On Helpfulness

This is somewhat old news now, but it appears I got elected the most helpful member of the TT-forums.

It also appears that I'm tied for third place in the "Least Helpful" category. Since I'm quite sure that there are more than four members on the TT-Forums, I suspect that something somewhere might be slightly broken.

On Laptops Again

In all fairness, I should admit that 1) I like the two-dimensional scrolling that is possible on a Apple lappy's touchpad, and 2) Macintosh interfaces are designed not to require right-clicking, but I still claim that PS/2 is an important port.
Or maybe I should say that:
My PS/2 KVM, my other PS/2 KVM[0], my PS/2 keyboard, my PS/2 mouse, my DOS install disks, my Win 3.11 install disks, and the friend across the hall a few years ago who had to borrow my PS/2 keyboard because Windows XP would freeze before it got into a state where it would recognize his USB keyboard,
all say that PS/2 is an important port.

I also insist that a proper num-pad is a must-have, and the only laptop I've ever seen with a proper num-pad is one with a seventeen-inch screen. (Yes, that's "seventeen". I spelled it out for a reason. It's a 16:9 widescreen.)

[0] One is a two-port KVM, the other is a four-port KVM, purchased not long after I acquired computer #3.

On Macintosh laptops

I officially hate them.

1) I hate laptops, due to the lack of a full-size, standard configuration 104-key keyboard, and due to the presence of an [Fn] key with no standard location or behaviour.
2) I hate laptops, due to these <sarcasm>wonderful inventions</sarcasm> known as touchpads. Especially when they're not configured for tap-clicking.
3) I hate laptops, due to the lack of PS/2 ports into which I can plug my perfectly good PS/2 mouse and keyboard. (Four USB ports, a firewire port, a modem port, an ethernet port, an S-video port, and a 15-pin SVGA port[0]? Sure. Why not? But even one PS/2 port? Horrors, no! Who could ever *possibly* want that!?)
4) I hate Macintoshes, due to the fact that [Ctrl] doesn't do what I expect it to do, and there is (AFAICT) no way to correct this.
5) I hate Macintoshes, due to the requirement that I use two hands to right-click. (Oh, sure. Let's connect my perfectly good wheel-mouse. Oops. Never mind. There's no way for me to connect this PS/2 plug. (See #3))

There I was, attempting to type a coherent blog post on a Powerbook. And I want to press <Shift-Home>. But no. There's no [Home] key. [Home] is <Cmd-LeftArrow>. So I type <Beanie-Shift-LeftArrow>, and all is fine and good. Until I want to press <Ctrl-Shift-LeftArrow>. Guess where the [Ctrl] key isn't. And guess what's there instead. If you guessed "the lower left corner of the keyboard" and "the much-loathed [Fn] key", you'd be correct. Now guess what <Fn-LeftArrow> does. This time, try "go to the beginning of the document". Note, that is not "the beginning of the text box". If I'd meant that, I would have said that. This is "the beginning of the document. Ignore the fact that I was typing in a text box that is now hiding off-screen."

OK, I think I'm done fuming, at least for a little while.

[0] I'm sure there are other ports there too; I think there's a parallel port, for example. (OK, so this isn't the Powerbook. But seriously. *FOUR* USB ports on a laptop?)

On "it"

A little over a month ago I blogged about being drafted into tech-support making "it" work.

"It" now has a name: "Scan The Van", and a website.

Several hours of today were spent working on turning said van into something more closely resembling a mobile scanning operation. Westfalias are excellent vehicles for this procedure, since they have *two* 12V batteries[0], a built-in fridge, and a camper mode that sleeps three to five, depending on how friendly you feel like being.

There are still some issues, though. Our record for today is:

Problem: The auxiliary battery is a crank battery.[1]
Resolution: Replaced old auxiliary battery with a 100 Ah deep-cycle battery.

Problem: There were no 120V outlets in the Westie.
Resolution: Installed two 120V outlets in the Westie, powered by a "700 watt" (560 watt continuous, 700 watt for five minutes, 1000 watt peak) inverter.[2][3]

Problem: The left-front turn signal is burnt out.
Resolution: Cannot reproduce problem in driveway.

Problem: The clamp for the positive terminal of the aux battery is broken (albeit functional).
Reason: Existing problem that we were not aware of until we replaced the battery.
Proposed resolution: Visit $LOCAL_CAR_STORE, purchase new battery clamps.

Problem: Dale's back does not like him.
Reason: 100 Ah car batteries weigh around 80 pounds (35 kg).
Proposed resolution: Do not carry 100 Ah car batteries up a flight of stairs unnecessarily.

Problem: It is no longer possible to power the fridge from the aux battery.
Reason: Fridge socket is no longer connected to aux battery.
Proposed resolution: Reconnect fridge socket to aux battery.

So I think that's three problems fixed and three new ones. Hmm... Maybe today wasn't as productive as I thought.

[0] One battery for starting the engine and running the essential electronics, and one for running the fridge and florescent lights. And a 120 amp alternator to recharge the batteries.
[1] Meaning we could use it run the computer equipment, but only for extremely short periods of time, unless we wanted to either run the engine or kill the battery.
[2] I think need to up the dosage on the cynicism supplements. I saw "700 Watt" and automatically assumed that meant 700 watt continuous, which should be more than enough. I'm not so sure about the 560 watt rating.
[3] No, I do not have the manual in front of me. No, I have not seen the manual since I first set the thing up about eight hours ago. Yes, I read the manual, but only once.

On Schuster's Conundrum

Someone (probably from ASR) mentioned Schuster's Conundrum in my presence. I scratched my head a bit, and then googled. And came up with this.

Stereoscopic images on a computer screen. I think "Ow" is the appropriate word of the day here. Especially since some of the images there require cross-eyed viewing. On the images where it is possible, I strongly recommend parallel-eye viewing, if you know how to do it.

On Spring

Spring has officially sprung; I was out playing Ultimate Frisbee last night. Two games, both three on three, which is about the smallest sane game. On a nice field of alternate wet grass and mud. I've blogged previously about what happens when you combine Dale, Ultimate, and a wet, muddy field, so I won't repeat too much of that.
I think only one person ended up on the ground yesterday, but he^H^HI definitely more than made up for everyone else's dislike of the ground. My most impressive fall was when I'm charging along after the Frisbee and my right foot decided it needed to come forward somewhere to the left of my left foot. Anyone who has tried this knows that this usually results in the right foot getting caught behind the left ankle, and this time was no different.
Now ask me what parts of me hurt.
Go ahead. Ask.
The tip of my left middle finger. From a lousy catch while we were tossing the Frisbee before the game. Tripping over my own two feet while charging along at full tilt? No injury except to my pride. An hour and a half of chasing a flying disk and the only injury I get is in the first fifteen minutes, when we aren't even playing. Please don't ask how I manage that.

On being tech-support

Somehow, ([de|il]lusions of competency, maybe) I often manage to get drafted into doing this whole tech-support thing. Usually, I know what I'm getting into before I agree to the job, but this time, I'm not so sure that's the case.

My job will be to make "it" work. "it" involves four computers, several scanners, several cell-phones, a power inverter (maybe two), and several pieces of hardware I have probably never seen before. "it" will be installed in a Volkswagen Westfalia (not that one, though), and will be used for digital conversion and/or archiving of just about any analog data: Home videos, photographs, negatives, slides, important documents, &c.

One of my cousins is heading up this project. If you (or any of your relatives) are interested, and live in North America, it would be appreciated if you/they would fill out this survey, so she (and I) have some idea what exactly we are going to be doing. There will be another survey coming soon, and I'll post it as soon as I hear about it. If you do not live in .us, feel free to contact me by any reliable method, and I'll forward your location on to my cousin, but don't get your hopes up too high. Hawaii is also rather unlikely.

(Disclaimer: that survey should not be considered an order form, but more of a "What services would you use if we came to your area?")

On Mississippi

As some of you are aware, I was in Southern Mississippi for my spring break, hanging drywall. I went down with nine other people, and met up with about ninety more when we got to the church where we were staying.

As I said, there were ten of us: the director of Wesley Foundation and his wife, three students, the mother of one of the students, three random men who attached to our group because "The Indiana group" (more on that later) was full, and myself. We met at Wesley about 6:00 (GMT -5) Saturday morning, ate breakfast, packed, and hit the road.

We arrived at our destination at about 22:15 (GMT -6), and discovered that we were not the only group from Indiana. We were not even the only group from West Lafayette. There were four groups that stayed basically the whole week: One group from Virginia, one from Indianapolis (in .in.us) and two from West Lafayette (also .in.us). These were, respectively: "the Virginia group", "the Indiana group", "the West Lafayette group" and "the other West Lafayette group". Which WL group was "other" depended on which group was yours.
There were also several groups that came and/or went partway though the week.

In total, there were around a hundred people showering, eating, and sleeping in this not-particularly-large church each night.

The majority of the men, including me, slept in the sanctuary. One of the other men said that it was "like sleeping in the middle of a frog pond with all the snoring". I wouldn't say it was that bad, but woe betide you if you need either pitch black or dead silence to fall asleep. Neither happened, ever. I sleep in a room with four computers, (They're not all mine, honestly! Only three of them are.) so this did not present a particular problem for me; in fact, I nearly require white noise in order to fall asleep.

Food was provided by a few members of the Indiana group, who basically spent the whole day, every day, cooking, cleaning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Sunday, we went out driving along Highway 90. You should see route 15 there; we started there and went west. If you go far enough west, along 90, you'll find a bridge. The satellite images report that the bridge is intact; it is not. Seven months after Katrina, and there have been no visible efforts to repair or replace the bridge. We didn't actually get to the bridge; but we did see plenty while we were out there.
- Buildings that looked fine. As long as you didn't look below 30-40 feet (9-12 m) above sea-level. below about 20 feet above, there was nothing but steel structural members. Everything else had been washed away by the storm surge.
- Buildings that looked fine. As long as you only looked at the foundation, and not the building, which didn't exist any more.
- Sign posts that were twisted, bent, or otherwise not straight, as they should be.
- Spray-painted "You loot, we shoot" signs, and similar messages.

I spent most of that drive shell-shocked; looking, but not actually seeing.

Monday and Tuesday, the ten of use were hanging drywall at a house that had been flooded up to the ceiling. For those of who haven't done this, it's not particularly easy or fun, and definitely not for those with weak backs. Take rather fragile 4'x8' (1.2m x 2.4m) 60 lb (27 kg) sheet, and hold it on the ceiling. Go get another sheet, and repeat, except this time, make sure it lines up with the previous one. Repeat, until the whole ceiling in covered. Now, do the same procedure in a house where the concepts of right angle and straight line do not exist.
Once the ceiling is done, you can continue with the walls; these are easier, except that now you have to cut relatively accurate holes for switches, outlets, water supply pipes, drain pipes, gas pipes, ...
Wednesday, the St. Andrews group (aka "the [other] West Lafayette group") and two of our students went to the beach. The rest of us stayed at the house, and finished the drywalling around 15:00.
Thursday was spent cleaning yards. We cleaned three yards. The first yard was by far the most interesting (FCVOI). The house was completely gone, and the foundation, although safe, was going to have to be bulldozed. But amidst this destruction, we found a collection of rare coins, a glass tea-cup in apparently perfect condition, and a ceramic plate sitting on the slab, also in perfect condition.
Friday we left at "5:30" (again with the "Ain't democracy great" thing, both on the leaving a day early, and on the leaving that absurdly early in the morning) to go back to WL. I put it in quotes, because we didn't actually leave until 6:00 (GMT -6). The trip was uneventful, and we arrived in WL at ~21:00 (GMT -5).

Here on this college campus, we live in this nice little bubble wherein a "poor student" is one who can't afford to put gas in their car. The concept of "poor" as in "I don't have a place to live" or as in "I own nothing but the clothes on my back" simply doesn't exist, and every now and again we need a reminder of how blessed we truly are. Here I am with three computers, at least two weeks worth of clothes, at least three pairs of shoes (possibly more, depending on how you count) a roof over my head, a warm bed, .... There are many who would count themselves lucky to have even one of those.

On spending a whole day running around doing nothing.

I had a very full day tod^H^H^Hyesterday, but I feel like I did basically nothing.

The telephone woke me up about five minutes before my alarm clock was to go off; a friend of mine (I'll call him Ed, because that is his name) needed to go to the emergency room[0]. My usual form of transportation (a bicycle), however, is not suited to taking people to the hospital. I got dressed, got on my bike, went to borrow my grandmother's car[1], and went to pick up Ed. He also needed to go to the police station to get the accident report, so I took him there, and then to the hospital. I returned the car so my grandmother could run the errand she was planning to run, but instead discovered that she wouldn't be running the errand at all because there was a furnace guy at her house.

I got back home and spent a little time fighting with my new Ubuntu Linux install[3], and got basically nothing done.

Ed then called me again and told me that he was free to go home; the swelling he was worried about was normal. So I go get the car again, pick up Ed, bring him home, return the car (At this point, the furnace guy was gone, and the furnace was working again), and come back here.

By this time, it's almost 13:00. I have four other errands to run. Aldersgate's monthly deposit needed to happen rather NOW-ish, so it did, and I had a check to deposit too, but to a different bank. I did both of those, came back here, and commenced beating myself up for forgetting to buy shift cables for my bike, as I had just broken one on Wednesday. (I keep spares so I can fix my bike and then bike down to the shop to buy replacement cables.) However, I thought I'd try to figure out why on earth I had SEVEN brake cables. Determining that turned out to be rather difficult, since I had only five brake cables. The other two were shifter cables, so I decided that it was not necessary to purchase more. (I still don't know why I have five brake cables, though.)

That leaves one more errand; dealing with a credit-card transaction that failed for reasons of "The merchant (In this case, Amtrak[4]) wrote down the wrong credit-card number." There are three steps to this procedure: Fill out a form, stick it in an envelope, and address, stamp, and send said envelope. To fill out the form, a invoice number is required, and I saw no invoice number, so I had to call Amtrak to clear that up." That finished, I discovered that (1) sticking a letter in an envelope you do not have is rather difficult, and (2) attaching a 39 cent stamp you do not have to the envelope you do not have is also rather difficult. Off to the post office to fix both of those problems, and to mail the letter.

Then back (now, ~16:30) for more futzing with Ubuntu. This time, I was successful. Successful in destroying my ability to sudo, that is. Since root has no password by default (not "a blank password"; "no password". As in "There is no password that permits you to log in as root.") and I had not changed that, this presents a problem. It took me a while to convince myself that this was indeed an immovable object, but once I did, I pulled out my irresistible force (the install CD), and tried again. Of course, an install takes somewhat over an hour, and I'm leaving for an overnight retreat in less than an hour. But I figure I'll hopefully get the interactive part done, and then let it finish overnight.

We were scheduled to meet for the Mardi Gras retreat at Wesley at 18:00, and then head to Romney UMC. This we did as planned, but only six of us showed up. We decided to continue as planned, but cut it short. (Hence the reason I'm here now, and not there.) I had a good time, though. Besides me, there were five lovely ladies, and we spent about half an hour cooking: salad, pizza, brownies, "Monkey Bread" (another desert), then two to three hours eating. (well, eating and talking. Though I mostly listened.) What's not to like? After this, we cleaned up, and did a guided meditation. At this point, it's nearly 23:00, and the majority wanted to visit one the house of the ladies, to see her wedding and bridesmaids dresses[5]. We stuck around there until 24:00, the agreed upon time to return, and well, that's my day in a nutshell. We did spend some time exploring the church; it's a nice little old church, with all sorts of nooks and crannies.

I got in a little time on NFORenum, but not much. Today (Saturday) should be much simpler, and with luck, will involve a release.

[0] He was the bicyclist half of of a bike/car accident on Thursday. Looks horrible, and is moving like someone in pain and/or on massive painkillers, but no major injuries. The driver stuck around for the accident report, which is a very good thing.
[1] Sure, it's pink. So? It's got four doors, five^Wsix wheels[2], and all I have to pay for is gas.
[2] But only five tires. Think about it; you should figure it out eventually.
[3] I requested that it install the "server". I would have guessed that that would involve such serverish things as ftpd and sshd, and basic Linuxy things like ... Oh, maybe gcc? No. On all three counts. Or, if they're installed, I couldn't find them, and they have neither man nor info pages. I'm rather unimpressed.
[4] I do basically all my long-distance traveling on Amtrak; it's cheaper and more comfortable than flying, albeit slower.
[5] Ain't democracy great? Though actually I didn't mind; we also watched some of the Olympics (ice skating), and they have a quite friendly dog of the type that Dale is not allergic too.

On "That can't be done because ..."

"... because it can be done."

At least that's what seems to be happening lately when I try to explain why I can't implement something in NFORenum. I tried to explain why a pretty-printer was impossible, and ended up writing one.
I tried to explain why a variational-accessibility check couldn't be done. And ended up writing one.
I should either quit trying to explain why I can't do something, or try to explain more often; depending on whether it's a feature I want to implement or one I'd prefer not to implement.

I guess this is a good thing, and it even makes sense when I think about it, but it's just strange to answer "Why can't you do $FOO?" with "I can."

So, should I explain why I can't do class DC00 TextID checks and random 2 bit-usage checks next?