Month: December 2014

Emergency Update

In case you were on here yesterday, for a brief period (a very long hour for me) the site was down. What happened? A confluence of things:

  • The main hard drive filled up with an ever-expanding collection of source code
  • I split said source code onto several machines, requiring a re-installation of the SCC software
  • I ended up with repositories incompatible with the old version of the SCCS
  • So I had to update the operating system
  • Which updated everything, making my configuration files pretty much unusable

Here is the skinny.

1. Filled Up Hard Drive

The first problem I encountered were yelps from the server itself: it sent me messages gasping for air, as all internals started dying because there was no room left. Temporary files would not write; log files and rotation would die; even cron jobs would shatter.


L’America: Please, Read My Christmas Letter!

Christmas Letter templateIt’s that time of the year again! I get more nostalgic of Old World charm, missing out on Christmas Markets, panettone, Lebkuchen, and wildly flashing trees in the countryside. Time to acquaint you with the quaintest of American traditions, especially since it’s slowly dying out!

The first time I saw a Christmas letter I had no idea what it was. It had all the appearance of a letter: it was a piece of paper with writing on it; the writing was of personal nature; we knew the people that had sent it to us.

At the same time, it wasn’t a letter: it was photocopied; it was impersonal; it was boastful to the point of bursting with pride. Nobody I knew would ever talk like that!

I didn’t know that I had encountered an American tradition such as is only possible in America. You see, what happened here is the convergence of three peculiarities of this culture:


A Week with Amazon Echo – the Review

Amazon EchoReally? Amazon Hardware?

Amazon’s hardware efforts have always been a mixed bag. Some of them, like the Kindle eReader, were a smashing success to the point of helping change the way we read. Others have been largely panned, like the Fire Phone.

When Amazon delivers, it gives us the hardware we expect: state of the art, but much less expensive than other state of the art. Just like everyone else, but better. You can not only read your books on the Kindle: you can buy them on it, too.

When Amazon doesn’t deliver, it gives you a me-too product with restrictions. That was the case with the Fire Phone, a flagship-priced device that came with mandatory AT&T subscription, but didn’t run standard Android and downloaded software only from Amazon’s anemic app store.


When I got an email from Amazon announcing the Echo, I was as ambivalent as Amazon’s hardware efforts. Should I buy a speaker for $99? Yes, it was supposed to be intelligent, but no, there was no way to modify the software. No apps for it, no development kit. I might buy something, and Amazon may then decide to pull the plug on it.

But what can you do? You put a shiny new gadget in front of me, and I can’t say no. Also, I’ve really never had any real problem with Amazon’s returns, so if I didn’t like it, I was confident I would be able to send it back for a full refund.


L’America: Are Canadians Too Nice?

When you live in America, there are two national stereotypes that pop up frequently and are as pervasive as they are puzzling: Brits have bad teeth, and Canadians are too nice.

The stereotypes are not only pervasive, they are thought of perfectly harmless and worthy of making fun. If you have watched American comedies, you will have seen the buck-toothed, yellow-stained Brit smile. Also common, the Canadian brute that turns all polite.

In fact, sometimes the Canadian stereotype is geared towards the brute that is too polite. The best example I can come up with is Robin Scherbatsky, the beautiful tomboy that is the central character of How I Met Your Mother. She is depicted as someone that was trained to be a man by her domineering father, who lives up to the expectation, but who also is unfailingly hyperpolite.

Oddly, in both cases, the stereotype says more about the people holding it than about the people stereotyped. You see, Brits and Canadians are close enough to Americans to be able to routinely pass as such. They are of the same genetic makeup, they dress largely similarly (although I am pretty sure my British friends would object to that), and they have largely compatible social interaction structure.


L’America: Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, and Police Racism

A number of you have asked how it is possible that a police officer shoot an unarmed person and is not just not punished for it, but not even investigated. Such was the case of Darren Wilson, a police office in Ferguson, Missouri, who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old.

I’ll go to say in general that I agree that police has a greater latitude on the use of force than an average person. Clearly, the people that have a sworn duty to protect others deserve the deference of respect from those they protect – which includes me.

Deference and respect, though, don’t mean a free pass. So why wasn’t there a court case against Darren Wilson? Wouldn’t that be necessary not only to establish the truth, but also to clear the conscience and future of the man that is now going to be free to move but forever confined by his history?

Technically, the reason is that the jurisdiction in which the tragedy occurred uses Grand Juries to determine whether someone should be tried. The local prosecutor, the District Attorney, convenes a Grand Jury to determine whether there is enough evidence to prosecute. The Grand Jury either confirms there is or denies the prosecutor’s request. In practice, though, the Grand Jury does what the prosecutor wants.


Interdictum! Excluding Companies by Behavior

Sometimes a company will do something egregious. Something so irritating that it makes me want never to do business with them again. I then put them on a “secret” list, and I do business with them only if absolutely necessary or if they change their ways. This is an introduction to that list.

United Airlines was the first company that made it on the list. It was around the year 2002 and I was flying down to San Diego (from San Francisco) for the wedding of two friends. The wedding was on Sunday, so I flew first thing in the morning on Saturday to have a day at the beach ahead of the nuptials.

I got to the airport and made it through security. Two hours ahead of the flight. Gotta be ready, right? But somehow, the airline had overbooked the flight and kicked us out. It was annoying, sure, but there were plenty flights to San Diego.

The next one came and went. No empty seats, so they wouldn’t seat us. Then the next. Then the next. It was past noon, and we had been sitting at SFO for six hours already. Mind you, we had done everything right: we had bought our tickets well in advance, we had shown up well in advance, we had simply booked a ticket on an airline that sucks.