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Shad Sterling

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LJ 18th anniversary Apr. 25th, 2017 @ 08:51 pm
If anybody's still paying attention here, you might find this interesting...

... Is it my imagination, or does that red frosting look a little too much like blood?
Current Location: Atlanta

Last Livejournal Post May. 13th, 2009 @ 08:28 am

As of now I'm doing everything through Facebook. I might change my mind again later, but I have an easier time keeping everything in one place. (If I do move again later, I'll post about it on Facebook). I'm not sure if the feed links here will work, but they're the best I could find:

Status Feed:
Notes Feed:
Links Feed:

Christmas List (Hi Mom!) Dec. 16th, 2008 @ 09:03 pm
Stuff I want for Christmas:
  • An alarm clock that makes a bright light rather than a loud noise
  • Nice stereo headphones (so I can watch a movie on my laptop on an airplane)
  • Black macbook power adapter
  • Warm socks (yeah, I'm gettin' old)
  • One or two of those solar powered car window fans
  • Graphing calculator software for my windows mobile phone
  • Picturie things to hang on my walls

“Ordinary Election” Aug. 3rd, 2008 @ 04:17 pm
Joe lieberman on Meet the Press this morning, said he crossed party lines to support John McCain because “this is not an ordinary election.”
I'm going to guess that by “ordinary” he means one where there is so little at stake that it doesn't matter who we vote for, and I don't think we ever have had or ever will have an election like that.

Really long post Aug. 1st, 2008 @ 09:59 pm

Last weekend I visited to Maryland, flying in and out through DC Reagan Airport. I had planned to play tourist in DC for a bit just before leaving, but got behind schedule and had to go straight to the airport. I've been to DC once before, when I was dancing in the ACDF finals at the Kennedy Center. That was in 1998, just a few months more than 10 years ago. This makes me want to get back to dancing for real again.

During the flight back there were some amazing clouds out the window. I'm sure it would have seemed less so if I lived up there, but it reminded me again that I still need to get a good camera. I also started wondering weather taking pictures of the sun from up there would damage a digital camera sensor. (With film I wouldn't worry – frying a few frames won't break the camera.) Google doesn't seem to have a clear answer, so that's one more thing I'll have to ask about when I finally go shopping.

The woman in the seat next to me was reading My Sisters Keeper, which I bought some time ago but have never read. I thought I'd bought it at the train station last time I was in DC, but that was 6 years before it was published. Now I think I bought it at another airport between the family reunion and QV in 2006. (I also thought I'd bought a Biography of Tesla [1,2,3], but that wasn't published until 3 years later. I may still have bought them together, but now I doubt it.) Anyway, I was going to read it now, but I just read the Wikipedia article, which spoiled the ending. Dangit.

My macbook, which I named “laconic”, is about a month old now. Having been using it for a month, my impression of OS X hasn't changed much from what it was from just reading and hearing about it. My overall impression of the way to choose a computing platform hasn't changed either – choose according to which set of problems you'd rather put up with.

The user interface is about as annoying as Windows, but in different ways. The dock and the taskbar make different mistakes, switching windows and switching apps have different problems, etc. One thing I miss is the “drop this window to the bottom” key. I think in general it would be better to not isolate windows within their app, but to consider all windows to be peers and do app switches as necessary when switching between windows. The different common keys are easy enogh to learn, but the inconsistency between apps really sucks – this might not be problem on a mac desktop, but it's definitely not a problem on a windows laptop. I think it's a good thing that filenames are UTF-8 strings (rather than arbitrary bytes), but the problems it causes with sharing files are quite annoying.

Overall, I really like my macbook. Partly just because it's a laptop, and I'm finally starting to change habits in ways that really aren't possible with desktops. I'm not ready to call it yet, but I think OS X is also winning on problems I'd rather put up with. The big win is that the startup/shutdown and sleep/wake transitions are much faster than either Windows or Linux. It beats Windows by being BSD, which means I can use most of the familiar Linux command line tools, and it beats Linux because there's only one OS X (having to choose a distro is a worse problem than most that OS X has). But it also loses big on having to buy expensive hardware that I don't get to choose myself. For laptops it's not that much worse than others, but for desktops I think it's still a dealbreaker.

… There's also the bad problem of Safari locking up while I'm composing a post. I'm so glad LJ saves drafts now. I'm also glad that MacPorts includes w3m, which made it easy to download Firefox.

The bag I bought to go with the new laptop is working out very well too. It's maybe a little big for day-to-day stuff, but it was just big enough to be the only bag I needed for both the trip to MI an the trip to MD. I'm hoping that trend continues.

I name all of my computers from a word of the day. I try to go for something obscure enough that using it in a sentence won't be confusing, but with a meaning that's related to what I intend to use it for. I think I named this laconic just because it's small, but it may also have had to do with changes I'm trying to make with my habits, to unencumber myself from so much accumulated stuff. I grew up in a family of pack rats, and I've been trying to fight that tendency in myself since about when i first moved out. I'm not sure how much having the laptop is helping, but I am making some progress. It's going to be a while before the actual physical stuff starts going away, but I think it's going well.

As of this afternoon, I'm officially on vacation. I have two weeks off from school, and one off from work. I'm not sure what I'm going to spend the time doing, but I'm already enjoying not having any deadlines or appointments. My schedule next semester is going to be even crazier than this one, so I have this week of nothing, next week working uninterrupted, and then it's time to dive back in. I'm looking forward to it.

Other entries
» Progress
Yesterday I noticed that I can't read the signature lines on my checks anymore. I suppose my vision is deteriorating just about on schedule. I should need reading glasses in another 20 years or so, or maybe there'll be something else by then.

I may be a little old for this, but I've essentially settled on what I want to do with my life. Of course, I can't stop dancing, so that's a part of it. I have a somewhat more specific plan for school, which is really a means to become able to do some neat computer/science stuff. It's been interesting discovering that over the past two years or so, going from thinking I should go back to school, to actually going part-time, to deciding what I want to do with that and with the rest of my time, to planning how to get from here to there.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was a “real geek,” spending my spare time coding whatever i was interested in at the time. That largely faded away after I ran away with the circus, but hung around in the back of my head. Wanting to keep doing the circus arts never faded after the groups I was working with fell apart. For some years – roughly 2002 to 2007 – I dreamed of finding or creating a venue to do that again, to return to performing in the air, to the fun, and the physical challenge.

Last year, with no help from me, a new trapeze studio opened up, and while it isn't what I'd dreamed of, (not yet?,) it's great to be back in the air again. Since I'm working full time now, I could hardly commit myself to it as much as I'd need to for that old dream anyway. Even if I wasn't working as much, my plans that I'm going to school for might get in the way too. Still, a few days ago, when asked something about that, I somehow went back to the old dream, and spoke as though I still wished to go off to some grand thing apart from what I'm doing now, as though I weren't building the plans I'm building now. The performer part of my plan is still too vague, but I think it was more because after so long with that dream it had become a habit, and it will take some time to change.

The “geek” plan, being more specific, I could describe in more detail, but this post is long enough already. I'll elaborate later.

I bought a mac this week. The black macbook with default options. I haven't used a mac in any meaningful way since the LC-III was new, so this should be interesting. I've been vaguely wanting a new mac for years, especially since OS X, just to be in touch with what they're up to. Back then, I couldn't afford one, and more recently I haven't bought one mostly because I'd have to buy the whole thing all at once. (As opposed to PC's, which I upgrade in pieces.) I needed a new laptop, so I was going to have to buy a whole computer anyway, so I went ahead and bought a mac. Well, ordered one; it should arrive tomorrow.

I also ordered a bag to carry it in. I was aiming for a bag I could carry everything I need in all at once; the laptop, school stuff, rehearsal stuff, a change of clothes, etc… basically a bag I can live out of, at least for a couple days. I ordered one online, in spite of not being able to actually see it first, so here's hoping I choose well. The one thing I don't think this covers is water; I don't think I'll want to put a water bottle inside the bag, so I'll probably want to get one I can somehow attach to the outside.

Both of those should be here with just a little time to spare before I go up to Michigan for the 4th of July. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to fit everything I need into my new bag, and I won't have to check anything. (Last time, my checked bag came on the next plane, a few hours later.) Wow, the 4th of July already; it doesn't seem like this year should be half over so soon.
» Emo

Some thoughts inspired mostly by Why no child is safe from the sinister cult of emo

I'd be interested to see any numbers comparing the suicide rates of “emo kids” with other groups of adolescents. I wouldn't be too surprised if they are a little higher, but I doubt being emo is the cause. Rather I expect that adolescents already at high risk of becoming suicidal are also more likely to become emo. I doubt that adolescents who are not already at high risk of being suicidal have that risk significantly increased by being emo.

It seems to me that a big contributor – perhaps the biggest, in general – to adolescent unhappiness, is the sense of having a life that can't matter. I see two reasons for this: One is the inability to make their own decisions, which means that their own individual self doesn't really matter. The other is knowing that even with that ability the effect that one person can have on the vastness of history is completely insignificant. Seeing yourself as a tiny powerless spec of life in an eternity of others death in the past and your own death in the future, it seems to me, could fit very well with emo decorations.

But I think it is a mistake to think that your tiny spec of life is so powerless. It seems to me that most little things are part of a bigger trend, which does matter, and the bigger trend is what it is because of many individuals deciding independently how to behave. History is not controlled by the few individuals who stand out, but by the many who make the trend what it is.

The power that you have, without standing out, is that you affect the trends by your own behavior. When anyone decides to behave a certain way, they affect the trend, both in themselves and in those in direct contact, and it propagates out like a wave from a pebble. In order for the trend to be good, many individuals must intentionally make it so, and the fewer such people around you the more important your personal influence can be. The burden of shaping history is not merely on all of us, it is on each of us.

The other factor, not being able to make your own decisions, I think is often not as big a problem as it seems – because it will change later – but I think that because of how our brains develop it is more of a genuine problem. As I understand it, our brains change physically as we change how we think, and those changes happen slower as we get older. Adolescence is, in part, a big batch of neurological changes that happen relatively quickly, and part of that is the change in how we think from being dependent to being independent.

It's well known that adolescents who are mostly unable to make their own decisions tend to not like it that way, and I think it's for good reason. When adolescents are prevented from having authority over their own lives, the change in thinking to being independent is hampered. If that change doesn't go right during adolescence, making that change later is significantly more difficult.

So, I'm not worried about the “sinister cult of emo.” An already unhappy adolescent turning to emo might be a red flag, but the real problem is the cause of the unhappiness. I think we should do what we can to encourage adolescents to become independent safely, without either stifling their need for independence or overwhelming them with responsibility. We won't get it right, but I think we should try, and I think we should know that with that and everything else we do we are affecting the trends among the people around us, and thereby sending out our little ripple affecting the trends that write history.

» AVG vs. Firefox

Grisoft recently released version 8 of their AVG Free antivirus software for Windows, which includes some new features intended to protect against some threats you might encounter while using your web browser. Unfortunately, enabling those features makes Firefox 2 unusable – at least, it does for me, as of the first time I open a Google search results page.

Fortunately, the fix is relatively simple: In Firefox disable the add-on. Don't disable the feature in AVG. If you disable it in AVG, AVG will constantly complain about it; if you disable the add-on in Firefox, AVG doesn't seem to notice. That it doesn't notice disabling the add-on doesn't really inspire confidence, but other than that your increased risk is minimal. Unless you frequently visit questionable websites, you should be fine.

Another new feature is that the real-time file scanning now detects tracking cookies. I'm not convinced that these are a real threat, but the frequent warnings about them from AVG is an annoyance. The best thing to do about them would be to have the browser reject them, but AVG didn't change the browser settings to do that. (It does, however, seem to erase all of your cookies at install time.) The AVG add-on could hijack the Firefox cookie handling to reject cookies that AVG doesn't like, but that would only work if the plugin didn't make Firefox unusable – and I don't think it does do that even if you do leave it enabled. So, you can either tell AVG to ignore those “threats,” or you can change the Firefox cookie settings yourself.

There are many add-ons for Firefox that change cookie handling, so you might think there'd be one that would help with this. There isn't. Generally, you browse to some site you want to see, and don't mind having cookies from, and some embedded advertisement is loaded from another site, and that other site gives you a tracking cookie. So the add-ons that give you convenient control of cookie settings for the site you're looking at all completely miss the point. (Firefox itself doesn't have the option of disabling 3rd-party cookies; even if it did, using it would break things you most likely don't want to break*.) You can find add-ons that will reject all third-party cookies, but there are none that offer management of cookie exceptions according to third parties represented on the current page.

To block them by hand, you first have to figure out which domain the cookies are from. AVG identifies them with names of the form “Tracking cookie.#{ID}” – usually, they come from ID.com, or ID.net, but sometimes they're from something like ID.foo.com or foo.ID.com. To see which domain it's likely coming from, you have to look in Tools|Options|Privacy|Cookies|Show Cookies, then go to Tools|Options|Privacy|Cookies|Exceptions to block each one. That's right, each one, separately, one at a time, whenever the AVG warning comes up. Firefox doesn't delete existing cookies when you block a domain, so to stop AVG from warning you again you also have to delete the cookie(s) that it first warned you about.

But wait, there's more: Firefox doesn't have an “import cookie exceptions list” option, so I can't give you my list of exceptions for cookies AVG doesn't like. Neither can Grisoft. This, however, an add-on can help with. Specifically, CookieSafe. Unfortunately, I have to restart Firefox to finish installing it, so I can't export my list until after I finish this post. Bummer.

* I claimed that disabling 3rd party cookies would break things you most likely don't want to break. Given the number of sites that explain how to block 3rd party cookies, my assertation may be surprising. Here's the problem: if you go to a site that you want to see, and don't mind having cookies from, and it embeds something from another site that you want to see, and don't mind having cookies from, then disabling 3rd party cookies will prevent the embedded item from the second site from reflecting any other interaction you may have had with that second site – likely defeating the purpose of having the embedded item. Before installing AVG 8 I just didn't worry about it. I really don't mind having the ad banners I see be advertising things I'm more likely to buy, although if the degree to which that actually happens is any indication their tracking is all but worthless anyway. Since Installing AVG 8, I have considered each site it has warned me about, asking myself weather it's a site I've been to or which has conspicuously marked it's embeds, and blocked all that fail that test. So far, none have passed.

» Stupid Award

Sorry, no virtual ribbon, but here's a Stupid Award for Comcast, for their recent mishandling of my email account.

About a week ago they changed how I needed to connect to their outgoing mail server, without bothering to let me know in advance (stupid #1).
When I first asked about why I couldn't send any mail, their first response was that I must have a virus - apparently they didn't both to read my message (stupid #2).
After (finally) learning what they changed, and changing my settings to match, I noticed some odd non-fatal error messages in my mail logs, so I asked about them. This got the strangest response yet, including “With regard to your concern, this issue is very delicate and requires a security verification process” (stupid #3). As I said to them, “Huh? Being able to send email without incurring errors is a delicate issue?”

So for that, Comcast gets a Stupid Award.

In case anyone else has similar problems, here's some detail about my setup: I'm running all of my outgoing email through Exim 4, running on PLD Linux, routing all outgoing mail through smtp.comcast.net. The original change that broke my previous Exim configuration was Comcast switching to submit on port 587 with authentication (a good change, but they should have announced it). After changing my exim.conf for that, I was getting errors 421 Too many sessions opened. These seems to be Comcast's rules about sending email:

  1. use smtp.comcast.net:587 with authentication (TLS is optional, at least for now)
  2. don't send more than 1,000 messages per day
  3. don't send more than 10 messages per connection
  4. don't make multiple simultaneous connections

Having made everything work, these are the relevant parts of my exim.conf:

  • Routers:
          driver = manualroute
          domains = !+local_domains
          headers_add = X-routed-by: send_to_gateway router on $primary_hostname ($local_part@$domain)
          transport = remote_smtp
          route_list = * smtp.comcast.net::587 byname
          cannot_route_message = Local Domain or Gateway Rejected ($local_part@$domain)
  • Gateways:
          driver = smtp
          hosts_require_auth = smtp.comcast.net
          serialize_hosts = smtp.comcast.net
          connection_max_messages = 10
  • Authenticators:
          driver = plaintext
          public_name = LOGIN
          client_send = : $username : $password

» Billion
I was trying to think of a way to make a billion mean something tangible.

By my estimate, if you live for 100 years, your heart might beat somewhere around 4 billion times.

Also, I'm getting close to one billion seconds old.
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