The All-Thing

All stick and no carrot, since ought-three.

`Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ``I am not too sure''.' -- H. L. Mencken.


鹿柴 (王維)


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Fri, 30 Jan 2004

All the wrong places

The Orkut Ruby community doesn't have any chicks! What a gyp.

Posted at 16:22 | /mortal | (leave a comment) | permalink

Gateway 200X/XL on Linux

I've created a wiki page for configuring Linux on the Gateway 200X and XL laptops.

Many thanks to Greg, who is putting a ton of work into this.

Posted at 12:03 | /computing | (leave a comment) | permalink


vodka + smoked salmon: good combination. very tasty!

angel: what is it about this show that makes it so good?

directfb: frickin' pain in the ass to get working with mplayer. i absolutely would love to get ruby-sdl working over this though. ruby seems like the coolest thing ever.

it does seem silly that getting all the framebuffer stuff to work with hardware so ancient you can't even buy it new any more (matrox g400) is so difficult.

Posted at 00:44 | /misc | (leave a comment) | permalink

Mon, 26 Jan 2004

The Boston Syndrome

And while I'm busy making unsupported generalizations, I've been developing a theory about living in Boston. It goes like this: the longer you live here, the more you treat conversation as "an opportunity for a loud rambling monologues that bear no interruption on the part of my victim".

I'll talk to someone who just moved here, and I'll be like, "Hey, that was a nice conversation I just had." Then I'll talk to someone who's been living here for years and they will just go on and on at maximum volume, ignoring my desperate interruptions and completely overriding anything I try to say until, n minutes later, they finally pause for breath. Then I'll try to say something and before the third word is out of my mouth, they're off again about some other tangentially related topic, leaving me to struggle like a fly transfixed on the needle of their cold steel wit.

I know this isn't a strictly Boston-area thing, but I've definitely noticed a correlation between the length of time you've lived here and your tendency to treat people as empty buckets that need filling.

Posted at 11:50 | /society | 2 comments | permalink


Is it just me, or is every PHP program written by people who are just learning how to program? It's like the VB of the web... once you learn how to actually program, you quickly move on to something else.

Just another uninformed opinion.

Posted at 11:35 | /computing | (leave a comment) | permalink

Fri, 23 Jan 2004

Scream Remixes


Posted at 14:13 | /internet/links | (leave a comment) | permalink

Conference Paper Deadlines

… that are on Mondays are just plain evil. You guys are killing everyone's weekend!

Posted at 10:21 | /misc | (leave a comment) | permalink

African American

Being half-(South) African myself, I can't say I haven't thought of the same thing, especially since college scholarships and the like are so lucrative:

'Officials disciplined students who papered their nearly all-white high school with posters advocating a white student from South Africa for the school's "Distinguished African American Student Award."'

Jeez, I guess making decisions and classifications based on these completely ill-defined race groups is a bad idea? Why don't you just come out and say that it's all about skin pigment? Or is that just another thing you can't say?

(from mf)

Posted at 10:19 | /news | (leave a comment) | permalink

Tennessee Waltz

This is a great old country song. There was a state waltz craze for a while, but as far as I know, only Tennessee and Kentucky produced anything memorable. But the Tennessee Waltz is slightly cooler because it's self-referential:

I was dancin' with my darlin to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see...

Way cool. Chords and lyrics here, though the versions I know don't use all those lyrics and don't do all the 2-5 stuff either... damn fancy pants.

Posted at 09:14 | /media/music | 1 comment | permalink

Thu, 22 Jan 2004

Hackers and Painters Explained

I suppose I need to explain my previous post, which has generated some amount of misunderstanding as to the exact nature of my enthusiasm.

For the past eight or nine years I have been focused on being a researcher and a scientist. That's what I figured I wanted to do. And for the past two, I've been basically idling on that front, waiting for some kind of grad-school-inspiring idea to force me to take the next big drop down the dank dark hole known as academia. And I'm waiting and waiting, wondering why there's no one idea or field of research that seems to really speak to me.

Then one day not too long ago, thinking about my job, I realized that the times when I was happiest, most excited, and most eager at work were not the research itself. They were when I had a fun perl script or something to write. Yes, Argentina, it's the coding I enjoy. Not the actual pushing of the buttons itself, obviously, which main just hurts my hands, but the act of creating useful and well-composed bits of software. I.e., regardless of their ultimate purpose. In fact, the research aspects of it were, while not entirely tedious, often simply a convenient pretext for justifying the code, if not an outright obstacle.

And as the years passed by I have had a constant nagging doubt at the back of my mind that I'm not a particularly good scientist, anyways. I'm not especially curious. I'm not driven to explore things or to push the boundaries. I don't get an endorphin rush from understanding something new. I suppose I like learning stuff, but mainly, I like building. I like creating programs that people will use. I even like writing papers, because it's a creative act. I like generating cool graphs that pack a lot of information in a small space.

I guess I realized that the research aspect of it is ultimately just a means to an end, for me, no matter how many years I've spent trying to convince myself that I should be a scientist. Which is a funny thing to find myself saying, because historically I have espoused the typical "Dammit Jim, I'm a scientist, not an engineer" doctrine and kind of looked down upon those who were but common artisans to my honorable scholarliness.

But I don't really identify myself as an engineer, either. My limited software engineering experiences have been sufficient to convince me that software engineering is a fast trip down a short road to some kind of horrific Phantom Tollboth-style Doldrums of Computer Science Land. The mind-shattering ideas that this essay instilled to me, whether by accident or by design, were that:

  1. I am not alone. There are many poor misguided fools like me in academia who spend their time doing research, and feel like they should be doing research, and are forced to satisfy their creative urges with the occasional guilty self-indulgence of writing a bit beautiful code amongst the usual research prototype drudgery. Every once in a while they hang their head and say to themselves, I'm really a terrible scientist and then resume hacking their 4000-line TCL monstrosity, wondering where that vague feeling of self-loathing is coming from.
  2. Software engineering, that tedious and life-sucking monster, is not the only option in the world besides research coding. If I am not a scientist, I am not automatically a software engineer.

There's no immediate plan of action suggested by these ideas. They are merely food for thought at the moment—albeit food for a starving man. Bills have to be paid, and I'm probably in one of the better positions for being able to write fun code and get paid for it. I just understand myself a little bit better now, and am fooling myself a little bit less.

And no, I'm not somehow suddenly entranced by a bizarre cultish romantic hacker ideal after reading that essay. I am extremely familiar with the complete lack of social life and graces that so naturally springs from being a computer geek. I know there's nothing romantic about it, so fuck you and your flashbulbs. If I could get excited about something that would get me chicks, or that more than .001% of the population could even fucking understand or appreciate, or that wasn't going to leave me blind and with crippling arthritis in my fucking hands at age 40, you can bet the fucking farm I would fucking be doing that instead.

Posted at 00:16 | /misc | (leave a comment) | permalink

Sat, 17 Jan 2004

Hackers and Painters

Holy shit. I have just seen the dilemma that has occupied my mind for the past two years—which started as a nagging doubt once I left college, only to grow like a fast-spreading fungus to become my daily angst—what I thought was my own personal, bizarre hell—described on paper, in lucid and exacting detail.

Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham.

Every single sentence in this essay is like the tolling of some great Bell of Truth in my head.

Identity crisis: resolving, slowly.

Posted at 18:42 | /internet/links | (leave a comment) | permalink

What You Can't Say

Paul Graham has written a fantastic essay called What You Can't Say about taboo topics within society. He pulls together, in a elegant and cohesive manner, several ideas that I (and, I'm sure, many others) have had about at one point or another about taboo topics: the historical constancy of their existence within society, the fact that every generation invariably considers itself right, looking back and laughing at the cognitive blind spots of their predecessors, and the fact that each generation in turn is always encumbered by its own set of blind spots and incorrect beliefs.

"It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

Is our time any different? To anyone who has read any amount of history, the answer is almost certainly no. It would be a remarkable coincidence if ours were the first era to get everything just right.

He discusses how one might discover the taboo topics of one's own generation, and how, more often than not, these topics are the ones that that society has mistaken beliefs about.

I think one of the things that really reverberated in me about this article is the fact that I know I'm more aware of these things than most people, and Paul Graham is too, and for the same reasons. We are both nerds:

Nerds are always getting in trouble. They say improper things for the same reason they dress unfashionably and have good ideas: convention has less hold over them.

And we are both (god help me) scientists:

"In the sciences, especially, it's a great advantage to be able to question assumptions. The m.o. of scientists, or at least of the good ones, is precisely that: look for places where conventional wisdom is broken, and then try to pry apart the cracks and see what's underneath. That's where new theories come from.

A good scientist, in other words, does not merely ignore conventional wisdom, but makes a special effort to break it. Scientists go looking for trouble. This should be the m.o. of any scholar, but scientists seem much more willing to look under rocks."

See, I can tell he's a scientist from this note:

"I don't mean to suggest that scientists' opinions are inevitably right, just that their willingness to consider unconventional ideas gives them a head start. In other respects they are sometimes at a disadvantage. Like other scholars, many scientists have never directly earned a living– never, that is, been paid in return for services rendered. Most scholars live in an anomalous microworld in which money is something doled out by committees instead of a representation for work, and it seems natural to them that national economies should be run along the same lines. As a result, many otherwise intelligent people were socialists in the middle of the twentieth century."

Anyways, it's definitely worth a read.

Posted at 18:00 | /internet/links | (leave a comment) | permalink

Schneier on Fingerprinting

Bruce Schneier, once again, comes through with insightful and clear-thinking commentary on the allegedly anti-terrorist security measures. This time it's the mandatory fingerprinting and photographing of foreign visitors.

The whole essay is worth a read. He concludes:

"America's security comes from our freedoms and our liberty. For over two centuries we have maintained a delicate balance between freedom and the opportunity for crime. We deliberately put laws in place that hamper police investigations, because we know we are a more secure because of them. We know that laws regulating wiretapping, search and seizure, and interrogation make us all safer, even if they make it harder to convict criminals.

The U.S. system of government has a basic unwritten rule: the government should be granted only limited power, and for limited purposes, because of the certainty that government power will be abused. We've already seen the US-PATRIOT Act powers granted to the government to combat terrorism directed against common crimes. Allowing the government to create the infrastructure to collect biometric information on everyone it can is not a power we should grant the government lightly. It's something we would have expected in former East Germany, Iraq, or the Soviet Union. In all of these countries greater government control meant less security for citizens, and the results in the U.S. will be no different. It's bad civic hygiene to build an infrastructure that can be used to facilitate a police state."

Posted at 16:50 | /politics | (leave a comment) | permalink

Cantab Round Two

Looks like we'll be back at the ol 'tab this Tuesday warming up the main band. Starting at 8:30 or 9 and going until they kick us off around 10. Come see us!

Posted at 15:08 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink

Wed, 14 Jan 2004


A day in the life of a People's Daily web editor. It seems that China's 15-year news blackout on the Tiananmen square massacre was let up briefly yesterday, albeit apparently inadvertently. Very amusing.

(from A Better Tomorrow, who happily happens to be a tea enthusiast like xiao de zhe.)

Posted at 10:49 | /news | (leave a comment) | permalink

Tue, 13 Jan 2004

Linux Media Jukebox/PVR

Now that I am regularly seeing hard drives at 50 cents/gig, I have finally been spurred to taking on a project I've been devoting some thought to recently: building a Linux-based digital media jukebox/PVR.

People have been building homebrew TiVO-style devices using Linux for a while now, using software like Freevo. The idea here is basically the same, except that I want to have a LOT of storage space and I will probably use it for playing music more than they do, and recording TV less.

Now TiVO sells for $350 for the box plus $300 for a lifetime subscription. I'm willing to bet that, even using off-the-shelf components, I can build something way better than TiVO for that price.

I want to be able to:

  • Control the thing via TV and remote control.
  • Record TV like TiVO. (At the very least, be able to set up scheduled recording of shows.)
  • Play DVDs and CDs, obviously, but also be able to dump their contents to disk and play back at any time.
  • Burn DVDs or CDs of any hard drive contents.
  • Have a continuous stream of music playing all the time.
  • Connect the thing to a LAN and have it serve files.
  • Never worry about disk space. (That means 400 GB at the least.)
  • Place the thing next to my stereo components without wincing at its appearance.

And I want to spend at most $650. I think I can do this, though it's going to require a lot of Freevo hax0ring.

(The other inspiration for this is a recent offer, from a friend, of a 120GB music collection that he and six musician friends created by pooling their collective collections. Sweet.)

Here we go.

Posted at 19:22 | /computing | 2 comments | permalink

Sat, 10 Jan 2004

Time is Ticking Away

As jwz points out, the high bit in time_t flipped at 8:37:04 this morning. When that thing rolls over one more time, I will be 60 years old, aka dead.

Watch the precious grains of William's life drop away, one by one, in the hourglass of his impending mortality by typing this:

watch –n 1 perl –e 'printf \"%b\\n\, time'"

See that bit on the far left? That's me.

Posted at 11:26 | /mortal | (leave a comment) | permalink


You know how people are like, Christ, it's cold out there? Well, fuck those people. Cause it's fucking COLD out there. Cold!!! I am drunk on so much whisky that I want to spell words like the British (normally I hate the British) and even I know it's cold. Fuck it's cold.

If it were just regular freezing cold, I would be wandering around in a t-shirt and boxer shorts, screaming obscenities at passers-by like a typical Friday night. But no. After approximately 20 seconds of me wearing every single possible layer of my warmest clothing, I was crying icecubes like a frozen baby. If there had been another living organism around, like a cat or something, I would gladly have killed it for the warmth of its carcass. But no.


Posted at 02:57 | /misc | 1 comment | permalink

Fri, 09 Jan 2004

Comcast blues

Comcast, which provides the All-Thing with cable modem access, called me a few days ago, out of the blue, to say that, in some kind of bizarre airline-style price-fixing scheme, if I add basic cable, then my total bill would go down by $5 a month. Which is completely nonsensical, but in this day and age of foiling terrorists via nail-file-breaking and duct-tape-buying, I have long since abandoned my foolish attempts to believe that the world conforms to the antiquated notions of being logical or "making any fucking sense", so I said: yes, please charge me $5 less per month, regardless of what mystical rites you have belive you have to perform on your end.

Of course, they fuck up the installation, and internet access is suddenly gone. I have to call to request someone else to re-fix it. I was half expecting them to tell me it would take two weeks, which I would have answered with the sound my seppuku dais being dragged into place, but they had someone here within 24 hours, and, to Comcast's credit, he was completely professional and knowledgeable and fixed things within 15 minutes.

Apparently the change that the first guy was supposed to make he did at the house box, rather than at the pole box where it should have been, presumably because it was too cold out, and didn't bother to check that it worked...

(I should have just said to them in the first place: how about you just charge me $5 less and not install the tv stuff and we'll call it even.)

Posted at 12:40 | /internet | 2 comments | permalink

Wed, 07 Jan 2004


My kind of humor.

FLEM sample

The entire strip is worth checking out.

Posted at 11:07 | /internet/links | (leave a comment) | permalink

Big Rat Patch

Found a bug with BigRat. Reported it, submitted a patch, and within an hour there was a new version on CPAN ready to go.

Now that's fucking open source software for you.

Posted at 11:05 | /computing | (leave a comment) | permalink

Sat, 03 Jan 2004



"Listen to hundreds of MP3'd albums from our artists. Or try our genre-based radio stations.

If you like what you hear, buy our music online for as little as $5 an album or license our music for commercial use.

Artists get a full 50% of the purchase price. And unlike most record labels, our artists keep the rights to their music.

Founded by musicians, for musicians.

No major label connections.

We are not evil."

(from dph)

Posted at 16:21 | /internet/links | (leave a comment) | permalink

My 1369 Experience

  1. I don't know what that crap is they put forth as oolong tea there, but it is just (as we say in France) not good. I know I'm an insane tea snob but even when I put myself in the mental shoes of the (as we say in Chinese) hoi polloi, it just wasn't tasty. I will stick to coffee from now on.
  1. The guy in front of me had his laptop faced away from the rest of the place and was organizing his insanely extensive pr0n collection. I almost feel like he was in da bidness, from the sheer quantity and organizational sophistication, and I was tempted to ask for a hookup.

That is all.

Posted at 15:51 | /mortal | (leave a comment) | permalink


Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good. -- Samuel Johnson