Holy Great Mooby the Golden Cow!

Posted in MainPage at 9:54 pm by admin

I have just been through a life- and perspective-altering experience. OK, not just now, but over the last week. In particular, it took place today.

First, a little background: I have always considered the professional certification process to be, largely, a waste of time. People who have proudly announced their attainment of an MCSA or MCSE (or ZZRN or whatever letters sounded impressive) on their resumes have always amused me. When I was interviewing prospective employees, the only certification I ever took seriously was a CCIE or better from Cisco. My coworkers and I frequently joke that an MC?? is the least qualified person for just about any computer job. I know recruiters that will not consider a resume with MCSE on it unless it comes with a personal recommendation from someone they know.

My perspective changed today when I took the RHCE exam. I reiterate, HOLY … COW! That was a tough exam. In the future, when I see a RHCE on a business card, I’ll consider that person to be a worthy sysadmin type. This is a tough test.

RedHat has honestly impressed me in the following ways:

  • The test has absolutely no multiple guess questions.
  • The test takes most of a day to complete.
  • The test actually has real-world(tm) applicability.
  • The test is HARD.
  • Did I mention it was HARD?

Not to toot my own horn, but I consider myself to be a competent trouble-shooter. The first part of the test I completed in (literally) 40% of the allotted time and scored 100%. I had actually passed in 20% of the allotted time, but decided to “go for glory” and complete some optional items. These took as long to complete as the part I had already passed. These problems were similar to ones I had seen in real life. This probably explains why I found this part of the test to be straight-forward.

Then, in a room full of computer professionals, not one of us left the second part of the exam before time ran out. Not ONE!

This is not intended to indicate what losers we are, but exactly how tough this test really is. I may have passed. I don’t know yet. (A follow-up is almost sure to come.) I think/hope I did, but we will see. The point is that we all took the fully allotted time to try and eek out the last shread of credit that we could, just in case.

No one walked out claiming to have aced it.

If you have RHCE on your business card (especially for Enterprise 3,) you have my respect. You have passed one helluva tough exam.


And to Ralph (you know who you are:) Great class. It was fun. I learned a lot. And have fun in Boston.



I got it: RedHat Certified Engineer.


The Best Protection Our Government Can Provide: Colors

Posted in MainPage at 9:53 pm by admin

I have added a new feature to my website. You can come here and see, each and every day, what your government has done to protect you from international terrorism. Don’t you feel safer now that you know that there are colors to tell you the odds that you are going to be affected by a terrorist threat?

I don’t.

To be honest, I think the colors are at best a waste of resources. At worst, they are a good way for the terrorists to gauge the likleyhood of success. At least they will be a good tool for this until we get so used to being at yellow alert that we ignore it. Then, Yellow = Blue = Green = whatever.

I will put money on the table right now to say that the terror threat level will never go back to green. What is the point? The only industry currently affected by this change is the airlines. The news stops reporting the threat level a few days after it changes. We are already numb to its effects. We will continue to become more immune until another 9/11.

At that point, we’ll probably sign away more of our civil liberties for a new color code.

Supplement: Colors

I got this information from http://teacher.scholastic.com/ and felt that it could be useful. I will update it if the color ever changes. Note, we have been in Yellow or Orange since the beginning of the system. We have been in an unwavering state of Yellow for nearly a year as of this writing. Does everyone feel appropriately terrified?

3/12/02 Yellow
9/10/02 Raised to orange
9/24/02 Lowered to yellow
2/7/03 Raised to orange
2/27/03 Lowered to yellow
3/10/03 Raised to orange
4/16/03 Lowered to yellow
5/21/03 Raised to orange
5/30/03 Lowered to yellow


Followup: to Supreme Lunacy on the Tirades page

Posted in MainPage at 9:52 pm by admin

Here is a story I tiraded about last year. It was, in fact, my most recent Tirade. I guess I’ve mellowed.

Anyway the reason I bring this up now is this story recently published in the Arizona Republic which follows up on the reason for my Tirade. I could not help but laugh at the quote: “Beware of what you ask for.”

I think the lawyers would have been better off if My solution had been implemented. <grin>


WE Need to Talk

Posted in MainPage at 9:50 pm by admin

About 23 years ago (as of this writing) I descended into the murky depths of Fantasy Role Playing Games, most notably Dungeons & Dragons. It was several years later that I finally clawed my way out. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the experience. I see nothing wrong with FRPGs. For me, however, they turned into something of an addiction. (Aside: for an amusing attack on FRPGs, inaccurate in its entirety, visit: www.chick.com For pity’s sake, an 8th level Cleric getting invited into some real life cabal, yeah, right. You gotta get at least four characters to 16th level before that happens. 🙂

From this experience, I made some life long friends and learned many valuable lessons in human interaction. My friends and I also developed some interesting (to us, anyway) thoughts on language. One was sparked by an article in Dragon Magazine which described the language of thieves in the D&D world. This language is called “Thieve’s Cant.” And is supposed to be this ultra-secret way for thieves to communicate. Dragon magazine published a primer on the language along with notes on some of its eccentricities.

Our favorite was the fact that Thieve’s Cant has two different words that each translate to, roughly, the first person plural pronoun, “we.” The first of these two “we(1)” words is used to indicate the speaker, the person or persons addressed and (perhaps) others. The second, “we(2)”, is the more amusing of the two. It means the speaker and some others but specifically excludes the person or persons addressed. They gave an example of the typical use of the second form that went, essentially: “You two guard the door while we(2) count and divide the treasure.” If one were to attempt to get the same meaning across in spoken english, one would have to emphasise and extend the terms “you” and “we(2)” and accompany them with several gestures.

We(2) began to refer to this second sense of the word as the “Thieve’s we(2)” while the first sense became known as the “Common We(1).”

This important but subtle distinction festered in our little minds to the point that we(2) noticed other uses of the overloaded word “we.” Such as, the “King’s we(3)” which means me and no one else, but we(3) are so important that “I” is insufficient to refer to our greatness. Then there is the “nurse’s we(4)” meaning only the singular party addressed, as in “How are we(4) feeling today.”

The final sense of “we” that we(2) identified, we(2) called the “Manager’s we(5).” This sense is typically used when assigning some particularly odious task or identifying a shortcoming. It’s meaning is intended to include the person or persons addressed, perhaps some others, but specifically not the speaker. A prime example of the need for this distinction is the observation, “We(5) need to be more careful how we(5) clean out all the human excrement from beneath the toilet tank.” Clearly, a manager would never involve himself in such a task, so the correct meaning of the word is obvious.

Props to my bud, D.M., who reminded me that I really needed to write all this down. We(5) may owe him a debt of thanks.

It should be noted that Dungeons & Dragons, D&D and Dragon Magazine are probably trademarks, possibly even registered ones, of someone and that this article is not an authorized work of any of those trademark holders.


An Amazing Thing

Posted in MainPage at 9:49 pm by admin

I work for SGI. SGI laid off 10% of its workforce last week. Given my track record, I would have assumed that I was in the 10% and not the 90%.

I still work for SGI.

Will miracles never cease?


So, OK, It Snowed a Little

Posted in MainPage at 9:48 pm by admin

A little lesson on the cumulative effect of: The Gulf of Mexico, solar heat, a low-pressure centered over New Mexico, the Rocky Mountains and up-slope cooling.

So, we had all of these conditions this week. The effect of the Gulf is that there is a large mass of humid air at sea level in the area of Texas. The effect of the sun is that this air is warm and stays humid as it crosses into Oklahoma and Kansas. The effect of the low pressure zone over New Mexico is that it forces the humid warm air quickly north through Oklahoma and Kansas and then west across Colorado. About a third of the way through Colorado, this warm, wet air meets the Rocky Mountains and goes up. As the air goes up, it must become less dense, hence cooler, hence less able to hold moisture.

Practical upshot of these effects? Three feet of heavy, wet snow on my front lawn, driveway and street in less than 2 days. I missed work on Wednesday. I could not get my 4-wheel drive truck turned up the street to get out of my neighborhood. So we stayed in.

Other effects that have only become apparent since digging out? We lost the top 6 or so feet of our blue spruce. Two of our neighbors trees were up-rooted and/or utterly destroyed by the snow. Nice green grass in the areas where the snow has melted. Apparently, grass loves snow.

We still have a few cubic yards of snow where the sun hasn’t melted it. Anyone want some?



Posted in MainPage at 9:47 pm by admin

2003, January 28th

Shoot. It went down. It went down BAD!!!!

I had to rebuild my server from scratch today and restore a 2 month old backup. Very little data was lost. The most recent comment, “Why did the cat cross the road?” is now gone forever. Oh well, it wasn’t very good anyway.

If anyone out there wants to take credit for crashing my box, send me email. I am moderately impressed by the thoroughness of the attack. I hope my more recent OS install is more robust and secure. We’ll see.

Love and kisses — Joel


GUI, Considered … Something

Posted in Lectures at 9:58 pm by admin

I would like to expound upon a theory that I have held for some time that, conceptually, GUIs can lead to poor management practices.

First, let me discuss the alternatives to graphical user interfaces (GUIs.) Since GUIs were designed to replace command line interfaces (CLIs) and there was really nothing before the CLI and nothing new since the GUI, the only alternative is the CLI. Well, OK, there is the menu driven interface that was the shadow between CLI and GUI, but the concept of a menu driven interface is more similar to GUI than CLI, so I’ll just lump it in.

A CLI is a model for interacting with a computer system based upon command/response pairs. An example command might be “dir bob” which could mean, “Computer, I would like a listing of the directory ‘bob’.” The computer would probably respond with a list of things which could be found in ‘bob’ assuming that this is a command that the computer in question understood. Keep in mind that the CLI was invented in the infancy of the computing science and there are quite a few different ones to choose from.

In the early days of computing, we wasted a lot of paper. Some would argue that we still do, but in this case I am refering to the printing console. It may seem archaic in the modern era of the monitor console, but we used to go through boxes of graybar paper every month by using paper to hold every command/response pair. This was horribly wasteful because, in general, a computer user only needed to see the response for a few minutes or even seconds. Still, the mechanism created a permanent record.

For a single user computer, like the early IBM PC, the computer spent most of its time waiting for the user to tell it what to do next. So, if a user ran the “dir bob” command, and never touched the bob directory again, the response would be valid forever. With multi-user systems, this is not true and users have become familiar with this concept. A good example is a command that outputs the current time. Since the computer doesn’t distinguish between a printing terminal and a monitor terminal for normal commands, the time does not update on the screen, just like it would not update on the paper. Users are familiar with the idea that the information output by the computer is out of date the instant after it is displayed.

By the early 1980s higher end systems had terminals with screens, but the command line metaphor of the screen as a piece of paper still held true for basic interaction with the computer. Certainly there were word processors and other applications that were more interactive, but once you exited the word processor, you were back to the command/response behavior. The CRT terminal was so successful that when IBM came out with their PC, even though it could work with a terminal, IBM built in the keyboard and the ability to interact directly with the monitor rather than requiring a seperate terminal device.

Enter the GUI.

The original GUI was developed by Xerox at the Palo Alto Research Center, Xerox PARC. The original design called for a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) word processor. After a while, the development team decided to use this “Desktop Metaphor” to interact with the computer at every level. So, instead of creating directories with files, you would create file cabinets with files. Each of these objects had a little picture that represented it on a graphical screen. Just as you can close a file cabinet or drawer and not see all of the folders in it, you can close the little picture of the file cabinet, hiding its files. This proved to be a wildly successful method of making the computer concepts accessable to non-computer savy individuals.

Because the lab at Xerox PARC was designing a system from the ground up with a GUI interaction in mind, their GUI had hooks into the behavior of objects. This meant that, if the state of an object changed, its little picture on the screen could track that change. For instance, if one user deleted a file from a particular cabinet and another user had that cabinet displayed on their desktop, the picture representing that file in that cabinet disappeared.

Unfortunately, this behavior is not pervasive while the expectation of this behavior is. Many software developers, recognizing the success of the GUI developed GUIs for their systems that would run the command line equivalents and display the results graphically. This sounds like a good idea. It is frequently not a good idea. The reason it is not a good idea is that the GUI and the real state of things can get out of sync.

An example: Suppose that you manufacture a large disk array and that the management software was written using a command line. Now you want to create a GUI “wrapper” so your customers will like you. So you do, but you don’t change the command line, you just run the commands and display the results graphically. So, two users have the GUI open and one allocates a bunch of disks in the array, but the second one doesn’t know about it. When the second user comes back, he still sees the allocation of disks when he started his copy of the management GUI. So, he selects several disks and allocates them. Unfortunately, he selects some of the same disks user 1 already allocated. If the command line isn’t designed well enough to realize that this is a mistake, it may very well allow this behavior and destroy user 1’s data. Oops.

OK, so you fix this by either having the software poll the array periodically or you update the GUI before allowing any actions. Polling is slow, and frequently costly of system resources. In any case, it doesn’t solve the problem; you can still be out of sync, just less frequently. So, you go with option 2 and force an update of the GUI state before any action takes place. You still have the problem that user 1 can update and start and action and before it finishes user 2 updates and starts an action and they collide.

The only solution that makes sense is one where the GUI interacts with the managed system and constantly updates the screen with correct information. If the user of the GUI selects an object, then the fact of that selection must be reflected instantly in all other copies of the GUI. Any other behavior leads to chaos.


Here Comes Santa Kitty

Posted in MainPage at 9:46 pm by admin

Some of you may know that I have a couple of animals that live with me. Specifically, I have a dog and two cats. You can see their pictures in the album, if you are interested. The black and white cat is named Sonic. Well, that’s part of his name.

Anyway, I got tired of cleaning cat boxes and cat hair and such and decided that the kitties (and my house) needed some fresh air. Both cats have all of their natural armements, and both have escaped in the past and returned, if not psychologically, at least physically unharmed. So, they are outdoor kitties now.

For those of you who think this is cruel, let me explain something. I live with two women who were willing to try to make me feel bad about kicking them out, but neither volunteered cat box duty as a means of convincing me. So, I have two outdoor cats now. Deal with it.

The other night, at about 3:50 AM, my wife and I both sat bolt-up-right in bed, awakened by some noise. I got up to investigate and Pamela went right back to sleep, secure in the knowledge that, whatever nefarious agent produced the sound, I would deal with it in the manly way that she has come to expect. Or she just didn’t think it was all that important.

Above I mentioned Sonic. He is the older of the two cats. He has obviously led a life of adventure. He is missing half of one canine tooth and has been a victim of general poor health since I got him but he can take care of himself. When I started down the stairs from the bedroom portion of the house to the main level, I was greeted by a smug and smudged Sonic on his way up.

“Hang on a sec,” I thought to myself. “This is wrong. I put the cats outside.” The fog clearing from my sleep-deprived mind, I set about to discover how Sonic came to be inside. It didn’t take long to deduce from the fireplace cover lying on the floor what had happened.

Sonic has always shown an unnatural interest in the fire place, which we have never used as a place for fires. Any time the cover has been opened or removed, he has wandered in to investigate. Apparently, the chimney is even more alluring. That’s right: Cat covered in soot + fireplace cover on the floor + cat inside + significant damage to cats face = cat came down the chimney!

Sonic’s little misadventure has lead to $450+ dollars in vet bills to remove the remaining whole canine tooth (it was fractured at the root and unsaveable) and general cleanup following surgery. Stupid cat. Anyway, I think the whole experience has convinced him not to try again. (9-1=8)

And, Yes, the cats still live outside. I am considering building them a candy-cane cat condo to commemorate the event. Maybe with a little sign that reads, “North Pole.” The real concern that I have at this point is, when winter comes, will Chip’s nose start to glow?


Supreme Lunacy

Posted in Tirades at 10:02 pm by admin

Our Supreme Court (and by “Our” I mean the one operated by the United States of America) has discovered the argumentative technique called “reductio absurdom”, reduced to the absurd. It seems that last year, they decided that a judge could not impose a “Hate Crime” bonus penalty and the reprecussions have been, shall we say, absurd.

In a double knee-jerk reaction, the various lawmakers in the US drafted laws which were heard by the Supreme Court and struck down as unconstitutional. This occurred because of two highly publicized cases involving protected minorities, one a gay man, the other a black man. In each of these two cases, it appeared that the perpetrators sought out a member of the minority at random and viciously killed them. Calls for the heads of the criminals lead to knee-jerk #1, Hate Crime legislation, laws that tack a bonus penalty on to the base punishment for crimes motivated by irrational hate.

The second knee-jerk came when the Supreme Court reviewed a case that appeared to have been motivated by irrational hate. The court decided that the criminal in question (and let there be no confusion about this, this person was convicted by a jury of his peers making him a convicted criminal by definition) was somehow denied his right to a trial by jury because the judge, acting within the context of the new Hate Crime laws, extended his sentence. The important thing to note is that the judge only had the authority to impose the bonus punishment after the conviction by a jury.

A quick review of how trial-by-jury works:

  • A grand jury is called to determine if a crime has been committed.
  • The grand jury hands down an indictment naming a crime and defendant.
  • A petit jury is impanelled and trial is held.
  • The petit jury finds the defendant guilty.
  • The judge imposes sentence based on guidelines established by lawmakers.

Notice that there are two “outs” here for the accused. The grand jury may not find that there is sufficient evidence to support a trial. The petit jury may not find that there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction.

The problem with the Hate Crime legislation is that the trial is supposed to be the finding of fact. However, if the judge must then base his sentence on a finding of fact outside of the jury’s finding of fact, then there was a second trial. In some states, a jury hands down a sentencing recommendation or there is a hearing after the trial, again with the jury present, where sentencing is determined. So, the Supreme Court has determined that only a jury may find fact (in a trial) and that the judge is constitutionally prevented from finding fact.

Now comes the Supreme Lunacy. A convicted murderer has appealed, not his conviction, but his sentence to death to the Supreme Court who overturned, not the conviction, but the sentence. Here is their reasoning: The judge in the case found that there were special circumstances that warrented the death penalty as required by the laws in that state. However, judges are not allowed to find fact, that power is reserved to juries. So, in spite of the fact that everything was done by the law as written by lawmakers in the state in question, the judge over-stepped his constitutional authority. In one decision, the Supreme Court has (once again) killed the death penalty and 150 death-row inmates are no longer in danger of dying in prison, until a jury has determined the special circumstances.

But wait! There’s more! Because of the Expost Facto rule, it may not be possible to impose the death penalty on those already convicted of crimes that fall under any judge’s “special circumstances” ruling authority.

My solution to this delimma is simple. Rework the laws so that there is a presumption of hate crime and a presumption of special circumstances and then give the judge the authority to find that these DO NOT exist in a particular case. Therefore, any crime must have an extra two years penalty and the judge must determine that the criminal did not act with irrational hate in commiting the crime. In this way, the judge is given the opportunity to reduce a sentence, not increase it. Simple. Stupid. A semantic change and nothing else. But it is constitutional because the judge’s finding of fact is in the favor of the defendant.

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