Sales Tax & Your First Amendment Rights

This morning I heard a story about a large corporation and a judiciary both acting in favor of privacy over taxes.  It warmed my cockles.

As the recession continues states look for ways to fix budget shortfalls.  Raising or enacting taxes is politically incendiary in an election year but one state saw a way to increase revenue.  Last year North Carolina asked Amazon for information about goods it shipped (complete with names & addresses) to residents between 2003 and 2010.  It intended to collect sales tax owed by the good people of NC.

Even though Amazon does not charge sales tax on purchases the buyer may be responsible for paying come April 15th.  North Carolina asked for records revealing identities and purchases as part of a tax audit of the online retailer.  Amazon replied with detailed information regarding the items purchased, dates, amount of purchases, and county to which the items were shipped, but no personally identifying information.  The state acknowledged the information is sufficient to assess sales taxes, but pressed for all the requested details.

With the aid of the ACLU Amazon fought back citing the First Amendment, specifically the Video Privacy Protection Act which bars “wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sale records.”  Since passage in 1988 the protection was extended to cover DVDs, video games and books.  The federal district court in Seattle, Washington ruled in favor of Amazon.

Withholding the information was financially disadvantageous to the company because Amazon could not claim potential deductions, resulting in a higher tax bill.  They did the right thing in the face of monetary loss.

The cynic in me sees Amazon putting up a great public relations campaign in favor of privacy, all the while selling our personal information in secret to other companies.  Other states, including my home state of Texas, are pursuing uncollected tax revenue from Amazon and making a strong showing against the Tar Heel State may bolster their other cases.

Overall it is a win for privacy and I’ll take it.

References:

Cafélatté Homebrew – I ain’t talking about coffee

Cafélaté about to boil

The state of the art

Like many homebrew beer makers I also roast coffee.  It’s quick and simple to produce better java than you can buy in most shops.  While not a natural pairing, beer and coffee go together.  There’s coffee porter, coffee stout, ..uh… espresso porter….  I like to do things differently.

I thought about putting hops in my coffee grounds just to turn things on their head.  May still do that….  Instead, I picked a coffee drink and set about translating it to beer.  Astute readers have already picked up that I decided upon cafélatté – a mix of espresso and steamed milk.  This decision came mostly from the availability of lactose, milk sugar, for brewing.

The creative process

With one ingredient chosen I went a-browsing for the remainder of the grist.  To my surprise I discovered Coffee malt, a moderately roasted 2-row barley (130-170L).  My grain bills are almost always simple, with one or two specialty malts, so I decided to limit the beer to that one roast.  I also had an idea for a fourth ingredient.

The third grain is, of course, the base malt.  My normal favorite, Maris Otter, would likely be too nutty or biscuity for this beer.  Again looking for new things to try I cane across Golden Promise.  The description promised a “sweet, clean flavor” which I deemed perfect.  Although the beer will be malt-dominant, it should show the coffee flavors more than anything else.

To round the grain bill off I decided on rolled oats to give the beer body and a smooth mouthfeel.  The beer should feel like you are drinking a creamy latte and oats are just the thing.  With the four ingredients selected, I placed my order.

Days later it arrived.  Although the ingredients came 32 hours ahead of brew-day I was eager to taste my creation.  Originally the coffee malt was to make up 15% of the grist, but I ordered enough to make 20.  I mixed some of the Golden Promise and coffee malt and bit into a small handful.

Coffee malt does indeed smell and taste like coffee.  It has that burnt bean starbucks flavor that I do not care for.  But as the grain stewed in my mouth the base malt stepped forward to compliment the ash and roast.  I nearly couldn’t stop myself from eating the entire grainbill.

Enough already, get to the recipe

OG 1.042
IBU ~23
Efficiency 75%
BU:GU 0.5

Fermentables

  • 70% Golden Promise
  • 20% Coffee Malt
  • 5% Lactose
  • 5% Rolled Oats

I use a water to grist ratio of two quarts per pound.  Aimed for a single 60 minute step at 158ºF but hit 160º.  Collected six gallons of sweet wort at 1.041 SG.

Kettle

  • 23 IBUs of Hallertau at 45 minutes
  • Irish moss and lactose at 15 minutes

Yes, this is a 45 minute boil.  Chilled and pitched onto a healthy yeast cake of White Labs London Ale yeast.  OG came out to 1.045.

Whatsit taste like?

I like to taste my beers at many steps.  Right out of the chiller is an important place.  I am quite pleased with the way this beer matched my expectations of it.  The lactose really gives the impression of milk.  One of my tasters remarked that he expected a hot coffee drink from the aroma.

The wort smells of burnt grains and steamed milk.  The lactose and rolled oats combine to give the beer noticeable body, but a the malty sweetness remains thin, like something you would expect from a beer of ten SG points lower.  Hop bitterness is mild and should be nearly undetectable after fermentation.

I’ll edit link to the review when it’s done.

A Request to Friends

It has been sixteen months since Adrienne had a hysterectomy.  Saying “we’ve been through a lot” is meaningless truth.  Adie and I will never be parents.  Ultimately the decision was ours, heavily influenced by cold biological facts.  This blog is small catharsis, but its material is not for those with a weak emotional constitution.

We have seen two Mother’s and Father’s Days since the decision.  Each one is easier than the previous.  The first one Adrienne wrote

“There is no I-had-my-uterus-and-ovaries-taken-at-32-so-I-will-never-have-children-of-my-own day. If someone makes one, I hope it’s in August. I don’t have anything else to celebrate in August.”

I will observe this day on August 11th and I am asking our friends to do so with me.  The name isn’t catchy, the sentiment too raw, and it risks emphasizing our infertility.  With a little effort we can all turn this day into something positive. This day we should:

Celebrate the life and happiness we have

We let go of a lifetime of desires and expectations while simultaneously redefining and reorienting ourselves.  This process is not over, but our goal on this day is to be happy with all we have.

Emphasize accomplishments

Birthing and raising children is often quoted as the biggest accomplishment a person can make.  We do not believe it.  Your affirmation drives us on to other altruistic endeavors.

Show that we are whole people

Any -ectomy takes something away from a person.  We felt “broken” and may not get over that.

We are not the only ones

So many couples and singles struggle with their sense of childless self worth.
Think of them on this day.  If you would like to help, it is simple as a phone call, email, tweet or Facebook post just to say “hi” or to remind someone of the good they do.

This day is not about trying or failing to be a parent.  We need neither sympathy nor reminders of our “enviable freedom” and that parenthood is “not all joy“.  At the same time the day’s purpose is not to belittle family.  Reinforce the good things that all of do.

I would like to recognize Mandy Tompkins’ kind help in putting this together.  She has been there before us and gone on.

Hard-plumbing The Stand

Just a quick homebrew update.  My three-tier stand is great, but I kept melting hoses when they would touch the hot metal.  Luckily none ever burst and spewed hot wort all over, but I knew that was just a matter of time.

So a friend and I got out the torches and hard-plumbed the stand.  The hoses are now short jumpers that connect vessels to the center line.  Brewed a dunkelweiss with the new setup on Thursday.  Works well and no burned hoses.

Some eye candy:

Easy Thunderbird Account Management Using MCD

Ford Thunderbird Console
From myoldpostcards

Continuing my series on Mission Control Desktop, this post covers some enhancements I made for configuring email accounts in Thunderbird.  The mail.* branch is one of the largest group of preferences you can manipulate using autoconfig.  Setting up the right combination of mail.accountmail.server, mail.identity and mail.smtpserver is just a little tricky.

With the exception of the special “local folders” account, an email account in Thunderbird has four components: an account, a server, one or more identities, and an smtp server.  There are a few preference strings gluing each of these elements together. Each account you create is differentiated from the others by a unique label, defaulting to account<num>, with incrementing numbers. You can also use your own, more meaningful labels, such as mail.account.work-email and mail.account.gmail.

Element Branch
Account mail.account.accountN Glues POP/IMAP, SMTP servers and identities together
Server mail.server.serverN Settings for the IMAP or POP server
Identity mail.identity.idN Name, email address, drafts & stationery folders
SMTP Server mail.smtpserver.smtpN Settings for the SMTP server
Glue settings
Accounts list mail.accountmanager.accounts Comma-separated list of mail.account labels
Default account mail.accountmanager.defaultaccount The label of the default mail account
SMTP servers mail.smtpservers Comma-separated list of mail.smtpserver server labels
Default SMTP mail.smtp.defaultserver The label of the default SMTP server

Here is a quick example:

// Identity
defaultPref("mail.identity.id1.fullName", "Dean Brundage");
defaultPref("mail.identity.id1.draft_folder", "imap://dean.brundage@example.com@mail.example.com/Drafts");
defaultPref("mail.identity.id1.smtpServer", "smtp1");
 
// IMAP server settings
defaultPref("mail.server.server1.type", "imap");
defaultPref("mail.server.server1.hostname", "mail.example.com");
// etc
 
// SMTP server settings
defaultPref("mail.smtpserver.smtp1.auth_method", 1);
defaultPref("mail.smtpserver.smtp1.hostname", "smtp.example.com");
// etc
 
// Glue it all together
defaultPref("mail.account.account1.identities", "id1");
defaultPref("mail.account.account1.server", "server1");
 
defaultPref("mail.accountmanager.accounts", "account1");
defaultPref("mail.accountmanager.defaultaccount", "account1");
 
defaultPref("mail.smtp.defaultserver", "smtp1");
defaultPref("mail.smtpservers", "smtp1");

As you add more email accounts the code can get unmanageable when you try to remember to twiddle the right branches so all the accounts, their identities and smtp servers show up. I would like to present an alternative.

This code builds upon the PreferenceFactory prototype covered earlier.  I put together an object prototype for an account, containing a server, one or more identities, and an smtp server.  There is also a singleton for the account manager.  Now you can instantiate an object and call preference setters on it.  The code is more readable and less error prone.

   // Create an email account
   var workAccount = AccountManager.newAccount({ isDefault: true,
                                                 label: "work",
                                                 type: "imap" });
 
   // Lock Preferences on the IMAP server
   workAccount.server.setPrefs({ hostname: "mail.example.com",
                                 type: "imap" }, "lock" );
   // Default Preferences
   workAccount.server.setPrefs({ check_new_mail: true,
                                 name: "Corporate eMail" });
 
  // Lock Preferences on the SMTP server
  workAccount.smtpServer.setPrefs({ auth_method: 1,    /* User/pass */
                                    username: "dean.brundage@example.com" }, "lock" );
  // Default Preferences
  workAccount.smtpServer.setPrefs({ description: "Corporate SMTP server",
                                     hostname: "mail.example.com"});
 
  // And now a personal account
  var myGmailAccount = AccountManager.newAccount({ label: "gmail", type: "imap" });
  // Go about setting preferences on myGmailAccount as before

Download the source

That block of code replaces the tedious series of defaultPref and lockPref required to set up an email account.  It produces preference settings like these:

defaultPref("mail.accountmanager.accounts", "work-account1,gmail-account2");
defaultPref("mail.accountmanager.defaultaccount", "work-account1");
 
defaultPref("mail.account.work-account1.identities", "work-id1");
defaultPref("mail.account.work-account1.server", "work-server1");
lockPref("mail.server.work-server1.type", "imap");
 
defaultPref("mail.server.gmail-server2.type", "imap");
// etc
 
defaultPref("mail.smtp.defaultserver", "work-smtp1");
defaultPref("mail.smtpservers", "work-smtp1");

Download the source

/**
   By Dean Brundage
   Originally published here:
     http://blog.deanandadie.net/2010/06/easy-thunderbird-account-management-using-mcd/
*/
 
 
/* "Inheritance" helper
   http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2006/01/17/javascript-inheritance/
   copy all of parent's prototype functions to descendant
*/
function copyPrototype(parent, descendant)
{  var sConstructor = parent.toString(); 
   var aMatch = sConstructor.match( /\s*function (.*)\(/ ); 
   if( aMatch != null )
   {  descendant.prototype[aMatch[1]] = parent;  } 
   for (var m in parent.prototype)
   {  descendant.prototype[m] = parent.prototype[m];  } 
};
 
 
/* "Base" for the Mail.xxxx objects
 
   This requires the PreferenceFactory prototype covered in a previous post:
     http://blog.deanandadie.net/2010/05/manufacturing-user-preferences-for-mcd/
*/
function Mail()
{  this.PreferenceFactory();  // super
   this.addPrefBranch("mail");
   return this;
}
 
copyPrototype( PreferenceFactory, Mail );
 
 
Mail.prototype.joinIds = function(collection,separator)
{  if( ! separator )
      separator = ",";
   if( collection )
   {  ret = collection[0].id
      for( i = 1; i < collection.length; i++ )
         ret = ret + separator + collection[i].id;
   }
   return ret;
};
 
 
/* A thunderbird email "account" consists of
      Mail.Server -- A mail server (IMAP or POP)
      Mail.SMTPServer -- A SMTP server
      One or more Mail.Identities -- Email address and name
 
   A thunderbird local folders "account" has only one Mail.Server, nothing else
      Yup, local folders are "servers"
*/
 
/* Object to manage accounts
      I recommend managing mail accounts with the AccountManager unless you
      know what you are doing.
   var myAccount = AccountManager.newAccount();
   myAccount.doStuff();
 
*/
var AccountManager = new Mail();
 
AccountManager.accounts = [];
AccountManager.addPrefBranch("accountmanager");
 
/* Create a new account
   Alerts Thunderbird to the presence of the new account
   See Mail.Account for valid options
*/
AccountManager.newAccount = function(opts)
{  if( ! opts )
      opts = { };
 
   acct = new Mail.Account(opts);
 
   if( opts.isDefault )
   {  acct.useSMTPServer( new Mail.SMTPServer(opts) );
      this.setDefaultAccount(acct,opts.lockLevel);
   } else
   {  acct.useSMTPServer( Mail.SMTPServer.defaultServer );
   }
 
   this.accounts.push(acct);
   this.setPref( "accounts", this.joinIds(this.accounts) );
   return acct;
}
 
 
AccountManager.setDefaultAccount = function(account,lockLevel)
{  
   this.setPref("defaultaccount", account.id, lockLevel );
 
   /* It's possible to create an account before setting the default
      SMTP server.  Clean them up if this new account is the default
      (Expect Mail.Account to inform Mail.SMTPServer of the new default)
   */
   for( i = 0; i < this.accounts.length; i++ )
      this.accounts[i].useSMTPServer(Mail.SMTPServer.defaultServer);
}
 
 
AccountManager.setLocalFolders = function(folders,lockLevel)
{  this.setPref("localfoldersserver", folders.id, lockLevel);
}
 
 
/* Creates a new generic mail account (identity, server, smtp)
   Arguments
     opts: A hash of options. Valid options are:
           "isDefault": true | false (default false)
           "label": string - A unique label for this account, server & identity
           "lockLevel": "default" | "lock" | "pref" (default "default")
           "type": imap | pop | localFolder
 
   This prototype creates an object representing an email account
   It exposes some objects:
      myAccount.directoryServer  // The (optional) LDAP2Server object
      myAccount.identities       // An array of identites
      myAccount.server           // The IMAP/POP/LocalFolder Mail.Server object
      myAccount.smtpServer       // The Mail.SMTPServer object
 
   (The LDAP2Server object is detailed in a separate post on http://blog.deanandadie.net/)
*/
Mail.Account = function(opts)
{  if( ! opts )
     opts = { };
 
   if( ! opts.type )
      throw("What's my type?");
 
   this.Mail();  // "super"
 
   this.id = "account" + ++Mail.Account.count;
   if( opts.label )
   {  this.id = opts.label + "-" + this.id;  }
 
   // Our preference branch is mail.account.accountN
   this.addPrefBranch( [ "account", this.id ] );
 
   this.identities = [];
 
   this.server = new Mail.Server(opts);  // Need this either way
 
   if( opts.type.match(/^^imap$|^pop$/i) )
   {
      this.server.setPref("type", opts.type, opts.lockLevel);
 
      // Important that addIdentity be before the SMTP server is set up
      this.addIdentity( new Mail.Identity(opts), opts.lockLevel );
 
   } else if( opts.type.match(/^localFolders?$/i) )
   {  this.folders = this.server;
      AccountManager.setLocalFolders(this.folders);
      this.folders.setPref("type", "none", opts.lockLevel );
 
   } else
   {  throw("unrecognized Mail.Account type: " + opts.type);  }
 
   this.useServer(this.server, opts.lockLevel);
 
}
 
copyPrototype( Mail, Mail.Account );
 
Mail.Account.count = 0;                                   // Fake class variable
 
 
// Expects a Mail.Identity object and, optionally, the preference locking level
Mail.Account.prototype.addIdentity = function(identity,lockLevel)
{  if( identity )
   {  if( ! this.identities.contains(identity) )
      {  this.identities.push(identity);
         this.setPref("identities", this.joinIds(this.identities), lockLevel );
      }
   }
}
 
 
/* Helper to set the SMTP server
   Expects a Mail.SMTPServer object & optionally, an options hash
   Valid options:
     lockLevel: lock | default | pref
     force: true | false
*/
Mail.Account.prototype.useDirectory = function(directory, opts)
{  if( ! opts )
      opts = { };
   if( directory )
   {  if( opts.force || typeof(this.directoryServer) == "undefined" )
      {  this.directoryServer = directory;
         for( i = 0; i < this.identities.length; i++ )
            this.identities[i].useDirectory( this.directoryServer, opts );
      }
   }
}
 
/* Helper to set the SMTP server
   Expects a Mail.SMTPServer object & optionally, an options hash
   Valid options:
     lockLevel: lock | default | pref
     force: true | false
*/
Mail.Account.prototype.useSMTPServer = function(smtp,opts)
{  if( ! opts )
      opts = { };
   if( smtp )
   {  if( opts.force || typeof(this.smtpServer) == "undefined" )
      {  this.smtpServer = smtp;
         for( i = 0; i < this.identities.length; i++ )
            this.identities[i].useSMTPServer( this.smtpServer, opts );
      }
   }
}
 
 
// Expects a Mail.Server object and, optionally, the preference locking level
Mail.Account.prototype.useServer = function(server,lockLevel)
{  if( server )
      this.setPref("server", server.id, lockLevel );
}
 
 
/* Creates a new generic mail server
   Arguments
     opts: A hash of options. Valid options are:
           label: string - A unique label for this account, server & identity
*/
Mail.Server = function(opts)
{  if( ! opts )
     opts = { };
 
   this.Mail();
 
   this.id = "server" + ++Mail.Server.count;
   if( opts.label )
   {  this.id = opts.label + "-" + this.id;  }
 
   // Our preference branch is mail.server.serverN
   this.addPrefBranch( [ "server", this.id ] );
}
 
copyPrototype( Mail, Mail.Server );
 
Mail.Server.count = 0;  // Fake class variable
 
 
/* Creates a new mail identity. (name, email address, etc)
   Arguments
     opts: A hash of options. Valid options are:
           "label": string - A unique label for this account, server & identity
*/
Mail.Identity = function(opts)
{  if( ! opts )
     opts = { };
 
   this.Mail();
 
   this.id = "id" + ++Mail.Identity.count;
   if( opts.label )
   {  this.id = opts.label + "-" + this.id;  }
 
   // Our preference branch is mail.identity.idN
   this.addPrefBranch( [ "identity", this.id ] );
   this.hasSMTPServer = false;
};
 
copyPrototype(Mail, Mail.Identity);
 
 
Mail.Identity.count = 0;  // Fake class variable
 
 
/* Expects a LDAP2Server object and a hash of options
   Valid options:
      lockLevel: lock | default | pref
*/
Mail.Identity.prototype.useDirectory = function(ldap2Server,opts)
{  if( ! opts )
      opts = { };
 
   if( ldap2Server )
   {  this.setPref("directoryServer", "ldap_2.servers." + ldap2Server.id, opts.lockLevel);
      this.setPref("overrideGlobal_Pref", true, opts.lockLevel);
   }
};
 
 
/* Expects a SMTPServer object and a hash of options
   Valid options:
      force: true | false
      lockLevel: lock | default | pref
*/
Mail.Identity.prototype.useSMTPServer = function(smtpServer,opts)
{  if( ! opts )
      opts = { }
   if( smtpServer )
   {  if( opts.force || ! this.hasSMTPServer )
      {  this.setPref("smtpServer", smtpServer.id, opts.lockLevel);
         this.hasSMTPServer = true;
      }
   }
};
 
 
/* Creates a new smtp server
   Artuments:
     opts: A hash of options. Valid options are:
       isDefault: true | false (default)
       label: A unique label for this smtp server
   Throws an error if there is already a default smtp server
*/
Mail.SMTPServer = function(opts)
{  if( ! opts )
     opts = { };
 
   this.Mail();
 
   this.id = "smtp" + ++Mail.SMTPServer.count;
   if( opts.label )
   {  this.id = opts.label + "-" + this.id;  }
 
   // Our perference branch is mail.smtpserver.smtpN
   this.addPrefBranch( [ "smtpserver", this.id ] );
 
   if( opts.isDefault && Mail.SMTPServer.defaultServer )
      throw("Default smtp server already configured to " + Mail.SMTPServer.defaultServer);
 
   if( opts.isDefault )
      this.setDefault();
 
   // Register this SMTP server
   if( ! Mail.SMTPServer.servers.contains(this) )
      Mail.SMTPServer.servers.push(this);
 
   // Update mail.smtpservers to include the new one
   defaultPref("mail.smtpservers",  this.joinIds(Mail.SMTPServer.servers) );
 
   return this;
};
 
copyPrototype(Mail, Mail.SMTPServer);
 
// Some "class" variables
Mail.SMTPServer.count = 0;
Mail.SMTPServer.defaultServer = undefined;
Mail.SMTPServer.servers = [];
 
 
Mail.SMTPServer.prototype.setDefault = function()
{  Mail.SMTPServer.defaultServer = this;
   defaultPref("mail.smtp.defaultserver", Mail.SMTPServer.defaultServer.id );
}

Quick diff of Solaris patch levels

Suppose you have two Solaris machines and you want to bring them to the same patch level.  Or you are troubleshooting issues on two machines that are supposed to be identical.  I wrote a perl script that compares patch levels on two machines.

It shows something like this:

malfunction % patch_diff sr-host-01 sr-host-02
 
Patches on each system that are missing from the other.
                        sr-host-01  |  sr-host-02
          Wed Jun  2 11:40:40 2010  |  Wed Jun  2 11:40:59 2010
------------------------------------+-------------------------------------
                         118814-01  |  123252-01
                         118959-03  |  127752-01
                         119090-31  |  137110-01
                                    |  142430-01
                                    |  142436-01
 
Patches on each system that are downrev on the other.
                        sr-host-01  |  sr-host-02
          Wed Jun  2 11:40:40 2010  |  Wed Jun  2 11:40:59 2010
------------------------------------+-------------------------------------
                         137147-04  |  137147-05
                         137000-03  |  137000-06
                         125952-18  |  125952-19

Download patch_diff

First it shows all the patches sr-host-01 has that sr-host-02 does not have and vice-versa.  In this simplified case sr-host-01 has 3 patches sr-host-02 does not have and sr-host-02 has 5 patches sr-host-01 does not have.  It also compares patch revisions and shows the different levels on each host.  The machines share 3 patches that are at different revision levels.

To use patch_diff you must first generate a patch list on each machine.

0 sr-host-01 % patch_diff -g

This makes a directory with a NDBM file containing the patches on sr-host-01. Do the same for sr-host-02 and bring the NDBM files together. (It helps if your home directory is shared between the machines.)

0 malfunction % ls patch_diff
sr-host-01.dir  sr-host-02.dir
sr-host-01.pag  sr-host-02.pag

Download patch_diff

Manufacturing User Preferences For MCD

Bottling Line
From vissago

Nobody likes boring code

Mozilla products like Thunderbird and Firefox represent setting choices in a textual “tree” system. (Read the intro.)  Preferences that begin with print. live on the tree branch dealing with printing while those that begin with app.update. are on the auto-update system’s branch.  An easy concept to grasp. In practice, however, the simplicity will easily become a drone of defalutPref(“app.update.auto”, false); if you are not careful.

// This is a boring autoconfig script
defaultPref("browser.dom.window.dump.enabled", true);
defaultPref("browser.download.manager.retention", 0);
defaultPref("browser.download.manager.showAlertOnComplete", false);
defaultPref("browser.download.manager.showWhenStarting", false);
defaultPref("browser.download.save_converter_index", 0);
defaultPref("browser.feeds.handler", "reader");
defaultPref("browser.feeds.handler.default", "web");
defaultPref("browser.feeds.showFirstRunUI", false);
defaultPref("browser.history_expire_days.mirror", 180);
// and so on....

Working at The Preference Factory

Instead of hand-cranking preferences I developed an object prototype to mechanize large blocks of related settings.  The resulting code is more readable and easier to maintain when it looks something like this:

// Some hypothetical printing preferences
var printPrefs = new PreferenceFactory("print");
 
// Lock out printing background or in color and don't allow font download
printPrefs.setPrefs( { print_bgcolor: false,
                       print_bgimages: false,
                       print_downoadfonts: false,
                       print_in_color: false }, "lock" );
 
// Make some sensible defaults
printPrefs.setPrefs( { print_orientation: 0,  // Letter
                       print_to_file: false } );

Whitespace focuses your attention on the block and the object eliminates monotonous pref-branch statement repetition. For the experienced programmer this approach is the familiar object-oriented one of sending messages to receivers. One goal behind this prototype was to help create elegant code, which can be difficult to do in javascript. There is another purpose to PreferenceFactory which I will cover in a later post.

The Bottling Line

The heart of PreferenceFactory is a wrapper around the autoconfig API.  It performs lockPref(), defaultPref(), pref() and getPref() on a branch of the preference tree that you specify when creating the object. Here is the engine driving the factory:

function PreferenceFactory(arg)
{  this.prefNodes = [];   // Nodes in the preference tree
   this.prefBranch = "";  // String representation of the branch
   if(arg)
      this.addPrefBranch(arg);   // Add nodes to the tree and update the string representation
}
 
/* Preference setting helper function
   myServer.setPref("type", "imap", "lock");
   Arguments
     key: The preference string to set
     value: Value to assign to key
     lockLevel: Locking level.
            Valid values are "default", "lock" and "pref"
            Default level is "defulat"
*/
PreferenceFactory.prototype.setPref = function(key,value,lockLevel)
{  if( lockLevel )
   {  switch( lockLevel.toLowerCase() )
      {  case "default":
            this.defaultPref(key,value);
            break;
         case "lock":
            this.lockPref(key,value);
            break;
         case "pref":
            this.pref(key,value);
            break;
         default:
            throw("Unrecognized locking level: " + lockLevel );
      }
   } else
   {  this.defaultPref(key,value);  }
}
 
PreferenceFactory.prototype.defaultPref = function(key,value)
{  if( key )
      defaultPref( this.prefBranch + "." + key, value );
}
 
PreferenceFactory.prototype.getPref = function(key)
{  if( key )
      getPref( this.prefBranch + "." + key );
}
 
PreferenceFactory.prototype.lockPref = function(key,value)
{  if( key )
      lockPref( this.prefBranch + "." + key, value );
}
 
PreferenceFactory.prototype.pref = function(key,value)
{  if( key )
      pref( this.prefBranch + "." + key, value );
}

The “hypothetical print” code example gets its readability from a final function to set multiple preferences.  It uses a function I copied from JsUnit called trueTypeOf().  Its function is much like javascript’s typeof, but handles more than just the built-in data types.  setPrefs() accepts an array or “hash” and iterates over its elements, calling the above setPref() on each 2-tuple.

/* Sets multiple preferences
   Accepts an array or object "hash" and an optional locking level
*/
PreferenceFactory.prototype.setPrefs = function(prefs,lockLevel)
{  switch( trueTypeOf(prefs) )
   {  case "Object":
         for( thing in prefs )
         {  this.setPref(thing, prefs[thing], lockLevel);  }
         break;
      case "Array":
         if( prefs.length % 2 != 0 )
         {  throw("Need an even number of strings to set multiple preferences with an array");  }
         for( i = 0; i < prefs.length; i = i + 2 )
         {  this.setPref(prefs[i], prefs[i+1], lockLevel);  }
         break;
      default:
         throw("I don't know how to set multiple prefs with a " + trueTypeOf(prefs) );
   }
}

Download the full source

Scene from an upcoming post

I alluded to another purpose for this prototype and this is a glimpse of how I use it with Thunderbird in the real world.  Stay tuned.

   // Create an email account
   var brewingAccount = AccountManager.newAccount({ isDefault: true, type: "imap" });
 
   // Lock Preferences on the IMAP server
   brewingAccount.server.setPrefs({ capability: 81,
                                    hostname: "mail.example.com",
                                    port: 993,
                                    realhostname: "mail.example.com",
                                    realusername: brewingMail,
                                    remember_password: false,
                                    socketType: 3,
                                    type: "imap",
                                    userName: brewingMail }, "lock" );
   // Default Preferences
   brewingAccount.server.setPrefs({ check_new_mail: true,
                                    check_time: 10,
                                    cleanup_inbox_on_exit: true,
                                    delete_model: 1,   /* Move to trash */
                                    directory: userInfo.env_home + "/Mail",
                                    "directory-rel": "[ProfD]../../Mail",
                                    empty_trash_on_exit: false,
                                    empty_trash_threshhold: 0,
                                    name: "Brewing Mail",
                                    login_at_startup: true,
                                    using_subscription: false });
 
  // Lock Preferences on the SMTP server
  brewingAccount.smtpServer.setPrefs({ auth_method: 1,    /* User/pass */
                                       port: 465,
                                       username: brewingMail }, "lock" );
  // Default Preferences
  brewingAccount.smtpServer.setPrefs({ description: "Brewing SMTP server",
                                       hostname: "mail.example.com",
                                       try_ssl: 3 });

The source

/**
   By Dean Brundage
   Originally published here:
     http://blog.deanandadie.net/2010/05/manufacturing-user-preferences-for-mcd/
 
   Mix-in prototype for other objects that want to set defaultPref, lockPref
     or just plain old pref().
   Use the utility function copyPrototype() to copy this object's prototype
     functions to other objects.  This can also be used as a stand-alone object.
     Pass the prefix string to the constructor
   Example [mix-in]:
      function Mail.Server()
      {  // It's very important to update the object's preference path
         this.Mail();
         this.addPrefBranch("server");
         // Continue to define Mail.Server
      }
      copyPrototype(Mail.Server, PreferenceFactory);
      // Define the rest of Mail.Server's prototypes
 
      // Then you can set preferences on your Mail.Server object
      myServer = new Mail.Server();
      myServer.setPref("type", "imap", "lock");  // Lock the type of server to IMAP
 
   Example [stand-alone]:
      var prefFact = new PreferenceFactory( ["mail", "accountmanager"] );
      prefFact.setPref("localfoldersserver", "server2" );
 
*/
function PreferenceFactory(arg)
{  this.prefNodes = [];
   this.prefBranch = "";
   if(arg)
      this.addPrefBranch(arg);
}
 
 
// Add a string or many strings to the preference branch
PreferenceFactory.prototype.addPrefBranch = function(nodes)
{  switch( trueTypeOf(nodes) )
   {  case "String":
         this.prefNodes.push(nodes);
         break;
      case "Array":
         for( i = 0; i < nodes.length; i++ )
            this.prefNodes.push(nodes[i]);
         break;
      default:
         throw("Don't know how to addPrefBranch for a " + trueTypeOf(nodes));
         break;
   }
   this.prefBranch = this.prefNodes.join(".");
}
 
 
PreferenceFactory.prototype.defaultPref = function(key,value)
{  if( key )
      defaultPref( this.prefBranch + "." + key, value );
}
 
 
PreferenceFactory.prototype.getPref = function(key)
{  if( key )
      getPref( this.prefBranch + "." + key );
}
 
 
PreferenceFactory.prototype.lockPref = function(key,value)
{  if( key )
      lockPref( this.prefBranch + "." + key, value );
}
 
 
PreferenceFactory.prototype.pref = function(key,value)
{  if( key )
      pref( this.prefBranch + "." + key, value );
}
 
 
/*
   Preference setting helper function
   myServer.setPref("type", "imap", "lock");
   Arguments
     key: The preference string to set
     value: Value to assign to key
     lockLevel: Locking level.
            Valid values are "default", "lock" and "pref"
            Default level is "defulat"
*/
PreferenceFactory.prototype.setPref = function(key,value,lockLevel)
{  if( lockLevel )
   {  switch(lockLevel.toLowerCase())
      {  case "default":
            this.defaultPref(key,value);
            break;
         case "lock":
            this.lockPref(key,value);
            break;
         case "pref":
            this.pref(key,value);
            break;
         default:
            throw("Unrecognized locking level: " + lockLevel );
      }
   } else
   {  this.defaultPref(key,value);  }
}
 
 
/* Sets multiple preferences
   Accepts an array or object "hash" and an optional locking level
*/
PreferenceFactory.prototype.setPrefs = function(prefs,lockLevel)
{  switch( trueTypeOf(prefs) )
   {  case "Object":
         for( thing in prefs )
         {  this.setPref(thing, prefs[thing], lockLevel);  }
         break;
      case "Array":
         if( prefs.length % 2 != 0 )
         {  throw("Need an even number of strings to set multiple preferences with an array");  }
         for( i = 0; i < prefs.length; i = i + 2 )
         {  this.setPref(prefs[i], prefs[i+1], lockLevel);  }
         break;
      default:
         throw("I don't know how to set multiple prefs with a " + trueTypeOf(prefs) );
   }
}
 
function trueTypeOf(something)
{  // Borrowed from jsUnitCore.js.  Thank you.
   // http://github.com/pivotal/jsunit/blob/master/app/jsUnitCore.js
   var result = typeof something;
   try
   {  switch (result)
      {  case 'string':
            break;
         case 'boolean':
            break;
         case 'number':
            break;
         case 'object':
         case 'function':
            switch (something.constructor)
            {  case new String().constructor:
                        result = 'String';
                        break;
               case new Boolean().constructor:
                        result = 'Boolean';
                        break;
               case new Number().constructor:
                        result = 'Number';
                        break;
               case new Array().constructor:
                        result = 'Array';
                        break;
               case new RegExp().constructor:
                        result = 'RegExp';
                        break;
               case new Date().constructor:
                        result = 'Date';
                        break;
               case Function:
                        result = 'Function';
                        break;
               default:
                  var m = something.constructor.toString().match(/function\s*([^( ]+)\(/);
                  if (m)
                     result = m[1];
                  else
                     break;
            }
            break;
      }
   }
   finally
   {  result = result.substr(0, 1).toUpperCase() + result.substr(1);
      return result;
   }
}

Reading Local Files With Javascript

Security Conscious Javascript

Normally, javascript does not have access to local files.  Rightfully so because almost every web server should be untrusted and allowing anybody to read your files is a large security risk.  Mission Control Desktop, however is a javascript application with access to XPCOM, Mozilla’s component object model. This article is an example of how to use it to read local files.

Solaris Printing Configuration

I use MCD to configure thousands of users’ browser and mail clients.  In Solaris, printer preferences are set according to the Mozilla Postscript subsystem in a .printers file in the home directory.  Firefox and Thunderbird do not support this file interface so I use autoconfig to read the file and set printer preferences accordingly.

I wrote an object prototype to read and parse $HOME/.printers which the autoconfig uses to set the print.printer_list preference.  The prototype searches the file for a string indicating the list of printers to use:

# $HOME/.printers
# Set the default printer to riemann
_default riemann
# Display a chooser for three printers, ignoring all others.
_all newton,poincare,riemann

The line beginning with _all is quite important in my environment with 1,700 printers configured through LDAP.  If Thunderbird or Firefox were to try to load the entire printer list, it would become overwhelmed and crash.

extract_allPrinters utility

First, a look at the utility function I use to find the right line.

if( typeof(FileInterface) == "undefined" )  // Barf if the object prototype is undefined
   throw("autoconfig constructed improperly: need classes/file_interface.js before extract_all_printers.js");
 
function extract_allPrinters(path)
{  if( typeof(path) == "undefined" )
      path = env_home + "/.printers";
 
   // Regular expression to search .printers for _all
   re = /^\s*_all\s+(.+)\s*/i;
   lines = new FileInterface(path).grep(re);
 
   if( typeof(lines) != "undefined" )
   {  // Take the first match
      allPrinters = re.exec( lines[0] )[1].replace(/,\s*/g, " ");
   }
   return allPrinters;
}
 
/*
   *snip*
*/
 
// Tell FF &amp; TB which printers to offer a print dialogue for
defaultPref("print.printer_list", extract_allPrinters() );

The first lines check that the FileInterface object prototype is defined.  This is necessary because my autoconfig script broken into component scripts in the filesystem.  Besides making it easier to maintain, I can share functionality between Firefox and Thunderbird while excluding application-specific parts from the wrong autoconfig.

This function uses a prototype called FileInterface (explained later) to grep .printers for lines beginning with _all. If grep returns a match, the function takes the first one. print.printer_list takes a space-separated list of printers while _all is comma-separated, so the final thing to do is replace the commas with spaces.

Later on in the script I call defaultPref to set the printer list.

The FileInterface object prototype

nsILocalFile is the XPCOM interface used to access files on the client-side filesystem.  This object prototype provides only enough functionality to search files, but remains extensible should I need to create or modify.

// All you need is a (string) path
function FileInterface(path)
{  if( typeof(path) == "undefined" )
     throw("Need a path for FileInterface()");
   this.path = path;
}
 
/* Emulate the functionality of unix grep
   Takes a RegExp as it's only argument
   Returns an array of lines matching the RegExp
     E.G.: passwd = new FileInterface("/etc/passwd");
           lines = passwd.grep(/brundage/);
           // lines[0] = brundage:x:1002:1002::/home/brundage:/bin/zsh
*/
FileInterface.prototype.grep = function(re)
{  matches = undefined;
   if( re )
   {  line = {};
      matches = [];
      this.initIStream();
      do
      {  hasMore = this.iStream.readLine(line);
         if( re.test(line.value) )
            matches.push(line.value);
      } while(hasMore);
      this.iStream.close();
   }
   return matches;
}
 
/* Initializes a nsILineInputStream for higher-level functions
   Takes three arguments, assigning read-only defaults to undefined arguments.
   For possible values see: https://developer.mozilla.org/en/NsIFileInputStream
*/
FileInterface.prototype.initIStream = function(ioFlags,perm,behaviorFlags)
{  if( ! ioFlags )
     ioFlags = -1;  // Default mode (PR_READONLY)
   if( ! perm )
     perm = -1;  // Default mode (0)
   if( ! behaviorFlags )
     behaviorFlags = 0;
 
   // Initializing the stream requires an nsILocalFile.  Make one out of the path attribute.
   this.initLocalFile();
 
   // Get the nsIFileInputStream instance from the global Components variable
   this.iStream =  Components.classes["@mozilla.org/network/file-input-stream;1"].createInstance(Components.interfaces.nsIFileInputStream);
   if( ! this.iStream )  // Bad Things
      throw("network/file-input-stream component does not exist");
 
   // Point the stream at the iLocalFile
   this.iStream.init(this.iLocalFile, ioFlags, perm, behaviorFlags);
   // Transform iStream into a nsILineInputStream
   this.iStream.QueryInterface(Components.interfaces.nsILineInputStream);
}
 
/* Initialize an nsILocalFile instance with the path attribute of this object
   Required for streams
*/
FileInterface.prototype.initLocalFile = function()
{  this.iLocalFile = Components.classes["@mozilla.org/file/local;1"].createInstance(Components.interfaces.nsILocalFile);
   if( ! this.iLocalFile )  // Bad Things
     throw("file/local component does not exist");
 
   this.iLocalFile.initWithPath(this.path);
}

There you have it

I have only encountered this single situation that requires access to the local filesystem.  Can you think of others?

That is not who we are now

I don’t remember the year we decided to try, 2003 probably.  It was a New Year’s Eve, near the same hour of the night when I proposed to Adrienne.  I still remember the thrill of intentional unprotected sex.  A mixture of excitement, apprehension, hope and orgasam.  After that, the time between 2004 and 2010 was mostly pain and frustration.

It’s Infertility Awareness Week.  Right now 7.3 million Americans are somewhere along the same path we took; many of them are as lost as we were.  One of those people may be you.  I can not know what you feel, but I know it is crushingly real.

Ours is not a typical infertility story that odds-be-damned ends with a cherished miracle.  Adrienne and I held fast in the medical treatment crucible while the options frustratingly expired despite our efforts.  We wanted children but have physical and financial limits, so leave that struggle behind us, heads bloody but unbowed.

That we are still together evinces the commitment we made for better or worse, in sickness and in health.  We love each other for neither fecundity nor financial motives, but for the people we are; tempered by that crucible.

Although the strength of our relationship carried us, it took the help of an invaluable infertility therapist, kind family and trusted friends.  Without them, mourning the miscarriages and internalizing our situation would have been impossibly arduous.  Letting go of a lifetime of desires and expectations while trying to redefine and reorient yourself is not easy.

We are no longer the-couple-that-can’t-conceive.  The desire will never leave, but I refuse to let it shape me into a bitter childfree person who congregates on forums proclaiming I want nothing to do with children while ranting about affronts of “breeders” and their rugrats.  That is not who we are now.  We moved on.

Instead we find ways to take joy in each other, our careers, hobbies and the people around us.  It feels similar to that first night: excitement, apprehension, disappointment, and hope, but most of all it feels victorious.

Insect Art: The quest for awesome

I’m always on the lookout for well made, beautiful insect art. Not just pinned insects in a box (as showcased in many an entomologist’s office and home), nor the pseudoscientific version of “look! Bugs are pretty when they have wings and don’t bite!” type of thing. No…I’m more looking for a cross between scientific names and jewel-toned elytra; between the beauty in an ant colony and the beauty of a damselfly’s flight patterns. Enter RealButterflyGifts, a brick-and-mortar store out of South Dakota that now has an extensive shop on Etsy.

Not only do they have fine quality, beautifully curated insects, but they add in the element of art to their presentations. I’ve added some of the interesting products below, but have yet to go through the entire inventory. There goes my afternoon!

Isn't this amazing?
I like this style

They have a whole series of butterflies/other insects displayed with maps of their countries of origin. I love the idea of a grouping of these as a centerpiece in an office or library.

Aren't they the cutest?!

Look at the pretty!

Another lovely art piece

This is a great way to bring real insects into any decor without overwhelming those who think it’s gross.

Not quite my style, but....

Now while I wouldn’t have *personally* gone with a butterfly (I’d have preferred a group of ants, or a spread of brightly colored beetles) I love love love the idea of giving an art piece like this as a wedding memento. It might even work as a wedding favor for very small groups. Maybe I’ll have to put one together for my upcoming anniversary.

Dragonfly on print

This is another series this store does–taking art prints and adding a touch of reality with insects. They also do this with vintage botanical prints.

Love it!

It’s not just the “pretty” insects that get the royal treatment at this store, either. This is a velvet ant. Love it!

New. Favorite. Store.

How can you not love a store that sells mounted cockroaches? Granted, the title calls it a beetle at first, but then it explains. Cockroachs!

Pretty!

I just really like this butterfly.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to hide my credit cards.

–Adrienne

Things Adrienne & Dean Do, Think and Write