The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

More computermachine and other hackery bits

| March 31, 2008

For those of you don't know, I have three major hobbies:

  • Gaming
  • Hackery things
  • Shooting goodness

These three things ebb and flow. I spent a lot of the past year doing none of them (buying the house and all), and the year prior to that was a lot of shooting and not as much of the others. Now the balance is coming back, and I am gaming again and am moved to play with more computer bits.

To that end:

(1) I have been playing with various non Linux OS’s. I will post about this separately. (2) I have finally dug out the Toshiba Magnia SG20 which I sortof inherited. See, my brother in law bought 2, one for him and one for my in laws. The idea was that it would allow him to do a pile of nifty things which were a problem given that the in laws only had dialup (he could initiate connections, etc.). Since the Magnia was essentially a Linux box with a modem, ethernet switch, etc. in it, it made sense. Of course, about a year later, my in laws’ street got wired for cable, so they didn’t need this device anymore. Thus, I got it. It’s a slick little piece of kit. There are some photos here but the site isn’t in english. It comes with 128MB ram, but takes PC133, so I ordered some off ebay. (I needed some for the Mini-ITX board too, so it works out – combined shipping and all that). I’ve gotten it to boot with a spare video card that I had, and will likely install Ubuntu JeOS and get it to a point where SSH is up and it is using a static IP. Once that is done, I will… do something with it. I don’t know exactly what. One thought is to use the internal switch to act as the main server on a SAN (which does the bridging to the main network, access control, etc.). The real problem is that it would need disks which are connected via Ethernet, and those can get pricey (but are getting cheaper) (3) I’ve also been playing with Ubuntu Hardy beta. Initial impressions are very good. In this, there have been some items of note: (i) The relatime option has been introduced. This happened awhile ago, but it is new to me, so I will be using it. It is described here. In a nutshell, it only updates the access time of a file if the access time is less than the write time. This preserves compatibility with some applications which expect this behavior, but doesn’t need to do this every time you hit the file, thus presenting a huge performance increase. Since my processes seem to be becoming more and more I/O bound recently, this would be very nice. (ii) The alternate install CD includes partitioning options for LVM, LVM + RAID, and encrypted LVM. This is nice. Unlike the debian installer, this didn’t get all horked up and crash when I was testing it. (iii) I did some more thinking on my choice of distros. I like *ubuntu, and had been using straight Ubuntu and then installing a pantload of crap in pursuit of some foolish idea of having a system with lots of things installed so that anyone who sits down to use it will have what they want. This is silly, since it doesn’t really work this way. Folks don’t tend to come over and use my computers – they bring their own. Eventually, we’re going to add a specific guest computer. Either way, it’s not really useful to have all the crap installed. So, I’m going to just install Xubuntu and then add the specific apps which I actually use, and not worry about the rest. (iv) In the same vein, I’m going to purge all the old user accounts from people in college (guest accounts, backups, etc.) and all the associated data, and only create accounts for Liz and I plus likely a guest account (not guest/guest, how retarded do you think I am?) (v) And finally, I’m going to go through my home directory and clean out many of the dotfiles (with the likely exception of the subversion, firefox and thunderbird directories). See, this is the problem when you run Linux – it’s so stable that you end up with stuff sticking around forever, so I have config files dating back to June of 2001. Back then, I think I was running some old version of RedHat. At best, these are benign – programs you installed, ran once, and then you uninstalled, or are otherwise not used. At worst, they are poorly migrated to the new version, or otherwise have some goofy bit of cruft which is making the program slightly confused. This seems to especially be true of Gnome and KDE apps, since the configuration schemes for those have changed a lot in this time period. I suspect that this may have something to do with the instability I’ve seen in some apps in Gutsy – other folks report no problems at all. Finally, since it is now spring, I will be going back to getting up an hour earlier in the mornings. I was doing that for most of last summer and fall, but it petered out come winter because it is just too easy to stay in bed for another hour. Now that it is getting warmer and (more importantly) light out earlier, it is easier to get up. So, expect to see more blog entries about things as I have a chance to play with them. Oh, and I start firefighter training tomorrow. 100 hours over 3 months. I can’t say I’m overjoyed at the time commitment, but the course should prove to be interesting.

Fixed the computer problem

| March 28, 2008

Thinkpad T60p, new in box, < $900 (including shipping) from ebay. Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU, 2.0Ghz, 2GB RAM, a/b/g wireless, 1680x1050 resolution, ATI X1400 w/ 128MB RAM, 80 GB HDD.

It meets the requirements.

  • WSXGA+
  • Proper keyboard
  • Wireless is either Atheros or Intel. Both supported by drivers included OOB in Ubuntu.
  • Video card is supported by radeonhd driver, version 1.1 of which is included in Ubuntu 8.04. Now, it doesn't have 3D yet, but that is okay.

Further, it is a tank. The T series are much tougher than the R series. The later R series has had some of the features of the T series stuff used in it, presumably because of the problem with the flexing which happened in my R50p. Specifically:

  • Mangnesium “roll cage” undercarriage (this is what stops the base from flexing like mine is)
  • Beefy screen hinges.
  • Shock mounted hard drive

The T series adds:

  • Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic shell (as opposed to ABS)
  • Magnesium alloy screen enclosure
  • Drain holes in the keyboard in case you spill on it.

So, here's hoping that the next time I get a new laptop, it will be because I WANT a new one, not because I NEED a new one.

For the curious, the old one has an XP license which came with it and so will be reused as a “shop laptop”, to talk to the cars…

Computermachine rantiness

| March 26, 2008

Dear computer companies,

You all suck.

You desktop makers aren't too bad, because I can take your crappy boards an cheaper than dirt power supplies and not buy them, and just roll my own. Effectively, I can ignore you.

You laptop guys, however….


  • 1680×1050 screen (WSXGA+) or better. WUXGA is perfect.
  • 15.4″ max screen. Anything else is just too big to carry around.
  • A proper keyboard. The home and end keys do not go to the right of the enter key, they go on top of the backspace key. The slash is to the left of the right shift key. Thinkpads do it right. Other companies.. not so much.
  • It needs to not crack or break because of normal use. Yes, the screen is big and heavy. Put on beefy hinges and make the laptop have a proper shell which doesn't break.
  • It needs to not overheat when used at 100% load for 8 hours straight, regardless of where it is (on a desk, lap, etc.)
  • It needs to not intake or exhaust through the bottom of the machine (because then it would fail the above).
  • Use a video card supported in Linux by open source drivers. Intel GMA series or the R500/R600 ATI series. (Good support for these will be out real soon now).

What I don't need:

  • 3D. Sure, it's nice to have, but that is why I have a workstation.
  • Huge speed. Again, nice to have, but 1GHz isn't exactly slow. If I need more, again, workstation.

The point of a laptop is being able to code in random places. Coding requires a screen which I can look at for long periods of time, and has a high enough resolution to display lots of things.

Lenovo used to make something in their R series line which did this. Now, in order to get a proper screen, you need to go to their mobile workstation line, which means you get saddled with a useless Nvidia Quadro FX card.

Response from Charles Schumer

| March 26, 2008

Some months ago, I sent an email to Senator Schumer in opposition to S.1105, the Matthew Sheppard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of this email, since it was via form submission. However, the crux of it was that whether I beat and rob you because you are [black|gay|whatever] or because I simply want your money does not matter. The crime is still the same, and neither of these can be termed “mitigating” circumstances (because neither of them is defensive in nature). Thus, the crimes are equal. Senator Schumer's response and my criticism is behind the cut.

Dear Mr. Caron: Thank you for contacting me to express your views regarding S.1105, the Matthew Sheppard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I understand your concerns and hope that this response will better clarify what S.1105 seeks to accomplish. I think we can all agree that prejudice – and violence based on prejudice – has no place in our society. To restore a measure of equal protection under the law to members of persecuted minorities, this bill would create grant programs to give local law enforcement agencies added capabilities and support in fighting violent crimes based on prejudice, including religious prejudice. I also believe that the bill is carefully drafted to avoid any First Amendment concerns. The bill specifically states that evidence of expression and association cannot be used at a trial unless this evidence is directly related to the crime being prosecuted. Therefore, individuals who had previously made derogatory statements towards a certain community could not be prosecuted under this statute unless there is evidence that their particular crime was directly motivated by hate. By including this limitation, the bill protects the freedom of speech. The Matthew Sheppard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is centered on combating violent crime motivated by hate against a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation or disability – not on limiting constitutionally protected freedoms. Thank you for contacting me about this important issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can ever be of assistance to you on this, or any other matter. Sincerely, Charles E. Schumer United States Senator
I think we can all agree that prejudice – and violence based on prejudice – has no place in our society. No. All we can agree is that criminal violence has not place in our society. To attempt to legislatively ban prejudice is to establish thoughtcrime. To restore a measure of equal protection under the law to members of persecuted minorities, No, that is not what this does. This establishes greater penalties for crimes which are “hate based” vs. other ones. This does not address monitories which are not being equally protected by the law (corrupt racist LEO’s, etc.). this bill would create grant programs to give local law enforcement agencies added capabilities and support in fighting violent crimes based on prejudice, including religious prejudice. This has nothing to do with equal protection. This is preferential treatment. Effectively, we’re talking about affirmative action for the legal system. Next thing you know, there will be quotas. The Matthew Sheppard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is centered on combating violent crime motivated by hate against a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation or disability – not on limiting constitutionally protected freedoms. Thoughtcrime.

What not to do

| March 16, 2008

Cranesville, NY House Explosion. Our friend Sarah now lives down the street from where this happened.

This happened some years ago, and was supposed to be a live burn training exercise, with a house donated by one of the members of the community. In order to ensure the house went up, flammable liquid (gasoline, kerosene, diesel, etc) was spread around the house. Note that it had been properly gutted and opened up to prevent vapor buildup.

Problem is, the liquids ran into the basement (or were put there in the first place, I forget), where the vapors actually built up. When the ignition officer tossed the road flare in through the basement window…

It is because of accidents like this that we no longer use flammable liquids for training.

Surprisingly, no one was killed or even seriously hurt.


| March 16, 2008

As a result of this post, I have a crazy scenario ratting around in my head. The Canadian Army, under the request of the eeevil President Nefarious, has called in the Canadian military to enforce universal disarmament laws which are being resisted by the citizenry.. (or, alternatively, the UN has called them in to overthrow said President after he commits election fraud, or whatever other slim pretense you can come up with). The result:

  • Invading Canadian forces with their Leopard Tanks and various other shiny bits of kit… vs
  • US Army National Guard, likely using a bunch of old M60 Patton Tanks.

On a bit of terrain which looks not unlike upstate NY… Hey, wait, is that my house and some of the surrounding land modeled on to 7 adjacent 4″ hexes? I think it is…

(None of this is done yet, it is just my crazy idea..)

First Fire

| March 16, 2008

I went to my first fire call today. I got to play gofer and then relieved one of the folks on the hose when he had to go move a truck. 2 1/2″ line at 30 PSI will move you around if you're not careful.

The call was an illegal burn. The Department of Environmental Conservation has been cracking down on folks burning stuff they shouldn't. So, I figure we'll roll up and there will be some citizen with a brush fire, no one in danger and will end up basically being good experience. Well, there wasn't any one in danger, and it was a good exercise, but it wasn't a brush fire. The owner of the land had gotten tired of the 150 year old house being there, had collapsed it in with an excavator and set the whole thing off. He did not realize that his “permit to demolish” is not a “permit to burn”. But, we put it out, got to play with the trucks and all is well.

Political stuff

| March 11, 2008

Canadian troops can be used on US soil (an the other way around). So.. we have a military force not bound by posse comitatus which is suitable for door-to-door searches and peacekeeping, with a specialist private army embodied in Ravenwood Blackwater. With many of our troops deployed… Hmmmm… I'm not saying that anything is going to happen, mind you, I just have some good wargame ideas…

On a completely different note, this article talks about how we are (potentially) ripe for revolution. While I agree that she may be right here that all the “conditions” are met, I disagree with her assignment from blame. Sure, the past 30 years can be construed as “conservative mismanagement” when framed in the preceding 50 years or so, but the problem is that that 50 years is causing the problem of which she is speaking. See, the basic overarching gist is “people get pissed off when they face a declining standard of living”. Well, hey, guess what – that is the problem with socialist programs in the first place – they cannot be maintained indefinitely. When people try to stave off the overgrowth of these programs on which people have come to depend, they get pissed off. Much easier to play for the short term, promise everyone the moon, and give them all “free money”. Then, you get to the situations where our tax burden is now about 30% and we're all pissed off because of where the money goes. In the end, this will be the downfall of the Republic – not the so-called mismanagement and belt tightening, but the programs established in the first place.


  • At best, it is all FDR's fault.
  • At worst, it started with post civil-war reconstruction (this is a hard argument to make, but I could see someone trying to make it.. the first one is much more clear cut).


| March 11, 2008

Arms (as in weapons) compatible with Lego and other similar sets.

Cold wars 2008

| March 10, 2008

GPS Stats:

Distance: 636.67 miles Overall Avg: 60.5 m/h Moving Avg: 63.5 m/h Total Time: 10:31 Moving Time 10:01 Max Speed: 89.3 m/h* Stopped: 29:49

  • = Some Quebecois in a minivan decided to try and pass me on the right. I didn't take kindly to that.

Total fuel consumption was about 16 gallons (I say about because I tanked up on the way down, but not on the way back).


I rolled in about 3:30, checked in, found my friends, got all the registration stuff out of the way, and then we went out to for supper. Came back, played some Spirit of the Century (pirate themed). We picked up a couple of additional friends, did on the fly character creation, and this time I just kind of rolled with it – I let the players use their ideas an run their own narration, and really just kind of stayed out of it. It worked well.

My folks ended up being delayed, so they weren't there that night.


I had a morning modern armor game using this fellow's homebrew system. It worked really well, an I've asked him to send me a copy. It is nice, balanced, and simple. My big takeaway was how nice hex terrain systems like GHQ's Terrain Maker works for microarmor. See, no ground is truly flat. When using 25mm men, it's no big deal – the variations in the ground over that scale are so small that it doesn't really matter. However, when using 6mm scale, you should see more variations than just a blanket with some scattered hills.

After my game, I decided to go shopping, so I went back to my room and grabbed my jacket. On my way out, I see my folks checking in. I help them bring in their stuff, and then my Dad and I wander through about half the convention hall, and notice a couple selling Hot Wire Foam Factory foam cutters. This has me thinking – the problem with the hex terrain is that it is $14 a sleeve, and you'll need about 5 sleeves (at a minimum) to do a table. So, I can buy some of those, or I can buy a bunch of sheet polystyrene and cut my own hexes. So, I leave to think about it.

We head over to the flea market, and.. SCORE! Some dude is selling sleeves of these hexes for $5 per. So, I take the lot. Then he says “I've got a whole second box full of hexes, and some of them are finished”. Sweet! So, I take all those too. Now, I need to build a retaining frame, because otherwise they tend to spread out as you play.

I stop by my room, drop off that stuff, grab some lunch, say goodbye to my Dad (he wants to go grab a nap), and I head to my afternoon game – an introductory game of Full Thrust. Problem is, no one shows up. So, the GM gives me a grounding of the rules, and we wait. Then I have an idea – I go grab my Mom and my friends, who are getting out of a game. This gives us enough folks to run the scenario, and play a fine game of Full Thrust.

After that, we grab some chow, and head over to where my friend Leo was supposed to be running a game, and no one showed up. So, we start to play. It is now about 9:00, and for some reason, I'm really tired. So, I beg off, and head back to my room. On the way, I find a gold coin, one of many which have been scattered throughout the hotel.

And then the food poisoning sets in.

Apparently, the beef jerky I had brought (mine, from home) was actually a bit too old. Now, two year old beef jerky is not necessarily bad. However, when it is in a transparent canister left on the counter next to the stove, it may not be as good as it should be. Note to self – date jerky and throw out when it is over a year old.

Needless to say, I did not sleep very well that night, as I kept having to run to the bathroom.


I skipped breakfast and my folks brought me a fruit plate and some yogurt (yogurt is very good for stomach issues), and that settled me for most of the day. I went to the flea market again (it rotates once on Friday, twice on Saturday, and once on Sunday) and found someone selling the boxed set of VOR, which I grabbed for the cool minis, the boxed set of Babylon 5 wars (with some extra minis), some Full Thrust minis, and 2 introductory boxed sets for Battlefleet Gothic. This gives me piles of ships for Full Thrust.

I also went to the dealer's area, perused the rest, and picked up the aforementioned foam cutter and also picked up some flock and turf made by a company called (of all things) Flock and Turf, which is about half the price of Woodland Scenics' products. I turn in my gold coin and get a “goodie bag” containing lots of interesting things, including a $10 gift cert to The War Store. However, I can't seem to find the war store in the dealer's area.

I had some more fruit for lunch, and went down to hang out with my friends who were playing a couple of games next to each other. At this point, I was feeling surprisingly better, so when my friend Al's game finished up, we headed to the Battletech room and joined their grinder, and played that for a bit.

And then the power went out for three hours.

I grabbed some chow, before it all got cold. I had flashlights, and we had some natural light, so we hung out in my room an chatted for a bit.

Then the power came back on, and we went and played some 7th sea, with my Dad taking the win.

We call it a night, and though the night I sleep better than I did the previous night, and I realize that my stomach still isn't right. So, in order to be able to make the 5 hour drive home, I forgo breakfast the Sunday morning and drink only minimal fluids. This is not the most comfortable situation, as I am effectively fasting and dehydrating myself, but it works. I stop by the dealer's hall and try to find the war store (this time, with the aid of the program which shows the location of all the dealer areas). No luck.. but, I find my friend Al, who knows the guy and leads me right to them. Cool. I needed some dice, so I buy a bunch for the $10 from the gift cert.

Then I get in the car and drive home. Straight through, one shot, no stops.

I get back and Liz makes me some lemonade with a little salt in it to help replace the electrolytes I've lost, then food, a nap, etc. After last night, my stomach still isn't right, so I called in sick to work, slept until noon, and have been taking it easy and drinking plenty of water. Liz got me some Pepto after she got off work, so we'll see how it goes.