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A Christmas Day Blog Post With No Purpose!

Date/Time Permalink: 12/25/09 11:03:28 am
Category: LINKS and Lists

Kinda fits in with the theme this year. Just random stuff. Waste time here.

Checking my incoming links, I see Facebook has discovered my post on the origins of Santa Claus. I have no idea how to follow this up, but then, Christmas is the time for re-running classics, isn't it?

Oh, and this is funny. I'm getting a ton of links from an Angband forum to my old (two-and-a-half-years-ago) blog post about Angband. Turns out some spammer bot copies paragraphs from blog posts to spam forums with, and the link is from somebody pointing it out.

And for my annual Christmas linklist:

Usually I link my favorite online games, but this year I just wasn't keeping up with that scene, so instead how about a linklist of my (currently and/or newly-discovered) favorite online reading? Something a little more engaging for burning the hours for those of us snowed in for the Holidays.

TV Tropes - This rates my vote for Website of the Year! An awesome Wiki of the things media is made of, from books to video games to webcomics. (My webcomic isn't listed there yet, hint hint. I actually observe tropes in the comic.) TV Tropes has become more of a go-to source than Wikipedia, since it covers those odd-ball animes, mangas, memes, Flash cartoons, YouTube poops, and other things that aren't notable enough for Wikipedia. Also, the community has 95% fewer twigs up their hinders.

The Book of Ratings - This guy is funny! And he has a great gig - make idiosyncratic lists of random things and rate them. Great cultural commentary. He's old-school, but hip-to-the-minute at the same time. And I'm linking him to try to prod him out of blog-retirement.

The Comics Curmudgeon - You've probably heard of him before, but here he is again, because he's just that damn awesome. He does to the newspaper comics community what I sort of do to the geek community, only with a tad more snark.

Zen Archery - There was exactly one thing I took with me when I left Las Vegas, and that's Joshua Ellis. His column in Las Vegas weeklies turned me onto his blog. He knows undercurrents of culture that aren't mapped, and he stings them like a scorpion made of cynicism.

Deadlicious - I can't even describe this site. It's the epitome of the heights a mere blog can reach. Just plow through it; it's a treasure-hunt of biker culture, comics, toys, curiosities, foreign film posters, bizarre folk art, vintage erotic literature, '50s pin-ups... It's a Boing-Boing for goths? No, that's not it.

The Agony Booth - A den of all evil media reviewed mercilessly. Compare to Television Without Pity.

Websnark - A rather long-winded blog that starts out being about webcomics, and branches out into online culture from there. Also possibly in retirement - why, oh why, do the classics stop?

The Moment of the Decade - Here, just in time to end the decade that nobody wanted. Lists, articles, and memories from the "Noughties." How fitting that every year in it had at least a double-zero.

And for a final hit from the Internet bong...

Faye Kane's Weblog EXTREMELY NSFW! - I mean it, don't let anybody catch you reading this! Rated X. X! X! X! A glance into the twisted, disturbed, incredibly filthy, and obviously manic-depressive mind of a misfit girl geek - who claims to have been homeless and living in a cave where she set up housekeeping through dumpster-diving and stealing electricity. If you dig deep, you find a "happy ending" (she apparently got "rescued"). Is the whole thing a hoax? If it is, it's a brilliant one. If not, it might stand as one of the most engrossing day-by-day pictures of mental illness (and genius) we'll ever have on the web. Really, it's a huge mystery, and if anybody has any enlightenment for us about exactly what this... thing... is, we're dying for your comment.

And now, for your moment of Christmas gift Zen...

It's a musical toothbrush holder, of course.

Hands-down winner for the tackiest gift of 2009, my kids got this musical toothbrush holder. You know, because (a) we have too much bathroom counter space, (b) there's something wrong with keeping a toothbrush in the medicine cabinet, (c) teenagers still can't be trusted to brush their teeth yet without motivation, and (d) every act of the day, even the most mundane detail, needs music from old Disney films.

This thing plays You Can Fly. Loud. And it's touchy. Like, every time we added a gift under the tree or walked through the living room or thought too hard, we'd accidentally vibrate the box and it would start playing by itself, and play and play. It'd start up at night all by itself. This has been going on for a week. We open it today to discover the exact tacky useless brick we expected to find, and everybody was already set to jump on it and stomp it into happy, singing splinters.

This is the kind of thing you can't even donate to Toys For Tots with a clear conscience. I grew up as a ghetto kid myself, and even ghetto kids know singing kitch when they see it. Isn't there a blog somewhere where everybody can post their tackiest gift of the year? If not, we need one. We need to send the message that it's OK to say that not all gifts are dearly cherished, and you're not a flinty old Scrooge if you aren't absolutely delighted with every useless blob of plastic rabies people lob at you. Lots of people feel this away about stuff they get, even if we have to smile and pretend that it's just what we always wanted, and then put it up for grabs on Craigslist.

Merry Christmas 2009, and to all you penguins out there: Keep the word, chilly bird!

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The Only Good Things During the 2000s Happened In Technology

Date/Time Permalink: 12/20/09 06:29:24 pm
Category: LINKS and Lists

If it wasn't for technology, I'd be tempted to leave a note for future time travelers to please, somehow erase the years 1999-2009 from all memory and reality. But even though every other culture and category is weeping in its collective beer, the 2000s might go down in history as the best decade ever for technology!

Here's the top honors for geeks in the 2000s:

Broadband Internet - Faster is better, right? No arguments there?

YouTube - And online video in general. Especially now that it even plays smooth on Linux.

USB - Finally, temporary removable data storage got away from the floppy!

Firefox - Quite possibly the most perfect program ever developed.

4Chan - Ooooh, am I going to get flamed about this one! But the rise of the *chans brought with it a new culture on the web, and it's a culture where new, exciting things are happening. While the original 4chan might raise your ire, consider going to something besides the /b/ random board. Also see the Overchan directories - there's an image board of every flavor, even some nice ones!

Wikipedia - While it continues to have its problems and it's always going to be a war between editors with an agenda and the sacred neutral point of view, you have to admit that we've built something really valuable here.

Twitter - Still nothing but a copy of 1% of IRC, but what the hey, it's popular.

BitTorrent - Peer-to-peer file sharing - it made freedom easier.

Mobiles - The mobile phone/ device revolution. It was kind of inevitable anyway, but let's face it, it could have been worse. It could have been a repeat of the introduction of the desktop 386 PC. The advent of text messaging and the iPhone/iPod go here as well.

GPS - Remember paper maps? Finally, after all the doom-and-gloom predictions, a technology actually did manage to make a paper medium obsolete!

FOSS and Linux - No doubt here, Linux and Free/Open Source Software made strides the likes of which have never been seen before in any tech industry field.

President Barrack Obama - Between the way he refused to give up his Blackberry when taking office, and the recent move of the domain to the Drupal platform, seeing a tech-savvy administration for once has been a refreshing change of pace. Great, it only took the US government 20 years to catch up to the citizens, but hey, better late than never.


And just to be balanced, here's the WORST things to happen in technology in the 2000s:

SCO - It won't die, ever!

Novell - Earned their place as the greatest sell-out to Microsoft in history.

SEO - Not to be confused with SCO, SEO is the cargo-cult of "Search Engine Optimization." As convoluted as astrology charts, as bad-science as biorhythms, as superstitious as Dark Ages medicine, as useless as Tarot cards, and the proponents are as ignorant as rocks. When anybody in real life utters the acronym "SEO" in a non-ironic manner, I automatically deduct 50 points from their IQ.

Windows XP and Vista - If you have to ask, I can't explain it. Really, the continued monopoly of Microsoft goes here. A silver lining is that Vista made some old-guard Windows proponents question their devotion to Microsoft for the first time.

The Sony rootkit - Can't forget this one. While it didn't affect Linux/BSD/Mac users, we still all had reason to be a little more paranoid about our music collections.

Social News - The Cancer that is killing the Internet. Navel-gazing, Narcissistic, tunnel-visioned, full-of-itself, and responsible for most of the bad things that happen on the web. Digg and Reddit should both be burned to the ground, and they each spend the majority of their time heckling each other about who's worse, which is the only thing they're both right about.

Yahoo - Watching Microsoft's take-over attempt of Yahoo and the pitiful way Yahoo failed to defend itself was like watching a cat go after a mouse and the mouse is standing there with an "Eat me!" sign. The only reason Yahoo's alive today is because Microsoft found it too difficult to chew.

Cuil - Cuil was almost a web-bubble all by itself, but too small to do any damage.

Wolfram Alpha - Oh, look, a giant bazillion-dollar calculator that also gives Mad-Libs responses to non-math questions!

MS-Live and Bing - Microsoft gets into the search business, everybody says it's going to suck, and then lo and bejeezus, it sucks!

The Zune - Even non-PR-people at Microsoft admit that it was an abomination.

gross radioactive green jelly

Bonus Buck: PCWorld's The 87 Lamest Moments in Tech for the decade, I have to reluctantly admit, is pretty fair. And that's a link to the printable version.

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She Doesn't Have Your Ears...

Date/Time Permalink: 10/01/09 05:15:47 pm
Category: LINKS and Lists

monkey see monkey do

Ardi is the new celebrity of the past, in the category of "earliest possible one of us." And I can't help but see that the default monkey head in Blender at least looks related, although with more ears and less hair.

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The Beez Nails It

Date/Time Permalink: 07/24/09 10:56:19 pm
Category: LINKS and Lists

We've been riding the Roller-Coaster of Drama this week in the tech community, and I was considering composing an overview of it. But Hans Bezemer just posted and said it all for me better than I could say it myself.

So go check out his post, where he comes with the Flashlight of Rationality to lead us out of the Trenches of FUD and back to the Sunny Light of Reason. For once I can just sit back and go, "Yeah, what he said!" About evangelists, attempts to divide the community, Mono Kool-Ade, MS's code submission regarding Hyper-V, and Linus Torvalds' quote and how it's been taken out of context. (waaaaay, way way out!)

And of course, some pro-Mono asstroturfers who are now cwying and clutching their bwankies because they didn't succeed in making all the Linux community bloggers go hang themselves.

Glyn Moody also throws in a hand, comparing the current Mono-culture-clash with the old KDE-Qt-vs-Gnome debate.

He gets second mention this time, because, well, 'purist' and 'pragmatist' is a distinction that just can't stretch to cover enough edge cases this time. If you're a purist because you were concerned that bad choices could lead to a crippled platform, doesn't that make you a pragmatist, too? For example, I prefer Free Software tools for 100% pragmatic reasons. When it comes to toys (i.e. games) I'm just as happy with proprietary as open source. Tools vs toys - see, I can do alliteration too!

By the way, the fourth financial quarter just rolled around, and MSFT is tanking like a dead mastodon. We're talking declines as high as 30% here. Ooooooh, so that's why all the distraction!

As I recently told somebody else this week (a plagiarist thug) whom I'd rather not bring up, "Pull my other leg - it plays Pachelbel's Canon in D".

Man, some weeks, you just can't trust anybody!

chappel signature

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10 Signs You Are Ready For Linux

Date/Time Permalink: 06/28/09 03:41:48 pm
Category: LINKS and Lists

The title of this post is a search which came into my site, verbatim. (It was a Canadian search through Curios, I searched around the web and didn't encounter any such article. So let's make one!

It's a good way of looking at things for a change. So much ink is devoted to "Linux is ready for the desktop", that we tend to forget to view things from the other angle - what kind of user is right for Linux?

1. You're tired of being bossed around by your computer.
Would you tolerate your car refusing to start until you scanned in your pink slip every time to prove you bought it? Would you put up with parts of your house being walled off because only the architect was allowed access? Would you allow your doctor to withhold information in your medical file from you because it's intellectual property? Then why do you put it with this from a computer you bought and paid for?

2. Your money's tight.
Linux is still free!

3. You're tired of having to buy a new machine every few years.
Linux loves old hardware. Distros which are especially good on old machines include Slackware, Debian, Damn Small Linux, GRML, and Puppy Linux.

4. You're looking to start a home business.
Linux's stability ensures that your most important tool never lets you down.

5. You're sick of worrying about security.
It's quite liberating to no longer have to live in fear of every mouse-click.

6. You want to learn tech skills.
Linux is an educational system. Learning Linux can open the door to learning Unix in general, IT careers, programming and development, and even related tech.

7. You're an autodidact.
Really, this is the most important factor of all. If you cannot handle finding your own answers by searching the web, reading the manual, or checking out a book or two, it's going to be tough. Self-teachers absorb Linux like they absorb everything else. Linux isn't mainstream, so while the smaller share of users are nevertheless helpful, you're still better off making all of the documentation that's already been written count, instead of waiting to have somebody lead you by the hand.

8. You're not that attached to gaming.
Yes, Linux's gaming opportunities are always expanding. but gaming on Linux is still a niche interest. If you're getting burned out with the computer being for nothing but idle entertainment, you might get a new kick out of the intellectual stimulation of learning how to do things with a computer. Maybe you'll write your own games?

9. You have patience.
It takes time to develop skill. It gets really tiresome seeing everybody out there asking "What's the quickest/ easiest way to learn..." The easiest way is to commit yourself to learning and learn. It takes time to learn. This is why a university degree takes years.

10. You're a rebel.
You like to make up your mind to do things your way. you're picky and finicky - you want things to run just so, the way you customize them, not how somebody boxed it for you. Having a bend towards anarchy helps!

isometric sig

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Michael Jackson Moonwalks Offstage

Date/Time Permalink: 06/25/09 05:44:30 pm
Category: LINKS and Lists

Michael Jackson Moonwalker

Michael Jackson has died, at the age of 50, reports the LA Times Blog. So as soon as I read that, I immediately fired up XMame and loaded a ROM of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker that I had laying around from a past project.

Say what you will about him - he was pretty freaky towards the end there, and I admit I made my share of jokes about him - but the screenshot is how I'll always remember him, as the unbelievably cool entertainer we had in the '80s, not the strange alien we had from the '90s onward.

There'll never be another.

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Reddit Gimp Promotion Fail

Date/Time Permalink: 06/20/09 10:20:47 am
Category: LINKS and Lists

Reddit Gimp promotion

Reddit had a little poll lately to ask which open source programs the community would like to see promoted. Gimp won third place. But, as seen here, Gimp just can't get a break even when it wins...

Yeah, sure, Gimp, the open-source Photoslop. And I suppose Linux is the open-source Windows, and ABIWord is the open-source MS-Word, and Firefox is the open-source Internet Explorer, and PHP is the open-source ASP...

Never mind that the Gimp team states quite clearly that it's not intended to resemble Photoslop in any way, shape, or form, and never will be.

I've heard of feeding trolls before. This goes beyond feeding trolls. This is giving the trolls sugar diabetes!

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India Does What the United States Can't

Date/Time Permalink: 06/18/09 04:28:52 pm
Category: LINKS and Lists

Here, would everybody like some positive Linux news for a change?

The Indian government launches the FOSSEducation initiative.

The details are there in the link, but I'd just like to point out a few phrases in the article which, as an American, just taste good to say out loud for a change.

"...Gujarat State Education Board(GSEB) to give 50% weightage to Open Source and Linux in Computer subject across all streams (Science, Commerce and Arts)."

A state education board setting a mandate of FOSS/Linux at least half the time! US education boards are still haggling over whether we can teach evolution or not.

"Ministry of Human Resource Development"

You know, as opposed to a "tech czar" in the US, who isn't even an engineer (Robert Cresanti has a BA and a JD), and whose chief concern seems to be making sure nobody listens to music or watches movies without paying.

"the National Mission on Education"

You know, as opposed to "No Child Gets Ahead Left Behind".

"The goal of the project is to replace the use of commercial tools in Indian science and engineering education at the college level"

Isn't that funny? I don't hear anybody in India screaming "Elitist! Elitist! Elitist! Burn the elitist witch for wanting people to learn!" I don't see Indians waving their hands going "But I barely know how to turn a computer on!" I'll bet more than 8% of Indians can tell you what a browser is!

Update And in case you were thinking India is an exception,
Linux Laptops Bestsellers in Germany
Brazil schools go Linux, 26 thousand computer labs

8/22/09 Meanwhile Corporations are now detaching from the USA.

9/7/09 Meanwhile Russia trains 60 thousand teachers in Linux. What ever happened to that country that wanted to stay ahead of "the Rooskies"?

10/15/09 Meanwhile France - the whole country - is running on open source. Top to bottom, side to side, through and through.

Oh, and Uraguay has given every student a Linux computer. Remember that favorite target of American trolls, the OLPC? It went through anyway! It's getting affordable Linux laptops into children's hands anyway. Americans bitch and moan, Uraguayans progress.

10/27/09 While America continues to decline.

12/28/09 And Alternet asks (finally!) "Are Americans a Broken People?" I mean, how obvious is it anymore?

1/16/10 And even Croatian school textbooks are pro-FOSS - with features on Ubuntu,, and a ten-page manual on the Gimp! While America collectively bitches about how hard it is to use.

3/1/10 Where do junior-high students build their own computer? In Italy. Our kids are junior high this year, and here in the US they have yet to have a single, solitary day of computer courses. Not even typing. In Iowa, one of the top academic states in the US.

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My Linux Personal Lexicon

Date/Time Permalink: 04/24/09 06:15:12 am
Category: LINKS and Lists

In the spirit of Douglas Adams' The Meaning of Liff, this is the little list of words I've come up with to describe aspects of Linux life. They don't have to make sense - I'm just being silly.

"adminland" n. "ad-min-land"
The console. The black text terminal you get by hitting Ctrl-Alt-F[2-6] and return to the desktop from with Alt-F7. For myself, it's a natural environment on my own machine. For the rest of the household, it's that weird thing that dad does to your computer from over your shoulder when you're having a problem. I've gotten so good at adminland, that all anybody sees is sudden black, a flurry of flying text, and the desktop again with the problem fixed.

"Appleshock" n. "app-el-shock"
The surprise of unzipping a received file which you expect to be from Windows and instead it's from an Apple user. Oh, yes, there are alternative systems out there, aren't there? So now instead of dealing with spaces in file names or all-uppercase DOS-isms, you're dealing with folders that begin with a double-underscore and duplicate files with a dot in front of them for no apparent reason.

"bootpanic" n. "boot-pan-ick"
The sudden realization that you have to struggle to remember the passwords to the machine you're booting, because it's been running for so long. At least one thunderstorm + power blink per year gives me bootpanic on at least one machine.

"decrappifier" n. "de-crap-i-fye-er"
Any script you bang out in anger to solve some stupid problem that shouldn't happen, regarding the output file of a program. Examples include fixing the bloated output of ABIWord when you save to HTML, converting "smartquotes" and "smartdashes" in a file saved from the web to normal ASCII, stripping the usable text out of a Microsoft ".docx" file, and so on and so on. Always saved with a name like "de-*expletive*", with no comments. Months later, you stumble upon these kinds of scripts and have no idea what they do.

"distromacy" n. "dis-tro-mass-y"
The diplomatic politeness with which you treat another Linux user's distro choice when discussing Linux in a face-to-face meeting, after having experienced the thrill of meeting another Linux user in real life. "Oh, you use Linux too! I'm a __! Oh, you use, ah, use _. Yeah, that's a good one too." Later when walking away and out of earshot you remark to your significant other marveling how anybody could use a crap distro like that.

"grepwords" n. "grep-words"
Any word-based game, e.g. Scrabble, Jumble, crossword puzzle. I cheat by using the 'grep' command and some regexp-foo on /use/share/dict/words to turn up all possible words fitting certain letters and space lengths, which actually turns the word game into a hearty regexp puzzle instead.

"McMove" - v. "mick-move"
From the command line, trying to move a file with 'mv' only to accidentally fire up Midnight Commander by typing 'mc' instead. I do this all the time, the keys are right next to each other. And I hate Midnight Commander, I can never remember how to exit it. On at least one machine I've gone so far as to remove the Midnight Commander package and alias mc to mv in .bashrc.

"mntveto" v. "mount-vee-toe"
To override any Linux distro's own eccentric scheme for mounting removable media. Look, Linux distros, bloody-well put the floppy in the /mnt/floppy/ directory, the CD in the /mnt/cdrom/ directory, the thumbdrive in the /mnt/usb/ directory. Alright? By definition, removable media is going to travel from machine to machine, so being able to quickly find the files on a (usually unfamiliar) machine should be a priority. Yet there are 1000 Linux distros with Borg-like consistency in where they put everything else, and yet all 1000 of them have to come up with their own unique, zany little scheme when it comes to mounting removable media. Stop it, you're not funny!

"mousephony" n. "mouse-fo-ney"
The ungodly noise you can produce by catting /dev/mouse to /dev/dsp (the speakers) and then wriggling your mouse around just to hear the squeals and static. Only works on desktop boxes, and only certain machines. If you're really brave, you can produce some infernal growling static with /dev/urandom going to your speakers. An activity for the extremely bored and braindead. (By the way, you stop this with Ctrl-C. You're welcome.)

"schrodinpackage" n. "shrode-in-pack-age"
Any package which you never use but keep installed anyway because some other program on your system might need it. Removing it might break the system, or it might not. Or it might only stop you from doing something you only rarely ever do, but will be nonetheless distressed when you can't do it any more.

"tabslap" v. "tab-slap"
To quickly close a newly-opened Firefox tab whose web page is threatening to crash Firefox. Misbehaving Flash and Javascript are the chief targets for tabslap.

"user" n. "uz-er"
How I pronounce the Unix standard major directory "/usr/", as in "user share", "user local", etc. Yes, I know that "/usr/" actually is an acronym for "unix system resources" and when I found that out, it struck me as daft. It's the user directory - things that users need go in there!

"VDADD" n. acronym: "Virtual Desktop Attention Deficit Disorder"
The tendency to abuse Linux's multitasking muscle by having way too many programs running in multiple virtual desktops or consoles. You end up flipping back and forth reading a line here, editing a line there, watching another five seconds of a video clip, and eventually coming to Emacs with a window-full of code open and asking, "What was I going to do with this?" Having multiple windows open on one desktop doesn't have the same effect, since it's all there at once where you can't forget any of it.

"Windowwart" - n. "win-dow-wart"
Any misfeature which was stupid design the first time it happened on Windows, and is carried over to Linux just to make Windows immigrants feel at home. Should we also install a clutch pedal in all cars with automatic transmissions so that stick drivers will feel at home when they switch to automatic?

cloudy sig

Sanity checks:
Midnight Commander - by dumb luck, I happen to have F9-F12 hotkeyed to open my most commonly used programs; F10 is what I have Fluxbox opening Firefox under. So I have to exit MC via menus.

Mounting - I can recall at least /mnt/removable/, /mnt/media/, and /media/, plus some distros name the media's folder sda1, and I also remember /mnt/thumb/ once. Add to that the other variables - some distros automount, some don't, some require root, some don't, some even pop open a program automatically, which may or may not be the program you were intending to use right now.

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suddenly the moon