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Saturday, February 12th, 2011
2:22 pm - jump
This blog has moved.

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Monday, July 5th, 2010
9:39 am - cablemodem
I think my cablemodem is wearing out again. this one is about 1.25 years old. youtube and netflix streaming performance has deteriorated rapidly over the last month, and is now unusable.

here's the current speed test:

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Monday, May 24th, 2010
9:26 am - replaced
long story short, replacing just the screen wasn't sufficient. the home key was still activating spuriously. I went back to the apple store and they finally gave me a new phone. I had only 22 days left on the warranty!

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Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
3:33 pm - iPhone update
I got another appointment at a genius bar. after telling the long story, and heading him off at the pass when he started to tell me to reset it to factory defaults and not restore, he replaced the screen. I think the phantom home key presses are gone, but it might have happened during a phone call once, last night. we'll see.

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Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
3:30 pm - iPhone glitch
I dropped my iPhone on a sidewalk in December, shattering the screen. Apple sold me a new one for $200. After I restored my backup to the new phone, within a couple weeks the iPhone started pressing the home button by itself. That is, it would jump out of whatever app I was in, then jump back and forth between the first page of the home screen and the search page. Sometimes it even woke up by itself. (sidenote: do iPhones dream of electric sheep? Probably not, that would be too google-ish!)

When one of these fits happened, the home button would activate about 5 times and then relax for an hour or two.

The phantom home button presses happened off and on for about two weeks, then faded to a much lower frequency, low enough that I would
forget and be surprised at each new occurrence.

Next, the camera turned flaky; saving pictures would take an inordinate amount of time. Then the camera app took to crashing!

Finally it happened. I tried to take a narcissus photo after getting my hair cut, there was a POP! the iPhone screen went black.

After pressing the wake button and trying to do a hard reset several times, all I could get was the apple logo in the middle of the screen. Never before had a silver apple been so agonizing!

Luckily, the closest apple store had a genius bar opening. They were able to reset the iPhone to factory defaults, and advised me to NOT restore the phone from the back-up. This was the third set of hardware using this back-up image. The theory held config cruft was causing software glitches, resulting in the behavior I'd seen.

The iPhone also stores a log of hardware errors; the reset had cleared that log, too, though.

I was suspicious. I figured if i was going to get them to replace the hardware, though, I'd have to jump through their hoops first.

Fast-forward through hours of recreating all the old settings, and days of routine use, and the phantom home button presses returned.

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Monday, April 5th, 2010
9:55 pm - iPad
My experience with the iPad was surprising. Some of the things I expected to not care about turned out to be impressive, and some features I was excited about wound up as letdowns.

Enough generalities, let me get down to details.

First, I was prepared for heft after reading many comments castigating the mass of the iPad. I found the iPad to be just right! For its size, I think its weight speaks of solidity and perhaps even quality. I spent most of the hour holding it in my left hand and never once thought it was too heavy.

When it came to responsiveness, the iPad was just as fast as everyone says.

One of the huge things I was interested in trying was typing, so I immediately logged in to my gmail account in safari and started typing an email. No, I couldn't touch-type on it, especially since it's a qwerty layout and I can only touch-type dvorak, but, with one hand or two I could very easily utilize the first two fingers of each hand as well as my thumbs. I can type FAST on my iPhone, but I can type probably twice as fast on the iPad; still not as fast as when I'm touch-typing on a standard keyboard, of course.

An interesting observation I made was that typing in landscape mode felt natural, confident, and kind of fun, but typing in portrait mode felt weird and even a bit nervous. Thinking about it later, it may be related to an observation I've seen in other reviews: in landscape mode, I could see the keys my fingers were hitting and the resulting letter popping onto the screen at the same time. in portrait mode, I had to look at my fingers alone. I don't know for sure if that was the issue, but the difference between the two modes was striking and unmistakeable.

Yes, the photo app is cool, and I'd love showing photos off to people in it, but in the end it's basically iphoto without the editing, with a few neat gestures instead. Pinching open an album is cool, but not particularly a killer feature. I do like the whole idea of faces, places, and events, and I'm slowly trying to make use of them. From now on, every single time I import photos from my camera or iphone, I'm going to try to put that info in every single photo. and when I feel like it, I've been going back to older photos and adding them. I've wanted that kind of info in my photos for as long as I've had a digital camera, but never had a good platform for making use of it.

Numbers, the spreadsheet program from iWork, was not what I'd hoped. It feels cumbersome, even painful, to enter formulas. There's a definite paradigm shear between using a spreadsheet with a mouse and using touch, and I'm the first to admit it will take some time to make the leap.

I suspect Numbers' best use-case is to create a spreadsheet on the desktop, then look at it on, or present it from, the iPad, and being able to tweak a cell or two. coupled with the fact that iwork will pretty much export only to PDF, well, my beloved spreadsheets may not find their way into the roach motel known as Numbers after all. By roach motel, I don't mean Numbers is infested with bugs; rather, that data can come in, but not go back out; cardinal sin!

The thing I was most excited about on the iPad was iBooks. wouldn't it be great to do away with all the shelves and boxes full of books in my office? to move my whole library as easily as moving my iPad and my macbook pro?

For that reality to come to pass, the iPad has to be just as easy and nice as reading a book.

Well, it's almost as nice. except for the fact that all text is right-justified, and there is no hyphenation. On top of that, absolutely gorgeous fonts are employed, but they might as well be monospaced. there is no kerning or ligature use at all. Think about it; each individual character looks absolutely gorgeous, but then they are laid out on the screen with no improvement over some crappy-ass computer word processor program from 1995. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, pick up a real book sometime. look at the spacing between words. you will see no annoying large gaps, no places where there are, say, about 5 words spaced all the way across the line with miles of white space in between. you will see the characters within the words spaced just right. so much so, that some letters will be touching! look at a lowercase "f" followed by a lowercase "L", for example. You'll see they actually overlap; this is called a ligature. you won't see this on the iPad. unless, of course, I'm just a clueless newb, and there is some option somewhere labelled "make the text look like ass" which is on by default. But I highly doubt it, that's not how Apple rolls. Which is why it's so shocking they didn't get all this right!

I've tried to read an ebook on a laptop before, an ebook which had all the fancy typography a book had, and it was not fun. the keyboard kept getting in the way of the screen. The best way I could find was to lay the laptop on its side, so it looked like an open book standing up. then it was hard to change pages. This is why I was so optimistic about iBooks on the iPad. Perfect form factor. It's too bad the text looks so terrible.

The kindle app is available for iPad, too, but the demo unit I was playing with didn't have it installed. From looking at pictures on the web, kindle uses the same standard text display engine.

There is a free reader, for iPhone, called "Stanza", which has hyphenation, and even a bit of ligature and kerning use. I'm interested to know how they did it; it makes me wonder if they did their own custom font rendering. Stanza's rendering is not perfect; sometimes annoyingly large whitespaces show up, but it's much better than iBooks'.

I suspect to get the kind of text display I'm wanting, apple would either have to turn all the book pages into photographs (hard to scale) or create a brand new typography rendering engine. It would rock if they could leverage TeX! Sidebar, for those of you who don't know: TeX is a free computer typesetting system invented thirty years ago by Donald Knuth, one of the giants of computer science, because he was dissatisfied with the way his math books looked from the publisher. I don't know if the license is compatible, but it would be a joy if Apple was able to use TeX, or created their own rendering engine that worked well.

Instead, though, Apple is using their standard computer screen text renderer for books. yuck. I suppose it will be fine for reading stuff from Project Gutenberg, but I don't see myself converting my current and future library over, like I was hoping.

While I was disappointed in iBooks, other apps written for ipad were just stunning. all those extra pixels make a huge difference. I found many instances where data was displayed wonderfully and was easy to interact with.

In the end, I think I'll want to buy an ipad because of all those other apps besides iBooks. iPad delivers on the promise of the iPhone; having the internet and dozens of custom apps important to you (out of many tens of thousands available) readily available, in an even more convenient and useable way than on the iPhone.

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Saturday, August 29th, 2009
12:19 am - fink & other stuff in snow leopard
oh, I almost forgot something fairly important... my mercurial I installed in my home directory still works, and X11 apps I installed via fink (like gnucash and gnumeric) still work in Snow Leopard without having to recompile them. I suspect as long as the binaries you have were compiled with an x86 target at all, it will probably still run without recompiling, just in 32-bit mode.

current mood: sleepy

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Friday, August 28th, 2009
11:58 pm - The Snow Leopard!
I updated my macbook to Snow Leopard tonight. I went to run my little C-type sizeof program, and found out that I hadn't recompiled it since I was running on a PPC. rosetta doesn't install by default in Snow Leopard. so I went to re-compile it only to find out gcc had gone missing.

all I had to do was install the new XCode on the Snow Leopard DVD, and then download the iphone SDK 3.0 for Snow Leopard from apple.com/developer (all 404MB of it!).

Do I like the new OS X? sure. I didn't see a lot of difference at first, really. Maybe it seems a little faster, maybe it's placebo. hard to tell. After a few hours I thought to try the new Finder; that is noticeably faster than the one in Leopard. Oh, one bad thing about Snow Leopard: it messed up my customized date and time display in the menu bar clock; I had gone into some plist file years ago to customize it, now I'll have to look that up again.

also, the location feature is neat; you don't have to tell it what time zone you're in any more. also, safari has access to your location too. I've told it to detect my location for this post.

here is the output of sizeof on some standard C types in Mac OS X 10.6.0 (Snow Leopard); woot, 64-bit pointers!

                bool:  1 byte ;   8 bits
                char:  1 byte ;   8 bits
       unsigned char:  1 byte ;   8 bits
               short:  2 bytes;  16 bits
      unsigned short:  2 bytes;  16 bits
                 int:  4 bytes;  32 bits
        unsigned int:  4 bytes;  32 bits
                long:  8 bytes;  64 bits
       unsigned long:  8 bytes;  64 bits
           long long:  8 bytes;  64 bits
  unsigned long long:  8 bytes;  64 bits
                int*:  8 bytes;  64 bits
               float:  4 bytes;  32 bits
              double:  8 bytes;  64 bits
         long double: 16 bytes; 128 bits
           byte enum:  4 bytes;  32 bits
          short enum:  4 bytes;  32 bits
            int enum:  4 bytes;  32 bits

current mood: snowy

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Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
8:18 pm - how to look up you local machine's external IP address (not
I needed to write some code to find out my local machine's IP address. I wanted to tell another machine my IP address so that other machine could open a socket connection back to my machine. A little googling turned up some sample code which works on both Linux and Mac OS X.

Also I fiddled around with that code and condensed it down a bit.

current mood: educated

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Sunday, February 15th, 2009
8:17 am - new Debian release!
A new version of Debian stable has been released! My firewall machine, entropy, is currently running the "old" Debian stable (etch). Sometime soon I'll update to the new stable release, Debian 5.0 Lenny.

Just for reference, here is how I will update:

edit /etc/apt/sources.list, change all occurrences of etch to lenny, then run these commands as root:

aptitude update
aptitude install apt dpkg aptitude
aptitude full-upgrade

when it is done, then I'll have to reboot to start using the new kernel. It will be interesting to see how long the upgrade takes.

Entropy is an HP Vectra business workstation with a 90MHz pentium (i586!), 128MB of RAM, and a 4GB hard drive. The RAM and hard drive sizes would have been incredible when the computer was new; I slowly increased them over time as they got cheap. Entropy would have shipped with 8 or 16MB of RAM, and possibly a 1GB hard drive. I acquired the machine in 1999 for $100. I wanted a second machine so I could try out connecting two machines together via ethernet. I used it as a development workstation for a brief period! I believe it would have been new around 1994. I hope to retired it sometime this spring. My goal is to get a brand new, energy efficient machine so I can run one machine constantly instead of the 3 or 4 I run now.

current mood: upgradeable

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Friday, February 6th, 2009
9:53 pm - gnome programs and gnome so far
I've been looking for some programs to restore functionality I lost when I left kde 3.5.

glipper is an ok clipboard history application. although each entry only gets 99 characters.

liferea is almost as good an RSS Reader as akregator-kde3 (and MUCH better than akregator-kde4).

evolution is a mixed bag. it's great for contacts, calendars, and imap, but LDAP won't work, so no corporate address book, which is going to be a problem. I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with that yet, but I suspect I'll end up using thunderbird and evolution simultaneously (after disabling thunderbird's calendar completely)

one thing that has been nice about being in gnome is firefox! it's nice to click on a link in an email again and having it open, instead of having to copy it from thunderbird and paste it in konqueror. plus when I want to use google maps, well, I already have firefox open instead of having to open firefox first.

another nice thing in gnome: the desktop in general is snappy and responsive. kde4 feels slushy by comparison (at least on my hardware). I can't really compare to kde 3.5 any more, I've been running kde4 too long. but gnome feels more responsive than kde4.

so the experiment continues. Things I still need to investigate:

A way to add feeds to liferea from firefox like I used to be able to do with konqueror and akregator. (this is really a pretty minor, rare requirement, but it was one of the things that irked me about kde4 when it mysteriously went missing, both with 'updated from 3.5' configs, and with fresh empty configs)

random wallpaper applet so the background changes periodically from my huge pool of pictures

photo app for doing red-eye correction and possibly photo managing, to replace digikam

ldap lookups in evolution is still a sore spot.

my desktop at work has an additional problem; a couple keyboard mappings i put in don't work, and I'm not sure why yet.

the strangest thing about gnome are the notifications. the new email and calendar alarms are perfect. they look similar to the ones from outlook (but better) but don't interrupt your typing; so you see them, but you can keep typing on what you were doing with no interruption. that part is good. the bad part is the notifications from pidgin are too subtle; just a flashing icon on the panel, no pop-up like from evolution, so it's easy to not even see it. there may be some options though, I haven't looked yet.

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Thursday, February 5th, 2009
11:04 pm - gnome rss reader: liferea
the first one I tried, liferea, has most of the good points from the kde 3.5 akregator: feeds with unread articles stand out with bold text, and the number of unread articles is tucked up next to the title. if there are no unread articles, there is no number. simple yet effective and readable at a glance.

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9:17 pm - kde vs. gnome
I can't believe I'm typing this.

I'm logged in with gnome as my desktop.

I'm going to use it on all my computers for the next few days or a week and see how it goes.

KDE4 bothers me this much.

KDE4 keeps getting better, but I believe it will take at least another year to reach the polish of KDE 3.5. and I'm finding that in ubuntu, gnome is actually MORE polished than my beloved KDE 3.5!

A big draw, and pleasant surprise, has been evolution. last time I tried evolution, it sucked. that was about 5 years ago. These days I've been whining that there are no good Linux GUI email clients. Kmail sucks, in 3.5 or 4.0, its performance with IMAP is abysmal. Thunderbird is fast, but will not cache IMAP messages (plus its calendar sucks, with obnoxious notifications that are hard to dismiss). Evolution seems willing to cache IMAP emails, runs fast, and the calendar seems to work great (at least, I was able to import my calendar files seamlessly; the true test will come at work when I try to sync my work appointments to it).

Everything I've tried in gnome so far seems very smooth, polished, and lightning fast; this is on my old old workstation at home, where kde 3.5 runs acceptably but with flickery redraws, and kde4 is a tick slower than that.

the gnome clock even kicks kde's clock's ass! the gnome folks took all the ideas from the kde clock, improved on them, and ran with it. one click on the gnome clock gives me a current calendar, a list of appointments for the day, and current time and temperature in as many cities as I want.

and there is even a memory usage gauge on my gnome panel, something I was having trouble finding in kde4.

still some questions I need to answer: does gnome's file manager work as well as konqueror or dolphin? does it support ssh, like the fish IOslave in kde? and I need a new RSS Reader for the gnome desktop to replace akregator. and then there is digikam, with the best red-eye correction I have yet found; I wonder if g-spot or f-spot or whatever the gnome photo collection program is called can match that. although, there is of course no reason why I can't run digikam on my spiffy new (possibly) gnome desktop.

I thought I would have trouble replacing kdepim (kmail, korganizer, and kaddressbook) but evolution seems to handily take care of that.

we shall see.

current mood: reluctant

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Tuesday, January 20th, 2009
12:13 pm - CVS and Subversion
Let me start off by saying that CVS and Subversion are both outdated systems that no one in their right mind should use for a new project. (If you are starting a new project, I would recommend managing your source code with Mercurial).

Unfortunately, I have in the past been forced to use CVS, and I am now forced to use Subversion. I had hoped that Subversion would truly be an upgrade over CVS, since Subversion promises merge tracking.

What I have learned is that Subversion has about as many quirks as CVS, and of course they are different quirks. Today I want to talk about a big one I ran into.

The canonical way to handle branching in Subversion (svn) is to copy the entire module tree to a directory named for the branch. Then multiple commits can be done on the branch. if commits are done on trunk, and you want to get those changes on your branch, you can ask svn to merge those changes onto your branch. svn records information about what commits were merged to the branch in svn properties, which are simply metadata attached to the files. svn uses the data stored in the properties to enable you to merge trunk into your branch at will, over and over again. so far so good, and this is an improvement over CVS, where you have to track the merge info manually (usually by lots of tagging and hoping everyone on the project knows what they are doing; I used the alternative method of tracking CVS changes in mercurial, and doing merges in mercurial instead of CVS).

Eventually when you are ready to merge the branch back to trunk, you run svn merge with the --reintegrate flag, and svn then knows how to handle the stuff that was already merged to the branch.

The first time I tried this though, I was confronted with a gnarly error message:

svn: Cannot reintegrate from 'url://feature-branch' yet:
Some revisions have been merged under it that have not been merged
into the reintegration target; merge them first, then retry.

eh? this was right after I had merged everything from trunk onto the branch again! Where were these mysterious unmerged revisions coming from? This was pretty scary, I thought I was doing everything right, yet it seemed I obviously must not understand svn at all yet.

google of course turned up The Answer. I had carelessly renamed a file on the branch, creating spurious mergeinfo as a side effect; silly me! I had to delete the svn:mergeinfo property on the new file, then svn "graciously" allowed me to merge my branch to trunk. Subversion is indeed a truly awe-inspiring and confidence-building tool!

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Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008
4:21 pm - controlling iTunes via iPhone
I've gotten in the habit of playing music on my big stereo via iTunes running on my Mac.

A handy remote control for this is the Apple-created iPhone app called "Remote". it looks like an ipod on your phone, but it's controlling an iTunes running on a Mac over the network.

It works well enough, but not perfectly. Lag time between waking up the iPhone and being able to control iTunes is in the neigborhood of 5 seconds, which is an eternity when you're used to instant digital gratification.

The lag has two components: waiting for the iphone to connect to the wi-fi, and then waiting for the Remote app to connect to iTunes.

I discovered a fix for the first! I was letting my iPhone configure itself dynamically via DHCP. it was taking at least 3 and sometimes 4 whole seconds to get on the wireless network.

On a whim, I set it to use a static IP address for my home wireless. Next time I woke the phone up, the wi-fi connection happened instantaneously!

So now I'm only left waiting for 1 to 2 seconds for Remote to connect to iTunes; much better than the full 5 seconds it took before.

I usually turn wi-fi off on my iPhone when I leave home; I haven't found a compelling enough reason to need the extra bandwidth (on the off chance I can find a free or AT&T hotspot) to justify the accelerated battery drain. I also keep bluetooth off all the time since I don't have any bluetooth devices or cars (yet!)

current mood: statically addressed

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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
7:23 pm - spotlight in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and "System Files"
I would like to switch away from using quicksilver to using spotlight for all my searching; it will be simpler to use one interface instead of two. QuickSilver does quite a few things that spotlight will not do (and vice versa). but most of the things I want to do are covered by spotlight, with one notable and nearly fatal exception: searching for saved Terminal.app session files.

I ssh to other machines often, and I set up a saved terminal session for each machine. I'm used to then searching for the name of the session in quicksilver to run it without using the mouse.

Spotlight in Leopard is set up by default to leave out what it likes to call "System files", i.e., anything in ~/Library (and probably in /Library too). and of course saved Terminal.app session files live in ~/Library/Application Support/Terminal.

After much gnashing of teeth, I think I've hit upon a solution, which I'll describe in more detail after I test it some more. But the start of my path to the solution was definitely this article: http://db.tidbits.com/article/9283

short version is I think fiddling with the myriad dropdowns in the Spotlight Finder window has caused Spotlight to finally realize that I always want to include "System files" in my spotlight searches.

current mood: spotlighted

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7:16 pm - freeing up itunes songs (removing fairplay DRM)
I unfortunately have some songs I bought from the itunes music store using the FairPlay DRM. I know, I know, that was a mistake. well now I'm stuck with about 55 songs I can't play in linux, and I have to worry about making sure I don't run out of the 5 auths for my macs (which is a much more serious and likely scenario)

some songs can be 'upgraded' for 30 cents to a non-drm version (and a higher sampling rate too). follow this link on your mac:


for me, only 1 out of those 55 songs was available for upgrade though.

so now I'm going to have to go through by hand, burn them all out to CDs as cd audio, then re-rip them, then add back in the metadata (artist, song title, my rating, etc). and accept the loss in quality from being encoded twice. blech.

needless to say I won't be buying any more of the tracks with DRM on them.

P.S., there used to be programs (QTFairUse was one of them) that would allow you to strip the DRM off the songs. but then Apple sent the guys who wrote it and distributed it some Cease and Desist orders, so now that's not available any more.

current mood: money wasted

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7:05 pm - getting full screen mode to work on external monitor in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
I've been trying to display stuff in full screen mode from my mac on my television which accepts VGA input.

After plugging in the cable, going through setting up the display in system preferences, I was easily able to make the TV be a second screen sitting next to my macbook's built in lcd. So then I moved a preview.app window over to the television (drug it over using the mouse). I hit the slideshow button, expecting it to go to full screen mode on the tv.

But instead it went to fullscreen mode on the built-in LCD, and started showing the slideshow there, which was quite disappointing.

after some fiddling around, I tried moving the menu bar to the television. (in System Preferences, in "Displays", go to the "Arrangement" tab, and there you can drag the menu bar to the external display).

it turns out it doesn't matter which screen the app is on; when it goes to fullscreen mode, it will display on whichever display has the menu bar.

I tried this in preview.app and also in Front Row. I assume the same behavior would happen in iPhoto too.

current mood: solved

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Monday, November 24th, 2008
1:50 pm - getting some critical apps on leopard, using fink
I'm running Mac OS X version 10.5 (leopard), and I've install xcode 3.1.

I need gnumeric and gnucash, which I use to track my finances. The current stable rsync version of fink contains gnumeric 1.8.1-3 and gnucash 2.2.5-52, both of which are close enough to the versions I have in Ubuntu Hardy Heron and Intrepid Ibex to be useable.

gnumeric and its dependencies compiled and installed fine.

the gnucash2 package, however, failed building some dependent library. here's the errors I got:

/usr/X11/lib/libXdamage.1.1.0.dylib: No such file or directory

libpixman- No such file or directory

and there was additional error about libcairo too.

I used the command-line interface to spotlight to find them:

mdfind libpixman
mdfind libcairo

and ended up using these commands to create some symbolic links (3 really long lines):

sudo ln -s /usr/X11/lib/libXdamage.1.dylib /usr/X11/lib/libXdamage.1.1.0.dylib

sudo ln -s /usr/X11/lib/libpixman-1.0.dylib /usr/X11/lib/libpixman-

sudo ln -s /Developer/SDKs/MacOSX10.5.sdk/usr/X11/lib/libcairo.2.dylib /usr/X11/lib/libcairo.2.17.5.dylib

it will probably break next time I update xcode but it should work for now.

current mood: accomplished

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Thursday, December 6th, 2007
7:34 pm - replacing aging hardware
I bought a new cablemodem. Each morning this week, the
cablemodem was down until lunch time. last night it went down too. today it
never came back on. From what I hear, they actually wear out slowly and
sporadically... they will just start getting flakey, rather than die all at
once. The old cablemodem was still flashing orange lights when I unplugged it and put the new one in. it took a couple minutes for the new one to get all
green lights, then at first it handed me a private IP address. so I called the
cable company (Mediacom) and they had to register the new cablemodem's MAC address. It even seems faster than the old one. here's the speed:

Speed Test #41331191 by dslreports.com
Run: 2007-12-06 19:15:35 EST
Download: 7386 (Kbps)
Upload: 478 (Kbps)
In kilobytes per second: 901.6 down 58.4 up
Tested by server: 54 java
User: 2 @ dslreports.com
User's DNS: mchsi.com
Compared to the average of 158 tests from mchsi.com:
* download is 65% better

current mood: connected

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