Browser search plug-in

If you use Firefox, you are familiar with the "search bar" built into the browser- that text entry box to the right of the URL entry box at the top of the window, where you can type something in and automatically search Google or some other search engine for whatever you typed, without having to visit that search engine's home page first.

Turns out it's rather easy to make your own "plug-in" for doing searches. This page explains how I made a "plug-in" to look up Amateur Radio call signs on QRZ.com.


Oldie but a goodie

One sunny day in May 2009, an old man approached the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he'd been sitting on a park bench. He spoke to the Marine standing guard and said, "I would like to go in and meet with President George W. Bush."

The Marine replied, "Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer President and doesn't reside here."
The old man said, "Okay," and walked away.

The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine, "I would like to go in and meet with President George W. Bush".

The Marine again told the man, "Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr. Bush is no longer President and doesn't reside here."
The man thanked him and again walked away.

The third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same Marine, saying "I would like to go in and meet with President George W. Bush."

The Marine, understandably agitated at this point, looked at the man and said, "Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I've told you already several times that Mr. Bush is not the President anymore and doesn't reside here. Don't you understand?"

The old man answered, "Oh, I understand you fine, I just love hearing your answer!"

The Marine snapped to attention, saluted, and said, "See you tomorrow, sir!"

Playground fun

Looks like kids in Belgium have a LOT more fun on their playgrounds than I ever did. This is an actual sign for a playground outside Brussels.


(Found on Worse Than Failure.)


Barenaked Ladies Are Men

I picked up "Barenaked Ladies Are Men" by (obviously) Barenaked Ladies. I've only heard it one time now, but there's one song in particular which kinda moved me to comment- the song "Fun & Games".

For me, Barenaked has always been a "mellow" band, something I would have playing in the background while working on code or updating web pages, something where I need to pay attention to what I'm doing, but where intense concentration is not overly critical (i.e. there's not a building with 200 people who will be cut off the internet, or an ISP with 60,000 people who will not have access to their email, if I make a typo.) And other than this one song, the new album seems to be another example of what I truly love about this band. You see, their songs usually talk about relationships, or just random snapshots of life, with a dose of irony or humour thrown into the mix to make it interesting- nothing overly deep, nothing really controversial, just good music for chillin' out, crankin' code, or driving down the road.

I've seen film clips of Steven Page (the band's "front man"- the one with the glasses, if you've seen pictures of the band but don't know who they are) promoting environmental causes (WWF) and speaking out against DRM, both of which I admire him for. However, this song is the first time I've ever heard them put any real political content into their music. It's basically stabbing into the heart of the American "establishment", both the Gummint™ and the Media®. The song doesn't specifically mention it, but the lyrics bring two different topics to mind- their promotion of the so-called "war in Iraq" (i.e. the invasion and occupation of Iraq), and the increasing level of Gummint™ surveillance and control over the lives of the american sheeple, who seem to have forgotten that the government works for them and not the other way around.

I'll have to listen to the song several more times before deciding what I really think it's about- but that will be a pleasure. To BnL I say thank you for yet another excellent album (although "Everything to Everyone" is still my favourite album, with "Maybe Katie" as my favourite BnL song) and congratulations for mixing a good political statement into a good song.

Speaking of Mr. Page's stance against DRM, if you visit the band's web site, you can download DRM-free versions of some of their albums, along with the actual shows from the UK and Canadian legs of their "B.L.A.M." tour. They're not free, but they are normal MP3 or FLAC files without any kind of DRM, which means you can play them using any kind of media player software or device.

Of course this also means that there is nothing to physically prevent you from sharing the files with your friends, or putting them on a file-sharing network somewhere. Please, kids- do the right thing. If you DO download music, do it legally... and don't share those files with the whole world. BnL is making a gesture here, that they trust their fans to do the right thing- don't make them regret that decision. I have occasionally seen other bands do the same thing- They Might Be Giants, for example, had a few of their albums up on their web site as MP3 files a few years ago. (Yes, I downloaded two albums, AFTER paying for them.)

In fact, I just purchased the FLAC version of BnL's prior album, "Barenaked Ladies Are Me", from their web site. I hadn't seen the album in any stores here in Orlando- in fact, when I picked up "BnL Are Men" yesterday, I thought it was "BnL Are Me"- the covers are very similar. I haven't listened to it yet, the FLAC decoder is still chewing on the songs, but I'm looking forward to it. One thing I think is rather cool- the .zip file with the FLAC files also contains a .mp4 file which has a Flash version of the booklet which would accompany a physical CD.


Light at the End of the World

Tuesday was the release of Erasure's new CD, "Light at the End of the World". I took a few minutes to pick it up on the way to a client's office, and had a chance to listen to most of it on the way.

The first thing I noticed was the sticker on the front which said something to the effect of "returning to their electronic roots"... I'm guessing this was in response to their previous CD, "Union Street", which was pretty much all acoustic versions of their songs. An interesting idea I guess, and I did buy it, but it didn't really reach out and grab me like most of their other albums did- in fact I would have to say it's probably my LEAST favourite Erasure CD.

Anyway. Light and the End of the World.

I put it into the CD player, and I could just barely hear something in the background. Understand that I rarely use the CD player in the car- normally if I'm going to listen to music, it's either the iPod or XM radio. (In fact, I had to take out a CD that I had forgotten was in there from several months earlier.) So I turned up the volume to try and better hear the music- and about ten seconds in, the real music started, and I ended up being accidentally treated to it full-blast. All I could say was "WOW." I had no idea what to expect (other than "more electronic than Union Street", but that's not saying much) and I was very impressed- I'm sure people walking by in the Borders parking lot might have looked at me funny for having this electronic song playing at full volume... but that's their problem.

Anyway, I got on the road toward the client's office, and got through most of the CD on the way there. The first three songs, "Sunday Girl", "I Could Fall In Love With You", and "Sucker for Love", are all fairly up-tempo songs, and I "fell in like" with the first two immediately- the rest of the album is a bit slower, and so far (two days later) the only one to really make any kind of impression on me is "Darlene", and probably more because of the lyrics than anything else.

Overall, I'm really enjoying it so far. I think I've played it about ten times- it's on the "heavy rotation" playlist in iTunes.

Another surprise, and this is going to show how often I actually LOOK for music... while I was at the store to pick up "Light at the End of the World", I came across another Erasure CD called "On The Road To Nashville". At first glance it looked like a recording of a live show in Nashville, and yes, that's basically what it is- but I didn't realize until I got home that evening that it also had a DVD of the show itself.

It's... different. They did pretty much the entire show "country style", with twangy guitars and looser rhythms... you ain't lived until you've heard "Blue Savannah" done up country-style. I'm glad I have it, and I'm sure that eventually one or two of the songs will reach out and grab me, but I don't think I'll be listening to it as often as "Light at the End of the World".

Mandriva Live CD

I figure I may as well put something here.

One of my current projects is a "live CD" based on Mandriva Linux, with scripts that automatically install Mandriva Linux on the machine where it's running, and/or configure certain aspects of the system after the OS is installed. This is for a client who will be deploying potentially hundreds of these systems. The fun part is that the kernel on the Mandriva "2007 Spring" install DVD doesn't support the PATA controller on the motherboard of the systems they're using, so I've had to build a newer 2.6.20 kernel from scratch, which includes the "pata_marvell" module, as well as some patches to implement POSIX AIO in the Linux kernel.

I have the "live CD" part working, after tearing apart an existing Mandriva Live distribution called MCNLive and the mklivecd script upon which it's based. I had to do quite a bit of patching to make it work on the x86_64 platform, because what most systems use "/lib", it uses "/lib64"- which means that the libc.so.6 and ld-linux.so.2 files have to be replaced with their 64-bit equivalents, and where the "linuxrc" script creates a symlink for "/lib", it also needs to create one for "/lib64".

Now it's just a case of writing the scripts to find, partition, and format the drives, uncompress an image from the boot CD into the new empty partition(s), then run "grub-install" to set up the boot loader on the target system. I also want to separate out the changes that MCNLive made in order to make it boot from a USB stick (it does boot the kernel, but the "linuxrc" script only searches CD-ROM drives to find the compressed filesystem image) and to make it copy the compressed image into RAM so the CD-ROM drive can be used within the running live environment, as well as my own changes (to MCNLive before looking at "mklivecd" itself) to support the idea of specifying the name of the compressed filesystem image on the kernel command line (so the same kernel/initrd can be used to boot multiple live systems, by making multiple "squishfs" images.)

Once it's finished, I plan to write a web page which details the whole thing, including something which is currently not there- a real walk-through, starting from "I just installed Mandriva on the hard disk, now what?" If you've seen any of my pages relating to qmail, you'll know the kind of page I have in mind.



First blog entry.

I just filled out a comment on a friend's blog. I didn't want the comment to be anonymous, and it offered to let me "log in" using my gmail account- but then it wouldn't let me do so without signing up for a blog myself.

I'm not sure if I'll ever put any "real" content here, but who knows. Without meaning to, I find that I've already spent over an hour messing with it, customizing the colours and layout and so forth...