Archives : June 2003

2003 June 3

Junket of the year

The 3rd Annual Nigerian EMail Conference
"Write better emails. Make more moneys."

Sessions include "Are 10 million emails a day too many?", "The effectiveness of using all UPPERCASE characters," and "Grammatical errors: What's the optimal number?" Don't wait -- send your name, bank and account numbers now.

2003 June 4

Goblins character creation

This is an administrativa post for those who will be playing in my Goblins campaign. (If you aren't in, but think it sounds like fun, let me know -- there's room for more players.)

The world of Goblins is England of 1830, with all the humans edited out and replaced with goblins. Think of it as Dickens, reinterpreted by Terry Gilliam. The following is a summary of the rules I'm going to use for character creation.


Goblins rule mods

And here are the more notable of the rule differences from standard GURPS. (This post follows Goblins character creation.)


2003 June 5

Mail problems

Hm. It seems like maybe none of the mail I've written since Sunday has been getting out. I'm not sure what's going on, but in the meantime: (a) no game tonight; (b) game next week, somewhere; and (c) hm, that would explain why no one has been answering any of my questions.

2003 June 6

Smells like June

It smells lush and fertile and inviting out there. California never smelled like this.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/05/28 Arlington Centre 7.6 km ~18:30 24.7 km/h 282 km
status: Not bad, considering I've been under the weather all week. Time is approximate because I forgot to reset my meter before starting.

2003 June 8

Can't rain all the time

The sun actually came out for a while this afternoon, after three rainy weekends in a row, and I managed to get out on my bike. Felt good. That's a very cool thing -- I have actually been frustrated these past few weeks at how often rain has stopped me from getting out when I wanted to, and now getting out and working for an hour has me feeling good. Those are athlete attitudes. Marshmallow me is proud of myself.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/06/08 Lexington VFW 22.1 km 58:18 22.7 km/h 313 km
status: That's a new record, by a whole minute. Also, I'm over 300 km on the year -- time to reward myself with a trip to the bike shop.

2003 June 10

Howto configure postfix to use a remote SMTP relay host

This is a public service message, because when I queried google "configure postfix remote smtphost", I couldn't find anything useful to the question I was trying to answer.

So you're running Linux, and your ISP is filtering traffic on port 25, thus blocking you from sending outgoing mail, and so you want to configure your mailserver to relay all your mail out through your ISP's server, like they want you to. If you're running postfix, this turns out to be very easy -- in /etc/postfix/, just set the variable:

	relayhost =
then restart postfix (/etc/init.d/postfix restart, as root).

You're welcome.

2003 June 12


I saw "Pulse" the other night at the Museum of Science with Connie -- definitely recommended. What is it? It's an hour of dance, I suppose, all kinds of dance and percussion. African tribesmen, New York City breakdancers, psychotic Japanese taiko drummers (who appear to be trying to develop Spontaneous Human Explosion), capoeira fighters, flamenco, English bellringers, a Hindu religious procession, and some experimental stuff from Stomp (the dance troupe, who made the movie). It's well-paced, funny, ecstatic, and surreal -- there's a scene with a bicycle and a pier where they took it straight up the middle, and my reaction to what happened next was "Ah, so this is where the drugs kick in."

It's OmniMax, which is an impressive spectacle, but means that if you aren't right on the centreline of the theatre you get to watch the movie in Distort-o-Vision (and since the seats in the Mugar Theatre don't recline, here's a hint: go high). For Pulse, though, the warping and stretching of shapes didn't hurt -- in fact, without it, perhaps the whole thing wouldn't have seemed as much like a wild drug trip as it did.

Also, somewhat to my surprise, the Omni is actually cheaper than a film at the Fenway -- $7 weeknights.

2003 June 13

Against remorseless age, mortals do contend in vain

I just picked up my first pair of prescription eyeglasses, which I think is my first unwelcome concession to getting old. They include an astigmatism correction which is currently making the ground seem to float about six inches higher than it ought to, which makes me feel short and makes me keep tripping off steps.

Sigh. It's perhaps not a good thing how I have taken pride, up to now, in being a person with good eyesight.

2003 June 18

Iraq: two months later

Well, two months ago they were ripping down that statue in Baghdad. How are things going? On the whole, not too bad, it seems. Mark Steyn is in a jolly see-no-evil kind of mood, but he's been touring the country and it seems at least one of my criteria from April is satisfied: it's reasonably safe to drive the roads.

So that's the most basic thing about post-Saddam Iraq: for all the "anarchy", no one's fleeing. In the course of my trip, I drove as far east as the outskirts of Baghdad and as far north as Kirkuk. I spent a pleasant evening prowling round Saddam's home town of Tikrit, where I detected a frisson of menace in the air, but marginally less than in, say, Stockwell, south London. [+]

The rest of his article (hell, even that bit I quoted) is a bit short on detail and long on self-satisfied political point-scoring for me to really take it seriously as reporting, but as a statement of the optimists' case, it'll do. On a more localized basis, we also have stabilization coming slowly (but coming) to Baghdad:

After six weeks of patrols in his area, Colonel Grimsley said the level of violent crime was lower than in Atlanta, the nearest big city to the brigade's base in Georgia. Shops and cafes have reopened. Vendors have appeared again on sidewalks, selling cigarettes and sodas. Traffic, even traffic jams, have returned.

"When this bicycle shop opened about a week after we got here, I knew we were going to be O.K.," Colonel Grimsley said as he rode in an armored Humvee through Adhamiya, the neighborhood where Mr. Hussein is reported to have made his last known public appearance, on April 9, just as Baghdad was about to fall.

But the situation is still unstable. On June 1, a firefight erupted at the Abu Hanifa Mosque only a few hundred yards from the bicycle shop. A grenade was thrown from a car toward soldiers guarding a checkpoint. Snipers opened fire from at least one building nearby. Two soldiers from the First Armored Division were wounded. An Iraqi civilian died. [+]

And there's this report from Anthony Shadid (Wash Post) on Karbala, where apparently the Marine colonel in charge has established good working relations with the locals.

But the protest Monday was perhaps most remarkable for what was missing. Not once was there a chant denouncing the U.S. occupation, a staple of demonstrations elsewhere in Iraq. A request by U.S. troops for the crowd to make way for military vehicles prompted protesters to shout: "Get back! Get back!" The crowd hurriedly did.

In a city so sacred that its soil is used to make the stones on which Shiites bow their heads in prayer, the American occupation of Karbala -- 1,110 U.S. troops in a city of 500,000 -- has emerged as a rare example of a postwar experience gone right.

In gestures large and small -- from reopening an amusement park with free admission to restoring electricity to twice its prewar level, from stopping looting with a rapidly reconstituted police force, to a conscious effort to respect religious sensitivities -- Karbala seems to have avoided the bitterness and disenchantment that has enveloped Baghdad and other cities.

Unlike towns in restive regions north and west of Baghdad, U.S. troops in Karbala have yet to come under fire. They have entered fewer than 10 houses here to search for weapons. They patrol without flak jackets in an effort to make their presence less formidable. They try to stay at least 100 yards from the city's two shrines -- one housing the remains of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad whose death in battle in 680 defines the spiritual narrative of Shiite belief, the other the remains of his half-brother Abbas, celebrated as a symbol of Arab heroism. [+]

That last bit, though, about US troops coming under fire, is where the pessimists' case starts up. So far, 50 US troops have been killed since the end of April -- about one a day -- conducting the occupation, while 138 were killed during the war proper. Rockets are being fired at troops, at least one woman has made a suicide grenade attack, and patrols have been attacked by snipers. The Third Infantry Division has had their orders to return home cancelled, and morale is dropping fast (why was "supporting the troops by staying the hell out of a war" such a hard concept to understand, anyway?). As Bruce Rolston observes,

The 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division has now been in Iraq for nine months (the rest of the division a little less). Canadians have generally concluded that peacekeepers start losing their edge after six. Just noting. [+]

"Losing their edge" means things like this:

"I think that was the most scary thing trusting civilians, especially after the car bomb," Sergeant Betancourt, 21, said, referring to the taxi bombing, the worst single attack against the brigade's troops, on March 29, near Najaf, about 85 miles south of Baghdad. "We didn't want nothing to do with these people anymore."

As he stood guard at a hospital, as he enforced curfew at checkpoints, as he patrolled streets once again bustling with Iraqis, even the children terrified Sergeant Betancourt, who appears barely older than a child himself.

"At the end," he said, "it was like, `Get that kid away from me.' " [+]

The Pentagon appears to be having difficulty coming up with enough troops to occupy the country properly, which at least means we shouldn't be seeing any more serious sabre-rattling elsewhere (Iran can relax) until they're extracted.

The reason all of this military overstretch and death-of-a-thousand-cuts stuff matters is summed up by Salam Pax as well as anyone:

A convoy goes thru the village and gets attacked, RPGs or Kalashnikovs are fired. It is night and the visibility is pretty low, as a retaliation and self-defence you have the convoy shooting left and right down the road for the next couple of kilometers (that if if they didn't decide to stop and go into attack-mode - see what happened in Hir).

Now when you go ask the people in the village, district or neighborhood about the attacks they tell you the attackers were strangers, not from the area. Think of it for a moment. If I wanted to instigate anti-american sentiments in a neighborhood which was until now indifferent towards the Americans what would be the best thing to do?

I would find a way to get the Americans to do bad things in that neighborhood, for example shoot indiscriminately at houses and shops

Sabaa Khalifa Makhmoud, 26, had finished cleaning his blue and white bus on the opposite side of the road from the American convoy and had just stepped out of the vehicle when the soldiers began shooting in response to the attack. One of his daughters, a toddler, was outside with him, and he scooped her up and ran inside their house. The shooting blasted out two windows in his bus and left a ragged hole in one of the bus curtains.

make them go on house to house searches, tie up the men and put sacks on their heads and scare all the children.

this would tilt your American-o-meter from the "I-don't-really-care" position to the "what-the-fuck-do-they-think-they-are-doing?" position.

So, how are things going in Iraq? Well enough for the moment, it seems. Let's hope things stay that way.

Thanks to Daniel Drezner and Jim Henley for links.

2003 June 19

First we take Manhattan

This rocks.

Q. Couldn't the MOB have gotten out of hand?

A. No. I assure you: the MOB will always be respectful, no matter how large it gets, or what it might chant, etc.

Q. Despite this honest assurance, my stifling fear of the unknown dictates that I squeal again.

A. Unfortunately, I have been forced to take this possibility into account in the instructions for MOB #2.

And almost as tasty, in a different way, here we have a Japanese mob of Agent Smiths.

Via Patrick Nielsen-Hayden.

2003 June 23

Baitcon XVI

It's Monday, so of course the sun has come out. I'm starting to get really cranky about the weather here this spring cum summer. This has been our fifth consecutive weekend of nothing but rain, followed by lovely Mondays (except, of course, for Memorial Day weekend, which had torrential rain on the holiday Monday and a lovely Tuesday), and my second consecutive rained-out camping trip. Last week with Anna we just wussed out and stayed in a motel -- at the Baitcon jamboree we were more committed, so tenting it was, monsoon or no. ("Fifty percent chance of showers," my ass.) Mostly my tent's waterproofing held up -- I'm very glad I applied a new coat last week before going -- but owing to a minor tent-pitching error and the absurd amount of water in the air, I slept in a damp sleeping bag anyway. Am pleased to report that the down bag's performance was everything I could have hoped for, keeping me decently warm regardless.

Thus ends my pathetic weather rant. On the upside, it was not windy, the Baitcon geeklords had an exceptionally well-engineered set of tarps, shelters, and guerilla rain-guttering set up outside the lodge, and of course the lodge itself was a nice retreat in the evenings. Also, there were hardly any bugs -- I think on Sunday, I didn't even bother to apply repellent.

There was music and great cooking, clever puzzles and games; stream engineering, naked mud fights, and a propane-powered hot shower by the creek, delightful as an Irish Spring commercial; fun with liquid nitrogen, and sixty-nine inventive flavours of homemade ice cream. There was the classic Cocoa Moose and French Vanilla Bean, wonderful Lemon, delicate Brandi Alexander, creamy-sweet Thai Tea, pungent Ginger Cubed, spicy Dragon Chocolate, tart Blood Orange, experimental Fig Surprise, my personal favourite, the triple-threat Coconut Lime Habanero (lime tartness forward with the reverse-mounted habanero explosion as you swallow) -- plus many, many more.

It was a damned fine weekend, and the thing about all the rain is this, that a bit of adversity really does serve mostly to imprint the memories more permanently. So there.

When the monkey is high, you do not stare

I have to mention some new music I've discovered recently. I had been getting turned off pop music in an everything-on-the-radio-sounds-like-something-I've-heard-before kind of way, but in quick succession three albums have woken me up again.

For one thing, somehow I missed an entire Madonna album in 1998 -- and I mean it: until this past week I had no idea "Ray of Light" existed, nor do I think I'd ever even heard the title track on the radio. Now, that was the year I finished my thesis and moved to California, but geez, I didn't realize I'd been as out of the pop culture loop as all that. And damn! What a track to have missed! For the first time, there's something by Madonna staking out territory on my personal Top 40. It's just ecstatic music.

Second is A3. My radio station in Denver, KTCL -- most baddest kickingest-ass radio station I've ever lived under -- played their "Ain't Going to Goa" briefly when I was there, and I've been looking for anything else by them ever since, really. I finally found their album, Exile on Coldharbour Lane, and it's all as wonderfully psychedelic as "Goa." They describe themselves as "sweet, pretty, country acid house music;" I'm tempted to go with something more like "techno gospel". Whatever it is, it bounces and tumbles along in the most funky kind of way, and you've got to love a band that claims to represent the First Presbyterian Church of Elvis Divine, and sings:

'Cos the righteous truth is, there ain't nothing worse than some fool lying on some Third World beach in spandex psychedelic trousers, smoking damn dope, pretending he gettin' consciousness expansion. I want consciousness expansion, I go to my local tabernacle an' I sing!

The other song you may have heard is "Woke Up This Morning", which is being used as the theme to "The Sopranos".

And then there's Robbie Williams, that Cat turned me on to this weekend. The music is basically uptempo pop, but it pulls influences in from more places than I can identify, and some of the songs are genius -- just brilliantly loony. Exhibit #1 is "Me and My Monkey", a kind of Spanish brass-heavy ballad, like Copacabana with horns forward, about a Fear-and-Loathing kind of road trip to Vegas in the company of a sociopathic monkey.

And at the elevator I hit the 33rd floor
He had a room up top with a panoramic view it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before
He went to sleep in the bidet and when he awoke
He ran his little monkey fingers through the yellow pages
Called up escort services and ordered some okey doke
Forty minutes later there came a knock at the door
In walked this big, bad-ass baboon into my bedroom with 3 monkey whores
‘Hi, my name is Sunshine. These are my girls. Lace my palm with silver baby oh yeah and they’ll rock your world’
So I watched pay per view and polished my shoes and my gun
Was sticking on Kurt Cobain sing about lithium
There came a knock at the door and in walked Sunshine
‘What’s up?’
‘You better get your ass in here boy your monkey is having too much of a good time’

Yeah, sing it, Robbie. (Another pointer -- check out his video for "Rock DJ", available from finer mpeg pirates everywhere. I won't spoil it for you, except to say the full Monty is just his warmup. Brace yourself.)

2003 June 26

Air conditioning season

Jeez, I don't ride for a couple weeks, and my time goes to hell. Or is that the heat? In my defence, time since my last ride two weekends away camping (or trying to), plus a week when my bike was in the shop. I was sort of hoping getting road tires would improve my time, but I guess not so much. It does *feel* smoother than it used to, though.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/06/26 Arlington Centre 7.6 km 19:29 23.4 km/h 321 km

2003 June 28

Beautiful day VII

Don't let it be said I'm not appreciative of the nice days when we get them. This morning has been gorgeous.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/06/28 Lexington VFW 22.0 km 56:01 23.6 km/h 356 km
status: New record by more than two minutes! It wasn't as hot today as Thursday, and some more air in my tires seems to have made a big difference. I guess I've got my groove back.

Alewife urban rabbits

Dammit, my third day with new tires and new rear tube, and I arrive home to find a big old nail driven right through it. (Add another eight K to my distance today, riding to Caryn's in Watertown and back.) The route, though, is nice: there's a gravel path behind Alewife station that goes to Blanchard Rd near Belmont Centre. It's a bit hard to find the Alewife end of if, hidden in the greenery across the road from the main passenger pick-up point, but once you get in it's a peaceful little green tunnel with rabbits and and chipmunks and what might have been a jay.

Apparently, though, you do need to be a bit watchful for nails. Dammit.

2003 June 29

Beautiful day VIII

I feel right virtuous.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/06/29 Minuteman to I-95/beaver pond 28.4 km 1:19:35 21.4 km/h 398 km