Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Christmas, and Merry New Year

If you think that switching the “happy” and the “merry” above were supposed to be making some kind of a statement, you’re over-thinking it. I wasn’t trying to be deep in any way.

After a fairly uneventful week before Christmas, I now have a week or so off, before I have to go back to work. Andrea and I will be going to visit my parents, and probably spending quite a bit of time with Jer, Terilyn, and my goddaughter Alexis. I’m very much looking forward to it; it seems like I haven’t been home in a while, although it probably hasn’t been that long. (I just hope I can go near Alexis this time, without sending her into a crying jag…)

If I haven’t mentioned it before, Andrea and I don’t get each other Christmas presents. I had planned, however, to get her some kind of Best of Queen CD, but I just ran out of time, and didn’t get to a music store. Maybe in the new year, some time. I figured it wouldn’t actually count as a “Christmas present”, since I’d like it just as much as she would, so it wouldn’t really be just for her, it would be for both of us. (Andrea, if you read this, I will get it for you some time; it’s just a question of when.)

If you’ve been following my Ubuntu saga, you know that my one problem with using Ubuntu is that I haven’t found a good HTML editor yet—one that I can customize to my heart’s content. I’ve since discovered that gedit has a “snippets” plugin that you can use to insert common things for you, so I’ve started using that, similar to how I use HTML Kit on Windows. It isn’t as full-featured as HTML Kit, though; so what I’ve started doing is that I begin the post in gedit, until it’s mostly done, and then I open it in HTML Kit—running under wine—to finish it off, with some of the more complex macros I created.

In the future, I hope to use Eclipse for the whole job. As a Java developer—or at least, an architect who works with teams of Java developers—I’ve already started using Eclipse anyway, since it’s becoming the standard for Java development. I’ve asked for a book on Eclipse, and writing Eclipse plugins, for Christmas, so if I get that, I’ll be able to start right away. (It’s possible they won’t be able to get it for me, though; I don’t know how easy it will be to find.)

On an unrelated note, I got a new laptop for work. It’s a much better machine, although it still only has a 40GB hard drive; I’ll have to be careful what I install, I guess. I’m typing this post on it right now, and I’m still getting used to the keyboard. It might take a while. (Technically, that probably should have said: “I typed this post on it, and, at the time, was still getting used to the keyboard.”)

Speaking of Ubuntu—although I stopped speaking about it a couple of paragraphs ago—I was playing around with Beryl, on my old laptop. Unfortunately, although it was a very cool visual interface, it didn’t work very well; it kept crashing. I’m hoping that it was the laptop, and that it will work better on the new machine. (There were numerous indications that my old laptop had hardware problems, especially to do with the graphics card, so I don’t think it’s too optimistic to hope that.) A colleague has been using Beryl on his machine, and loves it, so I’m sure it’s not buggy on everyone’s computer. But I can’t give up on Beryl now; I’ve been showing it to all of my colleagues at work, and they’re all blown away by it. I need to keep impressing them!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nothing Special

Today has been pretty boring. Which would make it the perfect day to blog about something, except that I have nothing on my mind. (No comments, please.)

Since I finally finished reading Against All Enemies, I guess it’s time to move on and read something else. There’s a Chomsky book I want to read, plus two le Carré books, and a book by Swartzwelder. But I guess I should really read a book that Jonathan lent me, so that I can get it back to him ASAP. (He said it was okay if I kept it for a while, but I don’t want to take advantage of his generosity.) Of course, I’ve also gotten behind on my reading of The Nation—by a couple of months or more. I don’t think I’ll renew the subscription, next year.

I’m sort of doing well for my Christmas shopping, but still have to get presents for a couple of people on my list. I’ll go tonight, since there is a mall near to where I work that doesn’t get too busy at Christmas. (Busy, by my standards, but not too busy, for this time of the year.)

And that’s about it. Don’t you hate these blog posts that are nothing but useless facts about the blogger’s life? “Dear Diary: Today I’m going shopping!” If I think of something else to write, I guess I’ll post about it later. Maybe it’ll be more interesting than this nonsense.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Book Review: Against All Enemies

Author: Richard A. Clarke

From the first time I saw an interview with Richard Clarke—which may have been on The Daily Show, although I can’t really remember—I’d been wanting to read his book, Against All Enemies. It’s not just because he was critical of the Bush Administration’s handling of the “war on terror”, but because he seemed to know what he was talking about. He’d been working on security in America for a long time—under various presidents, from both parties—and seemed to have a non-partisan analysis of it all. And I was impressed with the way he handled himself during interviews. (Mostly because, again, he seemed to know what he was talking about.)

So I finally got around to reading it, and I have mixed feelings on it. For the most part, it’s exactly what I was expecting: a behind-the-scenes look at how America had been handling its security, who al Qaeda is and what it stands for—although I have reservations about that, discussed below—and how different presidents handled security issues. In terms of the behind-the-scenes look, I can’t fault the book. It delivered on what I had been hoping for, and personally, I considered it worth reading for that. There are some negative aspects about the book, however, and it boils down to two things: it’s self-serving, and there is no analysis.

When I say that it’s self-serving, what I mean is that Clarke often rushes to take credit for things that were done well. Or, in retrospect, to say things like “I’d always known this was a problem, but nobody would listen to me” (not an actual quote). The most blatant example that stood out to me was a meeting he reported having with Israeli General David Ivry. Clarke was supposed to investigate whether Israel was selling arms to South Africa, in violation of the U.N.’s Anti-Apartheid ban, and he was meeting with Ivry to confront him on the issue.

Sitting in Ivry’s office in the heart of the Kiriat, the walled-off complex in Tel Aviv that serves as Israel’s Pentagon, I laid out to the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Defense what I knew and what I suspected about Israeli-South African cooperation. I omitted any reference to rumors of their cooperation on nuclear weapons, but mentioned joint development of long-range ballistic missiles and fighter aircraft. David was clearly uncomfortable, but I began to think that it was not just because some young American was sitting there accusing him and his government.

“I am not saying that we are doing these things, these rumors that you mention,” David began. “But we must have a defense industry; we cannot depend on other countries for our defense. A defense industry in a small country like ours has to export to stay alive, to keep costs in check. We do not sell to the Soviets or their allies, never. We have developed our own advanced weapons technologies. We have very smart, very capable engineers. America, however, will not buy our weapons. American defense contractors prevent the Pentagon from buying from us, they spread lies that what we have developed we stole from them. If we stole it from them, how is it they haven’t been able to develop some of these technologies that we have working, unmanned aerial vehicles, air-to-ground guided smart bombs, other things.”

I had just met General Ivry, but I thought I saw a side to him that was not hinted at in the CIA profile of him as a hard-ass fighter pilot. “General, I have been to South Africa. Have you?”

He hesitated. “Yes, yes I have.” Then he added a justification that did not admit to the weapons programs. “We have a very large Jewish community there that we have to insure is protected from the anti-Semitism.”

“Anti-Semitism is a terrible, ugly thing, General. I saw a small piece of it growing up. My house was the only non-Jewish family in the neighborhood. I saw what people would do to the temple, I saw the harassment, heard the epithets. But, General, apartheid is the same thing. It’s racism. Don’t you think a government based on apartheid is a sin?”

Ivry had been looking at his hands. Now he looked up and into my eyes. “Yes. Yes I do.”

The next week Ivry asked to appear before the Israeli cabinet. After the meeting the government of Israel announced that it was terminating any and all defense relations with South Africa and banning the import and export of defense items between the two countries, in keeping with the U.N. embargo.

pp. 44–45

This passage makes me roll my eyes for a couple of reasons. First of all, as mentioned, it’s self-serving; although not directly, Clarke is basically taking credit for Israel’s cessation of arms trading with South Africa. And the second reason it makes me roll my eyes is the little speech Clarke reportedly gave General Ivry; are we really to believe that Clarke appealed to Ivry’s conscience, and convinced him that apartheid is morally wrong, and that General Ivry then went on to convince the leaders of his country to cease selling arms to South Africa based on that? That the general was sitting there, staring guiltily at his hands like a little schoolboy, while Clarke lectured him, until he finally developed a backbone and stood up to his government? It’s a little… far-fetched. It is, in fact, how most lay-people assume that the government works; everybody’s in their own bubble, but “if someone could just go and reason with these people, they’d stop fighting each other all the time!” (If only Clarke had convinced Ivry that Israel’s occupation of Palestine was morally wrong, perhaps there would be a few thousand less dead Palestinians today.)

There are other examples of Clarke making himself out to be the lone voice, in all of Washington, who saw the security of America clearly. And I’m not necessarily even denying that most, or even all, of the occurrences cited are true. He was in charge of security; if he and his colleagues thought al Qaeda was a threat, and nobody else did, then it’s not too surprising. It’s just tiring to read, time and time again. “I did this; I thought of that; nobody would listen to me about the other…” He does try to give credit where credit is due, in many places; the people that he worked with and respected get a lot of mention in the book, and high praise. But he reserves the most praise for himself.

The other problem I’d mentioned that I have with the book is the fact that Clarke has no deeper analysis of the issues. For him, terrorism can be boiled down to one thing: Islam gone awry. And the answer to terrorism is to jail and kill the terrorists. He does have some other answers to handling terrorism, and I’ll be quoting him a bit below, but jailing and killing seem to be his primary recommendations for dealing with the terrorists.

For Clarke, the reason that the terrorists blew up the World Trade Center, or the reason that they attacked the USS Cole, or the reason they’ve made any of the attacks on Americans, is because they’re religious extremists. They’re Muslims that have twisted the religion of Islam, bent on creating the Caliphate—which Clarke represents as a new country that the extremists want to create, which would be an Islamic theocracy, to be ruled by Shariah law. There are two problems I have with this:
  1. I’m not sure if Clarke’s understanding of the Caliphate is 100% accurate. I know that my understanding of the Caliphate is very shallow; I know very little about it at all. But Clarke seems to be taking his whole understanding of the Caliphate—and Islam in general—from the perspective of American security, and terrorism.
  2. To claim religion as the only underlying reason for terrorist acts is naive, at best. (Blatantly politically self-serving, at worst. But I’ll talk about why in a second…) Yes, there are some religious issues there, and yes, as Clarke says, groups like al Qaeda are not representative of the Muslim faith; it’s true that al Qaeda pushes a version of Islam that twists the religion, and most Muslims around the world will tell you that, if given half a chance. But what Clarke, and others, have to realize is that there are other, legitimate, reasons why so many Muslims—not to mention South Americans, West Indians, Indians, etc.—hate the West. Britain, the United States, and, yes, folks, even Canada, have been taking advantage of people in the Middle East and South America and Africa for centuries; exploiting the resources there for our own good, to the detriment of the people living there.
Just to be clear, I definitely don’t believe that violence is the way to redress these issues; I understand why people resort to violence, since they don’t actually have much other power to change things, but I think there are [probably] other ways it could be handled. And, as we saw after 9/11, the vast majority of Muslims don’t think that violence is the way to solve these issues, either; after 9/11, there was an incredible amount of support for the States, from Muslims, and Muslim leaders around the world decried the attacks.

Unfortunately, Bush squandered all of that support, first by going cowboy-style with his “you’re either with us or against us” speeches, and then by invading Iraq, a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. As Clarke says:

Any leader whom one can imagine as President on September 11 would have declared a “war on terrorism” and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary by invading. Almost any President would have stepped up domestic security and preparedness measures. Exactly what did George Bush do after September 11 that any other President one can imagine wouldn’t have done after such attacks? In the end, what was unique about George Bush’s reaction to terrorism was his selection as an object lesson for potential state sponsors of terrorism not a country that had been engaging in anti-U.S. terrorism but one that had not been, Iraq. It is hard to imagine another President making that choice.

Others (Clinton, the first Bush, Carter, Ford) might have tried to understand the phenomenon of terrorism, what led fifteen Saudis and four others to commit suicide to kill Americans. Others might have tried to build a world consensus to address the root causes, while using the moment to force what had been lethargic or doubting governments to arrest known terrorists and close front organizations. One can imagine Clinton trying one more time to force an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, going to Saudi Arabia and addressing the Muslim people in a moving appeal for religious tolerance, pushing hard for a security arrangement between India and Pakistan to create a nuclear-free zone, and stabilizing Pakistan. Such efforts may or may not have succeeded, but one thing we know they would not have done is inflame Islamic opinion and further radicalize Muslim youth into heightened hatred of America in the way that invading Iraq has done.

pp. 244–245

Some of this definitely makes sense. Clarke has more faith in Clinton being able to help out the Israeli-Palestinian situation than I do; I think he adequately proved that he cared much more about helping Israel than in helping Palestine, but aside from that, this makes sense.

Clarke also makes the point that the invasion of Iraq has actually fuelled the growth of al Qaeda:

One would have thought that it was equally obvious after September 11 that high on the priority list would have been improving U.S. relations with the Islamic world, in order to dry up support for the deviant variant of Islam that is al Qaeda. After all, al Qaeda, the enemy that attacked us, was engaged in its own highly successful propaganda campaign to influence millions of Muslims to act against America, as a first step in a campaign to replace existing governments around the world with Taliban-like regimes. To defeat that enemy and prevent it from achieving its objectives, we needed to do more than just arrest and kill people. We and our values needed to be more appealing to Muslims than al Qaeda is. By all measures, however, al Qaeda and similar groups were increasing in support from Morocco to Indonesia. If that trend continues, the radical imams and their madrassas schools will … produce more terrorists than we jail or shoot. Far from addressing the popular appeal of the enemy that attacked us, Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed, proof that America was at war with Islam, that we were the new Crusaders come to occupy Muslim land.

Nothing America could have done would have provided al Qaeda and its new generation of cloned groups a better recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country. Nothing else could have so well negated all our other positive acts and so closed Muslim eyes and ears to our subsequent calls for reform in their region. It was if Usama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting “invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.”

pp. 245–246

Again, although I agree with Clarke’s main point—that the States increased support for al Qaeda instead of diminishing it—I don’t agree with some of his analysis. I don’t know that al Qaeda attacked the States “as a first step in a campaign to replace existing governments around the world with a Taliban-like regime”—I think they attacked the States, mostly, because the States has been abusing its power in their region for the better part of a century, and they want the Americans to stop. It’s true that people like Osama bin Laden will support their cause by claiming to do it in the name of Islam; however, it’s also true that Bush has used Christianity in a way that I, as a Christian, find blasphemous. But Osama isn’t claiming to be fighting Christianity; he’s fighting the West. He has been able to separate his politics and his religion in a way that people in the West haven’t, which is why there is so much anti-Muslim sentiment. Well, one reason, anyway.

Clarke gives a lot of reasons why America should not have invaded Iraq. Actually, just two; the same two that everyone else gives: There was no reason to, and it’s just making things worse. Pretty much sums it up, actually. But why did they invade?

The fall of the House of Saud would not come as a shock to many senior American officials who have followed the Middle East for years. Many have long feared, without being able to prove it, that that House and its military and security services are riddled with termites. Stung by the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and its replacement with an anti-American theocracy, many American officials have feared a repeat performance of that tragedy across the Gulf in Saudi Arabia. This fear probably played a role in the thinking of some in the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, who wanted to go to war with Iraq. With Saddam gone, they believed, the U.S. could reduce its dependency on Saudi Arabia, could pull forces out of the Kingdom, and could open up an alternative source of oil.

pp. 282–283

I’ll end with a final quote from Clarke, which pretty much sums up the book, for me.

Many around the world also feared that the world’s only remaining superpower would lash out, destabilizing nations and regions. America, after all, spends more money on its weapons and military than the next seven nations combined. Would a system that tolerated such spending act like a muscle-bound cowboy or, as the French feared, a hyper-power? Many in the Muslim world feared that America would, despite its promises, strike out against Islamic regimes and make Professor Sam Huntington’s Clash of Cultures theory a self-fulfilling prophecy. They feared that America would give only lip service to the Palestinian problem that was a litmus test for so many Muslims. Many in America sought ways of demonstrating patriotism. We knew there would be heightened security measures and greater expenditures, but we put aside our own fears of Big Brother and were prepared to unite as one people in the face of irrational hatred and unspeakable violence. Our leadership fell into the trap, fulfilling all of the worst fears of many around the world and here at home. Rather than seek to cultivate a unified global consensus to destroy the ideological roots of terrorism, we did in fact lash out in a largely unilateral and entirely irrelevant military adventure against a Muslim nation. Just as many nations thought we would, America pointedly snubbed the counsel of Arab friends and NATO allies, and sought security through the use of military muscle. It has left us less secure.

After September 11, Americans were asked to shop, not to sacrifice. Far from being asked to pay additional taxes to fund the war on terrorism, Americans were told that they would pay fewer taxes and we would pay for the war and additional security by passing on the costs to our grandchildren. The consensus against terrorism was shattered by such overreaching as the arrest of American citizens in the United States and their designation as “enemies” to be denied lawyers and due process. The Attorney General, rather than bringing us together, managed to persuade much of the country that the needed reforms of the Patriot Act were actually the beginning of fascism. Rather than seriously and systematically addressing the real security vulnerabilities in this country, the Administration succumbed to political pressure to reorganize agencies amid the “war on terrorism” and created an unwieldy bureaucracy. Unwilling to fund security upgrades at necessary levels, the Administration funded pork barrel procurement of high-tech weapons for small towns while police and fire personnel were laid off in high-threat cities.

September 11 erased memories of the unique process whereby George Bush had been selected as President a few months earlier. Now, as he stood with an arm around a New York fireman promising to get those who had destroyed the World Trade Center, he was every American’s President. His polls soared. He had a unique opportunity to unite America, to bring the United States together with allies around the world to fight terrorism and hate, to eliminate al Qaeda, to eliminate our vulnerabilities, to strengthen important nations threatened by radicalism. He did none of those things. He invaded Iraq.

pp. 285–286

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Of dandelions, and wasted opportunities

Andrea and I were leaving the house for work, the other day, and I noticed a frozen dandelion on our front lawn. It was interesting, because it was in that state where the dandelion is all puffy and white; really, the seeds should have blown away, but for some reason they didn’t, and it just ended up frozen to our lawn, in a perfect white sphere.

I was very tempted, when I saw it, to whip out the camera phone and snap a picture. It would have been so “bloggerly” of me to do so—have a blog post that was nothing but a picture of a dandelion, frozen to my front lawn. Bloggers love doing stuff like that; it makes them feel all artistic. “I may waste a ton of time doing things like writing reviews of King Kong, trying to prove how smart I am—or, at least, how much smarter than you—but look, I’m an artist, too!”

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your point of view—we were in a hurry, and I would have felt foolish bending down to try and get a picture of it, with Andrea watching me. So I didn’t, and I have no picture of a frozen dandelion to post. (The picture that I did include I just found on the net. I could have even found a picture of a frozen dandelion—I was surprised that the search turned some up—but none of those pictures looked like mine, and besides, I felt that that would be going too far. I don’t know why I felt that, I just did.)

Movie Review: Peter Jackson’s King Kong

We watched King Kong last night. Not so much because we were eager to see it, but because I had recorded it, and we had a rare three hours to kill, which doesn’t happen very often. It… well, it wasn’t a great movie. I realize that it was one of the most popular movies of 2005, but I really can’t understand why. We live in an age when special effects have come a long way; a movie with good special effects should not be enough, on its own, to capture peoples’ attention anymore. But, obviously I’m wrong, on that point; the special effects were almost the only thing this movie had going for it.

First off, it was pretty racist. I know that Jackson was trying to stay true to the original, 1933 movie, but man, he could have done without the scenes with the “natives”. Or at least treated it better. Not to mention the wraith-like way that Naomi Watts was portrayed. (Wait, did I say wraith-like? I meant stoned. She had the same blank, glassy-eyed stare throughout the whole movie.) Why is it that wild, savage natives, dressed in loincloths and dancing to the beat of their jungle drums, are always contrasted with a pale, blonde, skinny white woman, held up as the picture of beauty? Click here for a spoiler.)

But there is another problem with this movie, aside from the racism, and it’s the same problem Jackson had in the Lord of the Rings movies: He’s managed to squeeze a two hour movie into a three hour length. (Heh! Do you like how I used the word “squeeze” there, even though I actually meant the opposite? I’m so witty and clever! Irony is great!) Part of the problem is his constant penchant for slow motion scenes. He did it a lot in LOTR, when it wasn’t really necessary, but he did it a bunch of times in Kong when it wasn’t even remotely necessary. I hate to say it, but it’s really amateurish directing, to do that. He was able to get away with it on the LOTR, because

  1. He had a huge budget, and the special effects often made up for the bad directorial choices.
  2. He was working with one of the most popular stories ever written. (The only book that has sold better than the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the Bible.) As long as he stayed pretty true to the books—which he did—he was going to have a popular movie.
So you could watch the LOTR movies, and not get too distracted by the unnecessary slow motion, because you were captured by the story. Also, for the LOTR movies, taking out the slow motion scenes would have probably only meant taking the nine hour total to eight and a half or so; percentage-wise, that’s not such a drop. Whereas for Kong, taking that crap out would have made the three hour movie into a two hour movie, which is significant. (That may be an exaggeration; I didn’t time the slow-mo scenes, and don’t really want to watch the movie again in order to do so.)

Of course, the slow motion, and other amateurish directorial choices, are bad for another reason, too—not just because it makes the movie longer than it has to be: It also takes you out of the movie, and reminds you that: “oh yeah, I’m watching a movie”. It’s impossible to lose yourself in a Peter Jackson movie for too long, because every few minutes you get reminded that you’re watching a movie.

There were some good things about the movie. Jack Black did a good job, I thought. (I’m not really a fan of his comedy; it’s just not my style. But, like so many other comedic actors, when he takes on a “serious role” he does a good job. They say that it’s because you need such good timing to be a good comedian; you can transfer those skills to “serious roles” easily.)

The special effects were also good, in places. Unfortunately, we were watching the movie on our TV, rather than on the “big screen”, so we might have lost some of the grandeur, but some of the effects-intensive scenes didn’t really look that realistic. (Click here for examples, since it’s sort of a spoiler, too.)

And, finally, since I’ve been so hard on Jackson’s directing, I’ll mention a couple of things he did that I thought were very effective: Sometimes he would have a scene with a big buildup, lots of music preparing you for the fact that something was about to happen, and then when it happened, he would suddenly cut out the music, and simply let you hear whatever was going on; I thought this was an effective way to do it, without reminding you that you were watching a movie. It heightens the drama. And then, on the other side of the coin, there was a scene where he did the opposite, and cut out everything but the music. You have to be careful with that, though, because it has a tendency to become too schamltzy—something that Jackson already has a problem with.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Buck Rogers vs. the Vampire

Andrea and I were watching TV on Saturday morning—we don’t watch a lot of TV, but it does happen from time to time—and she mentioned that a colleague of hers had been watching Battlestar Galactica recently, and that it was a really good show. I decided to look on the Space network to see if it was showing, so that I could record it, and see what all the fuss is about. I found it, but I also found something even better: an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century! Talk about a blast from the past! I used to watch that show all the time, when I was a kid!

But it was even better than that. It was the episode of Buck Rogers where they meet a Vorvon—that is, a vampire. Sound pretty stupid? You’re absolutely right. I don’t really remember much about the show Buck Rogers, except that I used to watch it, and that the laser guns they used looked a lot like the top of a bottle of Windex. But, as I was watching this particular episode, I discovered something: Images from this episode have stuck in my sub-conscious mind, ever since I was a kid. There is something about the image of the “vampire” using his black nails to suck out Erin Gray’s… I don’t know, life, or essence, or something, that really stuck in my mind.

Here are some things that jumped out at me, as I watched:

  • As mentioned, as soon as I saw the image above, of the vampire putting his fingernails on Erin Gray’s throat, my mind was immediately screaming “I remember that! That scared the crap out of me, when I was a kid!”
  • Similarly, during any of the scenes with the vampire, Erin was doing this weird, shuddery style breathing. For me, that will always represent what a person should sound like, when s/he is scared of a vampire. (So you should probably try and find a copy of this episode, and watch it, just in case you ever happen to encounter one. You don’t want to be unprepared.)
  • There were also some scenes—which were lit in red, for some reason—where the vampire is looking at Erin Gray, and she is looking scared, doing her “I’m scared of a vampire” shuddery breathing, and rubbing her arms, and again, it immediately struck a familiar chord with me. I remember those scenes, from when I was a kid.
  • I was watching the robots carefully, because they seemed somewhat familiar, but they didn’t really have any kind of visceral effect on me.

Friday, December 08, 2006

I know, I know…

I fully realize that I haven’t been posting here that much, lately. I haven’t had time, and I haven’t had much to say when I have had time.

I also haven’t done a great job of keeping the serna Bible Blog up to date; I posted yesterday, and I think the day before, but it hasn’t been every day.

I’m just writing a quick note to mention that I haven’t given up on blogging. I will be starting to blog again—soon, I’m sure—I just haven’t had time lately.

Of course, I also still need to find a good HTML editor for Linux, but that’s another story altogether…

Monday, December 04, 2006


I’m getting over a cold, so it’s probably not a good idea to get a coffee. However, I think I’m going to need one, to stay awake.

I was on training last week—as I probably mentioned, but I’m too lazy to look back and see—and had to miss a day, because I was sick. What a lousy time to get sick! It wasn’t great training, either, so it was more like a holiday than a week of work. I would rather have taken a day off during a regular week.

But it’s only 2:00, and I’m starting to nod off. And I have a meeting starting at 2:30, which I think I’ll have trouble getting through. So I’m off to Tim’s, to keep myself awake.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


I'm sick, and I'm tired, and I'm trying to pay attention during a course.

Being sick—and tired—makes that very difficult.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Technology Gone Wrong

I had once posted about a bathroom I was in that had touchless soap dispensers—you just hold your hands under it, and the dispenser automatically pours some soap into them.

At the building where I work, they have gone a step further: touchless paper towel dispensers. (Unlike the bathroom in the previous post, the sinks here are touchless, too. Although the soap dispensers aren’t…)

Unfortunately, as the images below show, there are still some bugs with the system.

This always annoys me. People feel that simply by putting a computer into a device that used to be mechanical, it will somehow be better. Usually, you end up with a very marginal improvement in functionality—was it really so hard to use a paper towel dispenser, before they automated it?!?—and you always end up with reliability problems. The computers start having problems, and there’s nothing you can do about it, other than buying a new computer/chip for it. Or replacing the whole thing outright.

Want another example? Raise your hand if your car has ever had a problem, where it was reporting that things weren’t working, and it turned out it was the sensors that weren’t working. Or if your gas gauge stopped working, because it’s now computer-controlled, instead of being a mechanical device. (Before gas gauges were computerized, did you ever hear of someone’s gas gauge having problems?)

Movie Review: Casino Royale

Warning: There will be some spoilers in this post, but they’ll be minor. I’ll put anything that’s a spoiler into a pop-up, so if you don’t want to ruin anything, don’t click the pop-ups.

As most—if not all—of my readers know, I’m a big James Bond fan. So I was really looking forward to the release of Casino Royale, and hoping to see it in the theatre. (There have been a number of movies that I’d hoped to see in the theatre, lately, but I don’t usually get to.)

But tonight, Andrea had plans that didn’t include me, and since I was going to be eating alone, I was trying to think of something to have for supper, that she wouldn’t like. It suddenly occurred to me: Forget about supper, go see a movie that she wouldn’t like! So I got my chance.

Enough preamble. I loved this movie. I think it might have been one of the best Bond movies, although, of course, I expect a million 007 fans out there would disagree with me, and I really don’t care to argue the point. It seemed like a more “grown up” Bond movie; it still had all of the elements that make a 007 movie a 007 movie, but it also felt more… mature, I guess. I think the first thing that hinted to me that this would be a slightly different Bond was the opening credits; there weren’t silhouettes of naked women! I was quite pleasantly surprised.

As you probably already know, if you care about such things, this movie is a “James Bond prequel”. It takes place at the beginning of his career, right after he’s obtained “double-oh” status. (i.e., his license to kill.) I thought that was a great idea; the movie is based on Ian Fleming’s first book, so why not make it Bond’s first adventure? I also thought this was a good way to introduce a new actor, to play Bond. And I think Daniel Craig did a very good job, as Bond. (Most of the people I talked to, who saw the movie, agreed with me, except that numerous people thought it was odd to see a blonde James Bond. Personally, it wasn’t much of a problem, for me.)

Unfortunately, they created some minor inconsistencies for themselves, by doing this. First of all, they have Judi Dench playing M again—except that Judi Dench wasn’t supposed to have been Bond’s superior since the beginning. Remember the scene in GoldenEye, when she has that little talk with Bond, about whether he’s comfortable working for a woman? No? Okay, neither do I, then.

The other thing, which I think is very minor, is that Casino Royale seems to be taking place now, not 20 or 30 or whatever years ago. But since they’re doing their best not to have Bond ever age, I guess that’s not an issue, is it? So back to the review…

Overall, I think this was a good spy movie. Even people who don’t watch the Bond movies might enjoy this one; it’s more realistic, and slightly less sexist than usual. (Not much, but a little.) For example, there are some love interests for him in this one—you know it’s a Bond film because there isn’t “a” love interest, there are multiple love interests—but only two, and he only actually ends up sleeping with one of them.

On the minus side, when it comes to sexism, the scenes with Caterina Murino are about as sexist as you can get. Scenes of her riding horse back, in a bikini, for no apparent reason except that… well… they wanted to have scenes of a beautiful woman riding horseback in a bikini. And then they’ve got Ivana Milicevic as one of the villains, and she has no purpose in the movie except to wear an outfit that was mostly missing. (I think they actually forgot to dress her, and somebody just throw a belt over her chest, to cover her up.) She really doesn’t have a role in this movie; she’s only in a few scenes, and even in some of those scenes, she’s not actually part of it; she’s just in the background, with the extras.

Another thing I found very interesting about this movie was the music. It wasn’t your typical Bond-esque music. When he would do something very Bond-like, I’d always be expecting the James Bond guitar riff to play, but it didn’t happen. I realized, at the end of the movie, why this was, and I actually agree with their decision, but it was still odd, on first viewing.

There’s probably other things I’d like to say, but suffice it to say that the Bond series is growing up, and I think they did it well. It took some guts to do some of the things they did—making a prequel, holding back on the Bond music, having less sex—and personally, I think it paid off.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I’d really like to take a nap. Or maybe just have some coffee. Or, perhaps, do some reading; I have a couple of books on the go right now, that I’d like to finish.

Basically, I’m not overly interested in working, at the present moment. I do have a headache, but I assume that it’s just because I’m bored—not for any physical reason.

The Telemarketer

The other day I had the best conversation with a telemarketer that you could have. I mean, nobody enjoys talking to telemarketers, but if you have to, you hope that it goes like this:

  • The Telemarketer
  • By David Hunter
  • INT: serna’s house
  • Phone rings
  • serna
  • Hello?
  • Telemarketer
  • Hi! This is [name of real estate agency]! Are you planning to sell your home any time soon?
  • serna
  • Nope.
  • Telemarketer
  • How about in 2007?
  • serna
  • Nope.
  • Telemarketer
  • Okay, thanks for your time!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Working from home / bad movie day

By now it’s become a tradition. When I work from home, I throw a movie on the TV—either one that I’ve recorded, or one from Rogers On Demand. (Actually, I usually get movies from TMN On Demand, which is free, rather than Rogers On Demand, which is just more friendly Pay-Per-View.) Since we got the PVR, it’s become very easy to set movies to record, so there is usually something for me to watch. Many days, before I leave for work, I scan a day or two ahead in TMN, to see if there is anything I’m interested in, and, if so, click the record button.

The catch, of course, is that I’m by myself, so I only watch movies that Andrea wouldn’t want to see; and, since Andrea has better taste in movies than I do, it means that I end up watching crappy movies. (If it wasn’t crappy, she’d want to see it too, and I wouldn’t be able to watch it, because I’d want to wait until she was with me. Follow the logic?)

Today it was Æon Flux. If you haven’t seen it, take my word: it’s not a good movie. It’s pretty typical for the genre: mostly wooden acting; a plot that doesn’t hold any real surprises; gratuitous nudity. (Actually, no real nudity in this one, but numerous unnecessary scenes of Charlize Theron wearing outfits that were way skimpier than they needed to be.)

And it was only noon, when I wrote this. Who knows what other crappy movies I might have watched, by the time you read this?

Monday, November 20, 2006

New version of Blogger?

Blogger’s been telling me lately that there is a new version of the service that I can upgrade to. They claim that it has some new features—none of which I need, from what I can tell—and that it’s more reliable.

I’m not ready to switch, yet, but I’m sure I will at some point. If so, maybe we’ll all get lucky, and it really will be more reliable. And then I won’t ever again have to put up a post saying how much the Blogger service sucks, and apologize for my blog having been down.

Back From Vacation

I’m back from vacation, which means that I’ll probably start posting a bit more regularly. (For a bit—I think I have another training course scheduled for next week, which means I’ll probably stop posting for a while, again.)

I didn’t do much of significance on my vacation. I went home to visit the folks for a few days, mostly to say goodbye to my mom before she leaves for India, for 15 days. (Did I mention that Mom was going to India? Probably not. It’s a Rotary thing.)

I also started work on running the cables through the attic, as I had previously discussed, but never got around to doing. Unfortunately, I got interrupted, so I’ll have to try again soon. (I did get as far as drilling one of the holes needed, and punching a hole through a wall, but that’s just the source; I need to do the same at the destination, and then actually run the wires.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Haven’t been posting

Sorry, everyone, I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been busy. And will probably continue to be busy. Also, I’ll be on vacation next week, so I doubt I’ll be posting then, either.

So… enjoy your time away from the serna Blog. Maybe when I get back I’ll be well-rested, and posting up a storm. Or maybe not.

Probably not.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Snailio Flipbook

I wouldn’t normally post a link to a site called “Cute Overload”:

At Cute Overload™, we scour the Web for only the finest in Cute Imagery. Imagery that is Worth Your Internet Browsing Time. We offer an overwhelming amount of cuteness to fill your daily visual allowance. Drink it in!

But… what the heck, I found this funny.

Snailio Flipbook

Google ’n stuff

In the interest of killing some time before my 10:30 meeting, I present a conversation I had in MSN, that will have no relevance to anyone but me. And… possibly the person with which I was talking.

I asked the person if s/he wanted his/her name changed, and s/he chose the name Annabelle.

sernaferna says:
(I know you're away, but oh well.)

No luck with the Linux NetMeeting replacement. It doesn't do app sharing.

Annabelle says:

sernaferna says:
In fact, as far as I can tell, there are *no* apps for Linux that do app sharing...

Annabelle says:
i'm not away

Annabelle says:
i forgot to reset

sernaferna says:
Oh. Just keeping the crazies away?

Annabelle says:
that sux

Annabelle says:

Annabelle says:
had to go get a snack

Annabelle says:

sernaferna says:
The GnomeMEeting thing does the videoconferencing stuff (H323 protocol), but doesn't do app sharing (T.120).

sernaferna says:
So I'm logged into for this meeting.

Annabelle says:
maybe there's an opportunity for you here

sernaferna says:
I'm not that kind of hard-core programmer.

Annabelle says:
write your own app-sharing program

Annabelle says:

sernaferna says:
And, if nobody ELSE has done it by this point, it must be REALLY difficult. Something within Linux's architecture that makes it prohibitive...

Annabelle says:

Annabelle says:
i have a friend who works at google

Annabelle says:
maybe i'll suggest it to her

Annabelle says:
app sharing over google?

sernaferna says:
Let me know when they get something up and running.

sernaferna says:
They should have it by the time I get back from lunch, right?

Annabelle says:
no problem

sernaferna says:
Excellent. I'll hold you--and your friend--to that.

Annabelle says:

Annabelle says:
she lives in california!

Annabelle says:
shes not even awake yet!

sernaferna says:
Please. She works for Google. Those guys never leave the office!

Annabelle says:

Annabelle says:
actually they are frequently sent on offsites

sernaferna says:
She's probably hooked up to a caffeine IV right now, creating software that lets you search your sock drawer, from Google, to see if there are any loose ones...

Annabelle says:
where they get to sit around in a parl eating strawberries

Annabelle says:

Annabelle says:
strawberries in the park

Annabelle says:
that was her second day

Annabelle says:
they have a pretty sweet deal there i have to say

sernaferna says:
Wow. I've never been sent to a strawberry-eating offsite for [COMPANY NAME ELIDED].

Annabelle says:
see what i'm saying?

sernaferna says:
I told you, I always believe what you say.

Sometimes the magnitude just takes a while to sink in...

Annabelle says:

sernaferna says:
Do you mind if i post this conversation to my blog?

Annabelle says:
so long as you leave out the part where i say [ELIDED]

sernaferna says:

sernaferna says:

Monday, November 06, 2006

CD Reviews

While on course last week, there were a couple of evenings when I finished before Andrea did, and I had some time to kill before we car-pooled back home. So I took the opportunity on Wednesday to stop at a music store, and pick up some CDs I’d been wanting to get.

Weird Al: Straight Outta Lynwood

I’ve mentioned Weird Al before. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, and I have all of his albums. (Aside from any various singles he might have put out.) That being said, I always get mixed feelings, when I get a new album he’s put out; I obviously like his sense of humour, but at the same time, a lot of the humour is variations on themes he’s already done. So… the album was pretty par for the course. (A colleague of mine mentioned that it was his best album yet; I don’t know if I’d go along with that.) As is so often the case, the best songs on the album are the ones that would be on the radio right now; “White & Nerdy”, and “Don’t Download This Song” are my favourites, and “Canadian Idiot” is okay too.

As an aside, it was a bit disappointing that two of the songs that he parodied on this album—“Ridin’ Dirty” and “American Idiot”—were socially conscious songs. There is such a dearth of socially conscious songs in North American radio; when we get a couple of songs that become popular, they then get parodied? Oh well.

The CD also came with a bonus DVD, which contains some videos, for some of the songs, and a behind-the-scenes featurette, which showed some of the making of the album, in the studio. I loved the “making of” video; there’s something about a recording studio that I just love, so any time I get a peak into someone recording in a studio, I love it. I also love the video for “Don’t Download This Song”—which you can view online—so that was nice. But the rest of the videos were either mediocre, bizarre, or just bad. (The video for “Close But No Cigar” was bad, where I’m using “bad” in a moral sense. I don’t recommend anyone view this video.)

Christina Aguilera: Back to Basics

This is one I’d been thinking about picking up for a while. Regardless of people’s opinions of Christina, they all seem to agree that she has talent—they may not like her songs, or some of the choices her producers make, or enjoy hearing her music on the radio, but as for raw talent, they agree that she has it. So when I heard that her new album was going to be called “Back to Basics”, and that she was going old school, I had high hopes. Also, I’d already heard “Ain’t No Other Man”, which I love, so I knew there’d be at least one song on the album that I liked.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album was pretty disappointing. As Andrea pointed out to me, Christina—and her producers, whom I blame more than Christina herself—just don’t “get it”, sometimes. She’s got some songs on here which are supposed to sound old school, but just don’t ring true. The most obvious examples are the ones that are supposed to be burlesque-style. The whole point of burlesque is that it’s supposed to be all about the innuendo, whereas Christina’s songs don’t have any innuendo at all; she just flat out says it. (Not that I’m a huge fan of burlesque, mind you; it’s just an example. But a lot of other songs on the album don’t ring true either.)

In any event, though, the album includes “Ain’t No Other Man”, which almost makes it worth it. (In retrospect, it would have been better to get the single, instead, since that’s the only song that I unreservedly love.) Every time I hear this song, it stays in my head for hours, and it’s one of those rare cases where I don’t mind.

Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere

This was the CD that I wasn’t taking any chances on. During the birthday party we hosted a couple of weeks ago, they brought this CD, and I loved it, so I felt more than happy picking it up for myself.

Of course, even then, there was a bit of a problem: Andrea’s sister already had it, or something. (I’m not really clear if she has it, or borrowed it from the library, or what.) But I’m not too worried; it’s a great album, so I don’t mind supporting the artist. (I do mind supporting the record company, but what are you going to do, right?)

Ridin’ with the windows open

It’s warm out today, so when I went out to lunch, I was able to keep my windows open. That wasn’t my original plan; I’d just opened the window to use my passcard, to get out of the parking lot. But when I started driving, I realized how comfortable the temperature was, and never bothered to put the window back up.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do that; soon the cold winds of winter will start to blow, and the windows will stay up until the warmer months come again. Needless to say, I enjoyed it while I could.

The training was great

Sure, so I didn’t post for the last half of last week, but it was worth it. The Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) training was great, and well worth the money. (Said the man who didn’t have to pay for it.) The woman giving the training really knew what she was talking about, and they did a good job of putting it together.

I don’t normally like training, to be honest. I much prefer to learn on my own; if you learn by doing, you “get it” much better than when you learn from training. But that’s not always possible, and SOA is—realistically—too new to learn by doing, so I decided to make this course a rare exception. Also, it was downtown, which allowed me to indulge my love for bubble tea. There’s a place in the Eaton Centre called Bubble Tease that I went to every day, at lunch, for a taro “milky bubble”, with tapioca. Aside from the creepy, slightly pedophile-looking anime/manga pictures of scantily-clad Japanese girls on some of their signs, I recommend them. (Just stay by the cash register, and you won’t even have to see the pictures I’m referring to.)

And that’s about it. I don’t have much to say about the training itself; if you want to learn about SOA, take the training yourself, you cheap bas— I mean… there’s plenty of information online.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I got two more spam comments, which I deleted. I hope this doesn't become a trend, so that I have to turn on comment moderation or something…

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Saying nothing in many words

I worked from home again today. I needed to bring the car in—mostly to get its snow tires put on, but it was also overdue for service—and it’s not normally worth it to try and go in just for the later part of the afternoon, when that happens. In this case I could have; the car ended up being ready by 11:30, which surprised me, but I’d already told people I’d be working from home, so I just stayed. And, as is often the case, there wasn’t anything I did today that I had to be at the office for.

So, as usual, when working from home, I watched a couple of movies. First, I watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which was okay, but not great. But not bad. Just average. And then I watched Hot Shots! Part Deux, which I have on DVD. I’ve always loved the Hot Shots! movies. I wish Andrea did, too, so I could watch them more often…

I’ll be on training, for the remainder of the week, which means that it’s going to be a light week for serna. (Of course, that assumes that the training won’t be too hard, and I’m hoping that’s a bad assumption. I’d prefer the training to be hard, so that I can get something out of it, but training usually isn’t.) The training is on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), and I really hope that it’s useful, and doesn’t just reinforce all of the common sense things I’ve been thinking about SOA since the term was introduced to me. (I don’t have a good link to an SOA article on hand, so I’ll just post the link to the Wikipedia article, if you’re interested in what it is.)

I upgraded Ubuntu on my laptop, from version 6.06 (“Dapper Drake”) to 6.10 (“Edgy Eft”) on Saturday. Fortunately, there was an easy upgrade process; all you have to do is type in gksu "update-manager -c" from a command prompt. Unfortunately, the upgrade didn’t work; when it made me reboot, it refused to load. (Well, Linux seemed to boot fine; it was just the X server that wouldn’t load.) So I burned the Ubuntu CD, and reinstalled from that, and everything was fine. Except that my wireless network card doesn’t work anymore; I was so impressed, when I first installed Ubuntu, that it recognized that card, and now it doesn’t work. (I’m sure I’ll get it to work, I just haven’t put any time into it yet.)

And that’s about it. I’m sure I won’t be posting to my blog for the next few days, because I doubt they’ll have internet connectivity in the training, so you’ll just have to entertain yourselves for a few days. Actually, you’ve been entertaining yourselves for a while, because I haven’t been posting much here, lately. So you’ve got some good practice.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Still Tired

Of course I’m still tired, I only just finished writing that I was tired a couple of hours ago…

My eyes are sore, and don’t want to stay open, and I just feel generally run-down. And in an hour, I have to go to a meeting that I really don’t want to go to, because it will be positioned as “me against the world”. (Well, okay, not “the world”. Just the people at the meeting. The rest of the people in the world would agree with me. Heh.)

“The problem lies in the unwillingness to recognize that your own terrorism is terrorism”

As I so often do, I’m presenting a link to an interview with Chomsky.

Here’s a quote, in which Chomsky proves that it’s not just the big picture he keeps in mind; anything having to do with foreign policy affects people on a very personal level:

Interviewer: And what keeps you motivated?

Chomsky: I’ll just tell you a brief story. I was in Beirut a couple of months ago giving talks at the American university in the city. After a talk, people come up and they want to talk privately or have books signed.

Here I was giving a talk in a downtown theatre, a large group of people were around and a young woman came up to me, in her mid-’20s, and just said this sentence: “I am Kinda” and practically collapsed. You wouldn’t know who Kinda is but that’s because we live in societies where the truth is kept hidden. I knew who she was. She had a book of mine open to a page on which I had quoted a letter of hers that she wrote when she was seven years old.

It was right after the U.S. bombing of Libya, her family was then living in Libya, and she wrote a letter which was found by a journalist friend of mine who tried to get it published in the United States but couldn’t because no one would publish it. He then gave it to me, I published it. The letter said something like this:

“Dear Mr Reagan, I am seven years old. I want to know why you killed my little sister and my friend and my rag doll. Is it because we are Palestinians? Kinda”. That’s one of the most moving letters I have ever seen and when she walked up to me and said I am Kinda, and, like I say, actually fell over, not only because of the event but because of what it means.

Here’s the United States with no pretext at all, bombing another country, killing and destroying, and nobody wants to know what a little seven-year-old girl wrote about the atrocities. That’s the kind of thing that keeps me motivated and ought to keep everybody motivated. And you can multiply that by 10,000.

Tired. So tired…

So, as posted, I was up all night Saturday night, for a deployment. Then I was up most of the night Tuesday night, to re-do the deployment. So, all in all, I’m pretty wiped out these days. I’m not as young as I used to be, you know.

But unfortunately, I had to get up a bit early this morning, because Andrea had to be at work earlier than usual. (We car pool.) And then I’m going to be out late tonight, for Youth Group, because we’re going roller skating from 9–12 tonight.

Something tells me that, if I’m not very careful, I’m going to be grumpy tonight. I’ll have to devote some prayer to that.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Deployment was successful. You can relax now.

I put up my last post in the middle of a deployment, promised that I would post the results, and then never did. Are you all in suspense? No? Well, I’ll write about it anyway.

The deployment was successful. The actual “work” of the deployment was done ahead of schedule—which is normally the case, because we have a little bit of breathing room built into our time estimates—but the testing went a bit longer than usual, so all in all, we were about 5 minutes later than scheduled. Actually, one guy fell asleep during the call, and we lost a few minutes waiting for him to wake up to perform his part of the deployment, so if that hadn’t happened, we probably wouldn’t have been behind schedule at all.

Wednesday was sort of a wash, for me; even though we pretty much finished on schedule, I still didn’t get home until 4:00AM Wednesday morning. So I slept in until 10:00, and worked from home. And I did actually work, I didn’t just laze around all day, but I didn’t really work hard. I also watched Fargo, which I’d never seen before; it was pretty good. (Since I was working from the couch, with my laptop on my lap—where a laptop should be, I guess—it was easy to watch and work at the same time.)

And, uh, yeah. That’s about it, really. I’d had plans to do other things with my time, on Wednesday, like maybe install Ubuntu on my desktop computer, or even walk down the street and get the mail, but none of those plans came to fruition. Working from home is often a chance to get things like that done, because you’re not working every second of the day. (And I can keep my laptop beside me at the desk, and work on that while Ubuntu is installing beside me.) But when you’re sort of out of it, from too many late nights in a row, and are just wandering around the house in your bathrobe the whole day, it’s not conducive to getting a lot of things done.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Deployment—Let’s try that again, shall we?

I’m losing track of the days right now, so I don’t know if it’s been a day, or a couple of days, since I last posted. I’m sure it’s been less than a week. It’s Tuesday night—technically, Wednesday morning, but since I’m still up from Tuesday, it seems like Tuesday night to me.

I’m back at the office, as I type this, getting ready for another deployment. We figured out pretty quickly why the last one failed. A bit too quickly, actually, because it’s all the more shame that we had to abort it, and start over. So we’re pretty confident that this one will go much quicker than the last one. Maybe even back to our normal 30 minute “badda bing badda boom”-style deployment. Cross your fingers, or knock wood, or whatever you do if you’re superstitious. (Actually, don’t bother. By the time you read this, it will be long finished. Actually, by the time you read this, there may be another post further up the page, which already told you how the deployment went. If so, do you find it weird to read how the deployment went, and then to read this, where I’m wondering how it will go? Or are you just used to blogs by now, and not phased by it at all?)

I left work early Tuesday afternoon, around 3:00, so that I could go home and get some sleep. It didn’t work; I didn’t get any sleep. I did, however, watch a mediocre movie, called Fun With Dick and Jane. I’m not even bothering to link to the IMDB entry for the movie, because it didn’t inspire me, and I can’t be bothered. Let’s see, what else did I do? I was going to watch Constantine, which I had also recorded, but apparently The Movie Network played a different movie, when I was expecting Constantine, so I didn’t get to watch it. No great loss, because I wasn’t really too excited about it in the first place. In fact, I decided to not even bother looking for another occurrence of the movie, to try and tape it again.

Note: At this point in the creation of the blog, the deployment started.

As usual, I brought lots of snacks for the deployment. Coke BlaK, and some fudge (an impulse buy), some Twinkies, and of course some water, to keep myself hydrated. You’ll notice that I also have a novel sitting there, but I didn’t get a chance to read it; the exit I usually take from the 401 to the DVP was blocked off, and I had to do some driving around—and, of course, stop and buy my snacks—so I got to work a bit later than anticipated.

And that’s about it. I sort of have to start paying attention to the deployment, now, so I should stop typing.

Monday, October 23, 2006

My Deployment

Unfortunately, the deployment Saturday night / Sunday morning didn’t go well.

There were two aspects to the deployment: some changes to the database, and the actual application code itself. (The EAR file, for those of you who are familiar with J2EE.) Our system depends on some other back-end systems, which are always taken offline for maintenance between 4:00 and 5:00AM, so we had to finish our work before 4:00, or else we’d have an hour of sitting around and waiting, before we could get back to work. This isn’t usually an issue, for us, because our deployments usually only take around a half hour; if we started at 1:30, as planned, then we should have been done by 2:00.

Here’s how it went down:

  • At 1:30, we took the system offline, and began the database changes
  • The first sign that this was not a typical deployment came when 20 or 30 minutes went by, and the database changes weren’t completed. It normally only takes a few minutes for the database changes.
  • A little investigation gave us the answer: One of our scripts was looping through information in some database tables, and there was more data in production than in our testing environments. So the script, which took only a few minutes to run with 15,000 records, was taking over an hour to run with over 2 million records.
  • The database expert we had with us suggested a quick optimization we could apply to the script, which should help it run faster, so we halted execution, made the change, and started it over again.
  • It finally finished about 3:45. Dangerously close to the 4:00 window!
  • We deployed the application code, and got ready to test.
  • The code was finished deploying, and up and running, at about 4:04. Rats.
  • We decided to reconvene at 5:00.
    • During this interval, I took advantage of the delay to go to the gas station down the road, and pick up some snacks.
    • I also did a search on YouTube, for videos having to do with “Twinkies”, and was disappointed that there weren’t more. I shared one mediocre one with James, who was kind enough to keep me company on MSN Messenger.
  • At 5:00 we reconvened, and tried to test, but the system still wasn’t working. We double-checked, and verified that the back-end systems were up and running, but the code still wasn’t working.
  • After a bit of investigation, it appeared that there was a problem with the code itself.
  • At 5:45, we made the call to “roll back” the changes. (In other words, to restore the database and the application back to the state they were in before we began the deployment, reverting them back to the previous version of the application.) In other circumstances, we would have spent more time troubleshooting the problem, but we needed to have the system up and running—in some state, either with the new version of the application or the old version—by 7:00, and we didn’t think we’d be able to troubleshoot the new version by then.
  • At about 6:30, we were back up and running with the previous version of the application, and I was able to go home.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Further to my last post, we had the party, and I’m at the office now, waiting for my deployment to start. (Actually, I shouldn’t say “had”. At the time that I wrote this, it was probably still going on without me.)

So here’s the thing: the party wasn’t really our party. It was for a friend of ours, who goes to our church. She wanted to have a birthday party, but didn’t have a good space, so we volunteered our place. The party was scheduled to start at 7:00, but she and her sister showed up at 4:30 to set up. And boy, did they set up! I mean, Andrea and I have had people over before, but I now realize that we’ve never had a party. This was a party. Our furniture was rearranged to create a dance floor, there was enough food prepared to feed a hungry army—a hungry army with good taste—and decorations galore were put up everywhere. And, aside from a minor incident involving a fondue set and some fire, it was going very smoothly, when I left.

The other thing I did today was try the Coke BlaK which had been given me. And, although I hadn’t really been expecting much, I quite liked it. If you’ve ever had chocolate-covered coffee beans, and liked them, then you’d probably like Coke BlaK. I found it much more coffee-flavoured than Coke-flavoured.

Youth Group on Friday was as bad as I’d been expecting. But we made plans for next Friday, so hopefully I’ll be able to pull that off, without too much kerfuffle.

And that’s about it, for now. I’m very tired, so I’m hoping that the deployment will go smoothly. I don’t have the brainpower right now to try and troubleshoot anything that comes up.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Another day, another blog entry

Heh. Talk about a misleading title, eh? It’s not like I’m a regular poster—sometimes I don’t post anything for days at a time, and other times I post a half dozen entries in a day.

But I figured I should post something, because otherwise there are people out there who won’t know what’s going on in my life. (The obvious temptation, of course, is to simply post “everything’s the same as always”, and leave it at that, but you know I’m too long-winded to do that.)

I don’t know if he reads this blog regularly, but I’d like to wish my friend Greg a happy birthday. I would have sent an e-card, to commemorate the event—which was more than a week ago—but there aren’t any good e-card sites anymore, that don’t require registration. I get enough spam as it is, without signing up for things and inviting more… And, while I’m at it, if there are others who read this blog who normally get e-cards from me on birthdays, you won’t be getting them going forward. Sorry.

I’ll be working again this weekend. Another late-night deployment, Saturday night/Sunday morning. I just hope it goes as smoothly as past ones; lately we’ve been tearing these things off in 30 minutes or less. Badda boom, badda bing. I also have a party Saturday afternoon, which will be hosted at our place, so I’m hoping it will fizzle out before I have to leave for work, so that I don’t have to leave early.

Nerd stuff: On a related note, I’ve been scouring the web, lately, looking for a good tutorial on Entity Beans. It started out as curiosity, and then turned into a mission: is there not one good site out there, that can clearly and articulately explain to beginners what an Entity Bean is, and how to create it? Or a book? Or a Wikipedia article? I find it odd; I’ve been working with J2EE for years now, and have never seen a good explanation of Entity Beans, aimed at people who don’t already know what Entity Beans are. I’ve seen lots of discussions about whether Entity Beans should be used at all, or how performant they may theoretically be, but nothing for the newbies. I’d do it myself—maybe put it in Wikipedia or something—but I don’t really care enough to put the effort into it. (I’m mostly in the camp that Entity Beans aren’t that useful, although I don’t have strong opinions on it.) As it is, if you’re just getting started with J2EE, and trying to figure out what these “Entity Beans” are, I guess you’ll just have to read a lot of articles. Eventually, you’ll probably start to get an idea what they’re used for, and how to build them.

As today is Friday, I have Youth Group tonight. And, as I’m an incompetent moron, I don’t have anything planned. It used to be that we could all just show up at the church on a Friday night, and entertain ourselves for the night, but those days are gone; these days, when we don’t have anything planned, it’s a long, boring, painful experience for all involved. So I’m mentally preparing myself for a few hours of “So you don’t have anything planned?” and “Why don’t you have anything planned?” and “What are we supposed to do tonight if you don’t have anything planned?!?” But, as the old song goes, nobody’s fault but mine. I’ll go to the church and take my medicine, and hopefully I’ll be more on the ball for next week.

James came over on… um… Wednesday? Anyway, he came over some day this week, and fixed our lawn. Actually, not just the lawn; he did a bunch of stuff:

  • cut the grass in the front yard
  • cut the grass in the back yard—which doesn’t always get done, when I do the lawn
  • trimmed the plants that are planted along the fence
  • weeded the various gardens around the yard
  • removed the grape vine, which I had only partially removed the year before
  • removed a bunch of other junk that had been in the back yard, unused; places where gardens should go, but didn’t have any gardens, etc.
Frankly, I don’t know how he managed to do all of this work in one day. (Along with any other work he did, that I may have forgotten to mention.)

Speaking of James, he also gave me a bottle of Coke BlaK, which I haven’t tried yet. (“Coke effervescence with coffee essence”? That has the potential to be really, really bad…) Maybe on Saturday; I’m sure I’ll need an extra boost, to keep myself awake that day, so it’ll probably be the perfect opportunity.

I’ve been feeling incredibly listless and disinterested at work, lately. (And, as mentioned, MSN has been making me angry, although it seems better today.) I think I’m just tired. Or I have mono. One of the two. Probably just tired, though, so I’m not worried about being contagious. We’ll see how this weekend goes; if the release goes smoothly, and everything is fine on Monday, maybe I’ll get back into the swing of things.

And maybe I’ll start posting more regularly, too.