Team Murder No Brain No Headache.


How To Give Up Sleeping In One Easy Compile

I managed to soundly b0rk my desktop machine yesterday afternoon. As painful as this might be, especially when you've completely destroyed a very functional stage 1 Gentoo install, it did make me reconsider my choice in distributions for a moment. That moment was long enough for me to boot up a Knoppix CD and ponder my potential choices. Well, actually I just grabbed a Libranet CD at first and went for a minimal install before I realized that it would be nearly as painful as a fresh Gentoo install. Nforce chip sets aren't well supported in Libranet if only because it's relatively ancient. I tried three different distributions of various derivations but I won't mention any by name because I was 100% dissatisfied with them.

One of the less annoying things that I've learned over the past few days is that I'd much rather deal with some broken things on the Gentoo live CD because I know I'll eventually figure out how to fix them than deal with the baked in broken-ness that most distributions call a release. I'm midway through a fresh install as I type this. I actually got the base system (from stage 2 this time) up and running in about three hours. Only about an hour of that time was attended so I don't consider those hours to be totally lost. The biggest stumbling block was a bad ebuild (ppp,if you're keeping score at home) that caused me to blame and subsequently tinker around with some things I didn't need to. 2004.3 has none of the segfault-rific show stoppers that the 1.4 CD had so it's actually a lot smoother install. Not that chrooting a non-functional system six or seven times really qualifies as an install.

Anyway, despite all of the tears and abundant cursing, I'm reinstalling (reminder to self: do not fuck with glibc without reading the bugzilla entries for it first) and will have a functional (read: with X and a window manager) machine again in an hour or so. I will be sleeping before five a.m. tonight.


My New Stupid Hobby

I started writing a long winded (sound familiar) about a Slashdot article that opened up the "what's wrong with unix?" question but 670 words in I decided that it was just too pathetic to foist onto anyone else. I'll summarize and say that anyone who thinks they've discovered some Achilles heel of *nix because the POSIX standard hasn't evolved quickly enough for desktop applications is either fucking with me or totally clueless. Standards move like chilled molasses for a reason.

Instead of that steaming puddle of bile and bitterness I give you a picture of Leonard's nose:

I've got hundreds more just like it. Maybe tomorrow I'll put up some pictures of her ear.

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Captcha Judo

I found this specimen in my inbox this morning:

and decided immediately that Captcha need to pick up the pack of accessibility adaptation a whole lot faster. Yes, this is just a bunch of superscript and subscript text but, um, it's text designed to evade spam filters. Before I was entirely awake, I thought, "My god, they're sending spam in TeX! We're fucking doomed!" At very least it really got me thinking and not about cartoon sized penises. This spam is legibly mangled and is readable by screen readers but Captcha and other software that uses similar mangling concepts are not.


Relax And Debug

Most of the holiday thing is finished now and we're finally at that reprieve stage where people are supposed to rest and relax a little. I think getting older and being child-free, at least momentarily, because breaks actually feel like time off instead of the binge and purge hiring and firing often associated with holidays and poorish punk rock kids looking to pocket a little change whenever possible. It's good to be idle I guess.

I've been poking at some code and trying to figure out what some of it does. Even oh-so-orderly Python becomes a little unreadable after a year or so of being deserted. Another thing that interested me was how much more quickly I could spot potential holes in my code. Obviously when you're writing functions that basically exist to allow other functions to, uh, function the security of that particular batch of code is going to be less than airtight. I spotted a whole bunch of stuff that really sucked, though, and it's both rewarding and embarrassing simultaneously. It's also pretty rewarding to be able to go back over comments that say things like: "Fix this before some 31337 bastard owns it and causes you incredible pain," and being able to fix those things without depending entirely on documentation. I'm probably introducing new problems in the process but it sure is fun.

Speaking of which, Stani's Python Editor is a fantastic editor even though I use a bare fraction of the features baked into it. Blender is a much bigger hammer than I need for any of the trivial graphic work I do (all of which is strictly two dimensional) but it's there in case you're clinically insane or really want to jack off impress the interface freaks with some Tron-esque GUI of the future that won't ever happen. Pychecker is also in there so you can learn from the mistakes of others, wonder how long you've been making those mistakes, and how many machines are eventually going to flare up like erupting volcanos in a celebratory conflagration of your sloppy coding. Importing Pychecker as a module for in-code in-fighting is also highly recommended. All bullshit aside, I really like working with SPE and it deserves congratulations if only for the non-annoying code completion rolled in. I assume it uses PyCrust but I might be wrong because it works the same way and, more importantly, doesn't infuriate me instantaneously. I have a really hard time remembering name spaces for infrequently used libraries and modules so completion really helps when it works properly. I've used other IDEs or more bulky editors in the past that tried to do code completion for me in C++ instead of Python while insisting that I use its suggestion. Having to fight with IDEs is one of the reasons that I avoid them.

Oh, and all of that stuff that you did to your XP box because your support person insisted that you do it before they wring your technophobic neck? You have to do the same on your new machines as well. If we could just reimage people it would make support work a whole lot easier. Sticking with your old machine would probably be the safer option.

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The Platform Isn’t Entirely The Problem

There's a pretty good, if short, article on the merits of FOSS software running on proprietary operating systems over at Newsforge that's worth checking out. I've heard umpteen different arguments on this subject over the past couple of years and most of them have been pretty ridiculous. Good software is good software and when you're stuck in a work environment or even temporarily stuck on a platform that isn't your first choice being able to grab copies of Open Office or whatever is a good thing.If I have to spend any amount of time on a non-Linux box I'll end up installing the Windows version of emacs and a decent FTP client. The article that got me started thinking about this actually ends with the author thinking about platform neutrality rather than the application versus platform problem.

Personally, I don't care what OS you use but I will become cranky very quickly if you insist that I use your tools of preference to get my work done. I got through an entire semester length class of 'using Office' (a requirement for a now defunct CIS minor) without using MS Office for a single assignment. The nice part about using FOSS tools is being able to tell people to just download the damned software. You really can't do that (at least legally) with Office and that puts responsibility for ownership of a piece of software more expensive than the hardware required to run it on another person. Unfortunately, I do have Crossover Office installed on all of my boxes so if necessary I can view crappiness in its original context. I hate that.

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Send Your Copywriters To Pr0n Sensitivity Training

You might want to check with some people that don't currently live on Planet Ad Agency before calling your facial cleanser "Morning Burst with bursting blah blah blah." Find a fifteen year old kid and then show him all of your packaging before it goes to market. If he laughs or does anything but look bored, start from scratch. Seriously. The text on the back detailing how your face feels after you get hit with a morning burst is sketchy comedy gold.

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Forgot My Asshole Pill This Morning

I've had a pretty frustrating couple of days with this new machine. Unfortunately I sprung for the "nicer" motherboard (ASUS Ax-blah, blah, blah) with an nForce2 chipset. Very, very stupid idea because although the older GeForce2 I had in the last machine worked flawlessly, the new binary-only nvidia driver in combination with the new cards sucks a dump truck load of ass. I haven't been suffering the all out lock ups that other are driving themselves crazy trying to fix but I am randomly getting kicked out of X usually midsentence. I just installed the newest from Gentoo portage which means yet another masked package installed on this machine and I'm passing acpi=no to the kernel on boot. I have no idea if this will stabilize things or not since I haven't had much time in front of this box over the last couple of days. It has, however, provided me with the impetus for a resolution: never, never buy the shiny, new, and sexy thing when clunky, three years old, and stable is available (and, god forbid, inexpensive) for the taking. Eventually, this lesson will sink in.

I just heard about the announced release date for Land of the Dead so I spent a ridiculous amount of time searching around for a little more info about where they're at in terms of production and whatnot. October of next year looks to be the "real" release date. Most people seem to have no problem with this because we've waited years and years as it is so why not another? There's some photos of sets and a zombie photo even but they always look like shit to me so I'm trying to forget the whole thing. That fucking armored truck thing... jesus. Romero's films will always have a special spot reserved in my heart, the zombie ones anyway, but the more recent interviews that I've read with him have left me a little baffled. I can't bring myself to talk shit about him so I'll leave it at that.

I tried out rdesktop for the first time earlier today and was really impressed with it. I actually had to install grdesktop in order to figure out how to use the user and domain flags. Grdesktop also looks a lot like the MS remote client. I took remote control of another machine, fired up IE, and grabbed control of another machine through LANDesk. Yet another reason to dump the behemoth. The lag was minimal and, after I adjusted the resolution and color depth, it was more stable and smooth than Microsoft's client. You've also gotta love the option to use your window manager key bindings. I'm going to play with this some more tomorrow but it was still an exciting discovery. I really didn't anticipate the *nix client being so slick on 03/XP machines. I see a lot less walking in my future.

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Partially Digested And Poorly Thought Through

I randomly came across this great post about the ambiguities of the Free Software/Open Source dichotomy and how it dilutes the meaning of either. I couldn't agree more and I fall far more on the Stallman side of the argument than the grab your ankles and write code for me cadre. Transparency in the process of development just makes sense, like common, expected of MBAs kind of common sense. I think there needs to be a distinction between the public relations salad that Scoble refers to and the actual idea that mere mortals can participate in a project without excessive mediation. Leaving comments on a weblog is not participation and doesn't exactly epitomize transparency in most cases in less you think that creating a FAQ that actually answers the real questions people want answers to is some kind of business miracle. I don't think that we need a new term but rather to tell people they're buzzwording incorrectly instead of using well and publicly defined terminology. Free Software and Open Source: fucking use them.

PHP-Help is fucking handy. I have big and cumbersome books that contain the same information but I'd much rather look them up when I need 'em as opposed to lugging. The Functions section alone is well worth having available. There is a crazy amount of useful documentation available now that isn't directly linked to one company. Long ago, I had to reimplement a C project in Java and everyone I asked for help on either IRC or mailing lists just referred me to the Cthuloid horror that the Sun Developers Site is. Yuck. I'm glad to see that people are doing it themselves rather than letting some people with their heads a little too close to the code muck it all up.

I had some other things I was thinking about but either or Fluxbox is causing the X server to go down every ten minutes or so. I have a feeling that the nForce chip on this motherboard might also have something to do with it. So, I will troubleshoot instead of thinking apropos of a new work week ready to begin.

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Less Talk, More Click

OK, so I really love having a digital camera kicking it around the house almost as much as I love using William Shatner's brilliant rendition of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" as music to get the wife moving out of bed for Saturday morning breakfast. Unfortunately, she doesn't share my appreciation for the man's finer audio work. That's probably one of the more unfortunate incompatibilities in our relationship.

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And Then The Ambulance Came Behind A Carload Of Free Weekly Reporters

We're getting ready to head off to the Hi Dive for some quality rock and the absolutely fucking wonderful aspect that distinguishes this night from the many blurry in memory though sanctified in the soul nights I've spent darkening their doorstep is that they're allegedly giving away shots of Wild Turkey. Might as well just call that the Smash Up Our Poor Little Bar special. Free shots of cheap whiskey. Jesus.

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It Must Be On

Woo hoo. I got Yoon a digital camera as a present and, despite assurances otherwise, I was a little worried about it playing nice with Linux. It works.

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Full Of Bombs

I just did the upgrade the new and improved WordPress and, like always, it was a smooth process that involved some putting, getting, and little else. Oh how I wish that other upgrades were that simple and painless. I swear the next time a new version comes out that I'm not even going to backup my entire home directory.

I picked up Mono: A Developer's Notebook from the library yesterday so I've been playing around with Mono a little bit. I'm still referring constantly to a C# book I picked up on the same outing but it's fun and I'm impressed by how slick most of the tools are for how (relatively) new Mono is. Installing MonoDevelop required a fair amount of tweaking on this machine mainly due to masked packages in Gentoo and other assorted broken-ness. It's all working now but I haven't managed to get through much of either book. It's times like this that I forget that finals were only finished yesterday. I need to do a lot more reading in order to really understand what's going on here. I've got a little over a month until I'm knee deep in novels again.

I really, really wish that the new, new Zaurus wasn't so ungodly expensive. I'm already wishing that I'd spent a little bit more money than I did on my hoopty but plenty useful PDA and held out for a Zaurus. The allure of a real keyboard with so little overhead is undeniable. I use mine more like a little notebook for scribbling down things that would ordinarily end up written on sticky notes and forgotten until they've taken a round trip through the washing machine. I'm not much of an appointments and contacts guy. I'll just keep my eyes glued to auctions for the older SL series and hopefully will get some of that goodness before I get tired of the platform.


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Exactly What I Need Right Now…

I'm doing the final round of study for day one of final exams and noticed that Lockout made it into Debian Unstable. What wonderful timing. I am unofficially fucking around by typing this up but unable to do anything with it because I have no web access to post it. I love it but I'm going to disable it after Tuesday. Sometimes you really do win by losing something.

The announcement from the official site with a few too many scary pieces to allow this to run on anything but the laptop:

Are you a slacker? So am I. Do you procrastinate all day? Do you browse the Web, read the news, and write email all day in stead of working? So do I. Does it make you feel miserable and apathetic? Do you tell yourself to stop browsing the fucking Web and get some bloody work done? Do you have absolutely no discipline? I know your pain.

But recent technological advancements have made it possible... There is a cure for your disease!

Years of slacking at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology have resulted in a brilliant 572-line Perl script (which includes 310 empty lines and comment lines for free!) that makes it all possible! Your productivity will dramatically increase!

Today, I present Lockout: The Self-imposed, Computer-aided Work Enforcer. This program will help you get some work done by not allowing you to browse the Web. It won't allow you to do anything but work. It's a miracle! Your colleagues will respect you, your Ph.D. adviser will compliment you, and your boss, if you have one, will probably not notice the difference! It's amazing! Scroll down! Read more!

Yikes. I'm not sure if I'm ready for this but at the moment it's somewhat essential.


The Nap, My Friend

I left work a bit early today because I was sleep deprived and considered myself headed for an argument or worse. I'm starting to feel differently in sleep deprivation as I grow older. In the past, I grew progressively less coherent as sleepless weeks dragged on and now I'm completely lucid when super duper tired but I have absolutely no patience. It's that weird sort of irrational that I most often associate with drug use (especially ketamine) when you develop polarities in your high; I realize that I'm being completely crazy and can observe it as if from a distance but cannot do a thing about it. When I nap instead of work everyone wins. Getting a fraction of the normal human quota of sleep has really simplified a number of problems that I've been smashing my head against over the past week. I've messed with and recompiled The Gimp a half dozen ways trying to get printing support and didn't realize that it was there all the time but accessible only from the image window menu and not the main menu. I printed out a giant scribble and feel very accomplished.

Google Suggest is interesting. I've had a little time to play around with it and find it a combination of very useful for situations where you're unsure about the spelling of a search term and very annoying (ie. the recent history feature in most browsers that drives me batty in a matter of minutes if I don't disable it) in many others. I do like the inclusion of results in the suggestion bar but I'm very glad that it's optional.

Speaking of search engines, Accoona is a new one on me. I have absolutely no fucking idea what the deal with the name is but it has two sets of repeating letters so I will forget this without trying in an hour from now. Of course, I immediately did the vanity search and found myself missing and was horrified to find that the submission process is a mailto hack. If I can remember to come back in a week or two I'll have to give it another whirl but the trade marked, camel case sloganeering gives me horrible mid 1990's flashbacks so maybe not.

I'm thinking of having some business cards printed up. They won't say "Consultant" or anything stupid like that. I need to make these printed up and covered with slow poison. As someone who spends the majority of his time on public transportation trying to read and sharing glances of agony and frustration with others trying to do the same, this seems like a public service.


More Slint Shows That Will Sell Out In Two Seconds

Wow. Slint added some U.S. shows to the whole reunion thing. I guess having All Tomorrow's Parties sell out without announcing anyone but Slint might have had something to do with it. SF, Seattle, and two Chicago shows are it so far. I probably won't make it.

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If You Can’t Learn From Your Mistakes Then At Least Try To Fake It

I've actually been enjoying Fast Company lately and I don't think it's entirely due to the increase in crankiness over the holiday crappy crap. Unlike the magazine which trumpeted the insolvent glories of the NewNew economy like someone was paying them in bulk for gushiness, the attitude of the new incarnation seems purged of the smarminess and placed at more appropriate angles to the topics covered. It may be a side effect of living with the stick stupid exuberance of the Bubble but that shit was annoying. Wired seems to have toned it down a bit as well excepting the god-awful layouts and color schemes so maybe this isn't some kind of revolution of clue as much as it the newfound burden of staring down the barrel of fiscal reality instead of milking the VC cash cow dry.

So, anyway, bitter digressions aside, post over there about product placement that linked to the New York article talking about it is pretty indicative of the shift. I think the idea sticks with the ideas people have been espousing for millions and millions of magazine pages: this venture is driven by customer demand (it almost seems like a reaction spawned by the nuisance of continual viewer requests for information), doesn't necessarily call for the inclusion of more product in TV shows (although I suppose that is somewhat inevitable), and works more like an advertiser's index in a magazine than the annoying bludgeon of gratuitous brand name placement in movies. Actually looking at Delivery Agent makes me a little reluctant to boost this idea as some kind of exemplar. It sounds better than most nascent marketing efforts that you hear about even those driven by actual demand instead of slack jawed willingness to buy whatever crap is shoveled into the trough but the manifestation looks just as ugly as the former. So much energy and so little subtlety -- it's almost embarrassing but, then again, I'm not the one trying to sell it to you as something you asked for. If you can pull that off without losing your mind or soul then you'll have the fish in the barrel you've been trained to deal with.

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Stunning Developments In Utter Tedium

I finally got my Visor working (read: capable of synchronization) last night. I had a little bit of trouble with the USBserial module with an earlier version of the kernel that I was using and a whole lot of trouble with the Gnome tools in conjunction with Evolution to the point where I started manually messing with nodes in /dev. That sucks and I'm not sure where exactly to place blame since I'm using the Gentoo ebuilds of both. I used a combination of the Pilot-link tools and J-Pilot to finally get things up and working. I'm seriously having misgivings about continuing to use Evolution as an everyday mail client since I don't use a good many of the features and I really don't like the 2.0 version of the client at all. I'm going to give Kmail another try since the last time I decided that I hated it was quite a while ago (uh, before KDE3 even) and I've been pretty pleased with the applications that KDE comes with even if I'm not the slightest bit interested in using the actual DE. I like going from paperweight to reading Crime and Punishment from the Visor on the bus but I'm still looking to squeeze a little more functionality out of the new toy.


Shut Up. Don’t Cry.

The really sad news from The Monks web site: their drummer died in November. Black Monk Time indeed. I'm not sure about the reunions and all but they could bring the electric banjo stomp like no one else in their time. They were the one band (excepting maybe Can) that caused me to burst into my roommate's bedroom screaming "Who the fuck is this?! This is great!" I'm not a fan of garage rock or those shitty Nuggets series or anything but I absolutely adore this band.

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Flaking, Hosting, Concealing

It's that magic time between working on actual assignments (or busy work in the vernacular) and exams so I'm basking in the groggy limbo and watching the 2004 Dawn of the Dead for the way-too-many-th time. Oddly enough, my freakishly fast new machine just doesn't have the draw of the couch and the movie monitor. I'm a little too far out of it to work on any of the extracurricular coding I've been postponing for the last few months. My work dynamic has changed dramatically to the point where I'm able to actually accomplish the 'study' portion of the erroneous 'work study' job title. I have supervisors now who are much more sympathetic with the demands of both work and school. They're new on the job and just getting acclimated to it themselves but I feel a much more definite delineation between what I should be doing and what I should do when school permits. The rub is, of course, that I'm still fucking exhausted.

On a somewhat relevant tangent, Wired has a story about the dangers of weblogging to employment that feels a little weirder to me than say a year or two ago. The immediate difference is the correction of my whois registry information for the first time since I started doing this. I'm not happy about that loss of anonymity but apparently I'm a potential terrorist if I don't expose my identity. One email of .gov origin was all it took to convince me that I didn't want to go to exotic prison camp island for identity obfuscation. While that really doesn't mean anything to anyone who isn't a spambot, some folks that I work with, etc. have learned of the existence of this place and while those folks are friendly and generally positive about what I do here, the traceable connections between one and the other isn't something I generally like to cultivate. Yes, tinfoil hat and all, but it just feels strange. If you can guess how many of those people are actually in the links you get a prize. Not a good prize, or even a tangible prize but I'll be in awe of your lack of real demands on your time powers of prognostication. I think something like that, a family tree of connection and influence, would be more interesting if actually dug up and done for one of the sketchy A-listers instead of one of the sketchy K-listers, you know?

I've also been thinking about doing a small amount of hosting. That means a reseller account so I can't actually lay hands on the machine but I'd be able to take care of WordPress or whatever installs and keep things up and running. I'm thinking dirt cheap and with next to no support post-installation. If you're interested, drop me some mail. This is just an idea at this point that occurred to me because I've offered a couple people with smaller and less troublesome weblogs hosting here to take advantage of the ridiculous amount of space I have. Those are mainly people that I actually know in real life and I wouldn't charge for. Part of that is the uncertainty that comes with an exponentially increasing bandwidth usage. I doubt I'd ever get close to my limit but it's always a consideration. The break even point would only take a couple of people so it's always a possibility...


A Break From The Damned Inevitable

I have a presentation to do on the ordinary in Mrs. Dalloway in two hours so I shouldn't even be messing with this but someone just pointed out article in the Denver Post lauding Linux. It's not entirely accurate from just the skimming that I did before linking it here but, for once, it stresses the positives instead of what I'd be expecting this time of year: you can't play games on it. It does mention Knoppix, though, which is probably a bigger boon to people checking out Linux than any number of business section glosses.


Inability To Disappear

I finally have the new machine up and running which took a little more effort than I really anticipated and arrived minus a couple of things that I ordered but I assume that's usually the case. I'm pretty sure that's the really great part about being a beige box reseller -- you're dealing with brand name parts so the only part that you can totally fuck up is the inclusion or assembly of them. So, I don't have any fans in the case at the moment which should worry me more than it really does. Either I'm getting good at fairly disaster-free Gentoo installs, the installation process has dramatically improved, or doubling my processor speed and RAM has just tricked me into thinking that this road is entirely free of bumps.

I still don't have sound working and I'm basically operating in an environment that consists of Fluxbox, Emacs, AbiWord, and a couple other things. I've already compiled the libraries and whatnot for both Pepsi and Coke but haven't been very enthusiastic about going the rest of the way. I could probably get by with just what I have installed right now, especially given the absolutely brutal kdelibs compile which just plain sucks no matter how fast your new prosthetic penis box is, but the call of adding more crap on top of the crap you already have is next to irresistible.

One thing that I really have noticed is that hardware detection,probably between hotplug and coldplug, is much better than it was the last time I did a Gentoo install. The problem I had earlier with sound was actually a kernel issue and both CD drives were detected as were my NIC and everything else. Not too shabby especially when I think of how hard it used to be to set up a CD burner with SCSI emulation and whatnot.

I also noticed in the "Future zone" section of the Gentoo Weekly News that a project to slap a binary distribution of Gentoo on a 256MB USB drive called FlashLinux is underway. I'm not as excited about the specific details of that project as much as the tools that will probably become available as a result. I'd love to cook up my own thumb drive version of tools that would be handy for work because Knoppix is wonderful until you've had to boot from a CD a half dozen times in a single day.

My good-enough-for-me PDA is probably arriving tomorrow so that should make up for the lack of despair and disaster with this new machine. What better time to get a bunch of new hardware than the last two weeks of the semester...


Here We Goo

The best conversation so far today:

luser: So, when are we going to get USB speakers here at work?
me: (trying to avoid this conversation entirely): Uh, probably not any time in the immediate future.
luser: I'd like to get some as soon as possible.
me: OK. I'll look into that and get back to you immediately because they don't exist.
luser: Yes they do because I already have them at home.
me: Why do you want USB speakers (audibly in quotation marks) anyway?
luser: Because they're much faster than the plug kind.
me: Ok, yeah, so I'll look into getting you some faster speakers.
luser: Great.
[tech support carrier dropped like a hot potato]*******

The title of this post was lifted from comment spam. I don't think these things up. I just interpret them.

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