Posts for July 2004

2004-07-02: WebAuth 3.2.3

This is primarily a packaging release, but it does contain one bug fix that will cause all redirects issued by mod_webauth to be much faster on some browsers. Turns out that the redirects we were sending previously were violating the HTTP standard in a way that caused a browser to wait for the rest of the redirect until it timed out.

In this release are test Debian packages thanks to an initial set of Debian packaging configuration files from pod at the University of Oxford. This should make it substantially easier to run WebAuth on Debian. Currently, they're only available for testing/unstable, but stable backports are planned.

You can get the latest version and information about the Debian packages from the WebAuth site.

2004-07-02: The Phantom Tollbooth

Review: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

Pages: 256
ISBN: 0-394-82037-1
Publisher: Dell Yearling

I read this book long ago as a kid and remembered loving it, but didn't remember very much about it. It came up from time to time in rememberences about children's books, but I didn't really think about it until recently when I found an interview with Norton Juster on Powell's. Reading that interview and the bits in it from The Phantom Tollbooth, I fell in love with the language all over again and had to pick up a copy so that I could re-read it.

This is quite possibly the best didactic children's book ever written, and is certainly one of the most unusual. I add the didactic qualifier to distinguish it from various fantasies and more traditional stories, since The Phantom Tollbooth is a book that's trying to say something, to teach philosophy and learning from the very beginning. It is a very difficult genre to do well without preaching, and I've never read any book that succeeds as well.

From the first town of Expectations (which sadly many journeys never reach beyond), through the Island of Conclusions (an easy trip by jumping, but more attractive from a distance), and on to the many demons of the Mountains of Ignorance, The Phantom Tollbooth is a delight of sparkling wordplay and common sense, intermixed with touches of the random and absurd. More than anyone else, it reminds me of Lewis Carroll; it is perhaps less random and more obvious in its philosophies, but the delight in language and thought is recognizably present. My favorite parts are the pointed skewerings of stupidity all too often found in adults -- the Three Demons of Compromise, for instance, one tall and thin, one short and fat, and the third exactly like the other two. But almost every page has some small delight, like the watchdog (who has the body of a watch) sitting down and scratching himself at 4:30, or the protestor asking for the release of sounds carrying a banner reading "HEAR HERE."

A quick read for adults, I still found this book a delight, and can recommend it highly to anyone. It is at its heart a children's book, though, and if you have children who love language and word play, I cannot think of a better book to give them.

Rating: 10 out of 10

2004-07-06: Used book haul

My mother and I went shopping in a used book store I'd never been in before, so of course the predictable happened. Particularly since I brought my list. If I'm actually prepared, it's quite difficult for me to get out of a well-stocked, well-organized used book store without spending at least $100.

Here are the latest acquisitions:

Richard Adams -- Maia (sff)
Poul Anderson -- The Broken Sword (sff)
Isaac Asimov -- Nightfall and Other Stories (sff)
Isaac Asimov -- Pebble in the Sky (sff)
Margaret Atwood -- The Handmaid's Tale (f)
Margaret Ball -- Changeweaver (sff)
Greg Bear -- Moving Mars (sff)
Emma Bull -- Falcon (sff)
Orson Scott Card -- Children of the Mind (sff)
Orson Scott Card -- Shadow Puppets (sff)
C.J. Cherryh -- Invader (sff)
C.J. Cherryh -- Inheritor (sff)
C.J. Cherryh & Mercedes Lackey -- Reap the Whirlwind (sff)
James Clavell -- Shogun (f)
A.J. Cronin -- The Citadel (f)
A.J. Cronin -- The Green Years (f)
Thomas B. Costain -- the Last Plantagenets (f)
Avram Davidson -- Peregrine: Primus (sff)
Charles de Lint -- Into the Green (sff)
Charles de Lint -- The Ivory and the Horn (sff)
Charles de Lint -- Moonheart (sff)
Charles de Lint -- Someplace to be Flying (sff)
Charles de Lint -- Spiritwalk (sff)
Robert A. Heinlein -- The Door into Summer (sff)
Robert A. Heinlein -- Friday (sff)
Dorothy J. Heydt -- A Point of Honor (sff)
Murray Leinster -- Quarantine World (sff)
Vonda N. McIntyre -- Dreamsnake (sff)
Alexei Panshin -- Rite of Passage (sff)
Robert M. Pirsig -- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (nf)
Chaim Potok -- The Chosen (f)
Matt Ruff -- Sewer, Gas & Electric (sff)
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough -- The Healer's War (sff)
Sharon Shinn -- Summers at Castle Auburn (sff)
Anna Sewell -- Black Beauty (childrens)
Michael Swanwick -- Stations of the Tide (sff)
Judith Tarr -- Throne of Isis (sff)
Roger Zelazny & Fred Saberhagen -- The Black Throne (sff)

Children of the Mind is mostly for the sake of completeness; I'm not sure if I'll bother reading it any time soon. Likewise, The Handmaid's Tale I got because I've heard a lot about it, but may not actually read it for quite some time. Friday I read long ago but never owned.

I've never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and figured it was about time, but my mother is currently reading my copy, having picked it up nearly as soon as we got back. The only Chaim Potok I've read before is The Gift of Asher Lev, and it's been a long time since I've read that, but I remember really enjoying it.

Maia is an incredibly long book.

Black Beauty is to supplement my hard-cover copy, which was printed in the 1950s, is missing part of its binding, and is in imminent danger of falling apart from a great deal of reading when I was a child.

Oh, and my grandmother had a copy of Samuel R. Delaney's Babel-17 that she didn't want, so I also picked up a copy of that the other day.

2004-07-08: More book shopping

Today, my mother and I hit the remaining used book stores that we knew about. That was largely a wash, so we decided to drop by Barnes and Noble, and as this was the first time in a while I'd been in a large bookstore with my list, I of course picked up a few other things.

Here's the latest set:

Richard Adams -- Shardik (sff)
Margaret Atwood -- Cat's Eye (sff)
Octavia E. Butler -- Parable of the Talents (sff)
Orson Scott Card -- Shadow of the Hegemon (sff)
William Gibson -- All Tomorrow's Parties (sff)
Tanya Huff -- Blood Price (sff)
Mercedes Lackey -- Exile's Honor (sff)
Robert Charles Wilson -- Blind Lake (sff)

The first two were the ones that I found used. I'm rather behind on reading Valdemar novels, but I know I'll enjoy them eventually so I buy them up anyway.

2004-07-09: Reviews reorganized

I've shuffled my reviews around on my web site to give them a shorter URL, since the number of pages is expanding, and have also added multiple new lists of awards (World Fantasy, John W. Campbell, Philip K. Dick, and Arthur C. Clarke for the time being). The new URL to the index of all of my reviews is <>. The old URLs will continue to work indefinitely.

2004-07-09: spin 1.49

This is a trivial release that just adds support for \div. I needed that for my new review index.

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

2004-07-09: The Mother Tongue

Review: The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson

Pages: 270
ISBN: 0-888-07895-8
Publisher: William Morrow and Company

It was about time for me to read another non-fiction book. This is an irreverant and often-humorous look at the history and quirks of the English language, covering both British and American English and the distinctions between them (and touching briefly on Australian as well).

While it does touch on some of the origins and major turning points of the language, it's not a history book so much as a collection of fascinating or amusing tidbits, grouped vaguely by topic area. If you were ever curious about the degree of strangeness of English spelling, wondered about the origin of jockstrap, were curious about the evolution of spelling, or want to know just who decided one shouldn't end sentences with prepositions, this is a good choice in books.

I was frequently laughing out-loud while reading The Mother Tongue (not to mention muttering words under my breath to hear the pronunciation points that Bryson was making). It's the sort of book that fills your head with all sorts of random trivia that must be shared at the next water-cooler conversation or over one's next meal. The book moves right along and never gets bogged down, either in plodding exposition or in in-depth scholarship (although there are references and a bibliography).

The main negative for me is that Bryson is a bit gung-ho about his love of English, and while his opinionated take on the topic produces some nice barbs on smaller topics, I found his cheerleading for English as the best language ever a bit annoying. I could have done without much of the first chapter, which digresses into a fair bit of this partisanship. Thankfully, there is much less throughout the rest of the book.

If you're looking for a detailed history or an in-depth philological study, this book will disappoint; it's intended as light reading. It is, however, funny and engaging, and I highly recommend it for any lover of language trivia. Just expect to have some issues with Bryson's opinions if you don't think English's manifest destiny is to become the universal language.

2004-07-17: Sharks

I've been reading a lot of on-line SF reviews lately and just finished reading all the ones that Christina Schulman has on her review site, so I wandered off to her blog out of random curiosity.

I ran across this entry about jumping sharks (, now apparently defunct).


2004-07-23: S/Ident 3.3

A relatively minor release, just picking up a few miscellaneous changes. This release picks up all the additional changes I made for Debian package building, fixes compilations against old Kerberos libraries without krb_life_to_time, includes a debian/watch file for automated analysis, and cleans up some documentation. It was mostly a test for additional features in my new release script.

You can get the latest version from the S/Ident distribution page.

2004-07-23: volcreate 1.20

I got tired of volcreate-logs producing cron mail whenever it did something (in addition to the report) because of all of the output from the AFS volume creation commands, so I added -q flags to both volcreate and volcreate-logs to suppress output other than errors and the report.

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

2004-07-23: spin 1.53

As you may have noticed, but which I haven't written about specifically yet (I will in a little bit, after I finish up a few more things), I'm in the process of reworking my web pages a little. I needed some more support in spin as a result.

This release adds navigation bars at both the top and bottom of each page instead of just at the bottom, if .sitemap is used. It also runs the arguments to \heading through parsing so that macros can be used there. The navigation stuff is still really hard-coded; I'd like to find a better way of handling that at some point, but it doesn't matter all that much while I'm the only person using the .sitemap features.

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

2004-07-23: faq2html 1.20

In generating the new S/Ident documentation, I found that faq2html wasn't able to handle a description list paragraph where there were multiple tags for the paragraph. I've now added support for that, and hopefully that won't cause something else to be recognized as a description list that's actually just indented poetry or the like.

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

2004-07-25: Post with Python

This is a test of posting via a Python script over the XML-RPC interface. I'm hoping to use this to automate the process of writing a review somewhat better, now that the canonical version of a review is written in thread instead of being the version in my journal.

Hopefully it also won't do anything stupid with paragraph breaks.

2004-07-25: Post with Python

This is a test of posting via a Python script over the XML-RPC interface. I'm hoping to use this to automate the process of writing a review somewhat better, now that the canonical version of a review is written in thread instead of being the version in my journal.

Hopefully it also won't do anything stupid with paragraph breaks.

This should also automatically set the category to News, since I believe that the category IDs used by Moveable Type are just the same numbers that the XEmacs interface shows.

2004-07-29: spin 1.54

In building my new book review site, I found that I was duplicating the same macros over and over again on different pages. I've now added a rudimentary \include functionality to spin. At some point it will have to be seriously redesigned, since right now it has a lot of annoying limitations, but this approach was easy.

While I was in there, I also fixed a couple of bugs: image tags shouldn't always have newlines after them, since that makes them look strange inside links, and user-defined macros and strings weren't being cleared after each file when processing a whole tree.

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

2004-07-30: kstart 2.2

I've released a new version of the kstart and k5start package. I went over all of the code for both with a scrub brush and also got rid of a lot of Stanford-specific banners and environment variable checks. The code should be easier to read and more maintainable now.

I also substantially overhauled the man pages, improved the other documentation, improved the build system, switched to Autoconf 2.5x, and added Debian rules.

Debian packages are also available but I haven't gotten around to announcing my Debian archive yet. I'll do that probably tomorrow after I finish cleaning up and releasing apt-index (although I may instead work on teaching apt-ftparchive how to generate Release files as part of the generate step, since apparently that should be easy).

Anyway, you can get the latest versions from the kstart distribution page.

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