August 1999 Archives

I’ve finally gotten around to digging out some of the older stuff I had stashed away on, so (a)some of these stories are pretty old news (at least in Internet time) and (b) I’m probably ripping off some other bloggers. Sorry!

This BBC story” should be good news for people with nerve injuries. I wonder how much of this is due to the media attention following the Christopher Reeves injury?

Several cryptography vignettes in this Wired piece from last week. The Dumb Crypto section is spot-on: the stuff is damn hard to use. I’m not sure if it’s hard because it’s hard, or hard because the people who develop crypto software have a very different idea of what constitutes ‘usable’. I suspect both.

Along those same lines is this editorial from, which basically bemoans the complexity of the whole situation, without really offering any solutions. Look, we know it’s hard to understand, and boring as hell (to most people) on top of that. How about suggesting some solutions, eh?

For the To-Read-Later list (which always seems to grow; never shrink): Computer Stupidities.

That’s it for the day, I think. Still have quite a few emails to reply to… I really need to figure out where the time between 7 pm and 11 pm goes every night, because I’m surely not getting anything done in that time.

I need for weekends to be longer. Just another day or two, that’s all I’m asking for. Make my net connection faster too, while you’re at it.

Ever wondered which states have the worst tornados? Well, as with most things, it depends on how you define ‘worst’

Much of the time I had marked for working on this update was spent converting all the GIF files on to PNGs and JPGs. Thank Unisys (no link for you, ya bastards!), and mark your calendar for Burn All Gifs day.

Didn’t get everything accomplished that I wanted to on the day off (of course), but I’m still back. What a trouper I am…

I could have just used the BOFH Excuse Server to come up with a plausible reason, like Interference from the Van Allen Belt, for example.

Since the whole thing got started, I’ve been having conversations with several people about moving to a CVS setup for the content on that server. I know jack-all about CVS, so I was quite pleased when linked to Using CVS for Web development by Philip Greenspun. Weekend reading, yah!

One more Emacs link: Emacs 20.4 for Macintosh. Install this on a lab machine, point a Microsoft Word alias at it, and watch the fun.

Words to live by:

Remember, where ever you go, there you are

Taking the day off from web sites. Hacking on XEmacs config files. A potentially useful site for you *nix types: Hopefully back tomorrow with more.

Oh, Wes #1 is back, and on the prowl, Wes #2 is also back, and busy, as is Jason. Damn, did classes start up again, or something?

Quick and dirty today, not a lot of jabber: has a new look and a bunch of Perl stuff.

The Unix Reconstruction Project is re-coding all the basic Unix commands in Perl.

This month's Linux Gazette came out last week, as did this month's Perl Month

Sopranos boycott called for. Um, here’s a quarter. Go buy some Clue.

A bit of navel-gazing (hey, I hafta do it, or they kick me out of the club…). Last week (8.21), Brig pointed to comments by Lindsay regarding basically the social oddness of ‘bloggers. The word otaku is tossed about, which I think is somewhat accurate, although we Westerners don’t seem to be able to focus quite like the Japanese. As far as misfit-hood goes, I know one of the many reasons I started doing GeneHack, and keep doing it, is because the people I work with and interact with in meat space pretty much don’t get the web, and were getting annoyed that I kept telling them about stuff to go see.

Oh, and that EU internet addiction thing? (Too lazy to dig up a link you’ve already all seen.) I figured, depending on how you count ‘on-line’, that I’m there between 6 to 12 hours a day. 7 days a week. Guess I should start looking for that 12 step meeting…

As promised, a big ole info-dump. I actually had more, but it’s bookmarked on one of those online bookmarked services, which appears to be having problems at the moment. Tomorrow, I guess.

<META> As I touched on yesterday, I recently volunteered to do some web monkey type work at I use XEmacs, I dig XEmacs, and hopefully my small contribution will free up some developer time to do Real Work. However, the time to work on that site has to come from somewhere, and it’s probably going to come from ‘GeneHack time’ at least for the moment (until the lottery winnings come in…) I’m going to try to maintain a ‘business day’ update schedule, like in the past, but it might slip to a three day/week. We’ll see. Comments on the design or pleas to publish more frequently can both go to

<META#2> One of the things on the Giant List of Things to Do That Never Gets Shorter is a re-working of the Daily Dose. Still in the planning stages; I need to steal some bits from Jorn, and integrate a bunch of stuff I’ve got bookmarked here and there. I’m going to add Book and CD shopping lists, a ‘Books in my Reading Queue’, and the ‘Things to Read In My Spare Time’ will get a section. So, if anybody other than me actually uses that page, and you’re concerned about some things going away (and some things are going away) : mail me soon.

Now, those links I keep talking about:

The latest issue of Ed’s Vacuum mailing list contains some advice I should probably take to heart:

Reality: Accepting that I can’t do all the things I want allows me to not keep adding to my list and then feeling bad when I don’t get something done.

Couple of other things in there hit a bit close to home, too. Worth reading if you’re suffering from the ‘Too Much To Do, Not Enough Time’ syndrome.

I’m seriously behind the media buzz over this one, but the <TITLE> of this page cracks me up.

A plan to put all information on the web.

“Imagine what would happen if all the things that people know were recorded online and indexed for easy retrieval. Any question, any curiosity, any interest could be quickly and efficiently satisfied,” Marsh, a library scientist, mused to The Dallas Morning News.

Key words: easy retrieval…

In related news, the fight over making bio-science publications publicly available on the Web rages on on Usenet. For those of you who didn’t know there was a fight, see this archived Slashdot item (large page).

All you kids heading back to school and hanging your boxen off that dorm Ethernet should give some thought to securing them. securityfocus might be a good place to start.

Another somewhat interesting ‘school is starting again’ link for a slightly different target audience: Who needs these headaches? Reflections on teaching first-year engineering students. Quote:

Principle 1: Entering first-semester college students were high school students three months earlier.

Computer algoritms based on biological models. Interesting, and likely to be more and more common: A decently-well characterized behavioral pattern is modeled with a neural net, and turns out to be (surprise!) pretty well optimized for what it does. Evolution has been working on this stuff for a bit, don’tcha know.

Somewhat tangentially related to the previous item, Salon had a introductory-level article on genetic programming recently. Basically involves the counter-intuitive practice of randomly shuffing bits and selecting for the combinations most able to do what you want (with lots of repeated cycles). Despite the ‘million monkeys on a million typewriters’ air to it, it works much better than expected.

<META type=”snide”> Are ‘Salon’ and ‘introductory level’ redundant?

<META type=”snide#2”> Anybody else dislike the new design?

GeneHack linking tip #269: If it’s about naked mole rats, it must be good!

I’ve linked to them before, but I recently read about Who Runs Molbio.Org? and found out that it’s apparently my Evil Twin.

The Information Society looks like an interesting place to add to your list of Stuff To Read Later (it’s on mine). The latest issue concerns ‘Anonymous Communication on the Internet’, which given the recent noise coming out of Washington, you really should be concerned with, if you’re not already.

3-D GUIs. What’s the attraction here? From the screen shots, I don’t see the value added by the third dimension…

I was recently toying with the idea of whacking together a small database to store information about the collection of papers that I’ve amassed (inevitably) in my academic career. I even went so far as to start reading about SQL, and installed (partially) an SQL database server on my home box, just to play around with. When, wham up pops not one, but two SQL-based publication database systems on freshmeat. Now there are only two remaining questions: (1) Which one to pick and (2) where to get the time to set it up and enter all the data? Seriously, anyone with info on either OBAS or pybliographer, please drop me a line.

Just for the Record: Changed the date on yesterday’s entry to the 23rd, which is when the entry was posted. A bit of clarification; I generally (read: >99%) only do one update a day, usually at night. However, the update gets sent to the web quite late (e.g., 11 PM MST), so it’s generally dated the following day, because that’s when most of you see it. Today’s entry, while dated the 24th, is actually being written late in the evening of the 23rd.

I’m dropping the ball again. No update today. There will be tomorrow. Pinky swear. Lots of stuff, really. In the mean time, if you’re not doing anything, you might check out the recently (slightly) re-vamped, which might explain where my time went this weekend…

Ugh. Yesterday’s unscheduled outage comes care of LinuxPPC, who set up the 1999 installer to generate way too few inodes when formatting drives. Nothing like an un-planned re-install of your Linux system to suck down a day or two. I’m 85% back, however, and figured I’d dash out an update.

Late last week, I volunteered to do some update work on, home of XEmacs, my text editor of choice. Since then, I’ve been reading Architecting XEmacs and marveling at this well thought out design plan. Does all software development work like this?

Window Maker users, Largo's Tips and Tricks has the good stuff you need.

In the ‘When you need it, you really need it’ file: code to syntax colored HTML converter.

I found this before, but the guy had to take it down. Well, now there’s an unofficial mirror of the funniest Back Orifice 2000 screen shot you’ll ever see.

Updates for the rest of the week are going to be, ummm, sporadic, yah, that’s a good word. Real Life plus computer troubles plus a backlog of other stuff that needs to get dealt with. For example, the grass in my backyard has reached waist height. A small neighbor child wandered in there yesterday, and it was like unto Field of Dreams. Also, if you sent me email in the last couple of days, I got it. It’s in the queue, along with all the others. I’m getting to it, I promise.

Go see Jason, and tell ‘im John sent you.

Excuse the long first paragraph; this is so the syndication readers know what’s going on without having to visit the site. I’m taking the day off to make the final push on converting to the new template (validation and last minute changes, mostly); as usual, comments are welcome at And in a complete change of topic: Congratulations to former fellow graduate student and new PhD, Dr. Doug Roberts.
Have a good one, kids, and turn off the lights when you leave.

Opps — looks like I missed a day. This hasn’t been one of my better weeks, has it? Short update today, as I’m still cranking on completing the re-design and don’t want to spend too much time away from that.

Go, Brig, Go

Okay, my next home improvement project is going to be putting a web server in every electronic appliance I own. Why? Because I can! [seen on /.]

I was poking around today, and I noticed the new splash page, which I thought was cool. I also read the entertaining story of jwz's wisdom tooth removal and wondered if the similar scene in Cryptonomicon was inspired by jwz, or just highly coinci-dental. (ouch!)

Silicon Follies looks like it might be entertaining. Has anybody been following it? Let me know if I should try to catch up.

It’s a dark day. My home state, Kansas, dropped evolution from the primary school science curriculum. I hang my head in shame.

Okay, so I lied about the earlier update. Linkage city, today, as a make-up offering.

I’m pulling the design poll out of the side bar and archiving it. The results are mixed; judge for yourself. I think I’m going to go with the screen shot route, myself (Real Soon Now…)

One of the things I’d like to do with Gnus is get it hooked up to The Insidious Big Brother Database. I’m not sure why; it just seems like a cool thing to have set up. It doesn’t quite lead to intertwinglarity, but it’s a step in the right direction.

A couple of recent futurian group meetings have apparently focused on the coming impact of the bio revolution. First, a Fox story on the recent “The Next 20 Years” conference, which sounds like it was cool. Second, a Wired article on costs of immortality. Live forever or die trying, I always say…

Cross-file under ‘Too Much Time’ and ‘Language Wonk’: Correctly pluralizing virus

Obscene hand gestures in a variety of cultures. Not much to add to this one, is there?

New angiogenesis inhibiting proteins. This is important because angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) is required for cancers to get beyond very early stages. The first couple of angiogenesis inhibitors are in the drug approval pipeline (as far as I know); the company (whose name I can’t remember - mail me if you do) made a boatload of cash in its recent IPO.

I think I pointed to the other day, but they changed things around a bit, so I’ll point again (also a continuing reminder to me to Daily Dose-ize it).

Dan Lyke of Flutterby reports on (and from) Joshua Tree. Some of the nicest personal (journal-style) writing I’ve seen in some time. Good job, Dan.

The Elements of Style is available on the Web. Thought you might like to know.

First, I saw a NY Times article about it. Then, Dave Winer pitched in his two cents. Several other ‘bloggers noted the ‘deep linking’ hullabaloo also. My take: if you make something available on a public web server, it’s public. You want to limit access to your content, that’s your responsibility. Sniff the referring page and bounce people to your front page, what ever. Don’t sue. I also think Dave W’s proposal of a robots.txt-like linking policy is a Very Bad Idea. If I want to link to you, I don’t want to have to dig around for some mostly-out-of-sight document that may or may not be there and then puzzle through Ghu-knows-what legalese. Robots.txt works not only because there’s an informal standard for the format of the content, but because it doesn’t have to be read by people. That’s where Dave jumped tracks.

Amarillo Linux Conference, September 18. Pass the word.

Ugh. Didn’t have as much as I thought. This page is also getting way too large. Hopefully, I’ll get released from tomorrow’s jury duty early and I can play hooky from work and fix some of this cruft…

The title says it all, folks — I spent far too much time this weekend playing around, configuring XEmacs to do all kinds of stuff. Actually, most of my time was spent configuring Gnus to read Usenet and email, file things properly, score everything, etc., etc. Major geek out weekend. Frighteningly, I’m becoming able to read Emacs Lisp as a result. However, there’s no GeneHack update yet. Check back later in the evening (like around 8 PM MST [that’s 1300 UTC]) and I’ll see what I can do.

A few early design and layout tweaks as I get ready to head into the weekend. The goal: deploy the new site template, and convert some or all of the old content over to the new functions. I also need to archive the old design (see the poll). If I get real ambitious, I might try to hack together some Emacs macros and/or functions to make my life a little bit easier. First, however, I need to clean out my bookmarks file. Ready? Here goes…

First, a bit of site meta stuff: I got the GeneHack RSS file (provided by Ian Davis of Internet Alchemy and The Web Starts Here) added to the my.netscape channel selection, so those of you who prefer that syndication method can click that button off to the left. I’ve revised my template a little bit, so I can add a few snips of content over there, under the day’s title. It’s enough of a PITA (on purpose) that it won’t get changed all that often. That button, however, looks not-too-good there, so it’s gonna move soon. Bottom line: if you think you might be interested in clicking, click now.

I’m pretty sure that this was linked from some ‘blog, but I don’t remember which one (sorry!): Find Your Voice: Writing for a Webzine. Lots of interesting advice, most of it applicable to ‘blogging culture. I’d quote some of the better parts, but the page specifically requests that that not be done. You’ll just have to go read it yourself. This is a deep one; allow some time, or plan to read it more than once.

In contrast, Hotwired has an article about Web writing that doesn’t have a whole lot new to say. Know your audience, know your medium. I also don’t buy the contention that it’s the surfing masses inattention that’s resulting in the bad writing. Maybe the masses are inattentive because the content sucks, eh?

CNET had a little article on associate Programs; deals between independent site and large commerce sites, such as Amazon which pay some amount back to the indie site if a clickthru results in a purchase. I’ve thought about signing up for some of these and then saving any resulting money as a way towards buying a domain name and hosting service. However, I’ve basically concluded that there’s no way my traffic is high enough to even bother with this. Anybody with comments on signing up for these, pro or con, please let me know

Who needs gene therapy? Researchers have found that carefully measured doses of a particular antibiotic can allow certain defective genes (those with nonsense codons (aka premature stop codons )) to be normally expressed. This is interesting; it’s quite closely related to the research interests of the lab I work in.

More science: Could ice-covered Antarctic Lake Vostok harbor novel forms of life? In order to answer the question, scientists have to figure out how to drill into the lake without contaminating the waters - which sounds like quite the problem.

Science and sociology of science: One of the more interesting aspects of scientific culture is the way supposedly objective, rational people react when their (unconscious and unacknowledged) prejudices are challenged. For example, claims of widespread homosexual behavior in virtually every studied mammalian and avian species push some scientist’s buttons:

Such ideas can provoke outrage, however. “Some primatologists want to deny that homosexual behavior has anything to do with pleasure. There is a streak of puritanism running thorough American primatology that says a behavior can’t exist just for sexual pleasure,” [Linda Wolfe] says. “At a conference in Madison some three years ago, I raised this idea and got drummed out of the room.” Her scandalized colleagues rubbished the idea with remarks such as: “Well, if that was the case we’d all be in the aisle now having sex,” she recalls.

Looking for some wrist-shredding ASCII-based Angband gaming fun? Thangorodrim: The Angband Page has an insane number of variants available for download, source and binaries for various platforms, as well as some seriously geeky Angband humor.

Don’t care about Angband? Mac person? Have a look at the changes in the forthcoming MacOS 9.

Have a boring job? Want one?

More blogs, coming soon to a Daily Dose page near you: and present attention. Also headed towards the Dose: more weather info, stating the obvious, and perhaps gazebo.

A thought that just popped into my head as I was linking to the above sites: It would be nice if GeneHack had a section with a queue of pages-to-be-read-later; I have a decent sized bookmark folder of these on my home machine, which would be perfect for reading during slow moments at work. Hmmmm…more work for the weekend.

How small can an update get and still be an update?

Basically taking the day off, but thought I’d urge people to vote in the poll one more time.

In completely different news, a ‘molecular biology portal’ is now open at Looks like it could be useful, but it’s not very easy on the eyes.

Okay, bed now. More links, more re-design later.

Small update today; spent most of the evening downloading and compiling this and that (the new version of XEmacs took the longest time to build!) I also spent quite a bit of time reading through the documentation linked off the main XEmacs site. It’s amazing how much that one piece of software can be configured to do.

Bring the Rock pointed to a Fugazi portrait yesterday; on the same site I found these pictures of Rage Against the Machine. Zach de la Rosa has those scary Manson eyes, doesn’t he?

Also, Jason linked to a couple of items about the forthcoming Guided By Voices album on BTR — I’m too lazy to link ‘em too; jump over and read them. I’ll wait.

You can get an MP3 of Teenage FBI, one of the new songs, at the Guided By Voices site. Man, that’s some scary fan artwork on that site. The new album cover (disk cover?) looks real ‘design-y’. Cool.

Couple three more music links to round out your day. First, looks like there’s lots of reviews at, all bands I’ve never heard of, which is a good thing.

Second, 181.4 Degrees from the Norm has some more ‘mainstream indie’ reviews and links. Another one to dig through on a slow afternoon.

Finally, if you send email to, you’ll be entered in drawings for free swag from indie bands. I’m sure you’ll get some spam as well, but everybody needs a bit of spam, right?
Disclaimer: Not affiliated in any fashion; just thought people might be interested.

Oh, and don’t forget to vote in the current poll.

Meta: GeneHack had its 5000th visitor since 14 Mar 99 yesterday. yay!

This feels very awkward! I’m still trying to adapt my writing style for the RSS syndication format, which means that this first paragraph might be all that some people see. So, I need to decide what the best thing to put in here is — a list of everything I’m linking to in this entry? (yuck!) Some kind of pithy summary? (I’m not exactly full of pith these days…) Or do people just use the syndicated content as an indication that the site has been updated? (I haven’t been using any ‘aggregators’; I might have to start.) If anybody’s actually using the GeneHack RSS files and has an opinion as to what this first paragraph should typically contain, drop me a line, eh?.

Still haven’t completely deployed the new site design; had a bit of a fight with sendmail, postfix, and the new fetchmail release. Everything is okay now. I didn’t even lose any mail this time! Must be getting competent at Linux; time to try something new.

I’m un-decided about how to save the old design. I could just tar up the site tree and throw it on a zip disk, but I’m somewhat intrigued by the idea of a portfolio of past designs. Unfortunately, that gets a bit ugly, requiring separate CSS files, and Bog knows what else. If you’ve ever re-designed a site, take this quick single question poll and let me know what you did. Thanks.

If there are any LinuxPPC users that still read this site, listen up. Three button mouse support in the new 1999 release has been a bit lacking, and the question of what 3 button mice work has been a popular one. I just got a 3 button Logitech Trackman Marble ADB mouse today (US$15.50, ebay), and it works, out of the box. Plug-and-play three-button goodness!

Highly interesting article on bottlenose dolphin behavior. Mate competion drives fairly baroque courtships, involving gangs of males kidnapping females.

In the Cool-But-Doomed file: Cloning the woolly mammoth. How come, whenever these clone the extinct-or-almost-extinct cute-furry-mammal schemes are discussed, no-one mentions the bottleneck issue? It appears as if creating a mammoth/elephant hybrid and then inbreeding back to ‘pure’ mammoth is being seriously considered. Check out this article on dog breeding for why that’s a bad idea (the breeding stuff is on the second or third page).

Speaking of Bad Ideas, a bunch of anti-GM-food protestors were sentenced recently. Destroying the crops is long-run-foolish: the protestors are just giving the companies a strong incentive to be more secretive about what’s going on with the GM’d crops.

Several people have pointed to articles about the new public disclosure law affecting federally funded scientists. My quick take: (1) The stated intent (public access to data) is good; (2) the actual intent probably stinks; (3) it should apply equally to anyone receiving federal research funds, not just certain groups, and (4) it’s not going to affect the scientists too much, in terms of having to cough up the data: if it’s FOIA office’s responsibility to screen the data. The PI will have the graduate student Xerox everything in the lab, and ship it off. End of (immediate) problem.

There’s a joke involving the word ‘stiffness’ in here somewhere, but I’m not touching it (no pub intended!) : Arthritis drug Celebrex tops Viagra as fastest selling new drug

I’m not sure if I agree with Tog’s assertion that programmers stole the web. At the very least, I seem to be a counter-example. It’s also been my experience that it’s difficult to ‘cut off’ people unless the people acquiesce to the cutting.

Warning: Obscure science fiction reference ahead: It’s not The Mouse That Roared; the Brits really are going to Mars — or at least they’re sending up a probe. (No word on the fuel source!)

Lots of new sites added here and there on the Daily Dose page. Expect to start seeing some more categorization on that page, RSN.