Older blog entries for steve (starting at number 9)

I better post a news update while I've got a few minutes free or it'll probably be another week before I get a chance! Let's see, last friday night I stopped by a local Colter's BBQ to hear some live R & B played by a group that included Kenny Stern on drums along with several of his friends. It's probably the only place in Irving where you can hear a live band and not many people know about it (which is not suprising, who'd expect live music at a Colter's!?). Anyway, if you're in Irving some friday night and want hear some live music, check and see what's happening at the Colter's on MacArthur.

On Easter Sunday, we joined my sister's family for a picnic in Lookout Park in Richardson, TX. A fun time was had by all. I brought along a couple of boxes of Peeps hoping the kids would eat them. Where did I get Peeps you ask? Well, with all the hype about Peeps on the web and Susan telling me of her childhood memories of Peeps, I was begining to feel like I'd missed out on something. So I went to the local grocery store and picked up one box of yellow Peeps and one box of pink Peeps. I ate one yellow Peep and decided that one enough for this lifetime. They are awful-tasting things that look and feel like small bits of foam-rubber coated with a large quantity of sugar. The first thing you notice about them is that they aren't shaped at all like chicks (my niece and nephew thought they were seals). Anyway, having aquired an excess of Peeps, an Easter picnic seemed an ideal way to get rid of them. The kids ate some, we tried to feed one to a passing dog (and learned that even dogs won't eat them), and we also tested the fire resistance of a Peep in one of the outdoor grills available in the park (they don't so much burn as melt).

Hmmmm... what else is new? Jesika, a friend who used to work for one of NCC's clients, is starting a new media production company called manipul8. Work on robots.net is still sucking up most of my free time. And I've been listening to a lot of Lalo Schifrin lately because Susan is on an eBay Lalo-buying-spree.

Last week was another busy week. Lots of Perl and a smaller amount of C programming. More progress on robots.net. The robomenu is now working. The robomenu is a database of robots with photos and descriptions. I've only managed to get about half the records into the database (they were originally static pages) but it is online and seems to be holding up okay so far. I'm using PostgreSQL as the database and a Perl DBI program to generate a set of static pages every night. I'm still working on the interface that will allow users to submit new robots but that should online within a week or so.

On Saturday Susan and I got to see Dmitry Sitkovetsky as guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony. He conducted the DSO in four pieces of Chamber music by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Shostakovich. The Shostakovich piece was a transcription for Chamber Orchestra of the String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110 and was particularly good. We tried unsuccessfully to find a CD of the piece Sunday. We'll probably have to order it on Amazon or catch a used one on eBay sometime.

We spent a while at the Deep Ellum Arts Festival on Sunday. Lots of live music including a group from Central America playing some sort of traditional folk music with lots of curious instruments. There were some Celtic bands, some Jazz groups, and quite a selection of local rock groups - like Baby Jane Hudson and Eden Automatic. The weather was great for a day outside and most of the people had brought their dogs. I think we saw at least one of every possible kind of dog while we were there. It was an Art festival so there was quite a bit to see in the Arts and Crafts department as well, though the weirdest aspect of the whole thing was a collection of Art Cars from all over. There was a Van covered in bright orange stucko, a car decked out to look like the yellow submarine, and several cars that I guess you'd call debris cars. One was covered with plastic toys like Godzillas, Boba Fetts, and Mr T dolls. Another was completely covered by sea shells with a variety of rubber octopi and other sea creatures attached. One had a back seat uplostered in one and five dollar bills and an outside covered with quarters, nickels, dimes, and an assortment of jewlery. Weird stuff.

Susan and I took some time off today and didn't do any work. After a late breakfast we walked down to the park and fed some bread to the ducks and turtles. There's quite an assortment of ducks this year including the usual white park ducks (well, I call 'em park ducks but I think they're really Pekin Ducks), Mallards, Muscovies, Northern Shoveler, American Widgeons, and Coots. It was warm enough that some of the turtles are begining to show themselves - mostly Red Eared Sliders. There were some assorted other things around like Egrets and Cormorants but they don't eat bread so they just ignored us.

Afterwards we practiced our Tai Chi in the park - something I've never done before. We're both able to get most of the way through the first sixteen positions though it gets a little tricky after the second set of brush-knees.

I've finished reading Jules Verne's The Floating Island to Susan and now we've moved on to The Monk in the Garden by Robin Marantz Henig. It tells the story of Gregor Mendel and his experiments cross-breeding peas which allowed him to discover the principals of inheritance. So far the book is moderately interesting but the author feels if you can't find enough facts to fill in the whole story, you should just make up something that sounds good so that the story flows along like a novel. So periodically, she will insert a paragraph or two of ridiculous speculation on what Mendel might have thought about or what he might have said to someone. Usually the made-up parts are about as historically believable as the dialog on the Hercules or Zena TV shows. Fortunately those portions of the book are infrequent and small enough they can be easily skipped.

Mozilla. 0.8.1 is out. My advice is to stick with 0.8. The new release is far less stable than 0.8 and is crashing several times a day (in fact it's less stable the Netscape!). Also, it's full of bugs that weren't in 0.8. Yes, I've filed bugzilla reports on them, so I'm allowed to complain. :-) Hopefully they'll get things back on track with the 0.9 release next month.

Meanwhile, robots.net is keeping me busy. Lots of Perl coding as well as lots of bugs fixes and changes to mod_virgule. One things that keeps amazing me about most of the web portal software like mod_virgule and slash and scoop is how primitive and slow they seem compared to the multi-user BBS software we used to have. It takes a fast Pentium II or III to do what your average BBS software could do back in the '80s on a 20Mhz 80286. Mod_virgule seems a little better than the others (and has Raph's cool trust metrics stuff - that's something that does work better than what we had back in the good old days). I ran several of the old BBS packages for years and they were much more versatile in general. I'll probably get all the features I need for robots.net hacked together out of mod_virgule and lots of Perl code but I think when I'm done I may just have to write an Apache module of my own that takes the best of modern web software and adds in the best features BBS software.

I'm having fun tonight. On my main Linux box I'm hacking on a weird pile of code that's a combination of C, Perl, and Javascript while I listen to some old Krafwerk CDs. On my other box, I've got several nice real-time Mir telemetry feeds. The streaming video feed is too clogged up to be useful but CNN has a cool 3-D graphic that updates once a minute and there's also a map showing Mir's current position. NASA also has a Mir position tracker but it's not as interesting as some of the others. I couldn't find any live webcam views of the Taco Bell Mir Impact Target though, so I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out if we get free tacos...

The DPRG held the regional for the Trinity College Fire-Fighting Robot Contest in Dallas today. I took a few photos and will try to post them tomorrow or Monday on robots.net along with a summary of the action.

Otherwise, I spent the day hacking on a Perl/DBI/PostgreSQL project. I'm looking forward to the release of PostgreSQL v7.1 (which will happen real soon now, hopefully). I keep hearing good things about how fast it is.

I also ran across the new 1040.com tax form for recently laid-off employees of dot-coms. I know a few people who'll need it this year...

I had a nice quiet weekend for change. Nothing really interesting to report other than a DSO concert on Saturday. Two Prokofiev pieces - first the Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Opus 19 and second the music used in the Russian films, Ivan the Terrible parts 1 and 2. Interestingly, they had decided to enhance the experience by putting a big screen up in the performance hall and showing a collection of excerpts from the films as the music was played. While not exactly a Robert Wilson production, it was still quite interesting. And an excellent performance of both Prokofiev pieces as well.

This week I'm trying to split my time between work that pays the bills and continued work on robots.net which is a bit more interesting. Things are picking up quickly with the site and we're getting an impressive number of hits already. Actual registered users are accumulating fairly slowly so there's not much discussion going on yet but I guess it takes a while for these things to reach critical mass. If you're interested in robotics, feel free to stop by and check things out.

I spent the day yesterday fighting with an HP-UX system trying to get OpenSSH installed. It was an OpenSSH binary in HP's goofy DEPOT format. You really begin to appreciate things like RPM when you have deal with the Sun or HP package managers. HP has a fancy Motif GUI package manager but it couldn't see the OpenSSH depot file even when pointed right to the directory it was in. Interestingly there were a dozen other depot packages in this directory and the package manager GUI could only see one of them. I eventually found the command line version and got the package installed only to discover it was missing all the files that are supposed to end up in the /etc directory. I ended up grabbing the source and doing it the old fashioned way.

Today I'm working on robots.net again. The traffic is begining to pick up and so far my mutant version of mod_virgule is holding up pretty well. It's now syndicating content to xmlTree - though I found some more hard-coded references to Advogato in the RSS code I had to alter for our site until I get time to make them configurable.

I spent most of the weekend getting the robot competition FAQ up-to-date. It's been way too long since I've updated it! I'll try to get the new one posted on comp.robotics and here on robots.net today. And my goal is to get back to doing monthly updates like in the good-ol-days.

I'll probably start syndicating the journal entries from my home page here in a day or two. If anyone else is interested in doing that and has access to a web server with Perl support, newslog will do it for ya.

I tied down a few more loose ends on the site today. I'll be posting the code for my modified version of mod_virgule soon for anyone who wants to have a look at it. There's still a ton of work to do around here, so be patient. And if anything looks broken, it probably is. I've got a todo list of fixes I'll be going through during the remainder of the week...

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