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 clich├ęs (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!

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