December 31, 2007

Thinking out loud about the state of things

Lots of thoughts about lots of subjects, all mingled together and running through my mind; that's the reason this blog is named Randomblings from Rich. When I first started this blog, I looked up the word Randomblings on the web, and Google assured me that the word was not in use. Since then, others have used or re-invented the word, and it shows up in other web writings, at least as far as Google is concerned. I'll never know if the others who use the word came up with it themselves or if they were exposed to my blog at some point. It's just interesting to see that the word get used.

For Christmas, my wife got me a Border's gift card. With it, I bought The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Even with the 20% off coupon that I used, it looks like I overpaid. I saved $20, but apparently I could have saved 37% (see link) ordering it from Amazon. Of course, I'd have had to wait for it in the mail, or paid to have it rapidly shipped (and still wouldn't have it this morning). This train of thought leads me to the discussion of 'gotta-have-it-now' consumerism that has been discussed again here recently. Tabling that, I've already starting reading Volume I. Before buying it, even, I picked up Six Easy Pieces at the local library, which contains at least the first few chapters of the lectures. After reading the first 2 chapters, I knew I wanted the whole lecture series. Part of my resolutions for next year is to finish a few whole books, and I think I'm going to try to get all the way through Volume I at a minimum.

Was thinking about computing this morning (and I actually wanted to pick up Feynman's Lectures on Computation as well.) It seems to me that we have vast amounts of computational resources in this country that are seriously underutilized. We have huge amounts of computational power at our fingertips, and what are the most oft used applications: entertainment? Whatever happened to the hard sciences? Whatever happened to America's lead in the space race, and our technology lead in the 1960s? I'm just thinking out loud, and I can't even get to the point of what I wanted to say, other than I think we're spinning our wheels a great deal. We could develop so much more than we do. We could solve many problems with the amount of resources that we have, but we don't seem to be very efficient at it.

Plastic. I just threw away two plastic cup lids because they didn't fit my cup, but can't be reused by the next customer in line at McDonalds (my normal breakfast place seems to be closed today - excuse the fast food). What a waste. I've actually been making an effort to reuse the plastic forks/knives I get from my usual restaurant. (The fork is right here, did I throw away the knife?) Yesterday I read in an article that humans have created an island of garbage in the Pacific that has a larger surface area than Great Britain. How horrendous is that? Couldn't we collect this mess of plastic and press it into Trex or some other building material and give it to the homeless to build shelter? We haven't completely run out of land in the United States. There's thousands of acres of unbuilt land out there, and it's reasonably inexpensive. As a society, we're terribly wasteful. Of course, our capitalist ways of life further propagate our inability to do anything about it. I, for one, am not willing to give up my day job and my security to go build homes for the homeless. It would be nice if I could land a job like that, though.

As a society, though, we don't fund the things that we need to fund. We spend an awful lot of money on war, public policy. Individually, we spend increasing amounts of money on entertainment, but we don't spend much money on social issues and 'the good of the many'.

Ok, brain's empty. I've dumped enough for now.

December 27, 2007

Early New Years Resolutions

Here are some early New Years Resolutions:

1. Lose some weight. I weighed in at 210 pounds two days ago. I would like to be under 200 and even moreso below 180. Losing weight is a difficult process because I find comfort in food, and in the eating process. I feel entitled to chocolates and other junk foods, which actually do not satiate my need, but instead destroy any upward progress that I make.

2. Almost inexorably linked to the weight issue, I need to get in better shape. I am easily winded, and my heart races at simple tasks. Swimming alone isn't going to get me in the shape I should be in, and I really need to start some cardio exercise, and then set some goals for myself. I need to do this to grow some more blood vessels in and around the heart to strengthen it for my oncoming age.

3. Read 4 books cover to cover. I buy a lot of books, but I almost never read them all the way through. Something is always distracting me. I want to finish 3 non-fiction and one fiction book this year, at a minimum. It's not like I don't have candidate books; I have a library full of them in my bookshelves.

4. Write more often. I should write daily on my blog, but I don't. I need to make it more of a habit, even if it's nonsense and not fully expounded ideas. Only with more writing will I exercise that part of my mind. I think my aphasia is probably related to not having to communicate ideas as often as when I was younger. By forcing myself to communicate more, perhaps I can exercise the language areas of my mind more.

5. Submit at least one short story to a publication. I need to write and submit at least one short story. This is a personal goal that I will never realize if I don't set limits for when to accomplish it. This needs to be my year.

More to come, but 5 is enough for now.

December 11, 2007

How to Lose $1000 in Sales

Dear Best Buy (and readers). On Friday evening, the hard drive on my laptop went bad. Bad Sectors, unreadable clusters, a repair that took 20 hours to get 20% through the repair process, a failed recovery, a dead laptop... Too bad for me, but is this an opportunity for someone else? I practically sleep with my laptop by my side. When given the opportunity to buy new or repair old, I am the consumate American; I buy new.
The advantage of a brick and mortar store is not lost in the online world. The one thing that Amazon.Com,, Dell.Com and the myriad of other online stores cannot deliver is the ability to take my hard earned cash from my hand and deliver the goods to me today, now, immediately.... So, until they can do this, my impulse purchases are pretty much relegated to going to Best Buy, CompUSA (so long, I hardly new ye!), Circuit City (should they ever decide to sell useful products instead of the cheap selection they carry instead), and other brick-and-mortar stores. So, off I went to Best Buy. There are two near where I live. I visited one and looked through their laptop selection. They had the perfect model for the perfect price...$999 for a latop with a 17" widescreen, 250GB HD space, Blu-Ray reader, 8400M GS graphics card, Intel Core 2 Duo (5450, but still...the price!). It was an Acer, a manufacturer that I have been happy with to date.
Unfortunately, the brick-and-mortar failed to deliver. They didn't have any in stock, and would not sell the display model. However, they claimed the other store had 2 of them in stock, and that I could go there. Hrmmm, I didn't appreciate the trip, but the other store was reasonably on the way I went, cash literally in hand.
As I am not writing to you from a new laptop, you should have already guessed that I was failed by two separate Best Buys on that day. In fact, their computer showed that they had two of the model in stock, but they could not find them. The manager recalled having just sold one of the three he had, but had absolutely no idea where to find the other two. They told me that I could buy another model, but to meet my needs (mostly the graphics card selection), the closest model would be $1499, $500 more than I had expected to spend buying the one I wanted. They told me that I could order it, and they would have it delivered, but the magic of the moment was gone. If I'm going to order something, I might as well just order the parts needed to repair my old laptop; and that is exactly what I did when I got home. I ordered a faster and larger hard drive for my old laptop.
If brick and mortar stores are willing to give up their competitive advantage of landing a sale and delivering the product IMMEDIATELY to their customers, they don't deserve to stay in business. Perhaps I'm too discerning a customer for them. Perhaps my demands for a laptop whose graphics core didn't suck was too much for their expectations, with what's good enough for 80% of their audience being enough to pay the rent on their stores.
One of these days online retailers will figure out a way to meet the needs of the impulse buyer, and shoppers like me will flock to them instead of driving to the local stores. I can't wait, myself, and I'm still sitting on $1000 that I didn't spend at Best Buy that day.

December 01, 2007

I passed! I passed! I passed!

I passed my CISSP exam that I took back in October. I've already got someone who will be verifying my experience to ISC^2, so I should have my CISSP certification by next week (provided they're caught up with processing). It feels really good to have passed the exam!!! Like many other candidates, I walked out of the exam room with a feeling between "maybe" and "no way". The test was not like I expected it to be at all, and just knowing the material was only part of the battle to get through all 250 questions. When I walked in, I thought I'd be able to quickly knock it out, and I ended up taking twice as long as I expected.
I'm still not happy about having had to wait, but I'm extremely glad the wait is over and that I don't have to go through that again!

November 21, 2007

The Second Ammendment Does Not Give The Right to Bear Arms

I just voted at USA Today on their second amendment poll, and I'm pissed off. Why? Because The Second Ammendment Does Not Give Individuals The Right to Bear Arms. No, it does not. The Second Amendment PRESERVES A NATURAL, *God -given right for individuals to bear arms.
If you want, you can stop reading this post now. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please read on. The Declaration of Independence that created the entity known as the United States begins with this preamble:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights. . .

Our Creator endowed us with certain inalienable rights. The law of the Constitution does not grant rights to individuals. In fact, the wording of the second amendment includes the phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.". Therefore, this amendment to the law of the land was to prevent the creation of a law that would infringe upon a right that is already possessed. The law of our Creator is the law that grants us our rights, and it was against the taking away of those rights which our forefathers were concerned. It was that very issue that brought us to war with England, and it was that very issue with which James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others penned the second amendment.

November 18, 2007

Lowes and the Freezer

We're tired of manually defrosting our freezer. We had a small 9 cu ft. freezer, an Absocold (look for it on Craigslist soon) manual defrost (meaning do it yourself) in our kitchen. We shop at Costco, so having an extra freezer is handy. What's not handy is the way it builds up ice over time and then needs to be defrosted, and having to move some of the food out and figuring out the best time so that we don't melt everything.
So, off we go to Lowes, where they have a frost-free freezer for $398. As we walk past the freezer, we notice a sign advertising Free (next-day) Delivery and 6 months same as cash(should we desire). Sounds great, we'll take the freezer. The sales guy checks the back, and yes, he has one in stock, and he gets all of the information from us. I tell him that I'd like the free delivery, to which he nods and takes my delivery information.
Now, remember how I said it was $398? The bill comes to $451, we're told. Hrmmm, of that, taxes is $17.xx, so where did the extra $30+ charge come from? Delivery charge is normally $75, so you're not charging us for that, are you?
Well, yes, in fact, that's what we're being charged for. You see, Lowes is giving 10% off appliances until December something or other, and with that discount, our freezer is no longer more than $397, the cut-off point for free delivery. While we've gained a 10% discount of $39.80, we've now got a delivery fee of $75.00.
I tried to tell the sales guy that I didn't want the 10% off, because I intended to get the rebate on the free delivery. Tough luck, Rich, you see, this is a big box store with powerless employees who have absolutely no control over how they sell items. All they can do is scan it into the computer, which automatically does the discounting. Sales Guy is not empowered to allow me to pay full price.
So, it wasn't free delivery because I bought the cheap freezer. But it was 10% off. I'm keeping the comes the delivery truck now.

November 16, 2007

Why Would I?

As a Republican voter, why would I vote for Rudy Guiliani? Sure, some of you are going to say "Well, Rich, we know you're a Ron Paul shill, so whatever you say is tainted." But others may actually continue to read before hitting the comments section.

What does it mean to be a Republican. It should mean that you're against big government, and FOR limited taxation and fiscally responsible spending. It should mean that you're against nation building politics and federalized social programs. It should mean that you're for the capitalist society, the ability to earn money, keep it, protect it, and decide for yourself how it will be spent. In some circles, it may even mean that you're religiously conservative, and against abortion rights and gay marriage.

So here comes Rudy G - running for Republican nomination for President of the United States, a man who supports continuing our pointless war spending in Iraq, who has been shown to be for abortion rights, for gay rights, and is for limiting the freedom of the people to bear arms. Why is Rudy running on the Republican ticket again?

While I happen to take a non-federalized stance on abortion rights, and am for the rights of all Americans (gay or straight), I would have a hard time voting for what appears to me to be a G.W.Bush-lite without the advantage of a pro-gun stance. At least George W. has a pro-NRA bent, even if it is the only sensible thing he has going for him. Rudy has nothing that old-school Republicans want, except perhaps big defense spending, misguided though it may be.

Rudy G can't beat Hillary Clinton in an election. This is not the Republican you're looking for. If you want Republican values, vote Ron Paul in your state primary, and give the Republican party a chance to do it right.

November 15, 2007

To The CISSP Candidates Waiting Since October

I noticed a few of you have ended up on my blog looking for news about your CISSP exam score. The scores from exams taken after 6 October 2007 have not, as of this writing, been released. There is no published estimate as to when they will be graded and returned. Telephone calls to ISC2 have been met with claims that they have just finished a systems upgrade and are only now beginning to score these exams. I was personally told that I should have my results within the 6 week promised time on their website. As I took the exam on the 20th, I may be waiting a few more weeks. Postings on a CISSP BBS show that others are getting the same answer as I have received and that we are all upset and anxious. I'm sorry that I don't have an answer for you. Feel free to join us at that bulletin board at, and you'll likely know when the first of us receives his or her results.

November 13, 2007

Spend Money to Safeguard Your Money

It's no secret that I support the Ron Paul campaign for the Republican nomination as President in 2008. I've twice given to his campaign, even though I've never given money to a political campaign before in my life. Now, I'm ready to donate again on Dec. 16, 2007 - the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Here's a neat countdown object with a link to the site that is taking pledges:

According to the National Priorities Project:
On October 22, the administration submitted a request for a further $45.9 billion in war-related spending for fiscal year 2008. This request is on top of $147 billion already requested for the Department of Defense and $3.6 billion for other agencies for the fiscal year. If appropriated by Congress, the vast majority would be spent on Iraq. Total spending for the Iraq War would rise to approximately $611 billion.

One of Dr. Paul's platforms is fiscal responsibility. This country spends money that it doesn't have every year. Under President Bush, $4.4 TRILLION will have been added to the Federal deficit, more than any other president in history, and close to the $5.6 TRILLION in debt that was there when he entered office. This country will be bankrupt to the tune of $10 TRILLION by the time his term of office is over. I see my donation to Dr. Paul's campaign as an investment in protecting the rest of my money, kind of like buying into a savings account that will pay me better interest. There is only one way that I will be able to protect my money from the oncoming inflation - support a Presidential candidate (and Congressmen and Senators) that will stand for balancing the budget of this country, eliminate needless spending on programs that the Federal government has no business in, and get to the task of bringing the inflated dollar back under control.

November 12, 2007

I want an electric car

I am looking at my budget for my car. I spend $36/week to fill up my vehicle with gas at $3/gallon. That's $144 and up/month on gasoline - $1872/year (52 weeks). I just finished watching "Who Killed the Electric Car?", and I am ready for one. For what I spend to fill up my car with gas, I could be buying a whole car.

Squidoo has a whole page on finding an electric car, and I like some of the stuff ZAP is coming out with. However, the entry cost point is still a little high for my personal needs. I would buy one of their $10,500 models if I could use it to get to work, but I'm highway-bound on getting to work.

I'm ready to sell my car (a $13,000 vehicle) and get an EV, should I find the right car...anyone got anything I can drive on the highway to work (20 miles max each way) and plug in when I get home?

Piano Man and other things

I took today off - a floating holiday from work. I'm sitting at home, and there's so many things I'm thinking of doing that I can't seem to focus on any one of them before my mind flits to something else. I've thought of my mind as a giant ferris wheel before, and it's really been like that for me today.
I have a new Yamaha YPG-525 keyboard. Have I mentioned this? It's an 88-key midi keyboard, with lightly weighted keys (the fully weighted keys are available on its big brother, the YPG-625, but it was $280 more - perhaps one day when I'm wealthy I'll splurge.) I've produced a midi file with it, and been playing with all of its functionality. A family member has borrowed my favorite fake book, though, so I'm stuck with the tunes I can remember, and a Christmas fake book, until they return. Learning the keyboard has been a wonderful experience over the past few years. I like fake books because I can only play in a simplistic style. (Full chorded left hand and simple right-handed melody) But, I enjoy playing, and I like the escape it brings. After two hours of playing, though, I have to get up and go do something else.
One of the songs I've taught myself is Piano Man by Billy Joel, and I've recorded it as a midi file which you can play (click on the song title). It sounds better on the Yamaha than it does in Windows because of the richness of the instruments. Of course, my piano playing won't win me any awards anytime soon.
On the other side of my brain is thoughts of new web sites that I want to create, should I get the right motivation. I'm thinking of starting up an incubator for web ideas and putting some irons in the fire to see if any of them get hot. You just never know what people will go for, and you'll never know just what will work unless you try it. I've convinced the wife that we may want to invest some cash into some of my more hair-brained schemes (or is it hare-brained, ala Bugs Bunny?)
Then, there's my stock investing. I've bought into some companies recently. And, like golf, there's always the one shot that keeps you coming back no matter HOW much the rest of your shots suck. I made $500 on a three day trade on a $2000 investment in my IRA trading into and out of a company named TRNS. It was a simple gimme - someone on the board was offloading a ton of stock and it depressed the price temporarily. Noting that the company itself was fine and actually undergoing growth, I bought up some stock and made a nice 25% profit, turning it around a few days later.
But, much like my golf game, the rest of my picks haven't been doing so hot, except perhaps my investment into gold (ETF: GLD). The dollar is sliding into oblivion with almost no end in sight (go Ron Paul for President - fiscal responsibility needed NOW).
If you're interested in a stock pick, though - now might be the right time to buy into Nautilus (NLS) - an investment group is trying to get rid of current board members, and the CEO has just been changed out to try to turn the company around. With the proxy fight and the past performance of the company, the stock price is pretty depressing. I bought some on the downslope, but certainly didn't hit the bottom. Once the proxy fight is over, though, the company should see some real turnaround. Nautilus owns some pretty big names in exercise equipment, and they won't be going out of business anytime soon.
Then, there's my website. Boy, does it need a makeover. I got rid of one component that added no value, but added plenty of UGLY, and I've changed the default stylesheet, but I'm not sure that's the best I can do. It's bugging me enough that I may take the time to do something about it this week.

November 02, 2007

13 days

Sigh - it's been 13 days, and no word from ISC^2 yet about the CISSP exam scores. I was already antsy about it, but I'm getting more so as time passes. I don't know when results will be back, but the website says to expect them in 4-6 weeks or possibly LONGER!! depending on when you took the test, when it was scheduled for others, etc. Looking on the Intra-webs, others claim to have received their notice from 7-10 days after taking the exam (the lucky *&@%s). I do know that I'd like my results back soon so that I can stop thinking about it.
Update: It appears that ISC^2 is undergoing some system changes, and have not graded exams even for tests taken in early October (2007). So, there are some who have been waiting even longer than I for their test results. I feel their pain. As someone mentioned on the CISSP study boards, it looks like ISC^2 forgot what the A stands for in the C.I.A. concept (Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability).

October 23, 2007


October 20, 2007

Gah - Bleagh!

I just took the CISSP exam. I have no clue if I passed. clue, whatsoever. There were easy questions....color in the circle exercises. There were hard questions....what? thingamijiggy who? Pick a random letter from A to D. There were questions that made me want to throttle the test writer, and then there were the questions that seemed completely subjective.
From my quick search of the Intra-webs, I am not alone. It took me 3 and a half hours to fill out the answer sheet with some semblance of what looks like someone taking the test might do. Now for the long wait....1 to 2 weeks by what the web says...
My mind is numb. I studied my ass off, and I still have no clue how I did...incredible.

October 02, 2007

Absolutely Wonderful!

Just now, between 7 and 8PM this evening, I was on the phone with my state government senator. Not in a one on one conversation, but as part of a conference call on the issue of illegal immigration. I received the call, and it said if I was interested in participating in a live town hall meeting I could hold the line. I found myself listening to an interactive discussion about the issue, complete with opinion polls and the option to connect with my own questions on the subject.
For the record, I thought this was fabulous! I'll accept these calls any time that I have time to listen, and by the sounds of the numbers (600+ listeners out of 3000+ called I believe he mentioned at the end), others in my constituency agreed with me. I'm not completely familiar with all of the politics of this particular representative (Jay O'Brien, Virginia Senate), but as of tonight I know a lot more where he is taking us on this issue, and I now feel that the questions I have are being addressed.
So, let's hear it for more political conference calls from my local and federal representatives. Let's have one of these a week at least, with random participation amongst registered constituents (voters) to make it fair and balanced. The format was great - and with an online transcript, it would be even better. Kudos, Jay O'Brien!

August 20, 2007

Cingular/AT&T - Understanding your product is important

I just got off the phone with a supervisor at AT&T/(we used to be Cingular) customer service. As some of you know, I escaped AT&T Wireless customer service a few years ago when I switched to T-Mobile, and I escaped T-Mobile's complete lack of coverage by switching to Cingular. It appears that the gods hate me for being an atheist/agnostic, because AT&T bought Cingular just to spite me (I'm kidding - I know that if there are no god(s) they can't hate me).
Back to my point. Cingular's (now AT&T) data services are called Media*Net or Media Net (depending on where you look). AT&T re-branded them as AT&T Media, it would appear...although the new brand is only apparent only after you log in at this page. On this service, you can sign up for daily alerts, like stock quotes, news items, etc, etc. They're delivered via SMS to your phone. Fire and forget web services are great up until the forget part. That's my sin...I forgot.
Every day at 2:45, or abouts, I would get 4 stock quotes delivered to me. This was great, until I stopped caring about one of them. Then, looking at the SMS, there was no indication of where these alerts were coming from. I checked Yahoo alerts, Google alerts, MSN, everything I could think dice...I could not remember who I signed up for these quotes from......time to call the mobile customer service for some help.
The first Customer Service Rep(CSR) I spoke with told me that she could not tell me who I was receiving the messages from. I explained that they were coming from 1110410000 and she said that meant the Media-Net service, but because that meant the data service for my phone, that it could be coming from anyone, and was probably coming from a 3rd party service. I explained that if she could tell me who that was I'd be on my way. No luck - seems that there is no way for her to trace the service down. She'd be happy to block all SMS's coming from that number, though. As this would destroy my ability to receive other desirable messages, I declined. She suggested that they could be coming from Yahoo. I thanked her and hung up.
The second CSR I called because I finally figured that the messages could indeed be coming from Media Net itself. I slightly recalled signing up for the alert service when I first got my Media Net service a year or so ago. I tried to explain this to her. She explained that I had no subscription services she could see and had no idea who the messages were coming from. I slowly repeated that they were coming from Media Net and that I needed to know how to access these subscriptions since my online account had no pointers whatsoever to the old Media Net configuration page. I asked for a CSR familiar with the Media Net service. At this point, she explained I wasn't paying for the messages anyways, so what did I care...........wait, what?
...I pulled up my bill - there the messages were - counting against my monthly limit. Excuse me, I do indeed pay for them, they count against my limit. If I go over x messages a month, I have to pay 5 cents each for them. That's $1.00 in value every month the now useless messages are taking up. But you're not paying for them, since you haven't reached my limit, she stakes her claim and holds on for dear life. Apparently this is a woman who will buy stuff because it's on sale and she's saving money by spending it. I am sooooooo glad I'm not her husband at this point.
Ok, options, she offers.....You could change your cell phone number, or disable SMS messages, she claims. Those aren't options - those are cop-outs because you can't seem to help me. If I were getting death threats by SMS, you'd be able to find the source, wouldn't you? No, sir, we could send you your bill.... I glanced at the useless 8 letters on my bill that indicated only INFODATA as the source. Maybe I could send the cops to go arrest someone named INFODATA if my life were in danger, but I seriously doubted it.
Ok, I changed tactics. What if I wanted to change the city which weather displays on my cellphone when I push the Media*Net button? Just a second, sir....(for the fifth time this call, at least).....20 seconds later....:click: The commercials you hear while on hold mercifully stop...but so does all sound. I have been hung up on...I have 5 bars - I checked. Full signal - dropped call - guess their commercials aren't all they're cracked up to be.
Google - found my answer in 2 minutes. The link is buried deep in AT&T's Cingular site. Manage Alerts - Delete. I've just saved myself 20 messages a month - a whole dollar's worth should I hit my SMS limit.
So, Rich - what's the point - why do you care? I'll tell you why. It's their service, their product. They're supposed to know it. If they claim that there is no separate support for Media Net, then they should know how to configure it, change it, manipulate it, cancel it, etc. The fact that they don't, is unfortunately part of what I've come to expect of AT&T Customer Service. Of course, these could be former Cingular employees, but AT&T Customer Service has been known to be bad for years. My favorite Lily Tomlin back in the 1970's made fun of them, and nothing has changed. They still don't take customer service seriously.
Maybe I'll get lucky and be able to escape them again.....I wonder how many bars Verizon has at my house and workplace....

August 15, 2007

My Fire Alarms Went Crazy

11:20PM - All of my fire alarms in the house just went off. Starting at the bottom floor, I go to each in turn, sniffing the air, searching for any signs of smoke or fire. I reach the top floor within the minute, and everyone is up except the wife, who seems to be sleeping through the piercing. She groggily asks me what's going on. The alarms suddenly stop. It's now 11:31. By now, everyone has gone back to bed, and I've googled to see what the f--- is going on with my fire alarms. Is it a hack, is it an indication that someone is playing games with the electrical system? Well, not that I've found. It's as simple as one of my alarms likely malfunctioning. They're 8 years old, so it may be time to replace them. I only hope they stay asleep tonight so that I can....if I can even close my eyes now.

July 30, 2007

The Next Y2K is coming.

Ok, everyone who's been in IT for more than 7 years should remember the mass scramble to patch all of your systems by Jan 1, 2000. Dates stored with two-digit years prior to 2000 had a rollover effect as the years went from '99' to '00', possibly affecting math operations. History tells us that this created a few small problems in 2000, but for the most part, IT folks got ready for it and did a bang-up job making sure code was compliant and in working order by the millenium.
Only one problem - not all date/time is stored in plaintext in our systems. Nope, in fact, one heavily used storage mechanism for storing dates and times is storing the information in a rather larger unsigned integer that counts the number of seconds since January 1, 1970. Anyone who programs for Unix/Linux or other variants should instantly recognize this marker. Well, the timer is ticking, folks. That integer won't last forever. We're going to have some rollover in 2038 (early AM on January 19th). And that's only 21 years away.
Sure, you may not be a programmer 21 years from now, but you have a duty to save yourself from this coming catastrophe for your code. And if you're reading this, consider yourself warned.
If you're coding for a 64-bit system, perhaps the solution will be to write some helper methods that use a 64-bit counter that can be recoded once libraries are available for the date methods. This will save the maintenance time of looking through all of your code for the smaller integers later. Of course, using proper typing for your code is important too; using int when you meant to use time_t for example.
If you code, or support code that uses time functions based on the January date, take a look at your code now to ensure that it is ready to switch over to new methods or new sizes. 21 years may sound like a lot now, but the years will tick off sooner than you think.

June 30, 2007

Natural Rights - Who? What?

What is a 'natural right'? It's interesting that we, as Americans, have lost the self-image of ourselves as a free people, and instead think of ourselves as a free nation. The difference is that we see ourselves as part of a greater being, a group rather than individuals. The danger in this thinking is that we do not pay attention to the fact that what we should be protecting is our individual, God(?)-given rights, rather than our concept of proper politics or form of government.
When you look at the Declaration of Independence, which separated this great country of ours from the Oppression of the King of England, and I quote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Notice where the rights come from...not from any form of governing body, not from the rule of the iron fist, but from our Creator. These are natural rights. As human beings, we have the natural right to live life as we see fit. A government can not take these rights away from us. A government should only help us protect each other from the exercise of these rights by others when it will interfere with our own rights.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Government derives its power from the governed, to secure the rights of the individual. Government is a tool meant to protect our natural rights. Look to your candidate for the upcoming elections. Ask yourself whether this basic premise is the premise for the platform upon which they stand. If it is, vote for them. If not, find yourself another candidate. It's your natural right to be governed by someone who has YOUR best interest(s) at heart. And if you can't find yourself another candidate, may I suggest looking at Ron Paul, the only candidate I've heard mention our natural rights as the basis of his beliefs.

June 14, 2007

An Honest Conservative Politician is Running for President.

Why am I backing an underdog in the 2008 election? Ron Paul spoke with Tucker Carlson today on MSNBC. Tucker asked him about some of his decentralized economic policy, asking him outright if he sounded callous or mean. Dr. Paul's response was fantastic. He spoke about how Federal programs aren't working out, how FEMA seems to make more of a mess than local efforts would have provided.
The more I think about what he said, the more it makes sense to me. He used the term 'bread crumbs promised' by the federal government. Is it good to depend upon the freebies that the government provides us rather than depending on ourselves and our localities to provide? When you give someone a helping hand, isn't the common problem that the person you've helped will only look to you for a handout each and every time they get into trouble and end up depending on you instead of themselves? For the freebies, don't we also have to give up something in return, part of our freedom? Is that loss worth the price?
And what is the cost of a government handout? If the government gives you $1, but it costs the country $10, then what is the benefit to the country in the end? Aren't we just subsidizing a huge inefficient bureaucracy whose primary purpose is to shuffle an ever-devaluing dollar?
These are all just thinking points for me right now, and I welcome debate, but this man makes a lot of sense to me when I hear him speak. Hopefully his campaign takes off. Perhaps the Republicans will realize that to win in 2008 they will have to offer up a candidate that is very different from the current regime. Swing voters, fence-sitters and true conservatives aren't going to vote for Rudy - he's just more of what we already have.

June 04, 2007

Body Count Counts

When you're making a mafia play, series, movie, whatever, what counts is the body count. The best episodes of the Sopranos are those in which somebody gets whacked. Last night, four and a half people got whacked (one is in critical condition). It was the best episode of The Sopranos since Big Pussy got shot up by Tony and his crew. The higher the profile of the whackee, the better. Of all the things I'll remember about the Sopranos, every single memory will involve someone getting killed or getting his/her ass kicked. After all, what's a mafia movie without someone getting the smackdown?
David Chase and his ilk should take note that the most talked about episodes always involve the greatest violence. When Tony gets to dreaming about horses in the living room, no one goes to work the next day and interrupts their coworkers with 'Hey, did you see that horse in the living room? That was funny, eh?'. But you can hardly contain yourself from gathering around the water cooler with 'Did you see them blast that Ukranian dude last night? What a bunch of jerk-offs, eh?'
You see, human tragedy is both mind-scarring and funny. That's what a successful mafia movie is all about....tragedy. And last night, The Sopranos delivered.

May 21, 2007

Buzz, buzz - busy bee

This weekend was interesting - saw Shrek the Third on Friday, threw a bbq on Saturday and ended up with a new 3G phone on Sunday. We added another line to our service contract, and the Cingular store wouldn't do it without a contract. Rather than wait or shop another store, I picked up a freebie phone while I was there. I'm on Cingular/AT&T and it has the Cingular TV service, along with unlimited Internet browsing for $19.99/mo. I was paying $14.95/mo for my old 5MB data plan, and I use the Internet on my phone a lot to read news and email.
This new phone has a 2MP camera on it, takes my old microSD memory card from my SLVR, plays the music (without the stupid 100 song limit or the iTunes database requirement) I have, has a nice Java Email client that alerts me for Hotmail or Yahoo email, takes video, and has stereo bluetooth (for the music baby!). I haven't bought a stero bluetooth headset, but eventually I may.
The barbecue was a lot of fun. I cooked ribs, kielbasa and Nathan's skinless franks. A friend brought potato salad and another brough vindalu(sp? - help me out here Matt). Of course, I ran out of propane as soon as I dropped the ribs onto the warmed grill and had to make a mad run to the store, but everything else worked out fine. There was adequate beer and drinks to go around, and plenty of chatter. The deck held and didn't fall, and nobody jumped to their doom; all signs of a good bbq.
As for Shrek the Third, it was funny enough, although the novelty of the characters has kind of worn off for me. While I'm glad we went to see it, it wasn't necessarily a must-see on the big screen.

May 12, 2007

Democrats - Listen Up!

It's quite possible that Frank Luntz had a very valid point on Bill Maher last night. The democratic party politicians have been spewing a lot of rage and hatred against what's going on in the White House and the last Congress. Perhaps they should stop for a minute and change their tone to what they plan to do to make America right. It is no longer necessary to tell us what liars and idiots are in the White House. The American public already knows, just look at the approval ratings and the overwhelming victory for democrats in 2006.
Here we are in 2007, and they're trying their hardest to come up with accountability for the military activity, and plot the eventual withdrawal from Iraq. But this concentrates on only half of the problem. Once we have our military back home, what are we going to do about the problems that the Republicans were trying to solve? I'm not saying the Republicans are necessarily right in how they're trying to solve problems. I'm not saying what the Democrats are doing at the moment is wrong. Seriously, though - I would like to know the next step in helping us stop terrorism. What foreign policy can we make that will work for us? We can't be complete isolationists, no matter how much I'd love to be (as a Libertarian). While I'd love to stay out of the business of the rest of the world, there's still an awful lot of America-hatred out there, and I'm interested in hearing from reasonable candidates as to what we can do right now to fix our image.
Leadership is telling people what you're going to do, not what the other guy is doing wrong. People are able to make up their own minds about the current administration. In fact, all people ever do is try to criticize the current regime. It's what peasants do best. If the Democrats really want to lead this country, they need to change their message to one of 'This is what we'll do', instead of 'This is what they're doing wrong'. With the current approval ratings, the time for this leadership message is NOW.

May 11, 2007

Swimming Progress

700 meters - 30 minutes. That's where I'm at as of today - 700 meters in a half hour - 14 full laps at 50 meters a lap. I've been swimming 4 or 5 days a week for about a month now, in an attempt to improve my health. I've been a pretty bad couch potato over the past few years, so I buckled down and joined the local gym/pool. So now I go to the pool and exercise. Today was one of those days when I didn't want to go, but I managed to pull myself into going anyway, and I'm thankful I did. It feels good after a good workout. I swim breaststroke, crawl, backstroke and sidestroke, at least 2 full laps of each, and I take a short breathing break every lap or half-lap depending on how I feel. I'm actually surprised that I am up to swimming a third of a mile (33 full laps is a full mile).
What is even more amazing is that I used to be deathly afraid of the water. When I was about 8 years old I slipped in a pool, and some friends who thought I was kidding around pushed me under again. After coming close enough to drowning for my tastes, I avoided pools like the plague. Thanks to my step-mother at the time, I was enrolled in a YMCA swimming class when I was 13 or 14. After being embarrassed into learning to swim (I was in a class with a bunch of toddlers, for crying out loud), I learned not to fear the water. I'm still a little afraid of the water, but I've at least learned to control my fear of drowning enough to dive for coins in the 12 foot pool at the local diving board, and enjoy swimming in the ocean.

May 09, 2007

Yes - I like the f/1.8 lens


Ok, my last post from the circus this year. I really like what this new lens did for my ability to shoot this event. On this particular shot, which is cropped about 50% from the original, I was able to shoot at f/1.8 at ISO 800 to minimize grain, and still get a fairly stable shot. Those of you who know me already might suspect me of Parkinson's, making this shot that much cooler. While the white tiger is still a little washed out from the spotlights, I was already underexposing this as much as my poor little Rebel would let me (2 full stops). Sometimes I want to rush out and buy a higher-end camera, but then I realize that I'm just some poor dumb Software Architect, not a professional photographer, and my wife would kill me before I could open the box if I spent $4K on a camera. I still lust after the f/1.4 and f/1.2 lenses - but they cost ohhhhh so much. My poor zoom lenses don't go under f/3.5, so there's no way I was going to get a better shot from this distance.
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I love this trick

 A parlor trick that I have seen done a few times is depicted in this photo - well, the end result, anyways. The host picks 4 big guys from the audience, and puts them each on a bar stool, positioned facing 90 degrees from the next one. Once they get them positioned, they have each guy lie back on the laps of the next, in a circle (square?). Then, one by one, the bar stools are removed. The effect is rather astounding to see in person, although I'm sure it makes perfect sense if you consider centers of gravity, blah, blah, blah. At the circus, there's a pre-show on the arena floor, and a few of the clowns pulled this stunt for the audience, or rather, pulled some audience members for this stunt. Once they got in this position, the clowns walked off....(grin). Click on the photo for a larger version.
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I Love the Circus

Testing a post from Picassa to a blog. This is a picture of the elephants from the Ringling Bros. circus we went to a few weeks ago. I love going to the Circus for the clowns and the animals. We had a great time, and the bonus is that it's a good learning experience for my camera skills. I have a Canon Rebel (old style) and recently bought an f/1.8 50mm lens for it that I took with me on this trip. With the spotlights on the action, you have to underexpose from the metered settings due to the darkened theater. I was pretty happy with this shot of the elephants, but shots of white horses and the white tigers were still blown out even with the 2 stop underexposure. Click on the image for a larger version. The post worked direct from Picassa, which may mean that I post more images to the blog in the future.
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ABC News Silences Posters

As of yesterday, I can no longer view comments on stories at ABC News. I had joined members of the Digg community yesterday in commenting on an ABC News story about Ron Paul. In order to do this, I created a user ID on the ABCNEWS.COM website.
Today I went to read the news on ABC's web site, and wanted to comment on another article that I thought was interesting. When I added my comments and tried to post, I was asked to log in to the ABC News site, so I did. The news article re-appeared, but now without any comments section at all. Not only can I not post comments on ABC News, but I can not read comments on ABC News stories while I am logged in. As soon as I log out of the web site, I am able to read posted comments.

ABC has effectively silenced me as a contributer to their discussions for my actions on the Ron Paul story that I posted about yesterday. They are not willing to participate in actual discussion when that discussion is not the message they are trying to push. This is beyond childish. I will never use ABC News as a source of news again, and I hope that you join me. If not, at least you are forewarned that their public 'commentary' is highly edited to ensure their point of view is held above public opinion.

May 08, 2007

Why 2008 Elections May Really Change Things

I posted the following comment on an ABC news article about Ron Paul. Over at Digg, there was some discussion that ABC News was deleting posts that criticized ABC. Please read, discuss, share....

You see, the Intenernet is the medium of the people. For the longest time now, America has had to stand idly by and watch the opinions of newspaper, radio and television editors tell them what they think. From expose to publishing the American 'opinion-of-the-day', the voice of the authors were heard above the chatty din of pub talk and dinner table discussion. Politicians paid attention to the media because it was in their face. Now, the American people have found a new way to express their freedom of speech. It is the Internet that has given their voices the volume that they need to ensure they are heard. When MSNBC decided to ignore the actual poll results and post their own conclusions, we stood up and yelled 'Foul!' loud enough for you to hear us. By backing our opinion, and publishing this article, you have wielded a double-edge sword. You must decide that you will either add volume to our opinion or shut us off completely.

The real story about the 2008 elections is not which candidate will win, but that the candidate that wins may do so in spite of the best interests of the rich and powerful, and that America will stand up and demand some real change in this country despite the lies and deceit attempted by editors and publishers who have long thought they could control the masses. There is revolt brewing. The revolt will not be fought with guns and knives. No, the revolt will be fought with the weapon that the U.S. military complex itself invented to be able to withstand attack from conventional weaponry. The revolt will be fought with the Internet. And the armaments being loaded will be an armament that fought the revolution of 1776 against a tyrannical government. It will be fought with the voice of public opinion, unedited, and with the driving force of an uncontrollable mob that is the American populace.

May 02, 2007

Cue the Debate

Well, here is an article debating the $2000 cleanup bill from dropping mercury at home. In the end, it's still a dangerous chemical, but nothing to get too worked up about if you clean it up properly. However, I'm still hoping for a better answer. I can't wait till LED lighting advances enough to replace CFLs.

April 29, 2007

Energy Conservation vs. Environmental Conservation

Wait a minute - what do you mean my new CFL lightbulbs contain mercury? Yes, I guess it DOES say it right on the box. In fact, it says I must dispose of them according to local and state laws. Yeah, I'll get right on that. In fact, I'll have my corporate lawyer look up those disposal instructions right now. The main link goes to a story about a woman who dropped one of these new CFLs.....onto a her house......and it broke.....and cost her thousands to get cleaned up properly.

Are CFL's right for homes? People drop light bulbs all of the time, and when they break, they may not be aware of the high risk they are at for exposure and what Mercury can do to them. Mad as a hatter was a term coined because working with mercury would make hat-makers insane. We already know that mercury is extremely bad for the developing minds of young children. Is a chemical so dangerous that it's no longer allowed in children's toys or medical implements (thermometers) be put into every light socket in America, in the name of energy conservation?

At what point does one environmental catastrophe pay for another? Yes, we need to save energy, but I'm not so sure that I'm feeling very safe now that I realize that I've put 10-12 mercury-laden bulbs in my house. I know that I didn't read the warnings on the box before seeing this article on the Internet. Are American families being asked too much of when they're asked to dispose of these bulbs according to applicable laws? [The answer is yes - SOME_MADE_UP_NUMBER % of people don't even both to separate/recycle.] When we start mass-producing these bulbs, do we even have a place to put them when they burn out; or even a process to recover the mercury to make them safe to dispose of?

You just KNOW that these CFLs are going to end up in landfills. I'm seriously thinking, after reading this article, that we've made a big mistake in marketing CFLs to the population at large. Not that we have many alternatives to incandescent lighting yet, but this doesn't seem like a viable option.

April 19, 2007

The Psychology of Overreaction

There's a reason I call this blog Randomblings. It's mainly because I want to ramble on and get all of the short thoughts out of my head and onto paper (heh) without having to bother putting them together to form a complete argument or stated thoughts. Today will be one of those days.

What is it that drives people to overreact to their environment? Let's start with the VA Tech shooting this week. A crazed mass-murderer went on a rampage and killed, what, 33 people, and wounded a score more. He planned the rampage, as evidenced by the note he left, the bomb threats he called in, the fact that he purchased two weapons at separate times. This man was crazy. I feel horrible for the victims, really, truly horrible. But that's the entirety of my reaction. I'm not about to put the blame for this incident on the shoulders of anyone else. Others, however, are blaming the campus police, the university, the teachers, the mental health community, society (video games - Dr. Phil), immigration policy [thanks, Bill O'Reilly] and Virginia state gun laws.

The flaw here is that people look at these statistical outliers and start to react with their preconceived agendas. People who don't like guns blame gun laws. People who don't like immigrants blame immigrants. People who don't like rent-a-cops blame the campus police. We need to focus, people, and blame the crazy son-of-a-bitch that shot 50-odd people.

So many thoughts run through my head. I don't know how many of you already know, but I would call myself a Libertarian. One of the first thing I think about when people start talking about more restrictive gun laws to help prevent this is the oft-misquoted phrase "Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither." I looked up the quote, it's actually "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.", and researchers believe that the quote belonged to Benjamin Franklin, although it goes unattributed in the original publication (info on Wikiquote btw). No matter who said it, there is a lot of wisdom in this little quote. The erosion of our rights is more dangerous to American society in the long run than individual accounts such as what happened at VA Tech.

As far as rights erosion goes, gun rights have long been hotly debated, but free speech probably less so, especially when we're talking about the opinionated speech of our fellow man when it does not use federally funded airwaves. Well, the day after the shooting, a student was arrested in Colorado for stating out loud that he was empathetic toward the VA Tech killer. He was arrested for saying that some things about his environment made him angry enough to kill people........ARRESTED......AND CHARGED WITH A CRIME......FOR OPENING HIS MOUTH.

I guess the police would rather that he close his mouth and just stew on his thoughts for a while. God forbid that he discuss his feelings openly with students and teachers. No, they might be shocked to know that he was angry. It is better for him to keep his feelings to himself until he snaps.....


God (if you believe in him) created us with the ability to speak. We have vocal chords, brains to think with, air in our lungs. To legislate our ability to speak when the speech itself does not deprive our fellow man of life, liberty or the ability to pursue their own happiness, should be a crime because that legislation itself would be depriving each one of us of our liberty.

I could write more, but I don't have the time right now....I'll rant more later.

March 25, 2007

Shutdown Day

Well, I survived a whole day without my computer(s). I run a service for other people on one computer - so that one didn't get shut down, but all the primary computers in my house were turned off all day yesterday. Did I miss getting on my computer? Perhaps once or twice I wanted to get on my PC. I wanted to check the weather, check the movie listings, look for something to do downtown and even wanted to play World of Warcraft instead of watching TV.
Each time, I thought about how I did these things 20 years ago. For example, movie listings. We used to call up the theater and listen to movie listings on a recording. You'd call in, and have to sit through the movies you didn't care about until you got to the one you wanted to watch. If someone started to talk and you didn't hear the times you'd have to listen to it all over again.
For the weather, we listened to the radio, and going downtown ended up being preempted by rain. In the morning we cleaned up the garage, I played some basketball with my son and then it was off to Home Depot to pick up some garden and lawn soil. I sat and watched half a movie while my wife got ready to go out and we went to Tyson's Corner II for some cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory. When we came home we all sat down and watched RV on TV, and the night was over. I went to sleep two hours earlier than I would have than if I'd been playing WoW.
All in all, it was a good day.

March 12, 2007

New Betas - Old Social Networks

I got into the Tangler beta last week, and the Joost beta just today. Tangler is a message board/IM intertwined application, with plans to become the YouTube of the conversation topic. You'll someday be able to post a Tangle onto a message board to bring a discussion from Tangler to anywhere on the web. With an IM-like notification, and an easy posting system, they have some potential to change the face of the message forum on the web.
Through someone I met there, I signed up for Joost today and tried it out. Watched a couple of Mr. Magoo's pretty neat software. It was very smooth, and slick, with content starting not long after I selected it. Hopefully the P2P pays off and they can keep the turn-around time up to the standards the beta users are seeing. The interface was pretty neat, especially some of the widgets you could put on the screen while watching other content.
I also got back onto my Facebook account after some friends hooked up on it. I uploaded some pics there, too. One feature I hadn't seen before is their badge feature - get a load of what it created here...

I guess the Blogdex script screws with that - I'll have to remove the Blogdex code anyways - it doesn't seem to work, and I doubt that it's very useful.

March 05, 2007

Play World of Warcraft ?

This is my character on WOW that I play most often (at the moment). Suggestions/commentary welcome. I'm built mostly for PvE right now as I level up. I will probably restructure for PvP at some point after 50.

Why People Think Government Is Corrupt

If it quacks like a duck..... Let's see - a city councilman illegally posts political signage on public property. Voting-age teenagers then defaced the signs with stickers proclaiming the illegality of the signs, not necessarily the smartest move, but certainly gets the point across..... So sooner or later the police are called in to resolve the argument. Now the teenagers may be charged, but what about the illegal signs? Well, the (local) government appears to be free to not only pass laws, but also to ignore them for their own convenience. The city attorney has directed the police to ignore the ordinance.

This is not so mind-boggling as it is stupid. The councilman who voted for the ordinance against public political signage no less than 3 years ago is now flaunting the fact that he is free to ignore the laws that he helped pass. So, in America, we can pass all of the laws we want, but our politicians are free to ignore them at their convenience? There should be absolutely no question in Glendora, California come this election. The police chief, city attorney, and city councilman should all be voted out of office. I don't know much about that city's political structure, but if articles of impeachment exist, they should be!

February 13, 2007

Life is all about the trauma

I'm not normally a depressing person. I've never thought about killing myself. I don't consider myself emotionally sad, and I enjoy and value life. But this morning, I had a rather depressing realization that life is all about the trauma.

Every morning, my alarm clock blares at me in a high-pitched shrieking tone, rousting me from a comfortable deep sleep, where I dream of fantasies that I am too timid to ever exercise in reality. Smacking the alarm in an effort to stave off the real world for just a few more minutes, it shrieks at me again to get the hell out of bed. Begrudgingly, I open my eyes and stare at the time reflected in red light on the ceiling. A small shock to my system arrives with the realization that I must have hit the snooze button more than once for it to be that late. I quickly throw off the covers; another shock, this time one of temperature, as the cold air reminds me that it is indeed winter. I haven't even been awake a full minute and I've already been assaulted in mind, skin and sound. I turn on the bathroom light and my eyes scream out a fourth attack.

The day pretty much progresses like this for most of us. We take little time to notice the simple pleasures of living, with a constant walk from traumatic event to traumatic event. From the death of loved ones, to vehicular accidents, the daily news, personal problems and the problems of others. We live most of our lives in search of solutions to problems, rather than in appreciation for the time we spend in between. We react, rather than act. And this, my friends, is sad.

February 06, 2007

Site Redesign

Somebody needs a site redesign - and I think it's me....
I just went to add a widget for BlogLog to my site, and had no place to put it. Where I did put it screws up the whole site look. Guess I'll have something to work on when I get home.

January 18, 2007

Locked Out!

UPDATE: GameKnot (AKA has decided not to answer any of my queries regarding my account lockout. Another person at my office, who had purchased a lifetime membership, was accused of manipulating his rating. When they looked at the fact that he and I play from the same IP address (corporate firewall) and frequently at the same time (when we return from lunch, where we play chess, likely). That they have decided to give me the silent treatment for a week, and remove me from my team, I can highly recommend that you stay the hell away from their service.

For some reason, has decided to lock out my user account. The only thing that I can do with it is play the current ongoing games that I have. I can not look at team statistics, download my games library, contact team members or friends or leave messages on ongoing game boards.

I have sent a message to their administrators to see just how I have broken their rules and terms of service, or whether they have just chosen to stop serving my account (part of the terms of service says they don't HAVE to provide me with an account...fine with me!). I know that I have used this space to recommend GameKnot in the past. However, I will be appending that blog post with information about this turn of events to help others to avoid having to deal with their accuse-first-ask-forgiveness-later tactics. There is no way that I would recommend that you use their service under these conditions. This has made me feel like a third-class citizen.

UPDATE: I found from a message from my team captain that the reason my account was banned was because they think I MIGHT be a duplicate account of someone else who plays from the same IP as me (occasionally). This person happens to be a coworker of mine who signed up to the service based on my recommendation. He had been ACCUSED of ratings manipulation, his account put on restriction, and they're keeping his lifetime membership fees. I know that he has not lost chess games on purpose to manipulate his ratings. He may have slow played games on the site, or played only people rated lower than himself to watch his rating go up and down, but his account should have no bearing on my own.

January 17, 2007

Dark Energy May Be "Giant Sucking Sound"

Over the past many years, astrophysicists have been involved in a search for the energy that is causing the apparent accelerating expansion of the universe. You see, the observed expansion of the universe created a puzzle, because when you compare the gravitational pull of the matter in the universe, the universe should be slowing its rate of expansion. Instead, it is accelerating. This energy has been dubbed 'dark energy'. There really is no simple, quick way of describing dark energy theory, so I'll let Wikipedia fill you in on the theories to date.

An article on Eurekalert dtd 16 Jan 2007 talks about research being done to measure 'dark energy' to within 10%. Allow me to quote from the article:
In a third paper, led by the Danish team and released this week, the many new theories that have been proposed to explain the acceleration of the universe are critically assessed in the face of this new data. Dr. Jesper Sollerman and Dr. Tamara Davis lead the team who show that despite the increased sophistication in cosmological models over the last century the best model to explain the acceleration remains one that was proposed by Einstein back in 1917

You see, back in 1917, Einstein wrote the General Theory of Relativity. At the time he didn't realize that the universe was expanding, and because experimentation was not agreeing with his theory, he needed a cosmological constant (that he labeled lambda) to explain the differences between theory and experimentation. In other words, he got as far as he could go with the theory and put a label on what was 'left over'. Once it was discovered that the universe was expanding at an increasing rate, he took back his constant, and apologized for the 'biggest blunder' of his career. However, it was not recognized at the time that his cosmological constant would actually become explainable in terms of energy that we know about.
Let's skip ahead in the article:
In modern terms the cosmological constant is viewed as a quantum mechanical phenomenon called the 'energy of the vacuum'. In other words, the energy of empty space. It is this energy that is causing the universe to accelerate. The new data shows that none of the fancy new theories that have been proposed in the last decade are necessary to explain the acceleration. Rather, vacuum energy is the most likely cause and the expansion history of the universe can be explained by simply adding this constant background of acceleration into the normal theory of gravity.

January 13, 2007

Why don't people use their brains?

The Internet brings with it a humongous library of experiences and knowledge captured over thousands of years. It brings it right to your work desk, your home office, your cell phone and your laptop at Starbucks. Why don't people use it?
Today, this news article about a woman who died from "water intoxication" hit the front page of Digg.

I'll bet you didn't know that you could die from drinking too much water, did you? If you didn't, try this little experiment. Go to Google and type "can you die from drinking too much water" into the search bar. Try reading a selection from the first 5-10 hits you pull up. Now, with that knowledge in hand, do you think it's safe to hold a contest like the one held by 107.9 The End?

If the radio station had bothered to take just 10 seconds to check into the potential health hazards, instead of leaving it up to their rabid adoring fans to know beforehand about the risks, this tragedy could have been avoided. Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

January 12, 2007

Devil's Advocate and the iPhone

By now, you've heard of the Apple iPhone (or whatever they end up calling it after Cisco is done suing them). One of my readers (Yes, I have one!) asked what I think about the iPhone. Having nothing better to write today, I thought I'd expound on the pros and cons as I see them.
    Why they'll sell:

  • It's an Apple product. Brand loyalty amongst the Apple crowd is religious.

  • It's a 'next generation' iPod. If you have money to burn, you get a phone with your iPod. Sure it will have less space than your iPod, but who really listens to 20,000 songs?!?!

  • It's really cool looking. Nice interface, very nicely done user interface.

  • It will just work. This is the Apple way. Whatever the device can do, it will work without too much trouble. You won't have to tweak it or know what IMAP is just to make it read your email.

  • Partnerships with Yahoo and Google will make people go ga-ga over it. The integrated services that will be available on the phone should be pretty cool.

  • Why you'll be disappointed:

  • $599 and a 2 year contract?!? Ouch. Buyers remorse will set in once you find out what you can't do with it and that you're stuck for the next 2 years with a device whose leading edge is lost to fast-paced competition.

  • Slow network connectivity. Yes, it will speak Wi-Fi, but unless you live in a free wi-fi city, this will just mean it's fast when you're home or at work, when a desktop or laptop will be more convenient to use. Until 3G comes along, Internet browsing on a phone is an exercise in boredom. It's too slow to actually be useful, and the network connectivity breaks too often during a commute.

  • No support for Open application development. Apple said it will run OS X, but it won't REALLY. The phone is going to run a minimalist version of OS X, just like Windows CE or Windows Mobile isn't really Windows XP, but looks like it. If you really want to gain access to hundreds of free applications, wait for the linux-based open source smartphone OpenMoko

  • No expandable memory. 8GB is smaller than your iPod, so already you're going to have to cut back on your library, but now add your pictures and applications...I have an iTunes phone that takes miniSD cards, so changing up my song library is done with a quick click/pop/click. It's going to take effort to change out your library on the iPhone.

  • No built in GPS. Again, the OpenMoko solution will have GPS built in to it. The device probably won't be as plug and play as the iPhone right away, but it will be more useful out of the box.

  • No support for Blackberry Enterprise Server. The iPod won't replace your Blackberry if your company is so nervous about email security that they've invested in RIM's technology.

January 09, 2007

Einstein would be pleased.

June 26, 2006 - Gerard Hooft 't published the revision to his theory "The Mathematical Basis for Deterministic Quantum Mechanics". In describing what this theory is, let's try a comparison of the world of the very small to the world that we normally deal with.

From very far away, look down at the earth. The earth has features that are very obvious to the space observer, such as the oceans, and the continents. The movement of the earth itself is very much standard. It revolves every 24.something hours. The continents drift a small amount over thousands of years. The ice melts and refreezes over millions of years. It seems to follow patterns that are very deterministic. Yet, within the observations of the overall system, there are small variances. Variances caused by weather systems, and other goings on within the earth itself. In fact, humans, which are virtually undetectable at such a far range of observation, are able to cause large impacts to the overall environment. Larger impacts take a great deal more time (for example, it took them thousands of years to come up with the atomic bomb and drop it on Japan). Occasionally, though, these large impacts occur. Something outside of the normal patterns occur, yet their cause is indeterminate to our observer.

As an observer, we close in. Because our observation method (visual light for visual observation) allows us to, we can zoom in with our interstellar camera until we see cities and towns. We can measure the impact that cities have on the polution content, how that polution affects the earth's environment as a whole. We can see that not all cities are exactly the same, but that they follow an overall average, with outliers on the pollution index. Say, a city such as Los Angeles pumps out similar pollution content to New York, London or Melbourne. We can build a model with these 'average' measures, but there are still outliers that we can not account for. Sooner or later, we're not happy with our model and we need to zoom in again.

Zooming in requires that our observational method is supported by the bandwith in our observational wavelengths. Light allows us to see very small things. But it only goes so far. Physicists have ways of seeing things that go beyond the observational capabilities of just light. They can detect change that is as small as the particles that carry light waves (photons). But then they run into a wall, beyond which they no longer have tools to measure the very small. At this point, they have to guess what will happen (or is happening). This is the point at which quantum mechanics takes over. That is the wonderful world at which actions have, at least until June 26, 2006, been indeterministic. Einstein, upon being faced with the inability to pre-determine quantum interactions, said "God does not play dice with the universe." The rest of his life was devoted to the search for a Unified Theory, one that would explain quantum interactions as well as all of the forces that we are familiar with (gravity, electromagnetic and nuclear). I think that Einstein would have been very pleased with Hooft 't.

Hooft 't has a theory that the world of the quantum is made up of an even smaller world, a world that interacts smaller even than the particles that carry energy as we know it. This world cannot be observed, because the energy that we use to move information about does not have a wavelength small enough to carry any information about that world. This world exists even beyond (smaller than) the size of the particles that carry the forces of energy that we use to observe things. His paper provides a mathematical model for such a world. As a theory that can not be proven using observational means, science and scientific method is going to have to advance quite a bit to provide proof (and likely future modification) of this theory, but in the meantime, we have a workable model to take the dice away from God.

I think that Horton finally Hears a Who.

Thanks to The New Scientist for bringing this to my attention.

January 06, 2007

Flash RAM Drive Space Coming To Your Doorstep!

Flash memory assisted hard drives came up in the news at Wired. Hard drives today already come with an onboard cache, normally in the 8MB and 16MB ranges. However, this memory tends to be used just to cache read/writes to the disk surface in a linear fashion, and it is not non-volatile RAM. Flash assistance technology using flash memory could (and will, according to reports) be smart about what information it caches, such as frequently used operating system and application library files.

It looks like there are three flash memory technologies that are making their way to the fore-front, possibly 4 if you include the new SanDisk 32GB(not a typo) 1.8" form factor solid-state hard drive replacement for notebooks. That's a complete system drive replacement big enough to hold an OS and a suite of business applications. With no moving parts and using 60% less power than a hard drive, my notebook is already drooling out its USB ports in want of one.

But the other three technologies on the near horizon include
  • ReadyBoost (a flash memory you might use, say, for paging system data to[faster than your hard drive, but slower than your system memory]) in Windows Vista
  • ReadyDrive (another Windows Vista name, but basically the name of Vista's support for the hybrid hard drive)
  • Robson - system module by Intel that will offer an NVRAM module to system architects that won't depend on support from a hybrid hard drive, but instead offer the flash memory as a standalone add-on to a system, with configurable RAM quantities starting at 256MB

As any system developer can tell you, you're in for a much faster user experience if they properly integrate these technologies. Memory-bound file systems are extremely fast, and using a RAM drive is a technique used to speed up databases by offloading work from the high-cost [energy wise], yet slow hardware.

The great thing about SanDisk's solution is the published MTBF of their device, 2 million hours. That's 228 years before the device fails! Once the price of their device falls (and it will, alternative flash memory technologies are already in R&D labs) to consumer levels, notebooks will be quieter, cooler and faster, with longer battery lives to boot.

They'll also be much bigger. Consumer 1TB drives have just been announced by Hitachi and Seagate is not far behind with theirs promised for the first half of 2007 (rumours abound that they will announce at CES this month). Ten years ago, it was impossible to imagine a 1TB drive for your business much less your home. The Internet was abuzz for the past month with rumours of a 300TB hard drive by 2010, but that rumour should be squashed quickly, with the logic and the reality pointed out by this article in TechWorld. Thanks for the reality check, guys. Still, a 3TB drive by 2010 (the realistic top estimate)? Who needs that much storage? That's probably more content than you can realistically consume before your computer dies of old age, anyway.

January 04, 2007

Inspiration Without Motivation

This article talks about the Open Courseware at MIT, and discusses how the OCW is no replacement for taking the courses themselves at a university. What's missing? Interaction with teachers and other students, being able to pose questions and get answers, discuss problems and network successfully. This inspired me a little bit, because it's only a small stretch of effort to combine an online forum/collaborative workspace with the OCW content through linking mechanisms offered by web technology.

There's only one problem - I'm not motivated to act on this inspiration. I already have a fulltime job, a fulltime family and a fulltime hobby. There just isn't enough time to act on every inspiration that comes to mind. Life is too short....what to do, what to do?

The Disconnected Worker

Telecommuting, working from home - it's old hat by now to allow people to work from home if they don't need to be in the office to perform their duties. It's a great concept, but is it causing a new problem?

What do I mean by a disconnected worker? Just today I was discussing a problem with a coworker. Or, rather, he was discussing it with me. I didn't offer him much help in solving his problem other than the random clarifying question, but he solved the problem on his own while I was listening to him. As I left his office, he said "You know, I've got to come up here more often. It's so much easier when I talk about these problems with you." This got me to thinking that I've had the same problem - solving problems while sitting alone in my office is difficult, but inviting someone else to look at the problem with me, regardless of their skill level, helps me to solve the issue just by discussing it with them. If the problem is pronounced enough to notice when I am in an office instead of an open work room, how much worse would it be if I were working from home where I couldn't just walk next door to my office-mates? Yet another random thought worth more research..

World of Addiction

I'm back to playing MMORPGs, this time World of Warcraft. I play on the Kilrogg server as a Horde Warlock (forgot the name of my race, actually, but it's undead). WoW is a MUCH better experience than Everquest was. There is a LOT less downtime, quests are much better scripted and connected to the storyline, and rewards, for the most part are adequate for the tasks. It's an easy game, and death's penalty is mild, causing at most 10 minutes of downtime (where you can take care of non-fighting business like merchanting, banking and tradeskilling) when you die somewhere really dangerous. WoW also has some nice PVP setups on the PvE servers, allowing even wimps such as myself to taste the blood of other players when the thirst arises.

As an indicator of how easy it is to play, I'm already level 36 out of 60 and I've been playing for about a month. The content is interesting, and the product is well-polished.

January 03, 2007

So long, Jeffrey Harrow (?)

For some time, I have held a link to The Harrow Technology Report on my blog. It was one of the newsletters that I swore by, faithfully reading each issue as I received it. It was a wonderful newsletter with tons of insightful pointers to newsworthy application of futuristic technology. Jeff is an insightful man, and had accurate foresight. In 2001, one of his newsletters correctly posited that we would see half-terabyte hard drives in 2006, and indeed we did.

I have been reading The Harrow Report since Jeff Harrow worked at Compaq and it went by a different name, so it was with sadness that I watched over the past year, Jeff had not posted another newsletter. Perhaps he has become busy with other projects, perhaps he has hung up his hat. No matter the cause, it is sad to see him go. He was well thought of on the Internet and even won a web award for his meanderings.

I checked his website yesterday, and his newsletters are sitting there, sorted by title rather than date, and the copyright notice still reads through 2005. A letter from Jeff in August, 2006 mentioned that he wanted to get things up and running again, but it doesn't look like he got back to publishing the report. While I hold out every hope for Jeff, it is time for me to let go. So, here's to Jeff Harrow, Futurist and Pundit.

January 02, 2007

Welcome to 2007

Happy New Year! Hope that you all had a pleasant New Years Eve... I took the family to First Night Alexandria, a conglomeration of music and performers at various points of interest in Alexandria. The evening culminated at the Masonic Temple with a cappella singers and fireworks. Unfortunately, the drizzle started picking up right near midnight, putting a damper and a fizzle on the fireworks. They set them off anyway, but it wasn't as spectacular as it should have been. We were able to hide under a cameraman's tent that he had set up for his equipment, and lots of folks brought umbrellas. Many others just braved the rain.

The music was good. We saw one group that night, Quintango, that even my 13-year old son enjoyed. And for a 13-year old to say that a tango was interesting, you know they're on to something. They played with gusto and passion, and it really came through in their performance. We also got to see some Zydeco music at the Masonic Temple theater. Two electric guitars, an accordion, a drummer and a stainless steel washboard/shirt made up the band. When they were done, the audience called for an encore, so they performed an extra few minutes.

So, it's back to work today. Resolutions for the year are typical for me: Get organized, and get skinny again. Let's see where they lead. I've gotten a good start with my email box at home, since I've set up the new machine, I'm putting all of my email into rules that automatically sort my incoming mail. I hope to have it all sorted out except the truly unique emails (the REAL communications) so that my Inbox stays empty or nearly so.

One thing I use and swear by is Spam-Bayes, a Bayesian filter for Microsoft Outlook. It filters out a large portion of the SPAM that I receive in my inbox, and is very configurable. I installed it and put in the training messages for it to learn what's junk and what isn't. If you haven't installed a client-side SPAM filter, this one is FREE(!!!) and open-source and very easy to use.