a view into the sordid life i lead

Thursday, August 30, 2007


been wanting a better blogging client that's cross platform and so far the pickn's be paltry:
  • flock: leaks memory on amd64. blogging interface is pretty sucky. not available (yet) as a portable app. you know, it's silly how fast people on the tubes get things done. there *is* pocketflock. need to try it out!
  • drivel: pretty much sucks. sorry. i really should write more on why. i'll do so soon.
  • scribefire: i like it so far - i can put it into my portable firefox, and have it run off my memory stick and take it anywhere i need to. wish it had flickr integration as well so i could upload pics directly to flickr (a la flock)

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A little less suckage from Microsoft

I had to resurrect my winbloze machine last week due to some contract gigs which required that I work with MSSQL and IE. This is after a year of the poor hardware resting in my basement, and my Ubuntu box giving me super amounts of joy. I actually had to turn the machine on because I found that MS doesn't always blow.

1. COM, or OLE Automation
I got a gig recently to automate some website logins. I initially went down the path of a Firefox extension (thanks Quinn - but when will we finish it, dammit? ;) ). That was somewhat painful, but greasemonkey is just freaking amazing. But this is about how M$ sucks less, not how Mozilla sucks less, so ...
The most convenient approach turned out to be to use COM (a complete citrix-house, so no probs). A super simple script in Perl, use Win32::IEAutomation tied to a SQL Server back end (with Win32::SqlServer) did the trick. The app essentially allows a small group of logins to be used in round-robin sequence by a large group of people, with automatic kick-out after some time. There are a number of interesting applications to this idea, which I'll have to elucidate at some point.

I really, really wish that the GUI app space on Linux/*BSD would be able to do automation like this. I know Expect can do a lot, as can Perl (and I use it almost every day). But to be able to automate an entire application (like OpenOffice, for instance) would just be very nice. The Watir-OpenQA guys are doing some interesting things in this area, which I need to follow more closely. There's also DogTail, which looks like it could be promising. I have to try it at some point.

2. SQL Server Management Studio
I blogged previously about database front-end tools for connecting to SQL Server from Linux. There are, of course, several to connect to MySQL. I hate to say this, but management studio is amazingly powerful, and nothing on linux comes close to the ease of use or power. Obviously it only works on windows, but interestingly the concept of linked servers is incredibly useful for connection to any external (i.e., non-MS) database as well.
I would love to see something like ManagementStudio on Linux. And I believe the way to do it would be using Mozilla as the framework, sort of in the same way that Komodo did for IDEs.
There are actually no hard limits that I can imagine, except perhaps connectivity to MSSQL from Linux, but thus far FreeTDS and jTDS have worked relatively well for me.
The other alternative is to do this using Mono, but my luck with Mono is pretty low so far. I'm constantly frustrated at how hard it is to make Mono do pretty much anything (as far as RAD GUI'ing I mean).

3. Regular expressions-based searching in Visual Studio and Management Studio
This is something MS should make standard in EVERY search window, through an advanced search option. I use VIM and absolutely LOVE the fact that I can regex my way through anything. I wish things like Excel, Word, Visio, and all the other MS crap that I have to use regularly would give me regex searching!
Actually, come to think of it, why the heck can't every Linux app integrate this as well? It's just a simple library to include in the compile. Yeah it would bloat things a wee bit, but it's not like OpenOffice is not bloated already!

Thus far I have not found anything else on Windows that makes me happy to switch back.

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Friday, August 17, 2007


You know, I've often used omg for things that really didn't deserve it. And then I had to think, hmm... I wonder if I'll ever run into a situation that makes me go OMG!!! Well we got the big whammy this week. We got a grand ole' OMFG! Yup, that good:

On an entirely separate note, but still on the omg (yeah, sorry, it's really a lower-case omg coz' you know, it's kinda exactly what we all expected but are still like wtf?) vein:

Monday, August 13, 2007

Greatest Fears

My friend Peter came over for chai, and we got into an hours-long discussion about esoteric stuff. He said that his biggest fear is ...
... to open the door and find himself looking back at him.

Which brings me to an interesting point: what fears really drive us? Mine seem to revolve around stupidity ( i.e., fear of).

Friday, August 10, 2007

On a roll

How the hell can I, a complete inept on the farming, grow tomatoes and arugula that taste better than anything I've ever purchased at any market? Why is it so hard to find decent produce?
But given that, Bob's barn still has the best damn peaches in this town, and that includes any organic peaches at Everybody's.
Just to give credit where it's due - whatever the hell the Maharishi Vedic Farms people are doing - playing classical Indian music to the plants, praying to them, toking up with the adolescent zucchini plants, reading poetry and dancing naked under full moons, or whatever else - something is working. The produce is the best I've had in this country. But *does* it have to cost as much as it does? I need to actually calculate if the price that is being charged by the organic growers in this town is realistic. I'm all for a fair wage, but come on: $2 for a single eggplant?! (but they taste SO good dammit!).

Stirring the pot

No fool, not that kind of pot, dammit!
My friend Will recently stirred up some much needed interestingness (which I am beginning to synonymize with controversy) to Planet Fairfield (thanks John Reed for that term), by posting a review of one of the greatest restaurants that has ever existed in the known universe, and that includes the restaurant at the end of the universe: Vivo's. I'll give you a moment to allow the sarcasm to settle in.
Given the immense popularity of the aforementioned post on Will's blog (LivingInSmallSizes, which I think is a damn cool name BTW), I've come to the conclusion that people are completely out of their freaking minds. How, you ask? Ok, let me elucidate you children (that's supposed to be Chef's voice, just in case you were wondering).
Fairfield has been promoted by some of our more "colorful" (and I don't mean that in the NAACP way) denizens as having more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. At last count there is in the vicinity of 30 something food establishments in this town of 9400. I have no idea how that compares to SF, but NOWHERE in Fairfield comes even REMOTELY close to the kind of food I've had in SF. Except maybe Revelations, whose pizza is still pretty much the top of the heap around the country (if any reader of this post knows of a better place, let me know and I'll check it out: the closest I came was Il Vicino in Albuquerque).

Anyway, Will's review of Vivo's has caused Rob and me to lose our minds. We've made the bold and entirely irrational decision to test the strengths of our intestines by eating at EVERY food-service establishment in town at least once over the next however long it takes, and post our candid (and I mean CANDID) comments. I'll tell you up front that we're going to use the Steve Jobs bar - we're going to have the food either suck or not suck, and that's about it.
Why the fuck should you care? Well the coup de gras is going to be a colon cleanser that rob and I will be taking post gastronomic travails. And you'll get the full review of that as well just in case you're in need of, how shall I put it, a roto rooting?
When does this start? Well, pretty much right off. We'll first compile a list of the restaurants around town, and go down the list. I wonder if I need to include the Country Club in this - I heard the chef there was outstanding, but I've realized that people will eat stuffed goose livers and think it's heaven, so there's just no accounting for taste!

Stirring up shit

If you've not figured it out yet, I reside in Fairfield, Iowa. This is home to some seriously whacked out nutjobs and some very interesting people, who can't really be categorized in any way. The combination of new-age weirdness, rural agribusiness, conservative Iowa, religious fundamentalism and a group of international students who have no idea what they signed up for makes for an amazingly wonderful mix.
Of all the places in Iowa I'd say Fairfield has the highest interestingness quotient per capita. Ok, maybe second to Iowa City, but I'd say it's going to be a really tough choice. And given the jock population in IC and the suburban sprawl that's now called Coralville, I suspect Fairfield has edged IC out quite well.
Anyway, I've come to realize that a fundamental part of interestingness is a healthy dose of controversy. Fairfield has a rich history of controversy, and I'll get to that history at some point. I just fear that if I head down that path it's going to be another night of no sleep, and pure rant, which I get to do over chai on a regular basis anyway (but just to toss this one out there: crowns and beige suits?! really?! is this not the beginning of the end of all rational behavior?!!!)

The point of controversy right now is the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) which is being planned to go in about 8 miles outside town. A CAFO is a high-capacity livestock operation, designed to maximize yield by confining as many animals (in the current case hogs) in as efficient a way as possible. Wikipedia addresses the issue very well, so I'm not going to talk about the science or commerce aspect to it at all. The real point of the controversy in this town I think relates to the just-under-the-surface divisiveness between the meditating and conservative residents.
Now I should make clear that the line that this division is based on has greyed over the 18 years I have been resident in this town. I recall my first introduction to the divisiveness being a t-shirt in Casey's (now Logli's) donned by a 6' something, big-ass trucker dude which had the slogan "We don't need any more fucking roos" on the front and " .. don't meditate castrate." on the back. I wanted that t-shirt on sight, but felt that any attempts to engage the bear of a guy wearing said shirt would result in immediate bodily harm. Just a feeling.
Anyway, the divisiveness, from my humble standing in Planet Fairfield, has lessened over the years to the point where people are roo-townies or townie-roos.
But there is still a sentiment amongst at least some of the morons out there that there's a hard line in the sand that divides us and them.
So, getting back on the point - the dividing issue in this particular case which irks the fuck out of me is the contention by some of the farming community in this town (and around it) that their profession entitles them to a higher position in Iowa. Essentially if you're a farmer you're more of a resident than if you're not. That being a "family farm" is more important than, say, being a building contractor.
Lest anyone get the idea that I'm not an equal opportunity hater, I'll just state for the record that anyone who thinks they've got more of a stake in the outcome because they've got the goal of saving the earth through eating organic food and meditating is just as fucked. But I'll address that issue with my "History of Fairfield through the eyes of an immigrant" rant later on.
The CAFO issue has brought up the term "family farm" a few times - I've been present at the Vedic City hearing (which I'll eventually write about), and the hearing on Thursday 8/9 relating to the latest CAFO which is planning to get put in 8 miles outside town - and I have no idea what the hell this term means to the guys who use it. It's entirely disingenuous. In fact I'd equate it in techie terms to doing work as a private contractor for Microsoft or Oracle and saying that you're not really part of the system because you're independent and not employed by them. Family Farms my ass: the setup, operation, product purchase and product distribution are all directly for the benefit of the large corporate interest (i.e., the Cargills of the world).
This is not only true of CAFOs but also much of agriculture in Iowa today.
During the hearing on 8/9 at the Fairfield Courthouse, the daughter of the family who is planning on putting in the CAFO stated that 98% of farms in Iowa are family owned. This is just plain wrong. Farming is going through an incredible crisis. The *real* act of farming - growing products to feed people and to actually do so in a sustainable manner - is so limited in Iowa that it's laughable when I hear these allusions to the values of "family farming". It's a business just like any other.
All that said I have no idea, first-hand, how a hog operation really works and just how much of an issue this is. So I'm going to try to find out by visiting some of these places. Stay tuned :-)