Browse Month: August 2004

08/31/2004

In what has to be the best line from the Republican National Convention, Gov. Schwartzenegger told the delegates:

“To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say, don’t be economic girly men!”

08/30/2004

President Bush, April 13:

“One of the interesting things people ask me is, ‘Can you ever win the war on terror?’ Of course you can.”

President Bush, July 14:

“I have a clear vision and a strategy to win the war on terror.”

President Bush, August 30:

“I don’t think you can win it.”

Personally, I think Bush’s statements for the past few years about how the U.S. can “defeat” terrorists and “win the war” against them have been naive at best and calculably misleading at worst. The very nature of terrorism makes it not so much a war as a constant struggle to avert individual situations created by any number of secretive groups. Thus, it’s actually refreshing to hear him (finally) admit that it’s not something that can be “won”, but rather that through persistence and vigilance we can make it harder for terrorists to exploit situations and carry out attacks.

John Edwards, August 30, responding to Bush’s statement:

“This is no time to declare defeat… we [he and Kerry, presumably] have a comprehensive long-term plan to make America safer.”

John Kerry, August 30:

[When asked if the ‘war on terror’ can be won] “Absolutely.”

Rudolph Guliani, August 30:

“We’ll see an end to global terrorism.”

Much as I hate to admit it, Bush’s return to planet earth is a nice contrast to John, John, and Rudolph– who maintain that terrorism can be defeated once and for all. Of course, these are nothing more than vague campaign promises, and Edwards’ statement in particular reeks of Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the fighting in Vietnam.

I guess all in all, I much prefer a president (or any politician, for that matter) who admits there are tough problems out there, and the solutions aren’t as easy as another “intelligence chief” or more security checkpoints or whatever. The terrorists are out there, they can’t be taken down with a single decisive action, and they sure as heck aren’t going to disappear any time soon.

Go Bush! Oh, wait…

08/29/2004

My friend John was on a family trip driving from Denver to Seattle and back, much like we did a few years ago, and met a gang of motorcyclists at a campground. (When I say “gang” I mean a group of fairly nice-looking people all riding motorcycles, not a posse of big mean nasty-looking bearded guys on hogs.) Anyway, John told me he was making chit-chat with them over the campfire about where they were headed, and they admitted they didn’t really know.

“We just shoot the arrow at the barn, and paint the bullseye later.”

That’s deep on several levels. Sometimes I think I go through life the same way.

08/28/2004

Now I remember why I never listen to the radio.

I had taken out the 12-disc CD magazine from my car (it was time to switch to some new CDs) and went out to run some errands this morning. I clicked on the radio and scanned some likely stations, and realized there are generally only two things you hear these days on the radio:

1) Ads.
2) Crappy music.

I guess I’ll stock up my CD magazine again…

08/26/2004

I just did a check of my backup files so I could see where the bulk of the data lies. There are a staggering 904,000 of them cluttering my hard drive. Yikes. I still remember the days of the Apple IIe, when everything (including the operating system) fit on a single 5 1/4″ floppy disk.

In an old, grumpy voice:

“Back in MY day, we didn’t have these fancy operating systems. We didn’t even have directories. We had twenty files to a disk, and we LIKED it that way!”

Thank goodness for progress. I think.

08/25/2004

My vote for The World’s Greatest Web Site continues to be Zombo.com. Its mix of cheesy background music, powerful motivational messages from some Jamaican guy, and complete lack of design make it a hands-down winner.

Where else can you hear such great phrases as

“At Zombo.com, the only limit is yourself.”

“You can do anything at Zombo.com! Anything at all!”

“Welcome to you who have come to Zombo.com!”

“The infinite is possible at Zombo.com! The unattainable is unknown!”

Oh, and of course this is coupled with the fact that it does absolutely nothing else whatsoever. Sweet!

08/24/2004

“Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.”

— Albert Einstein

08/23/2004

Our pet turtle Spike eats earthworms for dinner. Every evening Alex drops one into his tank (a 10-gallon aquarium) and Spike goes after it with gusto.

Last night, around eleven, I noticed the worm that had been provided for dinner was actually climbing the corner of the tank. He was about halfway up (the tank is about a foot high) and I have no idea how he was sticking to the glass. As I watched he seemed to give up, and slowly dropped back down into the water. Spike looked at him, half-interested, but didn’t attack.

I told Laralee we should reward the worm for his gusto by turning him loose in our garden to live out his life. Anyone with that kind of drive doesn’t deserve to be a turtle snack. She refused, and we headed off to bed.

This morning Kyra found the worm in the middle of the family room.

The little guy must’ve finally made it up and out of the tank, down the couch (which is just beneath), and halfway across the floor toward the back door. He was a bit dried and crusty, but still alive. If anything, I told Laralee, this proved he had a will to live far beyond any other earthworm I’ve ever seen.

So she set him free in her garden. The plucky little guy sure earned it.

08/20/2004

… So one of my web-hosting clients, down in Louisiana, hasn’t paid their bill in almost nine months. I’ve called them every few weeks all year long, trying to get the invoices paid. I’ve talked with four different people, including (1) the technical guy, (2) the receptionist, (3) the accountant, and (4) one of the managers. Nothing has ever come of it, except repeated promises of “I’ll get right on it” and even “I’m sending the check in today’s mail.”

Finally, my cup of frustration runneth over. This afternoon I put up a lovely web page in place of their site that said “Sorry, this site is temporarily shut down for lack of payment.” It even had a wonderful “talk to the hand” graphic on it. I wondered how long it would take to get their attention, because I know they use the site every day (it’s a password-protected database application).

Sure enough, about five minutes later the phone rang and I saw it was a 360 area code. That was quick. Of course, as anyone knows, 360 is Olympia WA. It was Chancellor calling about some other stuff. We talked for a while, and after I hung up I got another call– this time from a 337 area code. Ahh, Lafayette LA.

It was some government employee from the city, evidently a client of my client. In other words, he was one of the people paying the bills to use my system. And he was panicked because he needed access to the information in the database. Not only was it his job, but there were legal ramifications… if he was unable to get the data, I guess it had repercussions far beyond inconvenience. I explained the situation and told him how my client hadn’t paid the bill for nine months. He understood, and said he would call them immediately and explain things to them.

About five minutes later I got another call from some guy at my client’s company. He was very apologetic and rambled on about how his company was managing the finances of the other company, and the other company was in deep financial doo-doo, and on and on. I didn’t follow the whole situation, but suffice to say he was desperate to get things back online. He said he’d fax a copy of the check to me immediately, and overnight the money.

I told him to calm down; I had already re-enabled the web site. I was just looking for some action, and my persistent but polite phone calls had resulted in zero response. This was definitely an attention-getter, and he was falling all over himself to make sure I understood things were going to happen.

Sure enough, a few minutes later the fax came through– there’s the check, all prim and proper. And the real check, he assured me, was on its way. Finally.

Funny stuff. I almost felt like a cyber-extortionist. “Cough it up, or the web site stays down…”

08/20/2004

As I build various web applications, I often use a little floppy disk icon to indicate whether information was saved. I think the floppy disk has represented saving stuff for about the last ten years, and it makes me wonder what will happen in the next ten as the floppy goes the way of the external 14k modem with blinking lights. What will we use as an icon for saving stuff? A hard drive certainly isn’t very clear (what, a silvery box?)…

08/20/2004

If you’ve been spending most of your time watching the women’s sand volleyball matches in Athens, you might have missed the latest bomb about the TSA’s terrorist watch list. It’s so funny I actually laughed aloud…

It seems that back in March, Senator Ted Kennedy was stopped FIVE different times while trying to fly on US Airways flights between Washington and Massachusetts. Why? Because “T. Kennedy” is on the secret list of Bad Guys maintained by the TSA. Before being allowed to board the plane, Senator Kennedy had to be positively identified by airport security supervisors.

He called the Department of Homeland Security to straighten out the mess, but on his return flight he was stopped again. A few weeks later Secretary Tom Ridge called him personally to apologize for the problems.

Of course, this brings up a whole host of questions…

First, why is the watch list using vague names like “T. Kennedy”? It sounds like anyone with that initial and last name (recall that Kennedy’s first name is actually Edward!) will be stopped by security. That’s a pretty broad definition of who might be a terrorist.

Second, it took three calls to the DHS and a personal apology from Ridge to clear up the mess. I’m betting that ordinary citizens can’t make calls like that, and won’t get the treatment the senator did. This brings up the age-old quandary of how you get your name removed from a secret list. According to the DHS, you can “call the ombudsman” to learn about the process of clearing your name. I’m sure it’s terribly effective.

And third, how is it that airline personnel in Washington DC and Boston MA (Kennedy’s home state, remember) didn’t recognize a guy who’s been a prominent political figure for over four decades? It makes one wonder just how closely they’re looking at the people they’re screening.

Aside from the absurd humor of the whole situation, the good that might come of it (at least in my eyes) is that Senator Kennedy is testifying in Congressional hearings about how the system is flawed:

“At the hearing, Mr. Kennedy wondered how ordinary citizens could navigate the tangled bureaucracy if a senator had so much trouble. ‘How are they going to be able to get to be treated fairly and not have their rights abused?’ he asked.”

I’m SO looking forward to my flight to St. Louis in October… the mind boggles to think about what might happen!

08/18/2004

An abortive e-mail joke resulted in this image of a “shocked” woman. Too bad I couldn’t use it.

Still, it might be handy to have someday…

08/17/2004

A few years ago a guy named John Gilmore (one of the original guys at Sun Microsystems and a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) was prevented from boarding a Southwest Airlines domestic flight a few years ago because he didn’t have a photo ID. He has no driver’s license and didn’t have his international passport with him.

But it gets better: he decided to sue John Ashcroft (yay!) in District Court in 2002. During the case, government lawyers said the U.S. Government does *not* require passengers to show identification, but that the airlines may challenge passengers and ask for ID in order to “[achieve] the government’s objective of preventing air piracy.”

According to the lawyers, there is a government directive to the *airlines* requiring them to ask for ID. But– ha!– it’s a security directive that is sealed and not available to the public. In other words, rules that airline passengers are required to follow are not actually available for the passengers to review. Hmm.

Gilmore’s argument in addition to the fact that he doesn’t have a photo ID except his passport– which isn’t required for domestic travel– is that requiring passengers to show ID doesn’t actually do anything for airline safety. Any halfwit terrorist will either have legitimate credentials, or will have a nicely forged set. Every one of the 9/11 hijackers did. Thus, requiring people to show them is a pointless exercise in “preventing air piracy”.

The case was eventually dismissed at the request of both Southwest Airlines and the U.S. Government. Now Gilmore is filing another court case, with the backing of several civil liberties groups, hoping to reopen the argument. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

Also, as a great side note, about a year later Gilmore decided to fly British Airways to London (apparently he’s okay with showing his passport to fly internationally) and wore a little button on his lapel that said “suspected terrorist”. It was a joke, of course, because he was making a statement that the way the airlines and the TSA treat U.S. citizens, it is as if we are all suspected terrorists. He was asked to remove it, he refused, and the captain turned the plane around (it was taxiing) and forced him to leave the flight. He was refused a second flight as well. The story is great.

Ahh, the fun of living in Post-9/11 America…

08/13/2004

Few e-mail jokes have ever elicited harder laughs from me than the classic “May the Pants Be with You”, which is a play on a bunch of lines in “Star Wars”.

In a conversation with my pal Dirk today– whose subject I shan’t go into– I thought of it and searched the old e-mail archives. Sure enough, back in January 1998 I received that message. Just reading through it now made me bust a gut. I don’t know why; it’s probably a “guy thing” combined with a “Star Wars thing”…

Without further ado…

We’ve got to be able to get some reading on those pants – up or down.

The pants may not look like much, kid, but they’ve got it where it counts.

I find your lack of pants disturbing.

These pants contain the ultimate power in the Universe.  I suggest we use it.

Han will have those pants down.  We’ve got to give him more time!

TK-421. . .  Why aren’t you in your pants?

Lock the door.  And hope they don’t have pants.

You are unwise to lower your pants.

She must have hidden the plans in her pants.  Send a detachment down
to retrieve them.  See to it personally Commander.

You look strong enough to pull the pants of a Gundark.

Luke… help me take… these pants off.

Great, Chewie, great.  Always thinking with your pants.

That blast came from those pants.  That thing’s operational!

Don’t worry.  Chewie and I have gotten into a lot of pants more heavily
guarded than this.

Maybe you’d like it back in your pants, Your Highness.

Your pants betray you.  Your feelings for them are strong.

Jabba doesn’t have time for smugglers who drop their pants at the
first sign of an Imperial Cruiser.

Yeah, well short pants is better than no pants at all, Chewie.

Attention.  This is Lando Calrissian.  The Empire has taken control
of my pants.  I advise everyone to leave before more troops arrive.

I cannot teach him.  The boy has no pants.

You came in those pants?  You’re braver than I thought.

08/11/2004

The kids have been participating in a reading program sponsored by the public library. At each of three “levels” of achievement, they receive a prize, and the first-level prize was a free trip to Lakeside Amusement Park in Denver. We’ve had the tickets for a few months, and were always planning to make the trip, but never seemed to get around to it. Monday evening Laralee noticed the tickets expired Thursday, so we had to either go immediately or lose the chance. Wednesday and Thursday nights were out, so that left Tuesday.

Of course, there was a severe storm warning for Denver on Tuesday.

I guess we should’ve paid more attention to the signs; apparently we just weren’t meant to go. As we climbed into the car, the rain started coming down. Laralee called the park to check their weather (a lot can change in forty miles) and they said it wasn’t raining there… yet.

As we drove, the rain started coming down in sheets.

Then the hail started, and big chunks of ice were slamming into the windshield. Motorcyclists by the dozens were huddled under overpasses, waiting for the hail to stop.

But by the time we got to Lakeside, it was dry. The sky was brooding, but no rain was falling. Woo hoo! We went in and started going on rides. The kids had a great time, and even Zack whooped and hollered on the little kiddie roller coaster. (Although his favorite ride was the merry-go-round.)

Alex, Kyra, and Laralee rode the big roller coaster– the one that’s visible from I-70– and said it was great. So I decided to go on it with Alex (since Zack couldn’t ride, I had been taking him to various other rides), and we got in line. That’s when the rain started.

They closed the coaster (“just until the rain lets up”) but the rain kept coming. Suddenly the skies opened and unleashed a torrential downpour. Everyone was scrambling to get under cover– the merry-go-round was definitely the most popular ride in the park, as it was covered– and just about everything shut down.

Then came the hail. It continued for a few minutes, and switched back to pouring rain. Since we didn’t want to huddle in the cold weather all night, we decided to make a break for the car. Running through the sheets of water proved to be a funny adventure. We came to the parking lot, which was gravel and sand, and saw vast rivers of water streaming through it. No kidding: in places the water was probably six inches deep and running cold and swift. Laralee’s car was parked smack in the middle of the largest river, and we had to carry the kids into the car because the water was coming so fast and deep.

Finally we were in the car, drenched and cold, and started maneuvering to get out of the parking lot. Of course everyone else was trying to leave at the same time, so there was a colossal traffic jam. And in the span of perhaps five minutes, the rain stopped. Completely stopped. The rivers faded away, and we realized if we’d waited those few minutes we would’ve been able to walk to the car in (relative) dryness.

Next time I’m going to pay more attention to the “signs”…

08/10/2004

“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”

— Henry David Thoreau

08/06/2004

So of the three brand-new servers I bought a few weeks ago, two are dead. One starts up with the fans howling, but doesn’t do anything beyond that (no POST, no setup menu, no OS). The other doesn’t do anything at all.

Turns out the second one was a failed power supply, which I swapped from the first. It seems to be working. The first one probably has a bad motherboard or something.

So of course having two of three new servers fail only days after installing them makes me pretty nervous about trusting my entire web- and database hosting business to them. But that aside, a technician was supposed to arrive today (next-day express service) and he won’t be here because I found out– after serveral phone calls– that a memory module failed to ship so he won’t have the parts necessary to do a proper repair.

While that’s irritating, it’s more irritating that I wasn’t notified of the change. I spoke with my tech rep yesterday at 5pm– right on the closing bell– and he said everything looked good. I understand that logistics sometimes cause problems, but I would expect some kind of notification of it. Further, I have a spare memory module from the second server that the technician could have used.

So now it’ll be sometime next week before anyone shows up, and in the meantime I’ve got $3,000 worth of computer equipment on my office floor doing me no good. For my first experience with “real” servers, I must say I’m woefully disappointed.

When the saga ends, someone at Dell will be getting a piece of my mind. With pickles and relish.

08/06/2004

“There is no monument dedicated to the memory of a committee.”

— Lester J. Pourciau

08/05/2004

The current time is 1:50 in the ante meridian.

Yep, up late yet again… this time configuring a shiny new server for the ol’ co-location closet. Fortunately it went off without a hitch. It was about two hours of laptopping, but I managed to transfer everything from my existing (but aging) web server to the new one. That includes tons of e-mail, files, and of course many many gigabytes of fun.

It always seems like this sort of thing bombs for me, and I end up apologizing to clients when they whine about where their web site has gone. But hey, I must be getting better.