2010: Week 36 Blots

BLOT: (12 Sep 2010 - 10:40:54 AM)

This morning's mystery: Why do horrible puns like this one like showing up in news articles?

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 36
BY MONTH: September 2010

BLOT: (10 Sep 2010 - 11:49:20 AM)

"One good pump and a concise greeting combined with solid eye contact will do the trick"

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 36
BY MONTH: September 2010

BLOT: (10 Sep 2010 - 10:10:07 AM)

Easily the weirdest news story I read this morning: two killed by train, survivor muddles the narrative (maybe)

Here is the news story as I read it: 2 Killed by Train May Have Fallen Asleep on Tracks. Here are some of the facts as reported by the article:

I occasionally read about people falling asleep, or sunbathing, on railroad tracks and I always stop and wonder what the crap is up. I for sure used to play on railroad tracks as a kid, and I have vague memory of being young (6? 7? 8?) and doing some stupid stunt where I pretended to be asleep on a highway (this is is lower Alabama's backwoods, where highways at night get maybe a car per 10 minutes). But actually sleeping? That's strange.

I did go and find another article on this morning's "accident". Almost raises more questions, but it says that the woman who survived and man (one male and female victim) were older and the other victim was a teen). But now, there was no booze involved for hours. And the bodies were found near an overpass.

No matter how you parse this one, it's weird.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 36
BY MONTH: September 2010

BLOT: (09 Sep 2010 - 12:50:32 PM)

The Eight Doctors, by Terrance Dicks (8th Doctor Novel)

Here we have the first book in the EDA (Eighth Doctor Adventures) line, the new (for '97) line of Doctor Who novels designed to carry on the adventures of the Doctor post-TV. Some -where/-how in the mix there were other lines of novels (see second paragraph) that looked back at past Doctors and specifically carried on post-Survival Seventh Doctor stories. This one focused, as you can guess, on the Eighth Doctor as played by Paul McGann in the movie.

The Eight Doctors starts things off by trekking back through the Doctor's previous lives and having him save his previous incarnations (85% of the story) while also introducing him to his next companion (3%) and getting mucked about in Time Lord Polity (12%). Number Eight, Terrance Dicks wants us to know, is dashing and suave and forceful and clever and wise (a certain degree of character complexity got reintroduced in the next novel: Vampire Science). For the first couple visits (with the First and Second Doctors), we get little scenes cuts that show how certain key decisions were made. He stops the First from bashing in the head of a caveman, and helps to talk the Second into summoning the Time Lords despite the cost. I think this is more Dicks' way of giving new fans a glance back rather than claiming the Doctor continuity was potentially something different but was altered into its correct pattern by Eighth. Compared to the increasingly long stories with the later Doctors, the First barely even touches the book so if you are Team Hartnell, you'll probably not like where this ends up.

For most of the rest we get an "immediately after a televised adventure" series. Eighth helps Third to track down the Master immediately following The Sea Devils, and helps Fourth fend off a vampiric counter attack right after State of Decay. The biggest self-referentialization occurs right after The Five Doctors from Number Five's point of view, and events from that 20th Anniversary Special are heavily referenced throughout. Fans of the Raston Warrior Robot get a second glimpse of the devil (with some background story), this time with Sontarans (try and read the dialogue without doing the Sontaran voice, dare you). At this stage, the novel is still relatively fast paced: Quantum Leap short stories for Time Lords.

Then we get to the section with the Sixth Doctor. Set on one end of the Trial (though you might say "tangentially set"). Rather than continue the 3rd through 5th pattern, Terrance Dicks decides to take us to the behind the action, a presidential enquiry to redeem the Doctor once and for all. In the classic series, the Trial (by which I mean Season 23, aka Trial of a Time Lord) was the swan song of both the Sixth Doctor and the Time Lords (outside of renegades and spin-off material, they did not return until "The End of Time"). Rather than spend the novel's time defending Number Six, Dicks instead devotes a considerable chunk of the novel to the Doctor leaving behind the Sixth and fixing Time Lord society through various schemes. While this is the first time Dicks lets the Eighth really be free, it also comes as a sharp contrast to the rest, a mis-stepped diversion that bogs down an other word one-sitting read. It does, to some degree, help to recast Time Lords as "generally ok", which might help some fans who disliked the increasingly negative portrayal on screen, but still. Different novel at a different time material. By the time it is wrapped up, the Doctor barely has time to interact with the Seventh (uniquely to the novel, the Seventh is set towards the end of his spin-off career, as opposed to televised) before discovering the "real plot" and getting back on track for his own stories.

Being, generally, ignorant of the various flavors of "Classic Who" spin-off novel, I have to admit that missed part of what Dicks was going for with The Eight Doctors. It reads best like a check-point for the series. If someone started with the Doctor Who Movie and then picked up this novel, between the two narratives they would have a fair standing in the Whoniverse. With lots more questions to ask, sure, but enough answers to keep going. I know it also provides a few corrections to slightly out of sync events going around the novels (of the time) and was Dicks' way of slapping the movie just a tad, while simultaneously trying to make a few things that snuck into the movie make sense (see: Eye of Harmony being in the Tardis, The Master's "snake form", etc). He does not rectify the "half-human on my mother's side" statement, though I'm sure one of the Eight Doctor Adventure (EDA) series will surely look into it.

I personally think you could probably skip this one, since the Doctor is almost a non-entity at the center. However, for Eighth Doctor fans for those who want at least some of the problems with the movie fixed, it is more essential to read. I would call it Fair. Not a strong point of Terrance Dicks' contribution, but well enough.

TAGS: Doctor Who [Eight Doctor, Novels]

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 36
BY MONTH: September 2010

BLOT: (07 Sep 2010 - 11:31:37 AM)

Ok, which is cooler: photos of water beads lensing some bright images, or the laser into space shot?

Morning surfing brought up two cool sets of pictures. Figured I would share, with the simple question, which is coolest? Quantity or quality? Lots of neat little photos of water droplets lensing the images behind them in bright patterns? Or one single big shot of a telescope using its finding laser with a starry sky backdrop? My vote, of course, is the latter, but I am open for other opinions.

In both, click on the pic to go to the original source.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 36
BY MONTH: September 2010

BLOT: (07 Sep 2010 - 01:31:05 AM)

Buying phones, the closing of more stores, TV and popcorn and beer, and...um..I guess that's it

Sarah and I did what might seem to be unthinkable today, we bought accessories for our corded phones. That's right, corded. As in pre-1990s technology. Those things with the spirally bits that stretch and get caught on stuff. The phones that led to this conversation, more than once: "Dude, hold up, I need to change phones," *puts down phone, walks in another room, picks up another phone, walks back to first room, hangs up phone, returns to second room, "Ok". Might as well fire up our Nintendo Famicoms and drink chocolate milk and faux juice from foil packs, right? Put in our LPs and cassettes and our VHS tapes and rock out, huh? Maybe. And I do have a sneaking suspicion that old school telephones are going to be the next in-thing for hipsters, so suddenly it looks like Sarah and I are trend-riding, but personally, I prefer them. All the V-2000 cordless phones with their sleek exteriors and blah blah blah, and all the cellphones with their gazillion smart apps interest me about as much as a Toyota Prius interests a car lover; that guy you see cry a small tear every time someone talks about fuel efficiency and brags about some new sports car with its pretty exterior. They might be the future, but good luck clubbing an intruder to death with your micro-iPhone 7, you luckless lub. Something about a Bakelite phone (and god help us all if I can find a black rotary phone) has a sense of class that phones nowadays have no care for. That's why I bought accessories for corded phones, and am proud of it.

While in the mall to pick up some stuff from Radioshack, couldn't help but notice there had been a spot of store closings in Madison Square Mall. The bookstore that replaced Waldenbooks was gone. The store across from it was gone. Downstairs, I could see a couple of empty store fronts. I worked in the mall for about four years, and every year the closing cycle was about four or five stores down, and four or five stores back by Christmas season, though one or two of those would be temp and then maybe one of those would try a shot for permanent. This means, over my stay in the mall, that we lost a couple of store fronts for good or for all pratical purposes, because the store used to fill them were just warm butts in the seat, more or less. Parkway Place has seemed to hold steady over the years, losing a couple of national brands and replacing them with some small businesses (though the small businesses rotate often). Madison Square, though, has had a rough five or six years. I cannot remember a time since my first Christmas season at Waldenbooks that there hasn't been various gaping holes in the store map. Have they even filled up the bigger holes where the clothing stores used to be (I forget the name?) The Disney Store has actually been replaced, right?

The reason we were out was to buy the phone accessories, but we spent more time getting food at Jason's Deli and walking around the Target shopping center (is there another name for it? I mean, Target is like 20% of it at most...). The reason we were ate at Jason's Deli was because Sarah and I had a night in, last night, and it was a fun one. Kind of fun. Maybe more schlock that fun. We ate a gross of popcorn. How much popcorn is in a gross? Keep eating until you find out. We drank beer and watched horror movies: "Incident on and off a Mountain Road" and Night of the Comet. I've seen both, in that hazy yesteryear where my brain sorts all past horror movies, so it was fun getting to watch them again. Somewhat unintentionally, both were fairly pro-woman. You get that more than you would think in horror, since the 70s most have kind of favored women as the strong, survivor type over men. Bad things happen to women, but they overcome. I have theories about this, especially in light that most horror scribes and directors are male, and they deal largely with the projected fear of wives and daughters being raped and stranded and beaten but being able to overcome. Of course, less forgiving critics see a wholy different scenario: deranged men taking out spousal or fatherly frustrations by delighting in the torture and breaking of strong women. Still, though, think about this: the end result of Hostel 2 is that the supposedly pampered and egotistical rich girl turns out to be stronger than everyone else, in every way that counts. Kind of like a mirror, I guess, art is, we see what we want to see.

Rant aside, Night of the Comet is an 80s-fest of early 80-ness. Has just about every genre (including, though shallowly touched upon, dysfunctional family drama) blended in. Many hints towards a darkly comedic take on the early 80s, though kind of flips some of it away by being so generally unoffensive. There is very little actual horror. Possibly the most keen moment is when a group of [ex-]stockboys jump the main pair of sisters but where nearly every other movie would have actually developed tension, Comet instead goes for lax farce. No other movie with a hint of cannibalism could be considered this safe. I still enjoy it despite there being, what, maybe 8 or 9 "zombies" in the whole thing and the power lasts as long as they want it to? Weapons show up a scene after being mentioned? An entire secret lab can be disabled by the flip of one switch and one explosive-rigged vehicle? Watch it for the dress-up scene if nothing else. Don't know which is better, how glamorous Catherine Mary Stewart is or how energetically floppy Kelli Maroney comes across (by the way, both were in their mid-20s playing non-specifically aged teenagers, isn't Hollywood swell?). Eh, my money's on Hector. Am I right?

And that kind of sums up my Labor Day weekend. I guess I'm off to read some Eight Doctors and get some sleep. Back to the old "work" thing tomorrow. Yippee. I love a happy ending.

TAGS: Me in 2010, Huntsville

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 36
BY MONTH: September 2010

BLOT: (06 Sep 2010 - 10:18:59 PM)

Getting Google Reader to work with Livejournal's protected entries via CURL (note, hosting service required)

I have been playing around with Google Reader today. I know that some of my friends use it a lot, and it offers me an alternative feed reader when I am on the road or at work, so it interests me. However, it had one big flaw that I could see. I have a small handful, say about 10, friends who post semi-regular, protected updates to Livejournal. The obvious, and probably expected, answer was simply to check my Livejournal Friends page while on the road or at work, and that works; but part of me balked at the limitation and wanted to find a way around it. After an hour or two of tinkering, I came up with this idea (this shouldn't have taken this long, but I'll explain the process).

My first thought, once I discovered the issue, was to try and find some way to call the feed that allowed it to authenticate "on the fly", one of the old http://user:pass@address.com sort of solutions. That did not work. I looked around online for a solution, and the first thing I found was Yahoo! Pipes which probably would work if they weren't so odd and strange a program. You can set up fairly complex inputs and outputs and connect them various mash-up systems. Theoretically, I could set up an authenticated feed reader on pipes, and then have it output the feed's contents as another feed, which could be read by Google Reader. My first and only attempt at working that through did not work, and for all I know, published by password to the internet.

This got me thinking, though, why not chew up the feed with another feed reader and then spit out a parsed xml file that I could do something with. I use Akregator so I first went into its archives and found them in mk4 file format, which is a Metakit type. I was able to use the viewer to see the contents of the archive, and even read them if I wanted, but did not quite feel like compiling some sort of command line system that would directly interact with the mk4 files. It seemed possible, maybe even preferable, but eh. Not quite what I was looking to do. The next idea was a continuation of this, I thought about getting another feed reader. Something simple, maybe, like Rawdog, which had the added benefit of converting the feeds read into an HTML file via Python, which was about one step away from doing what I needed to do with them. Reading through the config files, though, it was missing a certain finesse. Not Rawdog itself, but the solution. Installing a new application just so that I could write something to fit on top of it that would do something else with its outputs? Finally, my brain went, "Oh, yeah, CURL [however you want to uppercase that]!" Well, it went "WGet!" and then I remembered that CURL was better at that sort of thing, and...anyway.

If you want to use my solution to this problem, you'll need the following bits:

Also note the following caveats, which I would rank of fair importance, considering.

Ok, now that that is taken care of, this is how I set it up.

First, I created a bash script that had a series of cURL commands. Each one reads something like /usr/bin/curl --silent --digest --u username:password http://lj-user.livejournal.com/data/atom?auth=digest -o /path/to/hosted/file/lj-user.rss. One per line. The silent seemed to help, but may not be necessary. You'll need to toss the "--digest" in, or it doesn't seem to work (I have to admit I am not 100% sure what that means). The name of the file is whatever you want it to be, but keep in mind the first caveat, above. If you make it too obvious, then others might be able to access it and that's no good. Since it doesn't matter what the rss is named, you might could aim for something like a random sixteen digit code, that you change from time to time.

Once you get that file up and running (and don't, like me, forget the #!/bin/bash at the beginning) you'll stick that just about anywhere you please and then you'll want to crontab -e and make a line that reads something like 0 * * * * /path/to/script. If you are not doing this directly on the server, you'll then need to set up a second stage which automatically uploads the files to a server. I'll avoid going into that, but there are various options out there.

The next step, and essentially the last, is to go into Google Reader and then tell it the location of the files. Then you do all the various things you want to do like tag them or sort them. Google Reader seems to have it's own little schedule dictating when it updates. While I get it to show entries this way, and it's kind of cool because it brings over the journal title and such, it takes a few minutes before it checks again. I bet there is some sort of Google algorithm that won't check sites that aren't super popular super often, so expect a *gasp* 10 or so minute lag time on the hour (or however often you have it set up). That's what I've been getting so far, but let me give it a day or two and I'll update to let you know if it is actually worse than this over a longer scale.

TAGS: Linux Tricks

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 36
BY MONTH: September 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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