HTTP 410: Gone – Geocities

I just ran a link checker for one of the websites I’m running, and got the first ever http error code 410: Gone that I’ve seen, for something that was a Geocities page.  This seems to be in the correct spirit of 410 as embodied by Mark’s blog post on it.

For those that have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry, it’s geekery about the specifics of how the web works under the covers.

Ebook pricing

Dear Publishers,

I really do expect that your ebook pricing is going to be at least 50% lower than you list price for your print book.  O’Reilly’s 20% lower model just doesn’t do it for me, and the fact that I can buy the dead tree copy of almost any of ora’s books at Amazon for less than the ebook directly from the publisher, makes no sense.

Why is it that I demand this price differential?  Because the book is not lendable.  I’ll be a good citizen and not hand around your PDF to friends, at least not if I keep a copy, because I do get that that violates the spirit of the sale.  I’m actually ok with that, because I like your content and I want you to keep making it, and am happy to tell others they should buy a copy of the PDF as well.  But that limitation limits the value of the book substantially.

I’m also not buying anything with DRM, period.  There is no way I’m buying something that’s tied to a device that is going to go out of fashion some day.  And, if I buy something electronically from you I expect that you’ll keep a copy of it for me forever.  Pragmatic Programmers does quite a good job on most of these fronts.

Otherwise, I’m going to keep going to the library, like I’ve been doing.  It has many of the advantages of ebooks, i.e. not taking up space in my house, and it’s 100% discounted.  Plus, the Librarians are one of the few groups that are trying to ensure we have a sane copyright policy in this country.

Automating mailman with ruby mechanize

One of the things I’ve found is that people forget events quite often, so I try to make it easy for people to know when and what the next MHVLUG meeting is.  One of the ways I’ve been doing this by setting the footer on our mailing list to list the next couple of meetings.  This has worked out well, except for when I forget to go and update it.

Mailman doesn’t have an API, but you can get past that by using ruby’s excellent mechanize package, which lets you nicely script complex interactions with websites.  With an hour of time I pulled together this script which now runs every night and automatically syncs from our icalendar feed and updates the mailing list footer appropriately.


require "pp"
require "rubygems"
require "mechanize"
require "tzinfo"
require "icalendar"
require "open-uri"

@@upcoming =<<END
Upcoming Meetings (6pm - 8pm)                         MHVLS Auditorium

def next_meetings()
    open("") do |file|
        cal = Icalendar.parse(file)
        # ruby collections are sometimes quite compact, so here is the
        # short hand:
        #   Icalendar returns an array, so get the first element
        #   then get the events array
        #   then filter that by only events in the future, and Wed at 6pm
        #   then only get the first 3 ([0..2] is an array slice)
        events =
            select { |a|
                (a.dtend > and
                (a.dtstart.wday == 3) and
                (a.dtstart.hour == 18)

        events.each do |e|
            str = e.dtstart.strftime("%b %e - ") + e.summary
            str.gsub!(/  /, " ")
            @@upcoming += "  " + str + "n"

def update_mailman
    a =

    # this is the page we want to go, but we aren't logged in yet, so it will give
    # us a login form
    login_page = a.get("")

    # find the form that gets us back to where we want to go, and set the adminpw field
    nondigest_page = login_page.form_with(
                         :action => "/cgi-bin/mailman/admin/mhvlug/nondigest"
                     ) do |f|
        # set your password here
        f.adminpw = "XXXXXXX"

    # we only care about updating 1 field, name=msg_footer, so find the right form
    # update the field, and submit
    p = nondigest_page.form_with(:action => "../../admin/mhvlug/nondigest") do |f|
        footer = f.msg_footer
        footer = footer.split("MHVLS Auditorium")[0]
        footer.gsub!(/Upcoming Meetings.*/, @@upcoming)
        puts footer
        f.msg_footer = footer

# pull from ical

# push to mailman

And now, one more manual task is being done by agents automatically for me.

The Onion on the Science Channel

Via The Onion:

SILVER SPRING, MD—Frustrated by continued demands from viewers for more
awesome and extreme programming, Science Channel president Clark
Bunting told reporters Tuesday that his cable network was “completely
incapable” of watering down science any further than it already had.

“Look, we’ve tried, we really have, but it’s simply not possible to set
the bar any lower,” said a visibly exhausted Bunting, adding that he
“could not in good conscience” make science any more mindless or
insultingly juvenile. “We already have a show called Really Big Things, which is just ridiculous if you think about it, and one called Heavy Metal Taskforce, which I guess deals with science on some distant level, though I don’t know what it is. Plus, there’s Punkin Chunkin.”

Punkin Chunkin, for Christ’s sake,” added Bunting,
referring to the popular program in which contestants launch oversized
pumpkins into the air using catapults. “What more do you people want?”

The entire article is hilarious, go read it.  Seriously, this is how I typically feel when I see stuff coming through on any of the Discovery properties.  The History channel isn’t doing much better of late either.

Being more entertaining than a cell phone

Tuesday night was the first night of the Mid Hudson Astronomy Association in their new digs, the Coykendall Auditorium at SUNY, New Paltz.  I really like the venue.  The lighting and environment is much better than the library.  With 34 people in attendance last night, we had a quite good turn out.

The lecture itself was given by Cathy Law about teaching Astronomy to middle and high school kids.  In an hour we got about 5 weeks worth of material thrown at us (some of it was skipped over), but all of it was quite good.  I especially appreciated the use of Monty Python and the Universe song to end us off.  Cathy was an incredibly compelling speaker, and her students are definitely lucky to have her.

The thing that made me think the most was her comment that one of her biggest challenges in class is being more entertaining than a cell phone, though, ironically, I was on my cellphone at the time verifying the statement I’d just made on the modal lock of Mercury.

The pseudo science pattern

I’ve gotten asked a few times since I took up Astronomy whether or not I believed in UFOs.  While I may have had a wishy washy negative in the past, after getting into amateur astronomy that became a definitive no.

Once you get a telescope and start observing, you come to realize a number of things.  First off, there are many people like you looking up into the sky on every clear night.  In the united states that number is in the 10s, if not 100s of thousands.  After a couple weeks of observing you get a pretty good sense of the sky, and can quickly identify not only the major bits of natural structure out there, but the major man made pieces that show up from time to time.  You can tell the difference between a high flying plane, a satellite, the space station, and the occasional iridium flare.  After a year you have a mental map in your head about what should be up on any given night, including the planets that move around.

This understanding of the structure of the sky actually gives you a very good filter for anything that would be out of the ordinary.  There are people that are scanning every night for that unusual, which is how they find new comets, asteroids, and even super nova with backyard scopes.  In addition there are groups that by eye are measuring light fluctuations in variable stars, the most skilled members can measure to within 1/10 of a magnitude.  There are tens thousands of people expert in finding the extra ordinary looking for it every night, and they are find it, but it’s not space ships.

The #1 object in the sky that is misidentified as a UFO is Venus, a planet.  It’s bright (often the 2nd brightest thing in the sky besides the moon), and it’s not in the same place every night, and if it’s at the horizon it can look like it’s popping in an out of existence due to the same reason you get the wavy lines above pavement on a hot day.

But the real root cause for this misidentification is a lack of understanding of the environment.  Knowing very little about the sky, people just fill it in with hopes and dreams.  The same effect makes people fill in their lack of understanding on plate tectonics to attribute it to government energy weapons, or pacts with the devil, depending on their inclinations.  Or their lack of understanding of quantum mechanics to decide the earth is 6000 years old, or thousands of other things that people mistakenly think quantum physics means.  It is a common recurring pattern with pseudo science.  You can see it all over the place once you realize it’s there.

Which is a shame.  There is incredible splendor in the universe, both in the skies, on the ground, and in the microscopic, that there really is no need to fill the skies with UFOs to make them wondrous.

My Father makes the paper

The Burlington Freepress is a Gannett site (like our own Poughkeepsie Journal), so this link will probably be useless in a week.  However, right now there is a 4 page article on the EC Fiber project, to bring Fiber to the home for 22 rural towns.  My father gets the photo and quoted a few times in the article.


Jim Dague, a Granville road commissioner and the town’s liaison to the East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network, or EC Fiber, is waiting along with 21 other rural Vermont communities to hear whether the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service will award a $69 million stimulus loan to the high-speed Internet project.

The article itself is largely an attack piece against the project, citing a failed venture in 2004 in New Hampshire, and quoting another company that is competing for the stimulus money.  It is curious how the troops get rallied by the telcos any time a municipality wants to build out their own network.  Having watched, and participated in, the brain drain of central Vermont due to lack of modern infrastructure, I’m very much hoping EC fiber gets the stimulus funds and succeeds.