The end-of-semester crush has begun. People are beginning to buckle down and get stuff done, which brings more of them to ask me for help on various things.

Rodger had spoken with me about making a searchable interface for data from the insect collection. I showed the pages we had created previously. They finished the data from the first order (Lepidoptera) and sent me a spreadsheet. I used it as a pretext to go back and look at my old code and think about how to migrate it to the new server. I wrote all the old informatics scripts using mSQL. I started building these when it wasn't clear which database was going to become the one to use for web applications. I liked several things about mSQL: it compiled cleanly (while MySQL often would not); it used unix users and groups, it was simple to set up and use, and it was extremely stable. We're not planning to use mSQL on the new server, so I need to migrate everything over. This was a good test case.

I left work early to arrange a location for the Zamenhof Fest. A week ago, as I began trying to set up the Zamenhof Fest, I sent an email to the Jones Library about reserving a room. I sent the email to the library. On Wednesday, I got an email back that explained I had to visit the library in person during business hours. So, I went downtown, filled out the necessary paperwork, and got the room reserved.

Lucy and I had planned to go downtown anyway to have an early dinner at Baku's, the new African restaurant. It's actually been there for a while. I've wanted to go there, but Alisa had tried their food at some point (at the Taste, I think) and didn't like the sauce -- too ketchuppy. I could see that. I got the curry chicken with jollof rice, fried plantains, and vegetables. Lucy got the jollof rice and black-eyed peas. It was all delicious. They had fair-trade Kenyan coffee, which was very good too. It brought back a lot of memories for Lucy of her African adventures.


Today there aren't enough superlatives in English language. I feel like I've awoken from a fevered and terrifying nightmare to see a bit of sun peeping through the windows. After eight devastating years of predatory mismanagement of the country, we are finally going to have a president that wants to lead and govern -- and not just derail the country, raid the treasury, and enrich his cronies.

Don't get me wrong. Barack Obama is not going to be perfect and, with our broken and dysfunctional government, what he can achieve will be even less. But simply for the sense that someone in the administration cares about trying to make things better, rather than always looking for an angle to screw the country with, what a difference that will make.

It's always painful to me to see how many people in our country disagree. So many people, conservatives and liberals alike, have spoken so eloquently about the challenges facing our country, the potential of each of the candidates, and their choice to support Barack Obama -- to see their thoughtful reasoning ignored and rejected by people who smugly say, "He's a muslim! He's a terrorist! He hates America!" when all of these points are unequivocally and demonstrably false. As Jefferson and the other founding fathers understood, you can't have a meaningful democracy if you can't have a rational discussion of the issues. Has education merely failed? Or is there a substantial body of people that is ineducable?

For the moment, its enough to take a deep breath and be able to hope again.


This morning, I updated Windows in m374 in response to the critical security update posted by Microsoft last week. It's updated on two machines near the back of the room where I did the testing. While I was updating the images, I made a few other minor changes: I changed the background from black to light blue, which should be easier on the eyes when using Windows in Fullscreen rather than Fusion mode. I also updated the antivirus stuff and told it not to pester the user about antivirus updates.

No-one had told me any other changes to make to the image. Evidently the system is working reasonably well.

I went through the exercise of removing temporary files, etc, from the Windows side and then shrank the disk images from the vmware side. I then checked to estimate how many of the files had been modified and whether it made sense to make transcript with just the changes or to just do a whole new transcript. All of the large files had been modified, so I simply made a new transcript with everything and, once I'm sure the new system is working correctly, I will just delete the old one.

Weird week

It's been a weird week. I learned that some of my haiku were accepted for publication in the December issue of Taj Mahal Review. I also published an article in Esperanto at Libera Folio. I'm part of a group putting in an NSF proposal. But on Monday, I spent almost the whole day in an OSHA mandated 10-hour Construction Training program. It was 10 hours long. But once I receive my surferticket, I'll be legally able to go work in buildings while they're still under construction. We're probably going to need to work in the new Integrated Science Building to get it ready for classes while it's still under construction. Very weird.

I'm hopeful for the election in a week's time. It would be horribly depressing to imagine anything other than a landslide victory for Obama. It's been so encouraging to imagine a country that was not ruled by predators using the country to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. Think happy thoughts...

Scientific literacy

Today, I saw an article ranting about science educators, arguing that teaching students about science isn't really necessary for scientific literacy. Here's what I wrote in reply:

It's not clear at all what "science literacy" means -- or ought to mean -- but to equate it with "content of modern science" is a particularly depauperate view. Those who advocate for scientific literacy principally want to prepare non-scientists to understand (1) enough about science to know the kinds of questions science can answer and (2) something about the nature of the answers that science can provide. These concepts are not part of science themselves, but are important to understand how scientific knowledge and practice should intersect with other spheres of human endeavor, such as politics, energy policy, and education.

I remember as a graduate student wrestling a lot with the question of what scientific literacy really ought to be. It's a tough, thorny question. Science education is descended from what used to be called "nature study" in the 1800's. In the 1960's, after Sputnik, science education became very focused on producing a new generation of scientists. The idea of "scientific literacy" is really quite new, becoming especially popularized in 1989 in Project 2061: Science for All Americans. Not everyone needs to be conversant with the depths of the history and philosophy of science, but some level of understanding is critical to distinguish scientific understanding from other kinds of ideology -- a proposition that the Bush administration never did understand.

Faith and the public discourse

This morning, Leonard Pitts suggests that most of us believe with questions when it comes to religion. That reminds me of a story I told my philosophy professor about someone I knew who wanted to follow the teachings of Jesus. This person believed the bible had the teachings of Jesus, but they'd also gotten mixed up with some other stuff -- but that was OK, because he could tell the true teachings of Jesus from the other stuff. The piece I don't understand about religion is why it's OK to be an atheist with respect to all the other religions, but not with respect to the other one. Where is the evidence that let's one make an informed decision?

I see the same reasoning among the logic that Sarah Palin and her supporters are making for her to be vice-president. She complains about the northeastern media elite who have unreasonable expectations about the knowledge that a prospective candidate should have. I can't believe anybody would fall to that line of reasoning: if your car is broken, do you hire someone who gives as evidence of their credentials, "I can see a repair shop from my window." Do you want a doctor who can't answer basic questions about human anatomy? C'mon!

Fables and different species

Recently, I saw a Michelle Malkin column that reminded me of something that's irritated me for years. I don't normally read Malkin because she's so unpleasant, but I've been interested in watching how the right-wing approaches the bailout, so I skimmed her column. She retold the story of the right-wing ant and the liberal grasshopper: how the ant worked hard to save up his resources, but the liberal grasshopper was lazy and then tried to organize all the other lazy grasshoppers to steal what the ant had saved. OK -- fine story that riffs on one of Aesop's Fables. But I think it would actually be better to remember that we're all the same thing: we're all ants. Some ants don't have to work hard in order to have plenty. Others, no matter how hard they work, still end up with nothing. Many ants who work equivalently hard, end up with vastly different outcomes, depending where they live, what their circumstances are, or just through dumb luck. Vilifying and dehumanizing classes of people you don't like, isn't helpful.

I remember having the same reaction when I read Maus for the first time. Representing different nations as different kinds of animals obscures the reality that we really are all the same. The Nazis didn't want to admit the Jews are human and it is uncomfortable for many of us to claim the Nazis as human -- but we are all human and to deny the humanity of others is the first step down the slippery slope.

Wow. After I checked the wikipedia entry for Maus, I looked up The Ant and the Grasshopper to confirm my recollection that it was one of Aesop's fables and saw that someone had already updated the entry with a reference to Malkin's column. Wikipedia is amazing.

Fables and different species

I finished my first pass at setting up vmware to work with radmind. I built my final winxp image -- before I made the image, I did "clean up" from the winxp side, to remove temporary files, browser cache, etc, and then did clean up from the vmware side, to reduce the size of the disk images as much as possible. I also found that by saving the image in a shut down, rather than suspended state, it saved about a GB of space. I ended up with an image that was 3.62GB in size -- about half in 1 2GB chunk.

It would probably be better from an end-user standpoint to dist out the image in a suspended state -- the user could then start up the system ready-to-go and already in the correct mode. As it is now, the user has to wait for Windows to start up and then switch to unity mode (or full screen). Unfortunately, the image would frequently kernel panic when it started up -- not always, but frequently. I spent some time trying to diagnose the problem. I thought it might be related to either rebuilding or not rebuilding the virtual machine's unique identifiers inside VMware, but I tried it both ways without success. Oh, well. Why should working with winxp be convenient anyway.

After I finished, I sent a message to the faculty member that the image was ready to go and that I did not know what else needed to be done. Now we'll try it for a few days and see what else he wants to do.

The new Integrated Science Building is currently being outfitted and is planned to be iMacs running MacOS with vmware to provide access to Windows. I got a notice about Apple cutting the pricing on some 24inch iMacs and passed it along, so the ISB bought 52 of them to outfit the new Computer Resource Center in the building. It's going to be an awesome new lab, with 24inch iMacs.

VMware image and radmind

Watching Bush last night was a painful experience -- its always painful to watch him because he seems like such a moron. His speech writers had done impressive work to boil the financial crisis into terms that someone with a 5th grade mentality (like Bush) might be able to understand. And I'm convinced that the consequences of not proceeding with the bailout will be catastrophic -- maybe even more catastrophic than doing it.

At the same time, I'm reminded of the sense I had early on, that the Bush administration was intentionally running the country into the ground. I get the feeling that they've known all along (not Bush, who seems way too stupid, but the malevolent people who run him) that the country was headed for a crash, so they've been trying to extract anything of value that they could before the crash happened. That explains why they haven't been bothering to try to actually run the place well: they're just trying to leverage money out of the system before the whole thing collapses. This "bailout" sure looks like a way to screw the taxpayer one last time before they leave office.

Installing and Configuring Windows using VMWare

I'm installing Windows for a teaching lab that wants to have Windows software available. It's been an interesting experience. Using Windows is a really unpleasant experience: it constantly pesters you and gets in the way of trying to get work done. Ugh.

Using VMWare for virtualization seems pretty cool. I was more inclined to go with Virtualbox, but others wanted VMWare and the ability to run VMWare Fusion, with MacOS and Windows windows interspersed does seem cool. Both have parts of their virtual machine open sourced and other parts closed, so it's hard to make a determination on that level. We were able to get an academic license to use either for free, so the price difference didn't matter.

One important feature of VMWare for interacting with radmind is that you can have sparse filesystems that are split up into files that are not larger than 2GB. This suggests that we won't have to copy more than a few GB of data per machine each night to restore the image of Windows available in the lab. I was worried it would be a disk image the size of the full drive.

At startup, VMWare would ask whether the image had been copied or moved -- I found a post that suggested putting this line: uuid.action = "keep" into the vmx file would prevent it from asking the question. We'll see. I hate not being able to make dialog boxes go away -- its one of the things I hate about Windows.

One important trick I found for running in Unity mode: turn off the desktop background. By selecting "none" and the color black, when you move windows or close windows, the screen updates much faster and without jarring redraws of the a grassy field.

The first time I tried a virtual machine copied over using radmind, it looked like most stuff worked fine. I did notice an error associated with tpconnect (which appears to be something related to printing, but I'm not sure). I haven't tracked that down.

It's been time consuming to get this far, but I'm hoping we'll have a working Windows installation in the lab when students use it tomorrow morning. We can work on refining the details over time, although it stinks to not be able to do file-by-file improvements -- 2GB a pop is better than nothing, but it still sucks when compared to the file-by-file control we get with radmind.


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