Michael J. Radwin

Tales of a software engineer who keeps kosher and hates the web.

Monthly Archives November 2003

Off-Roading at Hungry Valley

I went off-roading today with Rob and Dan at the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area. We were out in the 4WD practice area for all of 15 minutes when Rob decided to get us stuck in the mud:


Some other brilliant guy tried to get us out, but he got stuck even worse:


A guy in a Suburban eventually came by and pulled us out with a tow rope. Set free, we proceeded to drive around the mud for a little while longer, being careful to avoid the steep part of the pit. Twenty minutes later the Suburban itself got stuck so we backed in and towed it out. Do you see a pattern here?

We left the mud area and hit the trails. After roaming around the park for another 4 hours, we finally headed home. It was a total blast.

Cancelled again

apache-feather.gif Ugh. I’ve been cancelled again.

I was planning to give an Apache-releated talk to a bunch of Yahoo! engineers in Sunnyvale next Thursday, but somone else has stolen the conference room from me.

Yahoo! Engineering has a great tradition of “Thursday Lunchtime Tech Talks.” Every Thursday we reserve a big conference room upstairs from the cafeteria and someone gives a tutorial or a presentation on a technical subject while a handful of interested engineers listen and learn. It’s a great opportunity to meet people you’ve only corresponded with over email, and very frequently you learn something about how to solve a particular problem that comes in handy.

In my 5 years at the company I’ve probably done 6 or 7 talks, mostly relating to ad-targeting, Apache, PHP, and our proprietary package-management tool.

I’ve actually been planning to give this Apache talk since early September and have had 3 separate dates reserved for this talk. But each time I’ve been postponed by a few weeks due to a room conflict. Next week there’s some sort of three-day conference that wants to use the room.

So, I’ve been rescheduled for January 8, 2004. I wonder if I’ll get preempted by the Q4 2003 earnings announcement…

Thanksgiving travel preview

I flew back from SJC to LAX tonight and got a taste of what air travel is going to look like tomorrow, the busiest air travel day of the year.

  • It was busy. Very busy. Two years after 9/11 it appears that Americans are no longer afraid of airplanes.
  • Instead of the usual business traveller crowd, my plane was filled with college students. Every single one of them had an iPod. I simultaneously felt very part of American pop culture (I’ve had one for almost 6 months now) and also a little bit old. No Nomad or Dell Jukeboxes to be found. The hot peroxide blonde sitting in the middle seat to me was talking to the guy next to her (an Amerasian with acne) about what he was majoring in. Both had iPods. And apparently both think the quarter system is better than the semester system.
  • TSA and the airport rent-a-cop security screeners seemed ready for the deluge of travellers. There were many more metal detectors and X-ray machines open than there usually are. Throughput was very good.

If you’re travelling on Wednesday, get there early and don’t forget your iPod.

Emacs and *.tar.bz2 files

I’ve been seeing more and more bzip2-compressed files these days, and I want to be able to open these files in GNU Emacs without the need to decompress them.

About 10 years ago I copied someone’s ~/.emacs file and noticed some mention of a crypt++ module. I asked them what it did and they told me that it allowed them to view *.gz files in an Emacs buffer by doing the decoding on-the-fly. Combined with the built-in support for tar-mode, this is very handy.

I’ve been using it to browse *.tar.gz and *.tgz files since the emacs-19.34 days, but today I needed to view the source code of php-4.3.4.tar.bz2 and it didn’t work.

After a little bit of investigation, it turned out that the ancient version of crypt++.el I’ve been using for the past decade didn’t support bzip2 files. So I went and grabbed the latest version (2.92, released January 2003) and added the following 6 lines to my ~/.emacs file:

(require 'crypt++)

(modify-coding-system-alist 'file "\\.gz\\'" 'no-conversion)

(modify-coding-system-alist 'file "\\.Z\\'" 'no-conversion)

(modify-coding-system-alist 'file "\\.gpg\\'" 'no-conversion)

(modify-coding-system-alist 'file "\\.bz\\'" 'no-conversion)

(modify-coding-system-alist 'file "\\.bz2\\'" 'no-conversion)

Viola! It works!

It turns out that GNU Emacs 20 and later has native support for handling compressed files, so all you really need is this:

(auto-compression-mode t)

But I’m still kinda attached to using crypt++ because I occasionally use the built-in PGP support.

No more blog spam

mt-logo-small.gif For the most part, blog comments have turned into a distributed link farm for perscription drug and porn websites. Instead of a vibrant community of ideas, about half the comments on my blog are a steady stream of Viagra, Propecia and Phentermine ads.

I’ve had enough of this crap.

Instead of disabling comments altogether, I have disabled HTML and URL auto-linking. I also updated my Individual Entry Archive template to use this tag instead:

<$MTCommentAuthorLink show_email="0" show_url="0"$>

(Another way to solve this problem is to replace the <$MTCommentAuthorLink$> tag with <$MTCommentAuthor$>.)

Now blog spammers can post to my site all they want (and they probably will continue to do so) but their links will be ineffective. Ha!

It looks like there are a couple of MT plugins (like Bayesian and CloseComments) which try to solve this problem as well.

Ninestar Action Sports

ninestar.gif I’m not exactly what you’d call an “action sports” type of guy, but a friend of mine is opening a hip new store in Los Angeles. If you’re into skating/snowboarding/BMX/surfing, apparently this store is a dream come true.

Ninestar is having its grand opening (a “Kickass Kickoff Event”) this Saturday November 15. They’re located at 11103 W. Olympic Blvd at Sepulveda Blvd.

They’re having some sort of contest, too. The winner gets $99 a month for life. Spotty details on the website; probably designed to get you to show up in person at the store so you’ll buy something.

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin (Audiobook) I recently “read” Steve Martin’s most recent novel The Pleasure of My Company. It’s an excellent book.

I use “read” in quotes, because I purchased the audio book instead of the written book. I’ve listened to only one audio book before (the first Harry Potter book which I snagged from KaZaA before the RIAA flooded the network a bunch of crap). This one was way better. Why? Because Steve Martin reads it!

Like his previous novella, The Pleasure of My Company is a story about a lonely man living in LA who seeks companionship. To say that the main character in is neurotic is an understatement. Asperger’s or OCD is more like it.

But Daniel Pecan Cambridge isn’t all crazy; he’s a true romantic at heart. Throughout much of the story he is admiring Zandy, Clarissa, and Elizabeth from afar, hoping that one day one of them will love him back.

The book is light and and charming. Unlike the Diamond Age, which I read last month, I didn’t need a dictionary to decode the language. Steve Martin reading it makes the book all the more enjoyable. Highly recommended.