Conceived above a saloon, delivered into this world by a masked man identified by his heavily sedated mother as Captain Video, raised by a kindly West Virginian woman, a mild-mannered former reporter with modest delusions of grandeur and no tolerance of idiots and the intellectually dishonest.

network solutions made me a child pornographer!
The sordid details...


Requiem for a fictional Scotsman

Oh my God! They killed Library!! Those bastards!!!

Elegy to a Mostly Maine Coon

It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day

A Pittsburgher in the Really Big City

Da Burg Annat

I Have Issues

Yeah, yeah, I'm inspired

At least the rivers freeze in Pittsburgh

He knows if yinz is a jagoff

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Superb satire, and based in Pittsburgh!

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"No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
Article VI, U.S. Constitution

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Gifts for the clueless

The DVD Rewinder

Too many DVDs and CDs and not enough time to rewind? Are your DVDs running a bit too slow? The DVD rewinder is the perfect solution! This novelty rewinder comes with the exclusive Centriptal Velocity Spindle providing the world's fastest DVD rewind!

The DVD Rewinder is a great gift for the technical savvy, the couch potato, teens with too much time on their hands, and the gadget buff! Novelty for you or gag gift for a friend.

The DVD Rewinder has a great black and fluorescent green color scheme with high tech styling! The DVD Rewinder will spin discs backwards and plays a "rewind" sound. You can also record your own "rewind" sound which provides unending possibilities. For the tech hip, the DVD Rewinder also has an additional MP3 port and plays a separate "rewind" sound. Rewind all types of disc media DVDs, CDs, and Console Games. But not just novelty, the DVD Rewinder has utility. It has a built in compartment that holds a disc cleaner. This compartment can be used to hold the cleaner, loose couch change, tooth picks, keys or other small items.

A truly unique product with a truly unique design!

The DVD Rewinder requires (1) 9V battery.

(Thanks to Marc McCune.)

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Quote of the day

Foley fled into the temporary anonymity of alcoholic rehabilitation. Then he claimed he is gay. Then he claimed to have been molested as a child, apparently by a nondenominational clergyman. Some people emerge honestly from the closet - others are pushed. Foley was fired from a rocket launcher.
-- "Editorial: No excuses for Hastert", The Meadville Tribune, October 5, 2006

(via "The Sanity Inspector" on the Usenet alt.quotations newsgroup.)

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Friday, October 06, 2006

One of those weeks...

Last week I came down with a cold, which turned into a cough, which turned into bronchitis. On Friday night I found myself at the emergency room of Jefferson Regional Medical Center, a good place to be when one's ratio of oxygen input to wheezy output starts going negative.

When you're a fat, fifty-ish smoker having trouble breathing, Jefferson's E.R. is the place to go. I was in a bed in less than ten minutes, and within an hour or so had had a chest x-ray, EKG, two breathing treatments, doses of prednisone and azithromycin, and had managed to flirt with and embarrass a charming respiratory therapist younger than some underwear I own.

I stabilized a bit, but did not improve. So on Monday I went to Dr. Larry, my personal physician for 34 years, who noted my blood pressure continued to improve (it was 120/80) and also observed that my chest was about as congested as the I-79 Carnegie on-ramp at rush hour. Suspecting an allergic component to my respiratory distress, he gave me a shot of methylprednisolone and sent me home to recover.

The corticosteroid worked for about a day and a half, and then I was back to the old wheezing routine. Another trip yesterday, another shot, a change of antibiotics, and I think I've turned the corner. We'll see. Coupled with the oral prednisone, the steroid level in my body is at the point where a) I'll be symptom-free by the beginning of next week, or b) ready for a career in professional baseball.

Adding to the stress is the fact that I can't work when I'm ill. I lose my ability to concentrate. There's an old saying in the programming business: never code anything bigger than your head. When I'm sick my head sort of shrinks, figuratively speaking, to the point where there's only room for the right mouse button and the return key. Which makes surfing previously bookmarked sites a doable activity, but not one billable to my employer.

I do seem to be improving, though. The giant on my chest seems to have shed a few hundred pounds. But, as you can tell from the time of this post, one of the side-effects I experience with methylprednisolone is... insomnia.

Boy, am I glad this week is almost over.

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Goodbye, Ralph

Ralph E. Griswold has died.

Among his many achievements in the field of computer science, Dr. Griswold and his associates created the SNOBOL programming language at Bell Labs in the 1960s.

In the early 1980s my career path veered into computers, database publishing and text processing for large scale automated composition systems. My autodidactic computer training at that time included the native mnemonic-based markup language for Datalogic's DL Pager composition engine. Pager contained a robust set of string processing functions which were based on SNOBOL syntax. Since I needed to get up to speed quickly, I picked SPITBOL, SNOBOL's compiled, faster implementation, as my language of choice.

It was one of those decisions that seemed almost trivial at the time, but had a far-reaching, profound effect on my life. SPITBOL and Pager bought my home, sent my kids to college, and still pays the alimony bills.

The Wikipedia article above refers to SNOBOL and SPITBOL as "now mostly... special interest language[s] used mainly by enthusiasts." That may be true- when I tell people I write applications in SPITBOL, I get rather odd looks. But the dialects' pattern matching algorithms are far more powerful than the regular expressions used in "contemporary" languages.

I can write complex string processing applications in just a few hours that would take days to write with "modern" tools. My general retort to a language purist who denigrates the lack of structure in SNOBOL or SPITBOL programs is along the lines of: "Hey, Skippy... how much structure do you really need in a four-line program?" This is not much of an exaggeration; the largest SPITBOL program I've ever written is barely 500 lines of active code. Dense code, to be certain, but surprisingly efficient and incredibly fast, in an executable only 160K in size. Of that, only about 30K is source code; the rest is the runtime version of the SPITBOL interpreter which is bundled into the .exe. The average size one of my typical SPITBOL text processing programs is about 2K, about the same number of characters on an 8.5" x 11" page in 12 point type.

Confidentiality considerations prohibit me from being too explicit, but I can tell you that I've written dozens of SPITBOL-based applications that are still in daily use at companies around the globe, producing literally thousands (if not tens of thousands) of pages of type every day. I've written SPITBOL programs intended to be used only until they could be replaced by "modern" code, and those quick and dirty one-hour hacks are still being used in punishing production environments nearly a decade later.

While the software that produces the KGB Report's Random Quotations Generator browser display is a canned Perl script on my ISP's server, the software which organizes, maintains, and formats the displayed text is a SPITBOL program. It takes less than five seconds to sort and validate all the quotations in my database and to produce both HTML and CGI formatted versions.

The National Temperature Index is produced by a SPITBOL program that runs so fast it looks like its only function is to return the command prompt.

And all this is due to the efforts of Dr. Griswold and his partners. I never met him in person; I have an extremely old e-mail exchange in which I told him I felt kind of guilty, in that during the time I had my own business, I was probably making more money than he was, from something he had accomplished nearly three decades earlier. His response was expectedly modest, and he suggested I take a look at his Icon language. (I did, but I stuck with SNOBOL and SPITBOL.)

Maybe I should take another look.


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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Quote of the day

Power corrupts; PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.
-Vinton Cerf

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

From the Home Office in Chicago, Illinois...

Actual e-mail from my employer:

From: Ruth
Sent: Tuesday, October 03, 2006 3:05:47 PM
To: All Chicago Personnel
Subject: Metal Studs

Our contractor asked me to tell everyone that the metal studs installed today are sharp and should not be touched. Ouch!


There's a very Gary Larson, Far Side-esque charm about having to warn supposedly very smart software people not to touch sharp things.

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Quote of the day

Robin Williams on his release from rehab:

I realized... you keep going with this, you'll wake up in a field with a small animal. If you're violating your standards faster than you can lower them, time to go away.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Psychological joke of the day

How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one- but he has to wait for the whole world to revolve around him.

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Impending Engineering Disaster #121

Solar Flares Could Seriously Disrupt GPS Receivers from

A minor solar flare in September 2005 produced a noticeable degradation of all GPS signals on the day side of the Earth. When scaled up to the larger solar flares expected in 2011-12, Cornell researchers expect massive outages of all GPS receivers on the day side of the Earth.

Strong solar flares cause Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to fail, Cornell researchers have discovered. Because solar flares- larger-than-normal radiation "burps" by the sun- are generally unpredictable, such failures could be devastating for "safety-of-life" GPS operations- such as navigating passenger jets, stabilizing floating oil rigs and locating mobile phone distress calls.

"If you're driving to the beach using your car's navigation system, you'll be OK. If you're on a commercial airplane in zero visibility weather, maybe not," said Paul Kintner Jr., professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell and head of Cornell's GPS Laboratory.

Alessandro Cerruti, a graduate student working for Kintner, accidentally discovered the effect on Sept. 7, 2005, while operating a GPS receiver at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, one of six Cornell Scintillation Monitor (SCINTMON) receivers. Cerruti was investigating irregularities in the plasma of the Earth's ionosphere- a phenomenon unrelated to solar flares- when the flare occurred, causing the receiver's signal to drop significantly.

To be sure of the effect, Cerruti obtained data from other receivers operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Brazilian Air Force. He found that all the receivers had suffered exactly the same degradation at the exact time of the flare regardless of the manufacturer. Furthermore, all receivers on the sunlit side of the Earth had been affected.

Cerruti will report on the findings Sept. 28 at the Institute of Navigation Meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, where he will receive the best student paper prize. The full results of the discovery will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Space Weather.

The flare consisted of two events about 40 minutes apart: The first lasted 70 seconds and caused a 40 percent signal drop; the second lasted 15 minutes and caused a 50 percent drop. But this flare was moderate and short-lived; in 2011 and 2012, during the next solar maximum, flares are expected to be 10 times as intense and last much longer, causing signal drops of over 90 percent for several hours.

Soon the FAA will require that every plane have a GPS receiver transmitting its position to air traffic controllers on the ground," warned Cerruti. "But suppose one day you are on an aircraft and a solar radio burst occurs. There's an outage, and the GPS receiver cannot produce a location. ... It's a nightmare situation. But now that we know the burst's severity, we might be able to mitigate the problem."

The only solutions, suggested Kintner, are to equip receivers with weak signal-tracking algorithms or to increase the signal power from the satellites. Unfortunately, the former requires additional compromises to receiver design, and the latter requires a new satellite design that neither exists nor is planned.

"I think the best remedy is to be aware of the problem and operate GPS systems with the knowledge that they may fail during a solar flare," Kintner said.

The team was initially confused as to why the flare had caused the signal loss. Then Kintner recalled that solar flares are accompanied by solar radio bursts. Because the bursts occur over the same frequency bands at which GPS satellites transmit, receivers can become confused, leading to a loss of signal.

Had the solar flare occurred at night in Puerto Rico or had Cerruti been operating SCINTMON only at night, he would not have made the discovery.

"We normally do observations only in the tropics and only at night because that's where and when the most intense ionospheric irregularities occur," said Kintner. However, since no one had done it before, Cerruti was looking at "mid-latitudes" (between the tropics and the poles), where weaker irregularities can occur both night and day. As a result, SCINTMON detected the solar flare.

Other authors of the forthcoming paper include D.E. Gary and L.J. Lanzerotti of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, E.R. de Paula of the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais and Cornell research associate Hien Vo.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Now that I think of it...

Perhaps it's a good thing they're no longer available, given the explanation in the catalog.

(via Zay Smith's QT column in the Chicago Sun-Times.)

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Quote of the day

Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
-Susan Ertz

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Copyright © 1987-2024 by Kevin G. Barkes
All rights reserved.
Violators will be prosecuted.
So there.  
The e-mail address is now something other than saga. used to be until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up and adopting created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the domain name in 1993, and had since that time used as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that was no longer but rather which is longer than and more letters to type than and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than but actually just as functional as I sent e-mails from the address to just about everybody I knew who had used in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that no longer is the they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...


Crystal Methodist

Laugh while you can, monkey-boy

I am a professional. Do not try this at home.

I canna change the laws of physics

As a matter of fact, I *am* the boss of you.
(as a matter of fact, i AM the boss of you.)

Truly great madness cannot be achieved without signficant intelligence

I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Left wing liberal nut job

Flies spread disease. Keep yours zipped.

Eff the ineffable, scrute the inscrutable.

If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.

If evolution is just a theory, why am I surrounded by monkeys?

Nutrition makes me puke

Feral Geek

eat wisely

Dyslexics have more fnu!

It's here!

Eff and Scrute

440 pages, over 11,000 quotations!

Eff the Ineffable, Scrute the Inscrutable

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