The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

So, how does this work again?

BlogShares is a fantasy stock market for weblogs. Players get to invest a fictional $500, and blogs are valued by inbound links.

Via Oliver Willis, Fantasy Blogs Share Market

As if the real stock market weren't bad enough.

And as far as I can tell, this isn't a bad April Fool's joke either.

And currently, I have a valuation of $0.00, but my outgoing links are worth a whopping $11.11!.

Woo hoo! At this rate, I'll be able to afford a cup of coffee in a few weeks!


Homework

Much crying, wailing and knashing of teeth going on.

I knew that homework was bad, but not that bad!

I don't recall getting homework in second and third grades. In fact, I don't think it was until sixth grade that I started getting any homework; Spring's kids, one i second, one in third, have homework. Quite a bit of homework.

But not six long drawn out hours of homework.

In discussing this with Spring and our friend Gregory (who also has two kids) it seems that since the US educational system is bad, that parents across the country (or at least here in Florida) have cried out long and loud for more homework! At all grade levels. Like that will make up for lack of funding, overcrowding, poor teacher morale and a daycare center atmosphere.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

The Stupid Network

The paradox arises from the meaning of “best.” If “best” meant, "generate the most cash for the network owner," there would be no paradox. But if we accepted this meaning of best, we'd have to be content with the tightly-controlled, relatively thin stream of bits that the telephone companies currently grant us. Communications networks have a more important job than generating return on investment—their value comes from their connectivity and from the services they enable. Therefore, the best network delivers bits in the largest volumes at the fastest speeds. In addition, the best network is the most open to new communications services; it closes off the fewest futures and elicits the most innovation.

Designing a network that is intelligently tuned (optimized) for a particular type of data or service—such as TV or financial transactions—inevitably makes that network less open. As software engineers say, “Today's optimization is tomorrow's bottleneck.” Thus, the best network is a “stupid” network that does nothing but move bits. Only then is the network truly open to any and all services that want to use it, no matter how innovative or how unexpected. In the best network, the services live at the edges of the network and use the network to transport bits; they do not rely on any special characteristics of the network itself.

Via How to Monopolize the New Network, The Paradox of the Best Network

This, along with Rise of the Stupid Network explains why the Internet has gained such a significant role in the world's infrastructure since it was commercialized nine years ago. The network doesn't care what traffic it carries, only that it does; it's up to the edges to add intelligence, which is easier to do than adding intelligence in the network itself.


Homework II

Another friggin' homework marathon session! I think this one lasted over seven hours! That's longer than they spend in school!

Okay, it's actually been the Older one (in third grade) that's been having the marathon homework sessions, not the Younger.

But still, seven hours! And this isn't waiting until the night before to write a thirty page term paper either! This is just regular, write some sentences, practice some spelling and while you're at it, a page of simple multiplication type homework. It's gotten so bad that both Spring and I are scouring the works of Charles Dickens for any inspiration.

So, if anyone, anyone has any idea of what to do, please … pleasemail me!

Heeeeelp!

Monday, April 07, 2003

The continued use of cursive writing

This past weekend was spent on cursive drills.

During the one of the marathon homework sessions, The Older mentioned the work being hard because he hadn't had enough practice with cursive writing. Both Spring and I had a similar idea—a cursive writing drill.

From a typing instruction manual (Typing Made Simple, Copyright © 1957—it's an amusing read) I found ten sentences that contain every letter of the alphabet and the intent was for The Older to copy each sentence five times:

  1. Joseph Boxer packed my sledge with five dozen quails.
  2. Peter Fahb quickly mixed two dozen jugs of liquid veneer.
  3. The job requires extra pluck and zeal from every young wage earner.
  4. The jovial chemist quickly analyzed the mixture of brown and green powder.
  5. The queer, lazy witness from Kansas vexed the capable, patient old judge.
  6. John Wilborg, trapeze artist, executed his famous jumping act very quickly.
  7. Joe Quick, brainy government expert, was amazed to find numerous errors in the tax report.
  8. You can make good on your job and even excel in your work if you perform every task with quiet zeal.
  9. Our laboratory has just developed an amazing new wax that quickly restores the original finish on all furniture.
  10. John Quinn improved his typewriting skill by seizing every opportunity to practice effective speedbuilding exercises. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

At a minute per sentence, it would take less than an hour; even at five minutes per sentence it should have only taken three hours (and the last sentence was changed when The Older exclaimed that it was so long it would take forever to write) but instead it turned into a weekend long marathon to write the fifty sentences.

“How did they come up with some of these letters? The b doesn't look like a b,” said The Older.

“Because it's easier to write it that way,” I said (during my stint at overviewing the cursive drills). “Cursive writing came about because it's faster to write than printing. Write the next word, please.”

“This is stupid,” he said. “Why do we have to learn this?”

“Because it's required by the educational system and once past third grade, you won't be allowed to write in print at all,” I said. “I don't hear the sound of pencil against paper.”

“Well, when I'm President, I'll outlaw cursive writing,” he said.

“That's nice, but until you become President, you need to write in cursive. So write!” And he would write the next word, and spend the next few minutes looking about, playing with his pencil and otherwise do anything else but write.

All day Saturday.

And Sunday.

But he finished the drill.

I had plans to meet with friends on Sunday afternoon. When I met up with them, I asked them how many still use cursive in their day-to-day activities. I had expected that no one still used cursive writing since I certainly don't write by hand every day; neither does Spring. But two samples do not a trend make as I found out when half my friends said that yes, they still use cursive writing in their day-to-day activities; one stated that it was faster for him to take notes in cursive than it was to take notes in print.

I'm sure The Older will not be pleased to hear this.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

I think I figured out how this works

As of this writing (at 2:00 am) I still only have a valuation of $0.00 over at BlogShares. The reason for the low valuation? Because there are no inbound links to my site, which is what the valuation is based upon.

So when Mark Pilgrim, who has a valuation of over $14,000, decided to sponsor links for a gift of 100 shares I decided to take him up on the offer, although I should not have mentioned that he could pick up shares for free (and even he was surprised that one could “buy” shares for nothing). He's going to make more money on this than I am.

Which is one reason I don't play in the stock market; I don't really grok this stuff. Well, that and the fact that the economy is tanked right now …

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Beware the Ides of April

I started my taxes today, which means this year I'm starting early.

Ahem.

And every year, like I have since … oh … 1998 or there abouts, I sit down and start filling out the dreaded 1040. Yup, because of mortgages, stocks, self-employment and other fun stuff, I get the fun of doing the long form, with schedules and everything.

Fun, fun, fun.

I suppose I could have my accountant do all this grunt work for me (and that's what it is really—tedious; it's not hard if you can keep awake from reading the dreadfully dry government prose) but that would mean I would have to actually find an accountant. And, like, pay an accountant.

And darn it!—it shouldn't take a highly paid specialist to fill out a lousy form. I'm convinced that a real tax reform will only come about when more and more people start doing their own taxes and see just how tedious this can be.

If you sold or exchanged your main home, do not report it on your tax return unless your gain exceeds your exclusion amount.

Generally, if you meet the two tests below, you can exclude up to $250,000 of gain. If both you and your spouse meet these tests and you file a joint return, you can exclude up to $500,000 of gain (but only one spouse needs to meet the ownership requirement in Test 1).

Test 1. You owned and used the home as your main home for 2 years or more during the 5-year period ending on the date you sold or exchanged your home.

Test 2. You have not sold or exchanged another main home during the 2-year period ending on the date of the sale or exchange of your home.

See Pub. 523 for details, including how to report any taxable gain if:

2002 Instructions for Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses

But with the tedium comes the few gems in the tax code—this particular bit from Schedule D means that the money I received upon selling Condo Conner is

TAX FREE!

Woo hoo! Doing the Happy Dance!

When this is all over, the Federal Government may end up owing me money!

And that, generally speaking, is such a nice feeling.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Ides of April

Taxes are done! Actually, they were done and mailed off yesterday, and unlike the past few years, I didn't have to pay any this year.

But in thinking about taxes (via The Duff Wire and as of this writing, you still have fifty-nine minutes to finished them up and get them postmarked, so hurry up!) and the flat tax proposal or even other forms of tax reform my gut feeling is that they won't get very far—all the proposals are just too radical a change for most Americans. A better method would be to take a longer view of tax reform and take smaller steps that would be easier to push through Congress and past the President yet get them a step closer to a true tax reform.

One such step could be the elimination of tax withholdings; I'm not talking about repealing withholding of Social Security (the very real Sacred Cow in Washington) or Medicaide or Medicare but the other taxes that are withheld when you fill out the W-4 form. It can be easily sold to the government as a way to jump-start the flailing economy as that will give people a bit more discretionary money to which to spend on consumables (after all, that's what a good consumer does, right? Consume?). It is too late to get it repealed for this year, but target a repeal date of say, January 1st 2004 that companies will no longer be allowed to withhold taxes (other than Social Security and Medicare); I think that's doable.

The payoff of such an act towards tax reform won't really be felt until January 2005, with a total tax meltdown come April when people realize just how much they really owe! And you can bet that tax reform will be all that much easier to push through!

Granted, best results would occure if the sticker price of income tax (for lack of a better term) were to hit during an election year; even better during a Presidential election year, but if we're willing to take the long view with a bit of paitence, this one small step could be the break needed to get real tax reforms going here in the US.


Perfection, thou art the retrofitted Enterprise NCC-1701

The Starfleet starship registry prefix “NCC” doesn't officially mean anything other than it is the standard prefix for starships in service. There have been other prefixes, notably “NX,” denoting a prototype, or experimental vessel. The two most famous ships with this prefix would be the U.S.S. Excelsior NX-2000 and the U.S.S. Defiant NX-74205. Once the U.S.S. Excelsior was rendered operational, the prefix changed to the standard NCC.

Star Trek: FAQ: What does the starship registry prefix “NCC” mean?

Of all the Star Trek ships called “Enterprise,” the one I find most beautiful (and one I would love to own—either as a model or the “real thing”) is the retrofited NCC-1701 from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The model used for filming was seven feet in length and according to the artist who painted that model, it is indeed white although it's hard to tell.

And while I would love to have that seven foot model, I'm not sure where I would stick the darned thing …


Honda Cog

The Honda Cog commercial (via Ceejbot) is simply stunning; a real-life Rube Goldberg contraption using parts from the new Honda Accord in an incredible display. I can't even begin to describe it and there's some confusion on how it was filmed, but in any case, weather it took 606 attempts for a perfect run, or filmed in two halves and spliced together, it is still an impressive feat of filming.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Hurt

Cash's producer, Rick Rubin, sent a copy of the video to NIN's Trent Reznor. “We were in the studio, getting ready to work—and I popped it in,” Reznor says. “By the end I was really on the verge of tears. I'm working with Zach de la Rocha, and I told him to take a look. At the end of it, there was just dead silence. There was, like, this moist clearing of our throats and then, ‘Uh, OK, let's get some coffee.’”

Johnny Cash Makes 'Em Hurt

I came close to tears myself watching the video; it's that powerful. And he just doesn't cover NIN “Hurt,” he owns it.

I then played the original version done by Trent Reznor and both Spring and I agree: Johnny Cash owns this song; Trent just doesn't come close.


Doing things the easy way

Spring has a computer set aside for the kids to use—the only thing left to do is install an operating system. The Older (at 9) suggested installing Linux on the system, I suspect so he can play even more NetHack since I introduced him to the game last year. But Spring has decided to install an instance of Windows on the system, since most of the software she has for the kids runs under that and not Linux.

One major problem with the system—it doesn't boot from the CD-ROM.

Okay, no biggie. Just make a boot disk and run the install program off the CD-ROM.

Six boot disks later and we're still nowhere close to installing Windows. The boot disk I formatted under my Windows box (Win98) apparently doesn't see the CD-ROM. There was a rescue disk image on the install CD, but for whatever reason my Windows box can't read CDs (it hasn't been able to for months now but I haven't felt a need to fix the situation) and Spring's Windows box (Windows 2000) won't run the special program you need to make a rescue floppy.

Okay.

Mount the CD-ROM in Spring's machine, make it sharable over the network so my computer can see it, then run the special program on my computer to make the special rescue floppy to boot the machine so we can run the install program.

Only that disk doesn't work either.

Spring finally got a disk with the proper CD-ROM drivers and yes, once booted, we can see the CD-ROM and even get a listing of files from it.

Only we can't actually run the program, or change into any subdirectories on the CD. The bastard version of MS-DOS/Windows that we booted can list the top level directory but can't read any further.

I check the CD out on my laptop—it's not corrupt or anything.

So the problem as I see it is—we need to boot from the CD to install Windows. But the machine won't boot from the CD-ROM. That's easy enough to fix—write a custom boot sector to read in the boot sector from the CD and transfer control to that. Put my custom sector on a floppy and it should work.

Okay, not many people would be able to do that. And yes, for me that is the easy way of doing things. The code itself is specific for this situation but what did you expect for about half an hour of work?

I popped the disk with my custom boot sector into the machine, turned it on and … Cannot load OS2DRV.DLL. What the … I thought. That can't be right … Boot with one of the other floppies, root around for debug (a debugger that is worse than gdb), load up the boot sector to examine it. It didn't look at all like a boot sector to me. It was then I took the CD to Spring's machine, which can boot off a CD-ROM and attempted to boot it.

Yup, the CD itself wasn't bootable.

Nice to know we found out the easy way, huh?

Update on Friday, April 18th, 2003

Rob, who gave Spring the computer in question, says that the computer will boot from the CD-ROM even though the BIOS says otherwise.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Network anomalies at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere

It's always a fun time when Gregory tries to get his laptop on the network here. In the past he's made comment that I should run a DHCP server as that makes it easier for him (being a Windows user where changing the IP address is inconvenient at best) but given the relatively small number of machines it's not really needed; unlike where Gregory works where he has to support hundreds of workstations.

But I've been wanting to play around more with DHCP and make it just a tad bit easier around here for various friends, now that most of them now have wireless cards. It proved to be an interesting problem getting DHCP working here in the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.

I tested out the DHCP server setup for the Ethernet on my main development machine and got it working, but I wanted to move it to the central network computer, janet, an old 486 I use for a firewall and NAT. janet has three NICs, one for the cable modem, one for the LAN and one for the WAP; all being in one machine makes it easier to administrate. So it was a matter of moving the configuration over to janet, adding a similar setup for the wireless side and everything should work.

But there's that word again: “should.”

Need I say it didn't?

The first problem was Gregory, who couldn't get his wireless network card to sync up to the WAP here. Going into wardriving mode on my laptop, I could see my WAP sending out beacon packets, and I could see his card sending out request packets, but for some reason, his card and my WAP just couldn't see each other. So I told him he could connect directly with Ethernet (which he had on his laptop as well).

He then couldn't get an IP address via DHCP.

Given a static IP address and he was able to get onto the network with no problem. But DHCP wasn't working. The next major problem he was having was establishing a VPN connection to his work machine, presumedly because of the firewall I had set up. Unfortunately, he did not know which network ports were required to use the VPN connection, and checking the log files (since I log all traffic to closed ports) didn't tell us anything.

So I opened up the firewall; more specifically, I disabled the firewall and let everything through so that shouldn't be a problem.

No dice. He couldn't establish a VPN.

Gregory's computer must not like my network at all.

And I have no idea why DHCP doesn't run on janet.

Friday, April 18, 2003

“There's oil in them thar' garbage … ”

The process is designed to handle almost any waste product imaginable, including turkey offal, tires, plastic bottles, harbor-dredged muck, old computers, municipal garbage, cornstalks, paper-pulp effluent, infectious medical waste, oil-refinery residues, even biological weapons such as anthrax spores. According to Appel, waste goes in one end and comes out the other as three products, all valuable and environmentally benign: high-quality oil, clean-burning gas, and purified minerals that can be used as fuels, fertilizers, or specialty chemicals for manufacturing.

Unlike other solid-to-liquid-fuel processes such as cornstarch into ethanol, this one will accept almost any carbon-based feedstock. If a 175-pound man fell into one end, he would come out the other end as 38 pounds of oil, 7 pounds of gas, and 7 pounds of minerals, as well as 123 pounds of sterilized water. While no one plans to put people into a thermal depolymerization machine, an intimate human creation could become a prime feedstock. “There is no reason why we can't turn sewage, including human excrement, into a glorious oil,” says engineer Terry Adams, a project consultant.

Via jwz, Anything into Oil

Not much to add here other than I hope this actually works. If it does, then perhaps we will get something useful out of the tons of garbage we produce each year (and in the article, they state that anything short of nuclear waste can be processed) as well as the tons and tons of garbage we already have! And this has the added benefit, if it does indeed work as well as they claim it does, to keep places like Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico free of oil drills.


Headless peeps

Spring went shopping today for Easter supplies. Not that we celebrate, but the kids, they're expecting the usual candy and Easter egg hunt and what not. In the store she found some chocolate filled marshmallow chicks (a generic form of Peeps®). It wasn't until she opened one of the buckets did she realize just how … horrifying … these particular chocolate filled marshmallow chicks are.

They're headless!

They have a body, but right at the neck, where normally one would find the marshmallowy goodness of the chick's head is instead this red covered stump that is surely to tramatized some poor kid come Easter morning!

“Mmmmmmooooommmmmmmmm! This peep's headless! Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Therapy for life, I'm telling you!

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Network anomalies solved

The issues I was having with DHCP were getting to me.

I decided that since I was having problems with janet serving up DHCP for the wireless network, that I would have the WAP do that for me, since it had the functionality. Might as well use it.

Funny thing about the WAP though; being too friendly it's actually hostile to how I run the network here in the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.

I enabled the DHCP server, and while I was able to have it assign my laptop an IP address, the WAP wasn't forwarding packets to janet so I couldn't see the Internet.

If I assigned a static IP address (and assigned the IP route) on the laptop, I could get out on the Internet.

It seems that the WAP wanted to route all the traffic out its WAN port, which in this case, is the port you would normally plug your DSL or cable modem into. But since I already have a machine acting as a firewall/NAT, this port on the WAP is empty.

Although if I change the configuration of the WAP from a “gateway” to a “router” the DHCP assigned IP address is routed correctly, but then the DHCP server on the WAP mysteriously stops working.

So … I can have the WAP serve up DHCP, but those addresses aren't routable, or I can have the addresses routable but can't assign them via DHCP. I just love how this stuff works so flawlessly.

So then I'm back to figuring out why DHCP on janet isn't working. Putting the DHCP server into debug mode, I see that it can see the request, but for some strange reason it can't send the response, saying that the network is unreachable. Which is odd, because the network is reachable.

DHCP works fine on linus, my development machine. And the only difference between the two is the number of NICs—one in linus, three in janet. Suspecting that there might be a problem with the Linux 2.0 networking stack, I disable the other two NICs in janet and suddenly, the DHCP server works! And with the WAP in “router” mode, janet sees the DHCP requests from the wireless side of the network.

Now, since I have RedHat 5.2 installed on these systems, and I still have the installation CDs, I pulls the source code (one of the wonders of open source) for the DHCP server and start poking around.

LINUX

There are three big LINUX issues: the all-ones broadcast address, Linux 2.1 ip_bootp_agent enabling, and operations with more than one network interface.

BROADCAST

In order for dhcpd to work correctly with picky DHCP clients (e.g., Windows 95), it must be able to send packets with an IP destination address of 255.255.255.255. Unfortunately, Linux insists on changing 255.255.255.255 into the local subnet broadcast address (here, that's 192.5.5.223). This results in a DHCP protocol violation, and while many DHCP clients don't notice the problem, some (e.g., all Microsoft DHCP clients) do. Clients that have this problem will appear not to see DHCPOFFER messages from the server.

It is possible to work around this problem on some versions of Linux by creating a host route from your network interface address to 255.255.255.255. The command you need to use to do this on Linux varies from version to version. The easiest version is:

route add -host 255.255.255.255 dev eth0

MULTIPLE INTERFACES

Most older versions of the Linux kernel do not provide a networking API that allows dhcpd to operate correctly if the system has more than one broadcast network interface. However, Linux 2.0 kernels with version numbers greater than or equal to 2.0.31 add an API feature: the SO_BINDTODEVICE socket option. If SO_BINDTODEVICE is present, it is possible for dhcpd to operate on Linux with more than one network interface. In order to take advantage of this, you must be running a 2.0.31 or greater kernel, and you must have 2.0.31 system headers installed before you build dhcpd.

README for dhcp-2.0b1pl6

Fortunately, since RedHat 5.2 came bundled with Linux 2.0.36, dhcpd was compiled to handle multiple interfaces. All I had to do was add the appropriate route commands to have it work; I can now have DHCP serve up addresses for both the LAN and wireless network.

Gregory (who came over tonight) also realized that his wireless card in his laptop just doesn't work with my WAP—he was able access the WAP using my wireless network card.

Gotta love i14y.

Monday, April 21, 2003

It is, after all, a Monday

Today began with the realization that Holly the Incontinent Dog (which sounds like a show on the Cartoon Network) was missing; either some random person opened the gate by mistake, or one of the local cats (perhaps even Spodie the Emotionally Need Cat) perhaps pushed the latch open when jumping down from the fence (and I wouldn't put it past Spodie—he doesn't really care much for Holly). Then around noon the school called to say that the Younger was running a fever and needed to come home. And around 2:30 pm the Older show up forgetting that he was supposed to go to after-school care. And then later it transpired that the Older had neglected to inform Spring of a detention he earned last week (to be served sometime this week).

It was a type of day that Monday's are famous for.

(and it turned out that Holly was found early this morning—in the late afternoon a woman walking her dog came knocking on the door asking us if we lost a dog. I then went and picked up Holly the Incontinent Dog from her house).

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Artistic endeavors

Ever since it started about two weeks ago, Spring has been trying to get me to join Battlesketch, a LiveJournal community where each week (on Wednesday) a theme is selected and the members have to draw (using any media available for drawing) a picture. I joined just in time for last week's theme of Easter. I entered, leaving the entry a secret for Spring (who is also a member) to find, hoping to surprise her (which it did).

Via curiousLee I found Photo Friday where a theme for a photograph is selected each Friday. I missed last week's theme, but I decided to try this weeks theme of “water.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Parenting in this modern age

The impression I get leafing through an issue of South Florida Parenting is that we as a species simply can't survive without modern medicine, modern education, child self-esteem therapy and family counselling. It's just amazing that we made it for the six thousand or so years of civilization without such services. Just to get pregnent seems to require a team of specialized doctors to help move the sperm to the egg to ensure proper fertilization and yet again, modern medicine comes to the rescue when when it pops out and the head needs reshaping.

Can't have a kid with an odd Charlie Brown shaped head, now can we? Think of the poor self-esteem the kid will suffer through as it heads its way through our wonderfully modern education system

And it's also the poor parent that can't afford to send Tylor or Madison to a cheerleading or computer camp for the summer. Or the ever popular Adventure Camp where kids compete in inane competitions and every night the least popular kid is voted out to spend the rest of the summer in time out.

But perhaps most disturbing were the ads for pregnancy fetish photos, where you and your mate can pose for artistic maternity portraiture up util the time of delivery (where the mother-to-be probably wants to pull the lower lip of her mate up over his head for putting her through this).

“That's not pregnancy fetish photos,” said Spring, looking at one of the ads.

“Okay,” I said, flipping through the magazine some more. “What about this one?” The nude couple standing in a large body of natural water, the male, lovingly adoring the female's swollen belly. “You can't say that that isn't a pregnancy fetish photo?”

“Now you're just being silly,” she said.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Photo Friday: Shadow

[Photo Friday: Shadow]

Photo Friday: Shadow


It certainly was a Photo Friday

Happenstance allowed me to be up around lunch time so I took the opportunity to escape from the house and enjoy myself for a bit. I took the digital camera along in the off chance that I might use it.

I did.

Driving back along Palmetto Park Blvd. in downtown Boca Raton, I saw that the old Floresta Estate was for sale, at a reduced price of only $715,000 (but that gets you a 4 bed/4 bath 4,520 sq. ft. place on two lots in down town Boca Raton) but the reason for the “reduced” price may be the neighboring house …

[Floresta Estate-a steal at only $715,000] [Why yes, that is an abandoned house in Boca Raton] [Solid construnction, this neighbor house]

(And I wonder how long it takes for the realtor to find this entry and ask me to take this down? Can't have those property values falling, now can we?)

Arriving home, I found Spring up and wanting to run some errands, so I decided to tag along. First stop was Kinkos. In the parking lot was a 1963 Chrysler Newport for sale, $8,000 or best offer.

[1963 Chrysler Newport] [This was before the 8-track!] [Christine, eat your headlamp out!] [Even has retro door handles] [Stylish lines] [Hubcaps so clean you can enter the Mirror Project]

1963
CHRYSLER NEWPORT

56,000 ORIGINAL MILES

365 Cylinder V-8 Engine
Unleaded Gasoline
Push Button Automatic Transmission
Power Assisted Brakes

— NEAR MINT CONDITION —

This automobile was previously owned by a farmer in Iowa who kept the car in his machine shed and only drove it occasionally over the 30 years he owned it; note the low milage! This gentleman was the original owner.

$8,000 or Best Offer!

Sales sign on 1963 Chrysler Newport

The next store on our itinerary was an educational store and let me tell you, this place is surreal! Amusing, odd and downright scary at times, this is the place for all your kid's educational needs. There's a whole section devoted to nothing but counting money, and there are bags and bags of play bills and coins! So there's this bag of 100 plastic quarters, $4.75; almost 5¢ a fake coin. But next to it is this bag of 100 plastic pennies, at $5.25!

How can a bag of fake pennies cost more than a bag of fake quarters? Given that they're true to the size of the coins they faking? It was when I pointed this out to Spring that she noticed that the fake pennies cost a bit more than a nickle per plastic coin. So not only do the fake pennies cost more, you're better off getting real pennies as it's cheaper!

And it's nice to know that Jeff Conaway is still on the US $20 bill. [later on at lunch, our waitron (which is the correct politically correct gender neutral term, according to the Oxford Dictionary no less!) asked us if we had any questions, so I asked him, “Why are so many people searching for images of Andrew Jackson?” To which the waitron replied, “You mean one of the ex-Presidents, right?” “Right,” I said, and explained what was going on. I even showed the waitron the picture I took earlier and asked, “Does that not look like Jeff Conaway?” “The actor from Taxi, right?” The waitron looked at the image. “It's the hair.” So I'm not crazy! But no answer But he had an answer (as Spring reminded me a few days later) as to why an image search of Andrew Jackson is the most popular search on my site—counterfeiters looking for images (although I suspect they'd be better off getting an actual $20 bill) Although now that I look at the fake $20 bill it looks more like Johnny Cash than Jeff Conaway … ]

[Sea Monkeys are still around] [Sea Monkeys on Mars-a bad bad B grade movie] [Not just a breakfast sugar snack anymore] [ ... all together now!  ``It's product placement!''] [``It's product placement!''] [``It's product placement!'']

I'm still amazed that Sea Monkeys are still around. I remember as a kid reading comics in the 70s (back when comics could be had for less than a quarter) and seeing ads for Sea Monkeys all the time.

Guess brine shrimp will always be popular.

But I suppose it should surprise me, given the product placement being forced on kids today (McDonald's McNugget Buddies Bingo? Those responsible haven't been arrested yet?).

There was plenty of other odd and seemingly incomprehensible items, like the multicultural plastic food, and sentence strips but amid the odd items and blatant product placement were items that I might have even bought for my own use. Some of the wooden block sets seem impresive, offering Mayan, Egyptian, Arab and European themed sets and an assortment of microscopes (of which I had one as a kid) and telescopes (again, which I had one) and crystal growing kits (although I grew my own).

[Sentence Strips-um ... yeah] [Lamaze Hippo?  Proof!  I am not making this up!] [As if American food wasn't enough plastic] [Actually, these look fun]

In the checkout line I was horrified to find a teacher cheat sheet used for grading—a stiff paper sleeve with a slit cut out, in which a piece of paper could be slid back and forth, giving grades to number of correct questions. I would think that a teacher would already know how to calculate a percentage given a number of questions wrong on a test, but apparently not. Both Spring and the cashier tried to say such a device was to save time, but I knew better … the teachers … they don't use what they preach.

Okay, maybe I can forgive an English teacher using such a device, but I'd better not catch any math teachers using one …

Saturday, April 26, 2003

My Quiet Place

Spring and the kids are in central Florida, visiting Cape Canaveral. I stayed behind to stay in my quiet place.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Learning Disabilities

After six weeks or so of school, homework marathon sessions and plenty of wailing and knashing of teeth, it is apparent to me that Spring's kids put the “fun” in “dysfunctional” when it comes to education. Spring has held countless parent/teacher conferences (even after numerous reminders they still didn't get it that she worked at night, which didn't help matters at all) attempting to resolve the situation but it finally came to a head. In short, they have a major learning disability that the local elementary school is ill prepared to deal with.

A few weeks ago Spring had them tested at Sylvan since she was concerned over their academic standings at school. The results were startling (at least to me, I think Spring expected as much): they were too smart.

Yup. Their disability is being too smart for the educational system to deal with.

The Younger, in 2nd grade, was at a 5th grade reading level (combination of current vocabulary use, reading skill and reading comprehension). The Older, in 3rd grade, scored at an incredible 11th grade reading level! No wonder they were having so many problems at school—the work was way below their level. And it certainly didn't help that they switched shools only two months before summer vacation to a state heavy with standardized tests from a state with year-round schooling.

It's a real mess.

So it was last week that Spring decided the best course of action was to remove the boys from school and home school them. No more hours of fruitless homework, no more wailing and knashing of teeth, and no more dealing with overworked and underfunded teachers (I'm being kind; Spring has less of an opinion on their former teachers).

Today was the first day of home schooling for the boys. I think it went well, but we shall see how it works out in the longer term.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Google Grumbling

I found this open letter to Dave Winer (via Blogging News) and what I found is a site dedicated to griping about Google. Their right to, but much of it comes across as a bunch of whiny webmasters upset that Google doesn't rank their sites higher than it has.

“Google currently does not allow outsiders to gain access to raw data because of privacy concerns. Searches are logged by time of day, originating I.P. address (information that can be used to link searches to a specific computer), and the sites on which the user clicked. People tell things to search engines that they would never talk about publicly—Viagra, pregnancy scares, fraud, face lifts. What is interesting in the aggregate can seem an invasion of privacy if narrowed to an individual.

“So, does Google ever get subpoenas for its information? 'Google does not comment on the details of legal matters involving Google,' Mr. Brin responded.”

New York Times, 28 November 2002

Google's Privacy Policies

This is an interesting quote they used—of course I would expect Google to keep this information private but I have some news for the New York Times, I log the IP address along with not only the day, but the time! (Gasp! Shock! Horror!) Heck, nearly every webserver in existence logs this very information (Seminole is an exception here, but that's due to the environment it is meant to run in where the amount of resources are very limited). But there is no way that Google can determine which link you clicked on since that information doesn't go through their server. Granted, if you click on “Similar Pages” or the cached copy, then yes, they can see which pages you are interested in. And it's likely that if you use their toolbar then they might see what page you selected, but not having see it I can't say that they do.

I grant them that it is puzzling that Google sets such a long lived cookie, but the site is still usable with cookies disabled, and modern browsers like Mozilla allow you to allow/disallow cookies on a per-site basis.

Thirdly, in order for Google to access the links to crawl a deep site of thousands of pages, a hierarchical system of doorway pages is needed so that crawler can start at the top and work its way down. A single site with thousands of pages typically has all external links coming into the home page, and few or none coming into deep pages. The home page PageRank therefore gets distributed to the deep pages by virtue of the hierarchical internal linking structure. But by the time the crawler gets to the real “meat” at the bottom of the tree, these pages frequently end up with a PageRank of zero. This zero is devastating for the ranking of that page, even assuming that Google's crawler gets to it, and it ends up in the index, and it has excellent on-page characteristics. The bottom line is that only big, popular sites can put their databases on the web and expect Google to cover their data adequately. And that's true even for websites that had their data on the web long before Google started up in 1999.

PageRank: Google's Original Sin

My experience is quite different. This weblog/journal, a database driven site (more or less) with a god-awful number of potential links, has been crawled, and crawled deeply by Google (and a few other search engines) and just checking, last month 11% of all hits came from search queries from Google (actual visits it's probably closer to 50% or 60%). Even Mark's weblog/journal is getting spidered by Google and while he doesn't have the traffic that I currently do, it's about par for what I had when this journal first went live.

Those who launch new websites in 2002 have a much more difficult time getting traffic to their sites than they did before Google became dominant.

PageRank: Google's Original Sin

People who launched a new website in 2002 (or 2003 or 2004 or for the forseeable future) are always going to have more difficulty getting traffic to their site because the web is always growing! It's called “competition”; Google is irrelevant to this. In fact, the web is growing faster than the search engines can keep up and in effect, the web is this ever expanding frontier but the frontier may be a bit difficult to find at times. Methinks these people should read up on power laws and how it relates to the web (link found via Google).

Obligatory Picture

[Don't hate me for my sock monkey headphones.]

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

You have my permission to link freely to any entry here. Go ahead, I won't bite. I promise.

The dates are the permanent links to that day's entries (or entry, if there is only one entry). The titles are the permanent links to that entry only. The format for the links are simple: Start with the base link for this site: http://boston.conman.org/, then add the date you are interested in, say 2000/08/01, so that would make the final URL:

http://boston.conman.org/2000/08/01

You can also specify the entire month by leaving off the day portion. You can even select an arbitrary portion of time.

You may also note subtle shading of the links and that's intentional: the “closer” the link is (relative to the page) the “brighter” it appears. It's an experiment in using color shading to denote the distance a link is from here. If you don't notice it, don't worry; it's not all that important.

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