The miracle of electrician’s tape

To paraphrase William Burroughs: “Warning to young couples with Select Comfort beds: watch out for the family dog!” To be more specific, watch out for dogs that like to sleep under the bed and like to chew things.

Last night I went to adjust the pressure in my side of the mattress, using the wired remote. The partly-wired remote. One of our dogs managed to chew through the really tough insulation on the remote and short out the controls.He also made a real mess of our front room carpet, dangers of having pets! We called area rug service to help us with that mess, but for the remote I found another solution.

Tonight I managed to fix it, using a multi-gauge wire stripper, a large set of diagonal pliers (a.k.a. “dikes”), and electrician’s tape (and a little bit of help from my friend who works for Here’s how:

  1. Unplug the pump from its electrical connection.
  2. Cleanly cut the control wire at the chewed part, using the dikes.
  3. Using the wire stripper (or the dikes if necessary), strip the thick insulation from both sides of the cut control wire, revealing the five small (22-gauge) wires inside.
  4. Strip all the small wires using the multi-gauge stripper.
  5. Matching colors, twist the cut ends of the bare control wires around each other (white to white, red to red, and so on), and wrap each with a small twist of electrician’s tape.
  6. Once the five wires are reconnected, wrap the whole shebang with electrician’s tape.
  7. Douse liberally with bitter apple spray or the anti-chew remedy of your choice…

Once I plugged the pump back in and checked the control, it worked on the first try. It’s great, I won’t be needing to call on Contractors Today! I guess those wild summers as an electrician at CEBAF (now Jefferson Labs) weren’t spent in vain.

Jack Valenti meets The Tech

I had to point to this item about MPAA chairman and anti-DVD-piracy bigmouth Jack Valenti being interviewed by the savvy staff of The Tech, the student newspaper at MIT. As one might expect, Valenti came away… schooled, but there’s no evidence of forward motion:

TT: No, you said four years ago that people under Linux should use one of these licensed players that would be available soon. They’re still not available — it’s been four years.

JV: Well why aren’t they available? I don’t know, because I don’t make Linux machines.

Let me put it in my simple terms. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, that’s wrong. Number two, if you design your own machine, you can’t fuss at people, because you’re one of just a few. How many Linux users are there?

TT: About two million.

JV: Well, I can’t believe there’s not any — there must be a reason for… Let me find out about that. You bring up an interesting question — I don’t know the answer to that… Well, you’re telling me a lot of things I don’t know.

TT: Okay. Well, how can we have this dialogue?

JV: Well, we’re having it right now. I want to try to find out the point you make on why are there no Linux licensed players. There must be a reason — there has to be a reason. I don’t know.

[Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the MPAA, later pointed to one company, Intervideo, that has a license to sell GNU/Linux DVD software, although the company does not actually sell a product that Linux users can purchase. Linux users who want to watch DVDs should “perhaps buy a DVD player instead,” Taylor said, or “write to Intervideo and others, encourage them that they’re the market,” he said. Will Linux users ever be able to view DVDs on their computers without breaking the law? “I’m sure that day is not far away,” Taylor said.

A spokesman for Intervideo, Andy Marken, said the company’s product is only for embedded systems and that Intervideo has no plans to release a software player for end users.]

Link credit: Pho, Creative Commons blog, others.

From Motown to poetry to just plain weird: obscure audio downloads

Generally under-reported yesterday: some long out of print singles are now available on the iTunes Music Store. Specifically, the first 45 singles ever released by Motown. Hopefully this leads to more deserving out of print material being made available.

Moving quickly from the sublime to the ridiculous: I voted yesterday for in the Radio category of this year’s Webby Awards. Looking in some of the other categories, I came across What sublime weirdness and wonderfulness: links to the MP3 archive at, including tons of readings by Burroughs, Bukowski, Plath, and even William Carlos Williams; to April Winchell Multimedia, featuring the broadest collection of just plain weird music ever (special favorite: “Keep Your Restrooms Clean, Men” by the Red Lion Gasoline Company); and to Dana’s Downloadable Album of the Month. Which, for (I guess) one more day, features Sheldon Allman’s Folk Songs for the 21st Century.

Fugazi live CDs on demand

DC’s Fugazi is the latest band to make a deep catalog of their live shows available for purchase to their fans. It looks like even with only 20 shows, they’re already running into production difficulties. Small wonder, what with the killer pricing (two CDs for $10 for US addresses).

I’m not a huge obsessive fan, but I might have to cough up for a live version of “Bed for the Scraping.” There are some great reactions by more obsessive fans at Technorati.

Some party

I just used the new Party Mix feature of iTunes 4.5 for the first time. The first song was “Son of Sam” by Elliott Smith, followed by…“Sister Ray.”

Man, that’s some kind of party.

Thom Gunn, to rest

Thom Gunn, British writer transplanted to San Francisco, formalist poet of highly informal topics, is dead. New York Times, SF Chronicle obituaries. Neither captures the full impact of the man and his poetry.

As a young soon-to-be-ex-poet in 1992, I was blown away by The Man With Night Sweats. Such highly formal structure (rhymes, even), on such highly personal subjects. Love, AIDS, mature relationships, all through a lens I had never experienced before (at that point in my life, I didn’t know that I knew gay people), through such highly disciplined language that I didn’t understand it for years. But I already knew it trumped whatever meager potential for highly distilled language I had in me.

Keyword searches + iTMS: bliss

I switched to Safari on my Mac a while back, and I hardly miss the Mozilla platform at all. —OK, that’s a lie. I miss the rapid updates, the cool features like being able to browse the DOM tree on pages I’m developing, and most of all the keyword searches. God, I miss the keyword searches. Typing “az” + a book’s name in the address bar, and getting the Amazon page for the book, is just brilliant.

I missed the keyword searches in Safari until yesterday, when I downloaded and installed Sogudi, a free plug-in that allows you to create customized search terms that can be used in the Safari address bar. And then today I grabbed a search string from MacOSXHints that allowed me to construct an iTunes Music Store search from Safari’s address bar. Bliss.

New playlist sharing in iTunes

iTunes 4.5 is out, with support for lossless imports (via Quicktime 6.5.1), WMA import on Windows, music videos…and shared playlists. You can click any playlist in iTunes and publish it to the iTunes Music Store. You can also click any song title, album title, or artist and jump to the appropriate content in the iTMS.

I don’t have any good playlists on my work computer (mostly random shuffle things) but I have a ton at home, and will publish them in the store tonight. I’m curious to see how the feature (which appears to be called iMix) will handle tracks that aren’t for sale; probably it will just omit them.

Update: Behold, my first iMix playlist, a version of this mix. The difference is all the songs I listed as “missing” (i.e. not available in the iTMS). Vote for it, won’t you? I also noted looking at some other mixes that user submitted mix names get passed through the same profanity filter that song titles do, but that it appears to be possible to elude the filter by choosing your slang appropriately.


It was pretty nasty yesterday afternoon and evening, the first real East Coast-style wind/thunderstorm we’ve seen since we moved out here two years ago. My first clue of the intensity of the storm was a lightning strike directly outside the office across from mine, so close that I could feel the hair on my arms stand on end and my forearm muscles clench. (As my next door neighbor said, “Suddenly I don’t mind not having a window office so much.”)

The drive home was slow, compounded by downed branches. Fortunately, having recently had our trees pruned, the damage in our front yard was minimal—lots of downed leaves but only one branch. The back yard didn’t look too bad, a lot of small clusters of branches off the enormous pine tree, but as I fed the dogs I watched and heard more and larger branches fall. Then a few minutes before Lisa came home we lost power. A few minutes later the storm was over, and it still took an hour and a half to restore the power, but it was still a little adventure.

From the “oh God, my eyes” department

A friend just shared this little jewel of a wedding dress auction, and I had to pass it along. I have to say, the man has guts. I don’t think I’d have quite the shape to pull that off. At least the updates to the page show he’s having fun—and maybe he’ll get a decent proposal out of it…

(Incidentally, a $600 bid for a used wedding dress? I think that may be a prime example of what economists call the “winner’s curse” in effect.)

New album from Justin Rosolino

It’s a good day when an old friend releases a new album, and today is definitely a good day. Justin Rosolino, with whom I sang for a year in the Virginia Glee Club before his muse led him elsewhere, has just released his second album, Wonderlust.

The record, which features contributions from members of Sixpence None the Richer and Jars of Clay (as well as legendary studio musician Matt Rollings), is Justin’s first since 1999, but he’s kept busy, apparently finding time to play for clowns in Brazil and in the US (kidding about the second one…I think). The album features full band reworkings of “St. Francis” (released on the late lamented and two songs from his first album, “Legacy” and “Come Sweet Day.” The second album is available from CDFreedom and will be available soon from; the first album is available used from Amazon.

How Google works

A few times in the last month, I’ve had conversations with people that went something like, “Oh, I wonder how Google’s editorial staff keeps up to construct relevant search results for all those terms.” Apologies to the speakers, but that’s a little like wondering how those elves make the cookies taste so good.

My former coworker Craig Pfeifer points to the original journal papers that underlie the theory of how Google ranks content on the web, including PageRank, some data mining algorithms, and Google itself. If looking at these papers tells the reader anything about Google, it’s that the relevance isn’t built editorially. The rules of the underlying algorithms might be tweaked a little bit from time to time, but the heavy editorializing of results isn’t really necessary.

Interesting point: a lot of the exploits that have been done on Google in the last few years, such as propping up a page by using lots of pointers from the home page of low-ranked sites and Google-bombing through the use of link text, are either implicitly or explicitly called out in these papers. In the case of the former, Brin and Page admit that it might be possible to outsmart the relevance algorithms with a lot of low-ranked sites, and say “At worst, you can have manipulation in the form of buying advertisements (links) on important sites. But, this seems well under control since it costs money.” Apparently they didn’t predict link farms or blog memes too well, but that isn’t to say that their work is a miserable failure

More house stuff

Lisa and I spent Saturday and Sunday on our front porch. Alas, not in rockers. More like off our rockers.

Saturday began with the ceremonial Removal of the Cruddy Outdoor Carpet, that green plastic thing that used to cover our porch. No more! Now the two-inch gap in the flooring in front of the old front door and the six inch wide strip of dry rot along the far end of the porch are out in the open! Oy.

We chose to go ahead and paint the walls and old front door first, rather than continue to look at primer spots. We began by painting the porch walls and door, and amazingly, the paint that Lisa and her mom got from Lowe’s actually matched the old paint on the walls. When we were done, I couldn’t tell the patched and repainted parts from the untouched parts around them.

We also cleaned a ton of trim and upper wall that had been allowed, in the shade of the overgrown front trees, to mildew. And I nailed in a patch to replace the missing wood in front of the doorjamb. We also bought a replacement carpet (much as I would love to just paint the exposed flooring, I don’t think sheet plywood is anyone’s idea of House Beautiful), though we didn’t get to install it.

In fact, besides some lawnwork and weeding, we didn’t get to do anything else at all. As we collapsed exhausted on our sofas late Sunday afternoon, accompanied by dogs who were ecstatic that we were finally paying them some attention, I think I muttered something about taking a two day vacation to make up for the lost weekend. But I can’t be sure, as I was already asleep.

Project updates

It’s been a few days since my in-laws returned to New Jersey. While they were here, they kick-started a ton of projects around the house, including replanting the beds in front of the house (formerly hidden by our trees), getting the junk out of the pathways around the garden beds, and the front porch repainting and baseboard preparation I mentioned on Sunday.

On Tuesday night I took the new nailgun and started installing the baseboards. The only problem I ran into was lack of accessible studs on some walls—meaning that two of the molding strips have one end that is attached to nothing, at least until I find a way to glue or otherwise affix them more permanently to the wall. I was also disappointed to note that the electric nailgun was not quite sturdy enough to drive a 1″ brad all the way into the stud; I ended up having to hammer every one down for the last quarter inch. But the work went much faster and was much more precise than if I had to drive the nails by hand. Next steps: fix those two loose ends, caulk the gaps between the boards and the walls where the walls aren’t quite square, and touch up the paint.

Incidentally, a long belated shoutout to the folks at, who blogrolled the Houseblog department a while back and whose energy and dedication to their remodel has frequently shamed me into taking action on our projects, which are much less onerous than theirs.

Important policy issues on the comics page

This week in Doonesbury, original cast member B.D. loses his helmet (without which he has not been seen, though over the years it morphed from a football helmet to a police helmet to a GI’s helmet, in over 30 years)… and his left leg, from the knee down. In response, local papers in Colorado and other places are pulling the strip because of profanity.

Huh? That’s a little like refusing to show photos of returning injured or dead soldiers because it might upset people. Oh wait… that’s already happening. In fact, the person who took that photo has been fired.

Why is it that it’s only the comic strip artists who have the guts to talk about the real human costs of this war? (via Metafilter)

(Note: I am not saying that it’s good, blanket statement, to show pictures of dead Americans. But I think we dishonor the dead by pretending that their sacrifice never happened.)