Tuesday, October 3, 2006

g'day

I've had a mid-Fall grunge in my chest and head and it finally knocked me out over the weekend, I spent Saturday and Sunday curled up with NyQuil and the dog and seem to have kicked the worst of the cold though it's not completely gone.

You may have noticed a sudden spamming of this site with posts titled "links from ...", that's an automated job from del.icio.us. Only problem so far is that it appears to strip closing tags, ie if I use <q> to quote some text, the closing </q> tag gets stripped out (haven't checked to see where it's getting stripped, it may just be a consequence of a field truncation).

e.p.c. posted this at 16:05 GMT on 3-Oct-2006 .

Tivo Series 3: Might want to wait a bit

After some hemming and hawing, we ordered a new Tivo Series 3 "HD" recorder two weeks ago. It arrived last week.

In the back of my mind I knew I had to deal with the twits at Time-Warner Cable to get a Cablecard for optimal experience, but figured in the interim I'd reconnect our HD cable box and output its DVI or RGB to the Tivo.

It never occurred to me that Tivo would remove all video inputs into the box. Let me repeat that: all video inputs to the Tivo Series 3 have been removed.

The only option is to connect your cable to the system. If you have digital cable, you are screwed until your cable service provider deems to fulfill its FCC requirements to perhaps just maybe respond to your inquiry about a Cablecard.

The Cablecard was conceived of in the 1990s as a way to route around the cable monopolies' rental income stream from cable decorder boxes that date to some time in the 1970s. Specifically, it was an attempt to shunt the cable companies back into being transports for content, and to allow consumers to consume content using whatever home electronics systems they wanted to use.

The weakness in this plan, of course, is that it is still the cable companies who must provide the Cable Cards. And they are less than interested in making it easier for consumers to consume content, especially if that means a loss in income.

Argh.

e.p.c. posted this at 22:53 GMT on 3-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

DUMBO Walkabout Photos for October 4, 2006

Took Frisket for a ramble around DUMBO today, here are some photos from that walk:

Parallel lines

Parallel lines

Bell Atlantic Phone Booth on the Promenade

Bell Atlantic Phone Booth on the Promenade. I have a silly notion of taking repeat photos of this ancient phone booth to see how it ages.

Royal Heron

Royal Heron

Travel With the Kitchen Sink

Travel With the Kitchen Sink

Water Street

Water Street

Modern Box Office

Modern Box Office

e.p.c. posted this at 00:02 GMT on 5-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

Up is Down

I try to avoid politic posting here (though I've managed to make use of del.icio.us tags to make some points recently), but this is hard to pass up. Since Sunday, both Fox News and the Associated Press have labelled both Mark Foley and Denny Hastert as Democrats. Yes, when the going gets tough, the Speaker of the Republican majority House is suddenly a Democrat.

foxoreilly_markfoleylying on flickr
Mark Foley labelled D-FL by FOX News

Now, as everyone knows, FOX News is the network of deranged, psychopathic, communist cheeseheads from former-planet Pluto, and The Associated Press is an organization of dyslexic dinosaurs rapid with typographic errors. What? That's nonsense? Nah, it's just a label, labels can't do any harm, right?

e.p.c. posted this at 15:30 GMT on 5-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY. Source,

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Thumbs-down: Chanto

Had a surprisingly lousy dinner tonight at Chanto on Seventh Avenue. We'd wanted Asian for tonight and would normally go to Sushi Samba, but I'd seen favorable reviews about Chanto and thought we'd try it out.

Service was spotty. L. ordered some sake while waiting for me to arrive (honestly it was the train, I left perfectly on time). The first sake she got was "off", stale or something else wrong with it. When she complained the staff argued with her before replacing with a different sake. On being seated there was a bit of a show of having servers help seat us (pull out chairs, unfold napkins), but then someone came by with wet towels to cleanse our hands. Cold wet towels. Normally these are warmed up if not heated to hot.

I ordered a beer which, on reflection after we left, also tasted stale, like it had been chilled and warmed repeatedly. It wasn't "bad" beer, just off (again).

For dinner we ordered the chicken wing dumplings and a kimchi dish as starters, and a black cod in miso (for me) and sushi sampler special for L. as our mains, with a side of Jyuga(?) potatoes. The dumplings were intended to be something resembling pot stickers, but inside a chicken wing. They were not bad, but I wouldn't order them again. L. thought the kimchi and sushi were fine, but not overwhelming. I liked the cod but found that the sauce on the asparagus to be rather heavy (and now, a couple of hours later, think the sauce was too rich for me).

The potatoes...took....for......ever to arrive. So long that the waitress had time to come by twice to apologize, with multi-minute breaks between each apology. On the second apology I asked that they just cancel the order since we'd completed our mains and were shifting from wanting desert to wanting to leave. Five minutes later the potatoes arrived. Now, I'm Irish and I know a thing about potatoes: these were actually pretty good potatoes (they're baked with some sort of glaze, perhaps even infused with butter), and had they arrived with the rest of our food I'd have one, possibly two less things to complain about. But they did not.

So, I don't recommend Chanto. The coup d'grace, if it was really needed, was seeing the tab at the end of the meal. We don't really flinch at having a nice dinner out once in awhile and our tastes in sake and wine (and Bombay Sapphire) can easily drive a bill over $200. Chanto's bill wasn't that high, but for what it was I'd expect better service and food quality.

We recovered slightly by walking over to Magnolia Bakery and grabbing some cupcakes for dessert.

e.p.c. posted this at 02:55 GMT on 7-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

CR2032

Some years ago I was on a consulting gig involving Windows Server 2003 performing in a cluster. I got very frustrated at some point at access to systems to do my work and went out and bought three custom built PCs to try to mimic the cluster run by the client. I figured I'd earn back the cost of the systems over the next year as the contract continued. Unfortunately, the contract ended about six weeks later for reasons I don't feel a need to go into.

Since then, I've been using the systems for development, one running Windows XP as a desktop, the others running Windows Server 2003 and FreeBSD. The Win2k03 server died about 18 months ago. Since the boxes were custom made (cheaply custom made) there's no warranty.

On returning from my midwestern sojourn I discovered the FreeBSD box to be mysteriously quiet, too quiet.

The problem with it appeared to be the battery had gone bad and the system had powered off.

This system wasn't critical to me, it just had copies of code I've been working on for the past year and a nice little development environment. The code is backed up. The environment, not so much.

So, in that usual I-really-need-the-thing-working again mode that deadlines tend to prompt, I went hunting for the battery. It's actually a common watch battery, CR-2032. So common that each of the four local shops I checked for it had a slot in their watch battery case for it. An empty please tell the store manager to refill the CR-2032 product slot.

Not one store had a battery (plenty of other models, like the CR2045, which is a completely different size and voltage).

Frustrated, I returned home. I remembered having had to go through this a year ago for something else in the house....the scale. The kitchen scale uses the same stupid CR-2032 batteries (two of them in fact).

So I swiped a battery from the scale and verified it had acceptable voltage.

I placed in in the motherboard.

I plugged in everything and turned on the power.

Couple lights blink on, the fan starts turning, the hard drive makes the sound that sounds like it's about to boot up.

But nothing...nothing on the screen, no beeps, no obvious errors, no bootup.

So, back to square one. Worst case scenario, I take the drive out and place it in the sole remaining PC, boot it, image or copy the development environment I want to keep.

And then throw the stinking mess out on to the street...

From now on, I either suck it up and buy namebrand systems, or a hire someone whose neck I can wring if the system goes bad.

e.p.c. posted this at 04:29 GMT on 10-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Photoblogger

For some reason pictures I've posted to flickr have be reused / cited three times in the last two days (I don't mind, I just find it oddly humorous):

e.p.c. posted this at 18:35 GMT on 11-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Coat coat


Coat coat, originally uploaded by epc.

e.p.c. posted this at 02:56 GMT on 15-Oct-2006 .

Monday, October 16, 2006

Week In Review for 16 October 2006

Fresh from being sick with some sort of vague chest/sinus crap, I spent last week with a kinky neck/shoulder thing going on. I blame the dog.

I finally found CR2032 batteries, although they worked the computer I was trying to restore still would not boot.

Three pictures I took all ended up being used on two blogs and one restaurant on the same day. Even though I screwed up the location of one of the pictures. Twice.

del.icio.us is merrily posting away what bookmarks I save every day. This is easier than trying to post a linkblog. One suggestion if you do this, with whatever blog software you use: set up a separate account, since the password gets stored on their server(s). del.icio.us' account is 8f8a46a1213d696e4b8cf4fe26fbf431, which is an md5 hash of something I've already forgotten. This should be the only place that userid is exposed unless I've made a mistake in the MovableType templates (I'm sure I have).

North Korea, a country which we are still (technically) at war with, detonated a emasculatingly small nuclear weapon. The administration's response was to take the matter before the U.N., arguing that diplomacy and sanctions should be allowed to work their course.

This week I am really desperately trying to get some core work done on the project formerly-known-as dripldu, our vertical search engine for health care, and an e-commerce site. These goals for the week were set back slightly when Frisket decided to throw up on me. At 2:35 a.m. EDT this morning. On the bed.

The good news, if it can be termed that, is that Frisket is so self-conscious about making any sort of a mess in the bedroom (since it's her bedroom, and her bed) refused to sleep in the bedroom and instead slept in the front room. Since she is apparently scared of the dark, she whined until I stayed in the room with her and fell asleep (eventually) on the couch.

Also this week, lunch with Pete Fiorese of Alectus Technology Group. Alectus Technology Group specializes in information technology consulting for medical practices in the Mid-Hudson Valley Region of New York State (Dutchess, Ulster, Orange Counties). Pete is also a friend and put up with my antics at the Sydney Olympic Games.

I also have a redesign pending for my business site. Given that I'm prohibited by law from practicing design in multiple jurisdictions, I have tried to violate fewer design principles with this redesign. The new design will launch first on 202: Accepted (a blog) and then creak its way across the 10s of pages that compose the site. Actually it is just 10 pages.

This weekend I am heading to Austin, TX to pick on my brother in person, hang out with Turbo Todd Watson. At the end of the week I'm going to return to Pittsburgh, PA for the 25th anniversary of the MAPW program at Carnegie Mellon.

That is, unless Frisket comes up with a new devious plan to prevent me from leaving on the trip.

I started off meaning to blog this then promptly forgot: absurd little fact I learned today while reading something on Wikipedia: On September 3, 1967 H Day, all of Sweden changed from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right side of the road, at 5:00 a.m. local time. They even came up with a funky graphic: Dagen H logo.

e.p.c. posted this at 21:52 GMT on 16-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Some requests are my command

I received a complaint today about the automated posting of links from my del.icio.us account. Now, I think it's a nifty, short-cut way of blogging stuff I have read and thought to be interesting, however at least a portion of the large audience for this site disagrees.

So I have recoded the templates for the site, at great personal cost and effort, to include the category of the article in the class of the div for the article. Specifically, the del.icio.us links now have the added class of cat-links.

What this means is that if you have a browser from this century, you can add a user style sheet with the line:

div.cat-links {display:none;visibility:hidden;}

Which will cause the links to disappear. The obvious long term answer is to either cease posting the links (meaning I'd actually have to write more content, highly unlikely unless I outsource that task), or to provide a simple cheesy profile button tool thing to turn the links on and off as one deems necessary. I will put together a project plan and business case for both proposals shortly.

e.p.c. posted this at 23:13 GMT on 17-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

Monday, October 23, 2006

In Austin

Am in Austin, TX for a few days this week while Lisa attends Vignette Village 2006. Spent time with Todd before he deserted us for the Rolling Stones, and dinner with my brother at Moonshine Diner.

We had an absolutely fantastic sushi dinner Saturday night at Uchi with Todd and Cameron and Emma Ferstat.

Moonshine Diner is near our hotel (the Hilton). Food was ok but I don't think I'll be returning. We had planned to go to The Ironworks but it was closed last night.

As I am on the world's slowest broadband connection (the hotel ethernet is only marginally faster than the GPRS card I'm using for this post, 212kbps), I don't expect to be posting much this week.

e.p.c. posted this at 14:52 GMT on 23-Oct-2006 from Austin,TX.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Amazing Pontiac Torrent Speedometer


The Amazing Pontiac Torrent Speedometer, originally uploaded by epc.

You kind of have to take my word for it until I upload another picture, but this is a photo of the speedometer on a sub-2000 mile Pontiac Torrent at a stoplight. It's reading 10mph. The error gets worse as you go faster, by the time it "reads" 70mph the actual speed seems to be between 50-55mph.

flickr posted this at 04:44 GMT on 24-Oct-2006 .

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ask not to Google, lest ye be a Yahoo!

Google are trying to get people to cease using google as a generic term for search (though I'd ask: if these yahoos are actually using Google to perform the search, is referring to the search task as googling really a genericization of the trademark Google?) and posted a blog post on the 25th October titled: Do you "Google?" educating the general public (neither General Public nor the 1980s ska band General Public) about the proper use of the trademarked term Google.

Ask.com, the former Ask Jeeves, posted its own educational piece titled You Do and/or May, In Fact, "Ask" (or "ask"), being very careful to delineate the difference between ask: You may ask Yahoo and ask Google. and Ask: You may not "Ask" on Ask Yahoo or Yahoo Answers, though you may "ask.".

Yahoo!'s retort dates from last year but is still relevant: You can Yahoo! to your heart's content, any way you want to. Heck, you can even build your own Yahoo! Search engine..

One of these search engines is the General Motors of search, the other is either the Honda or Hudson.

e.p.c. posted this at 15:04 GMT on 27-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

eau on flickr
eau
This Way
This Way

I spent three days in Austin, TX and all I took a picture of was the Newark Airport Train Station.

e.p.c. posted this at 22:07 GMT on 27-Oct-2006 from Newark, NJ .

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Winded

We're in our third day of high-winds here in Brooklyn. I sort of wanted to do some work on the house this weekend but don't think it's safe enough to be working on or around the roof so instead I'm doing some reading and writing while watching lame 1980s videos on VH1 Classic.

e.p.c. posted this at 14:09 GMT on 29-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bad Data Are the Cockroaches of the Information Age

Trying to spread some of my Pagerank Google juice here: Search Analytics for your Site is a book by Lou Rosenfeld and Richard Wiggins to be published in January 2007 by Rosenfeld Media. It is not being published by O'Reilly and Associates. Due to the leak of some bad data from the O'Reilly publishing database, many web sites continue to list the book as being published by ORA, or worse being cancelled entirely.

In July 2006, Wiggins and Rosenfeld discovered that the bad data had leaked like a meme, worm, or virus out from the O'Reilly publishing system into the wider web, as various companies picked up that O'Reilly was publishing the book, but did not pick up the cancellation bit. Wiggins and Rosenfeld have been playing whack-a-mole since, trying to get the bad ISBN removed from various online book selling systems.

§

We faced this problem on a small scale at IBM, mostly with press releases. Various groups within IBM wrote their own hacks to draw press releases out of the IBMLink system, to republish them on their own product or division web sites.

IBMLink was this horrid mainframe based system that was actually easy to use once you got the hang of it (I write that as a guy who eventually got the hang of TSO, so there). But when the organization behind IBMLink created a web version, the web version repeated many of the same horrid user interface mistakes, plus it was run on an under-powered MITS Altair (I jest, I'm sure it was on the much faster IBM PC XT).

So, it was natural for groups to want to publish their press releases on their own web sites. Typically this meant sucking in the content from IBMLink, transmogrifying it into HTML and then slapping in into a standard template.

But what this also meant is that each copy of the press release was different, both because the templates different, but also due to minor changes in the body copy that would creep in since everyone had their own special toolkit to perform the transmogrification.

The first time I was called at midnight to pull a press release from the web I found it rather easy: there was a copy on www.ibm.com which I was responsible for, a copy at IBMLink (web) which (in theory) would auto-magically be removed once the item was purged from IBMLink (mainframe), and a copy on the related division's web site.

As the years wore on though this became a much more difficult task.

I couldn't rely on things like the IBM.com search engine, because it sucked. I can write that, I was responsible for running it most of the time (though not at all responsible for its suckage most of the time, well, perhaps a little).

I couldn't rely on using hashes, since each templated document ended up with a different md5 hash (and also because I was excorciated internally for even thinking of relying on MD5 hashes since I could not prove sufficiently that there would never, ever, ever, be any collisions).

In the end we relied on simple brute force: search and destroy, using the IBM search engine, Altavista, Yahoo! (what is this Google you speak of? This was circa 1995-1999.); ee would divert our very small staff from the minor task of keeping www.ibm.com online into tracking down where the hell the copy had been copied to; we'd spam the internal webmaster list with a The world will end if you do not remove this document about IBM Mouse Balls email.

But I found no way to truly eliminate the problem. Once the data was online, it was free. Most of the time, the information wants to be free mantra is laudable, but every so often there's truly information that we want to nail down and destroy. We don't need to save every last bit of information, our minds can't handle it, and it's difficult to organize and manage.

PROFS had a feature called GETBACK (ok, this may not have been PROFS, but it was prevalent on the IBM internal systems and I've known non-IBMers who relied on it externally). GETBACK would let you retrieve emails you had sent. I don't recall if it worked across systems or if it only worked on your own VM system. But everyone knew about it and relied on it. You could write a nasty email, get the satisfaction of hitting SEND and then on the immediately regret of doing so, type GETBACK to attempt to retrieve it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

I don't know that I ever used it, I was sort of in weird email land within IBM because I avoided using PROFS as much as possible, using IPERNOTE, then LaMail then eventually Lotus Notes (after we figured out how to hack a forwarding gateway to the internet thanks to my sendmail fu).

GETBACK did not work with alternate email systems. It did not work with Internet email, much to several employees' distress. It did not work with Lotus Notes.

I found that Notes had a feature, sort of, which helped temper regrettable email outbursts. You could set up your email to only send every N minutes, or with every replication, or immediately. I believe the default was immediate send, based on some exchanges I was on the receiving end for. I changed my setting to build in a delay, I could always force the email to be sent if it really needed to go out. This had the pleasant side effect of preventing email receipts or acknowledgements from being sent immediately. I wrote a bit of LotusScript to purge these traces of my attention from the outbound mail queue before they could be transmitted.

Lotus Notes also has (possibly had, I haven't used Notes since leaving IBM in 2001) a feature where you could lock the text of a document, in theory preventing it from being printed or forwarded. I found that in the last couple of years I was IBM's alleged Corporate Webmaster, fellow employees would take to writing me veiled and not-so-veiled threats in email, and would tick off the checkbox to prevent the note from being forwarded or printed. They would be quite upset to discover that I could print and forward the email (typically forwarding it to their next immediate manager with a simple FYI, I found it pointless to engage in any sort of discussion around such emails).

Even encrypting email, which is trivial to do with Notes (trivial as in: my grandmother could use it, not as in once you download this package, or import an x509 certificate, etc.), even encrypting email does not guarantee control over what happens to your words after you hit send. When you forward an encrypted email, it tends to lose its signature (it's theoretically possible to forward it as an signed MIME message but this hasn't been my experience). You can copy, cut, and paste encrypted emails (made a little difficult if someone has set the do not forward flag, not impossible).

Once the bits are out there, they're out there.

Neither hacks, DRM, encryption, nor character encoding will keep these bits of data from becoming public.

It's the old literary theory problem of authorial intent writ digital: once these words, these bytes and bits leave the author's system of control, whether via email, Word document, web page, Adobe Acrobat PDF, once they leave our control, we lose control over how they are read, interpreted, distributed, consumed.

Back to Lou Rosenfeld's problem: I have no ideas how to solve propagation of bad data.

With the way search engines do rankings, the more you call attention to bad data, the more likely (perversely) it will rank higher in search results. Inevitably, some conspiracy theorists will copy and spread the bad data around in an effort to prevent them from purging it off the web.

I suppose in some future you could write a countervirus or counterworm, set off a counter-meme to try to eradicate the bad data, but then you have the problem of the counter-meme being in the wild, how to kill that off once it's done its duty.

I know, we'll set a bit in the counter-meme to self-destroy once it's removed all evidence of the bad data, of its anti-meme. Yeah, that will work.

e.p.c. posted this at 19:18 GMT on 30-Oct-2006 from Brooklyn, NY.

Slightly acerbic and eccentric dog walker who masquerades as a web developer and occasional CTO.

Spent five years running the technology side of the circus known as www.ibm.com.

More about me here.

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