Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Understatement of the Year

``It is generally not a good idea to not pay the salaries of armed people,'' Alvaro De Soto, top UN envoy to the Middle East

The Palestinian Authority is facing financial collapse because Israel and the U.S. are refusing to give it futher tax revenues (in Israel's case) and financial aid (U.S.). To me, this appears to be an incredibly short-sighted political move.

The problem Israel is facing, at this point, is a popular uprising, and has previously dealt with an unpopular, underfunded government, which would be no more able to enforce peace on a restless populace than the Israeli security forces could. Now, the P.A. has a government with a popular mandate -- probably the only organized entity in the last 5-10 years with a chance of actually negotiating and enforcing a lasting peace settlement.

Does Hamas have connections to terrorism? Absolutely. Does it mean we shouldn't negotiate with them? Absolutely not. It's not a line in the sand. After all, Yassir Arafat was a world-renowned terrorist in his time, yet he was invited to the White House and received the Nobel peace prize. If we can swallow that, we can certainly suck it up and talk to Hamas.

At some point, you need to forgive the sins of the past to move forwards.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Radical Backlash

I have noticed an eerie symmetry between the recent factional fighting in Iraq and the recent Dubai ports uproar in the U.S. The message to leaders from these two should be clear: if you build support by promoting fear and fanning the flames of intolerance, eventually you will create a beast you cannot control.

The Iraqis have done it, as clerics like al-Sadr found that his violent, anti-American rhetoric has been turned into anti-Sunni violence. And Bush has found that promoting fear and distrust of the Arab world makes it hard for your people (and your Congress) to distinguish been friends and enemies.

Like the dark side of the force, fear as a tool of policy is quicker, easier, and more seductive, but ultimately has its own price to pay.

Peripheral Vision

A neat peripheral vision trick -- let your eyes defocus a little, and all of a sudden there's a rotating green dot in the circle of pink dots. Stare at the cross for a while, and the pink dots start dissapearing, until you look away -- then they're all back.

So much for trusting your eyes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Dishonoring the Dead

I was reading this article on CNN, and the actions of the Rev. Fred Phelps made me very, very angry. Phelps organizes protests at the funerals of American military service members. His group's official stance:
Phelps believes American deaths in Iraq are divine punishment for a country that he says harbors homosexuals. His protesters carry signs thanking God for so-called IEDs -- explosives that are a major killer of soldiers in Iraq.

I can think of nothing more disgraceful than to use someone else's funeral as a political statement. The fact that their theory is so far off in right field just makes it that more insulting.

I'm normally wary of anyone who uses the term "Patriot" in political discourse, but I'm entirely in favor of the work of the Patriot Guard in counter-demonstrating and protecting the families of the fallen.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Linux Virus Scanners

Occasionally I talk to Windows users who believe the lack of worms and viruses on Linux is simply a result of low market share, and that if the market share of Linux approaches Windows, then they will start to appear. While I think that the number of worms and viruses available for Linux will increase, I have my doubts as to whether a market for anti-virus scanners will follow it.

My reasoning works like this: why do you need an anti-virus scanner? A scanner is something that catches malicious code before it can take advantage of an unpatched hole in an application or in the operating system. In other words, the size of the scanner market is, approximately, the delta between average time it takes for a vendor to release an OS/application patch and the average time it takes a virus vendor to release a signature. If vendors could release a patch in 24 hours, there would be no anti-virus market, since that's about how long it takes to come up with a signature.

I was reading this article about a recent Linux worm. Like most Linux worms seen to date, it's very specific to a particular configuration, and not a common one, at that. And, importantly, a patch already exists to fix the hole.

Is there still a market for antivirus software? Yes, AV still does a number of things much better -- signatures are easier to collect and distribute than automated patch/update software. Redhat and Suse both have automated patch systems, but experienced admins avoid them because constant updates break systems. But Linux lacks to major items which have created the large Windows anti-virus market: a large body of homogenous code (Windows+Office), and a long delta between vulnerability announcements and patch releases.

Fun with Google Video

So, I was digging around for this Apple parody I saw on Google Video the other day. And I couldn't find it, which doesn't say much for the search capability (or maybe they just didn't write a good description). But I did find an entertaining GoDaddy commercial. It doesn't have anything to do with internet hosting. It doesn't even pretend. It just goes on the age-old principle that boobs can sell pretty much anything.

Another fun one (may have linked it already, memory's the first thing to go) with a very quick station wagon.

Aha! No, wait! I found it! Mac haters will love it. Mac lovers will understand it.

Oh, and I'm coming to hate the Google "most popular videos" tool. See, I would assume it used some sort of ranking system, and then farmed out the top 15 videos on the list, and the next top 15, and so on, and so on. But no. It has a pool of the most popular videos, and when you ask for the list, it grabs 15 videos at random and displays them to you. So if you're looking for one in particular, and you can't find it, because the keywords are nonexistent/borked/whatever, you have to just keep clicking on "next 15 videos" until it turns up...

Condition: Sore

Had a fun weekend, but it's now Monday morning and I'm feeling the effects.

My original plan was to go dirt biking on saturday at Hollister with a couple guys from my hockey team, but they called me up on friday and said they weren't going until sunday, because it was raining, and it was cold, so the snow line was down at 1500 feet, and both Metcalf and Hollister had snow. Then Julia called and wanted to go riding, so I suggested we go in the late morning on Saturday, which would give us time a) to figure out if we wanted to go, if it was raining, and b) for the sun to dry out some of the mud, if it wasn't.

Saturday rolls around, and of course it's a bright, beautiful, sunny day. Of course. It's february, what sort of weather were you expecting? So Julia calls in the morning, and we decide to pack the bikes and go.

This was Julia's second time on her new dirt bike, so she's still feeling her way around this whole "dirt" thing, but she was up for some incremental challenges. When the TT track started getting crowded, I convinced her to try some of the blue trails in the back of the park (no traffic), and she tackled her first hill climb, which is pretty good progress for day 2. Had one minor fall in the afternoon, broke a clutch lever. Welcome to dirt biking.

I ran a few laps solo after she was done, on a couple of the easier black diamond runs Adam and I had scouted out earlier. Felt pretty comfortable on those, which was a good feeling of progress on my part.

Saturday night, Nate and Marissa had a birthday party at the Saddle Rack. I'd never been, and of course I had nothing appropriate, although it turned out not to be a big deal; jeans and a t-shirt of any sort were appropriate. I picked up Danielle at her place, grabbed a quick dinner at the Goose, and zipped over to Fremont to meet everyone. Embarassingly, Nate, Ken, and Marisa had all showed up before us. Can't even count on people to be late.

Had a good time at the Saddle Rack. I rode the bull, because, well, Marisa and Nate were going to, and I can't turn down something that requires you to sign a disclaimer beforehand. I have an image to uphold, after all. The bull ride is probably the main contributor to my being sore today -- that was hard work.

Hung out until closing time afterwards, danced with Sonia for a while, caught up with Jimmy and Ken, chatted with Nate, drove Danielle home, crashed into bed at 3 AM. Got up on Sunday and played hockey in the afternoon -- good game, pretty clean on both sides, and we won 3-2. We had more than the 8 players we had last time, which helped quite a bit.

But man, I'm sore today.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Metcalf Mishap

I hooked up a helmet cam to my helmet a couple weeks ago and recorded some footage of Adam and I at Metcalf. I've uploaded it to Google video, check it out.

The Life of a Gamer Girlfriend

Which, of course, is not my girlfriend because, well, I don't have one. But if, theoretically speaking, I did have a girlfriend, then I'm sure she'd really appreciate this song.

Watch it. Trust me. Would I lie to you?

If I do, can I get elected?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Why Repubicans will Stay In Charge

Evil will always triumph over good, because good is dumb. -- Dark Helmet, Spaceballs

Now is the time when the Democratic Party should be well-poised to make a comeback and reverse the gains the Republicans have made in the house and senate. And it ain't gonna happen. Why? Because, quite simply, the Democrats are stupid.

There hasn't been a better time in the last 6 years to make a comeback. The administration's credibility is getting pummeled, after failing to find any WMDs, failing to find Osama, getting publicly mocked by al-Zwahiri, racking up a huge body count in Iraq with no end in sight, taking dirty money from Abramoff, and, most recently, with Cheney shooting his hunting partner in the face and not bothering to tell anybody about it.

You couldn't ask for a better situation. And yet, the Dems seem determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What Washington really needs is some fresh blood, some reasonable, fiscally-responsible moderates to rein in the don't-tax-just-spend Republicans running amok. And when the Democrats finally find one -- in the form of Paul Hackett, a popular Iraq vet -- they force him out of politics because they were afraid he'd make their preferred candidate look bad.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Is This English?

I'm not sure what possessed me, but I was reading some coverage of the winter olympics, and ran across coverage of the women's snowboarding event.

About halfway through I was trying to decipher is this was written in English or some offshoot tongue I was previously unaware of. For reference:
One day after the U.S. guys went one-two, the Bettys did the same. They were absolutely mocking the pipe. Surfing the frozen chute, they soared to huge airs and nailed phat tricks. It was, like, the coolest day ever!

I feel like I should be reading through the article with a phrasebook in hand. Can someone send me a link to the subtitled version for us old-timers?

Ready, Fire, Aim!

I was reading a blog on Cheney's activities and they had a link to a Time article about Bush '43 meeting one of the leaders of the Indian tribes, a meeting set up by Abramoff.

The article reports that:
Told about the photograph in January, the White House said it had no record that Abramoff was present at the meeting. Shown the photograph today, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the White House had still found no record of Abramoff's presence but confirmed that it is Abramoff in the picture.

So apparently this is the Enron-esqe "we're not lying, we're just stupid" defense. So let me get this straight -- you're requesting billions of dollars and vastly expanded powers to identify, track, and keep records on millions of potential terrorists, but you can't manage to identify, track, and keep records on the hundreds of people who meet the President on a regular basis?

Do you think we're stupid?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Blaming the Symptom

An article about a class action lawsuit in California had me shaking my head. The lawsuit states that the plaintiffs were unfairly discriminated against, as evidenced by the fact that they didn't pass the test. As compensation, they are asking for:
The suit seeks a court order allowing students in this year's graduating class to earn their diploma regardless of whether they passed the math and English portions of the exam.

So, basically, they're saying if that you fail the test, you should get your diploma anyways.

There is a basic clash here between an "entitlement culture" and what I would call an "achievement culture". This clash is, unfortunately, obscuring some legitimate complaints about the quality of education the plaintiffs received, and which the standard exit exam has highlighted.

The fundamental assumption of the lawsuit (flawed, in my opinion) is that anyone who has attended a full measure of high school is entitled to receive a high school diploma. You don't have to take that very far to get to a point where your high school diploma is simply a worthless piece of paper. If you're guarenteed to get one, it doesn't mean anything. In attempting to force the state to grant diplomas to all those individuals who fail the exit exam, the bringers of this lawsuit are devaluing the worth of that diploma to zero.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Server Ressurection

Took some time today to try and figure what went wrong with my home server, and if any of the files on it are recoverable. I'm hoping the picture files can be saved, since I don't have any backups of many of them.

I moved the server from my garage to my room, where I have a keyboard and mouse handy. The first problem was figuring out what the terrible grinding noise when I started up the machine was. I knew it wasn't the hard drives, since I pulled both the old drives and put a new one in. It turned out that it was the CPU fan, which I fixed (at Adam's suggestion) by shooting a little bit of chain wax into the fan. Probably not the best solution in the long run, but this is a disposable box at this point. If it can limp along for another six months or so I can replace it with something better. Something with RAID, that can survive a disk crash.

Tried installing the version of Suse I had CDs for (9.2), however the installer simply crashed when I tried to install it. I downloaded a newer version of the OS off the net (10.0), and the installer for that version was more helpful about why it wouldn't install -- it informed me that I didn't have enough memory to run the installer, and would I activate some swap space, please. This is a little difficult when you're trying to install on a new disk, and the disk doesn't have a swap partition, because you can't run the installer.

So, I pulled out an old Knoppix CD and fired up Knoppix to partition the drive. Luckily it's an old version of Knoppix, so it didn't have any problems booting on my old machine (the server only has 128M of RAM, which is causing the problem). With the added swap the installer was able to start up, and is currently downloaded the OS over the internet (according to the estimat-o-meter, this will take about an hour).

(2PM) The estimat-o-meter is not to be trusted. At least, it only estimated part of the problem... I have now watched all the episodes of "The Daily Show" queued up on my Tivo, including the hilarious "Freedom Tickle", which probably deserves its own post.

The installer has finally finished the install process and booted the machine, just in time for me to pack my hockey gear and leave. So I still have no idea if I'll be able to recover my data.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Strange Editing at the NY Times

A friend pointed out that the NY Time's coverage of the cartoons of the prophet Mohammad have collected a curious slant in recent days. The original article contained the following two paragraphs:
Many European commentators concede that the cartoons were provocative, even insensitive, but argue that the conservative Muslim world must learn to accept Western standards of free speech and pluralism.

Many Muslims complain that the cartoons reinforce a dangerous confusion between Islam and the Islamist terrorism that the vast majority of Muslims abhor. Dalil Boubakeur, head of France's Muslim Council, called the cartoons a new sign of Europe's growing "Islamophobia."

One day later, substantially the same article was posted. In the second article, however, a new paragraph appeared:
Most European commentators concede that the cartoons were in poor taste but argue that conservative Muslims must learn to accept Western standards of free speech and the pluralism that those standards protect.

Several accused Muslims of a double standard, noting that media in several Arab countries continue to broadcast or publish references to "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a notorious early 20th-century anti-Semitic hoax that presented itself as the Jews' master plan to rule the world.

Many Muslims say the Danish cartoons reinforce a dangerous confusion between Islam and the Islamist terrorism that nearly all Muslims abhor. Dalil Boubakeur, head of France's Muslim Council, called the caricatures a new sign of Europe's growing "Islamophobia."

Hello, what's this? Where did this new paragraph come from? It doesn't seem to have anything to do with the paragraphs immediately before or after it, except in the most tenuous sense. Yet someone saw the need to go add this to the article.

Why is the Times trying to shoehorn anti-Semitism into this incident?


A poster pointed out that E85 is in fact widely used and adopted in the state of Minnesota, so I thought I'd point out a few things: The first is that, although it is widely used in MN (6% is a pretty good adoption rate, that's probably more than the number of diesel cars in CA), outside Minnesota and a few other corn-belt states, E85 is so rare as to be practically non-existent. Much of my posting was talking to fellow Californians who have never heard of E85 or know that cars are currently made that can run on it -- if people don't know about it, they can't change their habits.

The second is that my critique was largely about the language of Bush's address. To me it sounded like the language of someone who doesn't really want to solve a problem. In the corporate world, if someone speaks out in a meeting and says "Hey, X is a really big problem, we need to do something about it." the way to shut them up is to pick a senior staffer, tell him to "research" the problem and create a report.

In short, research is something you do when you don't know the answer to the problem. We don't need to pour money into research and hope that some scientest discovers portable cold fusion. We have a solution. But implementing that solution requires a lot of hard work, long term commitment, and a willingness to upset some large, entrenched special interests.

My problem was that Bush knows about the problem, pointed it out to the American public, and then refused to step up to the plate and fix it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

State of the Union

So I've been reading the synopsis of Bush's state of the union address on the net. I didn't actually watch it, since I have better things to do than listen to Bush spout a prepared speech for a couple hours in his favorite environment (i.e. one entirely free of criticism).

No surprises in most of what he said -- yep, we're winning the war in Iraq, pay no attention to those news reports about IEDs and body counts -- but the one that really yanked my chain was this quote:
"America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."

Really? And you just figured this out today? Or is it, perhaps, that you're just figuring out that sending in the troops and taking control of the oil supply isn't quite as easy as Cheney and Rummy told you it would be?

His solution? A little bit of spending, a lot of hand-waving, and some prayer (the duct-tape of this administration, it would appear):
"The best way to break this addiction is through technology," he said, adding that technological advances will help achieve a "great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."

The sad thing is, we don't need any technology to solve our oil crisis. We have the solution in hand -- it's call ethanol. The government currently has regulations for a fuel type known as "E85", which is 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline. Almost any modern engine will run on E85 after a minor refit (ethanol eats some rubber and plastic, so vulnerable parts of the engine need to be replaced), and a number of vehicles come from the factory equipped to run on either gasoline or E85.

Research? We don't need no stinkin' research. What we need is a little public policy.