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Hardware Hacking

Journal Journal: Skating: Personal Best 1

I just finsihed 6 laps on The Loop at Wrightsville Beach. I'm not on my computer right now (long story, forthcoming), so I haven't synced the GPS, but it was 15.32 miles in 1:25:39, lap speed of 10.7mph, and peak speed of 15.9mph.

And the most amazing part: it was non-stop. I braked once but didn't come to a complete stop. Other than that, I was in continuous motion at nearly my peak physical output for almost ninety minutes.

And now, if you'll excuse me, that kick-ass new corkscrew my woman got me for my birthday is gonna collaborate with some cheap Australian Shiraz to reward me a bit.


Journal Journal: It’s a conspiracy, I tell ya! 1

I’m the registrar and one-man IT department of a small school. When I took this job we were saddled with a hacked up implementation of a really poor commercial product serving as our database/front desk software. I settled into the job and learned to hack at it further. The shortcomings of this pile of, umm, stuff, were legion. But, at the end of the day, it did, technically, get the job done. Eventually however, namely when we opened a second location hundreds of miles away, its underlying architecture could no longer be worked around. There was simply no way, sane or otherwise, to sync two instances of the system. In seeking a replacement, the market failed us. The only products that even came close to meeting a majority of our key needs cost many times what we, as a non-profit, could ever hope to pay. So I convinced the powers that be that I, never having actually undertaken such a thing, could build it from scratch.

The amazing thing is, I did. While performing my regular full time (and often more) duties, I managed to build this thing and put it in place within six months at both locations. I then spent the next six months getting it running with less and less fiddlin’ of the bits by yours truly, and developing a synchronization system so that multiple instances of it could compare notes every night. Lately I’ve been fine tuning that and getting it up and running on its own two feet.

All of this coincides with the launch of a system that we had a local web shop put together so that other schools can pull student records from our web site. The official go-live date on that is tomorrow. On Monday I tried to log into the system to replace test data with the real thing. I was unable to, but I figured the FTP client I was using wasn’t using the same SSL protocol or something silly like that and went back to my bug fixing.

Yesterday morning I got a call from our other school saying that one of their key admin machines no longer accepts any valid password and they have no net connection. Had the machine dealt with pretty quickly, but we are still without a net connection there and have now resorted to IP over FedEx.

This morning I still couldn’t log in to the FTP server, so I fired off an inquisitive email. The response, alas, did not thrill me:

We had to turn the secure FTP off as it caused a lot of problems with all of the other regular FTP sites on the box. You're probably going to have get a dedicated server, be it physical or virtual, to get that going. If you email our IT director, he will set up a test site for you on a different box so you can make sure that you'll be able to work with secure FTP from your end. If that works out, he can help you with setting up the dedicated server. I'm not sure the contractual ramifications of that, so I'm ccing the Account Executive for your project on this email ...

No peasants were heard to rejoice.

I was about halfway through my reply when I received an email from the account executive in question:

They are setting up the secure FTP on a different machine, so we can test it out. It will be ready later on this afternoon- I'll let you know when you can try testing.

Total elapsed time between the two emails? Seven minutes. Gotta love the 21st century.

But man, days like this make me wish I’d listened to my high school guidance counselor.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Civilian Reserve Corp 5

WTF? Am I the only one seriously creeped out by this? How come the first word that went through my mind when I heard that bit was “Blackwater?”

And yet a cursory search of Thine Intartubes shows that World+Dog did not have the same visceral reaction I did (or has the sense to keep their damn mouths shut). So would someone please get on here and reassure me that a non-military military force is a good idea? Seems all I can think about are other examples of countries creating such, uhh, semi-military forces (for lack of a better, less chilling prefix) and pondering how that turned out for them...


Journal Journal: Doing the shuffle? 6

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this mentioned much: what the hell was Bush on for his NWF speech? I think the psych types would call that a “flat affect” or some such. Looked and sounded to me like he was brought out of a stupor with heavy stimulants or maybe brought down from a psychotic break with either downers or anti-psychotics. Seriously, what the fuck is up with that? And why are so few mentioning it? It’s not exactly a subtle thing.

He did perk up a bit later in the speech when discussing Iran and Syria, which scared me in a totally different way, but for the most part he seemed like a sullen child made to apologize to the old lady next door with his dad’s hand on his shoulder to keep him from scurrying away.

Wouldn’t it be the public’s business to know whether the president is on heavy-duty psychotropics? Shouldn’t the White House Press Corpse be inquiring about that? Considering how much ink was spilled over his odd symptoms during his debates with Kerry, isn’t this much more significant display worthy of at least as much inquiry?

Portables (Apple)

Journal Journal: iPhone 6


Oh my god do I want one.

Pretty please?

With one of my kidneys on top?

United States

Journal Journal: How Often Does THIS Happen? 12

Currently, of the 7 cents tax on every dollar, 4.5 cents goes to the state
and 2.5 cents goes to the county (note that Mecklenburg County requires an
additional .5 cents). Beginning tomorrow, North Carolina will reduce the
state tax rate to 4.25%, lowering the total tax per dollar to 6.75 cents. On
July 1, 2007, North Carolina will further reduce the state tax rate to 4%,
lowering the total tax per dollar to 6.5 cents. For more information, read
the following Department of Revenue notice:

Well, color me impressed. Once in a while North Carolina makes me proud to live here.

I grew up in Hawai‘i, where every year the previous year’s budget surplus is divided by the number of taxpayers and checks are mailed out. That always seemed to me a sign of solid fiscal management, as does this current tax decrease.

User Journal

Journal Journal: “Feel free to improve.” 3

That was the note scribbled in pencil at the top of the drawing.

It struck me as sort of the ultimate fortune cookie: Was it imploring me to improve the machine part depicted that I was about to revise a drawing of? Or merely to improve on the illustration itself? My personal favorite way to interpret is as a request for the illustrator to improve himself.

I ended up improving on the illustration, reworking it so the steam and condensate pathways are more readily visible. But I have this nagging feeling that I should have left the illustration untouched and improved myself instead.

Don’t ya just hate vague instructions?

Journal Journal: Slashdot Deleting Comments? 1

I noticed something weird today. I often read slashdot threads once they’ve matured a bit, as I can often pick up a lot of useful information once the moderation system (such as it is) has done its work and some thoughtful discussions have taken place over a few days. But that’s not the weird part.

The weird part is that the front page summary for a particular article, which has been cached locally by Opera for some time now, shows 300 comments. Yet when I hit the thread itself, there are 299 comments at the -1 threshold. What gives?

Granted, I have only a passing familiarity with the internals of Slash, but what I do know fails utterly to explain such a thing. I know some of the people that may see this have a better understanding of the guts of this thing; do any of you know how to explain a mismatch like this?

Now here’s my favorite part, the (slight) irony: the article in question is one on fake news stories.


Journal Journal: Yay. A hurricane. 4

According to Weather Underground we’re getting nailed. According to the chick on the radio we’re getting nailed. But outside? Nah, not so much. The rain has been relatively light for the past six+ hours, wind is blowing “a little bit” according to my lovely lady hanging her head out the window behind me.

Inside? We’re getting hammered. Bottle of Jack, few bottles of wine should that fail us.

On the radio? Another buzzy thing. Oh wait, National Weather Service Dopper RADAR indicated something or other someplace or other. “Potentially life threatening situation,” generic warnings about trying to drive through flooded roads.

It’s supposedly making landfall right now about sixty(?) miles south of us. Flash flood warning in our county until 2:00am. It’s actually fairly tame relative to what the official numbers would indicate. But we’ll see how “tame” it feels when I survey our flood-prone driveway at 6:30 tomorrow morning.

Good warmup hurricane, but ultimately forgettable. C’mon global warming, that all ya got?


Journal Journal: Contact High 14

    I can see clearly now!

I got contact lenses Tuesday morning. Today’s the third day and they’re still driving me nuts. It’s really cool to be able to see details off in the distance, but I’ve spent entirely too much time lately blinking at my monitor. Sometimes I can actually see the edges of them. I know that shouldn’t be possible, but they are triggering some sort of perception in my peripheral vision; sometimes I turn my head to see what I sense beside me, and others I’m just certain there’s a hair hanging down between my eyes.

Any of y’all have any insight (har har) into dealing with contacts as a heavy computer user? Or tips for putting them in without being late for work? (Today I had to give up and go to work, then fight with them for twenty minutes once I got here.)

Almost forgot... in other news this week, it seems that my town recently started printing the names of the streets on those green things on the poles. Good to see that they’re finally using my tax dollars wisely.

First Person Shooters (Games)

Journal Journal: Dick Cheney: Cold Blooded Killer! 5

Courtesy of Yahoo and AP.

Dick Cheney accidentally shot and injured a man during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, his spokeswoman said Sunday.

Harry Whittington, 78, was "alert and doing fine" after Cheney sprayed him with shotgun pellets on Saturday while the two were hunting at the Armstrong Ranch in south Texas, said property owner Katharine Armstrong.

Armstrong said Whittington was mostly injured on his right side, with the pellets hitting his cheek, neck and chest, and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

Whittington was in stable condition Sunday, said Yvonne Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Christus Spohn Health System.

Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said the vice president was with Whittington, a lawyer from Austin, Texas, and his wife at the hospital on Sunday afternoon.

Armstrong said she was watching from a car while Cheney, Whittington and another hunter got out of the vehicle to shot at a covey of quail late afternoon on Saturday.

Whittington shot a bird and went to look for it in the tall grass, while Cheney and the third hunter walked to another spot and found a second covey.

Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," Armstrong told the Associated Press in an interview.

"The vice president didn't see him," she continued. "The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good."

The shooting was first reported by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

She said Whittington was bleeding but not very seriously injured, and Cheney was very apologetic.

"It broke the skin," she said. "It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that."

She said emergency personnel traveling with Cheney tended to Whittington, holding his face and cleaning up the blood.

"Fortunately, the vice president has got a lot of medical people around him and so they were right there and probably more cautious than we would have been," she said. "The vice president has got an ambulance on call, so the ambulance came."

Armstrong said Cheney is a longtime friend who comes to the ranch to hunt about once a year. She said Whittington is a regular, too, but she thought it was the first time the two men hunted together.

"This is something that happens from time to time. You now, I've been peppered pretty well myself," said Armstrong.


Journal Journal: Inflammatory Recitations 8

I went to a book reading last night. A nearby book store, Rebel Books, celebrated Banned Books Week by setting up a tent and a microphone outside (along with a few bottles of wine inside) and invited members of the community to come read a passage from their favorite banned book. I didn’t find out about it till I got home from work on Friday, so I didn’t have anything to get up there and shout about. But since they did it two nights running, I was able to scrounge something up yesterday.

Being me of course, I had to be different. Everybody else was up there reading wonderfully crafted passages from controversial books both well known and obscure. I decided I’d read from the Anarchist’s Cookbook. I think I had a harder time finding my book than anybody else there. Judy Blume may have had a lot of her works banned and otherwise challenged, but you can still walk into any bookstore and find a copy. That cookbook, however, is a different story. I was eventually able to find the text of it online, although I probably got a couple of flags set in my permanent record in the process.

When it came to be my turn at the podium, I got up and introduced myself. I told them that I was actually a bit uneasy walking around with those recipes in my pocket, but that very fact clinched my decision. I then did my best to read the recipe for nitroglycerin without sounding like I was reading a recipe. I was genuinely surprised by the amount of applause I got, so I used the opportunity to plug the Cape Fear Literacy Council on the grounds that it was a surefire way for all in attendance to ensure that more Americans can read banned books in the future. Hopefully it worked and at least a few of them will eventually get over there and volunteer. (And hopefully my mention of it in this context worked and a few of you will eventually get to a similar council in your own city and volunteer.)

One thing that really struck a chord with me was that of all the stuff read aloud out behind that bookstore, so very little of it seemed worthy of offense. Even for those of us gleefully awaiting such offense. Sure, it was just a few pages here and there taken entirely out of their natural context, but still.

Sure, there were some exceptions. There was a moderately torrid lesbian love scene read aloud, and the lyrics to an Eminem song about race performed by a middle aged white country girl who happens to be an avid surfer and avowed communist (gee, and you thought I was confusing?). And a large man with a beautiful African accent of some sort read a very heated passage (don’t remember from what book) about some of the horrible things the white man has done over the centuries. But by and large, if you hadn’t known the nature of the event, only the prefaces of the readers would have given away the fact that everything recited on that stage had, at some point or another, by some school board or another, been banned on the grounds that it would corrupt our nation’s youth.

All in all, a good time was had by all. I saw some people I hadn’t seen in a while, got to experience some good old fashioned stage fright, and got the nice folks at the book store to hang up some of my work in hopes of thereby contributing to my ongoing care and feeding.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go inside and get rid of the evidence sitting on my desk. It makes me uneasy to have it in my possession.

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In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle