: <LostBurner> So you'd give someone a real dime, and a negative 3
00:56:59: <LostBurner> Presumably you've given them 7 cents
00:57:08: <Mac-arena> Right.
00:57:13: <LostBurner> but you're out a whole dime
00:57:16: <LostBurner> and they're up a whole dime
00:57:29: <Mac-arena> No. Because you're also out a negative three, and they've gained one.
00:58:15: <LostBurner> So would you say that it was a better transaction if you could give someone more negatives?
00:58:29: <Mac-arena> Yup.
00:58:34: <LostBurner> Dime and 3 neg3 coins, ooh you've only spent a cent
00:58:46: <Mac-arena> Yup.
00:58:55: <LostBurner> but then you could make money by throwing them away!
00:59:04: <Mac-arena> Yup. That's the only problem.
00:59:17: <LostBurner> Negative monies only count if you can force the person to keep them
00:59:24: <LostBurner> hey, negative monies... that reminds me
00:59:38: <LostBurner> did you get this inspiration from aarond?
00:59:38: <Mac-arena> That's actually where I got the idea.
00:59:39: <Mac-arena> 00:39:01:   <aarond> I have minus monies :)
00:59:50: <LostBurner> I beat you to that one by 1s
00:59:52: <LostBurner> I knew it!
01:00:32: <Mac-arena> Anyway. If you pay a retailer with -3s, and they throw them away, YOU haven't re-lost any money.
01:01:00: <Mac-arena> Unless you went around back and picked them up so that you could spend them again.
01:03:43: <LostBurner> besides, it takes more coins with your way to pay for something
01:04:03: <Mac-arena> Depends on the amount.
01:04:25: <LostBurner> Average of the number of coins needed for each of the first ten integers
01:04:36: <LostBurner> your way: 2.8
01:04:50: <LostBurner> current way: 2.6
01:04:16: <Mac-arena> And actually, we're thinking about it wrong.
01:04:35: <Mac-arena> You wouldn't necessarily have to give the seller anything. If it cost 9 cents, say, they could give you three -3s.
01:04:52: <Mac-arena> Though if it cost two cents, you could give them a +2.
01:05:47: <LostBurner> Mac-arena: the idea is an interesting thought experiment, but it's entirely implossible.
01:06:51: <LostBurner> (impossible and implausible)
01:07:03: <LostBurner> hehe, I could see cops citing you for dumping your neg3s
01:08:23: <LostBurner> I just remembered the blank media tax for supposed intended piracy
01:08:24: <LostBurner> grr
01:09:40: <Mac-arena> Ooooh. Suppose you paid your taxes in negative money.
01:09:54: <Mac-arena> Send them a box full of -3s.
01:10:18: <Catfish_Man> they'd just send it back with more :P
01:10:25: <Mac-arena> Hahaha. True.
01:10:29: <Catfish_Man> hell, they'd charge taxes by shipping you -3s

Some English rants

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

I’ve been compiling a list of maltreatments of the English language. Here are my top 10 so far.

  • compatability; definate(ly); desparate(ly); seperate(ly)

    You mean compatibility, definite(ly), desperate(ly), and separate(ly) (respectively). The first one arises from confusion with “ability”, and certainly the conflation of “desperate” with “separate” is easy enough. I don’t know what excuse there is for “definate”.

  • compl[ie]ment

    A compliment is praise. A complement is the inverse of something (for example, 0b101010 is the two’s one’s (thanks, CHz!) complement of 0b010101, and a film negative is the complement of the positive print).

  • [ae]ffect

    When you affect something, you effect a change in it.

  • Held accountable

    Can’t happen. A person is accountable if they can be held to account.

  • classified

    Classified what? USDA Choice? The correct usage is “classified secret“.

  • X Department (of the United States Cabinet, e.g. State Department)

    You wouldn’t say “United States State Department”, would you? No, you wouldn’t, because that sounds redundant. It’s “Department of State”. Also “Department of Defense”, “Department of Energy”, “Department of Justice”, etc. Some of the Departments have a “the”, like the Department of the Interior. But deviation from the rule doesn’t go beyond that.

  • Dilemma (as problem)

    A lemma is a course of action or line of reasoning (dictionaries define it as a subsidiary proposition … used to demonstrate a principal proposition; in this case, the principal proposition is often a course of action). A dilemma is two of these, from which a person must choose. Not every difficult problem is a dilemma.

  • “Welcome to …” (telephone system, website, etc.)

    “Welcome to” should only be used for a place. “Welcome to Huntington Beach, population 189,594“. It should never be used for anything else, including web sites and phone systems. When I hear “Welcome to (mumble). Please choose from the following selections:”, I want to reach through the phone and unplug that answering system.

  • Lower 48 states, Continental United States

    First, Hawaii is lower than the lower 48. Technically, the lowest 48 states include Hawaii and exclude Maine. Also, “lower” would be only correct when there are two (e.g. “lower case” vs. “upper case”). We have never had fewer than 13.

    As for “continental United States”, you have to include Alaska on this one. It’s on the same continent.

    Just use “contiguous United States”.

  • x, y and z

    No, no, and no. Use the “serial comma”, the comma after the second-to-last element in the list. It just looks better that way. (This does not apply when the list has two or fewer elements.)

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Unscheduled downtime

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

Last night, my hard drive started making some unpleasant noises (click-of-death-ish). So I backed up my C and Obj-C programs (annoying my dad, who wanted to watch NCIS during that time). They resumed with renewed vigor tonight, so I’m now backing up everything, and today I’ll be going to CompUSA to buy a new hard drive. It’s more than twice as big as my current drive (250 GB rather than 120 GB), and it’ll be $60 after rebate.

Preceding that will be lunch at Sizzler, and following it will be photocopying the rebate form and the receipt so we can mail the required documents to Maxtor. I don’t know when I’ll be back — probably a day or two.

A musing

Friday, March 24th, 2006
Bad dream:
You have fallen out of a plane and are hurtling toward the ground.
Good dream:
You are skydiving.
Middle-of-the-road dream:
You are still on the plane.

GNU bloat

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

gcal: The Gregorian calendar program (GNU cal) 3.01

I installed gcal to test my ISO 8601 parser. I have some differences with it.

First, if you type gcal --help, you get this:

gcal: The Gregorian calendar program (GNU cal) 3.01

Copyright (c) 1994, 95, 96, 1997, 2000 Thomas Esken

Usage:  gcal [[OPTION...] [%DATE] [@FILE...]] [COMMAND]

Usage:  gcal [-|/{[?|h|??|hh|L|V]|{CDFIPHKNORSXbcfijnpqrsuv}}] [[MM] [YYYY]]

  -h,  --help          Display this help text and quit program
  -hh, --usage[=ARG]   Display extended help text and quit program
  -L,  --license       Display software license and quit program
  -V,  --version       Display version information and quit program
  -p,  --pager         Direct output through external `less' pager

Use `gcal --usage[=ARG]|[=?] --pager' for more information.

Email bug reports to 
or (if this fails) to .

So the –help option returns no actual help. Seeing this, I tried -hh. Here are SOME of the options it prints out.

Set EXIT status of program to 127 on `–help’ etc.


Create response file for the `@FILE‘ option

ARG = Store arguments of command line in file ARG



Create shell script which contains the arguments of command line

ARG = File name of the shell script

Export local date variables from file to file
Export local text variables from file to file


Suppress output of calendar sheet explicitly


Direct output through simple internal pager
Send output via `mail’ program to user

[ARG] = Email address, otherwise eMail is send to user `boredzo’

Set reference value for rise/set time respectively shadow length

ARG = Angular value respectively factor in range: -90.0…+90.0

Set base data of Earth’s atmosphere

ARG = Air pressure and temperature separated by `,’ character

Air pressure in Millibar (actual: 1013.250)

Air temperature in degrees Celsius (actual: +15.000)

Limit rise/set times of Sun to the day
Represent astronomical times and data with utmost precision
Execute `%![ARG]‘ shell commands and “TVAR[?|\:]COMMAND” assigments

finally, at the very end:

------------------------oOO      \\\_''/      OOo---------------------------
Thomas Esken               O     (/o-o\)     O  eMail: deleted
Im Hagenfeld 84                 ((  ^  ))       Phone: +49 deleted
D-48147 Muenster; Germany    \____) ~ (____/    MotD : 2old2live, 2young2die


  1. Why does this program reproduce functions (e.g. pipe to mail) already provided by the shell?
  2. Why does it need to know about the atmosphere? (UPDATE 2006-12-06: Thomas Ptacek says that it is to compute sunrise times.)
  3. WHY does it have such an awful email signature in there?

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