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December 30, 2003

"Sex, Meat And Mad Cow" is the best, most concise article on the state of mad cow disease in the U.S. that I've seen. You could read Mad Cowboy or Fast Food Nation or Diet for a New America but if you read them all back to back you may want to cry and/or renounce your humanity. So just read the article. :)

December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas!

In case you were like me in thinking that maybe it was time to stop fearing MySQL now that they include InnoDB, think again - there are still many MySQL gotchas to be concerned about. Scary. Apologists like to say stuff like "well it's not intended to be a big fancy database" which is just incorrect; the vendor claims it is. Other apologists fall back on the tired old excuse that if a product does something undesirable or undefined or just plain stupid when you do something strange, it's your fault because you shouldn't ever make a mistake - also known as the "Real Programmers" fallacy. I think I'll stick with products that don't let you divide by zero, store five digit numbers in a four digit field, delete indexes that you didn't say to delete, modify your data type specifications and even your valid data without telling you. Sorry MySQL lovers, but Real Programmers use compiled languages when possible, turn on compiler warnings, use redundant consistency checks and asserts and then run the code through automated QA tools and write a test harness to beat up their code some more, all in hopes of writing code that works. Any product that, when presented with an invalid request, says OK and does something different, is wrong and should be avoided like the plague. But that's not all! MySQL also will let you ask it to do some valid, important things like concatenating strings or using foreign keys, and will say that it is, but then it won't. This is heinous. How can anybody defend this thing? Oh right... it's the only thing they've ever used.

December 22, 2003

I just got back from donating blood. While I was there, I felt a weird wobble in the arm that had the needle in it... was my arm falling asleep? Was the nurse bumping up against the bag or the tube? No, it was this magnitude 6.5 quake in San Simeon, CA. The Chron has a story. For reference, the "big one" in 1906 was a 7.6, and the more recent "big one" (Loma Prieta) was a 6.9. Fortunately this one was kind of out in the middle of nowhere, about 200 miles down the coast from San Francisco (and close to San Luis Obispo, home of Cal Poly), so it's not another Loma Prieta as far as damage or fatalities. I don't know of any damage or injuries in SF.

December 18, 2003

Furniture porn?!? OK, the movie is really funny.

December 17, 2003

Have you seen the latest Mach 3 razor ad? Check it out.

When I was a teenager, and ending in 1989, I had serious respiratory allergies that were treated by injections every two weeks. Basically they figured out (by pinpricking me all over with individual allergens and then seeing which pinpricks got inflamed) which allergens set me off, and then made a serum of all of them in a very weak concentration. I'd take prescription strength antihistamines, get injected in the back of my arms, the surrounding area would get red and swollen, and after a day or two it would go away. The idea was to desensitize me to the allergens. It worked, and I'm glad that I'm no longer violently allergic to dogs, molds, weed and tree pollens, and a few other things. (WebMD has a nice description of immunotherapy.)

Since then, I can't remember having as runny a nose as I do right now. I'm not stuffed up, I don't have a headache, I don't feel tired or sore. I just have two faucets installed in my head that are gushing like crazy. Since this is listed at the #1 FluMist side effect, I'm not exactly shocked. I've taken DayQuil and Sudafed and they may have made a dent but they didn't make it go away. Now I know why Lewis Black says, "You know what the worst thing you can do during flu season is? Get a flu shot. Sure, you won't get the flu, but you'll have a cold for 365 days."

December 16, 2003

This is looking like it'll be a really good week:

  • Finals are almost over. I know I got a 97.5 (out of 100) in one class and a B (grr) in another; the third one I'm not sure of because the final exam is on Thursday, but he actually handed out the final exam already. (We get to bring a single handwritten sheet of paper with notes in normal sized printing on both sides.) So I'm optimistic about how my grade will turn out. Plus, Kim has been saving a bottle of champagne for Thursday night when both of us are done with finals for this semester.
  • I have more time for work now, and I've just gotten an interesting new project. It's really small but it'll be a fun change of pace. Then I have some more of the same stuff I've been doing for months, but this time I can concentrate on it without having to constantly break out of the coder zone to think about school.
  • Of course, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King hits theatres on Tuesday at midnight, but we're going to wait until Saturday morning to see it. Also, Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation is showing this weekend and I'll be going to see that.
  • I got all my Christmas shopping done. I have to send cards too but what a relief! No overnight shipping this year.
  • It looks like we'll be skiing again this year. Last year for whatever reason, we didn't go skiing at all. Bummer. This year I think we have figured out where the cheap hotels are, and I've figured out how to rent a car that we can take around the lake into Nevada as well as hot to get snow cables for a rental car. Now the only question is, "who's coming with us?"

Also, just an observation: I dropped a DVD from NetFlix in the mail last night at about 6:30. I know this because I was on my way somewhere and I remember what time I left (6:25ish). This morning at 8:15 NetFlix sent me an email confirming that they got it and asking me to rate it. Damn!! That's some postal efficiency. Kinda shocking, huh?

I got a free FluMist vaccination through Student Health Services at school. It wasn't bad at all - the stuff is squirted up your nose, but there isn't much of it, and it seems to be flavored with some sort of sweetener. I decided to sniffle 'n snort instead of dripping (I figure it works better if you keep it in rather than blowing it into a tissue) and I have a teeny twinge of a sinus headache but so far, so good (an hour and a half after getting it). I'll keep you posted on whether I get any other symptoms, in hope that you will be inspired to get vaccinated too.

My Christmas presents for the east coast have shipped. Gone. I've never done this as far in advance before. I like it. I even got good presents because I took the time to ask for suggestions and then hunt them down, and I don't have to pay overnight shipping fees because I did it so far in advance. Sweet.

Do girls really want Boobies for Christmas (warning, there's a song that might get you frowned at at work at the other end of that link).

December 8, 2003

Is ThinkGeek too hip and trendy for you? Then head on over to ComputerGear for even dorkier stuff, like emoticon key caps or flamingo wire organizers or a Windows Wizard t-shirt. Even Nick Burns wouldn't wear this stuff.

Gore endorses Dean. Man, has Al just been bitten by the endorsing bug lately or what? I like the bit at the end: "Gore is reportedly helping raise money to buy a cable TV network devoted to the liberal message... A television executive who had discussed the idea with Gore said the network was not a medium to counter Republican cable channels such as FoxNews and conservative talk radio." Right. And The Man Show is not a reaction to feminism.

"Microsoft Releases New Browser or Beta or Something."

December 7, 2003

To a Democrat, what's worse than losing the Presidency, Congress, and Governor's office to Republicans? Finding out that you're not the "good guys" anymore.

Once upon a time, the Democratic party stood for the little guy, touchy-feely civil rights stuff, and bunnies and puppies and all that, and the Republicans were, well, basically what they are now. It's been well covered by now that the Democrats have shuffled to the center and then to the middle-right, leaving their constituency disheartened at the choice of semi-conservative vs. ultra-conservative. Don't believe me? How did the Democrats vote on the PATRIOT act, on giving the President the authority to invade Iraq, and on just about anything else that's come along in the last 4 years? It doesn't cut it when you campaign as a liberal, complain about a bill, and then vote in favor of it.

Then something strange happened: out of the pack of many smaller political parties appeared the Green Party. Ralph Nader is blamed for spoiling the 2000 Presidential election - if the 97,000 votes for Nader in Florida had gone to Gore, Gore would have carried Florida and would have won the 2000 Presidential election - but he points out that 12 times as many Democrats in Florida voted for Bush as voted for him. The Democratic mindset on this can be boiled down to "how dare you steal our votes?" But even if all those votes did "belong" to Gore, scapegoating Nader doesn't explain why Congress is controlled by the Republican party now, nor why Democrats are voting along with Republicans and failing to impeach the president for his connections to the Enron financial scandal, his connections to the Bin Laden family, his handling of the war on Iraq, and most importantly, his failure to capture or even credibly pursue Osama Bin Laden. The Democrats are simply spineless, and voters know it. They have abandoned their constituency, but they seek to shift the blame to "their" voters for abandoning them.

Well look what's happened now. In San Francisco, backroom-dealin' mayor Willie Brown has finally run up against his term limit, so his appointee to the Board of Supervisors, Gavin Newsom, has stepped forward to take his place. But then something happened which the Brown machine did not expect. Stanford Law graduate (and former editor of the Stanford Law review) / debate team captain / Eagle scout / former public defender / current San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez ran for mayor, and came in second place. Gavin came in first. But Gavin didn't get more than 50% of the votes, so in San Francisco that means we get to vote again in a runoff election with just Gavin vs. Matt. (There is a ballot proposition called Instant Runoff Voting that would let voters rank candidates, so that the vote counters could resolve situations like this instantly.) What's particularly interesting about the numbers is that if you know the candidates and their supporters, you know that the race is basically Gavin vs. everybody else, politically speaking, and if you look at the numbers from November 4th, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place candidates combined got more votes than Gavin. Gavin Newsom got 42%, and Matt Gonzalez + Tom Ammiano + Angela Alioto got 45.8%. That suggested that in a runoff, Matt could win.

This has the Democratic party crapping their pants because Matt Gonzalez is a member of the Green Party and Gavin Newsom is a Democrat. What would it mean to have a Green Mayor? Bear in mind that part of what made Willie Brown so powerful was that the Mayor has all sorts of authority to appoint members of various commissions and offices. Having a Green party member in the Mayor's office would not only be a symbolic loss (what if he actually did a good job? Oh no!) but it would pave the way for a flock of Green politicians to further their career... or at least that's how the Democrats think (which is part of the problem). Forget about what the voters want or what's good for the city; this is a power struggle. Even Rush Limbaugh has figured this out.

Worse, unsuccessful Mayoral candidate Tom Ammiano (who lost to Willie Brown in the last election, and who came in 4th place this time) has endorsed Matt. Popular liberal author/muckraker Michael Moore has endorsed Matt. (Matt was the only mayoral candidate who attended Michael Moore's October 20th appearance at SFSU - I know, I was there.) The Sierra Club endorses him. Heck, read his Endorsements page for yourself. Doesn't this seem like a who's who of Democratic party endorsers? Except these folks know that Matt actually votes the way he does for ideological reasons rather than because of campaign donations. Imagine, a candidate who votes the way you want for free. Why not endorse him?

Well, maybe because you can't assume that he'll vote your way on every issue. So there's still a large base of support for the Democratic party here, in a very Republican role - supporting business interests and landlords at the expense of labor, tenants, the poor, the homeless, and generally the folks that the Democrats used to pretend to represent. So the Democratic party is pouring soft money into this campaign. There's a very strange and smelly deal that has resulted in Angela Alioto joining Gavin Newsom's campaign in return for an undisclosed position if Gavin wins. (Gonzalez referred to her as Gavin's "vice mayor" in a televised debate last week.)

And yet, momentum in the Gonzalez campaign continues to build. So the Dems have brought out their big guns. They brought out disgruntled political mannequin Al Gore who says "I'm here because I'm passionately in favor of Gavin Newsom" (I can't imagine Al Gore being passionate about anything after seeing him snogging Tipper). Gonzalez spokesperson Ross Mirkarimi quipped, "the Newsom campaign is scared and desperate and that's why they are trying to import all these high-level Democratic consultants and why they imported Al Gore. What's next, the Pope?"

Well, not exactly. They're bringing out the Pope of the Democratic party: Bill Clinton. No shit. Do you remember seeing Al Gore and Bill Clinton flown in to "passionately" endorse Gray Davis in the California gubernatorial recall election? No? Neither do I. (Clinton "advised" Davis before the recall, but never actually endorsed him.)

I guess Hillary was busy.

For some comedic insight into the situation, check out Dan Siegler's Puni comics for November 19th, November 26th, and December 3rd.

December 5, 2003

"Shawn Lane, a virtuoso guitarist and keyboardist known primarily for his contributions to world and jazz-fusion music, died of lung disease on September 26 at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis. He was 40." (from the JazzTimes obituary) I'm very glad that I got to see him perform with Jonas Hellborg and Jeff Sipe a few years ago. If you care to investigate further, I recommend Time is the Enemy and Temporal Analogues of Paradise. His style fuses blues, jazz guitar, and (in the last few years) Indian carnatic music, with remarkable success. He will be missed. I hope that he was able to inspire other musicians to explore the Indian corner of the genre of jazz-world fusion further.

The other day while I was eating lunch I turned on MTV for the first time in quite a while. One of the videos I saw was Milkshake by Kelis. Forget about Britney; this video is hot. And funny. And has milkshakes in it.

I rearranged my desk at home so that I could hook up all of my toys at once. Actually since I bought my PowerBook I hadn't attached all the stuff that used to be hooked up to my desktop G4. Now it's all hooked up, and then some. The 19" monitor has been replaced by a 21" monitor that used to be attached to my desktop PC (which is now a rackmounted server that I use for software development), so the 19" monitor is now for sale. The big black desk that took up a whole wall is gone, replaced by a smaller generic computer desk. All this makes room for more keyboards! Behold the new setup (53K jpeg image).

More details of the new setup are here.