I’m on Jabber as jra@nella.org. I’m running my own server, and supposedly other Jabber servers are supposed to be able to contact mine and send me messages. I’m not convinced it’s really working because my test case didn’t seem to do what I expected. So if you use Jabber and want to talk to me, give it a try.

The Jabber guys ship their stuff configured to talk to MySQL instead of to BerkeleyDB. Doesn’t make sense, since the average Fedora Core install has the right BerkeleyDB, but doesn’t have MySQL. Dumb, dumb, dumb. We need to lower the bar to non-commercial chat systems, not make it harder.

Easter Eggs in Open Source Software

They say that the nice thing about Open Source software is that all the users are looking at the source checking it for bugs, so it will be higher quality than closed-source software.

Heh. I have proof that people don’t read the code they are installing.

Since the earliest widely-distributed releases of Cricket, there’s been an easter egg in it. It is hidden in code that should arouse the curiosity of anyone doing a security audit, but it is hidden well enough that someone poking around in the code won’t see it. To my knowledge the only person who’s ever found it was Javier Muniz, my officemate when I was writing Cricket. And that was only after I dropped a hint that I’d put an easter egg into Cricket. Javier’s a bright guy, and it didn’t take him long to find it.

Wonder if someone will run across this post and get curious? It’s there for the finding… you’ve got about as much to go on now as Javier did!

Dr Evil’s family

Austin Powers is on TV. I totally forgot about the hilarious monolouge by Dr. Evil about his family background:

Dr. Evil: The details of my life are quite inconsequential.

Therapist (Carrie Fisher): Oh no, please, please, let’s hear about your childhood.

Dr Evil: Very well, where do I begin? My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery. My mother was a fifteen year old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink, he would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Some times he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy, the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical, summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we’d make meat helmets. When I was insolent I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds, pretty standard really. At the age of 12 I received my first scribe. At the age of fourteen, a Zoroastrian woman named Vilma ritualistically shaved my testicles. There really is nothing like a shorn scrotum, it’s breathtaking, I suggest you try it.

Therapist: You know, we have to stop.

Thanks to the movie monologue page for transcribing it for me.

Gmail continues to rock my world

I just noticed a really cool feature of Gmail. This is subtle, so hang in there with me…

It, like other mail programs attempts to automatically maintain your address book for you by adding entries for addresses in mail you send. When you reply to someone who’s e-mail arrived without a real name, just an e-mail address you’ve got a problem: how do you add a useful address book entry for that?

Gmail adds an address book entry with the real name set to the part to the left of the @. A reasonable default, since some people’s usernames are close enough to their real names, and also because you might search the address book by typing some of what you remember from their email address.

But if you are a little bit obsessive like me, you prefer to see the address book have the proper real name. It makes the email look nicer when it goes out, and means that if you search on the person’s name instead of their email address, you can still find them. So I’m tempted from time to time to go in and fix up my address book.

Today I noticed I was replying to someone who’s address book entry was missing the real name. I thought, “Oh jeeze, I need to fix that”. But for some reason, instead of actually going and editing things in the address book user interface, I just edited the To box to add in the real name, changing “To: foo@bar.com” into “To: Foo Bar <foo@bar.com>”. (Ok, so it helps that I’ve read RFC 822, and actually know the BNF for an e-mail address. I’m a geek. Sue me.)

After making the edit, I realized, “Idiot. Now you just have to go do the same thing again in the address book.” So I sent the message and headed over to the address book. And found that Gmail had already fixed it for me.

How cool is that? It looks over your shoulder as you send things out, and fixes up your address book to track the edits you make to the To line. If this had been your run of the mill almost-good-enough-but-really-irritatingly-not-quite-right software, it would have noticed the address was different, and made a NEW entry in the address book for that, thereby leaving me with an address book that still needed pruning. But because this is Gmail, it Did Things Right.

Thank you, Google, for helping me make it day by day without throwing my computer off the top of the Empire State building.

Update: I just noticed that they almost got it perfect: old e-mail from the same person does not get the benefit of the new address book entry. It is still missing the real name. It seems like during rendering of a thread into HTML, they should use lookups into the address book to “clean up” names in the headers. This simple request is likely fraught with performance problems and other subtle gotchas, so I suspect that it was considered and either skipped or delayed until all the gotchas are figured out.

Sam Spade search plugin

I use Firefox, and I like the little search box thingie in the upper left. I decided it might be fun to figure out how it works by making a search plugin for the website SamSpade.org. Sam Spade looks up whois data and other interesting things about websites, and I find myself using it from time to time.

If you’d like to get the Sam Spade plugin for Firefox, visit this page. After installing it, you’ll have a new search type in the popup menu in the upper right. Look, ma, no restart!

If for some reason, you don’t like it, you’ll need to remove it by hand. It turns out that while there is a handy-dandy way to auto-install it, there is no user interface to uninstall it. Instead, you have to stop Firefox, then go into the c:Program FilesMozilla Firefoxsearchplugins directory and remove the samspade.src and samspade.png files. The instructions for how to remove a search plugin are very hard to find on the net, so hopefully this blog entry will be found by someone who wants to know how to uninstall a Firefox or Mozilla search box plugin.

Sorry for that big paragraph… as you might have guessed by now, it was intended as search engine fodder!

It turns out that Firefox (and all the Mozilla-based browsers) is using the same language for these search plugins that Apple’s Sherlock tool uses, so Sherlock users might also be able to us this plugin to get it to talk to Sam Spade. I have not tested it on a Mac, YMMV.

A New Year’s update

Hello, all my travel-watchers! Hope you all had a good holiday season. Thanks to those of you who put me up, and those others who asked, “Where are you?”

Since I last sent out an update, I’ve returned to the US from Dakar, Senegal. I made my way home by a sequence of trips that, if the TSA had known about them, would have put me on the no-fly-list for life. I flew one way from Dakar to Lisbon, spent the night, then caught the second half of a round trip I bought back in October. I landed in New York and made a bus trip north to Boston, then spent several nice days there with Jennie Hango. It was cold outside, so we did traditional winter things like hang out and play video games, and make chicken soup from scratch. Jennie makes really good noodles, and she does it like an Italian grandmother, without a bowl; she just puts the eggs into the flour and goes for it with her fingers!

From Boston, I flew via a one-way on jetBlue to San Francisco, where Karl Larson picked me up and took me back to his house (which I am part owner in). As we went to sleep that night, me on the futon on the floor of his room, he said, “Seems kind of weird making you sleep on the floor of a house you own.” True enough!

That trip home, as long as it sounded, wasn’t bad at all. Each step of the way, I had little breaks built in. Much better than some huge 72-hour ordeal!

I had a great Christmas dinner with Bay Area friends the next night, then drove south to San Diego. I spent several weeks there with family. I watched my Uncle Moose retire from 30 years in the Navy, giving up command of ACU-5. The ceremony was really cool, and it’s always fun to go walk around those huge hovercraft!

Around Dec 30, I started a trip northward. I spent the night at Joshua Tree National Park on my way to Pasadena, CA. In Pasadena, I stayed with Beth Miles, an old friend from Mudd. She took me to a really great New Years party, and then threw a cool post-Rose-parade-and-hangover breakfast party for some of the same crowd. I stayed an extra day to learn to TIG weld from her housemate, Dave. Thanks Dave!

I drove north and landed at Karl’s house again. I saw friends at Tellme, and got caught up on little jobs. Tonight, I’m going to stay at Dan Lennon’s place up in Berkeley. It’s kind of nice having people virtually fight over having me stay over at their place… I suspect this is an early phase they are going through and that I better not count on it lasting!

From here, I plan to go to my grandparent’s place in the mountains in Arnold, CA. I’ll use that as my home base for several months, while I ski and take classes from the Red Cross. I’ll also be continuing to research jobs in the humanitarian relief “industry” and develop contacts with some technology-oriented development projects.

I’d love to have visitors, but because of a bunch of cool things people have invited me to, many of the weekends in January and beyond are pretty much completely used up. However, I’ll be there during the week, and that is the best time to ski to avoid the crowds. So, if you are interested in coming to Westerly for a visit during the week in January, please contact me!

The first bit of February will be taken up by a road trip to a cousin’s wedding in San Antonio, TX. I’ll meet up with my parents, who are doing a road trip of their own through the Southwest. I don’t yet have a clue where I’ll visit, and when I’ll be back. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

My self-imposed deadline for getting out of Arnold and having another big-A Adventure is March 13, the day after Curtis and Deeann get married. I don’t really have a clue what adventure will be awaiting me by then, since part of the next few weeks is all about making that next adventure happen. The most likely adventure is two months in Guatemala learning Spanish. But I’m open to other adventures, so if you have an idea, send it my way.

I’m also keeping my eye open for a way I can help with the rebuilding from the tsunamis. It turns out that relief agencies do not take new volunteers in times of crisis, because they need to be doing their mission, not training new people. This is probably as it should be, but it poses a problem for me, since I was just getting ready to start applying when the tsunamis struck. I’ll continue to watch and see if I can find a way to get the experience I’m looking for and be helpful. If it makes sense for me to be working in Asia instead of Latin America, ok, cool. My Senegalese friends would have thrown in a couple insh’Allah’s into that paragraph, and for good reason; no one’s plans are really safe from the twists of fate.