Monday, May 31, 2004

TV commentary

I was watching a Trading Spaces the other evening, and I noticed something. They mixed the usual crew up a little on the episode - Laura Day was one of the designers, and Faber (the new guy) was the carpenter. First off, Faber seems to be a very good carpenter, but I'm not a big fan. He lacks either Ty's goofiness or Amy Wynn's gee-golly earnestness. He's just talented, nice, and resourceful. I'd hire him to work on my house, but I don't think I'm crazy about him on TV.

Secondly, Laura is cute. Very, very, cute. But she showed more personality while watching the homeowners comment during the reveal than she showed the whole rest of the episode. And I haven't been nuts about her designs in the episodes she's been on so far. Bleh.

In fact, most of the new folks (Barry, Rick, et al) and changes this season haven't done a lot for me. I still like the show, though, but I do a lot more fast-forwarding than I used to.

The only other show on my hitlist today is WWE Afterburn. It's the syndicated highlight show from the SmackDown/Velocity show duo that airs in minor markets nationwide. The reason I mention it is because once in a while TiVo automatically records it for me, and when it does I usually watch (or at least fast-forward) it - mainly because I don't ever bother watching Velocity and I can catch a match recap or two.

The Afterburn hosts are Josh Matthews and Rue DeBona. Josh tried the wrestling thing (he was a contestant on the original Tough Enough), but was too small to get ahead - he's turned into a decent announcer and is improving regularly. Rue, on the other hand, is OK, but more importantly she's hot. Smokin', save this show to tape-class hot. Darn near Stacy Keibler-class hot.

Why they're burying her on Afterburn, I have no idea. She should at least be doing the interview segments on SmackDown.

However, it takes a lot more than hottie-ness to get me watching a show regularly. Sorry, I'll just stick with the Big Two WWE shows.

I also have to say (on the WWE subject) that Michael Cole and Tazz are arguably better than JR and the King. If Cole dropped a few of his cliches (especially talking about how wrestler X is "in control"), they'd be uncontested in the top spot. JR is still good (and remains the best seller in the business), but King is getting old (even if his facelift makes him look younger than ever).

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Slight setback

Last night he went to sleep fine, if reluctantly. But he was up at 6 AM and refused to go back to bed. We put him back in the crib and he dozed until 8.

After I went and got him, he demanded his Baby Einstein video (we just got a new one yesterday). So he's watching it and eating breakfast right now.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Since I had to replace it anyways...

I wound up picking up another Linksys (I still like their stuff - it was the first failure I've ever had of one of their products) router, but I upsized slightly to their VPN endpoint model. Still really cheap. Got it running last night, and maybe over the weekend I'll set up the VPN capability.

I finished the month of May with a small profit, which is nice. Not enough to justify paying myself yet, but it's always good when the cash pile doesn't shrink at all. As of right now, it looks like June should be a pretty good month. I have several active projects that will bill then, plus I'm doing a business expo later in the month as well.

Jane cleared out the air ferns on the side of our house last week to make a fenced-in area for David to play in. He loves it.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Tidbits

The cheap old Linksys I've been using as my office router died this morning - and died again a little while ago. I'm going to head back over there later on tonight and replace it. Grumble.

Played a round of golf yesterday. Thankfully I'd already played my league round, because I just plain sucked. I parred the fourth hole - the long par five, but that's a par in name only. After being given a mulligan (you can't have them when the game actually counts), I hit my tee shot way right and up on a high bluff. I hit my second shot poorly, into the trees on the right about 140 yards away from me. But a nice bounce knocked it back into the rough. With the sun in my eyes, I hit the third shot (I thought) right at the green, but I went left and down the hill away. My blind chip shot landed only a few feet from the pin, though, and I sank the putt.

Never hit a fairway the entire hole, but I still shot a 5. Go figure.

I'll post more over the weekend - honest.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Mac/PocketPC Synchronization

As regular readers know, I am a pocket computer nut. My collection includes an iPaq 1935, a Palm Tungsten T, a Sharp Zaurus 5500, and an old Newton MessagePad 2100. I also have a Sony-Ericsson T610 cellphone with an organizer that supports Bluetooth for synchronization, and an iPod - those two devices can carry contact and calendar info, too. All these devices have their pluses and minuses, but the ones I use regularly are the ones that I can use iSync to keep going - generally leaving the Newton and Zaurus out of the everyday list. Though the Zaurus is a full Linux system, which comes in handy.

Anyhow, one of the challenges for me is to keep the devices in proper sync, and also sync to my Dell laptop, on which I use Outlook 2003 talking to my Exchange server. The common factor for me is the iPaq, which is the pocket computer I use most. Syncing it with Windows is easy - but the Mac side needs a little help. Until recently, I was a PocketMac user. PocketMac has been reviewed in an earlier entry last fall - it's a pretty good answer to the problem, but quirky and subject to misbehavior whenever Apple tweaks their OS. Part of that may be due to the design. PocketMac is a very full-featured sync package, with iSync and stand-alone support, support built-in for pass-thru networking, and AvantGo conduit support, along with support for custom plug-ins. It does a lot, and does it pretty well. But the latest OS update glitches left me wanting to try the new kid on the block - Mark:Space's Missing Sync for PocketPC. All Missing Sync does is basically provide a straight USB device connection for iSync support purposes. If you want to do an AvantGo sync, you have to configure pass-thru networking separately. I was able to get it for a steep discount ($20), so I gave it a try. Simply put, it does what it says - no more, no less. It doesn't sync as quickly as PocketMac, but it provides more reliable results in the iSync environment. It also provides better support for browsing the PocketPC filesystem, and an equally kluged re-installer for Windows-based installer apps.

The one weakness is that Missing Sync has occasional trouble handling the dual sync between the Mac Address Book and Windows Outlook. They own up to it in the release notes, and are working on the issue. I haven't noticed much of a problem in that regard thus far - certainly no more than PocketMac gave me. The Missing Sync license terms are also somewhat more generous, too. Mark:Space allows installation on two Macintoshes, so if you use iSync to keep your home and office Macs on the same page, for instance, then you can install Missing Sync on both. Definitely a plus in my book, and quite useful.

Which sync app will I use on a regular basis? Probably Missing Sync - the iSync integration is real slick and (IMHO) a little better than PocketMac offers right now. But I wouldn't count out PocketMac. The developer has historically done a real good job addressing concerns, and the current 3.x version is a quantum leap over the earlier versions. And they're usually first with support for new MacOS versions. The jury's still out on this one, I'd say.

Now if only someone could build iSync conduits for the Zaurus and Newton...

Monday, May 24, 2004

Happy birthday, kid...

The Dude is 2 now. Wow.

To celebrate, we put him to sleep in the Big Boy Bed (also known as a toddler bed) for the first time tonight - he's napped there but hasn't spent the night until now. It's gone well so far, and he's snoozed out a massive thunderstorm that's been raging for hours.

Question: If you buy a bargain wireless AP and it dies in less than a week, is it still a bargain?

Answer: When I make them replace it tomorrow afternoon, it is. But I still got paid to take it anyways.

The Netgear croaked within a day of deploying it. I figured this out when TiVo was warning me tonight it had less than a week's program data left. I still had a wireless signal, but couldn't forward packets, and TiVo had a 169 address, meaning the DHCP lease had expired.

Problem temporarily solved - switch the Linksys AP upstairs to WEP temporarily (I prefer WPA), add TiVo to the authorized client table, and reset the TiVo to use my other network instead. Getting the Netgear dealt with will be the real fix, as I don't like to use mixed mode on my Linksys and I hate WEP.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

'Twas a lovely day for a birthday

We had David's 2-year party (the actual birthday is tomorrow) today at a play area here in town. It was well-attended, and the little guy had a lot more fun than he did last year, when he just kinda sat there like a lump. I'll be posting pictures sometime this week in the usual place.

I was thinking a few days ago about cultural (read: TV) trends that I completely missed out on. My tastes normally run to cooking shows, wrestling, home improvement TV, the occasional newscast, and sports - baseball and football in particular. I only watch golf on TV during the majors (really just the Masters, but sometimes I watch some of the other three) and the Skins Game. Otherwise I prefer playing to watching. I also like Dave Attell's Insomniac, which is a very funny show indeed.

But with that list, virtually nothing "mainstream" is on it. I've watched arguably three or four cumulative hours of Friends during all the years it was on, and those mainly because Jane was watching it and I didn't want to avoid her during that time. I've never seen Alias or 24, despite the buzz both got. I have not and will not ever watch American Idol. If you actually care about the winner, you really need a life. The Bachelor? A saw a little bit of it early on because Jane liked it. I completely avoided the last two versions. I don't feel I missed out. I also went 0-for-Big Brother, though I did see the grainy webcam footage of the one girl getting naked a couple of seasons ago. And the granddaddy of 'em all, Survivor? I watched some of the first installment. Never since. Jay Leno? Like the guy, hate the show. Fawning, obsequious Hollywood chatter doesn't do it for me. I'm strictly a Letterman watcher.

I haven't just avoided Friends, though. I've skipped virtually every sitcom since Seinfeld went off the air, and I only saw that on rare occasions. I like South Park and The Simpsons, but I deem neither to be TiVo-worthy so I skip them.

It's not that I'm a snarky elitist who looks down on TV. Heck, I watch pro wrestling. It doesn't get any less elitist. I just see most of it as not worth the bother - and if I watch a show and get hooked on it then I have to make time in my life for it. Time that can be better used elsewhere.

In this case, it can be used going to sleep early tonight, because I'm dealing with a stomach bug. Good night!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Radio Silence

I'm still here - I've just had a very busy week. Multiple new customers, two projects I'm actively working on, and preparation for David's birthday party this weekend. And that's just for starters.

At least I'm very busy at work, too. That's a good sign.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A round of golf, analyzed

Here's why I'm a mediocre player, in a nutshell:

Today's round was played at the Salem muni course with two of my friends from my old company (Linda and Mary). We teed off around 4.

Hole #1: My tee shot is from an elevated tee into a fairway that slopes right. I catch the ball a little high and hit a shot that stays low - thanks to the elevated tee I still get about 180 yard out of it, though. It's on the fairway just at the point where it turns to an uphill green about 150 yards away. With the hill, it plays more like 180, though, so I take out my Tight Lies fairway wood and try to take a little off it. It works, and I'm on the green about 12 feet below the pin. The putt is dead on - birdie! My first of the year. Score so far: 3.

Hole #2: Another downhill - this time a 245 yard par 3 - the "signature hole" of the course. It's a blind green at the bottom of a double slope. My tee shot is bulled dead left, it appears - somewhere on top of a hill that rises above the left of the green. I'm figuring woods. And I get to the bottom and find it almost dead center line, just a couple of yards short of the green. I got a real good bounce and roll off the hill, it turns out. I chip short onto the green, and just miss a 25-foot putt for par. I settle for a tap-in bogey, which is pretty good on this hole. Score after 2: 7.

Hole #3: This one is a 350-ish level hole with some open space to the right, and a lot of wet marshy rough on the left edge. I've been hitting long and left so far this year, with a manageable but messy shot awaiting me afterwards. This time I try to fade the ball a little to avoid that (my weightlifting has so far granted me more power than I had last year, and slightly better club control), but send it too far right. I have to play a safe punch out from the base of a shrub, then knock an 8-iron to the green's edge. A chip and a 2-putt later, I've got a double-bogey 6 and a score of 13 after three holes. Not too bad, considering.

Hole #4: The one that got away. The only par 5 on the course, it's at least two shots to the top of a hill that then gives you a 160-yard shot to a small green. The fairway home from there is narrow, sloping severely into rough on either side. My tee shot is decent but unspectacular - a screamer low that carries about 210 yards. From there I hit my Tight Lies just a hair fat, putting it just short of the hill top. The shot from there is blind, with a slight uphill lie - I hit a 5-iron to compensate for the angle and hit it perfect. On the green in three. From there I have a long, 40-foot putt to try and make birdie. I'm really just trying to get it to within 5 feet or so.

I failed spectacularly - hitting it way too softly. Now I've got 15 or so feet for par, and it's tricky. I miss that one, and the comebacker too, winding up with a double-bogey 7 on the hole. A four-putt. Yuck. Now I'm at 20 after four holes.

Hole #5: More hills. An elevated tee hits over a brook to a fairway that slopes heavily from left to right. That goes up again to a green about the same height as the tee. After a short wait for the players in front of us (who are a threesome also, but they're slowing down) I hit a poor tee shot that's low and curving right. I wind up on a few rocks next to a hornet's nest, and my fellow players give me a free drop to get a few feet away. My next shot is just short of the green - I chip on easily and two-putt. Bogey 5, and a 25 after five holes. I could break 50 if I keep it up!

Hole #6: Elevated tee, dogleg left. About 370 yards total. But I make it about 400 by slicing (again) to the back of the fairway's throat. I recover nicely with about 190 yards out of the Tight Lies from the rough, leaving me a 75 yard wedge to the green's edge. From there, another chip and a two-putt to get a 6 - I'm now at 31 with three holes to go.

Hole #7 is only about 290 yards. But it's up over a hill into a small, dome-shaped target green that is real difficult. After cooling my jets for almost five minutes waiting for the folks in front, I finally misplay my drive only about 100 yards or so. It's in rough. I punch out badly for another 90 yards or so, then hit an iron to the right. A bad chip, a few putts - triple-bogey 7 and I'm now at 38 for the round.

Hole #8: Okay. The next hole is the last par 3 - only 125 yards today, but steeply uphill. At that distance it plays more like 140 to me. The waiting is really getting to me. When I finally tee off, I pull a 7-iron way left, and finally locate it in rough in front of the ninth tee. Yech. I punch out, chip on, and three-putt. A triple-bogey 6, and now I'm at 44. But a decent score on the last hole could redeem me.

Hole #9 (finally!): More waiting. More fuming. When I finally tee off, I blast a drive that went 300 yards if it went one. But it was so far right I can't find it. Pissed off and hurried, I take my drop and hit it just short of the green. Then I chip over. Then I chip back way past the hole. Then, finally, I just swipe it a few times with my putter while cursing under my breath about the horrible things I want to do to the golfers in front of my who helped me ruin my concentration. The snowman leaves me with a 52 for the round.

The beer afterwards tastes good, though, and takes my mind a little bit away from potential mayhem. The summary of my game:

- When I can play briskly and concentrate, I can play reasonably well.

- Slow play really hurts me more than it hurts a lot of people.

- The difference between me and a good golfer - I make occasionally spectacular shots to get out of trouble. Good golfers may not make the same kind of impressive-looking shots, but that's because they avoid trouble in the first place.

- My driving is still a work in progress. I have pretty good power, but until last year I usually sliced. Changes to my swing and more arm/shoulder strength have affected that, but I'm still getting a handle on it.

- Despite my score, I'm looking forward to next week's round anyway. Sucker.

Odd (but nice) sights of the morning

I went to Dunkin' Donuts on my way in today for a Latte (ten-cent price hike - boo!!!), and was going in about an hour later than usual (I slept in a little because David was up at 4AM). As I went to get in my car, I saw a sight that, while fine and enjoyable, felt strangely out of place. Here's why:

First off, this morning up here is very grey and drizzly. The temperature as of right now appears to be just a shade under 70 degrees. So I'm wearing my typical work clothes of light pants and a golf shirt, with a windbreaker for the rain.

Walking past me into the Dunkin' Donuts were two young twentysomething women. That's normal. They were pretty attractive - that's normal, too. After all, there's plenty of attractive women out there - heck, I'm married to one of the top ones.

What was odd was their outfits. Though the styles and colors were both different, they were both wearing micro-mini knit dresses with high heels and nothing else save their handbags.

Why was it odd? Well, first off it was about 9:45AM. Secondly, it was a Dunkin' Donuts. Third, the weather was not microdress weather by any stretch of the imagination.

Not that I minded the sight. But usually dresses like those are something you either see in dance clubs or in strip clubs - and it was a little early for either. It did make me wonder for a minute what their story was. But I think that any time I see a sight that doesn't quite appear to be "right".

One of them had particularly nice legs, though, if I do say so myself.

Monday, May 17, 2004

So many idiots...

How many people with limited brainpower will read (assuming literacy, most of them probably just watch Fox News Channel) the article about the discovery of a single old pre-Gulf War 1 artillery shell with Sarin that had been made into an improvised bomb and say "A-ha! They found the WMD! I knew that scoundrel Saddam had something hidden!"?

Newsflash: One old artillery shell does not a chemical weapons program make. We already knew there were probably a few that fell between the cracks - we knew he had them before Gulf 1 and had even used them on his own people. But what was equally clear was that the vast majority of the weapons were either destroyed like they were supposed to be or (likely) smuggled out by army folks looking to make a few bucks in a Iraq that was squished by sanctions. I'm sure there will be a handful more that turn up one way or another - hopefully before other terrorists/insurgents try to use them on our troops or on innocent civilians.

What remains lacking is evidence of a systematic WMD program that was of the scope to justify an invasion. Given the political nature of this administration, though, if there are any more the discovery will probably wait until right around Halloween. What a coincidence.

It's 12.5 hours later...

Same-sex marriage has been legal here in Massachusetts for twelve and a half hours now. The Republic appears to have survived.

And last I checked, the marriage of my wife and I remains perfectly valid and legal, so I guess gay marriage didn't devalue it at all.

Go figure. I sincerely hope that a few years from now, people will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Post-weekend update

We went down to CT round-trip yesterday to surprise my Dad in the hospital. I think he was happy and excited to see his grandson (and he didn't mind that Jane and I were there, either). His recovery is going pretty well so far.

Today, I got up at 5AM to go to the MIT Flea with my friend Greg - we met Rob, Glenn, and Frank there and took up four spaces in the garage. I sold about $400 worth of my old stuff. The cash is nice, but it's nicer to not have all that junk lying around my house.

And then, reading the paper this afternoon, I saw a nice deal at Staples - a NetGear 802.11b router for $9.98 after a $35 rebate. Well, with the $15 rewards check I had from them that expired in a week, I picked it up just now. I'm going to use it for my TiVo and all the B-only devices I have (David's iMac, TiVo, and my handheld computer), which will let me set the Linksys WAP54G AP to both G-only mode and to use WPA instead of WEP. Much cooler for my other systems and my laptops.

The best part - with the $15 check that I could only use at Staples, I was just essentially paid $5 to take the NetGear off their hands. I had nothing else there I really needed, so the check would have gone to waste otherwise.

Sweet.

Friday, May 14, 2004

News update

My dad's repairs went fine, and he's recovering (it was a hip replacement - of one he'd already had replaced about 15 years ago. It wore out). So I am in a much less frazzled state now.

- I ordered a new batch of business cards. The new ones will have the official Apple Consultants Network logo on them.

- Just downloaded the rc for Camino 0.8b. Very impressive. They've picked up the latest Gecko revisions (from the 1.7 branch) and integrated them nicely, updated the look/feel, and fixed outstanding bugs. This could quickly become the browser of choice.

My online history

As of today, I have:

602 posts on Slashdot
38 posts on K5
42 posts on Ars' OpenForum
Roughly 1300 Usenet posts
411 blog entries (counting this one)

Plus a whole mess of assorted other traces of myself left all over the digiverse - mostly on hardware forums and such. A Google search of my name currently turns up 611 references outside of Usenet.

The only significance to all these statistics is to illustrate just how distracted I am today. Hopefully good news should start coming in from all my various outstanding worries (beginning with my dad) soon.

While I was golfing...

When we were waiting on the eighth tee, a fox came trotting towards us (it was nearly dusk). It had a rabbit in its mouth. That was kind of cool. It hung around us for a little while, decided we might want to take the rabbit for ourselves, and since there were three golfers and only one fox the fox decided that discretion was the better part of valor. It took off with rabbit in tow for the top of the nearby hill.

I hadn't seen anything like that since about four-five years ago or so, when I was up in New Hampshire and a hawk went right into the bushes near me and came out with a chipmunk. The occasional cool nature sight is one of the reasons I like golf in the first place.

Bad Karma

Today hasn't started well for me. First, a pet peeve - why do the people at Dunkin' Donuts all assume that you mean "iced" when you order a drink after about April 1st? If I say "Latte", I mean "Latte". If I say "iced Latte", then that's what I mean. Period. Don't assume iced unless I say so. Is that too difficult?

Then, on my way up the garage here, I make the mistake of going around the long way like you're supposed to. About once every two weeks or so, I have to deal with a bozo who is making the quick left to get to the next ramp instead of going around - and even though they're sitting directly under a "Do Not Enter" sign when I cut them off and make them wait, they look at me like I'm the jerk for actually following instructions.

But I made it up without further ado. Then, as I walked down the hall on my way to my office, I realized my cellphone was missing. That's a potential disaster, because my dad's having surgery today and I need to be able to hear updates if need be. Not to mention that I depend on the thing. I retraced my steps all the way back to the car with no luck, but fortunately it was turned in at the leasing office here quickly. I usually keep it in-pocket but decided to use the clip today. I won't make that mistake again.

Hopefully that's it for problems today.

In other news, I golfed yesterday - shot a 50 just hacking around. Lifting weights has really had an impact on my swing. I'm still a little wild, but now I'm more prone to power-hooking the ball than I am my old heavy slice. My iron play was much improved over last week - my putting fell apart in the second half of the game (I four-putted the sixth, three-putted the seventh, and four-putted the eighth), but I started with four bogeys in a row. Not bad.

By the way, the easiest way to tell what platform I use to post blog entries is to look for typos. On MacOS X, spell-checking is a system-level service, automatically available to all programs. In Windows, it isn't.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

My first BSOD

I was able to get the XP build on my Inspiron to BSOD for the first time today - inserting a USB flash drive that I wanted to wipe. It was repeatable, too. Only that one, though - my other one works fine. I was finally able to wipe it by putting it in my 2003 SBS server machine.

In other technical news, I've installed VMware on the aforementioned SBS box (a dually 2.8) and I'm trying to debug what appears to be a pesky problem with a DIMM and one of my Celery boxes. I'm also working on a small Access programming job for a customer, but I'm mainly doing infrastructure work this week.

I also have Ghost running OK on the LAN (I'm using the SBS as the console server). The classroom PCs are being rebuilt to take advantage of it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Gay Marriage, again

As we are now four days from gay marriage being legal, I just thought I'd re-iterate my main points:

- I'm not bothered at all by it.

- My own 12+ year marriage isn't any less valid because of it.

- Gay marriage is still two people getting married - they just happen to be of the same gender. It does not lead us down a slippery slope to legitimizing polygamy or bestiality for marriage purposes. If society doecides those are appropriate too, then that's society's separate call - though I really don't care about the former one way or another and I'm very much against the latter (it's really yucky, I think).

- I do think that when gay marriage is legal, companies should cease offering "domestic partner" benefits. If you want to live as a couple and obtain joint benefits, get married. Couples who currently enjoy domestic partner benefits should be allowed a transition phase to either get married or revert to single benefits.

- I really don't think there's any religious basis for determining what marriage is or isn't (I'm still working on my last essay). I believe religious marriage and civil marriage are two separate things, and if a religious institution doesn't want to marry a same-sex couple, that's their prerogative. Separation of church and state means just that. But I think there's no reason any two people who want to live as a married couple should be denied civil marriage. The only reason I was married by a minister was because he was the father of a friend of ours (my wafe and I come from different religious backgrounds, and the minister who married us was from a third religion). If not for that, we just as readily might have been married by a Justice of the Peace. It wouldn't have made a difference to me - the marriage would have been equally valid.

- Opponents of gay marriage would be far better served trying to fix other societal "problems". We've got plenty of more important stuff to deal with.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

In the news

I saw a headline today on Yahoo - "Doctors give Cheney good news about heart".

So I eagerly followed the link - after all, maybe they finally found one?

Nope. Turned out it was just that he was in decent cardio health. Oh well.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Clearing up a few points

I just wanted to clear up a few points about Iraq, for the clueless:

1 - Iraq was not involved in any way with September 11th. There was no connection. In fact, Al Qaeda hated the secular Baathist regime in Baghdad almost as much as they hate us.

2 - Iraq was not actively using or maintaining any WMD whatsoever. They did have them at one point (in the late 1980s), but had not had any since the first Gulf War.

3 - It is perfectly plausible for someone to vote for a war resolution, but oppose the war. At this point, it's obvious that Hussein was bluffing the UN inspectors because he was more afraid of what could have happened to him if people knew he no longer had WMD. The resolution we passed here could have been used as leverage to force Hussein to open up (instead of just going straight to war), but it wasn't.

4 - Without proper supervision, prison guards tend to do bad things to prisoners. See "The Stanford Experiment".

5 - More to the point, I know that the "bad guys" have no moral qualms with doing terrible things to our troops and our prisoners. But we're the United States of America. We're the beacon of hope and democracy to the world. We are supposed to play fair, no matter what.

And we're not.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Yo Mama's Day

We're heading out in a few minutes for a nice brunch down in Swampscott. We'll see what kind of behavior we can get out of David. Should be interesting.

The past week was a pretty good workout week for me in my ongoing quest for better fitness. I lifted weights six days out of the week (I skip it on Tuesdays), and I played golf one day, walked the Shoe Pond trail another, and yesterday went for a bike ride with my friend Robert bright and early. I need to do some minor repairs to my old mountain bike, I discovered (the derailleurs are out of whack), and I probably should replace the knobby tires with semi-slicks - that'll give it less rolling resistance. I have another frame to build out into a road bike, but meantime I can beef up what I have.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Was there a TV show last night?

Actually, I watched a little of it with Jane. She, on the other hand, watched the whole ordeal - the retrospective first hour, the finale, and the "Tonight Show" group interrogation.

I'm not a Leno fan, so I watched the previous night's Letterman on my TiVo instead.

What made "Friends" the cultural phenomenon it became? I never really saw the kind of appeal in it that most people did (as the ratings prove). It wasn't a bad show, just not a great one. The characters were nice and innocuous, but it never drew me in. The last two sitcoms I watched on any sort of regular basis were "Seinfeld" and "Home Improvement" - but I never really made appointments to watch them (in the pre-TiVo era), so even those I saw rarely.

I'm sure eventually there will be a new "it" sitcom. But I'll probably miss it, too. Oh well.

In other news, David taught himself to turn on a desk lamp. He was particularly delighted with the discovery. He's also at the point where every discovery of a new word produces a shriek of delight - yesterday we taught him what a fireplace was by showing him the one in Goodnight Moon. He made the connection pretty quickly.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

The second rail - race

This one is pretty simple. Race matters. But race also doesn't matter at all. Huh?

OK, like I said, it's simple. On the whole, there are physiological differences between members of various races. Caucasians are different than Africans, who in turn are different from Asians, who are a little different from Amerinds, etc. It's not racist to say that. And I'll use professional sports below as one of the tools to demonstrate my argument.

Race is, as a whole, a useful tool for describing minor physiological adaptations among select human populations that have evolved over time. One important thing to remember about evolution, though - not all changes happen for a reason. Sometimes a characteristic emerges alongside a useful one that serves no purpose - but since it's not harmful, it isn't selected out. When you take the accumulated differences and express them in comparison to another population, that's what race represents.

What is racist is to believe that the members of one race are inherently "better" than another. That's wrong. In the time scale of human evolution, most racial differences are truly minor variations. Thousands of years of self-selective breeding among communities reinforced these basic racial characteristics, but modern Western societies are re-blending them again.

That's an important thing to remember. There may be multiple races, but only one species. There's no physiological reason why members of different races can't intermingle and reproduce.

Here's the gist of my essay, though: sure, there are average differences between races. But no one human is really all that different from any other when you think about it. A lot more of the difference between two people is from upbringing and socio-economic status than racial factors.

Also, there are a few things we know at this point through anthropology. We can be reasonably certain that the human species originated somewhere in Africa. As a result, the "natural" skin tone of humans is probably on the dark side - I'd guess that what we call "white" today is a more recent mutation that self-selected. We know that the natural size of humans varies wildly - just within the African continent we have the immensely tall Bantu and the small Pygmy. Common sense says that Africans are natural athletes, right? From looking at American professional sports, people with African ancestry excel at games that require size, speed and power. It's obvious.

Except that's all wrong. The greatest distance runners in the world come from Africa, for instance. The Kenyans and Ethiopians have dominated the sport of marathon running for decades. Caucasians dominate the game of hockey, which rewards speed and power. A growing number of professional baseball players are Hispanic. The biggest player in the NBA is Chinese. If you believe that Africans are the best power athletes, then how could they not be widely represented in hockey? Why are all those great marathoners from West Africa - in a sport that is designed for athletes with endurance over speed?

Because the assumption above isn't true.

Back in the middle part of the past century, the sport of boxing was dominated by Jews and Italians - all European. Now it's dominated by blacks and Hispanics. Did the Jews and Italians suddenly lose their innate ability to box? No, of course not. What happened was a demographic shift - boxers tend to come from more disadvantaged backgrounds. In the early 20th century, that spot in society was held by the Jews and Italians (among others) who were recent, lower-class immigrants. As time went by, subsequent generations moved up in society, and other groups expanded into the void left behind. And the next generation of boxers came from those ranks.

Eventually, as prosperity hopefully makes it down the line, there will be another group rising to prominence within the sport. Time will tell. But Hispanics aren't inherently better boxers than Italians - it's just that there's a lot more of them right now involved in the sport, so more of them will rise to the upper ranks.

Hockey players generally come from Europe, Canada, or the northernmost US (New England and the Upper Midwest). The populations that produce hockey players are demographically disproportionately Caucasian. So very few people from other racial backgrounds play hockey. They play other sports that are more popular where they live. It's that simple. And basketball, for instance, is more popular in a lot of urban black communities than it is in comparable white ones - hence more blacks playing. It's not that they're all better or worse - with a larger pool of players to pick from, more of them will make it to the next level. In places like the Dominican Republic, baseball is the sport. So many people are dedicated to it that we now have a lot of Dominicans playing professionally. Simple stuff.

So yes, in a general sense, there may be minor differences between races. To deny that is foolishness in the name of being politically correct. As a total population, perhaps the average black person is a slightly better athlete than the average white person. And I say slightly. But humans are more than averages. Much more. Plus, I suspect I single-handedly hold down the average for white folks, so it may just be my fault.

One more athletic story for now: when I was in high school back in the Dark Ages (okay, the early '80s, but it seemed that way), I was an occasional athlete. In particular, before chronic injuries and changing interests (girls) took me away from it, I ran track - all three seasons per year (cross-country, indoor, and outdoor). I was decent, not great - but not awful either. I was one of the better middle-distance and long sprinters on the team, in fact - clocking an 800 meter time right around 2 minutes. I was close to my adult height of 6'3", but skinny as a rail at maybe 160 pounds (it's remarkable what beer, age, and marriage can do to add bulk).

Anyhow, I, a tall, skinny white guy, was one of the better sprinters. Not great, but good. Our best sprinter, he was black. There was a white guy (not me) who was nearly as good, and occasionally beat him (they both always whupped me). Our best distance runner was a small white kid (he always whupped me, too). Short of that, though, there was no real way to predict who would excel at what - because the population was small enough to make sure that trends don't matter.

So, like I said, race matters a little bit, sometimes. But in the larger perspective, it doesn't matter at all. What matters to most humans is the natural desire to associate with "your own tribe", and racial differences are simply a visible reminder to most people that there are, in effect, different tribes. A Great Dane and a Shar-Pei may look almost nothing alike, but they're both still dogs. If they were physically able to mate, they could have offspring that would combine qualities of both (however odd that might appear). For humans? There's a lot less physical difference between any two human races than there are in an example like I just gave you. And minor trends don't make a difference with any one individual.

So in essence what I'm saying is that though it's racist and wrong to assume that any one race is inherently "better" or "worse" than any other, it's racist and stupid to pretend that there are no differences at all between races, either. There are. It's just that they're minor enough to not matter much, and the social and cultural differences between different classes make a much more pronounced difference. But unless you're one of the nutlogs who believe in predestination, virtually anyone can overcome socio-economic disadvantages given the opportunity (and desire) to do so. And that's what I believe.

A new Internet law:

I haven't seen this elsewhere, so I'm claiming it as my own.

jht's law says:

If you plug a Windows box directly into a high-speed Internet connection with only factory defaults, the probability that you will be ownz0r3d rapidly approaches 1 with each passing minute before Windows Update is at least run once.

In essence, you will not survive the first day. Period.


The usage of a hardware firewall or NAT router will lower this risk back down close to a probablity of 0, assuming Windows Update is run to patch all critical holes. A current antivirus subscription will lower it further, and good anti-malware protection will lower it further still.

That law is a major premise behind my business.

Occupational Hazards

This morning, I wanted some coffee after I arrived at my office. But I didn't feel like heading down to the bagel shop in the building to buy a cup - I've got a nice stash of Dunkin' Donuts single-pot packs of coffee so I popped one open and brewed a pot.

And then I drank virtually all of it by myself. The room is vibrating before my eyes right now, I'm so wired.

This is one of the things that can happen to you when you run your own office.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Reggae joke of the day...

"What's the preferred method of birth control in Jamaica?"
"The riddim method!"

I didn't say it was a good joke...

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Simplicity

I am now a Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist. Why? because I could pass the test with a minimum of effort (I was alloted 2 hours at the Prometric center this morning, and completed the 91-question test in 15 minutes). That test gives me the certification I needed to become an Apple Certified Consultant. So I did that after I got home, and now shold be able to generate some business with Apple's help.

Every little bit helps, you know. And I almost broke even for April if you count actual receipts. If you count recievables I've already done a small profit for May. Whoo!

Monday, May 03, 2004

Wow, how remarkable!

In the most recent Google index, my old employer is number 1 in a keyword search. But right behind it is my favorite Holyoke-related link.

It's funny what impact a few links can have on a lightly-traveled destination...

That was quick

I set up the fax trap, and got one in about 20 minutes later. It was from fax.com. I'll now join the effort to kill them.

In related telecom news, a new person apparently lives in my house. At least, she ordered phone service with our home address. Needless to say, that's been taken care of as well. Most likely a normal goof - there's a lot of multi-family units around us.

And Network World sent me one last chance to renew my subscription by e-mail. Of course, they've sent me that several times already, called me a couple of times, sent me letters, and wrapped the magazine in renewal notices. I have yet to renew. Supposedly my subscription ended back in January but they still won't go away.

My second line

I have a second phone line at work, also with a good phone number. But since the day it was turned on, I've been getting anywhere from 2-8 phone calls per day from a fax machine. I don't have a fax, so they either irritate me or irritate my voicemail (making me think I have a message). The only bright side is that I forward my main phone line to my cell when I'm out of the office, and the line in question doesn't forward as well.

Verizon can't do anything about it without either making me buy caller ID or pay for tracing. So I just came up with my own solution: I've rigged up my PowerBook to answer that line with it's own fax server, then send me an e-mail to let me know when it happens. It'll capture the junk fax, and hopefully then give me the sender info so I can go find the sender and do one of three things: convince them to stop, turn them over for prosecution, or just hurt them badly.

Which one depends on what they keep faxing me, I guess. I'm planning solution number 1 or 2, and I'd rather not do number 3, since it would be illegal.

But I wouldn't complain if they accidentally got hit by a bus.

Trivial thoughts

As an intermezzo of sorts, here are some thoughts and notes that have been bumping around in my life and head the last couple of days:

- David is much better now. He developed a mild case of hives after his fever broke for good, but they've cleared up already.

- I made some minor updates to my company website last week. Changed a few phrases, updated the navigation system, and added my logo. I'm using FrontPage 2003 as the generator tight now, because I'm trying to get a little more familiar with some of the Windows tools. I still prefer BBEdit.

Saturday afternoon I went to the local Borders to buy a tech book for the office. I'm a huge fan of Amazon, and I usually get my book supply from there and the library, but I was reminded of just how pleasurable it can be to spend time in a brick & mortar bookstore. Even if I don't buy a ton of books, I have to start visiting them more.

- David now has an air conditioner. We picked one up for him at Lowe's yesterday, and I installed it after he took his nap. It's remarkable just how much air conditioners have improved in the last few years. You'd expect all the innovation to be over in that field given the maturity. Of course, none of them are made here anymore.

- Buying him an air conditioner gave me a nice excuse to cut wood (fitting it to the window frame). I got to play with the circular saw a few times. Yay! I could feel the testosterone surging with every chop!

- I started working out again just about a month ago - 6 days per week I go downstairs to my basement gym and lift weights for about 20 minutes. It's starting to feel good. Maybe that's where the testosterone came from.

- I'm not panicked about the Sox gettign swept over the weekend. I wasn't too excited when they swept the Yankees last weekend. Come July, I'll start thinking a lot more about it. It's way too early right now. If they win 15 in a row or lose 10 in a row, I't'll start mattering more before then. But given that the Yankees are the Yankees, the Orioles are much improved, and the Jays can't be as bad as their start, there's still a lot of race up ahead.

- You know, I just realized they were having the Kentucky Derby about a half-hour after it was over?

- Jane kind of enjoys NASCAR. I'm not into it as much, but I'm getting a lot more tolerant. There are some wonderfully geeky elements to the sport, with all the technology getting used.

- I added a few new links this weekend on the navigation frame of this blog. Give 'em a look-see!

Saturday, May 01, 2004

The first rail - economics

Today's essay is one of three I'm working on that discuss topics often considered to be radioactive in everyday conversation. But it's my blog, so I can say whatever I want. I plan to post one every few days over the next week or so, and if you offend easily or know immediately that you'll disagree with me, then feel free to ignore these and skip right to my usual mixture of tech notes, daily minutiae, wrestling talk, and notes about the development of my utterly adorable son. This will be a tad more serious, though.

The first topic is on business and economics. As most readers know, I've worked for a long time in the IT field. Right now, I'm struggling to get a business off the ground, and I also bumped up firsthand into the downsizing trend last year. So I have a slightly biased perspective, of course - but anyone who won't admit some sort of bias is either a liar or a Bush administration official (which may be pretty much the same thing).

American capitalism is fundamentally the strongest economic system ever devised by man. I really believe that. But I also believe in common sense, and I don't see much of it. Our economic system is broken - I think that should be obvious to most. I trace much of this to the mutual fund industry.

Mutual funds, you say? What on earth is wrong with them?

Well, the stock market is a wonderful thing. It gives the average person the ability to own a portion of a large company, sharing in the risk and the success alike. Some years ago, somebody had the bright idea to pool stock market risks among multiple companies, and make that pool available to investors. So rather than buying the stocks directly, you bought shares of the fund that then used the total pool of dollars to try and grow wealth for everyone in the fund.

Great idea. But the law of unintended consequences always holds sway, and it was no different here. The sheer size of mutual funds gives them a larger voice than the individual shareholder would have. That's good. But the goal of the average small stock investor is likely to be growth. You buy a few shares of some company as a young person, deposit the dividend checks, and someday sell at an increased value (assuming your stocks grew). Businesses focused on long-term growth, often at the expense of short-term profits.

Mutual funds changed all that. Because of the size and volatility of these funds, the focus of businesses started to change. Where once it was good to grow long-term, the new mantra became one of quarterly growth - increased numbers mattered regardless of the way they were obtained. And the massive stock-based retirement funds (like TIAA-CREF, CALPERS, and others) contributed as well, pushing businesses to generate immediate increased profits often at the expense of the jobs of the very investors they represent. What good are better returns on your retirement fund if you don't have a job today?

The other disaster was the explosion in stock-based compensation. I know people who have already retired as millionaires thanks to options - so they're good, right? Well, they are good in theory - tie compensation to a company's performance and use that compensation as an incentive. Unfortunately, it helped make executive compensation ridiculously disproportionate and created an incentive to game the system in order to maximize short-term value even more. Name me even one CEO who deserves a $10 million and up pay package. Or even $5 million. I can't. Not even Steve Jobs deserves that kind of compensation, and he literally saved a Fortune 500 company from the grave. Unless you own most of the shares yourself, there is no justification for a publicly owned company paying the kind of salaries they pay their top dogs. Compensation has become an executive pissing contest, with execs pretty much battling over whose Gulfstream is bigger. It should stop. Period.

And it's been made worse by the plutocracy that was granted control of this nation by a Supreme Court decision. We thought crony capitalism was reserved for the Asian nations - no, we've got it, too. This administration has been more against the everyday person than any I've seen in my lifetime so far, and I've lived so far through Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2. Selling cynical tax cuts as their only solution to all ills is inane beyond belief. Paul Krugman has done a much better job than I can of pointing out the horrible economic ideas the Bush gang have been selling us, so I won't linger too much here. But I want to point something out. Notice how mortgage rates are finally starting to climb again? Well, part of that is because the US government is the safest investment bet out there. But every dollar they borrow is a dollar less available to the private sector, because banks and investors send money to the government first for safety. The total pool of money doesn't increase that fast, folks. Something's gotta give.

And it's starting to. It's going to keep becoming more and more expensive for you and me to borrow money, because the supply of money for us is down. Why? Because George W. Bush and his advisors believe you can spend more and tax less. If you make really big money (like over $250k per year), you'll pay a lot less in taxes than you did a few years ago. If you make under $100k, you'll pay a little less. If you're struggling to get by, you'll get screwed. Oh well.

But hey, from what I can tell it really doesn't matter to them. Way too many of the higher-ups for my liking subscribe to the millennialist belief that says we're entering the end times anyway. I'll save that for essay #3, but basically there are people in charge of this country who believe that "hey - deficits don't matter because Jesus is on his way". I think that speaks for itself.

How can we fix this? Well, first of all we can throw this gang of idiots out of office in November. I'm not sure Kerry will be a lot better, but I'm sure Bush is a monumental screwup. Secondly, we need more companies in the public sphere to take the attitude of Google (who hosts this blog, as they own Blogger). When Google filed their IPO statement this week, they essentially said "Screw quarterly earnings. We'll give you general guidance as to what we're doing, but we're not going to worry about quarterly profits. Success takes time and effort, and we don't care what you, Wall Street, thinks about it. And we're structuring our stock in such a way as to let us ignore you".

Companies need to focus on long-term success. Henry Ford was a bastard, but he made sure to pay his employees enough money to afford to buy the cars they made. If we send all the jobs overseas and fire people to meet short-term profit numbers that only raise the price of the stock enough for mutual funds to hit their targets and for executives to cash in their options, we're screwing ourselves out of a future tomorrow so a few people can make more money today. That's bad for society as a whole, and it's bad for the average American, too.

But thanks to cynical marketing by the political class, we think people like Jack Welch are heroes, we think that we're the people getting the benefit from the tax cuts, and we're even gullible enough to think that we're the ones who get screwed by what the Republicans have so cynically called the "death tax" (the estate tax they want abolished hits estates over $2 million in size - if you think you'll be inheriting that much cash then I want to hang out at your country club). There's a disconnect in this nation where everyone thinks they're the upper class. I have news for you. You're not. It's called "upper" for a reason - only a few people are in it. Heck, even my dear friend and former employee the lotto winner isn't part of it. That's upper-middle class, at best.

Hey, I'm cynical too. Do I really think saying this will make a difference? No way. I'm just venting. But when it comes to economics, I consider myself conservative with a small "c", but a realist with a capital "R". I'm sure as hell not a plutocrat. Not like them. Things are broken and we need to fix them, but I doubt there's anyplace in the world that's better overall.

Now that I've pissed a lot of readers off, I'll return to our regularly scheduled drivel. Expect more stuff about David's condition until early next week, when I hit rail #2.

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