Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

August, 2010:

Fedora Anxiety

JeffAndHatDehalftoned1992.jpgThis morning’s Wall Street Journal persuaded me that I am, for once, way ahead of the curve. The A-head story documents the Millennials’ puzzlement over hat etiquette: When should I wear them indoors? They are baffled. They are struggling. Deep within their sensitive souls, they are suffering.

Perhaps I can help: Listen up, people! Outdoors is for hats! Indoors is for heads! Sabe?

Deafening silence. So it goes.

My father wore a felt fedora to work every day, even when he had to change it out for a hard hat when he arrived at a job site to help clueless technicians figure out why an industrial gas main was delivering only half the methane that it was supposed to. A felt fedora was part of the company uniform, and he was unapologetically a company man.

The uniform changed in the first half of the 1960s, and the canonical felt fedora almost became extinct. The newly hip in the Sixties thought that hats smelled too much like the Fifties. Ewwwww, can’t have that. (This is the same reason that Unix fanatics in the First Age declared that Capital Letters Are For Engraving In Stone: Capital letters smelled too much like COBOL. Ewwwww, can’t have that.) My father reluctantly complied, reluctantly because he had only a little more hair than I do. It turned out all right because he was working in Chicago, where we saw the sun maybe once every three weeks in the winter.

Fast-forward to 1990: Jeff and Carol move to Arizona to launch PC Techniques. Down there it’s the other way around: We saw clouds maybe once every three weeks in the winter. And in the summer. (Except for two months’ worth of late summer monsoon, when we saw a few every afternoon. A few.) Jeff (who has less hair than his father, and almost none since the late 1980s) gets scorched a time or two, up top where your skin is so thin that you can feel bottom.

Jeff, doing what makes sense, buys a hat. I had one by late summer 1990, but it wasn’t until the April/May 1992 issue of the magazine that I appeared along with my hat. (See my editorial photo above.)

Oh, the humanity. Half the readership seemed to think I’d be better off wearing a dead skunk. The other half said nothing. Even the ever-so-always-polite-and-considerate George Ewing (peace be upon him, and is) wrote in a letter-of-comment: “I dunno about the hat.”

I stuck with it. Pace Woody Allen, my brain is my first favorite organ, and this was Arizona we were talking about. (Your brain doesn’t need drugs down there. No questions.) Over subsequent years I bought a lot more hats, and now a quick count shows eleven, plus a twelfth that I leave in Chicago just in case the sun ever comes out when I’m in town. True, a couple are special-purpose, like my Ben Franklin Kite-Flying Hat, and a formal felt business cowboy hat that I had custom-made by Ronald Reagan’s hatmaker in 2000, during which I had my idiosyncratic skull measured by a mechanical hat sizer machine built in 1910.

Wearing a hat was a contrarian act in 1992, so it was a good fit for me. And now in 2010, a fifty-year ice age in the hat industry has come to an end. Having tasted the sweet nectar of hattedness, the Millennials can’t bear to take them off for a second, perhaps fearing that another Ice Age is just around the corner. One is. Wearing your hat in the bathroom won’t help.

A hat is a roof over your brain. You only need one roof. When you step under one, take off the other. It’s that simple.

Odd Lots

  • My installation of Thunderbird 3 has correlated with a lot of weirdness, not only in system performance but in taskbar “stalls” in response to clicked links in messages. I’ve heard a lot of people having trouble with it as well, and we are apparently not in the minority.
  • How can I have lived the last ten years as an SF writer and never heard of John Titor, Time Traveler?
  • Stephen Hawking has told us that we must abandon Earth or die. Agreed. Now, Dr. Hawking, would you please invent us a hyperdrive already?
  • No, bichons are not groomed this way. (That’s for miniature poodles.) Thanks to Jim Strickland for the link.
  • Microsoft is working on a tablet prototype with keys on the back surface, opposite the display, so you can type with the fingers that you’re using to grip the device. (Thumbs remain on the front.) This looks better than it tells; do follow the link. Will it work? No opinion until I try it.
  • If anyone here has not yet been to, Go. There. Right. Now. (Via Make.)
  • Many people have sent me a link to this item from City Journal , which may indicate that some sense is finally creeping into the nutrition world. Sugar and grains may be killing you. Meat, eggs, dairy, and animal fat are probably not. I’ve known this from my research for a long time. Now, to get the government to admit that they’ve been slowly killing their citizens for over 30 years…
  • Not convinced? Fructose seems to be the preferred sugar of cancer cells.
  • Still not convinced? The inventor of Cheese Doodles just died at age 90. So much for salt and fat being deadly. (The food dyes worry me more than either.)
  • Pete Albrecht points out that LA coffee shops are beginning to unplug their Wi-Fi access points and plaster over all their wall outlets. They’ve found that people buy more coffee and snacks when they actually talk to one another. No shirt, Sherlock!
  • Formufit: PVC pipe fittings for when you’re not using PVC pipe for plumbing. Fine stuff!
  • I think that what we’ll miss most about our deathwish-afflicted newspapers are all the silly headlines.
  • And anyone who has ever scratched his or her head over that famous if gappy Latin expression “Et in Arcadia ego” should look at the variations here. (I find myself thinking of a paraphrase of another classic expression from junk mail: “You may already be in Arcadia!”)
  • Heh. As long as Carol’s beside me, I am.

Insight Is Gone From Ubuntu…

…and in fact from everything else based on Debian. Not six months after I saw Assembly Language Step By Step, Third Edition hit the shelves, the Debian team decided to pull the Insight debugger package from their seminal Linux distribution, on which Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Mint, and several others are based. Come Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx at the end of this past April, and suddenly people reading my book can’t work through the examples, because the software that I used in those examples (for single-stepping and examining registers and memory) is no longer available for their version of the OS.

This isn’t new news, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to finesse the problem ever since I heard about it mid-May. I got a number of queries this past week, suggesting that I had better get on it. (This is why you haven’t seen much from me in recent days.) Assuming at first that Insight had been dropped just to keep the distro CD-size, I tried to install it under Lucid from Software Center (not found), next a deb package, and finally from source, but nothing worked quite right. As the months have passed and more and more people are installing Lucid, I’m getting more and more mail about this. It’s a serious problem: A lot of the skill of assembly programming lies in debugging at the instruction level, and much of the tutorial depends on being able to run a debugger. Insight was that debugger. It’s GUI-based, rather than purely textual, and I think it’s a great deal easier to grasp, especially for newcomers.

So why didn’t I just use gdb?

Um…I did. Or at least I thought I did. Insight is an odd case. Most people assume (as I did) that it works the same way that Nemiver, KDbg, and DDD work, as independent front ends for gdb, passing textual commands to gdb and getting textual data back for display. Not so: Insight is gdb, and therein lies (in my opinion) most of the problem. What Insight’s originators did was take the gdb source code and add a built-in GUI, using Tcl/Tk. In effect, they forked gdb and produced a new custom version that contains all of gdb (at least gdb as of 2007) plus a windowing visual wrapper.

That in itself is unorthodox but not necessarily damaging, though forking something as fundamental as gdb should not be done lightly. Still, if you do it, you have to do it well, and I’m seeing indications that Insight isn’t nearly as clean a product as it should be. The Debian team spoke tersely; see the bug report and resolution here: “RoQA; insane packaging; unmaintained; low popcon.” (Yes, I read “popcorn” at first too.) More details may be found here. (Warning! DDG: Deep Debian Geekery.)

Quick translation:

  • RoQA means “Request of Quality Assurance”; basically, Debian’s QA team decided that the package was too broken to keep in the Debian distribution and requested that it be removed.
  • Two release candidate (RC) bugs were reported by the Debian team to Insight’s maintainer, but no one there responded. This is odd, because the maintainer is none other than Red Hat.
  • An NMU is a non-maintainer upload, which is when a package is sent to the distro team by someone other than the package maintainer of record. It is often a sign that the maintainer has abandoned the package, especially if the maintainer never acknowledges the third-party fix.
  • “Low popcon” is a reference to Debian’s unique “popularity contest” system for gaging how much individual distro packages are being used. Insight got 36 votes, which, in browsing the rest of the stats, seems low but not fatally low.

The real problem is that “insane packaging” issue. Insight contains embedded copies of software that is maintained by others and would be better linked in as libraries. The embedded bits “age” with respect to the current release of the OS and its libraries, eventually getting out of sync to the point that the package will not understand the current system well enough to function correctly. Tcl and Tk are either part of or easily installable to any Linux distro there is; you do not have to cut’n’paste them into your program source. With old software copied into its sources the package may build correctly, but might not necessarily run.

That said, the right way to approach the problem may be no more complex than taking the most recent release of Insight and making a proper Debian package out of it. The version I used last year in Karmic Koala goes back to 2007, and that’s the version pulled from Debian. The July 2009 release may be better. I’ve read enough on building Debian packages to know that I’m not the guy to do it, but I hope that somebody with better Debian chops will eventually try it, so that we can tell if Insight was just wounded, or if it’s really and quite sincerely dead.

In the meantime, the best fix appears to be falling back to Ubuntu 9.10. More here as I learn it.

Odd Lots

  • Please read this short article by Mark Shuttleworth. I’ve been saying this for years, but he’s a lot more famous than I am: Tribalism makes you stupid. It also means that you are owned, and are not a free man or woman.
  • The Insight debugger front end for gdb has been removed from all Debian-based Linux distributions, and is not present in Ubuntu 10.4. The Debian package for Insight has been criticized as “insane” and unmaintained, and I’m curious: Has anyone here used it in recent releases of Fedora or OpenSuse?
  • Autodesk founder John Walker has an interesting free Web toy for Greasemonkey, which attempts to spot “media trigger words” and alert you when weaselspeak is being attempted. (Thanks to Jason Kaczor for the tipoff.)
  • Oh, no! It’s the Pluto Effect for dinosaurs! Triceratops is actually an immature Torosaurus!
  • Man, turn your head for ten minutes and there’s a whole new kind of punk out there. But this one I may actually like: Dieselpunk. Think Art Deco urban fantasy, with the cultural clock set at 1920-1945. This might include the first Indiana Jones movie, and certainly one of my personal favorites, The Rocketeer. Lessee, we still need Musketpunk, for gritty urban fantasy in 1780 Philadelphia. Ben Franklin with tattoos. Could work, no?
  • Don’t be drinkin’ Diet Mountain Dew while reading this site. Trust me.
  • There is an entire news site devoted to good news. Perky people like me and Flo read it every day now.
  • Sheesh. What’s wrong with “Hi! Is this seat taken?” (Wait, no, that was the 70s. And purely analog.)
  • I don’t think I posted a link to this back in April, but I should have. There’s a rectangle of this identical cloth hanging on my workshop wall as framed art. Pray without ceasing, even when you’re soldering up a regenerative receiver.