Frustration

Indigo Girls at Lewis Ginter

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When I first heard the Indigo Girls sing Closer to Fine, in 1989, I ran out and bought the CD right away. I didn’t regret it, as there are many other great songs on the CD as well.

If you read my earlier post today about Eddie From Ohio, then you know that back then (OK, not quite back in 1989) I was extremely selective about what made it on to my MP3 player. Three songs from the CD Indigo Girls (by the Indigo Girls) made it on to the MP3: Closer to Fine, Secure Yourself and Prince of Darkness. I still listen to all three regularly.

Unfortunately, we’ve never gotten to see them live. In a major irony, our favorite group for the past two years is Girlyman. It turns out, unbeknownst to us at the time we discovered Girlyman, they used to regularly open for the Indigo Girls. Cool! We rectified that oversight last night at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in an outdoor concert.

Even though we both love the few songs of theirs that we know well, we really didn’t know what to expect from this type of show, both musically and audience-wise. Given our disappointment in seeing both the Proclaimers and Blues Traveler, both on the basis of just a few loved songs as well, there was at least a touch of nervousness.

Not to worry fans, the Indigo Girls were/are awesome, and their show is also different than expected given the type of shows we typically attend.

On the very off chance that you don’t know anything about the Indigo Girls, they are two amazing singer songwriters. Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Amy Ray sings and plays guitar, mandolin and harmonica. Amy writes amazing songs, sings beautifully, plays all of her instruments with energy (mostly a very driving rhythm style, not much lead) and harmonizes angelically with Emily.

Amy Guitar Harmonica

Amy Guitar Harmonica

Amy Mandolin

Amy Mandolin

Emily Saliers sings and plays guitar and banjo. Emily writes amazing songs, sings beautifully (with a broader range than Amy, as Emily hits some incredibly high notes, with wonderful clarity). Emily plays the guitar in many styles, from driving rhythm to fantastic finger picking, to high-quality leads, to a slide on one number as well.

Emily Guitar

Emily Guitar

Emily Banjo

Emily Banjo

Each of them could easily be a solo superstar, both in terms of their songwriting and their vocal and instrumental ability. But, like with Girlyman, the magic happens when they come together. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts (in both groups), and they are starting with pretty darn high quality parts/ingredients to begin with!

Indigo Girls

Indigo Girls

In addition to their typical brilliant blending of voices in harmony, last night they added a third person on the stage for the majority of the numbers.

Julie Wolf played electric keyboards, accordion and sang. Julie is excellent on the keyboards. She sang on roughly 1/2 of the numbers for at least a few phrases in support of Amy and Emily, and she was wonderful. The three voices worked perfectly together.

Julie Wolf Keyboards

Julie Wolf Keyboards

Julie Wolf Accordion

Julie Wolf Accordion

The Indigo Girls put out a new CD a few months ago called Poseidon and the Bitter Bug. They played roughly 1/2 of the CD last night. I really liked it a lot.

Their fans knew even their newest stuff cold. Quite a number of people sitting near us (we were in the third row) were singing out loud during every song. But, when the Girls started playing their more classic hits (not that we knew those either), significantly more people starting singing along out loud (without a request from the stage to do so).

In the bigger hits, during at least one verse (and of course during the chorus), Emily would invite the crowd to sing the verse instead of them, and the crowd obliged by belting it out at the top of their lungs.

When requested from the stage, it’s a very cool experience to hear the audience get to experience a sing-a-long with their heroes. When they are singing along with Amy and Emily at other times, it could have been distracting at best, and wildly annoying at worst. Amazingly, it was neither, as I was quite impressed with the quality of the voices of those who sat around us, and it all just worked!

They closed the set with Closer to Fine, which was beyond awesome, with the entire crowd screaming along for most of the song. They brought on the opening act (not the full band, just the star) to sing that song with them. It was wonderful (I’ll cover him shortly).

For the encore, which most of the crowd stood for, they did two numbers, closing the show with Galileo, which the crowd had been screaming for all night long. The opening act came out to join them for part of the encore as well!

So, I said above that the show was different, unexpected. Here are the two main things:

  • Very little banter. In fact, very little talking at all, though what little there was, was very warm. In fact, while Emily named Amy, and formally introduced Julie Wolf, no one returned the favor. Emily’s name wasn’t mentioned even once the entire evening!
  • They never used the same instrument on consecutive numbers! Their roadie, Sully, brought two replacement instruments up on the stage to hand to Amy and Emily after each number. That’s beyond incredible (and performed smoothly every time) because it meant that the Indigo Girls didn’t spend one second tuning between songs, as Sully clearly tuned off stage before handing the instruments to the Girls.

I’ve never been to a show where the performers don’t end up killing some serious time tuning. In the case of Girlyman, it’s an opportunity for some of the best banter you can imagine, so they turn it into a positive. For the Indigo Girls, you simply get that much more amazing music crammed into the evening, because they sang and played their hearts out for 100 minutes. Bravo!

On to the opening act, Matt Nathanson. We’ve only recently discovered Matt. One of our favorite groups is Sugarland. Sugarland is in heavy rotation on our iPod in the car. Lois can’t get enough of quite a number of their songs. On their Love on the Inside CD, the last song is called Come On Get Higher. As I’ve said many times, Lois cares who wrote the song, and in this case, it’s Matt Nathanson.

Sugarland’s cover of Come On Get Higher is fantastic, and we love listening to it over and over. But, it also made us go out and buy one of Matt’s CDs (before we had a clue we would get to see him live), called Some Mad Hope.

The fact that he was opening for the Indigo Girls last night was a super bonus for us, because we would have happily gone to see him headline somewhere. We would not have been disappointed.

Matt Nathanson

Matt Nathanson

He was awesome. He sings incredibly well, and plays the guitar well with a terrific energy. He writes great songs, often irreverent and tongue-in-cheek.

He’s incredibly funny, bantering aggressively (but cleverly as well) with the crowd throughout the show. Many people in the crowd knew all of his songs, and the two women in front of us actually came to see him, not the Indigo Girls, though they ended up hanging around and thoroughly enjoying the Girls as well.

Matt was supported by three other people on stage. Left-to-right:

Aaron Tap played guitar, electric keyboards and sang harmony with Matt. He’s an excellent guitarist, and sings wonderfully well with Matt (his voice is quite high, surprisingly so). He’s the only one who sang with Matt.

Aaron Tap

Aaron Tap

John Thomasson played the upright bass. Given the up-tempo sound, and power of the band, it was a little surprising to see an upright bass rather than an electric one, but John played it magnificently either way. Great bass lines all night long.

John Thomasson

John Thomasson

Konrad Meissner played the drums extremely well throughout the set.

Konrad Meissner

Konrad Meissner

They were on stage for roughly 45 minutes, and we would have been delighted to listen to them for hours longer. As I noted above, Matt (not the rest of the band) joined the Indigo Girls for Closer to Fine, and for part of the encore as well. That was a ton of fun too.

Matt Nathanson and Amy Ray

Matt Nathanson and Amy Ray

It was a magical evening, that we hope to relive as soon as we can. Unfortunately, it will be repeated in our home town in Central Park this coming Tuesday, but we’ll still be in Virginia, so we’ll miss it!

First a blessing, and then a few complaints, to round out our story.

Rain was called for throughout the evening, and it looked extremely threatening as we got on line. Amazingly, after perhaps three drops, it stopped, and the rain held off until we were driving back to Fredericksburg. Thank you!

As gorgeous as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is, and as wonderful as the show was, they could stand to improve some things, especially as compared to Innsbrook After Hours from the night before.

Update: I was contacted by both Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Haymaker Productions (who put on the show). Both were examples of superb customer service, and both made me feel that they are professionals who care about making each event as good as possible! Good answers to my specific points, not just “sorry, but please come again…”. Thanks to both organizations for taking the time!

Original complaints below, unedited, but I felt that the caveat above was important to insert before you get to the complaints!

First, they said that the gates would open at 5:30pm. They didn’t open until 5:50pm. Standing in the hot sun, for an indeterminate amount of time (yes, the sun came out after the few drops of rain stopped), is simply unpleasant.

Waiting on Line

Waiting on Line

To compound that anxiety, the web site said that Matt Nathanson would be on stage at 6pm. We all wanted to eat first, so by 5:50, it was looking and feeling dicey. In the end, the show didn’t start until 6:30pm, so we had plenty of time to eat, but even that was unexpected, since the show was called for 6pm.

Now the food. It was quite tasty, so after the fact, no complaints. But, dramatically less choice than the night before, and nothing that could easily be eaten in one hand (like a sandwich, burger, etc.). So, they should have a broader offering next time. Also, a salad for $6 felt like a rip-off, but otherwise, while a tad on the expensive side, it ended up doing the job nicely.

Only two more complaints! We had Gold Circle Seating (near the stage), which we paid a premium for. Lois called in advance, and we were told that even with this premium seating area, we needed to bring our own chairs. Fine, no problem. So, we dragged three heavy folding chairs and one bulky plastic one.

Of course, the information was wrong. The Gold Circle Seating supplied the seats. We looked like idiots holding our chairs. We ended up placing them on the side, and they got used by four strangers (at least someone benefitted from our schlepping!). Thankfully, they were all intact at the end of the show, and we got to schlep them back to the car, nice!

Last complaint. The ground was sopping wet (fine, no one can control that). But, after the show, over a thousand people were tramping through the soggy grass with practically no light whatsoever. It was a disaster in the making. At least no one near us fell over, potentially causing a major problem, and I’m hopeful that it didn’t happen to others that we were unaware of either.

After the show, we headed back to our friends’ house to pick up our car, and then hit the road back to the hotel in Fredericksburg. A fantastic two days in Richmond, with the better show capping it off last night!

No GLEE Here

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Now that the regular TV season is over, I’m a little more attuned to potential new shows to watch, particularly during the summer.

I really like Jane Lynch a lot, in particular her turns on Two and Half Men (one of my favorite comedies). So, when I saw a commercial for a new show called Glee, and saw that Jane had a prominent role in it, I figured I’d give it a try.

Somehow, I missed the pilot episode. I have bought a TV episode from Amazon Unbox in the past, so I get their weekly newsletters. This past week, they were offering a download of the Pilot episode of Glee, for free. Cool, the universe seemed to be looking out for me.

I downloaded the 847MB file (wow, that has to be some pretty good definition, right?). A few days later, after a little bit of arm-twisting Lois into checking it out, I popped in my HDMI cable to the back of my laptop, fired up the TV, and was set to enjoy this new show.

Even though I could hear the sound, the picture was blank. Sparing you the details, Amazon Unbox was clearly applying some DRM and HDMI cables respect DRM, so I was able to see the picture on my laptop, but not through the HDMI cable on the TV itself. I could have switched to component cables, but I was just annoyed, and I put something else on the TV.

The very next day I saw someone mention that they just installed the new Hulu Desktop application. I don’t watch Hulu all that often, but when I do, it’s quite a pleasant experience, so I decided to download the app, just to check it out.

Imagine my surprise when it started playing Glee by default! I stopped it pretty quickly. Later that night I told Lois we would give it another try, using Hulu instead of Amazon Unbox. Hulu didn’t have any of the DRM problems (which were strange to begin with on a free download). So, the show fired right up, with excellent resolution as well.

Sounds like a happy ending, no? No!

After torturing ourselves for roughly 15 minutes (with no commercials), we simply couldn’t watch another second of this show. It’s possible that they redeem themselves later on. People magazine had a very positive review of the show. We’ll likely never find out. Both of us felt immensely relieved when I killed it.

Since I had Hulu Desktop up, and had the HDMI cable plugged in, I ended up watching the very first episode of It Takes a Thief (from 1968), which was one of my favorite childhood shows. Lois was bored out of her mind, but at least it was pleasant boredom, as opposed to Glee, which was actively painful. I loved the show, if for the nostalgia alone. I’ll be watching more episodes, I’m sure, likely without Lois. 😉

Glee was an experiment. The Pilot debuted now, but the rest of the series will be shown in the Fall. This was a way to build some excitement in advance. Oops…

Gaining Leverage

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This post will cover a few related topics. They’re all about TV shows.

We probably watch too much TV, and I make no apologies for it. We lead reasonably intense lives and watching TV shows works wonderfully to help us escape and unwind. I have more forgiving tastes than Lois (meaning, I would watch a lot more bad shows, especially comedies), but our overlap is quite good, and gives us plenty of choices.

When the new seasons come up, we’re somewhat selective of what to try out. Partially, because we already watch a lot. Partially, because a lot of stuff doesn’t even look remotely interesting from the commercials. That said, there are shows that look interesting to me, that Lois poo-poos from the commercials, and given how much we watch already, I am OK passing on them.

This year, one such show was Leverage on TNT. I like hi-tech spy/theft stuff. Two of the shows that we’re both in love with are Chuck and Burn Notice. Chuck is way more on the comedic end of the scale, though it’s still set in the spy motif. Burn Notice is simply a fantastic show, in every respect. For me in particular, I love how they explain all of the spy stuff, and break it down (like a magician, revealing his tricks).

When I saw the first commercial for Leverage, I knew I would like the show. Lois saw the same commercial, and yawned (who knows why, since she loves Burn Notice and Chuck). So, I never added it to the list of things to DVR this season.

I had a twinge whenever I saw a commercial for it, but I took a deep breath, and let it go…

Yesterday I posted about KCRW’s podcast, The Business. On an episode that I listened to on Saturday, while out walking in Rockwood Park, they interviewed Dean Devlin, Executive Producer of Leverage (this episode is from a few months back). Dean explained that the post production for Leverage happens in an all digital facility, and why they can produce more effects, in less time, for less money, due to that setup.

That got me intrigued (again) in checking out Leverage. Lois was out of the house with a friend for a couple of hours right after I got back from my walk. I found episode one online (more on that in the next related topic part of this post), and watched it alone, on my laptop. I really liked it, a lot.

When Lois got back, I told her that I really wanted her to watch it, in case she enjoyed it as much as I did, and we’d add this to our regularly watched list. Since Lois is legally blind, watching on a laptop is not an option. So, I trotted out a 25′ HDMI cable (it was still in the bag), and connected my laptop to our 42″ HDTV. Describing some of those ins-and-outs will be part three of the related topics in this post. For now, back to the show.

Lois ended up liking it a lot. Over the next two days, we watched the first six episodes (the first season is over, with 13 episodes in total, and the show returns this summer, and we’ll watch it on the real TV). How we watched it is back to topic #2, which I’ll defer for just a few more paragraphs…

A few months back (January to be specific), our good friend Wes strongly recommended that we check out the show The Mentalist on CBS. I asked him whether it needed to be watched in order (from episode one), and he thought not, that each episode could stand on its own. So I started recording it on our DirecTivo, including repeats, to start building up the season. We now have 14 of the 19 episodes on the DVR, but not the first five.

Given our success watching Leverage on our TV (through the laptop), I decided that we would give The Mentalist a shot in order, through the laptop as well. We watched the first two episodes and really like the show. Thanks Wes! I think Wes is correct that they could probably stand alone, but I’m also glad we watched them in order (so far), because the first episode (called “Pilot”) really sets up the scenario for why he does what he does. The second episode flashes to that motivation, but it’s more powerful to already understand what they’re flashing to.

Certain shows have to be watched serially. One of the quintessential examples of that is another of my favorite shows (Lois fluctuates wildly in her appreciation of the show), Lost. If you miss even 10 minutes of a single episode, you might really end up Lost (pun intended).

Burn Notice is somewhat like that. In every episode, there are always two themes:

  1. Working a case for a client (this stands alone, each and every week)
  2. Tracking down why our hero was Burned (this is serialized, but nowhere near to the extent Lost is)

So, you can enjoy Burn Notice out of order, but it makes much more sense in order. Both Leverage and The Mentalist would best be enjoyed if you at least watch episode #1 first, to thoroughly appreciate the premise and setup, but after that, it’s probably OK to watch them out of order, even if you will end up missing a reference to a past show.

On to related topic #2: Watching TV online

If you’ve read this space before, then you know that I am a respecter of IP (Intellectual Property Rights). I buy a ton of music, including multiple copies of the same CD in order to give them as presents. I don’t look for torrents of movies or TV shows, just because they’re easy to find.

That said, while I’ve paid to watch a show I’ve missed (I wrote about purchasing an episode of NCIS from Amazon Unbox), it’s a last resort for me, given that the original show was completely free (including advertising, when you’re watching it on the DVR). So, I work hard to find a streaming version of the show online, before paying for it (on principal, not the money!).

My thought, perhaps a little self-serving, is that if it’s available for streaming, especially for a long while, then it isn’t being shut down by the copyright holder. After all, I’m finding it on a Google search, which the studios could do (and likely are doing) better than I could. To repeat, I realize why they may have more trouble tracking down illegal torrents of the shows, and I avoid those.

So, on tnt.tv, they stream six full episodes. They don’t even stream a single commercial, before, during or after the show! However, those six episodes are not conecutively numbered. They currently offer (as of this writing) episodes 3-4-5, 7-8-9. In other words, episode #6 in not available.

I know that some studios have a rolling number of episodes available. They might have four at a time, and when a new one becomes available, the oldest of the existing four will roll off. Some just make the current (or one before that) available. They each have their reasons, I’m sure, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what they are!

I would guess that on some level, they are trying to force you to watch it on their schedule, meaning, within some reasonable period of time of its original airing. Why? if there is a way to monetize these shows online (and I’m not saying there is!), then more episodes available should equal more monetization. If there isn’t a model (e.g., TNT showing Leverage with zero commercials), then why restrict which episodes are available?

By me being able to watch Leverage online, I have become a fan. When the new season starts this summer, I’ll definitely watch, on TNT itself, rather than online. If none of their episodes was available online, there’s little chance that I would have gotten into this show. The Mentalist is slightly different, as I started taping it before I watched it online, but I will enjoy the show more, now that I’ve gotten the taste from the beginning, and that only happened online.

But, CBS, which used to air full episodes of The Mentalist online, has pulled that show (and others, including Eleventh Hour, which we also really like). Reading some of the fan sites, it might not be a CBS decision, but rather the production company which owns those shows. Either way, a great way to reduce your potential fan base.

Here’s what works for me (I think I wrote about this in one of my Video on Demand posts). Put in no more than five minutes (preferably two) of commercials, that can’t be fast forwarded through, in your online content. Allow the entire stream to be paused and rewound, but even in fast forward, force the stop in a commercial, so if I want to fast forward to a late segment, I have to watch the commercials again. It’s a small price for having ubiquitous content available, on demand, over the Inernet.

Most people will not enjoy that experience as much (not because of the commercials), so it will become another avenue to discover content that can be delivered more effectively (today, not in the future) to their TV.

You’ll notice that I said that CBS no longer streams The Mentalist online, and that episodes #1, #2 and #6 of Leverage aren’t on TNT either. And yet, we watched all of them online, on two different streaming sites. Finding The Mentalist was a bit of a Google challenge, but I ended up being up to the task. Finding Leverage was trivial. 😉

The episodes of Leverage that are available on TNT required extra downloads from TNT in order for their player to work in IE and Firefox. The player doesn’t work in Google Chrome (no prompts for a download), and I haven’t checked, but I suspect that it would fail in Safari too, which is based on Webkit, just like Google Chrome is.

Related topic #3: Technically connecting the laptop to the TV

I have written in the past about connecting my old laptop to the TV, using S-Video and normal RCA audio cables, with decent success. This laptop has an HDMI port, and a VGA port, no S-Video. VGA is a little messy, because it requires a powered converter between the laptop and the TV. I have one, so I can use it when necessary (to connect to an older TV in a hotel room, for example), but at home, I can use HDMI.

This weekend was my first attempt to do so, even though I bought the 25′ HDMI cable long ago, just for this purpose.

Even though on some levels I’m an expert user of computers in general, I (like many people) still fumble when doing something out of the ordinary. Doing this the right way is certainly out of the ordinary. Here, in my opinion, is the right way (in Windows, specifically Vista in my case):

  1. Connect the HDMI cable to the TV and to the laptop
  2. Power on the TV and set the input to that HDMI connection (Input #2 in my case, since #1 is connected to my DVR)
  3. Right-click on the desktop, and bring up the “Settings” panel (in my case, it’s a specific Nvidia Control Panel, and in XP, it’s a generic Desktop Settings panel)
  4. My Nvidia Control Panel makes this next step very easy. It’s a little trickier on a generic XP settings page. I just selected Use Two Displays (with separate content, meaning, not mirrored). This won’t show up unless you have the HDMI in, with the TV on. For a generic XP setup, I believe that you have to click on the smaller screen, labeled 2, and configure it…
  5. Set the resolution of the second display to full HD (1920×1080). I don’t recall whether it was the default or not, but I believe it was, and I believe it was the recommended setting, sensed by the laptop from the TV’s capability
  6. Set the default sound output to be the HDMI device (if you want the sound to come out on your TV!)
  7. Fire up a fresh browser (quit your old one if it was open, then relaunch it). This will ensure that the new default sound device (HDMI) will be where your browser sends its sound!
  8. Optional: Reset your default sound device back to the laptop. I did this, because I got annoyed hearing my IM bings and email sounds coming out on the TV (loudly). Once you do this, only the fresh browser intance launched in step #7 above will have its sound going to the TV!
  9. Navigate to the site that will stream your video while the browser window is still on your laptop display (it’s way easier than navigating once the browser is displayed on your TV)
  10. Get the video all set up, and pause it immediately. Notice which button is set to Full Screen within the video window (very few players don’t have a full screen mode)
  11. Drag the browser window off the laptop screen to the right edge. It should appear on your TV as you are doing this
  12. Hit play on the video, and only after it starts, hit the Full Screen button/control that you noted in step #10

That should do it. You should be watching your video in reasonable quality, in full screen, with sound coming through the TV. Our experience was quite pleasant. Our Internet connection is a very high speed Verizon FiOS one, so that doesn’t hurt. Depending on the player and encoding, I adjusted the aspect control on my TV to get the best fit (The Mentalist looked better with a different setting than Leverage).

Enjoy! 🙂

Trust the Sidux.com Home Page

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If I detailed all of the hurt I caused myself (entirely my fault) in this one post, I’d be typing for hours. I’ll spare myself (and you) all of the gory details, and summarize.

If you follow my techie posts (way fewer than my music posts), then you know that I’m a big fan of Sidux. Most recently, I had settled on the Xfce flavor (for speed and simplicity), and I run it all under VirtualBox on my Windows Vista Ultimate x64 laptop.

I built the original installation on a dynamically-sized virtual disk, maximum size 4GB. That seemed like plenty of space, since Linux is not my primary OS, just a place to play around in, and to be safer when appropriate.

For yucks, and mostly because there’s nothing production about my installation, I got into the habit of keeping up-to-date on the bleeding edge. That meant regularly typing:

apt-get update

apt-get upgrade

apt-get dist-upgrade

I think the middle step is unnecessary, but I do it more often than not anyway. Up until recently, I never had a problem with that.

Back to the disk space situation. I had over 1GB free, for a long time, which seemed like plenty of headroom, given that I don’t really create new content on Linux. Then I decided to experiment with a few apps on Linux (some of which are only available on Linux), for HTML editing and other web creation tools.

Once I installed a bunch of them, and continued my dance of dist-upgrading regularly, my disk space got closer to the 4GB max, without me paying any attention to it. Then, during one dist-upgrade, I temporarily ran out of space (during the actual upgrade, while extra space is necessary to unpack things, run scripts, etc.). One or two steps in the upgrade failed to install (due to disk full errors), but most of the upgrade went fine. In fact, I had 86MB free after the ugprade, and things appeared to be OK.

That’s all background to my comedy of compounding errors that ensued. It began with a bit of hubris (too much cleverness on my part). Knowing that I just dist-upgraded myself into a full disk, and knowing that to correct it, at a minimum, I’d need to run a normal upgrade, I decided to shutdown Sidux, rather than reboot it, thinking I would avoid any booting problems with the just-failed dist-upgrade.

I then searched for how-tos on growing a VirtualBox disk (having some instincts as to what I could do even if I didn’t find an answer). I found some multi-page forum posts that confirmed my instinct.

I created a new fixed-size 8GB virtual drive. I then attached the old one and the new one to an instance of CloneZilla (under VirtualBox, obviously). I let it do a disk-to-disk copy. Unfortunately, I also told it to grow the partition on the target drive to fill all of the space. I say unfortunately, because the target disk ended up being full at 8GB, so something went wrong on that end.

This is one of the points where I’ll spare you tons of gory details. Suffice it to say that I eventually got the target disk to be a perfect clone of the original disk, with the additional 4GB of free space now correctly recognized.

I finally was ready to attach the new drive to the Sidux VM, and boot it up, expecting to do an upgrade afterwards, and be back to normal. Wrong…

When I booted, I saw a different Xfce splash screen. The dist-upgrade had given me the new Xfce 4.6, and (unbeknownst to me) also the Xorg 1.6 upgrade. I ended up with a working X installation, but a non-working Xfce one. In other words, the graphical environment was up, but I had no menu system (at all), with no ability to right-click on the background to bring one up. The only working icons in the dock were the web browser, and the log off one.

Here’s where I ended up wasting a stupid amount of time. Basically, I assumed that my clone of the hard drive failed, so I went down a few wrong paths trying to correct that. I even went so far as to install from the Sidux CD over again, onto the new (reformatted) 8GB drive. But, like a complete ass, I immediately dist-upgraded after the install.

Guess what? My system was hosed exactly the way it was before! That made me boot off my old, full 4GB drive, and sure enough, same menu problem. So, the clone of the disk went fine, it was the dist-upgrade that had screwed me.

But, I was still too thick to realize that. I thought (at this point completely foolishly!) that it was the fact that the disk filled up during the dist-upgrade that caused my problem (a now ridiculous assumption, since the same problem occured on a fresh install into a large disk). So, I wasted a little more time trying to remove and reinstall certain packages, all to no avail.

Then, I finally followed the advice I give in the title of this post: Trust the Sidux.com Home Page!

Right there on the home page, they tell you exactly when it is not safe to do a dist-upgrade, and why. Of course, just my luck that I happened to do a dist-upgrade at the wrong time, and, at the same time, happened to run out of disk space, causing me to misdiagnose my problem!

Is there a happy ending to this story? Yes, but I’ll skip a lot more pain and cut to the chase.

I never did get Xfce 4.6 running correctly, even long after the Sidux.com home page said it was OK to do a dist-upgrade again. Instead, I decided to take advantage of another announcement on the home page, claiming that KDE4.2 was now available (for a while, it too was the cause of a no dist-upgrade warning). I have always liked KDE and only avoided it to avoid bloat. Given that I couldn’t easily get Xfce working again, I decided to give the new KDE a try.

While I have some complaints about the menu layout, I basically liked the look of KDE4, and I liked the quick launcher, which made the menu  layout less important to me. That worked fine for a couple of days, and then I did another dist-upgrade (no warnings against it on the home page!), and I lost X completely. I could only log in on the command line.

After a little poking around, somehow, during the upgrade, all of my display managers had disappeared from /usr/bin. In this case, specifically, there was no /usr/bin/kdm. No idea how that happened, but doing an apt-get install kdm solved the problem, and I’m now back in business. I can even do a dist-upgrade and everything continues to work, so I appear to be beyond the previous problem.

It’s quite possible that all I would have needed to do is to install xdm (like I had to install kdm) to get Xfce running again. I might try that in the next few days if I get some time.

Anyway, even though I had a ton of frustration over the past 10 days, none of it was the fault of Sidux. In fact, they tried to save me from myself, something that others have failed to do many times in the past as well.

Another learning experience is in the tank now, and another happy ending, since I don’t mind having experienced the new KDE either. 🙂

We Should All Be Ashamed

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I didn’t have quite the same reaction as most people did (and still do) regarding the AIG bonuses. Having worked on Wall Street for 16 years, I thought I had a different perspective than most, but still, I understood where the populist anger was coming from.

Unfortunately, it’s fueled by politicians, purely for political gain, in ways that remind me of the Salem Witch Trials.

I woke up this morning to find an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times, written by someone I worked with for a few years when I was at UBS. I have come across very few people in my life who were more honorable, hard-working, smart, self-effacing, fiscally conservative (that’s a wild understatement) as well as being an all-around nice guy.

I read the piece with great interest. Here is a link to the full letter. I implore you to read it carefully, all the way through, because I think it captures much of what is wrong in this current postmortem blame game:

Dear A.I.G., I Quit!

Immediately after reading it aloud to Lois, I sent off the following note to Jake:

I just read your letter in the OpEd in the NY Times. Both Lois and I were so moved. It’s one of the most powerful and well written letters we have ever read. It is also obviously devastatingly accurate.

I believe we would feel that way even if we didn’t know you personally, and know what an honorable (and smart) person you are, but it’s all the more powerful knowing the writer, and therefore having zero doubt as to the veracity of the claims.

We wish you and your family the best in everything that lies ahead for you!

Only after Eliot Spitzer resigned as Governor did people have the courage to speak out about his unsavory abuse of power when he was Attorney General. Andrew Cuomo and Richard Blumenthal are currently too powerful for most to question their ethics as well.

I believe that in time, they too will be seen for the political opportunists that they are, rather than crusaders for the people that they wish to be seen as.

Farewell Poker

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I’ve been noting the possibility of this day for quite a while, and it’s finally here. I am saying farewell to online poker, likely for quite a while, but also likely, not forever.

I expected the day to come sometime in January, having gone through a very long drought of cashing in a tournament. Then, as I was about to run out of money in my account, I cashed on back-to-back days, coming fourth then eighth, adding enough money to last another two months. Since I didn’t cash again (though came very close a number of times), and the two months have now passed, it’s over.

I have a small amount in a secondary account, and could play some very low-stakes tourneys if the itch really hit me, but I don’t intend to do even that.

It was a fantastic run. I played my first ever online poker game on September 1, 2004. The last time I deposited money in my account was April 2005, so that money has lasted a very long time, and given me untold pleasure (yes, I still love online poker).

So, if I love it, and can afford it, why am I giving it up?

I have had to hop from site to site to site over the short number of years, as the US frightens online operators into dropping US citizens. Along the way, I have enjoyed the sites less and less, and the schedule of tournaments hasn’t matched my interest as much either.

Still, I was reasonably happy with my main site for the past two years. Until they changed their software and schedule so dramatically that I cut back to one tourney a day for the past six months (on the days that I played at all).

To add insult to injury, while I was draining my account, I got a note from them telling me that I wasn’t playing enough, and my status was being downgraded. Nice. In a down economy, rather than trying a carrot approach to entice me to play more, they chose the stick. Well, it worked, they won’t have to worry about downgrading me any further. 😉

Given my obsessive personality, I am sure it won’t take long for some other activity to fill the void. I already have a good idea of what that will be, but this isn’t the right post to announce it…

Poker, thanks for the ride, see you down the road! 🙂

Commercials Annoy But Often Work

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Most people complain about watching commercials. Of course, they serve a number of purposes, the two obvious ones are:

  1. Keeping the content free (most people seem to like that part)
  2. Making you aware of a product’s existence (many people think they don’t care about this aspect)

I am unaware of anyone who hates commercials more than Lois does. There are probably too many reasons to list here (after all, I am constrained by the number of GB’s available on my hard drive!) 😉 but I will list a few of her top complaints:

  1. Commercials are typically played at an insanely increased volume from the show you have chosen to watch
  2. They are often inane
  3. They often have no correlation to the product or brand name of the advertiser, going purely for an emotional (or humorous) pull, leaving you with no recollection of what was being advertised
  4. The content is often offensive, even if some segment of the population truly needs a particular product genre
  5. Every year, the length of commercial breaks increases (feeling exponential at times)

I could go on, seriously, but that’s not really the point of this post, so I won’t. (You can thank me now, or thank me later…)

#1 above is probably Lois’ biggest complaint. We’re settled in, quietly enjoying a show, and then all of a sudden, bam, you’re being screamed at.

This has been true for a very long time, even when commercials weren’t such a large block of a typical 30 or 60 minute show. I shouldn’t have been surprised when it recently became a very large issue between us.

The advent of the DVR has been a godsend for people who don’t care for commercials. It has to be the rarest individual who actually watches commercials (it doesn’t count if you just let them run, but go do the things you do during live commercials). Given our crazy schedule, when we’re home, we do the vast majority of our TV watching via DVR. On the road though, we choose to watch reruns most of the time, with full-blown commercial watching.

One of the shows we watch on DVR religiously is Lost. I like the show way more than Lois does (that’s another hot topic between us), but she is at least willing to watch it with me every time we get back from a trip. I record it on the DirecTivo DVR.

In addition to DirecTV, we also have Verizon FiOS in the house. They have a reasonable number of broadcast hits available for free via Video on Demand (VOD). Most of those shows are also available for free HD VOD. Lost is one of those shows, though I only recently realized that. My DirecTivo only records in normal, Standard Definition (SD).

So, a few episodes ago, I decided to watch Lost in HD, using the free VOD service on FiOS, instead of watching my recording of it. All of the CBS shows on FiOS VOD contain minimal commercials (typically less than 90 seconds for an entire show!). In addition, they can be fast-forwarded (even in VOD mode), but I choose not to, because I feel it’s an extremely fair price to pay for the value of receiving HD on demand.

So, I thought it would be the same with watching Lost. When I fired up the HD VOD for ABC, I was greeted with a message that ABC does not permit the fast-forwarding of commercials during Lost (I have no idea whether this is true for other shows like Desperate Housewives, etc.). I thought that would be fine, since I’ve gotten in the habit of not forwarding anyway, since there are so few commercials on VOD to begin with.

So, I mentioned to Lois (knowing how much she hates commercials) that I intended to watch Lost in HD, and that we would have to watch the commercials, because ABC doesn’t permit forwarding, even if I wanted to. She reluctantly agreed.

Unfortunately, in addition to not allowing fast-forwarding, ABC also jams significantly more commercials down your throat than CBS does. To add insult to injury, they repeat commercials over and over, and they are often of the inane variety. By the second block of commercials, Lois was so annoyed at me, that she refused to watch to the end of the episode (no, I’m not kidding).

Before we watched the next episode (a day or two later), back on the DVR (so we could avoid all commercials), I forced her to watch the end of the previous episode on the DVR, so that she would be caught up (Lost is not the kind of show you can just jump into in the middle and have any clue whatsoever).

What’s the point of all of this? Check the title again. I said that commercials annoy, but also often work! Could they even work on Lois? Could the effect be instantaneous and obvious as well?

The answer is Yes.

I already mentioned above that when we travel, we watch reruns, and therefore commercials. When we were in Fredericksburg a month ago, we saw a commercial for Pizza Hut that highlighted their new Tuscani Pastas. The very next day Lois ordered them for lunch for the staff of Zope Corporation. They were pretty darn good.

This past weekend, we called in an order to a Pizza Hut up near our house, and picked it up and served it (along with supermarket bought items) to good friends of ours. It was most delicious again.

The point is that we would never have known about the existence of Tuscani Pastas from Pizza Hut were it not for commercials. Could we survive without that knowledge and experience? Of course. Are we (Lois included!) happy to have discovered these tasty and affordable dishes? Absolutely.

The moral of this post is this:

  1. Lower the volume on your commercials, and perhaps some people will actually watch them
  2. Make them entertaining and informative (I should be able to remember what was being advertised after the ad is over!)
  3. Make them relevant to a large percentage of your viewers, not only those with ED 😉
  4. Fewer commercials would be more effective, not only because viewers wouldn’t be desensitized, but they would also not have as much time to do other things

Now if only ABC would get smart like CBS, I could watch Lost in HD VOD and suffer a commercial or two, and perhaps even go out and buy that product! Instead, I watch zero commercials during Lost (in SD), and everyone (except for us) loses in the process…

Two Flew South

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Lois asked me to name this post Two Flew South. She had a good reason, it was clever, so I didn’t hesitate in accepting her suggestion. Let’s not make it a habit though. This is my blog, not hers, and I intend to keep it that way. Of course, all of the photos are taken by her, so we’re partners in this, as we are in everything else in life. 🙂

Vacation is not a word that Lois or I use often. Even when we have a few days where we aren’t technically working, at least Lois (less so me), is working the Treo non-stop, and thinking about work issues non-stop as well. I’m better than she is at shutting that off, but I get sucked in, since I’m with her…

We’re on a two-week road trip at the moment, which is most definitely a vacation for me. Parts of it are even a vacation for Lois, though nowhere near the level that I am enjoying it. Since the road trip is mostly southbound, and there are two of us in the car, the title Two Flew South seems appropriate. It turns out it’s not the specific inspiration for the title (that’s coming later), but that’s why it was so easy to agree on.

The trip started nearly two weeks ago when we left NY and spent the day with our friends in Leesburg. We always have such a great time with them, even though seeing the dad suffer through his cancer treatments is heartbreaking. We then spent a week working at Zope.

Leesburg Friends

Leesburg Friends

We spent last weekend with our friends in Richmond, including a fantastic Super Bowl party at another friend’s house (10 of us enjoyed the game together). I was the only one rooting for the Steelers. That said, I really like Kurt Warner a lot, and wouldn’t have minded seeing him snag the victory. That made the last quarter all-the-more exciting, since the outcome was truly in doubt. A great game all around!

Richmond Friends

Richmond Friends

Super Bowl Party 1

Super Bowl Party 1

Super Bowl Party 2

Super Bowl Party 2

At 6:50am on Monday, we were on the road, officially on vacation (there’s that word again, I’m liking it a lot). 😉

We were headed straight for Nashville. On Ocotber 29th, 2008, we saw one of our many CMA Song Writer Series shows at Joe’s Pub. While the entire show was fantastic, we both were really blown away by Hillary Lindsey, and I highlighted that fact in a post the next day. Through that post, I ended up with an email relationship with a wonderful woman who lives and works in Nashville.

Through that email relationship, we had arranged to meet for dinner on Monday night. We had never even spoken on the phone, a true e-relationship. We asked her to select the restuarant. We met at 7pm at Tin Angel. We had the most wonderful evening. She’s a fascinating person and she picked an excellent restaurant (we all loved our meals). We ended up spending nearly three hours together, and we will definitely look her up the next time we’re in Nashville, and hope she does the same when she’s in NY!

New Nashville Friend

New Nashville Friend

The next day was carved out in advance to be spent with our good friend Jack Kapanka. It was freezing all over the south, Nashville included, so we decided in advance to see the sites from Jack’s car, rather than walk around the city. Jack picked us up at our hotel, and zigged and zagged all around Nashville, telling us about every building as we passed it. I loved every second of it!

We also took a long ride in the countryside, to and through Franklin, TN, gawking at mansion after mansion (they don’t call it Mansion Hill for nothing). We had lunch at a Pub in town (I should have written down the name, because we all really enjoyed our meals!). When we left, three men were approaching us (from quite a distance). Jack immediately recognized the middle man as James Otto. As we walked by them (they were headed to a Sushi restaurant for lunch) Lois casually said “Hi”, and James said hi back, so Lois can officially say that James Otto said hi to her. 😉

One Mansion

One Mansion

We then headed for Jack’s house, catching some incredible scenery along the way (including a bridge that isn’t obviously a bridge, until you’re on it, at which point everything around you is breathtakingly beautiful.

We had met Jack in person before, but this was the first time we were meeting his family. When we got to his house, his wife and toddler twins were there (the older girls were still in school). It’s hard to describe how/why you know you’ll be life-long friends with someone the instant you meet them, but there’s no doubt that this will be the case between us and Jack’s wife.

Jack's Wife

Jack's Wife

She’s an awesome person in her own right, on every level, but she might also be the best mom we’ve ever observed. That’s saying an awful lot, considering that our Richmond friends include a number of near-perfect moms (our godchildrens’ mom heading that list!). Lois can describe it better than I can, but no matter what’s going on around her, Jack’s wife exudes a strength and calmness, that nearly instantly tames all of those around her (her kids included!).

After meeting the older girls, and hanging for a bit, Jack and I took the oldest daughter and took a tour of their home town. Jack had been telling me for a while about another resident of the town, someone he had met in his church. He really wanted us to meet, so we stopped by his house. It took me all of 10 seconds to know how wonderful this man is, and why Jack likes him so much. We chatted for 20 minutes and then headed back to Jack’s house.

Jack and Older Daughters

Jack and Older Daughters

Shortly after getting back, we took two cars and headed to dinner with the entire family. We had an excellent meal at the Applebees right near our hotel. We said goodnight and were missing all of them by the time we were up in our room. Thanks for a wonderful day to all of the Kapankas! 🙂

Jack and Twins

Jack and Twins

The baby girl does fist bumps on cue!

Fist Bumping Baby

Fist Bumping Baby

On Wednesday morning, we worked in the room a bit, catching up on a ton of emails, then hit the road again. This time, our destination was Atlanta. We got there mid-afternoon, checked into the hotel, and did a bit more work.

At 5:30pm we headed over to a friend’s house. A number of our Atlanta friends also came over and we had an extraordinary home cooked meal. We brought wine from NY, and were really afraid (sure might be a better word) that it would spoil due to the extreme temperature swings throughout the trip (it was 19 degrees that morning in Nashville and Atlanta). Amazingly, the wine tasted yummy to me (and I hope our friends agreed).

Home Made Feast

Home Made Feast

Incredible Pie

Incredible Pie

The next morning we got together with a subset of the same folks we were with the night before for an incredible breakfast at Rise-N-Dine. It’s quite unusual to have an appetizer during breakfast, but we all split three Sweet Potato Pancakes as one. Wow. They were amazing, and I knew I would love my Polish Omelette as well (and I was correct!).

We said our sad goodbyes, lamenting that this wonderful whirlwind 18 hours was ending, and we hit the road for Birmingham to visit our godson. We settled into our hotel in Birmingham, and caught up with some more work. When David called to say he was on the way home from the hospital, we were thrilled to log off and head over to see him.

After catching up for a bit in his apartment, we headed for dinner at Jim ‘N Nicks BBQ. I didn’t realize it was a chain until I just looked it up. It’s a beautiful place. The service was excellent. All that is nice, but get to the food Hadar! Man, it was unbelievable. They start you off with homemade corn muffins that are infused with cheese (subtle, but delectable) that melt in your mouth.

Feeding the Meter

Feeding the Meter

David and I both had the Pulled Pork platter, and Lois had Smoked Chicken that she raved about. We capped it off with some Starbucks and headed back to David’s to cath up on Lost. We were two episodes behind, but David was happy to watch the one he had seen already again, and then he too got to watch the new one from the night before. We’re all caught up now, and anxiously awaiting the next few episodes. The excitement is back (it never left for me, but Lois is into this season more than last year’s).

Being a first-year resident, David is one rung above an indentured slave. Today is one of his all-too-regular 30-hour calls (he leaves early in the morning for the hospital, and doesn’t return until the following afternoon!). That meant we were on own own today. We headed to his apartment after breakfast and set up our computers for more catching up (he was long gone, and yes, it’s still a vacation). 😉

Just before lunch, we headed out for a shopping spree. Being godparents, we had a severe need to populate every empty space in David’s apartment with useful things (OK, so it was really more of Lois’ maternal instincts, but I was happy to play along). We bought a bunch of stuff at Bed Bath and Beyond. Then I dropped Lois at Costco and headed to have lunch by myself.

When we were last in Birmingham, we had another of our friends along with us, Wes. During that trip, both Wes and David told us that their favorite fast-food place is Chick-Fil-A. They couldn’t believe that I had never been in one. We had an aborted attempt to have lunch from there one day (my fault). After the trip, Wes sent us a Chick-Fil-A gift card (thanks again Wes!) to ensure that we made it our business to check it out.

Amazingly, in two consecutive trips to Zope, we were unable to schedule a visit to any of the Chick-Fil-A’s, including the one that is 1/4 of a mile from our hotel! I was determined to make it to one on this trip, and this seemed to be the most opportune time.

So, I drove 1/4 of a mile from Costco and ate a #1 meal in the place. It was excellent, so I now understand why many people rave about Chick-Fil-A (since Wes and David, at least five additional friends have told me that they consider it the best fast-food place). Considering that I still have a couple more meals left on the gift card, I will be thanking Wes again (and again). 🙂

I wandered into the Costco, and was surprised that I didn’t have too much trouble finding Lois, even though she was in the diagonally opposite corner from the main entrance (a very long walk!). She was just about done, so we both were impressed with the timing of my arrival. You would not believe how much stuff she bought. Of course, you might, given that I got to drive to Chick-Fil-A, eat a meal there, and get back, before she was done shopping. 🙂

When we got back, we experienced a few weeks worth of weight-lifting exercise. There is a very steep set of stairs outside of David’s apartment complex, then two more landings inside to get to his unit. We lugged all of the booty up over the course of four or five trips. Given how cold it had been on this trip, I had forgotten that sweating was possible. In addition to the manual labor, the weather broke today, and it was 60 degrees while we were unpacking.

While I am finishing this blog, Lois is on the phone with a Zope engineer, working away (is anyone surprised?). We will relax the rest of the evening (a little late night shopping is on the current agenda, but not for David this time). We can’t wait to see David again tomorrow afternoon (or more appropriately, after his obligatory nap!).

So, what’s left to say? Just the real explanation of the title of the blog.

In addition to listening to a ton of music (live and on the iPod), Lois also reads about music a lot. When something sounds like she would like it, she makes a note. A few times a year, she emails a list to me telling me that the time has come to place a large order. Lois really prefers physical CDs, largely for the liner notes, and I prefer downloads, both because they are cheaper (typically) and immediate (always).

One of the groups that she had on her list was One Flew South. I downloaded it a while ago, but for any number of reasons, we hadn’t listened to it (or most of the others on her most recent list). During this trip, Lois fired up One Flew South. Instant love. Lois thought there were nine voices (the harmonies are so rich), but it turns out that it’s only three guys.

Lois usually zones in on a handful of songs on a CD and she plays them over-and-over, to the exclusion of the others. This happened on this CD as well, and the ones that sang to her, have been listened to more than I would care to admit.

So, after hearing them for the umpteenth time, Lois said, “When you blog, please title it Two Flew South“, and it was so. 🙂

One more week to go on this road trip, and I intend to savor every single moment!

Converting from Procmail to Maildrop

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I’ve been using procmail to filter mail on the server forever. I like it, so it’s important to note that even though I switched, I have nothing bad to say about procmail.

So, why did I switch? Procmail can be a little terse to read (obviously, I’m used to it by now). Over the years, I have built a large set of rules. There is a ton of cruft in there. If I wanted to clean it up, I had to rewrite it. Rewriting it in procmail was definitely a possibility.

But, over the years, I was also aware of maildrop as a filtering solution. It has a cleaner (more accurately, a more straightforward) syntax. The documentation is a little sparse (missing a few key examples IMHO). There are also thousands (if not millions!) of example lines of procmail available on the net, and it can be hard to find complex real-world examples of maildrop filters.

But, I knew that if I rebuilt my filters in maildrop, I’d be forced to rethink everything, since I couldn’t get lazy and just grab hunks of procmail from my current system and plop them into the new one. So, maildrop it was going to be!

One last time, just to make sure I don’t offend lovers of procmail (of which I am one!), everything that I did in maildrop could easily have been done in procmail. I just happened to choose maildrop for this rewrite, and for now, will stick with it. Perhaps if I ever revisit this project, I’ll iterate the next time back in procmail.

The goal of my filters is to toss obvious spam (send it to /dev/null). Likely spam gets sorted into one of three IMAP folders. The only reason I split it into multiple folders is so that I can test rules before turning them into full-blow deletes. Finally, mail that falls through those is delivered to my inbox.

Over the years, I added numerous rules to filter classes of spam (stocks, watches, viagra, insurance, etc.). Without a doubt, I introduced tons of redundancy. I didn’t scan all of the previous rules to see where I might be able to add one more line because it would be too tedious vs just adding a new rule.

I was reasonably satisfied with the result, but over time, became less aggressive about deleting mail automatically, preferring to stuff it in a spam folder for visual scanning during the day.

Since I create my own rules (I don’t run a system like SpamAssassin, which I did for a while), I can start to see patterns and simplifications over time, which was the impetus for the rewrite. In other words, there are more commonalities across classes of spam, and I don’t have to spend as much time categorizing things as I was bothering to do.

I’ve now made my first cut of the maildrop-based system. It’s been in production now for seven days, and I’m very happy with it so far. The one major change I made is to default to deleting things (in other words, much more aggressive than the previous system), but, I keep a copy of all mail in an archive IMAP folder that I will prune through a cron job, and never scan visually.

I review my delete logs once a day, so if I spot an email that looks like I shouldn’t have deleted it, or someone contacts me asking why I didn’t respond, I will be able to check the archive and have the full mail there (for some reasonable period of time).

Here’s the result of the rewrite:

The original procmail system had roughly 3800 lines it in (including comments and blank lines). The new maildrop system has under 550 lines, including comments and blanks. I delete more mail automatically, and in a week, haven’t deleted a single mail that I didn’t mean to. I am getting a few more emails sneaking into my inbox, but each day, I add a few more lines and the list gets shorter the next day.

Now that I am getting a bit more spam each day into my inbox, Thunderbird junk filters are getting more to train on, and they are getting better too, so even the junk that is getting in, is mostly getting filed in the Junk folder locally, automatically.

Here are two things that took me longer than they should have to figure out with maildrop (they are related, meaning the solution is identical in both cases, but it wasn’t obvious to me):

  • How to negate a test using !
  • How to use weighted scoring correctly (very simple in procmail)

Here’s a line in maildrop format:

if ($TESTVAR =~ /123/)

do something useful if true…

The above will “do something useful” if the variable TESTVAR contains the pattern 123. What if I want to “do something” if TESTVAR does not contain 123? Well, until I figured it out, I was making an empty block for “do something”, and adding an else for the thing I really wanted. Ugly.

My first attempt was to change the “=~” to “!~” (seemed obvious). Nope, syntax error. I then tried “if !($TESTVAR =~ /123/)”. Nope, syntax error. I then tried “if (!$TESTVAR =~ /123/)”. No syntax error, but it doesn’t do what I wanted.

I stumbled on the solution via trial and error:

if (!($TESTVAR =~ /123/))

Ugh. The ! can only be applied to an expression, which is normally (but not always?!?) enclosed in parens. But, the if itself requires an expression, so you need to put parens around the negated expression as well. At least I know now…

The second problem was weighted matches. I was having the same problem. Once I put parens around my expressions, it started working. That’s one of the few places where the procmail syntax feels a drop cleaner:

COUNT=(/123/:b,1)

COUNT=$COUNT+(/456/:b,1)

COUNT=$COUNT+(/789/:b,1)

echo $COUNT

So, the above sets the variable COUNT to the number of times that the string 123 exists in the body of the message. That is then added to the number of times that the string 456 exists in the body, finally adding the number of times that the string 789 exists in the body. The total is then echoed to the console. Without the parens, no workie.

I don’t like the fact that I have to maintain the running count myself. In procmail, you basically set a limit and the tests stop once the limit is reached (which feels way more efficient). There might be a way to accomplish that with maildrop too, but I haven’t found it as yet…

While I fully expect to add more rules, or lines to existing rules, I can’t imagine a scenario where my file will even double from here, so it will end up at less than 1000 lines. That will be easier to maintain for a number of reasons, most notably syntax readability.

Sidux Wins Again

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Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about an ancient (and very broken) laptop. Of the various Linux distributions that I tried on it, I really liked Sidux the most. I wrote about it in my In Praise of Sidux post.

I ended up trashing that laptop when the unreliability was more annoying that the brief moments that it would actually work (entirely a hardware issue, not a Sidux problem!).

A while later, I loaded a number of distros under VMware Player on my old XP laptop. Of course, Sidux was one of them. Unfortunately, I had problems getting X to work at greater than 800×600 (don’t know if it was a VMware problem, or a Sidux one, but as I noted in this post, I didn’t need it badly enough to track it down).

I’ve recently written about Virtualbox and how I got it to work with a multi-boot USB drive. In that post I mentioned the two main reasons that I boot Linux in a VM. I left out a use that is perhaps better, though I haven’t been disciplined enough to actually do it frequently. It’s almost the ideal way to surf to potentially dangerous websites, in particular, if you’re using a Live CD iso image to boot from. There’s simply nothing to infect on the part of the bad site!

Given how many malicious sites there are out there, it’s something I considered doing more often. In preparing, I decided that I wanted a tiny distribution, since I didn’t need to do actual work in Linux (e.g., I didn’t need an office suite, etc.). That said, I wanted two things:

  • Latest Firefox
  • Ability to build the VirtualBox Linux Additions

Both of those conspire against using something like Damn Small Linux (DSL, which I like), because it tends to use Firefox 2.x. I read a bunch, and Absolute Linux (12.2.1) sounded pretty good. I got it running quickly, and was even successful in getting the VirtualBox additions installed. I ended up giving up on it reasonably quickly for two reasons:

  • I couldn’t get the resolutions to be as flexible as I wanted, even with the additions installed
  • Package management was quite sparse and I wasn’t interested in going down the path of building tons of packages from source

In the past, I had success with Puppy Linux. I downloaded 4.1.2 and liked it instantly, much more than the 2.x and 3.x series that I had used before. Very attractive, very fast (booting and running). I really liked the unionfs filesystem. After trying reasonably hard to make this one work, I gave up (also for two reasons):

  • I couldn’t get Xorg to work under VirtualBox, but Xvesa worked flawessly
  • When I booted Puppy natively (from a USB drive), it couldn’t handle my Intel 5300 (a/b/g/n) wireless card (though NAT worked under VirtualBox perfectly)

Xorg worked flawlessly in native boot. Not having it work under VirtualBox meant no seemless mousing between Linux and Vista, a non-starter for me. VirtualBox couldn’t even find Xorg. 🙁

I hesitated to even look for Sidux, because I didn’t want a DVD-sized ISO file. Reluctantly, I went to the site anyway, and found that the 2008.4 release had multiple versions, including a 395MB CD ISO with Xfce instead of Gnome or KDE. That was very attractive to me, as I’ve liked the simple and clean interface of Xfce on other smaller distros, and I didn’t have a need for a more complex framework for multi-app work.

I downloaded the ISO and booted it in VirtualBox. Everything worked perfectly, instantly. When I say everything, I mean everything. I wrote a post a while ago about how Ubuntu worked out-of-the-box under VMware Player, and I didn’t understand how. Now I do. The VirtualBox additions are already built in with Sidux (or, perhaps, VirtualBox recognizes Debian, and supplies the correct drivers to fool the operating system).

The point is that I could definitely run Sidux as a Live CD if I wanted. Pretty darn cool. But, I decided to install it to a virtual disk anyway. This way, I could have a customized installation with my SSH keys, aliases, plugins, etc. It would also make it less painful to upgrade to the latest versions of packages (instead of waiting for the entire distro to be updated on a new CD).

So, I installed it, and the VirtualBox additions (because I wasn’t sure whether the latest version, 2.1.0 was there by default). It’s simply fantastic. I can copy/paste across Vista and Linux. I can move the mouse seemlessly between the desktops. I can change the resolution if desired, including going to a full 1920×1200, going full screen, making the machine appear to be a native Sidux Linux one (Vista simply disappears completely). Then, without rebooting, I can just change the resolution back to 1400×1050, which fits nicely within the Vista desktop.

I have shared folder support (which I mount at will, so a virus can’t infect Vista since I only mount if I need to move a file from one environment to the other). I have full USB support to the virtal machine (so I can read/write from a USB stick from Linux). Like I said above, it all just works.

So, while I am glad that I learned a bit about some other distros (in particular, Puppy 4.1.2 which is really great), Sidux wins again for me. It’s simply a fantastic distribution.