Link Roundup

The best of the Internet today, according to me:

  • OpenBSD 4.5 comes out May 1st, but is available on their site now. Check out the changelog.
  • For whatever reason, they don’t provide a torrent. (Likely because, unlike Ubuntu, it’s rarely distributed as one ISO.) I’d assume the mirrors are going to be crushed soon. I found this Pirate Bay torrent, a good reminder that not everything there is illegal. I’m downloading it now, but it’s quite lonely.
  • Here’s a decent OpenBSD install guide, thought it’s not 4.5-specific. Although far from impossible to install, OpenBSD was not designed with ease of install in mind. (OpenBSD 4.5’s official install guide is available, too, of course.)
  • I’ve posted about it before, but pfSense is meant to be a spiffy FreeBSD-based firewall and router platform with a good web GUI, for those of you who find OpenBSD really tough to install, or who have a pf.conf with a lengthy QoS section that doesn’t actually work. It’s got a pretty impressive list of features, too.
  • For a complete change of pace, Popular Mechanics has a new post, the Top 50 Important Tools. So pointless and yet so interesting. I’ve got to say, though, that I love my Leatherman, which should really be #51, if not higher.
  • Everyone is a little bit baffled, but Xapbr posts a Thank You for MySQL 5.4 Community. I think the baffling is due to several things: (1) There wasn’t much talk about MySQL 5.4 as a community release, (2) No one’s entirely sure where MySQL 5.2 and 5.3 went, and (3) Xapbr’s post makes reference to how we’re more fortunate than we realize for there being a community release for MySQL 5.4, which a paranoid person such as me takes to mean, “I can’t say it, but Sun/MySQL Corp. almost didn’t release a GPL version of 5.4.” Here’s a summary of what’s new. Based on the legalese disclaimer, I think it’s legal for me to link to it. A very incomplete summary: better performance on multi-core machines, and a Query Optimizer that’s worth a hoot when doing sub-selects. (“SELECT * FROM t1 WHERE id IN (SELECT id FROM t2)” would never, ever use an index, for example, and would often behave even worse than you’d expect.)


So it’s not secret that I’m a pretty strong supporter of Obama. I even volunteered on the campaign–when Obama was the underdog in the race. And I think the first 101 days have been great. (The fact that the polls turned from 20% of the country thinking the country was headed in the right direction to 60% of the country thinking that ought to be telling…)

While it’s nice to not have a VP that travels the country to promote torture (I’m not even joking or exaggerating, either?), I really wish our new VP could do something other than put his foot in his mouth. Besides his horribly-misconstrued (and even more horribly-articulated) comment seemingly calling Obama the first “clean” black politician, and things like asking people in wheelchairs to stand up, he was on primetime TV this morning telling people to avoid airplanes, subways, and pretty much the public, to make sure they don’t catch the swine flu, but that going to Mexico wasn’t nearly as big a threat as being in confined spaces.

The CDC, the White House, and the Department of Homeland Security have all pretty much come out and said that Biden’s advice was completely wrong and backwards. In the words of a coworker (in what’s bound to become a sarcastic slogan, if it’s not already), Way to Go, Joe.

Absolutely Nothing Happens

We were talking quite some time ago at college about how gay marriage had been legal in Massachusetts for a few years. Despite all the hubbub about it being the end of the world–or the greatest thing since sliced bread–we came to the conclusion that it was a complete non-issue. None of us knew anyone who knew anyone who had ever been to a gay wedding, and even my conservative peers came to not care in the slightest that same-sex couples could get married. It’s gone on for years, and the impact to conservatives who felt threatened turned out to be nil.

And then I remembered that Massachusetts had decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Like gay marriage, it drew a lot of criticism, and had many panicked that the sky was falling. About four months (I think?) later, absolutely nothing has happened as a result. It’s had zero impact on my life or those I know. Massachusetts doesn’t suddenly have a drug catastrophe.

I wonder what else would turn out that way. Drivers licenses for illegal immigrants? (It’s no secret they drive; I’d much rather that they had to follow the same rules I did to get my license.) Loosening up gun laws on non-criminals? (Gotta get both sides in there! I do think Boston and New Hampshire are very different, but I live in a state with incredibly lax gun laws and would be hard-pressed to think of a single gun crime.)

Though I think there’s an interesting lesson in this. For all the political apathy we’re accused of, it seems that there’s an awful lot of Chicken Little FUD (on both sides) about things that turn out to be non-issues to most of us.


After reading about a series of pirate attacks last year—back then an almost laughably bizarre occurrence—I became interested in the concept of modern piracy, something I, like many average citizens, was unaware still went on. I picked up a copy of John Burnett’s Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas after hearing him talk on NPR, but didn’t get far into it.

Recent events revived my interest, and I made some headway in the book this weekend. It turns out that piracy has been a major problem for ships in third-world areas, which is problematic since many major international shipping lanes progress right through these areas. No ship is immune, from small sailboats to “VLCCs”: Very Large Crude Carriers, commercial oil tankers rivaling our military’s biggest ships in size. As we learned with the recent hostage situation, pirates tend to be destitute teenagers from the poverty-stricken nations who have little to lose and everything to gain.

This afternoon, I read an interesting observation: some private ships, including cruise ships, are known to employ “heavies,” gun-toting mercenaries, to protect the ship and those onboard. Guns are otherwise uncommon: there are many thorny legal issues, including the need to declare them to customs when docking in a foreign port, at which point they’re seized until you leave again; the fact that pulling a gun on pirates, unless you’re a well-trained marksman, is likely to get you shot; and the fact that, on many of the oil tankers, a single stray round could blow the whole ship up.

So imagine my surprise when I checked out Google News, and saw that an Italian cruise liner off the coast of Somalia actually used its heavies to deter pirates. Besides idle fascination n the escalating pirate wars, I think this is a good thing: if pirates are becoming brazen enough to fire on cruise ships, there’s a much more pressing need for the international community to aggressively put an end to piracy. Piracy is no longer an obscure issue affecting an incredibly small number of commercial ships, but something threatening anyone on a boat in international waters, and the latest escalation is likely to cause an even greater escalation in piracy defenses.

Deal Roundup

My post this week will probably reflect a clear bias towards good deals on LCDs, since I’m itching to pick up another one. There are some other good ones in here, too, though:

  • Dell S2409W 24″ LCD, 1920×1080, for $199. (via FatWallet)
  • HP W2338H 23.3″ LCD, 1920×1080, $220 minus $50 = $170 after coupon, at Staples. (via FatWallet with coupon code)
  • Acer Aspire One netbook, $299.99 but there’s a $75 off coupon for purchases over $300. 1GB RAM, 160GB disk, 8.9″ LCD at 1024×600, WiFi, webcam, WinXP. Need to spend a penny more to get the deal. (via FatWallet) Possible free printer with purchase, too?
  • White Asus EEE, refurbished, 1.6 GHz Atom, 4GB SSD, 1GB RAM, 8.9″ LCD, Linux – $169.99.
  • Dell S2009W 20″ LCD, for someone looking for a more modest monitor, $109. 1600×900 (via FatWallet)
  • 6GB RAM + 5-disk hot-swappable SATA RAID enclosure, a bizarre combo, but only $220, a huge discount, at NewEgg. (via FatWallet)
  • Samsung 2343BWX 23″ LCD with ridiculous document.write(neg_specification_newline(‘2048 x 1152’));2048 x 1152 resolution, $220 at NewEgg.
  • Acer X223Wbd, 22″ 1680×1050 LCD, $150 at NewEgg.
  • Acer H213H bmid, 21.5″ 1920×1080 LCD, $180 at NewEgg.
  • WD 1TB SATA “Green” disk (internal), $90 at NewEgg.
  • Choice of one of two 1TB external disks, $99.99 at NewEgg.
  • 1.5TB Barracuda, $130 at NewEgg, but beware the comments of it not working well in arrays.


From the, “I’m not entirely sure how I got here” section of the Internet comes this SAN on eBay. At $2,000 it’s a little out of my price range, but it’s pretty much what I’ve wanted for a long time: a box that will just sit in the corner, but that also kicks butt. Seven hot-swappable 1500GB SATA disks with 32MB cache each, behind a RAID controller that supports auto-rebuild and RAID 6. Speaks NFS, SMB, CIFS, AFP, and also FTP and HTTP(S). And apparently, an HTTP/FTP/BitTorrent download manager via its web interface.

And it seems to get good reviews, too. I initially thought it was just a cheap enclosure with 7x big drives, but it’s actually a full-blown computer, and it has some serious features, like the apparent ability to bond across its dual GigE ports, and to work over iSCSI. I’ve seen mention of it having ZFS support if you’re not happy enough with ext3. (ZFS supports a lot of cool features, though I’m not sure I’m familiar enough with it to use it on something important.)

$2,000’s some serious money, but it buys you a 10 terabyte SAN that speaks iSCSI, has bonded GigE, and has a “real” RAID card (one that does more than RAID 1/0). (Oh, shop around! It looks like it’s under $1,000 without disks. Which actually makes it seem kind of expensive.)


Apparently, a company wrote an application for the iPhone called Baby Shaker. It depicts a crying baby, and you vigorously shake the iPhone to make it stop, at which point its eyes are replaced by X’s.

Apple pulled the application from its store and apologized, saying, “This app is deeply offensive and should not have been approved for distribution on the App Store.”

The Sarah Jane Brain Foundation, however, has had enough, with a spokesperson calling it “the most cynical apology I have ever seen.” They plan to picket Apple stores, calling on them to “mitigate the harm they’ve now caused.”

What I find so interesting is how the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation has had “The PETA Effect” here, at least for me: so vehemently overstating your cause that you steer people to the other side. If I’d seen the application distributed, I’d surely have joined the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation in finding it horrifically offensive. It’s in bad taste and makes light of an abusive practice that kills many babies and leaves even more with permanent injuries and brain damage.

And yet, with them coming across as so overzealous, my “That’s really kind of funny” sense is triggered, just a tiny bit. I guess I find their position so outrageous since:

  • I don’t like Apple having sole control of what I can run on my iPhone. Apple pulled the app, which means that, unless I jailbreak my iPhone (voiding my warranty), I can’t have the application. I’m not sure I want this application, but it’s a sore spot with me. The fact that Apple pulled the app just drives home Apple’s exclusive control.
  • Apple promptly pulled the app. The “most cynical apology” actually seemed to be a pretty emphatic, “That application was horribly offensive. We screwed up big time in approving it!” from Apple. I’ve definitely heard much more cynical. (I’m sorry you feel that way…)
  • The application shows that shaking babies kills them. Sure, it demonstrates it in an awful way, but it’s like showing tapes of babies’ skulls being crushed to lobby against abortion. Isn’t this exactly what the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation should enjoy?
  • I think that, and then get the sneaking suspicion that they are loving this, because it’s giving them tremendous publicity. And calling for protests outside Apple stores, weeks after they pulled the application and apologized for it, only furthers that point.

What do you think? Was Apple’s apology (and prompt retraction) of the app good enough? Should Apple have left it up even though it was controversial?

Free Mac Programs I Love

I’ve been running a Mac as my work machine for a while now. (And, since it’s a laptop, it tends to become my personal machine somewhat, too.) Excluding things that are specific to programming, here are a few tools I don’t think I could live without–and they’re all free!

  • smcFanControl. (Wow, my version is way out of date.) My machine can hit 75 degrees Celsius, at which point parts of the laptop are too hot to touch, and things inside can’t be happy. Apple seems to have designed the machine to stay quiet: even as I’m at 75 degrees, the fans don’t ever exceed 1,000rpm. But they go to 6,000 rpm, and smcFanControl will take you there. It’s not until somewhere around 3,000rpm that I even start to hear the fan, and it makes a big difference. (6,000 rpm can bring the CPU and chassis down 20 degrees Celsius in under a minute.)
  • iStat Menus, which place helpful (and customizable) things like network speed, memory utilization, and CPU graphs in the Apple bar (whatever it’s called: the menu bar across the top of the screen). With 2GB RAM (and a tendancy to have way too much stuff open), it’s handy to keep an eye on its usage, and it takes maybe 20×20 pixels to do so. Clicking on the graph brings up a spiffy graph and a breakdown of the top processes using RAM.
  • QuickSilver, and I don’t even use it for half its potential. Ctrl+Space and start typing, and it’ll match things. “fir[Enter]” and I’m in Firefox, “ter[Enter]” and I’m in the terminal, “tex[Enter]” and I’m in TextMate… It’s actually capable of much more, too.
  • Firefox and Thunderbird. Even though the Mac comes with Safari and a pretty slick mail client, I think power users will feel most comfortable with these. And both are quite customized (and plugin-ized) just to my liking.

Building a Better Camera

Thinking about a $22,000 lens got me thinking about “real” cameras a bit more. And it occurred to me that Canon is in kind of a weird spot right now.

Their flagship camera has always been the EOS-1. With digital it was the 1D, which was followed by a 1Ds. The s designates that it’s meant for studio work, with a higher resolution but lower framerate. After a while Canon replaced them with the “Mark II” edition of the 1D and 1Ds, and a few years (?) ago, the Mark III edition.

The Mark IIIs were well received. The 1D Mark III supported up to ISO6400 if unlocked, allowing great low-light performance. The 1Ds Mark III is what really got people drooling, though, with a 21-megapixel resolution. I think it was around 10 megapixels that people started saying that resolution wars should really be considered over. 21 megapixels, in the eyes of many, bests medium-format cameras. People shoot for two-page magazine spreads and billboards with lower resolutions.

The awkward sitution comes from the Canon 5D Mark II. The 5D is still a very high-end line, but it’s meant to be second fiddle to the 1D. But the 5D Mark II boasts 21 megapixels, the same as their flagship 1Ds Mark III. It records 1080p video. And what really wins me over is that it gives Nikon’s D3 a run for its money: ISO6400 out of the box, and you can enable “High ISO” support for ISO 12,800 and 25,600, allowing photos to be taken in absurdly low light. It sells for $2,700, less than half of the $7,000 1Ds Mark III.

So it’s high time for a Mark IV series. I haven’t even seen rumors about it yet, which tend to start long before the camera’s released. But here are some of the things I’d really like to see Canon release in a Mark IV edition:

  • Higher ISO support with lower noise. I’m not sure many people even imagined ISO6400 in the days of film (though it looks like there may have been such a thing, though it certainly wasn’t sold in Walmart), but the trend has been started. ISO12,800 and ISO25,600 are kind of experimental modes that remain very noisy (grainy). When I’m in the market for a new digital SLR in a few years, I hope it’s got a noise-free ISO25,600, or higher. Consider that increasing sensitivity just twice more would bring “ISO 100K.” Canon and Nikon, it’s a race. You heard it here first. I want the 1D Mark IV to put Canon in the lead, and Nikon to come out with a D4 to try to one-up them, with the end result being a camera that can take photos in dimly-lit rooms without five-figure lenses.
  • Get rid of the mechanical shutter. Sample the sensor for the necessary duration. It seems there are design challenges in eliminating the shutter, but it’s really a vestigial organ on a digital camera. This removes a common spot of mechanical failure, and paves the road to higher shutter speeds. I don’t think any camera (possibly excluding ultra-expensive scientific gear) can exceed 1/8000th of a second shutter speeds right now. Accidentally shoot outside at f/1.8 and ISO1600 on a sunny day and tell me it’s not a limit. (Yes, yes, why would you want to do that? Because I needed the shallow depth of field and forgot my camera was cranked to ISO1600. The real question is: why couldn’t the camera handle it?)
  • RAM is cheap. Like $10 for a 1GB DIMM. I doubt cameras have DDR2 DIMMs, but why can I only take a couple shots in rapid succession before I have to wait for the camera to write things out to the card? On the flagship model, give us a crazy-huge buffer.
  • For the love of God, give us an LCD that we can see when we’re working outside. And while you’re at it, spend the money on a great LCD. Look at an iPhone screen for a while, in fact, and see what 150 dpi looks like.