April 19, 2006: Longest Post Yet?

I went to bed a little late last night and was pretty tired this morning. So instead of getting up at 5:30 with my alarm I instead slept in until almost 7:00! I decided that I needed to relax and little and made it a leisurely morning. I worked from home from 7:00 – 9:00 and then headed into the office. That made for a nice change of pace. It is really awesome having Internet access from the apartment. What a difference that makes. Now I have the desktop and nice monitor set up so I can actually work in some level of comfort. I am currently using a simple, traditional folding chair (black with a small amount of seat padding) for my office chair so that isn’t too comfortable. One of my upcoming large purchases down here is a nice office chair since it is just about the only piece of furniture that I am going to have.

It is a beautiful day here today. The weather has been great every day that I have been in New Jersey so far. It is beginning to seem unlikely that it is just coincidence. But what are the chances that I would actually get to live in a place with nice weather? My drive up through the “middle of nowhere” in the middle of Somerset County went well and it took only about 45 minutes to get to work on my first attempt. In theory this will get a little faster as I learn my way around a bit better.

Dad said last night that my “new” HP Visualize PA-RISC workstation arrived so Dominica will be able to bring that down with her when she comes down this weekend. I am excited to have an HP-UX machine to play with in addition to the “new” SparcStation. Toys toys toys.

I had a very slow morning at work today. I got to spend most of my time doing research. I am hoping that I might have found a solution to the Asterisk problem that I was experiencing last night. Unfortunately that machine would appear to have crashed and I probably won’t be able to get it restarted until Dominica gets home around 11:00 tonight. This has made me realize how important it is to have a remote reboot system for the house. Prashant found a place the other day that handles that kind of equipment very inexpensively. It would be really nice if I was able to power cycle any of the equipment at the house that I need. That would save quite a few special trips made by dad or Eric and save Dominica a lot of aggrevation.

I only had SlimFast for breakfast this morning and, come to think of it, that was all that I had for dinner last night as well. Hey, call me lazy. But the lazy man’s diet might be the way to go. If I stock the house with nothing but SlimFast maybe that will be all that I eat. I always get food at the office so there is no reason to eat anything extra at home. I don’t really like driving anywhere in the evenings just to get food because eating involves just being by yourself and that isn’t any fun. I would much rather be doing something interesting. Ordering food in can be a pain and is often expensive when you are by yourself so that isn’t necessarily the best idea. Especially when ordering pizza from Domino’s in New Brunswick proved to be more of a pain than it was worth. Maybe if I knew more places to order from but that will take a long time before that happens. I know that I can order Chinese delivery from a place called Yummy Yummy but that is about it. The rumor has it that I am able to get delivered Thai and Indian but I have no idea where to get those from. One of these days I might have a chance to talk to someone in the rental office and maybe they can tell me.

I haven’t talked about video games in a while. Maybe that is because I haven’t been playing any. If she can find it, I am going to have Min bring down Empire Earth 2 which is about the only game that I am currently playing and I haven’t even fired that up in two months at least. But I am “playing” it more than I am playing anything else. The new desktop that I have down here is a “small form factor” which is not designed to be able to fit high-end graphics cards so I am pretty limited when it comes to games. That is fine with me. The idea down here is to get lots of work and learning done and not to be watching movies or playing video games. But everyone needs to just kick back and relax sometime. I was looking online today and there are a ton of expansion sets out now for The Sims 2 which Dominica has but hasn’t been playing. I don’t enjoy that game but I find it to be very interesting both from a gameplay and from a business perspective. I think that they show some really good design concepts and interactions ideas and I think that it is a good demonstration of just how much people would enjoy playing real role playing games but I find that the actual execution of the game isn’t very good. There is no objective – which I think is a good thing – but there is also little motivation to play as there is nothing to work towards and, unlike real role playing, there isn’t even the objective to “play the character appropriately.” So I think that it shows a lot of good underpinnings for a game but I think that it lacks substantially enough motivation to be a really good game. Worth taking a look at, though. It is definitely interesting.

A new game out on multiple platforms including the PC and XBOX360 that has caught my attention recently is Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was supposed to have been a really amazing game although the only person that I know to have actually played it was my cousing, Jeremy. Both games got great reviews and are supposed to really push the role playing genre forward a bit. I guess they do a lot to “sandbox” or delinearize traditional RPG game play which is important as true role playing is totally non-linear. This has always made RPGs tough for computers as computers are much better at linear game play. Making non-linear computer games is a real challenge. Supposedly Oblivion has some truly amazing graphics and audio and even has Patrick Stewart as a voice actor. Oh, if there were only 100 hours in each day. I love RPGs but I often find them to feel very lonely. I really like the idea of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) but so far all of those games that I have seen have come out as a lot of MMO and very little RPG. No one is really interested in Role Playing but they are all out to level up and nothing else. Role playing isn’t about levels or points or status. It is about playing a part. It is far more about acting and connecting with a character than it is about “gaming”. In real role playing you don’t “do whatever it takes to get points” but instead you do your best to act as best as you can tell that your character would act. It is a really unique activity. There is nothing to really compare it to until you try it.

Stuff ended up happening today so I didn’t get a chance to get my lunch until almost 2:00 in the afternoon. For lunch today I had a mushroom and spinach calzone from the caf’ with coleslaw and pasta salad on the side and a cookie. I love having a rockin’ cafeteria in the same building. That makes it so much easier to eat well and not waste all kinds of time doing it.

Someone was nice enough to bring in Chewy Runts today! Now Runts I like but Chewy Runts I LOVE! Yummy. They are shaped and coloured to look exactly like regular Runts but when you go to bite into them – Surpise! They are chewy. Hawesome.

I had to spend an hour on the phone dealing with Verizon Wireless today. There has been an ongoing saga involving a “lost” account. This has been going on since December, I think. Something like that. It was definitely well underway in January. It turns out to have happened something like this. On October 27, 2005 (thanks to Danielle who actually remembered the day) I called Verizon Wireless to turn off a cell phone account that was at the end of its year that day. Something happened that caused the account to be able to be deactived until the following day. No big deal. The phone was never used again. Sometime around December or January I started getting email that “looked” like it was from Verizon telling me that I had an account past due. I called Verizon and they could not locate the account number that was given in the email. They also tried to look up all accounts associated with my social security number and were not able to find anything. So it was assumed that the email was a scam. These things happen all of the time. After a while I started getting multiple emails and then snail mail as well notifying me of the exact same thing. Again, called Verizon and no account was found. I should note that Verizon has but one national customer service number to call and that I was calling that number from my regular telephone and not from my mobile. Eventually it got really bad and we were concerned about the fact that this was obviously a scam and that the return address was a real Verizon address. So, assuming that there was an inside job going on, we contacted Verizon fraud prevention and turned the situation over to them. They were unable to come up with anything either. Now today, many months later, I get a letter in the mail saying that Verizon has turned the account over to a collection agency and the agency was able to produce WAY too much information for my comfort. So I followed up with Verizon, again, and this time they talked to the collection agency who helped them locate the account information. Turns out that it was that account from October, that it was never shut off and that the national call center was choosing to hand me off to Pittsburgh support who are not given access to accounts in Rochester but no one would recognize that as a possibility. So now Verizon is dealing with that and I should hear back in a little while. I can’t believe that their internal information systems are so poor that they can’t even tell who is and who isn’t a customer. And the division in Rochester was purchased back in the 90’s before the dotcom boom so there has been a tremendous amount of time to get their system integrated. Both system have probably been replaced since that time. What a pain. I spent an hour today alone dealing with this! Several hours have been spent by the time you consider all of the phone calls made by both me and by dad. Totally ridiculous.

My note of the day: “It is phenominal how little work must get done in America just because a small number of people ‘need’ to have overhead lights on instead of using localized lights on their own desks or within their own space.” I mean really. How much time does every administrator and engineer in this building spend looking away from their monitors trying to overcome eyestrain caused by overhead lights that work against the computer screens instead of with them.

Quote of the Day: “There are no metrics for God’s Will.” (Explanation: Do not attempt to measure spiritual success using human measurements.)

Today has been an odd day overall. Odd days are nice because your schedule is broken up and you aren’t just going through a routine.

I was reading a news article today about one of Microsoft’s MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) who chose to run his own applications on Linux instead of Windows because Linux provided a better financial incentive. This is, of course, in direct contradiction to Microsoft’s claims that Windows is less expensive to operate than Linux. Their argument has always been based on the fact that Windows admins are less expensive and more readily available than their Linux and UNIX counterparts. However in this case we are talking about a guy who is an extremely experienced Windows admin (or so we hope) who claims that when it is his dollars being spent that he believes that the Linux path is the better value. Obviously he does not say this in all cases but in his particular case considering his balance of skills, needs, scale, etc. But generally he falls into the “most suited to Windows” category of users and as far from the Linux side of the scale as it gets. Read the short article, shorter than my recap, and read my reply to the post:

“Although Microsoft does not offer their MVP’s “free” software it does offer production software to its partners at fractional cost compared to commercial sales that is licensed to be used in situations such as this (the license is a little tricky but not bad.) Vlad is basically saying that Linux is cheaper for a Windows MVP to buy and manage than Windows is, even when the number of machines necessary would be available through the partner program at near zero cost (near zero is, of course, a relative term.)

It has always been widely held that the lowest TCO was earned by the systems for which you have the most in-house expertise. I am not saying that Vlad does not have Linux/UNIX expertise but he obviously has Windows expertise in spades. What statement does this make about the cost/performance of Windows when it doesn’t make financial sense in the strongest of Windows shops?”

Now I am not an anti-Windows guy even though I am a big fan of Linux and UNIX in general – what can I say? I AM a Linux Admin. But Microsoft really does run a pretty serious smear campaign claiming a lot of ridiculous things about how expensive Linux is to run and how inexpensive Windows is when it is obvious that many small shops run Linux servers in environments where their entire annual budget is less than the purchase price of Windows Server 2003. There just isn’t any way for Windows to compete with numbers like those. I mean look at the school in Castile. We run on donated equipment that all comes without Windows OEM licenses and even if it did come with licenses they would be for lots of mismatched and unsupported versions. It would be a nightmare to manage. So for us to run Windows we would have to buy about twenty desktop OS licenses as well as a server licenses and then we would need a large number of CALs (a CAL is a Client Access License and you must have one for every “client” that is going to authenticate against a Windows server.) Then, in addition to the Microsoft licenses, we would need an annual anti-virus subscription for each and every one of those machines and that would all have to be managed. The license management alone would be crippling. We just don’t have those resources. The licensing costs would be in the tens of thousands of dollars and would be a regular, recurring cost. Additionally the old hardware that we use would not be able to support the latest versions of Windows so we would have to use old, unsupported and unpatched versions. Even if we had newer hardware the students would still be stuck learning on a six year old operating system (Windows XP is the current Windows release and it was first released in 2001!) Instead, because of Linux, our students are running on the very latest Linux technology (currently SUSE 10.0) and have all ready gone through one desktop refresh just in the past year (from 9.2 to 10.0.) We are expecting to upgrade them to 10.1 during the summer break. Instead of using six year old technology the students are working with three month old technology. What a difference. And Linux doesn’t need an anti-virus package at this point. That saves a bundle. Additionally, because we use SUSE (not to knock other distro’s which offer similar capabilities just pointing out that SUSE definitely does,) we have patch management handled centrally for the entire system including servers and desktops and including ALL of our applications. It is all totally automated and requires no manual intervention. Microsoft doesn’t offer anything of the sort and patch management on Windows would be a nightmare as well. Basically, even if Windows was free at the school it would represent a crippling expense to manage. Linux has been a God-send and makes a modern, competitive computer literacy education a possibility for many students.

I am full of techno-news reviews today. Can you tell that I am waiting for some feedback from someone? Sony has a new patent on malware technology! This is a separate item from their stolen virus technology from a few months ago that they distributed on some of their audio CDs (I use the term CD loosely as Sony’s malware discs did not meet audio CD specifications and are actually just standardless lumps of illegal plastic.) Sony filed for a patent some five years ago for a technology that “forces” email recipients (and it is important to note that this only refers to recipients using poor email clients like Outlook – the rest of us would never have known that this technology was even employed as it just wouldn’t work) to respond to email. It is actually a form of fairly benevolent malware (as in it doesn’t damage your machine but it does, forcibly and without end user consent do things with your computer that you never, ever want it to do) that annoys you until you do what it wants. So a spammer would use this to annoy people into responding to their Viagra advertisements so that they can verify that your email is real so they know to keep spamming you. Deploying a technology like this for the purpose of disrupting computing activities is, of course, illegal but Sony thought that they should have a patent anyway. And they got it. Good for them. Luckily for all of us in the real world every spam filter known to man completely blocks this stuff anyway so now no one ever will receive mail with this technology still intact even if Sony decides to start trying to infest people with annoying malware via email. Pheww.

Do you ever get that feeling that Sony is out to get you?

One last story: Email Battles dot com describes McAfee AntiVirus as the Worst Virus of 2006. Perhaps they are premature but are they likely to be wrong? So far, McAfee has had the single greatest effect on computer system with which I have personal contact than any other piece of malware, ever. Email Battles uses this famous quote to describe the situation “It burst into flames! Get out of the way! Get out of the way! It’s fire and it’s crashing! It’s crashing terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! It’s burning, bursting into flames and is falling on … and all the folks agree that this is terrible. This is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world! Oh, it’s crashing… Oh, the humanity!” McAfee, a fairly disreputible anti-virus vendor but still quite popular mostly amongst shops driven by politics and not by their engineers, released a bad virus definition one morning in March that caused Windows machines everywhere to begin to dismantle themselves. The result was often total devistation. And it wasn’t just Windows but core business applications like MS SQL Server, Oracle, MS Office and, and this feels a little fishy, products from McAfee’s leading rival Symantec (aka Norton.) McAfee even locked out their breaking virus news forum, apparently to keep people from disclosing there what McAfee had done. And they failed to post any information on their site about what they had done so no one knew. While you would expect that this would spell the end for McAfee, Email Battles sums it up very well: “But luckily for McAfee, there’s always a fresh crop of inexperienced, out-of-the-loop newcomers to sell…”

Okay, enough of that. But it has been a while since I had a chance to comment on the news so I wanted to catch up a little bit.

It is 7:00 and I am still at work. It ended up turning into a pretty long day at the office but mostly filled with me waiting for input from people. So I am not exhausted or swamped or anything. I am leaving shortly. Of course, after all of those problems with Verizon, they failed to get back to me today like they said that they were definitely going to do. It never fails. But they might call tomorrow. I thought at the time that it seemed unlikely that they would be able to get back to me the same day. Oh, the lights just turned off in the office. It must be 7:00 on the nose. You know the lights that I mean – those pesky overhead flourescent lights that shine in your eyes and lower the contrast of your monitors making you not work very productively. Now my desk is just the light of my monitors and a very pleasent back light caused by a nice desk lamp that I have illuminating the desktop, keyboard and walls behind the monitors. Just the perfect amount of light to be able to see everything adequately but not so much as to interfere with my ability to use my monitors. What a great solution. Someone should implement this in an office! Maybe I am avoiding going home because my chair at the office is a lot more comfortable than the folding chair that I have at home. Or maybe I don’t feel like doing another search for centipedes. I didn’t find any yesterday but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. I do a thorough search for them whenever I get a chance. I just can’t stand having them in the apartment. Ugh.

It was 8:00 by the time that I got back to the apartment. I stopped on the way home and filled up the car. $43! Ouch. Even with cheap New Jersey gas the prices are out of control. I really hate that they only have full service gas stations down here and no regular self service stations. I have no idea what the theory is behind forcing people to have someone else pump gas for them. What it causes is an entire industry of minimum wage earners being paid out of your fuel budget who take forever to do it adding cost and inconvenience to the entire system. I realize that it is done as a means to minimize welfare in the state but there must be better ways to do this. It makes everyone traveling in New Jersey want to get gas in another state and adds ten minutes to everyone’s work week because they have to sit at a station with ten other cars all waiting for one kid pumping gas who is not pumping gas but doing something else. And it isn’t like they stand there and carefully make sure that the gas doesn’t spill. Every single one just uses the pump lock and walks away. In no other state are you allowed to use the pump lock AND leave the vehicle and in about half of the states you aren’t allowed to have pump locks at all! So New Jersey has instituted a system devised to force the exact worse possible situation to occur: the most expensive financially and temporily, most uncomfortable and most dangerous system imaginable. And to make matters worse it makes it too expensive to keep gas stations open at night so like so much of New Jersey, all of the gas stations shut down at night leaving the whole state at a stand still until morning. Talk about a system that causes disaster. It actually adds to the traffic problem in many ways. If any state should be concerned about trying to spread people’s schedules out over a longer day to relieve traffic and other forms of congestion it should be New Jersey.

The Asterisk server that I have been working on is still up and running but not running well enough for me to do anything with it. I was hoping that if it had the entire day that it might heal itself and come back online without any intervention but that was a little far fetched anyway. So my evening didn’t involve as much technical work as I had imagined that it might had things gone as I had planned. Instead I worked on some lighter fare such as editing a wiki and a little SGL work. Unfortunately because of my lack of router / firewall I am not able to do as much as easily as I would like. Under more normal circumstances I am able to be online and able to work on the equipment at the house at the same time without any issues as well as be online with the desktop and the laptop at the same time but right now, because the cable bridge is plugged directly into the desktop, I am only able to be online with that one machine and if I am connected to the house then I lose the ability to be online while I am doing that. So it isn’t as practical as it will be. It will be much easier for me to get things done once Dominica delivers the new firewall on Saturday or Sunday when she comes down again.

No centipedes again tonight. That is two nights with and two nights without. I managed to kill both of the ‘pedes that we had seen so I am hopeful that that might have deterred any other of their friends from entering the house. One can only hope.

Again I didn’t feel like going anywhere tonight so I had SlimFast for dinner. I had a nice big lunch so it isn’t so bad. It isn’t like I feel hungry when I go to bed. I don’t really feel all that hungry until lunch time. But today’s lunch time was not until 2:00 so I was feeling more hungry than usual. But really I should be hungry by the time that meals roll around and I should not eat just because it is a meal “time”.

I decided to call it a night, more or less, at 10:20 and take it easy and ready on the bed. I can only spend so much time sitting in front of a computer. I wish that the environment was a little more comfortable but one thing at a time. The folding chair that I have isn’t too bad. It is a really nice folding chair. I can’t complain.

[4,597 words in case anyone cares.]

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