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A contradictory nation

Science, politics… all the fun all at once.

Among the 30 OEDC countries, the United States is number one in health expenditures, but 28 in infant mortality, and 24 in overall life expectancies. We also work the most hours per week, and are the third richest country. But then, we are obese, and don’t get enough sleep. (No time to do anything but work? How do you suppose that contributes to the life expectancy stats?) The full report is here.

Whatever it is we’ve been doing, it isn’t working, and it will continue to not work. We need to fix any number of things. The most urgent place to start is with universal health care. How can anyone read that we are 28th in infant mortality (better than only Mexico and Turkey) and not support access to medical care, and especially preventative care?

Speaking of medical care, here are two important swine-flu links: one and two. Though if you only listen to mainstream news media, you might like three better.

Completely changing the subject, Neil Gaiman provides the best commentary ever on the recent complaints about GRR Martin’s delays in writing the next “Song of Ice and Fire Book”. Let me quote:

“George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.”

Thank you, Neil. (I adore this man. From afar, and very politely.) (I would like to read GRRM’s book, but c’mon people. Go read something else while you wait!)

New technology, new milestones: the first Twitter from Earth orbit! (My favorite is still the Car Talk caller who was on board the space shuttle at the time. I even heard that one when it first aired.)

(I have 66 Twitter followers at this moment, and have made 1,112 updates. Is that good or bad, do you suppose?)

And finally, my latest musical obsession for you to enjoy.


I have complicated computer requirements. Linux data processing software is essential to my health and well-being. (Yes, I’m serious. Don’t look at me like that.) I have a fancy expensive toy tool with Windows-only drivers, but using Windows makes me insane. I adore my Linux netbook for first drafts, email, web surfing, but it’s too small for complex revisions or graphics work.

Now there is a magical solution to my problems.

My first computer was a Macintosh IIsi, purchased in early 1991. It was sooooo wonderful: it had a color monitor, and I bought the upgraded version with 5 mb of RAM and an 80 mb hard drive. (Yes, those are both MB and not GB. GB hadn’t been invented yet.) I’d grown up on Radio Shack computers (cassette drives!), but this was the first one that I’d bought myself. I used it for years, until I developed those Linux software requirements.

Since then I’ve had a succession of PCs, both desktop and laptops. I even have a 486 IBM Thinkpad that runs Linux quite happily (actually 2, one for parts), and that I have no worries about taking into adverse conditions because it isn’t worth anything. I’ve looked at the pretty shiny Macs now and then, but stuck to my Linuxy ways.

I need a desktop computer to complement my netbook, and have been shopping around for a couple months. The new iMacs are magic: they’ll run OS X, Linux and Windows all at once. I can have the best of all worlds, in a shiny package. And as of Friday, I will! (And, in the way of such things, for rather less than I paid for my first Mac.)

Making Ubuntu work for me

I had several problems installing ubuntu alongside Fedora Core 8. I had to rummage all over the internet to find solutions, so I’m collecting them all into one place here.

Objective: Install Ubuntu alongside Fedora so I can decide whether to upgrade Fedora or switch entirely to Ubuntu on this box.

Step 1: The usual: download ISO, verify md5sum, burn to disk, verify media.
Also: make sure you know the device names of your root Fedora partition (containing /etc/grub.conf) as this will save you a step later (mine is /dev/sda5). (Note that you’ll need to substitute in the correct device names anywhere this or other device names appear.)

Step 2: Make a partition to install Ubuntu on now (mine is /dev/sda1), before booting from the LiveCD. This is important: Ubuntu creates ext3 partitions with 256-bit inodes, and grub will not recognize them. If you already created a partition with the (otherwise very nice) Ubuntu partitioner, you can change it from Fedora using:

mkfs.ext3 -I 128 /dev/sda1

If you aren’t planning to boot using an already-installed grub, you can probably skip this step.

Step 3: Boot from the Ubuntu LiveCD. When you get to the “Prepare disk space” step, choose “manual”. Select your partition, and choose “ext3” and “/” from the appropriate drop-downs. Do NOT format it.

Step 4: Continue through the remaining screens. When you reach “Ready to install”, click on the “advanced” button and deselect the install bootloader check box. Let the installer do its job.

Step 5: After it finishes, it will deposit you in a working LiveCD session. There are a couple things to fix from here before you reboot.
A – The installer did not create initrd.img. To check, you will need to mount the root partition so you can examine it. Open a terminal, and do:

mkdir temproot
sudo mount -t ext3 /dev/sda1 temproot
cd temproot/boot

If there is NOT a initrd.img-[version] you will need to create one. Use the same version string that appears in vmlinuz-[version].

mkinitramfs -o initrd.img-2.6.27-7-generic

Check to make sure the vmlinuz and initrd.img links in / now point to the correct files in /boot.

Step 6: Add the new system to Fedora’s /etc/grub.conf so you can boot it.

mkdir tempfedora
sudo mount -t ext3 /dev/sda5 tempfedora
sudo gedit tempfedora/etc/grub.conf

Mine says:

title Ubuntu
    root (hd0,0)
	kernel /vmlinuz ro root=/dev/sda1  max_scsi_luns=6
	initrd /initrd.img root=/dev/sda1

By using the symbolic links rather than the files in /boot, you won’t need to update grub.conf every time Ubuntu is updated.

And… that should work, or at least it does for me.

Two more minor inconveniences:

gvim (an essential!, installed in the vim-gnome package), did not work properly. The text flickered, but was mostly invisible. Changing the setting in System: Preferences: Appearance: Fonts to “Subpixel Smoothing” fixed the problem.

My static IP settings, specified in the “Network Connections” tool, disappeared each time I rebooted. Adding a second connection with the correct settings, rather than altering the default connection, fixed the problem.

Still not working: audio. But that’s a minor inconvenience on this box. It’s used mostly for data analysis in R and writing papers, neither of which actually require me to be able to listen to anything.

Academics and Technology

Despite good intentions, I haven’t yet mentioned Ada Lovelace Day here yet. In honor of her birthday on March 24, bloggers will be posting essays about women in technology who inspired them. Mine is a bit unorthodox, perhaps, but was an easy choice for me, and gave me an excuse to tackle a recent biography that had been on the to-read list for a while. Come back in a few weeks to find out who!

For anyone who likes learning things, I was just pointed to Academic Earth, a collection of video lectures in all disciplines. MIT’s Open Courseware is a similar project, limited to MIT but offering a range of written, video and audio materials.

Three, no four, but not five

Once again, I fail at “5 things make a post”.

Coraline was fantastic – go see it. The stop motion was incredible. I want to watch it in slow motion to try to figure out what they did. The story was short for the length of the movie: there were a lot of gee-whiz scenes that didn’t advance the plot. They were so gorgeous you hardly noticed, though. I would like to see it in 3D, but not sure I’m going to be able to drive two towns south to the closest theater playing that version. I will definitely be owning it on DVD though.

I finished the first round of revisions on a long story/novelette and sent it to a few friends for comments. This is the first substantial piece of fiction I’ve finished in ages. I’ve written several hundred thousand words in the past few years, but never finished anything longer than flash fiction. It’s a bit intimidating, actually, because if it’s done then people get to read it. Oh my. I celebrated its completion by going out for sushi for lunch, and by starting the next story. I write plenty of non-fiction, and some of it is widely read, but stories are more personal. Still, I was persistent, and finished it, and brave, and shared it, and if anyone comments I will revise it some more. And until then I’ll work on the next one.

Circuit City’s going out of business sale has been pretty disappointing. Their discounts on most of the items I’m interested in buying aren’t great enough to overcome their lousy original prices. I bought a camera from them today, though. The 30% discount beat the online prices for that model, though just barely. I took the Sony alpha 300, and the guy behind me took the 200. Looks like waiting for better discounts wouldn’t have worked. The camera in its CC bag is sitting in front of me as I type. I haven’t take a single photo yet, or looked at the manual, but I will report back.

I used to do a fair amount of film photography, and have a small collection of Minolta lenses. I got that camera body at a going out of business sale too, actually. I just don’t take film photos any more, and have gone through a succession of moderately well-equipped digital point-and-shoots. I take a lot of photos for work and pleasure, but the DSLRs have been out of my price range. They’ve come down a lot as the technology improves, and every so often I think that I should look into finding a digital body that will take my lenses. I finally did, and found that the Minolta D7 would work great. But Minolta was bought out by Sony, and the D7 is no longer made. I looked at some used bodies, but they were expensive and hard to find.

Eventually I discovered that the Sony alpha series would also take my lenses. The reviews are pretty good, and it looks like pretty much what I want. I’m not a good enough photographer to need a higher-end DSLR, but I’d like more control than I get with my little Canon. It’s been great, but has let me down on some specific tasks. I’m looking forward to trying the new toy camera out.

Apparently the new rule is, “3 things make a post”, because I’m out of ideas.

No wait, I have a fourth! I was asked recently what the appeal of twitter was. Here’s one answer.


Is it just too geeky to want to get a new Toyota Matrix so I can name it Eigen?

2009 Toyota Matrix

My little old Geo Prizm is going to need to be replaced by something NOT old enough to vote, and with a bit more room for 2 people and dog. It’s been a remarkable car, but all good things must come to an end. And… Matrix. I mean really.


With the Inauguration of a new US president, we get many new things: a new Cabinet, new inspiration, new hope. And also, new toys.
Edit: The original site seems to have gone away (maybe they weren’t tested for lead?), but others were smart enough to grab the images.

The President gets a cool new toy too. (Cadillac One – Suitable for action heros!) Photos of the finished car are here.