Posts for June 2004

2004-06-05: Shuttle SN85G4

I finally have my new system for home set up the way that I want it, which turned out to be a lot more of an adventure than I expected. The nForce 3 chipset is still pretty cutting-edge for Linux. But now I'm really enjoying the results.

I put my notes on the system setup up on the web in the hope that they'll save someone else some time.

2004-06-07: Further review views

I've been playing around with the indexes for my book reviews, and I now have a few other views of it (one due to a suggestion from Jeff). You can now see the reviews sorted by rating as well as a list of all Hugo winners for best novel or Nebula winners for best novel with links to those for which I have reviews and ratings for those that I've read.

I've also been giving some thought to writing the reviews in a format other than just journal entries. I expect I'll keep publishing them as journal entries as well, but it seems like I could do some nicer formatting if I really worked at it in CSS. I haven't started mocking up prototypes yet, though.

2004-06-07: volcreate-logs 1.14

I've released a new version of volcreate-logs that adds a flag that lets one specify an existing ticket cache to use. If one is specified, volcreate-logs will obtain an AFS token using that cache. I added this to make it easier to run out of cron without having to use a wrapper script, as part of my endless quest to make everything less than 80 characters.

You can get the latest version from the volcreate distribution page.

2004-06-07: bundle 2.27

This is only a documentation update. A coworker pointed out that the documentation for rename and for backout bundles were both confusing, so I went ahead and fixed both.

You can get the latest version from the bundle distribution page.

2004-06-09: Some thoughts on justice

So, over Memorial Day while I was on vacation, I listened to the FBI justification for holding a US citizen arrested on US soil as an enemy combatant and not charging him in a criminal court.

I put it out of my mind at the time, since I was on vacation and didn't really want to think about it. But it came up in some discussions today, and I poked around and did a little research. Here are some thoughts on the general subject that I found interesting.

No graver question was ever considered by this court, nor one which more nearly concerns the rights of the whole people; for it is the birthright of every American citizen when charged with crime, to be tried and punished according to law. The power of punishment is, alone through the means which the laws have provided for that purpose, and if they are ineffectual, there is an immunity from punishment, no matter how great an offender the individual may be, or how much his crimes may have shocked the sense of justice of the country, or endangered its safety. By the protection of the law human rights are secured; withdraw that protection, and they are at the mercy of wicked rulers, or the clamor of an excited people.


The statement of this proposition shows its importance; for, if true, republican government is a failure, and there is an end of liberty regulated by law. Martial law, established on such a basis, destroys every guarantee of the Constitution, and effectually renders the "military independent of and superior to the civil power" -- the attempt to do which by the King of Great Britain was deemed by our fathers such an offence, that they assigned it to the world as one of the causes which impelled them to declare their independence. Civil liberty and this kind of martial law cannot endure together; the antagonism is irreconcilable; and, in the conflict, one or the other must perish.


Unquestionably, there is then an exigency which demands that the government, if it should see fit in the exercise of a proper discretion to make arrests, should not be required to produce the persons arrested in answer to a writ of habeas corpus. The Constitution goes no further. It does not say after a writ of habeas corpus is denied a citizen, that he shall be tried otherwise than by the course of the common law; if it had intended this result, it was easy by the use of direct words to have accomplished it. The illustrious men who framed that instrument were guarding the foundations of civil liberty against the abuses of unlimited power; they were full of wisdom, and the lessons of history informed them that a trial by an established court, assisted by an impartial jury, was the only sure way of protecting the citizen against oppression and wrong. Knowing this, they limited the suspension to one great right, and left the rest to remain forever inviolable. But, it is insisted that the safety of the country in time of war demands that this broad claim for martial law shall be sustained. If this were true, it could be well said that a country, preserved at the sacrifice of all the cardinal principles of liberty, is not worth the cost of preservation. Happily, it is not so.


As necessity creates the rule, so it limits its duration; for, if this government is continued after the courts are reinstated, it is a gross usurpation of power. Martial rule can never exist where the courts are open, and in the proper and unobstructed exercise of their jurisdiction. It is also confined to the locality of actual war.

This is the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Ex parte Milligan (1866), delivered by Justice Davis. This decision re-established the writ of habeas corpus following the Civil War.

2004-06-11: cvslog 1.49

The current testing version of CVS (anything after 1.12.6, in fact), fixes a long-standing problem in the way that CVS talks to commit scripts, adding a new option to pass in arguments as actual arguments rather than as a single string separated internally by spaces and commas.

That's great; I'm all in favor of it.

However, they decided not to keep supporting the old method and started spewing deprecation warnings, which is rather annoying. And then they messed up backward compatibility so that even in compatibility mode, which is the default, the output for directory adds and source imports changed. This annoyed me a great deal.

Anyway, I've now released a new version of cvslog that both works around this bug (and continues to work with older versions of CVS) but also can cope with the new format and includes documentation on how to install it the new way. There's also a new minor release of cvsprep that mostly only updates the documentation to talk about the CVS 1.12.6 way of doing things.

You can get the current version of both from the cvslog distribution page.

2004-06-11: cvs2xhtml 1.9

The current testing version of CVS changed the time format in the output of cvs log to add a time zone, which broke the parser in cvs2xhtml. This release fixes it, allowing both the old and new time formats.

You can get the latest version from my web tools page.

2004-06-11: spin 1.47

While fixing other things, I noticed a bug in the new spin support for .versions. Only the last listed dependency on a given page would be checked when deciding whether a page had to be respun to pick up changes in software release dates or version numbers. spin 1.47 fixes this bug.

You can get the latest version from my web tools page.

2004-06-13: The Big U

Review: The Big U, by Neal Stephenson

Pages: 308
ISBN: 0-380-81603-2
Publisher: Perennial

This is Stephenson's first published novel, published in 1984 before he hit it big with Snow Crash and the books that followed. The publication date is worth knowing in this case, since the book is firmly placed in a particular era.

This is neither a science fiction nor a fantasy novel, although I suppose there are tiny bits of what might marginally be called science fiction. It's a massively over-the-top parody of life in a major university, one that exists in a set of towers in the midst of a giant freeway interchange. There's a fair bit of focus on the geeks, which is why the publication date is important; knowing the book was written in the early 1980s, you know what to expect in terms of computer technology (one massive mainframe for the whole school), role-playing games, and live-action role-playing.

There are funny moments here, but unfortunately most of othem are in the first fifty pages, and by the time he reaches the middle of the book, Stephenson has mostly exhausted his material. The school environment is a bit too much of a parody to be particularly believable, so once the well of humor has dried up, the story takes on an unappealing unreality that doesn't provide a lot of incentive to keep reading.

As someone who's spent quite a bit of time around a major university (admittedly, more of an ivy league one than the state school portrayed here), I found some bits of parody spot-on, most a bit overdone, and a few puzzlingly off. For example, the blasé attitude towards sexual assualt by the university administration struck me as badly unrealistic, although perhaps more now than it was in the early 1980s. (And regardless, it was neither funny nor particularly well-handled in the plot -- there are some plot elements that may be best left alone unless one is going to take the time to really deal with them seriously, and Stephenson didn't.)

What there is of a plot stumbles along in a sequence of semi-random events towards a conclusion that annihilates the setup rather than really resolving it. As Stephenson endings go, it at least makes a passable attempt to acknowledge the existence of all of the loose ends, if not quite tie them up, and for a change the ending isn't abrupt (if anything, the climax drags on a bit). It's just that there really isn't anywhere to go, and the reader's attraction to the characters never gets deep enough for one to particular care about what ends up happening to them.

All in all, I can see why Stephenson isn't particularly proud of this one. It's not horrible, but it's very forgettable.

Rating: 5 out of 10

2004-06-26: Latest haul

I just got in a new Powell's order (I just can't stop buying books; it's way too much fun) and have picked up a few other things along the way, so it's time for another acquisition list:

James Clavell -- Tai-Pan (historical)
John Crowley -- Little, Big (sff)
Orson Scott Card -- Xenocide (sff)
Charles de Lint -- Waifs and Strays (sff)
Joe Haldeman -- Forever Peace (sff)
Frank Herbert -- Dune (sff)
P.C. Hodgell -- Dark of the Moon (sff)
Norton Juster -- The Dot and the Line (children's)
Norton Juster -- The Phantom Toolbooth (children's)
Claude Lalumière & Marty Halpern (ed.) -- Witpunk (sff)
Ken MacLeod -- Cosmonaut Keep (sff)
Daniel Keys Moran -- The Armageddon Blues (sff)
Daniel Keys Moran -- Emerald Eyes (sff)
Daniel Keys Moran -- The Last Dancer (sff)
Daniel Keys Moran & Jodi Moran -- Terminal Freedom (sff)
David R. Palmer -- Threshold (sff)
Sharon Shinn -- Jovah's Angel (sff)
Dan Simmons -- Hardcase (detective)
Michael Swanwick -- The Iron Dragon's Daughter (sff)
Robert Charles Wilson -- The Chronoliths (sff)

Some of these are just filling out my library for books that I've already read but didn't own and want to re-read (Xenocide and Dune). The main excuse for the purchases were to pick up the rest of the Daniel Keys Moran books while they're still in print, to get the other David R. Palmer novel besides Emergence, and to get a copy of The Phantom Toolbooth, which I've been wanting to re-read.

2004-06-29: spin 1.48

This is a minor bug fix. When an override file was specified with -o, spin wasn't reporting an error if that file couldn't be loaded for some reason. (So when the module depended on a Perl module that wasn't installed, it would just silently not load the override file and proceed to mangle the generated web pages.)

You can download the fixed version from my web tools page.

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