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The Linux Laundrette


Anyone who reads NTK will be familiar with their "Doh" images: now you can see this sort of thing at dohthehumanity.com (and there's an RSS Feed!).

A couple of threads got really out of hand this month, so I split them into their own thread.

The Foolish Things People Do With Other People's Computers

[A friend, who wishes to remain anonymous (case is due in court), sent this]

Well I now have an even stranger story to tell you all. It involves 5 under cover cops and me standing at a [train] station at 01:15 this morning.

The story begins some time between 15:30 and 18:00 yesterday. Someone broke into the house I am staying in. and stole a bunch of stuff including my laptop and passport.

That was that and the last I thought that I would see of those, but then the burglar in their ultimate wisdom decided to ring my mother from the number on my passport -- he was willing to return the items for a "finders fee"

I decided to let the cops in on this information and arrange to meet with him. So I was standing at a [train] station with 5 under cover cops somewhere around and this very wise burglar turned up (in his car!) to return the laptop. When he offered to sell it back the cops moved in and arrested him.

Quite mad!

Releasing the Mouse

[dups] Had to share this with the TAGsters... I have some new found respect for the abilities of my trusty linux box. Yesterday I came across a mouse that seemed to have made his home in my apartment. A super quick little blighter that was seen darting between hiding spots. I contemplated trying to catch the offending rodent, but his acceleration made him untouchable so I made a note to get hold of a trap from the store and lure the thing to its demise with a piece of cheese. That was not necessary however... the next time the rodent was sighted he was making a dash along the wall and ended it with a hop into my linux box which was on the floor with the side panel open. heh. the panel was quickly replaced, cables detached and then my 2.6.8 kernel went along for a walk to deposit the trespasser in the canyon outside my place. (although i think this particular trick may work with windoze as well)

Ginger Beer 2: Return of Ginger

[Heather] We might not be seeing much of Thomas for a few days yet; last I heard from him, his USB-connected cablemodem had exploded, and while he had gotten a replacement...

[Sluggo] First Ben and his hurricanes and laptop, now Thomas with his modem. Did Thomas leave a bottle of exploding ginger beer sitting on top of his modem?

Intestinal Fortitude

[Yeesh! July 14th? How did this slip through the cracks? Anyways, just to prove that we're not above taking swipes at pretenders to the LG throne:]

[Brian] Side-Note - How well the CMS works (not)?


Linux Gazette - Front Page
Submitted by staff on Thu, 01/01/1970 - 00:00.

Sigh. Thank you all for the intestinal fortitude to stand for what's right, like static pages fit for the purpose! Oh, and an appropriately dried sense of humor!

[Ben] You're welcome, Brian. It's something we felt deserved to be continued, and was important to the community. As to the humor, well, we've tried making it drier, but then it gets a little too chewy and hard to swallow. We had to scale it back a little...

Foaming at the mouth


On Wed, 4 Aug 2004 12:48:16 -0400
Ben Okopnik  wrote:

 I really appreciate that attitude, Thomas; thank you. My best take on
 what needs to be done? It's a little complex but definitely workable,
 frommmy perspective. Here it is, in two options:

Is that you foaming at the edges of your mouth, Ben?

[Ben] [wiping mouth] Nah, that's just foam from the coffee my new sweetie just made me.

Double Entendre

Yeah, missed this in the MacBeth thread.

[Jay] I'm sure by now you've heard about the woman who walked into a bar and asked the bartender for a double entendre... so he gave it to her.

[Ben] [drum roll plus sting]

Of course, an accidental double entendre (a.k.a. a Freudian slip), is when you say one thing but you mean your mother.

And then there's UK TV, which seems to have taken Benny Hill as its patron saint:


Searches leading to LG



[Jimmy] From the article ideas department: I just ran webalizer over LG's logs, and these are the top thirty search terms which lead to LG.


21 13 0.20% cowsay 

[Sluggo] Heh heh.


 < I'm sorry, I'm not sure I get the joke. >
         \   ^__^
          \  (oo)\_______
             (__)\       )\/\
                 ||----w |
                 ||     ||

[Heather] /me chuckles


/ I wrote an article             \
| about it so it was amusing to  |
\ have it come up.               /
      \                    / \  //\
       \    |\___/|      /   \//  \\
            /0  0  \__  /    //  | \ \    
           /     /  \/_/    //   |  \  \  
           @_^_@'/   \/_   //    |   \   \ 
           //_^_/     \/_ //     |    \    \
        ( //) |        \///      |     \     \
      ( / /) _|_ /   )  //       |      \     _\
    ( // /) '/,_ _ _/  ( ; -.    |    _ _\.-~        .-~~~^-.
  (( / / )) ,-{        _      `-.|.-~-.           .~         `.
 (( // / ))  '/\      /                 ~-. _ .-~      .-~^-.  \
 (( /// ))      `.   {            }                   /      \  \
  (( / ))     .----~-.\        \-'                 .~         \  `. \^-.
             ///.----..>        \             _ -~             `.  ^-`  ^-_
               ///-._ _ _ _ _ _ _}^ - - - - ~                     ~-- ,.-~

[Heather] Dragon? I don't think this counted as a flame ;>

/ for the record cowsay defaults to 40 wide but I appreciate the hotlink \
\ being done right anyway. and a very merry un-bday to you c/~           /
 \     , ,  ,
  \   _IiI_iI_

Ben & Hurricanes

[Ben] Hurricane Ivan is on the way (I've always said them damn Russians are trouble...)

[Sluggo] Show me a pair of dark sunglasses, and I'll show you a member of the Russian mafia. Extortion: what apparatchiks do under Capitalism. Oh wait, they did the same thing under Communism too.

[Ben] Soft mud plus a steel boat - shouldn't be too much trouble, but - again - I'm reserving judgement until I get there. Note that both of these places are known for not getting hit: St. Augustine, in particular, has had a total of four hurricanes pass over it since 1906.

[Sluggo] Do you want me to ask the Weather Service to redirect the storm so it hits St Augustine and the "Ulysses" but nothing else?

[Strangely enough, Ben passed on this offer. It takes all types, I suppose...]

Spelling of my name...

[Brian (Bilbrey)] "-- Brian Bilbray" somehow got into Issue 106.

[Ben] Whoops. Well, I had the security guards escort him off the premises. Just because his name is similar to yours, he thought he could wander around freely... hah!


[David R. Tyler] You have been caught using bandwidth with your mirror.

[Thomas] Clearly, the days of using your mirror to brush your hair, are over....



On Fri, Sep 24, 2004 at 12:43:42PM -0600, Jason Creighton wrote:

> What would you need to make a break from where you are? Collage?
I don't think going out to the woods, getting some glue, and sticking leaves, pine cones, and mud to a piece of paper, while hastily tearing up pieces of paper, and calling it 'art' is going to help. :)



On Sat, 11 Sep 2004 09:23:04 -0700, 
Mike Orr  wrote:

 HIMEM was a DOS kludge.
No need to repeat yourself. :-)


[From Thomas's .sig]


$ source ~/.bash_history

[Ben] Eeep. [thinks about it some more] EEEEEP!!!

Even More Stuff Goes Wrong...

[Ben] As if I haven't had enough crap to contend with this month... my mail redirector, ben@[domain name dot org], has suddenly died (it still accepts the mail - just doesn't forward it.) I've filed a ticket with the folks that host it, but meanwhile I've got two days worth of mail that's hanging in limbo.

[Jimmy] Well, of course it had to happen. You told everyone but yourself to save their equipment failures :)

[Ben] I guess that's why my customized overhead high-pressure zone went away, so Hurricane Jeanne is aimed dead at me right at the moment... 60 hours or so till impact. As if we hadn't had enough of'em.

Limitations of email

[Thomas] Enforce it as the author's responsibility to do that

[Ben] Well, I haven't quite mastered twisting people's arms via email - the force component is fairly hard to transmit, particularly those tiny but all-important wrist-turning vectors - but I can certainly add it to the authors' FAQ, once we decide on what "it" is, exactly.


[Sluggo] Subversion is wackoed again

[Jimmy] And don't look now, but it's wackoed again again.

[David] And Yet Again...

[Ben] Unwackoed again. I wonder what the problem is, lately.

[Jimmy] Gremlins. Someone's been feeding them after midnight.

The Horror...

[Jason] I wanted a photo off my parent's digital camera. They have Windows ME.

[Ben] Jason, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. How could you do that to your poor parents? There I was, thinking of you as a responsible sort of geek, and you let those poor innocents be abused by that horrible creature from Redmond!

(Say, perhaps we should make a horror movie.)

[Jimmy] Voice over: It was the time of twilight, a time of mortal men and a time of immortal evil. A time when the young offered the aged in bloody sacrifice.

[Ben] Right... let's see, who could we get to do Vincent Price's voice for this? I mean, we need creepy here. Hmm, wonder if John Ashcroft is available.

[Jimmy] Who could star? Wonder how much Christopher Lee charges?

[Jason] sob I'm sorry! I didn't know better at the time!

[Ben] There, there. At least now you know how to make the boo-boo awwww bettah. :)

[Jason] Windows was hanging on me

[Ben] Yes, it'll do that. I've found that a good prybar is usually sufficient to break the grip, after which that same implement can be used to threaten the monster until it realizes the futility of its endeavor and shambles off in search of other, more innocent victims.

[Jason] Wait...a greater quanity of innocent victims, or victims not as guilty as me? :)

[Ben] Were you looking for any answer other than "yes"? :)

[Jimmy] Ben, we're making a movie here. It's not a "monster", it's a "fell beast, rent from its evil age, when... etc".

[Ben] Uh-huh, "rent from its evil age". How much rent are we talking about, here? (And what's an "evil age", anyway? Late teens to early twenties, or what?) Sheesh, trust an Irishman to slip in an old political issue when no one's looking...

[Jimmy] CUT! Script check!

"The fell beast, torn from aeons past, when evil wore the blackened sky as a cloak."


[Jason] No, I'm thinking more along the lines of a reality TV show: "Big Brother XP"

Watch as millions of people from across the country volunteer to live with the Windows operating system in a desprate attempt to get work done. See the anger: "What...illegal operation!? I NEED THIS REPORT NOW!". See the deception: "Okay, the box says it works with my version of Windows, and I installed the drivers right, so why doesn't it..." Watch as secret alliances are formed: "I want to uninstall IE...what do you mean, it's part of the OS?". Feel the betrayal: "What, 50 uses and then I need to 'register'? But...my computer crashed, and when I tried to register after I reinstalled, it didn't work! I PAID for this software!"

You can watch "Big Brother XP" 24/7 anywhere Windows runs. (Or rather, anywhere Windows doesn't run in a very specific way.)

[Ben] The subtle, unobvious effects are the worst ones... but I suppose we could provide an MP3 of some creepy music to at least hint at it.

[Jason] Seriously, at the time they purchased the computer, ME had just come out, so I thought "hey, why not". I now know why not, and wish I had just told them to go with 98SE, which is not supposed to be as bad.

[Ben] Say, didja hear about the latest version of Wind0ws? It combines the three most popular versions and is named after them: CE/ME/NT. Once it's in your computer, it sets solid and can never be removed...

Song of the Month

[Or a month at least... this is from June, but since Sluggo added a song last month, I figured it should go in (and it's not because I found a cache of mail I'd saved, honest!)

Of course, my own choice would be different; "Death Certificate", "No Love Lost", "Mayonaise", "Slave New World", or "Dead Skin Mask"]

[Ben] Just saw this on a list; 'The Poet Cranky' theme has produced some great results. This sounds like something the Rolling Stones might have done... or Pink Floyd, from a slightly different perspective. :)

"The Bloody Orkneys"

This bloody town's a bloody cuss
No bloody trains, no bloody bus,
And no one cares for bloody us
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody roads are bloody bad,
The bloody folks are bloody mad,
They'd make the brightest bloody sad,
In bloody Orkney.

All bloody clouds, and bloody rains,
No bloody kerbs, no bloody drains,
The Council's got no bloody brains,
In bloody Orkney.

Everything's so bloody dear,
A bloody bob, for bloody beer,
And is it good? - no bloody fear,
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody 'flicks' are bloody old,
The bloody seats are bloody cold,
You can't get in for bloody gold
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody dances make you smile,
The bloody band is bloody vile,
It only cramps your bloody style,
In bloody Orkney.

No bloody sport, no bloody games,
No bloody fun, the bloody dames
Won't even give their bloody names
In bloody Orkney.

Best bloody place is bloody bed,
With bloody ice on bloody head,
You might as well be bloody dead,
In bloody Orkney.
-- Hamish Blair


[Jimmy] For me, a grocers is any place that has a sign outside that reads "apple's and orange's".

[This is called "The Greengrocer's Apos'trophe", according to pTerry. Read "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" by Lynne Truss]

[Ben] Err... wouldn't that make "Boots-pharmacy" a grocer's? Or would that be "a grocers", instead?

[Jimmy] Nah. Though it should have had an apostrophe (as it was founded by John Boot), "Boots" is the name, so it doesn't need one. Anyway, we have to give the pharmacists a break -- they have to learn to read doctor.

More Hurricanes

[Thomas] Walmart? I thought they only sold food? Mind you, at the equivilent pound sterling to dollar ratio, $999 for that spec laptop is pretty good.

[Jimmy] From what I'd heard, the only things they don't sell are weapons of mass destruction, but it's only a matter of time before the UN send around some inspectors to confirm this.

[Ben] Weapons of Mass Delusion, you mean? Oh. I'd been wondering where Bush and Co. got'em. "Special, today only! $29.95 Billion per set, they have no width, height, depth, or mass - but tons of political spin and charm! [1] Get yours now, and you'll never need to look for another reason to start a war! Karl Rove propaganda machine not included."

[1] A rather quarky way of looking at things, to be sure...

[Jimmy] We have all the wars you'll ever need -- conveniently placed Eurasians^WArabs who'll drive your approval ratings through the roof!

[Ben] In theory, I'll be getting my Acer laptop back on Tuesday, but I needed contact with the world NOW. Particularly since we've got some nasty weather that I need to monitor - not hurricanes, thank the Great Ghu, Jeanne and Karl having sheered off (at least according to the NOAA predictions), but remains of Ivan; they were calling for 35-40 knots by tonight through tomorrow afternoon, but have now changed that to 20-25kt from tonight (and that is about what we've got at the moment) through Monday night. I'd be the last one to complain about that, although the smaller boats here are in for a rough ride...

[Thomas] I'm glad things are OK, and that nothing particularly bad happened. My aunt and Uncle were on holiday in Florida with my two cousins when Ivan came along. Heh, no Disney for them.. woops.

[Ben] Yeah - whoops. No Disney, no big deal. Decapitation due to flying galvanized roofing - that would be a big deal. I'm glad that they're OK enough to worry about Disney. :)

[Jimmy] Nah. Stand outside with a large umbrella - it's sure to be more exciting than any rollercoaster.

[Thomas] Hehehe - I just don't think they quite envisaged spending their holiday locked up in a room for fear of flying house parts. :)

[Jimmy] Sounds like my last holiday. (I had a little too much to drink...)

[Ben] Funny, I'd have thought you folks would be used to that. I understand everybody in the UK used LSD every day until the Euro came in... :)

[Ben means decimilisation -- Britain doesn't use the Euro]

[Thomas] That explains why my parents are strange.... :)

[Ben] [Sluggo is] A prince of a fellow, although I wish he'd tell his cow orkers at [snip] to send all those hurricanes elsewhere, like they did with J and K. Whoever was in charge of Ivan should get a strict talking-to, and maybe a remedial driving class.


/ I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow \
\ your house down!                        /
 \            .    .     .
  \      .  . .     `  ,
   \    .; .  : .' :  :  : .
    \   i..`: i` i.i.,i  i .
     \   `,--.|i |i|ii|ii|i:
                ||    ||

(That's a flaming sheep, or couldn't you tell?)

[Ben] I guess that would be a sheep orker, then. Well, Mike, you're the fellow who gets to see them every day... I guess you know best. :)

[Sluggo] A what? I googled for "sheep orker" and found only one entry on a Swedish bulletin board: "det finns flera som ej vill ha allians me orker", whatever that means.

[More of this thread]

[Ben] A sheep orker is just a little smaller than a cow orker, as well as somewhat more hairy.

[Sluggo] Sounds like the seapig we named our Python group after.


[Sluggo] A radio analyst said the storms form in east Africa and travel across the world. He also said it's not a question of Florida being unusually hit this year, but rather of being unusually lucky the past thirty years.

[Ben] Yep, the low pressure moves off the Sahara and continues to grow when the moisture-retaining capability of the air exceeds a certain point. After that, the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone) is responsible for moving it along, and the Coriolis effect gets it spinning.

[Jimmy] Which, of course, is all started by a butterfly flapping its wings.

[Sluggo] Although why a storm would dare attack when Ben Okopnik is on watch is beyond me.

[Ben] As they say in Spanish (from the obvious Arabic root), ojala! Or, in a dialect closer to home, "From your mouth to God's ears."

[Jimmy] It didn't - it snuck in while he was in New York. It's not that stupid.

[Sluggo] Gosh, and the first hurricane stuck when it thought Ben was going to Oregon, but he changed his mind at the last minute. I guess the hurricanes don't get news from Echelon, which tracks all Russian spies.

[Jimmy] Nah. The butterfly had already done its job by then.

[Ben] The most annoying part of this laptop-buying game is that there's usually no easy way to find out what the chipset is unless you buy the thing (or take it for a test drive. Hmm, firing it up in the store with a Knoppix CD might be an idea...)

[Thomas] Not to mention, you'd get thrown out. :)

[Jimmy] "You open it up and poke at the circuitry, you bought it" doesn't have quite the same ring. If they question the Knoppix test, you can tell them to think themselves lucky you didn't try the coffee retention test.

[Ben] Coffee retention test? Quite apropos, especially since I just got an email from a Perl list with an interestingly mispeled term:

 It accepts as input two base10 numbers, converts them to two unary
 numbers, performs urinary multiplication

Seems like that would be a part of any coffee-retention test performed on computers...

[Jimmy] Urinary multiplication? My Dad's signed up for that.

[i.e., he's on a waiting list for a kidney transplant]

Wacko Topic: Swedish

[Sluggo] The person writes in capitals like he's really excited: "okej före första VÄNTA TILLS ERAT SVAR BLIVIT BEKRÄFTAT INNAN NI STÄLLER EN NY FRÅGA!!!!"

Anybody know enough Swedish to translate? I think it's something like, "OK for the first ... powered ... places in our question."

[Martin Pagh Goodwin] For the swedish content - my shot at it is as follows (I'm only danish)
det finns flera som ej vill ha allians me orker - There are many who will not ally with the orcs

Orcs is also translated to orker in the danish version of LoTR that I posess.

[Rick] I have a secret weapon: a Swedish mother-in-law. So:

"Wait until your question is confirmed before you place a new question."

(How a Norwegian-American like me ended up with a Swedish mother-in-law -- unlikely to those familiar with Scandinavian international relations -- is a conundrum known to but few.)

[Rick's sig:]

The Viking's Reminder:
Pillage first, then burn.

[Martin] Do you know the origin of your surname? My guess would be the name of a danish island: "Mon", where "O" is usually replaced with "OE" in societies with limited alphabets.

PS I see your signature is playing tricks on you again.

[Jimmy] Rick, is your .sig generator also ESP enabled?

[Rick] Yes, I'm certainly aware of the island of Møn -- it has a Web site. ;-> See also: http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/faq/index.php?page=misc#moen I like the story of how the residents blew up their own castle, rather than let Christian III have it (1534).

I've always assumed that the family surname was from Denmark on account of the historical connection. Dad was born in Kristiansund near Bergen, but possibly there's Danish ancestry in the more distant past?

One of these days, I'll get some Norwegian or Dane to sit down with me and tell me how it's really supposed to be pronounced, just so I know. (The American branch of the family pronounces it to rhyme with the English words Bowen or rowan: The Continental branch was, I hear, almost entirely wiped out by the firebombing of Kristiansund during the war.)

Wacko Topic of the Month: Supermarkets

[This stemmed from the hurricanes thread. Right about now, a quick show of nationalities might clarify things: Sluggo and Ben are American, Thomas is British, Jimmy is Irish, and Frodo is from the Netherlands. For more information about supermarkets, see Wikipedia's overview articles Supermarkets in the United Kingdom and Supermarkets in the United States.]

[Ben] Got a hold of an Averatec 5400-series laptop from Walmart - $999, Athlon XP-M 2800+, 15" TFT screen, 802.11g, VIA chipset, DVD+/- RW burner, 512MB/40GB, and a 15-day no-hassle/no-charge return policy [grin]

[Thomas] Walmart? I thought they only sold food? Mind you, at the equivilent pound sterling to dollar ratio, $999 for that spec laptop is pretty good.

[Ben] Nope - they only sell food at their "supercenters" (which this one is); usually, they do the clothing/hardware/furniture/etc. type of thing.

Very successfully, mind you; out of the ten richest people in the world, the Walton family occupies positions four through ten (or did, a while back.) If old Sam was still alive, his yearly income would be larger than many small countries.

[Thomas] Oh, I see. We have those kinds of shops here, although on that scale, I'd be more inclined to label them as departmental stores -- say "John Lewis" which are a famous chain here.

[Ben] Yep, that comes close - although I think of department stores as a niche that got coopted into whatever you'd call Walmart/KMart/Target/etc.; they're quite a bit more handy than, say, the old Woolworth's department stores ever were.

[Sluggo] Woolworth's was already in decline when I was born so I never saw one in operation. They've left some historical storefronts that now house other retailers. I think Woolworth's was what we called a "dime store" in the 60s, a place that had small non-food items for a dime (supposedly).

In Tacoma there's a Piggly Wiggly that may be the last of its kind in the west. Kind of like a dime store anachronism. Although I hear Piggly Wiggly used to be a big grocery chain back east. Tacoma is kind of the place chain stores go to die. There's a Frisco Freeze (like Dairy Queen) and I think there's an A&W. There's also the Java Jive, a run-down bar that's shaped like a tea kettle.

[Sluggo] When I was in Bristol the people in the hostel recommended a cheap supermarket, so off I went for provisions. It was a half hour walk away. It turned out to be the German company Aldi, if I remember right, which I've also encountered in Germany. It's not a supermarket as I think of it because they don't seem to sell large portions of anything, so you don't get the economy of size. I don't mean the large wholesale sizes but the medium sizes you find at Safeway (US) and Sainsbury's (England). (Which, by the way, I could not find at all in Germany, although maybe I wasn't looking in the right places.)

[Thomas] I like Sainsburys. There's three main [supermarket (see next comment)] leaders here:

Tesco [Wikipedia article]
Sainsburys [Wikipedia]

[Sluggo] Sainsbury's is just like an American supermarket. Tesco here is a chain of gas stations, not supermarkets.

[Thomas] I guess you can't really eat that, then.

[Jimmy] Yeah. Horrible indigestion.

[Sluggo] Of course, we're still trying to figure out how Virgin can be an airline, train line, and cybercafe chain, since we thought they were a record store.

[Wikipedia has an article explaining the Virgin Group]
[Thomas] Hehehe, Mr. Branson certainly has his finger in many pies.
[Jimmy] Shh! He'll open a chain of bakers next.

[Jimmy] Well, it started as a record label, and has since become Richard Branson's brand for everything he does (except the original Virgin Records, which is no longer his -- his record label is V2).

[Thomas] Asda (Walmart owned) [Wikipedia]

[Thomas] Along with them come:

Aldi [Wikipedia]
Lidl [Wikipedia]
Morrissons (apparantly famous more ooop North of England, chuck) [Wikipedia]

Hehe - to me, a supermarket is a place one goes to buy food from. Although many do now tend to sell other items such as cheap clothing, and microwaves, but the scale is still very small.

[Sluggo] That's not a supermarket. :) A supermarket is a large store that sells food in family-sized portions, competes mainly on price (although Whole Foods specializes in organics and natural foods), and tries to stock every conceivable type of food. It contrasts with the small mom-n-pop grocery stores that have almost entirely disappeared.

[Sluggo] Not to be confused with the current "convenience stores"/"mini marts". The old grocery stores had fresh vegetables, meat, and milk. The convenience stores are mostly candy and cigarettes. Some convenience stores that's all they have. At better convenience stores you can find a sandwich, apple, and milk, and nowadays even a premade salad, but you're lucky if you can find an egg, and don't even think of shopping for whole vegetables there, there aren't any.

[Thomas] Yes, I agree entirely with that. What you call "mom-n-pop", I'd classify as a "corner shop" - usually family run, and stocks up on the basics such as bread/milk, and often sells many tinned foods.

[Sluggo] They are called corner shops in places that actually have them on every corner; e.g., parts of New York City. The rest of us can only wish they were so common.

What I remember in England and Ireland is the shaverma/kebab holes-in-the-wall, and curry chips. There's nothing like that here.

[Ben] "Here" obviously not being Brooklyn. Or pretty much any borough of NYC, although you'd have to look for a while in Staten Island. In Brooklyn, though, you can take your pick among the Greek, Arabic, and Israeli versions - all within a few blocks of each other. Although for Greek food, you're best off in Queens... don't get me started. The NYC food scene is amazing, and in my experience unique.

[Sluggo] I'd take a shaverma (gyros) over a taco any day.

[Ben] Pshaw, there isn't even any comparison between the two. Although the Veracruz (right by the Manhattan Bridge, on the Brooklyn side) makes tacos that even I will grudgingly admit to be real food.

[Sluggo] Any place that sells a variety of food I would call a "grocery", whether large or small. But a dedicated meat/fish store or vegetable/fruit store I wouldn't call a grocery; I guess because you can't obtain a complete meal from them.

[Thomas] To me, a grocery store was one that predominently sells fruit and vegetables -- and they're very hard to come buy now. So I suppose the term is now being used here to describe the corner shops, above.

[Sluggo] Supermarkets usually have small non-food items like utinsels, paper, and cough syrup, but I've never seen one selling microwaves or clothing. Safeway did sell a small line of TVs twenty years ago, but not now.

[Thomas] Fascinating. It's these little nuances that I love. :)

[Sluggo] Supermarkets are often paired with drug stores, which were originally pharmacies but also sell small non-food household stuff: school supplies, kitchen supplies, razors, walkmans and cameras, and Halloween costumes. Boots in England is a drug store. (Why does it have a name like Boots if it's not a shoe shop?) I think you call drug stores something else in England but I can't remember the word.


[Thomas] Pharmacies are strictly for medications, although they too are getting rarer and rarer as stores such as Boots take over (they have subsidery firms: Boots-pharmacy, etc.). As to why it is called Boots - I believe it to be the surname of the founder. They're an old company and back then, it was tradition.

[Sluggo] Department stores like Macy's [Wikipedia] and Sears [Wikipedia] sell clothing, "large" things (tables, beds, stoves and refrigerators, bathroom cabinets), wedding and crystal stuff, etc. Sears also sells mechanics' tools. Nordstrom's is also considered a department store, although it only sells clothing (mid-level and high-end).

[Thomas] Yup - then "John Lewis" and "Debenhams" over here are such examples. If you get the chance, you should take a look around one sometime... they're quite good.

[Sluggo] Then there's the big stores like Fred Meyer, Target, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart that don't really have a name. They aren't department stores because they aren't posh enough, but they're not drug stores either because they have a wider selection of small non-food stuff, and they often have lots of clothing and TVs too. Nowadays they've come under the generic classification of "big-box stores". A few of them have entire supermarkets inside them.

[Thomas] You mean like the equivalent of France's hypermache?

[Sluggo] Then there's wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam's Club. Costco started in the late 80s, and were originally meant to sell to small businesses rather than individuals, but you could also get a membership if you worked for the government or belonged to certain credit unions (=non-commercial banks). But families with children quickly realized that wholesale sizes were perfect for them and fanagled a membership any way they could. Then the explosion of credit-union membership brought a ton of new members indirectly. I don't know why Costco continues its facade of membership restrictions and being "mainly a small-business supplier", but they do. Sam's Club, which is owned by Wal-Mart, appeared in the region in the early 90s, but we didn't hear about Wal-Mart itself until years later, and a Wal-Mart store didn't actually appear in the region until around 2000.

[Thomas] Yes -- I think what you're describing here is what I would call "cash-n-carry" places. You can buy things in bulk at cheap prices. The classic one being "Macros" - you have to be a member to shop there.

[Sluggo] What I mean is, Aldi seemed more like a huge convenience store, and while it did have things like yogurt and bread it was all small portions at convenience-store prices. I didn't expect to find Safeway and Sainsbury's per se in Germany, but I would expect that German families would have something to say about having to buy convenience-store portions for a family of four week after week, unless there are in fact some supermarkets somewhere that I didn't see.

[This split into a chat about unions]

[Jimmy] From what I was told, Aldi is owned by a German, whose brother owns Lidl (same sort of supermarket). Aldi and Lidl are great if you want cheap booze or German food, but most people I know shop there for cheap electrical goods.

[Frodo] As it happens, I read quite a lot about especially Aldi. Every German computer magazine has to explain every now and again, why Aldi in the northern part of Germany often has different pc's and other hardware on offer, than the Aldi in the southern part.

Aldi was started in the German city of Essen, in 1913, by the father of the current owners. In 1960, the Albrecht brothers decided to split Germany in two halves, north and south (Aldi Nord and Aldi Sued), and each of them would only be allowed to have stores in their own part.

They split the rest of the world too, btw. Aldi in Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Spain are owned by Aldi Nord, while those in Australia, Austria, Great Britain, Ireland and the USA are owned by Aldi Sued. (Yes, I had to look up the exact way they split it)

Lidl started as Lidl & Schwarz, and is a much newer company (they first started in the seventies, in Ludwigshafen, also in Germany) and is owned by the Schwarz-group.

Wacko Subtopic: Unions

[Sluggo] Then I caught up with my friend and he told me the store was owned by [supermarket]. I was immediately crushed at buying from there, due to their tradition of skimping on workers' pay, being hostile to unions, etc.

[Thomas] Really? How is it they can be so cruel?

[Ben] Money talks - and when money says to the mayor of Buttwipe, Nebraska "we want an exclusion/exception/easement on the following local laws, or we'll take this store and its 2,000 jobs elsewhere", money gets its way. Conversely, "Governor, we're planning on giving $500,000 to your favorite charity. Sure, it's a tax write-off for us, but we still get to decide which charity! By the way, you were going to vote our way on the upcoming bond moratorium, yes?" is even more effective; a stable of tame politicians, particularly at the higher levels, can do wonders for a large business.

Oh, and the above examples are fairly crude ones. It would still happen exactly the same way, but the wording would be such that it could never be construed as bribery or coercion - despite the fact that it is.

[John] ... and his favorite charity no doubt is his campaign fund ... or his family trust fund. :^>

[Jimmy] Not necessarily - a lot of charity money comes from these sorts of deals. Government types like to associate themselves with charities, because it earns them brownie points with voters. The more their charity gets from their involvement, the better their reputation looks.

It's also a great way for the rich to network - companies with cash to spare might not need a friendly senator now, but they know they probably will at some stage; a senator might not need to know where to find a large sum of money now, etc.

It's all based in the simple psychology behind making friends; if you act in a friendly way towards someone, they will think favourably of you. Where you or I might buy someone a drink or take them to dinner in order to get to know someone, the mega rich throw a large sum of money at that person's favourite charity - it's the same gesture, but translated in terms of bank balance.

[I wanted to have:

That type of "money talks" is depressingly common all over the [Country], not just with [supermarket]. Sports teams use the same threat to get free stadiums built: "build it or we'll leave". [Company] played three states against each other to get the sweetest deal for their [snip] plant. (Oops, I'm not supposed to say that when [inhabitants of a certain continent] are listening, because the mantra is that [other company] is subsidized by its governments and [company] is not.)

but [Person]Sluggo made me put down the scissors - I've cut myself enough this month - and put back all the proper nouns.

Remember kids - never use scissors without adult supervision!]

[Sluggo] That type of "money talks" is depressingly common all over the US, not just with Wal-Mart. Sports teams use the same threat to get free stadiums built: "build it or we'll leave". Boeing played three states against each other to get the sweetest deal for their 7E7 plant. (Oops, I'm not supposed to say that when Europeans are listening, because the mantra is that Airbus is subsidized by its governments and Boeing is not.)

[Jason] Oh yeah. In my area, a developer is planning to build a "mega-mall" seems to get quite a lot of cooperation from the city council/county commissioners/etc. A large percentage of "letters to the editor" seem to to go something like this:

You can stop growth! And think of how great this will be for the economy!
This is the last best place! Growth for the sake of growth is the ethos of the cancer cell!
That's not a fair comparision at all! It's people like you that hold back this area!
I didn't move here so I could shop in big-box stores! And let me tell you something...

...and so on. I personally don't care very much, I just wish the "powers that be" would start thinking right now about the horrible infrastructure problems that will crop up in five years. Gee, you mean if this mall goes in the traffic problem's gonna get worse? Whodathunkit?

[Sluggo] The reason people are so uniquely enraged at [supermarket] is that its famous low prices are borne by the employees to an extent not seen at other stores. Low wages, no benefits, "off the clock" work, part-time positions, etc.

[Jason] Then why do people work there?

[Jimmy] I can answer this one, as I am working in a place with conditions not far removed.

For those who either are unskilled, lack documentation of these skills, and/or have not got the self-marketing ability to sell their skills to employers, there are few options available when it comes to jobs.

Using myself as an example, I dropped out of college because I had chosen the wrong course, and couldn't afford to return. I took the first job that came my way, as a web designer, but soon got loaded down with other tasks I simply wasn't being paid for. I quit that job, got "unemployment assistance" (£37/week - roughly $50), quickly built up debt, and had to take the job I'm currently in, where I'm earning enough to pay my child support payments, but not enough to set aside money to make a break from where I am.

One of my friends from college, the second most gifted programmer I ever met (and that's because chance found me sharing a taxi with rms the first time he gave a talk in Ireland), currently stacks shelves in a supermarket. (Just to illustrate, in his third year in college, while trying to write a game, he wrote his own windowing system.)

I know plenty of people who didn't even get the chance to screw up in the ways I did, and who had no other choice but to accept these sorts of jobs.

[Another sub-thread: College]

Wacko Topic: Bad Luck

[In which Jimmy (erm... that would be me) gets to whine about another injury at work. Read the full story]
[Update, 29th Sept. I met a woman from my former shift today. She tells me the rumours are that I cut my whole hand off, and was found unconscious from blood loss. Don'tcha just love "Chinese Whispers"?]

[Jimmy] Fate intervenes - I might have to leave it till next month because I had to get a few stitches in my hand (yet another work related injury) and I might not be able to do enough typing one handed.

[Ben] GRRRR! What is this, the bad luck season?

[Jimmy] (This is going to take a while to type)

I changed shifts 4 weeks ago, so my brother and I would be able to start a band. After 3 years without an accident, I've had 2 cuts and a fall since then. On my third day, I picked up a knife, thinking it was one of the half-blunt knives we use, only to find (when it was stuck halfway into my knuckle) that it was one of those used in the beef area. Although [person] is supposed to be a trained first aider, he just stuck a plaster on it, and taped it down when the blood washed it off, thereby making it worse. In hindsight, I should have demanded to be taken to the hospital, but instead trusted that he would do the right thing. It healed before I could make it to a doctor, and I no longer have feeling in that knuckle.

[Potentially libelous statement removed]

Today, I had to dispose of the hoop blade we use. We have been told constantly that we have to throw these into the skip. This is, it turns out, wrong in so many ways, but as it left my hand, it snagged on my jacket, and cut through my finger, I think to the bone (I didn't ask, because I didnt want to be sure - I was keeping a positive outlook, but just barely). The only thing that's worrying me now is the thought that I might lose feeling in my finger too.

So... the job hunt is on with a vengeance.

At least I have my heavy metal cred (Tony Iommi, guitarist of Black Sabbath, lost two fingertips in a factory accident the day before the band were due to go on their first European tour. On his fretting hand - ouch!)

[Ben] There are three hurricanes out there - Jeanne (which has already killed 600+ people in Haiti), Karl, and Lisa. At least I've got the Acer laptop back, and it seems to be working OK so far.

All the rest of you - would you please save up your accidents, equipment failures, etc. for later? If you use them all up now, you'll just be bored for the rest of the year, and won't have anybody to blame but yourselves.

Wacko Topic: College

[Jason] I'm 17, and will graduate from high school next spring. I think I'm interesting in a job in programming (or software engineering, or whatever they call it.) but I'm really trying to avoid going to collage, unless there's some practical way I could do it without going into debt.

[Thomas] Unfortunately, I don't think you're going to get much of a choice. The world is increasingly operating around pieces of paper. You could be God's gift to programming, but unless you have the piece of paper to say you have done XYZ you're not likely going to be considered.

I'm at University (is that what you call College over there?) and am doing Software Engineering. I love programming, always have. There's a bias on this course that is Java. Why? Because currently that's what is the industry "favourite". I won't be doing any C (or C++) since it is considered too "difficult". So what I have taken to doing in my assignments, is to put the Ruby equivalent of code and show the lectureres the difference -- outlining key features that prove a point.

Why? Well, I do not like the fact that there is a bias. I realise that they need a language to suppliment the "theory" of Object-Orientedness, but Java? It's slow, bloated and this nonsense of WORA "Write Once Run Anywhere" is a myth. What it actually means is: "Write once, watch it run on Solaris and some Linux systems, and debug everywhere else".

[Jimmy] Well, there's the big difference. In Ireland, fees are paid by the government; there are at least two grants, which cover rent, for those with lower incomes; and anyone over 21 who has been collecting social welfare payments for at least 6 months can go to college, with fees paid, a full grant, full weekly social welfare payments plus rent allowance, which is roughly 2/3 of the average rent price, and an annual book grant.

Now, even with that, I'm surrounded by people who couldn't afford college.

[Jason] And plus I need to see how I do with large projects. Most of the coding I've done is just small stuff that I hacked together because I needed that tool. So I'm trying to hack up a tetris clone in C using SDL (about 375 LOC, working okay, color scheme and keys hardcoded, two player support is an UGLY kludge, but I feel pretty good about it) in order to determine if I could work on larger programs. The jury is still out on that.

[Thomas] You shouldn't look at it like that, Jason. If you ever find yourself working on a project that is large you'll only ever work on a small subset of it. You might never even know what it is you're working on overall. You'll normally work as a team, and get given a small task to do.

If you do take a Software Engineering course, I'll tell you that if you think it is all about 'coding' then think again. It's not like that anymore, where people sat up till some uneartly hour in a dark room lit only by a monitor. What you'll find is a most invaluable role as a software engineer is program design -- actually designing how the program works (UML essentially). You'll probably never end up writing the raw code. Finding a job that does is going to take you a very long time, and if you do, it won't be that well paid.

[Jimmy] Well, you have to learn to walk before you run. Small projects can become large projects if you keep at them.

Basically, it takes 2-4 years to become good at something, 2-4 to become great, and roughly 10 to become a master.

[Jason] I don't care very much which language I'm using. It would be great if I could use a "fun language" like Ruby or Python, (or maybe even Lisp, if I could wrap my mind around it.) but it looks like you have to go with

[Thomas] One of my units is on AI, using prolog and lisp. Lisp is an excellent language. Logical and useful. Just ignore EMACS. :) The language you'll use means nothing unless you have the transferable skills behind it, such as OO, etc. After that, all that really should remain when you switch between languages is syntactical issues and idiosyncrasies.

[Jason] "what's cool" at the moment. It looks like Java used to be cool. Now it looks like C#/.NET is the cool language, the one that everybody wants to use, just because it's new and it's from Microsoft. At least it has garbage collection.

[Thomas] Don't believe the hype.

[Jimmy] Learn the "fun" language, and at least one "work" language. Smart employers will still look for Java or whatnot, but knowing Python or Ruby (or Perl, or Lisp, or ...) screams "I like programming".

I wouldn't rush to follow fashion here. C# is basically Java with all the features they haven't gotten around to adding to Java yet. If you know Java, you can get the gist of C# in a few hours.

[Jason] And that's why I'm writing this tetris clone in C: C isn't the most popular language around, but it's a whole lot more popular than Ruby. It

[Thomas] No? Where did you think that? C is used extensively in industry, and popularity is propoganda. Ruby is certainly used a lot, more than you think in industry.

[Jason] seems to me as if I should learn as many marketable languages as I can, and C seems simple and scary, whereas C++ seems complex and scary.

[Thomas] Heh. Keep at it.

[Jimmy] C++ looks complex and scary when you take a distant look at it, but if you take it in stages, it's not as bad. Look at it as a better C first - use function overloading, and default values. Then add classes, then constructors/destructors, then virtual classes, then operator overloading, then templates. It starts to make sense after a while :)

[Jason] So, if you were me, wanting to get that kind of a job, what would you do?

[Thomas] I understand that the College system works differently over there, and that you have to finance yourself? If you can or, indeed, do, get the option of going to college, please take it. As I said, it's paper these employers want.

[Jimmy] Or, if you have an Irish grandparent, you can get Irish citizenship, move here for a while, bum off our social welfare system, and get a free education. :)

[Thomas] I hope this helps.

[Jimmy] Well, as it happens... I'm learning Java servlets and JSP, because that's where 9/10 jobs are. I'm learning C++ because it is scary, and looking at C# because the niftiest desktop software for GNOME is being written in it.

I'm also looking at C, just because I want to learn how to use mmap()

[Jimmy] One of my friends from college, the second most gifted programmer I ever met (and that's because chance found me sharing a taxi with rms the first time he gave a talk in Ireland), currently stacks shelves in a supermarket. (Just to illustrate, in his third year in college, while trying to write a game, he wrote his own windowing system.)

[Jason] His own windowing system? Like, doing raw hardware access like most X servers do, or just chaining onto something else? (Like Xnest, except, of course, not doing a mini X server, but doing a mini whatever-his-server-was)

[Jimmy] It was in DOS, so there was assembly which controlled DOS's video interrupt, on top of which he wrote various functions to draw shapes, on top of which he had higher level windowing functions.

[Jimmy] I know plenty of people who didn't even get the chance to screw up in the ways I did, and who had no other choice but to accept these sorts of jobs.

[Jason] Yeah, I figured it certainly wouldn't be because they want to work at [a supermarket]. Or a gas station. Or any other low-wage dead end job.

[Jimmy] Well, just to point out that it hasn't been all negative, I would never have found the drive or sense of self-acceptance I now have without working in the worst place I can imagine :)

I've also learned how well I can keep my head in a crisis, which is pretty well. I've been faced with large fires in an area covered in fat, massive gas leaks - the steps I took are now the company policy,


Copyright © 2004, . Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 107 of Linux Gazette, October 2004

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