Archive for May 2008

OMG   3 comments

Ahem.

AWESOME.

Posted May 29, 2008 by padraic2112 in family, humor, noise

Large Numbers: The Physics Version   Leave a comment

Overheard the other day at the on-campus coffee shop:  “Jessica Alba is hotter than the Planck temperature!”  Ah, working on a campus full of nerds is fun sometimes.

What’s the Planck temperature?  Well, it might be the opposite of absolute zero – absolute hot!  Then again, it might not, physicists don’t really know.  In numerical terms, it’s about 100 million million million million million degrees, or 1032 Kelvin.

The Nova article puts it in perspective thusly: “In short, saying 1032 K is hot is like saying the universe occupies some space.”

Posted May 28, 2008 by padraic2112 in physics, science

I have cool-relatives-in-law   1 comment

Kitty’s cousin David Hahn has summited Everest again (and, just as importantly, made it back to Advance Base).  This gives David 10 summits, making him the only non-Sherpa in double digits.

Dave is a very cool guy, and uniquely accomplished as a guide.  25 ascents of Antarctica’s Vinson Massif, 17 ascents of Denali, and 245 ascents of Mount Rainier.  He’s not what you might expect from an “extreme” sport athlete.  He’s got a million stories that are just fascinating to hear, and the guy knows how to write.  If you’ve got some time to burn and you want to read some engaging stories, I recommend his stuff.

He’s certainly less boring than my usual topics 🙂

Posted May 27, 2008 by padraic2112 in family, news

9 Angry Man (& Woman) Monologues   8 comments

Coworker Dave and I started talking about classic scenes from movies, and I started musing about classic “Angry Man Monologue” scenes. These, opposed to the “Crazy Man Monologue” scenes. Scenes from movies that involve a truly epic rant by a righteous (or self-righteous) character.

This wasn’t meant to be restricted to men; it just so happens that it’s pretty rare that a classic angry rant comes from an actress. I’ve come up with a least one actress rant to include on the list, additional entries welcome.

We’ll start with the obvious.

Samuel L. Jackson, as Jules Winnfield, in “Pulp Fiction” (1994) – the hit scene. Launched a career of angry man rants.

Jack Nicholson, as Daryl Van Horne, in “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987). The ranting about the perfidiousness of women to a thunderstruck church-going audience is I think my second favorite Jack Nicholson performance of any sort, and beats out Jack as Col. Nathan R. Jessup, in “A Few Good Men” (1992).

Lee Cobb, as Juror #3, in “12 Angry Men” (1957). The furious breakdown of an sad man buried under a lifetime of bitterness.

Also from 12 Angry Men, Ed Begley, as Juror #10. The racist rant.

Clint Eastwood, as William Munny, in “Unforgiven” (1992). “That’s right. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.” The scene that displays the cold fury that Eastwood reached for in most of the characters his entire career, and finally seized and embraced to full effectiveness. This scene itself is fascinating as an interplay of monologues; Gene Hackman’s Little Bill and Eastwood’s Munny trade lines, but neither is really addressing the other. They’re either talking to everyone else in the room, or to themselves. All the communication between the two men is in the eyes.

Gregory Peck, as Keith Mallory, in “The Guns of Navarone” (1961). A inherently fairly decent man, driven by the pressures of war to set up his friend in an impossible situation, confronted by another decent man (David Niven). Worthy not only for Peck’s rant (as excellent a performance as any other in his career), but for Niven’s response, communicated almost entirely by expression.

Uma Thurman, as Maid Marian, in “Robin Hood” (1991). Losing out to Kevin Costner’s version in the marketing war shunted this (much better) incarnation to the small screen. As a result, Uma’s lambasting of her paramour Sir Miles Folcanet (Jurgen Prochnow) simply didn’t get the exposure to the cinema world it deserved. “Conquer your ignorance, Miles. Fight your stupid greed.”

Humphrey Bogart, as Sam Spade, in “The Maltese Falcon” (1941). Spade’s breakdown of his negotiation with Gutman ends with a seemingly furious tirade, only for the audience to realize as he storms out of the room that the character has been acting. The slight twist at the end of the scene as Sam boards the elevator shows that Mr. Spade isn’t *quite* the cool character we’ve all been thinking he is (unfortunately not included in the below clip).

Ricardo Montalban, as Khan, in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” (1982). “For hate’s sake… I spit my last breath at thee.” Yep, it’s a performance that would probably be regarded as “over the top” if it didn’t come in the same movie as the King of the OverToppers (Shatner). Which, in and of itself, is the reason why it belongs on the list… nobody could have played Khan’s rage at Kirk better than Ricardo did… without either making his own performance look ridiculous, or Shatner’s.

Honorable mention goes to Jimmy Stewart’s Jefferson Smith from “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington“, but the ending scene is less about anger than it is disillusionment.

People are going to ask, where’s Pacino’s “Say hello to my leetle friend!” or Finch’s “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”… those are the Crazy Man Rants, and I’ll get to those later.

Posted May 25, 2008 by padraic2112 in movies

In Which I Throw Down   3 comments

Reading a Bad Astronomer post and the associated comment thread, I started to get really grumpy. Then I got more grumpy. Then I got mad. So I commented there, but I’m going to reproduce my comment here at home for any passerby to see, slightly edited.

[ahem]

People, if you are going to debate science, you must remember the absolutely cardinal rule of science, so basic that it’s turned into a joke in the movie “Real Genius”

“Never… no… Always… remember to cite your references”

Please do not tell me that there are peer-reviewed journal articles supporting your position. This is meaningless, it’s the same horrible behavior I see on other “hot button” science issues on various other sites. Someone may have told you this. You might have read it somewhere. Maybe you actually believe it is true.

I believe it not. I believe your organization’s claim that these papers exist also not in the slightest. Unless I *know* that your organization has a well-established history of only referencing peer-reviewed science (and there are a very, very limited number of organizations that fall under this umbrella). Best to cite those too, just to be safe. Although, to be honest, this should be a fantastically easy task as any credible organization that has a real science position on a public policy issue *will provide those references* anyway. Cut n’ paste, people, it’s not so hard.

It’s like failing to put your ingredients list on your pre-packaged food -> you don’t get to sell it to me, I’m not buying it. In fact, from a scientific standpoint, your pre-packaged food gets halted at the distribution center and doesn’t make it into the marketplace, it fails the basic rules.

And in all honesty, the internet would be a better place if people were forced to do basic goddamn research before pretending they had.

[/ahem]

Sorry, I’ve seen too much of this lately and it’s making me grumpy. There is a simple method of providing a reference. There are several different style manuals available. MLA is acceptable. If you cannot provide a reference, please do not include the nebulous possible existence of one as a part of your *scientific argument*.

Homie don’t play that.

Posted May 13, 2008 by padraic2112 in science, web sites

Sounds like Bob Might Have Called This One   Leave a comment

Hewlett Packard is buying EDS.  From NPR’s News In Brief:

Hewlett-Packard, EDS Agree To Merge

The nation’s largest personal computer-maker, Hewlett-Packard Co., has agreed to purchase Electronic Data Systems Corp for $12.6 billion, the empire founded by H. Ross Perot, as part of an effort to position the company to take on rival IBM.

The companies said the deal values EDS at $25.00 per share, a 33 percent premium to its closing price on Friday, before reports of merger talks sent the shares soaring on Monday.

EDS would bring its expertise in running computer systems and providing other high-tech help to Palo Alto-based HP. That field is currently dominated by IBM Corp., which generated $54 billion in revenue from technology services last year.

HP indicated it will make significant layoffs as it eliminates overlapping jobs and other expenses.

Now, HP hasn’t really been involved in high-tech outsourcing management.  Why would they pick up EDS, at a 33% premium?  The only thing I can think of is that the folks over at HP on the board think that IBM’s weak enough in this arena (see many of Cringely’s recent articles about IBM) that merging up with EDS gives them a chance to jump into that market with a big gun… and that the near-sourcing market is going to pick up.  That and they realize that the hardware market is high cost low margin, so their core business model needs a little tweaking.

Posted May 13, 2008 by padraic2112 in management, news, tech

Coworker Dave on Personal Computing   Leave a comment

Dave recently wrote a piece about the current odd state of affairs in personal computing.

I don’t know that I like his whole piece, but he has a couple of very good points:

  • Most people don’t personally compute, so they don’t need a “personal computer”, they need a “utility box”.
  • It is sort of nonsensical to have “ordinary” people in charge of taking care of a piece of technology that is several orders of magnitude more complicated than their car, when they pay mechanics to take care of their car.
  • Until the cost of bad systems administration is borne by somebody (in a fiscal sense), there will never be a sufficient motivation to make anything better.

I don’t like the insurance idea. Although it would assist, it would be extremely difficult to migrate to such a system without a period of distinct hosing of the general population -> suddenly all of the cost of bad system security falls upon the user. Since no insurance company could really do a good job of quantifying the risk at the beginning, the insurance would be really high. This would be bad for the overall information economy.

On the other hand, it *is* a problem. When millions of compromised hosts are parts of various botnets, you can’t keep ignoring the fact that nobody is paying the cost for really bad security, or nothing is ever going to get fixed. This is where I think Dave is onto something.

Most people *don’t* use their computer for more than a dozen tasks. They watch video, listen to music, write email, send messages, browse the web, archive their photos and documents, do some wordprocessing or spreadsheet work, balance their checkbooks, and play games. These are utility users. They shouldn’t be systems administrators; they shouldn’t *have* to be systems administrators. The two biggest barriers to fixing this problem are the OS and media content providers. The OS problem is sort of solving itself (albeit slowly and horribly); XP’s “default administrator” has been replaced with Vista’s UAC (which unfortunately everyone is turning off, but at least we’re getting somewhere) and Macs don’t make users root.

Unfortunately, people have to become administrators anyway, because they want to be able to see videos or play games or download music, and there are no ubiquitous file formats for any of those. Not to mention the fact that content providers keep shoveling DRM down users’ throats, and in order for DRM to work, the underpinnings need to hook into the operating system, which means the user needs to be an administrator to futz with it. This is stupid -> it’s like demanding that people know how to fix their plumbing (and therefore drywall, plaster, paint, whatever) in order to watch the TV.

Not an easy problem. I suspect a distributed solution is what is needed here. OS vendors need to be held accountable for some things. ISPs need to be held accountable for some things. Users need to be held accountable for some things. Content creators need to be held accountable for some things.

And of course they’re all going to complain that regulation is stifling their business.

Posted May 13, 2008 by padraic2112 in security, tech

Arstechnia on Broadband   Leave a comment

There is a new article up on Arstechnia about broadband in the United States that’s worth reading if you’re one of the three presidential candidates.

Despite the repeated claims of the current administration that our “broadband policy” is working, the US actually has no broadband policy and no aggressive and inspiring goals (think “moon shot”). The EDUCAUSE model suggests investing $100 billion (a third comes from the feds, a third from the states, and a third from companies) to roll out fiber to every home in the country. Whether the particular proposal has merit or not, it at least has the great virtue of being an ambitious policy that recognizes the broad economic and social benefits from fast broadband.

Here’s hoping that the next president, whoever he (or, possibly, she) is, gives us something more effective—and inspiring—than this. It’s telling that the current administration’s official page on the President’s tech policy hasn’t had a new speech or press release added since… 2004.

Posted May 12, 2008 by padraic2112 in politics, social, tech

Setting the bar low   Leave a comment

Oy.

Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man who fathered seven children with his daughter while keeping her imprisoned in a windowless dungeon in his cellar, has complained about poor media coverage of the case.

His criticism of the international media’s reporting was published in the German tabloid Bild Zeitung.

“I could have killed them all,” reads the front page headline of today’s Bild Zeitung. And Fritzl, dubbed a monster by the Austrian media, told his lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, “I’m not a monster,” according to today’s report.

I hope that means he won’t complain that being locked in solitary for the next 350 years or so is cruel and unusual punishment.

Posted May 9, 2008 by padraic2112 in news

There is no such thing as a technological solution   Leave a comment

I’ve been working in the IT industry in one way or another since I graduated college in 1993. That’s 15 years now… wow, seems like it hasn’t been that long.

I’ve been involved with many different IT projects in many different organizations, and I’ve seen or heard or been exposed to a thousand more. I’ve seen successes and I’ve seen failures. Overall, more failures than successes. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, the industry storybook is rife with tales of colossal failures… maybe 5 failures for every success.

Here’s why IT projects fail. I’m going to tell you all, so that you’ll know (if you’re a sysadmin or a programmer or whatever) how to avoid them, or you’ll know (as a non-IT person), how to recognize when your IT department is starting something that is very very likely to cost a bucket of money and return very little, except to give you fodder to rake them over the coals when you’re at the water cooler with someone else from Accounting.

There is no such thing as a technological solution. There is no problem that you can solve with technology. Stop thinking that you can, because when your thinking starts at that point, you’ve already started building a foundation without checking to see whether or not the ground can support any weight.

When you’re an IT worker, people bring you problems all the time. Sometimes, they’re not really “problems” at all -> there’s a bug in some software, or something is mis-configured, or some other thing that may take you minutes or hours to fix. This is really the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a wound. The real goal is to prevent infection until the wound heals. Eventually, the software will be replaced with a new version, or the main router will come back online, or whatever… and the work that you’re doing now will be essentially wasted time. Important time, granted… customer-service enabling time -> you’re saving them time at the expense of your own.

With these sorts of problems, you’re a mechanic. You’re a plumber. You’re finding out what doesn’t work in technological system and patching it or working around it. This is the grunt work, the scut work, the stuff that keeps us employed on a daily basis. You’re not providing a solution to a problem. You’re hacking. This isn’t a bad thing, it needs to be done. But this is firefighting. Optimally, you want to do as little of this as possible, because you’re at heart very lazy, and you know your customers want everything to “just work”.

Real problems start deeper. “I need a way to let people see my time schedule” is a problem which requires a solution. “My administrative assistant can’t sync my Treo to the corporate Exchange server” isn’t a problem that requires a solution -> it’s a bug that needs a hack. When people bring you bugs, hack. When people bring you problems, you need to build a solution.

This always, always, always needs to start with information gathering. Period. Always. If you’ve worked in four organizations before, and you’ve run Exchange, and someone comes to you with “I need a way to let people see my time schedule”, odds are very very good you’re going to blurt out, “Well, I could set up an Exchange server…”

Don’t. Cease. Back up. You’re doing it wrong. Period.

You’ve made the first mistake, you started building a house… and you don’t even know that what the customer wants is a house.

Sometimes, a someone comes to you with, “I want you to set up an Exchange server…” and you’re going to blurt out, “Okay, I’ve done that before, it’s pretty easy…”

Don’t. Cease. Back up. You’re doing it wrong. Period.

You’ve made the second mistake, you started building a Victorian because someone told you they think they need a house. The customer doesn’t know what they need. They know what they *want*. It’s your job to figure out if what they *want* is actually what they *need*. Moreover, it’s your job to know if what they need is possible. Sometimes, it’s not.

If you tell them that it *is* possible because your boss is scary and shouts and says, “Don’t tell me what’s impossible,” when you argue with him, I’m begging you… get into another line of work. Eventually you’re going to get fired, or you’re going to get fed up and quit, and the next poor bastard who comes in is going to spend months of aggravation trying to fix the piece of junk you built because you didn’t have the gumption to tell someone that they ought not to build a skyscraper on top of a bog.

The only thing you can do with technology is operationalize a solution. Information Technology work is *enabling* work. We take solutions and we build stuff to make them happen… but the solution has to already be known to some degree. You have to design a process before you start building an object. If you don’t, you’re going to build a really pretty object that nobody uses. You need to know what it is, not necessarily in minute detail… but you’d damn well better have a good idea that it’s supposed to be a house, if it’s supposed to be a house. Whether or not it’s a Victorian or a ranch or a McMansion is important, but it’s not as important as starting off in a residential zoning area.

You need to keep your eye, always, on the solution… and NOT on the technology. If the technology doesn’t fit the solution perfectly… well, that’s not always bad, and that’s not entirely unexpected. You can’t redefine success by changing the game to “I successfully deployed this technology” because deploying the technology isn’t what the customer wants, they want the problem solved. Define what subset of the problem the technology is fixing, and make sure your customer is satisfied with that subset before you build the thing.

And if they want you to build a Victorian and you’re in a commercial zone, suck it up and tell them “No.”