Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Keeping my iTunes Library on an external hard drive across systems

Real simple: I have both an Apple desktop and laptop with limited disk space and want all my iTunes media to reside on an external HD that I can switch between systems.

This is fairly straight-forward.  In "Advanced Preferences" I changed the "iTunes Music folder location" to my external drive (in my case:  WD Passport/iTunes:).  This worked well for me until today.  Now to backtrack a little, when I first set-up this schema I even symlinked the ~/User/Music/iTunes directory to my external disk with the notion that I'd even want " iTunes Music Library.xml" (the dictionary file that maps every file in iTunes) on the external drive.  Ultimately this was stupid because if the external drive was not connected I couldn't fire up iTunes to listen to, say, the radio, without the application wanting to create an new library (equivalent to launching iTunes while pressing alt).

But that was then and this is now.  I'm not sure why my iTunes directory got screwed today but it did.

What happened was I accidentally "reset" the "iTunes Music folder location" which defaulted to my local hard drive.  When I tried to add the external hard drive location, the iTunes directory was greyed out (grayed out). Greyed out meaning I couldn't add it.  Then I attempted "Add to Library" (command+o) and the external iTunes directory was also greyed out.  WTF??

At first I thought there was some defaults RootDirectory entry I could fool with like I did when I wanted to default my iPhoto Library to the external hdd some time ago.  But no go (another case of an OS X inconsistency).

It wasn't until I thought about doing something inane with permissions that I noticed that the iTunes directory on the external disk was an iPhoto-esque package content directory.  "Get Info" on iTunes even listed "open with iPhoto".  Hmmm. I stupidly changed it to "open with iTunes" but that was low-brow desperation.

Opening a shell and doing a "ls -lad" on iTunes showed:

drwxr-xr-x@ 20 rpetkus staff 680 Dec 17 19:40 iTunes/

What is "@"?  "man ls" informs me that @ = extended attributes which I can list with "-@"

$ ls -lad@ iTunes/

drwxr-xr-x@ 20 rpetkus staff 680 Dec 17 19:40 iTunes/ 32

What is Turns out this is a Uniform Type Identifier (UTI) which ascribes a lot more meaningful type data to a file than a mere file extension (.jpeg) or MIME type.  I found this older link which was a informative read about UTIs on OS X.  

After my reading assignment I surmised that I want to get rid of this extended attribute using the "xattr" command which doesn't have a man page but "xattr -help" is pretty self-explanatory.

Make iTunes a normal folder again:

$ xattr -d iTunes/

Viola! iTunes on my external hard drive is no longer greyed-out, I can set it as my Music Folder location and "Add to Library".  Resolution.

As a side note, if you're doing the same thing with your external hdd, make sure under "Advanced Preferences" that you select "Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library".  This way, if you add more media to iTunes on one system with the external drive, it indeed gets copied there for consumption on the second system.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Solaris 10, Kerberos, and OpenLDAP

Solaris 10 - Solaris in general - annoys me and Linux is favored for all instances except those where I need to reap the benefits of ZFS. Today as a precursor to deploying SUDO on a number of Solaris systems, I sought to eliminate ssh-key access and allow individual accounts to logon. Piece of cake in Linux but Solaris?

I want to use kerberos for authentication and ldap for authorization. I'm using OpenLDAP and not SUN LDAP so this already creates a bit of chafe, but I'm not going to install SUN LDAP or install a 3rd party PAM module - I want everything to be default so the next person to inherit this mess doesn't go mad.

Now I don't want to use pam_ldap for account authorization since this implies 1) I'm using SUN LDAP and 2) I'm storing account information like PASSWD in LDAP. We don't.

I *do* want to use vanilla pam_unix_account and rely on nsswitch.conf to state my name service preferences.

Now one would assume, given my requirements, that a reasonable SSH PAM stack would look like this:
other auth requisite
other auth required
other auth required
other auth sufficient
other auth required
other account requisite
other account required
other account sufficient

Then why doesn't it work???? Why, in debug mode, does it always complain that account so and so is not found?

After some investigation it turns out that if using OpenLDAP for authorization one needs to add "objectClass=shadowAccount", and that's it, as an attribute to every single uid=xxx,ou=People,dc=place,dc=org. At least for those users that want to be authorized for login.

What a pain. And how much precious time did I waste on this? 2, maybe 3 hours? Unbelievable.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Great Farce Part I

About 2 years ago there was a major change at my lovely place of employment -- out went the Old Director (OD) and in came the new. The new fellow was much vaunted, real tech-savvy, vocal and strong. New Director (ND) had actually helped develop a piece of software that we consumed heavily and this implied that ND was relevant and valuable. OD was swell but perhaps ill-suited for the prominent Director position as he was burdened with a modicum of introversion. The daily trade was plied in the confines of his office and rarely did he speak, if at all, to the common folk that produced many of the real, tangible items that were consumed by the facility. Nevertheless, OD was both well-respected and well-liked. He allowed only a close coterie of esteemed folks - the upper echelon - to influence and provide council. But at the time, occupying a lower caste, I had to be content lapping at the meager drip of information which fell in my pan.
Then, one day, without warning, word spread that OD was to retire from his storied post. Since OD rarely communicated anything to the larger group, the advertisement for the ND was discovered in a vocationally relevant circular. Change was in the wind and would arrive in the Spring.
About a month or so before the arrival, there were a series of secret meetings amongst the mid and upper-level managers. It was crucial to strategize earlier rather than later. Would the pecking order be preserved, could new territory be up for grab? Old allegiences were strengthened and enemies were kept close. There would be alignment with the new power at all costs. Every ounce of data obtained about ND was parsed for clues and suggestions from the most heralded dissertation to the meagerest plea for help on a mailing list. And yours truly? I was cynical yet optimistic. I was hoping for my chance; a meritocracy.
Enter Spring. It was buzzing that a wholly new organizational chart had been devised. There was an endless queue of covert meetings between ND and the mid/upper level managers. Decisions were being made and, as far as I knew, the common folk that produced real things, such as myself, were never consulted. It was leaked that, at the behest of ND, a quasi-famous Industrial Psychologist (IP) had been hired to analyze the staff, make assessments, and present reportage and council to ND. It was at this point that I become uneasy and warn't too shy about it, neither.
IP had authored some books and wrote vignettes for public radio. IP was disarming enough, as I suspected would be the case. Each staff member was allotted one hour of couch time. Some folks strode in there thinking this was their big opportunity to be an instrument of change, some were paranoid and promised to present to IP an inpenetrable shell, and one particular clown read up on industrial psychology ahead of time, picked up a bit of argot, and sought to turn the tables. I wasn't interested in any of that. I resolved to be forthright and helpful but I wasn't in the mind to put my cards on the table, so to speak. I was more interested in listening to the type of language employed by IP and keen to identify the triggers that implored me to lower my guard and spill forth -- knowledge of those triggers and techniques could be useful.
Upon completion of all the interviews, IP anonymized and categorized the data into a series of talking points and presented it to the staff during a lively 2 hour group meeting. Common issues and concerns were bulletted and reviewed. I list some specimens that will become relevant later on here:
1. People's roles and responsibilties are either ill-defined and nebulous so as to mean nothing or they are too specific and thus constrictive.
2. People want a more transparent organization, one where decisions and logic are communicated and where input is encouraged and well-regarded.
3. People want the opportunity to become more involved, redefine their roles, and grow professionally.

To be continued...

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Mens Room

Here are things that piss me off in the mens room:
  • Talking on cell phones, especially while in the stall
  • People afraid to urinate at the urinal and use the toilet instead - worse when they leave the stall door open
  • People that, given an entire row of empty urinals, chose the one next to yours
  • People that can't urinate unless they keep flushing the urinal
  • People that make a show of excessive shaking, tugging, and groaning upon completion
  • People who drop pants and even worse, underwear, to the floor at the urinal
  • People that stand and have a lengthy conversation after the business is finished
  • People who leave the stall and don't wash their hands
  • People who leave the door knob wet when they leave

CHEP 2009 - Prague

I've always wanted to go to Prague and it finally looks as if the planets are coming into alignment. I just submitted (3) abstracts for the CHEP conference which will be held 3/21-27, 2009. CHEP stands for Computing in High Energy and Nuclear Physics and it's an opportunity for folks such as myself to present papers and give lectures on both the mundane and extraordinary components of our own little computing context. This particular conference is held every (2) years, I think, and carries with it a bit more prestige than the bi-annual HEPiX meetings.
I've always had a romance for Prague -- I imagine it to be a labrynthine, stoney grey web of spires and mystery in the spirit of Kafka. In the 1991 Soderberg movie, Kafka, Prague was an intensely dark and murderous place. The movie rehashed many of Kafka's own themes: isolation, transformation, paranoia, and institutional oppression. I especially liked when the movie moves from black and white to full color once Kafka (Jeremy Irons) enters the Castle -- with all the appropriate elbows and winks to Dorothy in Oz.
Then I recall reading something about Einstein, Kafka, and Freud hanging out in Prague but I don't know if that's real or just a myth...

Anyway, here are the abstracts -- it took a minimal of effort to write them up -- if they get accepted then I'll craft something good.

Title: dCache Storage Cluster at BNL

Abstract content
Over the last (2) years, the USATLAS Computing Facility at BNL has managed a highly performant, reliable, and cost effective dCache storage cluster using SunFire x4500/4540 (Thumper/Thor) storage servers. The design of a discreet storage cluster signaled a departure from a model where storage resides locally on a disk-heavy compute farm. The consequent alteration of data flow mandated a dramatic re-construction of the network fabric.
This work will cover all components of our dCache storage cluster (from door to pool) including OS/ZFS file-system configuration, 10GE network tuning, monitoring, and environmentals. Performance metrics will be surveyed within the context of our Solaris 10 production system as well as those rendered during evaluations of OpenSolaris and Linux. Failure modes, bottlenecks, and deficiencies will be examined.
Lastly, we discuss competing architectures under evaluation, scaling limits in our current model, and future technologies that warrant close surveillance.

Presentation type (oral | poster)

Primary Authors:
PETKUS, Robert (Brookhaven National Laboratory)

KARASAWA, Mizuki (Brookhaven National Laboratory)
MCCARTHY, John (Brookhaven National Laboratory)
SMITH, Jason (Brookhaven National Laboratory)

Abstract presenters:
PETKUS, Robert

Track classification:
Hardware and Computing Fabrics

Title: Building a Storage Cluster with Gluster

Abstract content
Gluster, a free cluster file-system scalable to several peta-bytes, is under evaluation at the RHIC/USATLAS Computing Facility. Several production SunFire x4500 (Thumper) NFS servers were dual-purposed as storage bricks and aggregated into a single parallel file-system using TCP/IP as an interconnect. Armed with a paucity of new hardware, the objective was to simultaneously allow traditional NFS client access to discreet systems as well as access to the GlusterFS global namespace without impacting production.
Gluster is elegantly designed and carries an advanced feature set including, but not limited to, automated replication across servers, server striping, fast db backend, and I/O scheduling. GlusterFS exists as a layer above existing file-systems, does not have a single-point-of-failure, supports RDMA, distributes metadata, and is entirely implemented in user space via FUSE.
We will provide a background of Gluster along with its architectural underpinnings, followed by a description of our test-bed, environmentals, and performance characteristics.

Presentation type (oral | poster)

Primary Authors:
PETKUS, Robert (Brookhaven National Laboratory)

SMITH, Jason (Brookhaven National Laboratory)

Abstract presenters:
PETKUS, Robert

Track classification:
Hardware and Computing Fabrics

Title: Log Mining with Splunk

Abstract content
Robust, centralized system and application logging services are vital to all computing organizations, regardless of size. For the past year, the RHIC/USATLAS Computing Facility (RACF) has dramatically augmented the utility of logging services with Splunk. Splunk is a powerful application that functions as a log search engine, providing fast, real-time access to data from servers, applications, and network devices. Splunk at the RACF is configured to parse system and application log files, script output, snmp traps, alerts, and has been integrated into our Nagios monitoring infrastructure.
This work will detail our central log infrastructure vis-`a-vis Splunk, examine lightweight agents and example configurations, consider security, and demonstrate functionality. Distributed Splunk deployments or clusters between institutions will be discussed.

Presentation type (oral | poster)

Primary Authors:
PETKUS, Robert (Brookhaven National Laboratory)

SMITH, Jason (Brookhaven National Laboratory)
RIND, Ofer (Brookhaven National Laboratory)

Abstract presenters:
PETKUS, Robert

Track classification:
Software Components, Tools and Databases

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Social Bookmarking

There is simply too much information and interesting content on the web and not enough hours in the day to waste precious time in front of a monitor. I lead a productive work life and only allow myself small punctuations throughout the day for surfing. Now I've always been behind the trend so I'm beginning to explore vehicles that real technophiles had already spun and crashed years ago: social bookmarking sites.
It's a natural progression for yours truly. At first, many years ago, I'd set my home page to a web portal like Excite! or Yahoo, which I eventually customized to include the news and stock tallies, etc., and revisit throughout the day. Later on I made a ritual out of visiting a selection of bookmarked sites that offered the perspectives I sought during the day: NYTimes, Register, Onion, Slashdot. Then RSS and ATOM made this process simpler and more attractive since I could have information pushed rather than pulled.
But the problem was always the same -- unless I was willing to spend an inordinate amount of time spelunking the web, I would never be exposed to new and innovative sources of interest. This began to change when I began to utilize and Google Reader. The great thing about was that once I began to populate my account with all the random bookmarks I deemed valuable I was immediately exposed to others who were interested in the same thing. I could then browse the other, similarly categorized bookmarks these far-flung siblings had chosen to cherish. In effect, I was able to benefit from the research, googling and web-mining of others. I discovered virtual soul-mates who were prolifically bookmarking previously unknown and valuable web pages. I would parasitically attach myself to them via anonymous RSS subscription. For all I know they were attaching themselves to greater source. Perhaps every user of Delicious is merely a decomposer fed from a single autotroph.
Google Reader, a web-based aggregator, is a different animal. A user essentially populates their reader, an empty canvas, with a selection RSS and/or ATOM feeds (the selection is Google-vast), and reads articles through the interface. The application tracks and tallies what you have and haven't read, what you've labeled worthwhile, and begins to suggest new sources of information. The more you use the system, the more intelligent the suggestions. Again, this has had an impact on my daily consumption of information and I appreciate the exposure I receive to different sources of data.
There is something sinister about these tools. In effect, I am allowing myself to be observed and studied. I'm confident dissertations will be penned exploring the reduction of human psychology via web trend analysis. I imagine a superior advertising product will be engineered based on the information obtained when folks like me use a system such as this on a regular basis. But this is another matter.
Today, my attention has been drawn to social bookmarking sites such as Digg and StumbleUpon. I've created accounts with both services and intend on giving them a full evaluation. Will these tools expose me to the information I seek with minimal work? Will I be able to reclaim more hours of the day and spend them away from a monitor? Will I be fed information that I don't necessarily want to read but am meant to read? Only time will tell.

The Farmingdale Library web site isn't entirely lame but is

Yesterday I mentioned how, at first blush, the Northport Library website looked superior to my local digs, the Farmingdale Library. You'll recall how I was smitten by the ability to manage your own account online. Then the final verdict that the NPPL site was really just a heap of bolus draped in semi-professional CSS glaze. Let's cover new ground and make some corrections.
The Farmingdale Library does allow patron account access. I can view material currently checked out, renew online, request inter-library loan (with email notification), and even opt into a system wherein all my activity is tracked for personal analysis (I opted). They use a system utilized by all libraries in Nassau County called the Automated Library Information System Web Catalog, or Alisweb.

This is what it looks like -- as you can see I'm overdue on a number of items.

Now I'm a severe library buff and so are my kids. There was a time many years ago when I would spend many hours and dollars in Borders-n-Barnes&Nobles. Strand was a mecca and old George Lenz in Huntington had all the literary gems (Faulkner, Proust, Joyce, Nabokov) in the ever-so-hip 8x5.2 sizing for $8-10. As a kid my room was stuffed wall to wall with bookcases, books piled 2-3 levels deep, falling off the shelves, and atop every piece of furniture.
Then everything changed when I had kids. Even before progeny one breathed her own air I began building a mini child library. Until I realized that the majority of my selections were flops: Daddy, I don't like this book. I simply cannot predict what my kids are going to like. The library changed this -- I've donated a significant portion of my collection and simply see no reason why I would ever need to purchase a book again. I'm really referring to recreational reading books here, not reference or professional volumes.
The public library evokes all the sentiment it held when I was in elementary school. Now I recall with embarrassment how I had all those $20 Stephen King hardcovers during junior and high school -- did I ever ever read one of those books more than once?

But I'm supposed to be speaking about alisweb. Cool idea -- horrible implementation. In order to access your account one needs to enter 1) username, 2) 14-digit library card barcode, and 3) 4-digit pin. The site doesn't support encryption which is real annoying but I figure it's not like I'm entering my bank account password. At worst, someone can request a bunch of books on my behalf and cause some annoyance for me. Otherwise, I'm not taking out how-to books on nail pipe-bomb or pvc silencer manufacturing so I go ahead, enter the information, close my eyes and inject my clear-text library genome straight into cyberspace.
Since it's not SSL, the Safari browser can't store the password and Firefox only stores the 4-digit pin -- I can remember the 4-digit pin, it's the 14-digit number that's the problem! Now get this: Every time you navigate away from "personal settings" and back again, you have to re-enter everything again -- including the 14-digit number! What a piece of garbage. I want to contact Innovative Interfaces, Inc. and tell them how uninnovative their interface is.

Here is my open letter to Innovatice Interfaces, Inc.:
Please consider SSL and credential management.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Northport Library - Luminescent Orchestrii - old people

A friend told me that "Luminescent Orchestrii" would be playing at the Northport Public Library at 7PM.  Since my 3-year old is learning to play the violin and the band includes (2) female violinists in the front perhaps I would be interested?  Indeed I was.  On their MySpace page, the group is self-described as "Gypsy Tango Klezmer Punk".  I wasn't exactly enamored by the clips I heard but figured a group such as this is best appreciated live.  I also hoped the exposure would broaden my daughter's appreciation of the violin, allowing her view it from a different lens. 
Alas, the performance was cancelled at the last minute.  I was maybe 10 minutes from the library, having rushed dinner before fumbling around the house for last minute essentials in a storm of panic and profanity.  Which library is it at, Northport or East Northport?  The libraries share the same website and pdf bulletin.  There was no distinction made regarding the location of the performance.  
/* Side note: at first blush I thought to myself, Wow, this library has a nice website -- much better than my local Farmingdale library.  Look Honey, I hollered from the kitchen table excitedly, members can log in and track the books they've taken out!  But that was a superficial assessment.  The web site sucks.  Basic information like, Calendar of Events, is obfuscated.  Useful information is obtained by downloading a pdf of the most recent bulletin, a decoupage of clip art and goofy fonts.  */
Another great tragedy is that I had my wife last-minute-cancel dinner with the mother-in-law in order to make the gig.  The wife was appropriately disgusted about the cancellation suggesting this was yet another in a long series of atrocities committed by yours truly.  The most fabled of all was when my mother-in-law took it upon herself to invite her son and his (2) rowdy boys to participate in a simple birthday ceremony I organized for my daughter that was intended for nuclear family consumption only.  These are the sort of kids that were bound to put a damper on things -- a duo of sullen, surly boys that are completely unresponsive to authority.  Anyway, I had to call up both mother and brother-in-law and do the uninviting that sad day.  And from that moment on I ceased to be a team-player and was labeled capricious and tacky.
Back to tonight and Luminescent, my wife made it clear that since she was unhappy about the cancellation she would refuse to have fun and resolve herself to a disposition that was grey and mealy.  After dinner and last minute panic, I call the library whilst driving and ask if Luminescent Orchestrii was playing that night.  That was intended as a rhetorical question designed only to give context to my real question: Are they playing at the Northport or East Northport Library?  But even this was a challenge.  I'm at a red light, I'm running 15-minutes late, I have (2) addresses.  I need to finger one of those addresses into the GPS before the light turns green and I have to drive on a dark highway.  What, the Illuminati? is the response.  No, Luminescent Orchestrii.  Let me see, she says.  Long long pause -- the other traffic light turns yellow -- my phone's low battery indicator beeps -- Hello, is anyone there?  No, sir, I don't have any such event scheduled for tonight.  Goddammit, I say, I know for a fact the band is playing but I need to know where -- put me on the phone with someone who knows things.
But like I said before, the band cancelled.  I decided to go to the library anyway -- maybe go to the children's section and let the kids traipse about.  Upon entering, I play dumb and ask the front desk attendant where Luminescent is performing and hear of the cancellation; a band member's mother had past away.   However, another act has filled the void -- go downstairs and see.  A gnarled finger, white as whale bone, points to a downward flight of stairs, the Ghost of Christmas-yet-to-come.  I hear faint music and what sounds like a cow bell.  We all follow the gaze of the specter and enter this room filled with old people.  There may have been young people there but only the old ones stood out.  They were that breed of old people I expect attend every free event offered at the library -- concerts, seminars, movie afternoons.  Every fold out metal chair is occupied.  The faces are disconsolate and drawn.  They look at me with plaintive eyes because they are trapped in the midst of an incomprehensibly lame performance and for whatever reason felt obliged to sit and suffer.  For the sake nobility?  Who can say.  I don't know the fellow's name, and even if I did probably wouldn't write it here to avoid offense, but he's a jolly Bert one-man-band sitting down with some home-made instrument resembling a pedal steel but not worth a tuppence in tone.  He has a small drum set, too -- snare, bass, tom and ride cymbal.  Unseen from my vantage, an incessant triangle or bell.  
A woman came to my side and sympathetically whispered in my ear that this wasn't Luminescent Orchestrii and I didn't have to stay.  Gee, thanks for the permission.  When I left the room, I heard (2) library workers bemoaning the fact that everyone inside looked like prisoners, that they weren't obligated to stay, and were trying to work a strategy where they could make a non-offensive announcement giving people the freedom the leave.  I laughed to myself.  All those poor old folks.  Under what circumstance would they deem it safe to leave? 

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hillary -- the Vice President

I desperately want Hillary to fade away. Obama would do well to choose someone else at all costs.

We have to agree or parent separately

This is a quote from my wife tonight. The last week, she's gone off the deep end -- irritable, argumentative, generally unpleasant to be around. But I've been letting it roll off of me. Been feeling imperturbable lately. The issue tonight, and the last two nights, is that our youngest one wails in the crib at bedtime and doesn't want to go down. Put her on her back and she gets up on her knees, pulls herself to a stand and just hysterically cries. She's sick, too, and has been receiving a strong antibiotic for the last week so I consider her more vulnerable and worthy of TLC than normal. So for the last two nights when she cries I pick her up, bring her in K.'s room, and let her sleep on my lap. Then when the snore stabilizes I plop her in the crib and end of story.
Now this drives the wife insane cause everything has to be just "so" -- there can not be any exceptions to the ideal routine since this would create a monstrous habit and rift the fabric. Her solution is to lock herself in the room with the baby, sit next to the crib and let her cry. Tonight this was going on for 35 minutes or so. From my perspective, she's just creating another sort of habit, one where every night someone needs to sit next to the crib while the kid complains and finally goes to sleep. If you're gonna ferberize a baby, just leave the room, pillow your ears, let her cry it out, and pray it stops soon. What the hell is she thinking.
I'm like, Honey, please unlock the door.
You're not taking her out of here.
Because I've got it under control.
Honey, please unlock the door.

She unlocks the door, my older daughter and I walk in and there is the baby, standing, hands gripping the crib slats like a prisoner, completely red-faced and screaming. I pick the baby up and walk out of the room. Wifey is yelling at me -- about how I'm screwing everything up. Don't really know what I'm screwing up but consider her strangely. What a weird, irrational person. Then she actually leaves the house and goes somewhere. So now my older daughter, who is just a toddler is like, where'd mommy go, why is she upset? Then she said, and I thought this was pretty precocious for a girl ready to turn 3: If mommy is mad at you why does she have to take it out on me, too? Now I don't have mommy with me at bedtime. That's not fair.

No it's not. Too bad.

Anyway, the baby falls asleep on my lap within minutes and shortly after I stand up and deposit her in the crib. End of story.

Afterward, right when I sat down to go to this site and write about the night, Wife comes in and says: I'm just going to say one thing -- we better start agreeing as parents in front of the kids or we're going to parent separately.


BTW, watching some show on NBC HD right now called "Fear Itself". Never saw it before. Somewhat entertaining as background noise but unbelievably stupid and drawn out. Some inmates on the lam are stuck in some derelict compound inhabited by hot goth chicks and other assorted weirdos and ugly vampires that torture and maim stray folks in the spirit of all the inbred horror movies like: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hills have Eyes, 10000 Corpses, etc., ad infinitum. But it's annoying and formulaic. For example, some dirty, sweaty guy comes to from a fog and looks ahead in lip quivering terror at something. Camera pans to a pair of pale bare feet. Back to the terrified guy, his eyes scan upward, close-up of horrified guy, cut to next scene. So he gets to see the entire monster and we only see the monster's feet. Oh, the mystery and suspense!!! Like in the Dukes of Hazard when it always cut to a commercial right when the General Lee went airborne. After the break, it'd begin where it left off, you'd watch the car complete the jump, the front end of the Charger practically atomizing on impact, and emerge in the next frame polished and immaculate. The Immaculate Conception.
Vampire in this episode looks like a cross between the Crypt Keeper and the hideous inhabitants Salem's Lot. Oh, the vampire was just burned. Man and indigenous woman hold hands while the entire house burns down. Gravely cello soundtrack. Looks like the compound is an old fort of sorts -- the one, perhaps, from Tom Sawyers Island in Disney -- you know, where the have the air rifles and the caverns underneath. Interesting, the indigenous woman who we were led to believe was a ally, gave an ominous sideways glance with loaded music. This is incredible.

(2) daredevil jack-offs that climbed the New York Times building in Manhattan today. The second guy had "Malaria Awareness" sloppily magic-markered on a white t-shirt. This is certain to have a profound impact for sufferers of the disease.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

34.2 MPG

So if I religiously drive 55 (on cruise control) my 2005 Honda Accord 4 cylinder automatic gets 34.2 MPG. I've been mollified, so no need to go out and buy another auto. As a reward for the car, I had the oil, air filter, and cabin air filter changed for $140 at Jiffy Lube. I despise that place and usually change the oil and filter myself but have been too lazy lately. The guy at the counter knew I was one of those annoyed, cynical customers so he went through his laundry list of to-dos very gingerly as if to say, I'm just throwing this out there, buddy, cause my boss makes me, don't shoot the messenger. I could clearly see the cabin filter was legitimately filthy but recalled how offended I was when I spied one of the service men smudging an air filter I had replaced about one month earlier with an oily thumb and bringing it to me for inspection: Hey man, you should get this filter replaced, it's dirty. That was years ago and on some other car. It's moments like this I wish I could activate the imaginary trap door which chutes the moron into a lime pit in some Hostelesque sub basement.
I also lost my ID card -- looked everywhere for it -- and was lectured at the badge office about all manner of inanities that, had they been relevant, I wouldn't have been there in the first place. Things like, You really shouldn't lose your ID badge. I was supposed to reply to this, cause the subroutine went to sleep until I said, Yeah, I have to make sure I won't lose my badge again. Or, Is the badge lost or did you misplace it? There were some posters admonishing reckless employees opening the workplace to terrorism. Where do you keep your badge? was one poster. It had a photograph of a car dashboard with the ID badge and lanyard in plain sight among a gaggle of car lighter adapters by the shifter. "Keep it hidden when not at work but in plain sight while working" was another message.
This was at the new visitor center -- or users center -- I forget. I decided to get a Starbucks coffee, a tall latte, and the lone woman at the counter seemed annoyed to have been aroused from her reverie. The idea crossed my mind that a latte is the wrong sort of drink to get, maybe too effeminate, but then I remembered a whole queue of other folks that have likely gotten lattes there that are far more on the Apple, Volkswagen, tortoise shell glasses candyland than myself, and cancelled the notion. The woman had no makeup, was weathered, tan and lean with a mulletish cut. She was clad all in navy blue with well-ironed denim khakis, the kind of uniform a Getty serviceman would wear. There was a jar filled with change that with a note taped to it reading "Tips are GREATLY appreciated!". The latte cost $3.75 and when I handed over $4, the woman said, Thank you, and began helping the next customer, whom she spoke to familiarly. She turned her back to me and I could see she had no intention of giving me change. While pouring sugar at the self service table I heard my quarter fall into the tip jar.
Back at work, I discover that (2) more Thumpers need to be online by tomorrow. So that's 2 more systems that are going to be connected to this cheap, single point of failure 3com switch. Whatever. I'll put the entire storage cluster behind it if need be. It's clear that no one wants to wait for the Force10 gear to be set up. While I was out, the precedent was set for using this interim switch, and when I brought up my qualms, was made to feel too conservative or worse, a bottleneck to progress -- getting the job done -- which is certainly not the case. Put it this way, there are 2 main camps in my environment -- those who set a high standard and deploy services in a predictable, methodical way building on precedent in the spirit of a good court justice. The LF is an example of this. And those who will deploy anything, in any random order, just to live on the edge, to prove that it can be done, and done fast and in isolation. I like to think of myself as somewhere in between, ideally one that sticks to the former but is capable of the latter in a jam. But the latter all the time? I have kids, a family. If my work ends up a ganglia of bubble gum and bandaids then the cost is late nights and weekends. Given that my environment is not like wall street where these hours are mandatory by design, it blows my mind that some people would opt to force this upon themselves.
Anyway, the girls are asleep -- time to wake up my wife and coax her into watching something on BluRay with me. I bought this gorgeous 42" 1080p LCD and BluRay player, I have a ton of eye-candy flicks borrowed from my dad, and I've watched a total of 4 hours on it in the last month.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Funeral Today

My Uncle Johnny died a few days ago -- went to the funeral service today. We had to drop off the kids at day care and both take a personal day at work. Things were a bit manic while dropping off the kids and Swiss B. wanted to do a parent-teacher conference for S. so we ended up getting to the funeral late, slipping in the back right during the "sign of peace" ceremony (note to self: find out what the real title of this segment of the mass is called). The church was St Gerard Magela in Port Jefferson. The architect was going for a light organic earth-industrial tone with lots of textured cement blocks intended to pass for granite and huge wooden beams along the ceiling. A quick inspection of the beams revealed that they weren't a solid chunk of wood but long laminate slats. Why does this matter and who cares? One cool thing was the lack of kneelers -- the chairs were one grade above the metal folding type and connected at the feet. We were real hungry so I decided to take the Eucharist and make my way over to my parents. My dad had his fingers interlocked and clenched, his eyes were red and his whisper raspy -- I could tell he'd been crying a bit. My Uncle Johnny's death had impacted a lot of folks. I was solemn but didn't choke up at all or feel a need to cry. While at the wake on Saturday, I was pretty emotionless until I went up to the photo collages and then onto the casket and it was there that I broke down and sobbed for a bit. I was collecting myself by a small end table with a tissue box when my mother walked over, crying, and tried to lead me to my aunt. She was like, Come, come over to your aunt and feel the love -- I want her to see you. It was apparent that I had been scrutinized when I went over to my uncle, that my mother had been tensely watching to see if I'd show signs of being an emotional human, and she wanted to proudly parade me about before my eyes had time to dry. I declined.
Anyway, after the funeral, my cousins and their kids released a bunch of white balloons that had been sharpied with love and miss yous. The limo door was opened and some song specifically written for this exact ritual was playing. I was wondering how much money the artist had made with this creation and if he had a canon of works like this -- things like mother/son dances at weddings, etc., and how this sort of music is marketed. The voice didn't sound familiar and the song certainly lacked the hooks necessary for any radio play. Perhaps this is something all undertakers have on hand which they suggest as an afterthought to grieving clients as a tasteful enhancement. There was a light wind and it wasn't raining -- a good day for balloons, I guess. My wife leaned over and commented that the balloons weren't "green", something about birds eating them, I didn't really catch all of what she was saying. Oh, and before I forget, there was a very old man, a deacon perhaps, at the funeral that didn't blink at all -- like the fish people in Dagon.
At the cemetery, we each received a red carnation which we threw on the casket. The ceremony was marred by the constant din of ongoing construction of what looked like a new mausoleum. With the wind it was fairly brisk and my cousin T.'s kids were wearing short sleeves and skirts -- even the 10 month old. While everyone was heading back to their cars, my cousin's son, M., who is about 10 excitedly picked up an acorn and showed it to my Mom -- Look Tee-Tee, acorns for the squirrels! I didn't think anything special of this but noticed my cousin, his dad, was uncomfortable, glancing around both annoyedly and apologetically as if his son was acting inappropriately and in a shameful manner. I felt bad for the kid.
By this time it's already 2ish and we drive off to Ruby Tuesday for salad and mini-burgers. It's the first real meal I've had. I wondered why the hell all these people weren't at work. Afterward we stop off at Buybuybaby and ToysRUs for some impulse kid shopping -- "we need to get some sort of storage for the bath toys" and I actually convinced my wife to bless a visit to the Mini dealership for a test drive of the Clubman.
What a weird car, the Mini Clubman. Here is my assessment:
-Very cool looking car -- even brown works as an exterior color.
-Extremely snug and comfortable seats
-Nice shifting with the manual
-Funky interior with dip-switches and a huge center mounted speedometer
-Hugs the road
-37MPG on the highway
-Push button start (novelty)
-Completely useless storage capacity -- the ass is so narrow it would be impossible to fit a regular Graco style single stroller let alone the double tandem we have. Maybe (2) umbrella strollers would fit if placed in an oppossing X and angled up on the rear seat backs. No way a big single piece of luggage would fit.
-The cool center speedometer is impractical for real world use -- it's too big and you have to take your eyes off the road. You get used to it, the saleswoman told me.
-Big roof pillars by the suicide passenger-side door block the window view -- not good for my scenery watching daughter.
-The control stalk always returns to center so you don't really know where it's been all the time -- this goes for the directionals or wipers.
-Hard to get in and out off the back
-Premium fuel

I left feeling glad to be rid of this short-lived obsession with the Mini. Besides, my experiment always driving 55 on cruise control seems to be paying off -- already put on 400 miles with a 1/3 tank of gas left. I suspect when I fill up and calculate my mileage that I'll be over 30MPG. We'll see. If that's the case, I pamper the Accord until 2010 when the GM fuel cell comes out.

Picked up the girls at 5:20 and had a decent night. Thinking about work though. Work has been a cause for some stress. I feel every time I take a day off or am out for some reason (like the conference) something critical happens, where my input would have been valuable and decisions are made in my absence. Depending on the decision, it's not a big deal, but I don't like not being able to defend myself if some action is questioned and I *hate* being paraphrased or misquoted. It just shows a lack of character if someone waits for my absence to raise doubt. That's life.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obsession with MPG

I've become obsessed with MPG. My 2005 Honda Accord 4 cylinder automatic gets ~25MPG. It's not enough. The cost of gas is outrageous. At $4/gallon coupled with a 45 mile commute to work in each direction, I'm spending $14.40 each day -- 2005 Honda Accord @ 25 mpg. Moving closer to work isn't an option. For one, since real estate prices have tanked and I bought my house at market peak, we'd likely lose money or gain little. Second, I like the proximity to the city since we go there often on a weekly basis.
So as a consequence, I've become obsessed with new cars -- buying a new car, fantasizing about a new car, I need a new car, right, because of the cost of gas? It's an excuse, really. I take my (2) kids with me to work everyday since daycare is on-site so a Smart fortwo is out of the question. A more realistic option would be a Toyota Prius or a Honda Civic Hybrid. A co-worker/friend has a new Prius. I rode in it -- seemed fairly nice albeit with acres of hard grey plastic interior. I liked the trip computer which constantly recalculated the MPG which would certainly sate my obsession. However, the government income tax credits have run out for Toyota since they've far exceeded the allotted 60k vehicles sold. The Honda Civic is better -- I'd see an $1100 credit if I purchased the vehicle before June 1st (afterward it drops to $600, I think). Either car would give me 45MPG on the highway (Prius posts better in the city but that doesn't impact me) but some research and first hand accounts from owners and mechanics confirm that the batteries need replacing typically between 80-100k miles. The batteries cost $3-5k ! Granted the prices should drop but what if they don't? A hybrid with current consumer battery technology would last a tad over 3 years before I'd need a new battery. I can't lease because my yearly mileage is too high. So that elimintates *all* of today's hybrids as a prudent option.
Next I began looking at small, traditional cars. At the top of my list were the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Scion xD, Mini Clubman, and Ford Focus. By far, the Yaris looks the handsomest -- the front grille is especially appealing. However, Consumer Reports pans this offering from the perspective of drivability. Crash test reports highlight poor rear crash results. Not good for the kids. The Honda Fit is nice -- kinda stout looking, almost a steep wedge -- doesn't really appeal to my aesthetic and a new 2009 model is forthcoming with an upgraded interior so best to wait. The Scion -- well, I don't even know why I put it down now. The Focus -- well, it'd be real nice to buy American. I know, I know -- it's not like Ford is All American anyway, I'd be naive to think otherwise -- but the Buy American propaganda of the '80s really stuck and it's hard to shake free. The Mini Clubman is my favorite but it's 1) comparatively expensive and 2) it requires premium fuel. I read all over trying to see if it was OK to put regular fuel in this thing but, well, it's compression ratio is geared for premium, period. Yes, the computer will detect knocks and compensate but faces the very real risk of engine damage over the long term. Besides, the fuel economy would be less with regular fuel. The problem is that with a price hike of ~$.35/gallon for premium fuel, I'm looking at ~$236/year extra for premium fuel assuming 25k miles/year @ 37 MPG. Not a big deal I suppose. Maybe I'll buy it.
I need to visit some dealerships with my 3 year old because she needs to be able to see out of the window while perched in her car seat. Remember, it's a long commute and I don't want to deprive her the opportunity for some free and abundant visual stimuli.

Then I read a column in a recentish Consumer Reports listing ways to eke the best fuel economy out of one's car. Top of the list was driving 55 on the highway. Seems the energy required to propel a car exponentially increases with velocity due to wind drag. As an example, they said a Toyota Camry lost 5MPG when moving from 55 to 65 mph. Geez, I go 70-75 the whole way. I made up my mind that for at least (2) tanks worth I would drive a maximum of 55 on the highway, increase speed gradually -- essentially drive like I had an open fish tank in the back seat.
Now I have to use cruise control since 55 feels SO slow and I have the tendency to subconsciously creep up to 75 no matter what. I have (4) lanes to choose from: HOV, left, middle, right. 55 in the HOV just doesn't seem fair since the drivers behind me a trapped without legal recourse. The left lane is for passing so I'm not going to be that cantankerous jerk one runs into now and then that plants themselves in the "passing" lane and crawls. The right seemed the best bet, but the speed turns out to be far too desultory for cruise control use with drivers getting off an on exits constantly. As a sidebar, it really peeves me when I set the cruise control and find I have to constantly abort because the car in front can't keep a consistent speed. The middle lane is really the best for this 55 mph experiment since I can plant myself with the cruise control and drivers have lots of options.
Being on the other side of the fence -- the non-aggressive driver -- is an interesting state on the LIE and I encourage folks to try it as a sociological experiment. For the most part, drivers creep right up to your rear bumper, hover there for a bit as a reminder, and then blinker their way around and back in front. Some give a wide berth and blinker in a generous distance ahead. There are the people that pause to assess you as they pass, typically a stone-faced, goateed youth with sunglasses, and annoyingly blinker in at a close car length ahead. I've seen drivers flash their brights and wildly swerve around and cut in front without blinkers. One chest-beater even tapped the brakes and slowed down after cutting in front until he lost interest. This aggravated me since I had to cancel cruise control. It's remarkable how riled up some people become when faced with a driver going 55 in the center lane. I was probably one of those people not so long ago.
It was also interesting to note how fast large SUV owners drive. I wonder if they know that the advertised 15mpg highway sticker on their truck is probably under 10 when driving 75-80. And why are there so many large SUVs on the road with only a single driver? I see this every day. What an incredible waste.