Thursday, May 22, 2008

Remap Keys in Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron)

My new Dell Inspiron 1520 keyboard is a little different from my old laptop, and now there's a "menu" key where I'm used to the "delete" key being. had a good explanation of how to remap a key, but my case was a little different. Here's what I did:

1. Get the proper key codes

First, I had to find the key-code for my Menu key and my Delete key. At a terminal, type (thanks to Tom for the "| grep keysym" addition to make the output more succint):
> xev | grep keysym

This lets you press keys and get the codes for them. Pressing my Menu and Delete keys, I got a lot of data. Buried in it were the following lines:
keycode 117 (keysym 0xff67, Menu)
keycode 107 (keysym 0xffff, Delete)

Okay, pretty simple. "Menu" and "Delete" are the pertinent bits of data.

2. Make the change

Next, I used VI from a terminal to open ~/.Xmodmap (which didn't exist--I had to create it).
> vi ~/.Xmodmap

(If you don't know VI, I'm sure the regular Text Editor would work just as well.)

In ~/.Xmodmap, I put a single line:
keysym Menu = Delete

Then save the file.

3. Apply the change

Finally, from a terminal, run the following command:
> xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

External Drive Power Problem

Both Child and I have an external hard drive. The key to both the problem and the solution is that our drives use the same-sized plug, but hers is 9 volts and mine is 12 volts.

Child's drive stopped working on her MacBook. The drive power-light would light up (briefly) when it was turned on, but it wouldn't register with her MacBook. I tried it on my Dell, and Windows would recognize that a device was plugged in, but it wouldn't install it correctly. We took it to SimplyMac, and it wouldn't work on their computers either. Again, the drive would light up, but not register on the computers. I even tried MY external drive (but using her power cord!) on her Mac, but it didn't work either.

The key turned out to be the power cord. The issue was very subtle, because her 9 volt power cord was apparently enough to turn the drive on, but not powerful enough to make it function correctly. Which is strange, because it was the power cord that came with the drive.

However, using my 12 volt power cord, the drive would not only turn on, but function correctly. Maybe this will help someone else...

Monday, May 19, 2008


I didn't really think about it until Child mentioned it, but a lot happened today.
  1. My laptop was shipped today. Estimated TOA: Wednesday to Friday
  2. Passed a potential (Spanish-speaking!) hire along to the animal shelter. They get a lot of Hispanics, including a lot who don't speak any English, so they really need a Spanish-speaker.
  3. Got an appointment to get our neighbor's cat spayed. No more litters of kittens! Yay!
  4. Talked Apple into giving Child an upgraded laptop for free, since her current MacBook has had so many problems. Now we can have new laptops together!
  5. Got halfway through shortening my 80-page thesis into an 8-page journal submission. Not required, but my advisor strongly suggested it. Since he determines whether I graduate, I usually take his suggestions.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Writers of the Future Finalist!

So I got a voicemail on my cell phone this morning. "Hello, Ben, this is Joni from Writers of the Future. I have really good news for you, and it's not honorable mention. It's better. So call me back."

Always a good sign!

I called back, and apparently I'm a finalist! Yay!

In a month we'll get the final results--whether I actually place, or just stop as a finalist.


SunStarr got married yesterday, and Child and I attended. It went well, from a guy's point of view at least.

There was one amusing incident. At least I found it amusing.

Photographer: "Alright, pose here now."

Me: "SunStarr, it's like you're in a photo-shoot."

Photographer: "Well, it only happens once!"

Actually, it was SunStarr's second marriage. It went silent, except for a few coughs. A cricket chirped. The photographer realized his mistake.

Photographer: "Or...twice." He pauses for a moment, and obviously realizes that he has no idea how many times SunStarr has been married. He tries to make it into a joke. "Or six or seven times!" There's another pause. "I, uh, meant it was your first time in this dress."

Actually, SunStarr had worn the same dress the first time she had been married. Poor photographer. They better be good pictures.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Child does Tae-bo most mornings, and this morning I decided to join her.

I punched myself. Tae-bo is harder than it looks.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ethical Dilemma

I have an ethical dilemma. I do occasional freelance projects, including sub-contracting from a friend who in turn contracts directly with clients. A couple weeks ago, we had a three-way call with a client to discuss a project. My friend introduced me as the programmer who would be working on the project, and I gave the client my contact information so we could discuss the project more directly.

Anyway, due to certain circumstances, I didn't end up taking this project from my friend. Time goes by, my friend doesn't get the job done, the client starts getting irritated with the delay, and finally emails me, asking if I'd like to work for him directly, rather than going through this friend.

What's the ethical response?

My immediate response is: No. It would be unethical for me to take this job. My friend lined it up, presumably has the intention of doing it, so I shouldn't interfere. However, do the following facts change the situation?
  1. It's been 4 weeks since my friend lined up the project, and still hasn't completed it. The client obviously needs it done quickly, and doesn't care who does it.
  2. My friend owes my $1,000.
I still don't think that changes the ethicalness of it, not to mention I just wouldn't want to get caught in the middle of anything.

My response was initially going to be that I'd be happy to take on future projects, but I was going to take a hands-off approach to the current project. However, just now while I was typing this blog post, my dilemma was solved.

My friend and I started talking on IM, and I delicately mentioned that his client was getting impatient. My friend promptly asked if I wanted to take over the job. Dilemma solved.

Although that's good, I was actually looking forward to seeing other peoples' takes on the situation. Feel free to comment if you'd like. :)

P.S. Amazon is interested in doing an interview with me. Is an interesting job/good pay/good benefits worth living in Seattle and giving up the freedom that freelancing would give me? If all I had to do was the programming side of freelance work, I'd stay as a freelancer in a heartbeat, but I also have situations like the one I posted about above...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Laptop!

With my laptop starting to get issues (ethernet port not working, wireless iffy, standby not working, 'enter' key falling off), I decided I needed a new computer.

For a while I debated between a desktop and laptop, but finally decided that the convenience and travelability of a laptop beat the cheaper price and better specs of a desktop.

After doing some online and in-store searching, I finally decided to custom-build a laptop on I started with one of the cheaper ones (since my computing needs are pretty light), then upgraded a couple things. The final laptop had a price of $750.

Right before I bought it, though, our in-house online coupon expert walked in. "Hey, find me a good Dell coupon!" I said.

After a little searching, he uncovered a coupon that gave 25% off a Dell laptop of $1000 or more. A little math revealed that a $1000 laptop at 25% off was...$750.

I went on an upgrading spree. More memory! A larger hard drive! A better processor! Finally, my computer hit $1000, the coupon kicked in, and the price dropped back to $750.

So thanks to Philip, I have a much better laptop for the same price I was going to pay originally. For those who care, here are the specs:

  • Dell Insipron 1520
  • Dual-core Intel processor (2.0 GHz/800 MHz FSB/2 MB L2 cache, up from the original 1.73 GHZ/533 MHz/1 MB)
  • Windows XP (I deliberately chose this over Vista, and plan to dual-boot Ubuntu)
  • 4 GB RAM (up from the original 2)
  • 15.4" screen
  • 160 GB hard drive (up from the original 120 GB. I don't need a lot of space; I'm not a "media" person)
  • CD/DVD drive (reader/writer)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Quark BBQ

On Saturday, Quark had a barbecue. It was a lot of fun, with Ultimate Frisbee, marshmallow guns, and food.

In this last picture, look about a foot from the bottom of the tree, near the middle if it. You can just barely see the top of a PVC sniper rifle, delivering high-velocity marshmallows to the backs of peoples' heads. The guy even had camo on an everything.

I should have taken my potato cannon...

Saturday, May 10, 2008


On Monday, Xirax taught me how to play badminton. I thought I was doing pretty good, but when it came time to pick up Child from work, I told him we should play to 11 before I had to leave.

"Okay," he said. "I'll spot you 10."

He still won. I have a long way to go...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Writers of the Future Winners by State

The first few sets of honorable mentions for the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest have been posted, and I thought it would be interesting to break the results down by state. In other words, which states had the highest ratio of winners to population?

There have been 121 Honorable Mentions (so far) from the 2nd quarter, and to increase the sample size I also looked at the 114 Honorable Mentions from the 1st quarter, for a total of 235. (For those who care, the results are shown in 10,000ths percent of state population.) Again, this is the ratio of winners to population, not the ratio of submitters to population.

The top five winners:
1. Utah: 5.5
2. Montana: 4.2
3. Alaska: 3
4. Oregon: 2.4
5. Washington: 2.2
Apparently, living in a Western state makes you a good writer. Or perhaps the good writers all move to Western states... Anyway, Utah blew away the competition, and Montana, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington weren't far behind. (I don't want to say that Utah being in the lead was entirely due to me *cough cough*, but I did get an honorable mention last quarter... :)

A handful of states didn't produce any winners at all (again, there might be more H. M.s to come from this quarter), but we've hidden them at the very bottom. Curiously, being Western isn't enough, since both Wyoming and Idaho (two of Utah's neighbors) didn't have any winners. A full listing of the results is below.

When we look at the percent of total Honorable Mentions by state, however, we start off as expected. California and Texas, with the largest and second-largest population respectively, have the most and second-most winners. California had over 9 percent of the total Honorable Mentions, and Texas had over 7 percent.
1. California: 9.1
2. Texas: 7.2
3. Washington: 6.7
4. Utah: 6.7
5. Massachusetts: 5.7
Also, while we're at it, everyone should check out the Writers of the Future forum! Kathy haunts it, Joni has been known to appear from time to time, and some past winners are always ready to give out advice. If you want some great discussions and the inside scoop on WotF, go there! Also, here's an RSS feed of the forum comments if you'd prefer that:

All 50 states in order:
1. Utah: 5.5
2. Montana: 4.2
3. Alaska: 3
4. Oregon: 2.4
5. Washington: 2.2
6. Massachusetts: 1.9
7. Oklahoma: 1.7
8. Colorado: 1.3
9. Wisconsin: 1.3
10. Delaware: 1.2
11. Minnesota: 1.2
12. Connecticut: 1.1
13. North Carolina: 1.1
14. Arkansas: 1.1
15. Michigan: 0.8
16. Hawaii: 0.8
17. New Hampshire: 0.8
18. Maine: 0.8
19. Maryland: 0.7
20. Louisiana: 0.7
21. Missouri: 0.7
22. Iowa: 0.7
23. Virginia: 0.7
24. Arizona: 0.6
25. Pennsylvania: 0.6
26. Texas: 0.6
27. California: 0.5
28. New Mexico: 0.5
29. Kentucky: 0.5
30. Illinois: 0.5
31. Nevada: 0.4
32. Florida: 0.4
33. New Jersey: 0.3
34. Tennessee: 0.3
35. Indiana: 0.3
36. New York: 0.3
37. Ohio: 0.3
38. South Carolina: 0.2
39. Alabama: 0.2
40. Georgia: 0.1
41. Kansas: 0
42. North Dakota: 0
43. South Dakota: 0
44. Vermont: 0
45. Wyoming: 0
46. Mississippi: 0
47. Nebraska: 0
48. West Virginia: 0
49. Rhode Island: 0
50. Idaho: 0

Friday, May 02, 2008


This is Wally. He is named Wally because with his feet splayed out like a ballerina's, he looks like a walrus.

We have seven litters of kittens at the animal shelter right now, and who knows how many pregnant cats. Anyone need a kitten? Or 30?

Our "Pet Wish List" is a clipboard where people can write down the type of dog/cat they want, and if we get it in, the idea is that we'll call them. Here's what our Wish List usually looks like:
  • Small dog
  • Small dog
  • Small dog
  • Inside dog
  • Small-breed dog
  • Anything small
  • Small dog
  • Small dog
  • Chihuahua/Pekingese/Pomeranian
  • Small dog
  • Small dog
So, yeah, good luck with that. We get maybe two or three small dogs a week, and they're usually snapped up before they have time to warm the floor. I told Pat we should start breeding them. Might not do anything to solve the animal over-population, but we'd make a killing. The sad thing is that these people aren't coming to us because they want to rescue a dog, but because the cost to rescue a dog is about 1/4 the cost to buy one.

The funny thing was that one of the workers at the animal shelter was going through the list today, and came across an entry: "Black Lab mix." Not even a pure-bred black Lab? A black Lab mix? Well, that describes about half the dogs at the shelter! And the other are chocolate Lab mixes.

I might exaggerate, but only slightly. There have been times when half the dogs are the shelter were Lab mixes (black, chocolate, white, yellow).

One more incident of note happened at the shelter today. A man from a Brittany Spaniel rescue called, asking if we still had a Brittany that he was planning to rescue. When informed that it had already been rescued by a different organization, he started a surprising rant about how he was "the only official Brittany rescue in the state!" and how Brittanies were special dogs and required special knowledge to care for them and you couldn't just give them out to anyone and had we done a background check on the person?

Wow, friend, cool down. Be happy the dog is out of the shelter. I'm sure the other rescue took all the required college-level courses on Caring for Brittanies and passed any necessary Brittany Appreciation certification programs.