Archive for category reality

Clip Show

In honor and observance of the Writer’s Strike currently going on, here is my version of a “clip show.” This blog has over 175 entries now, some good, some bad, some awesome. I know there are several new readers here, and it’s a pain to sift through the entire blog to find the good nuggets. Here, in my opinion, are the 15 most worthy entries if you’re flipping through this place I like to call “Into the Weeds”:

  • yuck: Cold Stone Creamery Rant
  • The Soul of the Commuter: Commuting sucks. In very many ways. Here I get back to my urban studies roots.
  • UIUC Mail Server Disaster: A tale of sysadmin sorrow from 2002
  • Trivia: See if you can identify who all of these footnotes to history are.
  • The Cult of Scientology: Mini-rant and link to a freaking awesome article on scientolgy.
  • Longwood Towers: Rant about why the Longwood Towers Condominiums are some place you should not be thinking about living in.
  • : Classic tale of dot-bomb woe. Ever wonder what that “kozmo” box is that’s sitting in the kitchen lounge on second west?
  • Florence Co. ADMAX: Crazy terrorist prison in Colorado with all sorts of nasties inside.
  • New Apartment: Check out the awesome view from my living room.
  • Driving in Boston: A primer, with scary crazy maps of intersections.
  • Captain Al Haynes: The amazing story of Capt. Haynes and United flight 232.
  • Firefighting Mode: Some systems philosophy, and the condition of what things were like back when I worked at MIT IS&T.
  • The Switch: Mac vs. PC
  • Unofficial!!!!: The crazyness at UIUC known as “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” and why it is awesome and awesomely stupid at the same time.
  • Datacenter Transformer: A tale of woe from some crazy-ass electrical problem and superbad preparation and handling at MIT IS&T.

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So, while I’m staying here at the Marriott Courtyard in San Francisco, I get the USA TODAY for free every morning (yes, it’s a rag). Yesterday’s featured a little blurb on the front about the presidential candidates and their kids.

It turns out that Mitt Romney (former republican governor of Massachusetts, and everyone’s favorite Mormon), named his kid Tagg. Mitt and Tagg. Anyway, that’s a douchebaggy name if I ever heard one. Just thought I’d share.

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What Happened to “All tech men carry batteries?”

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, here is the strange story of one Star Simpson, an MIT sophomore who was arrested at Logan Airport last Friday because of a “suspicious device” attached to her sweatshirt:

(click for larger image)

Anyway, this afternoon during my lunch break, I happened upon an impromptu protest/picket line type thingy on the MIT campus in front of Walker. Apparently they were protesting MIT’s sole comment on the story thus far, calling Star’s actions “reckless” rather than acting to clear up the record in regards to some of the inaccurate reporting about the “incident.” The pamphlet/petition that they were handing out pretty much says it all:

What happened to “All tech men carry batteries?”

We, the undersigned, are concerned about MIT’s lack of support for students during recent events, even after the facts of a situation have become clear. Unfortunately, it seems that the Institute’s first and last reaction is to distance itself from members of its own community instead of attempting to diffuse misleading media hype. This trend is especially disturbing given that many of these students are the same ones that have been lauded for their creativity and innovation, qualities that are recognized and
encouraged at MIT.

Clearly MIT is not, and should not be, under any obligation to provide legal defense for students in criminal matters; however, we believe that MIT should wait to understand a situation lest it issue a misleading comment or press release. If, for whatever reason, a misleading comment is issued, another statement should be released to correct it. Failure to take these steps can only cause falsehoods and misrepresentations to perpetuate themselves to the point where they are considered fact.

A recent example of MIT’s failure to support a member of its community occurred last Friday, on September 21st, when Star Simpson was arrested at Logan International Airport. We are particularly disturbed by the administration labeling her actions as “reckless,” without first speaking to her. Furthermore, we now know with certainty that Star Simpson did not make a fake bomb nor did she go to Logan to perform a hoax. The idea that she acted maliciously is a gross distortion of actual events. Star built her LED name­tag to stand out during MIT’s annual career fair. Facts like these are crucial in
understanding what actually happened, and once MIT discovers them it is obligated to issue a clarifying statement or press release.

To clarify, we are not criticizing the police’s immediate response to what they thought was a bomb threat. In that regard, they performed their jobs exactly as they should. What we are concerned about is that MIT failed to issue a timely response to explain the situation after everything had become clear. Failure to issue corrective comments has undoubtedly hurt MIT’s reputation as well. Every article and report begins with the words “An MIT sophomore;” the front page of the Boston Herald ran an article on Sunday, September 23rd that had an acrostic with the letters MIT spelling out “More Idiotic Tricks.” By failing to issue additional statements, MIT allows sensationalist articles like these to tarnish its reputation.

We hope that in the future the Institute is more supportive of those who are a part of its community. Everyone knows that events are often misconstrued and distorted, and as a result MIT has an obligation to the members of its community to correct any falsehoods that may arise.

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So, a few months ago, a Cold Stone Creamery opened up across the street from my apartment. I ate there once or twice, but generally I find the ice cream to be of sub-par quality — too sweet, not enough “ice-creamy” flavor, and of a somewhat gooey consistency. Cold Stone has actually opened up a few stores in the Boston area, and it seems like it might be a bit of a challenging market for them. For example, while there may be a Cold Stone right across the street, there’s an Emack and Bolio’s right downstairs. They actually sell freshly made, all natural ice cream — and it tastes much better.

Now, our neighborhood curmudgeon, Scott, likes to rail on about the grossness of Cold Stone ice cream. In this case, I whole-heartedly agree with him. Feel free to peruse (if you dare!) the ingredient statements(pdf). Yummy….sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, cellulose gum and artificial flavors!

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk a bit about eggs. Now, I’m not a big fan of eggs (as many of you may already know). However, even I must pause to acknowledge the awesome technological achievement that is the Egg McMuffin. But, do you know what the egg thing in an McMuffin is actually made of? Really, it’s just 100% egg. No crazy fillers, flavorings, preservatives and stuff. It’s just egg poached in a novel form on the skillet. Let’s contrast that to the “Folded Egg” that just about every other fast food breakfast uses, and is present in some of McD’s other sandwiches:

Folded Egg: Pasteurized whole eggs, food starch-modified, soybean oil, natural flavors (botanical source), sodium acid pyrophosphate, carrageenan gum, flavor enhancer [salt, maltodextrin, natural flavor (plant source), spices, herb, turmeric (color)], monosodium phosphate, citric acid, soy lecithin. Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid soybean oil, water, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, salt, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, soy lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservative), artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color). CONTAINS: EGG, SOY LECITHIN

Yum! You know when you need that many nested parentheses in an ingredient listing that it must be good.

McDonalds Ingredients Listing
Cold Stone Creamery Ingredient Statements
Why Scott hates Cold Stone



Sorry for being re-miss with the blogging lately. I’ve been hardcore into Rocking the ’80s lately.

As I mentioned a while ago, I moved the hosts and to a virtual server co-located somewhere at Andy’s And that’s pretty awesome. But, I still use my server at home for and, and some other things — including a WebDAV server for sharing iCal calendar data. Unfortunately, a few months ago my self-signed SSL certificate expired, and I’ve been too lazy to regenerate one.

The problem is, of course, that the server only has one IP address to the outside (it’s on a cable modem), and so uses name-based virtual hosting in apache. I’d have to say that one of the greatest annoyances in the world is that name-based virtual hosting does not work with SSL. That is to say, since, and all share the same IP address and are separated into virtual hosts by name only, I can’t have different SSL certificates for each vhost. This is a problem, because, as we all know, SSL certificates are tied to the name of the server you’re going to. So, if you go to in your browser, you’d get a nasty warning that the certificate belongs to some other name. Anyway, it’s a pisser because I’m trying to fix the SSL WebDAV server. Maybe I’ll try to make it authenticated access internal-only, and not use SSL at all. Bah, that’s nasty. Yes, I know why the problem exists; and that it really can’t be fixed without re-jiggering the SSL protocol and the HTTP protocol in potentially dangerous and nasty ways, but maybe someone, somehow, somewhere is working on it.

And while I’m on the topic of general annoyances, why does Sun’s patching system for Solaris have to suck so much? And, for that matter, why does Sun’s package management system (if you can call it that) for Solaris suck so much too? And also, why are plane tickets so damn expensive these days? $350/person to go to Chicago? Give me a break!

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The Soul of the Commuter

So, since my last entry was about large-installation systems administration, I figure it’s only appropriate that this next entry should be about my other “passion” — urban studies and planning. Jrandall forwarded me a link to this extremely interesting, but depressing article in the New Yorker.

Paumgarten studies the specific commutes of a handful of people with daily commutes that I would consider to be completely insane. There’s the dude in Atlanta who commutes in traffic for two hours or so each day. Apparently that’s a common thing in Atlanta, where they haven’t quite figured out how to make mass transit work, and apparently don’t quite subscribe to the theory of Induced Traffic, since they just keep building highways and highways. And there’s also the woman who works as a legal secretary in Manhattan, and lives in Pike County, PA. She’s got a commute of 3 hours and 15 minutes each way. The author follows her on a commute, and goes over the rundown of how she, and other similar people get to and from work everyday, and what they do while sitting in traffic or on the train.

The truly fascinating, and depressing, aspect of the article, however, is how these people justify the exchange they’ve made for hours of their lives every day. After a daily commute like that, when she gets home, the remainder of her evening is as follows: “…feeds her dogs, then heats up soup or pizza she buys at a pizzeria on weekends. She takes a shower and goes to bed, maybe watching a taped episode of CSI…” It seems like these people give up so much just for a bigger house, or a larger lot, or a nice place out in the woods. Am I the only one who sees the irony here? And I don’t mean Alanis Morisette fake irony either.

Here are some gems from the article:

“There’s a simple rule of thumb: Every ten minutes of commuting results in ten per cent fewer social connections. Commuting is connected to social isolation, which causes unhappiness.”

“The source of the unhappiness is not so much the commute itself as what it deprives you of. When you are commuting by car, you are not hanging out with the kids, sleeping with your spouse (or anyone else), playing soccer, watching soccer, coaching soccer, arguing about politics, praying in a church, or drinking in a bar.”

” ‘Drive until you qualify’ is a phrase that real-estate agents use to describe a central tenet of the commuting life: you travel away from the workplace until you reach an exit where you can afford to buy a house that meets your standards. The size of the wallet determines that of the mortgage, and therefore the length of the commute. Although there are other variables (schools, spouse, status, climate, race, religion, taxes, taste) and occasional exceptions (inner cities, Princeton), in this equation you’re trading time for space, miles for square feet. Sometimes contentment figures in, and sometimes it does not.”

Anyway, it’s a fascinating read and isn’t overly long. Interesting stuff.


Be Safe

Hey, buckle up. This PSA brought to you by New Jersey Governor, Jon Corzine.

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More Longwood Towers Action

As you may recall from this extensive previous entry about the longwood towers condominium conversion, I don’t have much love for my former apartment building, now mostly-empty overpriced luxury condominium complex. I was amused at the following news story that I picked up off the web tonight:

BROOKLINE, Mass. — Thieves are caught on camera looking for any means possible to steal an ATM.
Omar Ali Credle, a former Longwood Towers employee, and another accomplice allegedly used a wheelchair to cart off an entire teller machine on the night of April 18 from the apartment building where Credle used to work.
To pull off the heist, police say the pair stole a swipe card for the complex as well as keys to a tenant’s vehicle before using the wheelchair to make off with the machine that they estimate contained close to $1,800.

Wow. Lot of good those security cameras and 24-hour night watchpersons are doing there. I’ve got to say that for whatever reason this made my day. Luxury living indeed. But wait, there’s more…

What’s this I find while doing a Google search looking for more info? Dear Lord, if only we had shelled out the cash to buy a piece of the dream in that crumbling old hole, these people could have been our neighbors! (literally, they apparently live in B402, we lived in B404). Peachy keen!

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Sic Semper Tyrannis

Rev. Jerry Falwell dies at age 73.
And from Daily Kos today:

Falwell blames ‘pagans, abortionists, gays, feminists, lesbians’ for death
(ANS, The Afterlife) Echoing his comments made after 9-11 that the terrorist attack was caused by a litany of “evil forces,” the late Jerry Falwell said today from the afterlife that “pagans, abortionists, gays, feminists, lesbians, the ACLU, People for the American Way, Al Gore, Daily Kos and other immoral, liberal groups and individuals bear full responsibility for the heart attack that has claimed my earthly life.”
Falwell went to add that, unlike his apology following his post-9-11 comments, he will “not be apologizing this time because there are no liberals where I’m going. So they can kiss my fat, dead ass.”


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Unintended Consequences

Today, let’s examine the strange case of a Mr. Thomas Midgley. I was doing one of my regular wanderings through the Wikipedia the other day, and somehow ended up reading all about CFCs and the depletion of the ozone layer, and all of that good stuff. I remembered that as entering freshmen at MIT way back in 1996, we were treated to a brief lecture on the topic by Professor Molina, who had just won a share of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for explaining the link between CFCs and ozone layer depletion. But, I digress.

Back to Midgley now, he was working for a subsidiary of GM back in 1930 when he began work on developing a safe refrigerant for use in household appliances. You see, back then people used nasty things like ammonia or sulfur dioxide in their refrigerators, and people were dying and getting poisoned left and right from leaks.

What he came up with was a little compound known as Dichlorodiflouromethane, and an entire family of these chloroflourocarbons (CFC) with unique boiling points that can be used safely in any number of applications as propellants (e.g. aerosal cans), as well as refrigerants and cleaning solvents. At the time, understandably, he was hailed as a hero. Apparently, in a demonstration of the compound’s safety, he inhaled a breath of the stuff and then used it to blow out a candle. Of course we all know the rest of the story, how in the ’80s and ’90s scientists like Molina discovered a mechanism by which the CFCs, once inevitably released into the air, would destroy the earth’s protective ozone layer. You see, that’s a good example of unintended consequences. Here’s a genius engineer who comes out with an amazing invention, wins all sorts of awards, etc. and still ends up having to take at least part of the blame for the CFC/ozone debacle that we’re still dealing with to this very day.

Alas, that is not where the story ends with Mr. Midgley, however. Earlier in his career with GM, back in the roaring ’20s, he came up with another gem. Midgley discovered that adding a small amount of a chemical known as “tetra-ethyl lead” (TEL) to gasoline, thus making “leaded gasoline,” he could raise the effective octane level of the fuel and prevent engines from knocking. As with his CFC discovery, of course he won all sorts of awards and accolades. However, unlike the CFC issue, issues with leaded gasoline, pollution and lead toxicity arose early on, and indications are that Midgley actually was aware of problems. Dozens of workers in the factories that made TEL ended up falling ill, and in many cases dying. Midgley himself apparently suffered from a bout of lead poisoning. From tailpipe emissions contaminating soil and groundwater (especially in urban and highway-proximate areas), it’s estimated that about 68 million children had toxic exposures to lead from gasoline between 1927 and 1987. As many as 5000 americans died annually from lead-related heart disease prior to the phaseout of leaded gasoline. Since leaded gasoline is no longer in use, the mean blood-lead level of the American population has declined more than 75 percent. (citation)

Hero, or Villian? Midgley “had more impact on the atmosphere than any single organism in earth history.” He ended up contracting polio in 1940, and being the engineer that he was, he constructed an elaborate system of cables, rope and pulleys to get him in and out of bed. Ironically, that system was the cause of his death as he got caught up in it and was strangled at age 55. Unintended consequences, indeed!

Thomas Midgley
Paper on the discovery of Tetra-Ethyl Lead and Midgley’s lead poisoning
Another article about leaded gasoline. What did the makers know, and when did they know it?


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