Frustration

Exercise Season Begins

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I am ashamed to admit that today was my first official exercise of the year. In fact, probably in six months! πŸ™

In July 2001, I had my first physical in forever (thanks for forcing me Lois!). I was way overweight and my cholesterol was high. The doctor wanted to put me on Lipitor immediately, and I decided to try diet and exercise first.

I went on a traditional low-fat diet, and started exercising regularly (I hadn’t purposely exercised in nearly 20 years!). Within a few months, I lost 30 pounds and my cholesterol dropped a bunch. Sounds good, and it was, except that I was starving all the time between meals.

One of the guys at Zope started Atkins when I was well into my diet. I was jealous at the things he was eating (while losing weight!), but Lois wouldn’t let me switch, because she was afraid it was unsafe. I ended up hitting a plateau and was maintaining the weight loss, while remaining hungry, unable to lose more. Ugh.

Then Lois read an article by a Duke professor. Our godson was Duke at the time, so she was paying attention to lots of Duke news. They performed a very large study and found Atkins to be relatively safe, with larger weight loss with the weight staying off longer as well. I was in. πŸ˜‰

When I switched to Atkins, I was instantly in love. I was stuffed beyond description, all the time. I had to force myself to eat according to the Atkins schedule, and I was still losing weight! At the peak of my weight loss, I was down a total of 68 pounds! I bounced off the bottom, but held pretty steady at down 56 pounds (which was fine!).

On rare occasions, I would get a little jealous about some of the things I couldn’t eat (notably bread), but overall, I was really happy. Then I went to the doctor again, and my cholesterol was sky high (much higher than the original reading that caused him to worry). This is counter to the general theory of Atkins, but there’s always an exception to the rule, and I was one of them. πŸ™

He told me to get off of Atkins instantly. I did. In the beginning, I drifted up a few pounds, but was able to maintain the new weight reasonably easily, while enjoying a whole new range of food. Ironically, I hadn’t missed rice at all, and didn’t miss potatoes as much as I thought I would, but now rice was like chocolate cake to me!

After weeks of not gaining too much weight, I foolishly started adding things, like, oh, say, chocolate cake. πŸ™

Even then, I only drifted up a few more pounds, and maintained there (for a long stretch), so of course, I continued to indulge (on occasion, but according to Lois, too many occasions).

Now for the real problem. When our schedule was hyper-busy last fall, and the weather turned ugly for a long period of time, I simply stopped exercising. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop eating. I kept drifting up. At the worst, I was down only 42 pounds from the 2001 weigh in. Enough is enough!

So, back to exercise season. My favorite form of exercise is a very long (brisk) walk around Manhattan. I walk from the apartment to the FDR drive, then walk up the drive to 96th street, then across to Central Park, then through the park down to 60th, then down Park Ave, back to the apartment. It’s roughly 8.25 miles and takes me between 2 hours and 2.25 hours.

The reason I added official in italics above, is that last Sunday, when we had our young guest (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not a regular reader) πŸ˜‰ he wanted to play basketball. It was cold, and I wasn’t happy about it, but I’m a soft touch for kids. So, we went to play. He insisted on playing one-on-one, full court, and kicked my butt 50-12 (two points a basket). After we went to the park for other stuff, we came back and ended up in a half court game (he was dismayed, but other people took half the court after we started), and he only beat be me 20-18.

Either way, I ended up running around quite a bit, which was real exercise, but not my normal format. It left my legs sore the next day, which is how I knew it was real. πŸ˜‰

Today was just perfect weather. Cool, crisp, but sunny. I went in shorts and a T-Shirt, which was perfect in the sun, and ever-so-slightly cold in the shade, which overall was just right.

It worked out for another reason. Many of our friends participated today in the Richmond, VA 10K run/walk (probably more than a dozen friends, perhaps more than 20!). It made me feel that I was in some kind of sympathetic rhythm with them. They got rained on slightly, so I had the better of it weather-wise, but they had a good time and so did I.

I listened to my iPod Nano the entire way, to (guess what) Girlyman! I haven’t had a chance to copy over the new Live CD to the Nano (of course it lives on the iPod Classic) so I listened to 40 of the 44 Girlyman songs on the Nano.

That means all of Joyful Sign, Little Star, the five live bootlegs of the new songs from Club Passim, and all but the last four songs from Remember Who I Am. I listened to the last four after my shower. πŸ™‚

That lead in is perfect for my month-long advertisement of the Girlyman Live CD Contest. Enter soon (and often) and win a CD. More importantly, do it so that other people discover them! Thanks!

Dave Mason Get Well

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We were headed to see Dave Mason at BB King last night. (No links in this post.) I even Twittered about it, so it had to be official. πŸ˜‰

We got to BB’s a few minutes after the door was supposed to open, and were quite surprised (pleased?) to see that there was no line outside. We walked straight downstairs, and the place was significantly emptier than we expected (figuring that Dave likely sold out the place).

The poor guy at the door has to tell us that Dave called in sick at 1pm. πŸ™

To make it up, they are putting on a free show with a cover band that does lots of Yes stuff (and some other covers I don’t recall). I love Yes, so we figure we’ll stay (I’m also starving and I like the food at BB’s).

Before we go in, I go to the box office and buy tickets to four additional shows that we want to see there (including three nights in a row later in April!). We try to get a refund for the Dave Mason tickets, but can’t, because we bought them through Ticketmaster. Oh well, a small hassle, but not a big deal…

We sit down at a good table, and get ready to order drinks and dinner. Given the chaos of the day, the band was on the stage working on the sound check (obviously, they didn’t have much notice to get there). It was painfully loud. I looked over at Lois and asked if she wanted to leave. There was no hesitation in her response.

It wasn’t a complete loss. While we took the bus over, we walked home (a little exercise never hurt anyone, or at least doesn’t often hurt people) πŸ˜‰ and we got to pick up tickets (without all of the wonderful convenience charges of Ticketmaster).

We ended up having dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, right across the street from the apartment. Obviously, we had no reservations and the place is almost always packed. We walked in at exactly 6:45pm. The guy told us he could put us in a booth (that easily handles six people), if we promised to be out by 8:30pm. I laughed pretty hard (he knows us, so I wasn’t insulting him). I told him we’d be out by 7:30pm! πŸ˜‰

They put another couple in the same booth a minute later, but we each had enough privacy. We were out of there at 7:23pm, so we could have taken a little more time. πŸ˜‰

Awesome food (Seafood Enchiladas for me) and a perfect Frozen Margarita (as always).

All-in-all, a very pleasant evening, though not even close to what we originally expected.

Go with the flow, or as Dave Mason himself says:

Let it go, let it go, let it flow live a river
Let it go, let it go, let it flow through you

πŸ™‚

P.S. There seem to be a rash of these cancellations due to illness lately. We had tickets to Dolly Parton at Radio City Music Hall on March 7th, and that tour got canceled. Already rescheduled for May 1, and we’re going (same tickets, same seats). Joan Baez canceled this past Monday from the Paramount Theater (we weren’t going) and has already rescheduled. Allman Brothers Band also canceled their Beacon Theater Dates (we have tickets, and are awaiting announcement of the new dates), and now Dave Mason.

All of you, please, Get Well Soon! πŸ™‚

CSS Hack Added

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When I upgraded to WordPress 2.5 I articulated a few UI problems on my site. Here’s the relevant section:

  1. The Sociable plugin is once again formatting the bullets in a block list, rather than inline. This can be fixed with my own css (as I’ve done in the past), but I have no idea what broke in the upgrade…
  2. TinyMCE (in WP2.5) won’t allow me to display the link editor (AJAX form). It comes up blank. I am posting this from IE until I figure that out. Not cool, but also not stuck…
  3. This ordered list is not showing the numbers in IE7, but is in Firefox. πŸ™

#1 above turned out to be simple. There was a checkbox that I needed to set in the Sociable options to apply the sociable.css file. This was either a new option that I didn’t need to set before upgrading both the plugin and WordPress, or something in the upgrade to WordPress coupled with a deactivate/activate of the plugin caused that setting to be lost.

#2 auto-corrected itself. I’ll guess that the next time I restarted Firefox it just worked, and I panicked prematurely.

#3 was the real thorny problem, and is the subject of this post.

It’s likely that this bug existed for a few weeks before I upgraded to WordPress 2.5. Most certainly, it is not related in any way to WordPress at all (any version).

When I installed the SandPress theme (based on the Sandbox Theme Template) which is linked in the footer of every page on this site (unless you’re reading this in the future, and I’ve changed my theme again) πŸ˜‰ I decided to tweak it (which was a CSS change only).

One of the things that I did was remove the attribute “list-style-position:inside”. I hate the fact that ordered lists that span multiple lines have text under the number. It not only looks bad (IMHO) it makes it less readable. By removing the “inside”, I got the default of “outside” (without specifying it), and I immediately tested in Firefox (my default browser), and it worked correctly, and I was done.

When I upgraded to WordPress 2.5 I did it on my laptop first. I just happened to test in IE first, and noticed that I have no numbers on any ordered list. I tried a number of things but couldn’t get it to work. I thought that it was something related to the WP 2.5 upgrade, so I needed to decide whether I’d just live with it temporarily, or back off the upgrade. I decided to live with it.

It altered my behavior. In a recent post, I really wanted an ordered list, but I hated the look in IE without the numbers, so reluctantly turned it into a bulleted list. πŸ™

Earlier this week I finally took some time to track it down. That included installing an IE development addon which does what the Firefox DOM Inspector does. I had assumed that in IE, the problem was the “list-style-type” wasn’t being set to decimal. I was wrong. It was correctly set to decimal! I was truly stumped. I tried a number of other things, and then gave up.

Today, it occurred to me that there’s no way that the original SandPress theme was broken this badly. So, I switched (on my laptop) to the untweaked SandPress theme, and voila, IE showed ordered lists with numbers. Good. Now I did a diff on the original style.css file with my tweaked version. The difference was obvious, namely the inclusion in the original file of the attribute “list-style-position:inside”, which I had removed.

So, it appears that the designer of SandPress knew that IE7 couldn’t correctly render “list-style-position:outside” (whether explicitly set, or defaulted). So, he threw up his hands and set it to inside, and lived with it. I totally understand that decision, but for me, I wouldn’t be happy with seeing it this way in Firefox.

So, I did a quick search and found this blog showing a variety of CSS hacks. Here’s the relevant section on targeting IE7:

Target Internet Explorer 7:
[className=”actualClassName”] { … }

In case you aren’t familiar, you can either target or filter specific browsers. Targeting means that the rest of the line will only apply to that particular browser. Filtering means that the rest of the line will not apply to the specific browser.

In this case, I wanted the default to be outside for all browsers, but for IE7 to be inside. That meant targeting IE7 with the inside clause.

It worked perfectly. Now, ordered lists look like I want them to in Firefox, and look poor (to me) in IE7, but at least have numbers. Whew.

Back in business. πŸ™‚

Tim O’Brien at Joe’s Pub

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Last night we went to see Tim O’Brien perform at Joe’s Pub.

Before I get to the show, I need to correct one (possible) mis-statement in yesterday’s long post about Kathy Mattea. Near the end of that post, I said the following:

Kathy is playing at the Barns again tonight. Ironically, we’re headed (in a few minutes) back to Joe’s Pub, to see Tim O’Brien. Tim writes amazing songs, a number of them have become big hits for Kathy. So, we’ll continue to think about Kathy, Bill, Eamonn and David as we enjoy Tim tonight! :-)

Most of that is true, but I can’t verify this specific part:

a number of them have become big hits for Kathy.

Kathy spoke about Tim warmly, that she loves to sing harmonies with Tim and his sister Mollie, and she links to his site from hers. That said, I had assumed that because they sang Battle Hymn of Love together (and hit the charts with it) that he wrote it. Google searches seem to contradict that (though I found one site that listed him as the writer of the song).

Lois has been a (theoretical) fan of Tim’s ever since that song came out, but neither of us really knew his music (as a solo artist) at all. We had no idea what to expect last night. There was an opening act before him, but I’ll get to that after I cover Tim.

Tim came on the stage at 7:08pm. Before he stepped out, there were four instruments lined up on the stage (not unlike the photo I posted of Girlyman’s instruments sitting on the same stage three days earlier). There was a guitar, a banjo, a fiddle and a bouzouki (which looked exactly like a 12-string guitar to me). Both Lois and I assumed that he had a band with him.

Nope. Tim played all of the instruments during the course of the show (one at a time, of course). πŸ˜‰

Here are four photos of him, one with each instrument. Sorry, but the quality of at least three of them is pretty bad. Lighting at Joe’s conspires against high quality photos in general, but last night’s came out worse:

Tim O\'Brien on GuitarTim O\'Brien on Bouzouki

Tim O\'Brien on FiddleTim O\'Brien on Banjo

He’s an extremely self-effacing character/performer, but yet is in complete control of the rhythm of the performance. He is extremely funny, without telling many jokes. Here’s one example (of many):

He was about to play a sad song, and mentioned that D-Minor was the saddest key of all, as proven by This Is Spinal Tap. Therefore, he was going to play this song in C-Minor, to make it a little less sad… πŸ˜‰

Lois has never seen the movie This Is Spinal Tap, so she didn’t get the reference, but I laughed my head off (silently, of course). πŸ˜‰

With the exception of a few whimsical songs (which we thoroughly enjoyed!), his lyrics show an incredible depth and intelligence, in helping the rest of us understand the human condition. They vary over a wide array of topics, with recurring themes about love. The love part is one of the reasons that I assumed he wrote Battle Hymn of Love.

He has an excellent voice with a wide range. He is an excellent musician as well, on all four of the aforementioned instruments (I’ve read that he plays the mandolin as well, but he didn’t last night). Of the four instruments, the one that he didn’t come across as strong on was the banjo (one of my favorite instruments), but he’s no slouch on that one either.

Early in the evening, he played something on the guitar that prompted Lois to lean over and ask me what I thought of his talent relative to Bill Cooley. I couldn’t control myself, and I started laughing (thankfully, not loud enough to disturb anyone, at least I hope not!). Seriously, at that point in the concert, Tim’s playing seemed fine to me, but to compare him to Bill was funny.

That said, over the course of the evening, he played a number of songs that stretched his guitar playing considerably, including switching to a variety of styles, and he really nailed them all. I don’t amend my laughter at the comparison at all (Bill’s in a league with very few others), but Tim isn’t just a journeyman guitarist, he’s really excellent!

His fiddle playing is quite strong as well. I find it funny (not in a bad way) to watch a solo artist sing a song and accompany themselves on the fiddle. There’s something simply odd about it. I think it’s my own misconception that to play the fiddle well you have to concentrate so hard that you probably couldn’t also sing at the same time. I’m obviously wrong, at least in Tim’s case. He only played one instrumental during the show, and that was on the fiddle.

There’s no doubt that my other statement in yesterdays blog is definitely true, that he’s an amazing songwriter. He’s also prolific. On his site, there are 14 CDs by him, three more with his sister, quite a number more with bands he likely played in (sorry, no time to research too deeply now). Clearly, he has lots to say, because these aren’t instrumentals. At the show, we bought the latest CD, Chameleon, of which many songs in the show were from.

He left the stage on what seemed a tad on the early side. The crowd was applauding wildly when he came back out for an encore. Instead of doing just one song, he did a four-song encore, which ended up making his total time on the stage reasonable at one hour and 24 minutes.

We really enjoyed the show, and would happily go see Tim again!

Opening for Tim was Caroline Herring. I knew from Joe’s site that she would be opening, and I listened to one clip of her in advance, and knew that we would enjoy her music. It was probably listed correctly and I didn’t pay attention, but she came on the stage at 6:30pm. I was putting a forkful of their fantastic Tuna steak in my mouth, when people started clapping (I was facing slightly away from the stage at the time).

I thought “Hey, they can’t be clapping for me taking yet another mouth-watering taste of this Tuna, can they?” πŸ˜‰

I swung around and saw that Caroline just stepped onto the stage. I’m not happy about still having to eat while the performer is on stage, it’s at best a tad distracting only to the eater, and at worst distracting to others, including the performer! But, I love early shows (normally, we’re just old folk, but last night, we were also working on less than four hours of sleep), so I was quite happy about this surprise.

Caroline is good, and we enjoyed her solo act (she accompanies herself on the guitar). That said, we also didn’t find it to be anything particularly special, and I’m sure we wouldn’t rush out to see her again. If she was opening for someone else that we liked, we would be happy to see her again.

She definitely had some fans there who came to see her. One couple who was sitting one table up from us left after Caroline was done, so they were happy to pay the full freight for Tim O’Brien, just to see Caroline Herring. Good for her!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Joe’s Pub is our favorite concert venue. When we go just the two of us, we reserve the same table for two every time (and as reported before, only got bumped from that table once, after being told we had it). When we go with four people, we also reserve the same table for four each time, and have never been bumped from that table.

Last night, we had our usual table reserved. We were the third and fourth people through the door and they sent us to a different table. When we asked, we were told that even though they reserve a specific table, it’s not a guarantee. Well, we realize that, but exactly what makes them change it? Anyway, when he saw the disappointment on our face, and perhaps realized that we come pretty darn often, he told the hostess to take us to our table. Whew. It was marginally frustrating to begin with, but kudos to Joe’s for doing the right thing for incredibly loyal customers! πŸ™‚

The food was great (as always). I know from past experience that there are two bartenders at Joe’s. They disagree on the proper ingredients in a Chocolate Martini. There are numerous variations on the theme, and all are correct (to my taste buds!) πŸ˜‰ so they are both right. Still, they’re different. 95% of the time I (without requesting it) get the one who is more right (to my taste), because s/he puts in some Bailey’s Irish Creme to top off the martini. That makes it perfect, instead of just awesome. πŸ˜‰

On Sunday, when we were there for Girlyman, I had the other bartender, because I got a dark chocolate martini. It was great, so I’m not complaining, even though I drew the short straw. Last night, all was right with the world again, since my drink showed up with the Bailey’s, right where it belonged. πŸ™‚

In my post about Canal Room (where we saw the awesome Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea) I railed about the lack of common courtesy that some people exhibit when they insist on having a loud conversation during a performance. Last night was nowhere near as bad, but two people (I’m pretty sure one was a guy and the other a gal, but they were directly behind me so it was hard to see) insisted on speaking to each other at the top of their lungs (of course, the music was interfering with their conversation), at least five times.

Folks, I just don’t understand this. At Canal Room, I had the impression that they were more on a date than there for the music. Last night stumped me, as the same couple did something else that was slightly less annoying, but annoying nonetheless. On the songs where they didn’t scream at each other (lovingly) πŸ˜‰ they clapped as loud as thunder, at inappropriate times, in the middle of the song. Perhaps they were just catching up with the clapping that they missed during their earlier conversations…

Even otherwise nice people, who are clearly fans, can get caught up in this lunacy! The table to our immediate right was a table for four. There were two couples seated there (boys on one side, girls on the other), and I’m 99% sure they had never met before. The couple immediately to my right (I was practically rubbing shoulders with the woman) were clearly big music fans (possibly Caroline and/or Tim fans specifically). They both clapped enthusiastically after each number, but the woman was a screamer (hey, settle down!).

At some point in the evening, the two couples started chatting a bit. I heard them discussing politics, but none of the individual comments. Now that they bonded, in the middle of one of Tim’s songs, the woman further away from me turned to the woman next to me and started chatting, loudly. Even though the woman next to me was a fan, I guess she didn’t want to be rude to her new friend, so she engaged in a song-long conversation, at quite a loud level. Thankfully, this only happened during one song. I still don’t get it…

We decided half way through the show that we were going to buy the new Chameleon CD. I handed Lois $20 (it cost $15) because she’s more nimble than me, and she was going to sprint to the merch table so we could get out quicker. I’d meet her there, but saunter over.

When the show was over, Lois was gone. The merch table is normally (heretofore always?!?) behind the stage, next to the coat check room. It’s in a fairly large and wide hallway, so even when a lot of fans line up, it’s usually not that hard to maneuver around there. Last night, as I was going through the narrow passageway that connects the show room to that back hallway, I saw Lois walking with and chatting with Tim O’Brien himself, carrying a small suitcase.

This seemed very odd to me. My first thought was that he was running outside to have a smoke before going back to sign CDs. I was wrong. For whatever reason, Joe’s didn’t want, or couldn’t accommodate the merch table in the back (perhaps the needs of the next act precluded having fans in the back). So, they made Tim and Caroline sell their own merch right at the front door. That’s one of the tiniest entrance ways I’ve ever seen, and many people just wanted to leave, so at best, it was confusing.

We also got the sense that they were (subtly or otherwise) trying to rush Tim and Caroline to get it over with, even though it hadn’t even started yet! In any event, it wasn’t a happy situation. Luckily for us, since Lois snagged Tim on the way to the front, she got to buy the first CD from him. I already told you that he’s a smart guy. Here’s one example. He had already removed the shrink-wrap off of all of the CDs, since most people want them signed, and therefore have to take the time to rip off the shrink-wrap anyway. Kudos Tim!

We were home by 8:55pm which was a real blessing given our state of exhaustion. Lois was zonked out 30 minutes later, and I finally called it quits by 10:15pm. Going to see Dave Mason tomorrow night, but tonight we get a break. Yippee! (or not…)

For the next month, I’ll conclude every post with the reminder that there’s still time to try and win a copy of the new Girlyman Live CD. I’m running a contest to win a signed copy all month!

Welcome WordPress 2.5

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My last post announced a physical move of this server. Before the server was shut down, I saw the announcement for WordPress 2.5 final. I installed it locally on my laptop, and saw that everything on my site worked, with the exception of the Popularity Contest plugin. I had the time to update the main server before it was scheduled to be shut off, but I chose to take the more conservative route, and wait until it came back up.

The server move was very successful, with one unfortunately notable exception. I had an artifact in my IPTABLES firewall rules that made the machine semi-invisible to the outside world when it came back up, even though all of the appropriate DNS updates had been performed.

I count myself as wildly lucky that one of the few things I was able to do successfully was to ssh onto the machine using a direct IP address. It took me a while to accidentally discover the one bad firewall option, but once I changed that, everything started working. Whew! Queued mail started flowing as well.

That left me free to update to WordPress 2.5. That went pretty smoothly too. Of course, just like with the laptop, Popularity Contest doesn’t work, so it’s not on now. There are three other wierdnesses, neither of which I have the time to track down at the moment, but hopefully will later this afternoon:

  1. The Sociable plugin is once again formatting the bullets in a block list, rather than inline. This can be fixed with my own css (as I’ve done in the past), but I have no idea what broke in the upgrade…
  2. TinyMCE (in WP2.5) won’t allow me to display the link editor (AJAX form). It comes up blank. I am posting this from IE until I figure that out. Not cool, but also not stuck…
  3. This ordered list is not showing the numbers in IE7, but is in Firefox. πŸ™

So, welcome WordPress 2.5 to this space. Welcome this server into the new data center. Hopefully, this will be the last move for this specific server, not that it was that much of a hassle. Thanks Dave for taking care of the move and making it so painless! πŸ™‚

Server Relocation

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Tomorrow night, probably at roughly 8pm EST, the opticality.com server (the one serving up this content to you) will be heading south, literally.

It will be moved from one data center (in Northern Virginia) to a data center in Central Virginia.

For a number of reasons, I have chosen a less than fault tolerant setup for this server. The most notable example is that there is no secondary MX server. That means that while the machine is in transit, all email sent to it will be deferred (at least I hope it will be).

Also, this blog will be down (obviously).

While the downtime is expected to be 3-4 hours, I may not be awake when the machine comes back online, and I have little doubt that I will have to update things once the machine is back, in order for it to perform its public duties in the manner it currently does. That might not happen until the morning, though I hope that email just works.

Anyway, sorry for any inconvenience, and here’s hoping it goes as smoothly as possible…

Snarky Customer Service

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As you all know, I’m a huge fan of Girlyman. I have an alert service that informs me whenever there is news about them (and The Wailin’ Jennys as wel). Today, I received an alert pointing me to a blog about Brooklyn. In this post, she writes about a Brooklyn-based group called Sweet Bitters. She lists their influences, which include Girlyman, hence my alert notification.

So, I listened to the four songs on their MySpace page (linked above), and liked their sound. They only have two upcoming live dates listed there, one being on April 5th, 2008 at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. I wouldn’t mind seeing them, and there’s a slight chance that we could make it there that night.

Sweet Bitters’ link to the venue makes it clear that the show is free. Since there is no place to purchase tickets, Pete’s is clear enough that tickets are free as well. They have a menu link, with five sandwiches listed and some cocktails, so one assumes that they make their money that way, but there’s no mention of a cover or minimum so who knows.

Utilizing the better safe than sorry theory, I sent an email to one of the addresses listed in their contact link (I think it rotates on reloads, because I saw another name appear at a different time).

If you read this space regularly you already know that the above italics aren’t rare for me. πŸ˜‰ I will happily admit that I overdid the quote marks (to indicate the same emphasis I use italics for here). I thought I was helping highlight the underlying points. Here is my email in it’s entirety:

Hi. I’ve never been to Pete’s. I might be able to make it on 4/5 to see the 9pm show (Sweet Bitters), but I’m not sure yet.

Can you tell me how Pete’s “works”?

What time should we show up for the 9pm show to get good “seats”?

Are there tables or rows of chairs, etc.?

Obviously we’d like to give you “business”, so the above question is related to whether we show up early and order drinks and dinner, but whether we have to move afterwards or sit at the table and watch the show?

Do you “sell out” (we’d be coming from Manhattan, so it would be frustrating to show up and not get in)?

Thanks in advance, and I’m glad to have found out about your place today! πŸ™‚

P.S. I don’t know if it matters, but there would be two of us for sure, and possibly four…

OK, a little over-the-top, but reasonably clear, no? In particular, the part about my desire to want to support the venue given that the show is free?

Here is the entire unedited response, cutting out my original email from the bottom:

“all” pete’s shows are “free”. if you are worried about “it” being ” too full”, then “come early”. you do not have to “leave your seats” from one show to the next. i hope this “response” was “helpful”.

for more “info”, go to www.petescandystore.com.

“take care”

OK, let’s analyze. First and foremost, did he respond to my questions? Mostly, but not as accurately as one would hope. What does come early mean? 8pm, 7pm, 3pm? It would seem that he mistook my question about selling out to simply mean is it free. Otherwise, he might have said something like “on occasion, in particular on Saturdays, if you don’t get here by 8:45pm, there is no room left in the place”.

More importantly, is his response appropriate? I’m a potential customer. Could he be sure that I was savvy enough to take his sarcastic reply in the (hopefully amusing/entertaining) manner that he intended? Wasn’t it as likely that if I’m so clueless as to have put the quotes in to begin with, that I might be offended at being made fun of?

Let’s assume that he doesn’t care (that’s my assumption!). After all, they’re not charging for the concert. In any event, they must have some reason to open their doors, and perhaps I would never come there, not just that night. Perhaps I’d even blog about it, affecting other people. πŸ˜‰

Bottom line, I think his response was at best snarky, not necessarily out-and-out nasty, nor obviously meant simply to be humorous.

Is that the best way to get business? Who knows. I still don’t know whether I can make it or not, but I’d still like to. Whether I’m interested in giving them business is another matter, but we’ll see how that plays out as well.

I could have been indignant in my response, ignored it, or chosen something in between. Here’s the entire text of my response:

“thanks”, “cute answer” πŸ˜‰

Hope he doesn’t think I was insulting him. πŸ˜‰

Anyway, I really wrote this post to promote Sweet Bitters, even though I am also indirectly promoting Pete’s Candy Store. I just couldn’t resist telling the whole story behind it, because I have written about the lack of customer service in the past, and this is but one more example…

Microsoft Madness

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Yesterday, I read the following article on PC World’s website. It mirrored my thoughts about Windows XP vs Windows Vista perfectly, including direct experience not just theory.

What I learned in that post (which I probably should have known earlier but didn’t) is that Microsoft intends to stop most sales of Windows XP as of June 30th, 2008. I’m not really sure what most means in this context, but either way, it’s boneheaded.

I just did a quick search, and apparently it means that they likely won’t be offering it to OEMs, so if you expect to get Windows pre-loaded on a new laptop after June 30th, you’ll have a choice of Vista or Vista (or Vista or Vista, given that there are four version of Vista available!).

John Heckman questions whether Microsoft won’t bow to pressure and push back the June 30th date.

The minute I read the article I knew I was going to post this. My first instinct was to title it Wake Up Microsoft. Then this morning, it came to me, this is the perfect season to aptly and correctly use the term Madness.

It’s clear that Vista is a bomb. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone without an ax to grind that would seriously defend the merits of Vista over XP. It’s not the first time Microsoft has bombed with an entire operating system. How many of you are still running Windows ME?

At least with Windows ME, it died a relatively quick and painless death. With Vista, for any number of reasons, Microsoft isn’t willing to give up. Given enough time (and money), they will likely make it decent, though it’s unlikely to ever be great (given it’s core), and it’s not even likely to get decent given that they are already working on it’s successor.

The madness isn’t in not killing Vista (I understand that the investment and marketing bets that they’ve made are too big to simply throw away). The madness is taking away the only viable choice that still puts money in Microsoft’s pocket!

Folks, there’s no doubt that XP is eating into Vista sales. That’s the only reason that Microsoft wants to stop selling XP, they want to remove the competitive choice and force new computers to be pre-loaded with Vista! Will it work? Of course, there are many people who wouldn’t consider Linux or Mac under any circumstance, and they will grudgingly (or ignorantly) accept a machine with Vista on it, if they have no other choice.

This doesn’t make it a smart strategy. The sane move would be to keep offering XP as a choice (while heavily promoting Vista). Then, whenever Vista truly rivals XP (don’t hold your breath), or Windows 7 (or whatever it will be called when it finally arrives) is available, stop selling XP.

In the best case scenario, Microsoft will sell exactly the same number of licenses in total (Vista only, instead of a mix of Vista and XP). They will get to declare a huge PR win for Vista (look how sales ramped so nicely!). They will not get any additional profit (since they will be maintaining XP for years to come anyway). They will create a slew of miserable users who will equate Microsoft with pain (or worse).

In the worst case scenario, they will push people toward alternative operating systems like Mac and Linux.

I haven’t done a scientific survey, but I honestly believe that nearly every technology professional (business people too, not just developers) that I know has switched to using a Mac as their primary computing platform (most on laptops, but I know a number of people who use iMacs as well!). When I say “nearly every” one, I believe the number is pretty close to 90%.

Examples include Zope Corporation. While 100% of our services to customers are delivered on Linux-based servers, there is only one developer in the company that hasn’t switched to a Mac. Even the SAs (System Administrators) all got Macs recently (though one of them decided after the fact that he’s more productive on his Linux laptop).

My friends (you know who you are) have been needling me for years to switch to the Mac. I have very long experience with the origins of Mac OS X (NeXT), so no one needs to convince me of the power and the beauty of the underlying software.

I haven’t switched for two reasons:

  1. There are programs (some cool, some necessary) that only run on Windows, or at the very least, run on Windows way earlier than they become available on Mac.
  2. The value proposition of generic hardware (laptops and desktops) is overwhelming vs the Mac stuff. The Mac stuff is gorgeous, and brilliantly designed. Ultimately, it’s not worth the money and locks you in. They also have enough quality problems to make me pause.

My non-technology professional friends (neighbors for example) still prefer Windows. There are a number of reasons but they are all valid (games for their kids, Windows is used at the office, I know Windows, I don’t want to have to buy new copies of software I already paid for, etc.).

In April 2004 I bought my current laptop. In fact, I just wrote about that in this post. I bought it without an operating system pre-loaded because I was committed to switching to Linux full time. The experiment lasted six weeks (not too bad), but once I started running Windows in Win4Lin, I realized that I wasn’t quite ready to cut the Windows cord full time, and I installed Windows XP Pro.

There were two reasons that I switched back:

  1. 95% of the day I was happier on Linux than on Windows. 5% of the day I required a program that was only available on Windows. That 5% started to bug me more each day until I switched back.
  2. Linux was great in 2004, but it wasn’t quite as good on cutting edge hardware as it is today, and I had some real problems on my (at the time) brand new beast. It’s possible that I would have toughed it out if Linux had worked perfectly on my laptop back then. I have no doubt it would work flawlessly today.

My one direct experience with Vista came when my next door neighbor bought a new Dell Laptop for her mother. There was no choice, Vista only. I am their tech support team and she asked me to customize the machine for her mother when it showed up. I was amazed at the hoops I had to jump through to install programs onto the machine. I couldn’t begin to imagine what someone who was less technical would have done (other than throw the machine out!).

In addition, the machine crashed on me at least 10 times in one day during the setup. Sheesh.

Since then, I have been asked for laptop recommendations at least five times. In all cases, the buyer wanted Windows. In all cases I have vehemently recommended XP, and (amazingly enough) it was now available again as an option. None of those users has had a single problem with their new laptops.

Where does that leave me? As I mentioned in my spring cleaning post, I will likely be buying two new laptops at some point (possibly this year, but definitely next year if not in 2008). I have thought about this (before knowing about the demise of XP) for much longer than I care to admit, and I decided that I was going to stick with Windows. Sorry Mac fanboys. πŸ˜‰

If Vista is my only choice, I can guarantee you that I won’t be buying it. Best case scenario (for Microsoft) is that I will buy a retail CD of XP and load it myself. Much more likely scenario is that I will install Linux on the machine, and try really hard to avoid the few Windows-only programs that I’ve come to rely on. The least likely choice is that I will break down and buy Mac laptops, but it’s not impossible (the possibility is at least on my radar for the first time ever).

So, coming full circle to my original post title: Wake Up Microsoft!

Who Needs Floppies

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Since I just wrote about my laptop spring cleaning, I may as well get one more geek post out of my system. πŸ˜‰

I run many Asterisk servers. I love it. That said, I am still running the 1.2.x branch on all of the servers. They are up to 1.4.18.1 on the production branch. I will never install the 1.4 branch. Not because I don’t believe it’s good, but because they are getting close to releasing 1.6 into production (they are currently at 1.6.0-beta6!).

So, I was interested in getting a test machine set up to install it (after it goes production), so that I can get to know it before committing it to production servers. I considered running it on a VM on my laptop, but I really want to avoid that if I can (read my spring cleaning post again for any number of reasons).

I considered buying a used machine on EBay, Geeks.com, Tiger Direct, etc. You can get pretty beefy machines for under $200, and reasonable ones for well under $100 on EBay, but you’re risking the seller, etc.

Last week, while at Zope Corp., I noticed that they were gathering old junk in an area for their own version of a spring cleaning. In that pile were two old machines. One of them was a Dell Dimension 4550, a 2.53Ghz machine, 30GB hard drive, with 256MB of ram. Not exactly the kind of ram you’d like to see, but otherwise more than adequate to power Asterisk. For a test machine, ideal!

I asked (multiple times) if anyone else hoped to snag it, or ever see it again. People laughed (rightfully so). πŸ˜‰

Into the back of my SUV it went. I stored it for a week in our utility room and today I finally pulled it out. I wanted to install CentOS on it. The other day I downloaded the 3.6GB DVD ISO in a drop over an hour on my FiOS link. Yummy!

I popped the DVD in the drive and booted. Nothing, it just booted into the existing CentOS 4.2 (I wanted to install the 5.1 release). Hmmm. Thankfully I didn’t waste time figuring this one out. I quickly found out that the machine had a CD drive, no DVD. OK, moving on…

I downloaded and burned a CentOS net install CD (only 7.1MB) and booted again. Again, straight into the old CentOS. Hmmm. Somehow, the CD drive isn’t working (boot order was set correctly).

I didn’t have root access on the machine, and it can PXE boot (boot over a network, but I didn’t have a target machine for it to boot off), but it can’t boot off a USB device. πŸ™

Floppies to the rescue! My second choice for an operating system was Debian. I downloaded five floppy images for a net install. I booted off of the floppy, and it failed again. This was getting very tiresome…

I booted into the existing system, and tried to mount and read the floppy. It took forever, but finally, I got a clean listing, so there was no hardware problem with the floppy. I tried that with a CD, but it was never able to mount that, so indeed, there is a hardware problem with the CD drive.

It turns out that even though I pressed F12 to change the boot order, and I picked the floppy, it failed. I pressed F2 (for yucks) to get into setup. Once I moved the floppy boot up the ladder, and saved, it successfully booted off of the floppy. Whew.

I now have a smooth running Debian system configured to my taste. I am now patiently awaiting the final release of Asterisk 1.6.0.

So, do we need floppies? Hopefully not going forward. But, as long as there is life in older systems (and clearly there still is), the fact that my four-year-old laptop has a built-in floppy drive ended up saving me some headaches. More important, are you impressed that I had five blank floppies handy as well? πŸ˜‰

Laptop Spring Cleaning

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In two weeks, my current laptop will be four years old. Wow! It’s a little hard for me to believe that I have resisted the siren song of all the new hardware that has come out during that time.

While I covet the latest stuff, and configure up a dream laptop online at least twice a year, I am (marginally) embarrassed to admit that I still love my current laptop. Clearly, I chose wisely back then, thankfully.

Over the last few months, some of the things on the machine seemed to be dragging me down. For the most part, things were reasonably peppy, but on occasion, things would be slow. It never felt like a horsepower problem, as the same thing that was peppy before, would now be slow. The next day, it might be faster again.

One particularly noticeable problem was typing in dialog boxes in Quicken (I believe other programs as well, but Quicken was obvious and reproducible 100% of the time). When I typed my master password in the dialog box in Quicken, the delay between key presses was insane. It would also complete (meaning, I could type as fast as I wanted), but it was annoying.

Lois was experiencing similar (but different) slow downs. One thing that seemed to be happening too frequently to both of us (but to Lois much more than than to me) were application crashes. Most were in ancillary programs that weren’t central to our everyday computing. Unfortunately, more for Lois than for me, when it happened, the infamous dumprep.exe (Microsoft’s reporting program) would take over the machine. It can suck the life out of the machine, locking everything up for very long stretches while it’s gathering information.

I found the following article on the net on how to disable dumprep.exe. That alone made a world of difference, again, in particular on Lois’ machine.

That got me to thinking. Over time, I have installed so many different applications. The vast majority of them proved less useful than I originally expected. Of course, if they weren’t meant to be used all the time, I probably didn’t uninstall them, because I wouldn’t have thought of them. Many of them leave little footprints, including some that start up in the background automatically.

I finally decided to do something about. I analyzed all of the processes that got auto-started, and removed a number of them. I uninstalled quite a number of programs that I had no interest in any longer.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I uninstalled and then installed from scratch an updated version of my personal firewall (yes, going through the pain of teaching it my rules again). This also caused a full system scan for malware, which was not present on the machine (meaning, the slow downs were not caused by a virus, root kit, etc.).

Voila! The system became springier. Typing in Quicken is now normal. Whew.

I then did this on Lois’ machine as well, and things are a little better there as well. Here’s the one thing that is still maddening (beyond description or belief) on her machine. A few weeks ago, her machine started to Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) whenever it was turned on in the morning. Yes, every single day!

On the second boot, it would just work. Shouldn’t computers be nearly 100% deterministic in the boot and initial login sequence? If so, shouldn’t a BSOD (without the user clicking or typing anything!) repeat exactly the same way every time?

So, perhaps it’s a warmup thing, like the drive warms up by the time of the second boot? Who knows. Anyway, it’s distressing, to say the least, but at least it consistently worked on the second boot/login, every single time. This went on for weeks. Now, out of the clear blue, it’s been at least five days in a row where it just boots up correctly the first time. Go explain that! (Not that I’m complaining…)

The moral of this post is that you can’t (or shouldn’t) go for years without tuning your machine to your current needs. Experimentation is OK, but leaving all of those experiments hanging around forever is just like having too much plaque on your teeth or arteries.

I intend to buy new laptops for both of us at some point, possibly even in 2008, but I’ve just bought us enough life to make the decision without any pressure. The biggest decision is whether to repeat my previous choice (giant, ultra-heavy, ultra-high-end model), which is painful to lug around, but gives me a real desktop replacement wherever I am, or go smaller, lighter, more convenient, but less beefy.

I didn’t regret my last choice, so I might end up repeating it, but we’ll have to wait and see… πŸ™‚