Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Two Things

The Two Things

"For every subject, there are only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

I have an addition:

The two things about religion, politics, and child-rearing:
1. I'm right.
2. You're wrong.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Would you like "fresh vegetables" with that?

Batter-Coated Fries OK'd As Vegetable

WASHINGTON - Batter-coated french fries are a fresh vegetable, according to the Agriculture Department, which has a federal judge's ruling to back it up.

The ruling last week by federal District Judge Richard Schell in Beaumont, Texas, allowed batter-coated french fries to be considered fresh vegetables under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act.

Encouraged by this ruling, Democrats announced today that they are renewing their efforts to have President Bush labeled a vegetable before the November elections.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Re: IT Infrastructure plan?

A former colleague recently asked for some advice:

I'm advising a very early stage startup. They want to put together a computing infrastructure for their office. This includes purchasing the usual desktop computers, say about ten, but also networking equipment, servers for the usual services such as email, ldap, internal web services and a file server (NFS, SMB and perhaps even AppleTalk). They want to plan things out so they can hit the ground running.

This exercise happens all the time. Does anyone have a project plan or checklist that enumerates the steps to get a functioning office and software develop group up and running as quickly as possible?

Thanks in advance,

This was my reply. Maybe it can help you, too:

I haven't put this into MS Project yet, but here's the basic plan, based upon my experience:

WEEK 1, Day 1: Kickoff. Tell the developers that they will be getting the best computers money can buy, tell the business people they will be getting the lightest computers available, and tell the controller/CFO that you were lying to the first two groups.

Days 2-5: Hardware specification. Argue with the developers over which operating systems and manufacturers to use. Settle on Windows for business users, dual-boot systems (Windows/some open source OS) for developers, and a really big freakin' server for the network. Promise to continue the conversation by email once the mail server is up.

Week 2: Network and software standards. Discuss licensing costs with controller/CFO and decide to use open source wherever possible to save money. Begin discussions with developers over which open source packages are good, which are crufty, and which are only pushed by techno-religious zealots. Realize that everyone you work with is, in fact, a techno-religious zealot.

Week 3: Network and software installation. Hardware arrives. Developers begin installing their preferred software on their own machines, establishing the ability to work together by means of compatibility negotiations that make the SALT II talks look straightforward. The developer that sets up his own machine first wins the ability to set up the network, which he does over the weekend with the aid of several six-packs of Newcastle Brown Ale. The second-place developer gets the mail server, third-place the file server. Disputes over network, file-sharing, and messaging protocols are settled by shouting, wild gesticulating, and, eventually, rock-paper-scissors. Anyone who suggests using a Microsoft product is summarily expelled from the server room.

Weeks 4-20: Tweaking and maintenance. Now that the mail server is up, software standard negotiations can continue at a faster pace. Developers change tools regularly in an attempt to form a group consensus, eventually reverting to a combination of Notepad/text editor of choice and CVS. While the network servers never actually need to be rebooted, they do require regular reconfiguring to accommodate the evolving standard. The most opinionated developer becomes the de facto IT guy after driving out any contractors/part-time IT staff that were originally hired, and splits his 60- to 80-hour weeks evenly between development and network support. Spend time with business users to make sure that they can connect to email and their shared network directories, occasionally explaining to them why they need to stop downloading the "free" porn dialers if they want their computers to continue working. Explain the difference between "hard" license costs and "soft" productivity costs to the controller/CFO.

Week 21: Capitulation. Contact Microsoft about purchasing a Complete Office Solution.

I'm kidding, of course. No one ever makes it to Week 21.

Good luck!
- Me

Friday, June 11, 2004

Does Google's search engine have a sense of humor?

This page was in the top 30 results of a search for "laconic." The word is nowhere to be found on the page or in the source HTML.

I'm sure there's a logarithmic neuro-net explanation for why this showed up, but I prefer to think that Google is approaching sentience.

Nigerian police use acapella to disperse crowd

'We were singing to disperse crowd of strikers': Nigerian police

LAGOS (AFP) - Nigeria's police force, notorious for its strong-arm tactics in dealing with street protests, unveiled one of the more melodious weapons in its armoury -- an impromptu male acapella choir. On Wednesday, a squad of officers was caught on camera by the international news network CNN apparently singing along with a crowd of workers and a well known pop star in a Lagos market on the first day of a general strike. After the impromptu concert ended, the crowd dispersed peacefully.

Seeing the effectiveness of this tactic, Boston Mayor Tom Menino is reportedly considering asking the Village People to come out of retirement to help him end the police union strike outside the Fleet Center, site of this summer's DNC convention.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Not Much Ado About the Holy Grail

Not Much Ado About the Holy Grail

I do love a good parody, especially if it has a bit of the literary to it. Then I can feel sufficiently intelligent while still laughing at people being utterly silly.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

"Drop the Chalupa"

Man Charged With Chalupa Assault

DES MOINES, Iowa - A man who claimed he didn't get the taco he paid for has been charged with assault for allegedly pelting a Taco Bell clerk in the face with a chalupa. In an effort to protect drive-through servers at their other chains, Yum! Brands International, the parent company of Taco Bell and KFC, has announced that it will no longer include flatware packets in its to-go bags.

Said one company official who declined to be named, "The last thing we need is another rash of drive-by sporkings."

Friday, June 04, 2004

Punctured punctuation

If an ASCII character could feel fatigue, then I know of two that would be near death from overuse. If they were animals, PETA would be breaking into my office to set them free, and setting fire to several people's computers to ensure the abuse never happens again.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the hyphen and the apostrophe!

The Humble Hyphen
It has come to this: I now immediately assume that any hyphen I see is misapplied and I ignore any hyphenated word. When did we decide that you were hip if you strung a bunch of irrelevant words together with hyphens? Witness these poor victims of hyphen abuse that I stumbled across this week:

  • Back-out plan

  • Back-up

  • Roll-out

  • Time-sensitive decision

  • Go/no-go meeting

  • High-quality

  • best-of-breed

  • Follow-up

Maybe this wouldn't be so bad if people didn't then go and leave hyphens out where they were actually needed. Here's a tip: if you must stick the noun in front of the adjective that describes it, you generally need a hyphen to let your poor reader know what you're trying to say. Better yet, just write it the normal way and accept that you might have to use another word or two to make a complete sentence. While I realize that this may require you to reduce the font size of your PowerPoint presentation to something below 54 point, believe me when I say it will be worth it.

Apostrophe Catastrophe
And then we have apostrophes, or as everyone I know says, "apostrophe's." I'm trying really hard not to sound like a cantankerous old English teacher here, but please, people, can we rein in the apostrophe use now, please? The apostrophe is now officially more overexposed than Britney Spears' bellybutton. I can't open my email or even look at a newspaper circular without being assaulted by apostrophes that really shouldn't be there. Let me make this simple for everyone:


That's right, you can write about CD's, PO's, Honda's, and how it's raining cat's and dog's, until the superfluous apostrophes litter the ground like sunflower seeds in the Red Sox dugout, but you'll still be wrong. I know, by now, that it looks a little strange to see an "s" without an apostrophe in front of it, but believe me, they exist. And when your sister's sisters come to town with their kids' dogs, you'll be wishing that you knew how to write about it to your aunt's friend in New Orleans without confusing the old biddy more than the AOL interface already has.

Whew! I feel better now.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Talk about taking your ride seriously...

Woman banned from park for spreading dog feces

(Excerpted below)

PORTLAND, Maine — A Portland woman accused of spreading dog feces at Deering Oaks Park as part of a vendetta against its weekly farmer´s market has been banned from the park and charged with criminal mischief.

Lora Leland, 53, was caught early Saturday emptying 16 bags of dog feces in the road that winds through the center of the park, police said. She explained that she was angry at the Saturday morning farmer´s market because it interfered with her ability to ride her bicycle through the park, police said.


Ironically, she ended up being banned from the park for a year, so now she has to find a new place to ride anyway.

The moral of the story: Doo unto others as you would have them doo unto you.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Wait, that was about DRUGS?!?

27 years after it was written, Paul McCartney finally admitted that "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" was, in fact, about LSD.

In related news, Bob Dylan still stubbornly maintains that his song "Everybody Must Get Stoned" is about capital punishment.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Chicken Soup for the Tortured Soul

Here are some Chicken Soup titles I'd like to see:

Chicken Soup for the Cynical Soul, with foreword by Dennis Miller

Chicken Soup for the Annoying Soul, featuring the essay, "Why does everyone hate me, buuuuuuuddy?" by Pauly Shore

Chicken Soup for the Boring Soul: now with more lists!

Chicken Soup for the Obsessive Soul: guaranteed to have at least one spelling or grammatical error in every chapter. Sometimes more, but we won't tell you in which ones.

Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul: so your mother's soup isn't good enough for you, nu? Maybe when she's dead you'll appreciate it more!

Chicken Soup for the Lazy Soul: just three pages long, and two of them are title pages

Chicken Soup for the Scientologist Soul: you get the first ten pages now, and we send you the rest after we get your bank account number.

Chicken Soup for the Vacant Soul: just blank pages

Chicken Soup for the Materialistic Soul: actually, it's just a Sharper Image catalog with a new cover. But your friends don't have one yet!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Paddling my life away

I took my family canoeing for Memorial Day and had a great time. It's wonderful to float along on a placid river, enjoying the scenery and gawking at the huge houses overlooking your watery path. The peaceful gurgling of the water under your hull is a gentle counterpoint to your 4- and 5-year-olds' attempts to paddle. Everyone is calm and relaxed, as life slows to pace the meandering amble of the river.

That's the first fifteen minutes.

Soon, your pre-launch lecture on the importance of everyone staying still and hanging on to their paddles has worn off, and the you find yourself alternating between urgent commands as you continuously shift your seat to try to keep the boat afloat:

"Honey, please stop hitting my paddle with yours. I know it makes a great sound, but we're going to hit the bridge if I can't paddle."

"Sit down, please, unless you want to go swimming."

If you're going to hang over the side and drag your arms in the water, could you at least pull up your sleeves and try not to both be on the same side at the same time?"

"Didn't I tell you to hold on to the paddle with both hands?"

Still, the easy drift downstream was pleasant, and the scenery breathtaking. We saw baby ducks, and everyone got to pull leaves off the downed tree while we were tangled in it. We stopped at the Old North Bridge in Concord and paid our Memorial Day respects to the first men to die in battle for our country. The kids had a chance to run around the fields and climb some trees after the nearly unbearable restraint of nearly sitting still in a canoe for 45 minutes. Eventually, though, I felt we should be getting back. After all, we pay for the canoe whether it's in the water or out of it. It's not like there's a little meter in there that counts our mileage.

Come to think of it, that's probably a good thing, as I realized on the way back upstream. We probably traveled two miles as the river flows, but we paddled at least five. Our path back up the river described a perfect sine wave within the confines (mostly) of both river banks, as I tried to find a way to keep the canoe moving against the current while counteracting the activities of my fellow passengers. My son, who continued to drag his fingers, hand, or arm in the water, went from a playful child to demonic friction coefficient, as I began to resent every bit of drag he created. My daughter -- or as I came to think of her, "ballast," -- constantly shifted her position for a better view of birds, trees, rocks, or things floating in the water, when she wasn't making her own wake with her paddle. I'm sure that, from behind, I looked like I was sitting on a live beehive, the way I kept shifting my weight to keep the canoe on an even keel.

My wife, a lovely woman on land, has only been in a canoe once before in her life, back when we were still young lovers, and therefore has never received real instruction in how to operate one. (One attempt at teaching her to ski while we were dating was enough to scare me off of activity instruction for at least a decade.) On this day, she paddled hard and was impressed by my knowledge of proper form, but it never quite sank in that her strokes actually affected our direction. She paddled on one side until that arm got tired and then switched. From up front, that probably seemed like a perfectly reasonable approach. From the stern, it presented unique challenges.

I didn't want to be that guy that we have all seen in outdoor situations, shouting instructions at his poor harried family as he marches them out into the wilderness to have fun. This wasn't a competition, and it was OK if the eight-year-old in the kayak had already passed us going both downstream and up. I wasn't going to start barking out, "Right! Left! Now right again! Stroke, stroke, stroke!" I wanted this to be fun for everyone, or at least everyone else.

After a while, though, I did have to start giving some gentle guidance if I ever wanted to set foot on land again. It wasn't so much a matter of needing to do things correctly as a matter of seeking the shortest distance between two points. To put it bluntly, I was getting tired. That, combined with the knowledge that we had a narrow bridge arch coming up, urged me to finally start explaining the physics of the canoe to everyone, followed by some polite requests for my wife to paddle on one side or the other when I needed help steering. I will admit that the requests grew a little more urgent when the passenger barge nearly ran us down, and when we began to turn sideways in the current under the bridge, but they were always polite.

I think we'll try this again when my family comes to visit. Then we can let the grandparents take one child in their canoe. And we're going upstream first.