Monday, January 30, 2006

1:00:01 Past Italian Market (6 Miles)

It's been a while since I've been able to go out for a long slow run-- this was a nice one, except that I was too hot. It's January, but it's almost 50 F out there.

I ran with my Nike SDM Tailwind foot pod again. Nice to know how far I went.

Sonia and Daniel got back yesterday afternoon. Everyone is exhausted. It's nice to have them home after 3.5 weeks by myself.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

How to read your email from Telnet

This is kind of a
stupid pet trick. But it does have two good purposes: 1) You can go in and
delete large spams, big image files sent by the intelligence-challenged, etc,
and 2) It scares the hell out of analysts and other functional consultancy
types: (I'm assuming Windows 2000 scenario here, but the only difference
in commands on other systems is the connection to port 110 and setting local

  1. Start up a command line

  2. telnet

  3. set LOCAL_ECHO

  4. open 110

  5. user foo

  6. pass bar

  7. list (to list out the messages you have)

  8. top 11 30 (print the first 30 lines of message 11)

  9. dele 11 (delete message 11)

  10. quit

Monday, January 23, 2006

GoogleMap of Amoy/Xiamen

I've created a GoogleMap of my mom's ancestral home in Xiamen, China (also known as Amoy).

21:21 - Chinatown (2.47 Miles)

I decided to resurrect my Nike SDM Tailwind foot pod. It's a tiny little pedometer that reads off your mileage and time. Neat. Supposedly 97% accurate.

The run was uneventful, just doing loops, until I ran past a car with the distinctive "I CARE" bumpersticker from New Orleans. As it so happened, the driver was just getting out of the car and I asked her if she was from New Orleans. She was. It is to her merit that a strange sweaty man could come up to her and slur out, "yuhfrumnorlins?" and she could answer.

She had evacuated, just like us. Her family was from Philadelphia, and although her house made it through just fine, she had decided not to go back. We talked about why we decided to stay, and how we both had felt guilty about making it through the storm so well when so many had not.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

20:00 Center City - Traditional Music of Amoy

I've been feeling pretty good, so this was going to be a run across the Ben Franklin bridge, but for some reason the pedestrian path is closed on both sides of the bridge today. Bummer. I just ran down race street, crossed Market, ran down chestnut to 8th, and back to TRF.

I had downloaded the album "Traditional Music of Amoy from a few days ago.

I will preface this by saying that I know virtually nothing about Chinese music. I am not a sinologist. I have learned enough Mandarin to say hello, goodbye, thank you, and count to ten (keep in mind though, that with just that much Spanish I managed to convince Sonia to marry me; a little knowledge is muy peligroso). Even the Mandarin I can speak doesn't qualify me for much here, because the people of Amoy speak Minnanyu, which is not the same.

What I do understand is that this music comes from a tradition known as nan kuan, which means "southern pipes". It dates from the T'ang dynasty (618-970) which is considered the golden age of Chinese culture.

As far as the music itself, I feel unqualified to describe it to anyone. It was not happy music-- the woman singing was complaining about something or someone who had done her wrong, that much I could tell. It was kind of flutey, which squares up with the name.

I guess it just felt neat to listen to music that maybe, just maybe, my ancestors had listened to. Although considering that my grandfather left Amoy to become a gold miner in Panama, it is unlikely that he ever heard music in the court.

Monday, January 9, 2006

My family is from Amoy/Xiamen in China

In a recent conversation with my mother, she mentioned that the Chinese part of my family is from Amoy, and that my grandfather journeyed to Panama originally to be a gold miner.

I did some reading and general poking around and found some information on Amoy, or Xiamen as it is now known.

"Another all-American food, hamburger, is not really complete without ketchup, a condiment that bears little resemblance to its namesake ketsiap, which is what the people of Amoy, an island off the coast of Fukien, called pickled fish sauce."

"Speaking of Chinese", Raymond Chang & Margaret Scrogin Chang, ISBN 0-393-32187-8 p. 40

"During the nineteenth century, Yankee clipper ships sailed past Kowloon up the Pearl River to a city once known to the West as Canton, now spelled Guangzhou in Pinyin, bringing ginsing roots, otter furs, and cash to trade for tea and silk. In 1848 they brought a golden dream as well, a dream that caused wretched coolies to leave their life of hopeless toil in civilized China to make their fortunes in the land of the barbarians. They indentured themselves by the boatload to reach the gold fields of California, called by Cantonese to this day the Mountain of Gold. San Francisco, the first city they reached, is the Old Mountain of Gold. For most immigrants, the new country turned out to be a mountain of laundry, but that is another story."

"Speaking of Chinese", Raymond Chang & Margaret Scrogin Chang, ISBN 0-393-32187-8 p. 90

I found a couple of web sites with info on Amoy:

  • Amoy, the language, is also known as Minnanyu

  • Amoy, the port city, is now called Xiamen

  • Fukien, the province, is now called Fujian

  • The written Chinese for Amoy/Xiamen is 厦门 (厦 = Mansion, 门 = Gate)

  • There's a place where you can download traditional music from Amoy:

  • The official website of the Xiamen government is (there are also pages for traditional and simplified Chinese)

  • There is a Wikipedia article on Amoy/Xiamen at

  • Apparently there was a dice game invented in Amoy in which you threw six mah jong dice into a bowl to compete for mooncakes. I haven't found instructions yet.

  • Another Amoy expat website: (which is mostly cheerful and light-hearted punctuated with a horrifying story about the opium wars)

That's what I've found so far. I've also found a couple of sites where people ask geneology questions, specifically about Amoy. I don't really know anything other than the name Chen Man Tak and that he (or someone related to him) was a gold miner in Panama. His wife's name was Lam See, and his brothers may have been named Backu and Pinyu.

Friday, January 6, 2006

21:29 Chinatown - Chinesepod

This was my first run for several weeks. My right knee was really bothering me for a while. The rest seems to have helped, and I also decided to go back to my old Adidas Super Novas, which really seems to have done the trick.

I ran through Chinatown. Philadelphia has a large Chinese community, and since Sonia started encouraging me to learn Mandarin, I have been spending a lot more time there.

As I mentioned in elsewhere (see ChinesePod), I've been listening to Chinese lessons from for a few days. I downloaded the podcasts to my MP3 and listened while I was running. Not much of a beat to it, but that wasn't what I was looking for.

The lesson I listened to today was the most basic one on the site. It looks like conversational Chinese has some points that make it pretty easy compared to, say, Spanish: no gender, no verb conjugation, a consistent pronoun structure. It also has some points that make it a lot harder than Spanish: tonal significance ("ma" can mean mother, horse, hemp, or scold depending on the inflection), and the writing system.

I found this article called "Why Chinese is so damn hard" at Very funny and insightful.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

How I installed Minix 2.0.3 on an old WinBook XP 486

Note: This is an old article I just put into the Blog. I no longer live in Barcelona, nor do I even own Neruda anymore. Life goes on....

I have an old WinBook XP 486 that I got off a friend here in Barcelona for 20000 Pesetas (let's see-- 166.386 Ptas/Euro... let's say it was cheap.) Aside from minor problems (blinky screen, psychotic batteries...), it was (and is) a good machine that needed a home and a loving parent.

It came with Windows 3.11 installed. Nothing wrong with windows, except that I hate it. So of course I installed Linux right away. Good fun, soon I was coding my Perl and c and c++ right there on the couch with my wife, Sònia and dog, Bups (and later my son, Daniel). I even got X-Windows up and running (no small feat with only 500MB of hard disk). If you're interested, I run BlackBox as my windows manager.

I christened the WinBook "Neruda" (my main box is called "Cervantes").

I thought about "Linux From Scratch"...

One day, I was cruising around the web looking for something nerdy to do, and I came across They had an idea that really appealed to me: creating your own Linux distribution from the original source code. I run Slackware 7.1 Linux, but I generally don't use packages to install my software-- I download the source and do the tar, configure, make, make install dance. So I figured this would be more of the same, good fun, and I'd custom make a system that was exactly what I wanted.

...But my disk was too small

All really a great idea, except for one thing. I forgot to Read The Fine Manual. Had I done so, I would have seen that there is a list of files involved in the build and the sizes necessary for them during the installation. Even though I didn't store the tarballs on my WinBook (I put them on another machine and used NFS to retreive them), I still would have needed about 750MB to complete the installation. (750MB > 500MB) = duh.

I could have re-installed SlackWare on Neruda and called it a day. However, my head was full of dreams of creating a perfect distribution for my little WinBook, and I've always wanted to get a little bit deeper into the operating system. On the same excellent site where I found the original link to Linux From Scratch, I found a link for minix ( with a couple of guides on how to get it installed. I downloaded the docs, read them, downloaded the newest version of minix, 2.0.3 from, and followed the instructions to create the 9 installation disks necessary (10 if you add the networking part)

minix disks in hand, installation starts

Except for a minor screwup which made me think I had fried my hard drive, the installation went breezily. I should say, I had access to the Internet, a windows machine (my wife's), and another Linux box during the installation. Like my dad says, when you're working on the family car, you need another car to run to the hardware store in.

The instructions for installation are in the minix Usage MAN page. In the installation process, this is absolutely necessary, as some of the parameters of the installation are not immediately obvious (especially names of hard drive: linux's /dev/hda1 is /dev/c0d0p0s0 in minix 2.0.3.) However, be careful about slavishly following the directions-- for example, they assume you are installing to the second partition on the primary hard drive (/dev/c0d0p0s1). This wasn't true in my case: I only created one partition on my hard drive, as I only wanted minix on my WinBook, but I typed in all the instructions as if they were correct for my setup. When it came time to boot up the system, I typed the command

boot c0d0p1

which means "boot off the second partition of drive 1. I got the error:

installboot: Unexpected EOF on /dev/c0d0p1

Which made me scratch my head. I finally realized my error-- I should have typed:boot c0d0p0
to get to my one good partition. The error code even makes sense: minix was trying to create a file system on the second partition of the hard drive, which had a size of zero, so it found EOF right away!

The moment of truth

Anyway, it worked. I finally got the parameters all right, did a test boot after the installation without turning the machine off, and was ready for the big final test: would it boot up after I turned it on?

I wanted to say that my hand wavered over the on/off switch as beads of sweat threw themselves off my brow, but I always had the idea in the back of my mind that the installation procedure only took about 20 minutes anyway, if I had to do it again, I could, and if that failed, there was always Slack.

I flipped the switch. And it worked. I signed on as root. That worked too. I did a passwd and put in a root password. Nice. Finally, I fired up vi (great), created the following file:

int main()
printf("hello, worldn");
return 0;
saved it, then typed

cc hello.c -o hello

(marvelous), then:

$ ./hello
hello, world

I was in business

Now what?

Neruda (minix) has been up and running for three days now. I've been able to do what I like doing on unix boxes, reading man pages, writing bash scripts and c programs, and generally having a pretty good time. I can't connect to my other machine through the network card, since it's a PCMCIA card and minix doesn't support that out of the box.

So why is this any better than what I had before?

minix was designed to teach people how operating systems work. Linus Torvalds learned from it, and based Linux off of it. All the source code for the system comes included. Neat. I checked down at the local Casa del llibre (I live in Barcelona) and had them order me a copy of Sistemas Operativos, which is the Castilleon translation of Operating Systems by Andrew S. Tanenbaum (ISBN 970-170165-8) who is the original inventor of the system, and I'm going to understand how an operating system works Really Soon.

If you decide on this route, what you need are:
A PC: an XT with 64K RAM and 35MB hard disk will do (it'll be slow, but it's not like we're doing the graphics for Shrek here.
9 or 10 3.5" floppies to create installation disks
An internet connection to download the files, or a friend who has either that or the disks
An operating computer running linux, unix, BSD, or even (shudder) Windows to create the disks with (use dd on the *nix/BSDs, there is a utility called FDVOL on the minix site for the MS version)
Patience, a sense of humor, caffeine, etc
Happy hacking!

How to list SQL Server database sizes

Sometimes someone will ask you, "How big is that database?". This query will show you in Microsoft SQL Server:

select, cast(sum(f.size) as float)*8/1024 [MB]
from master.dbo.sysaltfiles f
left join master.dbo.sysdatabases d on d.dbid = f.dbid
group by
order by

Free Chinese Lesson PodCasts on ChinesePod

Sonia has been encouraging me to learn Chinese. I had actually always thought of Chinese as being far too hard for me to learn. But I'm almost half Chinese, and I've always been very proud of that.

I found a very good website that lets you download free PodCasts of Mandarin Chinese lessons. It also lets you download the transcript of each lesson: The style is light and funky, and they introduce an appropriate amount of information at a time. They had 58 podcasts in just the "Newbie" level. The service is free, with some premium features like tests and character-by-character transcripts for a fee ($9/monthly, $42 for six months, $60 for a year).