Browse Month: February 2006

02/28/2006

“Nobody knows the age of the human race, but everybody agrees that it is old enough to know better.”

— Anonymous

02/27/2006

Truly, a great moment in cinematic history:

02/26/2006

Here’s an actual photograph of some generic potato chips. The caption for the photo:

The chips taste exactly how you’d expect grey chips to taste.

Mmm, tasty! Sometimes it’s just better to spend the extra sixty cents (forty cents with your Safeway Shopper card!) and go for the Lay’s.

02/24/2006

There are days when I really enjoy my job. Friday afternoon, cranking away on some web programming, jamming to a bunch of rock tunes. Nice.

02/24/2006

… So I’m eating my daily 3:00 snack and decided to grab some chocolate chips to add to the crackers. I noticed the bag of Ghirardelli’s chips includes a nice banner proclaiming that these chips are good not only for home use, but for professional use as well! Wow. Who knew that there were professional chocolate-chip users out there?

Maybe I should look for one of those online courses or something, so I too can be a professional. Until then, though, I guess I’ll be stuck with “home use”.

02/16/2006

Truly, the greed of the RIAA knows no bounds.

As part of a review process of the DMCA that happens every three years, the RIAA has filed papers claiming that consumers should not be allowed to transfer music (“rip”) from a CD that they have purchased. In other words, you can only listen to your CD in your CD player– not on your computer, not on a mix CD you burn for your car, not on your iPod, not on your Rio MP3 player. Nowhere but a CD player.

Not only does this directly violate the definition of “fair use” in U.S. copyright law, it also violates the Sony v Betamax Supreme Court case twenty years ago. What’s more– and this is perhaps the best contradiction of all– it violates the very words of Don Verrilli, the lawyer for the RIAA in last year’s Supreme Court case MGM v Grokster:

The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it’s been on their website for some time now, that it’s perfectly lawful to take a CD that you’ve purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod.

Apparently a year later they’re changing their tune (ha! get it?) by reversing their position and insisting that if you want to listen to music on your computer, you have to pay to download it. Note that downloaded music is typically more expensive than that on a CD, on a per-song basis. Oh, and you want it on your iPod? Well, I guess you’ll have to buy another copy from a different vendor!

Amazing.

02/15/2006

The last time Laralee and I went out to dinner on Valentine’s Day was in 1996. We decided (well, I decided) to repeat the feat in some wacky ten-year celebration, so we found a babysitter and left the kids in her capable hands while we headed out for dinner.

We had big plans to go to Outback Steakhouse, but when we arrived (around 5:45) they had a two-hour wait. Whoops. We figured we’d go down the street to the Texas Road House– another steak place– but their wait time was two and a half hours. We checked Chili’s, Red Robin, and anything else that wasn’t Wendy’s or Arby’s. Every place was packed.

In the end we had a nice dinner at the Pumphouse, which is a little bar and grill brewery in the middle of town, but I sure learned my lesson: on V-Day, call ahead for reservations. Luckily I won’t have to worry about it again until 2016.

02/14/2006

One thing I honestly enjoy about being a programmer is the complete confusion that can be sown with a piece of particularly clever code. Shell scripting can be especially confusing to read. Today a post on a Linux mailing list to which I subscribe had a beautiful example:

So it seems obvious that one could do something like this:

for i in `find . -name “*.m4a”`; do ffmpeg -i “$i” -acodec mp3 -ac 2 -ab 192 “${i%m4a}mp3”; done && find . -name “*.m4a” -exec rm -f {} ;

That’s a direct cut-and-paste from the message. The best part is the “it seems obvious that…” line. To a shell programmer, the command is in fact obvious. To a mere mortal, it’s unbelievably obfuscated.

Talk about job security… I wave my magic wand and do things like this, and they just work. Heaven help the client who asks to see the man behind the curtain.

02/14/2006

So Dick Cheney takes a shotgun to a hunting buddy… and the jokes begin.

02/13/2006

It’s interesting to see all the stories popping up across the internet about Edward Greenwood, who was caught playing solitaire on his computer at work in the offices of the city of New York. Mayor Bloomberg immediately fired him, telling the press “the workplace is not an appropriate place for games. It’s a place where you’ve got to do the job that you’re getting paid for.”

Cue the statistics about how playing an occasional game (or smoking a cigarette, or just reading the newspaper) for a few minutes here and there throughout the workday actually increases productivity.

Cue the bloggers who are outraged at this action and are urging Greenwood to (surprise!) file a lawsuit against the city.

Personally, I think the mayor’s action was extreme and unwarranted. On the other hand, he’s right. Technically the guy shouldn’t be sitting around playing solitaire when he should be working. But show me someone who actually sits at their desk for eight hours straight and does nothing but work, and I’ll show you someone who needs some serious mental help.

Many moons ago, when I worked at Hughes, the muckety-mucks delivered a company-wide policy stating that corporate e-mail accounts were to be used for work purposes only. No personal messages in or out, or you could be fired. It was pretty draconian. (Remember, too, that back then there weren’t free e-mail services like there are today– your work account was pretty much your only access to e-mail unless you paid for services elsewhere.)

However, after handing down the policy on a nice typed memo, my boss– and I suspect every reasonable boss in the company– said as an aside that we could certainly use the company e-mail for personal stuff, as long as we didn’t do anything obviously bad with it. The policy, it was clear, was more to cover the corporate legal position than to actually prohibit people from sending a quick note to a friend.

In that sense, the rules may sound harsh, but they’re really only there to allow the company a little legal room if an employee breaks the law via e-mail or sends kiddie porn to a friend or whatever. Playing solitaire at work may be against the letter of the law, but on the other hand it’s pretty unreasonable to expect nothing but drone-line labor for eight hours.

Now I have to go and play my game turn of Space Empires…

02/10/2006

I’m on the phone with Comcast and they put me on hold with some cheesy music. I’m listening to it and suddenly realized what it is: it’s that one song from West Side Story where the girls sing about how great America is. Holy cow– I don’t know what’s worse: the song itself translated into Muzak, or the fact that I recognized it at all.

02/08/2006

“If all the world’s a stage, I want to operate the trap door.”

— Paul Beatty

02/06/2006

Woo hoo! Time to read George’s new budget!

02/03/2006

Today is a real milestone for my web hosting company. My main web server has officially been running non-stop for an entire year.

17:19:44 up 365 days, 18:26, 4 users, load average: 1.42, 0.33, 0.10
USER TTY LOGIN@ IDLE JCPU PCPU WHAT
jeff pts/1 16:31 47:35 0.00s 0.00s -bash

That’s 365 days of “uptime”, meaning it’s not been rebooted and has been chugging away for 24 hours a day every day of the year. Amazing.

02/02/2006

Last October I wrote about the discovery of two new moons around Pluto. The outer solar system continues to become more interesting, as a group of German astrophysicists report evidence that the “planet” Xena (technically named 2003UB313) is 30% larger than Pluto.

A few weeks ago Laralee and I taught our second-grade science class, and our topic was the solar system. The kids were fascinated to learn that there aren’t just nine planets– that in fact there may be quite a few more. They learned the names of three: Quaoar, Xena, and Sedna. Xena is way out there, taking 560 years to orbit the sun once; Sedna’s highly elliptical orbit is on the order of 10,000 years around.

There’s continuing debate in the astronomic community about whether these new objects can even be called “planets”, and the evidence that Xena is larger than Pluto– and we call Pluto a planet– makes the discussion all the more interesting.

I love this stuff. Indeed, we live in heady times.

02/02/2006

Last night, President Bush delivered his State of the Union address. I didn’t watch it on television, so I thought I’d take a peek and read it online after it was over. A quick search on Google for “State of the Union” turned up the speech, and I settled in to read it. I was about halfway through it, chuckling to myself about things like his push to end dependence on foreign oil, increase scientific research programs, and fight the war on terror. At that point I ran across a long discussion of Saddam Hussein, which wasn’t too surprising either– until I noticed that he was talking about how Saddam was defying the United Nations and building weapons of mass destruction and so on… and I felt like I was in some kind of time warp.

Scrolling up the web page, I saw the date: it was three years ago! That’s right– I was reading Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. I’m not sure why that came up first in the search results, but oh well.

So tonight I found the correct 2006 address, and read it. It’s funny (or perhaps sad) that you could easily interchange the two speeches (minus the Saddam material) and never know the difference. All of his major talking points in 2003 were repeated ad nauseum in 2006. Fully a third of his speech this year centered on the war on terror and how swell it’s all going. I didn’t waste more time reading 2002, 2004, or 2005… but I suspect the similarities remain.

In other words, we hear the same tired diatribe from our president, but no real action is ever really taken. We’re still dependent on foreign oil– perhaps more than ever; we learn about continued oppression of scientific research; we’re still no closer to “winning” the war on terror. What’s changed in three years? Apparently nothing, including the creativity of the presidential speechwriters.

For grins, I counted the number of times Bush used certain words in his speech this year:

  • terror/terrorist : 20
  • free/freedom : 19
  • al Qaeda : 6
  • mass destruction/mass murder : 3
  • September 11 : 2
  • oil : 3
  • “nu-cu-lur” : 3

I, for one, am shocked that he only used “terror” or “terrorist” a mere twenty times in his fifty-minute speech. And surely he could have thrown in a few more “September 11” references. He’s getting rusty.

02/01/2006

This year, Groundhog Day and the State of the Union Address fall in the same week. As Air America Radio pointed out:

It is an ironic juxtaposition: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, and the other involves a groundhog.