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A little tribute to Neal Stephenson

Apple /nearly/ got it right already. They left out a place to put your code, though, and they got the order wrong.


All my dreams are turing complete

Ever since I started this new job I've dreamed in Perl nearly every night. It's good, dreaming in C is so much less intersting.

I just hope I never have a dream in PHP.


Unix shell goodness - silenceisdefeat.com

Many moons ago, back in the dirt ages, I had one of the first dialup Internet accounts at OzEmail, back when a 14k4 modem was shithot hardware and SLIP was the cutting edge of internet access technology. The first consumer ISP in australia actually sold people a shell account on a BSD box, where you could run elm, lynx and telnet, and like it.

Later, after I started working at jobs with Real Unix Servers, where they paid for me to have home broadband, I let the ozemail account lapse. When I needed to toss files around on the interwob, I just borrowed one of the colocated servers I herded for a succession of employers.

Now I've landed at a point where I don't have any shell access Out There, and yesterday I needed to test a change to my home firewall. I don't really need a whole racked machine or VPS for my own purposes, so I went looking for a timeshared shell account. These used to be real hard to find after PPP and Mosaic went critical---ISPs pretty much stopped offering shell access.

Turns out that mobile IP has brought with it the second coming of unix timesharing; there's a raft of small outfits out there that will give (or sell) you a shell account with various levels of service and disk quota.

I chose an account at silenceisdefeat.com cos its OpenBSD, Canadian, and Free (I donated anyway).

Seems that most of the other users are there to run irssi (probably when supposed to be working) but what the heck, SSH, compiler, perl, apache, php, SQL et al. are all there when I need 'em.

There's a list of services here, which may just save your bacon when you need a TCP port in a storm.

The Return of the One True Control Key

A long time ago, computer keyboards had a CONTROL key next to the 'A', where Unix hackers could comfortably reach the most-used mode shift key (capital letters being for noobs and VMS weenies).

Then the PC revolution happened and the starched-shirt nincompoops at IBM messed with the layout to make it more familiar to the "oh waily! It's not like my typewriter at home" office market.

For 30 years we've been stuck with a useless CAPS LOCK key, which the Unix faithful generally re-map to CTRL within a few minutes of sitting down at a machine. This is basically mandatory for Emacs users, who face a disclocated pinky otherwise.

Now Lenovo (the corpse of IBM's PC division) want to get rid of caps lock. What took you so long?
(I'm sure the vi cavemen will appreciate the bigger ESC).

But, dear BoB, don't make it the "tweet" key, or the "send money to Lenovo" key, GIVE US BACK THE ONE TRUE CONTROL KEY.

Five things I miss about the Mac

I have a pretty decent linux workstation at my new job, but it's still bit of a shock, leaving behind a desk with 4 Macs and 3 cinema displays...

Of course high on the list of things to miss are are the traditional mac strong points, like typefaces that don't look like they came from a commodore 64, and don't randomly change weight when changing point size, but what really surprised me is how much I miss some tiny little features that seemed like pure wank at the time they were announced:

  • expose hot corners (esp when dragging)
  • iTunes Impluse Buying Store
  • cmd-tab app switcher's reverse gear and quit-while-tabbing action
  • Dock poofing
  • Mighty mouse sideways scrolling

(The microsoft mouse I am using now is so fscking loud I am embarrased to scroll. I fear the neigbours across the road might complain about the noise.)

The Gambler's Fallacy

Anyone who regularly catches public transport knows there are Good Buses and Bad Buses. Some are always full, some always run late, some routes always have that clapped out bus from 1960 with the leaky exhaust, and the driver from hell. On the other hand, some routes seem blessed, with buses having plenty of sitting room and a bulletproof schedule.

In the mornings, I know that if I'm not out the door by 7:25, I'll miss the Last Good Bus, and have to catch a Hell Bus, jammed so full you're lucky to find standing room, forget about a seat.

In the evenings it's not so bad, but the choice is between a route that runs every 5 minutes, but usually jammed to capacity, and with a 500m+ walk uphill at the end, or a route that runs only once or twice an hour hour but stops right at the end of my street. Memorizing (oh thank you smartfone) the schedule helps, but most days it seems the schedule is a cruel hoax, and buses run randomly late or early, and this is especially true whenever it rains. Brisbane people aren't used to rain, and ignore it, causing the gutters to quickly fill with smoking wrecks and the jammed traffic to tail back over the horizon.

On a rainy evening even the "real time" GPS-enabled wireless-networked digital bus-tracking displays at major stops lie their little electronic asses off.

Recently, on a cold rainy night, when I was struggling home without an umbrella and with a load of shopping, the Little Electronic Judas says there's a Bad Bus in 2 minutes, but a Great Bus in in only 5. "Joy", says I, "I'll wait". Bad Bus comes and isn't too full for once---I could look forward to upgrading to a seat maybe halfway home. I skip it anyway, for the Good Bus beckons!

Another bad bus comes, and another. No sign of Good Bus. The electronic schedule display chooses this instant to recalculate its predicted arrival time, and now shows that Good Bus is not due for 10 more minutes, (and this is after 7 minutes of waiting).

Two more bad buses come and go.

At what point does one give up and cut ones losses? I've now invested so much time waiting for the Good Bus that I'd have been home by now if I'd just got on the first bus that turned up. Surely the Good Bus must arrive any instant?

But if I give up now all that investment in waiting will have been for nothing.

At least it's cheaper than other forms of compulsive gambling.

(The Good Bus came eventually. It was overcrowded).

Suspended Sentence

Man pleads guilty to manslaughter of wife, cops 1 year sentence.

The actual sentence was 4½ years, suspended after twelve months (including time already served during trial). I'm confused by the logic here:

"OK sonny, you've done your year, we're letting you out on good behaviour. But if we catch you killing your wife ONE MORE TIME, its STRAIGHT BACK INSIDE for you, mister!!"

Is Science As Important As Football?

Hear, hear: what Theodore Gray said.


"Sports, especially at the high school level, are extremely dangerous. So many children are injured on a regular basis that you don't even hear about it."

"This carnage could easily be avoided by switching to video football." ... "You know I'm kidding"

"But this is precisely what has happened to science education. Precisely. Virtually all experiments involving chemicals more dangerous that cabbage juice have been eliminated from the curriculum."

"When students enter a science classroom, they should see things they cannot imagine in their wildest dreams.

"A student suffering even a relatively minor injury from a dangerous chemical would be front page news anywhere in the U.S., even if the same student spending a week in the hospital due to a sports injury would go completely unnoticed"
Stross reviews some upcoming novels on his blog:

"It's what you get when you take your classic 80s deracinated corporate alienation sensibility, detonate about six kilos of semtex under it, and scatter the smoking wreckage across 21st century South Africa — full of unselfconscious spiky originality, the larval form of a new kind of SF munching its way out of the intestines of the wasp-paralysed caterpillar of cyberpunk."