Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Being Mad

I'm sure some of you are wondering why I chose The Mad Computer Scientist's Mind as the name of this blog. It is kind of a play on words, in several ways: Originally it came from the way I describe my home. I'm single, and so many single guys' homes are described as bachelor pads. My house isn't that way - in fact, it's unusually clean. I describe it to friends as a "mad computer scientist's laboratory" because of the proliferation of computers all over the place. In my work room, it isn't unusual to see a solderless breadboard with 1980s vintage integrated circuits on it. I have computers that are almost always apart. The "mad computer scientist" part was a play on the stereotypical "mad scientist" with the Van Der Graff generators with electrical sparks flying around, knife switches, and a brain in a jar, complete with a scientist with an almost sinister laugh. I am, by schooling and profession, a computer scientist, with some seemingly crazy ("mad") ideas sometimes. That leads to the second play on words with the word "mad" meaning "angry." Reading what I've written here has probably led many of you to see this interpretation of "mad" rather than the "crazy" one. I tend to be thought of as a glass-half-empty kind of person, and as such my outlook is not always the most optimistic. According to Wikipedia, Buddhism defines anger as, "being unable to bear the object, or the intention to cause harm to the object." In my case, it is most definitely the former. My anger comes primarily from frustration, as I fail to see how seemingly intelligent people make such non-intelligent decisions. Some people would say that I have my own vision of how the world should be, and that I refuse to accept the world as it is. That assessment may be correct, actually. We all know that people who are living in their own worlds are crazy, right? Mad = crazy. So we have come full-circle on the definition of "mad."

In actuality I'm probably a little of all these definitions. The eccentric, scientific type. Frustrated, and filled with anger. Crazy, trying to adapt to a world that frustrates me. Among all of these things I still feel that there has to be some good out there, and there usually is. Why it is so difficult to find is a mystery.

This is kind of the lead-in to a less pleasant discussion, brought on by bad drivers, bad politicians, and bad relationship opportunities. Maybe I will just title the posting, "Bad."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Election Information

As I do every year in-person, I'd like to recommend the League of Women Voters - Austin Area web site and their voters guide as an excellent reference for Austin, TX-area residents during this election period.

I personally view their guide before every election and have been very pleased with its non-partisan information and insight on some of the issues. It is extremely difficult to cut through all the mudslinging and empty promises we hear from the candidates. The LWV has always done a great job of helping to get right to the issues at hand and provide responses from the candidates. In the case of the Austin Area LWV, they also provide clear, simple-to-understand information about how to vote in Texas.

My thanks, as always, to the LWV for maintaining this most excellent resource.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Keep Austin's Word - NOT!

Dear Mayor Will Wynn-

Please stop sending "Keep Austin's Word" propaganda to my home. I find it extremely offensive that your group would go so far as to cause confusion with the popular "Keep Austin Weird" campaign, I disagree with your group's position on Proposition 2, and at this point I am not prepared to change my position.

As an Austin taxpayer and someone who lives in a neighborhood around The Domain (and Arbor Walk), I am appalled that the very people who were supposed to be representing me - one of the people of this city - would be so foolish to have attempted such blatently poor deals with regard to this project. It is obvious from the outcome of these developments that at no time were the people living in the surrounding communities considered. Traffic on Duval Rd. has increased substantially since the increased development in and around The Domain (the former IBM property) has taken place. It is difficult to get into and out of my subdivision as a result. The traffic into and out of these shopping areas (The Domain and Arbor Walk) is poorly planned, resulting in hazardous conditions for both those who want to patronize the retail stores in these shopping centers and the people (such as myself) who work in this area. The city council has been downright negligent in allowing this development without the proper planning in advance, and one has to wonder what "incentives" the council has received in return for allowing this to continue unchecked.

In addition to the traffic and neighborhood impact, many of the stores that were located in The Arboretum and nearby retail space have, for whatever reason, abandoned this space to relocate to these new spaces. Therefore, The Domain has created no new jobs nor has it attracted the kind of retail business that makes Austin unique. We will now be left with many vacant or near-vacant stores in The Arboretum area, to likely suffer a similar fate to what is being seen with Northcross Mall.

I am not entirely sure what deals our City Council has made with the people who have developed The Domain and Arbor Walk on our behalf, but as far as I am concerned it is not in-line with the kind of development that the people in Austin want to see. If you want to provide funding to the developers of The Domain, then you are welcome to privately fund this development. As far as funding it with incentives that directly impact the taxpayers of this City, I wholeheartedly oppose this. It is not me who has to explain to the developers of The Domain why the City would back-out of "its agreements," it is you who needs to explain to all of us why the City government failed its constituents in allowing this kind of development and incentive program to occur to begin with. That was neither honest nor fair to Austin and the people who live and work here.

I understand the positive financial impact such development has for both the City and the areas being developed. I agree that upscale shopping in northwest Austin will maintain or increase property values. There is also tax revenue and other benefits that occur coincident with development such as this. However, for the people who are living here for the long-haul, these benefits do not outweigh the costs. Businesses used to favor Austin because of its low cost-of-living, unique character, and proximity to outstanding college graduates. The perceived necessity for financial incentives to attract business here is a result of steadily losing those features and a failure to address the larger problems we are facing.

I respectfully disagree with the comments made by you and your political action committee, and will support Proposition 2 by voting in favor of it. Fix the old retail property - don't give incentives (at taxpayer expense) to develop new ones.

To my non-Austin readers: My apologies for this lengthy posting that seemingly is not at all applicable to your situation. In reality, every city in the USA is having this kind of problem in one form or another. It is time to put a stop to this kind of taxpayer-funded "growth" and start looking at ways of truly improving our communities.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Time Warner Subscriber Agreement

Time Warner customers take note: Time Warner Cable has updated its residential subscriber agreement. Among its clauses, pay particular attention to item #13, "Consent to Phone and Email Contact." In short, it says that Time Warner can telemarket to you or spam you using any phone numbers or e-mail addresses you've ever provided to them. The only way you can stop them is to call or write your local office.

The agreement is riddled with attorney-produced clauses and restrictions that anyone in their right mind would burn along with the service ... except, try to get Internet or TV service from anyone else who doesn't burden their customers with this shit.

It deeply saddens me that any company would treat their customers in this manner. It saddens me even deeper that so many are doing it nowadays. Shame on you all...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Just a post before I go (to sleep)

Smokey (my cat, better known as the face I've decided to show on blogger) did, indeed, have his vet appointment on Monday, and did spend the afternoon at the office with me. He actually did pretty well at the office for the first couple of hours, happily greeting people as they stopped-in. During the last hour he really wanted to go exploring, and that wouldn't have gone over very well with some of the people who run the place. I did make him a little paper replica of the security badges we have, and put his name and photo on it. The security guards found it amusing and joked about how he should be sure to scan his badge as he enters the facility. The group responsible for our holiday open house slide show took Smokey's picture with his little badge and he'll probably end up in said slide show come December. I spent some time pondering whether or not Smokey would actually get more work done than a certain problem employee...

In any case Smokey's reason for seeing the vet was his mysterious problem with his rear legs right before leaving on vacation a little over a month ago, and he seems to have lost a lot of weight and isn't eating enough. Long story short, it still isn't completely apparent whether or not he had a small stroke or has arthritis as far as his legs go. He did lose a pound in the last month, which is a lot. His kidney values are elevated but staying consistent with their last ones. His thyroid, however, is again a bit on the high side, which would account for his weight loss and stomach upset. So once again we're adjusting his thyroid medicine a bit and he has some medicine that will help soothe his stomach a bit. The things I do for my cat.

I have had little conversation with my online romantic interest so far this week. What little I did have has sent-up all kinds of serious warning signals, and I am most certain that a meeting in person this week will not happen. That being said, I therefore seriously doubt that this is going to go anywhere. I have also concluded that the sure-fire way to jinx a romance with anyone is to start telling my friends about it. I think for the next person I'm interested in (if there is one) I won't say anything until the day before the wedding. I would like to emphasize that "if there is one" parenthetical comment in the previous sentence. To be honest, this whole romantic partner thing is starting to become plain annoying. I realize this is a sick thought, but it has crossed my mind that maybe a good software development project would be to create a virtual girlfriend using artificial intelligence techniques. Mix-in a little robotics and... Okay, okay, yes, I know, this whole topic is a bad idea to even discuss. The fact that I have even thought about it expresses my level of frustration with the whole subject. When I start feeling like this, I very seriously question why in heck I want to be with someone in the first place. When I figure it out I'll let you know.

So much for getting to sleep early tonight.

I did take a look at the source code to Rockbox tonight also. I see the problem with the crossfade stuff that I felt wasn't working correctly. I'm trying to figure out whether to try fixing it myself or reporting it as a bug (or both, I guess).

Anyway, that's all. Time for bed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Cold Day In Hell

I'm not sure I really want to write anything here tonight, but it has been a while and I already have two recent posts that I have purposely not posted. I look back at them and, while there is something of value there, I'm not sure they express my feelings as accurately as I'd like.

I just got done watching the DVR'd espisode of 20/20 from Friday night. This is the first time in a while that I've really had to wonder what drugs the people at ABC News were taking the day they put that episode/edition together. Message to ABC News: Britney Spears is not news. I know this may come as a complete shock to some people out there, but it's true. Bimbos singing to synthesizers is so 80s. Make it stop, please. For heaven's sake, don't put her on an otherwise-respectable TV news program. I was going to call Britney talentless, but that would have been a lie. It does actually look like she can act, and I'll hand that to her. Perhaps she should pursue that talent as opposed to making "music" videos and trying to be a parent. We'll see how many new readers of this blog I end-up with since, according to the Guiness Book of World Records according to 20/20, Britney is allegedly one of the most searched people on the web. That by itself is rather scary.

The other blunder 20/20 did this week was with the mortgage crisis. They put someone on who said, quite brilliantly, that some people's mortgage problems were their own darn fault, that they were living beyond their means. They (20/20) then immediately switched to a couple who was paying for their house just fine until family medical issues and some other personal problems put them into financial hot water. NO NO NO NO NO! THIS IS NOT PART OF THE MORTGAGE CRISIS AS IT IS RIGHT NOW! To compare a situation like that to the situation that is the subject of the bail-out is so very very wrong. In fact, that specific example is more a symptom of the lack of affordable health care than the current "financial crisis." The problem is that 20/20 isn't the only one who doesn't seem to get it. Occasionally I listen to Rush Limbaugh when I feel like hearing what it sounds like for shit to come out of someone's mouth instead of out of their ass. He said on his radio program the other day (I am paraphrasing, of course) that to imply that this problem was (at least partially) due to people living beyond their means was completely un-American, that people living beyond their means is the kind of risk taking that has helped to build the wealth that has made this country great. I continued to listen, because I thought for sure that this was just one of his sarcastic jokes until I realized he was serious. Dittoheads, it is not, I repeat NOT, a good idea to live beyond your means. Of all people, Rush should realize that what made this country great was that hard working individuals set reasonable goals and worked hard toward making them a reality. Was there any risk involved? In some cases, sure. However, owning a BMW and an expensive home on credit you can barely repay or neglecting your family or other responsiblities to get these things is just plain irresponsible. To expect that the government (read: us) will bail-out people who took on a mortgage without any contingency plan is ridiculous. I love it when people talk about "The American Dream" as though everyone deserves to have it. I believe the word "dream" implies that it's not a guarantee or an entitlement, it's more like a goal.

I was, as usual, quite impressed with John Stossel's segment on people voting, and I look forward to his politically-incorrect politics segment next (this?) week. For those who didn't see the program, John was essentially saying that people who have no idea how the basic functioning of the government in this country works should stay home and not vote, since they have no idea what they're really voting for. It's a very interesting idea. What I think both John and I would really like to see is for people to educate themselves on the real issues and ideas that the candidates are presenting, the pros and cons of those positions, and how acting on those will affect the future of the country as a whole, prior to voting. Not voting should be a last resort. I would like to correct one comment though: It was asked (rhetorically) if we should only allow the educated to vote. In reality, the electoral college for determining the president was established for just this reason. The people vote for the electors for a particular presidential candidate with the idea that the elector, if deemed necessary, could vote for a different candidate based on their education and knowledge of the issues (see Wikipedia for a nice discussion of this). For you folks who were all pissed off about the Bush/Gore election and the electoral college, perhaps you should read this first. I agree we all got a bad president, but it wasn't the electoral college system that was the problem.

So aside from watching the United States' economy going all to hell and 20/20, I admit there have been other goings-on in my life.

I have been spending more time than I should in on-line chat sessions with a woman who I admit has caught my romantic attention. I haven't really "chatted" online since about 14 years ago when I spent a lot of time on IRC in chat rooms talking about everything from country music performers to emotional problems. To say that online chat is not a primary means of communication for me these days would be an understatement. Anyway, I really enjoy conversing with her, and would really like to meet her in person (she lives around here, it's not like she's halfway across the country). Alas, she continues to resist such suggestions, and I am beginning to grow quite tired of this. Obviously there is something I see in her that has made me want to continue discussion despite the resistance to an in-person meeting. She has three cats, and really cares about them. She's smart. She's good-looking. We're both in the same age-bracket. We're both kind of introverts. I've given her the benefit of the doubt because she has been trying to work through some personal issues. However, I think it's time to put her on "double-secret probation" and if she fails to come up with a good reason by the end of this week why she won't let me buy her lunch so we can talk in person rather than on the computer, I think I'm going to call this yet another failed attempt at romance and move-on. Less foolish people than I would probably have already concluded that.

I put my telephone system changes into place on the production server this weekend. While I like the concept I came up with (explained in a previous blog entry) it seems a little fragile right now. I'm hoping that I feel more confident with what I did as time goes on. I will reassure myself by saying that there is no way to account for every possible thing when developing software until it gets some testing with real data. The only way to do that is to use it, in this case.

I purchased a SanDisk Sansa E280 MP3 player from woot and it came yesterday. I installed Rockbox onto it the same night, and that installed without incident. Rockbox is an open source replacement for the original software that comes on some of the little MP3 players out there. It enables the devices to handle more varied media file formats, and the user interface is generally better. It seems to have some little glitches in it and I may start looking at the source code to see if I can correct some of them. The Sansa E280 also has a FM tuner in it, and that seems to work as well, although I hardly listen to the radio these days. I admit that this was kind of an impulse purchase that I don't have a specific use in mind for. I wanted to try one of them out and see what it was like, and the Sansa's price was right.

Well, it looks like time to wrap-up for the night and get some much needed sleep. My cat needs to go to the vet tomorrow afternoon (at 4:30, around rush-hour) so I'm going to pick him up at lunch and keep him at work for the afternoon so I don't have to go home and go all the way back in the opposite direction during rush hour. That whole thing should be interesting...

Hopefully things will start looking up on all fronts. I'm kind of tired of being jacked-around by so many different people (or sets of people). Things have to get better.

Friday, October 3, 2008

I'm a PC

I'm a PC, and I run Linux.

What's a PC? PC is an abbreviation for Personal Computer. A PC is a personal computer.

Technically speaking, the Macintosh is also a PC. It's an Apple architecture PC with an Intel or PowerPC processor. Microsoft operating systems run on IBM architecture PCs with Intel or AMD processors.

Linux runs on Apple and IBM architecture PCs, and is free.

So when you see Apple's and Microsoft's propagandavertisements, what they're really trying to prove is which operating system is better - not whether an Apple or IBM PC architecture is better.