a weblog by Schuyler D. Erle

Fri, 28 Feb 2003

[13:20] Like Sand through an Hourglass

Courtesy of #perl, I offer you the Deathclock, a delightfully morbid Internet meditation of the brevity and preciousness of life. On the up side, odds are I'll get to see the year 2050 -- Saturday, September 23, 2051, to be exact; on the down, I've got barely a billion and a half seconds left. Statistically speaking, that is. (Thanks, Casey!)

Fri, 21 Feb 2003

[20:46] Millions of People Can't Be Wrong

So Dubya says that he'll conveniently ignore the millions of people who protested against war last weekend (including yours truly, who got misquoted as usual by the local press), saying that he doesn't leave foreign policy up to mere "focus groups", even though -- apparently -- focus groups are good enough for Cheney's energy policy and good enough for Ridge's "Ready Campaign" against so-called terror threats. Suddenly, every word that comes out of Washington is hollow and devoid of meaning. Suddenly? I mean, for months now. Think I'm kidding? Read this scary secret journalist's report on the World Economic Forum meeting in Switzerland last month.

Meanwhile, this Ceglowski character pops up again with a neato article on our perl.com site about vector-space search engines and elsewhere (thanks, Walt!) with a hilarious parody of Tom Ridge's aforementioned bullshit Ready Campaign website. Who is this guy and where did he come from?

Finally, in completely irrelevant so-called "news", the Onion, a bastion of sanity in an insane world, has the "scoop" (as it were) on David Foster Wallace's recent breakup. A must read.

I will be spending this weekend at CodeCon, and at the concurrently-scheduled FreeNetworks.org summit in San Francisco. Doubtless I will have something interesting to say about both later on.

Wed, 19 Feb 2003

[20:14] "Infinite Bandwidth Everywhere For Free"

Aaron Swartz has his finger on the pulse of the Free Networks dream, by which we mean "free as in freedom, not as in beer". We mean a network that is ubiquitous and unconstrainble. Something that lives up to the original promise of the Internet. Or, in the unofficial (Rich reminds me that it's on the website) motto of the NoCat Network, we mean "Infinite Bandwidth Everywhere For Free".

Fri, 14 Feb 2003

[18:35] Some Recent Hacks

Richard Soderberg came looking for my Parse::BNF module yesterday, which is really just a wrapper around a Parse::RecDescent grammar that translates a BNF grammar into a P::RD grammar suitable for further hacking. I really should post the bloody thing on the CPAN, but I mention it here only because that way I can search Google for it the next time I go looking for it.

(Parenthetically, I accidentally wiped out the layout template for this site last week in a fit of chemically-induced pique, and, of course, I had no backups. Google cache to the rescue! In the words of the irascible Gnat Torkington, "Between Google and archive.org, who needs RAID?")

So, in a similar vein, I thought I'd mention Vingt, my 20 questions bot, concieved in response to MJD's evil Perl quiz of the week (and its 'expert' companion). Vingt is an IRC bot that plays 20 questions to try to guess an animal you're thinking of. It will learn about animals it doesn't already know about, and it will ask for clarification of inconsistent responses. Vingt requires perl 5.8.0 or better, plus Net::IRC and YAML.pm, all of which can be had from the CPAN. Finally, you can get a sample database to peruse and/or try out.

Then there's a whole series of HP printer hacks. Find all the Hewlett-Packard printers on your network by running this perl script on your Linux box. Set the "READY" message on any HP printer to the 16 characters of your choice with the hphack script, or, if 16 characters aren't enough for your brand of scintillating wit, try a scrolling marquee that updates every 300 milliseconds. Finally, if you're fresh out of clever aphorisms for your nearby printer, here's a script that pastes a random fortune to one randomly selected printer on your network, in scrolling marquee, three times through, once every half hour or so.

During a very, very boring meeting yesterday, I ended up implementing the Sieve of Eratosthenes, an ancient and quite efficient method for calculating prime numbers, to avoid gnawing my own leg off out of ennui. I started with a Perl implementation, then wrote a C version, demonstrated that the C version was over 30 times faster than the Perl, and then proceeded to calculate all of the prime numbers below 20 million in about 70 seconds on my Pentium 3 laptop. During a somewhat less boring meeting this morning, I came up with an improved C version that's another 15% faster, and uses 8 times less RAM.

Of course, let's not forget the potentially useful software that's taken up the remainder of my spare time: NoCatSplash, the C port of NoCatAuth, targeted at wireless gateways running on embedded-style systems. Supposedly these guys have already ported it to their platform. I'm hoping to get actual authentication using GPG working in time for CodeCon.

Somewhat more exciting is the Open Source mapping software that Rich Gibson and I have been working on, which plots street addresses to lat/long (a.k.a., geocoding), plots line-of-sight profiles between would-be wireless peers, and recommends possible wireless connections, complete with figures on clearance, distance, and true bearing. Our immediate plans involve building a web service to facilitate other people's use of the package. We will be presenting our work at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference.

[02:22] Open Letter to Europe

Next, go let the fine people of Europe know that not all Americans are imperialist cowboys:


We are already grateful for your principled opposition to our government's misguided and dangerous policy toward Iraq. Despite the deceptive claims of the Bush Administration and the poor coverage of the crisis by our media, huge numbers of Americans have evaluated the facts for themselves and join with you to oppose our government's drive toward war.

Like many of you, we believe that war will not lead to future peace in the Middle East but to more violence and death -- not just in Iraq but eventually throughout the region, as well as in the United States and across the globe. With you, we believe that war will not bring about the liberation of the Iraqi people but visit upon them even greater catastrophe than in the past.


[02:11] Save a Manatee for a Loved One Today

According to #perl, the best way to say "I love you" this St. Valentine's Day is with the gift of a manatee.

Thu, 13 Feb 2003

[12:27] Iraq to Chair UN Conference on Disarmament

Truth really is stranger than fiction: Next month, Iraq is scheduled to take over the rotating presidency of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament. The great Goddess Herself is indeed a connaisseuse of fine irony.

Wed, 12 Feb 2003

[19:05] Renedezvous? iCommune? How very 2001!

Gosh dang it, Rob Flickenger and I came up with the idea of sharing MP3s from your car while in traffic (and, by corollary, the notion of a Wi-Fi fileserver) almost two years ago. Oh, and just now everyone's excited about it.

Parenthetically, the guy to watch in this corner of the noosphere is Robert Kaye, whose recently relaunched MusicBrainz metadata service will do for your MP3 collection what the CDDB tried to do for your CD shelf, prior to the whole GraceNote fiasco. Kaye's got some interesting speculations about file-sharing across community networks that might or might not be more than mere speculation...

Mon, 10 Feb 2003

[20:21] US Navy Seeking A Few Good Morticians

I heard on KPFA this morning that the US Navy is posting hiring ads online for professional morticians. It's not really clear what the Navy will need them for, if this photojournal (warning: not for the faint of heart!) by Peter Turnley from the last war on Iraq is any indication. (Note that said photojournal depicts Iraqi troops slaughtered in the midst of a retreat -- isn't that a war crime??) But, apparently, the Navy will be needing these morticians sooner than later, since the US has severed its last diplomatic ties with Iraq. Don't be fooled by the spectacle, though -- it looks like Ashcroft has further plans for us right here at home, in a turn of horrifying legislation best described as the "Patriot Act II". As usual, the mainstream media ignored the leak almost completely, even though Reuters actually reported it with a straight face.

Fri, 07 Feb 2003

[15:15] US Threatening War to Prevent Oil Sales in Euros?

First this passed through my inbox this morning, and then it popped up separately on #perl. The real but unspoken reason for this upcoming war is "this administration's goal of preventing further OPEC momentum towards the euro as an oil transaction currency standard. However, in order to pre-empt OPEC, they need to gain geo-strategic control of Iraq along with its 2nd largest proven oil reserves." Matt Mower provides a more succinct summary of a different article, detailing how the United States' economy is artificially buoyed against an untenable trade deficit by the global use of the dollar as the world reserve currency; how Europe wants a piece of the action; how the sale of crude oil in dollars is the one thing holding a global move from dollars to euros in check. And if you don't think OPEC isn't considering this move, you should take a look at their recent press releases. Definitely a scary prospect, but it's hard to say the US didn't have it coming. I just don't think that killing innocent people in the name of economic benefit, as must ultimately happen, is in any way justifiable.

Thu, 06 Feb 2003

[15:20] Linux Server Hacks

Lest I forget, my good friend Rob Flickenger just published an amazing book of Linux Server Hacks, detailing 100 of the most useful tips and tricks every Linux admin (or user) should know, written in Rob's now classic style. I freely admit a strong bias in the matter, though -- I was a contributor and a tech reviewer for this particular literary gem. Even so, if you use Linux, I recommend giving Linux Server Hacks a look-see.

[15:13] Better Living Through Bayesian Statistics

On a similar note, there's an article on O'Reilly Net about using ESR's bogofilter package to filter spam using Bayesian conditional probabilities. Doubtless I should implement something like this for all the folks who get email via tridity.org.

[05:36] I'm Sorry, Dave, I Can't Allow That

On Friday, Simon Cozens was discussing some work using his Mail::Miner package on #perl. I asked him about the sorts of document categorization techniques he was planning to use, since I'd been exploring new ways of viewing and presenting the over 2,000 articles and nearly 3,000 weblog entries housed on O'Reilly Net at work. Among other things, he mentioned Latent Semantic Indexing, which uses mathematical techniques from quantum physics to reduce noise in a body of information, and Bow, a C toolkit for document categorization implementing Bayesian statistics, like Ken Williams's AI::Categorizer.

I spent the weekend in San Diego doing registration tech support for O'Reilly's Bioinformatics Conference during the day and doing things like "Sweet Child O' Mine" at karaoke in the Gaslamp by night. No doubt you may imagine, then, the thrill of discovering that Ken was scheduled to give a tutorial on Machine Learning on Monday. Ken is a longtime Perl Monger and a welcome re-addition to his nation of origin, having recently gotten back from doing graduate work in the subject at the University of Sydney.

I also discovered, while at the conference, that the same Maciej Ceglowski of aforementioned LSI fame, was also presenting a talk, only after I was scheduled to leave for Sebastopol. For some reason, I didn't think to actually seek him out while I was there, and now I'm kicking myself for it: Today I got the brilliant idea to tackle the categorization of RSS feeds by the same means, by generating dynamically personalized "views" of Meerkat using the same methods. Wouldn't you know it but that the same Ceglowski already beat me to the good idea. So I emailed him about his source code, which I think may also interest Simon, and we'll see what he has to say. And I agree with Maciej on at least one other thing - those signs were awful strange. Speaking as a proud resident, I too blame our People's Democratic Republic of California.

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