Two Drums and A Cymbal

Hat tip to @brainopera.

Jun 11th, 2009

Clearing the Baffles (III)

It's been a while since I had baffles to clear, but nonetheless:

  1. I almost kept this one, but I’ll toss it and come back if/when the inspiration’s there.

Jun 10th, 2009

Book-A-Month - June 2009

I completely forgot how easy it is to breeze through non-fiction books. There are no characters. No intertwining plot-lines. Just facts and opinions (read: numbers and bs). Were I keeping track, this book's 4-5 hours sure offsets the dozens of hours I spent reading The Confusion over the past four months.

I set my expectations a bit high for this book, for some reason. The jacket text leads off with a flu epidemic example, and so I thought that there would be a decent amount of text devoted to pandemics (e.g. plague, influenza, etc.). Instead, a fleeting reference to the flu gave way to a syphilis outbreak in Baltimore. Not quite as interesting, but poorly-conceived expectations will do that to you. The book reminded me of Psychology 101 and my courses in human factors research. There wasn't a whole lot of new, substantive information. However, the examples and case studies were mostly new to me, so they did their jobs. Gladwell presents Three Rules of Epidemics:

  1. The Law of the Few
  2. The Stickiness Factor
  3. The Power of Context

Each of these has a varying degree of no-brainer-ness to it. The first rule has to do with the type of person carrying information. Gladwell uses the example of why Paul Revere's midnight ride was successful in contrast to the same ride through different Boston suburbs by William Dawes, which had almost no success. The second is about what hooks people, and though it wasn't the author's point, my conclusion is that "someone's lucky guess" is what defines success by this factor. The final rule is basically the Fundamental Attribution Error in practice.

It's one of the examples from the last rule, however, that made me think the most and therefore kept me from being completely negative in my assessment of the book. Gladwell points to a seminary experiment conducted by two Princeton University researchers. The experiment has a simple premise: Put seminarians in the position of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and see how they'll act based on their background and whether or not they were in a hurry. The conclusions support the FAE in that, regardless of background (and even if the seminarians were recently studying the parable of the Good Samaritan), the factor which determined how helpful they'd be to someone in distress was how late they felt.

This kills me. I mean, I understand why it happens that way. Humans are humans and no matter how hard we try to imitate Christ, we're going to behave like humans a good majority of the time no matter how hard we try to be better than our nature. It still bothers me a little. I'd like to think that in that situation, I would be an exception and not the hypothesis-proving rule, but the truth is that I know I react poorly to time-pressure also. I would probably get a 2 or 3 on their helpfulness scale, thinking that my academic success was super important and that I could call 911 or tell someone else that the person needed help. I could rationalizing passing the buck. It's humbling.

Anyway, I also have a sense of humor about it: The only possible conclusion to this post is this VeggieTales clip from Are You My Neighbor, from their take on the Parable of the Good Samaritan because it's just that silly.

Jun 9th, 2009

Conservation Win

Conservation Win « FAIL Blog

Jun 8th, 2009

Contemplating A New Phone

Last November, as an anniversary gift to ourselves, my wife and I got matching phones: the Samsung SCH-i760. We went whole-hog with unlimited bandwidth and SMS, synchronized email accounts, etc. I fully integrated mine with my company's exchange server, notifying me of meetings and tasks, and pushing my email. It was excellent. I could check email anywhere, use Google Maps for directions, tweet, etc. It was great.

Then the mysterious, aging Windows installation syndrome crept in. The phone would randomly freeze, crash or restart, sometimes in the middle of a call. When composing a text message, the phone would jump into the dialing application and start dialing numbers. I would go from three bars' of battery life to none in a few minutes. As an internet device, it performed fairly well. As a phone, it was flat out annoying. I installed the Windows Mobile 6.1 update to see if it would resolve any of the quirkiness to no avail. Then, after taking a hard look at our budget, we decided to nix the internet service. This saved about $100 a month, but left us with two phones we otherwise hate.

At the same time, we switched to a family plan to save a bit more money, but this had the undesired effect of canceling my wife's NE2 subscription (since her line effectively costs $10 per month, and the minimum is $50). Verizon's NE2 plan isn't really every two years, it's every twenty months, meaning I can get $100 towards a new phone next month.

Yay! But what to do? I want to go simple, but I also want a few key features:

  • Bluetooth Support – I'm in the market for a good headset as well, and like to sync stuff with my computers.
  • A camera that doesn't suck – 2MP would be nice, but 1.3 is sufficient.
  • microSD port – I have a 2GB card, I might as well use it!

Disclaimer: I would love an iPhone. I covet every single one I see. I can't, however, rationalize the expense of $400 up front for two phones and $150+ each month for service. It's not economically sound, and I don't need one. I also don't want to leave Verizon. Their service is more than adequate and so far, from a customer service perspective, I've been fairly happy. Our entire extended family is on the VZW network, and I have FIOS at home which puts all of my communication utilities on one bill.

Sadly, I don't love any of their phones, but if I'm not going to jump ship I'll have to suck it up. Thus, I'm down to five from the current lineup:

  1. Motorola Rapture – $30 (3.5/5): Pros: Cost!, Size, Looks Pretty, 2.0MP Camera; Cons: It's made by Motorola, so the software sucks and I already have bad software.
  2. Samsung Trance – $70 (4/5): Pros: Cost to some extent, Size!, killer speakerphone; Cons: Slider (never had one before, so maybe it doesn't matter), You have to open the slide to use the camera, camera is only 1.3MP, Reviews say that the touch screen is kinda wonky
  3. LG Chocolate 3 – $70 (3.5/5): Pros: Cost to some extent, built-in FM Transmitter for music, 2.0MP Camera; Cons: Size, Kinda ugly
  4. Nokia 7205 – $80 or $130? (3.5/5): Pros: It's super pretty, 2.0MP Camera; Cons: Cost, semi-odd button layout, reviews indicate poor T9 support/battery life
  5. LG Dare – $130 (4/5): Pros: Pretty, 3.0MP Camera, Outstanding battery life, Tons of positive reviews; Cons: No keys!, Cost!!

To make a final decision, I'm going to need to play with a few of these hands-on at either Best Buy or a Verizon store. I'm leaning toward the Trance, mostly because of the size and my non-smartphone experiences with Samsung have all been stellar. I had an LG a few phones ago and it was terrible, so that doesn't bode well for the Chocolate. (I'm really only considering it for the FM transmitter.) The Dare, while shiny, is just too costly and I'd be making the same mistake that I did with my current phone: buying features I don't really need. Some field experience is going to make the final decision.

Jun 6th, 2009

Book-A-Month - May 2009 (Finally)

I started reading Quicksilver, the first volume of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, in 2005. I put it down after about 30 or 40 pages — it was too dense for me to get into quickly. I had read so many others of his books and loved them that it was more than a little disheartening that I would encounter this novel by my favorite author that was undesirable to continue reading. Every so often, I’d pick it back up and chug along, ending up around the 100-page mark. I took it on every camping trip and vacation, always putting in some modicum of effort to move forward, trying to remember the important details from my previous attempts.

Read on
Jun 4th, 2009

Installing the Cisco VPN Client on Windows 7

This set of instructions exists more or less on more than one site, usually completed by a few follow-up comments. For my own sanity and future reference, these are the 100% reproducible set of installation instructions, which prevent a nasty BSOD when trying to use the Cisco VPN Client:

  1. If you tried previously to install the Cisco VPN client, uninstall it and reboot.
  2. Run the Citrix Deterministic Networks Update (DNEUpdate) that is appropriate for your architecture.
  3. Reboot.
  4. Take Ownership of and then delete c:\Windows\System32\drivers\ndis.sys
  5. Take Ownership of and then delete c:\Windows\System32\drivers\en-us\ndis.sys.mui
  6. Install the VPN Client. I used version, but I have heard that works as well.
  7. Reboot. Allow Windows to repair itself. This takes about 30 seconds.
  8. Your PC will complete a final reboot itself.

This worked like a charm for me and, from what the rest of the interwebs are saying, works for most everyone else.

Update: As noted in the comments below, this only works for 32-bit installations of Windows 7.

May 27th, 2009

Swine Flu is (maybe) 2009's SARS (or not)

I've been unsure as to the right response to the Swine Flu "epidemic" that has recently caught the world by storm.

Ok, really only twitter. And France. Other than that, it's just been mildly irrational fear and big red letters at drudgereport, so then I guess I've found the right response: skepticism.

"Seasonal flu each year causes tens of thousands of deaths in this country -- on average, about 36,000 deaths," Besser said. "And so this flu virus in the United States, as we're looking at it, is not acting very differently from what we saw during the flu season."

This really brings me back. Remember when there were cases of SARS in Canada, and everyone in the bordering states thought they were going to die because the jet stream was going to blow SARS southward and then there would be pestilence and famine and death and...

Yeah, it didn't happen. Just like with the swine flu on that AirTran flight from Cancun which actually turned out to be a case of Tequila. With SARS, the "pandemic" affected about 8,000 people worldwide in 2003, and of that ~8,000, only 27 were in the U.S. None of them died.

Look, it's the flu. It's a fairly nasty variety of the flu, to be sure, but it's still the flu. Stay hydrated, get lots of rest and wash your hands often. Kids are more susceptible to complications from illnesses like this, so keep your kids hydrated and wash their hands. It's right to be safety-conscious, but it's not right to be irrational. That Hispanic guy you work with is not going to give you the Swine flu so stop being a moron.

Ok, he might, but so might any other co-worker, and still, you're as likely to get the regular flu, so just wash your hands, mkay?

Mar 30th, 2009

If a baby could Twitter

I can HIT the rattle with my HAND! Whoopee!
10:15 a.m. from bouncy chair

I have never been so bored in my life.
10:16 a.m. from bouncy chair

I don't want to take a nap! I don't want to take a nap! I don't want to take a nap! I don't wa - asdl;jeklr aeriouaiew
11:12 a.m. from crib

@Mommy AWAKE!
12:03 p.m. from crib

Diaper change. Fresh air feels good. Clean feels good. Why is Mommy making that face?
12:17 p.m. from changing table

This might be the funniest thing I've ever read on, period.

Mar 29th, 2009

Blind Cabling

My house is an odd mix of cabling oddness. The previous owners had both digital cable (for Internet service) and two satellite dishes, split ~9 ways (for hdtv). They also, at some point, had Verizon FIOS installed with both a phone and ethernet drop installed to this little nook in the living room. There is an incredible nest of coax cable in the attic, which I plan to (mostly) rip out one of these days.

The two telco drops from that original FIOS install were actually fairly accessible in the attic, so when I had FIOS installed, I asked the tech to patch in that phone line, but leave the ethernet alone since I wanted to run cat6 throughout the entire house. The FIOS tech was really amiable and creative, so he fished the coax run from the fiber patch area in the garage, up the wall, across my attic and down an existing attic to basement opening in to the storage room where my router lives. I meant to ask him to pull an extra lead down so that I could re-use the same drop some day, but I had to do something new-homeowner-ish while he was installing it, and I forgot.

We also put a desk in that little living room nook. It's my wife's primary work space; the household iMac and our home phone share it. Our iMac has been chugging along on our 802.11g network, but that has several throughput-releated downsides since all of our media data (music, tv, movies, etc.) live on a network share. My two other machines, both in the basement, were far easier to patch (drop ceilings, easy access to both rooms, etc.)

This week I have an abnormal amount of personal project time, so I thought one of my first tasks should be to see if I could somehow get this ethernet drop added to our wired network. Figuring I could somehow use the same route our FIOS tech used, I came up with three :

  1. Pull the coax back up to the attic with an attached lead, attach the cat 5, pull it back down. This has some risk... if the lead breaks or detaches when I'm pulling it up, I'm boinked.
  2. Try to drop the cable using the existing opening. This has a little risk also, but I don't lose anything by trying.
  3. Bore another hole into the "floor" of the attic and the "ceiling" of the basement next to the existing one. Risk? Oh gosh, I can't imagine it'd be a bad idea boring a hole right next to my primary power conduit for the house. Very little risk. facepalm

Sarcasm aside, I really like option 3. It gives me an excuse to create wiring capacity in my wall for later running about a half-dozen sets of 2xcat6/1xcoax, which has been the eventual plan. From my attic, though, it's really hard to tell what's a couple of inches to each side of the existing hole through several layers of ceiling/floor boards. The conduit is 2 inches in diameter, and the hole is about 2.5 inches wide. With the existing coax in there already, I couldn't shine any discernible light source either upwards or downwards in a way which gave me a clear view of the interior of the run. It's too bad, too, because it sure would be easier long-term to snake some 2 inch flex conduit up through a new set of holes and be done with it.

Option 2, then, seemed like the interim winner. I crawled over to the conduit run the other day and saw that I could see about 1/4 of an inch of light at the bottom of the run in the basement, if I stared hard enough. That was enough to motivate me to take a shot at it, so I set out to tackle the next problem, how to guide the wire down without it curling, wire fish being out of the question from a power-conduit-integrity perspective.

I MacGuyver'd myself a lead:

  1. Drinking straw split down the middle
  2. Metal countersink punch, taped mostly inside one end of the straw with electrical tape
  3. Cat 5 + nylon twine taped in the other side

I ran the cable down and when I felt it stop pulling1 I guessed that I had hit the end of the run. The resulting view from the basement was promising: I could see the end of my lead and pulled it through the rest of the way using a very long pair of needlenose pliers.

Cable terminated, I drafted this post on my wired mac, enjoying media throughput at about 4-6x stronger than it was on the WLAN2. I'll have to revisit my ideas for cabling the entire house. For now I'm considering using what I have right now as-is, and putting a punchdown block with a cable split, phone breakout and a gigabit switch up in the attic so that I can minimize the work required to traverse the floors. It means I'm splitting cable twice rather than once, which breaks a geek rule or two, but I'll have to move on.

After this experience went so well, and I couldn't see the shadow of the drop swaying much from the basement light source, I think the run's location itself is pure luck - it's probably a 3-4 inch-wide space in an interor wall between studs either near a wall's end or a corner. I don't think option #3 up there is even feasible in the same spot. There are probably other spots I could do this, but to make myself confident that it's possible, I'd really need to tear out pieces of one of the first floor walls to see what I was working with, (which may have been how they did the existing run in the first place).

And that, as anyone would imagine, has incredibly low WAF.

  1. and could kinda see it against the hole in the basement, I think maybe

  2. which doesn’t make mathematical sense, but several file copy tests tell me to shut up

Mar 18th, 2009