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Timbo (4486)

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Journal of Timbo (4486)

Sunday August 17, 2003
04:05 AM

Reflections on creativity in the physical realm

There is beauty in working with your hands; you achieve a different sort of satisfaction when your creations are solid rather than conceptual. I have had that driven home today, in two completely different ways; I finally finished a concrete countertop I'm installing on my bar, and started laying decking on my bomb shelter/deck.

Concrete seems like an odd choice for a countertop, if your only experience with it is sidewalks and buildings. That grey, rough, forbidding surface would not add much to any kitchen or bathroom. But if you spruce it up with a little dye, polish, and patience, it becomes a thing of beauty--actually more touchable than corian, warmer than granite. I am amazed that I was able to make something so beautiful and permanent.

I was not awed by the beauty of my deck; I was awed by it's scale and magnitude. Building something small and detailed lets you glance temporarily at perfection; building something massive and imposing makes you feel like a man. I am proud that my brother-in-law, who weighs at least 250 lbs., can jump on my deck without feeling any flex. I'm not too worried that on one of the planks, my drill slipped off a screw and left a small mark. It's lost in the scale of something so massive.

Today makes me wonder... is what Microsoft is building so large that their smaller problems (at least in their eyes) get lost in the scale? In the open source world, everyone builds a comparitively small part of the puzzle, so each craftsman can take individual pride in their contribution toward perfection. Maybe Microsoft has just moved too far away from artisanship. Programming is a creative endeavor, no matter how much the Capability Maturity Model tries to wean it out of us.

Let us be craftsmen.

Saturday August 16, 2003
02:23 AM

Better Carpentry through Perl

I am building a deck that, should global warming completely cover Anchorage with water, will serve as the first wooden aircraft carrier.

Anyway, I had an interesting (and uncommon, at least for programmers) problem -- I needed a way to determine if a support beam was perfectly square to my house. Sure, I could use the old 3-4-5 rule (Pythagorean theorem; triangle with one leg 3, other 4, and hypotenuse 5 is a right triangle)(as if I had to explain that in this forum), but I wanted to use the full length of the beam for the shortest leg to minimize the margin for error.

So, I whipped up a perl script. Maybe I was just looking for an excuse. I used Number::Fraction to accept a rational number, and the script would output the length of the longer leg and hypotenuse, in rational number accuracy up to 128ths. All I had to do was mark the proper distance from where the beam met the house, and move the end of the beam around until the hypotenuse length was right.

When your favorite tool is a perl script...

Friday August 15, 2003
01:39 PM

Win32::ProcFarm is like a tiger....

... beautiful, but dangerous. I recently used it to change the local administrator password on every NT & 2K machine in our domain (2000+) in two minutes.

Makes you wonder how quickly someone with an axe to grind could cause major damage.

12:02 PM

Chocolate for the Economically Advantaged

NPR had a segment last year about how various commercial enterprises are trying to make Chocolate the next coffee or wine--a high-end delicacy with a connoisseur on every corner. I have thought about it long and hard (I'm a little obsessive-compulsive, in case you haven't guessed), and I don't like it one bit.

I must preface this rant with the disclaimer that I am slightly biased against chocolate because I really don't like the stuff. But really, that doesn't bother me as much as the fact that entrepreneurs are trying to "brand" fine chocolate as an item with cachet. I am tired of the constant "gotta know all about it to be hip"-ness that is generation X.

First, to my memory, it was coffee... "A latte machine in every house and a Starbucks on every corner"; talk of Arabica beans, fruity flavors and bitter finishes. Coffee, in my opinion, is black, thick stuff that you chug very hot next to a campfire while it rains. While smoking a Camel straight. It is not foamy. It does not have a cinnamon sprinkle on top. And for God's sake, it does not get served by some girl with lip piercings, tattoos, and shorter hair than Ollie North.

Next was Beer. Manly, sudsy beer that came in aluminum cans for $3 a six pack is now "hip" and sold in designer bottles for $8 apiece. There's a brewpub on every corner where the hip gather to drink the latest doppelbock and discuss the year's crop of fuggle hops. Sounds like a conversation out of Harry Potter.

Then, they hijacked Tequila. Few things are more manly or less prone to "hipness" than Tequila. But they did it. How many of our Grandfathers knew what blue agave was? Tequila is supposed to be about college parties, in which newly-freed college girls drop their inhibitions on the floor with their bras, and the taste and smell of your puke the next morning. It is not congac. It is not "fruity".

Now, Chocolate is on it's way to hipness. At least chocolate was never manly... when was the last time you saw Indiana Jones bite a big chunk of a Hershey bar? Chocolate is for women. And that's fine... but Dove chocolate is no longer going to be good enough to say "Sorry I drank too much and peed in the fireplace at our engagement party". Soon, you're going to have to order a box of chocolate off the internet, FedEx'd so that it doesn't go bad in shipping. You'll have to pay $74 a pound for something that should cost 75 cents at the local grocery store.

You'll have to surrender to hipness now... because now it's to please your wife.

I hope mine never reads this.

Thursday August 14, 2003
05:31 PM

Web application monitoring

Does anyone know of a perl (or other, failing that) program to monitor an url, watch for certain text (like "ASP 0115", hypothetically), and perform some action? I could write the program myself, but would prefer to be lazy and impatient.

I support tens of web applications running on IIS and Apache. The main page of each one can return either valid data or invalid data. The ideal script would be able to

retrieve the return value of urls defined in a config file on a schedule

run regexes against the returned text, looking for either success or failure identifiers defined in a configuration file

if a failure test returns true, perform some action as defined specifically for that failure identifier

keep track of successive failures

email an account if the automatic resolution fails

log all results and actions

Free would be a very nice price (and a very nice right), but my company might be willing to purchase COTS rather than pay for my time to develop it. I've looked at BigBrother and Microsoft Application Center, but BigBrother can't look inside pages (from my reading of the docs) and Application Center is too IIS specific. Any ideas?

03:06 PM

Brittle COTS Applications

I do application support for a living... one step above helpdesk, but at least the hours suck. Anyway, an application I support (which, incidentally, is considered mission critical by the company I work for) is dependent on:

A consumer grade workstation without a UPS


Multiple NT 4.0 shares

Oracle running on AIX

Microsoft !@#^ing Access 97

A service running on a Windows NT 4.0 server

Citrix running on yet another server

Two separate Network Appliance servers

Various network infrastructure, including two WAN links

Needless to say, my sleep patterns have been less than regular in the six weeks I have had to support this beast. On the third day of support, I submitted a stability plan but was told there wasn't enough money to fix it.

Just call me Sisyphus.

02:53 AM

Limited Time Introductory Offer...

I've been lurking too long. I've decided to participate in that most narcissistic of endeavors, the blog.

I'm a mediocre perl programmer and general jack-of-all-computing trades; I have been a DBA, Unix Sysadmin, NT/2K Sysadmin, and programmer, basically in that order. I often feel supremely average in my computer knowledge and intelligence, which probably means that I am the Omega geek in this group. I enjoy reading gnat and pudge's journals, and had the good fortune to attend the O'Reilly University of Perl in '00 in Seattle, but that's the extent of my perl training. Someday I'll get off my butt and go to YAPC...

I have been a consistent fanboy of gnat, Damian, and MJD (although MJD strikes me as a little odd... generally in a good way, but he's a little too cerebral for me to idolize). I work with some incredibly smart people, who generally tolerate my mediocrity quite well... if nothing else, I amuse them when I show off my latest, enhanced bubble sort algorithms.

This introduction is getting long and tedious, as evidenced by the continuing thread of self-doubt running through it. To continue along that vein, as if anyone has time to get this far, I live in Alaska. I have a wife and two kids (BTW, for those of you identifying with my self-deprecating style, there's nothing like the adoration of progeny to boost your self confidence. You should have read me before). I do an incredible amount of home maintenance, mostly due to buying our house in a big hurry without properly inspecting it--to illustrate, we call it the POD, for "Pit of Despair". My current endeavor is to complete a 1200 sq ft. deck, supremely overengineered so as to cost more than the national debt of Paraguay.

Anyway, it was time to wrap this up about five paragraphs ago. Next time, I'll try not to seem so self-important.