Wednesday, November 27, 2002

My archive seems to have been screwed up somehow. I still have all the files in my FTP directory, so I haven't lost any data, but none of them have an .html extension, and the Blogger javascript seems to be working against me. For now, if you want to see a previous post, e-mail me and I'll send you the file.
Now for the political stuff.

I saw this story in the Washington Post this morning. I guess I haven't been following the debate about the idea of a commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks. Is this really necessary? What are we going to learn from this commission that hasn't already been published, discussed, or otherwise disseminated to the Bush administration and the general public? We know all about how the CIA and FBI sat on terrorist threats and warnings, how lapses in air security going back years allowed the terrorists to carry deadly weapons onto planes, and how previous administrations' policies towards earlier terrorist acts probably encouraged al Qaeda to try this one. The terrorist network responsible for 9/11 is still functioning, though the Bush administration continues to clamor for war against Iraq, so far not directly linked to al Qaeda. I don't suppose Henry Kissinger is going to come back to Bush and tell him 18 months from now that war with Iraq is a waste of time? Certainly not if the commission's report comes back in the summer of 2004, in the middle of Bush's re-election campaign.

On a personal note, lately I've found that assigning blame for misfortunes at work is a waste of time. Generally speaking, it's a good idea to know who made a mistake when you're trying to fix a problem, but in most cases it seems that people are more interested in finding out who did what than they are in fixing the problem and/or making sure it doesn't happen again. I'd rather work toward prevention than punishment when I have the chance. Applying that philosophy to the 9/11 commission, it doesn't seem that important to know that Agent X of the FBI didn't pass along the flight school inquiries, or that immigration officer Steve approved the visa applications of the hijackers. I hope that the commission spends more time investigating why these issues led to the attacks than it does finding out who was ultimately responsible. You can fire people or charge them with crimes, but if you don't close the loopholes or change the policies that allowed people to circumvent the rules, bad things willl happen again.
I'm not sure whether I love or hate the day before Thanksgiving. it's one of those few workdays during the year when there's not much actual work to do, since most people have already left for the long weekend. On the other hand, since so many people are gone already, there are only a handful of us tech support types around to do the work that comes up. So on a day when I should be stress-free and bored, instead I'm swamped because so many people have left things for me to do. But this only happens two or three times a year, and always during the holidays. I'm hardly ever around on Christmas Eve, but New Year's Eve is usually dead in terms of people. And I usually end up fending off a few minor crises at those times. I'm a hardy soul; I think I can manage.

I've signed up for a free trial of Netflix, partially out of curiosity but also to help out the good folks at Penny Arcade. I just got my first three movies today. Initially I had them sent to my office, thinking that they'd come in bulky boxes that wouldn't fit in my home mailbox. To my surprise, they come in flexible red paper envelopes, with the return mailer inside. No DVD boxes to be found; apparently, if you want to see the original packaging, you're better off renting from Blockbuster. The packaging also explains why multi-DVD sets are rented one disc at a time: there isn't room in the mailer for more than one disc. Anyway, now we've got some movies to check out this weekend, and I've got a long list of things on tap that Netflix will send me when we return these. It's not that we live so far from a Blockbuster, but it is on the other side of the Village, it's not convenient to either of our work commutes, and we've been burned by the late fees a few times. It's not even an easy thing for me to ride over there on my bike: with all the one-way streets in New York, I have to go several blocks out of my way to avoid riding against traffic. Compare this with $20 a month, and all I have to do is drop movies in the mailbox when I'm done with them. It's hard to beat that.

Monday, November 25, 2002

There's an interview with Ellen Feiss over at Brown U.'s web site. Here it is. I'm not a fan of hers, but I never link to anything on the Internet, and this was mildly amusing, especially the editor's comment again about Janie Porche. I find her ad particularly annoying, possibly for her hand gestures and enthusiasm about “saving Christmas.” Ye gods. It's great that she got the pictures into her PowerBook; I'm so happy for her. Now they've got one of these ads with Yo-Yo Ma, the world-famous cellist. This whole series of ads isn't quite as bad as the fellows at Penny-Arcade would have us believe, but I tend to agree with their sentiments.

I've been using Red Hat Linux on my laptop and a PC at my office for a few weeks now. I'd like to say that the experience has convinced me to give up Windows for good, but that's just not the case. Aside from the gaming (most of my newer games don't have Linux versions, so I'd have to run utilities like Wine to try to get them to work, which is way too much trouble), the desktop manager is so much like Windows that it's just as easy to use Windows as Linux. That's not a dig, really. I like the KDE interface, but when it's easier to boot to Windows to watch a DVD, check my office e-mail, or dial into my office network (the VPN dialer doesn't come in a Linux flavor), it's just easier to use Windows. I do appreciate the ability to compile programs on my own, and tweaking them is easier in Linux than Windows has ever been. I guess it comes down to this: most computing pundits predict one of two things for Linux: that it will gain ground on the server OS side, or that it will gain acceptance as a desktop replacement for Windows. So far, I'd have to come down on the server OS side of things. Windows is so entrenched in so many companies and homes that it would be financially and logistically impossible for businesses to switch from Windows to Linux (or to Mac, for that matter). No matter how many improvements and bundled programs Linux developers throw into their distributions, Windows will still be the dominant OS. Small companies might be able to start up with Linux everywhere (if you don't have much money, you can't beat a free OS), and maybe the odd school with older hardware, but for the most part, Windows has won the desktop OS battle.

However, on the server side, there are plenty of reasons to look at alternatives to Windows NT/2000/.Net. A virus or trojan on your desktops can be difficult to eliminate, but for most businesses, as long as your servers are up, you can still conduct your day-to-day transactions. But a virus outbreak on your servers can be catastrophic. I only have to remind people at my office of “Code Red Tuesday,” when a trojan brought down all of our servers (and some of our PCs, but that's a different matter). After that day, my boss suggested that we might be able to make better use of non-Microsoft OS choices on the server side whenever possible. So far, we've deployed one Linux web server instead of a Windows one. Considering that I've spent a lot more time with Linux lately than when we first rolled out this server, I'd feel more comfortable recommending this option in the future. And there's always NetWare, my old favorite.

OK, I'm done ranting now. I did write this whole blog entry in Linux, using OpenOffice and KDE. But I'm going to need to boot to Windows to post it; the Javascript controls in Blogger seem happier in Windows and IE than in Mozilla under Linux. And as it has turned out, the only things I lost in the Linux-to-Windows transition were the hyperlinks, which were easy to redo. Still, the whole thing would have been done faster had I just used Windows after all. Am I proving anything? Maybe. Am I rambling? Definitely. Signing off now....

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

As usual, I had all sorts of thoughts over the weekend, but didn't bother to go online to post them. Liz and I saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on Friday night, with an enthusiastic crowd of Potter fanatics. Luckily, none of them were in full wizard or Quidditch costumes. The movie itself is much better than the first one: scarier, funnier, more exciting, better effects, and so on. The Quidditch match was particularly good, and I'm not the first person who thought it reminiscent of the speeder bike chase in Return of the Jedi. It's a long wait until the next movie comes out, so I'll have to be satisfied in the meantime with LOTR. That's not a bad thing.

I've been getting more and more into this whole Linux thing. I've installed Red Hat Linux 8 on a desktop PC at work and now on my laptop (dual-boot with Windows XP), so I can take it home with me. I've even recompiled the kernel to enable NTFS support, so I can mount the XP partition and access my MP3s and other files in Linux. I wish I had more ways to use Linux, instead of just as a substitute to Windows. It's great, and I enjoy having the chance to "roll my own" programs and setup, but Windows does so much out of the box, while Linux needs to be configured, that it can be a pain sometimes. It's definitely an OS for geeks, even with RH 8's ease of installation and Windows-like interface. At least I'm learning a new skill set that might come in handy someday. If enough of us get behind the idea, we could migrate some of the more exposed web and e-mail servers here at the office to Linux. That would certainly give me a chance to apply what I've learned so far.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

My Attack of the Clones and Fellowship of the Ring DVDs arrived yesterday. I've only watched a few scenes of each so far, but I like what I've seen. The AOTC transfer is unbelievably clear on my PC monitor at home, and the audio in the headphones was almost as good as it was in the theater. I almost hate to watch either movie on my TV and old, non-surround-sound stereo system, but that can't be helped right now. Liz wants to see Yoda go all saber-wacky at the end of AOTC, and I won't disappoint her. The FOTR DVD set has so many extras that I can't imagine ever watching all of them. It has four commentary tracks! I can see listening to the ones with the director and the cast, but the producers and crew don't interest me as much. You might be asking why I bought this version of the movie, since I could have had the theatrical version three months ago. It's because of the 30 minutes of new footage, which I reviewed earlier this week. That alone makes this set worth buying, and unless Peter Jackson unearthes some Tom Bombadil footage for an ultra-special extra-extended edition, it's the last one I'll buy. And only 34 days until TTT opens...

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Oh boy, I forgot I haven't posted anything since last Thursday. Philly was a decent trip. Smith and Wollensky makes a good steak, but Morton's of Chicago is much better, IMHO. I had the $10 carrot cake for dessert, and it was 7 inches tall and 4 wide. I ate two inches off the bottom and took the rest home to share with Liz, who is a carrot cake fiend.

I listened to the Steelers-Falcons game on the Internet radio on Sunday. I guess it was a great game, but the tie was just disappointing. If you're going to play a game, you need to have a winner and a loser at the end. I'd feel better if the Steelers had fought back from a 17-point deficit, but since they're the ones who blew the lead, it's almost as bad as a loss. At least the Falcons are an NFC team, so this game shouldn't count against the Steelers in AFC playoff positioning.

I got spanked in fantasy football this weekend. My team sucks, no matter what I might have said previously. Daunte Culpepper is out as my QB, Trent Green is in. It's not much of an improvement, but I can't do anything about that now.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

I'm in Philadelphia today, at my office's disaster planning/recovery site. I'm missing my usual Thursday workout, but I get dinner at Smith and Wollensky for my troubles. And I can always work out tomorrow. Too bad I don't have friends in the Philly area anymore; I could have brought them along.

On Tuesday night, James and I attended a free screening of the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring in glorious digital format. Moviefone selected me as one of the lucky winners of a pass for two to attend the screening at the Loews Theater on 34th Street. I posted a review of the film on, so go there if you'd like to see what I had to say. It's not my best work, but so far I'm the only one who reviewed the NYC show. I'll have this version on DVD next week so I can enjoy it again and again (and subject Liz to it again and again).

Monday, November 04, 2002

Liz and I saw Red Dragon this weekend. It was much better than Hannibal, not quite as good as Silence of the Lambs. Ralph Fiennes doesn't seem to have any body issues; he's been nude or mostly nude in several movies now and he appears quite comfortable with himself. Ed Norton was great, but he'll always have the problem that he looks too young to be playing experienced, older characters. I haven't read the book, but Will Graham seems like he should be a grizzled, older FBI veteran, not quite as old as Harvey Keitel, but older than Ed Norton's early thirties. It was odd hearing stories about old cases coming from a guy who looks barely old enough to shave. Still, Norton is a great actor, and I found his performance, like the others, engrossing and believeable. Anthony Hopkins was great one last time as Lecter, but I don't blame him for saying that he wants to do something else now. Three times to the well for one character is enough for just about anyone, especially with an Oscar winner for the same role in another movie.

I got spanked in fantasy football this weekend, in possibly my worst showing ever. No one on my team scored a touchdown, and the only player that scored in double figures was the Steelers defense. I'll just write off the week and try to find enough points to win next weekend. At least the Steelers beat the Browns again. That makes them 4-0 in the division and 5-3 overall. If nothing else, they should win the division and get a decent seed in the playoffs now.

I need to remember to write things here when I think of them, not three days later. I had some other things to write about, but now I can't remember them.

Friday, November 01, 2002

A few thoughts while I was watching the Halloween parade from an extremely crowded streetcorner outside my apartment:

First of all, I'm getting too old for this shit. After an hour standing in the crowd, my back was starting to hurt and I was just anxious for the whole ordeal to be over so I could go back inside. And getting pressed into total strangers isn't much fun anymore, if it ever was.

I don't think that walking down the street pretending to use a cell phone or wearing a FedEx envelope on your head constitutes a costume.

I nearly saw two punks come to blows less than two feet from me. One guy with a skateboard in his hand had a problem with another guy and they shouted at each other for a few minutes before enough people came between them to keep them apart. But for a few minutes, I was trying to figure out where to go in case they started punching each other, since the crowd was too thick to make a quick getaway. There were plenty of cops nearby, but they were on the other side of wooden and metal barriers, and I'm sure they wouldn't have been able to get near a fight if one broke out. At least not before someone got seriously hurt.

I guess I missed most of the good floats and costumes. I came inside just after the parade started so I could eat dinner, then went back out about 30 minutes later. By the time I got back outside, the parade had devolved into thousands of people in costume walking up Sixth Avenue. I could do that if I wanted, but I don't need to see other people doing it. I tried to get some pictures but none of them are clear enough to keep.

The whole problem I have with the parade is that if it were in another neighborhood, I'd avoid it entirely. I have little desire to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day or the St. Patrick's Day parades, but since this one is right outside my door, I feel an obligation to watch it in person. Next year, if we're living elsewhere, there's virtually no chance I'll subject myself to this punishment again. Geez, now I'm avoiding large crowds. I'm turning into my father.