Ghost in the machine

I want to let this one go but I can’t; it’s stuck in my head.

I was at Home Depot for the third time in 72 hours or so at lunch. On Friday I picked up the wrong module for the media distribution center, and when I went in this morning to return it and get the correct one, I picked up the right box. But when I got it to the car and was driving to the office, I opened it at a stoplight and realized there was no module inside—just a punch-down tool.

I thought, Great. Not only would I not believe myself if I went back with the opened box and told them there was no module inside when I bought it, but I had used the self-checkout and so there wouldn’t even be a cashier to vouch that they had seen me.

But I went back and stood in the return line, and did a slow burn as I waited, and waited. And when I explained to the return cashier, whose first language was not English, she called over the MOD, and then the head cashier.

I started telling the story to the head cashier, but she cut me off. “You were here this morning, weren’t you? I saw you.” Yeah, I said. “Go ahead and get a correct module. Sorry for the trouble.”

I had set myself up for nothing but trouble: go in first thing in the morning, take the purchase path that involves no human contact, walk out with no proof that I hadn’t just taken the module out of the box. But because someone happened to see me and vouch for me, the system made an exception.

Hugely important, that human ability to make judgments and to decide that there should be exceptions. It doesn’t get implemented in code that way, and we forget about it all the time. But we are more than just ghosts in our machines. Sometimes we’re here to make decisions they can’t, so that people who need help can get it.

See if you can’t lock down that plaster chunk, Artoo.

i think this shopvac has a bad motivator!

Looking at HouseInProgress’s post about their weekend painting exploits, I was struck by the incursion of a familiar silhouette into the bottom photo in the article, just beneath those fantastic windows. Yes, the familiar big ass ShopVac, steady presence in all good home renovation projects.

Which of course leads me to the comparison: ShopVacs are the astromech droids of the houseblogging world. Tireless workers dealing with thankless jobs, they’ll all essentially identical except for the colors.

(I can’t be the only one to be geeky enough to make this comparison, can I? No, I see I’m not. I’m probably the first one to note that the high-pitched whine a one-gallon ShopVac makes when you accidentally tip it over and lodge the vacuum float in the top of the unit sounds a lot like Artoo’s squeal when he gets his droid ass shot off in the Death Star trenches, though.)

The blog in the machine: redesign of, the official site of the DNC, has relaunched, as I hinted this morning. Much more prominent messaging on the party’s agenda, strategy and initiatives.

The code-head thing I hinted about? Well, for one thing, the site is now being served as XHTML 1.0 Transitional (though there are some minor validation weirdnesses). For another, if you view source on the main site pages (i.e. the pages that aren’t part of the Blog Formerly Known As Kicking Ass), you see mt-* URLs, including mt-search.cgi. Word has it that the whole DNC website has been ported to a customized, mostly static version of Movable Type.

I could be wrong, but I think this is the first time a blogging platform has taken over an entire web presence for a major American political party. (For all I know, that sentence doesn’t need the qualifier “American,” but I don’t have enough information to go out on that limb.)

Peer to peer found harmful

So Grokster loses. Software developers are responsible for the actions of their users. Hollywood’s dying business model lives to hemorrhage money and customers for another few years.

At least the ruling attempts to provide a test that should help lay down a line for evaluating whether peer to peer developers are subject to litigation:

“One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright … is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties using the device, regardless of the device’s lawful uses,” Justice David Souter wrote in the ruling.

I will be interested to see Lessig’s take on the test. It seems to me that it might be possible to interpret that test pretty broadly.

Media wiring day 1: Go Fish

Yesterday was the second day in a row it’s hit or exceeded 100° F (that’s about 38 C, for those of you following along in metric countries) here in Boston. On the face of it, not a rewarding day for home improvement projects. But the open stud bays in two of our bedrooms aren’t going to go away by themselves. And my spur-of-the-moment declaration that I was going to run wiring for phone, cable, etc. up the bays before I closed them has taken on a life of its own. Lisa was particularly enamored of the idea of a phone upstairs, as our new air conditioning, while not loud by any stretch of the imagination, still generates enough white noise to make hearing the phone downstairs more difficult.

So I started running cable yesterday afternoon after returning from church. And quickly learned a few things. Like: it might have made sense to drill my own holes for the wiring between floors, rather than sharing space with the pipes the AC contractors ran. (No real issues until I got to the final run into the basement, at which point things started to get very tight.) Also learned the benefit of dedicated wiring conduit and true bundled cable. I fished my lines from basement to second floor one at a time, since I didn’t have a whacking great hole to drag them through, and it took me almost all afternoon. And I still haven’t run the speaker wire, which I decided to add to the mix at the last minute because I thought it might come in handy.

But I have coax cable, terminated on both ends with F-connectors, and category 5 cable run to the office and the master bedroom, as well as cat 3 which I’ve punched down into the phone block. Next steps: pull the speaker wire; mount the receptacles and pull the cables through them; and gird up my loins and pull the cable wire across the ceiling of the library into the distribution center so the cable connections will light up. I’ve resisted doing the last point for long enough. After that I’ll insulate the bays (since there was only horsehair insulation, I feel bad closing them up without providing at least some modicum of real R-factor) and hang drywall, and start plastering. Then we get to paint. (Joy, joy.)

Unfortunately all these next steps are going to have to wait till Wednesday, since I have rehearsals at the beginning of the week.