Random Madness

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I’ve written a number of times regarding my frustration at the apparent randomness of many computer programs/processes. In some cases, it’s simply not explainable (from the user’s perspective). In some cases, it almost feels rigged, but then something else happens, which even casts doubt on that theory…

Regular readers already know that we love Bluegrass and Country music. They also know that Alison Krauss is one of my favorites (along with Union Station). When her new album with Robert Plant came out (Raising Sand), I immediately bought a copy (downloaded from Amazon MP3). I listened to it once, thought it was pleasant, but I liked her stuff with Union Station more.

We recently started watching a drop of CMT and GAC (country music television stations) and have seen the video of Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) a number of times. It’s fun. I then listened to the album again, and I’m still not nuts about it, but it’s not bad either.

We then saw that they were going to be appearing together at the WAMU Theater at Madison Square Garden (MSG). We’re on a number of early access lists. For most (perhaps all) MSG/Beacon Theater/Radio City Music Hall events, we get early access through American Express. Typically tickets are available as much as a week before they are available to the general public.

In the case of Alison Krauss, Lois is also subscribed to her newsletter, and we get a password for early access directly related to the Alison Krauss fan club. So, two separate shots to get good tickets.

I was on the site within a minute of tickets officially being available. There simply weren’t any great seats left. We could have sat in the second to last row. It certainly didn’t feel special. ๐Ÿ™

We decided to pass. We know that we would definitely enjoy seeing them, but it simply isn’t that big of a deal, and we decided to ignore it.

A few days ago, Lois gets another email from the Alison Krauss site, informing her that because tickets sold out in a matter of minutes (no, really?), they were adding a second night. Those too would be available using the password, starting at 10am yesterday.

I was on the site at 10:01 (yes, I’m slow, I know!). No tickets anywhere near the stage. Yuck. I tried a few more times, and nothing good was available. I decided to simply put this concert out of my mind.

Then yesterday afternoon (long after my failed attempt) I received a separate notice from the MSG/Amex side of the equation, announcing the second date, and the early access for Amex holders would start today at 10am. I have to admit that I chuckled to myself. After all, the super connected Alison Krauss fan club had access to these tickets a full day in advance, and nothing good was left.

Still, this morning, at roughly 10:03 (I was in a meeting, and I missed the exact 10am deadline), I logged on to Ticketmaster using the special Amex link, and searched for tickets. While I was able to get two seats that were better than the day before (which was quite surprising), they still weren’t good. I hit the “search again” link, though I can’t really explain why I bothered…

Hola! This second search produced wildly better seats. Seven rows from the stage, on the left, but not too far left. I grabbed them, so we’re going to the June 11th show.

That’s cool, no doubt, but, it also annoyed the daylights out of me. In all cases I clicked on best available. In this case, I can likely guess the scenario, so it’s not really accurate to call it computer randomness (meaning, the program is not to blame, but life’s randomness is).

I think that when I searched the first time, someone else started a search before me. They were assigned the good tickets, but were given 2:15 to complete their transaction. For whatever reason, they didn’t complete the transaction in time. I then got lucky in that I searched again, at exactly the right moment in time, and was able to get those tickets.

I’m happy at the end result, but why weren’t those tickets available the day before? On that day, I tried at least five separate times, in some cases waiting 30 minutes between searches. At some point, I would have thought that these tickets would have been available, unless, they were reserved for Amex only, all along.

Oh well, another all’s well that ends well story… ๐Ÿ™‚

On a separate but related topic, perhaps someone out there can explain the following head-scratcher to me. Ticketmaster is one of the few outfits out there that charges zero to snail mail real tickets to me, but charges for me to print the tickets myself. I simply don’t get it. How could they not want to incent me to print it on my printer, and avoid the printing, handling and postage costs?

Whenever there is enough time to have them safely mailed (June 11th certainly qualifies), I always have them mailed to me, because I hate incenting bad behavior on the part of any vendor. I always print my own tickets when that is the cheapest (usually free, but not always!) choice.

Folks, please explain to me what I am missing in this equation, even if your theory is kooky! ๐Ÿ˜‰

ejabberd 2.0.0

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I have been running ejabberd 1.1.3 since I christened my current server nearly a year ago. In this post, I reported on some of the problems I had getting ejabberd to work with the Python-based ICQ and AIM transports. All of the problems were mine, and not the fault of the software.

The above link to ejabberd is to the company behind it. Here is the link to the community site.

What I didn’t mention in that post, and didn’t bother writing about in a separate post later on, was the trouble that I had with the pre-built binary installer for Linux. No matter what I tried (and I tried many things!), I couldn’t get it to work. It’s important to have a binary installer, because ejabberd requires Erlang, which is not typically installed on most Linux distros.

It turned out that the first download that I tried had a problem in that it didn’t have SSL support compiled into the Erlang binary, so even if I could have wrangled it to work, I wouldn’t have been happy, since I always use TLS (previously SSL) in my Jabber communications.

In the end, I downloaded and compiled Erlang, and then downloaded and compiled the ejabberd source as well. I got it working, but it was way more painful than it needed to be. A number of months ago, ejabberd 1.1.4 was released. It included a number of changes that I had no need for. Still, I downloaded it to see if the binary installer would work for me. It didn’t. I spent a bit of time really trying, and again, failed. This time though, it wasn’t worth going through the entire dance, since I had no need for the newer updates.

Two weeks ago, they released ejabberd 2.0.0. This was significant enough to warrant an install. I shuddered to think that they hadn’t fixed the binary installer problem, but I was prepared to slog through a full source install if that was the case.

My fears appeared to be justified. After installing, I received an error message that the installation failed. However, I tried running it anyway, and happily, I can report that even though the message claimed failure, ejabberd 2.0.0 worked perfectly once I tailored the default configuration file! Yippee!

I installed it last Friday, and it’s been running happily for four days now. It’s too early to be sure, but it’s possible that it has solved another problem. A few months ago I started having sporadic problems with the AIM and ICQ transports (I use the Python-based ones). One or the other one would fail, on occasion, and log me out. It was happening frequently enough for me to write separate init.d scripts to stop and start each separately, but not frequently enough for me to seriously considering investigating alternatives.

I have switched a number of times between Gajim and Pidgin (the new name for GAIM). There’s something that I like about Gajim, but somehow, every time, it ends up disappointing me or annoying me in some way. When I switched back from Gajim to Pidgin, the transports became slightly more stable, so I was a little happier, and committed (at least for a while) to just sticking with Pidgin.

Anyway, for the past four days, not a single problem with the transports, so it’s also possible (but too early to be sure) that ejabberd itself was somehow involved in the equation (perhaps it was too sensitive to problems in the client). I’m certainly crossing my fingers that the transport problems are behind me.

Welcome ejabberd 2.0.0! ๐Ÿ™‚

Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater

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I’ve known about the Birchmere Theater for at least six months now, perhaps a little more. For the past seven years that we’ve been coming down regularly to Fredericksburg, VA, we weren’t paying attention to the live music scene here, spending all of our music time in NY. That all changed when we saw The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge in Charlotesville, VA on November 17th, 2007.

Ever since that event, I have at least paid a little attention to what’s going on in VA when we’re down here. Over time, I noticed that lots of artists that we truly love play the Birchmere. In reading about it, it sounded like a great place to see a show, and many famous artists claim their start at the Birchmere.

We nearly went there a few months ago, I think to see Ricky Skaggs (one of our favorites). One of our hesitations was that it was a general admission type of place. That can always be a risk. Many of our favorite places in NYC are general admission as well. While it can be annoying (and at times even painful), at least we know the drill at those places, and we play whatever game we need to in order to get good seats (most of the time). In the end, we decided not to risk it for Ricky, with other factors tipping the scale as well.

A while ago, I noticed that the Dan Tyminski Band was scheduled at the Birchmere on March 1, 2008 (last night). We love Dan Tyminski. He’s the primary guitar player in Union Station of Alison Krauss and Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas fame. He’s also the voice of George Clooney (well, the singing voice) ๐Ÿ˜‰ in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

We saw Alison Krauss and Union Station at the Beacon Theater. Dan Tyminski was awesome that night, as were all of the members of Union Station. That included the bass player, Barry Bales, who is now the bass player for the Dan Tyminski Band as well. Not only is he an incredible bass player, he sings harmony on many numbers and his voice is fabulous!

We decided to take the plunge and get tickets. The night before we saw the Jennys at Gravity Lounge, we had dinner with two of the single employees at Zope Corporation. We asked them if they wanted to join us for the Jennys, but both had plans. They both indicated interest in being invited to a future event.

So, when we decided to see the Dan Tyminski Band, Lois send out a blind invitation to a number of the single people in the company that had expressed an interest in live music in the past. Two of them were available and interested, so we bought four tickets.

Because I didn’t know anything about the Birchmere, I made some assumptions, which (of course) turned out to be wrong. I gathered a list of 10 restaurants that were all very close to the theater, and sent links to three of them to the two guys. They both picked Lilians (which was likely my first choice as well). Here is how the one review (linked above) begins:

This place is rad. Imagine a squad of fine latin women dressed in short black skirts and revealing tops serving drinks and awesome Salvadoran and Mexican cuisine.

When I mentioned this to another friend of mine, he said “Sounds like a Spanish Hooters!” Indeed, I wonder why two single guys, roughly half my age, would have any interest in eating at Lilian’s? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Yesterday morning, I did something that I should have done before I asked them where they wanted to eat. I went to the Birchmere website, and read their FAQ. I immediately found out that this place is like most of the general admission places in NYC, meaning they serve dinner at the place. That’s one of the few positives about general admission. You have to show up very early, but at least you can relax, eat, drink and enjoy yourself without then rushing to make it to the show.

Unfortunately, we never got to experience the Spanish Hooters directly, but perhaps, some day. I love Mexican food, enjoyed the one Salvadoran meal I’ve ever had, and now feel the overwhelming need to report back to my loyal readers whether the rest of the review is accurate as well. ๐Ÿ˜‰

So, we picked up the two guys and headed north, early. My plan was to get there by 5pm when the ticket doors open, then perhaps wander around the neighborhood a bit, returning at 6pm when the theater doors open. The best laid plans…

I have a GPS (I’ve written about it before, when mentioning that it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given). I set the address and off we went. When I was coming up on the exit, I was telling a story. I heard the GPS telling me that I needed to make a left, but she’s often a little late with the voice prompts, and I was certainly late in following the directions. I missed the exit. No biggie, because the GPS always tells you what to do.

The only problem was that we ended up crossing the Potomac River into Washington, D.C, before she guided us back (yes, since the voice in the GPS is female, Lois and I believe that the GPS itself is a woman) so the detour was much longer than expected. We didn’t get to the theater until roughly 5:15pm. We received ticket number I11, and had no idea whether that was good or bad.

Different than all of the other general admission places that we’ve been to in NYC, there is a very large indoor space at the Birchmere, where you can comfortably wait until the 6pm doors open. There is a bar, but no pressure to buy any kind of drink. Lots of seats (tables and benches). What an incredibly nicer way to treat your early arrivers than in NYC, where we stand like idiots in a line on the sidewalks outside of our favorite clubs…

We relaxed and chatted. The 45 minutes passed quickly. At 5:57pm, they announced how the numbers (our I11) worked. They called out every single number, in order, so there was no reason to rush the door. Wow, exactly as the FAQ explained it, and on time like clockwork. Regular readers will know that my appreciation for this type of behavior is over the moon.

The Birchmere understands the two most critical rules of customer service:

  1. Communicate clearly with your customers and prospects (set expectations!)
  2. Deliver the exact experience that you communicated

Could it be any simpler than that? No, but it’s the rarest of companies that delivers even #1 (the easy one!), and you can count on one hand the number of companies that then deliver #2…

They started last night with H49. That meant that we would have a bit of a wait to be called, but it shouldn’t be too brutal. That was correct. H49-H99, then I00-I11. Roughly 15 minutes, I think. But, we were indoors, seated, and knew exactly when we would be called. More than acceptable.

When we got into the theater, we immediately liked what we saw. The layout was similar (with some very significant differences) to BB King in NYC. Lots of tables, most seating 12 people (some smaller tables as well). Nothing was left near the stage, but there was an empty table for 12 2/3’s of the way back on the left side of the stage, with what appeared to be a fantastic view of the stage. We grabbed the first two seats on either side of the table and settled in.

We ordered drinks and food (mostly comfort food, burgers, BBQ, chili, salads, etc.). Food was wonderful (I had the pulled pork BBQ sandwich with homemade chips and spicy coleslaw). Everyone liked their meal. Service was excellent.

I am pretty sure that the concert was sold out, but there was a seat or two empty, likely from people who ended up simply not showing up after buying their tickets. I tried to guess the number of people, and my guess was 600 tops, but definitely between 500-600. BB King seats 400, and this place seemed to seat more (not that it was larger, but BB King has the bar inside, where the space at the Birchmere was filled with tables).

The show started at exactly 7:30pm, as advertised. The band came out to wild applause, and began playing fairly quickly. They were instantly awesome. Five people on stage. I’ve covered two of them already (Dan and Barry Bales). From left-to-right, here were the remaining three players: Ron Stewart, Adam Steffey and Justin Moses.

Ron Stewart primarily played the banjo (amazingly), but also played a mean fiddle on a couple of tunes. Ron reminded me of poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, and I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of a poker-playing banjo player. Ron talked a bit, but never sang a single note. Ron is one of the best banjo players I have ever seen/heard. Bela Fleck is perhaps considered the best, and we’ve seen him, and perhaps he’s better, but Ron is close. We’ve also seen Ricky Skagg’s banjo player, and he won banjo player of the year six times.

Adam Steffey played the mandolin, brilliantly. He was also incredibly funny, reminding both Lois and me of Bill Engvall. He only sang on one song (lead!). He was great, with a very deep voice, but perfectly pitched. It was surprising to me (after hearing him) that he didn’t participate more in the vocals. Adam is one of the greatest mandolin players I’ve ever heard/seen. He is so clean it’s amazing. He’s fast too.

Unlike the Ron Stewart vs Bela Fleck comparison above though, I think that Chris Thile is even more incredible than Adam. That’s not to take anything away from Adam. It’s like comparing Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson. Phil’s no slouch, and neither is Adam. ๐Ÿ™‚

Justin Moses played the fiddle (mostly), but also played the banjo and the dobro. He was masterful on all three, but in particular, was amazing on the fiddle. He sang harmony all night with Dan and Barry, and hit a lot of high notes perfectly.

Steffey, Bales and TyminskiRon Stewart and Justin Moses

The five of them are all amazing talents individually, who blend together to form a perfect bluegrass band. I should mention that Dan sang his heart out all night. He is also an extraordinary guitarist, but last night, he gave 99% of the solos to the rest of the band, and only played lead guitar in two or three numbers, and those were short licks. He anchored the music with great rhythm guitar all night, along with Barry’s amazing bass playing.

As amazing as Union Station are (and they are truly amazing), many of Alison Krauss’ songs are very slow, and sometimes quiet. Talented musicians can shine on those numbers as well, but more up-tempo numbers give them more opportunity to show their wares.

Last night, there wasn’t a slow song in the bunch. Every single song had a driving beat (with no drum in sight!), with energy that had every person tapping their feet or swaying their heads, that had them sweating their little hearts out on stage. It was simply fabulous.

The crowd erupted into a standing ovation at the end of the show, and they played one song for an encore without leaving the stage in between.

I went up to one of the staff after the show and asked what the seating capacity was. 500, so I was correct on my estimation of the range. ๐Ÿ™‚

After the show, Lois bought two DVDs (one by Ron Stewart and the other by Adam Steffey), and three CDs. None of these merch items are cheap, but it’s one of the most direct ways to support the artists, so we try to do it! Lois then stood in line (she was roughly 15th in a line that ended up getting very long!) and got all five of our goodies signed by the respective artist. Of course, since she’s so unselfish, she had each of them sign it To Hadar. Awwwwww, she’s so sweet. ๐Ÿ™‚

Signature Party at Birchmere Theater

We had a fantastic time. We would go see the Dan Tyminski band or any of the individual members again in a heartbeat. We will definitely go again to the Birchmere. It won’t be hard to find a reason to go there, since they have top act after top act. For example, one week ago, David Bromberg and the Angel Band played there. Al Jarreau was there on Feb 12th (two days before we saw him in NYC). Acoustic Alchemy was there in early February (one of my all-time favorite groups) but we were in NY and couldn’t make that show.

Meaningless Opinions

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Once again, The New York Times proves how relevant and in touch it is with the country. Today, they ran an editorial which gives voice to eight former presidential candidates.

I couldn’t bring myself to click through to a single one of these. I’m not saying that the issues aren’t important. I am saying that none of these people has anything to say which can possibly affect this election.

Between the eight of them, they probably sewed up 37 delegates (or was that votes?), so clearly no one cared what they had to say before. (No, I didn’t actually check how many delegates they had collectively, it was a joke, that was directionally accurate…)

Thank goodness we have The New York Times to ensure that also-rans get a megaphone to scream that their opinions are still relevant, when millions of people have made it clear that they are not.

All we need is hope and change, we don’t need no stinking issues. Don’t make us think, let us dream!

Old Shoes

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A long and busy week at one of our portfolio companies is finally over. For Lois, all of the days were chock full of chores, but yesterday, February 29th, 2008 was particularly hectic and draining.

While not normally a superstitious person, I have a strong feeling that Lois is feeling happy that it will be four years before she has to experience a February 29th again. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here was the culminating event of a tense day (for her). We were supposed to leave for Richmond at around 3pm. At 3pm, Lois was not at her desk, but I didn’t think about it as I was deep into something and I had my headphones on, so I was basically oblivious to what was going on around me.

One of the employees had a medical emergency. Lois was with him the entire time, waiting for the EMTs to arrive. When they took him away to the hospital, she finally came back to her desk. She asked if I had any idea what was going on, which you already know the answer to.

We packed up to leave, but Lois wanted to go to the hospital first, to check up on him. We gathered the things that he left in the office, and gave them to another employee that was headed to the hospital a few minutes before us.

Once we left the office, we loaded our car (as we always do). That included Lois putting things way in the back of the SUV. I then started driving toward the hospital. When we were roughly 10 blocks away, we heard things sliding around in the back (not that unusual), but also thought we heard a thud, which was not as usual.

Lois looked back, and noticed that she had never put down the rear door/window. Oops. Clearly, she was unnerved. I pulled in to a gas station, and Lois ran around to the back. She declared that nothing fell out, which seemed miraculous.

A quick digression, to set up the remainder of the story…

The day before, I mentioned to Lois that my shoes were starting to go. They might have had a ton of life left in them, but it could also be five minutes. I bought these shoes (Timberland) in San Francisco, in May 2004, on the remnant rack. They have been my favorite shoes ever since, even though they were 1/2 size too big. They were comfy, and (until now) virtually indestructable.

Lois decided that we would head to Walmart to buy new shoes after work that night. We did. I couldn’t find any shoes I was happy with. We headed from there to Super Target (1/2 a mile down the road), and while their selection was way smaller, I found a pair of shoes ($17!). I’m pretty happy with them (having worn them for two days now).

But, when we left the hotel in the morning yesterday, I asked Lois to put my old shoes in the back of the car, so that if the new shoes hurt, I could put the old ones back on.

OK, back to our main story…

When Lois declared that nothing had fallen out, I asked whether my old shoes were back there? She went back to check again, and sure enough, my shoes were not there. I didn’t care too much about those shoes, since the new ones seemed fine, but I pointed out that if she didn’t know the shoes were gone, perhaps she didn’t really know everything that was back there.

So, we decided to double back. Along the way, I was looking in the street on the opposite side that we were driving on (the side we had driven on with the door open). Nothing. Just as we were hitting the corner where our company building is, I noticed a guy walking away from us with my shoes in his hand!

I came to a quick stop, and Lois jumped out of the car and ran after the guy. She told him that those were her husband’s shoes, and he looked at her quite quizzically, but gave them to her. She then asked if anything else had fallen out, and he said no.

I then turned around, and we headed back to the hospital. I wasn’t allowed in to see the employee, because only two people were allowed at a time, and the other employee was already there, so Lois joined them while I listened to a bunch of music in the waiting room (mostly Girlyman, surprise!).

We then headed to Richmond. Along the way, Lois is now not so sure we didn’t lose anything else, but she’s at least sure that the critical things are still there, so that’s a small comfort.

The good news is that the employee is now feeling much better. We’re heading back from Richmond shortly, and will be seeing him later this afternoon again.

The only good news about the shoe incident was that it released a ton of Lois’ anxiety and pent up nervousness, as she couldn’t stop laughing about the absurdity of chasing down a man carrying my old shoes on the street. In fact, she was laughing so hard and uncontrollably, that she was extremely close to a full bore cry!

All’s well that ends well in this case. Whew! ๐Ÿ™‚

February 2008 Poker

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I won’t be playing today, so I can summarize the month now. It was a terrible month both economically, as well as from a frustration point of view.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way up front: I lost $414.94 this month. That wipes out January’s gain and a little more, leaving me down for 2008. Account is still extremely healthy, but nothing else regarding poker is at the moment.

I had a streak of incredibly bad luck this month. I am convinced that I played better this month than I have in a while. I’m proud of that, and I know that playing well doesn’t correlate into making money in any short-term. It has to always correlate in the long run, but two weeks does not a long run make… ๐Ÿ™

I have altered my typical poker schedule, only slightly fueled by one horrible beat after another, by completely clueless players (it’s one thing to get beaten by a good player who was making a move, or simply had the stack to take a shot, but entirely another matter when the other person thought they had a good chance of winning the hand, and yes, you can tell the difference!).

In this post, I discussed the fact that I was rethinking my obsession with online poker. That was written on January 14th, 2008. While I definitely slowed down a bit, after my problem was resolved, I was still playing a fair amount.

Independent of the February bad streak, I decided that poker was interfering with my life more than I cared to admit to myself. There was nothing important (business or personal) that I wasn’t taking care of, but there were many things that I would have enjoyed, that I was simply deferring, over and over.

The main reason is scheduling. Once a poker tournament starts, it can take anywhere from one to five hours to complete. That’s a big time commitment. Of course, since it’s online, I’m interruptible for emergencies. I also keep up with IM and email (which doesn’t help my poker results, but that’s a trade-off I firmly committed to a long time ago!). Phone calls can be painful, but I take them too, so I don’t block out life for poker.

That said, I don’t start other projects for myself that I otherwise would. Anything that involves using the computer becomes really distracting during a poker tournament. It’s a tough problem to resolve, because I love playing poker, even when I’m losing. Still, I love many things, including tinkering with computer projects, and I was doing decidedly very little of that for too long.

So, 11 days ago, I decided to dramatically reduce the number of tournaments that I played in, at least for an experimental period. The last time I played online poker was February 18th, 2008. I only launched the poker software once since then, this morning, just to pull out my statistics for the month, to report them here, and then I quit immediately.

I had plenty of time to play last week, including being home and logged on all day last Saturday. This was the first Sunday that we were in the hotel here in VA that I didn’t launch the poker software, even though I was logged on for over six hours.

I’m not saying that I don’t intend to play any poker. I am just saying that I will actively choose to do other things at least for a while, and on occasion, I’ll play some poker.

So, what have I been doing with my new spare time? I’ve written about at least one project, namely the sprucing up of my WordPress theme, including setting up a sandbox on my laptop to experiment. In fact, I’ve written about it twice, here and here. I’ve also spent some time writing posts on politics, something I was avoiding for other reasons.

Anyway, I won’t be playing poker today or tomorrow for sure (plans are already set), but it’s possible that I will play a bit on Sunday in the hotel. Even if I do, it’s likely to be the only day that I will play in the next week!

Presidential Candidates Three

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Disclaimer: There are no facts in this post. Everything below is my opinion only. I have made no attempt to find any supporting facts either, life is too short!

Whew, now that that’s out of the way, let me also say that everything I’m about say is also correct. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’m rushing this post out today, because as of next Tuesday, it’s possible that the title will no longer be accurate (unless at that point, you will be silly enough to count Ralph Nader). ๐Ÿ˜‰

Apologies to Mike Huckabee for not crediting him with the courage to hang in there until he’s mathematically eliminated.

So, we’re down to three, Obama, Clinton and McCain.

I’m not writing this to promote any candidate, nor any party. I am writing this to make some claims on what a vote for each of these specific candidates means, whether you are considering that angle in making your decision or not!

For the record, I am not looking forward to the presidency of any of the remaining candidates. I am also not fearful of any of their presidencies, largely due to the broken (and nearly unfixable) political system that they will have to operate in.

So, without further ado, let’s analyze what we’re all getting if each of the candidates were to be elected this November.

Hillary Clinton: Given where she is at the moment, there are two ways that she gains office:

  1. Superdelegates over-ride the will of the people
  2. She wins Texas and Ohio, and momentum swings to her and she actually wins the nomination the old fashioned way

Along the way, she has proven to be far from cool and collected. She’s an emotional roller coaster who is flailing in an attempt to find a chink in Obama’s armor. She prefers to surround herself with a cabal of super strategists. Unfortunately, aside from their obvious errors in strategy, she simply can’t pull off their strategies, assuming some might have been workable.

As a President, she will be very strong willed, needing to prove to the world (and to Bill!) that she deserves the job. She will be unlikely to take compromising positions, because she will have been vindicated by the mere fact that she won!

She will undoubtedly have a Democratic congress (both houses), and she will ride them as hard as possible to create a legacy that matches, and even exceeds Bill’s.

For those who are worried that this will become a co-Presidency, don’t worry. Hillary has about as much respect for Bill as Paula Jones does. As long as she believes that she can use him as an asset, she will. Once she’s President, she won’t need him unless the world is falling down around her, in which case he will become one of the cabal that will craft the new strategy to save her presidency.

Since she can’t create a lasting personal legacy if people believe that Bill was really pulling the strings, she will do everything in her power to distance herself from him, once she actually has the real power!

Summary of Hillary Clinton as President? A very personal agenda, pushed hard, likely successfully, through a Democratic congress who is unlikely to stand up to her, no matter how she overcame Obama. If you agree with her agenda (and many do!), then she will make a very good President (in terms of getting her agenda implemented!).

Barack Obama: The good news is that if he is elected President, it won’t be because Hillary garnered more delegates legitimately, but Barack got the nomination due to a superdelegate reversal!

Obama is running on a platform of Hope and Change. Laudable goals indeed. My cynicism above about not being fearful of any of these candidates shows my agreement with Obama that we need change, desperately. I want change too, which means that I am (or should be!) hopeful.

In practically everything in life, I am a glass is half full kind of guy, no matter how awful the situation is. I can be downright cynical (no, really?), but I am also an eternal optimist (as anyone who knows me, in particular in bad times, will attest!). So, I should be very hopeful that Obama can and will make a meaningful difference in the political system if he gets elected.

While I would hope that he would, and would be pulling for him (big time!), I simply doubt it (one of the few times I’m falling on the glass is half empty side of the equation). The problem is too enormous, and the entrenched interests (on both sides) are too powerful (and, well, entrenched). They only need to wait him out, they don’t really need to beat him. He can’t be President for more than eight years, and if he doesn’t effect change, perhaps only four!

So, in order to get anything done, Obama will not be able to drive his agenda through congress (even though Democrats will control both houses!), like Hillary would. She would be playing the current game with all of the aplomb of a true insider, and she would get her way (I am 100% convinced). He will decry the game (or not be able to figure out how to play it without appearing to be a flip-flopper), and therefore won’t be able to implement his agenda of change!

So, who will be setting the agenda if Obama becomes President? Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. I have no doubt of that. They will pass bill after bill and present them to him for rubber stamp approval. They will privately explain to him how things are done, and that this is the first time in a very long time that they (collectively) can actually get the things done that they have wanted/needed to get done. He will not be able to resist or overcome them.

Perhaps that doesn’t scare you, and perhaps it shouldn’t. But, at least you should be aware that this is precisely what will happen if he’s elected, and now you are. ๐Ÿ™‚

Summary of Barack Obama as President? A vote for Obama is a vote for Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. The real question is this? Is Obama naive enough to really believe his message, or is he clever enough to say what people are desperate to hear, just to get elected? Neither scenario is all that attractive to me. Since I think there is a reasonable chance that he will be our next President, I hope that I’m completely wrong. Notice, I used the code-word: hope, and I meant it!

John McCain: I can’t believe that he’s going to be the nominee. Not because I have anything particularly against him, but because he couldn’t have been deader at the end of his 2000 campaign. In fact, he could have been, as he was even deader than that up until the time he decided to embrace Bush at the Republican National Convention in 2004.

In fact, he was pretty dead early on in this race as well. There are a number of theories as to what caused his resurrection, a number of them revolving around Giuliani’s self-engineered demise, but one way or another, he’ll be the Republican nominee.

Should Republicans rejoice? Many aren’t. Should Democrats rejoice? Many should (because the alternatives to McCain should have scared them a lot more, other than his stance on Iraq).

Here’s why McCain scares me the least of the bunch (though remember, I’m really not fearful of any of them!). I believe that if you truly pine for the Clinton Years (1992-2000), whether you admit it publicly (which most Democrats do), or privately (as a fair number of Republicans probably do!), then you should be embracing McCain.

For all of his personal flaws (and heaven knows, he’s got more than his fair share of them), Bill Clinton was actually a reasonably good President (by my definition!). For sure, he screwed up certain things immeasurably, but I think even a perfect President will screw up many things. What made Bill a good President was that he was more concerned with getting something done, than with being an ideologue.

When he became President, he presided over two Democratic houses of congress. After a number of mis-steps (most notably, Hillary’s failed Health Care initiative!), Republicans swept both houses of congress for the first time in memory! In 1994, Bill had to decide whether to pass any legislation that would be good for the country, or battle endlessly with congress and hope that he was re-elected in 1996 and they weren’t.

He chose the pragmatic approach, and some good things happened. Many people credit him for the good economy we had for most of his administration. I laugh when I hear stuff like that, but at least he wasn’t an obstructionist who harmed the economy.

In my opinion, McCain would govern in the same pragmatic manner. It would not bother him one iota that the congress is controlled by Democrats. In fact, on some issues, he is more aligned with them, which, of course, is what scares many Republicans (conservatives) about him. To that, I say that he’s not an evil-doer, so wherever he’s aligned with the Democrats, we’d be better off getting something done, than more of the same bickering and ineptitude.

In that regard, I say that John McCain can easily be the next Bill Clinton. Of course, if you don’t think Bill was a good President, and it’s not for personal reasons, but policy ones, then you won’t like McMain either, because he’ll appropriately compromise (in my opinion), to make some progress rather than none.

Summary of John McCain as President? A get something done kind of guy, who will have zero problems reaching across the aisle, regardless of what he’s telling conservatives today, in order to get the job to begin with. That might sound distasteful, saying one thing, intending to do something else, but then that’s why I’m comparing him so strongly (and favorably) to Bill Clinton.

Feel free to let me know how wrong I am. But, keep in mind that I won’t be confused by facts. Remember, I didn’t use them to pound my opinion down your throat, so don’t feel the need to use them to pound yours down mine. ๐Ÿ˜‰

P.S. Today, Michael Bloomberg penned an op-ed in The New York Times. It’s a well written, well-thought-out piece. I agree with his sentiments completely. I don’t consider him naive, because he isn’t claiming to be able to deliver on the hope of change. All he’s doing is committing to help get the person that he can believe in elected. Amen!

Also today, Dave Winer posted an MP3/podcast of an interview with George Lakoff. It’s overly long, and Dave does a yeoman’s job of trying to reel George back on track (not always successfully), but, it’s also fascinating throughout, even in the meanderings. So, if you have 40+ minutes to concentrate on it (it’s not lightweight listening, so don’t be reading a book while you’re listening), it’s filled with worthwhile nuggets of information and analysis.

Friend Requests

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Social Networks have been around for a relatively long time (in Internet years). They continue to mushroom. One of the reasons is the constant Friend Requests (invitations) one receives when anyone they know discovers a new network/site.

I see the utility of some of these sites, but in the end, unless they are used sparingly, and with a specific goal in mind (LinkedIn for example), they can very quickly become time sucks, geometrically if you end up feeling the need to keep up on multiple sites.

After hearing the buzz about Facebook for years, I succumbed and joined in August 2007. I had two purposes:

  1. See if the experience was interesting and/or useful
  2. See how long it would take to get invites

To test #2, I decided to not invite anyone to be a friend of mine, even those people who introduced me to Facebook. I’ve been a member now for six months, and I have still not invited anyone. I only have 26 friends, so I haven’t been overwhelmed with Friend requests either.

The requests can be divided into four categories:

  1. Bulk uploads
  2. Word of mouth
  3. Friends of friends
  4. Strangers

After I joined Facebook, I started getting a few invitations from people I hadn’t heard from in years. In a few cases, the last contact might have even been a bit strained. It took me a bit to realize that in likely all of those cases, those people joined Facebook after I did, and they uploaded their contact data (from Outlook, Yahoo, etc.) to Facebook, and permitted the site to match any members it had the same email address for.

While I applaud the ease with which these sites make these connections possible, ultimately, I find it extremely lazy (and intrusive) on the part of the uploader, who is building a (phony) network quickly, rather than a quality network, more slowly or painfully. That’s one of the reasons that I have never taken advantage of this (not just on Facebook, but on the dozen or so other sites that I could have), even though my Outlook contact database is reasonably large.

Word of mouth has made for high quality connections (for me). This will usually come in the form of some casual conversation where someone will mention something about Facebook (or another network), and ask if I’m a member. After admitting that I am, I will often get a friend request the next day. Those have typically amounted to more real interaction/sharing after the initial connection than the bulk upload ones.

Friends of friends has also been reasonably satisfying (to me, personally). One of the nice touches in Facebook is the concept of a social graph, understanding how you are connected to others. When one word of mouth friend connects with me, often other people in our circle are already connected to my friend, and they instantly discover (in their feed) that I too am on Facebook, and they friend me. Once that happens, we all see our overlapping friends on each other’s profile.

Finally, strangers. Here is one extreme example. I am a member of Last.fm (which I’ve written about in the past). I have three friends there. A month or so ago, I received a friend request from a name I didn’t recognize. I looked at their profile, and it was (supposedly) from a 17-year-old female. Uh huh, I am exactly who she is looking to friend to share musical tastes.

After declining, I mentioned it jokingly to one of my three real friends on Last.fm, and he too got an invitation from the same person. Oh well, I guess I wasn’t really all that special after all… ๐Ÿ˜‰

But, it’s not always spam, just because it comes from a stranger!

This past Sunday, I received my first friend request on Facebook, from someone I never heard of. His name is Scott Dale. Before declining (which was my first instinct), I decided to Google him. I found this link, and was pretty sure that it was the same person who had invited me. OK, so he’s a musician, and maybe I somehow know him, and have just lost my mind.

So, instead of accepting or declining, I send him a message through Facebook. I ask him (apologetically) whether I know him. Even this form of contact made me hesitate and think before I acted. When you send a message to someone who isn’t your friend on Facebook, you are explicitly granting them access to view your profile for 30 days! Yes, Facebook makes it reasonably clear before you hit send (good!) and it makes sense, or they too would likely ignore your unsolicited message.

I decided to do it. I also hoped that he would only have limited access to my profile (which would exclude things like my IM, etc.), but I really wasn’t sure.

I ended up having a nice email-like conversation with Scott (eight messages between us). He wasn’t sure how he originally got my contact information, but he had just joined Facebook, so I got the invitation as part of the bulk upload. I mentioned that I blog about music quite a bit, and perhaps he picked it up there, but neither of us was sure.

I then asked him whether he was using Facebook just to network with friends (in which case I would graciously decline his invitation), or whether he was using it to promote his music, in which case I would willingly accept his invitation, because I had listened to his music on Fuzz.com (at the link above), and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was the latter, and we’re now officially friends.

I had also never heard of Fuzz.com before, so my new friend taught me a new trick as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, I am not all that active on Facebook, though I do find that I log on more frequently than I thought I would. Ironically, a while ago I added a blog application called My Blogs, which is an RSS feed which injects links to my blogs into my Facebook feed. I have been surprised by the number of clicks I get through Facebook on this blog, so my friends are definitely logged on to Facebook enough to notice new posts from me in my feed, and they then click on them to see what I’m up to. Cool!

Finally, these bulk uploads work to identify up-and-coming new networks. Lately, I have gotten quite a number of invitations for the new Pulse service by Plaxo. Plaxo has been around for years, as an online contact manager. Pulse feels like a hybrid between LinkedIn and Facebook. It’s actually remarkably similar looking to Facebook, with a touch more business orientation. There too I haven’t invited anyone, but my network is growing nonetheless…

Geraldine Ferraro Leads The Way

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I rarely read the editorials in The New York Times. The regular contributors are mostly predictable, and spew venom rather than articulate thoughts. I religiously read the lead-ins in the daily email summary. They typically make me laugh. I don’t know whether the author picks the particular sentence or paragraph, or the editors do (I suspect it’s the editors).

Yesterday (Sunday), Frank Rich had his usual hate-filled opinion piece. I don’t have the summary email in front of me, but I’m pretty sure the lead-in was this:

The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidateโ€™s message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating.

When I read that lead-in out loud to Lois, she asked me to read the entire op-ed to her, as she refuses to register at the NYT site, even though it’s free. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I admit to being too lazy to check now (this isn’t a normal Political Blog, so please forgive me!), but in the past, I believe that Frank Rich was a supporter of the Clintons. I know that hasn’t been true for a while, but this piece is an interesting hatchet job. Why?

Rather than just make the points that he makes (many of them are excellent, and the entire piece is extremely well written), he has to not only bash Bush (his favorite activity), but he has to ensure that anyone who hates Bush must now hate Hillary as well, since, according to him, they are now one and the same creature…

I wasn’t going to blog about it even though it amused me. Then, this morning, I read this opinion by Geraldine Ferraro. After reading, I couldn’t resist sharing a few thoughts, so why not throw in the Frank Rich opinion as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

Here was the lead-in that got me to read her entire op-ed:

Superdelegates were created to lead, not to follow. They
were, and are, expected to determine what is best for the
Democratic Party and best for the country.

An interesting premise. I have no idea whether that’s true or not, so I decided to read on. It seems to start off accusing the party of having been populated by cowards (my word, not hers!) previous to the brilliant stroke of creating superdelegates.

Most of the points that she makes are laughable, but in the spirit of not making this a mega-post (I know, most of mine are, like it or not), I’ll pick on a few. Here is the first:

Besides, the delegate totals from primaries and caucuses do not necessarily reflect the will of rank-and-file Democrats. Most Democrats have not been heard from at the polls. We have all been impressed by the turnout for this yearโ€™s primaries โ€” clearly both candidates have excited and engaged the partyโ€™s membership โ€” but, even so, turnout for primaries and caucuses is notoriously low. It would be shocking if 30 percent of registered Democrats have participated.

Where to begin? First, “Most Democrats have not been heard from at the polls.” So, those that don’t bother to go to the polls somehow prefer the elites of the party to make decisions for them, in particular, over-riding the wishes of those that did go to the polls? Could it be that those that don’t go to the polls weren’t active in electing the elites that Geraldine now claims have a responsibility to those same Democrats?

Here’s the next paragraph:

If that is the case, we could end up with a nominee who has been actively supported by, at most, 15 percent of registered Democrats. Thatโ€™s hardly a grassroots mandate.

So, by her own admission, turnout is greater now than in most years. Sure, this race is closer, but let’s do some napkin math. She claims that 15% does not a grassroots mandate make. Other than in a year when everyone else drops out (think Kerry in 2004), even a wide margin in delegates would likely be at most something like 75-25% (and that’s likely a stretch, or the second candidate would likely have dropped out).

If in that year, the turnout was more normal, it would be below 30%, perhaps significantly. In that case, the wide-margin victor would have less than 19% of the purported registered Democratic votes (75% of the 25% turnout). Should the superdelegates rush in to save the day? After all, the few idiots that turned out to the polls might be wrong…

This next paragraph was the middle one in a string of three related ones:

In the Democratic primary in South Carolina, tens of thousands of Republicans and independents no doubt voted, many of them for Mr. Obama. The same rules prevail at the Iowa caucuses, in which Mr. Obama also triumphed.

So, a candidate that can excite both parties (plus independents), what a horror, better get the party elite to wipe out that kind of across-the-aisle sentiment! Or, perhaps, her intended point is that Republicans and Independents crossed over to vote for Obama just to ensure that Hillary wouldn’t be the candidate, and that they have no intention of voting for Obama come election day. Who knows, as she doesn’t say!

No matter, Obama topped Hillary in South Carolina by 145,000 votes, so he crushed her, even if Geraldine’s assumptions about non-Democrats are correct. But, who cares about those Democrats anyway…

Then this:

Perhaps because I have endorsed Mrs. Clinton, I have noticed that most of the people complaining about the influence of the superdelegates are supporters of Mr. Obama. I canโ€™t help thinking that their problem with the superdelegates may not be that theyโ€™re โ€œunrepresentative,โ€ but rather that they are perceived as disproportionately likely to support Mrs. Clinton.

Huh? Is this an admission that they aren’t representative, or is it just a put-down of people who feel that Obama is legitimately creaming her? It might be a smaller turnout than Geraldine likes (even though it’s a larger turnout than usual), but Obama has now won 11 straight primaries/caucases, some by incredible margins. Where are all of the supporters for Hillary that weren’t turning out earlier, because they thought she was the inevitable candidate, but now know that without their vote, she’s toast?

Now we get this:

And I am watching, with great disappointment, people whom I respect in the Congress who endorsed Hillary Clinton โ€” I assume because she was the leader they felt could best represent the party and lead the country โ€” now switching to Barack Obama with the excuse that their constituents have spoken.

Really? It couldn’t possibly be that both Hillary and Bill have blown up in public so many times that it seems statistically unlikely to be an anomaly, and those same superdelegates have legitimately changed their minds on Hillary’s ability to lead the country? Not only does Geraldine know better than grassroots Democrats, now she knows better than superdelegates who switch from Hillary to Barack.

The hit parade continues:

But if they are actually upset over the diminished clout of rank-and-file Democrats in the presidential nominating process, then I would love to see them agitating to force the party to seat the delegates elected by the voters in Florida and Michigan. In those two states, the votes of thousands of rank-and-file party members will not be counted because their states voted on dates earlier than those authorized by the national party.

This one really makes me laugh, sorry, while I pause and catch my breath. So, the same party officials who are clever enough to give themselves superdelegate status, and know better than ordinary folks, should now be ignored (until the convention, of course). After all, who made the rules to not count the Florida and Michigan votes? Which candidates promised to honor that decision, and which candidate (singular!) went back on that promise?

Geraldine is so worried about disenfranchising those voters. She also points out that Hillary won those two states handily. Of course, she conveniently forgets to point out that the candidates all agreed not to campaign in those states. So, she wins (for whatever reasons), and now the other candidates, who might have won had they campaigned, should just accept the will of the people (of course, only if/when the will of the people selects Hillary). Simply amazing logic.

The bottom line is that Geraldine Ferraro has a distaste and disregard for people who want to exercise their democratic right to vote. Why not come out and say what’s really on her mind? Namely: everyone should stay home and let us leaders anoint the next nominee, since we clearly know better than the rest of you!

It amuses me that this is happening to the all-inclusive Democrats, when they could only wish this was happening to the demonic Republicans…

Firefox DOM Inspector

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Yesterday, I raved about XAMPP in this post. In there, I made the following statement:

The other major thing that I donโ€™t like (but which I suspect is easily fixable with a CSS tweak) is that the Sociable plugin formats the icons in a list (one per line) rather than as an inline string of icons, which other themes are doing correctlyโ€ฆ

So, today I spent quite a bit of time playing. I enjoyed it, and it was instructive as well. I was able to easily change a bunch of things that I didn’t like about my previous theme. That said, I really like a lot of the Aspire (current) theme, other than the dark image background (which I can live with) and the note above about the sociable list not being inlined.

I decided to experiment in my new sandbox with the Aspire theme. I couldn’t find an easy way to see what css was controlling what element. A quick search said that the built-in DOM Inspector in Firefox could help resolve this. It wasn’t in my Tools menu. It turns out it isn’t installed by default on Windows. I reinstalled Firefox, selected custom, and voila, I had the DOM Inspector.

Once I inspected a page, it became obvious what the problem was. The Aspire theme defines an ID main. Then, in addition to default definitions of ul and il (unordered list, and list element), it also defines #main ul and #main il (specifically, an unordered list which appears in the main block, and the same for a list element in the main block).

The DOM Inspector showed me that the sociable.css was correctly being loaded, but that the way more specific #main selector was being applied after the sociable.css was parsed. As annoying as it is/was, there’s some logic to it. If a node can be defined ultra-specifically, and there is a css definition associated with that, then perhaps, you really want that to apply.

Unfortunately, the specific definition had display: block instead of the desired display: inline.

I’ll spare you the stupid gymnastics I performed, trying to over-ride that behavior. Suffice it to say that along the way, I tried doing something like this:

#main.sociable ul

ul#main.sociable

among other utterly useless attempts to get even more specific.

I broke down and sent a message to the current maintainer of the sociable plugin. Then, two minutes after sending him the message, while browsing formal docs for css, I stumbled on something.

In some of the attributes in the sociable.css file, he added !important to the end of the definition, in others, he didn’t. In the docs, I saw that normally, !important is used to signal to the browser that this particular attribute is important, and should be respected over a defaulted value. It’s primary use is to allow users to have stylesheets which over-ride authors stylesheets.

So, I thought, let’s experiment and add !important to the few attributes that weren’t already tagged as such (specifically, the display: inline one!). Voila! Now, even though the browser sees that #main ul comes after .sociable ul, it also knows that .sociable ul said that display: inline was !important, so it retains it!

There may be a better way to solve this problem (after all, this required me to edit the author’s version of sociable.css, which would get wiped out the next time I upgrade the plugin), but, without my sandbox (courtesy of XAMPP), I wouldn’t have found this one. In addition to XAMPP, I now also need to thank the Firefox DOM Inspector. ๐Ÿ™‚