Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly, in the right order?

Monday, June 30


An Observation

Cherry Pez taste like cough syrup, and neither one tastes anything like any cherry on planet Earth. Why they don't label things "Cough Syrup Flavour" I don't know, but it's probably one of those inscrutable marketing reasons, like "If we did that, no-one would buy the product."

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A Question

I was reading back issues of The Bleat when James happened to mention out-takes of one of the movies he was watching. I've forgotten which one, and it doesn't really matter.

If you've seen A Bug's Life (and if you haven't, do!), and you're not the sort of person who has to leave the instant the closing credits roll, you'll know that one of the best parts of the movie is the out-takes at the end. Out-takes are usually funny because movies are so carefully polished; it's wonderful to see things get screwed up. It's doubly funny, of course, if you do it in a cartoon, when that sort of thing doesn't happen.

What you may not know is that this gag didn't originate with A Bug's Life. The first time I saw it was in Maris the Chojo, and then it came as a great surprise and a delight. (The rest of the film was good too.)

I was wondering, was this really the first time anyone did this? Once you've seen it, of course, it's such an obvious idea, like so many great ideas are. IMDB says it was but it's a user comment rather than anything official. Inasmuch as anything on IMDB is official anyway.

So, loyal readers and filmfans: Did anyone else do this before 1992? Walt Disney, or the Brothers Warner, perhaps? Fritz Freleng? Hanna-Barbera? Max Fleischer?

Any information would be appreciated, because, darn it, this is important.

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You'll Never Find It In Galaxy

Jets blasting, Bat Durston came screeching down through the atmosphere of Bbllzznaj, a tiny planet seven billion light years from Sol. He cut out his super-hyper-drive for the landing...and at that point, a tall, lean spaceman stepped out of the tail assembly, proton gun-blaster in a space-tanned hand.

"Get back from those controls, Bat Durston," the tall stranger lipped thinly. "You don't know it, but this is your last space trip."

Hoofs drumming, Bat Durston came galloping down through the narrow pass at Eagle Gulch, a tiny gold colony 400 miles north of Tombstone. He spurred hard for a low overhang of rim-rock...and at that point a tall, lean wrangler stepped out from behind a high boulder, six-shooter in a sun-tanned hand.

"Rear back and dismount, Bat Durston," the tall stranger lipped thinly. "You don't know it, but this is your last saddle-jaunt through these here parts."

Sound familiar? They should. You've been watching Firefly.*

So have I, mind you. It's not a bad show. It's also not Science Fiction. It's a Western in space.

The thing that nags at me from watching the first few episodes of Firefly is not so much what's there as what's missing. They have faster-than-light travel and artificial gravity — and revolvers and 1950s spacesuits. When someone gets shot in the stomach, the wound doesn't heal in moments as you might expect; instead it's a medical emergency. Vital medical supplies don't have RFID tags on them. People don't even have mobile phones, much less embedded communicators.

The Serenity's radar seems to have an effective range of about 300 yards. What's up with that? If you're travelling at interstellar velocities and there's something within 300 yards of you, you're already dead.

There's a gas stove on the spaceship, for crying out loud. Did Joss Whedon put this in as intentional self-mockery? Have these people lost the ancient technology of microwaves? (If so, it would explain why their radar is shot.)

Also, the Serenity itself looks like the mutant offspring of an Aibo and a camel.

In Firefly's favour, despite having spaceships, guns, and a girl in a box, it's not a ripoff of Outlaw Star. Which is something of a pity, because Aisha Clanclan would liven things up no end.

* These two pieces were run side by side as an ad in the old Galaxy magazine. It then continued:

Sound alike? They should--one is merely a western transplanted to some alien and impossible planet. If this is your idea of science fiction, you're welcome to it! YOU'LL NEVER FIND IT IN GALAXY!

What you will find in GALAXY is the finest science fiction...authentic, plausible, thoughtful...written by authors who do not automatically switch over from crime waves to Earth invasions; by people who know and love science fiction...for people who also know and love it.

And that is indeed what I found. It's said that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 13, and that's exactly how old I was when I read my Dad's collection of old Galaxies and Astoundings. Everyone should have this opportunity, to be 13 and to read some of the best SF ever written (and some real crap, too; not even Astounding was immune to Sturgeon's Law**).

** 90% of everything is crap.

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Sunday, June 29


Great Minds and All That

A Small Victory has similar thoughts to me on the relative value of Harry Potter and Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Comments by her readers show that we're not the only Stardust fans either.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 09:43 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Saturday, June 28


Mea Culpa

For those who don't have the time to read the whole sad story in Perl Bad, the short of it is: I did it.

I blew up Susie's blog. I lost the post that she spent an hour working on. It was I, and not a bunch of monkeys or poltergeists who ate the script.

Sorry, Susie. I will now go and feed myself to the sheep.

While I'm doing that, the rest of you can read Susie's entry in The New Weblog Showcase - and, of course, link to it on your blog, because it's good.

Mind you, the equal first-place at the moment is a rather interesting post (for me, the geek, anyway) about setting up a Web Forum view for a Movable Type blog. You can see it in action at Web Dawn.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 11:38 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Perl Bad

I haven't used Perl much since 1998 or maybe 1999, when I discovered Python. Or rediscovered it, I should say; I knew of Python from some prior life but had dismissed it as irrelevant because it uses indentation to indicate program structure.


Well, in most languages, you'd write a loop by enclosing it in markers like this:

for i = 1 to 10:
    print i.
Or this:
for (i=1;i<10;i++) {
In the first example (written in Progress), the end statement marks the end of the loop; in the second example (in C), the loop is enclosed in curly brackets, { and }. Because the beginning and end of the loop are clearly marked, you could write these two examples as:

for i = 1 to 10: print i. end.


for (i=1;i<10;i++) { printf("%d\n",i); }

respectively, and the compiler would be perfectly happy. You write in whatever style you like, as long as those curly brackets or that end statement are in the right place.

In Python, though, you'd write it like this:

for i in range(0,10):
    print i
There's no end, you see. The fact that the statement print i is indented relative to the previous code tells Python that it's part of the loop. If I follow it with the line:

    print i*i
with exactly the same indentation, it will be part of the loop too. If the line isn't indented (or more precisely, is indented to the same level as the enclosing block), then it indicates the end of the loop.

Which looks really pretty, but is a bad idea, because if anything happens to your indenting, your program won't work any more. On the other hand, it's a good idea, because it's a very common problem that a programmer will change a piece of code without fixing the indenting, so that the program looks like it does one thing but really does something else.

You can't do that with Python.

But if something does happen to your indentation, your code is toast. The Pythonistas speak of a whitespace-eating nanovirus, but HTML will do the job just fine:

for i in range(0,10): print i print i*i

That's the exact same code, only this time I left it as normal HTML text. Python won't like that at all.

So from a language-design standpoint, it's kind of a problem. From a practical standpoint, though, it turns out to be a pretty good tradeoff. I've only once been bitten by the whitespace-eating nanovirus, and while it was painful I've seen plenty of code lost due to editor accidents or files getting overwritten or good old drive failures, so one lost program isn't really that bad. The fact that the layout of the program always reflects its function really is a blessing - though it still doesn't stop people from writing incomprehensible Python code.

There are a few main points that I like about Python. First, the code is clean. With Perl, you get lines of code like:

my($tag) = @_;
return ("start_$1","end_$1") 
  if $tag=~/^(?:\*|start_|end_)(.+)/;
That's not even a particularly bad example. That's pretty normal Perl code. And I find it just as nasty as you do. Python doesn't fill your screen with $@_!?^*+/ unless your modem has dropped out.

Second, it comes with a nice, flexible and fairly rich standard library. It doesn't have a vast collection of modules like Perl's CPAN, which sometimes seems to have modules for every conceivable requirement, but it does have a decent library, and it's standard. If you have Python installed, you have the standard library. (It's possible to screw this up, but it takes effort.)

Third, Python is dead easy to install on any Unix platform. Download and unpack it, then it's the familiar configure, make, make install dance. Blippy blip blip, and you're done.

Perl's install is somewhat weird. It has a Configure script, but if you don't know about the -d option, it will ask you all sorts of questions that you will probably have no idea how to answer. So you keep hitting the enter key, and after a while you start getting all these strange messages (Python's configure gives strange messages too, but it doesn't bug you constantly). Then it asks if you want to make dependencies, and you say what the hell, why not? Then you make, and then you make test, which takes forever, and then you make install -

And then your friend Susie contacts you in a panic because her blog is toast.


But all you've done is updated Perl. Everything MovableType should need is built into Perl by default. But now it's complaining that is missing in action. is the code that handles MT's databases; without it you can't update anything, and though people can still read your blog, they can't leave comments.

Not good. So you take a look, and sure enough, you've overwritten every trace of the old version of Perl. Rats. Well, DB_File should have been included, but no problem, you'll just specify it manually: ./Configure -D DB_File -de to make sure this time. Then make, make install...

Which you do, only nothing changes at all. So you Configure again, only this time you actually read all of the text scroll ing past. And you notice this little bit of unpleasantness:

Checking Berkeley DB version ...
You have Berkeley DB Version 2 or greater.
db.h is from Berkeley DB Version 3.3.11
libdb is from Berkeley DB Version 2.4.14
db.h and libdb are incompatible.
I can't use Berkeley DB with your <db.h>.
I'll disable Berkeley DB.
Removing unusable -ldb from library list
libs = -lnsl -lndbm -lgdbm -ldl -lm -lc -lcrypt -lutil

So much for DB_File. Gone bye-bye.

Now you check your libraries. You've got three different versions of Berkeley DB installed (all of them out of date, of course, but not to worry, even fairly old versions work well enough), and some weird links between them, but the default library is version 3.3. So it should work.

Check your library path. It's not looking anywhere weird.

Do a find, to see if there's a copy of lurking somewhere strange. Nope.

Eh. Well, the Configure script actually creates a little test program to see what version of Berkeley DB you have. So you copy that little test program and compile it manually, and it works. Perfectly happy. What? How?

Time to Google. Which turns out to be no help at all. MovableType's support forum isn't much good either; mostly it suggests using MySQL. But there's a mention of recent Linux C libraries including Berkeley DB themselves, and the problems this causes if you want a version of Berkeley DB other than that in the C library.

A clue.

Well, if your program found the right version of Berkeley DB, but Perl doesn't, that must mean that Perl is picking up the wrong version from the C library. So you look at the libraries that Perl is using, and sure enough, the C library is listed before Berkeley DB. Change that and keep your fingers crossed while the whole thing rebuilds...

Success! We're back on the air! After two hours of pointless wrangling with Perl, it's decided to do what it's supposed to. MT is happy, I'm happy, Susie probably won't be happy because I have a nasty suspicion that it ate her post.

The whole thing started because I was trying to set up Image::Magick so that MovableType could generate image thumbnails. Image::Magick requires Image Magick (no great surprise), which of course is not installed. And Image Magick doesn't want to compile because it doesn't like my version of Perl. No problem, that version of Perl is out of date anyway; I'll just fetch the latest release and install that and aaarrgh!

What possessed Six Apart to write MT in Perl in the first place I'll never know. There are people in the world who program in Perl by choice, just as there are people who eat brussels sprouts or live in North Dakota or listen to System of a Down.

If they'd written it in Python this whole hideous mess could have been avoided. Of course, then I'd have had to find something else to rant about.

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I'm Sorry...

What planet did you say you're from?
"This is a great chicken, a friendly chicken, a chicken that is ready for a relationship," said Kat Brown, deputy director of the shelter.
Gravy and roast potatoes make a good relationship.

Oh yes, here.

(via Fark)

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This membership is limited to current incarnation only. Any use of this membership in a previous or future life will result in the immediate termination of this membership and its benefits.

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Thursday, June 26


One Day

One day I will write the perfect post. Every word will be both a geek-culture reference and a literary allusion, and also a relevant link to another blog. It will form a perfect bricktext at 72 columns, with acrostics on both the left and the right. The post will be in the form of a sonnet and the entire thing will be a palindrome.

Also, it will make some kind of sense.

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Title Fit - I Felt It

The first CD we listened to on our trip was Weird Al Yankovic's new release, Poodle Hat. All good Weird stuff (I particularly like Hardware Store and A Complicated Song), until we got to Bob:
I, man, am regal - a German am I
Never odd or even
If I had a hi-fi
Madam, I'm Adam
Too hot to hoot
No lemons, no melon
Too bad I hid a boot
Lisa Bonet ate no basil
Warsaw was raw
Was it a car or a cat I saw?
OK, I should have caught it by now, but it's a lot easier seeing the words in print than hearing them sung for the first time. Anyway:
Rise to vote, sir
Do geese see God?
"Do nine men interpret?" "Nine men," I nod
I quite like that one, but:
Rats live on no evil star
The light dawned, and it was blinding.

As for those readers (or rather Googlers) who were looking to download Poodle Hat: Just buy the darn thing, willya? The CD contains a bonus Quicktime movie with all the songs, extra mixes, the lyrics (yes, he did say automatic circumcisers) and Weird Al's very own home movies.

If you're a nut for a jar of tuna, you need Poodle Hat.

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