Sunday, September 12, 2010

Social Networking

Yesterday I spent most...okay, all... of the day bumming around the house.  I had some specific things I needed to do, but ultimately ended up detoured around in various places on the Internet.  Ultimately I ended up purchasing some mp3s from amazon.com.

It is what I bought from amazon.com that started my mind on the subject of social networking.  As you all know, I'm not really a facebook kind of guy.  However, there are a couple of things I've been doing that actually brings a positive light to some of this.  Among these is the idea that I stumbled upon two musical artists simply by messing with my TiVo and looking on YouTube.  One of these people I mentioned before, and that was Sayaka Alessandra.  The other person, who I hadn't mentioned until now, was Stephanie Strand, who performed two songs I have come to like a lot:  Gutters & Drains and New Friend (I also like her animated short, Battle of the Media).  Now, not knowing anything about this person, I wrote her on facebook a while ago because I was interested in knowing how she did a few things in her animated video and got a nice response.  I happened to look at some of the things she was talking about and her interests and that made me take some pause, as there were a number of things we had in common.  Being over 20 years her senior, I figured that the idea of further contact was probably going to seem a bit creepy these days, and so I left things as they were, and walked away saying, "Hmmmm.  There actually are some people who would probably 'get' me."

Get this at amazon.com
Fast-forward to yesterday when I noticed, quite by mistake, that both Sayaka and Stephanie have some of their music for sale as mp3s on amazon.com.  That's when I realized that these social networks actually did have a positive result, and they weren't just places for people to post their every move as if we were all interested in it.  If it weren't for my stumbling upon these two young ladies on YouTube with my TiVo, there were two talented people who's work I would never have known about.  Without their being on YouTube or similar, probably nobody else would have either.  Here are two people armed with talent and a computer, and who were brave enough to share their artistry with the rest of the world, who touched my life as well as many others.  While I had already converted Gutters & Drains into a mp3 from the YouTube video, I thought to myself, "For 99 cents, I really need to buy the mp3 and support her efforts."  I remember buying 45RPM records in high school and college for a buck with the knowledge that the artist was some person who I would never know at all, never mind have any other connection with whatsoever.  Wow.  Things have definitely changed.

I'm not sure that this has given me any reason to bring my brand of opinion to facebook, nor am I going to pretend that now I'm somehow hip and that I'm into all the stuff the kids are into.  Nah, I'm still the grumpy old mad computer scientist that I always have been.  What is different is that I can see that among all the frivolous use of the Internet and social networking that there is something more that is serious in a good way.  All artists like to say that it's all about the art, and not about the money.  Now, without the need for expensive publishing and distribution, it actually can be all about the art.  Most artists won't be able to quit their day jobs, but if it really is all about the art, then at least they can share their work without breaking the bank.  That is a good thing.  Art (including music and literature) is a reflection of ourselves and the culture we live in.  It is our entertainment.  It allows people to express themselves and share their ideas with others.  While science and technology are critically important, art is what allows expression of our humanity.  It is artists like Sayaka Alessandra and Stephanie Strand that give me hope that there is still significant humanity left in humans and things are not all going to hell in a hand-basket.

Friday, September 10, 2010

An Old-Fashioned Book Burning

So it seems the pastor of a Gainesville, Florida church, Reverend Terry Jones, has decided (or not) to burn copies of the Quran (the Muslim holy book) tomorrow, September 11, 2010, as a "reprisal for Islamist terrorism."  Well, that's sure an example of Christian forgiveness in action (said thick in sarcasm).  Additionally, he's taking a political issue and turning it into a religious issue.

Now I really don't give a damn about pissing off a religious group generally.  Listening to the rhetoric they spew never places my belief system (or lack thereof) in a positive light, and frankly I'm kind of tired of paying my share of their tax breaks.  If I could get some entertainment from them once in a while, it would kind of be money well spent, I suppose.

The difference in this particular event has to do with a war...a war where there's real American troops in a country where a sizable part of the population is Muslim and wrongfully (I think) feels that America is somehow anti-Islam.  The events that took place on 9/11/2001 were politically-motivated actions by a group of Islamic extremists who justified what they did based on what they perceived as American aggression and meddling in their culture.  To further antagonize these extremists would be to put our own citizens at risk, including those serving in the Middle Eastern countries.  It would also demonstrate to potential sympathizers with those extremists that America is, indeed, anti-Islam as they thought.  While burning the Muslim "good book" may be within America's concept of free speech, it is free speech in the same form as shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded movie theater - dangerous, reckless, and serves no useful purpose except to put innocent people in harm's way.

"But...but...but...they did it to our Bible and nobody made a big deal about it!  This is just a further demonstration of how the world is anti-Christian."  NO IT ISN'T!  Gee, people, get a grip!  This sounds like something a five-year-old child would say:  "Well, he burned my book so now I'm gonna burn his book.  Na na na naaah na."  Would you idiots please GROW THE HELL UP!  The reason why "nobody" (and it wasn't nobody, believe me) here made a big deal of the burning of your "good book" or other antagonistic action by certain groups protesting is because there wasn't the strong possibility of a violent retaliatory action against our own citizens because of that action.  That should be enough to cause you to take a step back and find some maturity.  If it isn't, just think about how this kind of behavior is clearly non-Christian, and, Rev. Jones, no, Jesus Christ would not have condoned this kind of behavior.  If you've found some kind of justification for believing he would, then somehow I've misunderstood some of the tenets of Christianity along the way...and I think maybe you have too.  Burning the Quran is not the way to "spread the good word of the Lord."  Argh.  I have a moral problem even typing that phrase.

Then this morning I was listening to our morning talk radio program where I heard that the Westboro Baptist Church (you know, Fred Phelps' "God Hates Fags"...and-everyone-else-who-isn't-us religious cult) is planning on performing the Quran burning if Jones calls-off his book burning.  Attention world:  Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church (his merry band of bigots) absolutely, positively, does not reflect the actual views and opinions of the American public in general, and most of us would be happy if they just left the U.S. and found another place to take their hate.

...and that actually brings me to my final comment.  Before anyone somehow justifies burning the Quran because they somehow equate the mosque in NYC and the 9/11 terror attacks with some kind of overall "Islamic invasion" that requires some action....before anyone even THINKS about this, think about fundamentalist and extremist Christian groups like the WBC.  Most of the time these people stop just short of "terrorism" (and I say "most of the time" because killing doctors and bombing abortion clinics in the name of religion is a terrorist activity).  Before you people get on your holy high-horse and make sweeping judgments about followers of Islam, perhaps you should clean-up your own act.  Seriously, I'm sure most Muslims are normal folk who really just do what the rest of us do, but have a somewhat different religious belief.  Nothing more.  The followers of fundamentalist/extremist Islam are really no different from fundamentalist/extremist Christianity and those are the same as any other extreme nut-job out there.

Aside from the scientific reasoning and my own personal feelings about the lack of belief in any religion (a god, so to speak), this kind of conflict is yet another reason I feel happy about not being a "person of faith."  As I've said before, if I'm wrong, I'm sure that I'll be rewarded in the afterlife for not getting involved in all this superstitious nonsense.

PS: My heartfelt sympathy goes out to everyone who lost someone in the Sept. 11 attacks.  In my opinion, we should be honoring those who lost their lives through an understanding of what happened and how to prevent it from happening again.  Burning the Quran is not any way to honor these people, and it won't provide any understanding nor will it prevent future attacks.  Think about it...

Eye Witness News

I'm up late tonight trying to make some sense of my eye doctor appointment today that turned-up the replay of the potential of a small hole in the retina in the far lower left area of my right eye.  My optometrist also feels there is a possibility of a trace amount of fluid that has gotten between my retina and eye.  This coming from the Optomap scan of my eye.  So now I am going to end up having to go back to a retina specialist to make sure my retina is not in danger of detaching.  If there is a problem, there is a possibility that I will need to have the area around the hole sealed-off using laser surgery.  This is not something I am looking forward to, as I'm a fair amount squeamish about eye stuff.

While I was waiting for the doctor, I was looking through the rack of magazines.  In almost every magazine, I observed that the head-shot on the front cover partially obscures the name of the magazine.  This included Sports Illustrated, People, Marie Claire, and Texas.  The only magazine where I could see the name was Popular Science.  Why do magazines do this?  I would think that they would like to be proud of the name of their magazine, and the trademark recognition that it provides.  I spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out what magazine "Mar{head}ire" was (FYI: that was Marie Claire, and I was only able to tell by looking at the spine).  People magazine doesn't have a spine.

I always like browsing through Popular Science and/or Popular Mechanics when I find them in the waiting room where I happen to be.  My parents subscribed to these magazines at various times throughout my childhood, and I found them to be fascinating.  That feeling still hasn't gone away...and maybe it's time to get an old school magazine subscription again.  It's nice to see that they don't have a need to cover up the name of their periodical.

Time once again to make a comment about Time Warner Cable's stupid RoadRunner TV commercials.  They have been claiming again (paraphrasing) that their service is so much faster than DSL service using slow, antiquated phone lines.  Puhleeze...give me a break.  My wireless networking is faster than their Internet service, and it is using even older, "slower" radio signals.  Bottom line is that any of these technologies have progressed far beyond what they had been able to do in the past, and in most cases (especially cable and DSL) the speed is artificially limited by the carrier, not by the technology.  If I were the phone company, I'd show a clip of a snowy TV picture full of interference (or a modern one full of macro-blocking) and say, "Are you ready to get your Internet service from the same people who give you this kind of TV picture?!"  Just cut it out.  If you're going to attack each other, then please do so without the lies and half-truths.  Good grief.

By the way, in the name of full disclosure, I get my Internet service from the local cable company.  I did have DSL at one time as well, and it was fast and reliable.  The only reason I switched is because at&t's customer service sucks worse than Time Warner Cable's at this point.  If Time Warner Cable wanted to make a (mostly) truthful commercial, they should just say:
We're Time Warner Cable.  Hey, we know that cable and DSL Internet service are about the same speed, and almost the same price, and nearly as reliable.  But problems sometimes happen, and when they do, you can call us and we'll fix it without cost to you...unlike the phone company, who tries to blame you for all the problems before they'll even send someone out (and if they do find it's "your problem," they charge you a hefty service fee).  We won't lock you into a time commitment if you want a reasonable price for service.  So you can try us out, experience our blazing fast speeds, and see if you like what we're selling.  If not, then you can stop your service without extra charges.  Try doing that with the phone company.
By the way, TWC, if you use that idea, you should give me a few months of free RoadRunner service. {insert smiley face}  I suspect that their attorneys feel that blatant lies that attack the competitor's technology are a lot easier to defend in court than making the claims I just did...

I went forward with converting the Gentoo Linux OS on my system at work to 64-bit (again, effectively involving a complete OS rebuild).  So far, so good.

Well, it seems I have procrastinated bedtime long enough.  If I don't get to sleep soon, it is unlikely I'll be awake for work in the morning, never mind awake enough to host "games night."

Friday, September 3, 2010

64 Bit Update

Well, it has been a week, and a week it has been.  I did follow-through with the Gentoo Linux OS update, and it is finally finished and working.  Here are some lessons learned:

32 Bit Emulation

You may remember my last entry where I cursed the wine interface software and was grumbling about how it didn't compile.  Well, I also noticed that my chroot trick that I used to compile software for my laptop, netbook, and VPS wasn't working anymore either (the kernel refused to execute any 32-bit executables).

I couldn't believe that Windows 7 could do this and Linux couldn't, and that accidental thought turned me to looking at my kernel configuration.  Wouldn't you know, the kernel has an option that allows 32-bit executables to be used, all that was needed was to check the option.  This is not in a very obvious place -- it isn't under "Processor type and features" but rather "Executable file formats / Emulations" as "IA32 Emulation."  On second thought, that seems rather obvious, and could probably be more attributed to operator error.  In any case, the description of this option says it all:
Include code to run 32-bit programs under a 64-bit kernel. You should likely turn this on, unless you're 100% sure that you don't have any 32-bit programs left.

So be forewarned ... don't forget to configure your kernel accordingly!

That fixed, my complaints in the last entry are silly moot now.

VirtualBox

Before I found the magic kernel parameter above, I thought perhaps I would run a 32-bit Gentoo Linux installation in a virtual machine, like I said in my last posting.  That was not the right thing to do.  I started recompiling the base system as I usually do after loading the "stage 3" tarball.  What normally takes no more than an hour or two on a reasonably fast system took more than 5 hours (with all 4 processor cores assigned).  I say "more than" with a bit of hesitation since I never let it finish, and it didn't even recompile gcc yet.  This was one of the primary motivations for finding a way to run 32-bit executables under the 64-bit kernel, because at the rate this was going I was about to wipe out my 64-bit install and revert back to the old OS build.

Most of my experience with VM software of this kind has been with VMware.  The reason I wanted to abandon VMware for VirtualBox is that VMware has become rather bloated, and lately it has been hit or miss when it comes to working with new kernel and/or browser versions (don't even get my started with the newer Firefox incompatibilities).  On the other hand, VMware's performance has been overall fairly good and, if you can get it working, it is generally rock solid.

VirtualBox has gotten much better since the last time I used it (which ended up being a total failure), but in my opinion still is a bit behind VMware performance-wise (not entirely, but on some things...) and the way VMs are managed is kind of hokey.  With VirtualBox, your VM is basically running through a user-mode graphical application that must remain running in order for your VM to stay alive.  This isn't bad if you're just planning to boot Windows for a few minutes to do a specific thing, but if you want to start working on something and run into a task that has to run for a long time (such as a Gentoo build), then you'd like to be able to shut down your GUI and let the VM run in the background.  The only way to do this is to anticipate that kind of application in advance and start-up the VM using a command-line tool called VBoxHeadless.  The coordination between VM and GUI (console) at that point is clunky, and if you're trying to get to the VM before the boot CD starts-up, you're out of luck.  VirtualBox's virtualized disk performance is great (seemed better than VMware), and they clearly have the upper hand on virtualizing network hardware.  The CPU performance, though, seemed pitiful, particularly given the number of CPU cores and RAM I gave it.

I am likely going to continue using VirtualBox rather than VMware for those times I need to implement a VM for something.  The reason why is the "bloat factor."  VMware seems to be catering to the Windows crowd lately, and they seem to be of the Microsoft mentality that software bloat is okay.  It wouldn't surprise me if I found something to make VirtualBox run faster if I look hard enough.

64-Bit Performance

I'm not entirely sure whether I am seeing a noticeable improvement in the performance of the system or not.  During compiles, my eyeball evaluation of how fast things are going tells me that going to 64-bit was a big win.  However, I also replaced my disk drive as well, and the new disk has a better SATA transfer speed than the other "green" drive (yeah, my carbon footprint increased by a small fraction, yeah yeah yeah).  So it was hard to tell whether it was my electricity-sucking new hard disk or the unleashing of the CPU's raw pent-up power.  For average tasks, the system seems to be running much as it did before.  At no time did I see a performance degradation.  So I do believe this was a win overall.

My Upgrade Mantra

I have always been of the belief that a major upgrade by completely rebuilding a system is a necessary evil once in a while in order to clean up the results of lazy system management.  I found loads of old bits of deprecated configuration files hanging around the system, and a few complete misconfigurations, and one or two things that I said, "What was I thinking?!"  When you're forced to merge your configuration from an old OS install to a new one, you can't hide behind the "if I don't see it then it isn't there" mentality.  I have a few notes to myself to make a few small changes to make ddclient (the DynDNS IP address updater script) run the way I want.  The way I have been doing it is a hack, and while it does work, it is just the wrong way to do it.  If I knew then what I know now...

Conclusions

Well, it has been an "interesting" project.  So far, so good.  While I did have some initial misgivings, I think that these were good lessons, and if anything my knowledge grew from the experience.  Keeping up with computer technology is always a bit challenging.  Doing it on my own system at home, where I can take a break for a bit, is better sometimes than learning while under deadlines at work.

I feel a bit more like a mad computer scientist again.