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.