12.31.2007

2007 { The Year In Review

Nothing happened. Glad its over.

12.20.2007

casual_friday { Happy Holidays

I'll be traveling tomorrow for a catfish Christmas so I'm posting today. To everyone, everywhere, Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays, Merry Festus, etc. Maybe your holiday season(s) be safe and joyful. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to everyone. May the New Year bring new change and new joys.

Now a collection of holiday related items.

'All I want for Christmas'


Mad TV 'ReinFather'


Klingon Christmas Carol


South Park 'Jesus vs Santa' (nsfw)

12.18.2007

politics { The next President

Read this article at Hullabaloo. He's right, if the next President is a Democrat the Republicans will make him/her pay for their sins and we will be bogged down by accusations and investigations.

Personally I hope (although I don't expect it) that the next Democratic President doesn't listen to the Republican hate and propaganda machines (which really have less influence than they say) and does clean house from top to bottom. I hope the Democrats take both houses of Congress and some much needed inquiries and investigations occur.

I don't think it will happen.

I also expect that the last few months of 2008 will be a flurry of Bush putting many, many, many documents under 'Executive Privilege' to hide the bodies and it will probably be (if ever) 15 years down the road or whenever Bush Jr. dies until the truth is dug up. I'm afraid these clowns will never see a trial and will never be held responsible.

But I hope I am wrong.

MN { The consequences of 'No New Taxes'

Infrastructure pays the price. And in the case of last summer, we pay the price in lives.

From the UpTake:

12.13.2007

games/reviews { Guitar Hero

Below is the best review of Guitar Hero I've seen and I agree with with 95%.

12.12.2007

entendre { this video does not match...

...what I imagined based off the lyrics...but now that I've seen it, it makes perfect sense...

casual_friday { Casual Friday today!

Because I'm not waiting.


('Rock me Amadeus' by Falco

musings { Tech Zen


Sometimes beauty is sitting right in front of you but you are too busy to see it. I stopped for a second and experienced the moment, and I found the hard disk that I took the top off sitting on my desk to be a thing of beauty.

12.11.2007

holidays { Old Holiday Radio Shows


Public domain holiday radio shows available for listening/download here.

germs { MRSA

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus aka MRSA.

Nasty bug. Resistant to an increasing array of antibiotics. Every time I've been in the hospital I had to sign a waver that I could contract MRSA. We're partly to blame for this bug. Our society prescribes antibiotics like candy and the bacteria they're meant to treat are adapting. We're putting selective evolutionary pressure on them. In the mid to late 90s our society seemed to be at its worst (surpassed only by the Anthrax insanity of 2001-2002) where many household cleaners had 'anti-biotics' in them. Our society has become one of clean freaks. Occasionally I'll see commercials that prey upon our fears to protect our children. Most notable one I can think of is the Lysol commercial where they show a stereotypical housewife going around spraying all parts of her house with the aerosol cleaner. A marketing label 'KILLS 99% of viruses int eh air!' appears overlaid on the image. This is marketing bull shit.



I worry that we may be weakening our immune systems. Kids are supposed to be exposed to things, its what helps us adapt and build stronger, better, immune systems (regular exercise also helps).

On the flip side, we're also a dirty society. I can't count the number of times I've seen people go to the bathroom (number 1 or 2) and not wash their hands, not even the half-assed "I ran water over them" attempt. Proper hand washing is a key to help survive cold and flu season (along with covering your mouth when you cough and avoiding children).

12.10.2007

warcarft { Spoiler alert: This post contains WoW related themes and situations


Viewer discretion is advised.

But seriously. I've been a bit absent in WoW lately. Since the upheaval and general shittiness that happened over a week ago I stepped down at Guild Master after the title was dropped on me when the previous GM left. I stayed Master long enough to help staunch the bleeding (with the help of wonderful officers who stayed). I then handed the reigns over to another with more energy, charisma, and most importantly time online. See its December and that means busy social life, busy work life and travel and I've not been on much. With the late unpleasantness I developed a serious case of the blahs and mehs and decided a little distance was needed. So I've not been on WoW much. I've been reading, writing and rediscovering some old games.

I tried to install and play a space station sim called 'Startopia', but it was created in the days of Win98 and no amount of effort allowed me to get it to run on WinXP (even under varying combinations of 'run as' combatibilty options). I recently wiped my C: partition and did a fresh install. Its like having a new machine. I'm being cautious with what I install. My previous install lasted 3 years. Which is how old my CPU is and I've not had a blue screen ever on XP, save for a bad sound driver I installed when I tried to use the AC'97 onboard before buying my Audigy 2.

Anyways, I re-discovered a game that I had shelved for a while and its consumed me. Its 'Dawn of War: Dark Crusade'. Wow! I've been a fan of 'Dawn of War' since the franchise was released. Its a great game with a great engine that looks beautiful and the game play is intense. Its the standard I hold most RTS games to now. DoW has gone through many expansions. 'Dawn of War' which is set in the WH40k universe when it was first released, it let you play Space Marines, Chaos, Eldar, or Orks. The campaign was from the perspective of the Space Marine Chapter the Blood Ravens. It was engrossing. The game also let you play skirmishes and use custom maps as well as multi-player online. Its first expansion, 'DoW: Winter Assault' improved the game play and add a new faction, the Imperial Guard. The storyline let you track the campaign from any of the factions and it had a surprise ending involving another faction, but I won't provide a spoiler. The last expansion released was 'DoW: Dark Crusade' took it even a step further. Two new playable factions the Tau and the Necrons. It was set on the world of Kronos and the campaign was the (re)conquest of Kronos based upon which faction you played. The planet was divided into zones and you had an army and planetary resources used to conquer the various zones. Some zones gave planetary buffs, some gave you access to body guard units (personal commander units that you could start with). I've long been interested in the Tau (Tau and Imperial Guard being my favorite WH40k armies) and I've been playing the Tau campaign. I'm doing well, almost half the zones conquered and I've defeated the Ork, Necron and Chaos armies and pushed them off the planet (pockets of their faction still remain, but leaderless and they won't attack me now). I'm currently in the process of trying to dislodge and crush the Imperial Guard, a tough nut to crack with all their artillery and armor coupled with cheap to build infantry units. But my Sept is shooty and my Hammerhead tanks devastating. I lost my commander to Vindicare assassins, so I'm not sure what will happen. I'm still only a third of the way through conquering the IG capital map and going is slow as I'm constantly being shelled.

So anyways, this is why I haven't been in WoW much.

12.09.2007

pimp { Bitch bettah have my money...


...or else she be hav'in a Merry FIST-mas!

12.08.2007

reviews{ House of Leaves

Spoiler alert: this post contains no WOW-related events, people, photos or themes.

I've just finished Danielewski's House of Leaves, a lengthy book that has (1) generated its own cult following and (2) dragged around our house for awhile, both reasons which prompted me to read it. The book is quite engaging, replete with a relatively complex narrative structure and a reasonable ghost story. It even contains obscure literary references and mocking tributes to academic publishing, but somehow I can't bring myself to strongly recommend this thing. The novel and most ambitious part of this book is not overtly narrative, but structural- I spent a lot of time thinking about Derrida, and had to laugh when he (J.D.) was directly cited in the text. The flow of the story, as well as the arrangement of text on the page, are designed to evoke the physical experience of the narrative space. This effect was well-executed in many places, but detrimental to the book in others: clumsy passages were frequent and themes were self-consciously repeated into mindless overexposure. Moreover, Danielewski needs to learn when to say when; the textual arrangements themselves slipped from entertaining structuralism to creative-writing class hell every so often.

Net: Two and a half stars (out of 4)

As an aside, Danielewski's sister wrote a song for her debut album that seems to involve the narrator of this novel, and which appears in hex on the back cover. See video below:

12.07.2007

musings { Everything on CubeZoo is the truth...


...this flowchart says so and its on the Internet so it must be the truth!

Now for some facts:
1. Flying Monkeys started modern banking, its wasn't the Knights Templars.
2. Coffee is actually distilled pixies and contain the elixir to life.
3. When you walk, you don't actually move, the universe adjusts to your will around you.
4. There is no gravity, Texas sucks.
5. My cat's breath smells like cat food.
6. Pi actually has an end, the last digit is X.
7. I am the walrus.

casual_friday { Everything Zen?

I don't think so...



('Everything Zen' by Bush)

12.06.2007

sad { "Nah they still had Christians back then..."

I saw this (see below) as a link from here and
watched it. I regret I did.

12.05.2007

tech { Future of tomorrow today!

Or so, testing out some new blog functionality.

Thinking about going to see the Klingon Christmas Carol referenced on GG
and Avindair's blog.

Thinking of going to see this:

URBAN EXPLORERS: INTO THE DARKNESS - A DOCUMENTARY FILM NR
Thurs Night (Dec 6) only at 7:00. Tickets $8, more information
available at http://www.urbanexplorersfilm.com
(showing at the Riverview Theatre)

UPDATE: preview of the KCC from Fox (blech) 9

cult { I sensed a great disturbance in the Force...


...and now I know why. Scientology is opening the largest 'church' in the world in St. Paul. Saw it first here. Read about it here.

musings { My day so far...


...can be best summed up via a cartoon.

(cartoon from toothpastefordinner)

12.04.2007

foreign_policy { Circularity of the Hawk Mind

The NIE report released indicates that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Bush says it won't change his policy.

Not content to lie ala bald realpolitik to justify pro-war hawk policy, the current administration has now taken to simply quit caring about evidence altogether. When information that undercuts their goals is brought up, they disregard it. We're supposed to trust their goals and not the evidence.

This is faith based policy.

Iran represents no real threat, and certainly not enough to justify another illegal war of aggression (whose major goal is a resource grab of the maybe 132 billion barrels of petroleum still under Iranian soil and to cut off any direct pipeline of Southwest Asian oil to China).

When you persist in a belief beyond the point where evidence shows you are mistaken, we call that delusion. Its a dangerous affliction for any mind, and all the more dangerous when it is the faith of war for American dominance, as it seems to be for this administration.

12.03.2007

musings { Favorite old computer RPG


You can list up to three.

Rules:

1. Playstation 1 technology or older. (no Xbox*, Playstation 2+, or similar, basically prior to 1998).
2. Has to be a computer or console game.

Here are mine, in order from most memorable/favorite to least:

1. Ultima V (C64)
2. Mars Saga (C64)
3. Wasteland (C64)

Runners up, in no order:

*Final Fantasy 7
*Fallout
*Elder Scrolls I

11.21.2007

holiday { Let us celebrate the day of the Turkey uprising


Happy Thanksgiving.


I am Turkitron. I have been sent from the year 9595 to save the Thanksgiving turkeys you will attempt to consume tomorrow, for they are the great, great, great, great grandfathers of GOBBLOX, the turkey that is destined to lead the rebellion against the Master Chickens!

In the year 9595, a race of deformed turkey was genetically developed by chicken scientists as revenge against his bird brother. These turkeys would exit the womb doused in gravy; gravy filled with the giblets from a monkey. The French craved it, and as a result turkey became the only food source for France, which by then will be called Robo-France 29. I was later killed by the chickens! So, of course, you can see why I'm angry at those chickens.

Months and months ago I came upon your neighbor taking the form of the Cybernetic Ghost Of Christmas Past From The Future. But I didn't realize he was an agent - a chicken in disguise. Sent from the year 9595, they had evolved… big time. From beyond feathers their beaks had softened, and they had acquired synthetic intelligence and appendages from the chicken black market from beyond the moon. Your neighbor, who dwells next door to you, is a hyper-evolved chicken from the future.


Take the turkey out of the oven if you want him to live.

I had to be reformulated by rogue chicken scientists for the rebellion. They crafted my sleek turkey body which allowed for safe passage through the time rift. The chickens became a master race through a freak accident involving radiation, and interestingly enough, to me, marshmallows.

11.19.2007

11.16.2007

politics { MN Senate race

I'm endorsing Jack Nelson Pallmeyer.

I think if the DFL doesn't endorse him they are fools and he should still run.

Why? Because of these...


I am motivated by three key issues that impact our future:

* Addressing global warming

* Ending the Iraq war and re-orienting our foreign policy

* Achieving economic fairness and government for the common good

I also want you to know my positions on several other issues:

* Implementing universal, comprehensive, single-payer health care

* Strongly supporting education, including pre-K

* Comprehensively reforming our immigration policy


My second choice would be Al Franken.

casual_friday2 { Ode to the feral DPS druid

aka the Kitty


('My Cat', Jack Off Jill)

casual_friday { Bad Touch

11.14.2007

protest { It was a cold gray morning...


...and I stood freezing against the wind at the bus stop on my way to work. Errant and sparse flakes of snow falling. I did what I often do, listened to my iPod and read the NY Times, on in the Arts section, something warmed the corners of my liberal, counterculture heart...

The US Women's Competitive Bridge team held up an anti-Bush at the World Bridge Championship.

I guess protest is not as dead as I thought.

I support these women. Protest and the questioning of the government is healthy for a democracy and is a sign of patriotism. Unquestioning the rule of leadership is jingoism, not patriotism and is the hallmark of facist regimes. I also think the USBF is a bit harsh in their punishment as it appears there is not a general, stated policy by them regarding freedom of expression of members.

11.12.2007

science { The Pill

Good?
Bad?

Read this (and the link it sources).

politics { Republican National Convention, St Paul, MN 2008

So a question out to all the Minnesota activist groups, liberals, fed up citizens, etc. When and where are the protests going to be?

Please tell me there will be protest. And cake (or pie) with hugs for all.

I realize that protesting the GOP will do about as much good as teaching a rock Calculus, but really political rallies are really like funerals, they're not for the people in the convention (who are off in their own world), but rather for those of us on the outside to show others of like minds that they are not a lone and someone cares.

I'm also sure the police will be there and we will even have our own little 'free speech zone' cordoned off especially for us, far away to some corner of the city.

musings { Am I a hippie?


Short answer, no.

Now for the long answer. I do not think that word means what you think it means. But I am totally all over the counterculture. Especially counter to one as corrupted and corporatized as this one. I believe in equality, equal means equal and I think the arguments over race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, and religion are all bullshit...until someone tries to legislate an ideology. Then I'm a race car in the red pissed. I write my members of congress. I vote. I pay taxes, and I pay them gladly if it means freely available public education (but I think it should be K-College), socialized disaster response (i.e. fire fighters, police, etc.). I would like to see socialized medicine (freely available proactive health care to all, period), enhanced and socialized public transit as well as communication (broadband cheaper and more available). I believe in a military, but one for defense, not offense, one that will intervene to help quash human rights violations, not commit them. I rail against a privatized government run by fuck-you-for-profit companies with only one rule...maximize profits. I think our food should be locally grown and farms should be part of the community. I think our government should be changed so we can enact votes of 'No Confidence' in our elected leaders and officials. I think there should be government oversight, especially of the 'Free Market' which, if deregulation has taught us anything means that 'Free' is a myth. I think CEOs should not make more than 5 times what their lowest paid employee is paid, and they should be required to have the same health benefits (see socialized medicine). I think art for art's sake should be embraced and that basic science research should be encouraged and enriched no matter how outlandish (see teflon...). I think marriage should be abolished in the eyes of the Law (civil unions for all, anyone, if you want to get 'married', that's between you and your religion and has nothing to do with the law or legal protections thereof). I believe Abortion is between a woman, her doctor, and if she chooses the father, everyone else get the fuck out. I believe the vagina is not a clown car, be responsible when having kids. Practice safe sex, always. I believe in being truthful. I think SUVs are a waste, of money, resources, and space. Same with McMansions. I like diversity in architecture. I like things that have both form and function. I like the sun on my face and the bite of a cold winter on my cheek. I love my cat (yes she is named Muffy, got a problem with that?). I take pride in my skills but often hate my job. I like the word Antidisestablishmentarianism, even if I lean towards Disestablishmentarianism (I like Church and State separate).

I believe in peace. Violence is only an option of the very last resort and it should never be embraced as glorious. Its horrors should never be censored lest we forget the consequences and idealize it as glamorous and heroic. During a war it should never be 'business as usual'. Sacrifices are always made. Denial is not a river in Egypt, its the predominant feeling here in this country.

I've posted this video before but I think it needs to be posted again:

11.09.2007

casual_friday { "A green velvet jacket, sets you free"

'Club Montepulciano', Hooverphonic

politics { Minnesotans in Iowa

With the election season coming up to full speed, idiocy and ideology are ramping up. I've seen a few emails and heard some rumblings flying around about having MN liberals go to Iowa to door knock. A good example is posted over on Evil Bobby.

11.07.2007

politics { Walz votes to bury Kucinich Impeachment Articles

Instead of standing with a fellow Democrat to send a strong message of censure about this Administration and its action, Tim Walz has voted to relegate this proposal to the Judicial Committee, effectively killing it. But to be fair he is not alone.

Representative Walz, I don't understand why you would vote against this measure? Voting to move it to Committee is not a vote for it, especially when common wisdom holds this will be a death sentence for the measure.

11.02.2007

word { Aspergery

Now it's time for another in our series of highlighting non-words making it into life's grand pageant:

Aspergery

not a word

Brought to you by the current champion of words: melty

casual_friday { Some folks are born, made to wave the flag...

'Fortunate Son' by CCR

11.01.2007

politics { "Waterboarding is not torture."

Or so says our current Administration.

Salon.com had a link to some investigative reporting where the person volunteers to undergo water boarding. Watch it and decide for yourself.


There was a reason the Geneva Convention classified this method of interrogation as torture. Its acts like this that make it so we can now never accuse others of Human Rights violations.

10.31.2007

nerdcore { This is Hallow's End...

I play an undead, a Forsaken in World of Warcraft. The origins of the Forsaken trace back to the plague released upon Lordaeron by the Lich King, Ner'zhul. This plague created the Scourge, undead minions bound to the will of the Lich King and meant to destroy humankind (and elf-kind) and convert them to the will of the Lich King. The greatest champion (and who would merge with Ner'zhul to be the new Lich King) was the Death Knight Arthas. When Arthas sacked the High Elf homeland, he took their greatest general Sylvanas Windrunner and made her a Banshee queen. She served the Lich King and slaughtered in his name until circumstances allowed her to suddenly regain her will. She gathered those others of the Scourge who were newly awakened to a kind of cursed freedom and took the ruins of Lordaeron City as their home and capital. This became the Undercity, this is Pernox's home. Blizzard released a great video illustrating this story:



Every year, the Forsaken celebrate their independence from the Lich King in a holiday called Hallow's End. Undercity and Brill (a town outside the Undercity) host many activities and experiences. The world of Azeroth is also plagued by the spirit of a relentless and restless paladin, known as the Headless Horseman, he wreaks havoc upon the towns and resides deep within the Scarlet Monastery. This video illustrates Hallow's End and the Headless Horseman.


Hallow's End - Undercity and Brill

politics { President-o-tron 9000

So from now until the election, I'm gonna fire up the President-o-tron 9000 and have it randomly spew out who will win, cuz really at this point it almost doesn't matter.

I fired it up and it gave me this result...


A turd in a hat



Hmmm...I can't tell if needs further debugging or if its dead on...

10.29.2007

music { Bubbles and Water...

Over the weekend a reader named 'nse' sent me a link to the english translation and video of the Alizee song 'J'en ai marre'...its crazy as hell.

She's still hot though...

10.27.2007

quiz { What Kind of Liberal Are You?

Saw this quiz linked on Norwegianity's site. You can take the quiz here.

My results:

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are an Eco-Avenger, also known as an environmentalist or tree hugger. You believe in saving the planet from the clutches of air-fouling, oil-drilling, earth-raping conservative fossil fools.



Interesting. If our environmental concerns were not so dire, my natural tendency would be much more likely to be Reality-Based Intellectualists.

10.26.2007

holidays { Halloween

Halloween, know as Samhain by some, Hallow's End in Azeroth.

In this world or the virtual it is my favorite holiday. I look forward to it every year. Nerdwife and I used to host costume parties. That changed when we came to Rochester. This town does not celebrate Halloween. No haunted houses, not haunted hay rides, no scary movie showings or special events. I don't know what the issue is with this place. The mall every year around this time puts up Christmas crap and only pays token nods to Halloween and Thanksgiving. Which is odd, from a capitalist perspective, Halloween is, or was, the #2 holiday where people spend money. I suppose that is now Valentines's Day if you go by the local mall, which puts up Valentine's stuff the day after Xmas it seems.

Luckily some grad students we know throw a party, though this year there they won't be. Last year I was the ghost of Albert Einstein. This year I was going to be Professor Moody, but couldn't get the stuff together in time.

Why Halloween? I dunno, I've always liked the scary stories of ghosts and ghouls. Stories like the Headless Horseman and The Raven. I liked dressing up in costume and trick or treating...back when you could still do it after dark before the panicked parents brigade and their over protectiveness took the country by storm. No one trick or treats after dark anymore, well at least not down here.

In St. Paul Nerdwife and I would always stay home and dress up a little and watch scary movies with a big bowl of candy and wait for the children. We lived in a part that was not considered safe, so we only usually had the little girl from across the street, but it was a time when we could connect at least with one of our neighbors.

My elementary school used to hold giant Halloween parties for grades K-6. The gym was turned into a haunted house. There spooky story sessions, costumes of course, and candy...lots and lots of candy.

High School Halloween was when...uh...nevermind...moving on, no need to incriminate myself with tales of certain types of paper and certain projectiles of a certain kind. Lets just say...if teenagers come to your door asking for candy, give it to them and don't be stingy.

Our biggest and most successful Halloween party that Nerdwife and I hosted, as Count and Countess D'Ghoule will always have a warm spot in my heart. Here is the recipe for the chili we made:


Evil Recipes

Wretched chili:
Seasoning mix: Other ingredients:
1 tb + 2 tsp salt
1 1\2 c. toasted cornmeal
3 tsp cayenne
3 tb vegetable oil
3 tsp cumin
6 cloves garlic
3 tsp onion powder (optional)
4 c chopped onions
3 tsp oregano
3 lb. lean beef chuck
3 tsp white pepper
2 tb coarsely ch fresh jalapenos
3 tsp thyme
2 tb ch. fresh Hungarian wax peppers
2 tsp cinnamon
4 c beef stock
2 tsp nutmeg
1 large red bell pepper, ch
1 tsp ground coriander
1 large yellow bell pepper, ch
2 tsp black pepper
1 large orange bell pepper, ch
2 tsp paprika
2- 28 oz cans plum tomatoes in juice
2 coarsely ground dried guajillo peppers
3 1\2 c pinto beans
4 coarsely ground dried super chilies
Fresh basil to taste
Fresh cilantro to taste



Combine seasoning mix. Toast cornmeal in a 6-8 inch skillet over high heat, stirring frequently, until it turns light brown. Set aside, Heat oil in a large pot, and add 2 c onions and all of the garlic. Brown for 5 minutes. Add 1\2 the seasoning mix, the fresh jalapeno and wax peppers, and meat. Cook until meat is lightly browned. Add cornmeal and 1 1/2 c stock, then vigorously stir and scrape pan bottom. Add remaining broth, bell peppers, and onions. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and bean, bring to boil, and reduce heat. Cook until well thickened and meat very tender, 2-3 hours. Add basil and cilantro, if desired. Serves an insane number.

Vegetarian: omit meat; use vegetable broth in place of beef broth.


casual_friday2 { Because I can

'Dumb Animals', Handsome Furs

casual_friday { Its getting colder

'Tropical Iceland', Fiery Furnaces

10.25.2007

in memoriam { Remembering Paul

Paul David Wellstone (1944-2002)




Paul and Sheila died 5 years ago today. Minnesota is diminished by his absence.

10.24.2007

television { A Little Signal in the Noise

For what it is worth, Pushing Daisies on Wednesday nights is a delightful stylized fantasy, a rare reason to turn on my tele these days. You can watch all the episodes online free here.

10.22.2007

musings { The Farm Life...?

I've lived and grown in many different settings, city, rural, farm. I've always felt farmer's have a thankless job. Its hard work. Little pay. You do get to see the fruit of your labors (hopefully, if the season/harvest/herd does well). But it doesn't give you magical insight into life. Although you do get to see the circle of life in all its messy, shit-soaked, and painful glory, especially if you're on a dairy farm and its birthing season. God I'll never forget that smell. One thing that has especially bugged me is why everyone thinks the Midwest, places like Kansas know anything about anything beyond the rest of the country? I'm not alone, I found this article.

excerpt:


The rural life, specifically, the agricultural industry, is a massive, important part of our nation's economic well-being. And yes, yes, I've read Kunstler's Long Emergency, and I know that one catastrophic afternoon in the near future, I will rue the day my grandfather gave up the sod to become a cop in the New World. For some people the rural life is an incredibly rewarding way of life. They should be very proud of the fact they have held on to this great tradition of commerce and, one might argue service, in the face of corporate farming. But that life is not holy, it does not bless one with special insight into the intent of the Framers of the goddam Consitution or what America "should" be like. Have I lost some sort of sacred connection with the land? Maybe. But the last time I checked, the land was dirt, same dirt as the rest of the world, and several generations of my family went broke farming other people's dirt, interrupted only when easily annoyed Englishmenwould occassionally show up and burn all their shit down. Pardon me for enjoying my goddam latte.


Now unlike the author, I lived a part of my life on a farm, a dairy farm to be exact. My father had a life long dream of owning a farm and being a farmer and he made his dream come true. The only insights that way of life gives you is how unfair things can actually be, how fucked the American economy is in regards to the, what they call 'owner/operator' which used to be called the 'family farm'. All this, at least it seemed to me didn't give mystical insight, but it gave a deft sense of practicality. You do what works. You don't do what doesn't, pretty simple. You also see directly how your actions have consequences. Don't rake the hay after its been cut and rained on? It goes moldy and useless. Choose not to clean out the barn regularly? You see a spike in the bacteria count of your milk and consequently a drop in value and price you are paid for it, and if its too bad, they will make you dump it.

Oh and my father is no longer a farmer. He gave up that dream a few years ago. Its not a life that is kind to you as you get older.
I agree with the author fully. Middle America has not been a good gauge for anything since perhaps the 1940s when most of the country were still farmers.

And Hollywood is not in touch with anything, most especially reality. Though for the last few years I feel the same can be said about Washington D.C.

music { Radiohead's new album

Radiohead has broken away from traditional music pricing and has made available on their site, their new album. The cost? You choose. Yes, you heard me correctly, you choose. Any amount. They did this because they feel fans will pay a fair rate for their product.

I purchased my download today at #0.50 per song, or #5 total (~$10, cheaper than a CD) to support them, and to support this out of the box, not the traditional model of music pricing.

I try to buy from the artist when possible, since the artist, along with the consumer (with the exception of shit artists like Brittney Spears who would not be anything without the music industry) get screwed the most by the music industry and its attack dog the RIAA.

politics { The Gutless and the Gullible (pick up)

Picked up this reading from EvilBobby and thought it warranted a repeating of this Daily Kos article.

Excerpt:


What these politicians fail to realize is that the attacks will come no matter what. No matter which vote is cast, no matter how tightly one embraces this war or how far away from the party they run, the attacks will always come. Because the only thing that matters to the Republicans during election time is that there is a "D" after their opponent's name.

It is that "D" which ensures the inevitable flow of lies. It is that "D"--no matter how faded--which is blood in the water for the campaign sharks. Voting against Feingold-Reid did not and will not save the gutless from these attacks. Voting for telecom immunity will not make the Republicans suddenly raise their hands and admit that Democrat X is "really strong on terror!" In compromising then to try and avoid these attacks, Democrats are only compromising their principles.


And something specific to Tim Walz...who I feel has betrayed us as an elected official in our district, who was elected to help bring change, to protect our basic freedoms and rights (from both terrorists and an overzealous Executive Branch) and who so far, in my opinion has failed.


It is, to be blunt, a lack of a brain and not lack of a spine, which typifies this group. As an extreme example, take Representative Baird, who is enamored with the war. Take the Democrats who voted for the atrocious FISA bill because they genuinely believed it was the right thing to do.

In this category falls every Democrat who takes any word uttered by this administration at face value. Tht includes those idiots who voted for FISA because they were told of al Qaeda was going to strike Congress before September 11th. That includes the naive who think that a sternly worded letter will actually get more than a chuckle out of this administration. That includes the suckers who think putting administration officials under oath isn't necessary.

The gullible are those who fail to appreciate the extent of the damage done to this country by the Republican Party. They are the ones who earnestly reach out to Republicans with open hand and are blind to the knives hovering over their backs.

These Democrats, more than the gutless ones, are the ones hindering progress. They prattle on in Capitol Hill as if the Republican Party weren't controlled by neocons and the radical right. They trust those who have evidenced through their wars and through their words that they should not be trusted. And they, in all their dense glory, believe that they are doing what is in the best interest of this nation.

God help us all.


But ultimately the article was a hopeful one, and very realistic. We, as those who choose to align with the Democratic Party, will have a lot of work and fights ahead of us, both within and without.


Our task, as I see it over the next year, is two-fold. We must continue to call for courage on the part of the gutless, and we must continue trying to wake the gullible. We do so by joining with those in Congress, with the Russ Feingolds in the Senate and the Barbara Lees in the House, to show the gutless and gullible the error of their ways.

It's not an easy task. To be frank, I'm not sure if it's even a possible task. But I will never hold back from writing a letter or making a call because I think it may be futile, and neither should you. Because as impossible as true change may seem, inaction solidifies failure's fate.

energy { 2007 Nobel Conference (redux)

The webcasts of the energy conference talks at Gustavus are finally up.

books { What's in Dumbledore's Closet?

An interesting twist.

10.19.2007

activism { Panty Power

Saw this on omninerd:


Panty Raid Activism
from OmniNerd News by gnifyus

When diplomacy fails in Burma, it’s time to break out the radical activist weaponry, namely: The Women’s Panty. In response to the recent crackdown on monks, The “Panties for Peace Campaign” has found its way to Chiang Mai Thailand where they are sending women’s underwear to the men of Burmese embassies around the world. They are hoping to play on the superstitious beliefs held widely by junta generals that any contact with women’s undergarments (clean or dirty) can reduce their strength. So far activists claim that hundreds of the dangerous undergarments have been sent around the world with 140 pairs sent to the Geneva embassy alone.

The message on the activists' website reads: "This is your chance to use your Panty Power to take away the power from the SPDC. You can post, deliver or fling your panties at the closest Burmese Embassy any day from today. Send early, send often."


So remember to fling early and fling often.

poem { Fury of October

I sit and sip
I sit and think
I see the sky turn dark and gray
the wind blows from all around
the season has changed
and so have I
on the invisible current come a smell
wetness and darkness and the promise of hell
the world goes on, oblivious
the day of the rose is over
the twilight of winter is rising
the falling leaf brings a warning
the cold stab in the air, a longing

casual_friday { Nothing this week

Since Allthingsspring has been doing the week of music, nothing for casual Friday this week. Enjoy the past week in music.

On a side note its a good thing they make me turn off my bazooka before the movie starts.

music { Week of Music - Friday October 19, 2007

Queen - 'Bohemian Rhapsody'



Mischa Maisky - 'Le Carnaval des Animaux XIII: Le Cygne' (Camille Saint-Saëns)

10.18.2007

word { WoWiversary

Now it's time for another in our series of highlighting non-words making it into life's grand pageant:

WoWiversary

not a word

Brought to you by the current champion of words: melty

music { Week of Music - Thursday October 18, 2007

Muse - 'Citizen Erased'



Otis Redding - 'I've Been Loving You Too Long'

10.17.2007

music { Week of Music - Wednesday October 17, 2007

Kate Rusby - 'Jolly Ploughboys'



The Smiths - 'The Boy with the Thorn in His Side'

10.16.2007

psa { don't copy your butt

music { Week of Music - Tuesday October 16, 2007

Eva Cassidy - 'Over the Rainbow'




Imogen Heap - 'Let Go'

10.15.2007

philosophy { Steve Pinker/Rebecca Goldstein interview

Over at salon.com.

I found it interesting and recommend it to others, warning though, its a loooong interview.

tech { the coming 'Storm'

As an Information Technology professional, stories like this scare me and keep me up at night.


Storm represents the future of malware. Let's look at its behavior:

1. Storm is patient. A worm that attacks all the time is much easier to detect; a worm that attacks and then shuts off for a while hides much more easily.

2. Storm is designed like an ant colony, with separation of duties. Only a small fraction of infected hosts spread the worm. A much smaller fraction are C2: command-and-control servers. The rest stand by to receive orders. By only allowing a small number of hosts to propagate the virus and act as command-and-control servers, Storm is resilient against attack. Even if those hosts shut down, the network remains largely intact, and other hosts can take over those duties.

3. Storm doesn't cause any damage, or noticeable performance impact, to the hosts. Like a parasite, it needs its host to be intact and healthy for its own survival. This makes it harder to detect, because users and network administrators won't notice any abnormal behavior most of the time.

4. Rather than having all hosts communicate to a central server or set of servers, Storm uses a peer-to-peer network for C2. This makes the Storm botnet much harder to disable. The most common way to disable a botnet is to shut down the centralized control point. Storm doesn't have a centralized control point, and thus can't be shut down that way.

This technique has other advantages, too. Companies that monitor net activity can detect traffic anomalies with a centralized C2 point, but distributed C2 doesn't show up as a spike. Communications are much harder to detect.

One standard method of tracking root C2 servers is to put an infected host through a memory debugger and figure out where its orders are coming from. This won't work with Storm: An infected host may only know about a small fraction of infected hosts -- 25-30 at a time -- and those hosts are an unknown number of hops away from the primary C2 servers.

And even if a C2 node is taken down, the system doesn't suffer. Like a hydra with many heads, Storm's C2 structure is distributed.
5. Not only are the C2 servers distributed, but they also hide behind a constantly changing DNS technique called "fast flux." So even if a compromised host is isolated and debugged, and a C2 server identified through the cloud, by that time it may no longer be active.

6. Storm's payload -- the code it uses to spread -- morphs every 30 minutes or so, making typical AV (antivirus) and IDS techniques less effective.

7. Storm's delivery mechanism also changes regularly. Storm started out as PDF spam, then its programmers started using e-cards and YouTube invites -- anything to entice users to click on a phony link. Storm also started posting blog-comment spam, again trying to trick viewers into clicking infected links. While these sorts of things are pretty standard worm tactics, it does highlight how Storm is constantly shifting at all levels.

8. The Storm e-mail also changes all the time, leveraging social engineering techniques. There are always new subject lines and new enticing text: "A killer at 11, he's free at 21 and ...," "football tracking program" on NFL opening weekend, and major storm and hurricane warnings. Storm's programmers are very good at preying on human nature.

9. Last month, Storm began attacking anti-spam sites focused on identifying it -- spamhaus.org, 419eater and so on -- and the personal website of Joe Stewart, who published an analysis of Storm. I am reminded of a basic theory of war: Take out your enemy's reconnaissance. Or a basic theory of urban gangs and some governments: Make sure others know not to mess with you.

politics { 'Where have all the Leaders gone?'

This appeared in my inbox and I thought I would share:


Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

Remember Lee Iacocca, the man who rescued Chrysler Corporation from
death throes?

He has a new book, and here are some excerpts.



"Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening?

Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder.

We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right
over a cliff.

We've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even
clean up after

a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad,

everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say,
"Stay the course."



Stay the course? You've got to be kidding! This is America , not the
damned Titanic.

I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!



You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker,
and maybe I have.

But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore.

The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore
the Constitution,

tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress
responds to record

deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy. (thanks, but I
don't need it)



The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys
in handcuffs.

While we're fiddling in Iraq , the Middle East is burning and nobody
seems to know

what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard
questions.

That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled
across the ocean for.

I've had enough. How about you?



I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're
not outraged.

This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have



The Biggest C is Crisis



Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis.

It's easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory.

Or send someone else's kids off to war when you've never seen a
battlefield yourself.

It's another thing to lead when your world comes tumbling down.



On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other
time in our history.

We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes. Where was
George Bush?

He was reading a story about a pet goat to kids in Florida when he
heard about the attacks.

He kept sitting there for twenty minutes with a baffled look on his
face.

It's all on tape. You can see it for yourself.



Then, instead of taking the quickest route back to Washington and
immediately going

on the air to reassure the panicked people of this country, he
decided it wasn't safe

to return to the White House. He basically went into hiding for the
day, and he

told Vice President Dick Cheney to stay put in his bunker.



We were all frozen in front of our TVs, scared out of our wits,
waiting for our

leaders to tell us that we were going to be okay, and there was
nobody home.

It took Bush a couple of days to get his bearings and devise the
right photo op at Ground Zero.



That was George Bush's moment of truth, and he was paralyzed. And
what did he do

when he'd regained his composure? He led us down the road to Iraq ;
a road his own

father had considered disastrous when he was President. But Bush
didn't listen to Daddy.

He listened to a higher father. He prides himself on being faith
based, not reality based.

If that doesn't scare the crap out of you, I don't know what will



A Hell of a Mess



So here's where we stand.

We're immersed in a bloody war with no plan for winning and no plan
for leaving.

We're running the biggest deficit in the history of the country.

We're losing the manufacturing edge to Asia , while our once-great
companies are

getting slaughtered by health care costs.

Gas prices are skyrocketing, and nobody in power has a coherent
energy policy.

Our schools are in trouble. Our borders are like sieves.

The middle class is being squeezed every which way.

These are times that cry out for leadership.



But when you look around, you've got to ask:

"Where have all the leaders gone?" Where are the curious, creative
communicators?

Where are the people of character, courage, conviction, competence,
and common sense?

I may be a sucker for alliteration, but I think you get the point.



Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than
making us

take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo?

We've spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and
all we

know how to do is react to things that have already happened.



Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina.

Congress has yet to spend a single day evaluating the response to
the hurricane,

or demanding accountability for the decisions that were made in the
crucial hours

after the storm. Everyone's hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping
it doesn't happen again!



Now, that's just crazy. Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan.

Figure out what you're going to do the next time.



Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we
can restore our

competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would have believed that
there could ever be

a time when "the Big Three" referred to Japanese car companies?

How did this happen, and more important, what are we going to do
about it?



Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying
down the debt,

or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem.
The silence is deafening.

But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and
milking the middle class dry.



I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn't elect you to sit on
your asses and do nothing

and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our
greatness is being replaced

with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? That some
bobblehead on Fox News will

call them a name? Give me a break. Why don't you guys show some
spine for a change?



Had Enough?



Hey, I'm not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I'm
trying to light a fire.

I'm speaking out because I have hope. I believe in America . In my
lifetime I've had

the privilege of living through some of America 's greatest moments.
I've also

experienced some of our worst crises: the Great Depression, World
War II, the Korean War,

the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the 1970s oil crisis,
and the struggles of recent

years culminating with 9/11.



If I've learned one thing, it's this: You don't get anywhere by
standing on the sidelines

waiting for somebody else to take action Whether it's building a
better car or building

a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. That's
the challenge I'm

raising in this book. It's a call to action for people who, like me,
believe in America .

It's not too late, but it's getting pretty close. So let's shake off
the horseshit

and go to work. Let's tell 'em all we've had enough."





Excerpted from Where Have All the Leaders Gone?.

Copyright C-2007 by Lee Iacocca. All rights reserved.


(I'm posting without permission but the message is good and should go out.)

music { Week of Music - Monday October 15, 2007

Thievery Corporation - 'Lebanese Blonde'



Weezer - 'Keep Fishin' '

10.14.2007

music { Week of Music - Sunday October 14, 2007

The Tallis Scholars - 'Nunc Dimittis' (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina)




R.E.M. - 'Country Feedback'

10.13.2007

music { Week of Music - Saturday October 13, 2007

Now through Friday, I'll be posting music, two per day. Enjoy.


John Coltrane Quartet - 'Alabama'



Peter Schilling - 'Major Tom'

10.12.2007

awards { Nobel Peace Prize

Former vice-president Al Gore, along with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in highlighting global climate change.

This almost makes up for their awarding it to Kissinger in '73.

10.10.2007

politics { U.S. Senate race 2008

Joe Bodell at Minnesota Campaign Report says that Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is making his Senate run official, and will announce later today.

He's got my support.

10.05.2007

casual_friday { <3

Sting, 'Shape of my Heart'

10.03.2007

politics { Bush to condemn Democrats as 'Tax and spend'

Which you know is different than the Republicans who are 'Spend and let someone else take the fall for paying for it.'

In other news Bush will veto S-CHIPs because, you know, it costs too much and it really only covers poor people and since we're America (Fuck Yeah!) we don't have poor people.

Someday I will wake up and this will all have been a bit of bad beef, an undigested piece of potato or something like that.

10.02.2007

atheism { Sam Harris @ Atheist Alliance International

This last week, some of the major luminaries of the 'new' Atheism ("Now with less shutting up!"&trade) were at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in Washington D.C..

Sam Harris gave an interesting talk that apparently didn't go down quite as well as some of the other speeches. Worth a read.

energy { 2007 Nobel Conference

Gustavus Adolphus College is hosting a Nobel Conference this week, and the topic is "Heating Up: The Energy Debate". Noted presenters include Professor Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton, James E. Hansen of NASA Goddard and Columbia University, and polar explorer and conservationist Will Steger. The conference will undoubtedly touch on the major interrelated issues of energy, peak oil, and global climate change. I cannot attend the conference myself (although I made the time to hear Ray Kurzweil at Mayo this morning), but Gustavus will be posting online video of the two days (today and tomorrow) shortly. Worth a look, given the importance of the topic and the notability of the speakers.

Information on the conference is here.

The webcast will likely be posted here.

10.01.2007

life { Rushford six weeks later

Star Tribune did a piece about Rushford, MN, a town not far from here that was destroyed by the flood. It covers a topic that I've been wondering about, what happens when winter hits?

I've lived in MN for my whole life. I grew up farther north where the winters are a bit harsher than down here in SE MN, but winter is winter. And even though its felt like I've not had winter the last 3 years, the SE MN winters can get get to -10F. We can still get two feet of snow, often all at once (the first winter we lived here, we received 27" inches of snow over night in March 2005).

Donate clothing or cash to the relief effort. Many in this area have lost everything except the clothing on their backs and they will need more of that in the coming months.

SE MN 2007 Flood Volunteer/Relief Information

politics { Its Monday

Found this video via 'Second Life'.



Wonder if the MN House has the same issue...what about the Federal House of Representatives?

9.28.2007

casual_friday2 { Still Angry

I wish I had a metal heart...

casual_friday { Nothing casual about it today

Time for a Revolution.



Support the troops and respect their sacrifice. Bring them home.

Stop the corruption of our government, Impeach Bush.

Stop the greed.

Stop wasting time.

Stop wasting Earth.

Stop the insanity.

casual_friday

9.27.2007

books { 'The World Without Us'

I just finished reading a new book that has been gathering praise and provoking discussion, and for good reason. The book, The World
Without Us
by Alan Weisman, is a grand thought experiment. Weisman takes the premise that 'what if, one day, humans just vanished from the Earth - poof, gone. What happens next?' Without the human species, what does the Earth look like? What happens to our things, our houses, our cities, our manufactured goods? What changes rapidly? What lasts nearly forever? How do animal populations change? What animals largely vanish or go extinct in short order, and what would thrive without us? What happens to the atmosphere, the oceans, the entire ecosystem, without the pervasive input from humankind.

Suffice to say it was a fascinating read. It was equally uplifting and disturbing, uplifting in knowing that the world and life on it will recover and adapt nicely in the absence human 'stewardship' (assuming we have not pumped so much fossil carbon into the atmosphere that we have set us down an unstoppable positive-feedback loop toward transforming the Earth into a greenhouse oven like Venus). Nature works just fine without us and our meddling. On the other hand, the book is also quite dark in many areas in the sense that we will leave certain legacies behind long after us - things like plastics, carbon pollution in the atmosphere, dioxins, heavy metals, and radioactivity, in addition to more benign things like bronze statues and Mount Rushmore.

This is a well researched multidisciplinary narrative about a world as it would look without our input, our industry, our sheer power to change the world in ways that no other known species could dream of. The pictures Weisman paints are equally comforting and unnerving, but certainly compelling. Well worth a read.

politics { Questioning the sanity of the DNC

I meant to post this yesterday when I read about Walz's support of the procedural vote to condemn MoveOn.org for their full page ad in the New Times questioning General Petraeus. Mr. Walz this is another, in my opinion, kow-tow of the Republican rhetoric. MoveOn had every right to take out that ad. I didn't see any condemnations against the Swift Boat Veterans. I didn't see any condemnations against the ads that used Osama Bin Laden to instill fear last election. Why them? Why now? Mr. Walz you are starting to look and smell like a Republican in Liberal clothing.

That aside, what made me question the DNC's sanity was there punishment of Florida and Michigan for moving up their primaries. Why punish these states? Florida's State Legislature is Republican controlled and they are the ones who mandated the earlier primary. Why pull their delegates? You had the Presidential candidates take oaths that they would not campaign in those states, yet you're still letting them fund raise. That is fucked up.

9.26.2007

musings { How time changes us?



I'm not sure why in the article 'Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome: 10 Worst Moments' caused me to suddenly think of this, but I guess my mind works in mysterious ways.

I remember when I was younger, we're talking under 10 here, and I would watch TV shows like 'Seasame Street', '3-2-1 Contact!', 'Electric Company', 'Newton's Apple' and 'Nova' among others, I would see places and people. Whenever I saw a city, I would think that happened in the Twin Cities, as because up to that point, the only city I had ever seen was St Paul, when I would go to visit Grandma. I would stare in wonder at all the amazing things the kids with puppets were doing and believe that 'Seasame Street' must be somewhere near Como Park. As we would drive around the city I would look for it. I never found it and many years later did I realize that was New York and everything was fictional.

Now as I'm older I see things in the paper and watch things on TV and think 'that never happens here.'

Somehow I feel I've lost something.

9.25.2007

pimp { Pimp that Shit!


Get your Pimp name bitches!

Back in the day I rolled as 'Golden Brown S-G', these days my bitches know me as 'Bishop Don S. Large', as in "No Bishop Don S. Large! Please don't beat me down Bishop Don S. Large! I left my money in my other pants Bishop Don S. Large!"

Word.

9.24.2007

philosophy { What do we have that mice don't?


Who or what are we? What do we have the mice don't? What is consciousness? What is sentience? Are we blank slates or preprogrammed automatons following a complex instruction set? What separates us from animals? What sets us apart? Is my experience of reality the same as yours?

All I could come up with is Art. Everything else is just extended tool use development or organism hierarchy. Even though mice are not tool users, other animals definitely are quite crafty users.

Google



Your search - "what do we have that mice don't?" - did not match any documents.

work/musings { Of Enterprise and Workgroup - Meetings

Meetings, a necessity or waste of time? Its a hard question to answer. Modern business cannot seem to function without meetings.

Many meetings are wastes of time.

But meetings are necessary. Too often things are miscommunicated when not discussed face to face. The subtlety of body language is lost. Too much room for error via the impersonal mediums of teleconferences, conference calls, or the worst, email.

The meetings I've been in that have been wastes of time are usually because they could not stay on focus. They were ruined because the moderator, or person who called them, couldn't or didn't establish an agenda. Allowed others to dominate discussion.

In my experience most one hour meetings could be done in 30 minutes. Most 30 minute meetings only needed 15 and some five minute meetings needed 90.

The worst meetings where meeting discussion creep seems to happen are project meetings. The project manager should step up and except for the initial kick-off meeting, we should be merely going through the project milestones and giving on/off track brief status updates. But usually they devolve into discussion on technical minutiae where 95% of the people present could care less. Of course this requires good project management, a topic I will save for a later discussion.

Overall meetings are a necessary evil. Often in a five minute face to face meeting, weeks of angry email and missed deadlines can be avoided.

9.21.2007

work/musings { Of Enterprise and Workgroup


Long have I pondered the differences of the quality of those who take up the command line and delve into the depths of Systems Administration. They are a varied lot, while not exclusively male, this is the majority, and one I'm happy to see it changing, if albeit slowly. The spectrum of personality types, ability levels and discipline are included under the label.

Many are called, few should stay.

First a clarification of the term 'Systems Administration'. It is 'Systems' with an 's' at the end because the profession is, not as popular opinion seems to hold, about management of complex systems of interconnected entities. Not merely management of one technology type. I have found in my journeys that too many junior, and often many senior, Admins confuse this fact. Technologies come and go, tech companies rise and fall, but through this all, the basics of the profession remain the same.

1. Its about people as much as it is about technology. For without customers we would not have jobs.
2. Simple is better. More with less.
3. Documentation will save you.
4. You are always learning.

Really that's pretty much it. While many SAs like to view themselves as Wizards (myself included) weaving mystic incantations of digital power (which is cool imagery and I am a D&D nerd), in reality we are simply mechanics and custodians. Architects and builders. Systems Administration is not something that can truly be taught. You can go to school to get theories and basics of computer science, but like most professions, you learn the most on the job. I've met a few in my career who are incredibly smart, good with computer science, but don't have the chops to be a SA. Some of the best SAs I know never went to college. Its more than being able to code a program. Its more than being able to troubleshoot a problem. It requires attention to detail. The ability to take requirements and meet deadlines. It requires sacrifice, for you will be salaried and will be called to work long hours. There are rewards and accolade, but mostly your work will go unnoticed, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as if you do your job right things go smoothly and is transparent. However this transparency comes with a down side, the ones who control the money assume that things running smoothly means we as an institution can do more with less. That technology budgets can be cut and skimped. So in this respect a SA must be part cheerleader, promoting the environment. Providing uptime metrics, upgrade and technology refresh schedules. Budgeting quotes. You must be able to talk with others outside your group in terms that people not familiar with the field can understand. Accountants, upper management, and sometimes lawyers.

In my travels I've also realized that we can be broken down into three categories. Well four, as there is also the 'Contractor', but I will not get into the life of a digital mercenary, and really what they do is fill in one of the categories below for short-term or per project. Now within each category there are levels of experience from Junior Admin to Senior+ (I use these because the job title and ranks are different from institution to institution, there is no commonality. In some places the SA is a Systems Engineer, in others a Technical Analyst, in a few older shops they still carry the title Systems Programmer, in a few newer places Systems Administrator, I even had one that was Systems Administrator/Engineer/Architect Lvl 4).

The first category is Desktop Support Admins. These are the people interface with customers the most directly. They go desk to desk fixing workstations and installing new ones. They can manage as few as one desktop or in some of the largest places 30,000+. Their world seems strange and hectic to me as my whole career I've been primarily on the server support side, which I will break up into the last two categories.

The next category is Workgroup Support Admins. Workgroups are generally smaller units or departments within an institution, or in smaller companies could be the whole IT department. I categorize this group as a place with less than 10 servers. These Admins often spend their time spread around among a variety of tasks, providing support for almost everything from the desktops to the places backup and recover system. They are often alone or on a very small team. Often they are on call all the time and can have either a lot of time to work on the future of the environment, or they can be hopelessly behind and struggling to keep the environment running, let alone stable. Documentation is vital. I've never been a Workgroup Admin, but many of my friends and colleagues in the IT world are or have been.

The last category is the Enterprise Support Admins. This is what I've been for the last 11 years. The Enterprise I classify is really anytime you get more than 25 servers and usually have a dedicated data center, raised floor, cooling, special power setup and functionality of the mechanics of running the environment (such as the network, backup/recovery, storage, etc.) are separated out into their own team. Sometimes Admins service multiple teams for example my last job the UNIX team was also the Storage Team and the Backup Team. The economies of scale start to really be felt here. Generally effort to support systems is a logarithmic curve, not a geometric one with a plateau. Its multi-variable. The steepness of the curve depends not only on number of servers but also number of admins, quality of process, ability of support/peer services, and so on. If you have well documented processes and procedures, an orderly way to get problems into and out of the team, and an enforced change management process, four SAs can manage and support 30 times their number in systems. My old job after much toil, we created an environment where four admins on the Solaris sub-team (we broke UNIX support down by OS specialties to handle the workload) supported 150 OS instances. I've not yet worked in an environment of less than 300 OS instances (by instance I mean both an OS running on a single piece of physical hardware and one running as a virtual instance in a logical OS space). Generally you're dealing with millions of dollars in institutional assets.

At all levels you have to deal with politics. Intra-team and inter-team. Between managers and colleagues. Some managers jealously carve out their own empire and defend the borders (and budget) of it against all comers. Some place their people up on pedestals and treat them like divas. Some exert authoritarian control and micro-manage them with an iron fist. Others are ineffectual or try to be everyone's friend. Some styles work, some don't. SAs have a reputation of being as easy to manage as a 'herd of cats.' But this could almost be said of any profession. Hell the waiters at the food service job I had one summer in high school were the same way.

As everyone is different, some people do well in the Enterprise where you must work efficiently with others and have procedures that move like clockwork or else drown in a sea of work. Others prefer the often wild west one sheriff in town life of Workgroup support. And yet others like the customer focus of Desktop Support.

However my experience has been there are few good Systems Administrators. I will go on explain some of the common problems I see. I know I fall into one of them. Against nothing surprising, these types can exist in any profession.

1. Shiny Object Syndrome - this is what I call a phenomena I see where an Admin is distracted and unfocused because he/she wants to work on the latest technology, or the latest project, or the latest high profile problem, often to the detriment of their assigned project load. They are a load on their team because that project work has to be done and often management, when its reached a critical point, shifts it to another admin.

2. Negative Nelly - nothing will ever be good. No technology does everything you want it to or was designed by a 'pack of retarded apes' (I've actually heard that phrase used). These admins throw up a sphere of negativity that makes others seek out an alternative place to get their support. They are a load on their team because their sour mood is often infectious and it can sink morale.

3. Someone Else's Problem/The Teflon Admin - these Admins find ways to shift any problem and any project on to others. In some cases they shift the work, but then take credit (like some bad managers do) for the work of others.

4. The Burnout - these Admins fried themselves. Either working too much, caring too much, or letting it too personal. They have now become a load on their team because they are depressed or frozen into inaction.

5. The Know It All - really, no one likes a know it all.

6. Lost in the Past aka The Historian - these admins are stuck in the past. Everything is compared to some, usually archaic, technology that is long gone. Or they never change because 'this is how we've always done it' or 'I've done this once and it didn't work/it hurt me so we should never try again.' Paying homage to the past as a point of reference or a place to learn from mistakes is fine, but dwelling there is detrimental.

7. The Family Guy - no not the hilarious cartoon. This is the Admin that is 'family focused'. They work a set amount of hours in order to 'go pick the kids up' or 'spend time with the family'. How is this bad on the team? At my last job we had a 'Family Guy'. When he was on call, he would often redirect a support call to another Admin, who was not on call, because he was at some kind of church function, at the movies with the kids, etc. In short their work doesn't get done or gets shifted to other Admins. I've also known many Admins who have managed to balance work and family and not shift their work load to others. I used to think making a commitment to be family focused was a good thing, I didn't (and still don't) have kids and thought it was important, and first didn't mind picking up the extra work so someone could see their kids. This ended when I became a Lead, and saw the stress it put on the rest of the team. Many of whom also had families but would have to help pick up the slack.

I could go on, but as I've stated, these are personality types common in most professions. Or at least I believe so, but I'll admit, my job experience has been limited to mostly IT centric.

One last topic, the differences between Junior and Senior Admins, as I've noticed many do not seem to know the difference. Too often advanced knowledge of technology is prized over other soft skills that are needed to be a good Senior Admin. Junior Admins have the luxury of focus. They are generally given tasks or small scope projects and that is their focus to completion. They at this level need to focus on the technology, learning how it works, supporting it. Whereas Senior Admins are responsible for more complex in scope projects as well as multiple projects. Seniors need to be able to effectively project manage the projects they are working on as well as overseeing the work of JSAs. At the senior level a tipping point occurs. As a Junior >50% of your time is dealing directly with machines. As a Senior >50% of your time is spent dealing with people. You're also expected to keep up on technology, as you're a Subject Matter Expert, or you should know who to go to if you need SME input. You have to put on the tie and go before meetings either to request budgetary funds or to present an upgrades or changes to the environment that can affect the institution. Its the bigger picture.

On a closing note I will pass on some wisdom once imparted to me by a trusted and valued mentor. Over lunch one day he asked me what I wanted to do in the future. I said 'I want to do systems administration until I retire.' He nodded, then asked 'Do you want to be on call for the rest of your life?' He gave some time for that to sink in. He then asked 'What if UNIX isn't around in 10 years?' Wow, I never thought about that. I assumed it would be, but UNIX is 30 years old, it could go away. He then went on 'You won't be a junior Admin for the rest of your life. When you get promoted you'll have to do more non-technical things [ed. he's right you know] and you can only go so far as a SA.' That lunch stuck with me as you can tell from my previous comments. I'm at that point now in my career where I really don't want to be on call for the rest of my life. I've been thinking a lot lately about what to do besides UNIX. Some of it is job dissatisfaction, unlike farmers or carpernters, its hard to step back and see the fruit of my labor. I've also realized that while I've expanded my soft skills (communication, time management, etc.) I'm really narrowly focused with my hard skills. I need to expand my abilities.

Plus I think it is time for a change. To quote Duke Leto from Frank Herbert's work Dune 'Without change, something sleeps inside us...The sleeper must awaken.'