Carl Banks' Blog

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New Desktop

Recently built a new desktop. Take a look:


  • Intel i5 4-core, 3.2 GHz
  • MSI P67A Motherboard
  • 1 TB Seagate hard disk drive
  • 64 GB Solid State Drive
  • 8 GB DDR3 RAM
  • ATI Radeon HD 6850
  • Large ATX case

My previous desktop was a bargain HP Compaq (a gift from my family, I would never have bought a Compaq for myself) which performed all right but was made of low-quality parts. The thing finally died a few weeks ago, so I went out and put together this computer out of high quality parts for about $750, and without being forced to buy Windows.

The best part is probably the case. I have never had a computer before where I had so much room to wire stuff around. The second best is the SSD; I have all my programs installed there and the system is flying. It runs Ubuntu 64-bit Server. (Not that I'm running it as a server; I installed the regular desktop kernel and I can use Ubuntu's superior repositories, but I'm not forced to run GNOME or KDE, or, most thankfully, PulseAudio.)

I am very happy.

As for the old desktop, I threw in an inexpensive, low-end (but again higher quality) motherboard and CPU, and it's working well again and ready to begin its life as my DVR.

Tags: boasting, desktop
Last Edited: 14 July 2011, 5:50 AM
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Many people often say about certain situations, "You can't imagine what it's like until you've experienced it". Situation that invoke this claim include raising a child, marriage, work, and war. My first reaction to this claim is, "You people lack imagination". However I can't deny there is some truth to it.

I was raised in the suburbs. My mother has spent her whole life retreating further and further from the city, and when I came along she was already in full flight. Consequently, as a child and on into my teenage years, whenever we did something—anything—we piled into a car (later an SUV) and drove there. Even at college this trend continued. For some reason I chose universities out in the middle of nowhere (Penn State and Virginia Tech); the universities themselves were great but the towns left a little to be desired.

As I began my career I chose more urban areas but they were still neighborhoodish. I could walk to many more places than I could ever before, and it was nice. But even then walking distance often meant at least two miles one way, and many places to go still required a drive. (One interesting thing within walking distance one place I lived was a wholesale electronic parts store; many people don't even have one of those in their state.)

At last I moved to Santa Monica.

I realized, of course, that Santa Monica was a real city with lots of commerce, and was more than just a tourist destination. (In fact, it only feels touristy in the block closest to the ocean; the next few blocks in are more like trendy downtownish; the rest of it is a real city.) So I knew I would be able to walk a lot more often than I ever could. However, what I never could imagine the sheer breadth of the freedom it gave me.

This came to me when I bought a refrigerator soon after moving in. (I had to because my apartment didn't come with one.) Instinctively I got in the car and headed off to places like Best Buy, Sears, and so on. Even though I was aware that I was in Santa Monica precisely so I didn't have to drive so much, I couldn't even imagine buying something like a refrigerator on foot. But after looking at and not buying the fridges at those places, I was walking through town about five blocks from my house and popped into an appliances store, one that was right on the sidewalk, without a four-acre parking lot, and walked out not only with an order for my fridge, but also an appointment with an actual independent plumber to hook up the water line.

This was so different from my childhood experiences buying things like that. My parents would yell at us kids in the middle of a beautiful, sunny day to pile into the car, promising that it wouldn't take long. We'd drive half an hour on lonely roads to an appliance or hardware store, they'd spend four hours trying to decide what color they wanted, another hour waiting for the supply boys to figure out how to pull it out of inventory and load it into the back of the truck, and then we'd drive home in the dark, with my brothers already asleep.

Now I can pop into a store a few blocks away and buy a refrigerator, and I never could have imagined that.

Tags: refrigerator, santa_monica, walking
Last Edited: 7 June 2011, 11:35 PM
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Amazon and Mailing Lists

Back in the old days of the Internet (the 90s) one of the things that made me want to slap the snot out of certain people was email mailing lists. People would sign up for a mailing list, and when they realized they really didn't want 500 emails per day, they would post a message to the list asking someone to take them off. This is even though every message typically contained a few lines of instructions at the bottom (something like "to unsubscribe, reply to this mail with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line"), but apparently there are whole loads of people out there too stupid, too lazy, or (most likely) too self-entitled to follow these simple instructions to take themselves off the mailing list.

The lesson to be learned here is that mailing lists are simply not compatible with the human race. There is always going to be a percentage of people that are not fit to handle the responsibility of removing themselves from a mailing list, and they end up ruining it for everyone. That's why mailing lists have mostly been replaced by web forums.

Well the reason I bring it up is that, apparently, Amazon didn't learn the lesson.

Today I got an email saying they had corrections available for a book I had bought for my Kindle, and that if I wanted it I should reply with Yes in the first line of the message. Here is what I did in response to that message.

  • I replyed to the message. Got a message back saying the reply had to come from the same email address I used at (which is a forwarding only email address that's delivered to main main inbox).
  • Fine, I grumbled, and added an identity to my email client, and followed up with the From header set to my Amazon email address. Got a message back saying it was sent to an address not configured to accept email.
  • Of course. I was supposed to reply to the original message. So I went back to the original message, and replied to that one again.
  • Then I realized I didn't type Yes in the body so I replied yet a fourth time, being sure that I was using my Amazon email address, and that I typed Yes.

It finally worked and I got my update.

If a simple Yes reply to Amazon caused me this much trouble, imagine what trouble it will cause the people who can't remove themselves from a mailing list. There is no way they'll be able to manage it. I don't know if it's the first time Amazon ever attempted something like this, but I suspect it is, because if they ever did it before I don't think they'd ever do it again.

Tags: amazon, lazy, mailing_lists, stupid
Last Edited: 13 May 2011, 2:26 AM
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Things I will never do however long I live in LA

I've lived in Los Angeles for two years and as time passes it looks like I'll be living here for a long time. However, even if I live in LA for fifty years, there are two things I will never do.

  1. Refer to highway numbers with THE.
  2. Care about the Lakers.
Tags: los_angeles
Last Edited: 8 May 2011, 1:27 AM
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My Watch Story

In a prior post, I mentioned how my parents, wanting me to be a Nice Young Man™, bought me a relatively expensive gold watch one Christmas, which I never wore except to try on once or twice, then some years later hawked off.

But the reality is, my aversion to wristwatches goes back further than parental manipulation. Well, it probably goes back to my very conception, since the genes I was issued predisposed me to a life of indifference to social conventions, especially silly arbitrary ones like, "A Nice Young Man™ should wear an expensive gold watch".

But still, the small chance I had of ever getting into the habit of wearing a watch was not fully snuffed out until one day in the eighth grade. I had a cheap 10-year-old-boy-style watch, probably something I got in a grab bag, that I never wore, but did use as an alarm clock (it was freaky how loud it was). One day I thought, "Maybe I'll wear it today." So I clumsily strapped it to my left wrist, and got used to the awkward fingering of the controls. Then, the most important thing: I checked the alarm no less than three times to make sure it was set for 7:00 AM.

You see, in one of my morning classes we had a teacher who would bark at people when their watch alarms went off. This happened surprisingly often in the beginning of the school year (there were evidently a lot of Nice Young Men and Women™ in the class) and after awhile, everyone made sure their watch alarms were set properly. That is why I checked my alarm three times, to make sure it was set at my wake-up time, well before his class.

Well, it's probably not hard to guess what happened. That damn watch's freakily loud alarm went off right in the middle of his class. I had checked it three freaking times and it still went off.

Surprisingly, the teacher didn't go apeshit on me like he did with other students earlier in the school year. Perhaps he sensed my embarrassment and figured it was punishment enough, or maybe he knew from experience that people who start wearing watches middle of the school year aren't likely to continue, so it wouldn't be a long-term problem. I don't know, but my light treatment probably made it even more embarrassing.

Needless to say, it pretty much nipped any chance I had of ever wearing a wristwatch in the bud. I was an awkward teenager and had lots of embarrassing moments in school, but this incident ranks up there as one of the most poignant.

Tags: alarm, embarrassment, high_school, wristwatch
Last Edited: 30 April 2011, 7:50 PM
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Stupid Ad Placement

The following image shows a portion of my drive to work every day:

This is the ramp from 405 South to 110 West in Los Angeles, and is part of my commute to work so I see this sign nearly every day. And yet I still have no idea where the Colonial City on a Beach is. The bottom of the sign is out of my view for the whole length of the ramp, but that is (evidently) where the name of the mysterious Colonial City on a Beach is found. The whole sign would be visible to people driving on La Cienega Boulevard, but drivers on the heavily traveled 405 can't see the name of the city.

(I admit to taking a photo while driving, but what is it to risk my own life and the lives of nearby innocent drivers, when I could make a good blog post?)

Tags: billboard, los_angeles, stupid
Last Edited: 26 February 2011, 1:53 AM
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Recently, it was reported that the last unallocated top-level blocks of Internet addresses have been allocated. The top-level blocks, which contain about 17 million addresses each, are distributed on a continent-by-continent basis, and there is still some time time before they are broken into smaller blocks and allocated for use. But sooner or later the pool will be exhausted.

The solution is to replace the current IPv4 protocol (which allows for only 4 billion Internet addresses) with IPv6 (which allows for 3.4 undecillion, aka a whole lot). The problem is, software that works for IPv4 does not automatically work for IPv6 as well: it has to be upgraded to support IPv6. Much of the software already has been upgraded. All major operating systems support it. Your web browser supports it (unless you're using Lynx or NCSA Mosaic). But a lot remains to be converted. This will be the greatest economic cost of switching to IPv6.

Here's how I expect the transition to go:

  1. Pre-exhaustion stage. Unallocated IPv4 addresses for end-users remain. A few consumers, companies, and governments start to adopt IPv6, but most behavior remains unchanged. Toward the end of this time, markets for IPv4 addresses will appear. Some people will grab unallocated blocks to sell at a marked-up price later.
  2. IPv4 market stage. The last IPv4 addresses have been allocated. People who control sizeable blocks will sell them for a quick buck. This will extend IPv4 for longer than people expect. (Most articles I've read predict it will extend IPv4 by a few months; I say it'll be a year at least. Never underestimate raw capitalism.)
  3. IPv6 hype stage. As IPv4 market prices continue to rise, companies will start to hype up the advantages of IPv6 [1] in an attempt to get consumers to change, and to make a buck in the process. Comcast will create ads that say, "Get our new-fangled IPv6-enabled modem!". Linksys will come out with routers, "Now with IPv6!". They will both quietly offer free flash upgrades to reward their smarter, and thus better, customers. But the end result, shady though the process be, is consumers will start to use IPv6 en masse.
  4. IPv6 critical mass stage. When a critical mass of consumers, infrastructure, and content is converted to IPv6, some providers will decide not to bother with IPv4, and some knowledgeable consumers will disable IPv4. New software will start to be developed without IPv4 support. Old software will start to drop IPv4. I'm guessing this won't happen till 2014.
  5. Legacy IPv4 stage. IPv4 prices peak. Large corporations and goverments that have money and a need for maximal exposure will start buying out the ipv4 addresses so that legacy users can still connect to them. Almost no new software will support IPv4. Legacy software that only supports IPv4 will fall into disuse.
  6. IPv4 wind-down phase. IPv4 blocks fall to near zero value. IANA and friends will start asking companies to return IPv4 blocks for permanent retirement.
  7. Microsoft will drop support for IPv4, finally making it obsolete.
  8. Top-level domain servers stop serving IPv4 addresses. IPv4 will survive only in off-line legacy networks, and Gophernet. Guessing this will be about 2020.

We'll check back here in 2020 to see how my predictions went.

Currently, I haven't even begun to adopt IPv6. This is mainly because my ISP doesn't support it yet, so what's the point? I actually have my ipv6 module blacklisted so it doesn't load. (I run Linux so I can do stuff like that.) As soon as my ISP does that (and they should do it pretty soon), I'll start my own conversion.


[1]IPv6 has other advantages besides the larger address space.
Tags: internet, ipv4, ipv6
Last Edited: 6 February 2011, 3:40 PM
Steven Don wrote: It's not 2020 yet, but in 2017 I think we're pretty much stuck in a mash-up of phases 2 and 3. My ISP can't even provide me with an IPv6 address.
Carl Banks wrote: Yes, I was a little aggressive in my timing. Never underestimate raw capitalism.

Mini diets

I have never been on what I would officially call a diet. However, I find that it's good to have some rule in effect about what I can eat, even if it's minor. A rule like that forces me to think about what I'm eating, and that alone is very helpful in maintaining decent diet.

Generally I stick to a mini diet for about a month or so, but I've done longer and shorter.

Here are some of the rules I put in place at some point:

  • No alcohol: I've been a teetotaler my whole life. I believe the most alcohol I've ever consumed at once was at The Melting Pot (a restaurant specializing in fondue).
  • Many years ago I tried having different dietary restrictions for different days of the week, so Monday I couldn't eat this, Tuesday that, and so on. It didn't work that well, because I'd have to change my shopping/cooking/storing strategies day-to-day. However, it did get me thinking about what I was eating.
  • No fried food. I did this for nearly all of 2007 (mid-January till Thanksgiving). This was prompted by the fact that I'd been living in Georgia for the last year, and anyone who's lived in the South knows, fried food is a way of life there. (It's probably that way because it's pretty much the only thing you can expect Southerners to cook reliably well.) After a year in Georgia I was sick of the fried food, so I just quit eating it. To this day I eat much less fried food than I did before my year off.
  • Various limitations on carbonated beverages, including (at different and sometimes overlapping times): no carbonation at all, no beverages with sugar, no caffeinated beverages, and nothing with aspartame. Once when I was living in Cincinnati I had no sugar/no caffeine/no aspartame in effect, but sucralose (Splenda) was ok. Splenda is a good sweetener for fruity drinks but sucks for cola; nevertheless I would have to grab an RC Zero every once in awhile.
  • No caffeine. I gave it up cold turkey after some precautionary medical checks. I should mention that caffeine does almost nothing to my mental state until I drink enough of it to give me a racing heart, which conversely I seem to be rather sensitive to. After a while (and noting that stopping it had solved my racing hearts) I allowed myself to use it occasionally.
  • Don't eat out. For me it makes economic sense to eat out. I value time saved more the money lost, though I do like to cook. So every so often I add a rule to eat in for a period of time (usually around a month or so).
  • Only eat out at places I'd never tried before. (This is my current mini diet.)
  • No sugary foods. I've tried this a few times a while back, but wasn't as successful as I'd have liked. I'm planning this for next month, though, and I am more experienced on how to stick to these mini diets now so I think I'll be successful this time.
  • Once I tried to go a month only eating ethnic food. I thought this would be an easy one. I lasted about one week.

A few future mini diets I have planned are:

  • No meat. I've been told it's not as easy as it sounds.
  • Eat something every day that I wish I ate more of. This includes foods such as fish, sweet potatoes, hot cereals, vegetables in general.
  • Calorie counting. I.e., a "real" diet. I've never done it but I'd like to try sometime to see how I cope. Maybe I'll even try an extreme limited caloric intake.
Tags: diet, food
Last Edited: 18 January 2011, 8:15 PM
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Christmas Presents

I hate Christmas shopping. I hate the whole culture of gift-giving in general, especially when there's an expectation of reciprocation, which is especially true on Christmas.

One year I proposed to a borther that we should agree not to buy each other presents ("My present to you is that you don't have to buy a present for me"). My mom overheard this proposal and wailed, "But you can't do that!", with such urgency that I never again suggested it. I didn't want to be seen as "that guy" and her outburst made it clear to me that I would be seen that way, so for twenty years I've been dutifully buying Christmas presents for the family, and, after my mom remarried a guy with five children of his own, for the step-family as well.

I made the best of a bad situation, and I admit that I did feel driven to buy good and thoughtful gifts, and took satisfaction from doing so. But, on the whole, I never liked it, always considered it a burden, and always hoped someday I'd get out of it.

My problem with gift-giving is that it's so damn dramatic. People say the person who receives the gift should be grateful for even getting a gift; if it's a bad gift you're no worse off, right? Except that bull.

First of all, when gifts are given with the expectation of reciprocation, you very well might be worse off, because you spent time and money on their gift.

But more insidiously, gifts are not always borne out of generosity. Oftentimes gift-giving is done as a way to manipulate, test, embarrass, or otherwise exert power over the receiver. Gift-giving can be malicious.

Unfortunately, in my family, gifts of malice are quite common.

This year, for various reasons (including recession and starting a new business) my family called off the regular gift exchange and had a Secret Santa drawing instead. I've always hated the Secret Santas we used to have in the extended family (it's bad enough shopping for someone I know well, now I have to get something for an obscure cousin-in-law), and didn't want to participate in this one, but with some difficulty and luck I was able to swap draws with my sister, who drew me. And so, with no regular gift exchange and having effectively removed myself from the Secret Santa, I was now free of obligation to buy anyone a present.

And it was the best Christmas ever.

There is a much longer version of this post, including details of some of the malicious gifting, here. I probably will come off looking like a whiny loser if you read the whole thing. You probably would have to have grown up in my family to understand.

Tags: christmas, gift_giving, rant
Last Edited: 30 December 2010, 7:55 AM
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Political Observation

One of the most effective ways for a party to get its agenda passed is to lose an election.

Tags: politics
Last Edited: 19 December 2010, 6:46 PM
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Viewing all blog posts (Page 5 of 10)