Bacon and ice cream

So Burger King decided that a bacon sundae is a good idea. I have to mention it because this blog’s original name, back in October 1999 was, believe it or not, Bacon and Ice Cream. No kidding, though I’m not sure many people are still around who remember that. A week or two later, I decided that was too weird and re-launched as The Silicon Underground.

The name was a reference to an obscure Lou Reed song called What’s Good, which contained the line, “Life’s like bacon and ice cream. That’s what life’s like without you.”

So the question is, if life’s like bacon and ice cream, does Lou Reed think life is something good, or something bad?

Read more

Top posts of 2010: A retrospective

I don’t normally do this, but then again, I’ve never had these kinds of statistics at my disposal either. So I’m going to take a minute to look back at the most popular posts of 2010, and pontificate a little about what I think each one might mean.

I really only have good statistics since October, so it’s a little unfair, but incomplete stats are better than none. I see some interesting patterns in what people ended up reading, some of it surprising, some less so.

We’ll take it from the top, rather than like a DJ.

Read more

And we have safely arrived in the 21st century.

It wasn’t the smoothest of transitions, but it went a whole lot better than it could have. I’ve moved the venerable Silicon Underground, with its nearly 1,800 posts spanning a little over a decade, to WordPress 3.0.1.

This blog’s been pretty stale for a long time. Some of that is due to the software. Some of it’s my fault. Blogging software has really advanced a lot in the last few years, and the software I’ve been using since 2004 was a bit behind the curve even then. In its defense, in 2004 nothing could do everything I wanted, and the system I chose was one of the few that required login and authentication, which I desperately needed in order to stop spam. But then registration broke, and I didn’t fix it, which meant only longtime readers could comment.

For commenting, we’re going back to username and e-mail address with optional URL, and with some spam analysis tools hopefully filtering out the spam. Users are moderated until their second comment, which will help take care of the trolls. Comments containing multiple hyperlinks automatically go to moderation. And comments will be closed after some period of time, probably 14 days. Discussions usually go downhill as time goes on.

Will I post more now that it’s easier? Probably.

Modern blogs can interact with one another; mine was always an island. Now I can trackback and pingback like everyone else, which will probably prove useful.

I’m sure I’ll be making changes for a while, but this is a big improvement.

I’d like to thank Steve D. and Rich P. (you know who you are) for their help with the migration. It only took me what, three years to go through with it? Four? And then it ended up taking about two hours of real work, if that, spread out over the course of a couple of weeks.

How to get your RSS/RDF feed working with Mozilla Firefox\’s Live Bookmarks

As soon as I upgraded to Mozilla Firefox 1.0, I started noticing that when I visited certain sites that had RSS/RDF feeds, a big orange “RSS” icon showed up in the lower right hand portion of the window.

That’s cool. Click on that, and you can instantly see that site’s current headlines, and know if the site has changed, just by looking in your bookmarks.

Except my site has an RSS feed and that icon didn’t show up. Here’s how I fixed it.At first I figured Firefox was looking for the standard “XML” icon everyone uses. So I added that. No go.

So I investigated. A Google search didn’t tell me anything useful. So I went to Slashdot’s page and viewed the source. Four lines down, I found my answer.

In your section, you need to add a line. In my case, since I run GeekLog, it was this:

LINK REL=”alternate” TITLE=”Silicon Underground RSS” HREF=”//” TYPE=”application/rss+xml”

Just substitute the URL for your RSS feed for mine. The two slashes at the beginning are necessary. The whole line has to be enclosed in , of course. (I can’t show them here because my blogging software is trying to protect me from myself.)

But since Geeklog doesn’t have an index.html file, and its index.php file is mostly programming logic, where do you add your code?

In your themes directory, in the file header.thtml, that’s where. I put mine right after the line that indicates the stylesheet.

The location for other blogging systems will vary, of course. But I notice some seem to do it automatically.

Now your readers can keep track of you without constantly refreshing your page (which they probably won’t do) and without having to run a separate RSS aggregator. Pretty cool, huh?

And we\’re live

I’m pleased to unveil The Silicon Underground, Version 5.0. I’d still like to do some design work and a little more tweaking here and there, but now that we’ve reached the point where what we have now is better than anything we’ve had before, it’s time to throw the switch.

Design. The default layout is CSS-based. Some people don’t like CSS, because Internet Explorer won’t resize text on pages that use CSS. You can pick “clean,” a layout that doesn’t use CSS, from the menu at the top left. It’s about double the size of the CSS-based layout but will render well in browsers that have issues with CSS.

Click one link, and the site stores your preference.

Over time, I will probably introduce new templates. The two I have now are pretty generic; I literally dropped my old logo into existing templates and made just one or two other changes.

Filtering. Maybe you just come here for the computer-related entries and couldn’t care less about what I write about toy trains. Or vice-versa. You can selectively indicate which story categories you want to ignore, and the site will remember your preference.

Search. The search functions on the previous software I was using (b2) were nice at first, but once I had several hundred entries in the site, it started getting less and less useful. This search engine allows you to limit your searches within a topic and to perform three types of search: exact phrase, all words, and any words.

Speed. While the uplink speed of my DSL line is still a limiting factor, now it’s the biggest limiting factor. The database search now accounts for about 10% of the time you spend waiting for the page. Previously it was more than half.

I hope you enjoy it.

New stuff and old stuff

New stuff. Hmm. I think I need to adopt a new stylebook
Old stuff. And, thanks to some SQL heroics by Steve DeLassus, a couple hundred vintage posts from about a six-month span in late 2000 and early 2001 are now online here. I liberated them from my ancient site at (which, I guess, was Silicon Underground version 2.0). This is two generations later. As old entries gain attention I’ll give them categories and proper titles. A lot of the stuff’s obsolete but I’m sure it’ll interest someone. Last I checked, the old site was getting a hundred or two hits per day consistently.

New stuff. And speaking of old site incarnations, once I’ve decided exactly what mods I want to install and use, I’ll flip the switch on the new site, based on the latest version of b2. The most obvious improvement for most readers will be the spiffy new calendar. It’ll also bring in trackbacks and pingbacks for interaction with other blogs. It also makes some changes to make search engines happier.

Introducing the Silicon Underground Portal

Tonight, as I was preparing for my upcoming mission trip (read: doing laundry and waiting around on it), I started messing with a piece of software called bk2site.
Like most cool software, it’s included with Debian. RPMs and tarballs are available if your distro of choice lacks it. Its purpose is to take your Netscape/Mozilla/Galeon bookmarks file and a few RSS feeds of your choice and make a site out of it, much like the Yahoo! of many years ago before its size got out of hand.
Read more

A different Monday, but not much better…

Moves at work continue, but unfortunately the electrical contractors we have are as incompetent as ever, and of course IT takes the brunt of the attack when computers don’t work. They don’t care if it’s an electrical problem or not; all they know is their computer doesn’t work, and of course it’s always IT’s fault if the computer doesn’t work. And with one person to keep 300 desktop PCs in tip-top shape, I usually can’t be up there and have the problem solved within five minutes.
In the last three weeks, we’ve lost three power supplies, two printers, an expensive proprietary modem, and a network card. In two instances, there was an honest-to-goodness fire, with flames and everything.

I think it’s time we sent an electrical contractor or two packing.

Meanwhile I’ve got incompetent department directors who plan moves without giving more than a half hour’s notice, and of course they throw a fit when the move falls to pieces and I’m off solving another problem. I also find myself not caring. Go ahead and yell. Davey’s not listening, la la la, and his boss isn’t listening, and his boss’ boss isn’t listening, and if his boss’ boss’ boss listens and says anything, he’ll have two, maybe three raving lunatics at his door in a heartbeat and I think he knows it.

Deep breath. OK. I feel better now. Kind of.

Let’s see what kind of hints The Big Guy may have been dropping with the day’s other events, shall we?

I had a meeting at church at 7 p.m. So I headed out to my car at 10 ’til 6, put my key in the ignition, and the engine coughed, and then nothing. No electrical system. Hmm. Time to find out how good Chrysler Roadside Assistance is, eh? Well, I called, waited an hour and a half, and they never showed up. So I paced in the beautiful October twilight, waiting for a driver who’d never arrive, thinking there are a number of things I’d love do at twilight outdoors in St. Louis in October (and waiting for a tow truck is very near the top of that list, let me tell you!) but it sure beats sitting in a meeting after dealing with irate, high-maintenance people at work for 9+ hours.

And I noticed something. I wasn’t at the meeting, and yet the world failed to fall apart.

Finally I gave up on the tow truck driver and asked one of my coworkers for a jump. Maybe the problem was a dead battery, even though I didn’t leave my lights on or anything. Indeed it was. I drove home, and about halfway there my battery light came on. I guided the car home, called Chrysler again, and asked them what to do.

On my answering machine, there was a pair of messages waiting for me. It was actually one message, but my answering machine is extremely rude and cuts you off after about 10.5 seconds. OK, maybe 30. But it seems like 10.5 seconds to everyone else but me. So most people leave a message, get cut off, then call me back. Sometimes they call me back a third or even a fourth time. Usually by then they’re pretty steamed. But I digress, as always. The message messages basically boiled down to, “Hey Dave, I understand you’re planning to teach Friday, but I hear things are really hectic so there’s no need for us to stay on the regular schedule. I’ll teach for you if you want.”

I had no idea when I’d get a chance to put a lesson together, to be completely honest. So I called her back and said if she wanted to teach, she could go right ahead. And I thanked her.

Hints taken. So much time doing stuff for God there’s no time to spend with God. So I skipped out on the meeting and now I’m not teaching Friday. I might even show up a little late, for good measure.

And now something completely different. This is starting to sound like the Stress Underground, not the Silicon Underground. So let’s talk about silicon.

Dan Bowman sent me a link to a suggestion that businesses buy old Mac clones, then dump $600 worth of upgrades into them so they can run Mac OS X and avoid paying $199 for a copy of Windows.

Yes, I know I’m teetering on the brink of mental illness here. So I’m assuming that if I were completely sane, this would make even less sense.

The best-selling software package for the Macintosh is (drum roll please)… Microsoft Office. So all you’ve accomplished so far is paying a little less money to Microsoft.

I’ve seen Mac OS X. I’ve tried to install Mac OS X. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. And this was a copy of Mac OS X that came with a brand-new G4. Mac OS X is not production-quality software yet. Not that that’s much of a problem. There’s precious little native software to run on it. For native software, you pretty much have to download and compile your own. If you’re going to do that, you might as well just run Linux, since it’s free for the asking and runs on much less-expensive hardware.

Most businesses are a bit hesitant to put Linux on the desktop yet. Some are starting to see the light. But a business that’s reluctant to put Linux on brand-new desktop PCs even when they can pay for good support they’ll probably never need isn’t too likely to be interested in buying a four-year-old Mac or Mac clone, plus 128 megs of obsolete and therefore overpriced memory plus a hard drive plus a disk controller plus a USB card, from five different vendors who will all point fingers at one another the instant something goes wrong. (And we’re talking Apple here. Things will go wrong.)

And yes, I know there are thousands of people who’ve successfully put CPU upgrades in Macintoshes, but it’s very hit-and-miss. I spent two of the most frustrating days of my life trying to get a Sonnet G3 accelerator to work in a Power Mac 7500. It either worked, failed to boot, or performed just like the stock 100 MHz CPU. Any time you turned it on, you didn’t know which of the three you would get. The local Mac dealer was clueless. I called Sonnet. They were clueless. I struggled some more. I called Sonnet back. I got a different tech. He asked what revision of motherboard I had. I looked. It said VAL4, I think. He told me he was surprised it worked 1/3 of the time. That accelerator never works right with that revision of motherboard. He suggested I return the card, or do a motherboard swap. Of course a compatible motherboard costs more than the accelerator card.

And of course there was absolutely no mention of any of this on Sonnet’s web site. At least you can go to a manufacturer of PC upgrades and read their knowledge base before you buy. Sometimes you can even punch in what model system you have and they’ll tell you if they work. Not that those types of upgrades make any sense when you can a replacement motherboard and CPU starts at around $150.

Suffice it to say I won’t be repeating that advice at work. I just got a flyer in the mail, offering me 700 MHz Compaq PCs preloaded with Win98, with a 15-inch flat-panel monitor, for $799. With a warranty. With support. Yeah, I’d rather have Windows 2000 or Windows XP on it. The only reason Compaq makes offers like that is to move PCs, so I’m sure they’d work with my purchasing guy and me.

Think about it. I can have a cobbled-together did-it-myself 400 MHz Mac refurb without a monitor for $700-$750. Or I can have that Compaq. That’s like getting a flat-panel monitor for 50 bucks. As far as usability and stability go, I’d rate Win98 and Mac OS X about equal. But for the time and money I’d save, I could afford to step up to a better version of Windows. Or I could bank the bucks and run Linux on it.

If you’re already a Mac zealot, I guess that idea might make sense. I’ve spent several years deploying, operating, and maintaning both Macs and PCs side-by-side in corporate environments. I have no great love for Microsoft. Most people would call my relationship with Microsoft something more like seething hatred.

But the biggest problems with PC hardware, in order, are commodity memory, cheap power supplies, proliferation of viruses, and then, maybe, Microsoft software. You can avoid the first two problems by buying decent hardware from a reputable company. (No, Gateway, that doesn’t include you and your Packard Bell-style 145-watt power supplies.) You can avoid the third problem with user education. (It’s amazing how quickly users learn when you poke ’em with a cattle prod after they open an unexpected attachment from a stranger. The biggest problem is getting that cattle prod past building security.) Microsoft software doesn’t exactly bowl everyone over with its reliability, but when Adobe recommends that Mac users reboot their machines every day before they leave for lunch, you know something’s up. Even Windows 95’s uptime was better than that.


A big letdown. A lot of people (myself included) miss the days when you could build an SMP box on the cheap by getting an Abit BP6 motherboard and a pair of low-end Celerons. I read on Ace’s Hardware this week that Via’s C3 processor is SMP-capable. The C3 is a 733 MHz chip, derived from the Centaur WinChip 3 design, that plugs into Socket 370 and costs $54 in quantities of 1,000. Since a lot of places sell CPUs at or slightly below that cost and make their money on shipping, you can expect to buy it for under $60. The drawback with the C3 is weak floating point performance. For applications use that doesn’t make much difference, so for people like me who just want to multitask a bunch of productivity apps wicked fast, it would be nice.

But I was skeptical. Earlier Cyrix and Centaur CPUs (VIA now owns both design houses) didn’t support Intel’s APIC protocol for SMP due to patent problems. So Cyrix and AMD invented their own protocol, called OpenPIC, and prototype SMP chipsets existed but were never commercially released, probably due to lack of demand. AMD attempted to solve this problem by licensing the Alpha processor bus (and therefore its SMP architecture) for the Athlon/Duron and getting into the chipset business.

It was a Herculean labor for VIA to get the rights to use Intel’s P6 bus. I’d be shocked if they managed to wrestle SMP out of Intel as well. But if these rumors were true, it would have ushered in a whole new era of inexpensive SMP, albeit with a slightly limited audience due to the C3’s poor (but better than the AMD K6-2) gaming performance.

But VIA’s site made no mention of SMP. None of the reviews of the C3 or its predecessors mentioned SMP. Finally, I found confirmation of the truth on . The C3, in spite of photos of dual configurations originating at Cebit, doesn’t support APIC and therefore won’t do SMP. Bummer.

Want another letdown? OK. The C3 doesn’t do out-of-order execution like every other modern CPU (including even the Cyrix 6×86) does. That’s part of the reason why the C3 struggles to keep up with an equivalently-clocked Celeron, even if the Celeron is running on a 66 MHz FSB while the C3 runs on a 133 MHz FSB. For OOO, you’ll have to wait for the next revision of the processor, due later this year.

The lone drawing point, besides price, for the C3 is its cool operation and low power consumption. It can operate with just a heatsink, no fan. You could team it up with a fanless 135W power supply, a 4400 RPM hard drive (or a very quiet 5400 rpm drive), and an integrated motherboard to have a silent PC. You can’t do that with anything from AMD or Intel. So for quiet PCs, the C3 has an audience.

Hey, someone could take that chip, put it on a microATX board, and put it in a tiny squarish Lucite case with the CD-ROM drive up top, so you put the CDs in like toast in a toaster, and sell the computer on size, quietness, and looks alone. Oh, wait a minute. Someone already tried something like that.

You’ll also notice VIA is scrapping the Cyrix brand name, which is probably a good move. Cyrix chips weren’t bad; they weren’t ideal for 3D gaming but for everything else they were a fine chip. Cheap and fast. Unfortunately they were usually paired up with very cheap and very low-quality hardware (particularly cheap power supplies) and when the systems had problems, everyone blamed Cyrix. But my friends and I, pairing Cyrix CPUs up with Abit, Asus, and AOpen motherboards and Diamond video cards and Creative or Ensoniq sound cards, never had any problems whatsoever with the CPUs.

Discussion groups. I’ve often longed for the days of the old-style BBS. I never ran a BBS myself–in the golden age of BBSing, I was just a teenager, and a good BBS required a US Robotics dual standard modem, a 386, and a gigabyte hard drive, all of which could easily set you back $2,000.

The Internet has so many advantages to those BBSs. When you dialed in, it was very easy to spend an hour online. In the meantime, no one else could use the BBS. With 24 hours in a day, even with an average call length of 15 minutes, fewer than 100 people would get in, and that makes it hard to facilitate meaningful discussion. It happened, but unless the BBS was part of a network, the communities stayed small. The Internet doesn’t have those disadvantages. The line’s never busy (if you’ve got a decent ISP at least), so the community can be much larger.

The discussion groups facility on this site have always been very under-utilized. I think a grand total of four people have posted messages here. That’s largely my fault; I never configured the discussion area, nor did I ever get rid of that stupid skull and replace it with something intuitive (like, say, the word “Discuss…”). I started looking into configuring it, and lo and behold, it’s possible to create a nice discussion board with Manilla. The interface is a little different from UBBS, which seems to be what most of the popular discussion groups of today use, but it’s not bad.

Like most other online bulletin boards, you have to be a member to log in and post. There is no charge to be a member. Let me emphasize that. There is no charge to be a member! Understood? Excellent. There’s also no validation process, none of that other stuff. Manilla does maintain a database of members that I can look at. I’ve looked at it once. I just don’t have time to go snooping around there. I’m too busy to invade your privacy.

Non-members can read messages. Messages posted are indexed by this site’s search engine. It’s really nice.

To become a member, click Join Now to the left. It will ask for an e-mail address. That address is used for two things. If you forget your password, your password hint is mailed to that address. And optionally, you can get your daily (or more, if this board gets popular) dose of the Silicon Underground e-mailed to you. Probably most people will turn that option off. If you’re concerned about spam, or concerned about privacy, feed it a bogus e-mail address. Tell my site you’re or something. I really don’t care. Honest. (A lot of Web robots seem to have problems navigating Manilla sites, so spam harvesters may find this site more trouble than it’s worth, but I can’t make any guarantees.) And if you want to use a handle, that’s fine too.

Discussion groups get their own calendar. When you click on March 29, 2001 in the calendar, you get that day’s messages, plus the rest from the previous week. If you just want to see just that day’s topics instead, click the link that says Chronological View, and it’ll switch. Sorry, I don’t know how to make that a preference that gets saved for you.

The advantages of a discussion group are many. First, this becomes more of a community and less something that’s all about me. When you want to have your say, you can just log in and respond and it’s instantly there. When you e-mail me, I won’t see it until I get home, and then I may or may not post it, depending on a number of factors. When you post, if someone else sees it first, they can respond. So if you’re having a problem and need a quick response, someone else may see it and respond before I get to it.

You’re still free to e-mail me of course, but I had this resource here and it’s really a shame I haven’t been using it. I’ll continue to respond to mail and have it posted, for those who prefer a more moderated discussion (a small few, if page reads are any indication).

You can get to the discussion groups at least two ways. You can click on the Discussion Groups link to the left. Or you can click the Discuss link at the bottom of a message.

Here’s hoping this will become a valuable resource.

Monotonous songwriting

Dave’s not here. Well, sort of. Dave here. For a minute. Di’s taking the weekend off. I sent her a bunch of material that she’ll work in next week. I just spent a lovely day cleaning my apartment, reading a few chapters out of the book of Matthew, and catching up with friends. My ex-bandmate Will Matherly (if we ever were a band, I don’t know) called early this evening looking for lyrics. I gave him some of my old lyrics (a pop/punk number reminiscent of The Cars and a dreary, gothy tune that was trying to sound like Joy Division or The Cure but ended up sounding nothing like either), then I started rattling off some lyrics I’ve been carrying around for two years but never finished properly. I told him I’d fix some dinner, finish them as I ate, then call him back in a couple of hours. The result was a hard-driving punky number called “Not Much Like You” using a really uncreative straight-A rhyme scheme (the exception being a brief “But Wait!” interjection). For some reason, my specialty seems to be breakup songs.
“She stands erect like you / She walks upright like you / She breathes oxygen too!”

Oh well. I’m actually supposed to be trying to write a song that works in the words “Celebrate Faith.” Unfortunately, I’m most effective writing about things that hack me off. While I frequently don’t know or understand what He’s up to, God doesn’t really hack me off, so it’s hard to write songs about Him. Hey, maybe that’s my start.

Anyway. There’s a busload of musings, reader mail and replies, and an announcement sitting in an inbox in Kansas City. Seeing as it’s really late on Saturday and I’m going to be shooting pictures all day Sunday, this is probably it for the Silicon Underground for this weekend.

I’m at Notepad’s limit. See ya.