Category: Announcements

Flubs

It's interesting, the kind of small but glaring errors that take you out of something.

Mad Men has an absolutely fantastic crop of writers, editors, directors, and actors -- so it's jarring when not one of them notices that, say, "1960, I am so over you" is a phrase that no human being has ever uttered. It's one thing to use a 1963 Bob Dylan song as background music in an episode set in 1960; it's another to actually have a character use slang that would be out-of-place in a show set in 1990.

A less severe but still amusing flub: in last week's Thundercats, a character said he had worked his math out to "the thousandth decimal point". I think I can see the error in his calculation: he used more than one decimal point.


Also: I changed the name of the "toons" category to "cartoons", because this is not Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The only reason I used the shortened form of the word in the first damn place was for a set of link banners I made back in 2000 that only one guy ever actually used.

Features

Tweaked the Features Page a bit. It's still outdated as hell -- I think the newest stuff on it is from 2006 -- but at least now there aren't so many broken links or as much use of present tense.

Added my last few forum avatars, too. Which I guess technically means that the newest thing on the page is now a comic book panel from 2009.

I'm tempted to at least rearrange the page a bit at some point. And part of me is tempted to tweak the layout a bit so it matches the current site style -- but part of me figures that since the page is basically a historical artifact anyway, maybe I'm better off leaving the old site style on it too.

And another part of me is pointing out that that's one of those bookkeeping things that takes too damn long, isn't worth it, and distracts me from actually adding more content to the site.

And hell, I've just managed to post three updates in two days. By the standards of this site, I'm on a roll.

Selling Out

It's interesting -- those last two posts have actually gotten a couple of people to tell me I should post more. A friend I hadn't talked to in a few months, somebody from the messageboard, and, to my pleasant surprise, a stranger. (Or possibly someone pulling a surprisingly elaborate hoax, which I suppose is still flattering in its own way.)

Partly because of the feedback, I'm going to try and write more here.

I've fucked around on the backend a bit; you've probably noticed posts have tags at the bottom now. I've gone through all the way back to when I first started using blogging software in '06, and tagged all of them. I'm half-tempted to go through the older ones, from when I entered everything by hand, perhaps for no other reason but to tally up how many posts each I've devoted to Mike Allred and Kurt Busiek, but that sounds suspiciously like a lot of work for very little payoff. The reason I switched to blogging software in the first place was because I found myself spending a really inordinate amount of time cutting-and-pasting from one page to another.

Speaking of which, I've also updated the KateStory page, fixed broken links, summarized Book XVIII, and added some new character entries, which is exactly the kind of irritating bookkeeping that drives me to go play Nintendo instead of updating the site. Wonder if it'd be worth it to set up a DB so I don't have to manage every character's list of appearances manually. Then again, we haven't done one of these in nearly two years.

And speaking of old crap that seemed like a good idea at the time, I've renamed the "My Personal Life" category, because that was always a pretty stupid name for "What book I am reading/What game I am playing" but which I kept for a dozen years due to a combination of inertia and mild amusement that I could refer to my categories with the shorthand "Life/Stream".

I've changed it to the more boring but more accurate "Status Updates". That still doesn't seem like a very good name, so if anybody's got a better idea I'm open to suggestions.


I ever tell you why this site is called corporate-sellout.com?

I was chatting with an old friend of mine. Girl I went to high school with; we were in drama together, and I went to my junior prom with her.

By this point we were in college. I was a freshman or a sophomore, thereabouts, and she would have been a year ahead of me.

We were still in touch but pretty testy with each other -- you know that age, where you're out on your own but still kinda stressed-out and pissed-off about everything.

Plus, I was still getting over a bad breakup. With her roommate.

Anyhow, we were talking about our majors. She'd picked creative writing and I pooh-poohed it a bit.

Not because I don't believe in writing, of course. She and I are both storytellers, at heart.

But for other reasons. I thought of college as a means to an end, a financial investment for a financial reward. And, well, I was lucky enough that I really enjoyed something that also was, unlike a creative writing, a lucrative degree. (That'd be CompSci, for those who haven't been keeping score.)

She responded, rather angrily, with "Well, it sounds like I'm studying to be an artist, and you're studying to be a corporate sellout."

It wasn't the worst thing she called me in that conversation (it was followed shortly by "asshole"), but it stuck with me.

Mostly because I make a terrible corporate sellout.

Up to that point in my life, I'd never even worked in private industry; all my work had either been for my family or for the government.

I've worked a few corporate jobs in the years since, but I'm still a bottom-rung IT temp. If I were going to sell out, it would have been for a lot more money than what I'm making.

Funny thing is, last I heard she was doing much the same work I am -- she's probably a bit higher up in the chain, actually, because a few years back she took an entry-level phone support job that I refused.

I can't say I regret refusing that job, because seriously, entry-level phone support sucks and I thank the all-powerful Atheismo every day that I no longer work in a phone bank, but I will say that the job I took instead because I thought it'd pay better and give me more room for advancement was...a miscalculation.

So it goes, I suppose. But I'm still a storyteller at heart.

I enjoy the hell out of writing. And I never really stopped doing it -- I just cut way back on doing it here.

I'm pretty damn prolific over on the forums, and I spend more time arguing with idiots in the ComicsAlliance comments section than I'd care to admit. I think I'm much better off trying to redirect at least some of that effort back this way.

I've probably got a pretty good backlog of standalone posts over at Brontoforumus (and maybe even Pyoko, if I feel like slogging through Wayback pages) that I could just copy-paste up here. I expect I'll do a bit of that, in addition to original posts.

What "Hacker" Means to Me

Recently, I made some comments on the unfortunate change in popular usage of the word "hacker", from a positive term for a skilled programmer, to a negative term for a skilled programmer, to a negative term for someone who can figure out Sarah Palin's zip code.

I like to think of myself as a hacker in the original, positive sense, and I have a story about what that means.

Ten years ago, I upgraded my OS to Windows 98. Unfortunately, during the upgrade my hard drive, which had been compressed using DriveSpace, one of the worst pieces of software ever, was corrupted.

Now, I'll grant I'm a pack rat, but there wasn't much of sentimental value on there. There was, however, the most recent installment of KateStory, Book IX. It turned out Steve had a backup, but it was incomplete.

That gnawed at me for years. I kept the hard drive and never wiped it, and every now and again I'd hook it up and see if I could find a way to recover the data. I could never get it to mount. My instinct was that I shouldn't be working with the physical drive anyway, that I should copy the data from it to an image so I could make additional copies and freely mess with them without worrying about losing the original data. But none of the disk-imaging tools I could find would image a disk that wouldn't mount.

By the summer of 2004, I was familiar enough with Linux to know that dd was the tool I wanted, that it would make a bit-for-bit copy of the data on a device regardless of whether it could make any sense of it. I copied the drive to a file and went to take a look at what I could do with it.

File recovery software pulled up some images and some old E-Mails, but not the ones I wanted. In fact, searching the raw hex, I found the text "Subject: Re: KateStory IX: Third Anni" followed by gibberish; the data literally went from plain text to incomprehensible compressed bytes in the middle of the subject line I was looking for. I abandoned the project for a few months.

As the fall rolled around and the KateStory's tenth anniversary approached, I got to thinking about it again. I looked up information on how to recover DriveSpace volumes, and happened upon Dean Trower's DriveSpace 3 Disaster Recovery Kit. Since it required DriveSpace to run, and since DriveSpace won't run on modern versions of Windows, I set up VMWare on my computer and installed Windows 98 on it. My memory of what I tried then is fuzzy; I'm not sure what I did wrong but I still didn't recover the data.

It seems like I tried a couple more things over the years that followed. I think there was a period where I thought maybe the compression I couldn't get past wasn't DriveSpace's but Netscape's. (In retrospect, I believe Netscape Mail's "compress folders" option didn't actually compress text, it just deleted the text of E-Mails that had been deleted from the mailbox but not removed from the mail files.) I definitely remember at least one occasion where I dumped the entire 545MB hard drive image into a Thunderbird folder -- now, whether or not I qualify as a hacker, I think we can all agree that qualifies as a hack. When it didn't work under Thunderbird, I found old copies of Netscape 3 and 4 and tried it there; that didn't work either.

About a month ago, with KateStory XVII beginning, the anniversary approaching once more, and my going back through Books XIII-XVI to put them on this site, I got the urge to take another crack at IX. I did what I'd done before: set up VMWare, set up Windows 98, and got a copy of the Disaster Recovery Kit.

Without getting into too much detail, a DriveSpace "compressed drive" is actually a single file stored on a physical hard drive, then mounted as a virtual drive. As I said, I couldn't mount the drive. The docs for Trower's program mentioned creating an empty DriveSpace volume and looking at its file header; I got the idea from there to look at the header bytes on a fresh file and see where I could find them in my disk image. I found them -- the beginning of the compressed file -- and deleted everything prior to them on the image. (It bears noting that at this point I had numerous backups of the image and wasn't hacking up my only copy.)

Following the advice in Trower's Readme, I started with the simplest solution: copy the compressed file to a host drive and see if Windows mounts it. He cautioned that it might not work and Windows's attempt to "fix" the corrupted data could hose it; he was right. I was thrilled to see the filenames in the root directory show up, but I couldn't access the data in any of them.

On to step two: I tried using Trower's decmprss program. I tried it several times and discovered that it kept outputting empty files; they were the same size as my image but made up entirely of zeroes.

There was a line in the Readme: "DCMPRESS ought to work under Windows, but nevertheless I recommend running it in MS-DOS mode." All right. I did a Shut Down/Restart in MS-DOS Mode, but Windows 98 and VMWare weren't quite playing nice; any time I did that DOS would run for a minute or two and then freeze up and require a simulated hard reset.

So I went back to Windows, and checked to see why decmprss was outputting empty files. I started by trying it on a new compressed image that I knew didn't contain any corrupt data. I got the same result, proving that it wasn't just a problem reading my corrupt image.

Trower's toolkit included the source code, so I jumped into it to see if I could find out what was wrong. For the first time in years I found myself coding in Pascal -- coincidentally the same language Dr. Wily teaches at Prescott High School in KateStory IX. I didn't do anything particularly clever, just added some traces to see where the problem was occurring. I confirmed that the problem lay not in the Pascal portion of the code, but in the x86 assembler.

All right, I thought, my guess is that Windows 98 doesn't like the direct system calls that the assembler portion of the code is making. So that takes us back to trying to run it under DOS -- and if that doesn't work, the only thing left to try is to learn x86 assembler and pore through the DriveSpace API.

Booting to DOS from Win98 shutdown still didn't work, but it turned out that picking it from the boot menu worked just fine -- once I went into OSX's keyboard settings and disabled F8 for pulling up Spaces so I could use it in VMWare.

That worked, and generated a file that contained KateStory chapters that, I could confirm, were not in the copy I had.

That would be where the rest of Trower's toolkit came in -- reassembling files that had been partially compressed -- but I was confident that KateStory IX had been entirely compressed. So now it was time for my Thunderbird hack.

So I copied the entire, 1GB+ uncompressed image into Thunderbird's mail folders. Success -- Thunderbird correctly parsed out all the files that were E-Mails. I sorted them out, exported the ones that had "KateStory IX" in the sub line, and copied them out of the Win98 VM into my "real" system. From there I went through them all, cut out the stuff that was redundant or off-topic (which was most of it), and lo: today, this fourteenth anniversary of the original KateStory and eleventh anniversary of this installment, I have KateStory IX in its entirety.

So, back to my initial point: what does "hacker" mean to me? Well, eleven years ago my friends and I wrote a goofy story. Ten years ago, I lost it. And over the intervening years, I used my skill and my determination to get it back. (A friend once told me that when I want something I go after it like a pit bull, I don't let go. Comparisons to pit bulls may be the only thing Sarah Palin and I have in common.) I'm not some scary terrorist stealing your credit card or breaking into the Pentagon, I'm a guy who used his skill to recover a lost piece of his childhood.

Of course, I'm sure there are those who will say this doesn't make me a hacker. And maybe they're right. In the final analysis, all I did was use the dd command, set up a virtual machine, install Windows 98, do some very cursory hex editing, boot to DOS, use someone else's recovery tools, and copy a giant file into Thunderbird's mail folders. When all's said and done, I only wrote a few lines of code, and all they wound up doing was confirming what the Readme had already told me. So maybe that's not enough to qualify me as a hacker.

But you know what? If that's not enough to qualify as hacking, then plugging Sarah Palin's zip code into a password hint field sure as shit isn't.

WordPress Upgrade

Upgraded WordPress. Looks like everything's still working, albeit ungodly slowly; think that's a server problem, though, so it should hopefully fix itself. Let me know if you find anything broken.

More KateStory

KateStory Books XV and XVI are now posted in their entirety! I have made corresponding updates to the index and character guide.

XVII is still ongoing (go over and write something!), and the KateStory anniversary is coming up in a few short weeks.


Playing: Dragon Quest IV. Brad bought it for my birthday! Thanks Brad!

KateStory XVII

The other night, I idly mused that the KateStory was nearing its fourteenth anniversary. This excited frequent contributor McDohl, and he went on to start Book XVII. Please do feel free to join in.

Meanwhile, as I write this, the Pyoko boards have been down for some two months with no indication of when they may be back up, leaving Books XIII-XVI unavailable.

Until now! Today I revamped the KateStory page, and also cleaned up Books XIII and XIV and put them up locally. XV and XVI still need some work (and probably quite a bit more than the other two did), but I'll get them up too.

Please do enjoy the silly installments that currently span the years 1994-2004 -- and the new story for 2008!

How I Spent My Island Vacation, Part 2: Thad Makes Banal Observations About Airport Security

Some musings, observations, and general thoughts:

  1. Who decided it was a good idea to tell people, "Oh, you're going to have to check this" after baggage check?
  2. Seriously, guys. It's jelly. What conceivable kind of danger can this jelly possibly pose?
  3. So the problem is the size of the container? So if I had, say, three smaller containers and split the jelly up into them -- the exact same matter, just in different containers -- you wouldn't have thrown it out?

Anyway. Thanks for making us so much safer, TSA.

...Then again, I guess my airport experience could have been a lot worse.