Sunday, August 24, 2008

After riding through Schaumberg...

Chicago definitely does have edge cities, as described in Joel Garreau's book, Edge City. But they aren't anywhere near as exciting as the ones he talked about.

Either that, or he makes them sound a whole hell of a lot more interesting than they really are.

I was going to say I didn't see a single person outside of a car for the entire stretch on Meacham Road (from Beisterfield to Algonquin), though car traffic was very heavy. But I did see a couple people walking near the Schaumberg convention center. Which is on Thoreau Drive.

Weird note: there are lots of roads in the suburbs, but I can't think of one in Chicago. Lots of streets (63rd, State), avenues (the Chicago-grid numbered avenues, as in, "This is a Pink Line train to 54th and Cermak", are actually in Cicero, and the numbered avenues you see on the Eisenhower are in various west-suburban towns, but Ashland and Madison are fine Chicago avenues; so is Chicago Avenue, for that matter), courts (the numbered courts, like the avenues, are in Cicero; McClurg is a Chicago court) places (I live on one, 21st), boulevards (a system of them, in fact; my favorite part of it in some respects is the weird section where it follows Western to California), a couple parkways (Diversey is one), some terraces (Junior Terrace in Uptown) Drives (these tend to be distinctive; King, Lake Shore, and many continuations or fragments of other streets inside of parks), even a plaisance (the Midway). But roads? Actually, while looking at a map for drives, I happened to look in Jackson Park, which I remembered having a 63rd Drive, and saw Marquette Drive. I checked what it was named outside of the park. Marquette Road. I'll probably spend all night looking at maps for more roads, now. I'm guessing there will be some on the far northwest side.

Second weird note (and more important): it occurred to me while I was somewhere shortly east of the Tri-State, still quite far north, and really tired, that the place I was was connected to the building I live in by a network of pavement. And that almost every place in North America is connected to almost every other place in the same way. Ain't it a hoot?

EDIT: OK, so for avenues I should have mentioned Fifth Avenue, which might be a remnant of the old, confusing Chicago address grids (I'll have to check if Forgotten Chicago has any info; some old buildings in Chicago still have both address numbers on them, often in cases where the old number is in stained glass). Fifth Avenue currently runs north-east from Cicero Ave. between Roosevelt and the Eisenhower to a cul-de-sac just short of Madison and California (it's broken up by the Ike, though). I never knew it existed until I ran there once. One of the few places I've run where I felt genuinely unsafe, and would not return to at any time of day. Also, as long as we're on the west side, Pulaski is a road, and a very long and major one at that. So my road count is at two.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Something you'll never find on my résumé...

... even though it's true, and would probably be useful information to someone considering to hire me:


  • ...
  • Has written a 634-line shell script (including its many necessary comments and lines of "help!" output), with a simple but unusual recursive structure, that performs the main computation for a daemon (which was written in Perl).
  • ...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Worst blog post ever

This is my first time blogging with a Dvorak keyboard layout.

I'm not very fast yet at typing this way. So this post is also very short. Perhaps its one redeeming quality.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Smallotrain flies high... turns left, looks right

Actually the smalltrain came from the tracks along Blue Island, crossed Ashland, then turned slightly right along with the tracks (as trains do), following Cermak.

I stumbled with my bike out the front door and heard smalltrain making smalltrain noises. I've always been something of a smalltrain skeptic and thought that the train noises were more likely to come from the tracks on the embankment north of 18th, or some other, less run-down set of tracks in the industrial area near the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (local euphemism for LOL @ St. Louis, were in ur river sendin u sewage... and then they sued us). But these noises were definitely close and definitely coming from the south. It had to be smalltrain.

I saw smalltrain looking down Paulina as I pulled onto Cermak, and got to the corner of Ashand, Cermak and Blue Island just after it. There aren't gates along smalltrain's tracks, and I didn't notice the crossing signs flashing or ringing (though they may have been drowned out by the sun and smalltrain's frequent horn outbursts). Either way, traffic on Ashland wasn't stopping for it. So smalltrain had to wait for the light at Ashland. It proceeded with the Cermak traffic's green. I tried to ride slowly to not get far ahead of smalltrain. I just wanted to see if it would actually travel along the overgrown and under-maintained track on Cermak. I could hardly help but pull away (it's hard to watch a train while biking on a major street without being a severe nuisance). Then when I reached Loomis I noticed that smalltrain was going back the other direction. I carefully looked at my surroundings, recklessly pulled a u-turn, and tried to chase smalltrain back west. But its engine was retreating past Ashland, down the better-hidden tracks along Blue Island. And following it would have meant going the exact opposite direction as going to work. So I abandoned smalltrain for today.


EDIT: also, I win. And smalltrain's engine is blue, in case you were wondering.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dan in Chicago

I had dinner with Danno O'Linsenmann [sic] tonight. I am, as most of you know, a very introverted person, and this fact became a point in conversation, and I had to explicitly state it; for some reason I am not very introverted at all when talking to Dan. Dan frequently has insights or observations about things that I also think about. And I think he must be exceptionally good at listening — I am a difficult person to listen to because I lose track of thoughts and branch off into tangents (when I speak in long blocks I like to think my topics could be modeled like tracing typical function-tree return patterns in a computer program, but in reality they're probably more similar to coroutine yields, or maybe even spaghetti code full of GOTOs, and that's without even factoring in another conversant).

So one of the things I ranted on about was the new Batman flick. And I managed to do something I almost never do, which is communicate my thoughts effectively. Maybe if I'm lucky I can replicate that here. This is the big thing that disturbed me about The Dark Knight: its citizens of Gotham couldn't handle the truth. They needed to be kept in the dark and even lied to repeatedly by Batman and the police conspiracy surrounding him, an idea that went unquestioned by just about everyone.

This is not an art-house picture with a self-selected audience of intellectuals that would consider itself different (probably foolishly) from the major populace portrayed. It's Batman. The audience is, very clearly, the population of Gotham. And the filmmakers tell that audience a story, but tell them they couldn't hear the story if they were the citizens of Gotham. In that case they'd need to be lied to.

After some thought I've backed down a bit on some of my other critiques. There are lots of elements that appear to be allegories of the War on Terror; there are others that I read as anti-intellectual. These things are a little questionable: it may be that Bush's rhetoric about the War on Terror has always resembled the Batman story; the others I could just be over-reading (or mis-reading). There's the Joker's association of anarchy with random destruction, which is unfortunate, but predictable, and only comes up once.

The film's overall attitude, though, clearly seemed to be summed up by the line, "Sometimes the truth isn't good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people need to have their faith rewarded." That's the main issue, and I think it's a pretty crappy message to leave people with. It's not even that the people are to have their faith in Batman (an image-obsessed, opaque, deceptive embezzler, but who at least is the Good Guy) rewarded, but in the fallen Harvey Dent. It's the suggestion that Evil is too great to be confronted honestly. That the nature of our problems is evil in the first place.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Big Man

Courtesy of the lovely folk at Fire Joe Morgan (don't ask), here is a video about two reporters in China eating animal penises (EDIT: this has been moved here). Warning, this includes footage of them eating animal penises. Mostly noted because it's exactly as inane as it sounds. These are going to be the best Olympics ever (all three of 'em!)!

Now if you can manage to get through several minutes of these guys making idiots of themselves, you'll see that they took a 15-minute break from shoveling (artfully sliced) penises into their mouths to discuss the ethics of eating dog penis. Eventually they decided that eating dog penis is Not OK for them.

Hell, congratulations, eating dog penis is Not OK for me either. And they seemed to have a moment there. How often does do mass media folk consult their ethics and then talk about the results (however incoherently)? The ending, even, is a cliffhanger: did they go back in at all? What did they say — as many pains as they took to clumsily explain cultural relativism to their viewers, how would they explain it to the restaurateurs, with their more personal stake in the matter, and their position as Yet Another Representative Of China To The West In These Times?

But I'm, you know, a vegetarian (who embraces the hypocrisy of being vegetarian but not vegan in the same way that Joel Garreau's supposed Americans embrace the contradiction of building "cities in gardens", except I think I think I'm a lot stupider than they think they are, they seem to think (I think) that they're finding answers and shit literally by building and sprawling and driving a lot, and not by doing the things they do those things to do -- but this is outside the scope of the discussion, back to penis talk). These guys are emphatically not — they seem to, in fact, get even more of a macho kick from eating an animal's penis than they would even from generally eating animal flesh (surely a tough and manly thing to do in itself).

And the dog penis is the only one with a bone inside.

And nobody else has them.

These are going to be the best Olympics ever. All three of 'em.

(EDIT: shortly after finishing I realized this post needed more capitalization and pretentious pluralization, the scare-quotes of my Internet generation)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hack all Day, Run all Night

Late last week I did a good old emerge --sync && emerge -uD world (and etc-update, too, if you want to be pedantic about it) cycle, and X started auto-detecting my monitor's available modes. Yeah, "welcome to the 90s, Al," but I generally stick to not running ebuilds until they come unmasked, which keeps me a bit behind the times. I'm still on Firefox, in fact. It actually discovered a higher resolution available for my crappy old monitor. Yay, more pixels! Since my fonts are mostly set by point sizes and X does DPI correctly, they were mostly immediately occupied by larger (in pixels) but smoother fonts.

So this led me to screw around finding what else X can autodetect now. Turns out you need almost nothing in your xorg.conf these days; actually I think that's been true for a while, even as far behind the times as I am, I just haven't bothered to mess with it until more recently. Specifically I started getting into xkb.

It turns out the version of xorg-server that allows one to set keyboard hotplug rules in a /etc/hal/fdi/policy/... file is still masked, but for some stupid reason, even though my keyboard worked fine, I kept messing with the settings. You see, the keyboard is a Sun Unix keyboard. It looks like this (it's probably cut off by the sidebar, but you can click on it to see it alone!):

I'm not sure if the guys that wrote Unix back in the 70s would be proud, amused, or bemused to hear people say stuff like this, but it certainly is often said that Unix is more of an ideal than an operating system. Implemented by many, never perfectly, probably getting worse with every new feature, but occasionally making feeble gestures towards perfection. Which is sort of why a bunch of those dudes plus several others wrote Plan 9, although those guys are real engineers and not pretentious dweebs that can program a little (see Dimond, Al), so they did it more for real technical reasons. At least that's what they think. Anyway, Unix being an ideal and all, it's been true for a damn long time that when you plug a Real Unix Keyboard into a computer running, the major implementation of X, the major Unixy graphical system, X just goes on thinking it's a Windows keyboard. Alt Graph, Compose, Meta (the ones with diamonds on them)? Those keys have real meanings to Unix. And X always thought they were the Alt, Menu, and Windows keys, respectively.

And I could tell X to treat the right-side Alt as Alt Graph, the Windows keys as Meta, and the Menu key as Compose. Lots of people do, even people with normal Windows keyboards, so it's really easy to do. But I care what X thinks about the keyboard attached to it. Yes, it's important to me that my graphics subsystem knows it's running on a computer with a Real Unix Keyboard plugged into it. No, I do not have a girlfriend. If I did have a girlfriend I would care what she thought about keyboards; mine, hers, and just general thoughts. But I would not configure her user profile on my box to switch the Control and Caps Lock keys to the vulgar Windows-keyboard positions. I would do anything for love, but I won't do that.

The way you tell X what sort of keyboard you have is with xkb. It has a somewhat-complicated configuration system that's documented fairly inconsistently, even for a piece of software. It's actually hard to set xkb up the Right Way; most people are content when it works. I did finally get it working and Right. Mostly. Two flaws. The blank key up where Esc is on most keyboards gives the same keycode as the Props key (this is a known problem on many keyboards related to scancode-keycode translation and the fix is using the evdev driver, which is an trial for another day). And there's a "Compose" LED that doesn't light up, which I suspect is either a problem in kbd's USB HID support which will be fixed when I switch over to evdev, or a limitation in Linux's USB HID Keyboard support, which would be most disappointing. Close enough for now. I decided to look around to see if I could submit my changes upstream so other people with the same desires as me could have an easier time of it and found that someone had beat me to it, in the most recent release of xkeyboard-config. Most recent unmasked version in Portage is two versions back. Grumble. Whoever did it, though, made almost the exact same changes I did. The same feeble gestures.

So anyway, after all that I went running. About a half-mile from the end, at Cermak and Racine, I stopped to stretch. The sky was very clear over Pilsen, and immediately down Cermak there aren't really many tall buildings, just low-slung factories and warehouses. So I could see the Dan Ryan in perfect clarity, hovering over everything a half-mile away, and the green overhead sign probably announcing the Stevenson; this-a-way to Joliet, St. Louis, New Orleans, that-a-way to Lake Shore Drive. And though there were no clouds overhead there were low clouds over Lake Michigan, which in the distance looked like mountains. The whole scene reminded me of San José. And reminded me that although I have now rode a century, I still have to ride the century over Mt. Hamilton (or mountain of equal or greater value).