blarg?

Global Readership and Devoted Cult Following: Your task for this week is to win the internets.

You are in competition with each other. One winner will be chosen seven days from now.

For full marks, show your work.

Go.

A Tree

(Updated below.)

This might be preaching to the choir, but if it isn’t, new converts are always welcome. When people think “Hoye”, as many of you know, they think “safety”.

Yesterday a conversation I was having with a contractor turned to things you shouldn’t do, and the consequences thereof, and these guys had some impressive examples; welding mishaps, stomped and pierced appendages, hot metal shards just next to eyes, tensioned cables snapping across cheekbones, crunched toes and blades just barely missing thumbs. And these guys were all wiry old salt-cured east-coasters, so they’d always end the story with something like “…right dahn to deh bone. I cudn’a go back ta work fah four whole day!” or something close to it, but that’s not the only thing these stories all had in common.

I know I’m not the first person to notice this (there’s a book about it, in fact) but that conversation really drove home the fact that whenever I hear a story about some horrific mishap, that story always seems to include some variation of the phrase “I disabled this safety feature because it was annoying.”

And the more I’ve been thinking about it, it doesn’t seem to matter what it is: the financial crisis, computer security, reactor meltdowns, whatever. It’s always in there somewhere.

So far I’ve managed to avoid that sort of pratfall-with-hot-sharpened-bits during the construction work I’ve had to do. I’ve been lucky, true, but for the work around the house it’s gloves and goggles all the time. So when the cutting wheel on the Dremel snapped off and tried to lodge itself in my eye, that was no problem, because I wear safety glasses. That time I slipped on the piece of wood I was working on, and my hand went right in to the spinning router bit, getting new work gloves cost me seven whole dollars. I go through three or four pairs a year, and they’re substantially easier to replace than fingers.

We get flack for this all the time at work – “Why are you guys so restrictive about permissions? We’re a small team, why not just give everyone access to everything?” And I always look at my hands and think about who’s going to have to mop up the leftovers; it won’t be the person making the request, that’s for sure, but this is why.

Update: Because karma is a wheel and I have not led a fully just life, the very morning after I published an article on safety, I have had a quarter-ton of drywall fall on me and then push me, ass first, through a wood fence. My wife would like you to know that the way I describe this to her makes her laugh.

On the X axis are days of the week, and on the Y are the search results for “easy like $DAY morning”. If this doesn’t convince you of the pernicious influence that Lionel Richie has had on the relative ease of our days, I don’t know what will. Note the shocking decline of Monday morning ease, relative to the previous day.

Motion 02

Some grim reading that I found fascinating, no particular order:

Good times, good times.

Street Level

I stumbled across Asobi Seksu recently, and I’ve been listening to them pretty much nonstop this week. It’s great, like listening to some aspiring Sad-Girl-in-Snow-type j-popper singing along while Muse is rehearsing in the next apartment over. “Thursday” and “New Years” are quite fine.

So, it turns out that anyone who owns a Mac needs to make a list of all the applications they stumble across for it in the first few weeks and then tell you how awesome they are. It’s some kind of rule – they don’t make you sign anything, but you’re in a cult, so the expected behaviour becomes self-evident after a while, you know?

So I’m pretty sure this will get me my merit badge:

  • Firefox, obviously. Safari is pretty much whatever; I understand this Chrome thing is pretty spiffy, but you can’t use it on anything unixy and it’s hard to imagine an advertising company ever producing something as useful as Adblock Plus and Flashblock, so who cares? That and URL Fixer are my current three favorites, and you can get them all here.
  • Miro, formerly the Democracy Player. Plays just about everything, handles torrents, feeds, and feeds of torrents, so there’s really nothing not to like. I’d be using VLC and Transmission, if I didn’t want Miro for some reason.
  • Quicksilver and Nocturne from Blacktree. Quicksilver in particular is extra-awesome, the equivalent of Firefox’s Awesomebar for your whole OS.
  • Things, a todo/GTD manager.
  • Skype, because duh.
  • Caffeine, a tiny widget to manage sleep mode. The SmartSleep pref pane is related.
  • Handbrake, video conversion for your iPod.
  • Adium (called Pidgin everywhere else) for instant messaging and a cute duck.
  • Flickr Uploadr, which does what it says on the box.
  • Colloquy for IRC, though on a server and inside a screen session is still the preferred way to do that.
  • Growl, a flexible and quite useful something-you-wanted-to-know-about-just-happened notifier.
  • TextWrangler from Bare Bones Software. That’s some awful nice text you’ve got there. Be a shame if somebody wrangled it.
  • Vienna, a quite nice feed reader, and
  • Remote Desktop forthe Mac, if you need that sort of thing.

I’m also using the iWork tools, which are so far pretty great. I don’t know if they’re quite as rich as Microsoft Office, but they’re so hugely better than OpenOffice that I can’t see myself going back to OO.Org for anything less than some arbitrarily contrived hostage situation. I won’t be installing Office for the Mac, because it handles like a bad ride at the pre-beta rodeo. It’s huge, really twitchy, and some appendage I care about is probably going to get stomped.

I’ve installed Windows on it, though, via BootCamp. I’ve been spoiled lately at work, and haven’t had to do a Windows install with anything but Ghost for some time now; I’d forgotten how much that experience sucks, but installing XP Pro via BootCamp turned out to be the most painless non-Ghost install I can remember. My only reason for doing it at all was this deal right here, which I believe is too tempting to pass up.

Man, though, the combination of Quicksilver and the multitouch trackpad is just incredibly great. Switching back to the Windows box at the office is like trying to work chopsticks through boxing gloves.

One Stylish Shoe, Slightly Used

“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” – Oscar Wilde

So, it’s reasonably well documented that color-scheme trends (you’ve noticed how they all seem to change, in all stores, to roughly the same chroma set at roughly the same time, no?) are an entirely manufactured process. Which is pretty sadmaking, but not in the least surprising; fashion as a whole has never been about beauty or individuality, of course, and always about affluent conformity.

But it seems like whenever I’m thinking that it’s a crock, I’m out shopping with my wife, and I’m reminded of how much better guys have it. At least men’s clothes are sized by a real unit of measurement; I have no idea how this came about or why it’s permitted to continue, but the sizing of women’s clothing is just about one hundred percent bullshit.

It’s not a huge deal to me, probably because I don’t have to put up with it; to me it’s just one small part of the constant background hum of things that are totally appalling but seemingly everywhere. But still, it makes no sense at all! So just to make sure I’m clear on what I’m seeing, let me review what I think are the basic facts of the matter:

  • Regardless of what you’re buying, sizes are only ever indicated with a single number.
  • They’re only ever even numbers: if you’re too big for a 4 and too small for a 6, you’re out of luck, because 5 doesn’t exist. 0, 00 and 000 seem to exist, though the people who fit them might not.
  • Those numbers don’t actually mean anything, and offer zero guarantee of a actual dimensions, even within stores or brand-identified clothing lines.

That last one is possibly the most crazymaking part of the whole thing. That men don’t know what to sizes to buy for women (“Do you think I should be this skinny? Do you really think I’m this fat?”) is a tired old joke, but as it stands, even if every single thing in some arbitrary woman’s closet says “6” on the label, guy-with-closet-access is still screwed. That size 6 thing the guy brings home might fit like a circus tent or a tourniquet, and there’s no way to know. Keep the receipt.

And that’s before we even start talking about manufacturers arbitrarily gaming that system with things like vanity sizing, so that women can tell themselves that they’re still a size 4 as long as they shop at this store and not that one, and often pay more for worse fabrics just so they can claim that number as their own. Which is particularly insidious, considering how this stuff all seems to be a complete fabrication in the first place – you might as well be saying you fit a size blue, for all the merit those numbers have. “Are you looking for a size green, or would you feel better in a tungsten?”

Are women’s suits any better? I suspect that that the answer is no, and that it’s judgmental, fraudulent numerology like turtles, all the way. I understand that this is not the Way It Is in much of the world, too, so presumably there’s a market for reality-based sizing out there.

What the hell, ladies?

Motion 05

Odd that Dave should mention it while I have this half-drafted and sitting in the queue; coincidence or… evidence of vast conspiracy? Stay tuned! Dun dun dun….

Anyway:

“The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; — Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, where visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.”

There has been a slight change in today’s program: this evening, the role of Ahab will be played by Michael Hoye; the role of the White Whale will be played, as usual, by an Oracle database.

I hate dealing with Oracle products as I hate few other things, and I am no amateur, second-string hater, no sir. Believe me, if I could hate for money I would already have gone pro. But, wow, there might not be a worse place to have to deal with Oracle than on somebody else’s unix box, where all the ticks and idiosyncrasies of the previous administrators are dragging their nails down the nearest chalkboard while you try to focus on what could possibly have gone wrong. Because, Jeebus, Oracle’s documentation is garbage. Their error messages are completely opaque and their logs are just slightly less helpful than having a cup of cold gravel poured down your shorts.

Possibly the only thing I dislike more than being given an Oracle problem is actually solving it.

And I can hear many of you saying “um, what?” but hear me out, because this is the plain truth of Systems Administration as a career, the poorly-marked road many of us seem to be walking. It is this: once you’ve solved one hard, unpleasant problem that nobody else wanted anything to do with you immediately become some the go-to guy for the entire class of hard, unpleasant problems that nobody, including you, wants anything to do with.

So, you have slain the Oracle Server, or the SAP cluster, the tape robot or the old printer, whatever; you have consumed its still-warm liver and gained its strength and courage thereby. It is a part of your totem now, and when that monster’s big brother crawls out of the long dark howling its vengeance the tribe will know that you have bested its kin. And they will wish you well, hand you your spear and send you alone to defeat this new thing. It’s noble as hell, and it doesn’t really scale, but you’re marked for good. Now you’re the guy who can fix that stuff, and your job is to gaze into the abyss until you’ve stared it down, and the abyss gives.

So, now I’m the Oracle Guy. Not the Consultant, or Expert, or Admin or anything that might involve a new pay grade, of course. Just “Guy”. Previous Guys I have been include the Computer Guy, the Windows Guy, the Linux Guy, the Network Guy, (the ArcNet Guy, and the OS/2 Guy, back in the stone age) the Server Guy, the Apple Guy and more recently the Cisco Guy and, now the Oracle Guy. And I’m going to have to solve a bunch of Oracle Problems soon, I can smell it.

I swear, my only qualification for this job has ever been that twelve years ago I wanted to be helpful and could make the office printer work. That’s it. And now my name is legion, for I am all these guys.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Motion 15

In my first draft of this post, which was subsequently vetoed by an involved party, I made a number of supervillianesque claims involving ultrasonic rays, impending geological upheavals and something pleasantly contradictory about the “miracles of natural selection” which I enjoyed immensely but which did not, sadly, pass muster.

Mere moments ago, however, I was asked if that shouldn’t read “pass mustard”, to give you an idea of the editorial board I’m dealing with here. “Cut the mustard? Cut the cheese?” Passing inspection, achieving success or breaking a mighty wind, you can see how in the wrong hands they’re almost synonyms.

Also, I am currently getting punched.

So let me say it simply, then, because it’s good news and I’m happy to share it: my wife and I are expecting a kid sometime in mid-May.

We’re happy about it! Though not, I think, quite as frothingly delirious as the grandparents-to-be, who will no doubt be enjoying the combination of like-having-a-kid-except-on-easy-mode and now-it’s-your-turn-ha-ha-ha that I’m sure being a grandparent entails. And you should know that no, we don’t have a name, gender or plans for a legion of others yet.

But I’m sure it will work out well; the early signs point to healthy and as many people know, I am an excellent role model.

Stay sharp, futurekid. We’ll see you in six months.

Green Room Window

Man, if anyone ever asks you why so many sysadmins have such a hate on for Windows (and honestly, who doesn’t want to have an answer ready for a question like that?) one of the reasons you can give them is that having to patch a whole dependency-tree full of various stuff is just a huge pain in the ass. Why won’t updates just restart the relevant services on a windows box yet? Because coming from a Unix background, man, having to restart a machine just to update a service is clearly ridiculous. But here we are! (And updating clustered machines? Damn.) Whoever you are, world, this is why I missed your party, and why I left work at three thirty in the morning to fight the dregs of halloween for a cab home.

I’m really looking forward to having centralized logging at work, so that maybe we’ll be able to tell what’s actually going on, and which of these errors are real or not; Asp.NET stuff, for example, spooges all over my logs for no apparent reason at all. Dear Programmers: Error messages should mean something, you know? When some service doesn’t start, and that’s a totally expected condition then it shouldn’t spit out errors like it’s the end of the world. And conversely! Who wants to open up their logs at three in the morning and find something that says “ASP.NET# failed to futzpop bangwarble antwerp AF03 zarqzarq: additional information in error message”, particularly when the “additional information in error message” is “00 0C”. Thanks, I’ll get right on that!

Microsoft, I’m looking at you: this is why there are so many people who hate and fear your server software, and nobody really loves it; when things go south, there’s nothing whatsoever in there to clue you in as to what’s actually gone wrong much less how to fix it. If you ever sit back in your Aerons wondering idly why your support forums are full of bizzare inquiries and quasi-superstitious suggestions (I tried these eight unrelated things, and then lit two candles! One of them worked and I don’t know why, but try them all including the candles!) this is the reason. Error messages are incredibly important public-facing information, and they’re less intelligible now than they were on NT 3.5.

I was going to direct that at Oracle too but, man, screw those guys.