June 9, 2006: The Tocco Clan Descends

Today is the big day that Dominica’s family all comes down to visit us in New Jersey. They are not arriving until close to midnight but we have a lot of preparations that need to be done before they get here so that we are ready for them because everyone is going to want to go straight to bed as soon as they arrive and they are going to want to be able to go right into Manhattan as soon as they get up in the morning. The morning is going to be tough because there are going to be nine people here and there is only one bathroom and barely enough hot water for a single person to take a shower!

Dominica woke me up from my nap at midnight and I came out into the office to get to work. She decided that she was really tired and Oreo was insistant on getting back into a normal sleeping schedule so the two of them went to bed right as I got up. That will make tomorrow a lot easier for them as we need to be back onto a regular schedule by tonight. I am not looking forward to having to function on a normal sleep schedule so quickly after a full week of overnights. I am expecting tonight to be a very quiet night, though. Thursday night going into Friday must be the quietest night of the week. I had thought that last night would be pretty quiet but it was actually the busiest night yet as there was a major disaster that required just about everyone to get out of bed and to work all night. Fridays are always nuts at the office but I expect that most of that mayhem will not begin until after I have signed off for the morning.

I have begun using BitTorrent on a regular basis now and I really love it. I first tried using it a year or two (or three) ago and found it very difficult to configure and basically useless for anything that I ever wanted to do and so I stopped using it and mostly forgot about it. But recently more and more things that I want to get are only available via “the torrent” and so I decided to give it another try after all of these years. I am aware that from a technology standpoint it is really awesome but if it is something that doesn’t “just work” it will never be a life changing technology. Apparently everything has changed and BitTorrent is now the download technology of choice and it totally rocks. I mean totally! For you Windows users out there in the least BitTorrent affected world I suggest going and trying µTorrent (that is pronounced micro-torrent for those of you unfamiliar with standard engineering notation, the greek letter µ is an abbreviation for micro.) µTorrent is completely free (although donations are appreciated) and requires no setup at all. Just download it and away you go. On Linux, if you are on SUSE Linux 10.1 with me, KTorrent is included in the K Desktop Environment and works right out of the box – you don’t even need to know that it is there. Just click on a torrent file and it will take you from there.

So, “What is this BitTorrent?” you ask. I will tell you. BitTorrent is an amazingly cool technology that involved that dreaded peer to peer download distribution but does it in a completely different way that is nothing like traditional peer to peer networking. BT splits files to be downloaded into tons of really tiny files and makes each person who downloades a large file share out a few tiny pieces of it back to people looking to download it. You still need a central point to host the .torrent file itself to get any download started with is completed different than traditional peer to peer technologies. So this is not a useful technology for the software and music pirates looking for a way to skirt detection. Not at all. This is a totally legitimate download acceleration technology that makes everyday people like you and me capable of offering large files for download without having to have millions of dollars on hand to pay for huge Internet connections capable of handling all of the traffic. Trust me, it is awesome. Using BitTorrent I am able to regularly get downloads in the range of 10Mb/s!! Actual single downloads. That is just amazing.

To use BT you simple have to download a BT client (or downloader) like µTorrent (there are lots of others but I am really happy with µTorrent), install it and then go to a web site that offers a torrent. Often sites will offer traditional downloads and torrents because a lot of people have not discovered the torrent yet. So, for example, I do regular large downloads from sites like OpenSuse and VMWare, both of which offer downloads as torrents in addition to traditional file downloads. If I do a download from OpenSuse of one of their CD images it might take three or four hours to get a single CD ISO image. But using the torrent I can get the same file in about eight minutes! You can’t complain about that. Dominica has to right an article for her Networking and Data Communications class this week and is thinking about writing her article about BitTorrent technology. I was telling her about it tonight and she was really excited about what a great idea it is.

One of the biggest problems with living in New Jersey is the constant need to have bottled water available. The tap is completely unpotable and even in an emergency I am not sure that it would be a good idea to drink. I tried it once and immediatly felt ill. Tonight we are just about out of bottled water and need to run to the store to have anything to drink. Water is one of those commodities that you should never have to worry about running out of. I realize that I am spoiled having grown up in a world where fresh, clean water is just as expected as air and that much of the world does not have good, cheap, easy access to safe water sources but in New Jersey it really should not be an issue.

The early part of the night just flew by. In no time, it seemed, it was two o’clock and I felt like I had just sat down at the computer. I did some work on Dominica’s desktop while she was asleep. She is starting to use Microsoft Office for the first time and finding that Microsoft’s offline folder option is incompatible with MS Office (isn’t it funny that OpenOffice doesn’t have an issue when used in a Microsoft server environment but MS Office does?) Just another reason not to spend all that money on MS Office. Min is using Microsoft Access 2003 for her Database Development class at Empire.

A little after two Oreo came out to spend some time with is daddy. He has been trying to make up for lost time from being away for the past two weeks. He pretty much just follows me around all of the time now. He came out to the living room and made me take him for a quick walk and then he laid on the living room carpeting and sucked on his new hedgehog binky that we got him at the pet supply store yesterday evening. He loves that new hedgehog. It is really cute and it makes a grunting pig sound when he bites it that is really funny and we think that he really likes. He is really happy with this binky. He is one of the few dogs that I have ever known who really appreciates it when you get him presents.

Three o’clock rolled around and still the world was quiet and nothing was happening at work. These are the nights that I love. Peace and quiet. Oreo sleeping on pillow beside my chair next to his hedgehog. The windows are open and it is a little warm and humid but not bad. At least we are getting fresh air. I will have to turn on the air conditioning before Dominica gets up in the morning. I am supposed to wake her up at seven to get her ready for the weekend schedule. Occassionaly the neighbour’s air conditioning unit will fire up and it is located just beneath our kitchen windows and it is really loud but not nearly as bad as running our own air conditioner. Unfortunately the living room has no air flow in it whatsoever. The bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen have windows that we can open but the living room is on the other side of the apartment from those rooms and there is nothing to open on this side of the house. What we really need is a screen door for our front sliding glass doors. That would help immensly.

I put in some serious email cleaning up time this morning. I have had the same work email account for five years now and it tends to accumulate a lot of junk and all of that has to be stored on our server so I try to keep it to a minimum if at all possible. All of those huge attachments and thousands of email messages really slow things down – especially when it comes time to do big migrations and when I set up a new email client somewhere and want to make my email available when I am offline. That can be quite the hassle.

Four o’clock and still quiet. Halfway through my shift now. The overnight must be the easiest shift to work. There is just so little going on and you spend so much time waiting for feedback on one thing or another that you really can’t do any project work unless everything is taken care of ahead of time. So it is quite relaxing and for someone like me who finds working strange hours to be more of a comfort than a problem it works out really well. I just hate rigid schedules and always sleeping at the same time and always eating at the same time. I loved it when Dominica and I were in Halifax and the weather was so overcast that day and night blended into each other. With all of the rain and my odd sleeping schedule we have gotten a lot of the same effect this week. It is great for me. Dominica seems to handle it okay. Oreo is the only one who is really unhappy with it. He is very much a schedule dog.

I almost forgot about this one. This is a video from You Tube that is an actual clip from a new series here in the States where people dance and get selected for a dance competition kind of like American Idol but for dancing. This guy is the worst dancer to ever appear on television and looks like someone from the short bus trying to get on television. If he didn’t say he was dancing you would think that he was just walking on the stage and having a seizure. To make matters worse he decides to tell everyone that #1 is the best and that #2 is first loser – apparently this guy is the last loser. And then he gets snotty with the people when they get offended that he wasted everyone’s time. But since he is snotty he decides to pick his nose on camera. Later we figured out that he wasn’t actually picking his nose but doing that “I just snorted coke” nose wipe that you see junkies do. Now the most embarassing thing ever is that this guy went to school at SUNY Geneseo and Dominica actually knows him! She now knows two famous people from SUNY Geneseo – one rude, flailing junkie and one girl who made it onto the television ads for Snoop Dog’s Girls Gone Wild video.

Six o’clock and the sun has been up for a while. The birds are singing and Oreo is restless. Dominica is restless too. I can hear her moving around in the bedroom. She hasn’t slept well all night. I have to get her up in an hour. For the moment the sky is clear and the sun is out. This is the first sunrise morning that I have seen in weeks. It is actually quite bright out. This is going to be really good for the Toccos traveling. We were worried that they were going to have to drive in rain the whole way. It is supposed to rain tomorrow which will make for a soggy day in Manhattan.

Part of my job to day is to make travel plans for tomorrow. Francesca sent me a list of places that she wanted to see in Manhattan so that I could plan out a route through the city. It is going to be really tough because there are nine of us and the tour is going to be a mad dash race across the city as many of the desired destinations are huge general areas like SOHO and China Town and the specific landmarks range from the Statue of Liberty (we are going to see it, not go into it) in the harbour to the south and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Harlem to the north. That is a lot of city to cover in one day. And there is food and shopping to be done as well. One of the toughest things is that there are so many stops so close together that it makes it too hard to take the subway in between them and so it leaves us with several miles of walking to be done. It might be a total of five miles or more by the time that we are done.

Seven o’clock rolled around and it was time to get Dominica out of bed. I don’t think she slept well at all last night. I woke her up as requested but she decided that she wanted to sleep some more. Oreo came in and hopped into bed to get warm. He loves his snuggles. The plan is to go at eight and get some breakfast at the Omega and then go over to Borders in East Brunswick to see if they have any useful tourist stuff for New York. What we really need is a good map that we can use while we are wandering the city tomorrow. It will be really tough if we end up getting lost.

Eight o’clock came around and I finally managed to get Dominica out of bed. I was pretty tired but wasn’t quite ready for bed yet. I convinced Dominica to go out for some breakfast so we got moving right away and went across the street to the Omega to get the day started. From there we drove over to East Brunswick. It was the first time that Dominica had been to East Brunswick. Now she knows how to get to the shops over there and there are a lot of them. We went to Borders and did some shopping for travel guides to New York City. We got one travel guide and a map that we can carry with us tomorrow while we are in Manhattan. We also got the Lonely Planet guide to “Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Dutch Country” so that we are prepared for whenever we feel like taking a quick trip into Philly since it is only half an hour away. I had tried to get a Philly guidebook previously at Barnes and Noble near the apartment but they didn’t have a single guide to that city and only one decent guide to New York. On the way back from East Brunswick we stopped in at Office Depot and picked up a neat laptop table. It is just a small table on castors that is designed to be a mobile laptop platform. Pretty neat. We saw it a few weeks ago and decided that we needed to have it. Now it will be easy to have one of our laptops in our bedroom or pulled up to the futon. We also stopped at Pathmark to pick up some water, milk and cereal so that we are ready for the busy weekend.

It was almost noon by the time we got back from eating and shopping. Dominica called her sister and started working out plans for tomorrow while I got back into contact with the office and got some work done. There is always more to be done even when I am working the overnights. No rest for the weary. We were home for about an hour when Dominica discovered that Oreo had gotten upset with us for being gone for so long in the morning and had peed on the futon and Dominica had laid in it. So she quickly changed her clothes and drove back to Pathmark to get pet urine cleaning supplies so that we could get the futon clean before anyone arrived. Of all the days to have a problem with this. It just figures. Now we are worried about leaving him home all day tomorrow while we are in the city. It is going to be a really long day for him and he is going to be really upset.

While Dominica was out I decided to take the opportunity to get the cardboard mess that has been in our living room cleaned up. I know that she is stressed out with everything that is going on and she is not happy about the dog situation so I figured that it would be smart to have some cleaning done before she got back. I got that done and I started the long, hot process of pumping up the first of the air mattresses. There is only one here now, the other two will be arriving this evening and there is nothing that we can do about those until they arrive.

I switched us over to air conditioning around a quarter after one because it was starting to get pretty warm and with doing physical stuff around the house I was going to be overly warm very quickly. Today is a beautiful, sunny warm day. The kind of warm that encourages you to sit outside with a drink and enjoy the sunshine but not so warm that you feel the need for Burmudas and a Hawaian shirt.

Speaking of Hawaii, Democrats today attempted to introduce racial based voting rights in Hawaii. Racial based voting rights! That is unbelievable. They want to make people who can prove “native” Hawaiian ancestry to have more rights than all of the other racial groups that occupy the archipeligo. Hawaii is known for its racial diversity and is one of the worst spots to attempt such massive disregard for politcal correctness. The measure was only barely shot down with not one single Democrat voting for racial equality. If you think that racial discrimination on the job is bad wait until we reinstroduce it to politics. Forget women’s suffrage, we are going back to slavery days here! And, of course, they are keen to try this in Hawaii but don’t make similar measures to give the Haudenosaunee (known to illiterate Europeans as the Iroquois) control over Upstate New York or to give the Dutch descendants extra rights in New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut or to let anti-separation-of-church-and-state religious freaks hold sway over Massachusetts, no they single out the Hawaiians as the one racial group that they want to promote. Something is pretty fishy.

Dominica got back at 1:30 and was very happy that I had been getting work done around the house. She got right to work doing some serious cleaning. We are lucky that the apartmetn is pretty small so doing serious cleaning isn’t really all that bad of a chore. The cleaning went on solid for a few hours. The apartment is pretty Spartan (meaning that it doesn’t have a lot of stuff in it and not that it is likely to betray its own to the Persians) but looking good.

I talked to Andy this afternoon and he is happy to report that Kodak got back to him today and he is starting on a twelve month contract with Eastman Kodak in Rochester on Wednesday of next week. This is a really big contract for him and he is really excited. So he has a really busy half week ahead of him as he prepares to start his new position.

Dominica was reading Fodor’s “Exploring New York City” and she said that our itinerary for tomorrow is covered in the book and they suggest taking about two weeks to do all of the things that we are attempting to do in one day. It is going to be one crazy day. We have to be up at 6:00, I think, to have any hope of getting to the ferry terminal in time and even that, I think, is going to be a long shot.

I got the chance to try out my Vonage service to the UK today. A lot of the work that I do involves our offices in the UK and now that my Vonage is working I am able to make calls to there without a problem. Having unlimited long distance to the US, Canada, UK, Spain, France, Italy and Ireland is really awesome. You can’t go wrong with service like that. It is cool getting to call Europe. I don’t know anyone who calls Europe on a regular basis.

While I was working Dominica set to work assembling the new laptop desktop that we picked up this morning. It came together very nicely. It is quite sturdy and I think that it is going to work really well.

I found out today that net neutrality was shot down in congress. For those who do not understand the technical underpinnings of this decision this is a major blow to American freedoms. Never before has a nation’s core infrastructure been sold out from under it. In no way was this decision made by congress with the intention of benefiting the American public nor was it a vote for capitalism no matter how the Republicans attempt to paint it. Today Americans lost their freedom to communicate with each other. Our Internet and our telephones and the future of television, radio, publishing, etc. have been made a privately controlled concern. No longer do we need to worry about our first amendment rights. Instead of fighting for the right to speak our right to speak “to each other” has vanished. Today is a dark day in America. A very dark day indeed. The loudest voice of freedom has been silenced and most Americans will simply plead ignorance as we descend into the abyss.

Andy and I ended up talking on the phone for over and hour discussing the net neutrality issue and the overarching implications that come with it that have been conveniently ignored in the mass market media that stands to benefit royaly from the landmark decision. We don’t get to talk very often and we wanted to take the opportunity to talk over VoIP just in case that disappears later today. Remember, congress sold off your right to equal telephone access today too. Telephones ride on the Internet and it is no longer open to all.

The Good Humor man came by as he does every day but I just happened to be standing outside when he pulled into our parking lot today so I called in to Dominica and she came out and we got ourselves some ice cream. I have never lived in a place that had an ice cream truck that actually came there before so this is a novelty to me. Dominica didn’t understand why I was so excited to be able to get some ice cream until I explained it to her. Ice cream trucks are just something that she takes for granted. People who grew up in suburbia really have a poor understanding of what it is like to have grown up in the country. No neighbours, no local phone calls, no corner store, no pizza delivery, no cable television, no walking to anything – ever, bike riding only for the teen set, no ice cream trucks and no jobs with having a car first. It is a rough life living in the middle of nowhere and no one seems to appreciate it.

At a quarter after six I ordered some pizza and cheesy bread from Domino’s in New Brunswick to have delivered. Dominica decided that she really wanted some pizza so that is what we are having. Her family should be just leaving Frankfort right about now. We are expecting them to arrive right around midnight.

I managed to win a new server on eBay that I have been looking at for a week now. It is a Compaq Proliant DL380 G2. I plan to use this machine as a virtualization machine for running VMWare Server. VMWare Server is awesome. It is a really impressive product.

The pizza didn’t come for a long time. We started winding down for the evening. We watched some of The Simpsons that Dominica borrowed from her brother the last time that she was home. I have discovered that I really don’t enjoy The Simpsons very much anymore. We finished the season that Dominica had been watching and then we put in the last disc of The Piglet Files so that we could finish that series as well. After one episode we decided that we needed to get out to Panera Bread on Route One so that we could pick up bagles for breakfast tomorrow. Panera has the best bagles. Dominica didn’t want to go alone so Oreo and I agreed to go along with her.

We discovered that Panera only has bagles first thing in the morning so I am going to have to get up early and drive down here again to get bagles then. We decided to stop at Walmart on the way back to the apartment to pick up a toaster since we don’t have one and everyone is likely to want their bagles toasted in the morning. As always, shopping at the nasty Walmart was a huge pain and took forever. Maybe half an hour or more just to get through the express check out line. Walmart really doesn’t do anything to maintain any semblance of quality control at their stores.

Min called her family and they were eating at the McDonald’s in Great Bend, Pennsylvania so they are about three hours away. We came back to the apartment and continued watching The Piglet Files. There were just two episodes left to go so that didn’t take very long for us to get caught up with. After that we took our showers so that we wouldn’t have to take them in the morning since there won’t even begin to be enough hot water for everyone who is left to take showers let alone us. When we got out Dominica discovered a very large centipede hanging out in our bedroom so I had to kill that. I hate centipedes!

We were only up to eleven o’clock so we decided to start watching Red Dwarf Season Eight, the final season. It has been almost fifteen years that I have been waiting to see the final season of Red Dwarf. It is very exciting.

Well, we are fast approaching midnight and the Tocco clan is due to arrive here in not too long so I am going to wrap up the post for the day. There is plenty here for everyone anyway. Tomorrow is going to be a long and busy day. We are hoping to get to bed a bit before one in the morning. And I need to be awake by six. And I skipped going to bed today all together.

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