I’m glad to know…

…”that I’m not the only one who can no longer distinguish whether I’m being honest or cynical”:http://missourilovescompany.blogspot.com/2004/08/irony-flavored-goodness.html.

I think I actually startled one of the people I’m working with when I suggested that you would no longer be surprised or disappointed by people if you just adopted the simple philosophy of, “People are no damn good.”

Given what people know about me…

…it’s probably not much of a suprise to hear me say that the age difference doesn’t matter a bit and if that whole Cameron Crowe thing doesn’t work out, Nancy, I encourage you to give me a call.

Which is an especially obtuse way of saying that I just saw some CMT (of all places) thing with Heart on it (and Wynona, so I guess that’s the connection), and Nancy Wilson is just as hot as she was when I had a crush on her when I was, at a guess, 8.

And she plays guitar, too. Hot, I tell you, hot, hot, hot.

My, my.

I just don’t know. I mean, I really have no clue at all. No, that’s not true. I have lots of clues, and I have theories and ideas, and they all end up falling apart when I try to articulate them.

Now, I should note that I probably missed the first twenty minutes of the movie, but I’m not unfamiliar with what happens at the beginning, so I don’t feel like I’m missing the key ingredient that makes it all work.

I also don’t feel like I can say anything substantial without running real risk of ruining it for others, although I’m not sure exalcty how that would work since I don’t know that I believe anyone could really come up with a straight reading of this movie.

The fact is, Donnie Darko probably doesn’t stand up to specific, detailed dissection, any more than, say, many Phillip K. Dick novels do–for instance, Martian Time Slip, which is brings somewhat to mind (it might bring it more to mind if I remembered it better, but I’ve only read it once and, well, it’s pretty convoluted.

But, like the best of Dick’s work, even when it doesn’t stand up to careful logical analysis, even when it just doesn’t quite work, it’s amazing to watch. It’s wonderful to see someone try that hard even if they fail spectacularly. And I don’t think Donnie Darko fails spectacularly, though I do think it fails in some respects–I can’t imagine how it could not.

I will say that it has one moment in it that I found gut-wrenching; I don’t know why, but there are occasionaly scenes in movies that make me physically ill. I often feel stupid about it, but there’s something in their simple random reality that my mind rebels against.

The car crash in the otherwise mundane Patriot Games is one (in part, I suspect, because I had, a short time before, been in a fairly violent crash, even if I came out unharmed). The final scene in The Piano between Holly Hunter and Sam O’Neill is another. I can’t think of any others off-hand, but I suspect you’ll recognize the scene I’m thinking of in Donnie Darko when you see it.

Of course, it’s now creeping up on Midnight, and I’ve got work to do tomorrow, so I think I’m gonna check out now. Perhaps I’ll type up some “Where’s Mike been” updates at the coffee shop in the morning.

I guess it’s a remix…

I’m sitting here at the coffee shop listening to a CD that appears to heavily feature remixes of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. The one that’s on now is only okay, but there was an earlier one that was, uh, I think the current parlance is slammin’, though at my age I can only try to use such words with a healthy leavning of irony, as well as the knowledge that I might be mistaken in its currency, especially since I remember it from a 17-year-old Prince track…

Of course, the bomb was current a few years ago and first showed up on Parliament’s Mothership connect in 1976, so what the hell do I know?

So much for market efficiency

From Paul Krugman today:

The fact is that the mainly private U.S. health care system spends far more than the mainly public health care systems of other advanced countries, but gets worse results. In 2001, we spent $4,887 on health care per capita, compared with $2,792 in Canada and $2,561 in France. Yet the U.S. does worse than either country by any measure of health care success you care to name – life expectancy, infant mortality, whatever. (At its best, U.S. health care is the best in the world. But the ranks of Americans who can’t afford the best, and may have no insurance at all, are large and growing.)

So the reason everyone fears socialized medicine is because it produces such bad results? What was that again?

Hell, socialized medicine works for the US Military, right, or are we screwing our service-women and -men in yet another way?

Markets work when you have honest, ethical actors. When everyone’s trying to game the market, using tricks to squeeze more blood from the turnip, it’s no wonder you get shitty results.

Markets with honest, ethical actors only happen in Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein novels.

Today is Linux’s 13th birthday

Presumably this means that at some point it’s going to start slamming doors, smoking dope, and shouting at us that we can’t possibly understand what it’s going through.

THEY turn up in the oddest places

So, yesterday someone commented somewhat facetiously about using XSTL for grabbing a certain bit of information out of an XML file. I suggested that this would not be the biggest abuse of XSLT I’d ever seen, or even perpetrated, given that I wrote a Dia-to-SQL stylesheet that even handled referential integrity (which is harder than you’d think, because Dia is a drawing program, and regards those lines between boxes as just another element; it doesn’t understand what they mean).

I also mentioned that it was funny that I found XSLT so easy since, if you get down to it, XSLT turns out to be a very verbose expression of many of the same ideas that embody LISP, and at least certain aspects of LISP often confuse me.

So one of the people in the discussion–Eric Benson, the content of whose resume has been summarized to me as, “He used to work at Amazon”–says something like, “Oh, well, I did a lot of LISP hacking about 15 years ago.”

So I say, “Did you work for Symbolics or something?” Because that’s the only place that it occurs to me someone might have ended up doing a lot of LISP hacking.

“Well, yes I did work at Symbolics for a while, but really I spent a lot more time at Lucid. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them.”

Heh. I’m sure he figured I was just a callow youngster, although the fact that I noticed that he was “the other Emacs user” might have been a clue.

Anyway, it turns out that Eric worked at Lucid on what is now known as XEmacs, but was, at the time, Lucid Emacs. He is apparently friends with JWZ, and was somewhat a party to the great Emacs/XEmacs fork.

He was also a very-low-numbered Amazon employee–he came on very shortly after one of the two original programmers, Paul Davis, left. If you doubt this, I suggest you go to the Amazon help page, and enter “Rufus” as your help topic.

Rufus is Eric’s dog.

Turning the corner

Anne made me use that.

Anyway, I’d continued to feel underutilized–I was spending an inordinate amount of time reading email, or watching logs be parsed into mysql (which is about as interesting as watching paint dry, and somewhat less interesting than watching mold grow).

This was depressing and frustrating. I’m here, and although I am being paid, I’m dealing with being away from home and putting off projects for other customers and so forth, and I’m not being paid enough to endure that and be idle.

So I made the most of an opportunity and had The Talk with my boss. I really didn’t candy-coat anything–I told him about the issues I saw with the organization, and how its insularity and lack of documentation makes it hard for new people to come in be productive, etc.

He took it quite well–in fact, it mostly seemed to reinforce things he already knew or suspected. We talked about where to go next.

And then we had our weekly noon-on-Tuesday meeting, and I decided to play Kerry rather than Bush–I volunteered.

I came out of the meeting with several tasks of varying complexity, and got one of them (building a custom omnibus report for RT) mostly finished within an hour or two.

And then, later, I ended up taking on An Important Project–basically, fixing something that an outside contractor had been working on that wasn’t operating as required. I think Doug (my boss) was impressed that I guessed at why the script for parsing some logs was running a day behind and, it was later confirmed in discussions with the programmer, nailed it. It’s vitally important that this gets done in a timely fashion, and if I get it done, which I will, I suspect I will get to be Hero for a Day.

I am having to combat, as part of this, the fact that they’re scared of their database.

As background, I’m used to pushing databases really far–AnteSpam’s front-end servers run a continuous load of more than 1 query (perhaps as many as 5) per second, and hold hundreds of thousands or even millions of records, while the back-end database that collects together all the statistical information holds many millions of records without breaking a sweat (though its query load is much lighter).

At the i-squad, we do some insane stuff with the database–each page view and many team-specific graphic views all require at least one database request, and some of the more complex functionality requires several more, sometimes very, very tough ones. Now, some of that does need to be relieved–almost certainly through clever use of memcached–but we’re not running a really insane server.

Here, though, when I proposed stuffing this logging information into the database–about 130K records per day–everyone’s knee-jerk reaction was that this was an excessive load.

Of course, I then pointed out that I was loading twice as many records as day as that as part of dealing with the web logs.

I can’t imagine not trusting your database with that sort of volume. The real problem, though, are the consequences: as a result of this fear, instead of stuffing stuff in a big database where they can easily access and correlate and report, they have Berkeley db files shoved on multiple disparate servers, or work with lists in text files, or any number of other un-integrated ways of looking at their data.

The costs are enormous, albeit hidden–I suspect they could make a lot of additional connections if they didn’t have to work so hard to get the data where they need it, in a form they can use it.

The dangers of having a house-mate

That, having been at work until 8:45, and not getting home until nearly 9:30, one will then be tempted to sit around and talk and watch the Olympics until nearly 11:30, even though you know you’re going to try and get up extra-early the next morning.

On the other hand, I did get to see the hot girl-on-girl action that was the reaction of the US Women’s Beach Volleyball team to winning.

Tears of the Giraffe (and No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency)

I haven’t written about the Alexander McCall Smith books before, though I liked the first very much, and just finished the second, which I also liked. This is, in part, because I don’t feel like I have the eloquence to do them justice.

These books are spare and beautifully composed, and they are almost enough to restore my faith in humanity. They are the work of someone who either believes in the goodness of people, or is able to present an exquisite front–something I could never do, personally. When I tell my co-workers that I believe that people are No Damn Good, I’m only half-joking.

I’m sure a lot of people don’t share my taste in books–let’s face it, I don’t know anyone else who reads Pynchon and Pratchett and Wolfe–but I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying these novels.

Chuck Berry wasn’t the half of it.

On my flight back home Friday night, they had Dennis Miller doing the safety briefing.

I think Dennis Miller is a lot less amusing now that he appears to have given up sugar or cocaine or degenerate sex with howler monkeys or whatever it was that fueled his late-80s, early-90s Weekend Report delivery.

Maybe he was High On Life, but I kinda doubt it.

On the way back to DC on Sunday, though, they had the most amusing, or at least appropriate, selection (though still nowhere as good as Chuck Berry for delivery; Chuck really seemed to get into it): James Carville and Mary Matalin.

Now, if only they flew into Reagan National instead of Dulles, I might stick with Independence–really, though, it’s hard for me to justify saving $10 or $20 when it takes me an hour to get from work to Dulles and should take roughly 20 minutes to get to Reagan National.

Of course, I pretty much detest Reagan, whereas John Foster Dulles seems to have been a fairly reasonable guy.

And I found the linked image of James Carville while looking at outside referrals to our servers–apparently it’s a popular, if scary, image. 😉

I may have to start using genre tags

Before heading to Washington, I bought an iRiver IHP-140. This is a 40GB iPod-alike that knows how to handle OGG Vorbis files, has good linux support, etc.

I’ve been fairly impressed with the unit, really–like the iPod (as I understand it) you just mount it as a drive, dump stuff on it, and, later, play it. It’s a nice accompanyment on the 30-minute walk to and from work, and it’ll be nice company on the various bits of transportation necessary to get me back home this evening (Yay!).

One feature though, is that you cna index all your tracks based on tags. One thing I have never set on my .ogg files, though, is genre, but now I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be smart for me to subvert the tag the facility a bit–rather than trying to assigning a “genre” (always a slippery thing), assign a “mood”, and let the index play with that.

Of course, I haven’t actually tried to take advantage of anything the whole indexing scheme presumably allows, so I could be full of shit.

A little retrospective

Sorry I didn’t actually get a daily update out the last couple of days. A new work week brought, well, you know, work.

I did have the strangest dream Sunday night, though.

It started off normally enough. I was back in High School. I was taking some test for which I was woefully unprepared, and it was not going well.

You know, one of the ur-anxiety dreams, at least for the sort of people I hang around with.

This one was unusual, though, in that halfway through, I suddenly realized I’d already graduated from college, etc., and there was no reason I should have to take this test, so I got up and I walked out.

Does this mean I’ve finally come to terms with the fact, however wretched my performance in college may have been–and it was fairly wretched–it’s academic, because it no longer matters in my life what my grades were?

Is it a metaphor for my frustration for this DNC gig, which revolves around the fact that I’m being set-up–not intentionally, but set-up nonetheless, to fail?

If you wanted to find one way to structure a job that could drive me nuts beyond all others, it would be this: bring me in as a secondary person on a large, ill-defined project that has years of undocumented history and no process.

By making me secondary, I’m really not in a position to make changes by fiat, I have to ask–but in situations like this, the primary is always so overbooked that answering takes enormous amounts of time, so it happens slowly, if ever.

If the project were well-defined, I could carve out a section and just work on that, and not have to worry too much about stepping on someone else’s toes.

If the history were documented and there was a process, I could at least try and slipstream in and have an expectation of not stepping on anyone’s toes.

But none of this is true, so I’m having a tough time, and it’s not fun.

Every bit as bad as I’d heard

So, I have a TV in my room, and thanks to a $5 splitter, I have “more” cable than we have at home–for instance, HBO.

So, having gotten the splitter in place, and having figured out that this TV is old enough that it doesn’t just figure out that it’s attached to cable, I’ve now got The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen playing.

Ewwwww.

Now, in the case of Big Fish, the book and the movie are profoundly different, while being ultimately the same story–it’s a great thing when it happens, because what it means is you’re getting the story as it will best work in the respective media; Blade Runner is another instance, and there are others that I can’t bring to mind right off.

On the other hand, League, the movie, has only the barest connection to the comic book–some of the same characters, the same notion of a group of such people getting together, but it is otherwise profoundly different.

And this is not a good thing, because while the comic book is clever and subtle and understated, the movie is loud and obvious and flashy and substanceless. It posits so much more than the any of the original source material–Nemo can produce any silly thing the plot needs (a fucking sea-launched ballistic missle?), while the villian has machine guns and the ability to make all of Venice collapse.

Oy.

I did think Peta Wilson doing a Sean Connery imitation was brilliant, though.

Moving in day

Got up moderately early, got ready, grabbed the laptop, went to the coffee shop and read some email.

At about 9:15, I headed out to the apartment. I am moved in.

Then I had to go nearly to the far end of the red line to get to a TJ-Maxx where I picked up some sheets and a pillow (I’m sure Chet’s rolling his eyes at my negotiation skills at this point).

Made it back, dropped stuff off, turned back around and headed to Kramerbooks, which, I am inordinately please to find, is the only bookstore I’ve ever seen with a bar.

Not a coffee bar, a bar. Well, there’s a coffee bar, too, but it’s the only bookstore I’ve been in where you can get a gin and tonic. Not that I did, but I thought about it.

I did get a draft Shiner with my chicken quesidilla.

I also discovered that Hooverphonic apparently sampled the song Walk On By on their first album. I’ll check the song title when I’m in at work.

Picked up James Gleick’s biography of Isaac Newton; yes, this is in anticipation of part three of The Baroque Cycle coming out next month. Chet can be disappointed with The Confusion all he wants, but I enjoyed it, and the biggest issue I’m going to have is deciding whether to schlep the first to back here so as to read it all in one go, or just read the third, and assume I’ll go through the whole thing at some future date.

Got back to the house, did all the laundry in the world while catching up on mail and the like, and then finally went to sleep.

I have a very funny picture of a very large man with a towel hanging out of his back pocket, much as one might once have expected a drug dealer to have a bandanna hanging out of his back pocket.

This guys only drug was sweat, though.

Not a bad walking-around day

So I got up this morning at 7ish, showered, talked to Anne, got ready and out the door at about 8am. I decided to check out Murkey Coffee, a local place I had found on the web that had free wi-fi (though I didn’t bring the laptop along), and is roughly halfway between the DNC and my new spot–an ideal place to start frequenting, assuming I liked the coffee.

While I had passed it walking back from seeing the place on Thursday, I didn’t stop in because I was soaking wet, and I just wanted to get some food and get back.

I took the route I had arrived at before–somewhat longer but much less confusing than the more direct route I had initially planned of walking up North Caroline Ave–of heading north to Independence Ave, and heading east, and then turning on 7th, where Murkey was.

And that’s when I realized that the coffee shop was right next to Eastern Market, which is both a Metro stop and a farmers/crafts market which Anne and I are both fairly sure Fred took us to when we visited here one year and he was squiring us around.

So it was kind of a happy and sad thing, as I like the idea of being 6 or 7 blocks from a farmer’s market every Saturday, and having this coffee shop that I do rather like about halfway between work and sleep, but boy, I’d give an awful lot to have Fred around now.

We were never super-close friends or anything–Fred was back for just one semester while I was at UA, and I was a rather callow freshman–but he and Anne were old friends, and he was always willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, and I like to think we’d have been able to have some fun hanging out while I’m up here.

But enough dwelling on those departed.

I had this idea I’d probably like Murkey when I noticed the sign outside that talked about how they were committed to servingWashington the best damn coffee around. “And yes, we said damn.”

I certainly appreciate the fact that their large lattes have 4 shots in them–this is a place for a serious coffee drinker. So I sat for the better part of an hour, drinking my coffee and reading the Washington City Paper, which is their local free weekly. At 9am, I got up and started walking.

Two hours later, I found myself outside the Uptown Theater near the Cleveland Park Metro station. I have no idea how far that is as the crow flies, but it would have to be one blind drunk crow to take as indirect a route as I walked. I know I generally walk at least a 20 minute mile, so I can guess that I went roughly six miles.

I think I went north on 7th until I hit K street, though there was maybe a little walking around in circles around Stanton Park, which I took west until I hit Mt. Vernon Square, where I picked up Mass. Ave (as they would say in Cambridge), which I took to Dupont Circle, where I found an open bank and cashed one of my traveler’s checks, and then picked up Connecticut Ave heading north. I passed the Marriott where they always hold the American Association of Law Schools (or is it Legal Scholars) conference, passed the Zoo, and just as I was considering whether to stop in at a Vietnamese restaurant before catching the Metro back to Union Station, where I was intending to indulge in a little mind-numbing entertainment by seeing some movie, when I realized I was outside a theater that had Alien vs. Predator starting in three minutes.

Now my friend George, driving me back to the hotel when we we were in town for AALS January before last, had pointed out the Uptown to me and said it was a pretty good theater. And I’d have to agree, it’s pretty cool. It is obviously an old theater–it actually has a balcony–but it’s got a recently updated sound system (which wasn’t too loud, either, which I like), and a curved screen, which I found strange but interesting.

After the show, I got lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant, which was very good but not great–I still think Pho Cali in Raleigh and Saigon City in San Mateo are the best Vietnamese places I’ve been.

I suspect that walking to the Uptown, catching a movie and some Vietnamese may become a regular activity on Saturdays I’m in town.

As I came out of Pho-79, it started to rain a little more earnestly–the weather had been perfect up to this point, overcast, cool, the occasional sprinkle of rain; I’m almost, but not quite, sorry Chet had to sit out a hurricane for me to have good walking-around weather. But now it threatened to get serious, and I couldn’t find anywhere to by an umbrella, so I hopped the Metro to Dupont Circle, where I judged my chances to be somewhat better.

The rain had mostly let up, so I decided to start walking the opposite direction down Connecticut, towards Farragut Square. I poked around in that area a bit, finally found an umbrella, then decided to catch the Metro to Union Station, just to see what I had ended up not seeing earlier.

I really wasn’t impressed. But I decided that this was close enough that I simply walked back to the hotel from there. I sat down for a bit, decided that I had to do something to make sure that my body wasn’t totally seized up in the morning from all the walking, did 45 minutes of yoga, then took a hot bath.

I briefly contemplated going back out to Dupont Circle–maybe to Kramerbooks, to pick up a Trent Latte or such–but decided that I needed more sleep, I needed to get this down on paper, and I needed to maybe do a little packing because tomorrow I have to schlep everything to my new place.

One out of three so far.

Well, fuck.

Julia Child has died.

I don’t know what to say that others might not say about her personally.

But I can relate one amusing story.

When we were living in Cambridge, Karl Fattig came to visit us; I don’t remember if this was connected with him applying to Bowdoin or if it was after he had moved to Bowdoin and he was just coming down to visit Boston. I actually think it was the latter.

Anyway, we were sitting around eating some truly delicious scones that Karl had brought–this is part of why I think it was after he had settled in Bowdoin, otherwise why would he have brought scones along on an interview–and flipped the TV on and found FoodTV, and there was Julia Child making sausage.

Now you can say what you want about the rest of the process of making sausage, but we all just about died laughing as Julia gave her usual non-stop narration of putting the casing on the end of the sausage extruding tool–one doesn’t even have to see it to realize that this is going to look an awful lot like putting on a condom.

And then Karl started doing an outrageous parallel sort of narration, since he had a real facility for doing her voice, and I swear I couldn’t breathe.

Anne actually met her at a book signing while we were living in Cambridge.

There’s a lot of people who are professional cooks, especially (for better or worse) on TV who credit her with inspiring them.

My first post on Herodotus

First things first–I’ve not gotten all that far in the book. Partly it’s because I haven’t been reading as much as I normally do, but partly because after two or three pages, I often glaze over a little bit; it’s nothing if not dense.

But it’s also interesting. It’s the first generally recognized history text, and the list of things it is the primary source for is pretty amazing.

Apparently the Histories are the only source we have for information about the Battle of Marathon (an appropriate reference given what’s going on in Athens).

Or, tell me if this quote sounds somewhat familiar:

These neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents from accomplishing each one the task proposed to him, with the very utmost speed.

Yep that description, somewhat adapted, of the Persian Post is what is engraved above the door to the Post Office.

Or, just on the first page, I enjoyed this little comment:

[…]for they sailed in to Aia of Colchis and to the river Phasis with a ship of war, and from thence, after they had done the other business for which they came, the carried off the king’s daughter Medea.

Kind of like picking up a pack of gum after robbing the convenience store.

There’s lots of other pithy stuff in this text–wry comments about human nature, and particularly that of nobles.

Or there’s the story of Croesus, with its character Solon, who puts for the concept that “no one of the living might be called happy.” I forget the more common form of the quotation, but I’m sure you recognize it.

It is, though, another, “In 2500 years, look how far we haven’t come” sort of experience. And, as I said, it is dense and sometimes hard to follow. But it’s fun.

I might be hitting my stride

First, the big news: I have a place to stay. It’s nothing elaborate–a room in a house on 13th, near Logan Park–but I met both the landlord and the other guy in the house and hit it off really well. It has a kitchen and washer and dryer and a bathroom that I will only have to share if they bring in a person for the third room, which the landlord is not sure he’s going to do. If he does, he says he’ll give me a break on the rent.

I wonder how lucrative being an absentee landlord in DC is? I mean, if one of these brownstones is $500K, still, if you rent out three rooms for $1K each, surely that’s got to make the payment for a 30 year loan, right?

Someone do that math for me.

I also got to see Doom 3 for the first time–like I said, I hit it off well. I must say, it makes me reconsider getting that new ThinkPad; there are probably worse ways to spend evenings than getting the shit kicked out of me playing Doom 3 against my housemate, and the T42p will definitely run the game.

Anyway, I’ll be moving in on Sunday the 15th. This is a gigantic load off my shoulders–just knowing that I’ve got a spot, even if I’m not in it yet, makes me feel more settled.

The almost as big news is that I feel like I’ve found a project at work that I can work on without having to bother someone else at every turn: building tools for analyzing their web traffic.

In many ways, this is almost fun–I enjoy playing with the numbers, and finding new ways to present information and so forth. I know about a lot of tools and techniques that I don’t think these guys are as aware of, so I’m thinking I may be able to really wow them.

So I’m almost starting to feel like this won’t suck.

I did, though, get soaking fucking wet. I need to purchase a big goddamn golf umbrella–the dainty little thing the hotel was able to loan me did not do an adequate job of keeping off the wet, as I made the 20 minute walk to my new place.

In all but inclement weather, I actually consider that walk a bonus rather than a downside. Apparently there’s a bus stop just around the corner that probably goes to the Pennsylvania Street station, so I could even bus+metro it easily when it’s bad.

I wonder if I should have Anne ship up my big London Fog trenchcoat, though–I haven’t had much call to use it since Boston (you just don’t need one in Miami, and in Durham, I just don’t go out if I don’t want to, and I don’t have to worry about keeping off the wet so much), but it could come in handy here.

So, things are looking up, sooner than I maybe expected them to.

Mike.

Boy, I hope no one makes the connection with me at the DNC

Because I don’t intend to censor. Hey, I figure I didn’t sign any NDA, and people have the right to understand their political process, as the people working for the “operators” see it. And they think it’s all about money. Period.

Regardless, Tuesday was a long, hard day because I was sleep deprived and maybe a little depressed, and I’d been assaulted with the names of at least seventy-three people, which is certain to reduce me to a coma.

When I finally got out, I walked to a convenience store, got a big bottle of water, went back to the room, did some light yoga, had a Cliff Bar and went to sleep.

Oh, and I discovered that I’d rendered my machine unbootable, but you got that story yesterday.

Yesterday I woke up, got some coffee, went to the office…and turned on the lights. Yep, I was the first one there at 7:15am. Spent a couple of hours basically surfing the web on the iMac sitting next to where my non-functional laptop was.

Finally I got the laptop working. I started looking around some of the website code, trying to suss it out. It’s not hard, per se, but, much like the Democratic GAIN site that I worked on before, it was written with the idea that re-implementing or subverting tons of HTML::Mason functionality was somehow a good idea. I, of course, think this is a bad idea, because it means a newcomer has to figure out an undocumented private language and how it all fits together, which is in no way obvious.

I think they’re running into a classic problem; they’ve been a more-or-less one-person show for so long that everything is tuned to that one person’s output, which, even with the most talented people, always seems to end up creating systems that aren’t as clean or simple as they should be.

For instance, for distributing updates to the website, they have a script that tars up a list of files you specify, copies it to the multiple app servers, untars it, does whatever else is necessary.

In case you didn’t spot it: “tars up a list of files you specify”. And what if you miss one? Congratulations, you’ve just distributed a non-functioning change. This has apparently happened a couple of times.

I asked if there was any reason they weren’t simply using rsync?

“Oh, I didn’t know about that.”

I proposed moving to it, but, again, there’s a real, if often unconscious, tension when you walk in and start saying, “You know, there’s a better way to do that.” Even if it’s going to improve things, your additional knowledge is going to make someone uncomfortable. They will no longer be King of the Castle, which is a position everyone enjoys even if they try hard not to.

This is not in any way meaning to say that Eric, the lead guy on this for, I guess, years, isn’t a competent guy. I’ve seen some of the stuff he’s done, and it’s good code–but I don’t think he “gets out much”; that is, I don’t think he’s actively out there looking for existing solutions to re-use, he’d prefer to implement his own.

And I know from experience that those sorts of things can be a waste of time, effort, and end up with less flexible results than you might like.

Anyway, enough of this, for the moment. I’ve got to finish catching up with email and then get in.

Careful with that axe, Eugene

So, I disabled my laptop yesterday by deleting (intentionally) the old static /dev directory–I mean, I’m using udev, which builds the thing dynamically (and really, it does a very fine job), and a comment in the /etc/init.d/udev script suggested that it could be removed.

So I did.

There was no immediate havoc, but I couldn’t reboot–the moment the kernel went to hand over control to /sbin/init, init would complain that it couldn’t open an initial console.

Long story short, I had to boot from a borrowed USB floppy drive (using only 1 floppy, because switching disks to load a root partition, as most rescue disks seem to do, just didn’t work with the USB unit), and add /dev/null and /dev/console nodes; and that was it.

Why didn’t I boot from a CD-ROM? Err, I forgot to bring it with me. I figure that if that’s the only significant thing I forget, I’m doing well.

And the torrential rainstorm outside is suggesting that the CD-ROM wasn’t the only thing of consequence I forgot–I have no umbrella.

Oops.

So, things started off with a surreal note

Now, I didn’t get much sleep last night–I was up until 2am, dealing with some issues surrounding transferring stuff to the iRiver using Linux that haven’t been mentioned anywhere else that I’ve seen (it has to do with case translation on files and directories whose names are exclusively upper-case and/or numbers), and with just general jitters.

So I got back up four hours later, gave Ford his shot, showered and shaved off a weeks growth, got in the car, hit the ATM, and got to the airport.

Checking my bags was easy, even though I might not have needed to–Independence Air’s fleet seems to be mostly smaller planes that require gate-checking of bags anyway, so I might not have needed to do the check up-front.

I got through security and everything just fine, found the gate and waited, reading Herodotus’ Histories to pass the time–there will be more about that in another post.

It was when I got on the plane that things got weird.

Independence Air, if you haven’t heard of them, are a new low-frills carrier, based out of Dulles. The flight is great for me, it’s fast, it’s direct, etc.

And then came the safety spiel, which I already think deserves recognition as some degenerate relative of Kabuki theater, with its own carefully observed format and elaborate set of ritual gestures.

This one, though, is narrated by Chuck Berry.

No, I’m not kidding. And though I had to scramble for paper to write them on, I got a couple of quotes for you:

Just as in life and love, we may encounter some turbulence.

Also, when discussing the proper use of the seat-cushion flotation device, you are advised to hold onto it

as tight as you hug your baby on a Saturday night.

I am not making any of this up.

Everything else about the flight was routine–it was a quick up-and-down affair, we landed 25 minutes early, by the time I made it to the baggage claim, my bags were already out, although if I had been just a little more knowledgeable about where I needed to go, I probably wouldn’t have missed the 9:15 shuttle to the Metro station. After a fairly long ride, I was able to check in as soon as I got to the hotel, which is two blocks from the metro station, and it’s just three or four from the hotel to the DNC.

But Chuck Berry gave the safety narration, and that has set a certain sort of tone for the day.

Mr. Dorman Goes to Washington

So, it’s official, I fly out at 8:10 tomorrow morning, touch down at 9:22am, make my way over to 430 South Capitol Street SE, and begin my work for the Democratic National Committee.

I have a hotel room for five nights, and no scheduled accommodation after that; we’re working on it. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be doing; working on mining their donor/activist database, probably, unless they decide to put me on something else. I don’t know exactly when I’m going to be home next; my ticket out is one-way.

I’ve bought a ton of new clothes–I now have shirts that fit me well, pants that take into account doing yoga two or three times a week for more than a year (although I’ve still got the pair of shoes I bought in 2000 before going out to California to work for Dorado for the first time)–for the first office job I’ve had in nearly three years. I bought an iRiver iHP-140, to carry the 20-odd-GB of oggs I have on my server at home. I have my Treo 600 and my ultra-dependable ThinkPad T22, which I decided this weekend not to replace. I have Herodotus, Delaney’s Dhalgren and Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers to start me off.

It would be inaccurate to say I’m scared. I’m jumpy, and touchy, and fidgety, and I’ve no doubt been pissing off everyone on the mallet list by showing up for an extended run of throwing Molotov cocktails at anyone who disagreed with me about anything. Or maybe everyone thought it was fun, or at least good street theater.

I hate the fact that I’m going to be away, since I know that’s going to leave Anne alone to take care of our cats, and go to yoga and the Symphony alone. I worry that Tucker will react badly to my not being around, and wonder what effect that’s going to have on his already sometimes delicate condition.

And above all I worry that this whole experience is just going to crush the core of optimism I’ve held onto despite believing that all you really need to know to understand the world is that People Are No Damn Good. I very much believe the principles that I see as underlying our country. I think it can do better, and I’m scared shitless that I might find out it can’t.