Thursday, December 28, 2006

President Ford, Rest In Peace

Gerald Ford was a bit of an enigma. He was elected as neither President nor Vice President, but served in both offices. Some of his policies were not great, but he served with dignity and honor.

He may very well be remembered as the caricature of a klutz as played by Chevy Chase on "Saturday Night Live." He was the president who "always fell down" or "beaned someone on the head with an arrant golf shot." In reality, he was quite the athlete in his day playing center for the University of Michigan which earned 2 National Championships. He was even courted by the Detroit Lions, though he turned down the offer to attend law school.

I believe President Ford will be remembered in history as the man who held the nation together during a time of extreme crisis. His tenure was born of two scandals which rocked the US, stepping in when others were forced to step aside. His mission was healing, and he carried that mission to its completion.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Potential RFID Privacy & Security Problems

A year ago this past May I blogged about some serious security and privacy concerns regarding Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). In the past year-and-a-half, I haven't seen any real public discussion of the concerns I have regarding the use of this technology.

A paper published by the University of Washington Department of Computer Science and Engineering entitled "Devices That Tell On You: The Nike+iPod Sport Kit", outlines a direct example of how an on-the-market RFID technology has the potential to be exploited for bad purposes. The paper is telling in the relatively simple way the RFID technology, used to make a very handy and convenient device, can be used can also be used by the "not so honest" out there with very little technical knowledge. It also demonstrates some possible ways the device could be changed in order to make it far more "privacy friendly."

I highly recommend folks read up on RFID and its potential problems. I hate to call for government action on a problem like this because then it'll just get messed up. I think it's better for everyone to educate themselves so they can make informed decisions about the technology they use, whether purchased or not.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"The Aviator"

Just to show you how far behind I am in today's pop culture, I just saw "The Aviator" for the first time yesterday evening. Among the biographical movies I've seen, this showing of the life of Howard Hughes is pretty good.

There were a few scenes which could have been cut to keep this film under 3 hours. I think, though, despite the length the movie did a fairly good job of capturing Hughes' genius and madness. I recommend this one, if for nothing else, to ponder the workings of a man who suffered greatly from mental illness yet was still able to carry on leading a huge business empire.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sex Offender Email Registry

An E-Mail Registry for Sex Offenders?

Isn't this just another example of what Rush Limbaugh calls "Symbolism over Substance?" This is just political nonsense at its highest. Wanting to appear tough on crime, especially against those who are exploiting children, Charles Schumer and John McCain propose legislation to make sex offenders register their active email addresses. While this seems like a good idea at first glance, it lacks any real punch against those who are obviously flouting the law to do what they do in the first place. What's to stop someone from creating a new Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo! Mail account and hitting MySpace to troll for kids whom they can exploit? Nothing - since they're law-breakers already why would they care about a couple more charges if they get caught?

John Shehan, program manager of the CyberTipline, a project by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children has it right: it's the responsibility for parents to work to keep their kids safe on line. It has to be the parents because "Big Daddy" government isn't going to be able to throw someone in jail until it's too late and they've already gotten a hold of some unfortunate young person and exploited them for their perverted desires. Parents need to be involved in their kids' lives - they cannot rely on laws and technology alone. The more the parents talk and work with their kids to educate them about on line predators the better the kids will know when someone is trying to cultivate an improper relationship. Armed with that knowledge it's more likely the kids will tell their parents when something inappropriate is happening on line.

If the government wants to use technology to help prevent child exploitation on line, let them come up with something a little more effective than just registering email addresses. How about installing a tamper-proof filter on their computers to keep them off sites used by children? Or perhaps they could register their computer itself by it's hardware address and then web site operators could bounce incoming traffic against that list and reject connections from computers in the registry. Of course, there are ways around those methods, too, but I think it would be more difficult for someone to get around than simply making them register their email addresses. Again, technology alone won't solve the problem. It takes an eclectic approach led by parents.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sure, President Chavez, Sure

Chavez Promises to Eradicate Poverty Through Socialism

So, how does President Chavez think he can succeed where so many before him have failed? This is an extremely complicated issue, but one which bears some examination.

First, he fills government offices with his cronies. Second, he starts massive social programs aimed at eliminating poverty and want. Third, he attempts to have the Venezuelan constitution changed to eliminate term limits, which if successful will virtually assure him status as "President for Life." Looks to me like a recipe for a dictatorship.

Like so many countries where socialism and communism have been tried and failed, Venezuela appears to be headed down the same road to misery and more poverty. The anti-socialist revolution has been going on around the world since the mid-90s and "caretaker" governments have been overthrown or changed. This is because people finally realized that freedom, democracy and a free market are the best things to truly bring up a country's standard of living. Even in those countries which still have communist governments, like China, a limited free market is in place and the people who are able to participate enjoy a far better standard of living than the average.

Venezuela does have oil, and that has the potential to enrich the lives of all her citizens. My fear, though, is that power corrupts and Hugo Chavez is fallible just like the rest of us. If he is able to grab enough power, most of that money will go in his pockets and the pockets of his cronies before it has a chance to get down to the people. It's happened many times in the past, and history does have a habit of repeating itself.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Size of Money

Judge Orders Treasury Department to Make Paper Money Recognizable to Blind People

I can't understand why the US hasn't made this type of change to its currency before now. This makes a lot of sense, not only to the blind people who would benefit tremendously from changing the size of bills, but it would also be a nice convenience for everyone else.

European countries have had different sized paper currency for years, even before the adoption of the Euro. In Germany, for example, not only were the various denominations of currency different sizes, they were also different colors.

The Treasury Department just spent tons of money redesigning US currency. It seems to me that would have been a great time to redo the size, too. I completely disagree that having different sized bills would make it more difficult to prevent counterfeiting; I think it would make it easier to prevent because counterfeiters would have to take into account not only the design, paper, and other security features of the bill but also the exact size.

This kind of change is long overdue. Treasury Department: get with the program and get to work.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Patriot Guard Riders - Taking Care of the Homefront

A while back I posted a piece about riding with the Patriot Guard Riders escorting the funeral procession of a soldier who fell in Iraq. That was a very moving event for me. As a veteran, I feel it's important we welcome home those returning from duty overseas - whether they gave the ultimate sacrifice or not.

One of the PGR's leaders forwarded a video of a TV news item. The item, I believe, captures the spirit of the PGR and those who ride for our military members. The video is from the "Post Cards from Home" segment on an Illinois TV Station.

Watching this reminded me of my own homecoming after Desert Storm.

I had the privilege to serve with a Warrant Officer who served in Vietnam as a young man. On one occasion, while we were sitting around in the middle of Saudi Arabia waiting for the "Storm" part of Desert Storm to kick off, we were discussing the outpouring of generosity and good will from those at home. We got cards, letters and packages from people we hadn't heard from in years as well as those we'd never met. As the discussion carried on, the Chief (as that's what we called senior Warrant Officers) warned us not to count on the public's support and largess to continue once the war kicked off. His fear was that the war could become very unpopular once the real shooting started.

His fear was well-founded according to his experience coming home from Vietnam after one of his tours there. He was a young man who chose the military as his career. Coming home, he proudly wore his uniform as he arrived at Fort Lewis, Washington. Once he got on the ground, he was "strongly advised" to change into civilian attire before leaving the post to get transportation home. He told us of protesters outside the gates of Ft. Lewis throwing stuff at the cars going in and out, carrying signs protesting the war and vilifying the troops. I could see telling us of his experience brought a lot of sadness to him. He wanted us to keep in mind that peoples' opinions change and he wanted us to prepare ourselves in case the same thing happened to us.

We can all remember how quickly everything was over once the "Storm" got underway. Our unit was in and out of Iraq within a few days of the cease-fire being declared and we were on a plane back to the US within a week or so.

We landed at Kennedy Airport in New York to fuel up for our last leg back to Ft. Bliss (which is in El Paso, Texas). There was a buffet line with pizza, coffee, soft drinks, and other goodies waiting for us. There were people behind the barricades holding signs, not of protest, but of support and welcoming. It was quite a treat.

When we finally arrived at Ft. Bliss, we could see a vast crowd waiting to welcome us home through the plane's windows. This was an even larger "welcome home" than what we experienced in New York. I happened to be right in front of the Chief as we started down the stairs off the plane. There was a line of Generals waiting to shake our hands as we disembarked and headed to the building where we were to turn in our weapons. At one point, Chief put his hand on my shoulder. I thought, perhaps he took a misstep and was steadying himself. He was trying to steady himself, but it wasn't from a misstep on the stairs, rather is was because he was overwhelmed with emotion. He looked me in the eye and said, "This makes up for last time. This makes up for last time." I even think I saw a tear in his eye, which was very out of character for him. I was happy he got some closure for his bad experience in the 70s.

I regale this story because I believe the men and women of our Armed Forces deserve the same kind of homecoming. Whether you agree with the war in Iraq or not, the Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen are putting it all on the line to help make our lives safer and to continue to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.

I hope you will take some time out of your life this week and do something to support our troops, both overseas and at home. I know the sacrifices of time and effort it takes to be a member of our Armed Forces, and those people deserve respect and support from everyone living under the blanket of freedom they help protect.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Roman Catholic Priests and Marriage

Vatican Holds Summit on Celibacy Requirement for Clergy After Flap Over Excommunicated Archbishop

As a former practicing Catholic (I'll be happy to send my resume outlining my qualifications to claim this to anyone who's interested) I have a pretty strong opinion on this matter: I think priests and nuns should be allowed to marry - plain and simple.

I know there are centuries of tradition behind the rule of celibacy and singleness in the priesthood, but I also know of a couple of instances showing it's not a bad idea.

First off, some of the apostles were married. The Bible clearly points out that Peter had a mother-in-law, which means he must have had a wife. She may have passed on before Jesus called him to ministry, but the fact that he was married speaks volumes to me. Paul wrote in his letters to the early church recommending that one in the ministry stay single. But in the very next sentence he tells them it is better to marry than to burn with passion and marrying was not a sin.

Most other Christian denominations allow their pastors to marry. I think it's time to recognize that those who are priests are regular men with regular desires (and I'm not just referring to sex here) who wish to serve the church and have a family, too. I think the Pope is wise to at least take a look at this issue.

NB - I don't think using Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo is the best example of someone who was excommunicated over this issue. I would doubt his ability to lead Catholics if he's willing to participate in ceremonies in the Unification church. His ordination of four married men aside, I think there are more and better examples to study.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Boycott Christmas!

When I was in high school, the morning DJ of the album-oriented rock station (now called "classic rock") was a guy named Steve Dahl. He had a very funny show with his sidekick and straight-man Garry Meier, who was referred to as "a bargain basement version of George Fenneman." Among his other stunts, one which stands out to me is his "Boycott Christmas Until After Thanksgiving" campaign.

Although he most likely meant it as a gag, I really took this to heart. He complained about how stores and malls would start putting out Christmas stuff a week or so before Thanksgiving and encouraged his listeners to not buy Christmas stuff until the holiday season "officially" kicked off.

This really struck a chord with me. I, too, thought that stores started the Christmas buying season too early. To this day, I feel the same way - especially when the Christmas stuff starts coming out a couple weeks before Halloween.

My wife is embarrassed as we go through the local Wal-Mart and I yell out "Boycott Christmas 'til after Thanksgiving" or "Don't fall for the crass commercialism" or "Don't support the commercialists" or "No Christmas, no Christmas, no Christmas until after Thanksgiving." I'm not against Christmas, I'm against the commercialism that comes with it.

With the merchants promoting, the people buying, the ALCU suing, the real meaning of Christmas is getting lost through all the hubbub and activities of the season. Starting it earlier and earlier every year seems to just dilute the season more and more.

To be sure, the Christmas season is the time of year when people seem to be more generous. Charitable giving goes up and people are more sensitive to the plight of those less fortunate. If we could keep that going on longer and longer then the real spirit of Christmas would grow. I find every succeeding year Christmas is more about greed and avarice than it's about caring, sharing and helping.

I hope that you will find it in your heart to remember the greatest gift of all this year: the gift of generosity and giving which is what the first Christmas was really all about. Without that, we might as well call it "Winter Holiday" and be done with it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Garden Guy Debate

Houston landscapers refuse gay couple’s job
Stance taken by owners of the Garden Guy ignites fiery debate

There is ignorance and hatred demonstrated in the world which aptly shows the true nature of us human beings. We can really be rotten to the core and it often doesn't take much for us to show it. It is most unfortunate.

Am I talking about the folks who own Garden Guy? Yes, I am; but, I am also talking about those folks on the "politically-correct" left who took this debate to a whole new level. There is a lot of ignorance to go around in this case.

To the owners of Garden Guy and those Christians who claim that homosexuality is the worst sin known to man: I applaud you for sticking to your beliefs. It's important to not compromise your integrity or the message of Christ as you see it. However, the belief that you must somehow isolate yourself away from "sinners" is not the message Christ sent when He was on the Earth. Jesus was constantly criticized by the religious leaders of his day for hanging around with "sinners and tax collectors." His response: "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Paul's words also come to mind, "Love the sinner, but hate the sin." Remember, even those who count themselves as "saved" are still human and are still subject to temptation and sin.

I think this is part of the true message of Christ: People are most important. If you don't love people, even those who are "sinners" in your eyes, then you become the same as those folks from the so-called church who protest with signs reading "God hates Fags" and you harden hearts against the very message you are trying to spread.

To the would-be customers: You were well within your rights to email your friends about your experience and ask them to boycott Garden Guy. Good for you for standing up for what you believe. No matter what, you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by others regardless of whatever they might find disagreeable with you. It appears the email you received from Garden Guy, as ignorant and bigoted as it might be to you, was respectful. I hate that people judge you as they do. People are important - you are important.

Also, the link to the anti-gay marriage web site on their web site should have been a clue that you might not want to patronize them. Perhaps you missed it, but the Garden Guy folks are up front with their opinion of gays. I don't fault you if you missed it, but perhaps we can all take a lesson to fully check out those with whom we plan to do business.

To the folks who show their ignorance by threatening the Garden Guy folks: Grow up! Yes, it is wrong that people discriminate against you. Yes, it's wrong when they vilify you and make you out to be monsters or whatever. But, is threatening their safety and health and condoning sodomizing their children going to get them to see you differently? I think not. It's much like the so-called "Christians" who treat you poorly and harden your hearts against what they have to say - when you threaten and harangue and pontificate you harden their hearts against what you have to say. The golden rule applies: if you want to be treated with respect then show respect. Can you protest someone's ignorance without getting ugly and hateful about it? You bet you can: Organize a boycott, send respectful messages about why you disagree, get on your soapbox and tell the world why they are wrong. But when you threaten and harass you are merely playing into the hands of those who wish to vilify you and make you out to be monsters.

To the "politically correct" crowd: You claim you are on the side of tolerance. The problem is, when anyone doesn't echo your opinions on what's right and proper, you show yourselves to be very intolerant. There is room for disagreement in our country. There is room for differing opinions and debate. When you shout down those who disagree with you, you are showing that you are the intolerant ones. "Politically Correct" then becomes a synonym for "Politically Reliable" which is a phrase used by communist dictatorships during the cold war to describe someone who toes the party line no matter what. People become afraid to speak their minds and then another freedom we should cherish goes by the wayside.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Problem With Idolizing

Ousted Evangelist Rev. Ted Haggard Tells Followers He's Guilty of 'Sexual Immorality'

At first glance, this merely appears to be another example of a powerful Christian leader caught in the act of some immoral act. To be sure, that is what it is. But, there is also another side to it.

Pastors of large churches and national organizations are put in the spotlight. We expect them to be perfect and to not make poor decisions because they are somehow more holy than the rest of us. Certainly, church leaders should live their lives in such a way as to bring people closer to God and to each other. However, when someone gets too "high and mighty" we tend to forget they are just like the rest of us. They are just regular people who are tempted to sin and make mistakes just like the rest of us.

I don't excuse Haggard for his actions. But, there is a tendency for people in his position to feel they have to "perform" for the masses in order to maintain their persona of a "true person of faith." Trouble comes when they are put on a pedestal so high they start to appear as "super holy" and we forget they are just regular folks. When they fall, it's usually very fast and very hard.

Church leaders: if you don't have people around you who know you inside and out with whom you can share your deepest, darkest secrets, you are asking for trouble. Just having your spouse with you isn't enough. You need to find people of the same gender to whom you can confess and be accountable to. I also don't just mean your church board, deacon board, elders or whatever else you wish to call such groups. I'm talking about a small, tight circle of friends outside the normal "church life" with whom you can really show your humanity.

Church Leaders: take some time out today and find fellow Christians who can help keep you on the "straight and narrow." It takes time to develop such close friendships, but it's worth every minute. With such a group you can be honest about your failings and temptations. You can nip those little sins in the bud before they become big problems.

Church Leaders: Be transparent to the people you lead (to a lesser extent than your close circle of friends - you don't need to air all of your dirty laundry to the public). Show them you are human and that you make mistakes just as they do. Show them you are not "holier than thou" so they will not be wrapped up in guilt when they stumble. Let them see that no one is perfect, least of all you. Your "human-ness" will be a better example than your "super spirituality."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Enough Lawsuits Already

Supreme Court to Hear Case Against Philip Morris USA

I feel sorry for the lady who lost her husband to a 2-pack-a-day habit for 45 years. But, come on, enough is enough. The link between cigarettes and disease has been know since at least the '30s (ever notice in various 3 Stooges shorts where cigarettes are referred to as "coffin nails"?). It's hard to imagine anyone living from the '60s, when the Surgeon General's health warnings went on packs of cigarettes, until now did not know that smoking causes a host of different types of disease.

Various states have sued "Big Tobacco" and won on the grounds that they have to pay so much extra out of their different medical funds for the sickness smoking causes.

We all know smoking is risky, so why not just ban the stuff and be done with it? I'll bet it would happen if so much weren't made off taxes imposed on tobacco products. Perhaps one day the tax on tobacco will be high enough that everyone will quit just because they can't support their habit.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

GoDaddy.com

I'm starting a new web site. I needed to register a domain and get a host, preferably one that supports ASP.NET since that's my strong suit in web development. I heard a lot about GoDaddy.com and decided to use them.

I found 2 unregistered domains I thought would be appropriate. So, I registered them and picked my hosting plan. Since I was buying a year's worth of hosting up front, I got one domain registered for $1.99. Not a bad deal.

It turns out that someone else registered one of the domains I wanted just before I did. (I have my suspicions that someone was monitoring my searches for possible domains and pounced before I got my order through, but that's another story). Although I got confirmation both of my domains were registered to me, only one of them did.

I contacted GoDaddy about my missing domain. Their support was great and I got my refund within a couple of hours of my call. Fast, excellent service makes them high on my list of domain hosts. So far, so good. Based on my short experience I recommend them. I will probably move my other web site to them when the year is up on that host contract.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Grammer Classes Make a Rebound

Clauses and commas make a comeback
SAT writing section helps return grammar lessons to classrooms

I'm not a perfect grammarian, but I do know grammar is an important communication skill for those who want to get ahead. I am forever grateful to the nuns who taught grammar to me so well, that by the time I went to high school I used a college-level text book in my composition class.

The ability to communicate effectively through writing has diminished quickly over the past 20 years or so. I've seen it amongst those who have worked for me, and I especially see it in the youth of today. My own children are plagued with horrible grammar. When I try to correct them they tell me, "that's not how we learned it in school." Lack of grammar instruction compounded with email and text-messaging shortcuts have left them in the cold. I'm glad to hear grammar is making a comeback.

College instructors will be glad to learn of grammar's comeback as well. I happened to overhear a discussion on high school instruction between some college professors this past summer. To a person, they all lamented how poorly today's youth are instructed in English. One professor served on the college's entrance committee and told me that at least 3/4 of the youth coming into their college require remedial instruction so they can cope with college-level English and math courses. Things have gone a long way downhill since I had a college-level English class as a high school sophomore.

Grammar instruction isn't the only thing lacking in our education system today. The way math and reading are taught should be considered a crime. I try to help my kids with their math homework and I only confuse them more by showing them how to quickly get the right answer rather than the convoluted "hoop-jumping" they're taught at school. My oldest missed out totally on phonics and has problems reading to this day. Thankfully my younger children were sent to a private school which taught phonics even to preschool-aged kids. They read very well and are way ahead of their public school contemporaries. I hope math, reading and spelling instruction will make a comeback like grammar is starting to make.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another Great Wall of China?

Gorbachev: Border Fence is Like Berlin Wall

OK, if this isn't ridiculous I don't now what is. Comparing the proposed wall (or fence or whatever) along the border with Mexico meant to keep out illegal aliens with the Berlin Wall is totally outlandish, even for Ol' Stainhead.

If Mr. Gorbachev will remember his history, the Berlin Wall was built to keep freedom-loving people IN East Germany and out of West Berlin. It was not built to keep the West Germans or Americans out. In the days of the Cold War, people from behind the Iron Curtain had to literally escape to get out. Perhaps we should recall the hundreds of people who were shot trying to over, under or through the Berlin Wall by East German border guards.

People from Mexico are more than welcome to emigrate to the United States. It just that the United States regulates how many people can come in at a time. There's nothing unusual about this practice, almost every country has limits on who and how many people can come in to their countries. In other countries illegal immigrants are deported to where they came from and this is considered quite normal. So why isn't it normal for the US to do it?

I agree with one statement Mr. Gorbachev said: we do need ideas on how to better control the flow of people through and from Mexico. A wall or fence is not going to solve the problem. What will solve the problem is better economic conditions in Mexico and points south so people will be better able to take care of themselves and their families and not feel that they must emigrate to get better opportunities than they could get at home.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What About Gitmo

U.S. faces obstacles to freeing detainees
Allies block returns from Guantanamo

Isn't this the height of hypocrisy? On the one hand, the nations of Europe condemn the prison at Guantanamo. They call it illegal, impractical, a violation of human rights, etc., etc. But when the US takes a step towards closing the prison down by deporting the prisoner, the European countries from where they came won't take them back.

Nations of Europe: you can't have your cake and eat it, too! If you're not willing to do something constructive to help close down the prison at Gitmo, then keep your opinions to yourselves.

North Korea's Blustering

N. Korea: U.N. sanctions are declaration of war

Doesn't this follow the pattern in the "Militant Dictator Handbook?" A country does something they've been repeated warned not do to; something they've been promising all along they haven't been getting ready for (the PRK didn't make this bomb overnight, there has been quite a bit of preparation going on there). Then, when they prove they're not following agreements and treaties and other nations protest, out come the threats of military action.

The troubling part of this particular story is that North Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world. They may very well have weapons of mass destruction other than nuclear ones. They are also led by a meglomaniacal dictator, drunk on his own power who would rather starve his fellow citizens in order to keep his military in the best condition it can be.

The world needs to tread cautiously towards dealing with this problem. Sanctions are a good first step - but they have to be imposed by all nations. South Korea's leadership has said they won't close down "key economic projects with the North, despite concerns that they may help fund the North’s nuclear and missile programs." A foolhardy stand, in my opinion. Why not just let the North do whatever they want with no consequences. Wake up folks - appeasement never works. Does anyone remember Neville Chamberlain?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Amish Community Extends Forgiveness

Wife of School Gunman Thanks Amish for Forgiveness

It would be tough to find another, better, public example of true Christian forgiveness than this. As I understand, the Roberts family were friends with some of the families Charles Roberts forever changed during his shooting spree. I read and saw news reports where the affected family members came to Marie Roberts and her children to bring consolation and forgiveness. They set up a fund to benefits the Roberts children and one family even invited Marie to the funeral for their daughter.

The effects of such a senseless and horrible act can last the rest of one's life. Nothing will bring the girls back to their families, nor bring Charles Roberts back and in his right mind. Maintaining a grudge just prolongs the suffering of the family members left behind. The example of this Amish community is a template to all of us how to graciously and positively make the best out of an unimagineable circumstance.

The world would be a much better place if everyone would learn to forgive like these people.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Install Problem

October must be my month to find obscure bugs in software. I had a problem with getting Infor's SXAPI to work earlier this month, this time it was MS SQL Server MMV.

I was setting up a Windows 2003 Server box to host our Team Foundation Server (TFS) installation. I thought I would just be able to follow the excellent (for once) documentation and all would be well with the development world. Ah, but not the case.

This particular server had already been set up and was hosting some virtual servers for our developers. I had already hardened the OS, turning on the Windows Firewall and shutting off unneeded services among other things. When I tried to install SQL MMV, the installer choked while setting up Reporting Services (RS), which is required for TFS.

When it choked the first time, I figured I'd just uninstall and reinstall. That didn't work because many of the SQLMMV settings stayed in the registry. So, when I ran the install again, I got an error that RS was already installed so it wouldn't install it again unless I set it up to run in a different instance. Well, that wasn't going to work for TFS, so I tried uninstalling and reinstalling again. The second time, I ran into the same error, so I let RS install in a new instance, thinking I would then be able to uninstall cleanly and start over. Nope, next time I installed it wanted yet another instance name.

At this point, I uninstalled the rest of the application again and ran Norton System Works to try to clean out the registry. No luck there. So I tried going through the registry myself and delete references to RS. Way too many entries to deal with.

What I ended up doing was moving my virtual servers to another box, formatting and reinstalling the server and starting over. My guess was the registry was messed up (and it probably was after I was monkeying around with it).

On the reinstall, it choked again at the same place. I sat down and thought about it for a while and decided to try while the Windows Firewall was turned off. Since RS creates a web site, it made sense that the firewall might be stopping it. Sure enough, the next install went smoothly and I had a working SQL Server.

During this whole process, I googled all up and down on error messages and searched all over MS' web site. The only things I found referred a myriad of other problems, but none referred to the Firewall causing any issues.

So, here you go. If you have trouble installing SQLMMV with RS, see if your Windows Firewall is turned on and turn it off for the install.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Check out the listing in IMDb

This is a really bad movie. I'm glad I got to watch it for free on the Encore channel. I expected a bit more out of a case which in included Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. Perhaps it was supposed to be a bit "artsy-fartsy" with sophisticated humor, but I found it to be dull, drawn out, and just plain awful.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ma Bell Is Back

FCC puts off AT and T-BellSouth merger vote

I don't get it. Some years ago, the US Government forced AT and T to break up into some half-dozen or so smaller companies because it was a monopoly. Over the past couple of years, most of the telecommunication providers which resulted from the split have merged to become what is now, ironically enough, the new AT and T. With the purchase of BellSouth, AT&T will be almost as large as it was when it was forced to split up. If AT and T controlled too much of the telecommunications industry back then, isn't it perhaps going to be too big now?

I am very leery of all the merging, or "consolidating" as it is termed. Instead of being good for consumers, when companies merge together to control large blocks of a particular industry, competition goes away and prices go up.

To be sure, there are many reasons gas prices have skyrocketed in the past year or so, but is it just a coincidence that the oil companies have merged themselves into an oligarchy just before this happened? What about the cable TV industry? Has your cable bill gone down because of consolidation in that arena? Mine sure hasn't. I'd like to see an example where consolidation actually led to lower prices for consumers. (Don't show me a bunch of examples where a large company was created from mergers or acquisitions and moved all its manufacturing overseas - those don't count.)

I am normally against government intervention in business. However, one of the federal government's constitutional duties is to regulate interstate commerce. Perhaps this might be one of those areas where a little regulation is in order.

PS - the ampersand ("and" symbol) is not allowed in Blogger - for reasons I completely understand. Thus my spelling "AT and T" in this posting.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

My Theory About the Detroit Lions

Marinelli: Lack of Discipline to Blame for Lions 0-5 Record

I have had a theory about the Lions for years, and I tell it to a few people here and there. Now is the time to go public: The Lions are perennially mediocre at best because the Ford family uses them as a tax deduction. They play just good enough to give the fans some hope, but bad enough that they don't pull in too much money so the operation comes in at a loss every year.

Think about it: since the '50s, have the Lions ever made it past the first round of the playoffs? How many times have they even made the playoffs? Do they ever have more than one big-name key player on the team at a time?

I know Detroit sports fans are fiercely loyal - I used to be one, so I know. But come on people, The Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers have won the top prize in their sports, why not the Lions? I think it's time to vote with your feet and your wallets and show you want to watch a winner.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Infor's SXAPI Problem and Solution

For those of you who are not technically inclined computer-geek types, you might want to pass this post up. However, if you happened to stumble upon it while looking for a solution to a similar problem with Infor's SXAPI, please read on and I hope it helps.

The company I work for has a dozen or so regional offices. As a service to our customers, we have a secure proxy to our Regional Sales System so they can check stock at their convenience without having to call and wait for a sales rep to get to them. It's a good system for our customers and for us.

We are in the process of changing to Infor's system for our regional offices. We, of course, want to offer the same stock-checking service to our customers via our Business-to-Business (B2B) web site. Infor has an API to facilitate writing ASP.NET web applications which will allow us to do just that. They call it SXAPI.

In our development environment, the SXAPI worked like a charm. We could hook into the sales system and query stock levels to our hearts' content. We were really jazzed about being able to give our customers an easy to use and powerful system to help them do business with us better and easier.

That was, until we tried to set the SXAPI on our production server for testing. We have our B2B in a DMZ between firewalls going out to the WWW and in to our network. I arranged with our network admin to make the proper adjustments to the firewall and I thought we were all set. Boy was I wrong.

When it came time to install the SXAPI it took forever. First off, in order for it to install itself there must be a web site in IIS called "Default Web Site." If there is no such web site, the install will bomb. Of course, on a public-facing web site, we don't keep anything "default." It took the tech support guy at Infor a little while to figure this out.

Once we got the SXAPI installed and configured I ran their "Canary Test" program to check the connection to our back end Infor server. The Canary Test is a cute little app with a picture of a canary on a perch. When you do the test, if it succeeds the canary stays on its perch and you get the "success" message. If the connection doesn't succeed, the canary "dies" and the picture changes to a canary on its side with an "x" over its eyes. Unfortunately, the canary kept "dying."

For two weeks I went back and forth with my Infor tech support contact. He had no ideas why it wouldn't work. I sent him error messages, reports from the Infor server confirming I was trying to connect to the correct IP Addresses and ports, and other information. In between emails and phone calls I worked with two of our network admins checking for messages in the firewall logs and running sniffer traces to see if we could diagnose the problem. I even went and gave my Infor tech contact all the details of our network configuration so he could replicate it and try to diagnose the problem.

The production B2B server has 2 NICs; one goes out to the WWW and the other only connects to a SQL Server we run for dynamic content - both are on different IP subnets. Even though we have static routes in the B2B server to send the traffic in the right direction, for some reason the packets the SXAPI generated were trying to go through the NIC for the SQL server, which is in a non-routable address segment. No matter how we tweaked the static routes or messed around with the settings on the server, we couldn't get the traffic to go out the correct NIC to our Infor server. Our tech contact at Infor didn't seem to understand the problem, and finally told us he was punting to a developer to see if any light could be shed on the problem. He even told us at one point that the canary test probably wouldn't work through a firewall since it did more than just test for a good connection.

In the meantime, I've got a lot of people who want to have this API working (most of all me, 'cause I've got a lot of other things to do) so our customers can take advantage of the ASP.NET inventory query app we wrote. Nothing seemed to work at all. There was no documentation on this kind of issue, no solution coming from Infor tech support, no Usenet or other tech groups, nothing. It was very frustrating.

While I was talking out the problem with one of the network admins, he suggested I disable the NIC the SXAPI was sending its traffic through to see if it would be "smart" enough to route the traffic through the other NIC. I was ready to try this, but thought there might be another solution.

This morning while I was getting ready for work, mulling over this issue, something hit me. When putting IP Addresses in a Windows server, when you route traffic out and don't specify which IP Address it should go through, Windows defaults to the first IP Address you entered. I started to think, what if the SXAPI was looking at the registry and routing its traffic through the first NIC installed instead of the one the Windows routing table was telling it to go through. Instead of letting Windows handle the network and routing, I wondered if it was handling the routing itself. I happened to remember the NIC handling the SQL Server traffic was built in and the one handling the WWW traffic was a PCI card I installed. The NIC with the SQL was installed first.

To that end, I swapped IP Addresses in the 2 NICs installed on the server and swapped the cables so they'd go through the correct routers - and behold - the canary didn't die when I did the test.

So, if you happen to stumble on this looking for answers to routing issues with Infor's SXAPI and you have 2 NICs, take a look at the order the NICs were installed.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lancaster County, PA

Words cannot express how painful that event was to the people of Lancaster County. Our prayers go with you for comfort and healing after such a horrific event.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Iranian Nuclear Ambitions

Iran gives no sign of nuclear suspension yet: Rice

Does anyone honestly believe the Iranians are bargaining in good faith? Does anyone really believe they are pursuing nuclear technology just to generate electricity? Come on, people, it's time to wake up.

While the UN and the EU are wringing their hands, talking ad nauseum with Iranian negotiators, Iran's nuclear scientists continue to advance their craft. The things they're working on are not those which are needed to run a power station, they are items needed to make a weapon. The UN and EU are merely allowing the Iranians to stall long enough for a bomb to be made.

Iran is a country which sits on vast deposits on natural gas - why not use that to generate electricity instead of nuclear power? It just doesn't add up.

It's long past time to impose sanctions on Iran.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Propping Up Amtrak

I am generally against government subsidies. To me, most of them make no sense and the free market will normally balance things out the way they should be. One of the subsidies which bothers me the most is how the Federal government props up Amtrak. One of the senators from my state (Kay Baily-Hutchison) is a major supporter of Amtrak. Once in a while she'll go on the stump, going on about how important passenger rail is to Texas despite the fact that most people who travel fly or drive.

There is no arguing that rail was a big part of Texas history. Texas is so vast, rail was a key component in its modernization. Many towns and cities owe their very existance to the railroads. However, I believe the time for long haul passenger rail for Texas, and, indeed most of the rest of our great nation, is long past. In this day and age, air travel makes a lot more sense.

I recently found a web page which compared auto, plane and train travel by cost, time and how much pollution each one purportedly generates. I thought it would be a good idea to do a little comparing myself to see if Amtrak is really a good value.

I "booked" myself on line 4 fictious trips from Dallas to Chicago, one on Amtrak, one on American Airlines (using their web site), one on Southwest Airlines (again, using their site) and one on Hotwire.com. Each trip used the same dates, two weeks in advance, going with the lowest fair without using promotion codes or other discounts. The results were very interesting.

The Amtrak run cost $204 and the travel time is 22 hours.
The AA run cost cost $204 with a travel time of 2.5 hours.
The Southwest run (code share with ATA) cost $197 with 3 hours of travel time.
I could book on Hotwire from $184 to $231. (Hotwire doesn't show the details until you pick the flight, though I think it's safe to assume the travel time will be between 2.5 and 3 hours if it's a non-stop (tack on a couple more hours if a stop is in the plan).

Cost isn't as much of a factor as I thought it might be. A few years ago I was looking into taking Amtrak on a day trip with my kids. As I recall the price was almost twice what the plane fare would have been and it would have been faster to drive.

Time is a huge factor here. 3 hours versus 22 is a very large difference. All other things aside, it really doesn't make sense to take the train.

The current governor of Texas, Rick Perry, and some other politicians want to create a giant travel corridor from south to north Texas about a mile wide which they call the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC). This project involves billions of dollars, is controlled via secret contracts with a European company, and will end up being a huge land grab and eminent domain nightmare if it's implemented. One of the provisions is for the TTC to include high-speed rail service in addition to toll roads and cargo rail. There isn't enough passenger service on Amtrak now for it to pay for itself, what makes the supporters of TTC think there will be more passengers if the plan goes into effect?

Passenger rail makes a lot of sense in the Northeast and in other places where large cities are closer together. It doesn't make sense in Texas and much of the rest of the US because it's too slow. I say we get Amtrak off the government dole and let the free market take care of where rail works and where it doesn't.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Elvis-A-Rama Museum, Las Vegas

During our recent trip to Las Vegas, my wife and I found ourselves making a "pilgrimage" to the Elvis-A-Rama museum. Located on Industrial a few blocks off the strip behind the Fashion Mall, this museum holds (as the Travel Channel described) the largest private collection of Elvis memorabilia outside Graceland. It was certainly and interesting and enlightening visit. Our visit was also rather timely since the museum is scheduled to close permanently on October 1st, 2006.

After we paid the admission, we were escorted into a dark room with black lights and fluorescent names of Elvis in different languages and waited while we were given a hyped pep talk about what we were going to see. I thought this rather cheesy, but it was the only part of the displays which could be considered that way.

The museum is arranged generally in chronological order, following the King's career from its root until his untimely death. There were fascinating bits of minutia, such as deposit slips, royalty checks, letters back and forth between fans and friends and much more. There were 3 cars which were once owned by Elvis as well as a variety of costumes and other personal belongings.

One of the more interesting items (to me) was a guitar which was passed around and played when the members of the Beatles met with Elvis in his Memphis home. Along with the guitar was a narrative of the visit (written by John Lennon, I think). It was fascinating to read the account of the meeting of two music powerhouses under one roof.

There is, of course, a gift shop where one can purchase anything from sunglasses to copies of Elvis' divorce decree.

We were told by one of the staff the reason for the museum's closing was that it had been bought by Graceland. According to rumour, another Vegas museum run by Graceland was in the works, but no details were known. The collection in the Elvis-O-Rama was to remain with the private owner, who described himself as a close friend of Elvis from his youth.

It's a shame that such a Vegas landmark will pass. Of course, that's the way it is there - the city constantly imploding or plowing over the old to make way for the new. It'll be interesting to see what happens with any new Elvis museum.

Monday, September 25, 2006

South Coast Hotel Casino

South Coast Hotel Casino

During my recent trip in Vegas, my wife and I stayed at the South Coast. Although located well off the beaten path, it was a very nice place and we enjoyed it very much.

The room was excellent. Our room had a large tinted window overlooking Las Vegas Blvd. and if you stood at the right side of the window and looked left you could get a view of the Strip (or at least the taller buildings on the strip). There was a large flat-screen TV (though we didn't use it much), data ports for high-speed internet access (for a $10+ per day fee), and a very comfortable bed. The bathroom was quite large and was equipped with a very wide counter with a tub/shower and toilet in a smaller ante room. The shower was one of those "rain" type ones - I prefer more pressure coming out but it wasn't too bad. The toiletries were very nice, though I didn't find the shampoo to be "invigorating" as the label indicated. There was a small coffee maker in the bathroom which brewed one cup at a time - more than enough to get me going to the buffet or restaurant for more.

There were a number of restaurants on site including the buffet, the cafe, a Mexican place, an Italian place and an oyster bar along with a Seattle's Best Coffee and an ice cream parlour. The buffet was very good, though not "spectacular." The food and selection were more than I expected or could even fully enjoy, and a great value for the money in my opinion.

The hotel offered a free shuttle to the Barbary Coast on the strip. This is an excellent jumping off point for those who wish to visit the strip and see the sights there. The drop off point is right across the street from Ballys and Caesar's Palace. We were able to cover the area to the north (up to TI) on one day and to the south (To New York, New York) the next.

As were were leaving, we noted there were painters working on the front doors changing the name to the "South Point." I later read that this casino was sold by Boyd Gaming to another company. Hopefully the new ownership won't change much more than the name, keeping this hotel as a great Vegas vacation value.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

In Vegas Steht Ein Hofbrauhaus ...

Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas

I first read there was a replica of the famous Munich Beer Hall, Hofbrauhaus, in Las Vegas sometime in 2005. Ever since then I've wanted to check it out, since it's a lot closer than the original and I can't get to Europe right now. When I lived in Germany I spent many an evening in the Munich HB. I finally found myself in Vegas and decided to give the HB a visit.

The HB in Vegas is a smaller, but an otherwise very close representation of the HB in Munich. The front entrance area is the bar and gift shop instead of a foyer, the main hall is smaller, but
has the same type of long tables as the original. The ceiling is painted much like the original, too. Being in Vegas, the Biergarten was indoors in the back of the building. The 00 (rest room) didn't have the Putzfrau cleaning while you were using the "wall" either. Even the outside of the building looked like the original; though since it's on an American-style street corner it's not hard to miss, unlike the original.

Everyone in the group agreed the food was very good. I had the Schwienebraten with potato dumpling and it was very good and tasted much like I remembered it from Bavaria. My wife had the Saurbraten and said it was good, though I had to take her word for it since I'm not too fond of Saurbraten. The Oktoberfest beer was very good, as well. I'm guessing the Weitzen and other beers were good, too, since copious amounts were downed. I'm not in my 20s any more so I limited my consumption to only 1/2 litre.

The service was excellent, probably enhanced since the place was rather empty (I'm told that Thursday is the slowest day of the week). Our server, Victor, took very good care of us.

I highly recommend if you find yourself in Vegas and want to experience some good Bavarian hospitality, check out the HB. It's across from the Hard Rock on Harmon Avenue.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Texas Roadhouse? Not Any More

A Texas Roadhouse manager requested compensation for business lost due to the fatal shooting of two police officers. How horribly insensitive and ridiculous.

In 1998 or 1999 A Texas Roadhouse restaurant opened near where I lived at the time. Being the first new restaurant opened in the area in a number of years, it was quite popular. My wife and I went there a few times. I have to admit, eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor appeals to me in a very primal way; and this was one of the features of the restaurant which appealed to me along with good food and good service.

On one visit, the server accidently spilled an entire glass of very cold cola in my lap. To make things worse, I was wearing some very light-colored beige pants. Needless to say, my pants and my mood were ruined. Instead of apologizing and trying to placate my dissatisfaction, the server laughed at me and tried to make some kind of joke out of it. I asked to speak to the manager, who also made light of the situation and didn't even say "sorry about that, accidents happen" or anything along those lines. I expected at least an apology or an offer of a free dessert or something, but there was no such offer. Because of this, Texas Roadhouse became "Restauranta Non Grata" to me. (OK, the Latin may not be exactly correct, but you get the idea.)

Another Texas Roadhouse opened near my new home last year. My wife and I started eating there. The service was great and the food is very good. However, after reading this piece on Snopes.com, in future I think I will avoid Texas Roadhouse anyway. I can forget the manager in Virginia being a cad and give my local manager the benefit of the doubt that (s)he is a great person and supports our local police and other public servants. However, the response from the corporate office leaves a lot to be desired as well. Take my experience with the first Texas Roadhouse and put it with the terrible response of the corporate office in this police case and I have to think that such insensitivity is part of the corporate DNA and thus a reason to spend my money elsewhere.

There's a Logan's Roadhouse not too far away. They have the great "make a mess with peanut shells" experience going. I think I'll eat there instead.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Madonna Into Space?

Lawmaker proposes shooting Madonna into space

A member of the Russian Duma proposed legislation to let Madonna be a "space tourist."

Any chance she can be launched into space and left there?

I realize I critisized "celebrity-centered" headlines on CNN recently. However, although this story is about a celebrity, it actually is news-worthy because it's not just about something Madonna did or didn't do, but also about the Russian Space Program and their attempts to earn money launching people to the International Space Station for cash.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Are We Too Celebrity-Focused?

OK - so Paris Hilton gets arrested for suspicion of DUI. Unless I live in the area she was driving in, should I really care? So, Brittany Spears in an attempt to get away from a mob of photographers jumps into her car and takes off without putting her child in the car seat. Perhaps a bit of bad judgement, but should I take time to ponder if she was a terrible mom or not? Babies of celebrities are born. Congratluations to them, but I don't know them personally so should I "Google" to try to get a sneak peak at the child?

On my Google home page, CNN has at least one article a day dealing with some kind of celebrity news. This is from the RSS selection of "Headlines." With everything going on in the world, in the grand scheme of things, are details of Tom and Katie's relationship really that important to anyone other than Tom, Katie, their family and close friends?

How many people know where Darfur is and what's been going on there for the past 3 years? How many people realize the gravity of Iran enriching uranium or North Korea trying to build a missile which can hit a target in the US? How many of us know about the good things going on in Iraq (like the transfer of authority of the Iraqi armed forces to the Iraqi government which happened earlier today)?

I realize people have wanted to hear celebrity gossip since there have been celebrities. There are those who fill their whole lives reading about the rich and famous. I just wonder, though, if we're taking in a little too much ignorance about the world at large to focus in on stuff which, in the long run, have little importance compared to other things which can profoundly impact our lives?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Jiffy Lube Scam

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Jiffy Lube Scam

A wise man told me his father gave this advice when he was young:
"As you get older, you need to have 4 things: a good wife, a good mechanic, a good doctor and a good preacher."

Auto mechanics, are unfortunately, very much maligned along with lawyers, politicians and used car salesmen because of incidents such as this. (guilt by association) It's quite sad that greedy people feel no remorse when ripping off their customers - at least until their caught. This kind of things has, no doubt, been going on since cars were first introduced. As a kid I remember adults referring to this type of activity as a "wall job" where the cars were parked against a wall and nothing was done to them but they were still charged for the work.

I'm very fortunate to have found 3 honest, reputable shops in my area. Between the 3 of them I have my vehicles covered as far as repairs and maintenance go. This is good because I tend to be totally inept with tools and mechanical things.

I did have a very pleasant experience with a mechanic shop in Effingham, Illinois: I was driving to Michgan one spring to attend my sister's graduation party. In the middle of Illinois we stopped for gas and I noticed the serpentine belt in my van was starting to fray rather badly. This was a bit of a surprise as I checked the belts, hoses, and had the oil changed right before we left and everything looked OK. I found a service station open in Effingham at 10pm. I expected, at the very least, to be charged quite a bit for the convenience of getting the belt changed that late in the evening - or to be just outright ripped off. I was very pleasantly surprised when the shopkeep charged me just under $60, which is about what I would expect to pay to my local, honest mechanic. The man kept apologizing that he took too long (about 1/2 an hour) and had to charge me extra because he had to make some adjustments to make the belt tight enough. I wasn't complaining at all. He had hot coffee, Cartoon Network running to entertain my kids while we waited, and it cost me what I considered normal for that kind of work. It's been 10 years so I don't remember the name of the shop nor what brand of gas they sold - all I remember it was on the eastbound side of I-70/I-57 in Effingham. Hats off to you, sir.