All posts by Ben


For The Record

When trying to set up quassel-core on Debian, you must start the daemon and then run quassel-client on a different machine. Do NOT follow the instructions that tell you to add an account at the command-line using the quasselcore --add-user command. It won’t work.

Just install quassel-client on some other machine and it will somehow auto-detect that you are in first-run mode and let you add the admin user. Yes, this is horribly insecure: whoever connects to the Quassel core first owns it!

Bonus advice: if you’ve run the quasselcore command as root, it’s possible that the quassel-core daemon is now running as root, which means that it might make its database file readable only by root … in which case the daemon will fail to start if it subsequently launches as the proper, isolated user.


A friend of mine is in a band in Brooklyn, and last night I went to go see them at Muchmore’s, a wine, beer, and soju bar whose performance space looks like an oversized living room coated in disturbing, psychedelic, black and white murals.

The opener was a barefoot, ponytailed dude in a suit, with no instruments. He started talking about what he was going to play, what his first song was, etc., and after a few seconds it became clear that, though he was speaking, his mouth was not moving. The intro speech was pre-recorded, as was the rest of the set. Instead, the dude proceeded to perform an ultra-spastic dance routine for each song, a sort of one-man mosh pit, and to mime his way through the recorded speeches between songs.

The music itself seemed like almost-plausible modern sampled dance music, but I took the whole set as a kind of parody of the genre. I was therefore surprised when I looked online and discovered that he has entire actual albums of it.

Then it was time for my friend’s band, PISS-OFF!. Using a variety of fancy electronic music hardware, they screamed a rapid-fire set that was discordant, scatological, insulting, sloppy, incomprehensible, out of tune, and injuriously loud to performer and listener alike.

In this case I think that qualifies as high praise.

Pizza School

On Thursday night I went with my team to pizza school, an outfit devoted to teaching New Yorkers how to make pizza. It’s very explicitly aimed at the home chef demographic, not those seeking a career in food service. For example, there’s no stylish brick oven or Blodgett industrial pizza deck. Instead, the custom-furnished space has a classic Viking double oven, just like the one in every McMansion’s kitchen.

The storefront, at the edge of Chinatown, features an ominous animatronic chef, and the faux-brick interior walls are slathered with over a hundred pizza-related tchotchkes surrounding a central workbench with marble slabs and measuring equipment at every station.

The proprietor walked us through the whole process, from flour to slicing, with a well-rehearsed routine that was more vaudeville than lecture hall. We ended up with enough material for two pizzas each, and shortly thereafter had all eaten a month’s worth of pizza in one sitting as we tasted each other’s various concoctions.

I probably would have forsworn pizza for the foreseeable future, but last night I had friends coming over, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show off my new pizza skills. My apartment and I wound up absolutely covered in flour, but my guests (and the lack of leftover pizza) confirm: the New York Pizza School can really teach anyone how to make pizza.


I’ve lived in many an overheated city apartment before, but this might be the worst. I left the window ajar all night, on the coldest night yet, and still woke up sweltering.

I wonder what the total nationwide economic and environmental cost of these central heating systems is, vs. thermostats.

The first cut is the deepest

I got my first haircut in Harlem today, at Primo’s on Amsterdam. Finding the right barbershop is tricky in a mixed-ethnicity neighborhood, because they specialize in serving clienteles with different types of hair. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that’s advertised on the sign. The best I could do was to peer in the windows of the barbershops and “unisex salons” until I found one where someone inside had hair that looked roughly like mine. I walked by at least five (in three blocks!) before picking Primo’s.

I have to say, I was pleased. If you’re in the market for a proper buzz, Harlem is the place for you.

Starry night

I’ve spent the past 22 hours at Hack the Universe, a 24-hour hackathon at the Hayden planetarium.

Honestly, I mostly went just for the experience of spending a night there. Camping out along the Orders of Magnitude catwalk was fun, but next time I should probably read the instructions about bringing a sleeping bag.

The purpose of the event was to contribute to open source, educational projects related to astronomy. I’m a fan of the Sky Map app for Android, so I decided to make a small improvement to that. At first I thought I would add an overlay for black holes or exoplanets (in honor of Interstellar, which opened this week and prominently features both). Once I read through the code, though, I realized that there was already a half-complete implementation of live ISS tracking in the code, so I figured it would be better use of my time to try to get that working. I’ve wished for that feature almost every time I use the app, so this is the classic open source paradigm of “scratching your own itch”.

The result is here. It appears to work, with a few small caveats and one big one: I have no idea if the position is right. It’ll take quite a bit more work to convince myself that it’s not steadily plotting total garbage.

Fun fact of the day: Earth Tide

The oceans are not the only thing that rises and falls due to gravitational effect of the moon. The Earth itself is effectively a giant droplet of liquid rock, with only a superficial solid shell. The moon’s gravity therefore works on the land, much like it does on the sea.

The upshot: the ground underneath your feet rises and falls by about 6 feet, twice every day. Why don’t we notice this at the beach? Because the seafloor and the dry land rise and fall together!


I went to a concert tonight by Frederic Chiu, a fabulously talented pianist. He was introduced by two executives from different parts of Yamaha America, who both congratulated him on his 25th year of loyal service to Yamaha of America Inc. as a musician/brand-ambassador, and emphasized that he would be playing the Yamaha Disklavier Mark IV, or something to that effect.

Disklavier is Yamaha’s fancy player-piano brand, which was described in some detail in the program. Chiu is a great showman, balancing impeccable performance with a dash of showmanship. His grand finale tonight was a Chopin rondo for two pianos … both played by himself. One piano ran in play-mode, playing back a performance he had recorded earlier in a studio, complete with synchronized video on a projector. The other, he played live. The result was effective and impressive, particular given the need to maintain precise synchronization with a recording that is not listening to match his tempo.

On the one hand, anyone (and especially an engineer) can appreciate the technical and musical achievement required to pull off this kind of performance. On the other hand, by literally replacing himself with a machine, Chiu raises some existential questions about the whole notion of live musical performance. If the recording sounds just as good … what’s the point of a recital?

EDIT: Oops, wrong Chiu.