March 2003 Archives

Power Down

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I have a Powermac "wind tunnel" machine and I just received my new replacement power supply kit from Apple. Actually, I got two kits, they double-shipped. I called Apple, and of course they double billed too. It's not so bad since it's only a $20 overcharge I'll get back, but these new quiet power supplies and fan kits are rather scarce, and someone is waiting for one of these kits. And I want my $20 back.
This replacement is about as deep as you can go into the guts of the machine, I have to strip everything out to get at the power supply and fan brackets. What a pain. I hope the noise reduction is worth it. I'm thinking of getting one of the Verax fan kits for further noise reduction, but I'll see how this swapout goes first. At least I will have the case completely stripped so I can see where I could do further sound dampening.
But the big question is, will this fix my floating ground problems? I've totally rewired my office numerous times and I've never been able to get the electrical interference out of my computer/TV system. I get big white bands across my TV every time I try to capture video. I've tried to get rid of this problem for months.
Update: I've got the new power supply installed, and it's definitely quieter. It seems to have a low throbbing sound at medium fan speed, it's a beating sound of the two different size fans running at a harmonic. Yep, I think I'll get the Verax fan kit, and maybe some Dynamat dampening panels too. And I've solved the floating ground problems by putting my CPUs on cheater plugs (only 29 cents each). Now everything in my "MacTiVo" rig is working together without interference, maybe I can keep it all working once I get everything back in the cabinets. I had it all working once before, and the grounding failed the moment I got it back in the cabinet.

A Bridge Too Far

Military history and board gaming has always been an odd obsession of mine, more particularly odd because I am a pacifist. I suppose it is because of what I know of military strategy that I am a pacifist, I know that a General moving markers on a map is deliberately deluding himself from the idea that he is sending men to their deaths. But I have no such illusions, I know what happens when you send even electronic representations of men into battle. They die in ways you never expected.
I spent many years playing board games like Panzer Blitz and Squad Leader, they have the historical realism I demand, which allows you to try real historical scenarios using the real forces as they existed in the battle. But the paper board game systems had major flaws. Both players could see all the markers, so you could never do a sneak attack. Some methods of concealment were invented, like putting dozens of markers on the board, upside down so neither side could see them, only a few were your real markers. Arguments about line-of-sight, of who could see who, were always a problem, especially with modern games. Modern weapons are one-shot one-kill, if you can be seen you can be killed. Simultaneous movement rules were unmanageable, I remember games where we argued for hours over movements taking only 15 seconds in realtime. The only real solution is "kriegspiel" games, where both players have identical boards, hidden from each other, and only the referee sees both boards and runs the game. This is obviously unworkable on paper, but kriegspiel methods are ideal for computerization.
My favorite computer game implementation was V for Victory by Atomic Games. I particularly remember Operation Market Garden, I archived it on a CDR long ago and I wondered if it still ran on my new PowerMac. This game is so old it comes with two different applications for 68k processors with and without a math coprocessor. I remember playing this on my Mac IIcx and it sometimes took several minutes for the AI to complete it's turn. I couldn't get this to run in Classic, but after booting into OS 9, the app still runs well enough to play and get a few screen captures. I set the computer AI to play a few turns against itself, and the whole campaign finished before I could even click the stop button. I started it over and watched what the AI was doing, turn by turn. I could not believe what I saw.

Battle of Oosterbeck

I've been thinking of Market Garden a lot, since seeing the US and UK forces in action, trying to take the bridges across the Euphrates River around Nasiriya. I thought it might be interesting to compare the V4V scenario of the British forces trying to capture the bridge at Arnheim. In this screen, we see the lightly armed British forces (in red) rapidly advancing southeast into Oosterbeck, just a few klicks from our objective. But since the Germans still control the main bridge, there was nothing to stop them from moving elite SS Panzer units to the edge of Oosterbeck to block our advance, and put artillery units to the north. Now the UK supply lines are subject to artillery interdictment and harassing attacks from scattered defenders. Our resources are stretched too thin to maintain our position in Oosterbeck, we must defend from a combined artillery and SS Panzer counterattack instead of achieving our objective, taking Arnheim bridge. The AI committed a tactical blunder, it should have sent squads to block the roads out of Arnheim to slow the counterattack until we consolidated our position and got some reinforcements. Sacrificing a few squads in delaying actions at the chokepoints could have saved this operation.
When this game first shipped, I played it over and over, and I just could not understand why I always got beaten so badly. I was pretty good at V4V, but no matter how hard I worked, the Germans always wiped me from the field of battle. I studied the scenario in detail, looking for where I had gone wrong. And then it suddenly struck me, the Allies lost Operation Market Garden, it was a humiliating defeat. The V4V footnotes explain that the historical result was a total loss, so if you only had a major or minor loss you were ahead of the historical results, therefore you were entitled to believe you really won. I was irritated at the publisher for releasing a game that could not be won. And then I realized I was irritated at the Allied generals for committing to such a battle that could not be won.
And this is why I've been thinking about Nasiriya. American battle doctrine is based on shoot-and-scoot, fire and maneuver systems. This system isn't quite so useful against fixed emplacements like bridges. Internet reports indicate US forces have taken the bridges several times and given them back just as often. Marines take a position, but aren't intended to defend that position from counterattack without support and resupply. We committed troops to a battle at the end of supply lines that are stretched thin, without adequate air support and reinforcements, exposing the US troops to artillery and infantry counterattack. I keep thinking of the movie version of A Bridge Too Far, with intense battles taking place across the bridge at Arnheim. Our Commander In Chief is right, this is like a rerun of a bad old movie.

A Note to ISSHO ACCJ Readers

Tony Lazlo wrote a nice article on blogging that cited my page, and promised videos of Japanese news for language students. Unfortunately, I haven't put up a new Japanese-related video in the last 30 days, so there is nothing like this on the main page. Click on the Archives to go back to last month (or older) and you will find many videos for your viewing pleasure. I am always seeking new material, I just haven't run across anything worth posting lately. I only get 45 minutes of Japanese news each weekday and linguistically interesting items are rare lately.


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I just watched Riverworld on the SciFi Channel, and boy was I surprised at how good it was. I had no idea this movie was in the works until it popped up in my TiVo schedule. I read the Riverworld novels probably 30 years ago, and the movie wrenched loose some deep memories of one of my favorite reading experiences of my youth. Now I've got to go dig up my old paperbacks, I've got them stored away with all my classic SF collection.
According to the page, a huge amount of supplementary Riverworld material was published that I never knew about. Now this is a rare pleasure, one of the best movie adaptations of a SF novel I've ever seen, plus tons of new chapters to read, plus a tantalizing hint of censored material. Time to hit the bookstore.

CNN Covers Iowa City Protest

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CNN published a photograph of the protest I just attended.

Iowa City Protest

At the end of this rally, the organizers announced there were over 300 people at this rally, I figure it was closer to 500. But you would never know from this photo, it looks like this guy was the only one there. As usual, the media deliberately distorted the truth.
Ironically, this is a guy I came up to and offered my Biggie 50 marker so he could blacken in his lettering, this picture was taken before we fixed the sign. They picked this guy because he had the scruffiest sign, torn from a cardboard box with the label still attached. CNN is doing everything it can to disparage the protesters and give them a bad image, and make them look like solitary losers.

I Protest

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For the first time in my life, I attended an antiwar protest. I was sitting at home watching CNN, CBS, MSNBC, etc. pumping out war porn, when suddenly a short local news segment came on showing a protest forming in my town. The newscaster scoffed at the protesters, claiming there were only a dozen or so, and that the protest would be unlikely to grow since this is a college town and everyone is on spring break. I immediately decided to join the protest they needed support from everyone they could reach. I quickly took a large sheet of poster board, wrote NO WAR in sumi ink with a large brush, and then splattered it with droplets of red paint that looked like blood. I had to dry the paint with a hair dryer so I could get downtown in a hurry.
I arrived at the protest just as they started to march. As usual, the media lied, there were hundreds of people marching. We marched down the city's main street, forming a line several blocks long. As we marched past the Fire House, I noticed firemen taking photos, so I shouted out "money for firefighters, not war!" and a rousing yell of agreement came from the crowd. The media was in attendance, and many cameras focused on my sign, one of the most graphic in the protest. We reached the main plaza and as we listened to some bad speeches, a crazy veteran in a tattered military jacket assaulted one of the protesters. He was arrested. The military teaches people that every problem has a violent solution. We must stop the military juggernaut, if only for that reason; it teaches people violence and then discharges them back into the populace.
I returned home, and turned on CNN. They were showing helicopter video of protests on Market Street in San Francisco. Aaron Brown was denouncing the protesters for violence, as he replayed the video repeat over and over. But the video clearly showed something else was happening, it was like Brown didn't even look at the video. Protesters were standing in the intersection, shutting down the street. A car forced its way into the crowd, the protesters surrounded it and sat down in front of it. Suddenly, a redneck with a mullet haircut jumped out of the car and started beating on the protesters, they jumped back as he ran after them. Another protester jumped into the car and swiped the guy's car keys. Other protesters did exactly what they are supposed to do, they tried to defuse the situation, they grabbed the protester and took the keys away and gave them back to the angry, violent guy. Then mullet-head started hitting the protesters again. It was sickening, but not as sickening as hearing Aaron Brown describing the protesters as violent. It was the bystanders that were violent, just like the protest I attended.
I read a few Direct Action manuals from militant SF protest groups, and I can immediately see what went wrong. Human bodies alone cannot shut down a major road if you've got nutcases prepared to drive right over the crowd, you need more. What they should have done is drive a car into the middle of the intersection, start a left turn across all lanes, then stop and turn off the key, get out, and raise the hood and fiddle with the engine like you're having car trouble. A few stalled cars separated by a block each, and the whole city is gridlocked.
I could also give a few tips to our local protesters. First, dogs and dense crowds do not mix, leave your dog at home. I heard numerous yipes and yips from dogs as their paws were stepped on by marchers. Second, if you use a bullhorn or amplifier, you must keep the microphone well behind the speaker or you get feedback. Thirdly, nobody can read signs written in 1/4 inch magic markers, get some poster paint and a 2 inch brush, or a Biggie 50. And last of all, if it's cold and damp, give the crowd some rousing speeches with opportunities to yell and clap and stomp, if for no other reason than to keep their bodies moving and warm. Otherwise, they'll drift away.
I stayed to the end of the final speech, and then asked one of the protesters who was attacked what happened and if the guy was arrested. He said, "I hope not, he was just upset." Hell, we're all upset, I would not have been so magnanimous. But I was refilled with pride at the behavior of the peace activists, they were attacked in a most cowardly fashion, attacked from behind when they could not see the approaching blow nor defend against it, and they refused to retaliate. The violent ones are the true cowards.

Batteries Not Included

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I finally got a new battery-backup power supply, so I had to shut down the server just to plug it in. Ooh I hate losing a good uptime, I was up 51 days. And I find it particularly galling to lose uptime just to replace power supplies. At least I had an opportunity to install some system updates, I'd been procrastinating because the updates required a restart and I didn't want to lose the uptime. I was surprised to see I was still running MacOS X 10.2.1. I really should update Movable Type as well. I've been procrastinating on that upgrade too.
I got a new Belkin F6C120-UNV with a pretty good capacity of 1200 volt-amps. I'd been avoiding it because the ads all show a huge odd shape with tons of plastic, but this unit was just a nice little square metal box. It has a USB port to connect to a server for monitoring. Belkin's battery monitor program "Bulldog 3" is MacOS X compatible, but the program can't see my UPS. Apple System Profiler can see the UPS and read the USB ID. I don't know what's wrong, but it's either a software glitch or else the unit is DOA. Remind me not to install new hardware on a weekend when tech support is closed.
On a brighter note, it looks like the battery backup has eliminated the ground interference that's been plaguing me. Now I can get all my TiVo and DSS gear back in the cabinets. I can even get my printers running again, I had them unplugged and some of the interference went away. It turned out that interference came from a corroded old Isobar surge protector the printers were plugged into. It would generate interference as long as it was plugged in, even if nothing was plugged into it. I hated to throw out that Isobar, it was a really expensive unit, the best surge protector I used to sell.
And there's the rub. I used to sell this stuff and I know what cheap crap it is and the big profits it generates. An average surge suppressor costs $5 wholesale and sells for $30. They were the highest markup item I sold, always at least 50% profit and usually 80%. Sometimes we'd sell people a surge suppressor with their computer and make more profit on the $30 surge suppressor than on the $2500 computer. We used to call this sort of high-profit item "point builders' because it "built up points," it increased profit over a base sale. I got sick of this game and just sold these items at a reasonable markup, or threw them in for free and absorbed the cost by charging a few bucks more for the computer.
Update: I got the USB monitoring to work after discovering the Belkin Bulldog installer is severely flawed. It must be run as root, the scripts do not sudo correctly. Belkin does not know how to write a proper installer for Unix.


As a registered Independent voter, I often receive mistargeted political mail. The worst I've received recently was an 8x10 color photo of Bush, with a printed message thanking me for supporting the Republican administration. Aside from my annoyance at the mistargeting, I looked at the photo and it exemplifies everything I detest about Bush and his performance at the podium.


The printing of this photograph is so cheap, it's an offense to anyone who ever touched a printing press, I won't even get started. The persona Bush presents is his downhome Crawford Texas image, with his typical smirk. He's wearing a canvas coat with the words "George W. Bush President" embroidered on the chest. He's using the little podium with the little seal on it, Bush likes to use the baby podium because he thinks it looks informal, but it's obvious he uses it because the big podium with the Great Seal of the President makes him look short, he has to stand on a box. Bush is leaning his elbows on the podium. That's his most annoying mannerism. Bush always leans his elbows on the podium when he's making speeches. First he leans on one side, then the other. He slouches all over the podium like he's a drunk on a barstool. Didn't yore momma never tole you to keep yore elbows offa the table?
I examined the photo with increasing irritation, then I noticed something that made me burst out into laughter. The little podium has a ring of duct tape holding up the locking ring on the bottom. The President's podium is being held up with duct tape.

Obscure Bug of the Month

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I've been struggling with the strangest bug for over a month, every time I launch Adobe Acrobat, it immediately quits. I finally checked the Adobe customer forums and found the most obscure solution I've heard in a long time. During a recent MacOS X upgrade, Apple supplied new language .plists and the Acrobat language preferences got scrambled. The solution is to go to MacOS X's System Preferences:International and modify the Languages list. You can make any change, exchange the order of the bottom two languages, hit Edit and remove unused langauges, etc. and new correct prefs will be written. Now Acrobat will launch again. Oh boy am I happy to have Acrobat running again.

Cry Me a River of Gasoline

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I had a wonderful moment of schadenfreude when I read this story about record high gas prices:
"It's ridiculous," said Sandra Cerrigan, who paid $2.23 for gas for her Land Rover at a San Francisco Chevron Station. "We're getting gouged."
Hey lady, maybe if you'd bought a Toyota Prius instead of that Land Monster, you'd be able to afford gasoline. SF has one of the best mass transit systems in the US, and you have to drive a car, let alone a huge SUV?
The Land Rover is truly the symbol of SUV selfishness. I wish it weren't so. I still remember the Land Rover ads that ran on page 3 of every issue of Scientific American, they proudly proclaimed the maximum altitude a Land Rover had climbed under its own power. It was astonishing to read of people driving up mountains. I always wanted to take the Rover offroad driving course, they claim that a Land Rover with a winch can basically go anywhere, even up a nearly-vertical cliff. But that was back in the day when people used these vehicles as tools, not status symbols.
Now whenever I see a Land Rover, I think about an infamous case in Los Angeles, just before SUV-mania took hold. Disney awarded deluxe Land Rovers to 10 of its top executives, and ran the vehicles through the Disney auto shop to have all the anti-pollution devices removed to increase gas milage. Disney got whacked with a multimillion dollar fine for that stunt. But in the process, they turned the Land Rover into the must-have LA accessory.