August 2006 Archives

i give up

Today I tried changing the name of the comment script on my site, thinking that might at least slow the barrage of sp*m that took the whole server down this month.


Within seconds of changing the script variable in the config file, I had my first new spam message.

I give up.

To comment on the site now, you will have to use a (free) TypeKey ID. Sorry. I hate to do that--nobody needs yet another hoop to jump through or password to remember. But I simply can't spend any more time trying to safeguard the site. :(

kudos to the rochester apple store

This summer, we promised to buy Lane a new computer. He's been doing a lot of cool stuff with borrowed time on the family computer, and a barely-hanging-on, nearly six-year-old Powerbook, so we wanted him to have a decent machine he could call his own.

Last night we headed out to the Apple Store at Eastview Mall, and headed home with a shiny new MacBook (and iPod Nano, and printer, both of which were free after rebate). We turned it on, and started in on the process of transferring files from the old computer to the new. We watched impatiently as the time remaining dropped from 45 minutes to 30 minutes to 7 minutes...and then stopped. Full stop. No animation on the progress bar, no sign of life whatsoever. We waited. And waited. Finally I tried rebooting...only to be greeted with a flat, grey screen. I tried again. Same thing. I tried putting in the system software DVD and rebooting from that drive, which seemed to work (after a lengthy delay). But two steps into the welcome sequence it froze, and generated a kernel panic screen. I followed the instructions on the Apple web site for what to do if your MacBook won't start. No luck.

Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. I was quite sure that I'd have to (a) wait forever for a genius bar appointment the next day, and (b) end up having to send the machine back to Apple and wait an indeterminate amount of time for them to return it.

This morning we got to the store right after it opened, and I walked up to the cash register with the machine. I explained briefly what had happened, and the young man at the register quickly called over the manager. The manager listened to my (highly detailed) tale of woe and said "Sounds like you did everything you were supposed to. Let's get you a new machine." <blink> So not what I expected to hear.

"But what about the receipt," I asked. After all, I'd been told quite clearly the night before that all the serial numbers had to match up on the receipt for the Nano and printer rebates to be honored. "Not a problem," he replied. "We'll generate brand-new receipts with the new computer's number on them."

Ten minutes later, we walked out of the store with a(nother) brand-new MacBook, which started up perfectly and has been making Lane happy all day.

It's quite amazing how much good customer service can do to turn a bad out-of-box experience into a great one. You can bet I'll be buying all my equpment there from now on. (They even gave me my faculty discount based on my RIT ID!)

in praise of rochester: air travel edition

I've decided to start an irregularly occurring series of posts on why I genuinely love living in Rochester. People who live in big cities never seem to entirely believe me when I tell them I enjoy this city, so it seems worth documenting why (beyond the fact that my mother, father, grandmother, and sister all live less than hour from my house).

Today's reason? The ease of travelng out of the city. I have a 6:50am flight this morning, for which I left my house at 5:22am. I was walking in the door of the airport at 5:37, was checked in (with a bag checked through) by 5:50, and was through security by 6:05. That left me time to get a great latte from a local coffee roaster that has an airport branch, pick up a couple of magazines, settle down near an easily accessible power outlet, and grab some of the free wifi that the local telco provides here in the airport. Try that on a Friday morning in a major metro area!

summer resolutions (unresolved)

It happens every year. The dog days of summer roll around, and instead of lazing around enjoying the tail end of my vacation, I find myself lying awake at night and snapping at my family during the day. I begin to realize how little I've gotten done, despite my best intentions at the start of the season. And the start of the hectic fall quarter, which seemed so very far away just a month ago, is now bearing down on me like a runaway freight train.

I originally titled this post "end of summer panic attack," but after a conversation with Gerald, I realized that his term--summer resolutions--was better. It's just like New Year's resolutions for most people, he pointed out. And it's true. As an academic, my year works differently than most people's do. For me, fall is like spring--new beginnings, fresh faces, a sense of promise and potential. And the beginning of summer is like New Year's--a chance to prepare for the year ahead in a relaxed and productive way. Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahahahaha. [maniacal laughter fades away down padded hallway...]

As summer comes to an end, the list of unfinished tasks becomes more and more depressing. The larger the pile of incomplete tasks, the less able I am to face them, and the further I burrow into escapism. (This year's location of choice to bury my head in the sand? Azeroth, natch.)

This year it's made worse by the fact that I've been invited (for the first time) to Tim O'Reilly's infamous Foo Camp gathering, where everyone is expected to give a talk or demo a project at some point during the weekend. I'd hoped to show off a prototype of PULP, but I've made diddly-squat progress this summer. I thought it would be easier to manage developers from afar, but it's not. I'm just not cut out for the whole distributed team approach--I need people close enough that I can see them, drop in on them, create a sense of connectedness. Yes, yes, I know...iChat AV, cell phones, shared calendars, blah blah blah. Just doesn't do it for me, at least not for building a team from scratch. So I'm stalled on this project, and am hoping to get somewhere with it this fall once the team is co-located here in Rochester.

My plan at the moment is to use some of the time on tomorrow's early (too early) morning flight to start pulling together enough of a prototype/demo (or at least some mocked up screens) that I can talk about the project in a meaningful way. The good news is that I've got a clear mental vision of what it's going to be, and how it's going to work. The bad news is that going from my head to the screen is still a laborious process. That means, also, that I'll be lugging my big-ass 17" MacBook Pro with me to Sebastopol, rather than the much lighter and easier to tote Vaio (which I bought specifically to make traveling easier, and which, unlike the MBP, has a PC Card slot to accommodate my Verizon broadband card). The Vaio is fine if I'm in information consumption mode, but if I'm going to be doing much creation, I really work much better in the familiar OS X environment.

I went out and bought some Zicam last night, because Lane has come down with a nasty cold, and I just know I'll wake up tomorrow with the same cold. So I'm starting the Zicam today, in hopes of staving off the otherwise inevitable. I can only imagine how much fun a cross-country flight followed by two nights of camping out would be while nursing a bad cold. :(

Okay, enough whining. I've still got a chance to pull my head out of the sand and get something done this week.


spam kills (sites)

Saturday morning, I received an email from my hosting company telling me that they had shut down due to "excessive load" issues, and that I needed to contact the abuse department to get things running again.

The culprit? Comment and trackback spam.

I have it all set to be moderated here, which means you seldom see it, but it's been increasing at a depressing rate, and it takes a lot of time to clean out the trash sitting in the "unapproved" list every day.

For the time being, they've disabled the mt-trackback and mt-comment scripts, so that at least the content of the site is accessible. And I'll start working on a solution. The easiest option would be to simply restrict commenting to users with TypeKey accounts. I hate to do that, but it may be my best option.

What I may try for the short term is a two-fold approach--renaming the script (so that it's a little more work for the spambots to find it), and adding a CAPTCHA. Until I get that done, however, you won't be able to comment here. :(

ain't it funny how time slips away?

Wow. How did it get to be mid-August already?

We're settling back in, still happy to be back. But I'm starting to feel that old familiar twinge of "you really ought to be [prepping for classes/answering emails/working on grant research/writing articles/building software]." Relaxation doesn't come easily to me, and the world doesn't stop expecting things just because I'm feeling the need for some downtime.

I'm going to try to implement a regular routine of exercise and scheduled office time starting Monday--not so much time working that I feel that I've totally lost my summer to work, but enough to help shut up the gremlins in my head who keep reminding me of all my open loops.

And I really, really, really want to try to get organized this fall. That means re-reading (and setting aside a full day to implement) a GTD system. I'm getting my new MacBook Pro early this week (it shipped last week, so this time it's for real), and I want to set it up in a way that will facilitate my getting things done -- which means I'll be spending a lot of time in Merlin's archives.

For today, however, I figure I've earned my downtime with the three hours I spent cleaning the pre-installed crap off of my Vaio and then installing and running virus and spyware protection tools. It seems to have fixed whatever was causing slowdowns on my system, but I continue to marvel over how frustrating it is to configure a Windows system in a stable, workable way--particularly in comparison to setting up and configuring a Mac.

(No, I have no plans to follow the PC elite and install Ubuntu Linux on my Vaio...but it is extremely entertaining to watch Nick Carr's prediction come true.)

imperfect exchanges

Things we found in our house when we returned that hadn't been here when we left:

  • Table runners. Five or six of them, mostly unopened in their packages. Apparently these were very important to them. I've never actually used on any of my tables, so I'm unclear as to the appeal.
  • Dozens and dozens of empty bags--from Old Navy, Gap, Talbots, Target, Nordstrom's, and other stores. Some carefully folded and stacked, others stuffed inside of each other. These people shopped a lot. Why they preserved the bags so carefully and then left them behind is a mystery.
  • A drawer of men's bathing suits. Whoops. Somebody packed in a hurry, I guess.
  • A 3"×5" hole in my son's bedroom carpeting. Not on the edge of the room, mind you, or under a piece of furniture, but right smack dab in the middle of the room. Mysterious and annoying. The pad is still there, but that section of the carpet was neatly excised. Other stained patches were left behind, so there must have been something really heinous on that spot for them to have gone to the trouble of cutting it out.
  • Two DishTV receivers and a DSL modem, all neatly boxed, but with no return information.
  • Lego bricks stashed in various places, carefully hidden to cause maxium foot injury upon discovery.
  • A small, pink satin pillow with "Very Important Princess" stitched onto it.
  • A tiny pink and blue satin-edged "blankie" that I suspect one of their kids misses now.
  • A quart of long-since-expired buttermilk in the fridge. Ew.
  • Two oddly-shaped brown things in the freezer that we still can't identify. Any ideas?

Things we expected to find upon our return, but didn't:

  • Our towels
  • Our sheets
  • Our pillows
  • 8 bowls that matched our plates
  • Our coffeemaker (happily, we had an extra in the basement)
  • Their forwarding address

The lack of sheets and towels is a major annoyance--I've had to buy emergency supplies for all the beds and bathrooms, but am holding off on stocking up too much until we see if we can track them down. (Our neighbors have an email address for them, apparently.)

The family was really nice--she took early retirement from an executive job with a major corporation to raise the kids, and he was in Rochester to do a one-year surgical residency. She and her mother and the kids headed south to their new 6,000-square-foot home in Tennessee a month before he did, and I suspect that he simply didn't realize that the sheets and towels (at least some of them) were ours. So I don't see this as malicious theft, merely an inconvenient (for us) error.

We tried to give the left-behind Dish receivers to the Dish installer who came to set up our system on Saturday, but his supervisor said he couldn't take them since they were technically not our property. And Frontier Telephone says that if we drop off the DSL modem it will prevent a $100 charge (to them, not us). We probably will do that, since it's not too far away.

It is irritating that they didn't provide any contact information--which means not only can we not send them any of the things they left here, we also can't send them what remains of the security deposit (after deducting the cleaning and carpet replacement and new towels and sheets...). But it could have been far, far worse--for the most part, the house and its contents are in decent shape, and we're really happy to be home again.

the freedom/responsibility curve

Lane and I are in my office this evening, and we just heard a staff member and a student having a discussion in the hallway. The staff member was (I think) talking about his small child, and he was bemoaning the fact the child seems not to appreciate how good his or her life is.

In an aggravated tone, the staff member said "I mean, you get the first five years of your life free, and maybe the last five years, and the rest of the time in between you're working your ass off at school or at work. Why can't kids appreciate how good they've got it during those first five years?"

Lane looked at me and said "It's true, isn't it?"

And I said "Not if you pick the right job."

We talked about it a bit, and I ended up drawing this curve on my whiteboard:


Little kids, I told him, have few responsiblities, it's true. No school, no work. But they have very little freedom to match that. Other people tell them what to do, and how and when to do it.

As you get older, your responsibilities increase, but along with it so does your freedom.

If your responsiblities get too overwhelming, your freedom starts to decrease again, to where you have no time to do anything than what's required of you by others.

So, somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot...where you've got enough responsibility to be able to earn your freedom, but not so much that you're trapped by it.

loving and leaving america

Via Anil (who's finally posting links again, hurrah!), I found this extraordinary essay on the experience of living abroad, and how it can change the way you see your own country. Beautifully written. Here's a (small) excerpt:

Ten years ago, my sympathies were all with those healthy sunburnt types with the burgeoning dreadlocks and leghair bleached white by salt and sun, and there's still a lot to be said for living cheap and getting naked without too much critical reflection or hesitation. Those people are having FUN, and they're learning all sorts of important lessons about any number of things, and I don't doubt that most of them will be better people because of the time they've spent in places like the Coban. Now that I'm older and grumpier, however, I find that I can only really hang with them until that inevitable first bit of geographical comparison, the jabbing aimlessly in midair with a joint or cig, eyes half closed and staring off at some impossible, unreal ocean sunset and declaring that this, and not America, is the good life, the life worth having. "America sucks, man. All that noise, all that dishonesty, all those people too busy to really talk to each other."

I packed around that baggage for a long time, and sometimes I think the circumstances that landed me in international human rights law have long since receded from their original sincere highwater of post-adolescent big ideas to some sort of reflex globalism, some limbic system level preference for that easy living, nonintrospective rejection of skyscrapers and the need for clean clothes.

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