Friday, April 27, 2007

Damn It

Drew this recently when I had some downtime. It was going to be a hilarious short comic where this little robot screws over a guy's life in a series of comically ill timed accidents. I didn't get past this first frame so, weeks later, I'm posting it here for your enjoyment.

As for the title, it was going to be "Your Tax Dollars, Hard at Work." Max suggested it would be better written as "Your Tax Dollars: Hard at Work." Then I thought it might be better as "Your Tax Dollars: At Work." which later became "Damn It, I Don't Care."

Review of Accelerando

"Accelerando" by Charles Stross is a well-written adventure in the post-singularity Solar System. The book spans three generations of the Macx family, in a future that is reminiscent of Stephenson's "Snow Crash." Moving from a near-now with mobile computing and a Mafia-run RIAA the book speeds into outer and virtual space at breakneck speed; the technology and the plot never stagnate. The characters are as over the top as the rest of the book, making it a very fun read.

"Accelerando" is available online and in stores, and there is a free copy on the authors website.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn Install

I have been using Ubuntu on my server for the past two years or so, and wanted to put it on my laptop as well. Historically, the issue with installing Ubuntu on the laptop is I have an ATI video card, causing the installer to break. This problem has been resolved in 7.04 as they are now including the proprietary ATI drivers with the base install. My failing CD drive crashed the installer several times, but eventually it got all installed. Another nice feature in the installer is the ease of dual-booting with windows. I just added two partitions for Linux, and that was it. I think that the Ubuntu team did a really nice job on the latest release, making it much easier to use and far more intuitive than previous releases.

I also took this opportunity to upgrade the server to 7.04. Somewhere in the process I managed to critical fault the computer, crashing it in the middle of the upgrade. Unsurprisingly the hard drive started giving i/o errors, and nothing was working. I stripped the computer down, then added bits back in starting with the RAM. It was stable by the time I got to the hard drive, which posted GRUB, but sadly the primary install was totally fubared. I got lucky and there was an old server install that still functioned somewhat, and after thrashing around in the command line for few minutes Devin and I got it to update to the full 7.04 install. Problem solved, and proof once again that Linux is more idiot-proof than people give it credit for.

In total 3 people in the apartment installed/upgraded 4 copies of Feisty Fawn, all of which worked out of the box. Last time we tried this we had a 100% failure rate plus we had to reformat afterwards, so its a significant improvement.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

VM Wear

She descends the staircase wearing a pink tee-shirt and jeans, a Gothic vision in a corset and black lace, cut into reality by a force of will and flicking lasers. A murmur ripples through the crowd, a frisson surfing from person to person on an electronic wave. She is one of the elite, a member of the technologically gifted who maintain and create the digital world.

With the advent of widespread visual augmentation, the line between the virtual and the real became very blurry indeed. Face recognition software became image manipulation software, and soon public perception replaced the realities of the physical realm, at least for those with computers in their eyes. Entire servers and hundreds of programmers were forever trying to optimize the popularity contest that now dictated millions of people's virtual appearance.

The Gothic avatar had been hers long before people other than net-junkies were wearing digital monocles. Someone on a forum long ago had said that that was what they thought she looked like; amused at how disjoint it was from reality, she decided to use it, and the look had stuck. In her reality, she wore tee-shirts and jeans, but the advantage of a digital life is that corsets aren't uncomfortable when they are virtual.

Radiating Victorian elitism and showing her teeth in a wolfish grin, she smiled happily at the semi transparent crowd, waving coolly at her subjects with all the unrestrained vigor her small frame could muster.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I now have a Delicious, as I am tired of having my bookmarks stuck in my lappy when I am elsewhere. As Devin said, "I'm on the Internet now!"

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Two rows of little red lights are blinking. Twenty minutes ago they were a soothing steady green. Sitting in front of the lights in a military standard plastic office chair a man fiddles with a key on a long silver chain. It is his key. Behind him another key dangles around the neck of a different man reading a book. He ignores the lights.

The glass eye stared into the inky darkness. The air was thick with the greasy smoke of burning oil wells, the soot and spilled oil dying the sands and trees for miles around. The eye was a marvel of mechanical and electrical engineering, jam packed with all sorts of light enhancing wizardry. The eye perched on a rifle that was every bit advanced as the eye, a cunning device engineered to an extreme degree of precision, with an effective range of over two miles. There were no armies any more, just fleeting associations with various factions. The oil supply just wasn't quite what it used to be. A ragged band of of men with guns scurried across the sand, darting from one building to the cover of the next. They were halfway there a shot rang out, a bullet punching through the calf of one in a crimson spray. Crumpling to the ground he writhed in pain, clutching the wound, his cries begging a teammate to break cover and rescue him. It was an old tactic, and the hunter grinned in anticipation.

Shedding its communications satellite garb the kill sat opened fire any satellite within range. Other wolfs dropped their guise, and soon the night sky was crossed with the trails of rockets, multi-million dollar satellites of all descriptions shredded into so many clouds of chaff; a hidden knife buried deep in the technical backbone of the world.

Two keys turned simultaneously, the soft click as they locked into place echoed by hundreds of other pairs across the world. A fingertip drifted across the button, now devoid of the modest cover it had worn for so many years. So clean, so innocent. The finger stabs into the center of the button, its innocence lost forever. An electric trembling runs from it, and the earth moves in response.

One light burns a solid red.

Buried for so long, waiting unseen in the wings, the rocket embraces its destiny. Ascending on a pillar of fire and smoke it was born into a sky already filled with its brethren.

Its motor spent spent the rocket splits open, the warheads nestled in it separating like the seeds of a radioactive flower falling to earth. Bright streaks puncture the clouds, inhumanely straight lines joining heaven and earth, each line terminating in the brilliant light of a sun. The earth was plunged into an atomic fire, turning the oily desert into a sea of glass, and scorching field and forest into ash. The eye, the building, the wounded man and his comrades are all blinked out of existence. New tactic, old battlefield.

The finger lets go of the button for the last time, covered in blood and shaking with terror. Behind it lies a body resting its head on a book, knife resting in its back. Ahead is the cold weight of a gun, and one final exertion from the finger, a final blast of light and heat, then silence.

Robert Alverson


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

On Intelligence

Ultimately, those who are extremely good at what they do, and at thinking in general, end up with Utopian visions. These designs are often good indicators of the values of the culture that these people lived in. One of these ideals that I found very interesting was the Frank Lloyd Wright designed "Broadacre City".

The basic plan of this city was to massively decentralize the urban area, spreading out individual houses on an acre of land each. In this way it could be considered the ideal version of modern suburbia, spread out far more than the current iteration. The decentralized nature of this scheme was reliant on the cars as the primary form of transportation, and would have been very hard for pedestrians to get around. All of the houses were of Wright's Usonian design. The houses were where the plan truly excelled. Designed in the middle of the Depression, the houses were single story, cost effective and roomy single family dwellings. Compared to most of the other houses of this time, these houses were efficient and utilized local materials, helping to reduce cost and integrate them into the landscape.

I think that other than the massive reliance on the car Wright's idea was fairly sound. An acre would be enough to a small family to support some of its food needs, and the large roofs would provide a good base for solar panels. By making family units more self-sufficient and based locally then many other services can be decentralized. You are already able to purchase many goods online, further expansion of this service would result in less waste and more efficient production of goods. One of the main problems of capitalism is the tendency to overproduce, leading to periodic depressions as supply outstrips demand, and the unit price falls below the production costs. This is again helped by the the move to local and on-demand goods and services: eliminating steps in the supply chain allows suppliers to more accurately gauge demand.

The one assumption that is difficult to make is that the population will either hold constant or decrease. The massive population density of the cities is what make them good for large populations; they keep the population from overrunning the areas they need for food. Obviously, a smaller population would allow for expansion outwards by self-sufficient households. Ideally this would result in small self-sufficient communities served by public transportation, thus bringing the agrarian ideal that America was founded on closer to fruition.

Hypothetically, a movement of this sort would move the population out of urban centers, and since cities typically are hard to reconvert back into fertile ground, much of their area would be abandoned. Industry would likely remain, but with the general move towards automation, fewer people would have to remain in the cites to work, and with the widespread use of public transit these few people could also live outside of the city.

I think it makes some degree of sense, but like most projects of this nature it will likely never be attempted.
Robert Alverson


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A New Keyboard

My old mouse was on the blink (no left click) so, I decided to try out these newfangled wireless keyboard things.  I am not a very receptive to randomly adding wireless capability to random things.  I feel that it adds complexity, decreases the security of the system, and adds to the RF noise in an area.  For these effects to be mitigated you have to have a pretty damn awesome application, and I felt that keyboards would not gain that much utility from being wireless.  I must admit that I was wrong in this case.  I got a new wireless keyboard and mouse combo from the school bookstore, slapped it into the lappy, and fired it up.  Right out of the box the new mouse had a much better response compared to the old one.  I was using a Cherry brand Point-of-Sale keyboard because of the excellent tactile response and the built in magnetic card reader.  However, all that awesomeness comes at a heavy cost; the thing weighs a ton.  As I kept it under the the desk due to space constraints, having to one had this thing was a bit of a pain.  The wireless keyboard is much lighter, even with the batteries, and I don't have to worry about the cord breaking my USB ports.  The keys are also pretty nice, have a good rebound and aren't mushy.  It comes with the standard Logitech bevy of media hot keys and F key functionality, all of which worked after a little tweaking.  I am inordinately pleased with this setup.  For $50 it was a bit more than what it would cost online, but since I needed a mouse now, I think that it was a good deal.  Money well spent.

Robert Alverson


The Old and the New

Originally uploaded by mightysinetheta.
The previous keyboard is at the top, it has been replaced by the one below it.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Restoration (2)

The susurrus of a rough straw broom slipped over the floor of the the great hall.  Once, thousands of people had streamed onto the city over this floor, now barely a handful of people crossed it, and some days not even the sweeper descended from her lofty perch.  The ticketing counters had been empty for decades, as it was extraordinarily rare for any passenger trains to stop here.  The freights still came, summoned by the new owners of the station, to drop off needed supplies and take away scrap as well as finished products.

The station had been abandoned even before the fall of the cities.  It stood as a testament to the men who had built it in the 1930's, a massive building that had withstood centuries of abandonment, squatters, arson attempts and scores of careless owners.  It had very few of the original windows remaining when it had been re-inhabited a decade or so ago.  The large holes in the roof  had been covered by large sheets of steel crudely patched together, although the craftsmanship clearly increased in the more recent repairs.  The original staircases had been destroyed long ago, elaborately wrought creations of stainless steel and marble now ascended through the lower levels; much simpler wooden staircases and ladders served the upper floors where more durable solutions had not yet been installed.  The top of the building rising off the main concourse had been shorn of several floors, apparently deliberately.  Great stacks of reclaimed materials filled the floors below the new roof in orderly rows.  A vertical axis wind turbine rose above the roof, placed on a pedestal to put it above the forest garden.  A similar arrangement had taken over part of the train yard, trees replacing tracks and topsoil covering a formerly barren area, and solar panels glinting on the awnings over the platforms.  The entire area had been well fenced off, the fencing itself showing a diverse selection of materials, from a massive version of a white picket fence, to cinder blocks, and cement.  The cement portion was decorated with bits of broken tile sketching out a rough mosaic of hamster with a knife taped to it.  One particularly colorful segment of the wall was comprised of totaled cars held together with various pieces of scrap.

A gate in the picket fence opened, and a fellow in a bright yellow coat stepped through, closing and locking the gate behind him.  Dragging an oily large bag and squinting against the sunlight he walked into the tower and began placing salvaged items from the bag into the large array of shelves.

Robert Alverson