• [Ein Enquiries]

    In a relatively short span of time, I had several people ask me for solutions to various technical problems they were having. Reflecting on it, I realized that this has been happening for years, particularly in some of the online communities where I hang my hat. While it’s great for the person asking the question to get an immediate personal response, it’s not so good for me as it takes me time to research or doublecheck the answer and then write it up for them. Also, all of the answers are, in this way, “read once.” It occurred to me that I’d be better served by documenting some of the questions and answers, for my own benefit and the benfit of others. Thus, I’m proud to announce the birth of Ask Ein, a new repository for Q & A. Topics will likely cover Macintosh and Palm applications, UNIX server administration, and web application development.
    At the moment, I don’t have a way for people to submit questions. I’ve been creating the entries based on questions people have asked me elsewhere. I think I’ll stick to that format for a bit and then experiment with specialized forms or specialized stories where people can submit their questions in the form of a story comment. As with everything I am doing, there is much scope for improvement, but feel free to explore.

  • [Hoary Hardware]

    I ran across this Joy of Tech comic the other day and it started me reminiscing about old hardware sweeties in my life.
    Someone mentioned to me, while discussing this comic, that they had a paper white monitor on their old DOS box. I had a few of those paper white monitors. They were so crisp compared to the green screens. I picked them up dirt cheap one day (in the 90s) back at a computer flea market. Siufai and I used to go down to these things on the weekends and then build cheap PCs out of components we’d pay next to nothing for. Do people still do that or are cheap pre-built systems integrators so ubiquitous that it’s unnecessary?
    While hardly ancient, my old Apple “Lombard” G3 PowerBook from 1999 has been turned into a roving iTunes server for the house, hooked up to our swoopy stereo system in the living room–a poor man’s AirPort + AirTunes. We can control it via a web-based interface or use a VNC to pretend that we’re right in front of the machine. It’s a little awkward (have you noticed how awkward this word is itself?), but it gives us access to a lot of music and to playlists without leaving our chairs.
    Our other slightly faster “Lombard” we traded to EinSweetie’s mother for her old stationwagon so we have a car when we’re in Canada. She’s using it to do e-mail and to surf the web, enhancing her guerilla gardening activities.
    Someone else commented that their Commodore 64 had the beautiful “blue screen of life”. Ah, the blue screen of life, so bright, so vivid! Ah, those were the days. I have a working Commodore 128 packed away in Canada with a working 1571 drive. When nostalgia really hits me hard, I fire up one of my Macintosh C-64 emulators and play games. “Kill him, my robots”, anyone?
    The most useful piece of kit from my C-128 set-up, though, is the RCA monitor that Commodore branded and shipped with it. That monitor was an excellent RCA television and mine has travelled from Edmonton, to Vancouver, to Regina, back to Edmonton, and is now with me here in England. It had standard RCA inputs, so it makes a good video monitor when hooked up to a DVD player or a VCR! We used it here in England, when we first moved here, to play my North American PlayStation games! It’s still going strong!
    While newer stuff may be (currently) dearer to our hearts, what are we doing with our former equipment sweeties which is cool/interesting and makes them still useful? Tell us your Hardware Sweetie Stories!

  • [Book Browsing]

    It’s been roughly two weeks since I last reported on my recent excursions into literary lands.
    As per usual, despite the stresses of my world, I’ve been busy at the books again. While I may have made a mistake of starting again on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon on my handheld, I don’t need to concern myself with it anymore because I’ve finished. I did, as usual, enjoy it immensely, although it did seem to drag somewhat in the last third. The first two-thirds, however, more than makes up for any lack I might perceive in bringing the long, winding story to an end.

    I was so inspired that I went on to start a collection of Zimmer’s short stories entitled The Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley, of which I read about 56%. The stories are OK, but I sort of lost interest and instead picked up The Ruins of Isis which I had never read before. I found the premise of this somewhat intruiguing. Isis is a planet excluded from a galactic coalition of planets due to its policies in the treatment of men. On Isis, all men are owned and are believed genetically inferior to women, so they are relegated to labour positions and glorified household pets. A male scholar is offered the chance to visit the plan to do some archeological work, but he is forced to have his wife, an anthropologist, pretend to be the distinguished archeological scholar and he is her assistant. This, of course galls him, especially as he comes from a world itself only recently admitted to the coadunate due to its slightly less than equal treatment of women. Explore the themes of men and women and how their roles affect the societies that they build, both on the macro level of the family and on the city or planetary level. The story is a decent twist on the familiar male fantasy fiction we have all encountered, but not Nebula or Hugo material.

    Also on my handheld, I have gone back to exploring my Canadian roots by picking starting to pick through first a collection of Spider Robinson short stories in the anthology By Any Other Name). I have perhaps read about half of that. The most compelling notion that occurs in that collection is the idea of a psychotropic truth drug which gives people who take it together a kind of primitive intimate telepathy. This drug appears in a few of the short stories, including one detailing the consequences of people and societies being completely truthful with one another. Is a truthful society a safe and happy society, a kinder, gentler place? Perhaps it is. At any rate, it is a very interesting idea. Although I did not finish the short stories, I moved on to a full novel, also by Spider Robinson, Callahan’s Lady. The protagonist of this story seems to be a streetwise prostitute who has just lucked out by falling into the hands of the mistress of a very high-class establishment who does not want her to entertain the clientele. Why has she been saved and what does the “Lady” of the “House” have in mind? Is this “Lady” Callahan’s Lady, as referred to in the title? Time till tell, as the story continues to capture my attention. I believe this is one of many Callahan stories that Robinson has penned, although I have yet to read any of the others.

    My print collection has not been neglected either. I started and finished World of Wonders, the last in Canadian Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. After the slog that was The Manticore, World of Wonders was a breath of fresh air and so neatly tied together so many of the main characters, mostly in ways I would not have guessed should you have happened to ask me when I started the series. Most of World of Wonders ties together the previously missing and unknown years of the great magician Magnus. From running off with the circus, to the sleazy streets of London, and back to Canada, it’s a carnival of fascinating detail and sketches of people and places. Of the three books in the set, I have to say that this is my favourite.

    I followed the Davies up with Robert Harris’s Pompeii: A Novel, a historical novel covering the few days leading up the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius near Pompeii, Italy. This was utterly fascinating. The story is tied together by the Aqua Augusta, a very large, very long aqueduct that fed Pompeii and 8 other cities around the area. The main character is an aquarius, a Roman aqueduct engineer, who discovers the secret of Vesuvius too late, after the aqueduct matrix has been compromised and the supply of water cut off to most of the cities. There’s historical fact, intrigue, lust, and nifty tidbits. I could barely bring myself to put it down and finished it off in two relatively quick sessions. If you are interested in historical fiction or have an interest in the works of the Romans or life of Romans, slaves and freed persons, I definitely recommend it as something of interest to read.

    I am just starting the last book I have in Christian Jacq’s Ramses series: Ramses: Under the Western Acacia. This is the fifth in the set and there is more intrigue, Egyptology, gods, men, and traitors in the two lands of Egypt, but nothing to write home about. I guess not every book can be award-winning. There is nothing wrong with the series, mind you. It is a pleasant enough read, but mostly mind candy for me, even though it is also historical fiction. I found Harris’s Pompeii much more meaty and historically interesting than the Ramses books.

    Finally, from Audible, I have finished listening to the unabridged version of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. One thing I did not remember from my previous reads is one of the characters asserting that children should be raised just like puppies: with plenty of discipline and rubbing their noses in their mistakes to make them remember not to do it again. I had to wonder if that is not a fallacious analogy: dogs are not believed to be reasoning beings on the same level as even human children. That is, humans inherently believe that they are better than animals because they have the ability to reason. So, if we have the ability to reason, do we need to be trained the same way as puppies with corporal punishment to bring the lesson home? This and other Heinlein extremist philosophies at 11, but I do keep going back, so there must be something appealing there.

    Also from Audible, I am about halfway through the unabridged Timeline by Michael Crichton. I did not read the original novel or see the movie, but I am utterly fascinated and cannot seem to stop myself from wandering around crooning, “Quantum foam makes me roam!” If you are a fan of the multiple universe theory and want to hear some cool, cutting physics linking quantum states and wormholes to travelling through locations in different universes, this is a great read, plus some knowledge about how to do more modern archeological digs to boot. The narrator in the audio edition is definitely making this very pleasurable. A bad narrator can completely ruin an otherwise good story (try Transit of Earth read by Arthur C. Clarke, for example), but there are no worries here if you are looking for a decent audio listen for exercising or driving.

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  • [Swoopy Stepometers]

    In here goes: Bad times made better by Happy Meals, it’s pointed out that the McDonald’s pedometer isn’t in fact a pedometer at all, because it only counts steps and not distance. I suspect the Special K one is similar and I’ve heard rumours that it can count steps by itself just sitting on a counter.

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  • [Rapid Reading & Book Browsing]

    I’m still working on the The Deptford Trilogy. I had just started the second book Manticore in my last book posting and was somewhat hard-pressed to engross myself in the self-wallowing. I did, however, persevere and I’m probably about halfway through the second book, now sitting beside the bathtub.

    The Time Traveler’s Wife (I have trouble typing that without doubling the ell in traveller) is a great title for a book and, for a first book, it’s great. I’ve just finished off the unabridged Audible version and I can highly recommend it. The male/female dual narration is particularly compelling in the audio version. You can, by the way, purchase Audible books through the iTunes Music Store or through Audible on an individual basis. I think, for the most part, it’s cheaper per item to have a subscription if you’re going to regularly purchase audio books. Anyway, I highly encourage others to have a go at The Time Traveler’s Wife, in whatever format. It’s full of interesting ideas, but it’s not too fantastical or so far from reality that it’s hard to get into it.

    On my handheld, I’ve finished the Baen omnibus release of Andre Norton’s The Time Traders and then powered through Larry Niven’s Ringworld Engineers, the sequel to his well-known Ringworld (which I listened to via Audible, too!). The sequel has most of the original characters back visiting the Ringworld, but we don’t spend as much time in descriptive narration of their travels as in exploring some of the underlying physics that shape a world that large. Interesting for the engineers and hardcore sci-fi buffs amongst us, but we can probably live quite happily without it. Both of these books take place in Niven’s “Known Space” universe, populated by sentient plant-like beings, humans, and cat-like warriors.

    Also on my handheld, I’ve made the mistake of starting again on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. This is a mistake because I always have a problem putting this book down. It kept me up until past three the other night when I had to finally reluctantly put it down because I was too tired to read anymore and I was only 30% through the book. If you haven’t read it before, it’s based around Arthurian legend, heavily interlaced with goddess worship and strong female characters, with the whole story mostly related from the viewpoint of a high priestess of the goddess. Maybe I’m just sucker for a book about mostly male things related mostly from a female point of view (like Anita Diamont’s The Red Tent). There is magic, but it’s mostly in the realm of practical rather fantastic magic, so if you’re not fantasy lover, you still might find the story appealing. I have about 30% left to go on my re-read. There are some sequels to it, written later, but I’ve never tried those. Some of her other books, like The Firebrand (with Cassandra of future prediction fame), are also based on myths/legends and are pretty good reads.

    Finally, from Audible, I’m listening to the unabridged version of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. I’ve read the book many times before and, of course, seen the movie version. Perhaps if more people read books like this and paid attention to the themes running throughout, they’d have a stronger sense of personal responsibility in a democracy (or any other form of body politic). While you might not agree with some of Heinlein’s ideas, at least it gives you something to think about and fodder to compare your own beliefs and underlying rationale for them. The basic story follows the adventures of a young man, just come of age, who has used his first free, legal choice to enlist in military service. In his society, military service is one of (the only?) way to gain the right to become a voting citizen in the society. The society is currently at peace and many civilians, such as his father, see military service as being a parasite upon the blood of society, serving no useful purpose. Does violence in fact solve issues? What is the difference between a civilian and an enfranchised member of society? What is personal responsibility? All of these themes appear as war and death come to Johnny (our young man) and his companions from school.

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  • [Cool Calendar Terminal Trick]

    If you’re comfortable with the terminal, try out the following cool BSD-like trick on your OS X machine:

    more /usr/share/calendar/calendar.* | grep `date +”%m/%d”`

    Suddenly, you have your own “This Day in History.” It gives a synopsis, for the day, of important events — holidays, famous birthdays, etc. Today’s output wasn’t that inspiring, but who knows what tomorrow will bring!

    05/26 Jim Pirzyk <pirzyk@FreeBSD.org> born in Chicago, Illinois, United States, 1968
    05/26 Congress sets first immigration quotas, 1924
    05/26 Al Jolson born, 1886

  • [Pedometer Panic 2]

    European version of the Omron HJ 112I did some intensive investigation on the Omrons, including phoning back to North America. Apparently, they produce different versions of the same model for different markets. Canada, for example, has a metric version. Europe, too, has a metric version. The Omron HJ-112 (or see this description) I so lusted after is not available yet in Canada and won’t be available for an additional two months.
    When I was in Canada earlier this year, Kellogg’s, the makers of Special K cereal, had just started a promotion whereby you could collect tokens and send away for a Special K pedometer and start your own personal 10,000 steps campaign. It was accompanied by all manner of media promotion with television ads and newspaper articles about the 10,000 steps campaign. The same promotion has now hit the United Kingdom and even McDonald’s (USA) is getting into the act. Is a free pedometer enough to get fitness afficiandos into McDonald’s? Apparently so, at least for some people.
    Anyway, I digress slightly. With some more phoning around, I discovered that the Omron HJ-112 model is available in the UK and is more Ein-compatible in appearance, with its translucent aqua case (see story image). I managed to track down a distributor here in the UK. While they predominantly supply medical professionals, they will take personal orders as well. All of the recently flurry of media attention has meant that people have been going out and snapping up pedometers left, right, and centre and they didn’t actually have any cheaper pedometers left, but still had a few of the HJ 112. So, for only £27.03 (incl VAT), I will shortly be the proud owner of my very own Omron HJ-112.
    Note to self: secure this one to self more firmly!

  • [Pedometer Panic]

    Sportline 360 personal pedometerI had a great walk yesterday from Brighton’s West Pier to the Hove Lagoon and back. Actually, it was longer than I expected. About halfway back, I stopped to check my pedometer to see how I was doing for time but the pedometer was gone. I had last consulted it at the Hove Lagoon, two kilometers back. I doubled back, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.
    I’m not surprised I lost my Sportline 360 pedometer, because I’d almost lost it several times earlier and I’d managed to knock it off my body onto the ground on several occasions too. I think the clip it’s supplied with is a little lacking. Barring that, though, I rather liked the unit.

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  • [Trees in the Toilet]

    Last night I dreamt of toilets, toilets and toilets and it’s all Eingang’s fault.

    Some time back, bemoaning the lack of trees in our neighborhood, we adopted a couple of stray Christmas trees and lured them back to the flat. (They were lost on the street and it was either that or take them to a shelter or, well, firewood.) Luckily they came with their own pots full of dirt.

    These Christmas trees relate to toilets in a way you just don’t want to know. Hang in there.

    One of the trees blossomed under our loving care but the other sadly was losing its lust for life. We thought perhaps it had been affected by salty ocean spray. You see, when I found it, it was taking a not-so-thoughtful sojourn to the sea-side.

    The Ein had a cunning plan. We would wash the tree. Not only would we wash the needles, but we’d, um, wash the dirt and rocks in the pot. And to make the poor distressed tree even happier, we’d kick his brother out of his nice pot where he was happily thriving and trade pots.

    “You’ll kill both trees and plug up our septic system,” I pointed out. I had my doubts about the ‘cunning’ in the cunning plan.

    “Maybe everything will be OK, ” she beamed, “and we’ll have lovely, lush trees!”


    Well, we washed the tree, the pot, the roots. Despite our best intentions most of the dirt and crap seemed to disappear out of the tub. And now the toilet makes funny noises every time we flush.
    You see, our toilet, being a late installation doesn’t flush down. It flushes up. A little pump valiantly lifts all the water and stuff over the wall. Normally it goes “whirrr whirrr whirrrr” combined with a satisfying “grump grump grump” of stuff being pushed up and over.
    Recently it started going “whirrr whirrr whirrr” with not so satisfying addition of more “whirrr whirrr whirrr” followed usually by “whirrr whirrr whirrr”

    Whirrr Whirrr
    Whirrr Whirrr Whirrr
    Whirrr Whirrr Whirrr Whirrr
    Whirrr Whirr
    Whirrr Whirrr Whirrr
    Whirrr Whirr Whirrr Whirrr Whirrr Whirrr
    Whirrr Whirr Whirrr Whirr
    Whirrr Whirrr
    Whirrr Whirrr Whirrr Whirr Whirr Whirr Whirr Whirr

    “Perhaps we could suggest to the landlord that the pump isn’t working so well anymore”, Michelle suggested last night.

    The last tenants who did this had the pump taken apart and it was found to be clogged with several hundred condoms! We’re not quite certain how he explained this. “Condoms? I have no idea how all those condoms got there! What kind of guy would flush a condom?”

    I have visions of the pump being opened up and us having to explain how it came to be covered in pine needles.

    “Maybe it wouldn’t be covered in pine needles,” Michelle suggested optimistically, “Maybe it’s covered in rocks!”

    “Pine needles and rocks?, ” we would say, “in our pump? No we haven’t been flushing dirt and rocks down our toilet. Of course not. What kind of idiot puts dirt and rocks in the toilet. And we, of course, haven’t been washing Christmas trees or anything like that in the toilet. That’s just silly. They would go round and around when you flushed.”

    Of course, if they asked us if we were dumping rocks and needles down our bathtub we’d have to ‘fess up and it would be the end for the adventuring S&M.

    The dream? Oh, of course. After a conversation about this right before bed I proceeded to spend the night dreaming about an airplane flight where each window seat had its own toilet conveniently placed at about elbow height into the wall. The toilets were used as a kind of messaging and transportation system. You shoved an object into the back of the toilet next to your seat (at convenient elbow height) and it would be magically transported to one of the other toilets for retrieval. A very classy airline.

    I was debugging Michelle’s toilet and was having trouble getting the Hot Wheels car suitably in the back of the toilet. It was clogged with thick mud, rocks and shit. So to speak. As I was up to my elbow into the muck, trying to place my Hot Wheels car, it occurred to me this transportation system may not be too popular with the ladies. Just another crappy airline.


  • [Random Reading]

    I have all kinds of reading on the go at the moment. From Audible, I’m just over halfway through the unabridged audio version of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’ve been really impressed with it so far. With the exception of a few cases, like how did Clare reach the lake when Henry took the one and only car at 3 am, the story’s been well-developed and covers some interesting aspects related to time-travel and causality.

    On my handheld, I’m working through an Baen omnibus release of Andre Norton’s The Time Traders. This is possibly not as good as The Time Traveler’s Wife, but an excellent way to spend a few minutes before bed or while standing in line somewhere. I’m already into the second book in the omnibus edition, The Galactic Derelict, where some of the time traders have found an abandoned alien ship and it has activated and taken them back to its home port. This is actually a re-read for me as I’ve read it in the last three years already, but it’s entertaining enough, as I said, for idle moments.

    By the toilet, I have the trade edition of The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies (Canadian content!). I raced through the first half or so and I’m sort of stalling on finishing it off. Somehow it’s lost its appeal for me. Perhaps if I continue pecking away at it, I’ll regain my interest and finish it off.

    By the bathtub, I’ve just finished off two thirds of the books I have from Christian Jacq’s historical novels about Ramses, pharaoh of Egypt. I only have the first, fourth, and fifth book in the set. The first book, Ramses: The Son of the Light covers Ramses’ life as a boy and how his father grooms him to become pharaoh over his older brother, whom everyone was sure would succeed the throne. It sets the stage and introduces all of the major characters and events that will shape the series. After reading the fourth, Ramses: The Lady of Abu Simbel, I think the first is the best one of the set I’ve read so far, but it’s still intriguing enough and the fourth has an interesting take on Moses and plagues of Egypt. I’ll probably continue on the fifth.

    In my personal development corner, I’m working slowly but surely through a number of books. As personal development books only pop up at most once a week and some only once a month, these are all longterm projects. As I didn’t learn PHP (or Perl, for that matter) in a structured fashion, I’m working through the O’Reilly Programming PHP, an introduction to bits and pieces that make up the PHP language. Also on a programming theme, I’m working through Head First Java, also published by O’Reilly. The Head First series employs a novel approach to teaching programming, at least novel in any book I’ve happened to pick up: it tries to get you seeing, doing, singing, writing, etc, trying to engage all of your senses in learning the material and much of the material is presented in bizarre and comic ways. I’m not very far into it, but I think it’s an exciting approach.

    Also in my personal development corner, I have a few books on improving my skills with graphic design applications. I’ve upgraded my old copies of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to the new Creative Suite versions and picked up new copies of Adobe Illustrator CS: Adobe Classroom in a Book and Adobe Photoshop CS: Adobe Classroom in a Book to go with both of them. Adobe Classroom in a Book books are prepared by Adobe and they start with bare essentials of these programs and help you proceed through various projects and modification of included projects/examples throughout the books. I’ve used them before, but I’ve never managed to finish them. Now, with a scheduled approach, maybe it will eventually happen–preferably before the software is outdated this time.

    In the last year, we’ve upped our incoming periodicals. We now receive Utne, National Geographic, Scientific American, and the weekly Canadian news magazine Maclean’s. I don’t always have time to cover them all, but I’ve done well in the last few weeks, as I’m completely current on Maclean’s and Scientific American. Utne is often my favourite, though, because it’s like the Reader’s Digest of the alternative world, packed with all sorts of interesting advertisements and stories.

    So, even though I don’t talk about it, I am still packing away the books. All this reading leaves me no time for discussing. (-:

    Disclosure: Amazon links have a referrrer program link in them that generates revenue for an international discussion-based virtual community to which I belong. Your cost is not affected.