Hmmm… Evolution in action?

Here is a case of a child that was recently born with 6 functioning fingers on each hand and 6 functioning toes on each foot.

Wow, imagine an era where we couldn’t “correct” such mutations. In an environment where we depended more on physical dexterity or tactile ability who knows if a population of folks with this ready-to-go alteration wouldn’t become the victors in the local Darwinian struggle.

Of course, in a not too recent era, all the religious folks would get together and burn this little one for being an aberration, a witch or for just being different and hence, terrifying…  My interpretation of part of the religious (s)creed: If it ain’t already known, it must be bad. 🙁

Posted under Opinions, Very Cool

This post was written by Marc
on January 31, 2009 at 12:26 pm

25 Things about me – Because I was asked…

I was “tagged” in facebook and thought this list would be a nice addition on my personal blog as well.

1. I have been on crutches on at least 3 separate occasions in my life. Twice for reasonable things, once ’cause I was being an idiot

2. I have exercised rigorously pretty much all of my life, but it doesn’t really show unless you’re looking for it

3. I used to love summer school when I was in high school. I never could quite get the hang of mornings. I’d finish summer school before I’d normally have woken up anyway so no vacation time was lost for me…

4. I absolutely believe that you need to cultivate some bad habits to let off steam. You do not need to feel guilty about these, just don’t overdo them.

5. I spent a year attending one-on-one bible study when I was in University. We went through the entire New Testament. There were still a lot of unresolved questions after that.

6. I am an atheist. I don’t hate your god, I just don’t subscribe to any aspect of his/her/its existence. More properly I call myself a freethinker so as not to define myself within a context that is not relevant to me. Current conceptions of god are too small, too petty and completely overshadowed by the amazing natural universe for me to even consider otherwise.

7. I love bicycling. When I take a day off work in the summer I nearly always make time to take my roadbike out for 20 or 25 miles. I have cycled the Cabot trail on a tandem bicycle with my (now) wife, Michelle.

8. I dislike crowds and crowded places. I like the theory of large groups of people WAY more than I like the actuality. My favorite time is spent with maybe a half dozen friend talking over pleasant food and good drink.

9. I have never been to a rock concert (corollary to #8).

10. I am now a cat person. I was not until Michelle introduced me to cats. I intensely dislike dogs. There are some individual canines that I appreciate, but none of them can take me in a fight…

11. When I was younger I had 23 allergies, I could eat almost nothing, pets had to be fish or reptiles.

12. One of the hardest goals I have ever achieved was getting my private pilot’s certificate. Not having anybody who flies in my family made it very difficult to assess the effort and to understand the culture. Plus the arcane meteorology symbols and charts are ridiculously difficult to master. I consider myself a competent pilot (read – not a hazard to myself or others) but I recognize that I will be learning about flying for the rest of my life.

13. I have only stolen once in my life, it was an Aero bar (mmmm… chocolaty bubbles) and I was probably about 4 or 5. My mother made me take it back to the store and apologize.

14. I have not been bored since I was in grade school. I think I even remember that last time. I have too many hobbies and interests to wallow in morose self pity and I don’t have much patience for those who do.

15. My undergraduate degree is in Human Biology with a minor in computer science. I also had sufficient courses to minor in Philosophy but made computer science my “official” minor when I realized how good I was at it.

16. I tried smoking a cigarette ‘way back in grade school. One puff was enough to show me that this was not a habit for me.

17. I don’t drink coffee. In high school I started to cultivate a taste for coffee. But I was drinking it pretty much 1/2 coffee and 1/2 milk and sugar. I decided that, if I’m going to indulge in coffee, I needed to enjoy it on its own merits and should have it black. My first cup of black coffee went down, then came back up again in fairly short order. I realized that there weren’t any really compelling reasons to drink the brew and moved on.

18. I love sweets, but I mostly refuse to cultivate new tastes in desserts. I like enough junk foods that I do not need to cultivate any greater repertoire than I have now.

19. Due to #11 above my taste in food can be quite bland. I have become more and more adventurous in non-junk foods in my adult life. I never had Mexican food until I moved to America when I was 31 years old.

20. I much more enjoy a book or movie when I know how much of it is left. I will read a few chapters of a book and get rid of it if I don’t find it appealing. I usually am in the middle of 2 or 3 substantial books at any given time.

21. The things that bother me most about other people are the traits that I do not like about myself.

22. I am passionate about excellence. I respect people who exhibit it, regardless of what they are doing. I strive for it in what I do and would that I could achieve it more often.

23. I am a sucker for any movie involving immortality. The idea of spanning lifetimes to see the evolution of civilization into the future intrigues me. Also, the exploration of the price that almost certainly would need to be paid fascinates me.

24. I would love to live in California for about 5 years, Las Vegas too. I like it warm and I think those places offer interesting opportunities both from a work and from a personal growth point of view.

25. I like to know. I watch the needle go into my arm when I give blood or get a shot. I want to know exactly what the dentist is going to do. I cannot abide censorship and I have no tolerance for folks who want to “protect me”. My imagination can be worse than most realities (when you think about painful situations). Reality is very important to me, it grounds me and it gives relevance to the world around me.

There you have it, 25 things about me. Your turn!

Posted under General, Opinions

This post was written by Marc
on January 28, 2009 at 7:59 am

My Entry for Teamstudio’s Spotlight Award

Teamstudio recently had a contest where they wanted you to showcase your applications so that others can see what folks are doing out there and so you could toot your own horn a bit.

My entry was probably a lot less snazzy than the ultimate winners (I haven’t seen them) as I tend to focus on non-public facing utilities and infrastructure improvements in my development work.

But I thought it would be worthwhile posting my entry here (now that they’ve let me know I *didn’t* win… *sniff*) so those of you who know me might get some idea what I spend part of my days doing.

I just call my application the “Admin Agent Repository”. It was originally created to house a single major utility and to serve as a common repository for the myriad agents that are useful for administrators on a day-to-day basis. But I have refined it to allow non-developer administrators access to its functionality.
The most visible application was to buffer us from the rather absolute and immediate nature of Domino’s user termination where the need to reinstate caused a lot of headaches.
A document is created for each terminated employee – this can be created by anybody granted the correct role so security or helpdesk folks can input terms directly – and, on the appointed date the user’s name is submitted to the deny access group.
The app also verifies whether or not the user has a Blackberry device and notifies our Blackberry group to remove their account.

Designed when background agents could not access databases on other servers, the application will then run an agent on the user’s home server and, if necessary, update their database ACL with the name of a person responsible for cleaning up the mail file and send a note, with a link to that responsible individual explaining their responsibilities.
When the purge date arrives (the default is 4 days, 30 if a responsible person is defined,  all controlled via profile), the actual signed adminp request is submitted and the process proceeds as per Domino normal.
Reinstate is often as simple as putting the termination document on hold and removing the user from the deny group. No ACL updates, no repopulating in groups.
The repository is replete with utilities that I have found useful over the years, most are profile driven:

For instance the below profile drives our dynamically created groups. Each morning a subset of our groups are destroyed and recreated based on person document information input by either the users or our identity management system. The groups are used both to control application access based on certain criteria (i.e. all reports to a person can have access to a calendar app used by that team) or for communications (i.e. message to be sent to all folks within a particular state or management structure).

This one inspects all mail files and ensures that they not only have a template, but that it’s one of the standard ones that we mandate:

One ad-hoc utility that is quite popular is one that runs, inspects all of the calendar documents in a mail file and ensures that the $Busyname matches the Owner name from the calendar profile. Very handy for botched renames and transfers of mail files from other domains.
I also have a couple of “Rebuild Busytime” agents for clustered and non-clustered servers that run weekly to keep things there tip-top as well.
These utilities save us literally hours each week, any job that’s wasting my time I invest the effort into automating it and add it to this growing application.

Posted under Lotus Domino, Tech Stuff, Utils / Tools, Work Portfolio

This post was written by Marc
on January 27, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Pictures showing retrieval of US Air flight 1549 from Hudson River

Wow! I mean… just… Wow!  Passenger jets are pretty impressive machines all on their own. To see one being just picked up from UNDER the water like this is astonishing to me.

I checked out some youtube videos of the recovery operations but none seemed to quite capture the moment like these pictures.

Posted under Very Cool

This post was written by Marc
on January 22, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Linksys PLE200 (PLK200??) Powerline Ethernet Adapter and wireless mouse?

After the disaster that was the Netgear Powerline Ethernet Adapters I was trepidatious about the technology. But, when I returned the Netgear adapters I went ahead and picked up the (much more expensive) Linksys PLK200 powerline adapters. Hmm… the box (and price) say PLK200 but the adapters themselves indicate that they are PLE200…

*sigh* looks like another trip back to Fry’s.

But the adapters still work really well. Trying Speakeasy’s test gets me 4-5 Mbytes throughput which is miles ahead of the Netgear adapters. Even letting them sit overnight (to get nice and hot) they didn’t get NEARLY as warm as the Netgear units. After I threw a Linksys 5 port switch onto them the throughput was still fine. So I’ve managed to network most of my new media center to the web. Even watched part of a “Coupling” episode via Netflix’s streaming technology.

Coincidentally, my wireless mouse has not been a happy camper for the past couple of days. It tracks along just fine but left-clicking (and even right-clicking) is just not… definite. Sometimes the click works sometimes not. I replaced the batteries a week or so ago and the mouse dialog indicates that battery and signal are fine so…  I swapped out my own wireless mouse for Michelle’s USB wireless mouse to see if it was to do with my mouse itself.  Nope, it does exactly the same thing.

Then, to make sure it’s not the computer running amok I grabbed the usb wired mouse from my server in the back room and… it works perfectly.

The only thing I can think that would generate EM radiation that might affect my wireless mouse seems to be these new powerline adapters. I unplugged the one closest to my mouse and it didn’t help at all but I realized a few minutes ago that I probably needed to remove both to be absolutely sure.

You don’t suppose it could be my Linksys 5 port switch?

Posted under Retail Experiences, Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on January 22, 2009 at 11:15 pm

MetroPCS phone for Michelle or why limited competition and walled gardens suck

I’ve had a Sprint account since about 2001. They weren’t bad and they weren’t great and the plan was only modestly expensive (about $52/month).

This gave us a very basic 500 anytime minutes each month for two phones with 50 roaming minutes and the usual long distance, etc.

I don’t need my own phone anymore as I use my company provided phone (Blackberry) nowadays. I found it really inconvenient to carry two phones and, since my cell phone number really doesn’t matter since I use GrandCentral, I can be phone agnostic.

So I did some research to get a phone for Michelle. What I wanted was for her to have all the phone features she’s used to plus text messaging and web access.

Sprint, like the other big carriers, charges a ridiculous amount for unlimited text messaging, $20/month.

My brother just got back from about 6 months in the UK and he was telling me exactly how reasonable cellular phones are over there which served to galvanize me even further.

I stumbled on to MetroPCS quite by accident. I was going to check out a T-Mobile shop and ended up in the wrong strip plaza. So I asked them what they had.

For the same $52 per month ($45 plus all those useless taxes) Michelle gets unlimited minutes, unlimited text, unlimited picture messages (take a picture and send to anybody), unlimited web and the usual long distance in the US. Another plus was, with a prepaid card, she can now call Canada for 2 cents a minute. Sprint would charge about 60 cents a minute to Canada. We have a calling card that she was using that gets that down to 7 cents a minute (from TTI National).

When I called Sprint to cancel my account after porting Michelle’s phone over to the new service they made the usual pitch to try to retain me (Boy, I think I’m going to tell the IVR system that I want to cancel my account EVERY time I call a business, no waiting to speak to a representative at all!). But the guy kept missing the point entirely as he kept offering me more expensive plans that didn’t even come close to the MetroPCS offering.

Now, as with anything in life, nothing is 100% perfect. What we lose in going with MetroPCS that we had with Sprint is a) we simply CANNOT use the MetroPCS phone at all in Canada, and b) there is some question about how well the phone will work outside of a metropolitan area.

For item a) above, the cost of using the Sprint phone in Canada was prohibitive enough that we used them sparingly. Michelle is ALWAYS with someone who has a local cell phone anyway so she just used theirs in the past to make a quick call. So there isn’t much lost there.

For item b) if we keep some extra cash on her MetroPCS account then she can always call from those “roam” areas if she needs to. Again, she’s seldom in those areas without me and my phone goes anywhere. So there is little or no expense to be had there. And if it’s an emergency, all modern cellphones can work in all systems regardless for calling 911 unless you’re just simply in a truly dead area and then it doesn’t matter what plan you’re using.

So, we had to search for a plan and a company that came closer to treating us like something other than a sponge to be squeezed for every penny we could pay. I have a very low opinion of all of our cellular providers since they have always been so adversarial rather than a consumer-partner. They need to realize that there is a LOT of money to be made even at a fair cost for services and that customer loyalty must be earned by treating the customer… um, fairly.

Even Verizon, widely considered one of the best for service and coverage (and the one I use for my work phone) I discounted because I’m still ticked at them for disabling the GPS in my blackberry – a feature intrinsic to the phone with no impact on the cellular network – so they could indulge in the blatant money grab of coercing their customers to pay a monthly fee for Verizon’s own flavor of navigation software.

And ALL of the big companies seem to take a perverse glee in massively overcharging for international long distance services. With the increase in cell phone usage, there has been a marked DEcrease in available pay phones or other alternatives for making such calls. So they use the Hotel model of the captive customer to nail you hard against the wall for such “luxuries”.
Also, text messaging has gotten *more*, not *less* expensive over the past few years. Not bad for a form of communication that is built into the infrastructure and is of absolutely no cost for the cellular companies. Every data signal going to and from your phone carries the space for SMS messaging whether you are sending messages or not.

I’m not saying that these things should be provided for free, but there is a reason that pretty much everybody hates their cell phone provider. They are viewed, not as a great service and a good value, but as an adversary who will absolutely crush you if you misstep. Ask any parent who didn’t have an unlimited texting plan when their kids discovered SMS…

Posted under Affluenza, Opinions, Retail Experiences

This post was written by Marc
on January 20, 2009 at 8:25 am

Netgear HDXB101 Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter

I’ve picked up some new media pieces (more on those later) and need to get some Internet connectivity in my TV room.

As I see it the simplest thing to do was to run some Cat 5 cable from my kitchen (where my modem/router is) to the TV room. When I was browsing in Fry’s at lunch today I saw that they had some wireless Ethernet adapters that operate through your electical wiring. I quickly checked cnet.com for some reviews and found a bunch of fairly old reviews that indicated that they might not be too bad. The boxes were promising me throughput of up to 200 Mbps which is pretty impressive.

So I picked up some Netgear HDXB101 Powerline HD Ethernet adapters, picked up a couple of Linksys 5 port switches and brought them home to try out.

Fresh out of the car, so they were still nice and cool, I plugged them both in in my kitchen to test them before moving one of them down the hall. Using my laptop I used Speakeasy’s speed test as a fair sample of the kind of through-the-network-and-out-to-the-world use that I would need. From a direct hookup to my router I get a hair under 6 Mbps down and around 400 kbps up.

Using the (cold) Netgear adapters I was sitting at about 2 Mbps down. Not quite the 200 touted on the box but almost livable for what’s needed in that room. So I moved one of the adapters to the TV room and got similar results. Cool, that works for me.

I then broke out one of the switches to test and hooked it up too. First I tested the laptop directly off the switch and got my usual direct connection speed.

I ran the line from the router to the switch to the netgear adapter. Went to test the speed in the TV room and… almost zero throughput. When the test eventually began chugging along it wheezed out something in the low hundreds of kbps.

Many permutations of things were tried, leaving the switch attached to the router while running another line directly from the router, disconnecting the switch from the router entirely, no improvement. Nada.

I even went back to my original kitchen tests and brought myself up to about 730 kpbs down fairly consistently.

Feeling the Netgear boxes they were both quite warm. All I can think is that the electronics in them gets too hot and then degrades their performance?

They’re going back to the store tomorrow, I think I’ll try the ($50 more expensive) Linksys units and see what happens.

I originally didn’t want to use wi-fi since I’ve always found it to be pretty dismal performance wise. But even my laptop can pull down 4 Mbps in the TV room which is stellar compared to the absolute best the powerline adapters could manage. And both those are far short of the touted 200 Mbps…

In my opinion, both the wireless and the Netgear’s performance should still yield pretty close to the 6 Mbps that I can get when using a wired direct connection to my modem/router. The bottleneck *should* be my Internet connectivity (6 Mbps) when you think that even a wireless 802.11b connection should be able to manage 11 Mbps.

Posted under Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on January 17, 2009 at 12:37 am