Running a Debian system that pulls its code from testing? If so, then you recently upgraded from etch to lenny. And if you're still running a 2.4 kernel now some of your servers like MySQL and Postfix will be broken. Postfix threw an error about needing "epoll_create". It seems lenny doesn't work with 2.4 kernels anymore.

Not quite sure why aptitude didn't warn me on upgrade, but the solution is not too hard. Upgrade to kernel 2.6. I did aptitude install linux-image-2.6-k7, said a prayer, and then rebooted the server 2000 miles away. My lucky day, the server came back. There's probably a safer way.

I got some help from the good folks at #debian on the OpenProjects IRC servers. Hanging out there reminded me how lazy I've become as a Unix admin. I used to read kernel patch notes and get excited about libc changes and carefully read docs on every minor upgrade. But that stuff seems boring to me now and Debian generally works well enough that I can just blindly upgrade. Progress of a sort, despite today's hiccough.

  2007-05-31 17:29 Z
San Francisco hasn't had a good newspaper in years. The Chronicle has been mediocre since at least 2000, but things got much worse following the Examiner/Chronicle merger. At first it seemd like the combined editorial staff would work better, but without competition the Chronicle has slid into increasing mediocrity. Not to mention the offense of the anti-trust merger scam involving Hearst, Willie Brown, and the Fang family.

The Chronicle is now so bad it's difficult to even read it. And it's only going to get worse; they're about to lay off 25% of the editorial staff. Reportedly they're losing $1 million / month. And despite having one of the better online news sites their web operations aren't saving them, either. The Chron has been reduced to filling the bottom of the front page with a giant print banner ad; it's humiliating.

Sunday's Chron included an outside op/ed called The Death of News lamenting the financial problems of the newspaper industry. Unfortunately, the only conclusion he offers is some vague idea that the death of newspapers is all Google's fault and Google should save them. But it's not really Google. If anything, Craigslist is eating up the newspaper's classified ads market way more than Google. And why aren't good newspaper websites enjoying the same Google advertising revenue that newer online sites do?

A big part of the problem is that newspaper content isn't exclusive. I read my wire articles on with Google ads (that I usually block). I never go to the Chronicle's website. It's sad that even the country's best paper, the New York Times, seems to be losing money.

We need to fund investigative journalism somehow. It's essential to US democracy.

  2007-05-30 17:11 Z
If you're going to stay in Paris for a week or more, consider renting an apartment. Particularly if you're travelling in a group that would benefit from 2-3 bedrooms. Apartments are generally cheaper than hotels and integrate you more into the day to day life of the city. They're also a bit awkward to check in and out of and don't come with daily maid service or a concierge, but for a longer stay that's not such a big deal to me.

If you want to stay in the middle of Paris, I can without hesitation recommend Guest Apartment Services. They exclusively manage about 20-30 apartments, mostly on the Ile St. Louis (a very desirable location). The apartment we rented in the Marais on Rue Charles V was fantastic, very well furnished and maintained. I've seen three of their other apartments and all were nice places. Prices for a 2 bedroom range from 330€/night to 690€/night and quality does vary. We got a discount for a month long stay in off-season; I think most of their business is shorter term.

There are lots of other options for apartments in Paris. Mostly you end up renting directly from the owner, which can mean random quality. I liked having a professional service managing the apartment instead of dealing directly with the owner.

They're quite responsive by email. Mention my name if you contact them!

  2007-05-24 16:28 Z
We all know the basic smiley faces :-) and (^_^). I've picked up some other emoticons that seem more specific to gamer culture.

Hello! A little man waving an arm. Used for greetings; one reply is \o.
Hooray! A little man cheering with both arms raised. An alternate to "w00t!".
qq or QQ
Crying. Two eyes with tears streaming down. Usually used ironically, particularly in the phrase "less QQ and more pew pew". Ie: stop whining and play.
Oh really? A face with one eye cocked in astonishment or scrutiny. Often used in response to inappropriate jokes and Quentin Crisp hats. Useful emoticon; I can't think of a good alternative picture or phrase. Bay suggests O RLY?, which is close, but O.o doesn't really connote skepticism.

Most of these I got from chatting in Eve Online, where most players are European. The O.o form feels particularly English to me. I see a fair number of these in World of Warcraft as well.

  2007-05-22 16:47 Z
In fantasy games I'm constantly rolling elves because they're the always the gayest looking characters. But I'm astonished at just how gay you look in Lord of the Rings. I already looked pretty awesome at the start, but then I got Quentin Crisp's hat as a quest reward and now I leave whorls of faerie dust as I mince about Middle Earth.

LotRO on the right; on the left is a blood elf from Warcraft for gayness comparison. I love how in online games you can customize how you look with gear. I make a point of hanging on to the prettiest rags even when I've far outgrown them. If you can't play dressup, then what fun is the game?

  2007-05-20 16:12 Z
I learned a new technical term today, hitching. There's a new MMOG out, Lord of the Rings Online. So I started playing it today only to find the framerate is all janky. Stuttering. Or as the 10+ forum threads I found call it, hitching. The whole game freezes for a few tenths of a second, totally ruining smooth animation. See for yourself.

Apparently this problem is happening for a whole lot of people and has been happening since early betas. Near as I can tell it's occurring when new textures or geometry are being loaded. It's absolutely horrible and ruins the visual experience. Problems like this make me want to give up on PC games.

The game itself seems OK so far. But it's too much like World of Warcraft, only not nearly as polished in gameplay and UI. There's a reason WoW is so huge; it's very, very well executed. It's going to be a long time before any game can overtake it.

  2007-05-19 22:52 Z
One of my favourite things to do in Paris is walk around, explore neighbourhoods, and take photos. Thanks to GMaps Pedometer it was easy to retrace my steps after each walk and save the route as a KML file. Then in Google Earth you can load all the walks, look at them, save them as a merged KML file. The result? A Google Map of a bunch of walks I've taken in Paris.

  2007-05-17 17:28 Z
Everyone's asking; Ken and I are back in San Francisco after a uneventful flight home. (Other than the disaster of gates E80-E87 at CDG. Ugh.) We have a ritual on returning: try to stay awake for a few hours in the afternoon, then make a cocktail, then order a greasy American pizza stuffed with bacon and cream sauce. We manage to eat half of it, watch a bit of TV, and finally pass out exhausted around 8:30pm.

I edited down my photos to a set of 92 on Flickr.

  2007-05-16 12:17 Z
If you go to a Paris cafe early in the day you'll find the chairs are lined up neatly in rows. They're packed so tight you could just barely squeeze someone in each chair if everyone were impossibly slender Parisiennes who only eat one salad a day. But it's perfectly acceptable to move the chairs this way and that to make yourself more comfortable or accomodate different sized groups. At the end of a busy day the chairs are scattered everywhere. Cafes may look rigidly ordered, but in fact they are pleasantly malleable.
French social life is much like cafe chairs. There are zillions of rules, laws, and petty bureaucratic requirements everywhere. Every park in Paris posts a large sign of the rules, buildings have plaques reminding you of the law of 1881 forbidding posters, even the public lawns have ritualistic timing for when you're allowed to sit on them.

But the truth is life in France is more flexible and casual than the rules imply. Yeah, there's not much parking in Paris, but if you're a boulanger you can stop in the street for a few minutes and block traffic to drop off fresh baguettes. The park really does close at 10pm, but if the gate is open and you're quiet no one is going to much care if you cross through it. In general the French adapt their rules to what makes sense in any specific situation. To stereotype heavily, France is a happy compromise between the complete chaos of Mediterranean cultures and the rigid order of Germanic and Scandanavian cultures. Ordered but still flexible.

  2007-05-16 11:59 Z
We're nearing the end of our stay in Paris, at the point where we've counted up the remaining days and planned visits to our favourite restaurants. It's a good way to remember the places we truly like. Dinner last night at Le Caveau du Palais was particularly satisfying. The woman who runs it is fantastic and an absolute terror, but she must have liked us because she gave us a nice big comfortable table. The rabbit terrine was great, all white meat nicely flavoured with some fresh herbs. I'm not kidding about the best confit de canard in the city; cooked to an inch of its crispy life with fantastic pomme sarladais. A lovely tarte fine du pommes, some aged calvados, and a long slow stroll home along the banks of the Seine. Life can be very good in Paris.
  2007-05-13 14:31 Z
I finally had some success shopping at the flea market; I found Paris in her Splendor! After a somewhat overwhelming visit last weekend with some friends, I went back today strictly to look at etchings Au Réverbère, a shop at stall 43 in Marché Dauphine. It's a bit intimidating; you have to ask for permission from madame to look at the etchings, but the quality is good and she is friendly.

I ended up selecting three etchings from the 1861 lithograph book Paris dans sa splendeur. Beautifully detailed work, large plates, mostly of famous buildings and touristic scenes. We have some framed in our apartment and they are lovely. I chose three historical plates of 17th century Paris (Nos. 73, 74, 75). They should look handsome framed together. It's a shame that the standard now is to cut up these old books, but they do look nice framed on a wall.

Part of the flea market experience is negotiating prices, but I absolutely hate doing it. The woman was very nice and chatty and after some conversation in French about the new president, her trip to the US, and various qualities of paper she offered me a deal about 20% under the nominal listed price. It was in my budget so I took it. Looking now on the Internet I see I could have paid half if I bought from someone random on Or I could pay twice what I did buying from a dealer in the US. So who's to say? The whole book of 100 lithographs seems to go for about 2000€. Ouch.

  2007-05-13 13:40 Z
Want an authentic Parisian brasserie experience? Try Bofinger. It's one of the classic Parisian restaurants that ends up in tourist guides much like Benoit or Le Petit Zinc. And like those places it delivers a very nice meal with good service, a comfortable room, and good food. They're all a bit overpriced and feel a bit corporate, but they're also quite good and reliable. Perfect for a first week in Paris.

Bofinger has an emphasis on fish as well as a fair number of Alsatian things on the menu. My oysters were absolutely lovely as was Ken's grilled sole. Really everything was quite good except for the tarte tatin, the russian roulette of French desserts (unless it's absolutely fresh, there's no point). Next time I'll order the café gourmand, a collection of tiny desserts with a coffee.

If you want to go for dinner you definitely need to make a reservation, preferably several days in advance. You want to sit downstairs in the beautiful room with the skylight, although how that works with non-smoking I'm not sure. I should note their telephone reservationist is very difficult; Ken and I have failed several times to communicate with them. They have an online reservation form that may be of some use for that problem.

  2007-05-11 15:31 Z
My general advice is to avoid eating beef in France, particularly if you're from the US. The cuts here tend to be tough, gristly, and unevenly cooked. One exception is the competing steak/frites places that are amazingly good in their simple formula. The other exception are the various Aveyron restaurants you see advertising beef from the Aubrac. The meat is still pretty chewy, but the flavour is great.

We had a very nice lunch yesterday at the Maison de l'Aubrac. It's just a stone's throw from the Champs Elysee, but don't let that worry you. It's a good casual place, set up like a rustic country inn but with proper service and a menu that is all beef, all the time. The best dish I had was asparagus with beef cheeks, beautifully tender and flavourful without the creepy gelatinous fat you often get with joues. Nice steak tartare, too, and while my faux-filet was not terribly good Ken was impressed with his brochette of veal.

And as bizarre as it sounds they advertise being open 24 hours a day. So if it's 4AM and you need some raw ground meat, here's your place.

  2007-05-11 15:24 Z
So the trick turns out to be to go to the corner boulanger just at 6PM, right when the fresh batch of baguette tradition is put out. The nice woman will apologize that the bread is still warm and it is necessary to shrug and look just a little sad. Because secretly you both know that you're going to run home and immediately eat half of it stuffed with delicious cold salted butter from Brittany.
  2007-05-09 16:28 Z
I haven't been blogging much from Paris lately because I've reached that point where everything isn't new and exciting anymore. Part of the point of living here for weeks at a time is to integrate and enjoy things slowly rather than being a mad tourist every day. But I've been busy, here are some of the things I've done in the last few days.
Friday was occupied by finding an eye doctor for Ken who would see us the same day (Ken's fine), then running around to shops to buy cheese and bread for dinner. Saturday we went to the Musee d'Orsay with visiting friends, then dinner at Le Petit Zinc. Sunday was the flea market (nice lunch there at Le Paul Bert), followed by a walk around the Ile de Cite and Ile St. Louis and Berthillon ice cream. For dinner I picked up some terrible pizza and was 5 minutes' walk from the post-election tear gas festivities at Bastille, which I missed entirely. Monday was mostly quiet except for a lost laundry ticket garbage picking adventure and some epic drinking at Le Petit Prince. And yesterday I went to Etoile for the parade, got a fantastic photo of the Arc de Triomphe, took a walk around the Place de Mexico looking for a Space Invader self-portrait, photographed the Eiffel Tower, then dinner with friends at the Ambassade d'Auvergne.

So that's what occupies my time. Some touristy stuff, a lot of dining, and in the spaces inbetween bouts of photo editing, blogging, and video games. I feel like I actually live in Paris with enough time to not need to cram exciting events into every hour, yet with easy access to do interesting things that present themselves. Sadly, we return to the States in a week.

  2007-05-09 07:54 Z
All is not well in Azeroth and the Outlands; the spammers have found their way in. For the past few weeks players of World of Warcraft have been bothered every 10 minutes with random in-game instant messages saying "buy cheap gold now at". It's incredibly obnoxious.

It's so bad that users have tried to compensate by writing spam filter addons that block the messages and file support tickets about them. It's a bad day when your game is as bad as your email. And now Blizzard's unhappy about all the work the reports are creating and are taking steps to make it harder to file tickets. If this battle lasts much longer I think the game will be ruined.

What kills me is that Blizzard hasn't taken the obvious steps to simply stop spam. Messages inside World of Warcraft go through a tightly controlled central server. All they have to do is put some basic throttling and account limitations in and the problem disappears. So far they're unwilling. A particular frustration is that it's commonly believed that the spam comes from free temporary accounts, but Blizzard is more more interested in allowing the free users to send messages than protecting paying long term customers from getting spam. It's a bad business decision.

Update: the 2.1 patch will include some spam prevention measures, mostly better user blocking tools. I sure hope they're doing some behind the scenes stuff to stop the spam being injected in the first place.
  2007-05-09 07:38 Z
Last week's warm weather got Ken and I itching to go to the countryside, back to our favourite region of the Loire. This valley is true storybook French countryside, all wine and cheese and mustard and chateaux and rivers and charming villages. We've visited there about five times now, always just for a few days of staying in chateaux and relaxing while exploring little villages. It's lovely. For a view, see my various photos of the Loire.

More inside ...

  2007-05-04 15:10 Z
It isn't often you find a quiet place in the middle of Paris, much less one with excellent food and outdoor seating. So the Restaurant du Palais Royal is special. The food is good modern French with interesting spicing and the wine list has some good finds hidden away (like a 2000 Gevrey-Chambertin, yum). But the real appeal of this place is the outdoor terrace on the garden of the Palais Royal. The Palais is now private businesses, but in the middle is an amazing and quiet formal French garden that is essentially silent in the evening. Makes for lovely outdoor dining.

It's a bit spendy but the prices seem quite reasonable for the quality of food, service, and the view. You'll definitely need a reservation to sit outside. If you're going for dinner ask about when they close the garden; some nights it closes at 10pm, making for an awkward transition during dinner. But last night it was open until 11:30 for perfect contentment in the gardens.

Thanks to Fabrice for the recommendation
  2007-05-04 14:41 Z
Tonight is the last big debate between Sarkozy and Royal for the presidency of France. Paris is quiet; restaurants are empty, bars are either closed early or full of people listening to a loud television. All the streets of the Marais are echoing with the sounds of the debate. Parasiens are paying attention.

In the US, less than half the elegible voters bother to vote for president. In the first round here, 80% voted.

  2007-05-02 21:22 Z
The first minutes on the bike were pure pleasure. A cool breeze in my face, Paris moving by at a fast pace, the freedom to go where I wanted. It's a great town for biking; lots to see in a short distance and lots of bike routes. And while I find driving in Paris totally terrifying, on a bike it feels pretty safe.

So I rented a sturdy steel bike from the RATP city offices, a great deal at 10€ a day. And went on a long ride to the Bois de Vincennes. I can't say it was a particularly beautiful ride; the bike paths tend to be on major roads. But it was nice having the freedom of going anywhere in Paris at my own speed.

  2007-05-02 15:05 Z