Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I'm Not Stupid, I Just Have Stupid Speechwriters

I was having an internal conflict between the above title and "Your Tax Dollars At Work," but I decided to save that for another day. There are certainly worse abuses of taxpayer money; what the Bush administration did was just, well, stupid.

Recently Bush slapped down serious travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, ostensibly to reduce "sex tourism" and cut down on human trafficking. The real reason appears to be cultivating the Cuban-American vote in Florida (although I'm not sure why he's worried, they'll just lose the records of the votes. Again).

I'm not sure where to begin. For starters, sex tourism is no reason to slap heavy sanctions on a country. Second, if you're really trying to stamp out sex tourism, then a) you're a hopeless puritan who needs to get laid more often, and b) there are many worse offenders than Cuba around, like Brazil, Mexico, Amsterdam, and Nevada.

What was that? Oh yeah, prostitution is actually legal in Nevada. Here. In the United States.

But the real kicker, of course, and the part about wasting government money, is the quotes by Casto that Bush is referring to, never actually happened. This article explains all the gory details, but the short version is that his speechwriters picked it up from an article on the internet.

I would expect better fact-checking than this out of a high-school newspaper.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Virus Takes Down Google

Apparently it's not Keith's fault that Google was down. The latest MyDoom virus uses Google to find email addresses. Fiendishly clever. Naturally, the hordes of unprotected Windows machines that were immediately affected by variant -O were sufficient to DoS Google with their relentless searching.

Also, if you haven't heard of Senator Orrin Hatch's (the man who brought us the DMCA) latest masterpiece, you should check it out. The one ray of shining hope that could foil this man's quest to litigate the nation into lawfully-bound consumers of corporate-produced content is the computer industry, who have started to realize that the legislation he's spitting out at the behest of the RIAA and MPAA is bad news for selling cool things like iPods and high-powered (and high profit margin) computers that can create and publish content.

Unfortunately, it appears that a mere $159,860 per year buys you a lot of work if you find the right senator (hint: don't get the ones from California, they're too expensive). The potential income difference between the House and the Senate is also staggering -- the total contributions for my representative, Mike Honda, were less than the top industry group for most senators. Okay, maybe not most -- top contribution group for many "poorer" Senators is about $220k, which is still pretty close to Honda's total contributions of $385k.

What always surprises me is how small these numbers are compared to their effect. To a major corporation, $200k is noise -- companies that do ASIC design will spend $500k to fix a minor bug in a chip, why not spend half that to get some laws written the way you want?

I'm Glad These People Aren't My Neighbors

I think I'm about done with I've been on match for about a year now, and the whole time I've only met one girl that I went out with more than once. Today I got a wink from a girl looking for "someone who doesnt mind that I am a little nuts." So, just letting people now, it's not that I look for the crazy ones, they actually track me down.

Speaking of crazy people, I followed a link off of BoingBoing to this article about a guy who reprogrammed the now-ancient Eliza bot impersonate a young girl (or, more accurately, a guy pretending to be a young girl) on IRC. It's fun to read the give and take in the chat logs -- you can see people lose interest, and then they hit a keyword and the bot throws out something appropriate and they're hooked again.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Katie and Keith's Wedding

Katie and Keith's wedding was this weekend, and went off without a hitch. Well, they did get hitched, so maybe it went off with one hitch. It was a fun wedding, which was a nice change. The brief ceremony was officiated by our friend Nate, who managed to instill the occasion with the proper degree of gravity. Afterwards, an impromptu ultimate frisbee game broke out, due to the high number of ultimate players (most of the under-30 crowd, er, make that under-40 crowd).

Apparently Google is just falling apart since Keith left for his honeymoon, because attempting a search this morning I get a generic "server error" on any search. I think this is the first time I've seen Google be completely down for a measurable amount of time. My hands are already starting to shake from anticipated withdrawl -- information junkies need infusions daily, if not hourly.

Sunday called up Adam and went to Charles' 40th birthday, where I ran into a fair number of the AFM 250 production crowd, in various states of injury. Charles pulled out his pocket bike and we did laps up and down the street. Pocket bikes are fun. I need to work hard on not owning one. At least not until all my existing crap manages to find a home other than the floor of my garage.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

I'm a Bridesman

Since a number of people (*ahem* Grace and Katie) have been claiming that Jon and I are bridesmaids, since there's no such thing as a bridesman, I decided to do a little research. And the answer is, you just didn't use the right dictionary. While Miriam-Webster's is fine if you want definitions of the words people used in the 1950's, you need to check elsewhere for a definition of "bridesman".


And apparently Katie's not the only girl who wanted to be surrounded by men on her wedding day; I my search I found this blog of a girl who walked down the aisle with 5 bridesmen.

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Chips Are Down

After over a year in development, the prototypes for the latest chip I worked on are now back, although shipping and receiving seems to be taking their own sweet time delivering them. So I have a couple days reprieve while the chips get put on their boards at the proto manufacturing house, and then life gets really, really busy.

It's kind of exciting, because it's the first time in my career that I've been heavily involved in the bring-up process. On all the other chips I've worked on, either the project got cancelled (most frequent), I left the company before the chips came back, or I was doing verification and the design team never asked for help.

My co-worker and I were trying to actually see the chips, which is why we were annoyed that shipping has "lost" them. In a way it's a silly reflex -- by and large all chips look the same on the outside -- but it's cool (and wierd) that we spend so much time working on a project, and it comes back and it's only an inch square.

A lot of the time when people ask me what I do, I tell them I write code. It's easier than trying to explain the difference between a hardware engineer and a software engineer.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Is SCO Linux's Best Friend?

The first of SCO's cases against users of Linux has been summarily dismissed. Ironically, it may turn out that the SCO lawsuits help Linux in the long run:
"SCO's purpose in pursuing a very public, aggressive litigation strategy, would seem to be to undermine the public's confidence in the rival Linux operating system by suggesting that it contains infringing materials," he said. "Ironically though, if it continues to suffer such severe setbacks, it may instead succeed in permanently validating Linux by publicly demonstrating its legitimacy."
Or maybe it's just that any press is good press, as long as your still standing afterwards.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Futher Vinnie Update

More info in the saga of Vinnie, via Mark S.:
Vinny update: Vinny is jacked up. The first MRI read indicated torn PCL,LCL, MCL, and ACL, each either partial or full. Additionally, there's a bone chip floating around, and a lot of fluids where they shouldn't be. He's going to a recommended out-of-network specialist tomorrow for another opinion. His father and brother will be here for a while to help take care of him.


Moral of the story: do not fall out of the raft.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Blogging as PR

Came across this site talking about the convergence of blogging and PR. The short version seems to be that people are paying less and less attention to traditional advertising, and the PR industry is looking for a way to get its messages out to people. Blogging comes up as the tool for forming a "grass roots" marketing strategy.

Of course, another way to put it is that if you build a good product, people will like it and tell their friends about it. Some of them might use a blog. But there's really nothing new here, other than people throw away everything coming in the mail slot that isn't a bill, and use Tivo to skip past their commercials.

I can't say I'm sad to see mainstream advertising in a crisis. Even the superbowl commercials have been dissapointing recently.

Patents Run Amok

Caught this article on LinuxToday (the best central news source for the Revolutionary Movement) about Microsoft's future plans for patents. An HP exec has realized that MS plans to try and choke off the open source movement by patenting, well, everything, and then using the resulting patents to shut down open source projects.

At this point I can just hear thousands of open sourcers jumping up and down and saying "I told you so!" I still haven't figured out the state of patent law in Europe -- the system the EU operates under seems kind of kooky, because the lines of accountability aren't very clear. At least not to me. There is a group trying to fight expansion of EU patent law to bring it "in line" with U.S. patent law (i.e. allow software algorithms and business methods to be patented, instead of just things realized in physical hardware). Unforunately the same lack of accountability I see is styming them as well; it appears that they brought this up to their MPs, and their MPs brought it up in the EU parliament, and parliament just got... ignored.

Perhaps people are still feeling their way around in the EU, but I know in the U.S., Congress gets mighty ticked when they think you're not paying attention to them.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Trap Shooting

I went to Coyote Valley Sporting Clays the other night to test-drive the process for Katie's batchelorette party. I shot a hundred rounds, which took about an hour. Verdict: trap is fun! There's a certain satisfaction you get from seeing the clay shatter that you just don't get out of punching holes in a piece of paper.

So, yesterday, I went to Wal-Mart and bought a thousand rounds to prepare for this weekend. For those who are unaware, this fills about half a shopping cart. The funny thing was, no one at Wal-Mart said a thing...

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Asus gives Linux the Finger

Just when it seems that the forces of goodness and light are winning the tide, this article pops up about Asus, who are refusing to support Linux (or any other open-source operating system), apparently out of sheer perversity.

I have to admit, this article makes me curious as to the reasons behind this attitude. Three or four years ago this would have been expected -- most vendors refused to support Linux or provide any documentation for their hardware. However, now that HP, Dell, and IBM are all shipping Linux on their machines, you would think hardware manufacturers would see which way the wind is blowing.

Asus is currently a favored brand among techies and system-builders because of their quality, but if they maintain this attitude, the wind may change for them, too.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Vinnie follow-up

Just got a mail message from Mark on Vinnie's condition:

I took Vinny to Urgent Care yesterday afternoon because Kaiser wouldn't give him a referral to orthopedics over the phone. We saw a pretty poor doctor who didn't value/believe/appreciate the X-Rays from Sonoma Regional and made Vinny endure the removal of his split, and the positioning of his leg for another set of X-Rays. He said the orthopedic surgeon would need the Kaiser X-Rays anyways. At first he was only going to do the Knee because "...that's where it hurts. He doesn't feel any pain in his ankle." I had to enthusiastically remind him that Vinny doesn't feel ANYTHING in his ankle, and that could explain the lack of pain sensation. After much internal deliberation, he conceded that the ankle was a good idea afterall. He read the X-Rays, and not surprisingly, Vinny hadn't broken any bones since the X-Rays at Sonora. He then gave Vinny a referral to orthopedics today at 9:30am and a prescription for Vicadin. We were refused a wheelchair because the bureaucracy takes one full day to complete to get a wheelchair. So we wheeled him out to the car in a shopping-cart-like apparatus, drove him home, pushed him up the driveway in a wheeled office chair, had to unload him at the steps, and he did the crab-walk, one armed and sitting on his butt while I held his leg and slowly helped him scoot to bed. Chris did the reverse this morning to get him to his appointment. The appointment this morning yielded a message on my phone at work that said nothing more than "...bad news...3-6 month us back to help arrange long term care..." I called back immediately, and left a message, and of course, I haven't gotten a return call or a hold of anyone since this morning. Needless to say, I'm thinking about changing my coverage away from Kaiser. So that's the latest on Vinny.

For those who hadn't realized it by now: Kaiser baaaad.

I Rafted Cherry Creek, and Lived to Tell the Tale

This weekend, I went to "Topless Torrent of Tears" a.k.a. "Keith's Bachelor Party of Death," a two-day camping and rafting trip. If this narrative seems to shift between tenses, it's because the first half was written on Saturday, immediately after rafting, and the remainder was written on Monday.

We just got back from rafting Cherry Creek, which goes up to class 5 in parts. It was an incredible experience, but one which I'm not likely to repeat any time soon.

The day started out early, at around 5AM. We're camped about a mile from the cafe/general store, in a wilderness area. We needed a special "wilderness camping" permit, all the regular camp sites were full. Fortunately, there was plenty of wilderness. There's no one anywhere close to our campsite.

People woke up on Saturday at various times and wandered out to the circle (where the campfire would be if we were allowed to create campfires -- fire hazard). Everyone is grumpy and cold; no one slept well last night. I would swear that I didn't sleep at all, but I must have dozed off somewhere in the tossing and turning.

There is a lot of gallows humor about the upcoming rafting trip. No one has been on a class 5 river before, so we don't know quite what to expect.

We pile the whole group (12 guys) into my pickup and drive to the cafe, which is also the pick-up point for the rafting company. After a bit of milling about, we get on to a school bus older than any of us, and we're introduced to our first guide, Adam.

Adam launches into a speech designed to give us some respect for the river and what we're about to do. I think the message hits home for most of us; we kind of recognize that we're in over our heads. Figuratively speaking.

After a short trip down some really terrible roads, we get to the drop-in point. Adam has explained the procedure for the day, which is that we're going to do a short trip down a relatively easy stretch of river (class 3), to where we're goin to practice some basic self-rescue swimming, raft handling, and man-overboard rescue.

Self-rescue is one of the things which is immediately emphasized. If you fall in the river, it is your job to get yourself out of the main current to somewhere the raft can pick you up. It will not come after you, as it will be busy getting itself and the people still in the raft out of the rapids.

After the lecture portion, we're divided into three groups of four, based on prior rafting experience and presence or absence of a facial hair. Our raft is guided by Adam, and has Keith, Chookie, Rick and myself paddling. Rick has no facial beard, but he's a cool guy so we let him in anyways.

The second raft is guided by Aaron (who is not a girl, as some had hoped), with Vinnie, Kevin, Wayne, and Shaun paddling. The third raft has Ben guiding, and Mark, Kyle, Chris and Mike paddling.

I'm a little nervous about the swimming test, because if they fail you go back in the van. Do not pass go (but collect partial refund). I have some confidence because I'm a decent swimmer. The test is to swim across the river (the river is moving pretty fast at this point, but there aren't any rocks to make it into real rapids) to an eddy on the other side, walk up shore for a bit, then jump back in the river and swim back.

I'm the last person to swim. No one has failed yet, and I'm determined not to be the first. I jump in the river, at a 45 degree angle to the current, as instructed, and immediately I realize that this is Different.

First of all, I'm wearing a lot of gear. I'm wearing an overall-style wetsuit, with a thin paddling jacket (like a windbreaker) over that, and a lifejacket and helmet.

Second, I hit the river, and it is cold. The water starts to suck the energy out of me, as I try to swim partially against the current. The trick is to swim at an angle so that you're swimming towards shore, but limiting the distance the river pushes you downstream. I'm tiring quickly and getting to the eddy is tough. I walk back up shore, being careful of my ankle, then jump back in for the swim back, which is even tougher. I'm already tired from the trip over, and it takes everything I have just to make it to the eddy on the other side. I get out of the main current and I just want the raft to come pick me up, but if I do that, I fail the test. Can't fail the test. So I find some more energy somewhere, and manage to make it back. They pull me into the raft (I'm the last one from my raft), and we proceed to phase two of the swimming test -- swimming under the raft.

This part looks like it's not too bad as long as you don't panic, but I'm already feeling pretty beat from the swimming. I jump in and manage to get a mouthful of water, which doesn't sit well later in the day. I turn around (you go under the raft face-up, head-first) and hand-over-hand my way under the raft. No problem! Rick grabs a hold of my left arm and pulls me in, and my arm does its fun little shift half out of its socket. Not good, Mav. I'm now next to the raft, though, so he lets go of my arm and grabs my vest. I tell him to wait for a second and he pauses, which is long enough for my arm to find its way back into place before he yanks me in to the raft.

After the test, Adam asks us how we feel. I express some confidence that I don't entirely feel -- I'm really beat after the swimming drills, and I know that the real thing is probably harder. At that point, I decided that I am not going to leave this raft.

Our raft is lead raft, so part of our job is to hit the rapids first, then hang out at the bottom in an eddy to pick up any swimmers that get tossed out of the rafts behind us. We, Adam informs us, are supposed to stay in the raft, because there's no one around to fish us out.

We head through a few sets of increasingly-difficult rapids. It's hard not to respect the power of the river after a couple of these -- when the river shoves your raft up against a rock, no amount of brute force is going to get it off of it. All you can do is try to slide it around the rock and keep on going before the river flips your raft or fills it with water.

In one of the earlier rapids, Ben's raft hits a bump that sends Mark flying, and on his way out of the raft he takes his brother Kyle with him (intentionally? the world will never know...). Kyle gets picked up at the bottom, but Mark apparently had to ride the next set of rapids on his own and got picked up after that. A little later, my paddle gets caught on a rock in one of the rapids, and pulls me off balance. Some instinct tells me to let go of the paddle, which is probably the only reason I stay in the raft, but I'm still off-balanced and kind of wind milling on the side of the raft. Adam and Rick grab me and Rick yanks me back into the raft. The paddle is a gift to the river gods, but we have two spares.

After a couple of hours, we hit a series of rapids called "Skull" (all the significant rapids have names), which gives us the most trouble of the day. We go through a complicated set-up to get us lined up to go through the Cattle Chute, and make it through okay, but in Aaron's raft, Vinnie gets tossed into the river. After the rapids, he swims back to the raft with one arm, and they haul him back in. He doesn't look good -- he just lies on the raft like a dead fish. The other two rafts are called over, and the first aid kit is fished out. It turns out that Vinnie has re-dislocated his shoulder. After a bit of maneuvering, the guides manage to get his arm back in its socket and put a sling on it, but somewhere in the spill he managed to get his foot caught in a rock, and his knee and ankle are both hurt and swelling. The guides want to hike him out, but it quickly becomes apparent that Vinnie can't even stand, much less hike out over the rocky and extremely steep terrain.

There are no radios or cell phones on the boats, and they wouldn't work even if we had them. At this point the river is at the bottom of steep valley that goes up about a thousand feet on either side. Nothing but a satellite phone could get a signal in here.

The only option is to call 911 and have them hike or airlift him out, and an airlift could require some tricky flying -- the canyon is narrow and no doubt has some fun air currents. Either way, the only way for us to get the message to them is for someone to carry it.

While we're dealing with Vinnie, a group of kayaks comes by. Adam knows one of them, who agrees to go ahead and call 911 for us (as an aside, he apparently got the description of the injuries wrong, though, and reported them as "neck and back" injuries, which sent the rescue folks into a panic. The paramedic was not happy when he got to Vinnie and found that his neck and back were just fine. Maybe that's why he stepped on Vinnie's leg when they 'lifted him out...).

We leave Vinnie with Kevin, so Aaron's raft now only has two paddlers, and we head on down the river. The mood is definitely somber -- Vinnie's injury has just injected a healthy dose of reality to the proceedings -- but this is a group of guys heavily into adrenaline, so they bounce back pretty quick. Personally, I take my earlier decision and make it my mantra -- I am NOT leaving this raft.

We hit a few more good rapids, and I'm starting to get in the swing of things. I think I may be shorting my raft a little bit on the paddling, but when we hit the deep rapids I scoot in a little bit, which gives me some extra bracing if (when) the raft suddenly gets lifted up on one side. At one point the whole raft gets rocked back, and I get tossed back into Adam's section while Rick lands on my legs. Unfortunately my foot is still caught in its loop when this happens, so I re-injure my ankle, and it's pretty tender for the rest of the day. Later, we get stuck against a rock and Chookie gets thrown out of the raft, but he lands with this feet on the rock, holding on to the side of the raft. Adam's yelling at me to grab him, but I'm trying to keep myself in the raft. After a couple seconds Keith reaches over, grabs him, and yanks him back in.

Around noon, we hit a spot where the rapids are too difficult, and we have to portage twice. On the first set, the guides take the rafts through empty; on the second, the guides get out too, and float the rafts down on ropes. In both cases all the paddlers get out and get to pick our way through the rocks to the other side. I take these really carefully, because I don't trust my ankle (or my sense of balance, which isn't particularly good this day), and think "I'm getting old" -- I remember when I was a kid I would dance across the tops of rocks worse than these without a care in the world.

At the second portage we snack on some trail mix and M&Ms, then get back in the rafts. There are only a couple big rapids after the portage, but one of them is a 10-15 foot drop off of a wide waterfall, which is a blast. I think Adam calls our first "over left" at some point in here as well.

We get to the haul-out and everybody helps carry the rafts up the hill to the trailer. We strip out of the wetsuits and gear, and transfer all of our clothes from the suburban to the old school bus (not sure if it's the same one, but if not, it's certainly not any newer). We get in the bus, although we almost leave Aaron behind (Ben and Adam are travelling with the rafts), and break out the victory beer. The bus starts grinding its way up a long, narrow dirt road carved into the side of the canyon. The bus ride back takes about 45 minutes and is quite possibly the scariest part of the trip. The bus is bouncing so badly that the couple times I try and take a photo, they come out completely blurred. At one point, the driver downshifts and hits the brakes, and the bus starts sliding backwards. It only slides a foot or two, but it's enough to stop all conversation on the bus; while the canyon wall isn't straight down, it's close enough that if the bus went off the edge, it wouldn't stop until it landed in the river. At this point I think that it would be ironic if we survived the rafting trip only to die in the bus on the way back. Since I'm sitting directly behind the driver, I decide it's probably a thought best kept to myself.

The bus finally hits pavement less than a mile from our campsite, and drops us off at the store. The guides pull out the cooler of beer, and set up some snacks/lunch. We have a laid-back lunch party with us, the guides, and the people at the store (it's a little unclear who actually works there and who's just hanging out). Adam gets in contact with the sheriff, and we try and figure out where Vinnie's going to end up. I go in the store and beg some paper and a pen off the guy behind the counter, so I can write some of this down while I still remember it.

I'd like to thank Ben, Aaron, and Adam, who got us (well, 10 of us) down the river safely, and made sure that we connected with the emergency folks. I would especially like to thank Adam, who managed to keep all four of us in his raft.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Science and Politics

Saw an article in CNN this morning about a report by the Union of Concerned Scientests about politicial manipulation of government-controlled scientific institutes. Using "political loyalty" tests on new candidates is particularly apalling, if only because it's so blatant.

I think this is one of the things that's the most galling about the Bush administration. It's not just that they play all these partisan games about pushing their own agenda, it's that they're so blantant about how they go about it that it's like their rubbing our noses in it and daring us to do something about it.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Things I Do For Net Access

I was overjoyed to find a couple open access points near my house last weekend. Since then, however, the novelty has worn off. Now it's simply become a form of enforced exercise when I want to use the 'net. For example, Keith just called me and asked me to send out directions to my office, where we're all supposed to meet tomorrow to carpool to his adventure batchelor party (look to this space monday regarding the wisdom of sending a bunch of inexperienced rafters down class 5 rapids. If I fail to post on monday, you can assume that it is unwise in the extreme).

Part of my problem is that it's a lot more obvious what I'm doing at night. During the daytime, people can understand why you would want to be out working on your computer in the sunlight and open air. When you're sitting on a park bench, alone, in the dark, working on your laptop, the Socially Acceptable reasons to be there are suddenly gone.

Real Hackers fear not the repercussions of a close-minded society. I'm off! (Cue "Mission Impossible" music...)

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Japanese Are Strange

What do you know, Linux news is less stressful. And decidedly wierder. This article talks about a commercial airing in Japan where a woman is so surprised by the low price of a software package, she gives birth to a horse.

No, it didn't make any more sense to the person writing the article, either.

Starting Early

It's clearly a good day to go on a rant, because I've only been in the office for about half an our (for reference, that makes it 9AM, and there's still no one else here). The first was a news item that Kerry's announcement of Edwards as his running mate hit the web first before hitting the major news services.

The quote that set me off was this one from the end of the article:
"It's gone from being a 24-hour news cycle to a nanosecond news cycle," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a nonprofit organization that studies U.S. Internet use.

I hate to be nit-picky, but I think this whole thing about things happening in "nanoseconds" is really getting over-used. Or maybe I'm just peeved because the work I do actually happens in nanoseconds. In the next couple years it will start happening in picoseconds, and I suppose that will have to console me until the news media latches on to that one, too.

The other article that pissed me off was the BSA's report that world losses to software piracy were $29B. But this is nothing new, the BSA (the poorly-disguised strong-arm of Microsoft) always makes me angry with these numbers. Mainly because, well, they made it up (they call it an "estimate").

It's not like someone cracked the lock on some warehouse, walked in, and loaded up 29 billion dollars worth of pallets of WinXP. It's that in the bizarro world that the BSA inhabits, if all those people actually paid list price for the software they ripped off, that's how much more money we would make. Never mind inconsequential details like the fact that in the countries were most of this software is stolen, the list price of Windows is more than the average monthly salary (I'll try to dig up some figures here).

Maybe I should stick to the Linux news services -- reading them is less stressful.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Hardware Engineer Joke

My friend Katie sent me a hardware engineer joke:

How many hardware engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?
None: "We'll fix it in software."

But I looked at this, and based of my background in hardware, thought that that wasn't nearly enough people to address a problem of this magnitude. So, based of past encounters, I tried to think of how many people it would actually take to change a lightbulb in an engineering organization:

1 hardware engineer to document the issue and suggest a workaround in software,
1 hardware manager to raise the issue in a status meeting,
1 software manager to note the impact to software,
2 directors to argue about whose department should take the schedule hit,
1 VP to say he doesn't care whose problem it is, but it needs to ship next week,
3 software engineers to code it up at the last minute,
5 QA engineers to confirm that it's horribly broken,
and 1 marketing person to pitch the resulting mess as a "random-phase variable intensity light".

Monday, July 05, 2004

Electronic Voting

This article on CNN talks about a woman who's made it her personal crusade to point out some of the flaws with proposed electronic voting systems. As Dick Cheney can tell you, conflicts of interest are nothing new in the political arena, but people are deservedly more sensitive about the mechanics of voting.

Paper balloting systems, for all their flaws, chads, and miscounts, have one major advantage, which is that their very inefficiency makes it difficult to swing an election without being caught. Doing so requires a significant amount of manpower, which makes it pretty likely that someone will blab.

The scary thing about electronic voting systems is that the voting process is no longer supervised by a large number of people. The code that collects and counts the votes is seen only by a small number of people (potentially one).

The alternative, which hasn't caught on with government here, is to open the code to public review, and have independent auditors check that that is actually the code the voting machines are running. A number of projects have been started to write the code for these voting machines; a quick search on Sourceforge turned up votehelp and two or three other projects specifically targetted at elections. The Open Voting Consortium looks like the largest and best-organized effort so far, though.

This topic is probably worth a letter to my local representative, if I can figure out who that is...

I found a district map, and it appears that my representative has changed from Rebecca Cohn to Sally Leiber, despite the fact that I have only moved about a mile. The obviously-gerrymandered district map is educational.

I have, however, kept my senator, who is John Vasconcellos.

I think the only thing I've heard of any of these people is that I vaguely remember seeing their names on people's lawns around election time... Is the work of our state senate and assembly really that forgettable? Or do they just not want us to know what it is that they've been doing?

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Warwalking Journal

One immediate downside of my new house is that it doesn't have any internet access.

I can't even dial-up becuase there's no phone line (and never will be, if my plan succeeds). Speakeasy is supposed to offer DSL without phone service (aka "dry DSL") in a week or two -- they were rather vague -- but as of now, it's sunday on a long weekend and I have a hankering to get on the net. And I can't.

So I figured it's a good time to go warwalking. That is so say, wandering around and looking for somebody that has an unsecured wireless access point hooked up to their DSL or cable line (name derived from "war dialling"). My laptop's current software isn't a great fit for this, since it just tries to Do The Right Thing and doesn't give you any details (like, "there is an access point here, but it's secured"), so pretty much what I'm going to do is a computer version of "can you hear me now?".

Which is to say, walk for a while, stop, power on the laptop, and see if I get a signal. It's now 2:48PM, and I'm about to leave the house.

Senior Citizen Center, 14:58
I'm about one block away from the house. Nice day out. There's a little park here next to the center, which I'll wander over to for my next check. There is no response here from any access point (at my house I get a response, but it doesn't authenticate). Time to keep walking.

Park Bench, 15:03
Jackpot! Found an access point and authenticated, but don't have an IP address. Release/renew gives me (looks like nobody has used this access point in a while). I am now on the net with a poor net connection (in the red, minimal signal strength), but that's good enough for most of what I want to do.

Not surprisingly, nobody is signed on to AOL... Time to check mail. Now that I have a known good hotspot I can always come back later. Since it's a beautiful day out (about 80 degrees, sunny, not too breezy), I think I'll continue my warwalk on general princicple.

Jefferon, 15:19
Sleepy little back street, with a bunch of large old trees lining the street.

Houses are definately older construction, most houses on one side of the street look like they're built on the same floorplan, but probably built some time in the 50s or 60s (small floorplan, detached garage in back of house). No access point in reach, as Windows is angrily telling me.

The Convent, 15:28
Decided to walk through the grounds of the convent, which I've never been in (driven past it many a time, though). It's very pretty on the grounds. A good deal of the space inside the walled-off compound is dedicated to an orchard, although I have no idea what they're growing. The trees don't appear to have any obvious fruit on them, but they're all the same species of tree, and they're laid out in neat orderly rows.

Surprisingly quiet for a sunday, although it could be that I'm after all their scheduled sunday masses.

No wireless access, although I don't think I would use it even it if were here. Stealing bandwidth from the church is probably not good karma. Of course, mixing references from different religions probably won't scoot you down the 8-fold path any quicker, either...

Franklin Mall, 15:50
Stopped off here for a brief rest and access point check, since there's a couple nice benches here in the shade. Got a brief hit from an access point here ("gordons"), but then it dropped off; may have to wander around a bit and see if I can pick it up again.

Moved down to the next bench and the access point is now alternating between red and yellow (still definately good enough to be usable; even the lowest wireless bandwidth rate is faster than most cable/DSL connections).

I was planning on walking down to the university to sit the gardens for a while, but my ankle is acting up, so I think I'm going to call this walk to a halt and go back home and ice it. Even cut short, it's been a very productive walk -- I've found two access points within a couple blocks of my house, as well as finding a park that's pretty close and exploring the convent (I don't know why, but I always want to call it a nunnery. I suppose because it's where they hatch nuns).

Time to post this and head home.

Future note -- do NOT use notepad for offline editing, since it wants to put carriage returns EVERYWHERE...

Thursday, July 01, 2004

No Name? You're Under Arrest

Spotted this article on CNN about police officers using wireless handhelds to look up your personal information. But a more disturbing tidbit was buried deeper in the article, which was that according to a recent Supreme Court decision, you can be arrested for refusing to give your name to the police. In other words, failing to identify yourself is now a crime.

Not only is this a little scary in itself, but if you logically extend it, it presents some nasty precedents. What if you're required to carry an RFID tag with you (buried in your driver's license, for example)?

Reading through the second article, it says that the above ruling does not actually require you to identify yourself unless reasonable suspicion exists (roughly the same burden of evidence as required to pull you over). The RFID question remains, however, since the problem with RFIDs is not only that it's easily automated, but that it can be done without your knowledge (unlike an ID check).