Tuesday, May 31, 2005

 

Stupid bloody Tuesday...

Much-needed R&R Sunday and yesterday chilled me out nicely, however, today brings the usual corporate nonsense which has kept me away from the blogging keyboard for the better part of the day. Sunday was an exceptionally good day, seeing good friends in the afternoon (along with a very pleasant surprise - thanks J), taking the young'uns out for a couple of special treats - including the Star Wars movie that evening. I have to say that I loved the visuals in the film, but true, it's not for younger children. Darth Vader's transformation was especially tough, along with the scene where he ahem, makes resource modifications to the Jedi's future cadre. Still, it's a worthy part of the canon. My main bitch about the evening concerned the coming attractions, which amazingly enough only lasted 15 minutes. There was an entirely inappropriate trailer for a theater full of young children, which annoyed the hell out of me. Some piece of nonsense about a married couple who are hit men, but there was enough stuff in the trailer that raised questions from my youngsters that I really didn't want to start answering at that moment. Besides, wasn't Kathleen Turner in something like this a couple of decades ago?

On top of it, a wisdom tooth is killing me, and I will freely admit that the first words that come to my mind when this sort of thing happens are "Is it safe?".

Items for review in the next day or so include "House Of Lies" by Martin Kihn, a great description of life as a management consultant, and the DVD release of "Yellow Matter Custard".

Saturday, May 28, 2005

 

One Year Later....

Amazingly enough, I've been doing this blog for an entire year. I had no idea about whether this was going to be a short-term adventure, or whether this thing would gain some traction, but here I am, a year later. Certainly quite a bit more cynical than I was at this point a year ago, if such a thing is possible, but with the advantage of hindsight and another year's seasoning, I'd suppose it is indeed a positive thing. As to my original concept of commenting largely on the corporate fools surrounding me with only a smattering of observations on other matters, like all well-managed projects (ha!) the vision has changed a tiny bit, merely for reasons of trying to maintain a bit of distance and not brooding on those matters which make normal business hours the stressful event that requires liberal application of Caldeonian produce and Bayerische Getränk to alleviate the day's nonsense. However, as things warrant, of course there will be plenty of observations and stories from the arena.

Interestingly enough, I did find Respected Employer's blogging policy, and officially, we are permitted to blog (as long as we don't discuss confidential information) and we're encouraged to identify ourselves and Respected Employer. I have a suspension bridge connecting Lower Manhattan and the Borough Of Churches with stone towers to sell you if you think that they don't have a concerted effort to see what people have to say about them out there, be it on blogs or places like Vault. While I'm pretty sure that they don't have dedicated Personalungeziefer monitoring for these things, I'm sure that it's definitely within someone's scope of defined duties to see if too much information is out there. Nope, I shall maintain my privacy, and not identify Respected Employer nor the dopey entities I interface with on an ongoing basis.

Friday, May 27, 2005

 

Heroes and Villains Part 2

This is an extraordinarily well-produced concert set, I must admit I'm very impressed. Considering Brian's mental state at the beginning of rehearsals for this incredibly complex suite, the fact that this band nailed all of this complex music is doubly amazing. The performances are utterly incredible all the way around. The standouts, unsurprisingly, are Our Prayer, Heroes and Villains, Cabin Essence, Child Is The Father Of Man, Surf's Up, Mrs. O'Leary's Cow and Good Vibrations. The way this band pulls off reproducing some of the really wacky stuff like Workshop is mind-boggling. The vocals are top-notch. Darian Sahanaja did a fantastic job coordinating and arranging this music for this band, and surf music guru Jeffrey Foskett brings a great presence to this music. While there aren't enough closeups of the musicians' hands to make this a perfect DVD, from an image and sound perspective, it's a quantum leap from most others I've seen. The big problem of course is that Smile isn't for everyone, and this might be something you might want to watch once, but it simply demands to be seen, as an example of how to bring a legend to life.

One thing that was incredibly touching, you saw Brian break into a huge smile many, many times during the show. It's obvious that even though he was scared out of his wits, he was very pleased with the way this show came off and with the love and affection it received. The word that keeps coming to mind when I see him is "haunted", but I think this really did exorcise some of his demons.

Somewhat related, both Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy's sites are selling a DVD of their Yellow Matter Custard Beatles tribute, which I reviewed last year here and on Blogcritics. Although I had my quibbles about how some pieces were played (Portnoy was playing more like Carl Palmer than Ringo at times, plus Paul Gilbert's fretboard tapping had no business appearing in the set), I generally liked the set, it was eclectic enough to keep me happy (although woefully light on Revolver from my perspective). Neal Morse's site describes it as an "official bootleg", shot with two cameras and very good under the circumstances (I take it there's a bit of expectation management in that description), but then again, neo-prog isn't a high-budget area for music, so I wouldn't expect a huge investment in the production values. The Spock's Beard DVD had so-so video, however, it was definitely a great document. I'm not expecting wonders, but I think it'll be very cool to see how the band looked at work. The DVD can be ordered from Morse's Radiant Records or from Mike Portnoy.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

 

Heroes And Villains Part 1

The Smile DVD set has two discs, one with the "Beautiful Dreamer" documentary, and the second with the complete live performance of the reconstructed "Smile" suite. So far, I've only had the chance to watch the documentary DVD, which was indeed interesting for not only the background but some of the at-work glimpses, which are indeed moving. The documentary isn't afraid to point the finger at least partially at Mike Love (although it's done in a circumspect manner, probably because of the then-pending litigation between Mike Love and Brian Wilson) for the abortion of the original Smile project, however, it doesn't unnecessarily dwell on that. There are many cool insights, especially from Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine, the Wrecking Crew bastions who anchored the sessions, along with many other observations from friends and interested parties (including interestingly, Sir George Martin; there's a very heartwarming scene at the concert venue just before the show with Paul McCartney greeting Brian). I was incredibly impressed with Brian's touring band, who's absolutely amazing in pulling off this rich, difficult music. Some of the instrumentation is intriguing, lots of el-cheapo instruments that you wouldn't have expected (e.g Danelectros, low-end Fenders) pulled together in what's probably the first rock symphony. The band's previous live recordings with Brian (the Roxy album, plus the complete Pet Sounds CD and DVD) were nothing short of amazing, recreating sounds that I thought simply couldn't be duplicated on stage.

One rather interesting theme in the backgrounder portion of the documentary is that there's a bit of disingenuous denial on the part of some observers that drugs had something to do with the original album's eventual demise. Brian's honest enough to admit in the documentary that he was indeed gobbling down certain substances (although the documentary makes the point that LSD was legal until sometime in 1966 in California) and that he might've indeed been impacted, but the external observers are more blameful of the rest of the Beach Boys and Murry Wilson for Brian's state than anything else. I can only say that Brian seems a very haunted man as a result of everything he's been through, however, there are just some moments when he opens up and it's as if a spotlight begins shining. For whatever it's worth, this does indeed seem to be healing this genius.

The only thing of course is to watch the actual concert, and I'll admit to having mixed emotions about it. While I love Pet Sounds, and was blown away by Brian and the band pulling off reproducing it live, Smile's an album that really isn't for everybody. It's definitely a mood thing with me, as the Dumb Angel concept is something that's just a bit out there, and the travelogue theme (which I'd never heard about until Van Dyke Parks mentioned it in the documentary) is just a bit forced. There's lots of music I like here, but truth be told, there's much more filler and interstitial stuff here than in Pet Sounds, which I just relate to on the basis of being an angst-ridden kvetch. The snippet I saw of them reproducing Cabin Essence was indeed awesome, as in many ways I regard that as Brian's vocal magnum opus (during the "Who ran the iron horse" bit). Other bits, such as Roll Plymouth Rock, or Vega-Tables, just leave me cold, to be honest. Perhaps the inclusion of something like Til I Die might've changed my opinion, or for that matter, the live arrangement of Heroes and Villains (as done on the 1972 In Concert album) might change my opinion. The album is a bit lethargic and monotonous in tempo, unlike the much more dynamic Pet Sounds.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

 

Lies, damned lies, and benchmarks

It has been an extremely busy four days. Visiting relatives alone are enough to suck the life out of you for a week afterwards, but there's been a lot of interesting stuff happening at work that's kept me occupied and away from blogging. Not to mention a Sunday night gig, although that was fun and doesn't count even if dragging myself out of bed on Monday was painful (midlife's a drag, a well-known drag).

I happened to get myself sucked into a meeting yesterday that had to do with a new paradigm for delivering information to our customers. The paradigm was interesting (and I must admit the data model was a hell of a lot better thought out than the existing ones I've seen out there), but a couple of things really caused me to raise my eyebrows about this. The first was a totally outrageous performance claim; the rocket scientists presenting were claiming a sustained throughput of over 1 gigabit per second over a single NIC on a Wintel server. Correct me if I'm wrong, but won't bus limitations throttle that performance? I don't care how good a Wintel server you've got, but I really don't think any PCI-based box is going to give you sustained 1Gbps throughput. I can easily see 700 Mbps, maybe 800 if you push it, but filling the pipe? I don't think so.

The second claim was rather interesting. Since the performance discussion started out talking about Wintel boxes, I asked how the code performed under Linux (supposedly, the code is pure ANSI C or C++ depending on who you talk to; the only Java going near this thing is in the management interface, performance is critical) and I was very surprised to hear that the developers found that they were getting better results with Microsoft's Visual Studio compiler going to a straight EXE file rather than with any compiler under Linux (I would've expected some variances in performance between gcc and commercial compilers under Linux, but then again, gcc is the de facto standard). It's just always been my experience that Visual Studio will link everything in creation into the final EXE (I mean, why do you need to link in half of MFC for a character-based program?). I also got the rather surprising viewpoint that Red Hat was the preferred Linux environment for running this product (the wind has been blowing towards SuSE from a professional and management standpoint in my neck of the woods).

The third claim was one where I have to call BS. This particular solution involves delivery of external information to our clients, who generally are very risk averse, and have tons of internal auditors and risk managers looking at ways to prevent any sort of nasties from entering through supposedly trusted channels. The usual method here is of course a couple of layers of SPI firewalls plus intrusion detection, perhaps not as heavily protected as a straight Internet connection, but still fortified. The presenter yesterday claimed that my esteemed client from last year, Colditz, felt that this was a trusted solution and did not need any firewalling (needless to say, firewalling would take their vaunted performance numbers to the proverbial toidy). Now, it just so happens that I've got tons of docs and standards from Colditz and our work products from there, and I've got a very nice PDF file that specifies exactly how that external connectivity should be provisioned, and of course the word firewall is mentioned about 853 times in the document. The only difference being that Colditz has migrated to Nokia firewall appliances in the interim instead of vanilla PIXes - the standards and rulesets are still the same. Presenter called BS. I called a risk manager friend over at Colditz. He said, "ain't gonna happen without a firewall, tell him he's full of it". It was an interesting conversation. When I asked for who they're talking to in the engineering group over at Colditz, they refused to give me a name. I dropped a couple of names (CTO and CIO's office, plus head of engineering) I dealt with over there, and offered to call them. Storm clouds quickly descended.....

Only one conference call today, so I should count myself lucky. Heading out to pick up the Brian Wilson Smile DVD this AM, review tomorrow.

Monday, May 23, 2005

 

Monday Monday Can't Trust That Day

I noticed that Something Awful decided to replace the Michael Jackson image with an incredibly obnoxious image and text. As far as I'm concerned, they are officially on my shit list. One thing to say knock it off, but to display something that obnoxious, I have decided to neither visit nor recommend them anymore. I've pulled the link. Most of their content is pretty damned childish anyway, and I shan't belabor the point. They've won the coveted Schweinhund of The Week Award.

It's only Monday AM, and I'm already in a shitty mood....

Tomorrow's probably going to be even worse....

Friday, May 20, 2005

 

Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall piss you off

My project's respectful disagreement over standards selection ended up with a pretty brutal meeting where some of our partners were insisting on the Betamax, while the consensus on our side was VHS. The big problem I have isn't so much the two standards, but I can't make a business case to accommodate the Betamax solution (which as I noted will require will require a fair amount of time and effort associated to accomodate it), but the partners would like us to commit resources to accomodate their preference. The marginal revenue just isn't worth it for us at the time, and going forward, we will indeed look at accomodating the competing standard as we implement enterprise service buses for this and other related project. Funny enough, data formats aren't that much of an issue here, but there are significant protocol differences which will undoubtedly keep Sanjay and Ramesh very busy when the interface does become viable to build.

Interesting domain squatter issue on a friend's PC yesterday. Kid mistyped an URL for a site, and ended up at some cockamamie search engine. The problem was that the kid had started messing with the privacy settings on IE, so I swung into action. Although there were a couple of trace bits of spyware based on scans by MSFT AntiSpyware and SpySubtract (seven or eight registry keys, one DLL) the system was clean. HijackThis was clean. However, every time the kid logged in, he kept getting messages saying "Do you want to change your home page to IncrediblyObnoxiousSearch.com?" after a message from MSFT AntiSpyware said a toolbar was trying to install. There was obviously something screwed up in the kid's profile settings, but since I needed to get a life last evening, I saved the kid's My Documents, and blew away the account and created him a new one. It's not like there was anything that required a heroic effort, but being the type who hates to admit defeat (more like admitting fatigue), it's been bugging me that I didn't solve the issue. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Motti...

In the weird department, consider the following conversation between Shmuley Boteach and Mr. Jackson as recounted by the good rabbi in yesterday's Jerusalem Post:


SB: What if they were like the Nazis, just evil people?

MJ: I can't imagine that I couldn't reach their hearts in some kind of way.

SB: So you believe that if you were face to face with Hitler you could...?

MJ: Absolutely. Absolutely! He had to have had a lot of yes people around him who were afraid of him.

SB: You believe that if you had an hour with Hitler you could somehow touch something inside of him?

MJ: Absolutely. I know I could.

SB: With Hitler? Come on. So you don't believe there is anyone who is completely evil and there is no way to touch them? So you don't believe in punishing the wicked because then...?

MJ: No I believe you have to help them, give them therapy. You have to teach them, that somewhere something in their life went wrong. They don't see what they do. They don't understand that it is wrong a lot of times.

SB: But Michael, there are clearly people who are irredeemable. Like Hitler. He was evil incarnate. There was no humanity there for you to address. You'd be speaking to the abyss, to a darkness like you never before witnessed. What about someone who has killed a lot of people? Don't you believe that there should be no therapy for them? They are murderers and they need to face extreme punishment.

MJ: I feel horrible about it. I wish somebody could have reached their hearts.



As much as I really seriously don't want to get into anything relating to MJ's trial, the only other person I ever heard talk this way was Yoko. She said she would've fucked the Fuhrer for peace. Needless to say any mental visualization of that event is something to be avoided, however, there is of course proof of Mr. Jackson's healing therapy with Adolf.....

Image Deleted

(Image courtesy of Somethingawful.com)

Much doing this weekend, company, band rehearsal and gig, plus taking the kiddies to Star Wars. No posts till Monday......

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

 

My muse is temporarily indisposed, so instead you get this nonsense....

Quoth Thomas L. Friedman in this AM's Sulzberger Entity:
The best way to honor the Koran is to live by the values of mercy and compassion
that it propagates.

Quoth the Koran:

Slay them wherever ye find them and drive them out of the places whence they
drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. - 2:191

When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds, then set them free, either by grace or ransom, until the war lays down its burdens. - 47:4


Er, Tom, you been reading a different Koran?

I found myself in a bit of a standards war on my current project, where a client is insisting on one particular standard that we don't support (at least not without about 60 man-months of effort, by my reckoning), not to mention that none of our other customers or partners are looking at this particular standard for any implementations. so there's no huge business imperative to support the effort (unless our client's willing to fund this of course). Nevertheless, it's fallen to me to be the pro from Dover when the relationship manager is going to break the bad news to the client, so it's time to steel myself for what will undoubtedly turn out to be a very stressful meeting.

Listening to Bruce as I write this. No, not the new album. A bootleg from 1975 from the Bottom Line. Instead of this dreary stuff he's writing nowadays, I hear someone with wide eyes still singing "Then I Kissed Her". I need a bit of optimism at the moment.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

 

I demand my rights under the Volstead Act....

The new Linksys router locked up last night (I happened upon it sometime within twenty minutes of when it happened) and I was quite annoyed over it. The SMC it replaced locked up perhaps once over the last four years, certainly way after I bought it originally. A quick power cycle brought it back once I checked the other computers on the LAN here, but I've heard enough tales of random Linky lockups to make me nervous. Funny thing, I bought a WRT54G for my mother's cable modem connection last year, and it's been completely trouble-free. The only difference of course is that we have the newer firmware plus the voice ports on this puppy, but it's got me a bit nervous at this point. Perhaps Vonage was attempting to upgrade the firmware, or perhaps it was just a glitch, but me, I'm used to Linksys' parent company's routers. Assuming you keep those in a proper environment and don't mess with them, they run uneventfully for years (worst case you might have to replace a power supply or a fan, but BFD in that case).

The odd thing was that Layer 3 connectivity was hosed, but you could see the LAN activity lights flashing. Couldn't ping any interfaces on the router, internal or external, nor access the admin page. I know that we had briefly called out over the VoIP just before it happened, so it's possible there could've been some SIP glitch, but being the anal-retentive troubleshooter that I am, that sets my mind to focusing (where it will go.....).

Fark happened to point to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times that only eight Howard Johnson's restaurants are now left, one within less than an hour's drive. Other than some eighty-something lady putting her car through the glass doors the other day, the place seems fairly safe, as the local paper describes it as "popular". I'll have to drag the young'uns over there soon, just in case. It seems only inevitable that it'll become a Bennigabees or something when someone unlocks the value in the place, but I really do miss the franks grilled in "creamery butter" and the ice cream (although I hear it's down to 16 flavors, but then again, I only eat vanilla anyway). I happened to mention the article to a friend and he reminded me that Howard Johnson's only sold their own house brand cola, which wasn't quite up to the standards set in Atlanta and Purchase. I'd imagine with only eight outlets now those days are long gone, but tell the truth, I'm on a nostalgia kick with this, and I'll have to scratch that itch soon.

Monday, May 16, 2005

 

I Was Married By A Judge, I Should've Asked For A Jury

My final observation on Vonage for the moment - the light background crackle that characterized some of the calls disappeared entirely on Saturday night, so I definitely think that that's a function of my ISP's backbone load and peering. The calls were eminently acceptable, so I suppose I'll just have to live with the odd crackle during the week (it isn't impacting any of the conversations, so I can certainly live with it, and the QoS features of the new Linky router are letting my VPN and other web activities happening without impairing intelligibility). Overall, the only big question about Vonage is if they will eventually be taken over by someone, however, the bang for the buck is certainly well worth it at this point.

Frank Rich decided to opine on the Stones in this AM's Sulzberger entity. He correctly say the Stones were fun. The operative word there is "were". I'm still firmly convinced that the Stones haven't had a full album's worth of good material since "Exile On Main Street", that they've only had one good single ("Mixed Emotion") in the last twenty years, and that for most of the last thirty years they've totally blown as a live band. The recent four DVD set showed them with a bit of regained teeth (dentures?), but as much as Ron Wood is a nice guy and good guitarist, he plays too much. Too many little fills when a chugging chord will do. Last time the Stones really cooked on stage, Mick Taylor was up there. And for heaven's sake, save the girl background singers for Tumbling Dice, and keep 'em offstage for the rest of the show....

Friday, May 13, 2005

 

Even Shorter Shrift

Quite a bit of activity will consume today and the entire weekend. Lots of documenting, lots of band stuff, and an ill relative are keeping me busy.

The CD du jour is a two-fer "#1 Record / Radio City" by Big Star. For those unfamiliar with Big Star, they were the third member of the retro junta of the early 70s (the others of course being Badfinger and the Raspberries). Big Star was the brainchild of Alex Chilton, better known for his work with the Box Tops (neither "The Letter" nor "Cry Like A Baby" ever did much for me, tell the truth). While Big Star is critically beloved, it doesn't have the same impact for me that Badfinger or the Raspberries had. There's just no power single on these two albums. There's a lot of the same influences present (plenty of Harrison-esque slide, jangle rhythm), but there's no song comparable to "I Wanna Be With You" or "Baby Blue". It's definitely pleasant to listen to, but I can't even hum a hook at this point.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

 

Hier spricht die Gruppenfuhrer!

Obersturmbannfuhrer Buchanan's done it again. Some lovely quotes from the article:
If the objective of the West was the destruction of Nazi Germany, it was a "smashing" success. But why destroy Hitler? If to liberate Germans, it was not worth it. After all, the Germans voted Hitler in.

If it was to keep Hitler out of Western Europe, why declare war on him and draw him into Western Europe? If it was to keep Hitler out of Central and Eastern Europe, then, inevitably, Stalin would inherit Central and Eastern Europe.

Was that worth fighting a world war – with 50 million dead?

Sil il marche comme une canard.

Defending Hitler isn't exactly good for the conservative movement, Pat. Please fuck off and die.

 

Slightly Short Shrift

Vonage continues to remain unremarkable, and the crackliness seems to have slightly abated, so I'm still OK with everything. In fact, a case of backhoe fade at Mom's led me to add another line yesterday. Her next door neighbors were trenching to install something surely essential, and managed not only to cut their own cable and POTS service, but Mom's POTS service as well. The ILEC determined that a truck roll was necessary, but seeing as how only two customers were affected it's way low on their priority list. Mom's got a lot of stuff doing right now where she needs vox comms, but she's in a cellular dead spot, so that's not an option, so being a good son, I headed over to Staples and picked up the Vonage kit with a Linksys PAP2 phone adapter (no way I was going to replace her router, a Linky WRT54G that I put in about a year ago). Went through the web activation in a matter of minutes, including setting her up for Vonage's version of 911 (she is elderly, after all), and plugged in the PAP2 into a router port. It looked like the provisioning was done in a matter of two minutes, but we waited for five, and lo and behold, dial tone. A nice paradigm, if I do say so.

My project's got a couple of major deliverables in flight, but the architecture we're using for those deliverables is based on an older one-off design for a project which just happens to be fairly close to what we need to get to the clients. It's not bad at all, actually, based on Tomcat, but it needs to be a bit more flexible and extensible (we're thinking about an eventual enterprise service bus implementation, and rather than writing adapters for this thing, it would be nice if it spoke ESB out of the box) but we're too close to delivery to make that sort of radical change. Oh well, next release......

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

 

Wall Street, n. A symbol for sin for every devil to rebuke

Day 2 with Vonage, and again uneventful, the way I like it. Their SimulRing feature works nicely with my cell phone. I reran the speed tests and sure enough, they were better in the evening, back up to my normal up/down levels. The VPN shouldn't chew up that much bandwidth when idle, so I was a bit puzzled as to the drastic speed reduction, but since I know it's an instantaneous measurement, it's nothing to get excited over. I will trend it for a while to see if there's any pattern I can uncover, but so far, things are as uneventful as I like. There is a little crackliness on certain conversations, but not as bad as some cellular or cordless conversations.

Unusual amounts of management administrivia yesterday interrupted my constant flow of conference calls (although I was able to duck a particularly soporific one with some of our EMEA business partners as a result, so I can't complain too loudly). I'm supposed to complete some training class, however, every time they want me to take this class I'm too busy doing real work (little things called clients do tend to take priority in my schema) and every time I'm free to take said class, they've either got busy work (proposals) or there's some freeze in the training budget (which is of course the biggest load of crap; I could understand it if it was an external class, but this is something which is internally developed and pretty much canned curriculum). Training is of course a huge sore point with me, as there were times back in the late 90s when you could actually get some hands-on training with some of the external providers (I remember taking the Cisco network troubleshooting course from Chesapeake back then - the bosses were squawking at the cost of the course, under $2K IIRC, but damn, that was a great course with a great instructor. Not only that, the course was held about eight blocks from my esteemed asset management client, Happyland, so I was able to walk over on my lunch breaks and actually get some billable work done to keep the bean counters happy).

In the process of skulling out some major architecture decisions here. This isn't going to be easy...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

 

Photo With Minor Snarky Comment


Yoko addresses the UN on nuclear non-proliferation.

Funny, most people would think she used the nuclear option on some of her husband's friends.

 

Los mas que cosas cambio.....

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
CNN reports Saturday Night Live let an f-bomb through on System Of A Down's performance last weekend, the censors having missed an ad-libbed one.

Gilda Radner got away with it back in the late 70s on SNL doing a goof on Patti Smith. About 4 times during the song.

Oh the humanity....

 

I haven't had this much fun since Don Ameche invented the telephone

The Vonage experience so far has been unremarkable, which is at it should be.

The first step was to set up the account with Vonage, and I chose retail activation. They asked for the router's MAC address and where I bought it, collected the usual contact info and a credit card number, asked for where I wanted my phone number to reside, and moments later I had an e-mail with my new phone number.

Step two had me clearing out the old router, access point and desktop phone and connecting everything to the Linksys router. Nice to have a couple of extra outlets back, even with a UPS with eight outlets and two power strips, I was running short of outlets. I fired up the Linky, then brought the High Altar back up, and got to configuring it. I have a static IP from my provider, so I got all of that good stuff keyed in, and saved the info (having put in many Linksys routers before, I knew to save the info on each page I changed on the admin interface). I then had an "oh shit" moment - Vonage makes it very clear to not turn off your router for five minutes after you get connectivity, as it autoprovisions. When I hit "Save", I got a dialog box that said the router needed to be rebooted, and without remembering Vonage and Linksys' injunction, I agreed to the reboot. I sat agonizing for a good 15 seconds, then checked the status page of the router, and lo and behold, my new number was there on the status page. I picked up the phone, and dial tone. A quick test phone call, and I was rocking.

A few more bits of administrivia (changing the admin password, SSID and encryption key), and the rest of the home network was back up and running. My somewhat problematic HP Deskjet 5850, which has a nasty habit of refusing to connect to the network upon occasion, instantly linked up the instant I got the crypto and SSID worked out (I'm wondering if it just didn't like my old WAP11 access point).

The voice quality on the calls has been in the same ballpark as a regular wired POTS line, perhaps a scratchy noise or two here or there, but nothing you wouldn't get with POTS. It's early in the game, and I haven't really done that much with it yet, but I'll keep you updated on it.

One thing that I noticed which I didn't particularly like was that I ran a throughput test on the router and I was down almost 10%. OK, I know, throughput tests are instantaneous, and of course, there might've been something going on in the background even though I thought I had everything quiesced, so I'll have to recheck that tonight.

My Dopey Software Of The Week Award goes to my buddies over at Zone Labs. My work laptop has ZoneAlarm installed (company policy), and for the most part it's been unremarkable (another good thing). A bit of a pain getting around the company policy for some local sharing issues, but I handled that. Apparently, the security policy got corrupted when I shut down on Friday, and it started asking me for permission to allow various programs (including little things like VPN clients) to do their thing. Nothing I didn't recognize so I said OK, but the damn thing totally hosed my VPN connectivity. I shut ZoneAlarm down, and everything works fine. Not wanting to get into trouble with the auditors, I called the First Ghurka Helpless Desk (dang you berry much vor galling tegnical subbort, have you dismembered your system?) and my cheerful interlocutor on the lobster shift in Mumbai earnestly suggestly that I dismember ZoneAlarm and reinstall. I'm very reluctant to do so, as the last time I uninstalled ZoneAlarm, it left me with a completely unusable IP stack (admittedly this was on another machine with another OS). I'll just disable the thing until I get around to fixing it (too much change in one week already....)

Monday, May 09, 2005

 

Rock Is Dead They Say, Long Live Rock

Last week, the Sulzberger Entity posted this horrific article:

Fade-Out: New Rock Is Passé on Radio
By JEFF LEEDS
Published: April 28, 2005
Major radio companies are abandoning rock music so quickly lately that sometimes their own employees don't know it.

Troy Hanson, the program director of WZTA in Miami, said that he first learned that his station's owner, Clear Channel Communications, had ditched the rock format - and his staff - when he tuned to the station one morning in February and heard talk-radio. His rock domain, known as Zeta, had vanished. "We didn't even get to play 'It's the End of the World as We Know It,' " the R.E.M. anthem, as a sign off, he said.In the last four months, radio executives have switched the formats of four modern-rock, or alternative, stations in big media markets, including WHFS in Washington-Baltimore area, WPLY in Philadelphia and the year-old KRQI in Seattle. Earlier this month WXRK in New York discarded most newer songs in favor of a playlist laden with rock stars from the 80's and 90's.


Music executives say the lack of true stars today is partly the reason. Since rap-rock acts like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit retreated from the scene, none of the heralded bands from recent rock movements, be it garage-rock (the Strokes, the Vines) or emo (Dashboard Confessional, Thursday), connected with radio listeners or CD buyers the way their predecessors did.

This sudden exit of so many marquee stations has not only renewed the perennial debate about the relative health of rock as a musical genre, but it also indicates that the alternative format, once the darling of radio a decade ago, is now taking perhaps the heaviest fire in the radio industry's battle to retain listeners in the face of Internet and satellite radio competition. Many rock stations may be in for another blow when the shock jock Howard Stern departs for Sirius Satellite Radio next year.

There are still signs that a fervent alternative scene survives. This weekend, for instance, 50,000 people a day are expected to visit Indio, Calif., for the sixth-annual Coachella Valley Music Festival, the biggest rock event of its kind in the United States, to cheer bands like the Arcade Fire and the Secret Machines. Moreover, while alternative programmers are searching for a solution, for the moment they have the benefit of new music by a clutch of reliable stars from the genre's heyday: Nine Inch Nails, Weezer and Beck are releasing their first albums in two years or more, and songs by each rocketed to the top of Billboard magazine's modern-rock airplay chart.


But many musicians in the newer bands on the alternative playlists "could be your waiter tomorrow night and you wouldn't know the difference," griped a radio promotion executive at one major label, who requested anonymity for fear of offending bands on his label. Ratings for rock radio stations have been languishing for years. The share of the 18-to-34 age group that is tuning in to alternative stations has shrunk by more than 20 percent in the last five years, according to Arbitron, while stations playing rap and R&B or Spanish-language formats have enjoyed an expanding audience.


As a result, many rock programmers aren't sure what to play. "The format in the last couple of years has gone through an identity crisis," said Kevin Weatherly, program director of KROQ, a closely watched alternative powerhouse in Los Angeles. "You have stations that are too cool, that move too quickly and are only playing the coolest music, which doesn't at the end of the day attract enough of the audience. Or you have the other extreme, dumb rock, red-state rock that the cool kids just flat out aren't into."


Such scrambling to strike a balance has cost many alternative programmers large chunks of audience. Some radio executives said that they made a fateful choice in the last few years to jettison the pop-rock side of their genre to concentrate on heavier-sounding bands, and now are afraid to turn back. As part of that shift, many stations also decided to eliminate women from their audience research. These stations decided to aim at men almost exclusively because of the heavier sound. "You got yourself into a corner that you can't get out of," said Tom Calderone, senior vice president for music and talent at MTV, and a former radio programmer and
consultant. "When you listen to alternative stations do their 90's flashback weekends, you can hear something as meaningful as Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden to something as silly and quirky as Harvey Danger and Presidents of the United States of America. When you become 65-75 percent guys, you're leaving a huge audience on the table."


At WZTA in Miami, the decision in 2003 to remove women from the equation "was definitely when we started to see Zeta's attrition," Mr. Hanson said. Days after Clear Channel took Zeta off the air, a rival company, Cox Radio, flipped the format of one of its Miami-area stations to rock.


Mr. Hanson also suggested that land-based radio had been too slow to respond to satellite radio, which offers access to dozens of commercial-free music channels for a monthly subscription fee and to digital music players, like Apple Computer's iPod. He said that he balked when a supervisor suggested running an on-air contest to give away an iPod loaded with 949 songs. (Zeta's frequency was 94.9-FM.) "I was like, 'Then they don't need to listen to Zeta anymore.' " Mr. Hanson wound up forgoing the contest. "The people that are leading-edge technology consumers are not being embraced by terrestrial radio," said Jim McGuinn, who was program director of WPLY in Philadelphia, known as Y100, before its corporate parent, Radio One, flipped the station to rap and R&B in February. "The outsider image disappeared," Mr. McGuinn said.


Mr. McGuinn and a handful of other former WPLY employees have started an Internet radio station, y100rocks.com, to play music they say the terrestrial version had been missing, including songs by Interpol, Moby and Queens of the Stone Age. But for now, Philadelphia has no terrestrial alternative-rock station. Some analysts fear that, when radio stations switch from alternative rock to programming aimed at older listeners, they may be making a sacrifice. "Radio has ceded the younger demographic to other media," said Fred Jacobs, president of Jacobs Media, a radio consulting company in Southfield, Mich., specializing in rock. "I just don't know how we're going to get back people who didn't get into the radio habit in their teens," he said, adding, "It really becomes problematic down the road."


Rock radio has been ossifying for years. I happened to read Richard Neer's wonderful book "FM" recently, with a lot of great stories of the history of WNEW-FM, the greatest rock station of them all (apologies to all you Kid Leo fans), and it was a very sad coda to the fond memories I had of listening to the radio on headphones back in high school (while most of my class was listening to tripe, I was grooving on Renaissance, King Crimson and Yes, courtesy of the crew at WNEW). The thing is though, it's a bottom line thing. Kids that listen to the radio want some artiste that includes a turntablist who can keep their tootsies in terpsichorean mode. Stevie Ray Vaughn and Annie Haslam wouldn't stand a chance against the bitchho shouters, because the shouters influence the kids who spend money.

I'll go cry now, and put on Beggar's Banquet.....

This AM is the big Vonage test. I picked up the Linksys WRT54GP2 at Staples yesterday (plus a new 5.8 Ghz cordless phone), and it looks like a fairly simple matter to sign up (the MAC addy and the S/N is on the outside of the box), so I'll sign up for it in a few moments, then I'll start configuring the router. Reports later on....

Saturday, May 07, 2005

 

Pastime, n. A device for promoting dejection. Gentle exercise for intellectual debility.

The last two days have utterly consumed me with a veritable firehose of conference calls for my new project, just trying to get up to speed with the players and what's happening, so my head's spinning. The great thing about this project is that it's highly virtualized, meaning a lot of working at home (nice not to have to take the train in for a while), and that means I've got to do some upgrading of the voice situation. While I've got a dedicated POTS line for my home office, plus Skype, I've thought about going with Vonage for the home office to take advantage of some of their cool voicemail and forwarding features, not to mention the unlimited calling in the US and Canada (I will be calling all over both countries) plus the odd international call (both EMEA and ASEA). SkypeOut is an option of course, and I'll A/B them with Vonage to see which is more suitable.

The one thing that was holding me back was the firewall situation, as I have everything locked tight here, and have no desire to start punching holes in the configuration to accommodate VoIP, but the customized Linksys WRT54G solves that problem, plus it'll let me redeploy my access point (my home router is hard-wired) to a better location in the house to extend my range. I'll probably pick up the retail package on Sunday and set it up, a report on Monday AM if the thing doesn't ring off the hook by 0800.

Last night I took my older young'uns to see Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. They finally understand now why I answer "42" every time they ask one of those deep kid questions. Overall, I rather liked it, although it dragged a bit. I must admit that it was a masterpiece of casting. Mos Def played an unexpected, but very credible Ford Prefect, Sam Rockwell channeled Nicolas Cage wonderfully as Zaphod Beeblebrox, and I found myself drooling over Zooey Deschanel, who out-Karen Allens Karen Allen as Trillian. Martin Freeman was suitably befuddled as Arthur Dent, and Alan Rickman was another unexpectedly credible choice as Marvin's voice. There was a moment when I was half-expecting the two mice to start singing
"Mosura ya Mosura dongan kasakuyan indoo muu rosuto uiraadoa, hanba hanbamuyan...", but that's just my warped sense of humor (for the kaiju-impaired, Google "Mosura" and click the first result).

Thursday, May 05, 2005

 

Short Shrift Thursday

Project kickoff meetings today and tomorrow, so little bandwidth for posting.

Perhaps DLA is affecting Quicken's interface with the XP CD Burning Wizard, so I'll test that out after the kickoff meeting and reading the load of documentation I need to absorb.

Odds are I'm going to order Pinnacle 9 with the goodies pack. Less than half the price of Ulead, and I know the UI already. A couple of very cool canned menus that will work well with my upcoming video projects.

Big revisions to my band's set list over the last couple of days, plus a personnel change. That should make for some interesting rehearsals the next couple of weekends. Oh well, at least they're all songs I want to play....

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

 

Kvetching Made Difficult...

I decided to be a bit of a pill and complain to the Discovery Channel about their list of "100 Greatest Americans", but I made the interesting discovery when searching through their web site for some form of contact information that you must specify the show you're inquiring about. Needless to say, this show isn't listed in the drop down list, and without specifying a show I can't get to the complaint form (and no I don't feel like hacking the response). Cute, especially when they've got a potential controversy on their hands.

Dang you for galling tegnigal subbord, have you dismembered your system?.....</Punjabi>

 

And I Thought It Was Going To Be A Dull Day....

Someone on Blogcritics posted about the Discovery Channel naming its 100 Greatest Americans, and a cursory look through it inflamed me enough to dissect it at bit. Oh, there are the usual good guys on there, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and I shan't bother those good people who deservedly are on this list, but there are several whoppers that need to be skewered.

Muhammad Ali - Stood up for his principles, true. Rosa Parks he ain't.
Maya Angelou - The Vogons write better poetry.
Lucille Ball - Yeah she was funny. She was also a Communist. Also clueless - she thought Star Trek, a series which she had a business stake in, was about entertainers in the South Seas.
Johnny Carson - Yeah he was funny. But one of the greatest Americans ever?
Cesar Chavez - So where's Albert Shanker?
Hilary Clinton - Don't get me started.....
Tom Cruise - Appeared as a Navy fighter pilot in a movie. Risky Business. What else?
Ellen DeGeneres - Yeah, she's funny. I liked her shtick on the dinosaur ride at Epcot. But one of the 100 Greatest Americans just because of who she prefers to sleep with?
Thomas Edison - Great inventor. Miserable person. Did anything and everything to undercut George Westinghouse, who was a far more important person from an engineering standpoint. His relish in associating Westinghouse with the electric chair was quite noteworthy.
John Edwards - Trial attorney and failed vice presidential candidate. Paging William E. Miller....
Henry Ford - Wonderful peachy keen guy. Just happened to be an admirer of Hitler, spied on his own workers, dedicated union-buster, avowed anti-Semite.
Mel Gibson - Another actor. He likes the Three Stooges, so he's OK in my book, but one of the 100 Greatest Americans?
Tom Hanks - Another actor who's OK in my book. Great supporter of space exploration, done lots of movies I've enjoyed tremendously, but does an actor warrant this honor?
Michael Jackson - I presume they're not referring to the gentleman who reviews beer and spirits (besides, he's English). Real great role model.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis - Got where she was by marriage - both times. Dignified widow. Did a bit for artistic preservation. Vu den?
Charles Lindberg - Another pal of Der Fuhrer's, made the same mistake as Ford by accepting a decoration from Die Dritte Reich. Accepted the decoration from Fatso Goering personally. Another avowed anti-Semite. Had we listened to his views, the world would've been immeasurably harmed. I hope he rots in hell.
Madonna - Another great role model for our kids.
Malcolm X - A controversial choice to be sure, but Dr. King he wasn't. Consider the slobs he hung around with - Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan.
Dr. Phil (McGraw) - A pop psychologist? Bwahahahahaha!!!!
Marilyn Monroe - Other than facilitating Mr. Hefner's career, I never particularly thought she was funny or sexy.
Michael Moore - Don't get me started.
Barack Obama - Flava of the month.
Frank Sinatra - Greatest saloon singer ever. Hanging around with people named Gambino, not so good....
Martha Stewart - A convicted felon?
Oprah Winfrey - A talk show which makes Lifetime seem like Cosell, Keith Jackson and Frank Gifford calling the '58 Giants playing the Lombardi-era Packers, makes one of the 100 Greatest Americans. Sigh....

To be sure there are a couple of other iffy ones on the list (Brett Favre is on the list, but Vince Lombardi isn't? Sacrilege!) but I'll save those for another dissection....

Unrelated but found on Fark, it seems that Kenya is introducing castration as a penalty for rape. They actually get it - make the punishment fit the crime:

Eldoret East MP Joseph Lagat (Kanu) suggested that rape convicts be sentenced to death by shooting as they were beyond rehabilitation.


Roads minister Raila Odinga said sexual offenders should be shown no leniency whether they were first-timers or repeat offenders.


My sole quibble with this is merely procedural, as I'm a known fan of hanging. Kudos to Messrs. Lagat and Odinga - perhaps we could persuade them to emigrate to the US and shake up certain state legislatures?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

 

Malefactor, n. The chief factor in the progress of the human race.

Grouchiness abounds today in my neck of the woods. This one picture from the Cream reunion exacerbates it:

Eric's using a Strat. With Cream. Surely the apocalypse is upon us with this sacreligious sight. A Strat... (and yes, for the record, I own two Strats, and play them regularly, and love them. They just aren't right for playing Cream.......)

The Quicken upgrade went fairly uneventfully, although there were a couple of anxiety-ridden moments. It needed to uninstall the previous version, which of course left me sweating the accidental death or dismemberment of my data, however, that proved to be a non-event, and the registration failed on the first attempt with a 404 Not Found error. The second time proved to be the charm, and Quicken 2005 went live. Nothing extraordinary here, although it does look nice, and one of the highly trumpeted features of the upgrade proved to be a bust. Said feature, an improvement to the backup capabilities of the program, so that CDs could be burned directly instead of shuffling fifteen floppies in and out of the High Altar merely had the data files copied over to a directory somewhere so that the Windows CD Burning Wizard (whatever the hell that is) would be able to quickly and effectively back up my data. Since I've been burning CDs for a very long time without the assistance of said wizard, I had absolutely no reason or desire to find this "feature", and in fact, I'm a bit miffed that I have to go digging for some external tool to do the backups.

Needless to say, finding the directory in question is going to be interesting. Rather than putting it someplace easily locatable, like My Documents, they've necessitated searching the hundreds of files and directories touched in a normal day's computer access. Perhaps the settings are tweakable (my only concern was getting my bills paid and such), but so far, I fail to see the utility of this new backup paradigm.

Monday, May 02, 2005

 

Monday Morning Blues And Greens

An incredibly busy week awaits me work-wise, so I'm still going to be keeping a low profile.

Some software upgrades await me this week, Quicken being the most imperative (I'm rather annoyed with Intuit for sunsetting every version prior to 2004, although my 2002 installation has a couple of odd behaviors here and there in reconciliation that drive me up the wall). I'll have to take care of that today or tomorrow, as the first of the month always has a couple of high priority financials that need to be addressed. The second upgrade is Pinnacle Studio, which really doesn't need to be upgraded at all, but migrating to version 9 and some of its goodie packs will give me a better selection of menus and FX for my next DVD production which is upcoming in the next few weeks. I've also resolved to get my video stuff over to a dedicated drive, as I've got something like 20 gigs from the last effort taking up space and I would like to keep that drive free for backups and storing things that don't need to be on the primary drive on the High Altar.

My good friend informs me that a certain high-end guitar shop we're acquainted with has parted ways with Gibson guitars, somewhat unsurprising since Mad Dog Juskiewicz's initiatives have managed to piss off most of his retailers. My local shop's Gibson specialist told me a rather interesting story; he confirmed that his Gibson rep told them they had to pony up $100K for new inventory, which he (my local guy) would gladly do except for a small problem - Gibson doesn't seem to have stock to ship. $100K - that's a lot of wood at dealer prices. I may be making some calls to former Gibson dealers this week about a Les Paul Standard - I'm just too tempted.

Then again, guitargai has a gorgeous Epiphone Byrdland for sale. It's a Japanese Elite, not an Elitist, and has me drooling, although short of doing the Clapton at Bangladesh thing, I can't see for the life of me what I'd use it for. And if you watch the film, it looks like Eric's using Brownie for most of the show anyway.... (considering the Gibby is probably $5K at a minimum, the Epi is fairly priced at $1900; probably better QC, that's for sure)

I kicked myself a bit for not seeing "Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy" this weekend, but I suppose I'll manage sometime in the next few weeks (hopefully before Star Wars comes out, I don't want to be within five miles of the multiplex when that thing comes out; I'll definitely wait for the hoopla to pass, but with my luck, "Hitchhikers" will already be relegated to some second run theater that's astonishingly inconvenient for me to get to, necessitating a wait for the DVD).

I've decided against buying the new Bruce Springsteen album. From what I've heard, it sounds like a bunch of "Ghost of Tom Joad" rejects, and I need something positive to listen to. If I want dreariness, I'll read Steinbeck. For sheer amusement, I modified Dack's Web Economy Bullshit Generator Javascript code to generate Springsteen cliches (using phrases like "little girl", "darkness", "highway", etc.). Perhaps I'll modify this site's template to include it (you can't imagine the heat I took for doing this from some friends who are die-hard Springsteen fans; don't get me wrong, I like his stuff up through "The River". After that, there's just too much filler and dreariness).

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