The boring rants of a lazy nerd

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

TV - not quite plagiarism

I googled "canticle" and got the classic SF book reading the reviews of which I immediately thought "B5 4th season finale!" and yup - JMS kind of admits it, though he says he reached that independently.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Tech - IMAGE_DOS_HEADER.e_magic = 0x5A4D

As those of you who have used the computer before Microsoft decided to set "hide file extensions for known file types" default to "on" know, usually the file's extension (the last part after the last period in its name) is used to identify which type of file it is (like "doc" for Word and "jpeg" for pictures). But, that can be misleading as the file's extension is easy to change. So, some software that needs to know the file's type (like antivirus software to needs to scan only infectable files, or multimedia cataloguer that will find pictures in everything) has to actually look into the file and check. While reading and analyzing the entire file is the safest method, it is much too slow and requires the software (or person) doing it to know everything about all the file formats (impossible), so what's usually done is you look at the beginning, what's called the "header", and see if you recognize anything. This method is surprisingly good - Zip files all start with "PK", PDF files start with "%PDF", etc. Some people know that EXE files (programs) since the earliest versions of DOS till today's Windows executables all start with "MZ". What I'm ashamed to admit is I didn't know "MZ" are the initials of one Mark Zbikowski, one of the architects of DOS 2.0. What an interesting piece of trivia! bibliographic references:

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Fandom - Kokopelli's The Letters of Summer

Chapter 21 is up on SQ. Squeee!

Update: It was the final chapter (epilogue expected Q1 2005), so those of you who have so far deterred from reading it because of its WIP status no longer have this excuse.

The story wasn't perfect, in fact I felt it skirted the edge of the "too big" trap (I've tried to formulate a coherent definition several times, but I can't even name the phenomenon. I've blogged about it previously, but in short it's when the character's special abilities and the associated special effects completely overshadow all other aspects of the story, it enters a kind of arms race and gets farther and farther from believable till it resembles a bad comic book or maybe a manga cartoon (not to bash illustrated novels, of course)) but it always managed to stay more or less IC for the characters and settings created by JKR and (almost more importantly) never ceased to entertain. It successfully incorporates non-Potterverse Fantasy elements (a popular thing in fandom, but hard to pull off) and a PG non-soapy romantic arc. I must stress how much the high level of English contributed to my enjoying the story (remember how I raved about Amberite!Draco ?) - after all, it's not every day you see a word like "amanuensis" in fanfic! (albeit misspelled) *hats off to the editors for a marvelous job*

Now, for the more important part of this review:

As you might know, although I personally resent the concept of organized religion (I believe it always becomes political and thus immoral) I have the utmost respect for people who genuinely Believe and live by decent moral codes as it seems to be very healthy for individuals and society in general, as long as their belief is non-viral and especially if it does not claim exclusivity on the absolute truth/afterlife/whatever it promises its devotees (something that Judaism for example miserably fails at, but at least it was never evangelic…).

So, while I don't believe Harry will ever find Jesus (whose circumcision I plan to dutifully celebrate in best Soviet Russia tradition) in canon (JKR, like Prof. Tolkien before her, won't mention her belief by name, the same way she can't say the word "Nazi", but it doesn't mean we don't understand what she's talking about), and although this subplot didn't contribute much to the main plot arc nor was it extended enough for me to grasp the hero's spiritual development, I see nothing wrong in the author's inclusion of an obviously important to him aspect of life into the story, especially as it's really not pushy and works plot-wise (better at least than the notion of Nymphadora Tonks being a flashy Cordelia Naismith knock off common in a certain kind of Honks stories).

In conclusion — keep up the good work John, and don't mind the flamers.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Personal - Ill

I've contracted some kind of flu. It's a real pandemic - everyone seems to get it. My nose leaks like a tap and yesterday I've lost my voice in the middle of a presentation if front of school kids (very scary and very funny afterwards). I got three sickdays I can't really enjoy because my head hurts so much (oxygen deficiency probably). And just as we got a new toy! That's about it I think.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Web Design - wow

Just look at! I feel so inadequate. Time to rewrite blog.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Commerce - ripoff

If I were in the market for PC hardware today (I'm not 'coz I'm poor), this is what I would be shopping for (listed is barebones system only, this is not a full computer!).

The system is "most bang for the buck" oriented, for general work (actually it's supposed to be the best for anything but multimedia encoding (not creation, mind!)) and mild gaming (actually, I'd leave my fanless Radeon 9000 as I'm not running any games at all), the processor would get overclocked as far as it would go while being rock solid during Israeli summer using standard heatsink and fan combo (or a cheap & quiet alternative), and of course you need two identical DIMMs (pieces of RAM) - I just couldn't decide which.

I only used reputable vendors I know, prices include shipping & handling. Exchange rate is for December 17th. Spreadsheet work done using OpenOffice's Calc.

categorypart descriptionUSDrateUS price in NISprice in Israel incl. VATripoff rate
CPUAMD Athlon 64 3000+ (939, 512K)1594.34690.061040150.71%
MotherboardMSI K8N Neo2 Platinum (nForce3 Ultra, 939)139603.261175194.78%
RAMCorsair PC-3200 512MB XMS (DDR400, CL2)105455.7865189.82%
Corsair PC-3200 512MB Value (DDR400, CL2.5)75325.5685210.45%
HDDWD 200GB, 7200rpm, 8MB, SATA125542.5734135.3%
VideoATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB230998.21225122.72%

I've used for local prices as it's the industry's standard here, but I have to say the site is horrible compared to Anand's. Numbers are fairly reliable, though.

I write no conclusions, as this is self explanatory.

Personal - Dream

I woke up today from a really weird dream (in technicolor with Dolby surround, PG, in a theater near you) that incorporated action scenes inspired (perhaps) by reading Aaron Swartz's recount of watching all of BtVS in three months and a romantic plot that seems taken straight out of something archived at The timeframe was my highschool days and the identity of the heroine really freaked me out once I woke up and thought about what my subconscious had cooked up. The intensity of the dialogue surprised me more than the complete surrealism of the entire portrayed situation. It has served to prove (to my satisfaction) a theory I had about my preferences, so now I only need to think what I'm going to do about it. It also probably means I need to get laid, but I already knew that.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Personal - Buses

For the past few months I've been seeing the same woman on a bus. I've noticed her because she has red hair and freckles and is always in a skirt and with a baseball-style hat. She wears glasses and her nose is without fail in a non-translated Sci-Fi paperback.

As all people, I'm always happy to find kindred spirits, which for me basically means "geeks". When such spirit is in a female body (or do spirits have gender preference, so it's a "female spirit"?) it's doubly better, because it means geeks as a species have a chance.

A few weeks ago I've noticed the military's programmers' training program's emblem on her sweatshirt. She's a civilian (doesn't look like a teenager either) so must be discharged already (reserve), but still - one of us!

Today, while standing near in a packed city bus during rush hour I kept staring at her, thinking of what to say. God, I'm such a dweeb! Just saying anything was really hard.

Finally I've asked about the book and said I can't read in a bus, she said she's lucky with that but she can't sleep (meaning she has noticed I tend to fall asleep whenever I sit down. It's all because of fanfic and Gentoo). She asked me why I don't wear my pins, and correctly guessed my department (she knows two of our guys, one of which is my direct superior). We've talked a bit about Sci-Fi (she has recommended Bujold, and upon hearing I've read what's published of the Vorkosigan saga including Winterfair Gifts heartily recommended the Chalion series), the service (all veterans are the same, I think they just repeat the phrases they heard their veterans say, the same way I repeated the same (true) things I was told to those who were one year behind us), employment prospects and a "career or family" vs. "career and family" thing. Looking back now, I don't think I've made the best impression (Note to self: practice dialogue (rather than the more common (for me) monologue) with live people) - see what I mean? Nested parentheses are not a natural construct in English!

I figure she's about three to four years older than I. I wonder if she has any younger friends? In any case, it's good to know I can get decent reccs offline.

Update: Was unsure about a ring I've noticed, so I've done a little invasion of privacy and the record confirms: I've seen a wedding band. Of course, you say, otherwise she wouldn't have worn a hat, but it was so unorthodox I didn't even think about it (don't know if it's even compliant, what with me being able to tell the color of her hair and all). We talked again and she made a point not to wander too far from universes I'm familiar with. I've drawn a "Cetaganda = Elves" parallel I'd like to explore a bit more. So far I have Miles' "by Rian's hair, Dug" in DI and Gimli's wish of Galadriel in LOTR.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Web Tech - Google Suggest

As published all around the web-tech blogs (I've first noticed on /. about 24 hours ago, much sooner than Google Weblog said anything) - Google has form autocompletion (if your browser has XMLHttpRequest, that is). This post amounts to me showing off - As Mr. Spolsky said, Google is publicly raising the bar of good web UI, but yours truly has been quietly doing it for close to ten months now!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Software Development - Hebrew(?!)

Joel Spolsky just made me laugh so hard my mother (who is used to me being weird in front of the computer) asked me what's going on. Update: There's translation for non-Hebrew speakers.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Tech - woes

Geekiness ahead.

Have upgraded to kernel 2.6 without RTFM-ing first. Naturally, didn't quite work (did boot though!). So have installed udev and module-init-tools and changed a few kernel components to modules or vice-versa and it all worked (except for the weird bug still sometimes get in ALSA, but will look into it). But for some unexplained reason, internet connection repeatedly disconnected after few minutes. Afetr much fooling around with pptp and ppp, testing that NIC, DSL “modem” and ISP are ok using a knoppix CD (a real lifesaver, should be in every home) have finally decided to ditch PPTP VPN tunneling in favor of real PPP. There are instructions for dummies available, and am glad to report all went smoothly (used opportunity to also update modem's firmware version) and now have blessed DHCP peace.

I've been following Joe Gregorio's work from references made by Mark Pilgrim and Tim Bray. He's worth a read if you're a web-tech geek like I am. Now listen to me, pompously recc'-ing A-listers like I'm some kind of authority!

I want to have a blog at work. Not just for myself, but for whomever wants to publish something internally. It's difficult to bring blogging software into our closed environment (especially regulary updated open-source software, which is the only kind I use), and even more difficult to get it hosted. So I thought I'd make an unsanctioned underground project implementing it myself in Perl and IIS (yes, perl on IIS. What did you think I'll use — VBScript?) on my personal win2k box and get it all authorised later. But I want it to be an example of good web development practices, which means Python, Apache, and Atom protocol support (or maybe J2EE since my employers try very hard to appear to be a regular sinister corporate entity). With my own cool Mozilla/MSIE compliant client side code, of course.

But then I groked it's beyond the scope of my free time at work. So I'm stuck dreaming, like always.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Movie/Personal - The Incredibles / update

So I've sent a poll to my department's mailing list asking who wants to pay to see a cartoon. Surprisingly we got an almost full turnout, and here are my $0.02.

The graphics were fine, although I didn't see anything much better than Final Fantasy (though I'm hardly a computer animation expert), the characters were lovable clichés (I especially liked Samuel L. Jackson's work as comic relief), but the plot was too comic-book driven and it generally was more of a movie for the kids made bearable for the parents than a truly film for the entire family (like “Shrek” was, I think). But maybe it's just my dislike for comic books...I know I would've enjoyed it much more had I seen it at 12 with my buddy Eli (dude, if you're reading this – go see it!).

After the movie, in accordance with my department's Wednesday tradition we went to a pub (conveniently located in the same mall as the movie theater). The pub required sits' reservation and asked for our ages. They claim to be Irish-themed/styled, but that turned out to mean they play parts from Michael Flatley's “Lord of The Dance” (which would've been an OK show had it not been hijacked and ruined by its director/choreographer/producer) on plasma TVs they have decorating ever wall (admittedly, there was a piece from some live performance of Depeche Mode, but they aren't an Irish Folk band AFAIK ;) ). I've found out the reason I can't stand Guinness and Kilkenny — they're made by the same company! Also, I prefer light beer.

I wanted to write about some strange/rare uniform-sidearms-badge combinations I've noticed in public transport in the last few months, but I'll have to edit it and provide more explanation (in all probability this means it will never be posted unless people ask).

A blog-worthy episode that happened today: I was sitting in front of my PC, finishing the hardcover Russian translation of Ender's Game when I've reached the end of an odd-numbered page. So I've reached for my trusty Wheel Mouse Optical (the only Microsoft product I've ever paid for) to scroll to the next page, then burst out laughing because when I've read a very similar story as a piece of geek folklore I thought someone's imagination was too wild but Life once again proved it's more surprising than Fiction.

There is nothing to tell about the Eilat trip, I'll post pics with Akaba in the background when I get'em.

I write this post in OOo's Writer (after Blogger ate the first draft), and I must say – I'm impressed, and I don't for a minute regret ditching winXP.And since I've mentioned Sun's Office suite I'll note I like their people – they have good taste in clothes!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Personal - back online, whoohoo!!!

So, I've ordered a new motherboard. I've collected it and am now back online.

Back in mid-2000, I've bought a brand spanking new Coppermine Pentium III 550E (with the new 0.18um die from the fab in Qiryat-Gat, which I've visited) which they only had in the then-new socket-370 format. But they didn't yet have motherboards with the new socket, so I've bought a Slot-A mobo and a "slotcket" - a device that allows one to connect a socket CPU to a slot motherboard.
Well, it died. But, since they stopped needing these a few months after I've bought mine (the new motherboards compatible with the new processors came out) they stopped making them more than 4 years ago, which is a very long time for hardware parts. In fact, they are so rare these days, it's significantly cheaper to just buy a socket-370 motherboard (which too is the last of its kind, but at least it's from 2002, not 2000!). That's exactly what I've done.

Lou: 1$ payraise. I kid you not. The three years males are obligated to serve in Israel, we get less than 80$ per month.

Sgt. Yevgenii Shmurak crashed his car full speed into a light pole early Saturday morning, while returning from someone's birthday party. He was in the car with his girlfriend and some other friend. He was rushed to the hospital but died shortly afterwards. The friend and the girlfriend are seriously injured. He was an only child and left two completely heart broken parents. He was 21 years old, RIP.
Genya and I were best friends in 4th to 6th grades (I was 9 - 11 years old).
Update: Later I found out the girlfriend didn't make it either. :-(

I don't know what else. It's late and I have to be up early to go to Eilat with my unit (rant will follow surely).

On to Kokopelli's The Letters of Summer.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Personal - Offline Update

Still offline. Now a 20 year-old sergeant, I enjoy my newfound free time reading dead-tree editions of books. I have not read any blogs, so I don't know what's been going on, if any (suddenly some things seem a bit more inconsiquental, but not my friends. I'll get online for more than 5 minutes to get an update on all your lives someday soon). If there is anything you think I really need to know - pease leave a comment or mail me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Personal - Offline

I've been offline since my last post because of a hardware failure. I'm still offline. With luck, the part will be replaced (my computer's advanced age (4.5 years) makes finding compatible parts very difficult, and I have no wish to buy a new system) soon. It has not been as hard as I thought it would - humans are truely very adaptible creatures.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Web Tech - behaviors

Well, I've ditched moz-behaviors (which remains a brilliant tool for enabling legacy proprietary code to be used with the Gecko family of standards-compliant browsers) in favor of a cleaner vanilla-javascript implementation. It gives me more control, is much easier to debug (exceptions fire in your code, not in the wrapper, so you know where they are) and works in other browsers (currently Opera users can enjoy almost full functionality). Fortunately, the refactoring process was surprisingly painless.

Now I suffer from integration difficulties (what's good for resizing UI is very bad for sorting performance) and the CTS from hell.

I'm contemplating a blog redesign (long overdue, I'm afraid). I don't want to do anything drastic, but I want the main page to have only titles (so crawlers correctly point to the entree and not the ever-changing index.html) and add history and memories sidebars. In the memories sidebar I'll link all posts with unfinished business, whereupon I'll kindly request your attention to some outstanding issues.

If you're wondering about FFDB, no work has been done. I blame lack of encouragement and participation - if it is to ever move forward, it will be because other people want it to. And it will be implemented before it is designed, because I don't want to get into over-engineering (after all, I'm a coder, not a systems architect). An IT person from work suggested I could use VMWare to have both the Linux server and the WinXP client on the same machine - sounds cool.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Mad - You might want to skip this entree

Modern biology says* it’s all about procreation, ensuring the survival of one’s genes, or genes as close to yours as possible.

Freud said* it’s all about sex.

I maintain that every human achievement, every advancement of civilization has been made by a man seeking to impress a woman or challenge another man’s plans/claims for some woman. All the great creative thinking was done by people in their late teens and early twenties, before they became old and settled down, monetizing their ideas into college money for the kids.

Until some entrepreneur invented porn. Now, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and consider it wasn’t a plan to eliminate competition but a service for men who have no access to women for long periods of time (such as soldiers) and no wish to practice homosexuality and/or bestiality. Which is all great (when tastefully done) but as with all good things, introduces a catch: porn, unlike flesh and blood females, is immaterial information (graphical or audio-visual), thus making pr0n feasible.

When computers were invented and all the really important things to do with them ran out (cracking Enigma, building The Bomb, playing chess) geeks found that relieving themselves using graphical stimuli is a quicker way of clearing one’s mind and getting back to solving interesting problems than bothering with real women (wooed or rented), and since they were still in the creative stage of their lives they didn’t care for reproduction.

Since most good hacking is done by “scratching one’s itch”, i.e. working on fixing the problems you face yourself, technologies for enhancing the experience quickly evolved. Technologies like high resolution true color graphical displays, graphical user interfaces (to navigate albums in thumbnail mode), networking (to share pr0n with friends and argue taste), cheap photo-realistic inkjet printers (in case of power outages), storage so cheap you can fit the library of congress without selling a kidney (for collections), complex algorithms to compress and transport multimedia streams over bad network conditions with minimal loss of quality and audio-visual synchronization (because one never has enough storage), the web (the ultimate publishing medium for conventional pr0n), P2P networking (for spreading the racy stuff) and DHTML bookmarkslets (to remove bad links from pages).

Higher levels of immersion are being developed – Doom3 can make you scared, but what else is the graphical engine capable of? What do you think AI is being developed for? Accurately guessing what the user wishes the character does next, of course! And finally, the ultimate, last, invention of human kind – Virtual Reality, when all the creative minds of humanity get lost in a Matrix-like dream-world they’ve built for themselves.

You ask how I know all that stuff was invented for pr0n? I'll tell you. Because all the real work I do on my computer (managing big distributed databases, developing, testing, debugging, deploying and analyzing the output of cross platform software (and by "cross-platform" I mean the exact same source is compiled on s390 (MVS), RS/6000 (AIX 4) and P4 (Win2k)...), etc.) I do on the command prompt, in text-only mode, usually by telnet. The only reason for me to have a monitor like that is for reading lots of documentation PDFs (because I don't want to search for the hardcopy) and watching the flash clips my friends keep sending me, not for using bloated development environments like Websphere or Visual Studio .Net 2003. I imagine it's much the same for many other people, so unless the CAD/CAM industries were that influential, I say computer graphics were invented for pr0n.

* - I am aware these are criminal generalizations, people.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Travel - Nachal Yehudia

Most of my department went on a two day trip to the north (bonding and stuff, because otherwise we don't get any non-computer related experiences as a group). I don't remember how the place we've done the first day is called, but it wasn't that good or special. On the second day, on the other hand, we've done the Nahal Yehudia hike - a beautiful, challenging, hot & wet trek following a river in a canyon. The flora & fauna were great (lots of insects, no bites, not even from mosquitoes!), the water was cool (almost cold, but that might be because the ambient temperature was 37°c in the shade…), the company lively and the bikini-clad ladies we were seeing every few minutes lovely (" - hey, check out that really hot wet foreign tourist babe! - hey look, 200 pound local gorilla boyfriend watching you checking out his girl!" ;) ).

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Personal - resolutions

I've recently had a photo taken for a new ID badge. Comparing it to one taken 20 months ago I've decided I'll be cutting down on fat and fic. I only wish to find the strength to make good on that promise.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Web Tech - real vs. virtual life

Read the last paragraph of Mark’s post here. Especially said paragraph’s last sentence.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Web Tech - refactoring and improving performance

I'm following Joel Spolsky's advice in "Fire and Motion" and trying to work on that thing every day, as much as I can, no matter that my work is not "perfect". If I manage to steal an hour of "zone" time a day I'm happy with my progress - it gets better, faster, cleaner as I go along. I'm using an oldschool version control system (solid RAR archive of timestamped directories, one for each version, each self-contained) and document ideas in a "to-do" section. Most of the code has been re-written twice already, and each time I'm astonished how bad it was. That should mean it's iteratively getting better. I've learned to appreciate ECMAScript functions as first class objects, closures, and most recently the fact that array.reverse() is "free" performance-wise. Also I noted that IE's DOM has been optimized only for sequential access, while Mozilla also does decent random access. In general, Mozilla is so far ahead of IE (despite its cross-platform compatibility) it's staggering. The usefulness of the DOM Inspector tool is beyond words.

TV - Six Feet Under

I've watched the first three episodes. It's a really good show. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


I was on guard duty and me and a friend discussed fandom (numerous software development houses on base, the place is bound to be crawling with geeks, even when they're not dressed like it and are occasionally armed). She mentioned "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Fifteen Minutes". Go, read. ROFL.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

TV - What do you watch?

I don't watch TV. At all. I prefer the Internet (more choice in what I watch, when). Since Alias, I have nothing to download. Which shows would you recommend? Please specify name, genre, pros vs. cons.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Personal - Today

I've met Asaf and Shiran (the prodigies) whom I haven't seen for more than two years. I think they did not recognize me at first (our school days must feel like a previous life to them). They looked happy to be suffering the way they do.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Personal - A year ago

I have finished my advanced training and began OJT at my unit's base. Since then, I'm not the youngest anymore, though I still have a lot to learn. Yesterday, two girls from my class at school were discharged after doing their two years. It was also the anniversary of my future (planned) discharge, four years from now. I was a bit sad thinking about it (though not as sad as I suppose I'll be when the day I should've been discharged comes and goes and I'll still be in uniform, poor as a Weasley). I have willingly signed the contract and don't regret it for a moment, but this kind of angst is customary to people in my profession, so I indulge myself from time to time. In the following year I'll become more senior than most of the people I'll meet outside of the office, though I suspect nothing will really change. On a happier note, I've been spotting flashier smallarms on people in public transport during my daily commutes. Why should I care? Because when the cool guys upgrade I might get to use their cast offs. I might get a CAR-15 when I'm NCO! I hear you saying "boys" and I smile.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Personal - Update

  • Have not done much progress on the web thingy.
  • Have been working long hours on a special rather difficult project, trying to solve it cheaply using the "wrong" tools. It is not doing too well. Have had some help from one of our reserves - a very nice female data warehousing/mining specialist. Have concluded I prefer working with females, provided they tolerate me geeking out once in a while (read: all the time). And it has absolutely nothing to do with the effect water has on white cotton.
  • Kokopelli has updated The Letters of Summer - Squee! *fanboys John*
  • Have downloaded some Joe Dassin. I conclude I only like music that's older than I am.
  • Reading referrer logs makes me laugh.
  • Blogger's new WYSIWYG editor is nice (especially the HTML source editing!), I only wish it'd have worked in my firefox. :-(

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Current Affairs - Iraq war intel. screwup report

Tim Bray has some strong words to day about politics and journalism. What an age we live in, that a government not only has to explain its actions to the public, but can't even doctor the documentation to look good afterwards. <Soviet> These peacenik attitudes will bring the extinction of western civilization, to be obsoleted by societies that allow their governments to lead the people in the struggle for dominance. The collapse of the eastern block does not mean all is well in the world, despite how appealing that idea is. But, since it appears people are disinclined to listen, I suggest you start practicing your Chinese. </Soviet>

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Pop Culture - Eurovision 2004

I know I'm late, but I've just downloaded and watched the video for the "song" that won the Eurovision 2004 contest, after hearing the performer was from Ukraine. What was that bloody Hip-Hop doing on Eurovision? Who let that slut on stage?! How did she win??? I'm not angry anymore. Just sad.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Web Tech/Personal - UI

A lot has been written on the topic of developing web applications, some of it by A-list bloggers. I do not wish to rehash this beaten topic. But I have to vent. You see (or rather, you don’t see, because it’s not ready yet1), I’m building a grid widget to display fic data. I want it to have some pretty nifty features. I also want it to work for as many users as possible, while degrading gracefully for people stuck with less sophisticated UAs (*coughoperacough*). And I also want to finish it before the next Harry Potter book comes out. If I were developing for the corporate WAN, I could’ve made assumptions that would’ve completely eliminated the need to do any work. I could’ve declared right from the start, that, for example2: the user has Windows 2000 with Explorer 5.5 or 6 on a brand-name PC bought in the last 48 months. The user has typical-to-LAN bandwidth to the server. The user has Microsoft Office installed. The user does not have any disabilities that would prevent him or her from normally using a browser, to the full extent of the audiovisual experience I choose to provide. The user will click “yes” if asked about trusting my domain to install third party software. The user is of legal age and literate. All kinds of stuff. Then, I would’ve loaded the data into an XML Data Island, opened Excel as an ActiveX control, told it to load the data into a spreadsheet, color it according to some rules and — voila! — instant data accessibility, do with it whatever your heart desires (e.g. pivot it and look for average word count per month per author grouped by preferred ship that would mean the slashers are more prolific than the canon thumpers — but of course finding supporting evidence for predetermined conclusions is a bit of bad science...). But I'm not, and I can’t. Because unlike on the nice clean corporate WAN, the people on the big scary internet have Camino on OS X on a G5, Netscape 3 on VMS/HPUX/SunOS/Tru64/AIX/IRIX/BSD/Win3.1, and Lynx/Links/W3M on an X-less Linux-based NAT firewall/router (with a 9” monitor, stuck in a utility closet). They speak many different languages, some are eight-year-olds, some are blind, and not many would install third-party untrusted software just to browse fanfic, or already conveniently have MS Office installed. So what can I do? Either give the user non-rich, static content, or reinvent the wheel. As you realize, I chose the later, because otherwise I wouldn’t be ranting about it. If I didn’t love doing this, I know I would've hated it. P.S. Every time I try to write more than one sentence, I realize how hard it is to write conformant documents in English. I mean, of course writing well is hard, as it’s an art that takes skill and talent, but just writing something that’s grammatically correct… Let’s just say I’m glad computer languages have much simpler rules. People, treasure your betas! 1 - Please leave a comment if you want a preview, wish to offer help beta testing it or wish to be included in random hallway usability tests. 2 - The described environment does not neccessarily represent the conditions at my workplace.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Personal - I'm alive

If anyone cares. I've been working on UI. I'll show you when it's done so you can tell me how eggheaded it is.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Tech - Rich vs. Web client

Software development and management guru Joel Spolsky has just expressed (wonderfully, as usual), everything I've been talking about in recent months to anyone who'd stand still long enough. I feel vindicated. Firefox, HTML, .NET as crap. I didn't even know WinForms wasn't compatible with Avalon, but that just made it obvious. Web Applications are not jus the future - they are the current best answer.

Commentary - Stating the obvious

Mark Pilgrim has read a dumb book and wonders whether people are really that stupid. Well, here's a newsflash: since he's smarter than average, he's bound to find stuff aimed at people on the opposite side of the IQ spectrum more than a little dull. We all know that, because we're all smarter than average. Depending on how often I venture outside my usual techy-highbrow circles, I often find myself momentarily shocked at how some of these people can successfully function in society. The important thing to remember is: the future of our genome is up to us.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

HP Fandom - PoA movie

I've seen it. 1. I still don't like how Ron is constantly shown as a coward and inferior to Harry in every way. The way he's always in the infirmary while Harry is off groping Hermione in the woods - he might just become a Death Eater. Though she does touch his hand and cry on his shoulder... 2. I don't remember any of that H/H in the book. But I have to admit - jailbait!Emma is quite fetching. Also, all this "only the smartest witch of her time can be a match to wonderful super hero Harry, who is the most powerful wizard of his time" makes some twisted kind of sense. 3. Sirius/Remus is now canon. 4. I don't like this Dumbledore. Or the old one, for that matter. 5. The time theme is interesting, I don't know if it has a special meaning. 6. I don't mind most of what they've changed, but every time I noticed it hurt a little. 7. It is much too difficult to understand without prior knowledge of the book. The people who were with me in the audience didn't get it. 8. Is Sirius' speech about the people we love never leaving us, even when they die, a kind of forshadowing? 9. I need to watch it two or three more times. But I'll wait to see it at home. 10. It was so condensed. How can they fit the fourth or fifth book in a movie???

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Personal - Life Assessment Quiz

via Mark Pilgrim. Since Blogger doesn't yet feature military grade security I'll just let you guess how bad it is.

This Blog - XFN friendly

XFN is semantic markup for social relations on XHTML. Or something like that. Anyway, my bookmarks (on the left) now use it. Since those links are dynamically created in the client, you can't spider this page for that data, but at least now my friends can get a special CSS rule. :-)

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Cool - Movie: Revenge Of The Nerds

I laughed out loud at some of the scenes and lines while watching this flick. It's a classic, and I can't believe I've never seen it before. Some of the things I've actually heard/seen IRL.

What I don't understand is why it had to be pro-drugs, voyeurism, infidelity and premarital sex (though I honestly don't mind the later half as much as the first three). Also, it was too short, too cliché (for nowadays at least) and too predictable. The characters were underdeveloped "Made in China" cardboard cuts and the plot was too far fetched (not to sound trite, but "fiction, unlike real life, has to make sense").

To sum it up: Some of the lines are part of public consciousness, but don't feel compelled to waste 90 minutes of your life, unless you're a nerd and have nothing better to do.

Thanks for minding my well rounded education, Lou, but it didn’t make me feel better. :-(

Friday, June 04, 2004

Web Tech - Training IE

Dean Edwards is God. IE7 is the only way I can imagine ever using IE again. It is evil because it makes an excuse for not switching, but it is a still bloody brilliant piece of work. I’ve seen and mentioned (and even used) his work before, but this latest update is just “wow”. If I ever figure out how to use it on blogspot, this blog will be re-designed. And of course, the FFDB interface will heavily depend on it.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

HP Fandom/Web Tech - redesign

I'm a markup Nazi, I say that upfront. I obsessively view source. I abhor Office-html. Mismatched angle brackets make me cringe. I know users don't care. Because of Tag Soup and Explorer's lenity, all user agents render, more or less in the best way possible almost any content, even the foulest things mangled by not too smart regular _expressions (100 points to the house of the first person who spots the reference).

But looking at this new design, I want to cry. What is that panel on the right? Why must I increase the font size to be able to read John's excellent fic? Why can't I increase the font size in the most popular browser on the web (considering the probable number of geeky Mozilla or Opera users in fandom, close to 99.9% of readers are M$IE users)?

Edit: Ooh, "for print" version. Now I'm satisfied. :-)

Monday, May 31, 2004

HP fandom - new (Book 5) ships

I mean the ones that include the new characters from the Order (Any Prof. Toad ships out there?). Especially FifteenYO!Harry/Tonks. It's illegal, and immoral, but it works. It will never happen in canon, but I think it's IC, or at least can be made IC, in ways that H/H for example can't. Am I hallucinating? Edit: I'm not alone. The HMS Honks (for Harry/Tonks) has a LiveJournal community.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

HP fandom/Web Tech - Unscheduled Chackmated downtime

What you get at Checkmated's Updates page: Error in query: SELECT DISTINCT storyid FROM stories WHERE updated > 1085739099 AND updated %lt; 1085825499 ORDER BY updated DESC. Can't open file: 'stories.MYI'. (errno: 145) I hope their mySQL database is just locked, and not trashed completely. And that they have backups. *cross fingers* Edit: contacted the person on their staff listed as web admin. Email addy wasn't as easy to find as should be for mission critical service personnel. Hell, our people carry a beeper on weekends... Final Edit: It was fixed. No indication on the site that anything was ever amiss. Never got a reply.

HP fandom - reccs

IIRC, I've read the first two chapters on, but have since completely forgotten about this fic. Had the FFDB existed already, I would've found it as something Kokopelli beta'd, but alas - no such luck. Anyway, Aibhinn's "Heal the Pain" ROX. Too bad the site itself is as bad as was; I hoped the next generation of H/G Queens would strive for more.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Cool - Quieter computer fans

A BYU professor (hear that, Emily?) and his students have built a moderatly successful active noise reduction system for computer fans. Link via /..

HP fandom - young heroes in love

This is an opportune moment to again mention my fixation with the possibility of a Harry Potter/Dune crossover. The scene just outside the hospital ward where Harry recuperates after the final battle in R.J. Anderson's “Endings and Beginnings” had immediately sprang the following paragraphs of Dune to my mind (though it has taken me quite a while to find the passage in the text):

Paul remembered he had rushed out to find Chani standing beneath the yellow globes of the corridor, clad in a brilliant blue wraparound robe with hood thrown back, a flush of exertion on her elfin features. She had been sheathing her crysknife. A huddled group had been hurrying away down the corridor with a burden.

And Paul remembered telling himself: You always know when they’re carrying a body.

Chani’s water rings, worn openly in sietch on a cord around her neck, tinkled as she turned toward him.

‘Chani, what is this?’ he asked.

‘I dispatched one who came to challenge you in single combat, Usul.’

You killed him?’

‘Yes. But perhaps I should've left him for Harah.’

(And Paul recalled how the faces of the people around them had showed appreciation for these words. Even Harah had laughed.)

‘But he came to challenge me!’

‘You trained me yourself in the weirding way, Usul.’

‘Certainly! But you shouldn't –’

‘I was born in the desert, Usul. I know how to use a crysknife.’

He suppressed his anger, tried to talk reasonably. ‘This may all be true, Chani, but –’

‘I am no longer a child hunting scorpions in the sietch by the light of a handglobe, Usul. I do not play games.’

Paul glared at her, caught by the odd ferocity beneath her casual attitude.

‘He was not worthy, Usul,’ Chani said. ‘I’d not disturb your meditations with the likes of him.’ She moved closer, looking at him out of the corners of her eyes, dropping her voice so that only he might hear. ‘And, beloved, when it’s learned that a challenger may face me and be brought to shameful death by Muad’Dib’s woman, there’ll be fewer challengers.’

Frank Herbert's Dune, ISBN 0-450-01184-4, p. 439-440

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Personal - sigh

I'm talking out of my ass here, but hey – this is about me and I'm the editor of this publishing and after all the blog is a Narcissistic shrine, the expression of my ego. The past weekend I was guarding a military base. The weather was nice, the food was decent, there was an abundance of girls (sadly not very interested in conversation, at least not with me) and I had a rather good paperback for the time between shifts. The shifts themselves reminded me of the expression “watching paint dry”, but they weren't too long. I don't write much about my job, and that's not about to change, but here's a bit to bridge the knowledge gap: my immediate supervisor, I'll call him R, is a bit hyper active (wrong term, I forgot the right one, but it's close – when he sits for too long he has to jump up and move around) and he has taken to expend his energies in Salsa dancing. He's a bit goofy, even childish at times, doing silly thinks and pulling stupid pranks, but he gets away with it through sheer charisma – often he gets the people around to participate in the silliness. He's smart, dark, short but fit and he has in recent years cultivated his culinary and back rubbing skills. I remember a time, a few months back, a bunch of us in the office were discussing the merits of healthy recreational activities (as opposed to sitting in front of one's computer all day and night) and he has mentioned being a Salsa instructor. He was chatting up our then new secretary (a tall, pretty, decently bright girl who is genuinely nice. She later got bored of her job and went to officer's training), showing her a few moves. Our not so bright new IT person was questioning the manliness of dancing as opposed to more macho pastimes like sports and hiking. While he was talking, R was rotating the secretary (who was obviously enjoying herself), a mischievous smile upon his face. In recent months, R and a girl from the office, M, have been spending a lot of time together. What we know for a fact is they frequently go dancing at some party and she spends the night at his place because it's too late for her to go home. Both vehemently deny that anything else besides the dancing is going on, but as E noted, they would deny everything either way. During the weekend, they and another girl they've met dancing have visited me briefly at my post. I had a notebook lying around with some FFDB related sketching. I dismissed it as some boring computer stuff and we laughed about me being too geeky to not think about computers for an entire weekend. The girl they've brought told me how, inebriated, she nicked R's cellphone and phoned E, at 4AM, leaving a lewd message on his answering machine. From this I gathered they didn't sleep much the previous night. Logistics lead me to presume she has spent the night early morning at R's. I'm pretty sure he has only one bed at his place. When they were pulling out of the driveway R knocked down one of the plastic “barricades” and made a joke about righting it by knocking it down from the opposite end. I made a completely lame and geeky pun. As they were pulling out and gaining speed I faintly heard a female voice say “what a nerd”. Mood: Resignation Music: Green Day – Good Guys Finish Last

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Personal - I've got mail!

Look at this: From: "aca99da" <aca99da@somewhere> To: <wastedfairy@somewhere>, <weirdos2001@somewhere>, <wendelin@somewhere>, <wheeler3@somewhere>, <white_panther1987@somewhere>, <wildseed@somewhere>, <windychan@somewhere>, <withnailand_i@somewhere>, <wolf550e@somewhere>, <worldguy@somewhere>, <wurrm@somewhere>, <www.foxmon3@somewhere>, <wykay@somewhere>, <xada@somewhere>, <xanatokimi@somewhere>, <Xanthisad@somewhere>, <xgardella@somewhere>, <xmen_magneto@somewhere>, <XnonnieoX@somewhere>, <Xwikedx@somewhere> Cc: <aca99da@somewhere> Subject: HARRY POTTER CONNECTION MESSAGE BOARDS ANNOUNCEMENT Date: Sun, 16 May 2004 00:00:58 +0100 Content-Type: text/plain;charset="us-ascii" Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit As you may have noticed, the Harry Potter Connection message boards on which you were registered are no longer active, after the company hosting the boards,, took the decision to withdraw this line of business. Replacement boards have been created and can be accessed at These boards are much more modern than the old boards that were becoming outdated and they provide an excellent place to discuss all things related to Harry Potter. I look forward to seeing you on the boards in the near future. lupin66/Dave Head Moderator of Harry Potter Connection Message Boards This is reproduced here in the unlikely event someone who's interested didn't get one herself. All I can say is: it was nice while it lasted, I've met some really great people and I'm grateful for that, but it was a long time ago, I'm a different person now, there are constraints on my time I did not have while at school, and anyway blogging is more fun.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

FFDB - Analysis


Rationale, Requirements, Specifications

  1. Introduction

    This document attempts to describe the Fan Fiction DataBase system (from here on “FFDB”), its purpose and features; the problems the system tries to address and the solutions it proposes. It will describe the system more as a service for its intended audience/user base than as a work of software engineering.

    This document pertains to Version 1 of the system. Newer versions are expected to be made available, possibly with companion documents, at wherever you've acquired the copy you're reading now. Its companion (or rather, sequel) "FFDB - design" should be counseled with when it seems too vague.

    This is an amateurish work of one inexperienced man – all inaccuracies, outright falsehoods and Bad Ideas are his fault, for which he asks your forgiveness. Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated. He proclaims his hope that this document might not be a dull read.

    1. Definitions, acronyms, and abbreviations

      n. An ardent devotee; an enthusiast. [Short for fanatic.]1
      n. All the fans of a sport, an activity, or a famous person.1
      Short for "fan fiction".
      fan fiction
      Original fiction by fans of a show, movie, books or video game. The fiction involves characters and the location of the show from which the person is a fan. Fans write fan fiction for a variety of reasons. One of the most popular reasons is to explore themes and ideas that will not or cannot be explored on the show, movie, book or video game.2
      Fan fiction is never written for profit, only for the enjoyment of fellow fans. Copyright on the characters (and anything else borrowed) is owned by the originator.
      You may wish to see here for some history.
      Harry Potter
      Harry Potter
      The main character of J.K. Rowling's extremely popular (at the turn of the 20th century) children's books bearing his name.
    2. Purpose of the system

      The HP fandom is very large (at the time of writing, Google returned over 6M matches) and the amount of fanfic it produces is very large as well ( has over 120K stories). One of the reasons for its popularity is its addictiveness. When in crave for more fic, if the user still retains some semblance of taste and preference as to what she'll* consume next, the need to find fic according to certain characteristics arises. Usually the quest is either restricted to a few archive sites featuring similar stories (grouped together by one or two of these characteristics) or a friend's (or other's whose taste the user trusts) recommendations. This unnecessarily limits the user's choice and sometimes forces to read many stories' descriptions, author's notes and even a chapter or two to determine whether they're the right kind of fic – a laborious, time-consuming process.

      I envision3 an all-encompassing metadata-rich library index that can list links to stories according to various multiple cross-sections allowing the user to focus her search to a very specific (preferably short) list of options, using as accurate as possible objective and subjective (usefully balanced) characteristics, suitable to all of fandom, from a G-rated alternate-point-of-view on Hermione's kiss in book 4 to a written-on-a-dare should-be-made-illegal fic no one would host*.

  2. Bibliography

    Although this document is intended to be read online, it is the author's hope it someday becomes worthy of committing to paper, thus making all manner of clickable things unusable. To amend this grieve usability flaw that inhibits the peer-review process, a formal bibliography has been compiled (in this version – by hand, allowing some mistakes and omissions to crop up due to human error).

    1. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. Accessed through
    2. Writers University dictionary, available at
    3. A blog by the author, asking whether there's any interest in such a project, available at:
    4. bib4

    A list of referenced and/or related publications.

  3. Appendixes

    1. Author's Notes

      1. Although I have no demographic data to back this statement, the fandom is so biased in favor of the fairer sex that it makes sense to use the female form of pronouns for generics.
      2. I had no particular fics in mind when writing this.
      3. I stubbornly wish to maintain the notion of anonymity and privacy the use of pennames grants those who choose to fool themselves, though I know better.
      4. note4
    2. Document Revision History

      Issue / RevisionDateChanges
      1.0 Draft A2004-04-05Original Version - beginning
      1.0 Draft B2004-05-07 - 2004-05-15Analysis and Design identified and separated
    3. About the Author

      Wolf* is a slightly maladjusted software developer currently in the service of the IDF. Born 1984 in Leningrad, USSR (former and current St. Petersburg, Russia), emigrated to Israel with his family 1991. Have been programming his family's PC since 1995, obsessing about Harry Potter since 2000 and coding for change (and keeping his country safe) since 2003. Photo and source code available upon request.

    4. Acknowledgements

      I want to thank my parents for bringing me to this world, raising me and tolerating me through my teens. I'm trying to grow up as fast as I can.

      My dear friend Z. for introducing me to Ms. Rowling's magical world, and my CO E. who is kind and understanding, more than I deserve.

Web Tech/Software Freedom - on Movable Type 3.0

Mark Pilgrim said it all. When I move to a hosted environment (the recent improvements to Blogger, courtesy Google, have postponed the move, indefinitely) I won't be using MT, even if it'll be free for my needs.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Personal - Soundtrack

I think I've blogged about moving to a different office. I sit in a room provided by the client - three of us, a civilian analyst and a girl from the client's side. She's the person in the general staff in charge with finding and getting people whose work can be interrupted to do unusual and/or unexpected jobs - say an honor guard for a state visit reception requires a couple dozen good looking guys in dress uniform. She finds out both flight school cadets and navy officer's school cadets are busy, so she gets some elite intel. course to fill in. My two team mates and our analyst are often out so I'm frequently alone with her. She's a nice girl, with only one major problem: she can't stop talking. That's why her department had her moved into that room - "let the coders suffer, we have work to do". Of all the people to ever sit there, I suffer the least and actually get along quite well with her. She's been talking about missing her boyfriend (whom I gather she sees only on weekends) and filling blanks in my musical education (Green Day). I've brought some CDs I had lying around home (Enya, Mike Oldfield and Enigma). She asked to borrow the Enigma CD for the weekend. It's titled "Love Sensuality Devotion". Why do I think she's right now shagging her boyfriend silly with that exact CD in the background? And no, I’m not jealous of the boyfriend.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Personal - Interesting

This strongly reminds me of “known plaintext attack”, but I'll bite. I know you couldn't care less, but here what a “known plaintext attack” is: suppose Alice corresponds with Bob over a secure channel. Eve (the evildoer is female. That's a very old axiom — even 3,000 years ago, men knew that girls are evil.) wants to eavesdrop, but can't break the cryptography in reasonable time. She tells Bob something that involves a certain word or expression that is very hard to rephrase, that she thinks he'll tell Alice about. Then, she can bet that word or expression is included in Bob's next transmission to Alice. Trying to decipher the message by guessing which part of it is the known expression and seeing if a key successfully decrypts it is order of magnitude easier than deciphering it with no known data. This is my CO discussing his job.

Current Affairs - 59 years ago

Friday, May 07, 2004

Personal - todo

1. Sanitize blog (I don't like censure, but I value security and privacy more). 2. Edit and publish permanent FFDB Rationale, Requirements and Specifications item. 3. Write and post Kill Bill review. I've found myself in a bind recently, regarding something I wanted to blog about. The situation has been best expressed by Jamie Zawinski. And all verbiage on this place is available in Google's cache, no need to subpoena anything or even access this page. This irks me.

HP fandom - good fics

Recommended here, Kokopelli's "The Letters of Summer" is one of the best fics I've read in a long time. SQ Professor's Bookshelf level writing, verbal SAT score improving vocabulary, multi-stage dedicated editing, and it's H/G. I implore you to read it, unless you're wary of WiPs (this one's not in any danger of being abandoned, knock-on-wood).

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Personal - constants within the human experience

"Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers." - Socrates (470?-399 BCE) Generation roles and the subjective nature of memory challenge some of our observations. I think today's youth are intolerable and much worse than we've been their age, but I also know that's what has been said about us, and our parents and so on, and it's impossible that this degradation has been going on with each generation for thousands of years, or the species wouldn't have survived. So maybe there's hope.


So. I was thinking of building a static database editor (a thingy that helps manage the non-dynamic or at least less-dynamic parts of the site, like characters, ships, that sort of thing) and I've immediately encountered problems:
  1. Characters. Should all characters that appear in canon be listed? Or only those that are actually used as main characters in a listed fic, and so the list of characters grows with the list of fics? While you're thinking about it, consider original characters – should they be listed as individuals or grouped together under “OFC”? Having individual items for them makes fic descriptions more expressive, but also makes a thing like “Snape/OFC” harder to make, and that is after all very close to the system's requirements. So, how do we treat Ms' Moody, Loomis, Green (remember her?) and all their friends?
  2. Genres. Since I'm basing the thing in part on IMDB, I've looked at their page. What they're doing with this metadata is inspiring. But, what are the genres of Harry Potter fan fiction? Are they the same as for general fiction? Which are...?
I really need to hear what you have to say.

HP fandom - clever twist on pairings

Go, read, review. It's short and funny.

Personal - sociobiology

"Maybe we brought too many leaders," Maya said.

"Too many chiefs?" said John.
Frank shook his head. "That's not it."
"No? There are a lot of stars on board."
"The urge to excel and the urge to lead aren't the same. Sometimes I think they may be opposites."

"The shrinks saw the problem," Frank went on, "it was obvious enough even for them. They used the Harvard solution."
"The Harvard solution," John repeated, savoring the phrase.
"Long ago Harvard's administrators noticed that if they accepted only straight A high school students, and then gave out the whole range of grades to freshmen, a distressing number of them were getting unhappy at their Ds and Fs and messing up the Yard by blowing their brains out on it."
"Couldn't have that," John said.

"The trick to avoiding this unpleasantness, they found, was to accept a certain percentage of students who were used to getting mediocre grades, but had distinguished themselves in some other way — "
"Like having the nerve to apply to Harvard with mediocre grades?" " — used to the bottom of the grade curve, and happy just to be at Harvard at all."

"We don't have any mediocrities on this ship," John said. Frank looked dubious. "We do have a lot of smart scientists with no interest in running things. Many of them consider it boring. Administration, you know. They're glad to hand it over to people like us."
"Beta males," John said, mocking Frank and his interest in sociobiology. "Brilliant sheep."

Kim Stanley Robinson - Red Mars

I remember 7th grade (first year in gifted program). Didn't blow my brains out on the yard, but I did cry. Not because of my dropping GPA, but the whole jungle atmosphere of the first few months (before the new hierarchy was formed, the cliques established, the outcasts identified, etc.) was tough on my unrealistic expectations of being accepted in the company of equals (turns out homogenous communities don't exists, a single ambitious person ruins them, but I didn't know that at eleven and a half). I dealt by growing thicker skin and developing my introversion into a full fledged reclusiveness (which lead to my spending an inordinate amount of time in front of a computer, which influenced my career choice).

I've seen it happen again in my advanced training - people who were used to being the best cracked under pressure. I was too busy (the sheer strain of complying with discipline took a toll on me the weight of which I did not completely realize under it was lifted and I virtually lifted off the ground) to do anything beyond just noticing (today I'm sorry for not doing informal interviews and taking notes), but after seeing it again I've thought of the similarities and suggested a theory explaining why a statistically improbable number of people from the same class get into the very exclusive military R&D training (site only in Hebrew, title quote is Daniel 1, 4): they are from various gifted children programs and have already dealt once with not being the smartest kids in the world. There probably are many kids from other schools who could've done very well in the program who are not chosen because of the high risk of them cracking if forced to deal with suddenly discovering they are not the smartest kids they know during basic training, which would be a shame.

Anyway, that's how I explain four of them being from my own class. I really should ask them about this “Harvard solution”, especially because while programmers' training is intended to produce professional workers and only a handful of administrators (i.e. commissioned officers), their program lists command qualities as a primary requirement (and includes combat officer’s training), so they shouldn't have any "brilliant sheep" making the situation a bit different.

Friday, April 30, 2004

FFDB - no comments

Why is this lack of interest? Is the project boring? Is it going too slowly? Am I asking too much?

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Web Tech - WS Simplification?

It's not like Tim Bray needs my support, but here it is: hear, hear!

FFDB - sample data contribution

I hope everyone has found a few stories, and now I'll elaborate on the required data. You are requested to submit as much as possible about three fics of your choice, please try to get very different stories so we have the entire range of possible values for each property. Be creative, we want to see if this data is descriptive enough for every possible fic.

So far I've come down to this for a story:

Title: string
Author (1..n): string
Rating: one of: G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17, X
First publishing date: date
Is it complete: Boolean (true or false)
Warnings: multiple entries of: slash, violence, whatever. We'll have to compose a full list.
Genres: multiple entries of: fluff, angst, drama, action, PWP, whatever. We'll have to compose a full list.
spoilers for: multiple entries of items from list of canon books (now: PS, CoS, PoA, GoF, OoTP, FBAWTFT, QTTA)
Characters: multiple entries of items from list of canon characters (we'll have to compose it using the lexicon)
Ships: multiple entries of items from list of known ships (we'll have to compose it using fandom resources and maybe on the fly)
written based on what level of canon: (book4-canon, book5-canon, etc.), this is because AtE was good for a post book 4 story, but book 5 made it AU.
Is it part of series: Boolean
If true: name of series (list will be composed on the fly) and item number in the series
Does it belong to fanon: Boolean (for stories set in a world created by other stories)
If true: which story created the fanon
Is it a crossover: Boolean
If true: with what (list will be compiled on the fly)
timeframe: from list of: irrelevant, ancient times, dark ages (founders), in between, Victorian, in between, Grindelwald's war, in between, Voldemort's war (MWPP's school days), in between, pre book1, book1 ... book7, immediately post Hogwarts, Harry's generation's twenties, next generation, far future.
Archived at site: multiple entries from list of known sites (including private ones and yahoo groups, will be compiled on the fly)
Per site, identifier at archive site: name in FA, id number on SQ, id number on FFN, etc. perhaps full URL is better, with parsing in FFDB? Would like to get your $0.02 on this.
Word count: sum of word count for all chapters (calculated automatically)
Edited by: list, perhaps union'd from all chapters
Language quality: either voted or average of all chapters (voted there)
Last update date: max update date from all chapters (calculated automatically)
ic/ooc meter: voted, perhaps per chapter and then averaged (or min?)
General vote: duh
Chapters: number of (calculated automatically)

Per each chapter:

Number: string (for all those "twenty seven and three quarters" ;) )
Title: string
Author if guest author: string
Publishing date: date
Word count: number of real words! Counted _after_ parsing, not wc of html source! Including AN if easier.

I'll be the first and provide an example:

Title: After the End
Author: Arabe1la
Author: Zsenja
Rating: R
First publishing date: 2001-05-13 (estimated from y!g archive)
Is it complete: true
Warnings: they never talked about Sirius/Remus in the fic itself, right? Only in outtakes? So none, because the sex is not graphic.
Genres: fluff, angst, drama (others?)
Spoilers for: PS, CoS, PoA, GoF, FTTA, FBAWTFT
Characters: Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Charlie, Bill, Charlie, Fleur, Remus, Sirius (any others?)
Ships: R/H, H/G, Bill/Fleur. should the minor ships (Wesleys' SOs, that couple that got married summer after Hogwarts, etc.) be mentioned? $0.02 plz
Written based on what level of canon: book4
Timeframe: immediately post Hogwarts
Archived at site:
Identifier at archive site: 619
Archived at site:
Identifier at archive site: /
Word count: 593,743 (OotP is only 255,000!!!)
Edited by: B Bennett, Cap'n Kathy, Honeychurch, Dr. Aicha, Moey, Jedi Boadicea, Caroline and Hallie and Joe, Firelocks, CoKerry, ElanorGamgee, Lallybroch (from ANs)
Last update date: 2003-06-21 (day OotP published)
Chapters: 45

The Prologue, Expecto Sacrificum, 2001-05-13, 2072
Chapter One, Through the Fireplace, 05/28/2001, 6402
Chapter Two, In the Trench, 05/28/2001, 7595
Chapter Three, Morning News, 05/29/2001, 10488
Chapter Four, Meet the Press, 06/13/2001, 8472
Chapter Five, Goldie's Liquid Curse, 06/27/2001, 10370
Chapter Six, The Lewis House, 07/12/2001, 9963
Chapter Seven, Culparrat, 07/26/2001, 9565
Chapter Eight, The Apparition Exam, 08/20/2001, 7631
Chapter Nine, The Kinolia, 08/25/2001, 11680
Chapter Ten, Echoes of War, estimated early Sep 2001, 9735
Chapter Eleven, Confrontations and Confidences, 09/27/2001, 13919
Chapter Twelve, Care of Magical Creatures, estimated Oct 2001, 12003
Chapter Thirteen, The Wolfsbane Potion, 11/08/2001, 9594
Chapter Fourteen, Plans for Autumn, 11/23/2001, 12841
Chapter Fifteen, The Bar Brawl, 11/30/2001, 8229
Chapter Sixteen, Empty Nest, 12/17/2001, 10056
Chapter Seventeen, The Wedding, estimated new year's 2002, 11557
Chapter Eighteen, Morning After, Night Before, 01/07/2002, 9761
Chapter Nineteen, Islands, 02/07/2002, 6598
Chapter Twenty, Charms, and Other Subjects, estimated late Feb / early Mar 2002, 12594
Chapter Twenty-One, Pure Nerve, 03/20/2002, 13071
Chapter Twenty-Two, Without Restraint, estimated late Mar / early Apr 2002, 13280
Chapter Twenty-Three, Devotion to Duty, 04/11/2002, 10700
Chapter Twenty-Four, Halloween, 04/30/2002, 9143
Chapter Twenty-Five, Enquiring Minds Want to Know, 06/03/2002, 15359
Chapter Twenty-Six, The Very Late, Really Long Chapter From Hell, 09/22/2002, 16658
Chapter Twenty-Seven, The Seeker, 10/03/2002, 17356
Chapter Twenty-Seven and Three Quarters, First String, 11/26/2002, guest written by Firelox, 18328
Chapter Twenty-Eight, Homecomings, estimated late Nov 2002, 15685
Chapter Twenty-Nine, Christmas at the Burrow, estimated early Dec 2002, 16508
Chapter Thirty, Under the Influence, 12/25/2002, 14404
Chapter Thirty-One, Toil and Trouble, 01/25/2003, 13622
Chapter Thirty-Two, Black and Potter, 02/04/2003, 11153
Chapter Thirty-Three, Residual Damage, 02/19/2003, 14427
Chapter Thirty-Four, Breakthroughs, 03/06/2003, 15716
Chapter Thirty-Five, Outbursts, 04/13/2003, 17875
Chapter Thirty-Six, Hard Truths, 04/08/2003, 14444
Chapter Thirty-Seven, Blue Moon, 04/28/2003, 11493
Chapter Thirty-Eight, Beleaguered by Halfwits, 05/06/2003, 20016
Chapter Thirty-Nine, Ella, 05/20/2003, 14980
Chapter Forty, Ron's Secret, 05/30/2003, 13742
Chapter Forty-One, The Ring, 06/07/2003, 19475
Chapter Forty-Two, The Prisoners of Azkaban, 06/17/2003, 32517
Chapter Forty-Three, The Finals, 06/18/2003, 24304
Epilogue, 06/21/2003, 8362

As you might imagine, collecting all that info is a lengthy process. Any suggestions?

BTW, those figures indicate a throughput of almost 800 words/day (including weekends) of print-worthy class A material, while they were writing outtakes and that D/G fic I've never read (and working on their day jobs, I assume). I'm basically in awe.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Personal - Happy 56th birthday, Israel!

The fireworks are great, and the official ceremony I watched on TV was decent. Human Resources have got the national flag for safekeeping till next year's! :) I've looked at the young clerical female officers there, and oh boy, the fighting men really get to see what they're fighting for every day (It's only fair that the better looking ones generally get assignments to combat units to boost morale, after all I get to see as many girls as I like after work hours, being at home every night, but man!). :)

Personal - Memorial Day

Today was the first Memorial Day when the dead were no longer a faceless number for me. RIP Gleb.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

FFDB - call for contribution

Dear readers, I ask for help assembling a comprehensive sweep of fandom. I need a small but diverse number of fics that I can experiment with while defining entities and metadata (I'll need your help with that too). It's not such a hard task either: please list three unique (amongst yourselves too, if possible) fics. I'll choose enough of them and then we'll assemble their full descriptions, to see what is useful and easy enough to collect (ROI of gathering metadata vs. meaningful search results). If comments are not working - don't hesitate to use email.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Personal - illness

I have a cold or something similar. 99°F and a really nasty headache from oxygen depravation. It's going to be a lousy weekend, and I'm afraid an even lousier week (unless I get better), because that fever is not high enough to get sick leave.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Personal - meme reply

  • Lou's

    1. Who are some of your real life heroes?

      Yosef Trumpeldor, for being a real patriot? Bill Gates for being a real Slytherin? I don't know. I don't believe in conventional heroes and haven't yet heard of someone who has successfully dealt with some of my problems in an inspiring way. Each and every man and woman who raise productive members of society, are, in a way, heroes, to me.

    2. If one fictional character from any media could be made real for you for twenty-four hours to talk and interact with, who would it be?

      I have no idea. I can't think of any book heroes in the second person, only in the third. I'd feel out of my place to interact with them, being too mundane, like a Muggle in Hogwarts. I mean, what would you do if you suddenly found Mark Vorkosigan in your room?

      If I have to choose I'd say Cordelia Naismith, realizing the implications are that I need a shrink (maybe the realization is a step in the right direction, or maybe I'm just in an introspective mood).

    3. If you could choose any talent and become a master at it, what would it be?

      I want to have a better understanding of how shape and color make beautiful things, because I can't design a basic web page. I used to draw when I was little (I mean draw well), but it has disappeared. I don't want to become a master though – computer graphics or design don't allure me (drawing and painting even less so).

      I could wish for awesome coding skills, but I enjoy learning it, I don't want to cheat – it would spoil the fun.

      I guess the most useful talent is interpersonal relations (aka “people skills”), i.e. a good mix of extroverted personality, empathy, psychology and some magic, but that sounds very unlike me.

  • Teri's

    1. Are you happy with your position in the military? (And will you please lose the crew cut once you get out of the army?)

      Yes, very much. Now I know I've got a terrific assignment. Good profession (the one I love), career path (well, outside the military, at least), interesting work (in both the technological and the what-the-numbers-stand-for meanings), the best people (who tolerate my geekiness), the most relaxed atmosphere you'll find while still in uniform (it doesn't get any more relaxed out of uniform either, at least not anywhere where you're not your own boss, and not even then if you want to be successful).

      I can't believe I'm saying it, but I like my short hair. It's generic, which helps to blend in in a crowd. We'll see.

    2. Do you think you will move from Israel? Would you want to?

      For as long as it's “Israel” – no. I have no business living in some other people's country while I have my own. I want to raise my Jewish kids in a Jewish State, knowing it's a privilege that carries a high price tag. I don't believe in the long range vitality (or viability? Is there s difference? Any advice from native English speakers?) of multinational political constructs – they'll have to either fuse into a single nationality or divide into autonomies. I don't want my descendants to lose their nationality, and I don't think a Jewish state in the union (or a Canadian province) is such a good idea.

    3. What do you hope to be doing ten years from now? (And don't say, "married to a redhead", because that is assumed as one of your aspiritions. ;))

      Ah, you know me too well. :)

      I hope to be taking a couple of weeks off work (doing software development/engineering for an Israeli company) and unpaid work (free software development, for fun) and taking my (redheaded :P ) wife and kids to the 10th anniversary Wahleecon, to see the 7th movie.

      Or at least dealing with life without major foul-ups.

  • Mostly unrelated link.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Personal - Pics

See what you make of 'em. Though I warn you: taken with the crapiest disposable camera by blind people with Parkinson's and scanned with the cheapest scanner, diagonally. Also, the site shows them scaled down instead of in native resolution (I think I can tweak that).

Internet - Hello, Security?!

It's worse than I though. Most of the stuff there is not generally known to the public (internal unit numbers? locations? operations, officers' names, photos...). They say there's no classified info there and content is approved by military censorship, but I would suggest deleting a few things and proofreading it (goddammit, they teach better English in school!) ;)

Friday, April 16, 2004

Personal - Meme

I know I'm going to regret this: I want everyone who reads this to please ask me 3 questions, no more no less. Ask me anything you want, and I promise to answer truthfully. Then I want you to go to your journal, copy and paste this allowing your friends (including myself) to ask you anything.

Cool - Lúnasa

Thank you Lou for the link. I've pirated myself four CD's worth of music and am enjoying it as I type. :)

FFDB - Tech research

Too much to learn. But hey, at least it's exactly the stuff I enjoy learning. I think I'll have to construct testing environments for each technology I'm evaluating to see how difficult it is to learn how to use the thing and tune it for my needs.

Let's see: XQuery, XML:DB, OO PHP, Cocoon, Tomcat, Servlets, dbXML, eXist, Berkeley DB XML, Xerces, custom relational mapping to Oracle 9i and mysql, phoenix and postgresql...

I'll sit myself down and draft the requirements (data size, number of simultaneous queries, type of queries), then install and configure the servers and run some benchmarks. That can take a month, without the custom relational mapping. Then we'll see what's quicker. I'm pretty sure what's easier by now. ;)

Monday, April 12, 2004

Cool - Space Station on IMAX

I'm sure I'm the last person on earth my blogroll to see this, but better late than never as they say (who says?) so here's the link: Space Station. Very good shots for technogeeks, interviews with crew, effects for the kids. Better than the 3D animation by far - you can bet personal realtime 3D by John Carmack will catch up pretty soon, but a documentary is timeless.

Personal - back from holiday

Now I know why the tourism industry in Israel is taking a nose dive in recent years: not only are people afraid to come here thinking their changes of dying in a bombing are higher than being struck by lightning, but the level of service is not very good and unprofessional (my personal impression, from cheap services. In all likelihood, if you pay for a decent suite in a five star hotel - you'll be properly pampered). That is my excuse for the really poor quality of the web sites I can link to (these do not deserve the links, really):

Friday, April 09, 2004

FFDB - progress

So, you might be wondering what's going on with the project, since my last post almost two weeks ago. Not all that much.

I've decided to think and write an actual document before implementing anything, but I do know the design will change during implementation, as my understanding of the problems and the tools gets better. I just didn't want to start coding before I was sure I knew what I wanted to code. So I have the introduction written. It's more Rationale than Requirements or Specifications (the Design part is not even started). It's a bit too formal for a personal post and a bit too personal for a formal document. I can't quite feel the reader.

Instead of doing my Passover homework (reading by all accounts an excellent book) I'm reading up on Web Services (beyond the buzzword).

I'm having a very difficult time deciding on the right technological approach: the API is in XML since I see my data best in XML form and the existing tools are indispensable in processing for presentation and achieving interoperability. But I don’t know of any good free (at least as beer if not speech) XML database, and anyway I think I can better tune a relational one. But of course, mapping XML into a relational database might be bad for both performance and maintainability. Also, I think Python is cooler than Java, but the benchmarks definitely favor the statically typed language. And of course, PHP is the popular choice, but it always felt like a giant kludge to me, and its latest attempts to imitate Java only serve to point me to the real thing.

One thing I can tell you right away: dotNet is not even considered, because I’m biased.

Personal - Almost 150 years old

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov (1858) Still very current. I'm scared.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

HP fandom - Red Blaze's "War and Passion" is now complete

link I've been following that story since almost the beginning. It is the definitive AU H/G smut fic. The author's betas, inspired, have posted NC-17 fics of their own.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

HP fandom - ouch

I visited Narcissa Malfoy's (2nd BNF of HP fandom) page on SQ's Professors' Bookshelf. There she has a story listed, something about American wizarding society. In the author's notes of said story, she thanks people who have helped her write it. She mentions a few authors, one of whom is your friend Alec. She also mentions, in the same sentence, someone called Pogrebin, who has, on his/her page @ TDA a story with the following summary: "Written for the wizarding porn challenge. Dying is an art. Snuff films & dangerous games in front of cameras. Fleur/Gabrielle." :O x-| I think I need the revise my conceptual view of possible entries in the FFDB quite a bit. Well, I'll try to have y'all do at least some of the footindex-finger work for me.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

FFDB - a few clarifications

The FFDB won't have a fic archive, community forums or review mechanisms (unless I, The Benevolent Dictator, decide otherwise). I do not wish to compete with existing fandom sites. The FFDB is an index, a navigation aid for people exploring the vast reaches of Harry Potter fan fiction. It is not an attempt to take over FAP.

I have never said it would have a fic quality rating system, but I see there is no choice - it is its killer feature. That would mean a strong authentication mechanism is a basic requirement (not necessarily employing strong crypto - it's not an ecommerce application after all).

The triple user group voting should be treated like this:

  • All votes are recorded. This allows a person to have a change of heart, makes results more trustworthy and allows identifying scams of most kinds. Also, when a user's type changes, it allows recalculating the vote results.
  • All users have "author" and "staff" flags. If author flag is set - user's vote counts towards the "collegiate" result. Same for staff.

If someone registered and voted for some fics and then successfully claimed ownership of a fic (meaning proved to the staff's satisfaction that he is the author of a listed fic) and became known as an author, his votes will be counted for the collegiate score of the fics he'd previously voted for (and all his successive votes, up to the point when user's authorship claim is discovered as fraudulent and user is de-authored or even dismembered). If he then pays for my visit of a North American fandom event and becomes mod or other staff member, staff scores become affected and are recalculated to show the staff's bias towards H/G and R/H fics.

Technical note: If calculation is too intensive a task, it could be done nightly rather then immediately (means you'll only see your vote change the results overnight).

Note: I write in the male form because I'm male and because I think it's the customary generic form in the English language. The fandom's demographics being what they are, you can safely replace it with the female form, and be correct.

Note: “staff” does not imply “author”. For example: my votes would not affect collegiate scores.

As for the case where results differ too much: well, let's hope the more exclusive the voting public gets, the better their taste becomes, so no popular trash fics get high staff scores. That would mean being very thorough with recruiting, following the "A's hire A's, but B's hire C's" rule. In any case, all three scores would be displayed, color-coded I guess.

No fics shall be excluded. Even the really nasty and bad ones. Since they’re not hosted but rather only linked to, if enough clear warnings are provided – I don’t see why I should exclude them. Teri is correct in spotting the IMDB resemblance.

Every data page will have a “report abuse” link, and the TOS will be clear about my rights to edit and remove all content, ban users or contact the appropriate ISP/authorities.

All but the basic content will have a “reference/proof” comment, not usually displayed, but stored. It would detail where the data comes from (preferably in the form of a URL), so mistakes and con jobs can be traced and angry people seeing their online anonymity bubble burst calmed down.

Technical note: For items containing a list of known pre-determined values (like a list of characters or genres, not a list of authors of fics that grow), I’ll implement it with bitmaps. It can be fast and storage-friendly.

Please comment more. I’ll edit what I have and add details (or, more likely, specific questions about the details) when I have the time.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Trips - minisrael

We (my family) have been to minisrael and a couple of monasteries (on the way back). Since I don't know whether any photos will come out alright (don't have a digicam)I've looked for pics online (again). The official site for the park sucks hairy donkey balls (please excuse me my language, ladies, I've been raised in the Russian emigrants' quarter ;) ), I'm linking to some site I've found with decent pictures. What you see are miniatures of interesting (regular tourist attractions and architectural) sites in Israel, lego-sized and life-like. The similarity and attention to detail are uncanny. Hotels, churches, masques, historical sites and even a few military-related things (Officer training academy, armored coprs museum, general staff HQ best known building...). If I find any better pics I'll add links later. As for the monasteries - one was a Russian Orthodox women's monastery, and we visited the church in "working" hours. I have to notice Judaism not allowing women to sing was a very bad PR decision. Also, I've learned lots about St. George (patron saint of Britain, the city of Moscow and many other places).

Online - f***ing s***

Israel Defense Forces insignia, gear, surplus online store I can't judge its legitimacy or legality, but I know for a fact from serving in the equivalent of the Pentagon where almost everyone has high clearance and people are in general very relaxed about protocol and security/gossip, that some of the stuff they have published there like unit names, functions and insignia are supposed to be secret. I think I'll check through the proper channels about this site. Anyway, they don't have either my unit's or my profession's insignia, though they are both pretty, unique and hard to get the proper way. Though admittedly not as cool as killing people. *shrug*

Friday, March 26, 2004

HP fandom - Teh Pretties

link Not only she draws beautifully, she has her shipping preferences right (though that is not so surprising. As the series evolves, Jo's intentions become more apparent, and life in AU becomes harder). It's a shame she's not illustraiting for the official publisher.

FFDB - more on fics

I'm pretending I got lots of helpful comments on my last post in this category (let's pretend BlogSpot has categories). Fics should have:
  • time frame — one of: (too AU/irrelevant, Founders era, Older character's youth (say, young Albus or Tom), Grindelwalds war, MWPP/First Voldemort War, a few years before Book1, Book 1...7 (starting with the summer), immediately post-Hogwarts, a few years after VWII, distant future).
  • Belongs to fanon — other fic. This can be used to say some author wrote a fic that fits a certain universe, but is not necessarily a part of the series that built said universe. Authors often play in others' sandboxes, a kind of fan fiction on fan fiction.
  • crossover with — should probably have a list of popular cross-over targets such as: LoTR, BtVS, Bond, LMB's Vorkosigan saga, SW, Trek, teen flicks, manga, etc.
  • IC/OOC meter — numeric scale (?). Very difficult to implement well, as is subjective and decided by readership rather than author. Should probably be votable.
All data should be cast in one of these categories:
  • Objective:
    • Immediate — easy things to determine, given by author. e.g. author, title, rating (more problematic. Can be FFDB disagrees with author's definition of "PG-13")
    • Latent — Stuff that requires reading or at least seeing the fic. Level of English in such a thing. Word count can be, unless properly automated. This can be filled later, not required to enter fic in FFDB.
  • Subjective:
    • by Staff — voted by staff members/mods. Meaningful only if mods fairly represent entire fandom (like TLC editors).
    • by Collegiate — voted by users who claimed ownership of at least one fic i.e. known authors.
    • by Readership — general (registered?) public.
All of those can lead to bloody holy wars. The FFDB shall not be a scene for HP BNF Deathmatch.

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