Monday, 29 March, 2004

And off he goes. . .

I'll likely be incommunicado for the next week.  Tomorrow morning I roll out at 6:00 am for my three day bicycle excursion to Harlingen, Texas.  Everything's packed, checked, re-checked and ready to go.  Weather forecast is great, with light winds (less than 15 MPH) on the route all three days, and only one area where they're forecasting scattered thunderstorms.  I'm packing everything I need for the ride in a backpack, even though Debra will be meeting me at the hotel on both nights.  She won't be following along, so I still need the emergency supplies, and carrying two changes of bike clothes and a few other odds and ends doesn't add much weight.  It certainly doesn't add significantly to the 7 lbs of water I'll be carrying.

The first night's stop is in the hopping town of Kenedy, TX, approximately 130 miles from the house.  The second day is a comparatively easy ride of 105 miles to Kingsville, followed by a short 98 miles to Harlingen on Thursday.  If all goes as planned, three cadets from the Marine Military Academy will join us for Thursday's ride.

I'm taking my digital camera in the hope of getting a few pictures along the way.  Debra's bringing the laptop so if I have an Internet connection and some time (i.e. I'm not totally dead to the world), I'll be able to post updates as I go along.  If nothing else, you'll see it all here when I get back and post my notes for the next three days.

Saturday, 27 March, 2004

Rosedale Ride

The 10th Annual Rosedale Ride was today, starting at Samsung Austin Semiconductor in northeast Austin, and traveling the farm roads and county roads of eastern Williamson County.  The weather, surprisingly enough, was almost perfect for a bike ride:  mid 60's to start and cloudy.  The only drawback was the wind:  20 to 25 MPH from the southeast.  But, as I've said before, that's springtime in central Texas.  This is the fifth year in a row I've participated in the ride.  It's well supported, the volunteers are helpful, and  everybody is happy to see us come out.  I'll be back.

62 miles is no big deal considering what I'm about to undertake come Tuesday, but today's ride was quite a challenge for a different reason.  Last night while I was playing with Charlie I stubbed my toe (second toe, next to the big toe) against a desk.  Hard.  Hard enough to make me think I might have broken it (the toe, not the desk).  I iced it last night and this morning taped it to the adjacent toes.  I had difficulty walking, but riding wasn't too bad as long as I didn't put too much pressure on my right foot.  It's feeling better now, late in the evening, and I think it'll be a little sore next week but not a problem for the upcoming ride.

Tuesday, 23 March, 2004

Riding to work

One benefit of my new assignment is that the building in which I'll be working has showers and lockers.  Downtown Austin traffic being what it is, I'd much rather ride my bike to work than take the car.  At 25 miles each way, it's a manageable bike ride:  about 2 hours each way with shower time included.  I can get my workout and my commute done at the same time.  I'm hoping to ride two or three times a week.

I'm not sure which part I like best:  riding to work in the morning or coming home at night.  In the morning I'm usually off the road by 7:30 so I miss most of the traffic.  I also don't have to rush my morning ride like I would if I had to go back home and shower.  The thought of riding home sometimes seems daunting, but by the time I'm five miles down the road, I'm relaxed and have forgotten about whatever was bothering me at the office.  I'm a little tired when I get home, but I'm in a much better mood than if I'd been fighting traffic in my car.  If the office was a little closer (less than 20 miles), I'd probably ride to work every day.

Monday, 22 March, 2004

New Assignment

I started a new assignment for work today.  I'll be working for a state agency (they requested that I not mention the name) for at least the next 6 months, helping them move their systems from an IBM 3270 mainframe running DB2 to the Microsoft .NET platform.  We'll be moving a few applications over in the next 6 months or so, but they'll be accessing the DB2 database.  Our timeline is somewhat constrained by the legislative schedule in that we don't want to be changing things right in the middle of a legislative session.  The plan is to have everything converted from PL/1 and DB2 to C# and SQL Server by the end of 2006.  There's a lot going on, a lot to think about, and hopefully a lot of new things to learn in the process.

Sunday, 21 March, 2004

Last long training ride: 125 miles

Yesterday was my last long training ride before the big event that starts on March 30.  Since I hadn't determined the exact route we would take out of Austin, I decided to go exploring today.  I studied the city bicycle map and maps of the county roads between here and San Marcos, and then set out on an all-day trek.  I hit downtown San Marcos at about 12:30, took a break for lunch, and headed back home.  I made a few other stops during the ride and got home right at dark:  7:00 pm here.  Total ride time was 10 hours and 30 minutes:  9 hours of riding and an hour and a half of resting at one place or another.  Total distance was right at 125 miles.  I felt surprisingly good throughout the ride, except for one bad spot at about 105 miles.

My training for the big ride is done.  Now it's just maintenance rides, lots of carbs and lots of water until next Tuesday morning.

Saturday, 20 March, 2004

Birds do so sing at night!

The commonly held belief that birds don't sing at night is bunk.  At least, the birds around here don't seem to have any problem making noise right outside my bedroom window at 4:30 am, a full two hours before sunrise.  For several years now, mockingbirds have made nests in the bushes about 20 feet from the bedroom window.  Although I'm not sure that this morning's songster (or songstress) was in fact a mockingbird, I'm reasonably certain.  I've never heard a bird with this particular call.  I don't know if the song was a combination of the songs of multiple birds or if it was emulating some environmental noise, but you'll understand, after listening to the recording, why I nicknamed it "Sprinkler Bird."

Wednesday, 17 March, 2004

Hosting troubles

I hope the first two weeks of my new Web hosting aren't a preview of coming attractions.  Since I moved my hosting to SectorLink, I've had a DNS problem that prevented my site from being visible, the mail server crashed (hardware failure) and my accounts didn't get restored, I've had corrupted files on FTP uploads, and my Web traffic reports still aren't working.  My friend John, who's been using SectorLink for a couple of years now, says that my experiences are unusual.  He says that he's never had trouble with them.  Since I paid for a year in advance (15% discount), I'll stick it out, but right at this moment I'm not terribly impressed.

Tuesday, 16 March, 2004

Red Hat's Fedora versus my video card

I've not had much luck with Linux systems lately.  The Mandrake install on my lab machine seems to be working well, but I've been unable to install Red Hat 9.0 or the Fedora Linux test that I downloaded.  Both get past the video detection phase and then the screen goes blank.  I've tried installing with the "noprobe" and other switches, all to no avail.  Both systems correctly report my video card, and Fedora even gets the monitor right.  I'm not sure what it's doing (probably starting the XWindow system), but the monitor goes dark and the light blinks like it does if I unplug the video cable.

I know I could install in text mode and manually configure X--I've done it before--but I'm trying to install like an average (if there is such a thing) desktop user.  And I think that most users who see the screen go dark one minute into the install process won't be favorably impressed, nor will they be inclined to install in text mode and go poking around in the X configuration file.  I'm disappointed, because I really want to try out Ximian Desktop, but it doesn't run on Mandrake.  I guess it's time to try out Lindows or Xandros.

Come to think of it, I've installed both Red Hat 9 and Fedora on my laptop at work (in Virtual PC images), so I guess I could install Ximian there.  But there again I have video problems.  I'm not sure if it's Virtual PC not quite virtualizing the screen correctly or if it's X not understanding, but the best resolution I can get is 800x600, and that's just not enough screen real estate to be productive.

Sunday, 14 March, 2004

Signal/Noise == 0.00001

The problem with open forums like Plastic, Free Republic, Slashdot, etc. (and blogs like this one) is that, although everybody has an equal opportunity to be heard, not everybody is equally worth hearing.  And, yes, I do realize that some might place me in the "not worth being heard" category.  Many of the forums have moderation schemes, where participants rate other users' comments.  Those schemes work to an extent, but all too often the ratings are based on whether the moderator agrees with the post rather than on how relevant or informative the post is.  Slashdot instituted a system of meta-moderation, where people moderate the moderation.  I guess it's a process of successive refinement.

I do like that everybody gets a chance to say his piece.  I just wish there was a reasonably easy way to separate the signal from the noise.

Friday, 12 March, 2004

Corrupted Images

I discovered today that the transition of my Web site to its new home still isn't finished.  Somewhere in the process of uploading files, a bunch of the images got corrupted.  I've fixed a handful of the corrupted images, but it appears that the problem is pretty wide-spread.  I have backup copies of all the images before I uploaded them, so it should be easy, although tedious, to compare the files and re-upload good copies of those that are corrupted.

Bush's endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment earns him points with his hard line right wing supporters, and costs him nothing.  Staunch Republicans, even if they tacitly support gay marriage, won't let Bush's stand on this issue push them to vote for John Kerry or any of the other recent Democratic hopefuls.  Similarly, it's highly unlikely that any loyal Democrat would vote for Bush even if he came out in favor of gay marriage.  Even Democrats who oppose gay marriage aren't going to let Bush's endorsement of an amendment that has zero chance of passing sway them.

The coming election won't be won by staunch Republicans or loyal Democrats.  This election, like the one before, will be decided by that small percentage (perhaps smaller than ten percent) of voters who currently are "undecided," and it's unlikely that this issue would be a deciding factor for many of them.  It's a can't-lose endorsement for Bush.  It costs him nothing and keeps the campaign contributions coming in.

But it's still a stupid proposal.

So why do I think the Federal Marriage Amendment is a bad idea?  First, take a look at the proposed text:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.

Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

There is only one other amendment to the Constitution that attempted to restrict the rights of The People:  the 18th amendment, which prohibited alcoholic beverages.  All other amendments to the Constitution have been made to guarantee the rights of The People or to smooth the running of government.  The Constitution is written by The People.  It establishes the government and grants rights to that government.  The amendments are intended to limit government's power, not to limit freedoms of The People.  We grant to  Congress and to the States the right to enact laws that are "necessary and proper," for carrying out the Powers that have been granted to the government.

There is no mention of marriage in the Constitution or in any of the amendments.  Marriage is a legislative construct, created by law and subject to change by law.  If you take a look at the Constitution, you'll realize that other much more important things than marriage also aren't mentioned:  things like assault and murder are not prohibited by the Constitution, except to the extent that government is prohibited from doing them.  When the Constitution includes a clause prohibiting murder, assault, and other such crimes, then I might give some thought to the inclusion of an amendment defining marriage.

I would use this same argument to oppose the old flag protection amendment that Bush, Sr. tried to get passed.  A Constitutional amendment to protect the flag?  Ridiculous!

Those of you who know me or have read this journal for any length of time know that I don't like homosexuality, nor would I consider burning the flag in protest.  However, our Constitution guarantees our right peaceably to act in ways that might be upsetting to others.  These issues are matters for Congress.  Trying to modify the Constitution so that it becomes a list of prohibitions turns it into a much different document and a potential tool of oppression.  The Framers knew that, and purposely made it difficult to amend the Constitution so that this kind of knee-jerk reaction wouldn't become permanently codified.

I made the mistake today of posting to the Plastic thread discussing the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act that is making its way through Congress.  One of my posts was marked "irrelevant," which I find somewhat amusing considering the contents of other posts, and the other has not (yet?) been moderated.  Both were throwaway comments, but I should know better than to post to a place like Plastic.  Especially in an offhand manner.  The worst thing about it is that once I invest enough mental and emotional energy to read and post on a thread, I find it difficult to let the conversation go without trying to have the last word.  That poor decision aside...

The PRFCA is one of the silliest pieces of proposed legislation I've seen in a while.  Well, okay, perhaps the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment is sillier, but we'll leave that for another day.  The PRFCA, in its present form, proposes to prevent food and non-alcoholic beverage companies from being subject to civil liabilities unless it can be shown that the product in question was not in compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements at the time of the sale.   That somebody (several somebodies, from the looks of it) thought this needed to be specifically stated in a law says volumes about the state of our courts and our legislators' priorities.  If courts are screwed up enough to allow the kinds of lawsuits this bill is intended to prevent (i.e. "McDonald's made me fat"), what makes the authors think that the courts won't just overturn their piddling little law?  If enacted, this law would be just an insignificant speed bump in a road that should never have been paved.  Heck, it shouldn't even be a footpath.

Friday, 05 March, 2004

Fixing broken links

If you've explored these pages at all in the last few days, you've probably noticed a few broken links and missing pictures.  The transfer of my site to the new hosting provider didn't go 100 percent smoothly.  You see, the old server was running Windows 2000, and this new server is running Linux.  Under Linux, URLs are case sensitive.  They're not under Windows.  When I created the Windows site, for some reason I used mixed case on some of the directory names.  This diary page, for example, was http://www.mischel.com/Diary/.  All well and good, except that in some places I used "diary" instead of "Diary" for links, and people typing the thing into their browser's address line usually don't worry about case.

In order to reduce confusion, I wrote a program to make all the file and directory names lower case, and another to go through and make all of the internal hyperlinks lower case as well.  That all works, but after I'd uploaded the files I realized that I'd forgotten to change the image tags in the HTML files.  So many of the embedded images still aren't showing.  I'll fix that in the next couple of days and re-upload the entire site again.

I knew, of course, about the case sensitivity of Apache on Linux.  But in my rush to upload stuff to my new site, I didn't even think about it.  Poor planning.  It's a good thing I didn't have a client paying me for this, huh?

Thursday, 04 March, 2004

An unhelpful answering machine

Unhelpful help isn't limited to computer systems.  This afternoon a coworker and I had  to call a client regarding a project.  She gave us the wrong phone number and we ended up with a particularly unhelpful answering machine.  It answered and said:

The person you called is not available.  To leave a message, please enter the number you were trying to call, followed by the pound sign.

We were somewhat surprised by that.  Anti-spam phone messaging, I guess.  Dan entered the phone number, area code and all, followed by the obligatory pound sign.  The answering system replied with:

The number you entered is not valid.  Please enter the number you called, followed by the pound sign.

Hmmm.  Maybe without the area code?  Nope.  How about the last four digits?  No dice.  We gave it a half-dozen different tries with the same result.  Finally, the phone system replied with:

I'm sorry you are having trouble.  Please get some help and try again later.

We just looked at each other and laughed.  Hard.  We even went through the whole exercise again to make sure we weren't hallucinating.  I don't have to make up funny stuff.  Life is endlessly amusing.

Wednesday, 03 March, 2004

A new hosting provider

I finally took the plunge and started paying for domain hosting.  This site is now hosted by SectorLink.  I now have better control of my email instead of relying on the forwarding arrangement that I had with my employer.  I'm also on a production server here rather than the test server that I was using previously.  I don't expect to make any major changes to the site immediately, but I do have some things in the works.  Those will have to take a back seat to a few other projects.

Tuesday, 02 March, 2004

Spring!

It looks like the cold weather is over for another year.  Central Texas is moving right into early Spring, with warm and rainy days.  The temperature was 64 degrees when I got up this morning, so I took the bike off the mag trainer and went for a ride.  I half expected to be slow today and easily tired because I haven't been out on the road for almost four weeks.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was strong throughout the ride and able to keep a decent pace up the moderate hills that were on my route.  The hours and intervals I put in on that mag trainer really were helpful.  I finished 21 miles at a pace that's much faster than what I had expected, and I wasn't exhausted afterwards.  The big ride starts in exactly 4 weeks.

Monday, 01 March, 2004

Bookcases!

The Bookcase Store delivered our new book cases two weeks ago.  Since Debra and I were very busy and out of town for much of the week following, they just sat in the office against the wall for a week.  I screwed the book cases together on Wednesday, and moved books for the next few days.  We now have all of the non-fiction books and paperbacks in the office with us.  That gives us enough space in the master bedroom to put all of the novels and "other stuff."  The whole point of this exercise is to clear books from the spare bedrooms so that I can start remodeling in there.  I'm still not sure where we're going to put all of the knick knacks and geological samples (rocks), but we'll figure something out.  Now all we have to do is find a place to put all the stuff that's in the closets.  Remodeling in-place is turning out to be a very difficult problem.