polemicist: a writer who argues in opposition to others  

20070228.1524 Insanely Great!

So with the whole 'polemicist' thing I so rarely say anything nice about anyone.  Today will be the exception.  Take a look at this!  It's the Future of UI - what with the Gestures/InkWell thing that Apple's pushing on the iPhone & probably the new tablet too - it's not all that long until we all have something like this going on.  <drool/>


20070226.1032 You Shall Not Pass

What I'm about to relate happened to me over a week ago.  I've been distracted in the most meatspace oriented way possible, through coercion of my own bodily functions, so I've been unwilling to relate the tale to date...

Also, I've done a little research to fill in the blanks.  It wasn't easy either as this wasn't well publicized.  However, apparently you can not take the Upper Level of the George Washington Bridge between the hours of 11PM and 5AM unless you have EZPass.

 This effectively bars anyone who does not live in the 11 states where EZPass is available in one flavor or another from taking this route into New York from New Jersey.

 You will note that I said that only the Upper Level is closed.  This is in no way immediately obvious when you're driving up to it.  There are very confusing roadsigns posted, since this was apparently enacted in 2004.  It was still news to me when I drove into the "All Others" tollbooth lane, stopped & looked around for a human being - and failed.  I noted the readout that told me to look at - waited about 2 minutes & drove off.

Now I have to mail-in the $6 toll.  So I have to add postage and hope that I don't get fined also.  (The web site where I found this info out suggested that I keep the cancelled check.)

 So at this point you may be wondering - why do you care?  Because this is the beginning of the desensitization.  If EZPass is required in one place & they get away with it then it is only a matter of time until it spreads.  Why is that not a good idea?  Because EZPass is a tracking system.  There are sensors all along the highways that have the ability to read your EZPass as you drive by at full speed.  So your movements can be tracked, your rate of speed calculated, etc..  This is power that is begging to be abused and I don't remember when my permission was asked to spend my tax money on this instead of schools.

It's really simple.  If they want EZPass to be mandatory, then it should be issued as your driver's license.  They won't do that though, because it would come out that everyone would be carrying a tracking device as their ID card and everyone would either revolt or disable the system immediately.  The next option is to issue it as the registration for the car.  This is a little better than mounting it on the license plate, since it's not as simple to steal.  Since you're required by law to mount it & leave it mounted on the windshield - you can't legally remove it & put it in a faraday cage.  Give it time, it is inevitable.  Someone will figure it out.  When you live on a slippery slope, ultimately gravity is what kills you in the end.

So in terms of coping strategies, I think I'm finally going to ante up & get one.  Just like the whole MySpace thing, I have to actually do it before I can throw stones at it, and there's always a way to make it work for me.  Does anyone know where I can find a very small lead box?


20070223.0955 Legions of Microscopic Squatters

I hate being sick.   It's such an utterly human condition that it's embarrassing.  There's just nothing you can do about it & there's nothing you can do to be a valuable and productive human being either.  You just get to lay around all day, feeling awful, and bother anyone who gets close enough to hear you.

The worst part, I think, is the inability to concentrate.  When I ended up in the hospital after a snowboarding accident I had the benefit of being able to use the laptop in bed.  This kept me sane, quiet & productive.  But with a flu - there's just nothing you can do except conspire with pharmaceutical companies to commit viral genocide by loading your system with micro-scaled WMD's from Vicks.  Gotta love that Q...

20070220.0807 Final Frontier 

 Peer pressure is an ugly thing.  It can make you do things you wouldn't otherwise.

So I did it.  I have a MySpace account.  I set it up last night.  I didn't break out in boils nor burst into flames.

WHY?!?  When I've been so utterly opposed to it for so long and bent too many ears ranting about the evils of corporate copyrighting of your private life and the consistent passive aggressive acquisition of rights for any originally generated content?

Simple and twofold are the reasons:  

1. It's an experiment, quite like this blog.  I need to actually participate in a medium in order to be able to offer up a professional opinion.  (This is my self-justification/rationalization)

2. Peer pressure.  I know too many people who use the damned thing.  In order to share information with them I need to have an account.  Period.

That being said, now that I've gone through the set-up process I can point out a thing or two...

I have never in my life experienced such an abomination.  It was like being attacked by wild crowbars trying to leverage personal information off of me.  Within one form I had involuntarily pasted my real name, age, & town on my profile for everyone to see.  What kind of default settings are those!?  But this is to be expected since the remaining list of questions went into all kinds of personal information - all of which was, by default, posted on this public profile.

Thankfully the remaining information is optional.  Though by not filling it in, it had apparently inferred that I was single and didn't want kids.  (Both actually wrong)  I was able to go back and edit the profile & punch spaces into the town & zip code fields.  Only the birth date, state, and country fields were not editable since they are drop-menus.  But of course, now my age and astrological sign are displayed.... grrr...

All in all I spent my first hour on the site trying to wipe my own information off of it.  That and watching ads of course.  Could they put any more ads on the thing?  Why do people put up with it?  Because it's free?  You can build your own web site for free or very close to it on thousands of sites.  Is it the easy networking crap?  Does no one at all see that the only purpose to gather this information is to market things to you more effectively?  It's on par with shopping for plus-sized clothes & getting Burger King pop-up ads.  I was sent unsolicited ads for personals for people in my own town - until I changed the profile to say 'married'. 

OK so I'm a n00b now I s'pose.  So I'll go back & fiddle with it some more & report back later.  I imagine that I will indeed integrate the two somehow.  We'll see.  The experiment continues...


20070219.1100 In the News

Here's my go as a one man RSS feed:

  •  Chocolate is Good For You - Duh!  Everyone knows that chocolate makes you smarter!
  • I hate it when reporters suddenly 'discover' some hack or vulnerability that's been out there for over a decade and treat it like a hot breaking security story
  • NASA's image of the day is the Eskimo Nebula
  • Also worth noting is the 45th Anniversary of Americans in Orbit - even though it might be said that  it's totally NASA-centric and still needlessly nationalistic in it's focus it still reflects the outstanding achievements of a small and amazing group of people and deserves serious respect.
  • M$-Word is Hacked Again...
  • I also hate it when reporters try to combine common sense and a basics-101 Cliffnotes to write a 'news' story saying that Now is the time to get tough on security or some such nonsense.  It's a scare piece that says "if you're not paying attention to it by now - you're missing it" without insulting the reader.
  • There's a fetish that Mac-haters have about security on Macs.  I've seen a lot of contrived examples of how to "execute code" on an patched Mac.  I have yet to hear of a single Mac-owner ever finding one of these in the wild.  As such people are trying to make a name for themselves in an increasingly competitive computer security industry.   Apple responds as it should, and the exploits never get used... <yawn/>
  • Most virii (a.k.a. viruses) and worms require humans to propagate them.  If you're stupid enough to download a rootkit onto your own machine & execute it on purpose - then you have no right to be shocked when you have problems.  
    Links can be found on web sites, in email mail messages and on Instant Messenger services.  If you run Windows - they can even be icons on your desktop, or buttons in pop-up windows.  If you click on them - you should have an idea what to expect beforehand.
  • If you work in IT and you're into ITIL, then this article is interesting.  Otherwise, it's insomniac fodder.
  • If you work in IT and aspire to be a CIO one day, then polishing your skills is a daily chore.
  • Are you someone who thinks of The Future as scary or as the domicile of opportunity?
  • MySQL is a powerful database that a lot of Open Source people use.  Being Open Source means that a lot of corporations will be initially allergic to it, however there is a company there.  They do offer support - the big show-stopper.   They also just announced that for the same price as a 1 CPU license for Oracle, you can get an unlimited site-license for MySQL Enterprise.  At the present time that's about US$40k.
  •  Steve "monkey on meth" Ballmer recently admitted that M$ ain't even number two.
  •  The novel concept of running .NET on a Mac is possible.  But begs the question of 'why?'  Most developers agree that MONO is just a technicality that allows M$ to say that .NET isn't Windows only.  It's never going to be taken seriously.
  •  Oh & finally if you really really still want that Vista upgrade - have a look at this first.

 That should cover it for now...


20070216.0845 "Working..."

There's a Star Trek episode where they go to the mirror universe where Spock has a beard & the Federation is the Empire.  I noticed that the computer there doesn't say the familiar "Working" in Majel Barret's voice.  Instead it says the even more familiar prompt "Ready".  Clearly this could only mean one thing.  We live in the mirror universe!

Anyway, foolishness aside there was always one thing that I always wanted that was on Star Trek.  It wasn't phasers or transporters or shuttle-craft or warp drive.  Those are cool toys too and I'd love to have them.  But the thing that I always coveted was the computer.  Here was something that contained the sum of human knowledge.  All you had to do was to know what to ask for.  If knowledge is power then that thing is worth it's weight in antimatter.  (Hmmm - I don't even know if that makes sense... Does antimatter have anything to do with antigravity?  Does it have negative weight?  I guess it's just a stupid thing to say.) Nevermind.

So there was a POINT to this drivel.  I noticed today that Yale and a bunch of other universities are doing the same thing that MIT did and they are putting their course materials online for free.  This is Insanely Great!

If you've ever seen Good Will Hunting you might have taken away the fact that a motivated individual can get themselves a college education for the price of a library card and three years worth of lunch-meat and beer.  Surely this is a more productive use of your time than reading about the tragic death of Anna Nicole Smith or Angelina Jolie's current reproductive activities?



20070215.1012 How do you say... Lee-'A'-Zion ?

We have all survived another Hallmark induced Valentines Day relationship crucible.  We all think we've got a handle on it for at least another two weeks - one way or another anyway.  But imagine that you're 73 and the prominent leader of a world power - how many valentines would you have to be sending out?  A lot more than you might imagine if you just so happen to be Jacques Chirac.  Being as he's not seeking re-election (I think they're next year) he doesn't have a lot to lose at this point, so he recently opened up to an author who is apparently releasing a book of interview that will include along with other details of life as the Prime Minister of France, details of his various trysts and conquests.  It's about to be released in the U.K. under the title "Stranger in the Elysee".  (The equivalent in the USA might be 'Stranger in the Oval Office')

What I find interesting about this is that there's nothing about it that's news to the French.  They don't care about this kind of thing.  In Britain or the US, when something like this comes out it is considered very scandalous, but not so in France.  If you ask you might be told that the French are more sophisticated in their view of relationships and love.  You might also be told that they are far more concerned with the policies of the man rather than his personal life.  There is a clear division of personal life from public life in France to be certain.

I cannot help but to draw a comparison with Bill Clinton and to think of what an outrageous difference in response that whole affair created.  I want to  compare the two and ask what kind of impact it really had on their performance as leaders?  Further, what good was accomplished with the witch-hunt that Ken Starr ran with taxpayer funds exposing all of that?  As far as I can see it only cheapened the image of the Office of the President without accomplishing anything.  JFK pulled that kind of thing all the time - only J. Edgar Hoover really knew about any of it.  Maybe it was better that way.  Deep down we know that our leaders are humans just like us, but we really don't want to be constantly reminded of it.


20070213.1143 Autodidact with Initiative

The computer industry is a very weird thing.  It's like no other industry humanity has undertaken.  In many ways it challenges us to reinvent the rules completely every three years.  Anyone's crystal ball is useless outside of a three-year paradigm shift event horizon.

As a result, we in this industry have to constantly be learning and adapting to change.  This is a skill-set unto itself, though one that is completely undervalued and ignored since if you don't have it you simply can't survive.  Cast as a survival trait, it's not the sort of thing that you want people around you to be better at than yourself, so few people teach others how to do this either.

I'm into my third decade of working with computers, so you might say that I've survived ten paradigm shifts and have the tales to tell.  Still though, I've managed to find HR people who believe that 4 years of drunken frat parties,  political polymorphism and living exclusively off of ramen noodles somehow make or break that career.

No, I don't have a college degree.  Yes, I've managed groups of 20+ people & can write/debug/review code in 8+ different programming languages.  But if you're an HR drone, you stopped reading a sentence ago.

I guess the point I'm trying to make here is - why does it matter?  How is it that I could have permanently disqualified myself for a job 20 years ago when I've been doing solid work ever since?  What justifications warrant a 'policy' or a 'preference' that disqualifies professionals out of hand?

No - this is not reflecting a recent event.  I've been working for the same company for 2 1/2 years now and have no interest in leaving soon.  I'm merely muckraking because we're undergoing change - as usual - and there's a lot of people who can't handle it.  AFAIK, just about all of them have degrees.  I think my point is that if you're an autodidact with initiative - then this is the industry for you.  You've got the survival skills.  Of course, HR probably will never figure it out - or if they have - then they'll simply use it as another excuse not to give you a raise >4%. 


20070206.1316 Killer Viruses

I have noticed recently that the term "Zero Day" has been thrown around a bit lately, particularly while talking about M$ products, etc..  IMHO it's a rotten buzzword.  In essence, the term can be applied to any exploit that is published the same day as a product/patch and to which there is no current fix.  I don't care for it because you need to stop & explain it to people - which means they don't necessarily really get it.  I first heard the term when someone clueless was talking about "The ZeroDay Virus" which actually sounds a lot more mundane since most virii (a.k.a. viruses) have spooky sounding names like that. 

That's what bothers me about it I suppose.  At first glance you don't realize how really truly serious it is because you dismiss it as something that is more familiar.  A virus is usually a temporary problem that goes away - so if you keep hearing about it, you assume it's just the same old story.

Also I really love this quote:

[Until a patch is released, Microsoft recommends that users avoid opening attachments from "untrusted sources or that you receive unexpectedly from trusted sources."]

As if to say that under normal circumstances once that patch is installed, that sort of thing is perfectly acceptable to do?