Pizza Tables

I’m in the car for about 3 hours a day, given that I work 50 miles from home. While the commute is maddening at times, it’s also somewhat welcome time to myself. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I listen to talk radio, but sometimes I don’t do anything. Not doing anything (except for driving, but often that entails nothing more than keeping my foot on the brake and waiting for the cars in front to inch up) is something not many people do, I think.

It gives me time to ponder life’s important questions. For example, today I somehow started thinking about those little plastic “tables” that used to come in pizza boxes to keep the cheese from sticking to the lid. I remember they were ubiquitous on pizza when I was a kid. Nowadays, I can’t remember the last time I saw a pizza with one. I’m intrigued about the reasoning.

One theory is that it’s simply cost-cutting. The one-cent plastic pieces add up to a couple dollars a day for a pizza place, which finds itself saving $1,000 by serving lots of pizza with cheese stuck to the lid. This seems improbable to me, though, largely because it seems like lots of cheese stuck to lids would do a lot of harm to a pizza place. The other thing against this strategy is that I don’t recall ever opening a pizza box and finding the cheese stuck to the lid.

Another theory is that pizza deliverymen have just become more careful, and instructed to not crush boxes en route. This, too, seems improbable, though. It seems unlikely that there could have been industry-wide improvements in pizza delivery methods. (And with respect to those who delivered pizzas in the past, I don’t think many people get into pizza delivery as a promising career, nor do I think many people have any great appreciation for being the best deliveryman out there.)

So the most probable theory I can come up with is that boxes have improved. In the eighties and early nineties, perhaps pizza boxes were low-quality, and would easily crush if another pizza was stocked on top of them. Along with e-commerce, ubiquitous cell phone coverage with data capabilities, and AJAX came improvements in pizza box manufacturing. Corrugated cardboard, for example, probably better resists crushing, causing fewer pizzas with cheese stuck to the lid. This is supported by the fact that I can’t recall the last time I had this happen to me. However, this theory, too, has a few problems. First, I don’t think cardboard is a rapidly-developing industry. I’m pretty sure that 1970s pizza boxes were about as sophisticated as 2009 pizza boxes. Second, I sometimes get pizzas in poorly-made, almost paper-y boxes. They, too, seem to not have problems with crushing.

In conclusion, I can find no reason for the demise of the pizza box table, but I can conclude that I really need a hobby. Right after I get to the bottom of this pizza box scandal.

Intuitive

I grew up on Windows, but it was the rocky Windows 98 era when I discovered Linux. Both operating systems have come very far since then, but the discovery of an alternative at a young age left me with a sense of empowerment. Daily blue screens meant that I had the freedom to use Linux, even if connecting to the Internet required editing some configuration files with this wacky vim thing. I eventually ended up with a college-issued laptop with XP, and a $9 Vista disk. (Student discount, not seedy black market.)

When I started a job doing Rails coding, though, I was issued a Mac. It took only a couple days to adjust to its differences: for the most part, it was just another UNIX system, so the “hard part” (setting up ssh keys, NFS mounts, etc.) took about 5 minutes. So I find myself pretty well-versed in the three major OSs, maintaining racks of Linux machines while coding on a Macintosh laptop, but having used Linux and most every flavor of Windows extensively.

But here’s why my next purchase will probably be a ludicrously-overpriced Mac: things just work. With the air conditioner running and another fan helping to steer the air conditioner to me, I have the speakers on my laptop cranked just to hear background music. I queued up a Youtube video, put headphones in my ears, and then plugged them into the laptop. I suddenly panicked, realizing that I was about to blow my eardrums out. But before I could lower the volume, I realized that I wasn’t about to blow my eardrums out. The Mac keeps a separate volume control for the headphones, which was still set from the last time I listened to headphones. This in and of itself isn’t a reason to buy a Mac, but I have a lot of these experiences, and it makes using a computer such a more pleasurable experience.

I do have some pet peeves. This hardware won’t see more than 2GB of RAM, and I’m furious about the restriction. The machine will take two 2GB DIMMs, but it won’t boot if there’s more than 2GB installed. That seems more like a deliberate limitation than a design handicap. The newer machines seem to have internal batteries, which makes user service hard. I want to encrypt the filesystem for security reasons, but the Mac doesn’t support that. But the benefits far outweigh the cons.

noindex on a partial page?

Working with SEO a bit, I’m seeking to do something I don’t think is possible: use a noindex tag to refer to part of a page. For example, the main page of the blogs get a lot of hits for whatever keywords happened to be there when Google last indexed it, when Google should correctly direct that traffic to the relevant post. But I want the main page to be indexed, because people search for blogs.n1zyy.com* and such, and they should find the main page.

Any tips on how to do this? The idea I’ve got in mind is to have the main page be purely static HTML, with an iframe that loads the blog posts and anything else that changes, so that the iframe can set a noindex tag. That way search engines can index the main page and send people for traffic that should come to the main page, but search engines will never see the blog posts on the main page.

(As part of this “sprint,” I’m also looking to set up a series of dynamic sitemaps to ensure that all public content is indexed.)

* Speaking with the CEO and architect of a very successful site, who also happens to be a usability expert, I had confirmed something I suspected for a while now: no one types in URLs anymore, which is why the #1 keyword bringing traffic from search engines is usually that site’s domain name. Absurd but true.

Criminals

My guilty pleasure is trashy crime shows. I like Cops, but lately it’s been The First 48, which follows homicide detectives around.

One thing that I find fascinating is that, with absolutely no training, I can read guilt like it’s a book. It’s not that I’m good. It’s that criminals are astonishingly bad.

A seemingly-common scenario on the show is a boyfriend/husband killing his girlfriend/wife. And many practically prove that it was them before they’re even asked. For example, if the police knock on your door the next day, do you (a) answer and ask what’s going on, or (b) say you didn’t do it before they ask what happened? (Or option (c) — try to run.)

But what I see happen on Cops and The First 48, time and time again, is people who are really bad at lying. One of my favorite things to watch happen is for the police to tell the criminal what they know, and to have the criminal then make up a lie that doesn’t even fit it. On Cops, they pulled over a teen for running a stop sign. After finding that his license was suspended, they asked him to step out of the car, at which point the officer noticed the kid’s hand was bleeding and asked him about it. “What? I didn’t know I was bleeding!” he said, as blood streamed down his fingers. He was detained, and told that the police were going to search his car. The police found lots of drugs and drug paraphernalia, including a shattered glass pipe under the seat with blood on it. (As well as a bag of cocaine.) The officer goes back and says, “Do you want to tell me why you were bleeding?”

So the kid explains that he cut himself on a fence. I guess I can see the logic in not wanting to admit that cut yourself trying to destroy drug paraphernalia, but the officer then points out that it’s not a very good lie, asking why he would have lied earlier and said he didn’t know how he started bleeding if the truth was that he was walking down the street and got cut on a fence. “But it doesn’t matter, because I found the crushed pipe, and your drugs,” the officer adds. Upon being asked if there’s anything else he’d like to say, the kid tries making up another excuse for having cut his hand.

It’s even more interesting to me in homicide investigations. What seems to happen a lot is that someone dies, and the police ask the victim’s boyfriend (always a boyfriend, never a husband or roommate or friend) to come in for questioning, pointing out to him that he’s not a suspect, but that they’re trying to piece together the last days of the victim’s life. And at some point they’ll say, “We interviewed the victim’s friends, and 17 people all said you beat her up a few months ago.” This must be a jam for the criminal, because having recently fought with someone who’s now dead can’t look good. But watching the show, the right answer is clear: something along the lines of a tearful, “I know, I still beat myself up about that… She was cheating on me, and I just lost my temper, and *sobs* hit her… I hope she’ll one day forgive me, even if she never comes back… *sob* Oh, but she’s dead, so now it’s too late… *hysterics*”

But instead, the response is always, “I never laid hands on her.” The police always respond with, “Never?,” and they always get a “Never!” back, at which point they pull out a police report for when he was arrested for assaulting her a couple months ago.

So a few tips to anyone planning on murdering family:

  • The police will probably come ask you questions, even if you’re not a suspect. Be prepared.
  • If the police tell you they already knew you did something, don’t lie about it. It practically proves your guilt.
  • Hiding the murder weapon in your home is a really bad idea.
  • Be prepared for the, “Why didn’t you report her missing?” question.

Of course, the best way to avoid all of this is simple:

  • Do not murder anyone.

Megapixels

I’ve probably mentioned my dislike for the “megapixel race” enough that it’s tiring to listen to me. So I’ll say something else.

Sometimes having lots of megapixels is important. Specifically, when your lens isn’t nearly long enough, so you know you’re going to have to crop heavily. Lots of megapixels aren’t really a substitute for a better lens. Some cheap digital cameras have “digital zoom,” which just crops off the edges of the photo to “zoom” in for you. The problem is that a lot of lenses really aren’t that good. If you take a 15 megapixel shot of your family and print at 4×6″ image, it’ll look great. But if you zoom into a 100% crop, it’s really not so hot. Nothing looks great at 100%, but some things look much worse than others.

But when you’ve got a $100 lens on your camera, and it’s the longest thing you’ve got, and getting the shot you really want would take a lens that costs 60 times more than your current lens, a minor loss of fidelity* is acceptable.

* Minor Loss of Fidelity became my band name in Rock Band, and comes from the first Microsoft Office error message that could be consider poetic, regarding some error when saving to a different file format.

This blog post was really just a pretense to post a photo, because I haven’t posted any photos in a long time and because I’ve been into photography more than usual lately. Here’s a blue heron from my vacation a few weeks ago, cropped very heavily since I really need to be using a 600mm or 800mm lens, but chose not to sell my car to do so. It also marks the first photo in a while that I’ve done any post-processing to, though not too much. (Well, “not a lot” is what I mean. “Too much” is subjective and I’m not sure about it yet.)

Blue Heron, Cropped

It’s Official.

I need a tilt-shift lens. (But good luck finding one under $1,000.) Faking it in Photoshop is, well, faking it.

This is post 1,000 for me here, by the way. That’s kind of an absurd statistic if you consider how long this blog has existed, and that lately I’ve only done a post or two a week.

Cat Massage

All this week my coworkers have been making strange, almost nonsensical comments and laughing. It turns out that they have not gone insane, but that they were simply quoting a video I haven’t seen: the most hilariously awkward one on all of YouTube, So Your Cat Wants a Massage? It’s chock-full of memorable quotes.

In this case, a jeweler is not a person who specializes in rings and watches. It’s a cat who’s so wrapped up in enjoying a massage that she forgets to swallow!

Actually, this somehow brings to mind the old German Forklift Safety Video. I found a dubbed English version, but it’s not nearly as funny. The introduction begins with an office manager telling Klause, and other drivers, that they passed their safety examinations, and then the narrator congratulates Klause and says it’s time for the real world, or something to that effect. Be warned the video is extremely graphic.

Linux Kernel Vulnerability

There’s been a lot of buzz around the recently-announced vulnerability in the Linux kernel.

It appears to be less of an issue than some are making it out to be. (Though obviously, any remotely-exploitable privilege escalation bug is serious.) In particular, the Linux systems I run, which haven’t had anything out of the ordinary done to secure them, are all immune. CentOS 5, and presumably, RHEL, are not typically vulnerable, assuming that vm.mmap_min_addr is set greater than 0, which is the default. (The initial announcement, though, suggests that SELinux may override this functionality, creating an ironic situation in which people not running SELinux, like my lazy self, may be better off.)

It was patched six days ago, but this doesn’t mean that a patched kernel or CentOS update has become available.

Check your systems, to be sure. But don’t assume that all Linux machines are inherently vulnerable. It appears that it can really only be exploited with shell access, and none of the systems I’ve tested are vulnerable even with that.

Desks

I was checking out Lifehacker today and noticed their latest “Featured Workspace” posting, The Attic Playground. While there’s a lot of styling that I might do differently, the room has a great personality and looks like it would be both a fun place to hang out and a good place to get work done. (I’m a big believer in having things you can go do for 15 minutes in the middle of a work day. While my skills are atrocious, the office ping pong table probably improves my productivity, by allowing me to clear my mind when I’ve been staring at something for too long.)

But then it was outdone by something with a lame name but an amazing photo: The Computer Cabinet Office. I’d argue that there’s some point at which more monitors actually become distracting, but I’m also reasonably confident that the two-monitor setup most tech professionals work with is far, far short of that point. (I’d buy a third LCD in a heartbeat if my poor laptop could take it.)

The goal, of course, is to find a way to merge these two setups. And to lose the cat thing.

Shall I?

Here’s a draft of a letter to the editor that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while, and, after seeing another article about the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition, I finally took the time to pen. My goal isn’t to effect an overnight change in legislation, but to get people thinking about what good the laws are actually doing. I do worry that I’ll be perceived as a pot-loving hippie. If you were in my shoes, would you send this in? Would you make any revisions? Besides worrying that it’s far too long, I worry that there are no real segues between paragraphs, as much as a bunch of unconnected points. (And, as long as I’m criticizing my own writing, it also feels too much like a fifth-grade paper, where I have an obviously-stated thesis, and then lots of paragraphs with supporting sentences, each with a conclusion. Does this come through as too formulaic?) Are there arguments that I should further elaborate on, or arguments that I wholly omitted?

Dear Editor,

In reading your recent article announcing the anniversary of the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition, I couldn’t help but notice parallels to the current laws against marijuana. While I don’t use marijuana, the laws against it, much like those against alcohol, have never made much sense to me.

Let there be no mistake: much like alcohol, marijuana can be dangerous, both to those who use it and to those who suffer the consequences of those who act irresponsibly while impaired. But as an adult, the choice of whether to consume alcohol is mine to make, not the government’s. This is, after all, the state that takes John Stark’s “Live Free or Die” so seriously that it’s stamped on our license plates.

During Prohibition, gang violence ran rampant. Gangsters like Al Capone terrorized cities, distilling dangerous moonshine and using firepower never before seen to defend their illegal trade. Thousands of people, largely innocent civilians and police officers, died at the hands of gang violence due to Prohibition. The same thing happens today, but instead of protecting their lucrative moonshine distribution, gangsters and thugs are protecting their lucrative marijuana black market.

A statistic that has always fascinated me is that Prohibition actually marked the highest rate of alcohol consumption in America. John D. Rockefeller Jr., who himself supported the Prohibition of alcohol, admitted in 1932 that “drinking has generally increased… and crime has increased to a level never seen before.” Much like Prohibition, the current laws against marijuana seem to have no bearing on the use and availability of the substance.

Of particular importance during a time of tight budgets, Prohibition moved a sizeable portion of the industry underground. Much as it did in the twentieth century, the government today brings in considerable revenue through the sale of alcohol. By driving the alcohol market underground, Prohibition starved the government of the tax revenues previously brought in via alcohol sales. Today, the marijuana market is routinely measured in billions of dollars, but the government has no way of taxing black-market sales, so hard-working Americans have to help foot the bill. Recall, too, that Al Capone was not arrested for being a violent gangster, but for tax evasion.

Given the many similarities to alcohol, it seems intuitive to me that marijuana should be treated like alcohol. Permit the sale of marijuana, but tax it as heavily as alcohol is taxed. Don’t allow use by minors. Driving while under the influence is already illegal. Public consumption of marijuana need not be permitted. But by pulling marijuana out of the black market and into the open market, the government can regulate and tax it, while doing serious damage to the gangsters and hoodlums selling it.