May 2004 Archives

The Austin Chronicle asks “Who is Lane McCotter, and what exactly was he doing in Iraq?

Which brings us to Lane McCotter. Do a Web search on McCotter and you’ll come across an article in the March 4 newsletter The Utah Sheriff featuring a photo taken last year of Lane McCotter giving a tour of the Abu Ghraib prison to none other than Donald Rumsfeld’s right-hand man Paul Wolfowitz. So: Who’s McCotter, and what was he doing in Iraq?

While he and his company were under investigation by the Justice Department, the department’s chief, Attorney General John Ashcroft, hand-picked McCotter to “rebuild [Iraq’s] criminal justice system.” (NY Times) Inhale that: Ashcroft selected a man his own department was investigating, a man who had to leave the top corrections post in Utah or face scrutiny for what can only be called torture. And that’s what inner-circle Republicans are so frightened of: If the prison abuse investigation gets to Ashcroft, it gets to the White House.

The LA Times, May 11: “Most Arrested by ‘Mistake’ - Coalition Intelligence Put Numbers at 70% to 90% of Iraqi prisoners.” The Red Cross, which “made 29 visits to Coalition-run prisons and camps between late March and November of last year, said it repeatedly presented its reports of mistreatment to prison commanders, U.S. military officials in Iraq and members of the Bush administration in Washington.” (Why hasn’t the Red Cross been called to testify?) In a separate story the same day: “US Army officials have acknowledged detaining women in hopes of persuading male relatives to provide information. … Interrogators sometimes threatened to kill [the innocent women] detainees.”

Kidnapping and threatening people’s wives. Blackmail. Indiscriminate arrests. Torture. But when Rumsfeld and his generals are asked who, exactly, was in real command of Abu Ghraib, they claim not to know even that, while their so-called commander in chief claims complete ignorance of every issue in this affair.

If that’s the truth, they’re incompetent. If it’s not, they’re war criminals.

The Kerry campaign is seeking a Linux sysadmin/Perl coder.

The fun part of doing cross-platform browser checking is that you find all these old bookmarks left over from the last time you used the browser, stuff that you meant to look at later, or blog, or whatever. This morning, while checking out the new template in Safari, I found “VETERANS GROUP CALLS FOR RUMSFELD RESIGNATION”, which dates from October 2002.

Okay, after a week’s worth of dinking around, the site is now running on Blosxom. The template also got a number of tweaks, so holler if things aren’t looking right in your browsing software of choice. Those of you reading the site via feed should start pulling index.rss instead of whatever you were pulling before. And now, to test the commenting feature…

Because of the noise over recent MT licensing change(s), I’ve been hearing a lot of collateral buzz about different pieces of blog software. I ended up taking a look at Blosxom late last week, and I seem to have fallen deeply in like — maybe even <whisper>love</whisper>.

It’s mainly the feature set that’s making me happy: pretty much the same interface as the stuff I was working on, more extensible, and a good-sized library of plugins already written. Writing extensions is trivial — I’ve already written one, four days in. I’ll probably still hack on the blogtool I was working on — or, more likely, port features from it to Blosxom plugins — but I when I migrate away from MT, it will be to Blosxom, not my DIY engine.

I’ve been dinking away at this since last Friday. I’ve got my templates ported, the comments plugin is working (although I’m considering rewriting it), I wrote a random images plugin because I couldn’t find one I liked, and all my MT entries have been exported and parsed and are ready to be converted into Blosxom entries. (This post, even, is starting life as a Blosxom entry; I’ll copy it into MT when I’m done.) Looking at my TODO list, the only major things remaining are “get search working” and “port rest of site to new template”, which hopefully shouldn’t take much more than this week to get wrapped up. (There are other things on there too — most notably “port older archives” — but they’re not showstoppers.)

Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that things are going to get quiet for a few days around here, due to all spare energy going towards The Change. See you on the flip side.

Another part of the “remodel the unused dining room/junk hole into a study” project was getting rid of the light fixture that was in there when we bought the house. It’s almost a shame to see it go, because it was very striking (especially the turkeys), but it just wasn’t going to work in the new room. I’m not completely thrilled with the light fixture we ended up with — for some reason, I thought it was going to be bigger — but it fits the room much better, I think.

in all its glorydid somebody say turkee?new (sorta bland) lightcloseup

No, not a 50 year old submissive after a hard scene — the new paint scheme in our study! When we last saw the “repaint the study” project, the primer coat had just been applied. Following that, I did two coats of grey above the chair rail — which turned out really nice:

grey top colorgrey top color

Below the chair rail, we were using a deep red color. This turned out to be less fun to work with — for some reason, this paint (which was the same base as the grey, just different pigment) was much runnier, prone to streaking, and generally a pain in the butt. For a while, I was fearing the dreaded third coat, but in the end it turned out to not be needed:

red bottom colorred bottom color

Yesterday was the high point of the project: removing the masking tape and getting a look at the final product:

still needs touch upstill needs touch up

This will be followed by the low point of the project: doing the touch-up work. This is going to take a bit, because there are spots in the red that need it, spots in the grey, and a number of dribs and drabs on trim. Overall though, I’m happy (and more importantly, TheWife is happy) with how the room turned out.

I’ve been a little bit disappointed, because I haven’t seen any cicadas around the old homestead. At work, we’ve been stepping in, around, and on them during the daily lunch walk, for about a week now, but it seemed like the development was too new — it’s less than 17 years old, and the grading done during construction wipes the little buggers out. But then TheWife mentioned seeing a bunch of shells by a little path that’s across the street, which winds through a little grassy area. This made sense, because the path is bordered by trees that are clearly more than 17 years old. So around dusk, I grabbed the camera and set out in search of “the ghost maiden” (heh — thanks, JenB…) And boy howdy, they were all over the place! These were pre-molt larva, that must have just come out of the ground tonight. (Note that you can see the wings through the carapace.)

hey, what are those bumps on the tree?it's the elusive ghost maiden!larger than actual sizecheck out the wingsthis one came out nice and artyi really need a macro lens for this sort of work...

Had a nicely full weekend. Friday night, I went down to Arlington to hear Bruce Sterling read from his latest, The Zenith Angle. I ended up meeting up with Glen at the reading — he’s got a longer report over at his site (including a shot of yr. humble correspondent sitting next to Mr Sterling). The next-to-last photo is the one that Glen mentions being unable to take due to battery trouble — that’s his hand on the left side of the frame.

crowd at the sterling readingcrowd at the sterling readingobBlogShot #1obBlogShot #2

I also ended up meeting Mike Godwin (of EFF fame) and his girlfriend — Glen and Mike are old friends, and Mike was there. I chatted with Mike while waiting to get my copy of Sterling’s book signed; he’s the first person I’ve met that liked Quicksilver. Glen and I ended up having a late dinner and a couple of beers after the reading, which meant I was pretty late getting home, but the evening was well worth it.

We got up Saturday and got cracking on the big weekend project: finishing up the remodel of the study, which has been pending since before we moved into the house (more than a year ago…) First step was to finish removing the wallpaper — we used an enzyme-based goo to eat away the glue, and then scraped, scraped, scraped away. Eventually the wallpaper was gone — leaving a room that looked like the aftermath of a poltergeist attack, and some seriously gummy feet.

stripping wallpaperstripping wallpaperdeploying the blue goopoltergeist slime?scrapsscrapsleft footright root

TheBaby spent a goodly part of the day playing by herself, since both TheWife and I were up to our elbows in blue goo and wallpaper scraps. Later in the evening, we went out in the yard and took a walk around the house, to burn off some energy. A lot of the ornamentals around our house are blooming, so things are pretty colorful out there

can we go play now?headed straight for the roadwheewhoopsflower #1flower #2flower #3flower #4playing in the dirt

The next step in the great painting extravaganza was washing the blue goo off the trim, followed by applying masking tape. I got the washing and part of the masking done on Saturday, and then finished up the rest on Sunday morning. Once everything was taped up, I started slapping on the primer — first above the chair rail, then below. This time, the feet were less gummy, but still a bit worse for the wear.

maskedmaskedhalf primedhalf primedall primedall primedall primedleft footright foot

We’ve got guests coming next weekend, so we’ll hopefully be able to finish up the two coats of paint during evenings this coming week.

Bruce Sterling is at the Olssons in Arlington tonight for a reading from his new book. I’m planning on being there; if anybody reading this is going to be there, give a shoutout to the usual place…

Snowdeal asks about handling tantrums. We’ve (so far) mostly been tantrum-free — at least, free of the total meltdown, fit-throwing episodes that I think of as “tantrums”. TheBaby has gotten upset in public a few times, but we’ve usually been able to remove her from the situation and get her calmed down pretty easily. I guess I’d handle a full-blown tantrum pretty much the same way: make sure she’s not physically hurt, remove her from any public situations where we would be disturbing other people (e.g., leave the restuarant or the bookstore, etc.), and then just let her scream it out.

Now, TheWife might have a more thought-out plan about tantrum handling than I do; she’s much better about preparing for and thinking about these sorts of things ahead of time. I’m a “seat of the pants” sort of parent, generally speaking.


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BaRF is “Bioinformatics aggregated RSS Feeds” — somebody doing some web scrapping of new PubMed article listings and turning into that RSS action the kids go crazy for. Al, weren’t you looking for something like this a while back?

It’s too bad there’s been so little movement on LifeHacks (Danny O’Brien’s “catalog the working habits of the alpha geeks” project) — the only thing I can find is Cory Doctorow’s notes from the talk at the ORA Emerging Tech show. (This ties into my recent obsession.)

Also tying into that same meta-topic is the digital colophon thing that is making the rounds — started by diveintomark; aand first seen by me at whump. Just for fun, here’s my list:

Gentoo Linux on the desktops and the servers; Mac OS X on the laptop (converting the laptop to dual-boot Gentoo is on the todo list…)
XEmacs, with the occasional GNU Emacs flirtation. Oh, and I’ll drop into vim in a shell session in a heartbeat, to tweak a file, but you won’t find me doing anything serious with it.
Note Taking
I occasionally use KNotes (the KDE “sticky note” app), but I’m more likely to grab an actual piece of paper to scrawl something on.
Web Server
Konqueror on the desktop, Firefox on the laptop
fetchmail + procmail + SpamAssassin + Gnus
Feed reader
Don’t use one at the moment, but I’m thinking about trying out rss2email and seeing how it fits into my work flow

Other tools I would be seriously lost without: ssh, rsync, perl, bash, GNU keyring.

Spread the meme…

I’ve got quite a few irons in the fire at the moment. A daughter going on two, a demanding (but enjoyable) job, gearing up to teach a class in the fall, several small programming projects, a website or five, a couple three or four rooms in the house that still need painting and/or redecoration of some sort, and last but certainly not least, a wife who is just as busy as I am and who needs a hand from time to time. So I devote the occasional brain cycle to thinking about productivity and workflow and how to do more stuff better in less time with less effort.

Here’s an interesting idea, called Structured Procrastination:

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen.

I do that all the time. I’m not quite at the point where I depend on it or schedule tasks around it, but it does form part of my core working behavior. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not.

Joel Spolsky has another view on productivity, in Fire and Motion. His basic thesis is that the hardest part is getting started, getting out of the blocks — what people who have taken Chem 101 will often refer to as “getting over the activation energy threshold”. I seem to have this problem more when I’m tired (mentally or physically) or stressed out about something.

Pointers to other similar articles welcome; I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, and could use some reading material to help me avoid thinking about that too much… 8^)=

Hipster stand-up deconstruction of social network sites. I’ve settled on Orkut as my social network site of choice, but I’m not expecting to get much out of it (and hence am not really putting that much into it…)