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User Journal

Journal Journal: Farewell, Wormwood

Rewind to June, 2005.

Sunday morning, I was walking my dog before breakfast. As we walked across the lawn of a local swimming pool, Sadie ran up to sniff at a lump on the ground. Hey, she's a dog.

The lump moved.

I hauled Sadie in on her leash, told her to sit and stay, and went to see what the lump was.

There in the grass was a guinea pig--brown, white, and tan, with a tuft of fur growing out conspicuously on its right eyelid.

Now, guinea pigs are NOT native to Maryland. Heck, they're not even North American. This poor critter had apparently been lost or dumped, and if I didn't save it, it probably wouldn't survive the day. I know for a fact that there is a family of feral cats in the area.

So I picked him up and took him home. I arranged a makeshift home for him, and then started trying to find an original owner to claim him. But no one ever came.

I don't particularly attach to rodents of any size, but the thing needed a name. I chose "Wormwood", after the junior tempter in C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters". After a couple weeks, I gave him to my cousin (and tenant), whose daughter insisted his name was "Jose' Maria". Go figure.
--------------
Wormwood died last night.

About 6:30, he began to make squeaks of a kind I had never heard before. When I went to look in on him, he was laying on his side, and occasionally thrashing the forward part of his body. He seemed to have lost control of his hind legs and body.

I spoke quietly to him, told him he was a good pig, and that he wasn't alone. I called my cousin to tell her that her guinea pig was sickly, so she wouldn't walk in on it cold. I spoke to Wormwood again, and went to look up the address of the local emergency veterinary clinic.

I looked in on Wormwood again, then called my cousin and told her there was no hurry.

Farewell, Wormwood.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Wireless and Linux

I finally got it to work. But it's still a crapshoot if it will work next time, too.

I found a Netgear WGR614 v6 router at a yard sale for $4 and brought it home. This happened just before my upgrade to DSL, see earlier post. I bought an ASUS WL-138G v2 card from Shentech.com and started clawing my way toward wirelessness.

First, I set up the card. You have to use the bcm43xx-fwcutter app to slice and dice the actual firmware out of your Windows driver so the bcm43xx kernel module can load it. Then you have to learn to use the wireless-tools package to scan for access points. This wasn't too hard.

Next, I set up the router. I chose my SSID and channel, and left everything unencrypted. I was able to configure the card with my SSID and channel, and it worked fine. Next I added WEP encryption on the router, which is almost more secure than unencrypted. A little bit of work with configuration files, and WEP worked, too.

Of course, you don't want WEP, you want WPA encryption. Setting up the router was easy. Getting the card to work at all has been somewhat difficult, and I haven't figured out the exact number of chickens I have to sacrifice to the network gods to make the juju work reliably.

Having things happen automatically seems to be a recipe for failure. The /etc/network/interfaces file should let you automagically start the card, negotiate the encryption, and request an address. In fact, the card comes up with the wrong SSID, on the wrong channel, and so the encryption negotiation fails, followed soon after by the DHCP request.

So far, the most reliable method I have found (2 out of 10) is as follows:

1. Reboot and get into X-Windows
2. su to root. Make sure ifconfig sees the card. Make sure iwconfig sees the card.
3. Run wpa_supplicant. The command line and the configuration file both have to be RIGHT.
4. Run wpa_gui. Now you can watch the repeated failures.

If it doesn't work in a couple of minutes, you might select Edit Network in wpa_gui and re-enter the WPA key. BUT, contrary to the man page and the text balloons, THIS HAS TO BE IN HEX. Use wpa_passphrase to convert your passphrase to your hex key.

Then, use wpa_action reload to reload the wpa_supplicant.

If this doesn't work, start over at step 1.

But, if it did, you can now run dhclient to acquire an address, gateway, dns server....

AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!

User Journal

Journal Journal: Lunacy. Sheer Lunacy.

I've just arrived at work, so I have to be brief:

Why do all the crazy drivers come out on the roads when the moon is NEW?

There are lots of stories about how emergency room visits go up when the moon is full. But I commute in Washington, DC, and there is a direct correlation between my experiences with crazy drivers and the dark of the moon.

Some examples:
* 3000GT speeding up and passing 5 cars so he can cut across two lanes to his exit;
* Panel truck making the 110 degree right hand turn at the intersection, instead of taking the gradual turn 50 feet earlier;
* A car making a right hand turn from the left through lane;
* A car speeding up to cut us off as our merge lane disappeared.

These have all occurred during my commute this morning. I'm sure they happen all the time, but the frequency seems to go up when the moon is new. It feels like I'm back in Utah.

Or maybe, just maybe, I'm more observant of these events when the moon is new. I noticed in the past a false correlation with the new moon, and now I look for the crazy drivers when the moon is new. I don't think so, because it usually works the other way: "Look at all the crazy drivers! Is it new moon again? IT IS!"

Whatever the cause, be careful out there.

User Journal

Journal Journal: In Praise of Craigslist...

If you use Craigslist, you know what I'm talking about. And if you haven't used it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Craigslist (http://www.craigslist.com/) is a free classified ads website. It is cross-country and local, with every kind of classified ad imaginable. But the glory of Craigslist (in my opinion) is the FREE STUFF.

That's right, FREE. As in, you want it, it's yours. Come and get it. I noticed that there was a grill being offered for free, and typed "grill" into the search box. In the Baltimore area, there are at least a DOZEN grills being given away.

I'm trying to simplify my life, and get rid of things I no longer need. And since my kids have all outgrown Little Tikes yard toys, AND live in Utah, I had no need for the playyard, the car, or the basketball hoop. But they're too good for the dump, and too large for me to get them to Goodwill. What to do?

I set up a free account on Craigslist, posted my ads ("YARD TOY-Little Tikes XXXX: Good shape, stored outside over winter, you haul, see picture."), uploaded the pictures, and hit the magic button.

TWENTY MINUTES LATER, all of them were spoken for. I got queries from 14 people in 3 hours. By tomorrow the toys will be gone from my life forever. YES!

User Journal

Journal Journal: Toward a Calculus of Ethics

It always seems to me as if I do my most profound thinking while I am walking the dog.

You probably won't think so.

When you want to decide between two courses of action, how do you do it? How do you balance the scales? What are the units on the weights? I walked along, 5:30 AM, between my shower and my breakfast, thinking about how to calculate ethics.

Maybe you've read "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People," by Stephen Covey. In order to help you decide how you should spend your time, he shows you a graph with 2 intersecting axes: "URGENT" and "IMPORTANT". Eventually, you need to learn to spend your time on things that are IMPORTANT, but not URGENT, because those are the things that change your life.

Or maybe you've taken The World's Smallest Political Quiz. Produced by the Libertarian party, the axes of the graph are "PERSONAL FREEDOM" and "ECONOMIC FREEDOM". The whole Left-Liberal-Democrat-Republican-Conservative-Right spectrum is the line from the left corner of the diamond to the right corner of the diamond.

I started thinking about two axes: "CAN DO" and "SHOULD DO". There are things which can be done, but should not be done. There are things which should be done, but cannot be done. I found extremes to be very easy to define, but I was baffled as to how to find the lines between SHOULD and SHOULD NOT.

A little later, I added a third axis, running from "DO" to "DO NOT". Then I started ringing all the combinations:

C/S/D C/S/Dn C/Sn/D C/Sn/Dn Cn/S/D Cn/S/Dn Cn/Sn/D Cn/Sn/Dn

Well, that's simple enough. There's only eight combinations.

But some of them don't make any sense. If you CAN NOT do some thing, regardless if you think you SHOULD, you will never DO. But the really tantalizing ethical questions of the moment revolve around things that have recently moved from the CAN NOT to the CAN side of the equation. For example, human cloning has recently moved from CAN NOT to CAN (probably), and our sense of SHOULD or SHOULD NOT is struggling hard to catch up before we DO.

It's a lot of handwaving, so far. I'm not very far along, and may never be able to flesh out the idea with anything solid. Where is the line between SHOULD and SHOULD NOT? What exactly is wrong with Sn/D?

User Journal

Journal Journal: RANT: Best Buy Customer Service Better Than Sears

Best Buy is about as popular among Slashdotters as ptomaine or e.coli. But I have to say, I've had better luck with them recently than with Sears.

Today I strolled into the Sears store in Bowie, MD, looking for new sheets and pillows (how very domestic!). Over by the wall-o-pillows, a large red hanging sign: "Buy One Get One Free Entire Stock Of Bed Pillows". It's a good day to be shopping at Sears for pillows, I say to myself.

Pillows to the left of me, pillows to the right. I stand beneath the large red sign (LRS), pondering. Which pillows shall I buy? Look! There! Directly in front of me, beneath the LRS, a 2-pack of pillows for $12.98. So if I B1G1, then I should logically B2G2. I seize my prey and waltz to the checkout stand, humming merrily.

The cashier rings me up and I stop before swiping my card. Something is wrong here...the 2-pack of pillows is not 2-for-1! The cashier assures me that the computer is never wrong, but I point out the LRS says "Entire Stock". She calls the manager on the phone, who without speaking to me declares that the 2-pack is, in fact, NOT 2-for-1, and the phone call ends.

Another floor worker hears my complaint, and says, "Can you show me what you mean?" We walk together to the wall-o-pillows, where the LRS partially covers the stack of 2-packs. (Photos are at http://sfsp.croftonmews.org/images/Sears1.jpg and http://sfsp.croftonmews.org/images/Sears2.jpg) He says, "I see what you mean. But I've only been working here a week."

What this means is, "I haven't been indoctrinated to the point where all independent, rational thought has been driven out of me." Because next, someone with apparently more authority arrives...was this the mysterious manager on the phone? I may never know. She says, "Exceptional values are never included in B1G1 offers. The 2-pack of pillows are already an exceptional value. That was clearly indicated in the newspaper ad."

"Newspaper ad? What newspaper ad? I just walked in off the street, and I was misled by the in-store advertising. NOTHING in-store says that these aren't included. In fact, the LRS says 'ENTIRE STOCK OF BED PILLOWS'. These are bed pillows, and they are in stock. You should probably take down the LRS so your customers aren't confused," I said.

Now it began to get surreal. "We can't take it down. Corporate wants it there," said the authority figure.

"But it's misleading advertising. It implies that the 2-packs are also B1G1," said I.

"The newspaper ads exclude them," she said.

"But I haven't seen any ads! That's my point! If you're going to stick to that position, then I'll buy something else, but please forward a complaint for me to Corporate about the misleading in-store advertising," I said.

I went and got the 2-pack pillows and brought them back to the shelf. As I approached, I heard the new employee saying, "He has a point. It looks like these are on sale the same way as the rest of the pillows." Things got very quiet as I came to a stop. We reshelved the 2-packs, I picked 4 more pillows, the NEW employee asked, "Is there anything else we can do for you?", and I paid and walked out.

At Best Buy, in comparison, I bought a computer power supply, and it rang up differently from the price I remembered from the shelf. The cashier dropped everything, went to the location, checked my story, GAVE ME THE PRICE ON THE SHELF, and arranged to have the shelf rearranged. Sears apparently CAN'T do that, because that's not how CORPORATE wants it.

So, I'd like to point out two things: First, Best Buy, the whipping boy of all things service-oriented, admitted their mistake, thanked the customer for pointing it out with the LOWER PRICE, and arranged to fix it. Sears had 3 employees standing around for 20 minutes arguing with the CUSTOMER that they were right and I was wrong, and 1 employee who tried to find a middle ground but didn't have the authority to do anything. I sort of doubt he'll last long at Sears. And second, Sears lost more than $7.00 of goodwill with me, which is more than they made in the transaction. The fact that I'm sitting here journalling on Slashdot when it's a beautiful, sunny Memorial-weekend Saturday shows it: I'm PISSED.

UPDATE: Sears response, 5/28/2007:
"Thank you for your recent correspondence. We are always interested in
hearing from our customers, but regret it was this type of situation that
prompted you to contact us. Please accept our apology for any
inconvenience you may have encountered.

Please be assured that we value your comments and suggestions. By sharing
your feedback with us, you have made it possible for us to address the
issues and/or rectify the situation. Further, your forthright comments
will enable Sears to achieve excellence in everything we do.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate your business
and value you as a Sears Holdings customer. We certainly hope you will
continue to make Sears Holdings your choice for quality and value."

A carefully-worded promise of...nothing.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Creeping into the late 20th Century

I finally broke down.

I've said for so long, "I really don't need more than dialup. What would I use it for?"

Well, in my token nod to anti-Luddism, I have now moved up to 768K DSL. Yah, I know--Congress has just decided that anything under 2Mbps is NOT broadband. But I just couldn't justify moving to 3, 4, 5, or more Mbps.

I'm sure I don't need more than 768K. I mean, what WOULD I use it for?

FYI, I am now a Verizon DSL subscriber. I selected the $14.99/month 768K package, mostly because it was cheap. It has been successfully installed on my Linux system. The help desk operator in India, "Chad", wanted me to "upgrade" to Windows and tried to find the phone number for the Linux help desk for me.

However, Chad did a good job walking me through the (simple) process of configuring the modem with the initial username and password he generated for me. Then, I was supposed to log in to Verizon Central with the initial username, and change the name and password to my choice. At first, we weren't able to log in. Chad said it was because I was using an incompatible browser. 2 hours later, I reasoned that the various password databases would have had a chance to synchronize, and I got right in with no problem.

Now I'm surfing fat, dumb, and happy. Woohoo!

User Journal

Journal Journal: 2nd Amendment

I want to expand on one section of my "Rant Fodder" entry from a few days ago, where I was ranting about the 2nd Amendment. For your convenience, here is the text of the 2nd Amendment in its entirety:

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.billofrights.html)

I've heard a lot of arguments about the exact meaning of "militia". So, here you go:

"U.S. Code, Title 10, Section 311. Militia: composition and classes

            (a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
            (b) The classes of the militia are -
                (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
                (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia."
(http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/ts_search.pl?title=10&sec=311)

So, in U.S. law, the militia comprises every able-bodied male citizen or citizen-wannabe between 17 and 45 years of age, who is NOT a member of the Armed Services, and every female who is a member of the National Guard. Those who are not members of the National Guard or Naval Militia make up the "unorganized militia", who are nonetheless PART OF THE MILITIA.

Notice that this does NOT mean that I lose my right to bear arms when I turn 45! That would be an infringement of the right of the people to keep and bear arms, which exists because a militia is necessary to the security of a free state. The need for the militia, the rights of the people, and the security of the state, continue REGARDLESS of my age.

Thanks to SlashDot member ExMember for pointing out the legal definition of "militia".

User Journal

Journal Journal: Immigration Reform

It's International Labor Day! May 1, here again, and again immigration is the hot topic here in DC.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not against immigration; after all, my grandparents were immigrants. I'm simply against ILLEGAL immigration. If you want respect when you come into this country, come in through the front door. Don't break in through the window!

I'm also for relaxed immigration laws. I think it should be EASY to come here legally, but I don't believe we should give amnesty to existing illegals. We did that once already--look where it got us.

Last year, as I drove through DC, I came to a stop as the light turned red. A swarm of immigration protesters swarmed across the street, and one tapped on my hood and said, "Back up!" Was I blocking the crosswalk? Was I too far forward? No! I was behind the line, and there was another car on my bumper--where was I supposed to go? In fact, the protester was OUTSIDE the crosswalk, and was technically jaywalking. Before you complain about my behavior, make sure you're in the right!

Which brings me to my final rant of the day. Americans are frequently criticized when travelling internationally for failing to learn the language of the country where we intend to spend two weeks, pumping cash into the economy. It even has a name--"The Ugly American". But there is a reason for this behavior: the United States, which is, what, the 3rd most populous nation in the world, has a landmass exceeding Europe in size, and is made up of arguably 50 sovereign nations sharing a common language. We can travel from coast to coast, through 300 million people, and we can talk to ALL of them. We never HAVE to learn another language.

Now, bilingualism is a wonderful thing, but should we learn Quebecois French or Mexicano Spanish to talk to our neighbors, just to be snubbed in Spain and France because we don't don't speak the proper langue or with the proper Castilian accent? Here in the United States, WE SPEAK ENGLISH, and if you want to come here to LIVE, and WORK, and EARN, come on over. We'll help you learn it. But learn it you MUST. If you won't, well, don't gripe when we don't learn the language of the day as we tour Europe ("Is it Thursday? Oh, I never did get my Romanian accent pure!")

User Journal

Journal Journal: Rant Fodder

Oh, for God's sake.

I've had enough. I'm tired of my positions being dictated to me by the masses, who say, "Since you think THIS, you MUST think THAT!" I get it from every side--TV, news, radio, work, music, church, government...

You're all wrong.

First, I'm a conservative Christian. I am, in fact, pro-life. I am also pro-choice. Abortion is an invasive medical procedure, and I think that any doctor who performs one unnecessarily is ethically corrupt, but it IS A VALID MEDICAL PROCEDURE that is the only alternative in some cases.

It should NOT be used as an alternative to contraception, but if things are legal, they can be abused.

Oh, and if a school nurse can't give my kid aspirin without my consent, what gives them the right to take my kid in for an abortion without my knowledge or consent?

This may be the only point Bill Clinton and I ever saw eye-to-eye on: Abortions should be safe, legal, and RARE.

Second, I support the Second Amendment. Which part of "shall not be infringed" is so damned difficult to understand? And how can one of my Federal RIGHTS be subject to and reduced by regulation? By the way, I don't even own a gun. But I'm about THIS FAR from buying one just to exercise my 2nd Amendment rights. And I'm only a little further from buying another from the gray market so that I'll still have one when the goons come to take my legal, registered, licensed, gun to protect themselves from me.

Third, corporate personhood was an interesting experiment. It was also an UNMITIGATED mistake. People die. Corporations are effectively immortal. People have to face the consequences of their actions. Corporations just outlive their accusers. And Microsoft is a monopoly that should have been chopped into several pieces.

Fourth, the Federal government has the rights outlined in the Constitution, AND NO OTHERS. Where do the entitlement programs appear in the Constitution? It doesn't even come under "General Welfare". I'm not so sure about the Departments of Education, Transportation, and Energy, either. And the only countries I've ever seen with "Homeland" departments have been Fascist dictatorships. We've changed our way of life--the terrorists have already won.

Fifth, I am convinced that the universe is about 13 billion years old, and that life has developed on this planet by a process that looks a lot like evolution to me. I'm also convinced that God created the universe, created life, and has directed the whole shebang. That's His story, and He's sticking to it.

Sixth, copyright protection is out of control. Let's go back to the original and start over. The current process isn't working.

Seventh, software is a method. It is also a recipe. It is also a number. It is also a list. Methods, recipes, numbers, and lists are all SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED from being patentable. Software patents should be abolished.

I have not yet BEGUN to rant...

User Journal

Journal Journal: Community Service

So for the first time in the 10 years I've been living in this community, signs are posted to tell people that there is a board of directors meeting the next day! What the heck, I think, it's about TIME I started to get involved in the community.

Now I'm the webmaster for the community website, with no budget, no site, no tools, but a LOT of excitement on the part of the Board of Directors. How do I get myself into these things?

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

Working...