Friday, November 24, 2006

Linux: It's the Journey. There is no destination.

I was reading wake up and smell the asphalt recently, by another running and DBAing person (she apparently has escaped IT for greener pastures recently, good for her), and ran across an entry about Linux: Sorry Linus, I tried. I could relate, particularly to this bit:
Tried to make sense of man pages that went on forever and ever. Refrained from asking questions that would only be met with "have you read the man pages?". Did a lot of gooling instead. Spent an entire 3-day weekend installing Oracle and was so disgusted with the process that I never started the service anymore after that.
I've been there. The thing is, I love Linux, always have. It's just a matter of understanding what Linux is about. It's an Albert Ellis, Rational Emotive Therapy kind of thing. Given a situation, you can make your own choice as to whether to love it or hate it. I choose love!

There was that time I spent a weekend figuring out how to get an old scanner to work on my RedHat system. I did a lot of Googling. Eventually it became evident I'd have to go into the source code itself, some C code I did not understand at all (knowing next to nothing about device drivers and all that), and make some changes based on on the advice of strangers on the intarweb. And then find out those recommended changes did not work. And then make some educated wild-ass guesses, and compile everything again.

At that point, I scanned the cover to my Soundtrack to 'The Harder They Come' CD (it is a true classic of reggae, of pop music in general in fact). It worked! I scanned a parody of the company newsletter I cut-n-pasted together in 1991. It worked, too! Hallelujah!


There was no need to. I had won! Similarly, I figured out how to get the proper drivers and what-not to get my printer working under CUPS after installing Fedora Core on a system that is so hosed up it won't run (or even install) XP anymore. I have printed 2, maybe 3 maps from mapquest using it, but that's it. I won! I got it to work! I don't want to actually do anything with it. I don't give a shit about printing or printers, but I made it work. w00t! Fuck this computer shit, time to go for a run!

Linux is great for shit like this. Sometimes, I get stuff to work and find myself using it more than once or twice, but that's gravy. The point is getting stuff to work. Check out SourceForge. It's the repository for open-source projects, is what people will tell you. The truth is, 90% of the projects on there, if they were rock bands, they'd be stuck in the 'we designed the album cover on a page in our English notebook' stage for all time. Version 0.0.9. Forget about it.

I know. I'm a developer on a project or two there. No, I won't mention names.

The point of Linux is not necessarily that you write any great software or do anything with it. I remember Christmas Break of 1995. I was working a job I hated, making $10/hour writing C++ code for the US government. We were using Linux workstations, which were pretty cool. they were about all that was cool about the job, in fact. I called in sick one day and spent it installing Linux on my machine at home, Slackware. I watched the messages tell me what I'd be able to do when I was done. I could write code in C, C++, Perl, Fortran, Python, Tcl/TK, I could create my own programming language with bison. I could do anything! I felt tremendous power. Once I determined everything could boot up OK, and that everything seemed to work, instead of writing code to change the world, I went to my roommate's room (he went home for break) and watched Godfather II. It's a great movie, kind of long, though.

I read a 'News Of The Weird' story once about a guy who spent 17 years building a plane. On the first flight, he crashed and died. He probably had a lot of fun building it. He never should have finished the plane. He never should have flown it, had he finished it. And that's what it's all about, Linux. Making stuff work, not necessarily doing anything with it. It's the journey. There is no destination.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What did you do in the Class War, Daddy? - The SBC-CWA micro-strike of 2004, Part I

In 2004, SBC hadn't yet bought AT&T and changed their name back to AT&T. I worked in the Indianapolis SBC building as a code monkey putting semi-modern web application skins on decrepit ancient Mainframe applications. It was a living.

Every day I reported to a grey building and went up to a crummy cubicle off in an out-of-the-way area on a largely abandoned floor of the 18 floor building. Most of the people I worked with were in St. Louis, hundreds of miles away. Alienated? Yes. I hardly felt like a part of anything, but soon my arm would be twisted to stand alongside 'management' against 'labor', as labor's contract was up for renegotiation, as happens every 5 years.

The thought that I was part of 'management' was a joke. Nobody reported to me. I was classified as management so I would be unable to join the Union. I later heard on the SBC yahoo message board, where a lot of the posturing and mind-games around the strike were to take place, that people like me were called 'gerbils' in Union lingo, but that was the only time I heard the term, and half-assed Google searches didn't turn up much.

For several months in that year, 2004, our group essentially wasted our time on ineffective training so we could 'replace' the Union workers if it came to that, and our Union counterparts got to wear t-shirts with snakes on them and have the protests with the inflatable rats, satisfying some intrinsic need humans have to mob together and do the protest thing now and then. We already wasted time on stupid shit like the United Way, making sure everybody filled out their timesheets and TPS reports properly, and various programs to encourage us to do the hard sell on our family and friends, but during the strike it was like we all said to hell with any pretense of doing anything related to telecommunications or whatever the company was about. Some of my 'management' counterparts were very gung-ho, ready to fire everybody affiliated with the union in anyway (had they known how I felt about things, I probably would have been hung in the conference room as a class traitor) and re-build the company from there.

next time - going beyond the call for some asshole Texan cowboy not named George

Friday, November 10, 2006

Media Crimes Court - The Time is Now

When one person spends 10 minutes watching 'Deal or No Deal' or 'I Love The 70's', or 'The 100 most Fabulous Fashion Moments in Rock', it seems insignificant and harmless. But when 5 million people watch, an entire man-life (person life) of potential productivity is squandered. Every day, countless life-equivalents are destroyed by shitty TV programming, mediocre music, and blogs.

Time is pretty valuable. In the song 'Return The Gift' by the Gang Of Four, a schmuck who's won a radio contest begs the guy congratulating him 'please send me evenings and weekends'. Stuff isn't going to do him a damn bit of good, stuck as he is in a shitty soul-killing job. Similarly, Kirkegaard or somebody like that said in addition to buying books we should be able to buy the time to read them.

Maybe we should just shut the TV off, but we can't! We are lucky to be alive now, with YouTube and OnDemandTV and iTunes and NetFlix and so on. So many entertainment options! Our grandparents spent their lives in a grey Milton Berle and Lawrence Welk tedium I shudder to even ponder (that and that World War II thing. and the Depression).

Things have really gotten out of hand, and something needs to be done. There needs to be some court where people can be tried and convicted for wasting so much of our time on stupid shit. If Aaron Spelling were still alive, he would be the first one to go before such a court, and we'd make an example of him, but the terrible monster lived a long, full life blowing huge chunks out of the only lives Love Boat viewers will ever have. He slipped away like some Nazi living under an assumed name in Brazil, enjoying the climate while his comrades rotted in jail and his fellow Germans suffered countless indignities like the TV show 'Hogan's Heroes'. So it will have to be someone else.

This rant will be continued later. Against my better judgement I post this now.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Great Memories, Shitty Cellphone pix: World Series 2006

Approaching the stadium

I don't really have the hang of this blogging thing. It's supposed to be immediate, friction-free. Something happens, I react and I post. I can take a picture with my phone, and post it, and write something about it, regardless of where I am. I can get my words out there before the sluggish-ass press can do anything.

Sounds great in theory, sure. But here it is, a week after World Series Game 4 in St. Louis, and finally I've gotten around to getting the photos from my phone to 'pixplace' to flickr. And, truth be told, they are pretty crummy photos. But they're my photos, dammit. I was there!

I was also there (well, a couple hundred feet away at the old Busch Stadium) in 2004 for Game 3 of that World Series. That was the series where the Red Sox swept them, winning their first World Series victory since 1918, getting all kinds of fake-ass fans to crawl out of the woodwork and pretend they were Red Sox fans. At that game, the Cards played abysmally badly. They were ruining my experience of seeing the World Series with my Dad, who is their most dedicated fan! I got so discouraged and pissed off I stood up and yelled at Scott Rolen: "HIT THE FUCKING BALL!", which, until about a week ago, was my Dad's big memory of seeing a game at the World Series with his son. (Rolen, like the pro that he is, ignored my heckling, and did not hit the ball).
You can tell this is the World Series because of the logos on the field

This year they were back, against all odds, defying the experts' predictions, and the optimism was about as cautious as optimism can be. But they pulled it off, winning it all in 5 games, so the deciding win could happen in front of a hometown crowd.

Actually my sister was at the deciding game (Game 5), which is as it should be. She is the biggest baseball fan out of the 3 kids. She went to school in St. Louis, which is more of an actual claim to being tied to the city than any of the rest of us have (although there have been years when my Dad has gone to so many games and spent so much time there, he had to fill out both Missouri and Indiana state tax forms).

We had a great time at game 4. We were surrounded by other faithful Cards fans, except for the guy who got up and left during the 8th inning when the game was tied (the commissioner should ban him for life from attending any Major League Baseball events). Though the game featured some spotty playing, particularly by the Tigers, it was exciting nonetheless, and great fun was had.

Afterwards the streets of downtown (such as it is) St. Louis were filled with celebrating fans. All the cars on the streets were honking their horns. My Dad was not really into soaking up the atmosphere or dallying, instead moving with impressive speed and efficiency through crowd and traffic, though we still ended up not getting back to the hotel till well after midnight, and were so fired up between the excitement about the win and the mad dash from stadium to car that it was quite a while before I finally went to sleep.
Postgame Hoop-la