September 2005 Archives

Starting this Saturday, the Fall 2005 instance of my BioPerl class starts up. Pretty much all my spare cycles have been going towards preparing for it, which is why it’s been so quiet around here. I’m hoping things calm down a wee bit once the class gets underway, but that’s probably unrealistic. Worst case, I’ll be back around the end of November…

Awesome first-person story from a sysadmin who tracked down a sendmail issue after an initial problem report that seemed to be completely off the tracks. Great example of “well, that sounds nuts, but let me try to verify the error report…” school of problem solving; linking it here because I need to think of a way to bring this up at work and I suspect some of the people I want to see it will, this way. (The associated FAQ is worth checking out as well.)

via Jay.

From Dave Farber’s IP list, news that FEMA’s mail servers and domain name information was set up incorrectly, making it impossible to contact them via email. This stuff can be tricky to deal with properly , but it isn’t rocket science. It also doesn’t break itself — these problems were in place before the storm, probably for a long time. What does it say about your organizational culture that nobody from outside can send you email, and you don’t notice?!

f tivo

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We’ve got a first-generation Phillips-branded TiVo that we bought way, way back in the Dark Ages — back when people didn’t really understand what the point was, back when plunking down the cash for the lifetime subscription deal felt like a bit of a risk, because who knew if the company was going be even be around in two months, let alone a year? In that time, I’ve had a TiVo sticker on my car, I’ve praised TiVo to friends and strangers, and I’ve generally been an advocate for the brand. TiVo is repaying my loyalty and support by crippling their new and existing products.

So, buh-bye TiVo. Sticker’s off the car, friends and strangers are going to get told “get anything, just not a TiVo”, and the new TiVo I was planning on getting for the new AV room in the basement is going to be a MythTV box instead. (Anybody in the DC area interested in collaborating on a Linux-based PVR project, give a shout — I suspect this is going to be a significant undertaking and some company on the trip would be nice.)

Heinlein fans, rejoice — somebody has finally started a company called We Also Walk Dogs.

It would be much better if they actually listed dog walking under services, though.


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The site outage this afternoon (and now on into the evening) is brought to you courtesy of the Los Angeles blackout, which knocked my hosting provider offline. I’m still not clear on why their datacenters lost power, and from looking at their blog, neither are they. Yay for SLAs and all that good stuff.

The timing of the power outage is interesting, to say the least. The current story, according to Bloomberg, is that “a worker with the utility accidentally overloaded a transmission line, tripping circuit protectors”. So, good news: it ain’t the terrists. Bad news: the power grid seems pretty fragile…

So, like all the other cool kids, you’re toting around your Hipster PDA — but yer stack o’ cardage isn’t going to do you much good unless you have something to write on it with when the moment strikes. The canonical pen partner of the hPDA is the Fisher Space Pen — small, compact, relatively pocket friendly. I’ve been carrying one for a number of months, and I’m reasonably happy with it.

On my recent visit to Iowa City, though, I came across a Lamy Pico. Similar idea, in a much slicker package. I ended up buying one, and have pretty much switched over to it. The thicker barrel is much nicer to write with, and the finish seems to be standing up to life in a pocket much better than the matte black Space Pen. My only complaint: I really wish there was a rollerball refill available; ball point is not really my favorite.

Here are some quick shots to compare the Lamy to the better-known Space Pen, with a 3x5 for sizing:

lamy picopico vs space penhead-on viewopen for business

Another harrowing post-Katrina tale:

People are furious. They feel they’ve been abandoned. You have to understand, there’s no power anywhere. The rescue crews are going through New Orleans proper but not all the neighborhoods where people live. Most people don’t even think there’s a rescue effort underway at all. It becomes clear to me the one thing people need is communication; without it fear takes over. There’s nothing more important to restoring order than giving the leaders an ability to get messages to everyone.

JMason says “Automated CR systems considered suckful”. My spam situation is about the same as his: all my actual spam is controlled; the crap I have to deal with now is wading through CR responses and “you seem to have sent us a virus” crap. Grr.

The Photoboof is another great photo-based art installation that was at Burning Man. (Do I even need to say NSFW? Probably not.)

Stratfor sums up effects of Katrina.

A simple way to think about the New Orleans port complex is that it is where the bulk commodities of agriculture go out to the world and the bulk commodities of industrialism come in. The commodity chain of the global food industry starts here, as does that of American industrialism. If these facilities are gone, more than the price of goods shifts: The very physical structure of the global economy would have to be reshaped. Consider the impact to the U.S. auto industry if steel doesn’t come up the river, or the effect on global food supplies if U.S. corn and soybeans don’t get to the markets. The problem is that there are no good shipping alternatives. River transport is cheap, and most of the commodities we are discussing have low value-to-weight ratios. The U.S. transport system was built on the assumption that these commodities would travel to and from New Orleans by barge, where they would be loaded on ships or offloaded. Apart from port capacity elsewhere in the United States, there aren’t enough trucks or rail cars to handle the long-distance hauling of these enormous quantities — assuming for the moment that the economics could be managed, which they can’t be.

The rest is worth a read.

The best Burning Man photo set I’ve seen so far is “What’s on your mind?” (some mild nudity here and there, so may not be completely SFW…)

Because I suspect/fear that this site may be a significant source of certain types of news for some people, I’m going to repeat a number of things that have appeared pretty widely in certain circles. Those of you who are more plugged in, bear with me.

First up, a correction: the German news report I mentioned the other day, about fake food distribution points, appears to have been (at best) a mistranslation. (via Rafe)

Tom Tomorrow has some interesting observations about the initial federal disaster area declaration and the area it protected. Something seems fishy…

Bush gets asked to sell his ranch to pay for disaster relief.

E&P has a report that FEMA head Brown and DHS head Chertoff were briefed in advance on the hurricane by the National Hurricane Center, including discussion as to the extent of possible damage, including the possibility of the levees being over-topped. Again, that’s in advance of landfall — so the “nobody expected the levees to fail” excuse is, as we say in DC, no longer operative.

Finally, just like over at Breaching the Web, the fact that I’m going to start posting about mundane minutia again doesn’t mean that I’m not pissed to the core about our government’s stunning failure, or frightened for what it means for the future of our grand experiment here. I suspect/hope/fear that the fallout from this disaster is going to be with us for a very long time.

Went out to look at new cars today (my 8.5 year old Saturn is mortally wounded) and ended up buying a 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid.

side viewhead onhybrid vigor

Suggestions as to where to donate said mortally-wounded Saturn are welcome. Right now, it’s looking like it’ll be going to the DC-area Red Cross…

There’s a word for what we’re seeing in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast states. It’s one that not many people are familiar with, but it’s time to start using it to describe the situation:

malfeasance \mal-FEE-zuhn(t)s\, noun:
Wrongdoing, misconduct, or misbehavior, especially by a public official.


The AP reports a Bush photo op glad-handing visit kept rescue helicopters grounded:

In St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, just south of New Orleans, victims of the hurricane are still waiting for food and water and for buses to escape the floodwaters, Melancon said. And for the entire time Bush was in the state, the congressman said, a ban on helicopter flights further stalled the delivery of food and supplies.

And let there be no doubt, the dog was being wagged vigorously in White House attempts to shift their well-deserved blame elsewhere:

ZDF News reported that the president’s visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of ‘news people’ had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.

No doubt at all in Senator Mary Landrieu’s mind:

But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment.



Shout it with me: malfeasance!

teh evil

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While we were on vacation, there was some kerfuffle over “search engine spammers” with ads on blogs. Since I run those ads too (see the bottom of that colored bar over there on your right, at least as I write this), I need to have a position on this. I’m still working on figuring out what that position is at this point.

Here’s a list of all the things I’ve seen on this topic:

In the next little bit (i.e., ideally over the long weekend) I’m going to try to wrap up my thoughts on this and figure out what that means I have to do. If any readers have any input, it’s welcomed.