Megnut

Archive for January 2005

Quiet in the New Year

It's been quiet around here since the holidays. I don't really have much to say, and I've been doing a lot of traveling and driving and not a lot of online browsing. But I've a new design brewing, and lots of things coming up, and so there should (in theory) be a lot of fodder for this site: pictures, travel, food and recipes, thoughts, etc. Will it become a reality? Who knows, but I hope so. So stay tuned, patient readers. Some day your devotion will be rewarded.

The dial-up mountain retreat

With the new year comes new changes and challenges, and for me the biggest challenge is a return to a dial-up Internet connection. I've moved to New Hampshire to a wonderful cozy house close to all the wintry goodness I crave: downhill skiing, ice skating, snow shoeing (haven't tried this yet but I'm sure I'll like it), and hilly mountain runs. The setting is idyllic, atop a mountain with our own ski trails (an old rope tow trail runs alongside our driveway, alas no longer operational, requiring one to hike back up after a nice schuss down the slopes) surrounded by tall stands of evergreens and birch trees. The near-daily snow fall has blanketed the landscape in fluffy white, while indoors Bodhi and I enjoy the warmth of the wood-burning stove. And all is peaceful and good, except for the fucking internet connection.

A return to dial-up after five years of high-speed access is like forsaking a car for a horse and buggy. It's maddeningly slow and impossible to adapt to when you know you could be getting there faster! Added to that is my ISPs propensity to drop my connection while I'm in the middle of downloading, and I think I may go mad.

When contemplating the move, I had grand dreams of spending less time online and spending more reading and connecting with the "real world." But what I've discovered so far is that dial-up doesn't mean I'm online less. It pretty much means I'm not online at all. I just connect to download email (which takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes, twice a day) and then I'm off. I can't really do anything else online while I'm downloading email or it takes even longer to get the mail, and by the time I'm done, I've got some phone call to make or errand to run and off I go. Some people choose to be Luddites, others have Ludditity thrust upon them.

The joy of hockey

Meg takes a shot on goal photo by Judy Hourihan

I've never met a sport I didn't like, and recently I was introduced -- albeit very late in my sporting career -- to hockey. Oh hockey, where have you been my whole life? After only three days of wobbling around the rink (read: local pond) I am addicted and ready to check and slap shot with abandon! Soon I shall begin a proper training regiment to prepare myself for the ladies hockey games that occur weekly at my landlord's pond/rink. Bobby Orr, watch out!

Update: I hadn't realized my mom posted some photos of our hockey action as well (since she's the one that took them all). Here's a shot of me scoring on my dad. Amazing! He must not have been trying very hard...

No smoking gun in Iraq

In fact, there was no gun at all! In news that I'm sure surprised no one, the US announced the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- the justification for our pre-emptive invasion of that country -- ended after two fruitless years. The New York Times opines in its editorial Bulletin: No W.M.D. Found:

The search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq may have been one of the greatest nonevents of the early 21st century, right up there with the failure of the world's computers to crash at the end of the last millennium. That Y2K scare at least brought us an updated Internet. Fear of the nonexistent W.M.D. brought us a war.

No matter how the Administration spins it, the ends do not justify the means. Lies, scare mongering, and faulty intelligence have no place in a democracy, regardless of whether a democratic Iraq is the ultimate outcome of the war.

This tactic has been so successful for President Bush that you can see it being applied once again, now to Social Security and its current 'crisis' (though projections show benefits will be solvent until 2042, see Democrat disputes Social Security 'crisis'). Americans, I beg of you, in the words of Chuck D: Don't believe the hype!

Beatles weirdness

For Beatles obsessives like me, this list of anomalies in Beatles songs (listed by album) is a total time sink! Alas one of my all-time favorites, Here Comes the Sun, doesn't have a very long list of anomalies. Still, a fun way to kill lots of time, for those Beatles fans looking to do so.

And you thought your software project was off-track!

The New York Times reports the F.B.I. believes its $170 million systems overhaul may be a total failure: F.B.I. May Scrap Vital Overhaul of Its Outdated Computer System. Recognized as a critical component to fighting terrorism, the FBI sought to develop a paperless solution with many customized features. From the following description of their current situation, it sure sounds like they need some upgrades:

As it stands now, the bureau's counterterrorism files are largely online, but investigators often may not have immediate access to data from other parts of the bureau. So, for instance, an agent may not be immediately aware of information from an investigation into credit-card fraud that could be relevant to a terrorism case. In addition, the bulk of the internal reports and documents produced at the bureau must still be printed, signed and scanned by hand into computer format each day, officials said.

Anyone who's been involved with critical, large-scale software development projects knows how hard they can be to complete (regardless of whether they're on time and/or budget). In a statement that will resonate with clients and consultants everywhere, a senior official from the FBI stated:

"I did not get what I envisioned" from the project...But he said the F.B.I. today had a better understanding of its computer needs and limitations as a result of the effort. "The lesson we have learned from this $170 million is invaluable," he said.

Jeez, it seems like you could have figured that out for a lot less than $170 million! A better use of the funds would have been $11.53 for The Myth of the Paperless Office, $33.24 for the classic The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, and $33.95 for the excellent Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.

So $170,000,000 - $78.72 leaves $169,999,921.28 to put towards requirements definition, prototyping, and ultimately programming. Surely overhauling such a massive system is a daunting, difficult challenge, but as Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont said, "Bringing the F.B.I.'s information technology into the 21st century should not be rocket science." When projects are this critical, and this expensive, they cannot be allowed to fail.

A sleepy DISH Network receiver

Now that I'm living in the wilds of New Hampshire, I've been required to turn to satellite for my television reception requirements. My housemates and I ordered the DISH Network and opted for the DISH player with DVR (receiver model 522). After only a few days, we decided that the DVR feature wasn't as user-friendly as TiVo and I purchased a new TiVo. Soon we discovered that more often than not, when we went to watch a taped program, all that TiVo had recorded was a floating DISH Network logo. It appeared that the DISH receiver had (unbeknownst to TiVo) turned off.

I called DISH to report the problem with the receiver, only to find out that the DISH receiver is programmed to go into "sleep mode" after four hours of inactivity. Which means that every night it turns off (and most times it does so during the day as well), making it nearly impossible for TiVo to tape anything. The DISH representative suggested I program the DISH DVR to record the same event as TiVo, thereby guaranteeing that the receiver would be active when TiVo began to record, but that seems like a ridiculous solution to a problem that shouldn't exist.

(Never mind the fact that with TiVo season passes and wish lists, you don't even know when something you want will be broadcast unless you are constantly checking your "To-Do" list. I pointed out how time consuming it would be to have to do this double-step for each and every show one wanted to tape, but he claimed once I learned how to do it, it would take me only a minute or two at most per program.)

I asked the DISH support person if there were someway to turn off the sleep mode, or lengthen the amount of time before the sleep mode became active, but he said that wasn't possible. According to him, the receiver, "is complicated and needs downtime for updates and maintenance." Also according to the support person, I'm the only person who's reported this problem and found the "solution" to double-record unsatisfactory. "DISH Networks has over 10 million satisfied customers," according the support rep. My 1 in 10 million "luck" makes me think I should enter the lottery more often.

So my question for you is: Do you have a DISH receiver? And if so, have you experienced this problem? Do you know of any way to hack the DISH receiver so it doesn't go into a standby or sleep mode? And do DirecTV receivers do this? Because if they don't, I'm very willing to change my service. Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions you may have.

Saving the already-saved Social Security system

I received some feedback via email regarding my post, No smoking gun in Iraq from January 13th. One reader wrote:

Gee, I remember back in 1998 the Clintons and just about every Democrat in Congress were screaming that the budget "surplus" should only be used to "save Social Security." If you believe Social Security needed saving back then and doesn’t now then you must believe it has already been saved. Well, who saved it? Clinton didn’t do anything, so the only answer can be George W. Bush. So following the logic of the Democratic talking points that Social Security is not in crisis (which you have clearing bought into for whatever reason) to be consistent historically you must be willing to admit that someone saved Social Security already and you should be able to tell us who that was. Further you must be able to tell us what transpired in the last six years in the Social Security budget to take it from needing to be "saved" to no longer being in crisis. Are you willing to blog on that a bit?

I could blog on that for a bit (and address the issue of conflating talk of long-term Social Security reform with "crisis" and an immediate push towards privatization), but it's a lot easier to point everyone to someone who can do a much better job of it than I: Hendrik Hertzberg at The New Yorker. In this week's Talk of The Town, Unsocial Insecurity Mr. Hertzberg writes:

"This is one of my charges, is to explain to Congress as clearly as I can: the crisis is now," Bush proclaimed at an "economic summit" a month ago. He does indeed have some 'splaining to do. This year, the Social Security system--the payroll tax, which brings money in, and the pension program, which sends money out--will bring in about $180 billion more than it sends out. It will go on bringing in more than it sends out until 2028, at which point it will begin to draw on the $3.5 trillion surplus it will by then have accumulated. The surplus runs out in 2042, right around the time George W. Bush turns ninety-six. After that, even if nothing has changed, the system's income will continue to cover seventy-three per cent of its outgo.

That's using the Social Security Administration's economic and demographic assumptions, which are habitually pessimistic. Using the assumptions of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the surplus runs out in 2052. And if one uses the economic growth assumptions that Bush's own budget office uses when it calculates the effects of his own tax cuts, the surplus runs out in--er, maybe never.

I do support some kind of Social Security reform, if only to ensure that the surplus never runs out. But I question the language of "crisis" and the rush to privatization -- a solution that Hertzberg points out that even White House officials and The Comptroller General of the United States, David M. Walker, say does nothing to eliminate the long-term gap and maintain the solvency of the fund.

Paris Marathon training plan

I've begun my training for the Paris Marathon though I haven't really been running much yet. I've been doing some swimming, a lot of downhill skiing, ice skating/hockey, and some snowshoeing. I guess you'd call that cross-training, wouldn't you?

When I trained last year for the New York City Marathon, I followed this Marathon Training for Beginners program from Runner's World. It worked great and I felt 100% prepared when I got to the start. But when I looked at their Intermediate Program, it seemed awful long for someone who was already in marathon shape, especially since I was hoping to give my body a little time to recover from NYC.

After talking with some more experienced marathoners (including a sub three hour runner), I gravitated towards a shorter program that encourages less running per week but stresses higher mileage. I'm using Hal Higdon's Senior Marathon Training Program. It has three major benefits for me right now:

1. It's only eight weeks long, meaning I don't have to really start running regularly until the week of February 13th. That gives me a little more recovery time for my achy hip and lets me do more fun outdoor activities. Otherwise I'd be using up nearly all my energy running, and that wouldn't be much fun!

2. It (hopefully) gives New Hampshire some time to warm up! It's been brutally cold here, around -10° F (-23° C) at my usual morning running time. I don't mind running in the cold, but -10° is a little too cold.

3. With only three days of running, I have time for cross-training. For the two Stretch & Strengthen (S & S) days, I'm going to a Masters swim team program (no racing, just good organized swim workouts) and doing weights when I get home.

Will the less is more approach work? A big test will be the NYRR Brooklyn Half-Marathon on March 19th. My goal for Paris is 4:30, which means I need to do 2:15 or better in Brooklyn. That's less than two months from now, so I guess I'll find out soon enough!