November 23, 2004

Spamcans of Hanoi

Quick calculation re: corporate spamfiltering. Novell uses a central spamfilter, which reports spam that it has trapped at regular intervals via email digests. Those emails contain lists of the subject lines and senders of said spam, along with links for each to release the message or delete the message. If you choose to delete the message, the resulting webpage offers a link which will add the sender to a personal blacklist, 'preventing further spam from that sender.' Um, okay. Let's have a quick look at that.

I am fortunate that my Novell account does not (as yet) receive an enormous quantity of spam. Probably because I don't use it much outside of the company. My Ximian account, however, does - and I am migrating to my Novell address as per the Integration Marching Orders received from on high. On average, I have found that I receive something like thirty to forty messages per day which make it past our currently-outdated SpamAssassin+Bogofilter install on the Ximian mailserver. I have noted similar messages making it into the Novell 'You've got Spam!' mail alerts. Assuming (for the nonce) that I end up with a roughly similar spam load, let's see what that will do to me.

I just got an alert. I clicked on the 'Delete Message' link. A browser window popped up, and churned for twenty=nine seconds (at 0921 Eastern, when most folks in Provo - where the servers are - aren't working yet). Then it gave me the 'add sender to blacklist' option. I clicked that. That churned for thirty-three seconds before returning. One minute two seconds, then, not counting browser launch time and reading time for the digest, to deal with one spam message. Even if I ignore the blacklist option (a good bet, since the 'from' addresses are usually one-time-spoofs) that's still a half-minute-per) then I have fifteen minutes of browser churn to cope with a day's average spam load, as opposed to maybe ten seconds of select-and-delete in a mail client.

I fail to see the point.

Posted by jbz at 9:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Obviously, they're needed for hunting.

Clearly, assault-style weapons with 20-round clips are perfectly appropriate for deer hunting. Bless the NRA, and more importantly, bless our nation's leadership for allowing the assault weapons ban to expire, in gutless fear of the NRA! Now we can be sure that those who really need such arms for the annual season can easily get hold of them.

What the hell is wrong with a bolt-action .30-06, anyway? Nobody has a sense of tradition anymore. I mean, hell, if a bolt-action is good enough for U.S. Army Snipers (M24 Sniper Rifle) then suck it up. If you miss the deer on the first shot, well, the deer won. Maybe s/he gets away that time. Is that so bad? If you wound the deer on the first shot, then work for your dinner. Use the bolt. If you have to track the poor thing down and finish it off, well, consider it your penance for missing - and do better next time.

Or use a bow. The one time I've been hunting for live game, I used a longbow. It took me all day and six lost arrows to get that rabbit, but damn he was tasty. Now, if I had to feed myself doing that, I'd likely starve. Heh. But I consider it sporting. Either that rabbit had eight or nine chances to escape, or eight or nine of his cousins got away from me first.

Posted by jbz at 8:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 21, 2004

At least it's not just me.

After my previous entry, finding a reference to this incident in The Agonist just make me reach for the keyboard.

One 'good' thing about the current 'travel security' idiocy, I must say, is that it affects and angers a broad, broad spectrum of people. Take, for example, former Republican Congresswoman Chenoweth-Hage (R-ID). Described as 'ultraconservative,' this is someone I doubt I would share many positions with. Here, however, is something in which I can find instant identification with her. She was recently taken aside for an 'extra pat-down' at an airport security search under new TSA regulations. When she asked to see a copy of the regulation giving the TSA the authority to do this, that's when the fun started. The following is quoted from Secrecy News, the Federation of American Scientists project on Government secrecy. The content is, in fact, taken from The Idaho Statesman:

"She said she wanted to see the regulation that required the additional procedure for secondary screening and she was told that she couldn't see it," local TSA security director Julian Gonzales told the Idaho Statesman (10/10/04).

"She refused to go through additional screening without seeing the regulation, and she was not allowed to fly," he said. "It's pretty simple."

Chenoweth-Hage wasn't seeking disclosure of the internal criteria used for screening passengers, only the legal authorization for passenger pat-downs. Why couldn't they at least let her see that? asked Statesman commentator Dan Popkey.

"Because we don't have to," Mr. Gonzales replied crisply.

"That is called 'sensitive security information.' She's not allowed to see it, nor is anyone else," he said.

Now, I don't know Ms. Chenoweth-Hage, nor much about her. I don't know anything about Mr. Gonzales other than his quote above. However, I will say this: based simply on that quote, Mr. Gonzales is an indicator of a trend which is, to me, extremely disturbing. While I have no problem at all with the notion of my government having information which the general public should be unable to access for reasons of security, there is no defensible reason to this citizen that the content of a law or regulation used to restrict our behavior, most especially those used to limit our freedoms - of speech, of action, of travel, of association - should ever be hidden from the view of the public. The transparency and public accountability of our legal system is what holds our nation and our system apart from the very things we purport to fight and oppose in this world.

"Sensitive security information?" What the hell is 'sensitive security information?" The fact that they can do it? Well, no longer. The names and identity of those responsible for giving them that power? That would be exactly the reason these things cannot be hidden from the public eye. The 'criteria' for which people can be pulled aside for searches? Note carefully that the Statesman said that that wasn't what the Congresswoman asked for. And their excuse as to why? "Because we don't have to."

"Because we don't have to" is the excuse of thugs, dictators, and sociopaths. "Because we don't have to" is the excuse of people hiding behind rules they have gamed to allow them bad behavior. It is the whining cry of someone who knows they have done wrong but has found a way to avoid making it right. It is the puling of someone who cannot be allowed to exercise power over the average American citizen in the conduct of his or her daily life.

Please don't stand for this. There are ways to express your disapproval. Number one: don't fly if you can avoid it. Number two: write your congressional representative and express your strong disapproval. Number three: learn everything you can about the legal limits of TSA searches, and be sure not to let them trespass over the line. If a TSA employee transgresses the limits of legal or acceptable behavior, do what Penn Jillette did - call a cop, and make a report. Use the bureaucracy against itself. Jam the system. Don't be a sheep.

Back to the original point. There is hope, here. Things like this tend to create coalitions. Congresswoman Chenoweth-Hage may not (I say, again, may not, because I know nothing really about her) understand what it is to be pulled aside for 'random' extra security searches - not once for a humiliating pat-down, but twelve times out of the twelve times you have flown since 9/11, as I have. Why? Well, they won't tell me, because of course the criteria are 'sensitive security information.' Note that I have less of a problem with that than with her case, as I mentioned above! However, if the Congresswoman and I were ever to meet, and if she and I had in the past not had much of anything to agree on politically (this is pure supposition) well, then - the TSA has just given us something. They have given us something on which to build an alliance, and whether it is one of convenience or not is irrelevant - in politics, all alliances are of convenience to some degree. The point is, when people like Congresswoman Chenoweth-Hage, and Senator Kennedy, and Mr. Jon Gilmore, much more than people like myself, all start getting stopped at airports and pulled aside - well, then, we can hope that this small piece of common anger may contribute to bipartisan solutions.

Here's hoping.

Posted by jbz at 9:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 19, 2004

Welcome to America, land of the free. Papers, please?

It's a pity, too - I was just starting to really like the Amtrak Acela service, touting it to my friends and acquaintances as a 'civilized' way to get up and down the Northeast Corridor of the U.S. Then they go and completely ruin the thing. This is one of those small things that makes my spine cold; it makes me wonder what I'll tell my children one day when they ask me why I didn't see it coming, or if I did, why I didn't do something.

I remember when the Republicans used to shout that Democrats and Liberals wanted to turn the Freedom Loving United States into the Socialist Paradise of the East, where you had to produce papers just to travel around your own country. Shocking. Where's that outrage now? Bruce Schneier wrote an essay recently on this form of 'safety check' in which he tore all manner of holes in it on simple logical, functional reasons, much less philosophical ones. There simply is no defensible reason to do this kind of thing except to 'make people feel like they're being protected' - when they're really not.

The ultimate ineffectual nanny state.

They want me to produce ID during random checks on an Amtrak train. Why? Not to prove that I'm not on a watch list, or anything like that, no no. They are "not intended to determine a person's identity." Amtrak claims these on-train checks are merely to ensure that "the person who's traveling with the ticket is the person whose name is on the ticket." However, these checks are being made "as a precaution against terrorist attacks."

What?

So my ability to travel inside my country, on one of the most eminently unhijackable modes of transport available, is now subject to 'random' (coughprofilingcough) identity checks that by design won't catch anyone who is intelligent enough to ensure that they actually use their fake ID to purchase their ticket.

That would include, what, any high-schooler who has ever successfully managed to illegally purchase alcohol, I would imagine.

So much for the Acela.

Posted by jbz at 2:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2004

The highs and lows of America

Yesterday we reached up high. NASA flew the X-43 scramjet testbed at a speed of Mach 9.something, approximately 6,600 miles per hour at altitude - the highest airspeed ever reached by a jet aircraft. The scramjet is one of those technologies that might truly change the world again - imagine traveling from New York to Sydney in under two hours in a sub-orbital scramjet, for not much more fuel cost than a conventional jetliner trip. We're a long way from that, but in modern aerospace 'a long way' doesn't translate nicely into years - the Wright brothers to the Lunar surface was not so very many, after all.

Today, we seem to be reaching down into the depths. I see that the U.S. House of Representatives (Thank you Toby for correcting me) is considering amending its rules in order to allow members under indictment by their home states' legal systems to retain their posts in the national body. This is, as many have noted, a transparent 'thank you' to Tom Delay, who faces a threat of just such a penalty for his recent shenanigans but would (if the measure passes) be able to retain his Senate positions, a measure of payment for the recent Republican gains made during the recent elections from a grateful GOP majority.

This is not just disturbing, it is disgusting.

Without even going into a discussion of whether or not it would be proper for a Congressman to retain his or her positions in that situation, the very timing of this move, and the circumstances which surround it, stink of the worst kind of blatant and uncaring political 'machining' which I (for one) had thought confined to the histories of New York and Chicago ward politics, or perhaps the State Legislatures of more colorful history. I had assumed, especially given the lip service (for that is what it now appears to have been, and I am ashamed to have been taken in) that the GOP offered towards accountability and responsibility towards the system, ethics and leadership during their merciless pursuit of any and all minor transgressions (real and imagined) during the Clinton administration.

There are problems facing this country from without which defy our best efforts to date to solve them. There are problems within which beggar our resources. Handling these challenges will require not only wisdom, intelligence, perseverence and riches but a strong sense of what we as Americans believe to be right, held in each of our hearts. One of the amazing parts of the American system is that it works despite the fact (or because of the fact) that that vision of what is 'right' is not the same for each of us. What must be the same, however, is our commitment towards making things better for all, despite our differing opinions on what 'better' may mean. We have to agree that without our souls, hearts and minds, this experiment will fail.

This is where I take comfort when fights rage over religious beliefs, and over interpretations of the Constitution. I don't let it slacken my efforts in the struggles; not at all! That would be counter to the intent. However, I draw what comfort I can from knowing that that struggle, waged with words and printing presses and voices and even bullhorns and signs and, yes, lawsuits, is what makes us all win, because we don't fight it (mostly) with guns, knives, fists and clubs. We may hate, and some of us have become experts at mobilizing the hate, which is regrettable. However, no matter how close it has appeared to have come, that mobilization of hatred has not, to date, entered mainstream American political discourse as violence amongst ourselves - and to that small, tattered victory I will cling for comfort.

This is what makes the slow decline of our leaders' behavior even more repellent to me - leaders of both 'sides' if there can be said to be sides. In this particular case, the GOP majority (or a subgroup thereof) have decided to leverage the slim popular victory they have won, through whatever means legal or otherwise, moral or otherwise, divisive or otherwise, not for the good of the people of America, but for the rewarding of a crony by shielding him from due process. Mark that - not from due process of a 'blue state' even, or the 'national agencies' that the president seems to feel are full of 'disloyal' people - but from the efforts of his own home state to potentially enforce its laws against him. To, in fact, retain him as a national representative and officeholder, potentially against the 'will' of the Texas legal system - thereby disrupting the legal representation of the Texan citizenry.

This is wrong.

This is what must be stopped.

Couple this with a President who seems to be making more and more personnel and policy decisions based not on facts, on evidence, or even on argument but on 'personal loyalty' - and you have an administration of the United States Government, in both the Executive and Legislative branches, actively working to subvert the very principles on which the system was laid down.

I am a fervant believer in and defender of the United States, and of its system of Government. As such, I do believe that I would do whatever I was able to defend the President of the United States, his administration and the Congress from harm and to carry out their lawful orders, in the unlikely event I found myself in a situation where my actions mattered. As a consequence of being a patriot and defender of the United States, however, I am also a firm believer that it is my right and duty to point out and proclaim abuses and misbehavior on the part of those who hold those offices which I would and will do so much to defend - and thus, here and now, I mouth off.

I love this country. It's cheesy, but true. I weep for it, right now - I'm proud of it, I'm angry at it, I'm ashamed of it and more. I spend a great deal of time trying to determine what I can do to change things, a great deal of time not liking the answers I come up with (heh) and some more time mentally jumping up and down in frustration.

The Democrats lost the election. On the other hand, the Democrats have been so shredded by the recent turbulence in American political thought that it's hard to really even conceive of them as a coherent party, and the GOP obviously knew that. I do think that a large number of the people who voted Republican this past cycle are just frighteningly wrong about a large number of things; people I am ashamed to share my country with, and people I dearly wish I could make go away. On the other had, I also recognize that the large majority of those who voted Republican probably were simply those who felt that the Democrats didn't have a coherent thing to say, much less a better idea; and for whatever they felt about the GOP (like it or not) the GOP did have a single coherent message. Just because I don't like that message doesn't mean anything.

What to do? I think for one thing, the Democrats need to calm down a bit about the whole 'Red State Religious Right Conspiracy.' While there are no shortage of psychos in this country, and while Rove may have in fact won the election by mobilizing a fringe to tip the balance, that doesn't change the fact that the large majority of voters MOST LIKELY (<--note caveat; add 'I believe' to taste) are not radical conservatives, and are not 'blue haters' or the highly telegenic UberChristian psychopaths the media love to troll up and put on TV. They're just folks like us who didn't think our guy had it, is all. No big deal. But every time we mouth off about those few fringe nutjobs, and every time George Stephanopoulos puts one on television and lets him or her froth at the mouth on camera (yes, fuckwit, I'm talking about you) we go into a state of extended victimization where we suddenly believe that the only reason we lost is because the rest of the country is populated by people JUST LIKE THAT.

Bzzzzt. They're like us. A lot of 'em don't even like Bush. Hell, a lot of GOP politicians are heartily embarrassed by the microcephalic little pissant. But they won because that's their job, and because we, frankly, didn't.

So here's my assignment for myself. Not anyone else, because I don't have the authority to assign anything to anyone else (damn, I miss teaching). J.B. - think long and hard about what you do want this country to do, and how you want this country to do it. Think long and hard about what your liberal stance gets you, and what it might get other Americans, that is good. Think about how to explain that to them, calmly, carefully, and as politely as possible. Learn how to cheerfully accept their hostile answers when they tell you to fuck off, and just find another Red Stater to talk to - one who might be more amenable. Success equals Exposure times Kill Ratio. Don't think about how badly Bush is doing - they're smart, and they'll figure that out for themselves. Trying to talk about it just makes you condescending. Talk about what you can offer. Talk about what you and they can do together that the two of you can't do together under the GOP.

Talk about why you love the US. Talk about why they love the US. Talk about why they love where they live. Talk about why you like where you live. We're not that far apart, people. The Mason-Dixon line is important to you, J.B., because you're an arrogant, suspicious, mixed-race New Yorker. Admit it to yourself. Sure, you've been jumped a couple times when south of it, but maybe it's because of that, huh? Talk to people. Make them tell you why you should like the South, or West, or Midwest. Maybe you can tell them something about why they might like the Northeast - at least to visit.

A lot of people in the South and West voted Democrat. More could do it. Find the common ground. Come down off your fucking podium and drink the water.

Be an American.

Posted by jbz at 8:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 14, 2004

Another silly personality test

Hm. Jakub and Rodrigo's results made me curious, so according to the quiz (I am):

You are Debian Linux. People have difficulty getting to know you.  Once you finally open your shell they're apt to love you.

Posted by jbz at 7:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

People who cry out for a beatdown.

Today's jolly candidate - a hideous looking woman who presides over an equally hideous advertisement on the cheaper slots of American television. The ad is for some dietary weight-loss supplement called 'Corti-Slim' or some such. The pitch? I'll give you this quote: "Overweight people belong to the unhappiest club in the world - the overweight people club." Um, what? "It's a club of poorly cut clothing, avoiding food, fad diets-" -like the stuff you're pitching? - "-and bad news when you step on the scale. See those people who look and feel their best? They've resigned their membership in the unhappiest club in the world forever! They've learned..." blah blah blah, how to take these lovely pills I'm trying to sell you, blah blah blah.

I'm overweight. I spend a great deal of time trying not so much to cope with the physical problem so much as the constant onslaught of shit like this in order to interact with the society I live in. I swear, fat is the new cigarette smoker. Heavy people are the next scapegoat for all of our skyrocketing health costs, just wait. Fat people are selfish bastards who consume too many resources. They look different. They act different. They can't control themselves. They're members of a club of the unhappy! And all they would need to do is take these nice pills to be just like us.

The facelifted, starched, dyed-blonde, breast-surgeried, teeth-modified and still ugly-ass-Please-God-Don't-Ever-Let-Me-See-You-In-Spandex white chick that I cringe from in the Gym.

The culture wars rage on. Pass me the fucking Doritos, and if that bitch ever shows up near my house, we'll see how well her Cortisol pills do her when my carry-me-around-exercised-legs decide to administer a severe ass-kicking, the stupid cunt. Then she can have my membership card to the unhappiest club in the world, as I intend to make sure she needs it.

Posted by jbz at 12:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 10, 2004

A rant that I am not worthy of

This...this...is a rant. A rant. Regardless of the content, it is a pure and true example of the craft, one which I aspire to someday be able to produce on command. I am in awe. I want to study at this master's feet.

I am in awe.

Posted by jbz at 12:24 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 8, 2004

Don't know how parents do it.

I was in NYC this weekend visiting with friends. Stayed with friends who have three-month-old twin girls (awwwww) and performed now-familiar-poopy-diaper-and-bottle-feeding duties...felt proud of myself for taking on the 1:40 AM feeding after looking at the haggard face of my pal as he came out to mix formula in response to the tentative "Whah?" from the nursery. Took the bottle and sent him back to bed before tiptoeing into the room, only then realizing that I had no idea where anything was and that my eyes hadn't acclimatized...stepped on two things that went "squeak!", one thing that rolled, and another that just slid but managed to reach the squalling Katia Chapin.

Lifted said tot, cradled, inserted bottle to frenzied Maggie Simpson-like smacking noises and all complaints ceased. Fifteen minutes and five ounces later, she looked at me and squirmed for two minutes while I patted her on the back. Several coos and peeps later, she produced an enormous fart and two healthy belches, then promptly stopped moving entirely, conked her head against my cheek and began to snore, at which point I felt safe laying her down and re-inserting the pacifier. I backed carefully out of the nursery.

Next day, spent a couple hours total placating fussy small girls, and then went to see a high school friend I haven't seen since he moved to Israel several years ago to become a rabbi. Met his wife and his two-month old and two-and-a-half year old daughters. Drove home that night (last night). All in all, an overbabied but fun weekend.

This morning, however, I left the house, and as I closed the door, realized I had left my keys inside just as the lock clicked...got out onto the stoop to find my car had been towed due to street cleaning...and pulled out my cell phone to call a colleague for help to have the battery die right after talking to him. I think the weekend took more out of me than I had realized, and that was only one night and one day of kids.

Thank God I don't have any. I'd be a mess. So would they, if this is any evidence.

Posted by jbz at 3:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 5, 2004

Biting the hand that feeds...

I'd actually been idly wondering about this in the aftermath of the election, and happily for me, someone on the internet did it. Here is a brief look at which states receive the least (and most) federal funding per dollar they pay in federal taxes, and how those states voted. I won't spoil the surprise.

Posted by jbz at 1:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 3, 2004

Tinker's Damn

This is a story, born of depression and a recent experience with broken bones. I've been noodling around with it, and it's at last in a state where I can show it without cringing too much, so here it is. I really see it as a Sin City style comic - to that end, someone may be kind enough to contribute art if they have time. We'll see. (note: the brackets are Everything2 links. If you're not reading this directly from my blog, which has a macro to handle them, they may show up oddly.)

---

Sitting in gin joints was at least one-half my life. Wherever the iron men were, there I was, too. Oh, you wouldn't see me. I'd be around, in the back, corner booth, near the john - you know the type. Couple of beers on the table, couple of shots, all of them clearly on my side of the line. The kind of glassware company that scares off any other sort. Doesn't bother my liver, of course; it's hard as a rock. Maybe harder. Still makes the head spin, though; still numbs pain like old Doc Holliday used to prescribe, they say. The waitress in here was easier to train than most; she just tipped me a professional eye and shrugged, then started bringing a shot and a beer every ten minutes or so. I think she's got a bet going with the bartender. Hope I don't cost her any tip money, though, because tonight, I'm working.

Object of my attentions comes through the door around ten PM. He's down on what little luck he has, and looks nervous on top of that. Has a couple of fast shots of Beam, looks to steady the nerves, then starts looking around the place. I ignore it; he isn't looking for me. Sure enough, his eyes light on me and slide right off. I use the time to wave my shot glass at the waitress who grins at the 'tender. She's probably got her money shorted on me. Oh well. She could've just asked; I wouldn't have lied to her.

* * *

The worst part is when they have to come and ask. I try to tell them that there's no reason they shouldn't; that in fact, it makes it all easier. But they don't listen, or don't hear. I'd been in a bar much like this one, in actual Pitts, when they found me. Was three of them then, literally hats in hands. The bar had been split pretty evenly between the old steelers and the yuppies; these guys had been so out of place they'd crackled. Working ironmen, from one of the small Japanese foundries that had set up shop in the bones of the old plants, using them to experiment and refine techniques; they were the lucky last of a dying breed, and they knew it.

Still, they had pride and family. That's why they'd come.

I don't hide from them. I don't make it easy, but I don't hide from them. If they need me, really need me, they know where I'll be - either near the University or near the mills, near what once was home. In a bar. Like this.

They told me about the man who'd come to town. He was Japanese, like their employers. He wasn't too flashy, but he had a job, and some money to spend. Worked at the plant, so he had to be OK, pulled a full shift and then some. Had some money to lend. Lent it out to a couple of the brothers in need, for the mortgage payments - the new boss liked to pay monthly, and the boys with jobs were still paying off the lean times. Our friend was willing to help. Union boy in Japan; said he was a Union rep, had some discretionary, wanted to spread good will and hoped to see good relations.

I winced. They hunched, knowing themselves for fools, but I nodded encouragement and bought beers.

So comes the day four, five of the brothers are a couple days behind on Shigei's payments, too. Then it comes out. He's Left Hand of the Neon Chrysanthemum - Japanese Yakuza. Yep, he's been looking for a toehold, all right. Still all friendly, though - says all he needs is their mortgages, they can live there for a rent one-half their old payments. Offers them leases and everything. Still, the brothers had some years and pride in those houses, and a couple of them balked, said they'd come up with the scratch. Shigei, he laughed, said sure, take a week.

One got it, One didn't. They found him on the shop floor with a spike through his heart nailing him to a drill press. Cops came in, interviewed everybody, shook their heads.

The next guy late didn't get the one-week extension. They found him spiked to a wall near the slag heap, perfectly through the heart.

So here they were.

I bought them more drinks, sent them home.

Then I went and got the gym bag.

The guys on the shop floor saw me coming through the familiar atmosphere of carbon combustion and tortured metal. Movement slowed in a dozen places, bar stock wavering on its way to diamond teeth while flat plate screamed a more bass note, easing its torment while the operator's foot came off the pedal slightly. I hunched into my trenchcoat, clutching my gym bag to me, and closed the familiar softwood door, the once-bright green paint fading around layers of tan and white into grimy wood grain where hands had worn it down.

Turning left along the wall, I touched the rack of plastic cards for luck (luck always) and kissed my fingertips automatically, even though it had been maybe nine years since I pulled a shift in the shop. A couple of the older guys, though, they nodded to me as I passed, and one or two clutched the bright plastic tags that hung round their necks as they caught my eye, I tried to meet their gazes but always failed, settling for a nod and hunch, scuttling (it felt) along the wall towards the next section, reflexively holding the bag. Most of them gave me my space, nodding and turning away. I might make it through, today.

Not quite.

The whisper came as I was reaching for the knob, almost feeling old, ridged glass in my hand with years of metal dust ground against it. Somewhere outside on Main, a klaxon wailed and a smelter disgorged with a familiar hissing scream that pulled at something deep inside me. I almost missed it, but the thunder from the steel died abruptly and it fell flat into the room. "Who's that, Ern?"

I twitched, hand already on the knob and turning, and another voice cut over in a growl. "Nobody, kid. That's nobody. Eyes on yer drill, dammit." I paused a moment, hoping my gratitude showed in the set of my shoulders, then pulled the door open and marched through.

I wasn't sweating, the shop had good AC; and I couldn't be crying, but my makeup was starting to run.

The second room was quieter, with the muted sounds of power. Hydraulics ruled here, not muscle; where before metal was cut, or drilled, or ripped, here it was crushed and pressed and stretched, science used not as weapon but as persuader. At the moment, there was only one man in it, and he was watching me as I closed the door. I turned to face him. He was probably around seventy, and I had known him since I was an infant.

"Hi there Timmy." His voice hadn't changed. A sad Irish seaman.

"Top of it, Gerry."

He looked me up and down, then shook his head. "Why?"

"Don't ask."

"I ask every time."

"You get the same answer every time."

"It's always the wrong one."

"It's the same as you'll get this time as well."

He limped over the the side of the room and slid a battered gym bench over to where he'd been standing. I moved to it and sat down, shrugging off the trenchcoat and dropping the gym bag on the asbestos-mat floor. I looked up before opening it. He was weeping, silently, but turned away when I looked up. "Your makeup's gone bad, boy."

"I thought it had." I removed a mouthpiece from the gym bag and set it on the bench, then set a fifth of bourbon next to it. The bourbon wasn't going to help me any more than it had Doc Halliday's patients, but the forms must be observed. I adjusted the bench so that my left arm rested comfortably on the machine next to me, then uncapped the flask and drained the bourbon in a convulsive shudder. Dropping bottle and cap back into the gym bag, I moved my arm so that my hand was resting on the work surface. I inserted the mouthpiece, rested my hand flat and examined my knuckles for a moment. No makeup trouble there; they looked worn but serviceable. Hadn't done anything hideous to my hands in months. I spread the hand out flat, the wrist resting over the edge, and nodded at Gerry where he stood by the door.

He turned away, his hand working on the wall.

The press came down.

* * *

My pigeon is still sitting at the bar. He's now had maybe five or six shots of the brown liquor, and now he's nursing a beer. I'm still running through glassware, watching the expectant grin of the waitress droop a little more with each round she brings me as I fail to fall over. Not my problem.

This is a serious steeler's bar. Not like the other night. Guys come in here shaking the dust out of their clothes, and that dust hits the floor with a clang. You can smell the coke and the burnoff on them when they come through under the old faded Stroh's sign with its cracked bell fifteen feet down the aisle past the house-wins pool table. I tried one game on it when I came in, but only the locals will know the hummocks and valleys in that shale; it could be a shag carpet over slag heaps and mine pits in the dark. I move my gaze away from the newcomers, who are heading for a table of friends, back to my own one-way pal. He's just looking at the drinker's friend behind the bar.

Curious, I move to the bar to order a beer, standing just next to him. Our eyes meet once in the mirror, and his look too interested - I look at myself, find a gleam beneath my hat brim, and duck away. The barkeep hands me my beer with a grin, genuine when he sees I'm not staggering. I tip him and take it back to the booth. When the waitress passes again, I order a fresh shot and tip her in apology for the breach of drinker's code.

When the noise level in the bar drops suddenly at the same time as the flat tinkle of the broken Stroh's chime sounds, I know they're here. No need to look. I smooth the leather of my gloves and swig the shot, wishing I'd gotten this one with ice, waiting. The alcohol stings my mouth, a sensation without a taste. Sharp rather than soft, because soft means pain. Time slips backwards again as my palate numbs.

* * *

Among the haze of pain and the complete lack of taste that was the football mouthguard's silicone compound, I could feel Gerry dragging me around on the bench. My hand flopped to the floor, but the pain was already so intense that I just shuddered slightly, enervated by the overload. He'd put my other hand up on the slab, spreading it out flat, and our tears were mixing on my face. I felt hot salt pushing aside the several spots of layered base, flesh tones running down my neck in rivulets of shame and lanolin. Gerry swung my legs up on the bench and I managed to flap my jaw a couple times; he got me balanced and then took the mouthpiece out. It takes him a couple minutes of trying. When it's out, he put his ear to my mouth, where I was biting my tongue to taste the blood, and I managed to get it out between my teeth. "Chest."

He nodded then, looking away, and put the mouthpiece back in. In my memory he moved back to the door. I have several seconds, then and now, to feel the heaviness in my gut and wonder at the time that this sensation makes it through the neural noise before motion caught my eye, and I passed out watching the press slide smoothly down its track again in a ballet of hydraulics and mechanical advantage.

* * *

A clink of glass brings me back, blinking; I've tipped the empty shot glass in my fist. My boy's party is here. There are three of them, and they swagger. One is sharply dressed; Shigei. One is nondescript, with a briefcase; the banker, probably. One is enormous: the enforcer. He's not impossibly big, but he's larger than almost everyone else in the bar. Unlike them, his size is for violence, not hard work, and it shows. He carries only a small case, such as might hold a pool cue. He doesn't drink, nor speak; merely parks himself behind Shigei at the bar while the latter orders a drink. The banker sits on a stool and lays out papers, precisely. My friend from earlier looks down the bar at them. Shigei catches his eye and smiles, beckoning.

Whatever mistakes my quarry has made, he's got brass. He puts down his beer and sidles down the bar. Shigei puts an arm around his shoulders in false companionship; idly, watching, I notice that indeed Shigei has worked Main. He has the burns and calluses of a working steeler beneath his imported silks. He's talking smoothly, easily - he's done this before. My friend isn't playing with the program, though; he keeps shaking his head. Several entreaties to reason, to hope, to harmony follow, me filling in the words across the now muted but still noisy bar. Local boy is afraid, desperate, but adamant - apparently, he doesn't have the mortgage, or can't sign it, or something along those lines. Right on schedule, Shigei gets less friendly, the enforcer starts to look interested, the banker starts stacking (unsigned) papers, and I have to use the bathroom.

This puts me just behind enforcer and my friend as they head down the hall towards the jakes and the back door, local boy's face pinched in pain with one arm behind his back. Nobody's looking, of a sudden. I stagger behind them, my hat down and my collar up, and out the back door, closing it behind me, before turning to look.

The enforcer has local boy up against the wall in the alleyway and looks like he's preparing to administer a suggestion with the lead sap held in his right hand. I clear my throat. Both of them look over at me, one with hope and one with professional interest. I smile and shrug, palms up. Enforcer slowly lowers my friend to the ground, then turns to him and fussily, carefully straightens his jacket and shirtfront. The poor guy looked at him, completely confused, but enforcer just ignores him and turns back to me with a question in his gaze, I bow, shortly but properly. Satisfactory. He nods, then steps back and indicates the door to the local, who looks at him, then at me, panic fighting confusion and hope. I smile and nod once, then remove my hat. He looks at me harder, not quite getting it, so I smudge my face slightly to show the shine. His eyes clear like a dog seeing a duck fly over and he practically soars through the door. Enforcer and I smile at each other and wait.

We don't have to wait long. Shigei comes tearing through it a moment later, dragging the banker. He stops, then lowers the pistol he's holding in one hand to look at both of us. We look back. After a moment of silence, he puts the gun away and hands the enforcer the small case from his other fist. "You are staying for him?"

"Yeah."

"That is acceptable."

"Thought so."

"We shall all go to the front, to my car."

"Sure."

The strange parade we are goes around the piss-smelling side of the bar without incident, crossing the moderately busy two-laner and piling into a non-descript minivan. Shigei looks at my face with some interest. "Your face..."

"Yeah?"

"Is that a fashion here?"

"Nah. Just me. Injury."

"Ah, I see. You are a steel worker? You were?"

"Was."

He nods, satisfied. Turns around. Enforcer keeps an eye on me as we drive the fifteen minutes to the plant's slag area. Banker stays in the car as Shigei, enforcer and I get out and walk towards the fence surrounding the active slag heap. Heat rolls out at us, despite the last dump having taken place some hours before; the trash metal still glows at the top. I stop at the fence, my back to it. Enforcer has opened his case, and taken out (as expected) a large metal spike.

Shigei cocks his head, every inch the haughty Yak. " You have honor and bravery for an American about to die."

"I'm not worth much." I grin for him. It's not for me.

"Your friend is, then?"

"Sure. More than me."

Shigei just looks a moment longer, then nods. Enforcer raises the spike in what looked like a practiced move and drives it into my chest.

It's akin to being hit by a truck. I stagger backwards, despite being ready for it. There's an earsplitting CLANG and the spike drops. Enforcer screams, his right arm numb and useless, and falls slowly to his knees, looking at the hole in the front of my coat. It's torn now, as is my shirt. I hadn't bothered to put makeup on my chest; there's some blood and meat, but mostly my muscle and visible rib bone where the spike had struck shines dull gold. I grin down at him. He looks up at me, holding his right hand, and I punch him hard in the nose.

My hand breaks through his nasal structure and sinuses, coming to a stop somewhere in the middle of his head. He falls sideways as I pull my ruined glove from the hole, and with the other hand strip it from my gleaming fist. Shigei is babbling at me, gun in his hand but pointed at the ground; I step over to him and say simply "Not my friends," before killing him.

* * *

I had to go back to the minivan and kill the banker, but after that it was just a matter of hauling their bodies onto the top of the slag heap and covering them with metal scraps. I wear fireproof boots, still. Ask the steelers. The minivan might show up, one day, if somebody does a really careful chemical analysis of the next day's meltdown.

After that, it was back to drinking. It takes a few weeks for the brass to fade, heal back into flesh, and it hurts until the moment it's gone. I guess it's better than that disease where you turn into bone and never turn back - but then, I'm not sure. People in those posters always have families around them fighting for them, or doctors hoping to cure them, making it clear they're worth something.

Me? Like I told Shigei, I'm not, haven't been since the day I killed my best friends and family. The guys, I look out for them, and they think I'm worth something. They're wrong, though. Because if they knew the truth, they wouldn't call me what do they when I'm not around, because there's always something not even worth a Tinker's Damn.

Posted by jbz at 4:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Of Dell, dkms and dimwittery

Dell distributes machines which they support Linux on, and now they support us too. Hooray! However, they haven't quite gotten the whole Thing, yet. Ran into the following today, which caused some eyebrows to rise in the office since we do, after all, write ZenWorks Linux Management (nee Red Carpet).

Dell, you see, has this problem. They sell boxes which have RAID hardware controllers in them which require drivers. These drivers (under Linux) are dependent on the particular version of the kernel which is presently running. This is not surprising, as they are kernel modules. In any case, I spent some time yesterday assembling a system comprised mostly of a PowerEdge 2650 with a PeRC 3/DC (a badged MegaRAID card) and a PowerVault 2205 RAID shelf. Since we purchased the various components of this system separately, it turned out that we needed to upgrade the drivers for the MegaRAID card after I'd installed linux on the PowerEdge. No problem, Dell distributes drivers as RPM files...I located the driver files and downloaded the requisite rpms, after assuring their website that I was not a terrorist nor their butler.

I ended up with two rpms: dell-perc-2.10.yada.i386.rpm (okay, no mystery there) and dkms-yada-noarch.rpm. Hah? Well, these came in a tarball amongst other stuff, including a file named install.sh. Said file was nought more than:

#!/bin/bash

rpm -Uvh dkms-yada-noarch.rpm
rpm -Uvh dell-perc-2.10-yada.i386.rpm

Um, okay. Feeling a tad cavalier, I run that. dkms (whatever that is) installs, and then the fun starts. It turns out that dkms stands for Dynamic Kernel Management System, or some such fuckery. As rpm starts to load the dell-perc drivers, it copies over a bunch of files (fine) and then starts running some strange script. The script informs me that it is checking its prebuilt version against the running kernel; that the check failed; and that finally because I don't have the current kernel source rpms installed, it can't build and tag a new version of the driver or make a new initrd, and hence it's not recommended that I reboot the machine. It says all this very fast, in that wonderful I'm-scrolling-past-you-isn't-it-fun-reading-at-115200-baud? sort of way (said Pooh). Then it stops. Apparently, the script has exited successfully, because rpm now is convinced that the dell-perc drivers are installed.

However, they're not.

See, I don't have the kernel sources. And Dell apparently relies on this dkms thing to build them at install time (or, upon close examination, even at machine startup maybe...there's this evil looking init script, see...) and then make a new initrd for the machine with said drivers in it. I'm fortunate; the RAID volume I'm trying to see does not contain my system's running system drive. If it did, then any of the prior oopses would have rendered my system unable to boot.

This, of course, is a problem for our system management product, which relies on rpm. See, as far as RPM is concerned, everything is hunky-dory. However, dkms has failed to properly compile/make the drivers and initrd. If this was a system volume, and if this upgrade had been triggered by (let us say) a dependency check due to the installation of a new kernel version by zlm/red carpet, well, then, as soon as the box cycled, pssssht that's it, no more RAID volume.

I'm not entirely sure what the answer is. One possibility is that Dell should have the dell-perc driver actually have an rpm-level dependency on the kernel-sources. The problem with this is that the driver rpm doesn't know in advance which version of the kernel will be running on the machine, and I don't know if you can have a dependency on a package whose identity depends on the running kernel. If so, problem partially solved; if not, this doesn't help.

Even if so, however, we're not out of the woods. Just having the kernel sources doesn't guarantee that the additional steps of building the driver and/or initrd will be successful, but as far as I can tell, Dell has put all the additional hoo-hah into the postinstall script in the RPM - which means there's no way for that script to return a fail and have that result reflected in the rpm transaction.

I have nightmares about things like this, as an Op...tools which are designed to allow me to manage servers remotely, including box OS updates and reboots, ending up hosing something critical like, say, the RAID shelf holding the box OS and data. Things that purport to make the box safer and more reliable ending up serving as a point of vulnerability - all because somebody made a dumb design decision as to how to distribute their drivers.

Personally? I would either avoid the entire 'on the fly fuckery' of dkms, or, if that's not viable (and I'm not qualified to say it is or isn't) then force manual driver installation in order to avoid luring the user into upgrade practices which could kill their installation due to remote procedures which aren't safe.

Posted by jbz at 4:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 2, 2004

Junkies? JUNKIES!??! Pah.

My boss has entertaining notions involving toys. His latest is worthy, but I have to take exception to his terminology:

With my cameras, binoculars and telescopes I can get a pretty good visual lock on the junkies. But my idea is to get one of those parabolic microphones, so that I can listen to what they're saying.

And then, when they're good and stoned, pipe their own words back to them over loudspeakers. On a sixty second delay. :-)

Um, Nat, 'junkies' take heroin. People who smoke dope are, er, maybe potheads. Max. Or something. :-) :-) :-)

Posted by jbz at 11:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

VOTE. THAT MEANS YOU.

I don't think I have to tell the (likely four) people who read this blog, but if you're an American citizen, then VOTE damn it. This is not a right. It is a privilege. In order to retain the privilege, it must be exercised. If you want this fragile experiment in democracy we call the U.S. to continue, then ACT LIKE IT and go to the polls.

Please note carefully: I am not telling you who or what to vote for. That is a separate message, not part of this one. Vote Bush, vote Kerry, vote Badnarik, vote Nader, vote Alfred E. Neuman. Just vote, damn it. I won't understand you if you vote for some of those choices - but that is my personal opinion, and a matter for debate (if there is any) between you and me if we choose to have one.

We are both American citizens, and as such, no matter who you plan on voting for, I go to the polls with you today as your countryman. VOTE. Make sure your friends vote. Make sure your family votes. Yell at random people in the street and make sure they vote.

Whatever the outcome, the worst of all possible 'morning afters' are the inevitable "if only so-and-so more people had voted..." lines that commentators and spinmeisters love to use, placing all blame for everything on us the voting populace. Don't let them do that. Make sure that no matter what happens, they have to look to their platforms, their ideas, their message, their methods; don't let them just slough off responsibility for a loss on us. Either side.

I will withhold any more partisan political ranting until after the polls close. In the meantime, please, again, VOTE. Thank you.

Posted by jbz at 2:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 1, 2004

Oldies and Goodies

I remain pleasantly surprised by how well The Hunt for Red October holds up, every time I view it in the years downrange. Much as I dislike T3h Baldwin, it does contain my three favorite movie men (Sean Connery, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn). Other than perhaps-forgivable Reagan-era paranoia ("the God-damned thing's made to start a war!" -really? What were ours made for then?) and overly Disco-looking Soviet submarine control rooms, it's just a hell of a lot of fun. And to be fair, the paranoia was significantly toned down from the book version, heh.

Not that the book was bad. All hail the Laserdisc!

"Hey, Ryan...be careful what you shoot at. Mosht thingsh in here don't react well to bulletsh."

Posted by jbz at 10:12 PM