Monday, March 31, 2008

Your Top Ten "80's Comedies"

Marko had a post up the other day asking for your "ultimate 80's movie", but, being a child of the 80s, I couldn't pick just one.

So, I have to make a list...

It’s a moral imperative.

The Princess Bride, from 1987 is my favorite movie of all time, but I don’t think of it as an ’80s movie” so much. I'm artificially disqualifying it, because it isn't actually SET in the 80s.

80’s movies for me are defined by John Hughes, Savage Steve Holland, Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, and Bob Zemeckis... and they have to be comedies, or at least comedy dramas.

Also, the 80's movie is a movie "of the moment". After all, the quintessential 80's attitude was all about how great the 80s were; and other time periods just weren't as happenin. So "the princess bride" is right out.

Ok, so, a little list:

1. The Blues Brothers
2. Real Genius
3. Better Off Dead
4. Ferris Beullers Day Off
5. The Breakfast Club
6. Caddyshack
7. Stripes
8. Airplane
9. Top Secret
10. Ghost Busters

That's my list (and believe me I could easily get to 50 just on comedies), what's yours?

Oh and an aside, four of those movies were strongly connected to Saturday Night Live, all made within 4 years of each other, and all of them are classics. Between them Bill Murray and Chevy Chase alone made about 8 great comedies between 1980 and 1984. Akroyd and Belushi did about 5 more between them. Eddy Murphy did 4 great ones as well. When was the last really GREAT movie with a strong SNL connection that wasn't one of the guys I mentioned above; never mind almost two dozen within 4 years?

Really, only Will Ferrel and Mike Meyers even have close to the talent. Farley and Hartman did, but of course they are gone now. Dana Carvey should have, but somehow it just never works with him.

More of the joys of insomnia

I've been in a prolonged episode of insomnia this time around; it's been pretty bad for, I guess about three months now. I'm averaging less than four hours a night, and the sleep debt is really starting to wear on me. I'm actually taking some short halfnaps (I always have a hard time getting fuly asleep i a nap) when I can.

Anyway, one of the side effects, as I've mentioned before, is I get a lot more time to read.

Last night at 2:06am I picked up "Islands in the Sea of Time" by S.M. Stirling, and didn't put it down again 'til I hit page 460 or so, at about 7 this morning.

I managed just about two hours, and was up for work at 9. One of the great things about working at home, no time needed to dress or commute.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mel's Idiot Sighting of the Day

Seen at Hayden and McKellips yesterday:

I guess it's better than an "I Heart Obama" tattoo, but only slightly less permanent. In this state once you buy a set of plates, they stay yours even if you sell the car (we have 3 unused sets of plates in the house even as I type this). They'll have a long time to regret that particular decision, especially once the $50 personalized plate registration fee comes due again in a year.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Never ask a ham how fast he can tap a key

The Caffeine Click Test - How Caffeinated Are You?

212 clicks in 30 seconds... Funny enough, I haven't had any coffee today, and only about a liter of diet mountain dew (I usually have about 8 shots of espresso, and 4 liters of dew).

Friday, March 28, 2008

What I actually get paid to write

Earlier this week I wrote a bit about my writing process, and how it differs between my recreational writing (primarily here on this blog), and my professional writing; that is, the writing I get paid for.

At one time, to supplement my normal income, I was a freelance writer; with pieces in several small circulation national magazines, some good sized web sites etc... I've also co-authored several technical books, text books, study guides and the like, and written a number of papers for research groups, think tanks, consultancies etc...

I stopped doing that after the dot bomb crash, basically because it wasn't worthwhile to me to continue trying to get paid for it. It wasn't that people weren't willing to pay; it's just what they were willing to pay, wasn't what I was willing to work for.

Of course I haven't stopped writing. For a long time I wrote long form postings on various usenet communities, and some mailing lists. Then three years ago, I started writing this blog.

Funny thing though; as much as I write online, the vast majority of my writing isn't available anywhere. If you think I write a lot here, it's NOTHING compared to how much I write for my actual job.

I have mentioned many times before, that I am a small business owner. I operate a contract consultancy, with two practices. The first practice covers physical security and principal protection, electronic security, and security and defensive training. My other practice is in information systems architecture. On the that side, I work with policy and process, information security, high availability, disaster recovery, business continuance, large scale and high performance computing, and large scale and high performance storage.

At one point I was paid mostly to DO things; and my physical presence (and the application thereof) was my primary work product.

Then I got hurt, a lot; and I got fat, a lot.

These days, mostly, I get paid to think; and the tangible work product of that thought ends up as various written materials. Reports, analysis papers, white papers, position papers, statements of work, technical manuals, policy documents, audit reports... a nearly endless stream of different types of documents.

At my current contract, I act as the chief architect, for one of the major divisions, of one of the largest banks in the world. My job is essentially to keep up with all the technologies we operate in the bank, as well as all the emerging technologies that we might be able to use; keep up with the regulatory, audit, compliance, process, and practice requirements for the bank; and then figure out how to effectively use those technologies to meet our business needs, and fulfill our administrative requirements.

Most critically, my job is to figure out how to fail as little as possible; and how to fail and recover gracefully when we do (and we do. Every system fails sometimes).

I take that knowledge and experience, and I consult with the end users to help them understand what solutions may be available to them, help them shape their technical requirements to meet their business requirements, and help them initiate and execute their projects.

I then analyze every project the division undertakes against all those various criteria above, I write up my analyses, and I approve, disapprove, or make changes to projects as is appropriate.

I also act as both the representative of the entire enterprise (from an architectural perspective) to my end users; and conversely, I represent my end users needs to the entire enterprise, to ensure that their needs are met in any standard we promulgate.

Finally, I also manage the project teams, lower level architects and engineers, and other associated staff for each project. I have no direct reports, but I do provide technical leadership, mentoring, training, and task management to all the associated personnel.

All of this is done through the vehicle of professional writing.

I read others professional writing, and hear their presentations; I write my own documents and present them. Decisions concerning millions, and even tens of millions of dollars are made every week, based on this professional writing.

I would say that on average I have about 20-25 hours of meetings a week, and pretty much all the rest of my time is spent either reading someones business writing, or writing my own.

Thing is, it's both desperately boring, and quite challenging at the same time. Each type of document is very different. Each audience is different. Each document has a different goal or purpose; and you have to be able to craft your writing to that audience, and that purpose.

The language I write in isn't English, or even "technology" it's "business"; and it's constantly changing. The same set of words might have completely different meanings (and frequently very different political connotations) to two different clients, or even to two different groups within the same client.

So... what it all comes down to is, I wouldn't want to submit my business writing to any magazines; but it is VERY effective at what it is designed to do; and that is to convince people to do things the way I think they should be done.

Which is really, what makes it worth it; because if I write a great paper, and all the supporting documentation, and hold the meetings to support it; and we do the right thing; it feels great. I've done my job well, and we're on the right course. If I do all that, and still we do something stupid (and it happens a lot)... well, it's disappointing at the least.

So, I'm going to share with you an example of what I'm talking about.

Below this introductory section is a document I wrote a few weeks ago for work. I'm not going to directly preface it much here, because the paper should tell you what it's about, and why.

What I will share is who the audience was for it, and what the scope of the doc was. This paper went to the chief information officer (CIO) , the senior VP for my division, the CIO of the entire bank, the CTO (chief technical officer) of the bank, and the COO (chief operating officer) of the bank.

Important to the scope of the document, all of the members of my audience are in technical management, and all of them except the COO are former senior engineers themselves. The idea here was to scope this paper somewhere in between a basic executive summary (which should be kept to three pages or less), and a real full white paper or architectural analysis (which would easily have run 30 pages or more). It was intended to hit the high points of business and technical merit, and plant a seed and an outline to go deeper with. Essentially, it's a pitch paper to START the process of making a major change in the way we do absolutely everything in information management.

That by the way is damn near the hardest thing in the world to write. You have to be technical, but not too technical. You have to reference business, but not go too deep into it. You have to constantly consider your audience, and adjust your language, and level of detail. In fact in this case it was doubly so, because this is an extremely politically sensitive topic within the organization, as well as an enormously expensive one. It was absolutely critical that I come down on the tech side of things with my explanations, but not "too far"; while providing a strong suggestion of the business advantages, without steppig on any political landmines (especially as regards staffing levels).

Honestly, as pure "writing", it is, objectively, utter shite. It's repetitive, and redundant (ok, bad joke), it uses atrocious sentence structure, it has little coherent narrative structure, it has far too much detail in some sections and not nearly enough in others.

Seriously, it's crap.

The paper violates every principle of good writing, except one: It communicated the intended message, and the importance of that message, with absolute effectiveness. In fact, it drilled the central concept into the readers brains, front and center, making it impossible for them to get it out again.

The people who read this paper are going to be murmuring the two words of the subject in their sleep for weeks.

I'm going to assume most of my readers are fairly technically literate, and those that aren't have already stopped reading this post anyway (if not, you're probably terribly bored with all this). I'm also going to assume most of you, excepting the IT managers and engineers out there, haven't heard of the subject of this paper; or have at best minimal exposure to it.

If I did my job, the IT managers in the audience should already be thinking about how to do it in their environment (or how their approach would differ etc...); and the rest of you should be able to come out of reading it with a basic understanding and definition of the subject, and of its advantages and disadvantages.

Of course, after reading it, you're also probably going to be sick of those two words; but they're going to stick with you, and when the context is right, they, and this paper, are going to pop into your head.

I like to run the "spouses and secretarys" test on these types of documents. If you can give the thing to your husband or wife (presuming they aren't also an IT manager/architect/engineer) , or your secretary; and they can understand the subject, why it's important, and ask relevant questions; you've pretty much done your job.

All of that is the ultimate goal of business writing; and ultimately, that is how business writing must be evaluated...

Oh and I should note, I used the same thought process as I do with most of my other writing. I stuck the main idea up in some corner of my head, let it stew for a while, and when I was ready (the day before the deadline in this case), I just let it flow out onto the page.

In this case, I thought about it for about a week; then I wrote the whole thing in just over two hours, with another hour or so for revising.

Just as writing, I still think it's crap though; and would be embarrassed about it, if it wasn't EXACTLY what I set out to write.

... anyway, uhhhh... enjoy I s'pose (most formatting, and many specifics have been removed to preserve confidentiality):
Utility Computing in the Enterprise


This document is owned by the {edited for confidentiality} team; and has been created to provide an overview of Utility Computing, including advantages, challenges, and potential implementation targets and methods .


Updates and revisions to this document should be directed to {edited for confidentiality}.


Version History:
{edited for confidentiality}

Approval Management:
{edited for confidentiality}


At this time, {edited for confidentiality} is facing a growing problem managing IT infrastructure and facilities. {edited for confidentiality} has thousands of individual infrastructure components spread across multiple lines of business, facilities, and areas of responsibility. Combined with this organizational diversity, exists an even more complex diversity of technologies, vendors, revisions, applications, and services.

This diversity of both organization and infrastructure has created challenges in managing and supporting systems, applications and services, managing product lifecycle, managing facilities, and managing and controlling expenditures.

As project complexity continues to increase, so too do staffing levels required to implement and maintain this infrastructure, implementation times, and the costs associated with all of the above.

It is generally understood that some (or several) means of reducing complexity, and improving service delivery speed, cost, efficiency, and value to the end user; are critical to the continued viability of infrastructure operations within the bank.


In the world at large, utilities are organizations that provide a valuable service to their customers, for a periodic fee, generally based on consumption or capacity (or a combination of both). For example electricity, water, and cable, are all utilities we are familiar with.

Utility computing seeks to establish this model for both specific applications; and as a larger goal, for generalized computing.

This model of paying for a service based on capacity and consumption, was at one time common to the computing world. For decades, mainframe computing was based on such a fundamental model (and in some ways, and some organizations, it still is).

Additionally, there are still today some applications within the general world of information technology that are sold and administered in this manner; such as shared hosting services for web sites, web based email, internet based backup, distributed content management (Akamai and the like), and elements of content security (virus scanning, content filtering etc…).

So, this concept is neither unknown, nor unfamiliar in the information technology world. It is however currently uncommon in the domain of generalized computing infrastructure.


The traditional model of general computing infrastructure is a procedurally oriented model, with each procedure having its own associated complication, management, overhead, and timeline:

1. Identify a business need
2. Develop a software solution to address that need
3. Develop a hardware architecture to support the software for the current need
4. Estimate three to four year growth and account for additional infrastructure to support it
5. Allocate infrastructure
6. Implement the infrastructure and application
7. Pay for and manage each of these elements separately

Importantly, in this model, the end user is paying full price for their projected needs, and must pay for a substantial portion (if not all) of the infrastructure costs up front. If the users business needs change, they will either need to go back and re-architect and re-implement the solution; or they will be left with excess capacity that they are paying for, but not utilizing.

As a result, for example across the entire enterprise, we have average CPU utilizations on the order of 6% to 8%, average memory utilization of 18% to 40%, and allocated storage utilization of 14% to 40% (these numbers represent broad ranges, because there are multiple conflicting data sources, depending on which organization, infrastructure, and measuring method are involved). Compare these estimates, to “best practice” utilization goals of 40% to 60% average CPU and memory utilization, and 60% to 80% allocated storage utilization.

This is harmful both to the end user, and to the enterprise as a whole, because this unutilized infrastructure presents a large fixed cost, as well as a significant allocation of limited facilities resources.

Taken over an entire enterprise, this inefficiency in resource allocation, implementation, and utilization adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted time, and wasted capacity.

Additionally, the significant upfront costs, and three to four year commitment of resources required to implement any solution, create an environment hostile to the development of new and innovative solutions. It is extremely difficult to create, develop, and test new technologies (that may, or may not present viable business solutions when fully developed); if there are significant resource dedication requirements to even basic experimentation on a small scale.


Utility computing aims to address the issues raised above, by offering both specific applications, and generalized computing services, as a utility.

In every respect, this lines up with conventional assumptions about utility class services in the wider world.

When you order electrical service for your home, you specify that you want a 120 volt, 200 amp service for the house, 220 volt 80 amp service for the garage etc... Implied in this, is that you expect it to be “always on”; that is to provide 99.999% uptime or better.

You don’t however specify how your power is to be generated, what wires it will be transported on, what models of generator, transformer, and meter you’ll use etc… You also don’t pay individually for power generation, line fees, maintenance on the generators and lines, insurance, and the salaries of the linemen, and powerplant operators. The total cost to you is paid for as one number, every month.

This is the model we want to implement, at least for certain applications and environments, within the enterprise.

This is a fundamental change in how computing resources are allocated, implemented, administered, and paid for, as outlined here. Rather than a seven step process, with each step paid for and managed individually, the entire process is simplified:

1. Build a flexible utility computing infrastructure to address business needs
2. Identify a business need
3. Determine initial computing capacity requirements
4. Request computing resources be allocated to meet these requirements
5. Pay for computing resources on a periodic (monthly, quarterly, annually) basis

Importantly, the group with a business need, only pays for the capacity they will utilize. They neither pay for nor manage specific infrastructure or systems, nor do they pay or manage specific staff to support that infrastructure. If capacity requirements change, they simply request a change in resources, and their associated costs will change during their next billing period.

Critical to this concept is the abstraction of the end user, from the infrastructure and its support. In the traditional computing model, the end user pays for specific servers, in a specific configuration; and pays for the personnel to support that infrastructure. In the utility computing model, the end user pays for and receives computing capacity, as measured by five criteria:

1. Volume of data
2. Volume of transactions
3. Performance requirements
4. Reliability requirements
5. Specific support requirements (application, platform, revision etc…)

To address these business needs, the service delivery groups must develop, implement, and maintain, a flexible, utility class infrastructure; and structure a service offering, and associated costing model, around the maintenance of that offering, as a utility.

This of course means that all costs, on a total cost accounting basis; must be collected and accounted for, in the service costing model; and that capacity, administration, management, and support levels must all be maintained on an ongoing basis; as is expected of any utility.


The goals of utility computing are straightforward:

• Lower total cost of ownership
• Improve efficiency (of all aspects of information infrastructure and management)
• Improve service delivery speed

These are goals which absolutely can be achieved through the use of the utility computing model; and which we believe are best achieved through this model.


Utility computing offers a number of advantages over the traditional computing model, that will help us to achieve our goals:

• Reduced complexity to the end user
• Reduced cost to the end user
• Reduced cost of management of resources
• Lowered barrier to entry for development and innovation
• Improved efficiency of resource allocation
• Improved resource utilization
• Improved control over architecture and infrastructure
• Improved control over lifecycle management
• Improved control over capacity management
• Improved speed of deployment


There are of course a number of challenges presented by utility computing:

• Current funding and billing models are incompatible with utility computing
• Current capacity management models are incompatible with utility computing
• Current resource allocation models are incompatible with utility computing
• Difficulty in total cost accounting (this is a very significant challenge)
• Changing the mental model of our end users (this is also a very significant challenge)
• Development of a utility class service infrastructure
• Current staffing levels and taskings are not conducive to offering a utility class service


Noted above specifically as challenges, are the development of a utility class service and supporting infrastructure and process. Current models for infrastructure development, deployment, and funding are oriented very strongly to the traditional model.

In order to present a successful utility class service to end users, the following criteria must be met:

1. The service must be highly reliable: Any successful utility class service, must present that service to a reliability standard equivalent to the tier we wish to support. Our recommendation at this time is that we build to a tier 3 standard; but the eventual goal is to build to a tier 2 standard.

2. The service must be highly flexible: Any generalized computing utility class service must be flexible enough to meet all the application needs of our end users. This involves flexibility of processing power, memory, and storage allocation, and a broad base of application support.

Any specific application offered as a utility class service (for example databases or web hosting), must be flexible enough to meet the specific needs of our end users with regard to those applications.

3. The service must be easily, and dynamically scalable: We must develop and implement an infrastructure, and processes, which allow us to allocate whatever resources are necessary to accommodate our end users needs. To this end, we must be able to increase and decrease our end users resource allocations, seamlessly and transparently; and then charge appropriately.

4. The service must be easily supportable, maintainable, and manageable: We must develop and implement an infrastructure to standards which our personnel can support, maintain, and manage.

Concurrently we must develop tools to accomplish those tasks; and maintain the appropriate staffing levels and skill sets to do so.

5. The processes must be in place for end users to utilize this service: In order to present a service to our end users, we must develop a process for the users to obtain, and pay for service; and a concomitant process to use these payments to support and maintain the service infrastructure.


Integral to the concept of utility class computing is abstraction. The basic principle of computing as a utility is abstraction of the end user from the supporting infrastructure. Essentially a utility class service is predicated on the ability to provide continuity or service, and continuity of quality, without regard to the specifics of underlying infrastructure.

In order to manage this continuity, and the complexity of the supporting infrastructure, a deeper level of abstraction is also warranted. To this end, the traditional infrastructure architecture model must change to support utility computing.

In the traditional model, a specific infrastructure solution is architected on an individual basis, for each application and each end user. In utility computing, a generalized model must be developed, so that end users can easily understand, and request appropriate capacity to support their business needs.

The architecture model most appropriate to computing as a utility, can best be thought of as object oriented.

In the object oriented architecture model, certain classes are defined to cover services, applications, systems, storage, and other infrastructure and support requirements. Each class has properties, dependencies, inheritances, and requirements; that define it, and its relationship to other classes. Each class has sub classes within it, which inherit properties from the class itself.

At the highest level, each end user can define their business needs, and then choose the appropriate solution class to meet those needs.

Let’s use a 2 terabyte database with hundreds of thousands of transactions a day, and a tier 2 reliability requirement as an example.

Under the traditional architecture model, the end user would take this capacity request to their internal application support and architecture teams, who would consult with vendors and supporting groups, and define a suggested hardware solution for the database to run on. They would then go to the infrastructure group, and request hardware; the data center group and request space, power, and networking; the database group and request software and database administration support etc…

In the object oriented architecture model, the end user would define their business need, and request capacity from the utility service provider, by selecting an object in the “enterprise class high performance database, tier 2” class, and then selecting 2 terabytes as the database size.

At this point, the end user would be divorced from the architecture and infrastructure. They would be presented with a class of service as requested, pay their monthly (or quarterly or yearly) bill, and not concern themselves with any deeper layer of the architecture or infrastructure.

Of course, underneath that, there is infrastructure to support this.

The “enterprise class high performance database, tier 2” object class that the end user selected, is itself a subclass of “databases” which all have some common properties. Inside the “enterprise class high performance database” object, there are additional subclasses for “tier 1” “tier 2” “tier 3” and “unclassified”, to define reliability requirements. Inside the “Tier 2” subclass, there are specific database applications like “Oracle” and “DB2”. Inside the “Oracle” class there are subclasses of “Sun” “IBM” and “Linux”. Within the “Sun” sub class, there are specific server platforms like “M5000” and “T5220” and so forth.

The end user can select as far down the sub classes as they need to descend for their specific application requirements; or if they don’t have those requirements, they can simply choose “enterprise class high performance database”. Each level of class is clearly defined, with its own properties, and with inheritances from the classes above it.

Classes can also be linked in parallel sets, rather than as subsets. For example, a solution set called “web service middleware” could have parallel object class sets inside it covering “database” “web server” “application server” “ETL” etc… and each of those classes would have its own subclasses.

This model can be abstracted to as high a level as requirements dictate, or to the smallest and most granular level of configuration, because each class can be specifically defined by its own properties, its inheritances, and its relationships with other classes.


Not all applications are suitable for utility class computing. Certain specific requirements (security, compliance and regulation, unusual application support or performance requirements) either rule it out entirely, or present great difficulties. For some applications, it simply may not be the most appropriate solution (for whatever reason).

Conversely, some applications present a far lower barrier to utility computing. Applications with the following characteristics are generally good candidates for utility computing:

• Applications that are easily supported in a virtualized environment
• Applications that are highly parallelized, but do not require isolated environments
• Applications that are explicitly cluster aware, but do not require isolated environments
• Applications that are easily supported by, or explicitly designed for a shared services environment
• Applications that tend to change requirements rapidly (development environments for example)

There exist today in the enterprise, numerous applications which meet, or could meet, one or more of those criteria.

In fact, there are already some successful shared service environments, both at the application, and the server level, which could relatively easily be transitioned to a utility computing model, or which implement a similar service model such as:

1. Shared database services
2. Shared web hosting services
3. Enterprise monitoring services
4. Enterprise authentication services
5. Enterprise Exchange services
6. Virtualization services (VMWare and other virtual server offerings)

In our opinion, the strongest candidates currently for transition to a utility class computing service are the virtual services, and the shared database services; because both infrastructures have been designed from the beginning to be extensible and supportable as a service rather than as individual servers; but the billing and capacity management now in place use the traditional model.

These two models conflict with each other, and in fact reduce the efficiency of operation for both environments, and complicate their management and maintenance. Transitioning them to a utility model would allow the environment to be managed, maintained, and expanded as is most appropriate to the service being provided. It would also assist in selling the shared solution to end users, as it would change their billing models to match the service model, and “mental model” they wish to present.


As utility computing presents significant challenges to employment within the enterprise, we believe it is best to attempt a phased approach to its introduction. This will allow us to develop the skillsets, staffing, processes, and infrastructure necessary to offer a successful utility computing service.


1. Identify strong candidates for transition to a utility computing service.
2. Select a specific “best prospect” candidate
3. Develop preliminary processes for billing, resource provisioning, support, and other needs
4. Conduct preliminary cost benefit, and risk benefit analyses for the transition to a utility computing service
5. Develop preliminary business case for the transition to a utility computing service
6. Develop a transition plan for the application, infrastructure, administration, and support
7. Approach application owners with the pre-prepared materials laying out all factors of transition
8. Develop success criteria, and the metrics to document them
9. Obtain approval, and executive buy-in from the application owners, and their management, to proceed with phase 2


1. Revise all plans and documentation above as necessary
2. Approach end users of the application in question, and discuss their needs
3. Discuss the new model, and transition process with end users
4. Iterate through steps 1-3 as necessary
5. Build supporting infrastructure for the application transition
6. Implement new processes necessary to support application transition
7. Execute the transition plan created in phase 1
8. Evaluate the project against the success criteria using collected metrics
9. Conduct “after action reviews” to learn what has worked, what has not, what can be improved etc… and revise all plans, documentation, policies, procedures, and infrastructure as necessary


1. Iterate through phase 1 and phase 2 for additional applications
2. When a representative critical mass of successful applications has been achieved, develop plans to transition generalized computing services to the utility computing service model
3. Review all applications that have been transitioned to date for lessons learned, and performance against the goals of utility computing
4. Revise all plans and documentation as necessary
5. Execute transition of generalized computing to the utility computing services model


Although the transition to a utility computing based information infrastructure presents significant challenges and up front costs; the efficiencies thus gained in speed of deployment, simplicity of project and infrastructure management, reduction in administrative overhead, and efficiency of infrastructure utilization should lower total cost of ownership across the entire information infrastructure, and provide savings that greatly outweigh those costs and challenges.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How the @$^% did that happen?

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?

Around 113% of the pages on your website contain cussing.
This is 1156% MORE than other websites who took this test.

Hell, I haven't even said motherfucker in weeks... at least on THIS blog.

Apparently I'm the champion cusser of all the folks I read.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Common Mindset

An interview with Jack Weaver

This month, American handgunner had an interview with Jack Weaver, the pioneer of the "Weaver Stance", and one of the co-founders of the IPSC.

They've put up a video of the interview here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Incompleteness issues

So, in my "draft" queue right now, I've got long posts waiting to be finished on the following:
  1. Building your own AR-15
  2. Carbines and truck guns
  3. Backup and disaster recovery
  4. Photography and digital cameras
  5. Flashlights
  6. Microstamping and other backdoor bans
  7. How people train and learn skills
Unfortunately, they're all in the "aaaargh I just can't seem to finish this damn thing" stage at the moment.

The way I like to write my big posts, is I just sort of stick an idea in the back of my head (or it gets shoved there by something or other), and I think about it for a while, and I sorta build it up in my head; until finally it's ready to just flow out onto the page, and it all sort of floods out all at once.

It's how I manage to write 5000 word posts in a couple hours. The framework of the post, and many of the main points and details, are written up in my head already.

In my professional writing, or when I have a real deadline, I work with a little more structure; I generally have outlines, and fill in from the outlines etc... just to make sure I meet my deadlines. It matches my thought process well, but keeps me on track.

When I'm just writing for my blog though, I don't like putting a deadline on things.

The problem with the way I write is, if I don't have a deadline; sometimes I'll stall out in the middle of a big post, and I can't get restarted 'til my brain pulls in and munges more data into the way I want to write it out.

Theres about 20,000 words sitting up there in posts waiting to be finished, including some that I promised for readers weeks and weeks ago.

I'm semi-ashamed to admit, some of them are a year old.

They'll get done eventually.

China Cat Sunflower

So Mel and I have been playing "Rock Band" lately. If you haven't heard of or tried it; it's a game where you play instrument like controllers, and sing along with a rock song playing on your home entertainment system.

The game includes a pad based drum kit, a guitar (that can also be used as a bass), and a microphone for singing along. Future planned expansions are rumored to include a dedicated bass, and a keyboard.

There is a similar earlier game (programmed by the same company but since sold to a larger distributor) called Guitar Hero which is now in it's third sequel and nth expansion; that only has the guitar component, without the bass, drums, or mic.

Honestly, if you HAVEN'T seen it (or even if you have actually), the game looks a bit ridiculous from the outside, but it's spectacularly fun. Most importantly, it's interactive group fun; something missing from a lot of household recreational pursuits these days (and why "Rock Band" is in my view far more fun than "Guitar Hero"; though GH has a better guitar only experience).

Difficulty varies from fairly simple songs, like The Clash - "Should I Stay or Should I go", or The Ramones - "Blitzkreig Bop"; to the ridiculously complex and difficult songs like Deep Purple - "Highway Star", pretty much anything by Metallica, or Iron Maiden - "Run to the Hills" (the most difficult song in the game by the internal difficulty ratings).

One of the basic characteristics of this game (like all rhythm games) is a funny quirk of difficulty; in that some very complex songs are easier to play than others that may not seem as difficult, because they have consistent patterns and rhythms without major key or time signature changes. In effect, you are playing fast and hard, but at least you can settle into the rhythm.

Some songs on the other hand...

So last night we were playing some Grateful Dead. Now, I've always been a fan, though not a massive one like Countertop.

I just have one question about The Dead: How in the hell did they manage to do THAT, while they were that high, that much of the time?

A lot of people seem to think their music is simple, uncomplicated, or unsophisticated. Those people have never tried to play it, or sing it.

The thing about The Dead, is that they were constantly changing things up. Even the simple songs have polyrythms and unusual timings, multiple key changes, multiple time signature changes etc... and that's just their studio stuff. Their extended live jams (the "real" Dead as it were) were loaded with seemingly endless complexities.

Much like Jazz, they took simple themes, and built magnificent things on top of them; while making them sound simple to the gross listener. If you're just singing along to the radio in your car, you might never notice them; but as a singer and a guitar player, the details stand out.

I think this is true of many "cult" artists. They have a reasonable general following who are just hearing the "fm radio" side of things, and don't get what the hype is about. Their true fanatical listener base though are there for the complexities (take a REALLY good listen to Scarlet Begonias some time - oh and Harmonix and MTV, if you're listening, I'd really love that for rock band. Way better than Franklins Tower). Try asking a real Ramones fan just how much you can say with 4 chords in 2 minutes and 45 seconds ("we are a happy family", "The KKK took my baby away", "Sheena is a punk rocker").

Anyway, the game rates the difficulty of the deads songs in the upper middle of its scale; probably because of the relatively slow tempo; but they are wrong. I had a much harder time with singing "Sugar Magnolia", then I ever did with say "Number of the Beast"; and "Sugar Magnolia" is one of the easier Dead songs. Try playing the title song for this post... hell, just try listening to it.

Funny thing that really.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Long and Busy Day

at work, after no sleep last night (well, I managed a 45 minute nap this morning).

Actual content tomorrow.

User Access Control

Thankfully, that function IS disableable.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


There has been some MS bashing in comments here lately, and of course the ever present suggestion that one should simply drop MS entirely and buy a Mac.

Well, I have just one thing against Macs, and that's the price.

I need a new laptop rather badly. My current ThinkPad T43 is an unreliable POS, the backlight has dimmed a huge amount, the power jack is loose and sometimes disconnects the power for no reason, and the battery is down to 20 minutes of life.

So, I've been looking around, pricing new laptops. I'm not looking for a economy priced model here; I want a higher end fully capable model. Not necessarily a desktop replacement, but I need some serious juice, because I run multiple virtual machines on my laptop.

I want a fast processor, a minimum of 2 gigs of RAM with a free dimm slot, or 4gb of ram, a DVD burner, integrated G and preferably N wireless, integrated bluetooth, and discreet graphics with dedicated video memory.

Oh and I'd like them all in an attractive, and hard wearing package that's easy to travel with, and that has an EXCELLENT keyboard; because I type for 8+ hours a day every day.

Both Apple and Lenovo can give me all that, with their MacBook pro, and ThinkPad lines.

I can get all that I want, in both 14" and 15" models, with the ThinkPad T series for between $1350 and $1400; or in the cheaper (but somewhat bulkier) R series, for $1150 or $1200 (theres only a $50 price difference between 14" and 15" in the thinkpads).

Configuring a Mac Book Pro IDENTICALLY, with exactly the same features and specs (actually the IBM has a higher end video card)... $2499

Dropping down to the Mac Book (non pro), you only get a 13" screen and integrated graphics, and yet, the damn thing costs $1899 when configured with 4 gigs.

If I want to go crazy and configure the IBM out to the max, the t series has a very high end graphics option (Nvidia QuadroFX 570), 2.6ghz processor, a higher resolution, finer dot pitch screen, a larger faster hard drive, and a higher capacity battery... all for $2400.

A MacBook pro in maximum configuration, with the same ram and proc, but a smaller hard drive, lower end graphics, and a lower capacity battery... $3200.

... Sooooo I'm paying $800 to $1300 more to Apple for identical (or inferior) hardware for what? The privilege of basking in my aesthetic and cultural superiority? The joy of residing in the Jobsian reality distortion field?

Oh wait now, it's the price of running the "vastly superior" Max OS-X... which is in fact a fancy graphical shell over a MachBSD mashup...

$1300 for MacOSX or... Ubuntu/Kubuntu for free... hmmmm...

No thanks bubba.

Now lets continue the excercise.

Skipping on over to the desktop side of things, the CHEAPEST Mac Pro starts at $2300, with one 2.8ghz quad core xeon, 2 gigs of ram, a 320gig hard drive, and crap graphics.

Moving to a more typical configuration of 2 processors, 4 gigs of RAM, 2x 500 gig hard drives, and decent graphics brings us to $3999.

Building an IDENTICAL box from Newegg (using comparable case and motherboard, and otherwise the exact same pieces Apple is using), gives me about $1900 for the lower end configuration; and $3100 for the higher end model.

Of course both of those are with no OS, so adding $150 for the MS tax bumps that a bit; but it still doesn't bring it up to pricing parity; at $500 and $900 pre-os difference respectively. Moreover, you can always run Linux for free.

And of course as always, the higher you upgrade an Apple, the more disproportionate the difference becomes; because unlike other vendors that charge 20% or so over retail, Apple charges several times (as in 2x to 4x) the full retail price of the components to upgrade. They justify it by saying their components are certified, tested, and warranted to work with Apples hardware and software; but the identical part numbers at normal retail prices are guaranteed to work with Windows too (to be fair, the other major OEM vendors do this as well, especially when you add the word "workstation" to anything; they just don't do it as badly as Apple does).

If I want to go to a 16gb dual video card configuration with 4 hard drives, and maxed processors, the Mac Pro comes in at just under $10k. Doing the same with at Newegg brings me to just under $5k.

Now remember, we're not talking about Macs having any special hardware anymore. They run the same chipsets, same processors, same memory, and same drives, as comparable machines running Windows and Linux. The only differentiators are the attractive industrial design, and MacOS.

I love Macs, I really do. They're well made, beautiful, and have excellent customer support. The operating system as exists today is very well designed (though not always as well executed), and the user environment is quite good.

Unfortunately, they're also slapping some new body panels, leather seats, and a fresh coat of paint on an Oldsmobile; and trying to charge me Mercedes prices for it.

Once again I say, no thanks Bubba... I mean Steve.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Update on VIsta SP1 install

Well, I installed Vista SP1 on my Quad box (my quad core gaming/media workstation) yesterday, and have been running it for a day.

So far, no exorcism required.

THe intitial install took a ridiculous amount of time; first running a pre-install for over 30 minutes, then taking 20 minutes during shutdown "installing updates". On reboot I got a black screen for over 20 minutes as well, as the system was continuing to install updates without any status indication; so long in fact that my monitors went to sleep.

The only reason I knew things weren't frozen up was because my num lock and caps lock keys were still responsive (though they didn't wake up my monitors), and because my hard drive activity light was still blinking away furiously (shame on some modern case designers for eliminating this very useful status light on many cases.

THen, after the system finished its silent updates and became responsive, it installed several more updates before bringing me to a login screen.

This in fact is where I encountered my only obvious problem with the install; my video settings had been screwed up. I run a dual head setup with two monitors that run a different resolutions. For some reason, the ordering of the dislays had changed, and the settings for each had been reversed (its on an EVGA branded Nvidia 8600gts with the latest forceware drivers) .

After I logged in, the system once again started downloading and updating; and finally it asked me to reboot again, after running a final windows update.

All told, I'd guess the process took 60 minutes. I think the long period of time blanked out with no status indication is a serious problem, because many users will restart their systems, possibly several times, and may end up in an inconsistent or corrupted state. THe video driver, I'll chalk it up to inconsistencies with the system and give it a pass.

Now, I've been running for over 24 hours, doing my normal tasks; mostly iTunes and windows media center, plus bit torrent, some transcoding, and media serving to my TiVO and PS3. I also ran a full system backup, and did some large file copies across the network.

I can report that there is indeed a significant speedup in network file copies, ad local disk to disk copies; especially when multiple simultaneous copy jobs are running. I couldn't quantify it without further tests, but the difference was very significant.

Unfortunately, I've also noted both my boot time, and my memory usage went up significantly.

The boot time issue is quite irritating; as it has added at least 20 seconds to my boot cycle. I have no idea what it's doing, because there is minimal hard disk activity during this extra 20 seconds, nor any on screen status indication.

The memory issue though, could be more serious. Initially, I was alarmed, because my physical memory utilization went from 650-700mb to 1,250mb. I then went through my process list, and discovered that more servicehost processes were running than usual, and they had large memory allocations. It turns out, SP2 re-enables a number of unnecessary services that I had set to manual, or disabled.

Once I killed those services however, the memory utilization still went up from 700mb to 925mb. I've left the system running at idle with the normal background process going, and that utilization has crept up to 1.1 gigs in six hours (I have 3 gigs of memory installed, and a 4gb static page file set).

This is somewhat worrisome; especially as there was no memory leak evident prior to the SP1 install.

I'm just running a test right now. I've got 1.09 gigs allocated as I type this, and 32 hours uptime. I'm going to reboot, and see if the memory utilization drops after the reboot, and restarting all my background processes....

...And yes, it did, all the way down to 750mb.


Well, it seems obvious that theres a memory leak; I'll just have to watch out and see how bad it is. Otherwise, I'm not happy about the increased boot time, and curious about it's cause, but I can live with it; and I'm very happy about the file copy times, because that has bee a major issue in my environment.

UPDATE: 8 hours of absolutely no activity whatsoever, just idling (and nothing scheduled in the background, and no serving media or background file transfers), and the memory usage has gone from 750 to 925.

Although there are other possible explanations, it seems more and more likely that there is a relatively slow memory leak here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Your Favorite Rock Albums of All Time

Time once again for playing with musical lists.

It seems to me, that as an art form, "the album" has largely died. In the 60s, through the 80s... and especially in the somewhat overindulgent 70s; the Album was considered the real expression of a recording artists art. Now, in this age of digital downloads, the importance of the album has largely disappeared.

Perhaps that's a good thing, perhaps it's a shame. I love being able to skip over the filler crap that gets loaded onto most albums; but I can't help but feel that we've also lost something in this.

So, the rules this time are fairly simple. List your favorite 30 rock albums. I started out with over 200, but decided to cut it down for manageability.


Straight up "Rock" only, no metal, no folk, no R&B, no soul, no rockabilly, no punk (which is the anti-rock), but any genre of pure rock is acceptable. So for example, hard rock is OK.

So long as you stay within the genre, you can choose any artist, any group, any time period with one proviso, the album must be at least one year old.

Importantly, this is a judgment of the ENTIRE album in question, all tracks. If it's got more than one or two stinkers, the rest better be so spectacular as to completely wipe them off the blackboard.

Also, I know it's somewhat limiting, but lets only include a maximum of four albums per individual artist please. I realize some of you would love to include every Yes album, but lets get some variety here folks. I can't think of any band except maybe the Beatles, where you can say more than 4 of their albums really an truly belong in anyones top 30 list.

Oh and it should be obvious here, no studio compilation albums, or live albums that are not primarily original material; otherwise the list would be nothing but greatest hits, and live albums.

I'll let you off the hook on one thing, you don't need to put them in order if you don't want to. Lord knows I wont.


Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon
Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick, Aqualung
The Who - Whos Next (the extended release)
The Beatles - Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road
Led Zeppelin - II, IV
Guns 'n' Roses - Appetite for destruction
Queen - A kind of magic
Jimi Hendrix - Electric ladyland
Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Cream - Disraeli gears, Fresh Cream, Wheels of Fire
Deep Purple - Machine Head
Def Leppard - Pyromania
The Grateful Dead - Workingmans Dead, American Beauty
Van Halen - Van Halen
Dream Theater - A Change of Seasons
Alice in Chains - Dirt
Pearl Jam - Ten
The Allman Brothers Band - Eat a Peach
Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Pronounced Lynyrd Skynyrd, Second Helping
Bob DYlan - Highway 61 Revisited

Please note, this list isn't meant to be my favorite in any particular genre of rock; for example I like hard rock and classic rock more than progressive rock, so only a few progressive albums made it on my top 50. If for example I were doing my top ten prog rock albums, it would look a little different.

Also note, there are some conspicuous absences here in terms of bands and artists that I absolutely love; because this is about great albums, not necessarily great bands. Some of my absolute favorite bands never released albums that I would listen to every track from beginning to end. Elvis never had an album that wasn't half crap. I love a lot of Stones songs, but I could never listen to an entire Stones album all the way through without skipping a single track. I really love Yes, but they haven't made an album that isn't ruined for me by some stupid thing. Same for Rush. Although I included every Cream studio album, Eric Clapton has never made a solo album that I love.

...In fact, though I really love Chuck Berry, little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis, there isn't a single rock and roll album from the 50s that I think is great all the way through. Also, there are rarely any albums from the 80s, or 90s... and I don't think any from later than the 90s, in that list. It's not that I dislike newer or older music, but that as I said, I think the art of the album really peaked fomr the late 60s through the earl 80s, and is now essentially gone.

Oh and some of my absolute favorite songs aren't on "great" albums. My favorite dead song is "Scarlet Begonias", but "Mars Hotel" isn't that great an album. My favorite Deep Purple song "Perfect Strangers" is on an album I hate etc... etc...

One more things...

BONUS ROUND: Desert Island Rock Albums

I won't make you choose a favorite, but for fun, pick your five "desert island" rock albums. You know, the five you would pick if you had to be stuck on a desert island the rest of you life

1. The Who - Who's Next
2. Guns 'n' Roses - Appetite for Destruction
3. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
4. Led Zeppelin -Led Zeppelin IV
5. Jethro Tull - Aqualung

Those five albums right there... I could get by. I should note that I have owned all of these albums in some form or another since I was a kid. Those five are basically the only rock albums (other than compilations) I would actually repeatedly listen to, from 1987 (when Appetite came out) til about 1991 (when Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana all got slotted in to the rotation). There are, I think, better albums in my larger list above, but none that have more meaning to me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pray for my computer

For I am installing Vista SP1...

Sufficiently Advanced

Arthur C. Clarke has attained a state indistinguishable from magic.

I won't say I'm sorry to see him go; because frankly, at 90 years old he's earned the rest.

"The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible."
--Clarkes second law

Oral Arguments on Heller... A mixed bag

I watched/listened to the oral arguments in DC vs. Heller this morning, and in my view (solely based on my knowledge of the justices, and the questions and arguments raised today; which is always iffy) we’re looking at a mixed bag.

Well, first the good news. It seems clear that the entirety of the court, even Souter, Breyer, and Ginsburg; agree that the second amendment protects a pre-existing individual right right to keep and bear arms.

The rest of the question gets a bit thornier however.

Clearly, the position of the courts is, and has always been; that all rights protected by the constitution are, under some circumstances, subject to regulation or restriction. I can for example say whatever I want in the privacy of my home, or make any criticism of the government that I want, but I cannot publish malicious lies about someone. Preventing libel, is a reasonable restriction on the first amendment, and is a compelling interest of the state.

Given this historical and legal basis, folks who say “What part of ‘Shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand” are just being silly (and often offensive, threatening, etc… etc…).

At this point, it seems clear that all of the justices believe that some regulation is reasonably allowed under the second amendment. The question then devolves down to “what is a reasonable restriction”… therein lies the rub.

DC presented the position that not only was there not an individual right; but that even if there were, that local legislatures had nearly unlimited power to regulate such rights (in fact, their lawyer suggest that they had plenary authority, a position flatly rejected by the court).

Walter Dellenger, who argued the case for DC, was absolutely DESTROYED by all the justices during questioning. Even the liberal justices tore him to pieces. It was clear he was disingenuous in his arguments, and presented no clear or coherent logic, justification, or defense of their positions. Even Ginsburg and Breyer, who nominally support strict regulation of firearms, seemed unswayed and unimpressed.

Paul Clement, the Solicitor general of the U.S., argued a “middle road” standard; presenting very strong arguments for the individual right position, which seemed to impress the justices. He was much weaker on his other contention however that reasonable restriction and a broad standard of review were necessary to protect the public interest in regulating firearms; specifically citing machine guns and “plastic guns designed to get through metal detectors” (a fantasy commonly used by gun banners to scare people into agreeing to bans in principle).

Alan Gura, the chief council for Heller, was very strong on presenting the individual rights position; but was very weak and unfocused in his arguments on the position of what constitutes reasonable regulation, and why. I think he was expecting most of the challenge to come from the “individual rights” argument, and not as much from the ‘reasonable regulation” argument. Though he was certainly prepared with facts and citations (his knowledge of 300+ year old statutes and precedent in both American and English common law was impressive), his arguments lacked coherent structure or flow.

For example, Justice Breyer repeatedly asked questions to the effect of “do the 80,000 deaths per year by handguns in the united states constitute a basis for reasonable regulation, or can they be considered in crafting such regulation?”. Were Gura prepared to argue the basis of reasonable regulation, his response should have been something along the lines of “We contend that crime rates are neither affected by, nor relevant to, the lawful possession and use of arms; and that regulation and restriction of the use of arms by law abiding citizens does not serve the compelling interest of the state in preserving public safety”. Instead he made vague arguments about reasonable standards of review etc… etc…

Dellenger in fact seized on this waffling about standards, to suggest during his rebuttal that if the court specified a strict standard of review (something they seemed inclined towards), that it would result in hundreds of judges around the country determining what was and was not protected by the second amendment, on an individual case by case basis.

So, as I said, a mixed bag.

Kennedy, Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and Thomas all clearly believe (both from questioning in this case, and in previous opinions and writing) in a strongly protected INDIVIDUAL right to self defense, and to keep and bear arms. It also seems clear that they support a strict standard of review for legislation; and a very limited scope for legitimate regulation.

Surprisingly, it also seems that Souter and Ginsburg agree that there is a right to self defense, AND that there should be a strict standard of review; however it seems they believe in a broader scope for legitimate regulation.

Stevens and Breyer, although they both seem to believe there IS an individual right, also seem to believe that very strong regulations or perhaps bans, are acceptable.

My prediction… that’s a tough one…

I think that we will see an absolute affirmation of the individual right to keep and bear arms, and that this right includes explicitly the right to self defense. In fact I think we may see some language to the effect of “for all lawful purposes, including hunting, sporting uses, and self defense”.

I also think we will see a strict standard for review, and application of that standard to the entire United States, including the states individually (under the 14th amendment and equal protection clause), rather than limiting the scope to D.C. or to the federal government only.

What I really have no prediction on, is what standard of “reasonable regulation” they might promote.

What seems clear, is that the entire court believes that US V. Miller (one of the few cases directly addressing the second amendment), and the standards it presents, are deficient. Scalia, Alito, Breyer, and Ginsburg all made comments to that effect. What that means for the future though… I think its anyones guess really.

I think we have a good shot at striking down all total bans on any gun, or even any class of gun, excepting perhaps machine guns and destructive devices. I believe they may explicitly approve of some licensing provisions provided that the licensing standard is non discriminatory. I believe that they would explicitly approve of regulations that restricted the rights of felons and minors.

I have no real read though on what their take is on the legitimacy of state and local regulations, such as trigger lock requirements, ammo bans, safe storage requirements, etc… I’m sure they will rule that state and local regulation are acceptable, but what standard of “reasonable regulation” will apply… who knows?

As it is though, under any possible construal of “reasonable regulation”; I would expect that the majority of the gun laws in California, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and Hawaii; would be in whole or in part, struck down.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Big Irish Ballad

As I have mentioned here before, one of my favorite musicians, singers and songwriters is Joe Bethancourt. He's also a shooter, a regular participant in the SASS (he shoots as Sam Hain), and amazingly enough, a reader of mine.

Joe left a comment on my "Irish in America" post, with a link to this wonderful piece of work:

Great fun if you're a fan of (or you loathe) traditional Irish music; or if you appreciate satire in musical form.

Oh and check out Joe if he's coming to your area; or if you have any appreciation for folk, traditional country, humor, the banjo, and filk music; at White Tree Productions.

If there was any justice in this world, Joe would be thought of along side Earl Scruggs, J.D. Crowe, Don Reno, and Ralph Stanley, as one of the best Banjoists of all time

John Adams

Let all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil.

Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit of the British constitution; read the histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome; set before us the conduct of our own British ancestors, who have defended for us the inherent rights of mankind against foreign and domestic tyrants and usurpers, against arbitrary kings and cruel priests, in short, against the gates of earth and hell.

Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls the views and ends of our own more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary, inhospitable wilderness.

Let us examine into the nature of that power, and the cruelty of that oppression, which drove them from their homes. Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings, — the hunger, the nakedness, the cold, which they patiently endured, — the severe labors of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions, amidst dangers from wild beasts and savage men, before they had time or money or materials for commerce. Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships with patience and resignation.

Let us recollect it was liberty, the hope of liberty for themselves and us and ours, which conquered all discouragements, dangers, and trials. In such researches as these, let us all in our several departments cheerfully engage, — but especially the proper patrons and supporters of law, learning, and religion!

Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear the danger of thralldom to our consciences from ignorance, extreme poverty, and dependence, in short, from civil and political slavery. Let us see delineated before us the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God, — that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness, — and that God Almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good-will to man!

Let the bar proclaim, "the laws, the rights, the generous plan of power" delivered down from remote antiquity, — inform the world of the mighty struggles and numberless sacrifices made by our ancestors in defense of freedom.

Let it be known, that British liberties are not the grants of princes or parliaments, but original rights, conditions of original contracts, coequal with prerogative, and coeval with government; that many of our rights are inherent and essential, agreed on as maxims, and established as preliminaries, even before a parliament existed. Let them search for the foundations of British laws and government in the frame of human nature, in the constitution of the intellectual and moral world.
--John Adams,
"A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law", Boston Gazette, 1765

The Irish in America

A couple of things about the Irish, in America and out:
  1. We don't punch people for not wearing green, but wearing orange today IS profoundly offensive to about 5 million people (and only half of them live in Ireland); though most of them don't make a big deal about it... Unless you live in Boston, or in the Shankill road and Falls Road (Belfast), in which case you deserve the beating you are going to receive for being such a muppet.

  2. Between a quarter and half of those people don't drink anything but sacramental wine.

  3. Potatoes ARE still a big part of the Irish diet, a part of most every meal, but most of the potatoes arent actually grown in Ireland

  4. We don't eat corned beef and cabbage. Thats a welsh thing that became associated with the Irish in America, because corned beef lasted longer before going off, and was cheaper than high quality beef. The Irish in America (and in Ireland) were historically pretty poor, they ate whatever they could.

  5. We do eat boiled bacon or boiled pork shoulder and cabbage; also potatoes and parsnips or turnips. Or at least the Irish as a whole do, I hate cabbage, and I hate turnips.

  6. Yes, in general Irish food sucks. The Irish have this amazing ability to take wonderful fresh meat, cheese, and produce bland, mushy, greasy, flavorless crap. Irish breads and baked good on the other hand, are fucking incredible.

  7. Ireland is a VERY small country. It's about the same size as Indiana, and of the 4 million or so people living there, more than half live within 30 miles of Dublin. Guess what though; Half of all Irish born live outside of Ireland. We are as much a diaspora as jews.

  8. Yes, just about everyone in Ireland say "fuck" just about all the time. Little grannies say fuck, 9 year olds say fuck, priests say fuck (hell it was the central joke of "Father Ted"). Fuck is like fucking punctuation. Also fucking popular are shite and arse.

  9. Guinness sucks everywhere but Ireland. The further away you get from Dublin, the worse it is. Guinness doesn't travel well. Everywhere else in the world Guinness is pasteurized, has preservatives added, and is nitrogen boosted. It's just not on.

  10. Brilliant!

Being Irish (in America)

(reprinted from an email) These are generally true for me, though I'm 6'2", I DO sing very well, my sisters are 10 years younger than me (two step sisters, Patricia and Kirsten), and I don't play golf, good OR bad (but the rest of my family does).

I've highlighted those especially relevant ones in red
Being Irish means...
  • you will never play professional basketball
  • you swear very well
  • at least one of your cousins holds political office
  • you think you sing very well
  • you have no idea how to make a long story short
  • you are very good at playing a lot of very bad golf
  • there isn't a huge difference between losing your temper and killing someone
  • much of your food was boiled
  • you have never hit your head on the ceiling
  • you spent a good portion of your childhood kneeling
  • you're strangely poetic after a few beers
  • you're poetic a lot
  • you will be punched for no good reason...a lot
  • some punches directed at you are legacies from past generations
  • your sister will punch you because your brother punched her
  • many of your sisters are Catherine, Elizabeth or Mary...and one is Mary Catherine Elizabeth (no but all of those are my cousins)
  • someone in your family is incredibly cheap
  • it is more than likely you
  • you don't know the words but that doesn't stop you from singing
  • you can't wait for the other guy to stop talking so you can start talking
  • "Irish Stew" is the euphemism for "boiled leftovers from the fridge"
  • you're not nearly as funny as you think you are, but what you lack in talent, you make up for in frequency
  • there wasn't a huge difference between your last wake and your last kegger party
  • you are, or know someone, named "Murph"
  • if you don't know Murph, then you know "Mac" (both)
  • if you don't know Murph or Mac, then you know "Sully" (all three)
  • you'll probably also know Sully McMurphy (yup)
  • you are genetically incapable of keeping a secret
  • your parents were on a first name basis with everyone at the local emergency room
The town I grew up in is according to the census bureau the most Irish and most catholic town in America. I went to my high school reunion, and yeah Rory, Sully, Murph, Mick, Maureen, Maeve... Connoly, Flannagan, Flaherty, Doherty, Murphy, Sullivan, Colleary, Hannigan, Gallagher...

My family? Forget about it. Hell I have aunts Mary, Catherine, Alice, Maureen, Susan, Allison, and Helen, and uncles Robert, Patrick, John, Brian, Thomas and David.

Yes, every last one of them is named after a saint (including myself, and my father who I am named after, and his father who we are both named after), if you count the ones only the Irish count.

Hell, I have more than 10 cousins (counting first and second) and an uncle named Patrick (and lord knows how many great uncles).

Patrick Day 2008

Yes, I know the church moves St. Patricks day if it occurs during holy week (which I think is silly, but it's the church) and that by church calendar it was last week.

They also de-canonized St. Christopher; and I feel the same way about both actions. Today is Patrick day.

I have repeated my basic statements on this day for the last few years, and since it's still what I want people to know about today, and what I want to say about today; I see no reason to change the practice this year.

Again repeating the tradition of announcing our meal, todays meal is going to be mustard and thyme glazed roast corned beef, with fresh sweet corn, mashed potatoes, and fresh home made soda bread.

I love my country and my country
my states and my counties
of purple mountains and four green fields
of pigskin and patriot games
of Stars and stripes and green and white
of micks and taigs
of my mother and my father
One world, and another

I am a genuine Irish American; so much as anyone can be said to be so.

Not some guy who's grandmother on my mothers fathers side stopped in limerick on the way over from France; I’m born to an Irish father and American mother, lived in Ireland for years, and moved there permanently after I got out of the AF. I only came back to the U.S. a couple years ago because my mom was sick (still is, but she's stable).

Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick.

While in theory Ireland’s most important holiday is St. Patricks day; in Ireland, the only people "celebrating" Patrick day (it's usually not called St. Patricks day) with wild partying, are the tourists (well... and the college students, but they'll celebrate the opening of a door with wild partying so...). Everyone else is home relaxing for the day off; or if they're still pious, off in church.

To Americans, it's a drunkards day, but to the Irish.. or at least to those who still give a damn about Ireland, and what it means to be Irish; its significance is something like independence day, memorial day, and thanksgiving combined; though that doesn't exactly capture it. It's a religious holiday AND a national holiday, and one of the strongest worldwide symbols of Ireland there is.

For a long time it was illegal to celebrate Patrick day; and the conspicuous display of green on this day could see one arrested. It was considered raising rebellion against the crown... something my family has a long history of really (look it up, fascinating stuff).

The celebration of this day is a very strong reminder to those who care about being Irish, what that means today, and what it has meant for the past 600 years.

Lest anyone think by these statements that I'm a supporter of the IRA, let me just say ohh ah FUCK THE RA. It isn't 1921 anymore, and those bastards have done more damage in the last 30 years than I can describe.

What most don't realize, or even even hear of; is that the IRA (and Sinn Fein the theoretical peaceful political component) are a Marxist organization. Yes they want a united Ireland; but they want it to be a socialist workers paradise like Cuba.

Yeah I think you all know how I feel about that.

Of course the other thing most don't know is, that since the late '80s most of the violence has been initiated on the protestant side.

The so called loyalists, and "protective associations" and other pathetic excuses for extortion gangs look at sectarianism as an ideal cover for their real goal; the control of the criminal underground of Northern Ireland.

If you want to know what someones opinion of it is, you don't need ask; just listen to what they call it.

If it's "The Cause", then they'll be singing "Boys of the Old Brigade" tonight. "The Struggle" is for those who march in orange down the Shankill road. The rest of us just call it "the troubles", and wish the lot of them to hell where they belong.

The worst part? At this point, The Irish don't want the north, and neither do the British. It's a gigantic welfare drag, with 20% or more unemployment, massive dole roles, and infrastructure costs that can't reasonably be borne... overall just a giant mess.

If you held a vote in all of Ireland today whether to unify the country, maybe half of the northerners would say yes, and probably three quarters of those in the republic would say HELL NO WE DON'T WANT YA.

Which is a damn shame, because the Irish SHOULD be one nation, and one people. Even the English seem to accept that now; they just can't figure out how to extricate themselves from the situation while still doing right by her majesties subjects in the north counties AND saving face for the last 87 years (some would say the last 839 years) of cockups.

So I think you can see why on this day, I find the singing of "rebel" songs to be a bit angering.

Now in honor of all the phony Irish assholes, and real Irish scumbags singing "The Men Behind the Wire" and "The boys of the old Brigade" in bars all over Ireland, Boston, New York, and Chicago...


The Patriot Game

Written by Dominic Behan following the death of 19-year-old Fergal O'Hanlon
during an IRA attack on Brookeborough barracks in 1957

Come all you young rebels, and list while I sing,
For the love of one's country is a terrible thing.
It banishes fear with the speed of a flame,
And it makes us all part of the patriot game.

My name is O'Hanlon, and I'm just gone sixteen.
My home is in Monaghan, where I was weaned.,
I learned all my life cruel England to blame,
And so I'm a part of the patriot game.

It's barely two years since I wandered away
With the local battalion of the bold IRA,
I'd read of our heroes, and I wanted the same
To play out my part in the patriot game.

This island of ours has for long been half free.
Six counties are under John Bull's tyranny.
So I gave up my Bible, to drill and to train
To play my own part in the patriot game.

And now as I lie here, my body all holes
I think of those traitors who bargained and sold.
I wish that my rifle had given the same
To those quislings who sold out the patriot game.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Harbinger of doom...

Hearing the words... "From executive producer Ashton Kutcher" on network television.

Makes me wish for a video camera and some popcorn

On Wednesday, March 19, POG will be holding a torch-lit march to a modern day castle of abominations—our local military recruiting station. If the station remains open, we intend to evict it and everything inside of it, occupy the location, and transform it into something useful for the community. We'll also be bringing a movable cage in which to confine military recruiters until they no longer pose a danger to our friends and neighbors.
"If the station remains open, we intend to evict it and everything inside it, occupy the location..."


Oh lord, that's the funniest thing I've heard all week. I'd just love to be there with my popcorn and watch while the hippies "Occupy" a Marines duty station. And confining them in a cage?

Damn, I just can't stop giggling.

Too bad the joke wasn't funny

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Trufan Hypothesis

I've mentioned before that I used to write technical articles for several magazines, as well as commercial work for some technical publishers (internal reports, textbook chapters, study guides that sort of thing); but I quit because after the dot bomb, the rates fell through the floor.

Basically, it wasn't worth the time and effort to write for the magazines any more, at $0.10 or $0.12 a word; whereas at $0.35 and up it was a useful sideline.

I don't think I've mentioned on the blog, that I've also written some fiction; but I've never dedicated much effort to it, because I didn't like the math. So, though I have occasionally written bits and pieces that "needed" to come out; I've never set down and made any effort to write fiction on a commercial or professional basis.

I know, if you're a "real" writer, you just HAVE to write; and I SHOULD feel that way about my fiction... but honestly, I scratch that itch through the blog.

I just don't have the motivation to put up with the rejection, the bullshit, the irritation etc... to make my fiction successful; and that's presuming it's even good enough to be successful in the open market. Of course, I think it IS (or could be if I put the effort in) good enough, but I'm biased.

Recently, former Wired magazine editor Kevin Kelly, wrote a piece on his own blog; that aimed to shake up the way people think about the numbers needed to be a successful producer of creative content (author, writer, singer, whatever).

In his piece, "1,000 true fans", Kelly suggests rather than the conventional assumption that to be successful, you need to build a fan base of 100,000 people; perhaps what you really need is "1,000 true fans" who are willing to spend $100 on your output every year. From that solid and steady base, you can derive a reasonable income from your creative output.

This of course has caused a huge uproar in the b-list and semi-pro genre writing community (and not a little furor in the almost-A list - or rather the a-list of the SF/F genre. I was referred to it by Scalzi). In part, because most creators don't make much money off their output; but more so, because most people can see themselves as able to build a 1000 strong "truefan" fan base, rather than the conventional 100,000 fan assumption.

I see this from both sides. I'm both a consumer of creative output (and certainly a true fan of some creators), and a writer who has decided that pursuing commercialization of my output isn't worth my time and efforts.

Now, first, addressing the basis of the trufan concept; is that a viable assumption just from a raw numbers perspective?

I suppose that's really a two part question: Is it realistic, and if realistic, is it viable.

... Well... I personally certainly spend more than $100 each per year on the output of several different creators, in music, books, and movies; but I expect that their actual percentage of return from my expenditures is quite low.

From what I understand about the industries in question, I would guess each individual creator gets far less than 20% of the gross in fact; and perhaps as little as 5% (depending on the particular medium).

Of course, I’m also an “unusual” individual, in the sense that I earn in the top 7% of income in the us (not bad for a free lunch kid eh?) ; and that I am a much more avid consumer of creative output than most.

The total potential marketplace of individuals who have the income necessary to be a viable trufan under this proposal is therefore relatively small. I'd estimate no more than 10% of the American population has both the disposable income, and the leisure time required.

But hey, relatively small compared to 300 million is still pretty good. Lets say the potential pool is 30 million.

Of that, let's say 10% are interested in your genre, or about 3 million potential fans. Of that, then you need to actually attract the fans; and if you're lucky enough to get 10% of your genre fans, as specifically fans of your work... well you're doing a lot better than most.

But hey, that's still 300,000 potential fans.

Now, you need to convert your fanbase, to PAYING fanbase; and this is where things become interesting. Conversion rates in this business are generally pretty bad.

Let's get down to realworld cases; and talk about two authors, one fiction, one non; who currently actively work to monetize their fanbase.

Jerry Pournelle is one of the greatest hard SF writers of all time; who also produces output regularly on his own web site. Leo Laporte is a tech/geek/news writer, and radio and television presenter. Both of them offer a fan subscription service at $2-$4 a month.

Both Jerry and Leo (two people whose output couldn’t be more different, and still relate to a similar “geek” audience) estimate 2-4% of their regular fan base, contribute $2-$4 a month. That’s a pretty broad range of fame, and a pretty broad range of fan base; yet they both see approximately the same conversion percentage (though of course Pournelles absolute numbers are higher).

In this case, I don’t think it would just be the trufan, who donates that $2 - $4 a month (that in fact the trufans are a much smaller subset of those who donate); though, I would expect that any trufan who was capable of spending $100 per annum on a creators output would certainly be among the subscribers. It’s just a wild guess (but it's one shared with other folks in the business) that somewhere between 1/2 and 1/4 of the subscriber base would be the trufans described above.

So, going back to our absolute number of 300,000 potential fans, lets presume a 4% conversion rate into fans who are actually willing to pay us anything; and it works out to 12,000 potential paying fans.

That's not bad.

Say 1/4 of those are willing to pay us $100 a year; hell, that's $300,000.

So maybe that 1000 fan at $100 model is achievable.

But even if it's achievable, is it viable?

As I said above, $100 per fan for 1000 fans through normal distribution channels, is going to produce a reasonable gross revenue; but the net realized for the creator is going to be hugely smaller than that.

Given the vagaries of the various creative businesses, net margins on retail revenue runs anywhere from around 20% for the highest paid authors, to under 1% for most actors, directors etc... with average writers, artists, and recording artists somewhere on the low side of 5% to 10%.

Suddenly, $100,000, or even the maximum potential listed above of $300,000 instead becomes anywhere from $1000 to at most $60,000 annually.

...and that's for someone who's wildly successful.

Remember where I said that the numbers just made it not worth it to me? Those were the numbers I was talking about.

I know (at least over the internet) a lot of professional writers (enough to be confident that my experience is statistically relevant) ; and of those who exclusively live off their writing, only a couple of them make over $100,000 a year.

In fact, only a couple of them make much more than $30,000 a year; and these are people who live in Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, where $30k a year puts you around the poverty line.

So I have to say, I think the Trufan hypothesis is certainly realistic, but non-viable.

I think a more viable option is the subscription model as praticed by both Laporte and Pournelle (and not incidentally a fair number of other successful authors, writers, and other creators who work online a lot).

No, it’s not $100 from each fan; but because it’s a direct revenue stream, the creator probably sees a hell of a lot more out of it ($25-$50 a year per fan) than they would if those same fans were purchasing $100 of their output through normal retail distribution channels.

Not only that, but by making the contribution a very small, but recurring cost, it both lowers the barrier for fans who wish to contribute (thus expanding the potential paying fanbase), and provides relatively predictable revenue.

So don’t give me 1000 truefans who buy everything I put into a store to the tune of $100 a year (well... DO give me those and I'll be thrilled, but don't JUST give me those). Give me 3000 fans who will subscribe to my website, and my podcast, for $2 a month. I think it's both easier to achieve, and that I'd get more out of it.