… brains …

Archive for December, 2004

Bummer for B5 fans

Monday, December 27th, 2004

Bit of a downer, followed by the slightly strange.

The B5 cast lost two actors late this year without much fanfare.

Richard Biggs (Dr. Franklin) and Tim Choate (Zathrus) are no longer here.

While learning about this, I ran across a site that is, um, different:

Be sure to browse by both year and last name…

You can never run out of time…

‘Tis the Season

Monday, December 27th, 2004

The badgers say “Merry Christmas.”

Bethlehem in the Andes?

Friday, December 24th, 2004

I came across an article that discusses the interesting experiences one has hosting a live nativity scene. There a a few endearing bit in there about things like sheep eating the manger and donkeys running amok, but this passage really stuck out:

One of this year’s performers found it a little more difficult to stand so still, however, when she found herself face–to–face with a curious llama who was becoming a little too friendly.

“(It) reached out and sniffed the angel,” McHugh recalled. “And the angel was trying to be still while the llama was sniffing her face.”

A llama? In Bethlehem? 2,000 years ago? I mean, I know there was a lot going on at the time, what with new stars appearing in the sky and angels bringing messages to shepherds and whatnot, but you’d think that the appearance of heretofore unseen animals from continents not yet discovered would at least get a passing mention in one of the gospels…

“Sir, a group of well-dressed men on camels have arrived, and they… what the hell is that?!?

Get out!

Thursday, December 23rd, 2004

This is a darn clever puzzle… get out of the dark room if you can :-)

Friendly Martians

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2004

It looks like the Martians are working hard to show how friendly they really are. Perhaps they have gotten wind of the upcoming remake of War of the Worlds.

Maybe we should tip them for their efforts, though.

Good Ideas Done Wrong

Tuesday, December 21st, 2004

I’ve often thought that having a database of prior art in a particular area would be a good idea — for example, the SIP community could benefit from a searchable database of documents, articles, and e-mail posts that provides proof of prior art for various related technologies.

Someone has taken the broad step of trying to compile a prior art database for arbitrary technologies. This should be good news. I should be applauding the effort. The problem is: they got the business model wrong. They charge for advanced searches, which makes sense. However, they also charge for the ability to add documents to the database. That’s right: they offer everyone in the world an economic incentive to keep the prior art database as small as possible. Exactly why they choose to hobble the only tangible good they have to offer in this endeavor is beyond me, but it virtually guarantees failure in what would have otherwise been a merely ambitious effort.

Wookie Porn and Other Holiday Fun

Monday, December 20th, 2004

For those of you that missed it the first time around (in 1978), I wanted to bring your attention to a synopsis of The Star Wars Holiday Special, which re-united Mark Hammil, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford for an hour of Wookie-filled fun — with special guest appearances by Art Carney and Bea Arthur.

If anyone knows of a living copy of this gem, I must get my hands on one. I’ve never seen something with such promising camp value.

Do Your Friends have Macs? Now They’ll Talk To You!

Monday, December 20th, 2004

It appears that Trillian has added support for Apple’s Rendezvous protocol, which allows Mac users to find and chat with other Mac users on the same LAN. As much as I’ve thought that Trillian is a somewhat shoddy hunk of software (I run GAIM, and it’s plenty buggy — but better than Trillian was when I last tried it), this might be the protocol that makes me at least download and install Trillian again. I’ve always been fascinated by the Rendezvous functionality of the Mac clients — especially when you get critical masses of users on the same LAN, like at IETF meetings.

Edit: It appears that this feature is available only in the paid version of Trillian.


Monday, December 20th, 2004

Action: Wanadoo France offers buggy VoIP service and then charges customers a premium to call their support line.

Reaction: Citing a lack of training in the new VoIP service and a critical shortage of triple-cream brie, Wanadoo’s customer support reps walk off the job in protest.

Glad we are not a democracy

Saturday, December 18th, 2004

An AP article posted by Yahoo News describes a poll in which 44% of American respondants favored restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans.

I am deeply ashamed. Both that so many can be so wrong headed, and that so many have apparently never read the Constitution of the United States of America. Fortunately, we are a constitutional republic, rather than a direct democracy. So even if this crowd reaches 51%, they still cannot legally do this short of a constitutional amendment. Not that that has stopped us before.

Can the so called terrorists hope for anything greater victory than to cause an open society to select to close itself?

Grammar Watch: Ambiguous Exclusion

Friday, December 17th, 2004

Target has a strict “No Humans” policy

The Llama/Deer Double Standard

Friday, December 17th, 2004

It’s never funny when a llama gets killed by accident, but this story points out an interesting discrepancy in how we feel about livestock versus wild animals.

Deer hunting is legal, and even encouraged in most states. It’s seen as a necessary population control technique. However, apparently, if you perform the exact same act on a llama — even using the same equipment — it suddenly becomes a misdemeanor charge of “mistreatment of animals,” with penalties ranging up to a fine of $10,000 and a nine-month jail term (at least, in Madison, Wisconson).

How on earth can it be mistreatment to shoot a llama, when it’s not mistreatment to shoot a deer? Does the technique lead to significantly more pain for the llama? The trespassing charge, I understand. There is certainly some economic damage here, and that’s worth reimbursement (using the civil court system if necessary). Pain and suffering on the part of the owners? Probably not so much. Once you get up to 150 llamas, you’ve moved beyond the “pet” category. You might be able to make a case for poaching, since the accused almost certainly didn’t have a llama hunters license. But mistreatment of animals? That makes no sense unless you’re going to level the same charges against anyone who shoots deer, ducks, or geese.

Warning: Your Family May Be Bad For Your Health

Friday, December 17th, 2004

According to a study performed at Duke University, you have a 12.4% higher chance or dying during the two weeks surrounding Christmas. This pattern is pretty consistent across the past 26 years, except for two identified periods during which economic factors severely limited holiday travel.

What does this mean? Well, your guess is as good as mine, but it sounds to me like overexposure to certain family members (e.g. in-laws) causes potentially lethal levels of stress in most Americans. Regardless, it sounds like your best bet for surviving the holidays is to stay home this year…

Whoa. Cheap DirecTV Tivos.

Wednesday, December 15th, 2004

Here’s a nifty Christmas present for current DirecTV subscribers… if you call customer service, they’ll let you buy a 70-hour DirecTV Tivo for $65. (They call it $50, but add on $15 in miscelaneous charges), even if you already have one. (In fact, it’s an even better deal if you already have once, since the $5 extra that you pay for Tivo service apparently covers all the units in your house). The $65 price includes installation. As far as I can tell, they’re not advertising this anywhere; you need to specifically mention it to customer service.

Fedora Core 3: The Odyessy Begins

Tuesday, December 14th, 2004

I’ve decided that it’s about time to carve my laptop drive in half and put Fedora Core 3 on there. There are just some things you can’t do with cygwin.

So, I go to the Red Hat site, locate a mirror, and start my download.

36 hours later, I have this 2.5 GB DVD ISO image that I’m all ready to burn. But, being a semi-paranoid security type, I have to first verify the MD5 hash. I jump through all the hoops (get the Fedora release key, verify the fingerprint with mulitple sources, validate the MD5SUMS file)… and then:

$ md5sum FC3-i386-DVD.iso
c9620407bbfb0cc2d1844be427da1a29 *FC3-i386-DVD.iso

What? That’s not right. The published MD5 sum for this file is:

ca49964739f84848ca78fc03662272fb FC3-i386-DVD.iso

Okay, so I got a corrupted copy. Maybe it has to do with wget in some way. I’ll try a different approach: bittorrent.

38 hours later:

$ md5sum FC3-i386-DVD.iso
d76a770423958932da8929174a9891c8 *FC3-i386-DVD.iso


So, now I have two different 2.5 GB files, both of which fail the MD5 test. (As an aside, I have to point out that I’m highly disturbed that I got different results from these two different methods of acquiring the image).

They have to both be mostly right, right? So, all I should have to do is figure out what’s different between the two, get ahold of the correct values for those bytes that differ, and patch one of them to be correct.

So, I hack diff to point out exactly what differs between two binary files. It turns out that there are only four bytes different between the files. At offset 634999400, the one that I downloaded from a mirror (Georgia Tech, to be specific) looks like:

9e f7 87 23 3b 90 c0 a8 00 6c 7e 0e 63 62 1c a6

Meanwile, the bittorrent version looks like:

9e f7 87 23 3b 90 d1 1e 21 0d 7e 0e 63 62 1c a6

Alright, there’s our difference. Let’s hack wget to retreive user-specified byte ranges, and re-fetch those bytes from Georgia Tech.

9e f7 87 23 3b 90 c0 a8 00 6c 7e 0e 63 62 1c a6

Okay, that’s what it said the first time. So, to the best of my ability to tell, I have an accurate copy of what’s on Georgia Tech’s website.

Let’s try another mirror. This time, Duke University.

9e f7 87 23 3b 90 c0 a8 00 6c 7e 0e 63 62 1c a6

Yep, the official mirrors sure seem to think that’s the right set of bytes for positions 634999400 through 634999416 of the Fedora Core 3 DVD ISO image.

But it still fails the MD5 check. How can that be the case? What are the chances that, aside from the 4 bytes we’ve already identified, the torrent feed gave me exactly the same corruptions as the Georgia Tech HTTP server?

Could there be something wrong with my md5sum program?

I download a non-cygwin build of md5sum.

$ ./md5sum FC3-i386-DVD.iso
c9620407bbfb0cc2d1844be427da1a29 *FC3-i386-DVD.iso

Okay, so let’s try a completely different codebase. I grab digestIT, which provides a braindead Windows interface to generate MD5 hashes.

This is getting old quickly. WinMD5 gives the same result.

Meanwhile, for the past 9 hours, I’ve had my cygwin home directory mounted over on my (old, slow) Linux box, which has been diligently computing the md5sum for me. It’s been between 30 and 70% CPU load the whole time. I don’t know what it’s doing over there, but I really want a second opinion from an independant source. My laptop may actually hate me; I can’t tell.

Is there something obvious I’m overlooking here? Something additional I should poke at? I instrumented a copy of the textutils md5sum program to validate that it was reading all the bytes of the file. I did a walkthrough of the code, side-by-side with RFC1321, and it all looks correct to me. (I’ve written an MD5 implementation before, so I’m rather familiar with where the gotchas might lie).

What are the chances that Red Hat flubbed the MD5 sums for their images, and I’m one of the first people to notice and care? That seems slim. What are the chances that I got a corrupted version of the ISO from Georgia Tech that just happens — with one small exception — to have the same defects as the image I got from bittorrent? That’s also nearly impossible to beleive. What are the chances that three independant implemenations of an MD5 digest verification program are not just wrong, but wrong in precisely the same way? Well, somewhat greater, but still hard to beleive — especially considering that the textutils version of md5sum is almost certainly the same tool that was used to generate the hashes in the same place.

Every theory I can come up with about what might be causing the MD5 check to fail is so outlandish as to be beyond belief. What on earth is going on here?

Google Suggests …

Friday, December 10th, 2004

Beta feature where Google offers suggestions as you type.

Similar to Google’s “Did you mean?” feature that offers alternative spellings for your query after you search, except that it works in real time.

SIP and Proprietary Extensions

Wednesday, December 8th, 2004

Over at ITBusiness, Vawn Himmelsbach scratches the surface of how proprietary extensions are damaging SIP. It’s very fluffy, but I think it’s good that this is finally getting some press. Awareness might actually breed changes in behavior, so that people try to do things in a more standard fashion.

Supporting Bush’s Values

Tuesday, December 7th, 2004

Over at Eschaton, Atrios points out an unfortunate pair of articles involving a pastor in Demoines.

The lesson? Perhaps it’s better to stick to generalities when promoting your plans than it is to pick example instances of people who might benefit.

Home Burial Do:s and Don’t:s

Monday, December 6th, 2004

Cecil Adams always does a good job of answering bizarre questions and occasionally debunking urban legends; This week’s column, which discusses body disposal regulations, finds him in particularly rare form:

California prohibits disposal of human remains (except cremated ashes) anywhere other than in a cemetery…. In California law one definition of a cemetery is “a place where six or more human bodies are buried,” full stop. A construction like that invites enterprise. I suggest nothing; I merely point out that the state is going to be looking for six bodies. How they get there is up to you.

A Character Study

Monday, December 6th, 2004

Michael Paulus: “I decided to take a select few of these popular characters and render their skeletal systems as I imagine they might resemble if one truly had eye sockets half the size of its head, or fingerless-hands, or feet comprising 60% of its body mass. ”

Skeletal Systems of Cartoon Characters

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