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posted by [personal profile] strata at 11:20pm on 22/01/2009
Take a walk on the wilder side of artificial nature, courtesy of this alleged viral marketing experiment involving balloon animals. Not safe for most workplaces.

Don't forget the various outtakes.

Follow up with When Balloon Animals Attack. Drink heavily. Enjoy.
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posted by [personal profile] strata at 11:51am on 22/01/2009
US Democracy Server: Patch Day

Version 44.0
President

* Leadership: Will now scale properly to national crises. Intelligence was not being properly applied.
* A bug has been fixed that allowed the President to ignore the effects of debuffs applied by the Legislative classes.
* Drain Treasury: There appears to be a bug that allowed loot to be transferred from the treasury to anyone on the President’s friends list, or in the President’s party. We are investigating.
* Messages to and from the President will now be correctly saved to the chat log.
* Messages originating from the President were being misclassified as originating from The American People.
* A rendering error that frequently caused the President to appear wrapped in the American Flag texture has been addressed.


(There's more, a lot more, covering VP, Cabinet, etc at the original: http://www.chromecow.com/2009/01/20/us-democracy-server-patch-day/ )
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posted by [personal profile] strata at 11:15pm on 19/01/2009
...one day at a time.

Found a remarkable book up at the Harbin library this weekend. "Street Zen: The Life and Work of Issan Dorsey" Candid, gritty, no-nonsense retelling of the beginnings of the national drag-queen scene, drug culture, the founding of the SF Zen center, and Issan's odd journey from the brink of disaster to Climbing the Mountain, becoming Issan-roshi of the Suzuki-roshi Dharma line.

I found it very inspiring.

Had a really good visit with Mike over the long weekend. He's still up there on a medical leave (workplace stress). He's doing a lot better. Climbs the mountain every day (a trail that links up to the Boggs Mt summit, 2K+ elevation change), and is feeling very centered.

Hmm, the cat needs me. Blogging, not so much.

Oh, and there was a class on "Non-Violent Communication" on Sunday that turned out to be REALLY GOOD, and very interesting. It's apparently A Thing, Now: http://www.cnvc.org/ Worth checking out.
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posted by [personal profile] strata at 09:57pm on 10/01/2009
I had previously used ljmigrate to back up my LJ back in August 2007, somewhere on or near a previous LJ acquisition event. Looked at entry00001/entry.xml out of curiosity: Jan 3, 2003 Oh yeah, right after we got settled in for the winter with a cable modem in FL on our big road-trip sabbatical rollabout.

I made a full backup in XML at the time, and then purged my journal entries. Or at least, I thought I had, but the ljmigrate -r I just ran was able to pull some missing entries, as well as the recent ones. Maybe I only made them invisible/private. I suppose I should check on that.

Thirteen hundred-ish posts, and at least a couple of "I'm outta here" entries. But I keep coming back because somehow social email lists got tougher over the years-- I stopped having a Unix box at home, stopped having static IP addresses or a colo box, and spam took on epic proportions. A pull media seemed better.

Shrug.

Still here. Have backup. Waves. :-)
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posted by [personal profile] strata at 12:07pm on 03/01/2009
No, not that, though we HAVE been eating a lot of beans around here since we got the slow cooker.

Our carbon monoxide detector went off today. We're not sure why, and to confuse matters further, it said it was in Test Mode... yet it said it had seen (when? now?) 287ppm. The furnace, hot water heater, and oven were all going.

The alarm is not going off now. By the end of today we will have several new CO detectors in the house, a mix of the battery-powered type and the house-current type. I've learned a number of things in the past few hours which surprised me, including things I was Just Plain Wrong about. Fortunately, not Dead Wrong. If the situation were different, though, my lack of correct information might have been fatal. So, let me share, just in case you know some of the same wrong things.

What to do first. If you're like most people, including us, the first thing you do is go to the alarm and see what's up, then start looking for the problem. No. Not even remotely correct. The FIRST THING you do is LEAVE THE HOUSE. Period. No questions. Grab all family members and pets and get out. Only then do you think about what to do next and make a plan of action. [1]

Why? Because in case your alarm went off only in the cumulative exposure fuzzy-headed stage, you may already be at risk of going to the next level of CO poisoning. It can be abrupt, and you could go from 'mostly fine' to 'I can't think and need to just sit down for a moment' without any real warning. If it turns out to be that bad, you might never stand up again.

The next thing that everybody does is start opening up windows 'just in case'. Apparently that's also wrong. Instead, you should, theoretically, call the fire department, your appliance repair person, or your utility company and actually have them do a check. If you're like most of us, you're probably not going to do that, you're going to change the battery in the thing instead (you did write the date of the last change on the battery with a sharpie, yes?) and if it goes off again, then you're going to think about calling someone.

At least get folks out of the house first, and don't go opening all the windows yet. "Many CO alarm calls have been classified as 'false alarms' because the homeowner has ventilated the home and turned off the equipment before firemen or technicians can measure the CO levels and find the source." [2]

Another 'everybody knows' pseudo-fact is as long as you don't have a skull-splitting headache, you're okay. NOT! What most folks don't know, and I sure didn't, is that low levels of exposure commonly cause flu-like symptoms, including sniffling, red eyes, tiredness, nausea, mild headache. At medium levels of exposure, the ones that could tip suddenly depending on your physiology, that's where you get symptoms like "severe throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate." [3]

If you tend to be sniffly and tired at home in the evenings or weekends, but feel better at work or out of the house, well, that could be a lot of things from needing to clean the ducts to vacuuming to dust mites. But it could also be low-level CO exposure, so add that to your list. Get yourself a CO detector that measures continual exposure and make sure you get your appliances checked annually.

Speaking of which, as long as the flame is blue, not orange we tend to think it's ok. Leaky ducting can cause CO exposure even when the flame adjustment is ok, so don't rule it out just because the flame looks right. Get somebody with a sniffer to confirm your in-house levels.

The CO detector should be in your bedroom, right? Maybe one of those little plug-in ones? Well, partially. Ideally, the CO detector should be either on the ceiling or about 5 feet off the ground, since CO is generally lighter than room air. I was unpleasantly shocked to find out that the only CO detector in our place was actually in the 2nd bedroom, which Mike uses as a workroom. Why? We don't remember. Well, that will change by this evening!

We also tend to think that as long as the 'test' button works, the alarm works. Wrong, alas. Apparently very few CO or smoke detectors actually test the detector, rather than the audible alert. Pressing the 'test' button tests the NOISE circuit, not the detector, in the vast majority of detectors.

We purchased our detector when we moved in, almost 5 years ago. We assumed it was good 'forever' as long as we changed the batteries. Nope. The mechanisms they use to detect CO differ, and many of the small battery-powered ones use a colored disk that they monitor for changes, rather than more direct chemical means. Multiple sources say that most CO detectors have a 5-year lifespan but some may be valid for only a couple of years. Either way, we need to replace ours.

What kind should you get? Here in the States, I quote Underwriters' Labs: Rather than looking for specific features, look for the UL Mark with the adjacent phrase "Single Station Carbon Monoxide Alarm." [3]

Why? Because it's required to have a silence button and to re-alarm within 6 minutes if the condition persists. Many detectors will just happily shut up and not go off again if you silence them. Low batteries can cause an alarm to go off, so if one does go off, after you think it's safe (remember the first part of this article) then you can change the batteries and see if it goes off AGAIN.

There's so much more, but that's a good start. Don't freak out, but take part of an afternoon and put some safety in the bank for you and your family. Have a safe n happy new year!

[1] http://www.carbonmonoxidekills.com/faq.htm
[2] Incredibly detailed and helpful info from our Canadian buddies: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/yohoyohe/inaiqu/inaiqu_002.cfm
[3] http://www.ul.com/consumers/co.html
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posted by [personal profile] strata at 08:55pm on 02/01/2009
I usually love the silly links collections, but the ones going around lately about office-party dancing made me sad. Mostly I see ordinary non-glamorous people having a good time, and being mocked for their lack of perfection. I saw some pretty decent dancers and singers who just happened to be old, or balding, or fat.

Who is the bigger sad sack, the drunken office-party dancer, ineptly having fun, or the sneering cynic on the sidelines, capturing the moment and 'sharing' it on YouTube so s/he can feel superior?

There's a well-known set of trite lines that ends with "and dance like nobody's watching." A few months ago I stayed up in SF at the main office to go out with coworkers to see a band that featured one of our colleagues. The opening act was good, and their act was good. People were happy, smiling, nodding, jigging their shoulders a little, but only a couple dozen of the 100ish folks there were actually dancing. There was room, but maybe it just "wasn't cool"? I danced, and had fun, and didn't care.

Whether at an office party or out at a club, if the dancing is only For The Beautiful People or The Talented People, there'd better be signs. Otherwise this old fat chick is gonna be dancin'.

So there.
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posted by [personal profile] strata at 12:32pm on 02/01/2009
Not that you noticed I was gone, or only spasmo-sporadically updating things, as my ties to thee sputtered off and on, mostly off.

Well, foobar felgercarb snargleblarg. The good news is that we have IntarToobZ again. The bad news is that can only get up to about 1.3 Mbps incoming, and 300ish outgoing. So say we all, including http://helpme.att.net/cgi-bin/speedtest/speedresult.cgi?1293854;321827;1;2.0;speedtest-sntcca.sntcca.sbcglobal.net , who should know.

My suspicion that requesting an upgrade to Premium 6Mbps service was to blame was correct, but in an unexpected way. The nice folks at AT&T had not actually messed up our connection (hush, o you cynics and scoffers). Instead, trying to push a higher rate through the line had revealed a physical line issue that had not manifested at our previous SBCYahoo blazing 768Kbps level of connectivity.

A very pleasant fellow came out here today at about 9:30am and just left a few minutes ago, after 3 hours of outside line work. He got us a fresh pair to what passes for the local infrastructure and did the extremely tedious phone work of contacting both departments needed to roll back the subscription from Premium to Elite (ooh, we's 'leet!).

I think the extra measure of cheer for our visiting AT&T service guy might have come from contemplating the alternative. How unpleasant his time would have been if the phone line hadn't come into our place under the nice, dry carport! He got to avoid the cold, nasty drizzle that's been watering the garden all morning. I offered to get him some hot coffee or tea, and he was surprised-- isn't anyone nice to service folks anymore?

So, welcome back, IntarWebZ, we salute thee. Just not as speedily as we'd hoped.
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posted by [personal profile] strata at 10:54am on 12/12/2008
...this kind of thing is why I work here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxVDVggLqsA

The build techniques are, fyi, very real, just speeded up and edited. I need to go look for this build inworld, if it's still extant, and spend some time there. Very, very, nice.
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posted by [personal profile] strata at 09:40am on 12/12/2008
OK, so this happened this summer and I missed it until now. But still, HELL YEAH.

http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/consumer/amalgams.html

The FDA finally stops ignoring tons of evidence and says, well, um, yeah, amalgam fillings release mercury when you chew, and um, pregnant women and kids and maybe possibly even sensitive types maybe possibly shouldn't use them much.

Years of arguing with dentists "so, if my old amalgam fillings are cupped and worn, where does that material go? why isn't it harmful to ingest?". Taking a major health turn for the better when I finally took the hit to pay for ALL of my amalgam to be removed and either crowned or refilled with composite. Vindicated.

Rat bastards. How much more aren't you telling us?

BTW, I didn't get any pushback on asking for a thimerosol-free flu vaccine when I got one on Tuesday. Why? "We're out of the regular kind." Nice.
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posted by [personal profile] strata at 11:17pm on 08/12/2008
The biggest problem with transforming Art into Science is that people would rather be Artists than Scientists. No, wait, you say, I love Science! Yeah, now would you rather be a Rock Star or a Lab Tech? Yes, you see the problem.

I recently read a New Yorker article that completely kicks ass in describing how medical science is poised on the cusp of a potential transformation into something that can save Even More Lives, but via a path that's difficult to take: the humble, homely, not the science of the rocket, procedural checklist. As the article states,


Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” tells the story of our first astronauts, and charts the demise of the maverick, Chuck Yeager test-pilot culture of the nineteen-fifties. ... But as knowledge of how to control the risks of flying accumulated—as checklists and flight simulators became more prevalent and sophisticated—the danger diminished, values of safety and conscientiousness prevailed, and the rock-star status of the test pilots was gone.


Reading this, I was instantly transported into familiarity-- this is the exact problem that I spent a decade banging my head against in Systems Administration, and what drove me to spend the next decade in Project Mangement to try to solve. A number of us in the Usenix and LISA communities seemed to have a handle on this, but the way the blind men had a handle on the elephant. We specialized in dealing with our rope, our fan, our spear, our wall, our tree, and, umm, whatever the sixth thing was that the elephant was like-- oh yes, our snake. We didn't have the problem space sharply defined. Author, and doctor, Atul Gawande describes the dilemma precisely:

Something like this is going on in medicine. We have the means to make some of the most complex and dangerous work we do—in surgery, emergency care, and I.C.U. medicine—more effective than we ever thought possible. But the prospect pushes against the traditional culture of medicine, with its central belief that in situations of high risk and complexity what you want is a kind of expert audacity—the right stuff, again. Checklists and standard operating procedures feel like exactly the opposite, and that’s what rankles many people.


"Expert audacity." Yes. Absolutely. It's what the cool kids do. Indiana Jones meets skatepunk, and checklists ain't got the cool.

While I was able to leverage automation and some ticketing systems to bring reproducible, higher levels of support to some of my clients, I didn't Get It. I did not see clearly enough that many people, even very well-meaning ones, will resist changes that reduce the intensity level of their daily jobs. They fear becoming bored, unappreciated, less vital to the organization. The addiction to the adrenaline cycle and the kind of "cult hero" status that goes with it is very, very difficult for an organization to break. As Brent Chapman noted, discussing resistance to automated network management, everybody wants to be a hero.

While I have always seen career mentoring as an important part of managing a team, I didn't realize how important it is to build up a vision of what people will be doing when they're no longer playing superhero.
Systems people are keenly aware of projects that are languishing while they respond to interrupts. It's rare to meet someone who doesn't have a "someday I'll get to this" list. Stabilizing the network and systems environment and establishing strong processes, including checklists, is vital for scaling services and being responsive to the needs of the organization. A decrease in emergent crises ("complications", in medical parlance) frees up cycles for complex projects that present true depth and scope challenges for individuals and teams.

Being a Rock Star is fun-- as countless Guitar Hero and Rock Band fans, including myself, can attest. Quiet, directed competence can be just as much fun, though, and allow personal and career growth with a bit less drama and a bit more sleep. While networks, legacy applications, and odd emergent behaviors of client desktops aren't as complex (perhaps!) as a living organism, there is plenty in common. As Dr. G says:

It’s ludicrous, though, to suppose that checklists are going to do away with the need for courage, wits, and improvisation. The body is too intricate and individual for that: good medicine will not be able to dispense with expert audacity. Yet it should also be ready to accept the virtues of regimentation.


Sing it, brother.

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