Global Reset

Engineer, Objectivist, and Father

Upgraded to Typo 4.0.3

Posted by shughes Sat, 09 Sep 2006 23:56:00 GMT

Finally got around to upgrading this blog to the 4.0 series of Typo. I did have a couple of problems with it, but nothing major. I started by trying to use the new Typo gem, doing a local install into my own gem folder. This failed because one of the dependencies for Typo requires Ruby 1.8.4, but I only have 1.8.2 available to me on Dreamhost. I almost went down the path of building my own ruby binary (I’d done this before when Dreamhost was slow to catch up) but decided I’d try installing Typo the old fashioned way:

svn co typo

I copied my old database.yml file into the config folder. Then I edited config/environment.rb to force rails into production mode. When I ran ‘rake migrate’ I got an error:

== FixCanonicalServerUrl: migrating ==============
rake aborted!
You have a nil object when you didn't expect it!
The error occured while evaluating nil.gsub

A quick google search showed other people with the same problem, but no solution. I made a quick patch to db/migrate/051_fix_canonical_server_url.rb that let me get past the problem. After the variable ‘b’ is initialized, I added:

b.settings['canonical_server_url'] ||= ''

I really like the changes they made to the admin interface. It’s much easier to handle deleting spam comments now. I have yet to see how the Akismet interaction works though. I did have a problem with comment deletion that I haven’t solved. If I create a new comment which is unclassified (neither ‘ham’ nor ‘spam’, whatever that means), I can’t delete it. I see an error in the production log that you can’t delete a ‘frozen hash’. I also had to modify the way my theme invokes the sidebar. They simplified it down to just ‘render_sidebars’ instead of the complicated invocation of a particular action on the sidebar controller. I’d expect fancier themes than mine to have a few more problems. But, I think the management interface upgrades are enough reason to go through the effort.

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Scuba Trip to Key Largo

Posted by shughes Sat, 09 Sep 2006 23:55:00 GMT

<typo:lightbox img=”238087694” thumbsize=”thumbnail” displaysize=”original”/>

<typo:flickr img=”238087694” style=”border: 1px solid #8ab3d1;padding: 5px;margin: 5px;float: right;” alt=”I am so crazy!” caption=”” size=”small” />

For my labor day holiday this year I went on my first ocean scuba trip. Up until this point, Erik and I have only been diving at the local lakes. Not that I’m a stranger to the ocean… I spent a lot of my childhood snorkeling around in Key Largo. This is the first time I was able to visit the stuff that lives >30ft down though. Just like my last two ski trips, I have written (or am working on) a more detailed log of the whole adventure. You can catch all the gory details on my Scuba Log - Key Largo 2006 page.

If you just want to skip to the pictures, I put plenty of them up in my Key Largo 2006 photoset on Flickr. Also, Dirk got some great video footage of us exploring the USS Spiegel Grove that I posted on YouTube.

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Cutting out the middle man

Posted by shughes Thu, 22 Jun 2006 22:31:00 GMT

Nicole and I have successfully switched from renting an apartment from a landlord to renting a house directly from a bank. In some circles, this is referred to as home ownership. I hear that when you rent directly from the bank, you have to pay your own maintenance costs but there might be some ‘equity’ left over at the end. We are looking forward to this ‘equity’, if it every shows it head.

Now comes the job of transplanting everything we own…

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Fountainhead Cameo

Posted by shughes Wed, 07 Jun 2006 19:35:00 GMT

I watched the trailer for the upcoming film A Scanner Darkly and a brief cameo of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead caught my eye. It looks like an interesting movie. I kind of like the art style, where real actors are colored over. I’m not sure if it’ll get old after a few minutes, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

<typo:flickr img=”162539227” caption=”” size=”small”/>

The character shown holding the book is not the best advocate for Ayn Rand’s novels. The scene leading up to this one showed him screaming about something in his hair (the government?), then he’s staring down the barrel of a weapon held by a guy in a suit who has a head with a hundred eyes. There are obvious dystopian overtones here, which makes me wonder why he wasn’t reading Atlas Shrugged.

Update: Figured out why he’s holding a copy of The Fountainhead… From the pages of A Scanner Darkly:

He spent several days deciding on the artifacts. Much longer than he had spent deciding to kill himself, and approximately the same time required to get that many reds. He would be found lying on his back, on his bed, with a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (which would prove he had been a misunderstood superman rejected by the masses and so, in a sense, murdered by their scorn) and an unfinished letter to Exxon protesting the cancellation of his gas credit card. That way he would indict the system and achieve something by his death, over and above what the death itself achieved.

Ugh… What an awful interpretation of the book. Roark rejected the “masses” (or rather the idea that society was more important than the individual); he didn’t give a damn if society at large did likewise to him.

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The Proper Response

Posted by shughes Wed, 17 May 2006 22:01:00 GMT

When someone tells you that they are buying a house (shopping around, under contract, closing, whatever)… The proper response is not “Congratulations!” Instead, one should hang his head low and with a concerned face ask, “Sorry buddy, is there anything I can do to help?”

Home inspectors, mortgages, appraisals, surveys, closing costs, origination fees, APR, points, homeowner’s insurance, hazard insurance, 15 yr vs 30 yr, 10% down vs 20% down, HOA vs HOB, and actually worrying about what the Fed is going to do next…

This is no small undertaking. So, next time a friend of yours says he’s buying a house, don’t patronize him with that smile. Try to empathize.

Update 6/7/06:
I noticed a lot of hits for people looking for information on HOA vs HOB. I was surprised to see that I was at the top of the google search results for the query “HOA vs HOB”, so I thought I’d enlighten any searchers on what I learned about it. There wasn’t a lot of info that I could find on it as I searched and I eventually discovered it’s because it’s kind of a meaningless distinction. In general, HOB is supposed to mean more coverage than HOA. However, in practice it isn’t always true. By more coverage, I mean that an HOB would typically cover mold damage, while an HOA would not. In the state of Texas, we are recovering from a mold damage bonanza where a lot of people were making claims a few years ago after some babies got sick (at least one died) from inhaling mold spores. So, HOB policies here will now exclude mold damage by default with an option to buy it back at an increased price. The HOB is typically recommended as the best deal for your money (and the HOC is just way overboard), but for my money I decided to go with an HOA-Amended. It’s ‘amended’ basically with all the extras that make it an HOB. The basic lesson that I wanted to get across here is that the difference between an HOA and an HOB doesn’t matter at all. Instead of worrying about this label, ask the insurance company who is sending you the quote to give you a detailed list of all the coverages included. Compare the specific coverages between the insurers and make sure you’re not saving money at the cost of a necessary coverage item (like accidental water damage). You should try to get as many quotes as you can… If you only got one quote, I can practically guarantee that you are overpaying.

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Object-Oriented Programming Requires Good Epistemology

Posted by shughes Wed, 19 Apr 2006 02:29:00 GMT

When I first started reading about the Objectivist theory of concept-formation, I got really interested in the possible crossover between people who actively practice good mental integration and the folks who enjoy designing a polished object-oriented (OO) API. Building a new concept by finding the commonalities between a couple of referrents and omitting the specific measurements is exactly the kind of exercise an object-oriented programmer is very familiar with. The measurement-omission step of concept-formation is identical to the process used by an OO programmer to identify the necessary “instance variables” of a given class. A good OO programmer is going to practice the same principles of unit-economy that makes real-world concepts useful, so that we can integrate an unlimited amount of data using a finite amount of symbols.

Any actual OO compiler is going to limit your expressiveness to only very simple forms of composition and inheritance, which is unfortunate in that you’ll hit roadblocks often when trying to model real-world relationships… But also very fortunate in that it saves me a lot of typing. So I wouldn’t say that an OO programmer could breeze through an epistemology book, though he would have a good head start.

It does seem to me that it would be easy to get an Objectivist doing OO design. If they were missing a background in math and algorithms, it might be tough to get them writing real code but they could still likely handle a high-level OO Architect position. This idea has held up pretty well given the high number of computer scientists you meet at Objectivist gatherings. Most of my close friends who are Objectivists (including my wife) are also programmers. I suppose that ratio is weighted since I will tend toward making friends who are smart and work in a similar field.

As a corollary, I found out (thanks to Harry Binswanger’s wonderful mailing list) that Grady Booch, chief scientist at Rational Software and co-creator of the Unified Modeling Language (UML), actually cites Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology in his book Object-Oriented Analysis and Design. I don’t know to what extent Rand was an influence (I’d assume it’s possible that both Rand and Booch were equally influenced by Aristotle, et al, on the theories of categories/classification), but it’s interesting to see another computer scientist (a well-known one even) credit the Objectivist theory of epistemology.

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Chaiyya Chaiyya

Posted by shughes Fri, 14 Apr 2006 16:56:00 GMT

A few weeks ago, I made a post to my delicious page referring to the Chaiyya Chaiyya song and dance routine from the Bollywood film Dil Se. Since then, I see at least 20 hits a day from google looking for information on Chaiyya Chaiyya. Since the post to delicious quickly scrolled off my sidebar (which only shows the most recent items), I’d thought I’d post it here for all to see.

I discovered the song (like many recent fans) through the recent film The Inside Man. It was the opening song, with a closing version that included some rap from Panjabi MC (whom I also enjoy). The song is immediately infectious. I was searching for more information about it and I discovered the full video on Google Video. It’s an amazing routine performed completely on top of a moving train. I’m not sure what safety measures they had in place, but those dancers sure look brave to me.

According to my friend Chowdary, Chaiyya means shadow. The fella in the red jacket is living in the shadow of love, as he’s obsessed with a beautiful woman. I got some of the song translated, but it kind of takes away from the magic without the lyrical poetry. He assures me that the lyrics are consistent with the video: a very uplifting example of romantic art.

Spoiler alert: Apparently, the girl the guy is in love with is a terrorist bomber. What a bummer…

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Posted by shughes Thu, 13 Apr 2006 04:16:00 GMT

Since I was away on vacation, I missed some of the details about these local protests (rallies?) against this latest immigration bill. I suppose the big issue is the provision to make it a felony act to be in the country without the proper paperwork. And I have to agree with the protesters: It is ridiculous to consider hard-working “Americans-in-spirit” as felons… And I’m more scared than anybody else when it comes to the idea of putting up a Berlin Wall between the US and Mexico. I’ve always been a supporter of open immigration, but thanks to Harry Binswanger, there’s now a good paper in defense of open immigration covering all of the important points. For example, on the claim that open immigration would cause overcrowding:

Take an extreme example. Suppose a tidal wave of immigrants came here. Suppose that half of the people on the planet moved here. That would mean an unthinkable eleven-fold increase in our population–from 300 million to 3.3 billion people. That would make America almost as “densely” populated as today’s England (360 people/sq. km. vs. 384 people/sq. km.). In fact, it would make us less densely populated than the state of New Jersey (453 per sq. km.). And these calculations exclude Alaska, Hawaii, and counts only land area.

And contrary to widespread beliefs, high population density is a value not a disvalue. High population density intensifies the division of labor, which makes possible a wider variety of jobs and specialized consumer products. For instance, in Manhattan, there is a “doll hospital”–a store specializing in the repair of children’s dolls. Such a store and the many specialized, niche businesses require a high population density to have a market. Try finding a doll hospital in Poughkeepsie. In Manhattan, one can find a job as a Pilates Method teacher or as a “Secret Shopper” (2 jobs actually listed on Craig’s List). Not in Paducah.

I know that I, for one, would love to be able to afford to move into an even denser part of downtown Dallas than where I currently live… But more importantly, I welcome hard-working, freedom-loving individuals of any nationality (regardless of their paperwork status) to live in my neighborhood.

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Winter Park 2006

Posted by shughes Wed, 12 Apr 2006 18:23:00 GMT

From April 5th thru April 10th, Erik and I joined the North Texas Skiers on their trip to Winter Park, CO. The trip is a pretty good deal, costing only $339 for 4 nights lodging (dinner and breakfast buffet included) and transportation (on a sleeper bus). Just like for our Snowbird trip earlier this year, I wrote a short novel describing all of the major events I want to remember. If you have a lot of spare time and don’t mind my below-average narration skills, you can read my full ski log for Winter Park. Honestly, you can just skip that and get all the important stuff from my pictures.

The best part about skiing with the North Texas Skiers was all the great advice we got. Some of the skiers on the trip had about 30 years of ski experience on us, so they had a lot of advice to pass on. * James coached us with the same tips he’d gotten from a recent mogul lesson. Improved my edging remarkably. * Joe told us about “pivot turns” and how to use them to keep out of the crud. He also convinced me that I need to get an edge sharpener, even for my rental skis. * Patti convinced me to try skiboards (the short skis, used without poles) on my next trip. She claims that it’s much easier for her to do harder runs with them. * Richard sold me on the importance of having a custom boot insole made for better ski stability. If you don’t have an even foot pressure on the bottom of your boot, you are creating pivot points for the ski to wiggle underneath you.

Despite a pretty rough bus ride (in both directions), it was a fun trip. We ended up with 8 inches of fresh powder on our second day, so you can’t complain about the skiing. I’ll likely just try the shorter bus runs next year (Taos is only 9 hours) and see how that works out for us.

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Trackback Spam

Posted by shughes Tue, 04 Apr 2006 23:21:00 GMT

Ever since my last post, where I made mention of trackback spam, I have been targetted by “trackback spammers”. I was getting about 10-20 trackbacks a day since posting it. I just went through and disabled trackbacks on all my posts (UPDATE contents SET contents.allow_pings=’0’ WHERE type=’Article’).

It looks like, though I can’t be certain, they were using Ruby to post the trackbacks. I say that only because I saw some early ones that had descriptions like “Testing from Ruby”. I guess a rubyist might have wanted to make a point to me about how you can’t identify the source of trackback spam, so maybe my earlier complaint was misdirected. It’s probably lucky for me that Ruby doesn’t scale well, or else I could have had hundreds of thousands of trackback spam posts from that fella!

Trackbacks in general are probably just adding noise to the web. If good indexers like Google and Technorati can tell me when one blog links to another blog, why do I need to advertise who’s linking on the particular post page? I guess I’ll just leave it disabled until I can think of some use for it. Perhaps replace the trackback link with a direct link to the Technorati cosmos for a particular page (not that my cosmos on Technorati is any less barren than actual space).

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Enterprise Architect or Spammer?... or Both!

Posted by shughes Fri, 24 Mar 2006 19:36:00 GMT

I followed, with some interest, the series of post by David Heinemeier Hansson (from 37Signals, creator of Rails) where he took an Enterprise Architect to task for some really uneducated comments about Ruby. Reading through the post by this guy (Jimmy McSomething, don’t want to give him anymore pagerank love than he’s already getting) it seems that he might be just a little bit retarded (and I mean that medically, not in the mean-spirited sense). There are some people in the comments who’ve posted that some of his observations are so wrong that it must be a joke. I was kind of wandering if his blog was written by a random Enterprise Architect Blog generator. Off his Blogger page, he has a couple of other blogs which follow much the same format. The big key is the random pictures that he inserts in the middle of the post (some of Rumsfeld, or other politico’s) which are neither funny nor related to the context of the post.

Today I stumbled across some new evidence. I found a trackback on one of my posts to his article. Could it be that his blog-bot is trying to increase his pagerank by trackback-spamming his article to blogs which have discussed Ruby? Even though I’ve mentioned Ruby quite a bit on this blog, the aforementioned post was not at all Ruby related… The author of the trackback is the same as his blog title. I tried to see if I could tie the IP address ( back to him in some way, but gave up on that rather soon.

That just struck me as odd. Seems that successfully pissing off the Ruby crowd (or any group which is fanatical) is a good way to get yourself to the top of the google list for the keyword of your choice. For example, what if I called myself a “First-Rank Knowledge Engineer” and decided that, based on my expertise in the field, Wikipedia was absolutely the worst source of actual “facts” or “knowledge” that I could possibly imagine (worse than what a train full of brain-dead monkeys could generate)… Do you think I could rise to the top of the Knowledge Engineering index?

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A brilliant undercover sting operation...

Posted by shughes Thu, 23 Mar 2006 23:00:00 GMT

I read about an amazing sting operation that happened here in Dallas where the police have actually captured people becoming publicly intoxicated… In bars! That is some real sleuth work. No question that the police involved deserve a raise for this masterful plan of capturing drunks in the act!

I like John Enright’s comment: “Texas Outdoes [The] Onion!”

I guess this is a preemptive strike against drunk drivers before they get a chance to drive… Where arresting a drunk driver was already a preemptive strike against them before they got a chance to crash. From my apartment, I can literally walk a little more than a dozen steps out my front door and be inside a bar getting drunk. Could that possibly be dangerous for anybody but me?

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1-Wire on Mac OS X and Universal Binaries

Posted by shughes Fri, 17 Mar 2006 00:51:00 GMT

Since posting my OneWireViewer App+Source for Mac OS X last August, I still see fairly regular downloads of it in my stats. I also still see lots of hits from google searches for “1-wire” and “mac osx”. I thought I’d let any interested parties know that we are gearing up to release our 1-Wire Public Domain Kit (C code) very soon (likely this month). I put in some effort for this release to create a specific Serial (DS9097U) and USB (DS2490/DS9490) build for Mac OS X. The release will include full source and a build file, as well as pre-built Universal Binaries of all of the example apps. Those without much programming knowledge looking to integrate 1-Wire into bigger systems should appreciate that.

Learning how to build the Universal Binaries was a bit of a chore, but once you get the hang of it it’s fairly simple. The biggest complication was building a Universal Binary for libUSB and since I wanted my libUSB-dependent app to be Universal, I had to jump through hoops to get it to work. I was able to get 0.1.12 to build an Intel library just fine on my Intel Mac (though <= 0.1.11 didn’t work for me, so mind your sources). I couldn’t get it to build the Universal binary due to it’s use of ‘ar’ and ‘ranlib’ (which, according to this tech note from Apple does bad things to Universals). I’m not a configure or makefile whiz and I got a little stumped on the parts of the makefile where gcc was being used to generate new makefiles dynamically (wasn’t aware of this feature before). Apparently when using -MT (to generate new makefile rules) you can’t pass multiple architectures along with your compile command (i.e. “-arch i386 -arch ppc”). I ended up doing things the hard way and just compiling the PPC binary on a PPC mac, and then merging the two with lipo (i.e. “lipo -create -output uni.lib ppc.lib intel.lib”). After all that, I discovered a nice pkg installer for a Universal libUSB that someone else was nice enough to pre-build and distribute for us. I recommend this installer for the easiest path to a Universal binary of libUSB.

My next task is to recompile my Java-to-libUSB-to-1-Wire solution (for OneWireViewer and the rest of the examples in the 1-Wire API for Java) as a Universal Binary. I also need to put a little effort into making it work with libUSB on Linux, so I can update the “live” WebStart version of OneWireViewer with virtually out-of-the-box support for every platofrm. The 1-Wire API for Java was scheduled for release this quarter (ending in 2 weeks), so I hope to have all this done in time to ship out the door with the release.

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Bring on the Fatwas!

Posted by shughes Thu, 09 Mar 2006 17:21:00 GMT

My friend and colleague, Chowdary, has started a political blog covering the Indian/US/World (in that order) scene. In just a few days, he and his co-blogger have gathered up some strong opinions and filled the blog out nicely. I hope he knows that because he titled the blog The Daily Observer, we are expecting daily updates. Hope he can keep up the pace.

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Apple patents feed reading... !?!?

Posted by shughes Thu, 09 Mar 2006 04:32:00 GMT

I found out about this patent via Miguel de Icaza (who found this discussion with Dave Winer). I really don’t have the patience to read the whole thing, but while scanning it I couldn’t find anything like a highlight reel (e.g. “Our patentable idea is unique because it differentiates from the way everyone else is doing it like xxxxxx”). The pieces I did read thoroughly sound no different than the way a typical news viewer (of which there are dozens of examples) does it. I found the following quote, the last section of the patent, disturbing:

[0127] It will be understood by those skilled in the relevant art that the above-described implementations are merely exemplary, and many changes can be made without departing from the true spirit and scope of the present invention. Therefore, it is intended by the appended claims to cover all such changes and modifications that come within the true spirit and scope of this invention.

So, even if we didn’t explicitly phrase the patent to cover your application, we obviously meant it and we think it should still apply. If you can’t tell that we meant it, you must not know what the hell you’re talking about..

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