Thursday, October 30, 2008

Laser Karaoke

Karen and I hung out with some of her work friends last night at a bar in Honolulu last night. They have beer, video poker machines, darts, and karaoke. Karaoke gets its own room and I was surprised at how big karaoke is here. This would never go over well on the east coast.

Being a technology nerd, I was amazed at the karaoke contraption. It was larger than a standard sized Coca Cola vending machine. It had PIONEER LASER KARAOKE all over it and Laser Karaoke was written in the same style they used on LaserDisc players. My guess is the Laser Karaoke system is a huge jukebox with LaserDiscs containing the tracks. When you queue one up select a song, you get a video on the screen (some of which were hilarious) and the words appear on the screen and light up as the song progresses.

There's a vocoder, a mixer, and an entry panel where you select tracks. Disc changes are handled by a robotic arm in the machine that changes disks (behind a severely tinted window, so you couldn't see it that well).

In addition to that, it had a money taker attached to it. Songs were $1 each and it would take notes or coins (I think). Karaoke is free on Wednesday nights, so the bar just kept feeding in $5 notes for us.

I sang Livin' On A Prayer, which was fun. The group sang Sweet Child O' Mine twice.

I also learned I need more practice with darts. No injuries though.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Non-member Purchasing at Costco

In the United States, we have these stupid warehouse sized stores under the names Costco, Sam's Club, B.J.'s, and others. The stores advertise really low prices, but you have to buy in bulk. Few people have a need for a 55 gallon drum of pickles, or a dump truck full of rice, but that doesn't stop people from going to these stores to buy ridiculous amounts of things.

The catch is that these clubs are member-only facilities. You pay some amount of money per year to shop in the store. The return is that you get the super low low prices the store offers. I really don't like the concept and I don't like having to buy huge quantities of things just to save money.

Federal regulations prohibit Costco and stores like it from requiring a store membership to use the pharmacy. Anyone can go in and use the pharmacy and get the low Costco prices.

What else can you buy at these stores without a membership? Well, this one is regulated by states rather than the federal government, but in some states it's possible to buy alcohol without having a store membership. I tested this out on Saturday at Costco in Honolulu.

Getting in the store is a bit tricky since they check for membership cards at the door. I'll leave that one up to you.

Once you get in the store, know that you can only buy drugs or alcohol without having a membership. I tested the purchasing ability with beer. The cashier was unaware of any such Hawaii law that would let me buy alcohol there without a membership. Asking for an explanation, I gave him what the Liquor Commission told me. Section 281-31 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes prohibits class 4 (retail, off premises consumption) liquor license holders from restricting the sale of alcohol based on membership status at the merchant. After calling a supervisor and ultimately the store manager, the store manager was the only one who knew of the law and let the transaction go through.

Now, I knew this would be difficult or impossible, which is why I asked the Liquor Commission if it was possible before going. Armed with their response and vague instructions, I set out to see what I could buy at Costco. It worked, but Costco and I imagine the other warehouse stores want to keep this quiet. It is the cheapest place to get alcohol on island. A 24 pack of beer in bottles cost me $27. A 6 pack here typically costs between $8 and $10.

Aside from some fly-over states and California, I do know that you can do this same trick in Massachusetts. Westford office, enjoy!

NOTES: Every state is different. Some states may allow the retailer to make you go through a different procedure to purchase without a membership.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Paper or ...

Plastic! No, electronic.

I voted early today because we can do that here. I figured it was better to vote early than wait in a long line on Super Tuesday.

Election law in Hawaii allows for all sorts of ballot types. Voting early is a form of the absentee ballot and this year the state is encouraging people to vote as early as possible because they know that polls won't be able to handle the anticipated demand.

I went to Honolulu Hale after lunch preparing to see if it was a long wait or not. If it was a ton of people, I was just going to bail and head back to work. There were no people in line, so I stayed. After filling out a form and presenting your ID to a poll official, you are asked if you want to vote using a traditional paper ballot or if you'd like to use the exciting electronic voting system. I asked if it was made by DieboldPremier and they said no, so I decided to go with the electronic system.

The maker of these systems claims to be Hart. It's not a touchscreen system. It's an LCD display and then a series of buttons along the bottom. The buttons:
  • PREV
  • NEXT
There is also a big knob on the right labeled SELECT. I think they used engineers from BMW and Yaesu to design this thing because every operation requires turning the knob and pushing a button.

To start the voting process, you enter the four digit access code you were given at the front of the line. The system then explains how the process works. Use the SELECT wheel to highlight your choice and then press ENTER (turn the knob, press a button). At the end of the ballot, you will see a ballot summary page. If you like what you see, turn the SELECT knob to highlight Accept and then press ENTER. If you don't like what you see, you can go back (using PREV/NEXT) to change any selections.

The last step is the literal paper trail. After you Accept the ballot summary on the screen, the system prints out on thermal receipt paper a copy of your ballot summary. The printout is behind another screen and it scrolls by and stops so you can read it. Once you like what you see on the paper, press CAST BALLOT and the paper trails off and the big LCD says you voted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Figure Out The State

Dear lazyweb,

When I go to an online store to purchase something, it's the usual routine. You ask me to fill up my shopping cart, select a shipping method, and then log in with the account I made -or- sign up. I give you a billing address and a shipping address, but why do you always insist on having me scroll through a combo box as tall as the browser window to select my state? I give you my city and ZIP code, can't you figure it out from there? I have even been to some sites that figure out the city/location name based on your ZIP code. I *know* you can do this, so how about you stop asking me for my state all the time. Let me give you the ZIP and you go from there.

Is there a legitimate reason that online shopping carts can't figure out the US state based on ZIP code?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Old Desktop Screenshots

Another nerd post.

I was cleaning out some old directories on my laptop and came across a very old picture archive. Among the photos, I found four desktop screenshots from systems I had over the years. It's fun coming across these. I can see how my taste in user interfaces has changed over the years, as well as the set of software I regularly use.

I noticed one thing I failed to do in any of these screenshots. I don't have anything indicating the date. I should have run date in a terminal window somewhere. Oh well. [UPDATE: I meant years, people. And I see now that the clock in blackbox does display the year, so that was nice.]

Without further delay, here are the four in the chronological order I remember:
  • nomex-afterstep.jpg - I was a big fan of the Afterstep 1.0 window manager (note that the 1.0 is important because that was the code base that was closer to fvwm configuration than the newer AfterStep). I ran this window manager for YEARS before finally going with something else. A tour around the screen starting in the upper left corner: rxvt with a background listing my MP3 collection, x11amp, x48 calculator emulator, pine in an rxvt, Slashdot in Netscape Navigator, Licq for instant messaging, and the GIMP since all screenshots had to contain the GIMP. Along the right edge of the screen is the Wharf, which was supposed to look like the Dock in NEXTSTEP. I've got a clock/calendar, network monitor, CPU monitor, a button with a penguin, a button with the Netscape logo, other buttons, and what I think is a pager in the last one. Also notice the lower right corner of the screen. You'll see my system log tailing messages right on to the root window. That was roottail, a neat program that worked by magic I think. (taken October 28, 1998)
  • nomex-blackbox.jpg - Blackbox was introduced to me by my friend Logan. He was in to lean user interfaces and blackbox was quite nice. I used it for a while. You can see I am just running Netscape Navigator, xterms, and Licq for instant messaging. You can also see me running ytalk. Wow. (taken September 25, 2000)
  • goretex.jpg - Still using blackbox here. You can see this is when I was working for Slackware because the top two terminals are logins to accounts on bob, which was our main server for basically everything, including email. On the left, I am logged in as myself. On the right, I am logged in as support. Yes, I answered lots of support at email. (taken February 9, 2001)
  • sgi-o2.jpg - In California, I bought an SGI O2. It was an R5000 at 180MHz, so not super speedy. But it was really fun to use. It came with a camera too (think 8 years ago and how that wasn't really the norm yet). The O2 was fun, but eventually I got rid of it.
The system names were part of my naming style. I used to name systems after Dupont fabric names or textile names that I thought were cool. My server was kevlar, nomex was my workstation. I had burlap for a while. Also had mylar, tyvek, and goretex. I also had warp, weft, and woof. Yeah, getting obscure now. The SGI systems I had followed a different naming system for some reason, mostly arbitrary. Originally the O2 was named o2d2 (also attributed to Logan). I cannot remember what it was named after that. I had an Indy at one point named turtle. I also had an Octane2 named aki (anti-knock index, get it?). SGI systems were non-standard, so it made sense for the naming system to be nonstandard too.

What were the specs of these systems. Nomex was a dual Pentium Pro system with 128MB of RAM on an Intel PR440FX motherboard. It was also a 100% SCSI system. The first CPUs I had were 180Mhz with 256KB of L2 cache, I think. I eventually ended up with 200Mhz processors with 1MB of L2 cache each and I think more RAM. Maybe 256MB of 512MB when it was all said and done. I used this system for a very long time.

Goretex was a Sun Ultra 5, complete with all of the design problems Sun was kind enough to put in to the system. The shitty IDE controller, the shitty floppy controller, the shitty CD-ROM drive, and the shitty framebuffer. The system had a 360Mhz UltraSPARC-IIi processors and 256MB of RAM or maybe more, I forget.

The O2 was a 180MHz MIPS R5000 processor. It had 256MB of RAM, a 9.1GB SCSI disk, and an integrated CD-ROM (this was a big deal for SGI as pretty much every workstation they made lacked the ability to have an internal CD-ROM drive). It also had the AV board for audio/video input/output.

What do I use nowadays? I use Fedora Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and MacOS X. MacOS X is pretty easy to figure, I use its interface. On the Linux systems, I am entirely apathetic now. I use whatever is the default, which is GNOME.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Huh...wha? I just don't understand

Nerd post follows.

My job presents me with challenging and, sometimes, annoying problems to solve. I write software, which means I also write software bugs. I work on a number of projects, but the one that takes a majority of my time is the installation program for Fedora and RHEL called anaconda.

Lately, I have been in the process of moving the network configuration code to use NetworkManager. This hasn't been easy, despite NetworkManager's web page promising pain-free networking. DHCP installs have worked for a while, but getting manual IP configuration installs to work was another story. I got those working the other day, but guess what stopped working? DHCP installs. I just don't understand.

NetworkManager insists on starting the DHCP client and then immediately stopping it and taking the network interface down. What? Why? I reported the problem to NetworkManager, so we'll see what happens.

It seems that I can't fix everything, I can only shift around the window of things-that-work. Something will always be broken.

[UPDATE: As of 5:00 PM HST 10-Oct-2008, I have DHCP and static IP configuration installs working again. The problem was not in NetworkManager, it was in anaconda after all. Definitely a difficult one to track down.]

Unrelated, but still nerdy, is a tip for users of RPM. Do you use a Linux operating system that uses RPM for package management? If so, do you run on x86_64, s390x, or another 64-bit platform (perhaps even really obscure ones that no one uses anymore)? If you do, you probably have both 32-bit and 64-bit software installed. When you do something like 'rpm -qa', you might see something listed twice. The two entries are for the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of that package. Want to always see the architecture in 'rpm -qa' output? Add this to your ~/.rpmmacros file:
    %_queryformat \
You should add it all on one line in your .rpmmacros file, I am breaking the line here so it won't wrap on this page. Now type 'rpm -qa' and see the architecture listed alongside the name-version-release (NVR).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Join Failbank, We Have All Time Super Low Rates!

Ever received a pre-approved credit card application from a failed bank? I have! I got one on Friday from Washington Mutual, the latest in a string of failed US banks for 2008.

For the current season rankings, check out the FDIC page on Failed Banks. They list all of the failed banks since October 1, 2000. A failed bank is where the FDIC steps in and does its thing. FDIC insurance is available to nationally and state-only banks, so some of the banks in the list are state only. You can easily tell when you see who shut them down. A national bank is shut down by either the Office of the Comptroller of Currency or the Office of Thrift Supervision. OCC regulates nationally chartered banks. OTS regulates nationally chartered savings and loans. By today's laws, there's not much difference in what you can do at either (that is, you can have a checking account at either type and you wouldn't know it on the surface).

You'll see that Washington Mutual was shut down by the OTS on September 25, 2008. On October 3, 2008, I received a pre-approved Visa application from WaMu. It didn't look like an application. I used to bank at WaMu back in Atlanta, so I thought this was something telling me that WaMu is now JPMorgan Chase and that possibly I still had some account open there. No, it was a stupid credit card application.

Go, failbank!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Safari, Can I See You For A Minute?

As you know, we've been having some problems lately with web site viewing. I know the workload has increased, but we really depend on the reliable service that your department delivers. You can't handle the account like you used to, we had to hire additional help for that. And you don't seem to get along with the customers either, constantly changing data on their reports at random. I just don't think we can continue with these problems going forward.

You're fired.

Royal Caribbean and Lost Workers

I saw a group of people today with Royal Caribbean ID badges on asking how to get a taxi. I assume they needed to get back to Aloha Tower (where cruise ships dock in Honolulu) and had managed to get lost while around town. I wasn't in a position to help, but someone seemed to be helping them anyway, so that's good.

I wonder what happens if you work on a cruise ship and it leaves without you. Honolulu isn't a bad place to be stuck, but I have read that if you work on a ship, the company basically owns you. They provide everything you need, so I imagine without that connection you can end up somewhere and not have anything (e.g., money, ID other than your company badge, credit cards, etc).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


When you are too dependent on a spell checker:

Sad.  My sister took this picture at the generic/not-affiliated-with-her-company parking deck she parks at in downtown Dallas, TX.  Then she submitted it to internet.