Monday, December 31, 2007

VMWare and Ubuntu Linux 7.10

I wanted to get an install of XP on my Ubuntu box and so downloaded VMWare server (its free) from here and found a howto here which I will quote throughout this post.

The first step is to load some of the Ubuntu modules you'll need to compile the vmserver via aptitude. Run the following command
sudo aptitude install linux-headers-`uname -r` build-essential (which requires your install cd)

Next install xinetd
sudo aptitude install xinetd
Per the instrustions from hotowforge, I went to the following site and downloaded the latest any-to-any patch. You'll need this patch in the middle of your install.

Untar the vmserver tarball you downloaded.

tar -xvzf

Change directory into the resultant directory (there will be only one) and run


I accepted the defaults with the possible exception of the default vmware file location (you'll want it on a partiton with some space) and the following question you show answer NO to.

Before running VMware Server for the first time, you need to configure it by invoking the following command: "/usr/bin/". Do you want this program to invoke the command for you now? [yes]

Answer NO. You will then exit the installation script.

Now you'll want to run the patch you downloaded. Untar that file and descend into the resulting directory.

sudo ./

Again, accept the defaults. The script modifies the installed vmware software. At the end you will again be asked to run the vmware-config. Answer YES this time.

After that completes, start vmware with the command
If you did everything right, the vmware console should appear. At this point you'll need to create a new virtual machine. If your machine once ran a microsoft product, you can reinstall on the new virtual machine but you'll need the license code off the old box. Alternately, you can install a new copy of Ubuntu or any other operating system supported by VMWARE.

So, to create a new guest OS you tell the vm server to create it, give it resource such as disk and memory. A note here is to use the defaults the first time you create an instance and, if you us FAT file system as a backup, allow vm server to split the created disk into 2 GB chunks.

After you have the VM created, put your OS install CD in and tell the instance to boot. It should read the CD and install the whatever OS you've selected. Follow the normal install procedure for that OS. The only additional step I recommend is to install vmtools into the new image once its up and running and has all the patches you wish to install.

Vmtools allows you to resize the screen above 460x680 and allows you to cut and paste between host and virtual machine.

All in all it was a fairly painless process outside of the OS install.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Galowwy LIVES!!!

I am happy to report that all is well in the fish tank. All five fish somehow survived the initial three week period of the tank cycle. Galowwy now swims regularly around the tank with the others so all seems well. I also discovered the Galowwy is a Mickey Platy as well. It was hard to spot the mouse markings among the darkly colored scales but its there, sure enough.

My wife took a water sample into the pet store to determine if we could add more, less fragile fish than the indestructible platies. The fish guy stated that our water was too acidic. This is an odd fact since we have well water and that water is known for being too alkaline.

The pet store guy indicated that our addition of shells and the castle might be the cause. NOT THE CASTLE!! That is the single coolest feature ever to grace the inside of any fish tank.

We decided to remove the shells and await the next test. Time will tell whether we are ever ready for fragile fish. Then again, maybe we should just stick with platies.

Well, it turned out what we had here was a failure to communicate. The fish guy stated our PH is too high which indicates our water is too alkaline not too acidic. Now this makes sense since our water is surrounded by limestone down in the well. I also determined that our castles, is indeed, plaster which add to the alkalinity.

So now our choices are to remove the castle (never!) and remove about a quarter of the water and replace it with bottled water or we can buy fish that actually like a high PH. Unfortunately these fish also eat platies and that's a life lesson I'm not quite ready to teach my four year old.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Genuine Plastic Plants

In hitch hikers guide to the galaxy, the advertisement for robots was something like "your plastic pal who's fun to be with." Marvin, the paranoid android was anything but fun but did make the series much more interesting.

I think the same can be said for aquarium plastic plants. They don't do much but they do make the tank more interesting. As a bonus, the fish seem to like them.

I became concerned about our fifth fish. He's the one that's darkly colored and spends most of his time under the castle. His name has ranged from Rebel, to Gollum, to Goblin, to Glowy to Galowy. Some of the information I read on the internet stated that platies can be shy when first introduced to a new tank and some hide for a while.

I decided the fish may need a bit more cover to come out from under the castle so Deb, Zack and I headed to the local pet store to buy some genuine plastic plants (GPP). My first tendency was to get real plants but the store owner guided us away from this decision. His concern was that plants make new tanks more complicated and can lead to algae problems.

While at the pet store, I described Galowy's plight of alway hiding in the castle. The owner seemed to thing the fish was suffering from the toxicity of the water. The term is called tank cycling and its the time that the bacteria form that convert fish waste into whatever they convert fish waste into.

Before the colony forms, ammonia and nitrates build up in the tank. The first set of sacrificial fish's job is to bring the bacteria with them so the water can support other, less fragile fish. So the owner said Galowy might be suffering from nitrate build up in the fish's blood stream. I came away from that conversation feeling guilty for naming the seed fish but not guilty enough to forgo the purchase of some GPPs.

We picked the plants that looked like they would fit in the tank. We bought two long and one short of different colors to give the tank a little variety. Zack was ecstatic to have the chance to add some new stuff to the tank and have the opportunity to actually put his hand in the water.

We added the plants and a few more shells to decorate. Zack giggled as he plopped two more shells in the water and watch them float to the bottom. I had to move the castle in order to situate the plants. Galowy swam out and joined the other fist for a while. It was nice to see it again. Galowy seemed to enjoy the additional hiding places as well.

Tangerine, the reddish orange fish, took to the new plants quickly, first tasting them and then swimming in and out readying his escape route from the tyrannical Mickeys. Tangerine is the explorer of the five always swimming new ways through the maze that's become our tank.

Sunrise, the pretty orange, yellow and black fish swims the perimeter trying to stay out of the Mickeys way and, by and large, does a good job of it.

As for the Mickeys, they tasted and re-tasted the GPPs hoping, somehow, they would suddenly become edible.

Galowy has since gone under the castle again. I think we'll move the structure once we feed again so that fish actually has a chance to eat.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Fish Tank, Day 2

As reported yesterday, we now have fish in our fish tank. Four of the fish seem to be doing fine the fifth, however, is hiding under the Castle and refuses to come out. The fish's original name was Rebel since it refused to swim with the other fish. I've since renamed it to Gollum because it to hides from the light in a cave. I still count it as the odds on favorite to go belly up first.

Meanwhile, Mickey and Minnie, the two Micky Mouse Platies, have become a bonded pair of sorts. Mickey never leaves Minnie's side unless he's going to to harass either Sunrise or Tangerine. These two rule the tank and the other fish get out of their way.

Sunrise is my favorite having colors going from black to orange to yellow. Its a very pretty fish. Tangerine is Zack's favorite so far. This bright orange fish was once Mickey's favorite target but the bully mouse fish seems to pick on Sunrise more these days.

As of noon today Gollum was out of the cave and swimming around the tank. I've read a bit online that Platies may be shy at first. Its either that of the fish is preggers and off getting ready to give birth.

Gollum has received a new name from Zack. Gollum's new tank name is Glowee. I'm not sure if Glowee is the proper name for a darkly colored fish but I'm sure there is some brilliant four year old logic to it.

Zack stormed into the house and I told him there was a surprise in the tank. He had yet to see Glowee/Gollum. The little man jumped up and down yelling "He's out, He's out." He then named the fish.

Note: Glowee is still the odds on favorite to go belly up first.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fish Tank, The Beginning

As time goes by, kids develop along certain predestined paths. We are now fully in the pet phase of Zack existence. This is the time when there is no animal, no matter how gross, that Zack would not enjoy having for a pet.

That being said, he's always wanted a fish tank ever since seeing Finding Nemo. Well, Deb and I finally broke down and bought twenty-nine gallon fish tank. But its not just a clear, water-filled, piece of furniture with pretty fish in it. Its a money disposal unit as well. Just put money in and watch it vanish.

Because you can't just have a tank sitting on a table. Oh no. You need a stand, a filter, a heater and special little rocks that go at the bottom. I wonder how fish in the wild survive without special little rocks but I'm assured by the pet store people that special little rocks are important to fish survival.

Now, I'm a fantasy nut so when it came time to decorate there would be no pirate ship, palm trees and treasure chest in my tank. Oh no. I had to have a castle and, being me, I had to have a big one. I still haven't added up how much the fish tank and its accessories cost, but I'm thinking its close to $500.

I'm sensitive to sum since the new computer monitor I want costs half that amount. I could even have an aquarium screen saver with real water filter noises coming out of my computer speakers as well. I'd never have to worry about belly up fish unless I programed it to have belly up fish. But I digress.

The steps to setting up a fish tank include buying it, the filter, the heater, the special little rocks, the castle, and the stand. You set this up in a nice location (which you'll want to change but only after you have 100 lbs of water in the tank), turn the filter on, and wait for two days.

I'm not really sure about the two days thing but I'm told by the same guy that says I need special little rocks that the water needs to filter for a while before I add any fish to it. I wonder how long water in the lake has to sit before the fish can swim in it.

So I waited for two days and added my first five fish (just a few minutes ago). You start with cheap fish that you won't cry over when they go belly up (whether programmed or not). The kind I purchased are called Platies. I have two Micky Mouse Platies, one gold and yellow Platy, one gold/orange Platy and one Blue/Gray Platy. I'm sure Zack will name them appropriately but there working names are Micky, Minnie, Sunrise, Tangerine, and Rebel.

These 'seed' fish are hardy and serve a very important purpose. Each fish carries with them a set of bacteria that help break down fish waste. Since these little guys are tough, they can survive in a new tank long enough for the bacteria colony to take up residence in the special little rocks. Once the colony is established, less hardy yet prettier fish can be added to a balanced ecosystem.

The whole process takes about three weeks. After that you take a water sample in and they test the ammonia levels and let you know if other wimp fish can live in your tank.

I'd also like to add a few live plants to the tank but the pet store folks tell me its better to get the tank established first before adding them. They promote algae growth and so you need to know what you're doing before adding them.

I feel a little sorry for the starter fish. They have a tough job and an uncertain future. They are the tank trail blazers giving their all for the others that follow.

I'll keep you updated on who goes belly up first (my money's on Rebel).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Failure to Recover

I have really old computers. You may think this odd with my being in the tech industry but I never go out and buy 'the next big thing' until it is superseded by at least two more 'next big things'. Its analagous to never buying a new car and letting someone else pay the 'drive off the lot' fee.

My personal computer has been a Dell Inspiron 8100 for some time. This thing is at least 6 years old and had begun to show its age. I run linux on my personal machines since it runs faster and in a smaller footprint than MS stuff and trends toward more reliable.

I like linux and I like the Ubuntu brand of linux for my personal use. Its reliable and easy to use without the normal issues of upgrading found in MS products. I did, however, get bit when I tried to upgrade from 7.04 to 7.10 (Feisty Fox to Gutsy Gibbon). The darn upgrade hung halfway through hosing my laptop. So, I created a 7.10 CD on another machine, mounted it on my laptop and proceeded to recover the files to my external USB via a combination of tar and gzip (also known as a tarball).

I wiped the disk on the laptop and proceeded to restore my data. This is when horror struck. The tarball was corrupt. The reason, I suspect, is that my usb is formated for the old windows FAT file system which has an upper limit of 4 GB. The tarball was bigger than that.

I tried everything I knew to try but I couldn't get past the corruption. Googling only brought back windows solutions to the corrupt tarball. I thought this very odd. Either I was missing something obvious or no one else had run into this issue.

I finally found a product for windows called gzrt which restored broken gzip files. It is a C program that comes with a make file. Of course, since I had a new install I didn't have a C compiler so I downloaded G++ the GNU C++ compile then found I was missing the zlib library which I also downloaded.

Once compiled, I lauched it against my corrupted backup
./gzrecover backup2.tar.gz

This made a file called backup2.tar.recover. Since tar doesn't work agianst bad files I used cpio to extract the data.
cpio -F backup2.tar.recovered -ivd

After that all was well. All my precious files came back.

Lessons learned include
1) FAT sucks.
2) Gzip and Tar should allow for more robustness.
3) Thank God for other geeks out there who have run into the same problem and taken the time to find a fix.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Learning To Fly

Well, we're off on another Zack sports event: Gymnastics!

Now, to start off, be it known that my son is not the most naturally gifted athlete. True, he can run further and faster that most kids his age and he somehow manages to hit a softball I throw him with his over sized bat. I tell him to use the smaller T-ball bat but he likes the cool red bat with the flame job. His choice of form over function disturbs me. I chalk it up to his two teenage half-sisters who's life revolves around image. But I digress.

Zack likes to go things alone. He doesn't like team sports. Its too much of everyone doing the same thing at the same time. BORING! Zack deplores that for some reason.

At play, Zack goes from place to place in the yard. He enjoys driving his Jeep, riding his bike or trike, throwing and batting balls, feeding the neighbor's horses, or just running around with our dog Milo. Since there are no other kids around he either plays by himself, Milo or my wife and I. Of course, finding frogs and insects is high on his list of enjoyments as well but the thing he loves best is to fly.

Teamwork is a foreign concept to Zack. His soccer experience was a poor one. He didn't like going out on the field. I think it was due to his fear of failure. We encourage, bribed, threatened and pleaded but Zack refused to take to the field during a game.

Gymnastics seemed a better choice for Zack. Its an individual sort of sport that makes use of his drive and energy. Initial signs were encouraging as his first trip to class was met with enthusiasm and, more importantly, participation.

I was out of town his first class. When my wife called and told me Zack had fun at class I almost yelled for joy. Finally we found something Zack liked to do with others. I wanted to see this for myself and went with my wife to see Zack jumping around and hanging from bars.

Zack did go to class and started to play with others. He has problems with staying in line, however. He doesn't stand in many lines and so the concept is foreign to him. Why would you stand in line when there is a perfectly good trampoline with no one on it.

After that class, where the coaches had to wrangle Zack into line, everything changed. He no longer wanted to go to class. He refused to do more than step inside the door. I admit, I was ready to admit defeat and chalk it up to another soccer experience.

Three times we tried and three times we failed to get Zack into class. On the last go around, I had to work and so Debbie took Zack by herself. He refused to go in and so she brought him home. He cried all the way saying he wanted to go back but there seemed no point if he would not participate or even go into the gym. The all-to-familiar soccer feeling set in and I assured myself this would be another bust.

So, we were going to give gymnastics one last shot. This time I was up to bat trying to entice Zack into class. Zack was conflicted about going. First he said he wanted to go then, in the next sentence, said he didn't want to go. Zack was one stressed four year old.

I decided to try. Debbie insisted. To be honest I would have been happy enough to go home but I sucked it up, bought Zack some cheese sticks at Sonic ( that always seems to help ) and drove him to the YMCA.

It started the same; Zack refused to go in. I asked him why. He said the teachers 'looked mean to him'. I looked at the coach. Andrew didn't look that mean to me but I did notice he scowled from time to time.

I told this to Zack. He looked at me with sad eyes and said, "No, he looked me AT me." A thunderbolt of understanding struck. Obviously during Zack's previous line jumping the coach gave him a stern look.

The solution, it seemed, was to get Zack past the 'mean coach' thought process. The male coach had an assistant who was near the door so I motioned her over. "Look Zack, she doesn't look mean to me."

The young Y staffer took the cue and put on a big smile and invited Zack over to his group. Zack didn't want to go so I held his hand as we walked over. The male coach gave Zack a big high-5 as he joined the group and that, it seems, is all it took.

Zack participated for the rest of the class. Yes he still left the line to wander around but this time the coaches were better prepared and asked him to rejoin. I became involved once when Zack said he was ready to leave. I offered one small bribe of visiting the Y pumpkin patch. Other than that, it all went OK.

In the war that is child rearing, this was a victory... and I have photographic evidence.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Reasons For War Are Often Not Reasoned

Wars are fought by groups, not people. This group can be a state, a county, a city, gang, religious group or a nation. When groups declare war and fight, the dead are called casualties. If a person kills another, the dead are called victims. In either circumstance, people are dead.

The motivations are remarkably similar in both war and murder. A man my be angry at another and therefore decide to kill the other. Similarly, one group can be so angry at another and so decided it must declare war to remove the threat.

Fear is another great motivator for taking another's life. If you fear harm from another to you or those you love then you may decide or be forced into taking another's life. Some would call this noble as a man kills someone threatening his family. Other times it is not as a man shoots another who is simply walking across some property. Likewise nations can go to war for what the fear another nation will do. In WW2 we were attacked by the Japanese but the nation we really wanted to fight was France... sorry, Germany. We feared Hitler and and the rest of the Axis (well, Italy not so much) and needed to get into the war.

Unfortunately, greed is another factor in war and murder. People kill people over possessions and likewise nations go to war over possessions. Whether its middle east oil Afganni uranium nations will sometimes take what they do not possess. Men will do the same killing another for the mere acquisition of property or goods.

Another emotion involved in violence is that of power. If a person or a nation feel untouchable they can often do things that wouldn't enter the mind of someone more vulnerable. Thus a powerful man man order the murder of another just because he feels he can get away with it. Likewise, a powerful nation may not fully consider the ramifications of going to war too easily thinking they are powerful enough to avoid any negative consequences.

Desperation is the final emotion I will consider in the essay. In many ways it is the exact opposite I think it is often the leading cause of criminal murders. Many more people die or lose property due to a criminal or drug abuser in a desperate situation than by organized crime killing someone who became 'inconvenient'.

So, why do we go to war and why to people murder? Murder is simple. One of the previously described emotions comes into play overriding the fear of being caught. War is as simple in a dictatorship or monarchy. The leader simply decides his country will go to war and sends the soldiers to the line. In republics or democracies it becomes a much more complex affair.

First the leaders much convince the rest of the group or the group's representatives of the need for war. At times this is easy such as the case of a sneak attack or the underlying hatred for another group overwhelms all sense of reason. Other times it is more difficult and the leader must build the case for ward.

In the case of either democracy or dictatorship the war can become unpopular if it lasts for long. The length of time for a democratic war seems to be around four years. Dictatorial wars can last longer but come at greater peril of having the government overthrown. Democracies just elect someone from the opposition who ends the war. This is an overthrow or sorts, but without the violence.

And so to go to war, leader's much tap into his group's negative emotions. Note, this doesn't just apply to war. It is often the way leaders motivate there followers. In American politics you see all sorts of examples of Democrats dehumanizing Republicans as baby starving, hate filled religious fanatics. You see similar statements from Republicans calling Democrats socialistic property thieves who want to give all your money to unwed, pregnant Mexican illegal immigrants.

One of the worst examples of this in the last century was Hitler. He preached that the Aryan nation was superior to the rest of humanity. The sub-humans should serve the Aryan nation or be cast into the ovens. He used every negative emotion to convince the German people war was the only answer.

Hitler used race as his tool of choice. This turns out to be a very effective tool for motivation. Humans have a need to feel a part of a group and there are few stronger group ties than race. The South used it as a way to keep Negroes enslaved and the United States used it as a justification to bring civilization to the Red Man. The fact that civilization came at the price of a huge land grab is beside the point.

Family is a stronger bond than race. Many family and tribal feuds happen just by virtue of the fact 'one of them did something to one of us'. The Arabs have s saying that goes something like “Me against my brother, my brother and I against our cousins, me and my cousins against the tribe, my tribe and I against the world.” Other than an interesting insight into the Arab mind, this also sums up man's natural emotions regarding family ties and loyalties.

Leaders use Nationalism, or more correctly regionalism, to trump race if the national identity runs strong. This is the case in the United States but not so much the case in places like Iraq. Nationalism runs strongest in the racial majority as they have seen the greatest benefit but you see nationalism in immigrants and their children who choose to move to a country for a better way of life. Nationalism runs more weakly in the minorities who feel exploited by those in power.

Religion seems to trump all other bonds. It slices across race, family and region. Since many are raised from birth to believe a certain way and, more detrimentally, in certain texts, a clever leader can use those beliefs and text to acquire power to convince a people to perform all sorts of heinous acts.

Note, before the flame wars start please read the following text.

I'm not saying faith is bad. I'm not saying religious texts are bad. What I'm saying is that a clever person, also known as a rules lawyer, can take the portions of the text needed to make a point and ignore the rest which contradicts that point. An example would be an unscrupulous Christian televangelist who used the Bible to con millions of dollars from old widows.

Some religions lend themselves better to violent/immoral manipulation than others. The Koran, for instance, replete with references to killing the infidel is particularly vulnerable to power hungry clerics looking to peddle influence through the death of others. Because religion is often taught from childhood, it is often difficult to contradict with logic and reason.

Seemingly worse these days are the ISMs. An Ism allows you to associate with a group with a common belief system. Indeed, Isms take the place of religion in many lives. While Isms normally start with a reason, rather than a faith, they become a faith unto themselves.

Environmentalist, these days, seems to be the secular world's answer to God. They start with a good premise; we should protect the environment since polluting it is bad and has negative consequences. OK. I don't know many who would disagree with that but the leaders of this movement move to strike down anyone who disagrees with their conclusion. Indeed, the environmentalist leaders use a skillful bait and switch stating that anyone who disagrees with their conclusion obviously disagrees with their premise. Their reaction bears a disturbing similarity to medieval witch hunts.

The environmentalist witch hunt is a microcosm explaining why group leaders (nation, race, religion and ism) use family, race, region, and belief system as motivations. It keeps people from thinking about the consequences of actions and thus makes it easier to lead a group to action; i.e. war.

Nations. religions and movement honor those who fight for them because they must. The motivation of honor, glory and reward, either in this life or the next, does much to motivate a soldiery. As it turns out honor, glory and riches is the best weapon old men have to use on the young to motivate them to fight.

As an interesting corollary, positive emotions such as joy, happiness and love are seldom used for such actions as killing and war. Oh, you hear of the odd case when someone loved another so much they had to put and end to their lives but such cases are rare.

So is there ever a reason for war. I believe there is but the key word is 'reason'. Reason here is used in the thoughtful interpretation of facts vs. finding facts to support the underlying emotions of fear, anger and greed. The only positive reason I can imagine is protection. In theory, democracies fight wars of protection and try to incite changes in unfriendly governments through success and the quality of that democracies ideas not by imposing democracy on others through brute force.

Indeed in Christendom, protection is the only way to motivate a people to war. Since, in theory again, Christians believe in love, peace and charitable giving, Christians cannot support a war that involves greed, anger, fear, desperation, or power hoarding. I think history is full of counter examples but again, we're talking theory here.

So what is my appraisal of war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Americans may say we went to war to 'free' the Iraqi people but most honest individuals will say it is because we feared what Saddam Hussein would do. It was fear that made us attack Iraq just as it was anger that made us attack Afghanistan. When a country goes to war saying it is 'protecting national interests' you can translate that into greed or desperation to hold onto what's theirs. While the American people were sold on the idea of freeing a repressed people and protecting those at home from foreign attack, I feel the stronger motivators were anger and fear but in the end history will be the judge. My fear, however, is that history often is written by the victor so we may never know.

We were ready to support military action because we were attacked. We used our emotions to filter through facts and come to the conclusion that killing other people was a good idea. When war was joined our nation rallied behind the troops and our leaders. Much like the environmental movement, criticism of the operation was stifled by our nations leader using the same tactic. If you disagree with the plans them you disagree with our premise and therefor a witch; i.e. you are unpatriotic.

My conservative friends, at this point, are yelling at the screen calling me a turncoat who let liberal Austin convert this red neck into an anti-war zealot. Well, this isn't really the case.

If we had won the war easily I most certainly would have been part of the crowd celebrating our great victory. Since the war in Iraq hasn't gone well, it gives us time to reflect on what went wrong. I was a strong supporter of the war in the beginning. I still support battling the hatred the Islamist spread if not the way we are doing it. But I feel that violence, is not the answer. It is a tool to make other nations do what is in America's best interest but I no longer hold to the illusion that we went to war for the Iraqis. We went to war because of anger and fear. Freeing the Iraqis and Afghanis was a justification, not a reason.

I believe it turned out the Rumsfeld was wrong to fight the war on the cheap. Too few troops were deployed to maintain peace which gave America's enemies a chance to grow strong. Likewise in Afghanistan, if people like John McCain hadn't insisted on B52 strikes to weaken the Tabliban then we would have never won there. Likewise, in Iraq, we should have deployed more troops to ensure the security there long enough to win the peace.

Sadly we lost the peace in Iraq and Al-Qaida won. The country was destabilized. Now we require more troops to do what should have been done earlier and we have the Bush administration to thank for it. Fiscal responsibility, in this case, damn near cost us the war.

The American left now sees weakness from Bush's failure and is capitalizing on it. They now use anger, fear, and quest for power to fuzz the issue without seeing the consequences of an early withdraw. We see signs of improvement on the groud as the surge gets under way but you would never know this if you listen to the rhetoric on the left. This is nothing new. Its happened before.

In the Vietnam War the anti-war movement not only took American troops out of the war but cut off all funding to a relatively stable South Vietnamese government. When financial support was cut, the government collapsed and millions of deaths occurred as a result and yet the left celebrates their efforts in ending the war. In a way they have more blood on their hands than those on the right who supported the war.

So by now my friends on the left are cursing me as a 'stay the course' zealot. If you're confused, read on. Even if your not confused, read on. The conclusion is coming soon.

We find ourselves in a dilemma concerning Iraq. If we leave, that country will go through a similar level of atrocities as Vietnam. Millions will die in ethnic and religious cleansing. Groups/Nations that hate us will see weakness and motivate their followers to great violence and spread an ideology of hate on others.

So is there a 'reason' to continue the fight. I submit that yes, there is a reason but the reason had better be for the right reasons, if you get my drfit. We can't fight just to pummel a society into our brand of thinking. If we are to be successful, it must be in the war of ideas where we win not through force of arms. True, you can force a populace to do what you want through force. You can even make them democratic but in the end, if the old ways are still there, it won't make much to bring a people back to its roots of violence and totalitarianism.

It is the hearts and minds that much change and that is the war we should be fighting more effectivly. If we don't, then every American life lost is wasted. But if we can protect the Iraqis long enough for the ideas to sink in, then it will be a victory. Sadly, only time will tell if we have the national will to stay long enough to find out.

And so to conclude:
  • Leaders use negative emotions to lead their followers to negative actions.
  • Conversely, leaders use positive emotions to lead their followers to positive actions.
  • An emotional basis for going to war is bad. It should only be undertaken for protection.
  • Going to war for protection sake involves reason, not emotion.
  • Love, peace and charity should be the underlying principles of a good society, not greed, hatred, and anger.
  • If you hold a gun to someone's head, they will agree with you most of the time but to really change their mind, you have to convince them your ideas are better than theirs.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Eclipse RCP 2 (a noobs account)

I'm going through the book Eclipse Rich Client Platform by McAffer and Lemieus and have been beating my head against the wall for a bit. In chapter four, they have you create an application named Hyperbola using the Hello RCP template. That all went well as I happily navigated the tutorial.

Now, here comes the part where I'm a bonehead. The book shipped with JDK 1.4 and Eclipse 3.1. The current version I'm using is Java 1.6 and Eclipse 3.3. Like an idiot I decided to try to navigate the book using the more recent distros. After all, who wants to use old stuff.

I noted some differences in my last blog about how things have changed. Well, here's another to add to the list. In chapter four they showed you how your plugin could remember the size and location of its window the last time the plug-in ran. Well, I left that in and spent a while trying to figure out why the tutorial in chapter five wouldn't work.

So, now for what went wrong.

When you use the Hello RCP template to generate a plug-in, it creates several java files. One of these is named In chapter 4 they had you make the following modifications to that file.

public void initialize(IWorkbenchConfigurer configurer) {
// TODO Auto-generated method stub

Well, for some reason when you make this change, it never calls createInitialLayout in which is what adds the new view to your perspective. So far I've tried running the configurer.setSaveRestore to true before and after the super class constructor but nothing seems to work.

I did eventually find a work-a-round at CT Armstrong's Blog. You can either delete the workbench.xml file from your target env or go to Run->Open Run Dialog and check Clear under Main->Workspace Data. You'll want to turn this back off or else you'll never save the position and size of your plug-ins window. The final version of my initalize method looks like this.

public void initialize(IWorkbenchConfigurer configurer) {

Good Luck(you'll need it)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Eclipse RCP

I recently decided to upgrade my skill set and add Eclipse RCP to my list of things I almost know how to do. I purchased a book on the subject and gave it a whirl.

The book exhorts you to have two environments; one for you development environment and one for your deployment environment. I already had the Eclipse JAVA development environment at 3.3 so I downloaded RCP and installed it into a new directory. After this, you must go into window-preference then expand Plug-in Development->Target Platform to set your target platform to the RCP install location. I found I had to reselect all the Plug-ins it found in the RCP install location.

Next you create your project and the plug-in. The book left out the important step of configuring the environment the first time you use the RCP installation target. This is ignored in most tutorials (or is new in 3.3) due to the fact that the writers already have their environment set properly at the time the tutorial was developed.

The first thing that bit me was that there are subtle changes in the 3.1 to 3.3 versions of RCP. When you create your first plug-in, you'll find that IApplication no longer has a run() method. These have now been switched to start() and stop(). This, of course, blows the code compare function given by the book since the code base for 3.3 is different from 3.1. I grit my teeth and plow ahead.

Your first tutorial doesn't do much but pop up a screen. When you generate the plugin you get the following java files: Application, ApplicationActionBarAdvisor, ApplicationWorkbenchAdvisor, ApplicationWorkbenchWindowAdvisor, and Perspective. is called at startup. Think of it as your entry point into the plug-in. is where you create any views or editors you want the users to see when the plug-in is first invoked. handles the GUI event loop. It has the following methods that can be overridden.
  • initialize() - called first to do such things as parse the command link, register adapters, and declare images
  • preStartup() - called after initialize but before the first window is opened.
ApplicationWorkbenchWindowAdvisor handles the windows customization like titles, placement and size.

ApplicationActionBarAdvisor creates and customizes information in the menu bar, cool bar (called tool bar most places) and the status line.

I've finished my first tutorial now and and off to the second. I'll post my problems and solutions here as I run into them

It had issues as well but I was able, in the end, to get it working in 3.3. This is the first tutorial. It has links to two others.

Good Luck (you'll need it)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ubuntu Upgrade

I upgraded to Feisty Fawn version of Unbuntu. So far I found this problem with Rhythm Box.

I finally gave up on it although I did learn a lot about passwords along the way. I eventually created a new key ring profile, then deleted the default one and renamed my new one to default. It didn't solve my problem but I did get past the one problem of not being able to edit it.

Other than that, everything in Ubuntu seven works well.

Here's an update: In a previous post I explained how to download and install Java 6. You don't need to undertake that long drawn out process any longer. It installs like any other package now. You still need to set the alternatives but the directory names are a bit different than my last post on the subject.

After you do the install via the normal package manager, do the following

  • sudo update-alternatives --install "/usr/bin/java" "java" "/usr/lib/jvm/java-6-sun/bin/java" 1
  • sudo update-alternatives --set java /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-sun/bin/java
  • java -version
You can always go back to a previous version but first you're going to need to find out what javas you have installed.

sudo update-alternatives --list java

This should allow you to use the 'set' command to set java to a previous version.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Top 10 Things I Leared About Taking a 4 Year Old to France

Most people just looked at me like I had a frog growing out of my head when I told them I was taking my son to France. After all, he's a rambunctious four year old and neither my wife nor I speak French. I have to admit, it was trying at times. Now that we are back I realize we have memories we'll keep forever. Some memories are fond ones. Others are memories we laugh at now. Of course some of the laughs are still a little manic but I'm sure this will pass in time.

But there were lessons learned from taking Zack. I've listed ten of them here in hopes others might be better prepared than I when taking a preschooler overseas.

  1. A jet lagged 4 year old is no fun. You may logically realize you need to get on a sleep schedule fitting the current time zone but a four year old is ill-equipped to grasp this and will keep you up all hours wanting to play.
  2. Paris, in one word, sucks. The people are in a hurry and therefor a bit rude. The drivers are insane. There are nice people there and thanks to all those that helped the lost Texans.
  3. With a 4 year old, Paris sucks more.
  4. Be prepared to eat lots of French food; mostly French Fries since McDonalds are everywhere and look just like their American counterparts.
  5. The high speed train (TGV) is wonderful and much better than flying. With a child in tow, it gets even better since they have a lot of cars they can explore.
  6. French food (once you get past McDonalds) is very good.
  7. French wine is very good and available at a low price.
  8. French is not an easy language to learn, and much like the dialect of the southern United States, drops the last few pronounced letters.
  9. If you try to teach a child to say C'est Bon (translated "This is good") in French, he just says "Bon"
  10. Once a 4 year old gets over his jet lag he has one good day then wants to come home.

Top things my wife learned about dealing with a four year old in France
  1. 4 year olds love trains, trams, buses and water and you will spend much time on and in these
  2. 4 year olds do not like to shop for food, clothes or anything other than trains, buses, planes…….
  3. When a mom with child has a breakdown in the airport because they have missed their flight back to the states and has no way to contact her husband, the French airport staff are very accommodating and pleasant and they buy you food.
  4. 4 year olds do not like to hurry, even when there is only 15 seconds to get on and off the trams
  5. 4 year olds love to embarrass you (I have one memory of him sticking his bare feet in the face of passenger sitting next to him on the plane)
  6. French bread is not fattening, of course it may be the 4 miles you have to walk to purchase the bread that causes that illusion
  7. I do not think that feeding bread to the ducks is an acceptable thing to do in France
  8. There is no grass around the sidewalks
  9. There is dog poo around every tree along the sidewalks
  10. Motorcycles drive fast on the sidewalks
  11. The French love blond children, therefore reinforcing the “I am the center of attention” mentality

Of special note is the fact that Zack watched King Kong in French from the hotel room after being a complete snot when Debbie was trying to shop for shoes. Eventually Debbie gave up and returned to the hotel angry that her shopping plans fell through.

There is one scene where King Kong is sliding on the ice playfully with the heroine. Zack said, "Ah, he loves her. He wants to buy her shoes." Those of you without kids won't realize how truly funny that is.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Uninstalled Google Deskstop

I had a situation with my work computer where I couldn't get google desktop to uninstall. For some reason the google desktop search engine had issues. Note, I love this product and found myself hurting at work because I didn't have access to it.

Here are the manual steps to uninstall.

How to manually uninstall Google Desktop Search
You can easily uninstall Google Desktop Search by going to Start > Programs > Google Desktop Search > Uninstall Google Desktop Search. If that didn't work, you may need to manually uninstall the program. Here is how:
As you may know, editing the Windows registry is a fairly advanced process. If you're not comfortable doing it yourself, you may want to contact your system administrator. That said, you should be able to solve the problem by deleting the following registry keys:


You'll need to restart your machine in order for this change to take
effect. Once you've done this, you can remove the program files for
Desktop Search. Here's how:

Open C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME-THAT-NO-LONGER-EXISTS\Local
Settings\Application Data\Google\Google Desktop Search. Delete all the
files in this directory.

You should now be able to successfully install and use Google Desktop

The above is from

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Magical Anniversery

Since I travel for work, I accumulate a lot of travel points for airlines and hotels. For my wedding anniversary, I decided to cash a few of these in to give the wife a special night out.

We dropped Zack of at his grandmother's house for an all too infrequent night out alone.

I started with making reservations at the Austin Hilton. I'm a diamond member of their frequent stayer program so I requested a complementary upgrade to suite. Luckily for me, I got it. The room was near the top floor so we had a marvelous view of the city.

I also ordered flowers for the wife, a nice bouquet of flowers in her favorite color. She was so impressed with the suite that she, at first, did not notice them. I mentioned that it looked like we had some flowers. She read the card and gave me a big hug and smooch.

I had another surprise that was due to arrive so I thought we should leave before things took off and we'd get an embarrassing knock at the door in the middle of something. I told her we had access to the executive lounge and that they had food and wine up there. We were both starving so the ruse worked. By the time we got back to the room, champagne and chocolate covered strawberries were on the living room table.

It was truely a great day. As planned, around nine, we left and picked up Zack so we could go swimming. He was asleep by the time we reached the hotel. Deb and I were beat from a hard day of having a good time so we all went to bed.

I woke up at 4 a.m. and looked out the window over Austin, Texas. I was so shocked by the beauty of the skyline and the full moon I snapped a cell phone picture of it. Sadly, the picture doesn't do the image any sort of justice and so this blog is more for me than anyone else. Now I can look and remember one magical night with the woman I picked to share my life.

So how does someone top such a magical night? Well, for her birthday I'm flying her and Zack ot France thanks to Frequent Flyer miles. Usually travel is a pain in the arse. But its times like these that it doesn't seem so bad.

Monday, March 26, 2007

ImageMagick, Travel Pictures, and Getting Pictures to Import

I had a problem importing photos on my Ubuntu O/S. I received the following error.
An error occurred in the io-library ('Could not claim the USB device'): Could not claim interface 0 (Operation not permitted). Make sure no other program or kernel module (such as sdc2xx, stv680, spca50x) is using the device and you have read/write access to the device.

It worked fine on my old Fedora Core system so I hit the web to find the answer. It only took a few minutes, and some help from Google, to find the answer. It appears to be a bug.

Here's the link to fix it.

You can read the whole thing but here's the crux of it.

Edit /etc/udev/rules.d/45-libgphoto2.rules
BUS!="usb*", GOTO="libgphoto2_rules_end"

SUBSYSTEM!="usb_device", GOTO="libgphoto2_rules_end"

On another subject, to change a bunch of photos at once, you can use a tool called ImageMagick. Here's a perl script I use to shrink photos for email or web posting. If you're using LINUX, you put it in a directory where your files are located and run it. At the end, you should wind up with some _sm.jpg.


## this perl script converts jpgs to smaller jpgs and set the maximum size.

$size = '640';
@files= `ls *.jpg`;
foreach $file(@files) {
chomp $file;
print "Infile is $file\n";
($outfile,$ext) = split(/\./,$file);
$outfile .= '_sm.jpg';
print "Outfile is $outfile\n";
$cmd = "convert -geometry $size $file $outfile";
print "$cmd\n";
system $cmd;

Here's another version that changes the formate from jpg to png. Note, you only need to change the filename extension to make this happen.


## this perl script converts jpgs to png and set the maximum size.

$size = '640';
@files= `ls *.jpg`;
foreach $file(@files) {
chomp $file;
print "Infile is $file\n";
($outfile,$ext) = split(/\./,$file);
$outfile .= '.png';
print "Outfile is $outfile\n";
$cmd = "convert -geometry $size $file $outfile";
print "$cmd\n";
system $cmd;

For more information about Image Magick, visit their site at

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wives Complete, Children Change Part 1

This was a small blog that, as I wrote it, expanded into a multi-part series. In this series I'll attempt to explain my personal philosophy of marriage and parenthood. As with most philosophies, mine is based on observations from my life and the lives of others.

In this installment, I'm going to talk about the reasons not to get married. In my opinion those reasons are
  1. Your Parents
  2. Your Friends
  3. Yourself
If you marry young, the primary example you have of how a marriage should work is your parents. Your gut, visceral reactions to marriage stimuli will be that of one or both parents. It is only calm and reason that will overcome this ( or a lot of therapy ). Therefor, if your parents had a bad marriage, you should enter into the institution carefully. By way of explanation, I'll give you some of my history.

I was raised in a house with parents that fought constantly. I was told from an early age the only reason my father was still in the house was to see the children graduate high school. After that, we were informed, he was gone.

I'm the third of four children. My parents had two children and decided that was enough. They had their boy and girl and therefor the perfect 1950s nuclear family. On top of that, my brother Chris was a hellion. He brought stress and trouble weekly, if not daily. His antics had my mom near a breaking point.

So, seven years after Chris arrived, mom discovered she was pregnant with me. She insisted it was only appendicitis (that had gone on for five months) and went to the doctor to be diagnosed. I'm not sure what the doctor said or how he said it. I'm sure he was happy and expected mom to be happy as well. She wasn't.

She came home and threw her purse at my father who, more than likely, was reclining in that old red nagahide chair drinking beer from a tupperware 'glass'. When the purse missed my father my mom yelled for all the neighbors to hear, "You bastard. You got me pregnant!"

Dad just smiled.

Worse, on the day I arrived, Doctor Shelton brought me in all bundled in baby blue and told mom, "Congratulations, its a boy."

"Not another boy!" my mom screamed and began crying. Then as the doctor laid me on my mom she began another kind of tears. I'm told they were tears of joy. "He's so beautiful," she said.

I'm told I was the perfect baby and easy to raise. When my younger sister came three years later it wasn't such a shock. Mom had already resigned herself to a middle age of raising children.

God, my friends, always has the last laugh.

As time wore on, my mother changed from the perfect wife of the fifties to a liberate (in a sense) woman of the sixties and seventies. I'm told by my older siblings, that one day mom had had enough. It was almost as if she carried any slight or insult my father gave in a bag on her back. When she exploded, the bag was flung at my father and it was the gift that kept on giving. Unfortunately, this occurred when I was a pre-teen and kept going until dad have his first heart attack.

Something about my father's brush with mortality changed the relationship between my father and mother. Its as if father understood he could die soon and mother pondered a life without my dad and decided things should change. They had a happy marriage after that (more or less). Unfortunately that didn't happen until after I graduated high school.

Entering college, my opinion of marriage was a low one and that opinion remained until my thirties due to the second reason not to get married; your friends.

I had two close friends whose marriages failed. One married his high school sweet heart and stayed married for seven years. The other, married at the end of a whirlwind romance. Both friends were miserable at the time of divorce. I'd known each of them for a long time and had never known anyone as sad as friends when they lost their wife.

Now I'll be the first to say I had a low opinion of both of these women. It was that they were horrible people, it was just that they made my friends sad or treated my friends poorly during their marriage. It was always odd going to their house. I always felt as though I was intruding. In fact, you could tell that any time spent with a 'single friend' was considered bad by the wives.

So, my overall impression of the union of my friends was that marriage was a horrid institution to be avoided at all costs. In the interest of full disclosure, they both did much better on their second marriage.

The third reason not to get married is yourself. Maybe your parents were always happy. Maybe your friend are still unmarried or have happy unions. But deep inside, you know, you aren't ready.

If you're thinking this, my opinion is, you're probably right. If you haven't met someone you're willing to be with for the rest of your life or you don't want to give up your life as it is then don't get married.

When you meet the right person, it will be as if you didn't have a life before. You want to spend every waking hour with them and think nothing of giving up Friday Night Poker. When you find THAT person, then you're ready to make the leap.

In the next installment, I'll detail how I found Zack's mom and how we fell in love.

Until then....

Friday, March 16, 2007

Top Things I Learned While in Germany

My job requires I travel a great deal. I don't really like this aspect of my job as it keeps me away from home. On the bright side, it does broaden my world view and lets me see how other people live on planet Earth

Normally I travel within the United States. Occasionally I travel overseas. During my career I've travel to England, Korea, Hong Kong, and Greece on business. On vacations I've visited Canada (not really a foreign country), Mexico, Scotland, and Ireland. I place California as an honorary foreign country list. While marginally part of the US it is, well, out there.

Today I'm in Germany for two weeks. I'm staying in Mainz City on the Rhein River. Mainz is a pleasant, old city which houses many museums and fine restaurants. Mainz was a major Roman fortress and the city has many museums dedicated to that time period. The city also houses the Gutenberg Museum with some of the original Gutenberg bibles on display. Basically, the city has a lot to offer any tourist.

From what I've seen so far, the rest of he country is equally as nice. The food is outstanding here. Never have I found a country that can cook steak like Germany. I come from Texas and from a family of ranchers. While I prefer my steak spiced differently than the Germans, I can't fault their selection of meat or their cooking method. When you order a medium steak here its medium all the way through. Heck, most Texas steak houses can't do that.

I think Germany has the best bread in the world. I'm on a diet. Correction, I was on a diet. The diet has suffered greatly here. For you see, Germans eat a lot of sausage, bread, cheese and potatoes. None of this is on my diet but I can't seem to stop eating it.

I haven't tried the beer yet. I know it to be good as I've had it in the past. I drink wine mostly these days and I have to say German wine is pretty good.

And so, on this St. Patrick's Day, I have a confession to make. Ireland has been replaced by Germany as favorite foreign country. In Germany the people are nice, the beer flows freely, and the countryside beautiful. My apologies Ireland, Germany blows you away in all categories.

So, now, the part you've been waiting for. Top ten things I've learned while in Germany.

1) German drivers are polite but fast. If you use your turn signal a German driver will slow down and let you in. In Austin a turn signal usually leads to the other driver speeding up and close the gap. The fast yet polite statement, at first glance, may seem to be a bit of an oxymoron but I think I have an analogy that fits; an armed society is a polite society. In the same vein, a fast driver is a polite driver in Germany.

2) 90% of all German work out clothes ( bike shorts, sweats, t-shirts ) are black.

3) The river Rhein is beautiful and rightly part of the World Heritage of Mankind.

4) Germans love sour kraut. For some reason I find this funny.

5) Germans are friendly and helpful. They smile when you try to speak their language and reply to you in English.

6) German waiters consider it rude if you leave their tip on the table. You should hand it do them. The tips here are smaller, only 5-10% of the tab.

7) German words make sense. Their language often puts words together to form a noun. This makes it an easy language to read once you learn the 'base' words.

8) Germans have a good world view. It is a proper mix of pragmatism and optimism.

9) Never present a German a problem unless you intend for him to solve it. He may take days but he will come up with a solution.

10) German food is Wundervoll!

Go Tigers

Go Tigers!!!!

I'm forced to say that now for the mighty Tiger is the mascot/name of my son's very first soccer team. Zack has turned four, you see, so it is time for him to give up his childish ways and turn to sports.

Sports. Just say the word a few times. It rings with power. It rings with determination. It rings with parents living vicariously through their children. Sports; civilization's alternative to war.

We signed my son up at the local YMCA to play soccer. "He's too young," you might say. But I say that you are never too young for a photo op that makes your parents smile. And smile we did as Zack took to the field for the very first soccer practice complete with team jersey, his own bright red and black ball, and over sized socks that covered his little shin guards. Man, was he cute.

Deb and I beamed as Zack excitedly took to the field. Of course, he was the cutest kid out there. After all, he's OUR son. He was equally cute when he asked that Deb stay with him during practice. Man, was that cute. He was even cuter when the couch asked the kids to kick the ball to the line then kick it back. He was the cutest ever when he kept kicking the ball into the next field, then down the embankment, then over to another field full of children. The cuteness wore off when he kicked the ball into the road and ran after it with Deb and I chasing after our adorable son yelling.

After that, embarrassment set it. Zack really isn't into the whole team thing. You see, in his mind there is an 'I' in team. The 'I' stands for 'I want to kick the cool ball over here'. Zack spent the remainder of practice kicking the ball here and there. He even kicked the ball where the couch told him to... once. He kicked the ball into the net then shoved his face into the net thinking it felt cool to have his mouth out one hole and each eye through another.

All the other kids stayed in line and did as told. All the other kids gathered in a huddle and talked about how much fun they were going to have this season. Zack ran here and there kicking is bright red and black ball where the ball led. In his defense, he kicked it a lot straighter than the kids who listened. I'm holding on to that. I have to for there is little else.

In his defense, Zack is only one of two children that have never played before. The other, a girl who is a year older, couldn't kick the ball well at all. As I said, I have to hold onto something.

A lady who sat next to Deb and I (she talked to one of us as the other was playing Zack goalie) asked if Zack was an only child. In a way he is. He has two older half-sisters that are 11+ years his senior. So it turns out he has three moms and is the only child of his dad. With all this he is, as expected, rotten as heck.

For Zack believes he is the center of the universe. I don't see this as a good thing or bad thing. It simply is the way it is. At the very least, he knows he is loved and that's more than I can say for a lot of kids... but I digress.

Zack, as the lady said, acts like most only children. He does what he thinks is fun. Following a group is not his normal mode of operation. He leads. If others follow that's OK. If they don't, well, that's OK as well. He'll have fun whether they're there or not.

After the practice, Deb and I were tired. Zack thought soccer was the coolest thing ever. Not better than Christmas or a birthday but pretty darn cool none the less. He was excited about hitting the field again. Maybe next time we can actually keep him on the field.

I understand they don't keep score at this age. All they try to do is teach the children how to kick the ball and hope beyond hope that they manage to get it in the correct goal. They don't enforce the rules either. At first I wondered about this. Then as I saw Zack kick the ball through a neighboring group of kids I understood. Its not about the score its all about the game and the fun of playing the game.

Zack has one more practice before his first game. I can't wait to see that first game. Regardless of the outcome it will be cute. After all, this is Zack we're talking about. And I'm holding on to the fact that he will, at least, kick the ball straight.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Childhood Memories (old and new)

I don't pretend to be a child development expert. I simply observe the goings on in my son's life and try to report them here so others might remember their children and smile or look forward to having their own kids someday. One of the most important things to look forward to in life is seeing your kids excited and happy about some big event.

The type of event isn't all that important but what is important is to remember when you were a child. Remember what it was like to go to a 4th of July parade? What about your first trip to the local lake each year? Remember what it was like, on a hot summer day, to pull a Popsicle out of the freezer and suck on it until you had brain freeze? Luckily when you have children those memories we would otherwise loose come back as we watch our children live through those life events.

At age three, Zack began to understand that Christmas was a big deal and that birthdays were nice. By age four he realized the titanic magnitude of these days. It was incredible seeing Zack look forward to Christmas this year; to see the anticipation of Christmas morning rise to almost unbearable levels.

But as good as Christmas was, Zack's 4th birthday was even better. After Christmas was over Zack asked if we could have Christmas again. I explained that it only came once a year. Although saddened by the fact, Zack accepted it the way one does April 15th. Then he heard the really good news, his birthday would come soon.

At first, this didn't seem to help him with the Christmas blues but as time progressed and his birthday got closer, the excitement began to build all over again. Then something amazing happened; Zack realized this was going to be HIS day. No one else would get presents, no one else would have their name on a cake, and best of all, no one get to blow out candles.

As a quick side note, the daycare in which Zack is enrolled has five children. Two other children there have birthdays within a week of Zack. We went to those parties last year but didn't invite any non-family members to Zack's previous parties. The theory was he was too young to know the difference. I think we might have been wrong.

When his friends arrive he was as excited as any four year old I've ever seen. The thrill of having his friends over, riding his motorized Jeep in the his yard, and playing in his room made for one happy Zachary.

But even that level of happiness was trumped when it came time for cake. Not just any cake, mind you, but Zachary's birthday cake with Zachary's candles. Candles which would be blown out by Zachary after THE SONG.

As everyone began to sing THE SONG, Zack began to tremble with excitement. He was literally shaking. It was finally here! His birthday with his song and, best of all, his candles to blow out. Somehow he avoided the stroke or heart attack that would befall any adult exhibiting such shear joy and excitement.

The present opening was almost anticlimactic. He received lots of cars. He's known as a speed freak and so most of his friends brought things that rolled. He also received a few other toys, some clothes from grandmothers, and a bicycle from Deb and I. But is wasn't the material objects he loved the most. His greatest joy came from having his friends over and having his birthday song sung to him.

The cars and other toys will break, or wear out, or become lost, the clothes will become too small but the memories of this day will linger. Oh, Zack may be too young to remember his fourth birthday party but I'll remember Zack's fourth birthday forever.

For you see, children are God's gift to memories. Seeing Zack live through these important events lets me remember what it was like when I went through them. And if not for Zack, I wouldn't remember them at all.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Barack Obama and the Aggie Chainsaws

I don't normally have odd dreams, at least not ones that I remember but Saturday night brought on doozy of a dream.

It started with Deb, Zack and I returning home from a relative's house. I recognized the land marks up to a point then realized I was lost. There were sign posts everywhere but none of them pointed to Austin (home).

The wife said she thought the road to Houston would get us there so I turned South and found myself in a great valley filled with toy electric trains. I drove carefully to avoid running over the small devices.

The wife said "I'm so tired of this cracked windshield. Would you finally fix it?" I looked up and saw a broken windshield. It wasn't a single crack but looked as though a large rock had hit the windshield causing a spider web of cracks right in front of my wife. Luckily for us, I saw a windshield repair place just ahead.

So we drove into one of the car bays at Doc's Windshield repair and got out. They said they would have it fixed shortly. We walked into the waiting room and discovered Doc also sold denim overalls; the kind with the two straps that go over the shoulder and connect to a bib in front.

The wife and I found this amusing and walked around the store. We discovered a locker room where folks viewed their overalls. There were some extremely odd body shapes that walked in to view their purchase. Deb and I laughed.

Zack wanted to go outside so we walked out to find the other side of Doc's was a Rocky Mountain forest looking over a beautiful lake and Doc's had somehow turned into a log hunting lodge.

I heard a phone ring and several overalled workers answered by activating a speaker phone. The voices coming out of the speaker were two folks I recognized. It was the Earl brothers who run an IT consulting shop. They were telling the workers of a large job of running computer cables across the country and were informing the workers of their tasks.

At the end of the call I said 'Hi' and the two recognized me. While we were talking my wife called my cell phone telling me KASE 101 (an Austin radio station) had a contest and I should go there immediately and try to win a turkey. I asked where she was and she stated she was already there. I had talked to the Earl brothers for so long that the car was ready. While she was test driving it she heard about the contest and drove out to it.

"I've got no way to get there," I said.
"Bum a ride with someone," she said.

So I asked some of the overalled guys with odd body shapes if they would take me. We drove to the contest which was in the middle of a corn field. There was a poor turkey stretched out on a huge tree stump. The contest, it seems, was to chop the turkey's head off. The person overseeing the contest was none other then Barack Obama, presidential candidate.

Many others tried to sever the turkey's head and failed. So as soon as I arrived someone handed me an ax. I said, "this is too small."

Barack just smiled and said, "Don't worry. I have just the thing."

He opened up his campaign van. It was full of axes. He had large and small axes but what he had most of was Aggie chain saws.

FYI: An Aggie chain saw is a normal tree saw which consists of metal tubing bent with a saw blade connected to either end. The Aggie version of this has a length of chain in place of the saw blade. It supposed to be funny. I was just confused as to why Barack had a campaign van full of them.

Barack handed me a huge, headsman's ax like the one used in Braveheart. Everyone was standing around yelling, "Chop! Chop! Chop!" so, I chopped. The task was quickly done but no one was around after the ax fell. Even the poor turkey was gone.

The overalled workers called me back to an old Chevy pickup truck saying they had to get back. We listened to KASE 101 on the way and I chatted with the DJs Bama, Rob, and Julie on my cell phone. Bama said he didn't know how I chopped the turkey's head off since when he tried, he just screamed like a little girl. Rob said that wasn't that unusual for Bama to scream like a little girl. We all laughed.

My wife called again to say how happy she was that I won then the phone went dead. In the distance I saw mushroom clouds, the kind you get from a nuclear explosion, but these were phantom mushroom clouds. Not real but dangerous all the same. I started worrying about Zack and Debbie and how I would keep them safe. Panic set in and I awoke.

Not sure what all that means but it was odd enough to share.

Happy Monday

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Automatix on Ubuntu Linux

one of the forum guys, I loaded in Automatix which, amoung other things, provides links to the various multimedia codex. So far it just looks like a list of popular downloads. Seems like this could have been done with a web site vs. an application but it may download and install things that are in a non-debian install file.

I'll update the blog with the things I install from Automatix but below you'll find the intstructions for loading the software on Ubuntu Edgy.

 echo "deb edgy main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list

Second Step:


Third Step:

 gpg --import key.gpg.asc

Fourth Step:

gpg --export --armor 521A9C7C | sudo apt-key add -

Fifth Step:

 sudo apt-get update

Sixth Step:

 sudo apt-get install automatix2

Friday, February 2, 2007

Uncivil Air Patrol

An alternate title for this argument might be 'Confessions of an egomaniac and future security guard.'

Some confessions are in order here. I was in band: not a band, the band. The band was a marching band and I began this ultimately uncool endeavor while in 7th grade. Oh, its not like they make you geek march at first. Oh no, the plot is much more insidious.

First they introduce you to an instrument. Me, I played the trombone because I thought it looked cool. Hey, I was twelve. Anyway, you start down your road to hell in 6th grade. In Greenville they had one, and only one, music store from which to buy instruments. The fact that the owner of the store was the ex-high school band instructor is, I'm sure, purely coincidental.

Later in life I realized this must be some sort of retirement for old band teachers. Put in your time as a teacher for a bunch of off-key, tone deaf, rhythmless teenagers, then retire and make a fortune on low quality band instruments sold to unwitting parents who will think their children have talent no matter how badly they play. I have to admit its one hell of a deal.

At any rate, the owner of this store would do his best to bring in musicians to play at various churches and functions to ensure parents that playing an instrument in the band is a good thing. No, it can't be something innocuous like piano, which you can disavow any knowledge of later in life. He convinces them that playing a stupid looking instrument IN FRONT OF HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE is a good thing. Thus most children are given a choice of play or die: much like homework.

So, there I was a gawky kid playing a gawky instrument in a gawky band uniform marching around a football field looking…well gawky. Was this bad enough for me? Hell no. Me, I had to make things worse and join the Civil Air Patrol.

The CAP's intended purpose is to act as an auxiliary to the Air Force. When an aircraft goes down, the CAP is called upon to go find it. This involves waking up a bunch of teenagers from a perfectly good sleep, dragging them hundreds of miles to an airport, telling them they are going to look for a plane, then having them hang around said airport while the adults actually search for the plane. Of course this is how it works in theory. In reality, it's much more frustrating.

So I joined this rag tag group of ultra geeks for the usual reason: a friend said it would be cool. The fact I played the trombone and marched around a football field should be an indication as to my ability to judge coolness. So, of course, I joined.

Looking back it wasn't that different from band. We marched a lot, we sat around in a room and learned first aid that could be used while standing around at an airport, and we took tests in order to progress in rank. Rank was very important since it allowed you to tell others what to do based on the fact you'd taken more tests.

It was here that I met a young man of Polish decent. He enjoyed giving orders. He enjoyed pretending the rescue people. He enjoyed the perception of power even if the reality of it was a bit thin.

I'll call this young man Don. Don had the honor of being in band as well. If possible he played an even more inane instrument than I: a barisomething. Baribone, baritone, boonsoon. Hell I don't remember. I've done my best to repress all memories of band.

Don loved the Civil Air Patrol. He loved barking orders. He loved standing at attention (which he somehow did even while sitting) and he loved pretending to bandage the wounds of others with substandard gauze and white tape. I suspect he practiced on his dogs at home. Not that I know for a fact he had dogs but he definitely was more a dog than cat person.

After a year of marching, taking tests, and taking orders I decided the CAP wasn't for me. I think the final straw was going on a 'mission' and sitting around another airport and seeing some drunk old guy with a haphazard uniform dress down a firend of mine for wearing the wrong kind of belt buckle.

Don and I remained friends until graduation, then parted ways. We met a few years later. He'd put on about thirty pounds and was wearing a mall security guard outfit. Oddly enough, he looked at me as if I were some sort of criminal. After a few abortive attempts at conversation, I walked away confused.

I saw the guy every few years. He continued to gain about ten pounds a year. He made it to my twentieth high school reunion but barely made it through the door. He still wears a security guard uniform.

I guess there are a few lessons to be drawn from Don. One is never play the bari-something. I may have a detrimental effect on your future. Another is, if you are a control freak, at least be a control freak that doesn't involve a mall and a uniform. There are good jobs in a mall but I can think of none that involve a semi-cop uniform. And lastly, never, ever, under penalty of jail time, show up to your twentieth high school reunion in a security guard outfit. You'll be talked about for years.

Where every you are Don, good night and good luck.

Love is the True Measure of Success

Note: I wrote this back in my idealist early thirties but I think it still holds true today.

With what is a man born?

What allows him to survive to adulthood?

Food, Clothing, Shelter?

None of these allow a man to grow up secure and safe unless the child is loved. Without love there is no joy and without joy there is no life. This love is freely given by parents, family, friends, and guardians. For Love is something that cannot be found, cannot be gained through deeds, and cannot be stolen. Love must be given by another.

For what does a young man quest?

What drives him forward into the peril of uncertainty?

Honor, Devotion, Ambition?

All these pail in comparison to the man who quests for Love. For Love is something that cannot be found, cannot be gained through deeds, and cannot be stolen. Love must be given by another.

What makes a man great?

When a man arrives at greatness what brought him there?

Hard Work, Luck, Fate?

First we must define greatness. Many of the rich and powerful are broken, lonely souls with no one to love. Therefore, I say a man is as great as the love others bestow upon him and by the love he bestows upon others. For Love is something that cannot be found, cannot be gained through deeds, and cannot be stolen. Love must be given by another.

How do we measure a man's worth?

When he dies, how is his wealth divided?

Money, Possessions, Titles?

His wealth is seen in the people that loved him and mourn his passing. When we love someone, we give up a portion of ourselves. When that person is separated from us, we feel the pain of that part being taken away.

We don't think of love as pain but it is. There is a tribe in South America who's word for love translates literally into "pain of the heart". Only someone we love can truly hurt us through word or deed. The only tears some adults shed is when a loved one dies. The pain of eternal seperation is simply too much. And so we must decide whom to love and whom not to love; knowing that someday we may be separated from them forever..

But Love is also happiness. The joy we feel when loved one surround us is that love being returned. Thus love returned is happiness. And so we go through life, wanting to be happy but afraid of being hurt. The circuit of love given and returned is the true path to joy and happiness.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Adventures in Graceland

Back in the early 90s I worked for a consulting firm employed by Federal Express. I spent nine months working on the project and spent half that time in Memphis. Here's something I wrote while there. Of all of my adventures in the city of blues, Graceland stands out in my mind as the most bizarre.

It was a Sunday. I had mistakenly brought nothing but suits with me on that trip. I wore suits to work everyday. It was Cutler/Williams corporate policy. The job I had before Cutler/Williams allowed me to wear sweats so the change came as quite a shock. I decided wearing suit pants and a dress shirt all day Sunday wouldn't be any fun so I went to Walmart for a comfort buying spree.

It was around one o'clock when I arrived at Wally World so I encountered the church crowd. It consisted of a lot of over weight men in polyester suits and women with big hair. I really wanted to get in and out quick so as to avoid unnecessary contact with the hicks on parade. I'm a little sensitive about hicks because I almost was one. I purchased tennis shoes, a sweat shirt and pants, all for under 50 bucks. Let's just say they were not top quality products.

I went back to my room and got comfortable. The Dallas Cowboys weren't on. Since I was a fan at the time, that sucked. Note I no longer root for that team since the foreigner took over.

I decided to read a book. Just as I'm dosing off after the first chapter ( technical books always make me sleepy ) my faithful Indiancompanion Parchi ( no really, he's from India ) knocked on my door. "Keith," he says, "I want to go to Graceland." What the heck. I'm in Memphis. The Cowboys aren't on the tube. I have nothing better to do so we go.

My first impression of the King's abode came from the parking lot. Yes, I said parking lot. It turns out that the Elvis Presly Estate, EPE for short, has a major industry surrounding Graceland. The parking lot is on the scale as the Walmart I visted earlier with approximately the same clientèle.

It was a cold Sunday afternoon and the parking lot was still almost 1/2 full. I couldn't believe it. After a brief hike past the Elvis Airplane museum we made it to the main ticket building in the Graceland shopping/museum complex. This place is pretty big. About the size of a small mall. It has no less than 4 shops, 2 restaurants, 3 museums, 1 movie theater and a reception area. I just stood looking around in awe.

I heard Parchi ask me a question but my mind was on Elvis overload.

"Huh?" I said, slowly pulling my jaw back into place.

"I asked if you wanted to get tickets for everything, you know man, all the museums and films and stuff."

"How about we just do Graceland and then see how much time we have left"

"Oh, OK." He was disappointed I could tell.

Even as I asked the question, I knew what the answer would be. "Hey Parchi, is Elvis very big in India?"

"Elvis is big everywhere" he said.

I could tell by the tone of his voice he thought this was a stupid question. The answer should have been obvious to anyone. Just what I need. Ghandi with an Elvis fixation. I realized that I needed to watch what I said or I could offend my co-worker. As it turns out this probably either saved my life or kept me from getting the snot beat out of me by trailer park people. But I'm getting ahead of my self.

Graceland was a short bus ride away. Parchi and I bought our $9 tickets and headed for the bus. As we queued up, I noticed the people around me. The usual tourist group was there; Orientals with cameras, a young couple with a baby, some obvious retirees, and lastly Parchi and me. Two more families joined the line before we loaded. As it turns out both groups were trailer park people with Elvis fixations. This was the first time I thought of the term which described them so perfectly. These people were Elvisians.

It fit. These are the people that read the Globe and the National Inquirer. These are the people abducted by UFOs. These are the people that voted for Fritz Mondale. By the way, if space aliens did abduct people, the Elvisians would be perfect candidates. Not only would no one believe them when and if they returned but I can think of no one else I'd like to see removed from the planet.

As we boarded the bus, each of us were given a tape player with "PROPERTY OF GRACELAND" stamped on it. Apparently this was a self paced tour. We were instructed to turn on our recorders. I place my headphones on and pressed the "ON" button. Nothing happened. Thank God for small favors. Billy Bob of Elvisian group #1 was having difficulty finding the on button. His massive set of chins no doubt hindering his ability to see it. Finally his wife, Marj, pushed it for him. Marj's mother gave a snort of disgust and mummered something about dumb and ox.

Elvisian group #2 seemed content enough. They were watching everything. "I bet he's up stairs right now" I heard one say. Apparently they were of the 'Elvis is Alive' sect of the Elvisians. I couldn't help but smile. This was going to be fun after all.

Parchi clicked his off button. Others did the same so I assumed the first section of the tape was complete. I couldn't help but notice the idiot grin on his face. He was enjoying himself immensely. So was I but for completely different reasons. The situation only got funnier.

Our first tour guide was a little guy with a high pitched southern accent. Smart remarks kept coming to mind but I suppressed every one of them. I noticed the young women with the baby had the same mischievous grin I did. When we locked eyes it was nearly more than we could do to keep from laughing.

The two Elvisian groups seem to have bonded. Between discussions of the greatness of Elvis came talks on the relative merits of manufactured housing. "Now if you would turn your tape players back on we'll enter the main hall," the tour guide finished.

If the impact of the moment was wasted on me, it was not wasted on the Elvisians. As devoted Catholics entering the presence of the Pope, they crossed the threshold to Graceland. Awe-struck they walked through the entrance to the Temple of Gawd. The young lady, I think her name was Beth, and I hung back to watch the others. Her husband Jeff was a semi-Elvisian so she also had to watch what she said.

The place was indeed the house of Gawd. Gawd made it's home here and Gawd was here to stay maintained and preserved by the EPE. I wish you could see the post cards I bought of each room. Words cannot describe it. Experience can barely contain it. My mind works even now to remove the memory of it. Bright yellows, royal blues, tacky glass statuettes, and that ugly green shag carpet so prominent in the 70's were all here in abundance. I remembered some of the styles from my childhood. I'd truly forgotten how ugly the 70's were.

My mom had some of these same decorations when I was a child. My first thought was that if mom had gotten lots of money back around '72, this is what her house would have looked like.

We completed our tour of the Living room, Dining Room, and Kitchen and headed downstairs to the TV and Pool room. The Elvisians had finally shaken themselves of their reverent silence and began talking amongst themselves again. It was a this point that I found out the mother-in-law of Billy Bob was psychic or at least she thought she was.

"The spirit of Elvis is close by. I can feel it"

"Of course he's close by. He's up stairs."

"What kind of idjit thinks the King is still alive."

"If he's not upstairs, why won't they let us up there."

And so the argument went. Beth and I were at the back of the group swapping snide comments. We had to do this in hushed tones in order to avoid a jihad by the Elvisians.

The TV room was a sight to behold. The bright, bright yellow mixed with dark royal blue in conjunction with mirrors on the ceiling lead to an effect that required sun glasses to appreciate. Think of the yellow vinyl material they used to make bean bag chairs. That was the decor of this room.

The baby on Beth's shoulder chose this moment to puke. Don't worry. Not a drop hit the sacred floors of Graceland. My left shoe caught it all. Beth started to apologize but I stopped her. "I know just how the kid feels." The shoe self destructed some 20 hours later.

Next we headed for the pool room. This room has some form of tapestry on each wall and the ceiling also. It reminded me of a giant, square, paisley tent. This is also where the trailer park psychic saw the ghost of Elvis. I guess billiards and the after life sort of go together. I wonder what effect this news would have on theologians and philosophers .

Next up was the Jungle room. We've been informed that this was one of Elvis' favorite rooms. The stairs on the way up from the basement are carpeted in green shag. Not just the floor but the walls and ceilings as well. This trend continues in the Jungle room. Carpet is on the ceiling. I stand in awe. Billy Bob made the comment that Elvis was probably the first person to think of putting carpet on the ceiling.

"No," I mummer, "he's the first person to think of it and not think it was stupid"

Apparently Elvisians have good hearing because I got several scowls. After that I didn't see much of either group.

Next on the tour was the office area. The only really interesting thing about it was the fact that there as a shooting range in the same building. Next came the Graceland museum and finally the racquetball court/Elvis monument. This was actually one of the more tasteful exhibits.

Finally we near the end of the tour at the "really final" resting place of the King. Apparently his last "final" resting place wasn't secure enough so they moved him to Graceland. It was here that we caught up with the Elvisians. Group one was in respectful silence while group two was wondering who was actually buried there. "Maybe it's Jimmy Hoffa" I say in my most innocent voice. I could see the look on all of the Elvisians. They had one thought on their respective pea brains; Kill the Heretic.

A short bus ride and many dirty looks later found us back at the Elvis strip mall where we were forced to buy Elvis souvenirs. I noticed a strange look in my co-worker's eyes. He began to have that same sort of vacant expression on his face characteristic of Elvisians. Parchi drove us forward into shop after shop, museum after museum, all at a pace the would kill Mongols. He had to see it all. He had to do it all. I had to stop him before a UFO abducted him and subjected him to rectal probes.

Elvis mania was upon him! What to do? My friend was becoming an Elvisian before my very eyes. The PA spoke. "Graceland will be closing in 5 minutes"

I looked upward and mouthed a "Thank you" to God. I glanced a Parchi. He had to have more whatever the cost. Then slowly, oh so slowly, sanity returned to my friend's face. "Well, I guess its time to go."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Hey, we'll be coming back to Memphis again. Maybe we can come back and see the rest," I lied.

"Yeah, maybe."

Parchi was quite on the way back to the hotel. He looked like he'd lost his best friend. I think on some level he knew how close he'd come to an Elvis OD.

Me, I left a little sadder than when I went into Graceland. Not because of what I saw of Elvis but what I saw of the Elvisians. Their lives seem to revolve around the King. They missed the point that Elvis was just a guy. As good or as bad as any of us. Mostly he was just a small town southern boy who made good. I'm not sure he knew the effect he had on people. I'm sure he never guessed that Elvis cults would spring up across the nation after his death.

I can even forgive him his house. If I made a gazillion dollars back then and let my mom decorate, it probably would have turned out much the same way ( although I hope I would have forgone the shag carpet on the ceiling ).

To this day, he fills a niche in some people's lives by giving them something they're missing. He makes them feel a part of something bigger and better. I don't know why he still effects people this way after so many years. I think its genetic. Probable involves the same gene that makes people think living in tornado bait is a good idea.

I did learn a lot about Elvis from going through the museums erected in his honor. He was generous with his money. There were several walls of "thank you" certificates from charity groups. There were even more walls containing all of his gold and platinum albums. His music changed the world and, as much as I hate to admit it, he is still the King of Rock 'n Roll.

In the end, I have to say I had a pretty good time. If you like people watching, or maybe I should say weird people watching, go to Graceland. It's a hoot. If you're ever in Memphis, check it out.