Category Archives: Ramblings

Liberace – SysAdmin

When getting mail from Jonathon Adler it is sent from I love the idea of Liberace the SysAdmin. With his golden servers, ermine covered server racks, and pool in the middle of his data center.

Netflix Watch Now on Linux

So I got Netflix Watch Now working on my Playstation 3, and I thought, why wouldn’t this work on Linux? So I started monkeying around and got it working. It’s not great, but it works. I see no reason this wouldn’t work on MacOSX either.

First you’ll need to download and install the Play On! Media Server on a windows machine. It costs $30, but has a free trial so you can figure out if it’s worth it for you. You still need a windows machine, you just don’t have to watch movies on it. Once it’s installed and working download djmount and install it using your system appropriate method. In my case:

./configure --prefix=/usr
sudo make install

Once it’s installed you can run djmount to mount your playon server in a directory:

mkdir ~/upnp
djmount ~/upnp

If you cd into the directory you should see your PlayOn server and you can navigate down the tree to your Netflix Watch Instantly queue. To watch a movie, try:

mplayer -ao none -vo sdl -nobps -ni -forceidx -mc 0 -cache 8192 -playlist myMovieName.m3u

That’s it. mplayer likes to bomb out if you try to fast forward past the end of your queue. There might be a player that’s happier with these streams, but I haven’t found it. Totem works, but seems to have too small of a buffer and so buffers constantly for me.

Sorry for all of you non-linux types reading this blog. We’ll get back to non-technology randomness at a later date.

3-D Ultrasounds

So this post over at Daddy Types got me thinking about how 3D ultra sounds will eventually make the static fuzz of current ultra-sounds seem as prehistoric as taking x-rays and using special rulers to determine the size of in-utero fetuses.

From what I can tell 3-D ultrasounds are just an algorithm. The ultrasound machine just takes pictures at many different depths and angles. Have an algorithm to tell what the “outside” of the baby is, and stitch together a 3D image from all those pictures. Here’s an illustration of how it works:

The hard part is knowing what is the skin and what is, say placenta, and then just rendering all those “skin” points. The theory is a lot easier than the actual implementation I’m sure. But I think that in the future we’ll go in for an ultrasound and it will look like the clear plates in an encyclopedia. The ones with a plate for skin, then muscles, a plate for nerves, and one for the vascular system, and finally the skeleton. I think once the algorithms advance we’ll see all that, in 3D. We’ll have to explain to our kids how we used to go into the doctor and it was like a Rorschach test to figure out where your baby was in the snow.

Note: I will return to the Lego Advent Calendar. I really need a quick point and shoot camera that hooks into my computer for blog pictures. Anyone know where I can find a cheap memory stick/camera?

Reading is Power

This Time article on Sarah Palin mentions that:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

Which begs the question, why are people still trying to ban books? If 27% of people don’t read at all in a given year and most read less than 5, then they must be very, very frightened of those of us who do. We must be a very powerful, involved part of the electorate.

You know you’re from the prairie when…

Some neighbors across the street cut down a huge tree today. It was towering over their house. They probably shouldn’t have, but no one’s going to complain because we’re all hoping the reason they’re working so hard on the house is that they’re converting it from a rental to be for sale.

That said, without the tree you can see clear over the roof of the house, over the roof of another house and stare directly at a house another street over. Being from Dallas this is pretty trippy.

The Planned Destruction of Public Schools

So, I’ve been meaning for a long time to write something about the “No Child Left Behind”(NCLB) program. I’ve been musing a lot about why the most pro-business administration ever would create a new program for our socialized school system. It somewhat clarified when I was reading reviews of Thomas Frank’s “The Wrecking Crew”. He basically argues that contrary to what everyone believes George Bush is just playing stupid, and the Republicans are simply playing at inept. What they’re actually doing is breaking the national government so that it is irreparably broken. If you pass legislation to change things your way, then when the next guys get into power they can reverse everything you’ve done. If you break it completely, there’s nothing they can do about it.

I started thinking about this when the latest test results came back for the elementary schools in my neighborhood. Travis Heights Elementary came back as academically unacceptable. Travis Heights has a reputation for being a great school that does an excellent job teaching students of varying economic backgrounds. But now it is academically unacceptable.

REALTORs must love NCLB. It gives them a great way to point out where the most desirable homes are. Your customers don’t have to take the REALTOR’s word on which neighborhood schools are good and bad. They can just look at statistics from the federal government. Which of course means bad schools are going to stay bad. Concerned, involved parents aren’t going to move into a bad school area, or they’re going to move in and send their kids to private schools.

But that’s not a huge difference from the way things always have been. REALTOR’s opinions have always red-lined neighborhoods. That’s a good part of what you pay for. The expertise of someone who knows all the different parts of town. So while we might see a few more schools fail, we shouldn’t expect the whole sale destruction of the public school system.

Until we get to the issue of failed schools. Failed schools are the linchpin to the system of destroying the public school system. Johnston just failed. As part of that failure 50% of those students must be transfered out. And that’s where the dominoes will start falling. We’re transferring out kids who are known to fail on standardized tests. So they move into another school. That school has a sudden influx of failures that drag down their scores. Concerned parents pull their kids out of that school and put them in private schools. The test scores move lower. The schools failed. Eventually these kids get transferred to the rich predominately white schools where all the best teachers are. This is where proponents of the system say the system will stop failing the kids. But I fail to believe that Bowie’s teachers are currently composed of Morgan Freeman, Sydney Portie, and Michelle Pfeifer. Sure some small percentage of kids who get transferred will thrive under better teachers and the resources that these schools have. But that won’t matter. Because the law of averages will take out that school with all the kids who don’t.

So why are private schools better? It certainly can’t be the instruction. The average private school teacher is not licensed, has less education, and is paid less. The key is exclusivity. Picking and choosing students means, you can pick and choose how good your school is. So existing private schools are a cash cow. Then when you look at private companies taking over public schools you can see why with NCLB they’re drooling. You could siphon off money from the students, and every time it fails you get new students, and new teachers. If they put performance requirements on schools then you would just find schools (like Starbucks) are yet another thing you don’t find in the poor side of town.

I listen to parents a lot and they agree with what I’m saying, but they feel that they have to do what’s best for their kids. Which is very different from the way our grandparents viewed education. In the 1950s and 60s most companies were local. You needed kids who could do arithmetic to man your cash registers. You needed the college students to love their community and want to settle back in it once they completed their degrees for higher level positions in your companies. You needed local engineers and craftspeople. So schools became a priority for the community. You couldn’t just plan on staffing your department store with kids from the next town, or in China, where schools were good.

With globalization we’ve uprooted. We pick towns based upon how they fit our lifestyle, rather than where our roots are. And in much the same way we’re not loyal to our jobs, we’re not loyal to our communities or our schools. We might have to change them, and frequently, so why bother getting involved. It seems quaint to think that there was once a social stigma attached to skipping the neighborhood schools and going private.

So what do we do? I honestly don’t know. I haven’t found a parent yet who was willing to commit with me to sending their kid to public schools. Most are planning to try them out, or are going to use them because they can’t afford a private school, but they’re all clear that if push comes to shove they’re pulling them out.

I can only hope that this is yet another pendulum, and the coming destruction of the public school system will refocus our energy on having top notch schools. That the increases in cost of energy will cause people to think more about nurturing their local communities rather than moving their kids to exclusive enclaves or transporting them to private schools. But our attitudes have changed so much that I don’t know if we can count on it.

The Story Behind the Magnolia

So Austin Towers has an interesting post about the failure of “The Magnolia”. This is my goto project on why condo projects don’t appear to be just about location. It’s right across from the Alamo Drafthouse, Maudies, and Suzies, right next to Uchi and just down the street from the hike and bike trail, and the new water park. Pretty decent location. But it didn’t get built. While the Sage further down South Lamar is next to a spectacular number of used car lots, and is being built.

Turns out:

– The project on South Lamar had significant issues with topography, grade slope, and tree preservation causing construction estimates to skyrocket. Prices for the units were adjusted accordingly, making the price per square foot uncompetitive for the neighborhood and actually on par with more desirable downtown high rise projects. This factor alone made the project unlikely to succeed.

– The project was also a victim of the national real estate crisis when Fremont Investment & Loan, the project’s construction lender, retracted its loan commitment when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. prevented it from funding any new loans.

Keep in mind when they started the units were going to be in the $200s, which is a really good deal for that close in. So obviously some of what is driving the slowdown is trying to lure condo buyers into crummier locations that are easier to build on, rather than a lack of desire for downtown condos. Obviously a lot of the land downtown is going to be hard to build on (since otherwise it probably would have been developed by now).

Immoral Commerce

I got a call from United American Technologies the other day. They said they were from the “campaign to restore morals and values”. Then they went on to tell me that they could provide me with a list of all the sexual predators in the area including pictures. Which is one of my pet peeves. I feel like we either need to lock up those with sexual crimes for life or leave them alone. This vigilante justice nonsense really sickens me.

But anyway, I pushed 1 to talk to their representative. I asked how they got my name and asked to be taken off their list and they hung up on me. I called them back using my caller id, and got the same message. I finally got a representative. They took my phone number, and hung up on me.

Julie went to book club that night and one of the mothers recounted that her 4 year old had answered the phone to that message. Kids shouldn’t have to listen to this sort of vigilante hate speech. Now if this was a political message I’d just chalk it up to the usual conservative a-holes, but it turns out this is actually to sell phone service! They say that all the other phone carriers support pornography and they’re the only phone service for people who care about their children.

Absolutely, disgusting. You can call them at 877-266-6277 if you would like to be taken off of their list preemptively.

Feeling French

The Austinist yet again used the phrase “Calling Shenanigans” This irks me for some reason. Perhaps because I have some French blood and cannot abide the incorrect use of words. I don’t know.

Looking at the Wikipedia entry for “Schenanigans” it appears that we have Trey Parker and Matt Stone to thank for this bizarre mangling of a word.

Proper use of shenanigans from literature.

“I’ve put up with all your shenanigan I’m goin’ to.” – The Valley of the Moon by Jack London

“consider them all (and their owners) guilty (of “shenanigan”) until they are proved innocent” – Complete Letters of Mark Twain

“There’s some sort of shenanigan brewing, or my first name’s Peter” – The Days of Days by Louis Vance

You know you love my crazy, grumpy rants.

Cure Concert Trolls

So I was wondering why so many Cure audience members were Grade-A a*holes, while you go to a Morrisey concert and the audience is better behaved than at the symphony. You’d think they would be basically the same audience. And I think by and large they are. But this ven diagram might help explain.

The Cure fans in the left hand column are able to make the whole experience pretty horrible. Also there seemed to be lots of what I call – “Flying Dutchman Concert-goers”. These are concert-goers who are generally under 5′ (although not always), who will spend the entire concert wandering through the crowd. Looking for the magical paradise where people under 5′ can see the stage. This is not all short people. In fact there were really only 3 groups like this I saw at the concert on Saturday. It’s just that they passed by me at least 6 times per party.

I’ve read a lot of blogs about the Cure and seen a lot of unkind words about us tall people. Most of us do stay towards the back. The problem is that we often go to concerts with people who aren’t as tall as us who want to see. So we try to find some middle balance where our friends can see, and so can the majority of the audience. We actually provide a service to short people. Next time you’re at a concert find a tall person. You’ll find that generally there will be a small pocket behind them where people are not standing. Position yourself about 1′ behind the tall person to the right or the left (directly behind is a dead end). Based on your height you may then be able to see the stage. See drawing:

Of course the only danger with doing this is that tall people attract concert trolls. Concert trolls are unable to see tall people. They will elbow, step on feet, and always insist on walking between tall person and any person directly next to them. Regardless of how close tall person is to their friend and how much free space is around tall person (see diagram above). I had a short woman standing next to me drafting a line of sight on Sunday night. She could see just fine. The problem was that the concert trolls would stand on my feet and throw an elbow in her face. Or they would stand directly in front of her while standing on my foot. And then there was the woman who got on her boyfriend’s shoulders directly in front of said short woman. Threating to topple and crush her. Apparently standing near a tall person confers blindness upon you too by the concert trolls.

That said, I didn’t enjoy the concert too much. It was ok, but it was long, hot, and there were far too many irritating people. Reminds me why I go to SXSW. Say what you will about that, but it’s cool and by and large the audiences are pretty laid back.