July 30, 2004

The Up Song

Note: This is an Everything2 daylog from June 18, 2003. I just had the daydream again while working on sharp tools.

Today I realized what my most common daytime idle fantasy is. Yes, this writeup is office-safe! By 'idle fantasy' I mean 'what my mind drifts to when I'm not thinking of anything in particular.' This does not mean 'what my mind drifts to when a woman walks by who...' but you get the idea.

If I had to name it, it would be The Up Song.

How best to explain it. Let's see, what is it composed of. Well, I drive a Toyota MR2. I like playing Descent. I am a spacenik. I hate traffic. I believe that certain events/activities call for particularly appropriate, crushingly loud music.

That's about it. It does fit together, really. See, I'll be in traffic, which will frustrate me. Then the scenario clicks in:

I flip the Magic Switch.
The car shudders slightly as it reconfigures, contours sliding smoothly into a new convex hull that is, if anything, a more violent red. At the same time, the car lifts perhaps six inches off the pavement, just enough to retract the tires (yes, like in Back to the Future Part II) and the dashboard flows in front of me, the steering wheel vanishing into the instrument cluster, the shifter sprouting a top end with several buttons and a 6-DOF ' coolie hat' that fits naturally under my thumb.

I pull back smoothly with my right hand, using my right thumb to slightly 'blip' the coolie hat upwards. My left hand moves to the large thruster/ throttle controller that has extruded from the door in over my left leg.
The MR2 pulls its sharp prow upwards, rotating around a line just at the back end of the doors. The nose now points at Deep Blue with an eager tremble. The vehicle shakes itself slightly, bobbling in the windstream of its motion and passing cars; from the taillights, a single wedged surface extrudes itself into a perfect aerospike engine and the blue flame begins to flicker along the base edges.

I reach for the dash with my right forefinger, just in front of the stick, and pop the MP3 play button that resides there waiting.
There is a crackle of the stereo system clearing its little solid-state throat, and then the opening strains of The Up Song pour from the speakers, the entire world waiting for the breakbeat and the drums and the Loops of Fury to commence. Expectation precipitates from the surfaces and shapes around me; I can feel it being pulled into my vehicle from the frightened faces of those in cars around me as they watch this strangeness, unable to escape, their cars locked into the same traffic mass as I was until a few seconds ago. A suggestion of quiet, calm yet eager voices can be heard behind the tones of music as my steed's systems talk to themselves, making sure that all hands are shaken and all of its various parts are ready to taste air.

As the Up Song hits the opening of the beat, my left hand of its own free will slides the throttle up forward, past the ignite point and past the Cruise detent into Launch-
Blue flame pours from the edges of the 'spike, meeting at the edge and morphing into a blurred, rushing thunder of power as it batters at the asphalt beneath the back of the MR2. There is a crackling roar, the sound of systems, air, and human ears stressed to the point of distortion, and (to quote William Gibson), gravity comes down on me with great soft hands with bones of ancient stone-

I flip up the shielded release button on the stick, press it down, ride the SLAM back into the seat and watch the world fall away beneath my windscreen, a lost forgotten lover-

and like that, I'm gone.

This, then, is the 'Up song.' I use Magic Carpet Ride as an example, because the initial seven or so seconds of the launch of the Phoenix ( Zefram Cochrane's Warp Ship) in Star Trek: First Contact is the best example of the feeling I want. Barely controlled power, riding the wave rather than directing, knowing that the Earth is back there behind me, made behind rather than beneath by the howling of my engines.

But what is my Up Song?

I don't quite know, yet. But you see, I plan on getting off this benighted rock at least once before I die, which means I'll have to undergo a launch of some sort. When I do, there will be music playing on my headphones, or better, directly into my skull if I can manage it - and I need to know, in advance, what that soundtrack will be.

I sometimes wonder if Shuttle crew and other professional Super-Uppers ever sneak music feeds into their headphones during launch. Especially if you can hear Mission Control, and they you, it seems like it'd be a crime not to have music at that moment - the sounds of human spirit in a moment of pure, bond-breaking freedom.

I wonder.

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Wanderer Falcon

The peregrine falcon, falco peregrinus or 'wandering falcon', is a beautiful bird. It's the poetry of sudden death fused with effortless grace that only Nature can really pen, iconified in a brownish-white sleek shape that even across a two-hundred-yard gap and sitting on a perch looks like it's moving at high speed.

There is a pair of peregrines that have apparently taken up residence somewhere near my office building. At random intervals, we can see them perched on the parapets of buildings surrounding ours - it's a perfect hunting ground for them, as this part of Cambridge is mostly single-digit-high office 'wedding cake' buildings surrounded by open spaces for roadways, lawns and park.

They're tantalizingly just out of reach of the naked eye's ability to discern detail. I know they're peregrines; several times, they have flown/soared past our windows, only ten or fifteen feet out and unable to see in by virtue of the energy-efficient mirrorcoating and hence unconcerned by our presence. They're the absolute top of their food chain around here, and act it; lazily wheeling around the sky with one eye cocked for pigeons or just sitting perched on buildings fluffing regally. Dark brown wingtops, with light tan/cream undersides, with dark grey/black spots on the breast and throat, which in flight looks like a slightly blurred spacecraft. They hold their wings out rigidly straight when soaring; almost perfectly perpendicular to their bodies. Rather than warping the whole wing, their flight feathers at the ends actually bend up in little winglets, which they twitch almost sub-visually to change direction in the airstream. From the front, they look like the Air Force's most persistent wet dream; stealthy, narrow, sharp, lethally hard to see, and from that angle consisting entirely of weapon (beak and talons) and sensors (eyes).

They don't make much noise, as befitting hunters. Still, I'm reminded, every time I see them, of my seventeenth birthday, which summer I spent working in the Raptor Research Center on Sapsucker Woods Road at Cornell University. There, I learned to talk to falcons perched nearby, or on my arm, or even how to cajole them down from the tops of their three-story-tall cages to have dinner or allow themselves to be moved so I could clean the cage. They are no less beautiful perched than in flight, although they are much, much sillier. The true silliness that is the stupidity of a bird (they have very small brains) is most apparent when they are attempting to interact with you at your own eye level when they're not in flight - and not least because when they're not flying, they're as awkward as a taxiing 747.

I hope they have a nest nearby. The fact that there's two together makes them a mated pair; I wouldn't think they'd be able to leave young in the nest alone this time of year, but my dad (raptor expert) assures me that by end of July, the young falcons are large enough to not be bothered by intruding small birds or squirrrels or what-have-you, and both parents will take off to hunt. So somewhere, around here, is (no doubt) an eyrie; whether it is busy with the gawkish rustlings of young birds or not I don't know, but I'd like to think so. Only a few years ago, these birds were on the top of the Endangered Species lists due to their vanishing habitats and hunting grounds; unlike most animals in that situation, however, falcons were saved because some smart people noticed that cities should be heaven for them (no predators, lots of pigeons to eat, tall buildings to roost on...) and they were right.

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July 26, 2004

4G iPod addendum

This is a small thing I noticed re: the 4G iPod...I have since asked 3G owners, who say theirs doesn't do this. If I'm listening to the iPod via headphones while it's undocked, and I remove the headphones, the iPod pauses. Then, if I don't replug the headphones and unpause within the normal timeout, it shuts down to save power (and, incidentally, save my place in the song, since it paused rather than stopped). This used to happen to me all the time; when removing the iPod from the car, I'd disconnect the cassette adapter from the headphone jack and forget to stop the iPod, which would then happily drain its entire battery charge sitting disconnected in my bag. No more. This is one of those 'little things' that makes this iPod such a joy to use...while there is no shortage of annoying things that Apple does, little things like this (which was not trumpeted as a Feature anywhere on the promo literature) indicate to me that there is still a team working on the iPod who love their little jellybean child and continue to lavish their smarts on it.

Oh, and the more I use it, the more I love the clickwheel. Heh.

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July 21, 2004

iPod, iLook, iBitch

So I don't really have any real reason to complain. Which, naturally, means I'm about to anyway.

For reasons I won't go into, I recently was forced to buy a new iPod (aw...shucks). I trotted out last week and plunked down the $400 for a 20GB 3gen unit, only to find myself with Alpha Geek Inferiority complex a few days later when Newsweek was coopted to serve as Apple's press bitch. So back I go to the Apple store.

Ha! Betcha thought this was going to be an Apple store customer service bitch, didn't you? Well, no, wrong. They were quite nice, told me I was within my 10-day 'remorse period' (I love terms like that) and took back the iPod. Because I hadn't even opened the headphone blister pack (I use Koss's 'The Plug') they knocked a few percent off the restock fee, even! Then, after expecting to wait weeks for the new one, nope, they had them in store today - a mere 2 days after the announcement. This isn't the Apple I know and love to hate. $100 cheaper for the same storage? In stock within 2 days of announcement? Took back my old one?

Get it home, in my hot little hands, a spankin' 40GB version. Open the case. Right away, clues to how they cut corners - they're using recycled paper 'egg carton' material instead of styro in the packaging. Well, that's ok, I'm hip to that, it's probably even better for the environment. Open up the cube.

Waitaminit. Hm. USB cable, yep, FireWire cable, check, headphones w/foams, uh-huh...

No remote? And no carrying case? On the high end model?


I told you there wasn't any *real* reason to complain but that I would anyway. Especially since no one has shipped a case for this one yet, so now I'm caseless. It's not like the case in the 3gen cost them more than maybe two bucks in quantity! The remote? Well, gee, I *guess*...still, I'm kinda chuffed.

At least they did put a dock in here. That would've tipped me over to a full-on rant. And, of course, the reason I got the new iPod, really? I hated those $#()_)@#(@ 'four button' controls. I was an original iPod user. I got used to having the buttons surrounding the wheel. They don't surround it, but the click wheel is almost, nearly, within-a-micrometer-of just as good.

Ah. Tunes.

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July 19, 2004

Smile, You're on Bored Fed Camera

Wake up (it's 1984)...

- Oingo Boingo

For those of us who would prefer not to be the subject of law enforcement cameras without a damn good reason, it just got a bit harder to live in Boston.

Essentially, a whole load of existing surveillance cameras downtown plus a bunch of new ones to be installed for the DNC convention are going to be linked together into a giant surveillance net, courtesy of the Federal Government. Whee. Not only that, according to the article over 30 of the cameras will be remaining in place after the convention, where they will be used by the Boston Police Department. Their quote: "We own them now. We're not going to put them in the closet."

Oh, joy. That's a great reason for using them. 'We have them, might as well.'

This is how things start, and more importantly, this is how things get worse. A small little reasonable-sounding bite at a time. Sure, the DNC is going to involve hectic craziness, so sure, it makes sense to have cameras keeping an eye on things, especially protesters. Schyeah.

What can we do about it? I don't know. Sounds like it's too late to protest it, although we can certainly voice our disapproval in local elections and to our representatives. Given the rush to seem 'on board for Homeland Security,' though, I don't know how much good that'll do.

Of course, we can all become jammers. That's one thing we can do.

Just because the cameras are there, doesn't mean we have to ignore them. During the convention, or any time, hold up a big sign reading "YOU ARE UNDER SURVEILLANCE BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT" with an arrow pointing to the camera. Show it to passers-by. I wonder how the Feds and cops will feel about this?

I had an idea a few months back about these things. I recall musing on how expensive it would be to put together a bunch of small adhesive disks, each with a small, center mounted laser diode, mounted in a glob of silicon or gum. Every time I see a camera pointed at me in a public place, find a spot to stick the disk, aim the diode at the camera, turn it on, and leave. Or, better yet, stick around with a camera of my own, and when the Men From Behind the Camera show up to remove the disk, photograph/tape them obsessively.

Fed and BPD cameras, this is probably a good way to get arrested. It probably is worth it. On the other hand, it's a good way to screw with all those random commercial surveillance cameras watching public space, whose tapes the FBI and police seem to have so much fun going to nab all the time. Large buildings with overeager security forces are a prime target.

Hm...I can't see those costing more than maybe a couple bucks each, in quantity 25 or so...heh.

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July 13, 2004

What would make you pick up a gun?

I used to say that it would have to be something unthinkable.

Now, I'm not planning on it. I'm not even expecting it. It's just that I have passed another ideological Rubicon in this strange crusade to power of the Neocons and the Bush administration.

First of all, go read this. I'll wait.

This is an article that, regretfully, I have to trust to foreign news services to give the treatement I believe it deserves. Please pay special attention to the last few paragraphs, reproduced below:

No US presidential election has ever been postponed.

Abraham Lincoln was urged by some aides to suspend the election of 1864 - during the US Civil War - but despite the expectation that he would lose, he refused.

"The election is a necessity," Lincoln said. "We cannot have a free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forgo, or postpone, a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered us."

All I can think of to say, in the face of the overwhelming stupidity of this move on the part of the Motherlan...er, Homeland Security department, and through them, the Bush administration, is...no.


In the first, most simple and tactical place - you've lost. The very fact that this has leaked to the media has ceded the initiative. As well stand on rooftops and scream the obvious: "We're frightened of you, and we're ruthless opportunists!" Just making these requests indicates that the possibility has occurred to those in charge; ergo, a free insight into their reactions to attacks by others on the U.S. at that sensitive time. Bravo, boys, hand over the battleplan.

There remains the possibility that this is what they might term a 'clever ploy' and that there will later be a press release of frantic spin, something along the lines of "Yes, we were daring them to make a move during the day of highest alert in order that we might engage."

This doesn't indicate strength. It indicates that not only have you not defeated or even significantly slowed the adversary, but that you don't even know where to look for them and hence must clumsily lay ambuscades - ambuscades not around a dry hole, but around your crown in fact. The election, the act and the event, is the Democracy (O much-invoked name) of the United States of America. If a civil war could not rattle it, then how can this? Can this, truly, be worse than that conflict? I think not. We remain strong, free, prosperious despite the best efforts of the current Presidential administration.

If one was truly worried that Al-Qaeda could produce a disruption equivalent in scale to a full-scale civil war - nay, surpassing that - then perhaps planning is in order - but quietly, secretly, behind the scenes, and NOT planning to give away the store. Planning to ensure that the election comes off no matter what happens - defying hell or high water. Such defiance is what gives this country strength! Defiance of adversity, not craven cowering in bureaucratic delay, ESPECIALLY when said delay threatens the very ideas on which the country is built.

What, then, would you do? When would you consider that the line had been crossed? Suppose, for argument's sake, the election is delayed. Do you, personally, feel that a wrong has been done you? Are you a voter? If so, WHY NOT? They have moved to steal your franchise in the name of the Unseen Enemy.

The Germans have a word for this. Putsch.

Do NOT let this happen here.

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July 9, 2004

Singing Supraluminal

the end-all grail and be-all goal since hydrogen first condensed to mist; to overcome the barrier that has been placed by God or Chance or pre-ordained rule.


Know where you are. Know where you're going. Wish upon a star; bring all online and push with legs cross-connected to the vagaries of comp. Squint once, twice; bring lenses back with grav-fields strobing in the dark (arrows to the universe, a turn-signal none can or should ignore) and then taste the different spectrum of the black.


SLAM systems as they jump, the nonexistant nano lights sliding up the tone to green inside your head. Where your head was, at any rate. Glissando in their laugh, ten, twenty, forty-five; a thousand thousand settling down upon your skull a billion points that put all to shame to sing their go-song deep inside the brain.


Slowly, massive, physics jealous guarding its longtime grip. Feel the Hohmann pathways part and listen to the steady silence in the water gap play into your ears. Small blue marble far, far below and then behind; clouds mask its face, the rain weeping to see you go but proud (so proud) of what mankind has wrought. This, you, it, then, now.


Secondaries fully lit, with blazing torches sweeping spacelanes clear. Scything out past the radiation haze, the places back behind alight with glory of the dying matter! Flicker your God-spawned light onto the small dark rocks and imagine (just a moment, then) that small, long-sleeping eyes do blink and open, swiveling to watch you pass. A wordless, soundless, yet still-felt cheer from all the silent denizens of the deep that have watched us for so, so long as you pass by - a rousing hurrah! from planetismals small and large, their winking facets of high albedo pushing back the light we cast. Thinking of them, waiting for those countless years, you sigh a bit and throw a mental wave to all your fellow Solians. Think, then, of the familiar bright and yellowed light that we have shared.


The mains have woken now, somewhere behind; unfathomable Murgatroyds of physics born and magic raised are spinning up. Energies that deities both Greek and Goth would have killed in one of their endless operatic spats if only to control for just one minute - here they are, at last, yours, ours, only to exist to help us go. Rhyming doggerel that sounds your path, whispered in the tearing shriek of too-slow particles across front shields-

Feynman and Einstein shout for von Braun-
Run for the dark as fast as you can.
Schwartzchild, Hawking, Newton, Kaku
Chandrasekhar and Planck will dance for us too
Pull the string, dig the hole, spin it and call:
"With strangeness and charm we'll jump o'er the wall!"

Put words to deed, channel the strangeness and capture the charm; color us spincycle. There is a blaring in the soul, a shouting in the sea of years, a long slow rupture of the universe that sounds (for want of better term) like a tortured bass violin as a bow some light-years long is drawn across its adamantium strings. Colors that never were will flicker then around the front, as starlight is drawn into a tunnel fore and aft. Wave to our patient silent neighbor Jove as we scream through the old God's front yard, tearing several unknown moonlets into component ice and dirt -

some days later those back home will see the show as particles stream down from upabove into the endless sea of Jupiter, their shining beacon suicide reminiscent of Hale-Bopp lo those years ago


parting, sliding, twisting in their darktime cells the mains struggle; titans move beneath our skin in ancient dance of stones. With sudden locking into step and place and time, we vow-

...leave nought but footprints across the EM band and deed to those behind your lightshow concert of the unreal, slip sideways out from up and under...


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July 1, 2004

Mono + 1.0 = 85kH/hr = (unh!)

As Miguel noted, the machine we had allocated to handle the Mono team's release and news/blogging needs just couldn't take the strain. 85k hits in the first hour and the server made with the faceplant; although, perhaps most frustrating, it didn't *totally* faceplant. It dove into swap like a coked-up porn star at a couples party, but never...quite...went all the way down (the prude).

Consequently, I have spent much time not only on the phone with our colocation provider's NOC ("Well...yeh...you better reboot it...wait...hold on, it just came up with a prompt...but...no...I can't login...better kick it...") but logged into the machine itself via both network and indirect serial console connections (go Cyclades!). It's running Linux (duh) with Apache 2, and the real limiting factor at this point (after Miguel's team and I have made several hours of uncoordinated and hence likely contradictory tweaks) is memory. Load is now running around a constant 35; at peak, I witnessed it hit 576 before the machine quit responding. At this load, the box is maybe 50MB into swap and is handling a max of 100 simultaneous Apache connections. This sounds low, I know, but the machine is also running a Whole Bunch O' Mono worker threads (at least twenty) to handle the various Mono back-end stuff. These, too, suck up RAM. The machine is at least reliably responsive, if slow, at these loads.

I'm not really sure how this could be improved; I just don't know enough about the guts not only of the Mono module/runtime but of the site they have on there to determine if the content could be easily clustered across multiple boxen, either using dumbshit-but-quick methods like DNS round-robin or more complex-but-satisfyingly-crunchy methods like Linux Virtual Server. Perhaps a mid-range solution whereby the Mono processes are banished to their own machine, communicating with the web server threads over the net? I don't know if that comm link is a bottleneck. Now that Mono is at 1.0, though, I think I better start learning the answers to some of these.

Congratulations to Miguel and all the other Mono Monkeys (yes, I know that's redundant, deal with it).

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