Archive for 2005

Federal Nondenominational Gift Giving Day (Observered)

December 19th, 2005

Continuing the War on Christmas, my friends and I gathered for good fun and holiday cheer in our annual gift exchange. These continue to get more and more extravagant as our earning potential increases… which is great. I get as good of stuff from my friends as I do from my family. It’s like two Christmas mornings!

This year we incorporated Tom into the festivities, bringing the total participants to four. Which means each is responsible for purchasing a gift for three people. But, and this is the clever part, we mostly go in on the same gift for one person. Thus the gift is usually on the larger scale of gifts one might hope for during the holidays.

This year I received the gift of a life time. A laser level! Not only does it mount vertically by inserting big metal pokers into my nice white walls, it can project its death beam around corners. I love it. The level comes as part of a whole slew of good Craftsman tools and a handy toolbox. I recently learned that I enjoy handyman stuff, so this is a great start on equipment necessary to persue my life long dream of becoming an apartment building superintendent.

A geek can dream…

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What Is This Supposed to Mean?

December 18th, 2005

Having seen several of my friends post their Hit Song of 2005, I decided to take the test and see where I fall in the scope of things. The test is surprisingly hard to complete. Several questions lacked the appropriate answers, and others presented close calls. Who knows how things may have turned out had I chosen to describe 2005 as “heartbreaking” (re: Danielle) instead of “scandalous” (re: GPSS and SAF)?

Anyway, here are the results…

Your 2005 Song Is

Don’t Cha by the Pussycat Dolls

“Dont cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me
Dont cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me”

What happens in 2005, stays in 2005!

Can someone please explain what I’m supposed to glean from this? I don’t think I’ve even heard the song before?!

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Thoughts on Complexity

December 18th, 2005

I recently watched March of the Penguins a fantastic documentary about the life and times of Emperor Penguins. Turns out to be an amazingly complicated process involving tremendously long marches to and from the ocean. They always gather in the same place year after year. Males and females take turns on the march bringing food to keep the chicks alive. The penguins also make use of some clever physical attributes, like a flap of skin near their feet that allows them to hold the egg on top of their feet and cover it with the flap.

The whole process is amazingly complex. It’s no wonder that the Intelligent Design community latched onto the Emperor Penguin as Exhibit A of the necessity for a grand designer. The thought is surprisingly tempting… an easy way out of a complicated problem. Watching the film I couldn’t help but think it made the question so much easier. I mean, how else could all this interconnectedness come to be?

But that got me thinking about something else: the economy and computers. The global economy is an amazingly complicated beast. The economy we know today is nothing like the economy we knew 20 years ago. That economy was nothing like the economy of the 19th century. That economy unlike that of the 15th century… and so on, and so forth. From the first economic transaction (agricultural division of labor?) we eventually arrived to where we are today (internet stock trading). The complexity of today’s market is mind boggling. Thousands of people in today’s market exist for the sole purpose of speculating on the availability of goods, purchase and sell short, which in turn prevents oversupply and shortages keeping prices relatively consistent. The job can only be done with an amazingly amount of information and sophisticated understanding of other actors.

This complexity is entirely of our own design. We built every piece, wrote every rule, explored every niche of our economy on our own. There was no intelligent designer beyond those in the system.

The same is true for computers. Not a single person exists on the face of the planet who could take the raw materials and build a modern day computer complete with operating system. The complexity inherent in a computer’s construction is simply too much for one person to understand. Electronics, circuitry fabrication, compilers, operating system design, memory management, CRT displays, networking, security, mice, printers… every piece is necessary to create a modern computer. 10 years ago we didn’t know about any of the technology we take for granted today. But that didn’t matter… no intelligent designer was required to take small, tiny steps forward, evaluate that step, and then decide to follow that path or retreat and try again. The process is so successful that it took us to the moon.

So, intelligent designer boosters of the world, I think you’re wrong. There is amazing complexity all around us, and much of it is our doing. If the flawed human race can create something as complex as the global economy, I’m happy to believe that life as a whole can accomplish things even more complex.

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My Congressperson is Cooler Than Your Congressperson

December 16th, 2005

In a Christmas seasons inspired fit of religious sentiment, the House has just passed H.Res 579. To give you a sense of this legislation, let me read the title into the record

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected.

Now, it may be that I just finished the Establishment Clause part of my First Amendment final, but I find this resolution more than just a little offense.

Who, exactly is the House condemning when they “strongly disapprove[] of attempts to ban references to Christmas”? This sounds like the whole “War on Christmas” stuff that the Daily Show has been reporting on. Makes me glad I don’t have time to watch cable news, I think I would end up throwing things at the screen.

Anyway, this doesn’t explain the title of this post… but this does. See the 22 Nays there at the bottom? Is your Congressman among them? If you live in Seattle then he sure is. God bless Jim McDermott.

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Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia

December 15th, 2005

The growing popularity of Wikipedia has lead to a proportional growth in stories about Wikipedia, so I figure I’ll contribute to the proportional growth to blog posts about news stories about Wikipedia.

A lot of people equate Wikipedia with the free/open source software movement. FOSS is close to my heart, but I’m also a sharing sort of person, so I’m happy to let anyone share in the glory that is peer collaboration and review. However, Wikipedia is different from FOSS in one critical regard. When I release code, submit a patch, or give user feedback I care about the authenticity and reliability of what I’m submitting to the community for reasons other than altruism. I do it because it impacts me. I give faulty feedback on a bug in an application I use, then that feedback is only going to slow the fixing of the bug… a bug I want eliminated. My interests align to ensure good behavior.

Such is not always the case with Wikipedia. See, I’m not required to cite my own article… especially when I know I’ve filled it with politically biased or just plain inaccurate statements. As such, my interests are not necessarily aligned. I may take great delight in detailing how Seattle is home to the world’s largest skate park, but it won’t be true… and the falseness does not impact me.

So, why is this interesting… Because Nature, a legitimate publication, setout to look at the level of inaccuracies found in 50 select science articles found in Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britanica. Turns out that Britanica is only slightly better. This is interesting, because with the traditional encyclopedias the incentive for authors is supposed to be financial remuneration. And yet, without any remuneration on the part of Wikipedia authors they are achieving practically the same result.

So it’s time to go back to the drawing board as to why this is the case. The past 400 years of intellectual property law says this isn’t supposed to be happening. This question needs to be answered.

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A Hero is Leaving the Game

December 14th, 2005

I like Jim Compton. Of all the Seattle City Council members he is easily my favorite. Smart, witty, and forward thinking… I appreciate his presence on the council and proudly voted for his second term in 2003 (I may have voted for him in his first bid, but it was so long ago there is a good chance I was still registered in Woodinville). Well, the Seattle Times reports today that he is bowing out of the game.

Compton says he has a unique opportunity to return to Romania and Egypt for studies and teaching. The Times suggests that Compton’s recent ethical violations (a flight on Paul Allen’s private jet and failing to disclose a meeting with strip clubs) has stained Compton’s career and diluted his political abilities. I suppose it’s possible, but he wouldn’t stand for reelection until 2007, so I don’t see how those indiscretions would really impact anything.

Perhaps most sad is that it leaves the city’s broadband initiatives without a champion. Compton single-handidly brought together a taskforce last year that proposed wide scale revisionsing of the city’s broadband future. I’ve written about this before, having been to almost all of the taskforce meetings, and suggest that the recommendations not exactly a good idea. But they were ideas all the same. Now I wonder who will pickup the torch and carry on the fight… absent a new champion, I fear we may fall behind as other cities embrace the future.

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You Heard it Here First

December 14th, 2005

Unless, of course, you read Penny Arcade and did so before you read this blog. Or read any number of more popular blogs. Or know others who read other popular blogs. Actually, chances are you heard it here last.

So, what is it that is already old news? Well, tonight Eric and I attended the annual Child’s Play Charity auction. The event was markable different from auctions like the Washington NARAL auction Danielle (I’ve decided to start using Lindsay’s middle name to refer to here in the blog… this is your only warning) used to take me to, the HRC Dinner, or even the Public Interest Law Association. All political/social cause events design to squeeze the turnip of ever last drop of blood.

Child’s Play, while certainly a social cause event, is unlike the others because of the audience. It’s not about getting the big donors to open their wallets. Instead, the fine folks at PA use it as an opportunity to revel at the fact they are even putting on a charity event and that every single person in attendance is a gamer. As it would turn out, this is a great way to make money. In total tonight’s giving broke $82,000… taking the total giving for the year to more than $350,000. All of it goes to hospitals serving children who are either terminally ill or spend a whole ton of time in their facilities.

Here’s the kicker though… one guy bid $20,000 (yes, FOUR zeros) to have his likeness appear in one of the 156 annual PA comics strips. Absolutely amazing!

Eric rented a $1600 lens for his amazing digital cameras and took a ton of pictures. You can see his pictures on Flickr.

Here’s a great picture of Brendan and I all dressed up

View Bigger

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All that Ever Was and Ever Will Be

December 12th, 2005

My laptop arrived on Friday. I say arrived in the literal sense, for in the figurative sense my laptop has always been with me. With less than 72 hours of exposure I feel like I’ve always had it, and wouldn’t know how to go on without it. But the process of getting here was nothing short of heroic.

Warning: If you do not consider yourself a geek, you may want to skip the rest of this post.

When I get a computer the first I do is boot into Windows (which always comes pre-installed) to confirm two items. First, yes the world is still controlled by Microsoft. Second, yes the hardware functions. Immediately following those critical confirmations I turn to the task of installing Debian GNU/Linux.

The Toshiba Protege R200 has neither optical or floppy drive. The same goes for my old, inferior laptop. Thankfully I have a PCMCIA CD drive, I should just be able to toss in the Debian Net Install CD, boot of the drive and go through the process. No (get use to seeing that word). Turns out you cannot boot of the PCMCIA drive. So, I whip up some boot diskettes and boot of my USB floppy drive. Perfect, now when I get to the Debian Net install I’ll just connect to my wireless and get the software. No. Turns out the wireless is not supported by the stock kernel. No problem, it’s got a built in GIGABIT ethernet. No. The device is so new that the opensource driver won’t work, you need a patch from the vendor.

No problem, I’ve got the entire Debian Sarge distribution burned to DVD. I can install from that! No. For reasons passing understanding the CD drive only works intermittently. Really no solution other than to try again and again until it works. Which I did. So now it was just a matter of using the provided tools to shrink the windows partition to make space for Debian. No. Stupid NTFS, I had to use the Toshiba recovery partition to format the entire computer and put Windows in a tiny 10 gig partition. And then we were ready, finally getting through the install process. Yay!!! Now all I needed was to get online, it would be cakewalk once I had an IP address.

Two routes then, wireless or ethernet. First the wireless, which could be compiled as a separate module. Only trouble is that I had to use the latest Debian kernel (which I burned to CD from another computer) which had been compiled with GCC 4.0. Debian Sarge comes with GCC 3.3. If you’re thinking it should be easy to just copy over the appropriate debian packages to install GCC 4.0 you clearly don’t understand the scope of the problem. So when I tried to compile the module I had binary incompatibility issues. Fine, I’ll just recompile the whole kernel from source. Except all the kernels I created were causing kernel panics at boot (turns out this was my fault, as I later learned from Eric). Okay, what about the ethernet device. Well, the internet wasn’t a whole lot of help… bunch of people saying different things about how to get it to work. Eventually I figured out I needed to patch the kernel and compile a new… but wait, I couldn’t get that to work with a stock kernel, why would this be any different.

Then I had a brilliant idea. Compile the wireless driver on a different computer, copy it over and install it. Now it was just a simple matter of booting into windows, copying over the appropriate modules, tools related to the module (madwifi is really strange) and associated libraries, booting back into Linux, mount the Windows partition, hand place each file into the appropriate directory and load the module. Except that all of my other computers are AMD and the laptop is i686. Another incompatible binary! After learning how to cross compile I eventually went through the whole process again and finally… FINALLY had a working internet connection.

The rest was pretty painless. Thanks to the amazing opensource community I was able to stand on the shoulders of giants and get everything else working in a matter of hours.

End of Geek Alert

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Feeling a bit Sick

December 12th, 2005

It’s 23 minutes until my one and only sitdown exam for this quarter. It’s evidence, widely considered to be the hardest exam offered at the UW. Instead of the usual essay based exam format, where you can talk your way through the problem, evidence uses a multiple choice approach. Three hours, thirty questions, ten possible answers per question. That’s six minutes per question, and 36 seconds per answer!

To make matters worse, I am totally unprepared. I just haven’t studied nearly enough (if one can describe what I’ve done so far as studying). But in 180 minutes it will all be over and I can go back to my precious, precious take home finals.


I survived. But just barely. Because folks can reschedule finals and thus may not have taken the final yet, I won’t say anything about the test except it was phenomenally hard. Multiple choice has a way of making you doubt your own sanity. Sure, I know A and C are right, but there is no “A and C” choice, only an “A, C, and D” choice… and I sure know that D is false.

I’m not sure if there was anything I could have done to resolve the situation. It was a hard test that required lots of intricate knowledge of the rules that I simply wasn’t going to glean in a weekend worth of cramming. But I think I made a pretty good showing.

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I Actually Won

December 8th, 2005

I play poker with friends from the law school. I’m not particularly good. Counting all games I’m at least $300 in the hole. I’ve left games with money on occasion… cash games where I leave with $10 extra or tournaments where there is an payout for third place.

Today I did better than that… I came in second. For all intents and purposes I should have been first. I had a dominating chip lead going into heads-up (I’ve never been in heads-up before, so being in a chip lead was even more shocking) and made the absolute correct call against my opponents all-in. With the game on the line I had Ace/King he had King/Jack… the River gave him a pair of jacks. Devistating. I still left the table with $20 more than I came with, so it was a good night and a great end to a very cool day.

I’ll post about it tomorrow.

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