Sunday, May 31, 2009

Spock's Two Fingered Monkey Freak

I went to see the new Star Trek movie, which is called, cleverly enough, "Star Trek". Review in a sentence: Kinda fun in a Saturday morning cartoon sort of way, but it has some of the dumbest writing in the history of the world.

If you're a fan, you've already seen it. It's the second time for one of the guys I went with. If you sorta like Star Trek then you can have fun between the winces. If you're not a Star Trek fan... Hard to say. A lot of people went to see the Transformers movie and it sucked.

I'm not going to pick the film apart piece by piece. It's not a terrible film. But on the other hand, it ain't a great film either. Besides, some people find my smartypants type reviews funny.

In To The Breach! A' Spoiling I Shall Go!

This is supposed to be a reboot of the franchise. OK. I can live with that. I'm not a big fan of movies like this. The ones that show that one scene that defined everyone's character. In real life there usually isn't one scene. People grow over time and relationships grow with them.

Oh well, this is mostly like real life actors running around like pissed off Muppet Babies, so we have to let that slide.

My first kibitz is that it didn't feel like a Start Trek movie. It has all the names and a few of the places, but the rest was generic shaky camera CGI. The original Star Wars had it's feel. The Star Trek movies, even the ones that sucked (and boy did some suck), still felt like Star Trek. This one really didn't.

It has the obligatory Kobayashi Maru (bite me, I looked up the spelling) simulator scene. In the original universe Captain Kirk is the only person to beat the simulator. W00t! The universe is in awe. He later confesses, in one of the most painfully stupid scenes in all of the Star Trek universe, the he cheated. That's right, Captain James T. Kirk is not a great star ship captain, he's a cheating weasel. Anyway, his defense? He doesn't like to loose. I hate blue balls but that doesn't give me the right to date rape.

I wonder if a more qualified recruit was screwed out of his own ship because Kirk blew a professor to get to the top. I'm sure that Diane Duane's written book about him. "Lieutenant Pango: Boned by Kirk!"

In this movie they change it up a bit. In this version, Kirk cheats, but does so in such a psychotically obvious way that everyone knows he cheats. There can be no other option. He played "Duke Nukem" in god mode. It's like he went to the final and yelling "I sure hope the second answer isn't 'Your mother and a horta!'. Oh golly gee whiz, it is! The guys in Animal House could cheat with more elan then he.

In fact, it's not even cheating. It's a psychopathic desire to fail. I wouldn't want this clown running a space fairing warship with guns in the front. I wouldn't want him driving a bus! The last words I want to hear as I wing into a yawning chasm with a bus load of other victims isn't the driver saying "I sure hope this isn't a yawning chasm below us!". It is Jimmy, but gravity is going to fix that in a couple of seconds. Splat!

Also, everything in this movie was dirty. I know that we can use CGI to make things look like crap, but that doesn't mean we have to. One of the things that I liked about the old Enterprise is they kept it clean. Even the bad guys understood hygiene. They may have had only had 3 sets, but they kept them swept and they brushed their teeth.

Here, everything was filthy, everyone needed a shave and everyone needed a spanking! Needing a shave isn't a special effect!

I know it's supposed to make it more "adult", but it doesn't. I've been (in the legal sense) an adult most of my life. I've never worked in a place as dark and dank as the Romulan super-CGI-future-miner-ship. I can see dark coal bins, but why wasn't there proper lighting on the bridge? I have florescent lights in my cubical, and it doesn't have warp drive.

And there were pipes everywhere! I mean everywhere! Remember, these ships are huge. They don't hang with gravity. The have all the room they need, but man they have a lot of pipes. It's like the all of galactic space is run by Thomas the Tank Engine. Enough with the steam punk. In the future they have wallboard!

And the people! Yeek! I've also worked with some pretty wretched people, but even in the worst of places, most people walk around with their asses blissfully board free.

How about that high tech computer talk? And when they start talking about computers, they made it sound like the Enterprise is written in AppleSoft BASIC. Instead of saying plebeian stuff like "Captain, the subroutines are interfering with our, um, SoundBlaster 16, um, thousand.", they should use hip psychological terms like "Captain, someones' boned the computer's universe of discourse and it's gestalt is full of paradoxes." It's bullshit, but it's future bullshit.

Did I mention the space chicks? Can we please have a movie with more than one female lead? And could we not make them poon targets?

In this film the nookie target was, of course, Uhura. Spock gets his freak on with her in this flick. And it isn't some Vulcan two finger smoochie. Spock does it monkey style! The thing is, it contributed nothing to the plot, it was gratuitous, and Spock looked too much like Kevin Nealon, Yea, I bet "The Kev" has to beat the chicks off with a stick.

Don't think I'm against hot SciFi bitches. Wally Wood is my spirit animal. Hell, lets do a full frontal nudity version of Star Trek where the Romulians perfect the lezbo ray and the Federation sets it's love guns on "lube". I'm there with extra popcorn.

But either do it or don't. Lets see 'um naked, or give them roles that don't involve them playing kissy face all the time.

How about weapons? I know it's kewl and all, but why would you carry a sword that folds up into a tiny sword? Wouldn't you use that space to carry a second gun? Knives have their place. I carry a geek army knife with me wherever I go. But not for battle. Any Marine worth their salt will tell you, if you carry a knife for combat, replace it with another clip of bullets.

Ze Plot!

I'm going to egress talking about the plot, such that it is.

Do you remember the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie? If the zombie pirates had just asked Will Turner to come with them and drop one drop of blood so they could be freed from the curse, and in exchange they would give him a bag of gold, he probably would have. No muss, no fuss, just ask nicely. The whole movie would have been about 10 minutes, including credits.

Star Trek has one of those plots.

An angry Romulan (who's really just a guy who needs a shave) comes back in time to oowie the Federation because Romulus's sun unexpectedly went nova (if you just heard a popping noise, it's the head of any physics major younger than Lord Kelvin). He blames the Federation.

Fair enough.

He's a miner, so he comes back in his mining ship (a ship for digging dirt). OK. Most mining ships are kind of like lunch boxes with engines, they just move dirt. Not Romulan mining ships. These bastards are bigger than most planets and are covered with super death weapons. Kind of like the Dodge Wrangler. Most Dodge Wranglers are encrusted in torpedoes right? That's why the get such rotten gas mileage.

Any way. Planet go boom. Ships go boom. Plot goes ARRRRRRG boom. Spock gets jungle fever. Roll credits.

Um, why couldn't the Romulan guy come back through time, take his super-CGI-future-miner-ship back to Romulus and just tell everyone "Hey, I'm from the future, look at the date on my drivers license and how much I need a shave! On stardate a hundred years from now, at around 3:15PM, the sun is going to go nova and melt our planet (pop pop pop!). Write that date down. No! Use the red felt tip marker and underline it! Now that that's settled, I happen to have this super-CGI-future-miner-ship that is chock full of 100 years in the future type technology. What am I bid?"

The whole movie would be about how this poor swine died from too many ticker tape parades while getting Romulan nookie while playing the stock market.

I'm just saying.

I Conclude!

Anyone who says this movie is more than a CGI pretty-bang is either a Trek fiend or they're going to grope you in the theater. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Last word? Meh. But a fun Meh.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Schleprock says: Lets Open that Id.

Through out my digital travels I tend to trip over more than my share of quirks, bugs and "obvious" ideas for improvements. I'm gifted in a Schleprock sorta way.

Unlike Schleprock (probably a pinko!) I also try to be a good netitizen and report what I find.

The problem is there are too many barriers to being a good Samaritan. The biggest one I run into is having to set up an account just to make a bug report. I have 71 separate accounts to date, of which I really use 2 or 3. I'm reticent to add more accounts just for the privilege of helping someone fix their code.

I understand the reasoning for the accounts. It's to cut down on Spam. On the surface it looks like a good solution, but in reality it's almost as bad as the problem. It cuts down on Spam, but it also cuts down on user participation. No participation is killer for open source projects.

One solution that I've seen it to allow anonymous posting, but have each posting validated before being passed through. This is a great solution. It allows anonymous posting, but puts a minor impediment in the way. If you want fast turnaround, set up an account, if you can wait, then post anonymously.

The only reasons validation isn't more popular are self important administrators, who don't make the time to deal with the human component of their project, or huge projects that legitimately generate a large number of anonymous emails. These huge, anonymous, projects are fairly rare, and Spam filtering is easier for them than for normal mail. The size of my penis is not a bug.

But how do you deal with a site, that for some obsessive reason, wants you to set up an account. If only you could create one Id and have an *OPEN* way to hand it around? Open, Id? Hmmmm. OpenId? It's got a nice ring to it.

The OpenId project exists to solve the problem of having too damn many Ids. It's really clever on how it solves it too.

You start out by going to an OpenId provider and signing up for an Id. Arg! I know, you have to sign up for another account! But this is the wish for more wishes. Once you get an OpenId account, then you can use it on any OpenId enabled site that's out there.

Let's say I'm trying to log on to Newsite is OpenId aware.

I type in my OpenId ( in my case). Newsite then decodes my Id and redirects me to I log into using the password I set up there. Once I'm logged in, I'm redirected back to and I'm in. If the password is good enough for it's good enough for

In fact, I don't believe ever sees my password. They're probably pinkos!

How do you get an OpenId. One of the nice things about OpenId is, you may already have one. If you have a gmail account, they're an OpenId provider (It's your email address and password.) Yahoo is another. If you don't have one of those, then web search for "OpenId Provider". They're plentiful. Hell, OpenIds are cheap. You can make one for work and one for home and one for the kids and dog.

The only real problems I've run into with OpenId are:

1) They're not robust enough for super secure sites. I don't use OpenId for banking.

2) Not enough sites use it. This one is easy to fix. Whenever you have a site that is OpenId aware, use it. If you have a site that's not OpenId aware, complain to the admins. The code to implement your own OpenId log on is freely available on the net. The more sites that have it, the more users that use it. The more users that use it, the more sites that will get it.

Seriously, if you have a ton of user IDs and passwords, then it behooves you to pester all the sites you know to set up OpenId. If not, you'll end up like me, stooped over from the pain of dragging around all my BugZilla accounts.

Wowzie wowzie woo woo.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Clones Ate My Files: A Sci-Fi Geek Thriller.

OK, so I'm banging out code for the betterment of my corporate overlords. It's a conceptually simple program: You give it a command and a list of servers and it runs the command against each server.

Not impressed? Well Monkey Boy doesn't get the corporate shekels without doing major mojo. This program runs in parallel. It juggles 64 instances of the command at a time. It can ping all the severs on a netmare in less than a minute, keep track of the results and print them out in the order that they were input. I get wet just thinking about it!

All praise Monkey Boy right? We'll I did run into a problem. A sneaky problem that involved failed clones, suicidal files and a forgotten inheritance. It's good stuff. The problem is, if you don't program in Perl, you're not going to give a crap. Oh well, I've never let my complete lack of an audience slow me down before. Why start now?

Like I said before, the beast is written in Perl. Perl's not an elegant language, but if you need to leap out of the bushes, rape and strange a problem and get on with your life, then Perl's your language of choice.

The basic layout is: Start a sub-process for the first 64 severs and have each one write to it's own temp file. When one sub-process finishes, read it's results from the temp file and let the temp file disappear. Then add a new sub-process for the next server. Once all the servers are done, print out the results in order and accept smoochies from hot code groupies/naked underwear models. Simple.

The Boy of Monkey knew that he'd need lots of temporary files to hold command results. He'd also like the files to go away by themselves when he's done with them. Perl lept to his aid with File::Temp. File::Temp is kind of the anonymous underage prostitute of programming. When you say "Gimmie" it gives you access to the goodies and provides an assumed name. When you're done using it, it disappears into the aether. It all works great, until someone, or something, starts killing the temps prematurely. Then you get a mystery to solve. Foreshadowing!

I got the code working and was getting ready to document (Yes, Monkey Boy is a pro, not documenting makes you a douche bag), when I though, what happens if the sever command can't run? If the user misspells "ping" as "pong" will they get a reasonable message?

Couldn't open file '/tmp/': No such file or directory
strike you as reasonable? Me neither. Nuts!

The actual error message made sense to Monkey Boy. He spawned the beast. '/tmp/' is one of the randomly generated temp file names. When a sub-process finished, the program asked the temp handle for it's file name. It tried to opened the file, but for some reason the file was gone! Somehow the files were being killed before Monkus Boyus could get to them. No one should know about these files. They have specially constructed names, known only to the monkey... or the monkey's clone.

The way you run a sub-process in Linux is using the fork() command. You're running along happy as a clam, as if a mucus coated bivalve is your apotheoses of happiness, and then you hit fork(). At that point your program is cloned. You have 2 running copies of the code. The only difference is that fork() will tell the parent the ID of it's child. The child is handed the ID of 0, which tells it that it's the clone.

This is kind of Star Trekie at this point ain't it? We've got parents making 64 clones (top that Octomom!) and we've got children that are one bit away from being perfect copies of their parent. It gets better. The clone's next job is to call exec() which completely obliterates it and replaces it with another program. It's this second program, the sever command, which does the real work I want done.

A clone has one job. It's job is to die and be forgotten. Programming ain't for wussies!

When all goes well, the program runs like a well oiled roach motel. The clones check in, but never checkout. They disappear on the spot and are never heard from again.

That's when all goes well. What happens when the exec() command fails?

It's simple really, the clone lives on! It also keeps it's copy of the temp files, which it believes it owns. When it dies, it takes the temp files with it. Clones can be selfish little pricks.

Eventually the grieving parent checks on the child. It notices that it's died and then tries to check the temp file for the reason. The temp file is gone baby gone, it died at the hands of junior. You can only die once in temp file land.

As for the reason the exec() failed? It was written into the temp file. You know, the temp file that's in temp file heaven? Hmm. What to do? What to do?

Suddenly Monkey Boy (you remember Monkey Boy, he's the hero of this epic) has an insight. When you delete a file it doesn't really disappear until the last program that has a hold of it lets go. It's removed from the directory, so it can't be seen, but it's still out there, in limbo, awaiting for the sweet kiss of digital death.

Who else is holding on to the file? The parent of course! The question was, could Monkey Boy get to the parent to cough up the handle and could it be used for reading?

Detective Monkey Boy began investigating. He checked the usual suspects. "perdoc File::Temp" didn't provide much. It was higher level than a kite. The Internet tubes were blocked by flame wars and almost naked pictures of some platinum blond from California. No go. Detective Monkey Boy knew what he had to do. He had to go (non-prequil) Jedi. "Use the Source Luke!" is the rallying call of the Open Source movement. But Monkey Boy's name ain't Luke.

Into the source goes the hero. Past lines of documentation. Past obscure code references. Further he goes, until he finds, what he knows in is heard must be, "use IO::Handle". Rocken!

For those that don't know, deep in the belly of the beast, a file comes down to little more than a number. When you open up a file, voodoo happens, and an entry is put in a table called the File Descriptor Table. What you deal with, either directly or through some Perl interface, is an entry in this table. If you can figure out the index number to this table, you can find your file. File::Temp was a cold fish, but what about it's ancestors? File::Temp inherits from IO::Handle. To get to the real power, you got to seduce grandma.

"Hey there Granny!"

Once I go my hands on Granny's nodes (yech!) she gave up IO::Handle. IO::Handle has the fileno() function. You got the number, you get the data.

After that it was just a hop, skip and a file dupe to get to the data so ingloriously killed off by the wayward clone. It takes more than the death of a temp file to stop a motivated Monkey Boy!

All praise Monkey Boy.