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June 24, 2003


So, I wanted to try out the cgi-ness of my host, and thought it might be fun to get a blog configured.... Movabletype seemed to be the "best," but it was a "beast" to install (and a bit more complex in its features than I needed for just playin' around. Then some folks at MacCentral turned me on to Blosxom, a compact-yet-powerful blog script that's a breeze to install.

Having passed the "Hello, World" point of getting Blosxom running, it's time for some content.... Might as well take one more stab at Robert's "Plato Paper" -- might even get Robert to turn on a computer ;-)

The Plato Paper was meant to be a re-telling of my work with The Phaedrus during my first section of Robert's Argument and Analysis class at Grand Valley's School of Communications. IIRC, I received an A- in the class in exchange for a pledge to write The Plato Paper. Robert stills asks for the paper when i see him, even after all these years.... Which edition do you want, Robert?

Umm... before I dive into this whole subject of The Plato Paper, we should maybe get to know each other a bit; a joke usually makes a good ice-breaker. Here's a story about a joke I told back in 1997 or so. at a typically snafu'd Grand Valley special event...

June 27, 2003

Postmodern Genie Joke

We were hosting a lecture by KRS One. Since the school held so few events targeted to our AfroAmerican pouplation, pent-up demand filled the house. A full house, 450 seats or so. Maybe 75 white kids were there; half of them were just filling a requirement from some course or another; they tended to sit in the back. It was a lively house, and we had a feeling this was going to be a good event.

As usual, we had three mics ready: a Shure M57, a Beta58, and a wireless lavalier. We had brought in an outboard EQ, set up a good monitor, and the mix was playing well...folks seemed to like the contrast of Macolm Mclaren and NWA ;-)

Showtime approached...20 minutes to curtain. No KRS One. At 10 minutes to curtain, we gt call to come down to the Green Room.

Mr. Manager was impressive -- the food wasn't right, the light wasn't right, room security didn't seem tight enough, he wanted more water at the lectern. The subject of start time never had a chance to even draw a breath...he was good.

I talked to kris; he liked the Beta. He needed to change and warm up, and that was gonna take 20 minutes. Could I keep the house happy until then?

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July 04, 2003

Goddamned Army Jeep

I've always been a fan of scripting systems (except MS Office Macros ;-), so it seemed only fitting to learn a little Perl after moving to a *nix OS.... Big Mistake.

First, I didn't move to a new OS -- still too many clients on the old OS for me to risk putting something new on my main drives. Unfortunately, I was already hooked on learning Perl. So now to test my coding I have to run everything remotely (over a landline, f'r' Crissakes), which is about 1 step better than using punchcards.

Second, there's no such thing as "a little Perl" -- it's all or nothing. Larry Wall can talk about "natural language" all he wants, but there ain't nuthin' natural about Perl...unless maybe you're conversant with the code revealed by the Human Genome Project.

Third, Perl "textbooks" are just as dense and exception-filled as the language itself; something happens to the brains of people who code Perl that seems to destroy their ability to speak slowly and clearly. (Pay your $50 for Programming Perl and then try to find an actual definition of the ".=" operator, for instance.)

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July 06, 2003


After slogging through a few plugins and much hand-waving over the reference books, I've got Blosxom tuned up to where I like it. I've replaced the sort routine with code to sort by filename (not mod date). The "seemore" plugin is being used to break up long entries and link to their permanent address for complete viewing. Not sure how seemore is supposed to work, but I modified it to use a distinct template flavour ("loner") for these links; works fine. Permanent links are provided in the entry title H1 heads.

And that's about it for Perling right now...gotta deal with WinXP in the shop this week, and I'm already weak ;-) Once I find a good syntax ref/cookbook, learning Perl might even be a bit of fun... despite all the irregular verbs.

(Actually, I'm so ashamed for the way I'm butchering the Blosxom scripts, I'll p'bly go overboard on Perl, obsessing until the day I can write a functional plugin ;-) But for now, the css is good, the js is good, the content is good. Just gotta keep tellin' myself, "It's good [enough]; its good [enough]; it's ...."

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July 07, 2003

One Hand Speaking

A friend's father was hospitalized, following a coronary. A triple bypass was scheduled; routine enough, but always a risk. On the phone, as she was telling me about it, I could hear the unvoiced words you just know are in there somewhere -- "What if he dies?" There was also a wispy hint of ambivalence in the manner of conversation; like a recap on the news... "Well, he had a heart attack; it's pretty bad; surgery's scheduled; everybody's busy; gotta go."

When my dad died, we were effectively estranged. One day I knew he was sick; three days later I knew he was dying; two days later he was dead. I had been trying to make peace with him for a couple years (not very successfully, perhaps because I wasn't doing it very well), and had walked away in frustration only months before. I didn't like him, but I was afraid of losing him.

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July 12, 2003

Vinyl Stones

Wow...I'm old ;-) I was ripping the 40 Licks Stones comp album in iTunes, watching the frequency distribution display... and I saw an old familiar pattern: low freq levels in the left channel were around 3dB higher than in the right. Consistently; anything released in the '60s and '70s had this skew to its levels.

This goes back to the nature of record players. As the stationary needle tracks along the revolving platter, it is accelerated inward -- it presses harder to the inside than to the outside. Your basic "record player" could do nothing to counter this force (called the "skating force"), and so a record with balanced bass on both channels would sound weaker in the left channel, because the left channel was the "outer" groove on the record.

Or, it's just the other way around; I never could keep it straight ;-)

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July 13, 2003

Summer Mice

The winter mice are usually quiet and reserved. They don't scamper around at night, they practically use a litterbox for droppings, and they're usually not very streetwise -- a winter mouse traps in a day.

The summer mice, though, are entirely different. The weather is fine, life is good, and for a mouse who's willing to climb a little, the eating is grand. These buggers are lookin' for the high life. All-night soccer matches, turds everywhere, and now they've licked the peanut butter out of the traps three times. This last time, both traps sprang, but too late. Arrrgh!

So now I've put a canvas thread in the peanut butter. The thread wraps the bait platform, and with any luck (for me), the mouse will have to tug a bit on the thread to get the peanut butter off.

Summer mice are almost always field mice. You'd think (at least, I think) that they'd mellow out once they're inside... less of a predator-eats-mouse world in here, and the chance to kick back a bit would seem welcome.

But it's just the opposite. These summer mice carry on like there's no tomorrow; living in some sort of cargo-cult dream. Yet, they're still wary and agile... they're hooligans.

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July 18, 2003

Second Plugin

It's been awhile since I've considered the documentation to be the enemy, but this Perl stuff puts me in a mood.... I've just finished my second Blosxom plugin, and the frustration with Programming Perl mounts. Gotta get me a reference book by someone a bit less ADHD ;-)

This second plugin is every bit as lazy as the first.... I would just as soon write as few html tags inside these entry files as possible. Since the biggest tagging chore is marking each "paragraph" (or blockquote or dfn or whatever the main format is for the entry text) with an open tag and a close tag... why not let a plugin do it?

(Well, one reason not to let a plugin do it is trying to figure out how to make a plugin do it, when all you've got to read are chatty reference works by the Larry crew; about as speedy a guide as the Dictionary of the Khazaars....)

Since this plugin just makes a couple of substitution runs through an entry, its results aren't very sophisticated; we're not talking Tiki territory here. But for a mindless tool, it's not too bad....

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July 25, 2003

Todd-ie Boy

No more Todd Mundt Show; brunchtime just got a little bit duller on UoM Radio. And that's saying a bit, because the show could be pretty... dull.

Sometimes it was Todd -- computer news was dominated by Wintel franchises; nothing about Macs, little about linux... just Windows stuff. Sometimes Todd channeled an Iowa Boy Scout ("I mean, would a large American corporation really do something like that?"); at other times he seemed to try too hard. But there weren't too many clinkers; only a handful in the last three years.

Usually, if a show went bad, it was from bad guest-age. Scientists who couldn't say, "Yes," without eating up 45 seconds of air time were always a favorite (and still are on Science Friday ;-). The "well-coordinated" guest -- frquent on Todd's show -- was also a treat. These folks are well-prepared, well-spoken, and will always interject at some point, "Oh, that's a good question." After a while, you could sense a well-coordinated guest's presence early in the show, and then spend your time waiting for the, "that's a good question," outburst (almost like a drinking game, if you don't mind having only one or two drinks a day ;-).

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July 28, 2003

Walking Men

There's a new guy at the group home, and I don't think he's going to make it.

About four blocks away from one of the print shops I service is a group home for psychologically disabled men. They're all "walkers" -- all day long, they walk. A couple of guys have relatively short circuits; you can see them pass the shop every hour or so. Others have longer circuits, taking up to three hours before they pass through the four-way stop that I use as a lap counter. The new guy's circuit is around six hours.

Quite a few guys go through the group home; maybe one a month. If they can adjust to the income, accomodations, and comrades, then they've got a good place to live. If not, they're gone, and someone else gets to try out their slot.

One guy who didn't make it had problems crossing certain intersections. He would start crossing, then stop, then try to "push" against some unseen (by me) barrier. On a good day, he could best whatever it was he saw that was blocking his path. It might take three or four pushes, during which time cars would honk and people would stare, but he wouldn't know it -- he was all smiles from having made it across, from having a good day.

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August 01, 2003

Harbor Master

When I was 12, they made me the yacht club's Harbor Master: keep track of boats from other clubs tying up to our piers; collect a little rent; extend the glad hand. I have no idea why they let me do this...p'bly because I was hanging around so much, looking so eager to do something, being a pain in the ass ;-)

One of the worst things about being smart is how much bigger it makes your stupidity look. This was certainly my summer for being "smart".... From the scant records that accompanied the Harbor Master's cashbox, it was obvious that the position had been ignored for a couple of years. The tiny budget had apparently been spent at the bar, and there had obviously been no attempt to systematically collect slip fees. So, time to whip things into shape....

Collecting fees was fun -- I got to meet every boat that came in, talk to the skippers, ogle the gear (and any young daughters ;-), and act as first-tier tour guide to folks who had never visited before. For big events -- regattas of 50 or more boats, for instance -- I started a registry, and made up a dopey "rule" that no one could use the bar until their boat had "reported" (i.e. paid a slip fee) to the Harbor Master. It became a cute little thing -- the bartender would point new arrivals to an old wooden keg at the end of the bar, where they dropped in their money and signed the register. Later, I would visit the boat with a "Hello" and a simple safety look-see, and check their mooring.

The regattas were so cool... due to not enough piers, we often had to raft boats out from the main breakwall in front of the club. For some events this meant rafting people six or seven boats out, which was a total headache in terms of getting boats in and out. But the lights at night, the laughter, the music, the rhythms of people crossing bows to get from ship to shore to ship... that was magical.

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August 03, 2003

Buried Alive

When I first awoke, I was buried alive inside my mother. I kicked and pushed, and eventually a rescue team of doctors and nurses released me.

But then, for the next several years, I was buried alive in my parents; pretty much my whole world was everything they said and did. Then a rescue team of teachers released me.

But then, for the next several years, I was buried alive with a bunch of other kids in a school house; pretty much my whole world was everything the teachers said and did. One or two tried to rescue us via underground explorations, but the weight of the school house always crushed our escape tunnels.

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August 06, 2003


We were two days in Texas. My friend David and I had set out from Michigan with no clearer mission than escaping the great Northern Recession of 1974, aftermath of the Arab oil embargo. We were equipped with one car each, sharing $80 in cash and $80 in food stamps, a few bags of books and a desire.... We had seen Atlas shrug, up north. Now we wanted to be kidnapped by John Galt. Fueled by the Texas oil boom, lubricated by our dreams of unfettered, honest work, we slid down through the Interstate system like shit through a goose.


Our first view of Texas was a city on the eastern boundary of the state called Beaumont. The brown sky, the unusually large mosquitoes -- we could have easily mistaken the countryside for New Jersey. Beaumont is a chemical town. A "primary chemical" town. Here raw earth and rock are rendered into elements and simple compounds. Where in Michigan you would see railroad cars announcing yet another load of "Cotton from the King of the South" or a tanker of "hydrochloroflourocarbon-24" out of Midland, the rails in Beaumont carry gondolas loaded with "Methane" and "Sulfur." While the rest of the nation's factories push the electronic heroin and V-8 cocaine of industrial society, Beaumont deals in 21st century poppies and coca leaves.

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August 09, 2003

Jesus Jenny

Went back to Texas on December 24, depressed as hell. Picked up a couple of teens, boy- and girlfriend, hitching on US 57 in Illinois. They were running away (as it turned out), financing their escape to New Orleans by selling acid.

Very bad acid, apparently. The girl was trying to sleep in the back but kept waking up, with small brown men crawling out of her vagina and ears, scrambling all over her, pinching and tearing. I got the impression the little men looked like the primitives from Escher prints... she would wake, fight them off, sleep, wake, sleep. But once, they wouldn't go away. I "asked" her beau if maybe he didn't want to go back there and smooth her out, talk to her, help her. He said, "Huh?...Oh sure," called to her, and when she sat up, getting closer to him, he backhanded her; knocked her out cold. Then he turned back to me and tried to sell me some of the acid. Right.

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August 11, 2003

Perl-handled Revolver

Finally feeling like I have the tiniest grip on Perl. Finally! Almost as bad as trying to learn French....
After seeing that Blox 0.9 was just not going to treat <PRE> tags with any kind of grace, I started adding a means to block Blox from operating on a file. To my Pascal-ish mindset, this meant adding an if/then statement, as in: IF a blox-blocker exists for this file, THEN don't run blox on this file.

Looks like this in Perl:

if ($$body_ref =~ s/^$skipper\n//) {
  return 0;
elsif ($use_noblox_file) {
 if ($blox_ref{"$datadir$path/$filename.$file_extension"} == 1) {
   return 0;

Very much und ordnung; terraced fields; checklists; CS 101.

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August 18, 2003


Jaguar first impressions (new to X, too ;-)
A couple months ago, I installed 10.2.6 on the iMac(CRT)/600...figured that using the Apache server would be much more convenient than uploading endless Perl files to a host during script debugging ;-) So far my uses for X have only been Apache, IE, Moz, Safari, BBEdit, Photoshop, iTunes, Terminal, and Sys Prefs. As far as the system goes, it's fine.

But lord, that Finder sucks.....

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August 19, 2003


There are times when I just can't get to sleep, and the only thing that helps is a warm cup of coffee. I have no idea why this works...but it does. It can't be hot coffee, where you have to puff-sip, puff-sip. It's needs to be right around body temperature, and the cup, too. I'll sit for a minute, letting my hands take heat from the cup, and then put the coffee down in two or three big draughts. Within a couple of minutes, everything's slowing down, drowsing...and I know it won't be long until the black velvet slides over my eyes and takes me to morning.

I'm not sure why this works. The "warm" part makes sense -- warm is comfort, and shelter, and nuzzling. But the "coffee" part...all I can figure is that the caffeine acts like that just-a-bit-too-loud ruckus coming from the kids' room that makes mom call out, "Okay, that's enough now! Go to sleep. I don't want to hear any more noise coming out of there!" The caffeine is just enough energy to snap all those restless pieces of me out of their fidgeting, and let the sleepy take over.

There are other times, when I can't really get awake. Usually the depression is like a typical schoolyard bully -- mostly bluster and taunts, but little real danger...its major impact is in its persistence, not its punch. But once in a while, the depression comes on with fists flying, a hot young boxer lookin' to make a mark. I get so beat up that I feel like even taking care of myself is out of reach; I can't even get to the ropes, let alone leave the ring.

So I go mow an old lady's yard. You're always welcome to mow an old lady's yard, and she'll thank you with tea and hard candy and whatever stories or complaints she has ready; she really appreciates the time. For me, it's a chance to call out to the boxer, and tell him, "That's enough! -- let all those fidgeting pieces wake up; they've got things to do now."

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August 24, 2003


Even though my eyes were closed, I remember the whole thing as though I had been looking on from the ceiling, in the farthest corner of the room from the door.

Don had just shut his eyes and danced up the aisle, turned at the desk, and shot right to the doorway. I wasn't very good at most of the games we played, but I didn't see what could be so hard about this. I was eager to try.

I didn't understand Don's dance until sometime after I was in the hospital. I didn't figure that the whirling arms and legs were helping him find where the desks were, and that jumping around like he was doing the boogaloo kept his legs apart and limber, more stable in case he started to trip. Maybe he didn't figure this either -- maybe he just closed his eyes and made it to the door without looking.

I closed my eyes and started out.

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August 31, 2003

Writer's blok

Flew solo today...20 lines or so, without having to check the book. LOL! Got a suggestion from the Blosxom plugins page to add Windows line-end conversion to blox; just one line. But that presented a small quandary...the Pascal Protestant in me worried about crossing a line between attaining Perl's laziness and rewarding damnable ignorance. (On the Mac at least, Pascal's pearly gates bear a sign: "You must be able to generate at least this much machine language to ride this code." ;-)

And I mean, Great Bog...knowing about formatting text with newlines is as fundamental as knowing which side of the road to drive on. One of those underlying pieces of infrastructure that defines the world of multi-platform diversity. Isn't it? Or is there a new day coming when anyone can be (and should be) be a user, and lusers will only exist due to bad design or poor documentation? Does every specific convenience carry with it this cost of obscuring broader knowledge? Which is it -- can of worms, or slippery slope?

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August 12, 2004

site overhaul

Other than uploading plugin updates, I hadn't touched the site in almost a year; not too much bitrot, but a fair amount of cruft. No fixed abode has too often meant no modern Mac — making it increasingly difficult to test plugins with the site's hacked blosxom. So the first order of business was to convert the blog sections over to stock blosxom:

  1. configure and install a clean blosxom
  2. add entries_cache plugin to fake file modification times
  3. hack entries_cache to do what it should ;-)
  4. process entry files to proper blosxom format:
    • title on first line (was date)
    • mod time meta- tag on second line (was title)
    • blank third line to conform to meta plugin standard (unneeded, but standard)
    • modify story templates to use blosxom's $mo, $da, and $yr vars (was my hacked $dato)
    • modify .dl templates to mimic the old name-based hack
  5. write a fulldatenames plugin to get full month names
  6. fiddle with load order

It was all quite tedious, but I just kept tellin' myself, "This makes it easier. This makes it easier. This makes it...." Geez, this better make it easier! ;-)

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