The occasional scrivener

Being the thoughts and writings of one Gustaf Erikson; father, homeowner, technologist.

Tuesday, 2024-08-31

Crumbling dominion

Imperium, by Ryszard Kapuscinski.

A travel writer mostly known for his writings on the Third World, Kapuscinski tells us about his encounters with the Imperium -- Russia, first in its Czarist incarnation, then as the Soviet Union, and lastly stumbling towards a new system, which seems unlikely to be democracy in the Western sense.

From the harrowing account of his childhood in Soviet-occupied Poland, to the recollections of camp inmates in Magadan and the tragedy of Armenia, Kapuscinski paints a bleak picture of a great country plundered and murdered by generations of ruthless rulers.

This passage sums up the Soviet period. A batch of deportees has arrived in Magadan after a freezing sea voyage. They are counted, slowly, by illiterate guards:

The half-naked deportees stood motionless in a blizzard, lashed by the gales. Finally, the escorts delivered their routine admonition: A step to the left or a step to the right is considered an escape attempt -- we shoot without warning! This identical formula was uniformly applied throughout the entire territory of the USSR. The whole nation, two hundred million strong, had to march in tight formation in a dictated direction. Any deviation to the left or the right meant death.

A democratic future in Russia seems unlikely:

The Russian land, its characteristics and resources, favor the power of the state. The soil of native Russia is poor, the climate cold, the day, for the greater part of the year, short. Under such natural conditions, the earth yields meager harvests, there is recurrent famine, the peasant is poor, too poor to become independent. The master or the state has always had enormous power over him. The peasant, drowning in debt, has nothing to eat, is a slave.

On the future:

And yet this country's future can be seen optimistically. Large societies have great internal strength. They have sufficient vital energy and inexhaustible supplies of all kinds of power so as to be able to raise themselves up from the most grievous setbacks and emerge from the most serious crises.

Update: Just saw a TV programme about Kapuscinski, A Poet of the Frontline. So now I'm adding The Emperor to my reading list.

Monday, 2024-08-30

Dealing with comment spam

Let's face it: it's a war we can't win. But in the meantime, here's how I handle the (modest, for now) amounts of comment spam on my site.

I've set up wbnotify to mail me when I get a comment. When spam arrives, it's usually consistent in the form of included URLs, i.e. the same link is posted more or less at the same time.

I got a script called from somewhere (if someone recognises this as their handiwork, please contact me so that I can attribute this correctly). This script makes it very easy to search your writeback files for the offending string, and to optionally delete them.

This solution is dependent on you having command-line access to the writebacks themselves, but I suppose it can be used "offline" if you download the files via FTP and run the script locally.

Friday, 2024-08-27

Spam with attitude

The usual spam arrives, sneaking past bogofilter with a headline advertising the usual stuff (I don't even know what C1alis is). On a whim I open it. (To set the stage, I should mention I use gnus, a mail and newsreader for emacs that is, of course, text based).

The spam consists, in its visible entirity, of the following:

Your mailer do not support HTML messages. Switch to a better mailer.

Uhm, I'm pretty happy with my present "mailer", thanks.

Changing machines

Arghh!! Engineering a hardware upgrade suddenly doesn't seem worth it when you have to contend with re-installing every little damn piece of software that's needed to make Windows bearable.

My gnus can't display HTML mail anymore, and trying to fix that leads to installing lots of little packages from cygwin just to compile a program that dumps core.

The Oracle client is the install program from Hell.

The new monitor can only do 85 Hz @ 1200x1024, but then you get weird moving Moir� patterns all over the screen. Higher resolutions don't have this, but then you only get 75 Hz.

Firefox will export bookmarks, but not the ones in your toolbar -- which are all the ones containing the weird internal application URLs that no-one can remember.

Update: all of the four monitors we bought have the same defect. As I generously traded in my previous monitor to a co-worker who was suffering under a execrable Dell 17" "short-neck" (read as "shit-neck") I now have to put up with an older 17" Dell monitor which is much worse than my previous one.

Also, re-packing monitors suck. They are heavy and hard to fit into the boxes again.

Thursday, 2024-08-26

The triumphant return of Sony Ericsson

Mobitopia logo

A few years ago, Ericsson was losing it in the mobile handset space.

The phones it produced were technically excellent, but lacked the styling and ease of use of Nokia's handsets. Finally Ericsson faced it's failings and teamed up with Sony to form Sony Ericsson.

One of the first phones was the T68, later upgraded to the T68i. This phone was criticised for being slow, but had excellent Bluetooth support and quickly became a popular business choice. It also had a rudimentary email client.

Early last year, S-E released the T610. This trend-setting cameraphone set the stage for the triumphant return of Sony Ericsson. The combination of camera, large colour screen, snappy styling, email, and polyphonic ringtones made this a very popular phone choice. In Sweden, where I live, it's not unusual to see 12-year olds with T610s.

The T610 was followed by the Z600, the T630, and now the K700, all upgrading the basic concept. Meanwhile, Nokia has stumbled, arguably missing the cameraphone trend and perhaps pushing the smartphone concept a little too hard.

At my workplace, a medium-sized tech company in Stockholm, the T610 "family" of phones is predominant. As a support engineer, I can attest that it fits our profile very well. The email client especially is appreciated by our sales force. And the ability to sync contacts and calender with MS Outlook is also a plus. Bluetooth support is excellent, and infra-red connectivity is included as a matter of course. The UI is colourful and stylish, although texting and text input is still slow.

For us, and for many other people, the latest S-E phones are "smart enough". The additional bulk and complexity of Nokia's Symbian smartphones can't compete with S-E sleek styling.

Smartphones will remain a niche product for a few more years, but eventually, mid-level phones from S-E and others will gradually approach their functionality from below.

The dark century

Brev fr�n nollpunkten by Peter Englund.

A collection of essays about the defining moments of the last century: the First World War, the Great Terror, the Holocaust, the Allied bombings of Germany and Japan, and the atomic bomb over Nagasaki.

Also contains an essay about the eery similarities of Nazi and Stalinist architecture.

Wednesday, 2024-08-25

Digital camera specs

I'm planning on buying a digital camera. This is just a list of things I should think about.

Frenzied reading of The Luminous Landscape have led to more esoteric criteria:


CalleM recommends the Pentax Optio 555 but it's a bit outside my price range right now.

On tea

I found a link to George Orwell's essay on the perfect cup of tea on Libby's blog.

Reading the essay reminded me of why I drink coffee nearly exclusively nowadays. I don't care much about how my coffee is made -- hot, strong, and with milk, but otherwise I could care less about how it's made. My taste in tea, on the other hand, is so outr�, so outisde teh bounds of aceeptable tea-drinking behaviour, that I can only prepare and enjoy a cup of tea that I've made myself, in a peculiar manner.

I make tea like this: I put a pinch of Lapsang Souchong in a big cup. Then I pour boiling water in the cup. I wait a bit. Then I add milk.

The part about the tea and the water mixing without a strainer or a bag seems to freak people out most, although it's endorsed by Orwell (in a kettle, but nonetheless...). In fact, I only break a few of his "rules" for a nice cup of tea.

I was reminded of all this when we woke up this morning without coffee grounds, and had to make do with instant. Also, something in the neighborhood smells exactly like Lapsang. So I've bought a packet of Twinings Lapsang for the first time in ages. Maybe I can kick to coffee habit, at least at home.

Tuesday, 2024-08-24

Kudos for share

clevercactus share, the brainchild of Mobitopian Diego Doval, has won the "Site of the Month" award by the Swedish magazine InternetWorld.

A scan of the article is available here.

Quick and dirty translation:

Share files with your buddies

Brand new site Clevercactus Share combines two of the hottest trends right now -- file sharing and buddy networks -- in one package. Imagine an Orkut or Friendster with file sharing, or Kazaa with buddy features.

After registration, you download a client (available for all platforms) and start inviting friends and acquaintances to a private file-sharing network. The point is that you only share files with people you know, thereby keeping pirate hunters and other unwelcome elements away. Additionally, all transactions are encrypted. In the client, you can decide who gets to download what, and you can also chat with your contacts. You can also categorise your contacts as "Friends", "Family", or "Co-workers" and grant different permissions for each category.

Clevercactus Share is still in beta, and there are some issues with it, but the concept is so insanely well-timed that we can only applaud.

Monday, 2024-08-23

A great weekend for Sweden

Wow! Three gold medals in two days:

Go Sweden!

Friday, 2024-08-20

A caul of tortured space-time

Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds.

Space Opera in the hard SF mould. Full of cool neologisms (lighthugger, reefersleep) and well-written, despite a predilection for the word caul.

Maybe it's the fact that I've read it before, but the scenes of carnage and mayhem seem a little bloodless, and the characters aren't as fleshed-out as they could be. Entertaining none the less.

Take that, RIAA

From the article:

"The Copyright Owners urge a re-examination of the law in the light of what they believe to be proper public policy, expanding exponentially the reach of the doctrines of contributory and vicarious copyright infringement," the court wrote. "Not only would such a renovation conflict with binding precedent, it would be unwise. Doubtless, taking that step would satisfy the Copyright Owners' immediate economic aims. However, it would also alter general copyright law in profound ways with unknown ultimate consequences outside the present context."


However, this means that the RIAA/MPAA will continue to go after individual file traders, instead of trying to cut down the software behind the networks.

Anders Fredriksson

Article from �rnsk�ldsviks Allehanda (in Swedish).

I especially like the way Agero is mentioned.

File from David, put here for all those TT/TU and ExAgero types out there.

Thursday, 2024-08-19

Wedding pictures

More than one and a half years late, here are some pictures from our wedding.

In our defence, we have had the pics since two weeks after the event, but now, thanks to Terje, they're online.

Wednesday, 2024-08-18

When you're a jerk, you're a jerk

And no amount of legal blustering will change that.


This so-called "linking policy" says that you can only link to the athens2024 site if you write (by snail-mail) and ask permission first.

Here's some more random linkage, without permission.

Oh, and Athens 2024? My cheque for your Google-juice is in the mail.

Is synchronized diving a sport?

I don't think so, and neither do these guys. I also agree with the rest of the list. The Olympics have way too many sports as it is. Cutting out all the subjective judging events would magically reduce the number and preserve the Olympic ideal.

(via Dave.)

Update: of course, thinking about this gives another answer to why these sports are popular: lots of half-naked teenage girls.

Sports in the Olympics are subjected to television Darwinism: too few viewers and the event gets the chop.

Tuesday, 2024-08-17

A visit to �land

Viking and I went to �land this weekend to visit Petter and Alva together with Bj�rn and Egil. We were a trio of dads with two-year olds traipsing around the bush having picnics. Thank god the kids didn't synchronise their bad moments -- there was generally only one child pissed off at a time.

�land is a beautiful place in a harsh kind of way. There are lots of fields and deciduous trees, but the dominant feature is rock scoured smooth by the latest ice age, thinly covered by moss and stunted pines.

Petter and Gis�la have a very nice place in Bj�rnhuvud, about 15 minutes from the harbour and 20 minutes from Mariehamn, the capital.

�land is closer to Sweden than to Finland, both geographically and culturally. The signposts are all in Swedish, none of the inhabitants have to serve in the Finnish army (the islands have been demilitarised since the 1920s), and only persons with citezenship can buy property there. Much of the income of the region comes from the sale of tax-free liqour to thirsty Swedes, although �land also provides more than 40% of Finland's onions.

Bj�rn had a digital camera with him, which we shamelessly borrowed, snapping away at our kids wandering around picking blueberries. We quickly realised his wisdom of investing in half a gigabyte of memory. As soon as he gets the pics to me I'll post some.

Update: pictures are now up at my album on Thanks Terje for giving me some space on his site!

"The fate of this universe -- and others! -- is at stake!"

(Title shamelessly stolen from P.M. Agapow's review of a different novel.)

Space opera in the Iain M. Banks mould, with bold sweeping vistas and more or less dysfunctional characters. Unlike Banks, this is hard SF, which means that the speed of light is still an absolute limit. Other than this, anything goes.

Reading this prompted me to re-read Revelation Space, the first novel set in this universe, and after just a few pages I can say that this novel is not up to the standards set by that one. Despite this, it is an entertaining read and more well written than most.

Monday, 2024-08-16

Friday the 13th

I don't suffer from triskaidekaphobia, but today I'm having doubts.

I'm wondering whether it's a good idea to visit Petter on �land today.

Update: the mailserver did in fact crash, but I was on my way by then...

Friday, 2024-08-13

Amateur relics

You don't have to be an amateur to compete in the Olympics anymore, but some restrictions remain. According to a radio show this evening, athletes can't write a column or act as commentators for money.

Fair enough you might say. But the athlete who told us this is Stefan Holm, a high jumper competing on the Swedish team. He has an active home page/blog, which also has a lot of links to sponsors. If he wins a medal and writes about it in his own words, is he making money then? Could he be disqualified for that post?

No one knows. Understandably, athletes are reluctant to test the IOC on this matter. But with blogging gathering traction everywhere, someone, somewhere will post a ecstatic entry on his or her blog. Let's hope it doesn't cost them their medal.

Wednesday, 2024-08-11

Russ has hacked together with the help of Erik and Matt.

It's a mobile-ready Olympic news aggregator.

Development time: 1 day. Go Mobitopians!

Tuesday, 2024-08-10

Telia's 3G offer

Telia is offering a 3G deal for businesses. You get a Sony Ericsson Z1010 for 1 SEK (about 10c) if you sign up for a 24 month plan. To sweeten the deal, they offer free data access until the end of the year -- to the tune of 500 MB a month. According to the billboards, this is just "data", but according to the website it's GPRS data. Maybe it is one and the same, but for me, GPRS goes with GSM, while 3G has another sort of data.

However, it's beside the point. The point is that the billboards say that these 500 MB are worth 4,000 SEK (about $535). So if you're hooked with 3G and want to continue your profligate data lifestyle after your free months are up, you can end up with a habit nearly as expensive as illegal drugs.

The interesting thing is the way Telia are pushing this deal. By calling attention to the potentially enormous savings you would make by accepting this offer, they make the deal sound better. But on the other hand, they call attention to the truly bizarre pricing of mobile data at the moment.

Sunday, 2024-08-08

The Anti-Rhodes

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux.

This is the best book I've read in a long time. Partly because of the great writing, partly because my own background growing up in Kenya, and partly for the fact that Theroux has mellowed quite a bit. I remember his alter-ego in My Secret History as a prick, which is perhaps ungenerous as that book is a novel. His previous travel books have also left a sour taste in my mouth, but here he's much more generous to the people he meets.

The chapter on Kenya is depressing, as my memories of childhood there are happy, and I could see a bit of what he describes when we went back some years ago.

Two books have been added to my reading list after this chapter:

A point Theroux makes when visiting Malawi, where he worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Sixties, is that only Africans can help Africa. The vast influx of foreign aid and charity hasn't helped much. I'm sure that Africa's problems are not due to aid and charity -- the effects of colonialism and unfair trade practices by the rich world are much bigger factors -- but aid hasn't helped.

Theroux paints a bleak picture of a continent that just can't be able to get its act together. He offers no solutions, only observations. But those are made with such clarity that the reader is left with the feeling that things will get better, one day.

PS Cecil Rhodes dreamt of an railway from the Cape to Cairo. Theroux has no such dreams, and he travels in the other direction.

Wednesday, 2024-08-04


The company I work for, has been bought by ValueClick. No drastic changes are expected in the near future. Maybe the new owners will feel that flat screens are vital for the corporate image, but I doubt it.

Tuesday, 2024-08-03

Defragmenting madness

The desktop upstairs won't start normally, and I've got a hunch that the hard drive is too fragmented. This is propably not the case, but Windows encourages the feeling that your system is getting crufty and needs to be cleaned. (Unlike Unices, which just putter along, maturing like fine wines:

[ ger@openbsd: ~ ]% uptime
 9:17PM  up 284 days, 13:04, 5 users, load averages: 0.21, 0.32, 0.32
[ gustaf@ultra5: ~ ]% uptime
 9:17PM  up 34 days, 14:45, 1 user, load averages: 0.23, 0.15, 0.10
[ gustaf@oddjob: ~ ]$ uptime
  9:18pm  up 42 days, 10:11, 16 users,  load average: 7.84, 6.61, 5.40

(I probably shouldn't have used a parenthesis here.))

The question is: why do I have to defragment my hard drive manually? (and don't mention Task Scheduler -- I trust that app about as far as I can spit a rat). Why can't the operating system -- the piece of software I paid good money for, the prop keeping Microsoft's profit margins in the double digits each freaking year, the "bastion of innovation" that each and every citizen of this planet should use instead of "viral, Communist" free software -- why can't this fabulous piece of tech handle this simple task itself?

For crying out loud, Linux, developed by long-haired geeks in Finland, never neeeds to be defragmented manually. Neither does OpenBSD.

So true

You know you've been too long in Sweden when...

Monday, 2024-08-02

New feed URL

The new URL for a feed for this site is Thanks to Matthias for fixing the rss10 plugin!

Sunday, 2024-08-01


Vacation ends tomorrow. I've done quite a bit with the house, so the lack of good weather hasn't been a determining factor. Saying this, a few more weeks wouldn't have been unwelcome.

Copyright © 2024 Gustaf Erikson
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