Saturday, January 15, 2011

Earthstorm's (movie on SyFy) SFX are laughably bad. Looks like rendered on a 5 year old PC.

I'm a geezer: I remember when you used to only find "paid programming" on between 1AM and 5AM.

Senior-moments in the Modern Era

I dunno whether it's ADD or just that I'm on the backside of the aging curve, but, sometimes I'm forgetful. Today, I had a particularly iffy moment. I was reading a web page that made me go, "a hah! I need to look something up." Unfortunately, it was only very tangentially related to what I had been reading. At any rate, I clicked <CTRL-T> to open a new tab. As I was moving my cursor up to type a search term (or, perhaps even a URL), I forgot what I was going to type. Because what I wanted to type was only barely-related to the page I'd just been viewing, that page failed to bring back to mind what I'd forgotten in that brief instance.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Fuck You, FDA

I dunno whether it's a manifestation of good intentions or the result of behind-the-scenes lobbying, but recent FDA actions has led to a number of effective medications being taken off the market.

The FDA has only really been certifying the effectiveness and safety of all medications since the early sixties. Prior to that point in time, medications could be certified, but they didn't have to be. When the mandatory certification rules were originally put in place, products on the market prior to that date were grandfathered. Makers could seek certification under the new rules, but they were not required to.

Starting around 2007, the FDA set about rectifying this situation. The FDA decided that any prescription medications previously grandfathered and still on the market would have to be put through the certification process. Unfortunately, because all such products are well outside of patent protections, any pharmaceutical company that would undertake the costs of getting the certification would have little financial incentive to do so.

Certification costs money and research time. Making such investments is usually rewarded by having a market-lock on a particular drug - but only if it's a new drug. Old drugs would be granted no such guaranteed return on investment. So, for the most part, these old drugs are simply being forced off the market as neither the original patent holders or the low-margin generics makers are undertaking the expense to certify.

I wouldn't even know about this, but for the fact that a drug that worked for me was taken off the market, last year (or the year before). I suffer from migraines. My doctor had periodically prescribed me Midrin to help with them. Midrin was available for cheap and it was effective for many of my migraines. Now, it's not available. Now, my options are only new and expensive drugs. Worse, these new drugs have much shorter track-records, so overall efficacy and long-term safety is very much "unknown". Even better, many new drugs aren't covered by health insurance or are covered as "top-tier" non-generic co-pay structures. So, where I previously could get enough effective meds to last me half a year for less than $30 (insured or not), I now have to cough up a $60 co-pay for less than a dozen pills (without insurance, that dozen pills would be over $300). Even better than this price increase is that several of these more expensive drugs just don't work. And, of the options that do, the side-effects lists are pretty daunting.

But, I feel so much safer now. I feel so protected by the FDA. So, kudos to those fuckers for putting policies in place that sound (sorta) reasonable in theory but turn out to be absolutely horrible in practice. I guess this is the result of the FDA being yet another government agency bought and paid for by big business.

Automated Call Handling

I hate automated call-handling systems. I know, "who doesn't". However, some call systems are worse than others. The least odious are the ones where you only have to go one or two menus deep. Then, you get the ones where you punch in more menu options than the numbers you dialed to get to the damned call system. Seriously: who thought that was a good idea?? Other fun ones include the ones where you have no option to hit "0" (or equivalent) to speak to just get routed to someone. Or the call trees that force you to wait till they stop reading menu options before it will accept a key-punch (if I know I want option #2, why the fuck do I have to listen to you tell me what option's 3-9 are?). Of course, the ones that send me into a murderous rage are the ones that make you navigate a byzantine call-tree and then dump you either into a voice mailbox or to a bad extension.

The call system my one doctor's "Patient Care" line implements is really hateful. After you navigate the call tree, you get dumped into a wait-queue. Every twenty seconds or so the (oh so) lovely hold music stops, and you're given the option to "press 1 to leave a message or any other key to be placed back in queue." And, then, it just waits for you to do one or the other. It's not entirely clear that you retain your place in queue if you fail to punch a number in time. Making it even more hateful is the fact that it keeps doing this, ad nauseum. Here's a hint: if you've re-prompted me to continue to hold more than twice (and almost definitely if more than six times), chances are I want to continue to wait for someone, so stop bothering me!

Annoying Defaults

I've said it many times before and I'm sure I'll say it many times in the future: every operating system sucks. If you haven't found what it is that makes your particular-favorite suck, you haven't been using it long enough, hard enough or both (either that, or you're just deluding yourself).

One of my co-workers is a Windows geek (well, it's what he's most comfortable using, any way). He likes to make cracks about Linux as though it will insult me, somehow. I'm not sure why he thinks this will work. I mean, it's not like I wrote Linux, so, I don't have any personal stake in it. But, whatever. Hell, I'll be the person at the head of the line to recite my own list of grievances about it. I'd be the first person at the head of the line bitching about pretty much any piece of technology I've used more than casually.

At any rate: Linux...

There are quite a number of things that I hate about Linux. In fact, when the previously-mentioned co-worker said to me, "Linux sucks," I agreed. I did, however, also say, "but it still sucks less than Windows."

One of the things I have always hated about Linux is its default shell. AT&T-derived UNIX operating systems use the old, bog-standard Bourne shell (/bin/sh) as their default shell. The BSDs brought us the C-Shell (/bin/csh) as the default shell (though, some derivatives later shifted to the TENEX C-Shell - /bin/tcsh). IBM and SGI decided that their OSes, being more up to date derivatives of the AT&T UNIX should have a more modern default shell. Both chose to have Korn Shell (/bin/ksh) as their default login shell.

I used to work for SGI. I've done a lot of work on IBM UNIX systems (AIX). So, I got used to having KSH as my default login shell. I also do a lot of scripting. KSH supports standard Bourne shell syntax but adds a number of useful extensions - in particular, I like the internal function construct. So, at this point in my UNIX-using career, I prefer KSH to all other shells.

Linux, unfortunately, being a "UNIX work-alike", has a different default shell than all other UNIX(y) operating systems. All of the previously-mentioned shells used to not be fully "in the public domain". So, when they needed an interactive shell, the Linux-coders came up with the Bourne Again Shell (or 'BASH'). It's kind of a hodgepodge of all of the shells that had existed when BASH was first created. It offers a lot of featuer-commonality with the other shells, plus some of its own tricks. Unfortunately, as with any "be all" solution, it's a giant ball of compromise rather than being particularly optimized.

Any way, none of that is exactly germane. The particular beef I have with Linux is the use of color in many applications and tools outputs. Where I particularly see it is in the output of the directory listing command, `ls`. In most of the Linux distributions I've used, the default login preferences specification turns on the use of color in the out put of `ls`. The output is what I refer to as "angry fruit salad." It's lots of garish shades of yellow, red, green and blue. It's rather hard to read.

Angry Fruit Salad
If I have rights to disable it, I immediately change the login profile to get rid of it. Unfortunately, it's usually the case that I don't have the rights to permanently disable it. So, the best I can do is, immediately upon login, is do `unalias ls`.

But... I shouldn't have to! Criminy: whose brilliant idea was it to make the BASH default alias for `ls`  display in color???

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bad Combo

So, we're reaching that point in the life-cycle of every personal/home bar: we're near the end of a lot of bottles and are due to restock. Last night, I wanted a rum and orange juice. Normally, this is made with a plain rum or even a coconut, banana or mango rum. Last night, all that was left in the house was raspberry rum.

Word to the wise: if anyone ever offers you a rum and OJ made with raspberry rum, DELCLINE! Run away. Run far away. It was exactly the opposite of "OMG teh yumz0rz.".

A Perspective on Consulting

When I first got in the consulting game, back in 2004, I wondered why it was consultants had such a bad rap. After spending five years working with a really good group of peers, I still had no real clue why consultants had a bad rap. I mean, I knew our group was an elite group, but I didn't think that others could have been that mediocre. I mean, if our group was as elite (as it's become evident), one really wonders why: A) partners kept trying to reduce our rates; B) customers balked at our prices; or, C) how it was the person that took over our group managed to drive our group into the ground in under two years.

I mean, I get that people always want things cheaper. If they didn't, how would Walmart exist. But, at the end of the day, if you're paying good money, one would think you'd want good results. As with many things, in consulting, you get no more than you pay for. If you go cheap, you get crappy consultants and worse results. As a group, we always performed. We came in and executed. We knew our shit cold. So, we did it quick and we did it right. Usually, we did it quickly enough that we could be done with the work early enough to do knowledge transfer and other supplemental tasks.

As a group, we rocked. Many times we got brought in, it was to clean up the messes left behind by prior, less competent consultants.

At any rate, I left that world behind. It wasn't really by choice (see prior notation about the group being managed into the ground), but that's beside the point. Now, I work for an organization that brings in vendor consultants to do the types of things I used to do for a living. As a customer, I'm now able to see, in practice, just how above-the-norm our consulting group was. I mean, every guy in our group, in addition to being experts at the things we were officially "experts" on, was also clued and flexible enough to help integrate our technologies with other operating systems, applications, platforms, networks, etc. What I see from these other consultants is people who barely know just the things they're "experts" on. If things go wrong with that software, they don't really know how to fix or recover from it. If the environment isn't exactly like they're used to, they have a hard time coping with it. If they need to do tasks that aren't strictly part of their expertness (i.e., anything not strictly the software they're managing), they're at a loss.

Ugh. SOOOoooo frustrating.

Hooray for Pay-day?

In the era of electronic banking, pay-day is less a joyful occasion than an exercise in financial whiplash. You wake up in the morning to find the joyful message that you're suddenly flush with fundage. And then, you log into your bank's website and start paying bills. If it's the mortgage pay-cycle, you're pretty much wiped-out by the time you're done.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

But It's Not Even Monday!

So, this morning, my alarm goes off at its appointed time. Today, that was 0700 (ish: I'm one of those weirdos who sets my clock ahead anywhere from 10-15 minutes, so, looking at my alarm clock's time is only an approximation). In my sleep haze, my arm shot out, blindly, to silence the ringing of my clock - the key word here is "blindly". I was attempting to snooze my alarm (as I don't wake up quickly and often need two, three, or more screams from the alarm). Unfortunately, on my bedstand, is a bottle of lotion in a pump dispenser. Instead of hitting my snooze button, my hand found the pump. My sleep-haze didn't really allow me distinguish a difference in the sensation of touching the snooze button and the pump-top. That is, I didn't distinguish until the results of pushing down on the pump-top. That woke me right the hell up. No need to snooze the alarm multiple times. Probably hadn't helped that the lotion was ice-cold from our habit of leaving the bedroom open in the dead of winter...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pending Price Drops

If VZW announces the iPhone, tomorrow, the market for dirt-cheap jailbroken iPhones will soon be huge. I mean, if a couple million people decide to dump AT&T for VZW, there's going to be a lot of people looking to unload their AT&T iPhones. That kind of glut's gotta suppress prices (on eBay, etc.). Gonna be a lot of cheap iPhones available for use on T-Mobile, methinks (or even AT&T GSM resellers).

Lurves Me Some Internet Comments

I think, perhaps, the only reason I don't turn off commenting capability in my blog is that no one ever comments directly on it. The only comments I receive are via the automatic cross-posts to my FaceBook page. Thus, I don't have to view, on my own blog, the mind-bending stupidity that is the norm for comments on various Internet news sites.

For instance, it always amuses (in truth, "bemuses" would be a better term) me when someone declares something to be a "mute point". I can almost picture the poster drooling on the keyboard, as he taps away his witty ripost ...all while wearing a damned hockey helmet.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pointless Prefaces

Has any statement preceded with "don't get mad" ever not resulted in someone getting mad? It's like most of the "pre-apology" structures used by the passive-aggressive. If you don't want me to get mad at you, then don't say it. If you go ahead and say it, then you don't really care whether I get mad, so why bother with the ruse of the preface?

Need soundtrack to Machete.

There's a lot of good stuff in that soundtrack. The closest I can find is the "Mexican Spaghetti Westerns" disc - but it doesn't have all the songs from the movie. In particular, it misses the rendition of Ave Maria by Chingon.

Dear Skype:

Why can't I disable the voicemail on my online phone number? I didn't want it in the first damned place. I simply wanted to be able to direct Google Voice to my laptop. Hell, the status indicator showing it as "Enabled" looks like a pushable buttong (i.e., like I should be able to toggle it on/off by clicking on the status button). Gimme a damned "disable" button. It's stupid that, if I want to (effectively) disable the voicemail, I only have the option to set it to a ridiculously-long ring time.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vet Your "Facts"

At the end of the day, I don't care what people believe. In general, so long as their beliefs don't negatively impact me, I figure they can feel free to think what they want.

Unfortunately, a non-trivial percentage of "believers" seem to want to convince everyone else of the "rightness" of their beliefs. In principal, I don't have a problem with this, either. I like to explore new ideas. So long as people are respectful in how they seek to push those ideas, then "cool." Unfortunately, so many "believers" try to convince me of their "rightness" using dubious, and often easily-refutable, facts.

I take it as somewhat disrespectful to try to push your beliefs using factual errors. I take it as you saying to me, "I think you're too dumb or too lazy to verify this information." I also take it as them lying to me. I don't tolerate lying very well.

The other option is to believe that they're simply in error. However, if an error is easily corrected by referencing a cardinal document, a few Google searches or whatever, I have to wonder why they're in error. Is it stupidity? Is it laziness? Is it willful ignorance? None of these are good options. None of them leave me any good avenues for preserving any respect for their arguments.

What's So Hard About "One Way"?

What do you think this sign means?
I live in a small sub-division comprised of narrow, one-way streets. Signs, just like the above, are all over the place. If you're at an intersection in my neighborhood, there's either a "One Way" sign, a "Do Not Enter" sign or both. Even absent those signs, the streets' rights of way are only one car width wide when you subtract the on-street parking on both sides: all the parked cars are faced in the direction of the one-way flow.

Somehow, all of these indicators of the one-way nature of my neighborhood's streets don't seem to manage to breach many drivers' awarenesses. On a daily basis, there's usually someone going the wrong way down one or more of the streets in my neighborhood. Even worse, these twits are usually speeding.

Tonight, Donna had to run out to (the soon to be shuttered) local Shoppers Food Warehouse to pick up some last minute cooking supplies. I was trying to watch football. I heard the familiar sound of her Saturn pulling-in to park. Then, I heard shrieking. I shoved on my slippers and ran outside to find out what the commotion was. As I got out the front door, a primer-grey Ford van was speeding away, the wrong way, down the street that Ts into our street.

At first, I figured, "Donna's trying to yell at someone they're going the wrong way." As I said, it's fairly much of a daily occurrence. However, her tenor was a lot more strident and frantic. So, I tried to sort out why she was so keyed-up. Apparently, the initial "wrong way" screaming she'd done was because the van had been going the wrong way down our street. The driver had apparently stopped, turned around (to, presumably start driving in the correct direction) and hit a car parked in front of one of our neighbors' houses. I'd come out just in time to see the guy speeding away from the collision (and doing so the wrong way down a different street).

I asked, "did you get his plate". Sadly, she'd not gotten the plate, as she'd been too frantic trying to get the go to stop. I was just getting my phone out to report the hit-and-run when the same van I'd seen speeding off was coming back up the street.

I'd tried flagging the driver down. At first, he made like he was going to try to get by me, but eventually pulled to the curb. As he was backing up, I took a picture of his plate (lest I forget the plate number in the excitement) and then called the police.

To their credit, Fairfax county definitely gives you your money's worth on EMS for your taxes. A cruiser was there in under ten minutes from the time I'd hit "send" on my cellphone.

I gave the cop a brief summary of the situation and took Donna into the house to calm down.
It's quite likely our collective reaction was out of scale. I dunno. It's just tiring to have idiots speeding the wrong way down our streets, particularly at night. Capping it off with hitting a neighbor's car and initially driving off does nothing to reduce the agitation of things. Trying to use the excuse "I was lost" not only doesn't excuse the act, it pisses us off worse. I mean, when I'm in unfamiliar areas, I try extra hard to follow street signs and not speed - particularly at night.


Beware: Dancing Elephants

Much as I (probably) write too much, I read too much. Hell, I read even more than I write. If you've looked at my post counts, you'll know that if I'm reading more than I write, I'm writing one helluva lot.

In general, I try to stay away from the news. It's not that I don't want to be informed, it's that I don't want to indulge in the theatre of horrors that the news has become. Worse, the news manages to seek out and find more and more horrors on a daily basis. At this point, it's reached a level that transcends horror and becomes more like absurd.

How to deal with theatre of the absurd? Try to enjoy it because it's out of your hands, any way.

Much of what I see, particularly in the financial press, is dancing elephants. I could read and be outraged, but what does that do for me? I'm relatively powerless. I'm just an ant. I can tell that the elephants are dangerous and will someday, in their stumbling about, crush me and everything I hold dear. All I can really do is try to stay out of the way for as long as possible and enjoy the show.

Netflix Horrors

So, last night was a NetFlix night. Could have watched something on Zune or FiOS's "On Demand" service, but, I wasn't feeling like spending the money.

Netflix had a lot of "new arrivals." However, I think what they mean is "new to their service" not "recently made". At any rate, we found a movie that looked like it would be amusingly bad. The movie was Eyeborgs. It was just about as horribly awful as one might suspect. I suspect that my watching of "Eyeborgs" would have been greatly improved by intelligence-reducing consumables. Unfortunately, the kind of reducers needed aren't really legal, so, I can't partake of them. There's alcohol, but I don't think I could manage the balance between mental obliteration and unconsciousness necessary to make it a watchable flick.