Archive for March, 2006

Photo Updates


The Pickin’ Tuesdays photo album has been updated with some recent acts and good Cantab Lounge ambiance.

Also, there is a new Out and About photo album for random pictures taken out with friends and strangers at various times. This has been updated with some pictures from last night, when Jeff returned to Boston from Oxford. His plan was to surprise his ladyfriend for her birthday tonight. I’m sure the romantic gesture was well appreciated and all went well.

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New Phone


So I decided to “bite the bullet” today and get a new cell phone. Actually, it wasn’t that much of a decision, since my employer is paying for it. I picked up my Treo 650 smartphone from my friendly local verizon dealer and have already gotten it syncing with my mac with minimal problems.

It’s not a piece of cake, and palm’s sync software really is a flaming pile of shit — especially on Mac OS. Luckily, many others out there on the internet have worked out the kinks and I was able to get my contacts and calendar working. I’ve also set up “versamail” on it so I can check my email (IMAP) when I’m not with a computer. On the down side, it’s not a real “cell phone,” so all of Verizon’s “get it now” apps aren’t available for it. However, it’s a Palm Pilot, so many apps are out there for it. It also has a web browser, so checking sports scores, etc. can probably be done that way, although I really liked ESPN’s MLB GameCast on my old phone.

photo_treo650_overview.jpg

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Welcome Back


I turned on the TV upon arriving at home from work yesterday, and after flipping through the stations was greeted by familiar voices. Baseball is back, and so are Don and Jerry. All is right with the world after all, and of course “hope springs eternal,” as they say. I was also greeted by some cleanly-shaven schmo in a Yankee’s uniform, but that hardly spoiled my evening.

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Firefighting Mode


Any readers of this blog who are in my field, or in a similar field, understand what “Firefighting Mode” is. It’s when your job consists almost entirely of fighting fires (i.e. handling emergencies, servicing interrupts), rather than dealing with things in a rational, prioritized manner, and devoting some time to medium-term and long-term infrastructure improvements. The problem is, that once you’re in firefighting mode, the lack of medium and long-term planning, and the lack of infrastructure improvements just cause more fires to pop up down the road. Hence, it is a vicious cycle, and it can eventually wreak havoc on the morale of the overworked staff. I’m trying to put this into appropriate words here, and what follows is my first attempt. I’m sure the “powers that be” here are already aware of the situation, but it does feel good to get it off my chest and into words:


   The group is too bogged down with every-day tasks to do long-term or even medium-term development work, or to follow best practices for many of our operations. The security incident earlier this year was a direct result of this. SSH access lock-downs were supposed to be part of the planned system audit (over 1 year overdue) that was never accomplished because of lack of available, knowledgeable manpower in the group. Likewise, I have been far too busy to make progress on Linux knowledge exchange, or Solaris Jumpstart service installation. Both of these projects, as well as other possible infrastructure projects (tru64 infrastructure replacement, documentation wiki, deploying Solaris logging UFS, etc.) are essential to our ability to effectively manage a multitude of servers effectively and efficiently.
   Without proper manpower to attend to and improve systems administration infrastructure, organizations tend to fall into a vicious cycle of not realizing possible administration efficiency improvements and methodologies, and therefore not improving the important metric of “man-hours of administration work required per server”. This, combined with an ever-increasing number of servers, makes the problem worse, keeping the group in “firefighting mode,” and eventually affecting staff morale as well.

An interesting paper on the topic:
http://isic.ucsd.edu/papers/Firefighting.pdf
And I think I’ll also throw in Mark Roth’s “Sanity Through Organizational Evolution” paper here as well:
http://www.feep.net/LISA01-Service-Manager-paper/lisa01paper.ps

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A Good Time Was Had By All…


Evacuation Day weekend is drawing to a close here in Boston. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it down to see the parade today, but there were already more than enough festivities.

Photos from parties at Quinn’s place and my place.


Ryan Pierce made a surprise appearance at Quinn’s place on Friday night. That whole affair reminded me of some of the old MIT parties of ‘yore. Lots of “interesting” people. It seemed like all of the residents of that apartment worked at iRobot, so there were Roombas and Scoobas present as well to help clean up spilled beverages. At my place on Saturday, plenty of Guinness, boiled meat and vegetables were had by all. Some new faces were there, and a good time was had by all. Laurie gets a point for making the irish soda bread, and LeVaur gets one for making an appropriate “Naked Lady” comment at the local british-style pub afterwards. Beyond that, I don’t recall too much!

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Only at MIT…


Funny sign modification I saw the other day in Lobby 7:



Energy is always conserved!

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The Switch


I was going through some old files, cleaning up, the other day, when I came across the invoice for my computer. It’s been roughly two and a half years since I “switched.” I’m speaking of course, of buying a Mac to replace my windows/linux primary desktop. This makes me a “switcher,” in the parlance of our times.

Looking back, I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me switch. It was probably a combination of things: having some extra money around, dealing with just one too many frustrations with my computer, getting a Playstation2 so windows gaming wasn’t so important anymore, and hearing and experiencing good things about OSX. So, I took the leap, ordering a PowerMac G4 from apple.com with my educational discount. This wasn’t my first experience with MacOS. I’ve owned a few MacSE’s over time, and still have one in working order even. On the first day the iMac was released way back in 1998, I went to CompUSA and bought one. I enjoyed it for a few weeks, and then returned it. This was my plan all along, since there was no way I could spend $1500 on a new computer at that point. But, this time it was for real.

I’m happy to say that two and a half years later, my life is better for having made the move. The original vision of a “personal computer” was as a tool for our betterment. It was supposed to increase our productivity, open up new possibilities, and generally lead to the “betterment of civilization.” Quite immediately upon my purchase, I found that I was swearing at my computer a lot less. I was pounding my desk and banging on my keyboard a lot less also. I was able to actually get things done with my computer — surf the web, check my email, write and read documents, listen to music, watch videos — without feeling like I was embroiled in a constant Man vs. Machine struggle.

The trend continues to this day. Whenever I turn on my Windows PC these days, I find that I’m constantly pressing F9. Mac users will recognize this as the key sequence for Expose — It’s a one of the most amazing things ever, a visual way to navigate through all of your open windows that’s pretty hard to describe with words. Invariably, I’ll end up cursing at the computer for not doing what I want it to, or forcing me to jump through stupid hoops in order to get a certain game to run. Maybe I’ll need to upgrade my video driver, or downgrade it. Or I’ll need to disable the antivirus software, or scan the system for spyware, or (my favorite) edit the registry to prevent all sorts of stupid stubs from starting up on reboot and filling my taskbar (e.g. RealPlayer, Quicktime, Java Updater, Macromedia Flash Updater, some crappy useless tool that came with my sound card, some other crappy useless tool that came with my video card). But, that’s enough of that rant. Suffice it to say, I’m much happier when I’m back in Mac-land.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely up to the “challenge” of getting my Windows PC (or linux, with it’s own counterpart listing of frustrations) working and doing what I want to do. Actually, it’s not much of a challenge at all — I’m no moron after all. When I need/want a challenge, I can boot into Linux and play around. My mail/web/fileserver at home still runs Linux, of course. But, you see, somewhere along the line, something changed in me. After working on computers for 8 hours a day and making a career out of it, I no longer got any thrill or satisfaction out of getting my computer to do something for me. I no longer felt the need to “play around” with my computer all the time. Now, I can relax, knowing that the struggle has already been won. The computer is not there to put obstacles between me and my objectives, or to force me to conform to its way of doing things. It is a tool, at my service. It increases my productivity and opens up new possibilities — Finally!.

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Reminiscing


I’m aware that during my 4-year-long “exile” in Champaign, Illinois, I did a lot of complaining and whining about being there. Some of the negatives that come to mind include the ever-present bizarre odor from the Kraft factory, the lack of really good grub (you couldn’t drop $100 on a good, extravagant dinner for two even if you tried), and the overall grimness of the surroundings and local residents. I pretty much did everything but put up a big calendar and cross off the days with a big red magic marker until we finally moved back to Boston this past May. And, don’t misunderstand me here, I’m wayyyy glad to be back. But, here are some things I miss about those four long years in the midwest:

  • Homeownership: Sure, it’s nice to not have to worry about mowing the lawn, dealing with a leaky basement, or worrying about equity, property taxes, etc. anymore. But it was also nice to have a yard, with my own trees, and a driveway to park my cars in. And of course there’s the fact that the total monthly payment on that 800sq. ft. home was about 1/6th of what I currently pay for rent + parking.
  • My Job: No, I’m not going to whine about my current job here — it’s really quite good. I will say, however, that the folks at UIUC don’t know how good they have it. IT there is run like one heck of a tight ship (comparatively speaking of course). Significant investments in time, manpower, and political capital were made to put in place strict, but sound, IT policies that ensure that best practices are followed, and everyone’s job is actually easier. I’m not going to get too specific here, but we especially excelled in the areas of configuration management, security, documentation, and project planning. Any folks from CITES reading this will probably be laughing, but really, you don’t want to see what the alternative can be like.
  • My Job (personnel): One thing about Champaign-Urbana is that there really aren’t too many places for a good UNIX sysadmin to work. Sure, you can slave away at Wolfram Research and work for a total headcase psycho freak. Or you can go over to Amdocs and get laid off. So, UIUC was actually, believe it or not, where all of the good sysadmins came to work. I had the pleasure of working with, and learning from, some of the best. And here’s where I’ll give a shout out to Warner Brigham, who after many years of service, retired last week. He definitely falls into that category. Sorry I couldn’t make the party!
  • My Truck: I had a c.1991 Chevrolet Blazer 4wd that was pretty badass. It had tazmanian devil floor mats. It had two sets of fog lamps (alright, neither set worked). It had a thumping bass tube in the back. It had extra-large tires with aluminum wheels. It had a big crazy brush guard / cattle catcher in the front for mowing down pedestrians. It was cool. I ended up trading it to someone for a huge discount on my new TV. Unfortunately, they didn’t appreciate it. You know who you are.
  • Best Wok: Our favorite local chinese restaurant. Sure, just about all of the other chinese food in the area was mediocre at best, but these folks did it right. Their General Gao’s (they just call it “General’s” or “General Tso’s” there) was second to none. I’m getting over this loss though, especially now that we’re frequenting Chinatown Seafood here in Brookline.

Honorable mention: Big badass thunderstorms, closeness to the in-laws, the scenery on the UI campus, the free and always on time CUMTD bus, being able to have satellite TV instead of paying wayyy too much for digital cable, and Barack Obama.

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Also, Why Not?


A certain Grim Dude put up a similar list, and I have nothing else that I feel like blogging about at the moment so here goes. It’s a somewhat interesting list, and I’m not sure if it has any real correlation to my actual musical tastes or not, but there are some gems in there. My current top 15 most frequently played songs on iTunes:

  1. In The Garage, Weezer
  2. Addicted, Simple Plan
  3. Holiday, Weezer
  4. Surf Wax America, Weezer
  5. Call And Answer, Barenaked Ladies
  6. California Uber Alles, Dead Kennedys
  7. Commissioning A Symphony In C, Cake
  8. Bumble Bee Tuna Song , Mephiskapheles
  9. Smooth Criminal, Alien Ant Farm
  10. Creep, Radiohead
  11. Wicked Little Town, Hedwig And The Angry Inch Soundtrack
  12. Dirty Water, The Standells
  13. Needs, Collective Soul
  14. Teenage Dirtbag , Wheatus
  15. Army, Ben Folds Five

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Unofficial!!!


At the wonderful learning institution that is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, there are many students who like to drink. A lot. Unfortunately for them, the ultimate drinking holiday (St. Patrick’s Day) often falls during spring break, thus depriving them of the pleasure of getting trashed for the holiday. But, in a remarkable show of cleverness and business-savvy, the local bar owners created a holiday of their own. It’s called “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” and it is today.
link.link.

Some rube’s photo album.

Some other rube’s photo album.


(pictures courtesy of the Daily Illini)

Well, those pictures were both taken, most likely, sometime in the early afternoon, and that’s what “unofficial” is all about. It’s a day for freshmen to stumble drunkedly across campus in the middle of the day, instead of in the middle of the night as usual. It’s also a day for the cops to make an annual “show of force” and ticket a few dozen people for underaged drinking. Their reasoning is probably that if they actually work on the problem for one day out of the year, they can feel better about not doing anything the other 364 days.

This year, the office of the Provost even got into the act. They sent out a massmail, warning people that today was the day, and that “student behavior … may disrupt classes.” CK has posted a full copy of the letter, which seems to actually make “unofficial” a little bit more “official.” The bar owners should be sending the provost fruit baskets in return for the free advertising. For more general, and hilarious, information about the UI drinking lifestyle, check out The Booze News. It’s one of the few aspects of living in Champaign-Urbana that I actually might miss.

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