Herman I. May

Herman I. May


25 February 2005

Swing no

In what has got to be one of the most ridiculous examples of litigation avoidance, the Plano ISD has announced that they have completed removal of all swing sets from elementary campuses. Citing the potential for "liability issues", officials have justified their actions by citing injury avoidance.

Ironically, this policy does not appear to have been extended to equipment such as monkey bars, slides and multi-purpose play structures. All of the latter harbor a degree of jeopardy equalling or surpassing that posed by swings. Yet, the swings have been "phased out".

Apparently, this phenomenon is not unique to Plano. Media reports indicate that the McKinney ISD removed their playground swings "several years go".

It is pretty sad when one stops to think about the rationale. One hears of the problems of adolescent obesity amongst American children, yet school districts are phasing out physical education programs, recess period and athletic programs leaft and right. Complaints about couch potato children who lack the motivation for physical activity abound and people wonder why. Now, playground equipment is being removed ostensibly for the purpose of protection. In reality, though, these districts are fooling no one. They have placed a premium on protecting their asses instead of providing a well rounded educational experience.

23 February 2005

Frontline; a company of soldiers

I highly recommend this documentary as a means of gaining insight into the daily experiences of the US troopsin Iraq. Much has been made of the dilemma of local affiliate censorship due to foul language. Media reports made it sound as though the soldiers were sailors. ;-) In truth, however, there was little more than an occasional "shit" here and a little "damn" there with a "fuck" or two thrown in where stress anxiety would dictate. Certainly, nothing anywhere near the level of the average ghetto rap rhyme. Nevertheless, affiliates were given the option of airing the original version or an censored cut. The local public television station opted to the former.

It was quite sobering to get first-hand glimpse at the potential for danger our soldiers encounter every day; the rampant corruption inherent with local government officials; and the irresponsible actions of some of the less responsible troops. (Think Abu Ghraib when picturing the latter.) One comes away with the impression that most of the people want our troops to be there, if only to keep the insurgent violence in check. On the other hand, had it not been for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there would be no insurrection. I came away with a newfound respect for the sacrifice of the troops, with little change in my contempt for the policies that put them there. They (the troops) have a difficult lot trying to at once keep the peace and try to figure out who is friend and who is foe.

20 February 2005

Cycling merit

Collin and I just spent the past twenty-four hours on a campout with BSA Troop 728. Within the next few months, he will need to decide whether or not he would like to continue in scouting. If he so chooses, he will need to find a trrop to join. Troop 728 is the logical choice, given that it is affiliated with Saint Paul. However, Collin has also expressed an interest in Troop 412, which is that associated with his old school — Saint Monica.

One of the events experienced during this outing to Cedar Hill State Park was to be participation in a segment of the requirements for the cycling merit badge. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to observe the teaching practices of a BSA affiliate, while being able to get in a few extra miles of on- and/or off-road riding.

My experience was a little disappointing. Excluding the ride from the campsite to the fishing area (apparently this troop is B-I-G into fishing and takes every opportunity to engage in its practice), the overall road skills of those participating in the badge requirements was sorely lacking. The first example took place shortly after the ride began when we went off-road. Cool; right? Ordinarily, yes. However, the trails ridden were not designed for bike; they were pedestrian trails through an exhibition farmstead. The leader took the riders on a meandering trail that went through various outbuildings and barnns — not quite what I would deem either responsible stewardship or appropriate scout behavior.

Perhaps worse of all was the on-road cycling. In the first place, it was supposed to be a fifteen mile ride. Apparently, compliance with that distance must be subjective. My take would be that it is supposed to be fifteen contiguous miles. In the case of our ride, the group had evidently ridden six miles earlier in the day (we did not arrive on-site until noon) and was completing the remaining nine miles in the afternoon. Fair enough, I guess, except we rode nowhere near nine miles. In fact, we were lucky if we completed six miles during the course of our loop. Worse yet was the general on-road demeanor of both the leader and the cyclists. The latter were all over the road; from fog line to center stripes; weaving back and forth as the terrain and skill dictated. Very few seemed to comprehend the idea of geared cycling. Practices observed included climbing a hill in too high a gear and descending a hill in too low a gear.

The final discouraging event occurred on the return trip to camp. One of the scouts experienced a chain break while turning a corner. I was right behind him and, luckily, I had came prepared (I, too, was a scout in my younger days) by having a multi-tool with a chain-break tool. The scout was attempting to fix the bike in the middle of the road! I had him remove it to the shoulder and we proceeded to repair the link. Basically, the outer plates on one center link had separated and the former dislodged from the pin. Repair entailed pushing the pin through; bending the plates back straight and parallel; then reinserting the pin. Just as we were completing the repair — less than ten minutes I might add — the leader returned to supervise. His first response was to offer to go get a truck to transport the bike and scout back to camp. I declined and indicated that we were almost finished.

Perhaps I am reading too much into the experience, but it would seem to me that, at least with respect to the the cycling merit badge and this particular troop, adherence to the requirements for compliance are rather lax. Add to that the apparent lack of expertise on the part of the supervising leader and one is left to wonder at the quality of the experience the scouts are receiving. Another component could be a belief that the cycling badge is a no-brainer that requires little skill and is unlikely to be utilized much beyond the badge achievement. Regardless of reason, the activity I witnessed appears to reinforce the incompetent training of road cyclists.

18 February 2005

Runner swan song

It appears as though I will be forced to give up a pleasure that has been a part of my exercise routine for the past eight years. A recent flair-up of a twenty-year-old injury to my left knee has left me with the dilemma of having to seriously consider abandoning running.

Just before the new year, Kristie, Mark and I had discussed the prospect of doing the annual Tyler Azalea 10k run together. This would be my first running event as a participant. At ten kilometers, it is only a few kilometers further than my normal distance. I thought this would be a fun way to do something with Kristie and Mark as well as provide the opportunity to get back to my childhood hometown for a visit.

For nearly a decade, I have included at least one six to seven kilometer run per week in my exercise routine as a form of cross-training. Since doing so, I have discovered that my overall feeling of well-being has been elevated to some degree over cycling alone. Cycling is great, but there are times (mostly weather related) when it is simply not an ideal form of exercise or transportation. Running has been a logical and enjoyable alternative.

In mid-December, around the prelude to winter break, my knee began to ache a bit more than usual following my standard seven kilometer run. I thought nothing of it at first; chalking it up to a combination of the cold and more of a reliance upon that mode of exercise instead of cycling. The discomfort persisted into the new year and after a return to daily riding. Abbreviating an otherwise long story, I visited the doctor who determined that my knee joint has simply deteriorated to the point of chronic discomfort with the regular pounding experienced during a run. When I mentioned the pseudo-commitment of the April azalea run, she gave the go-ahead to participate in the event, but strongly suggested that I consider "retiring" from running once complete. With that in mind, I awoke early this morning to get in a few kilometers before going to work.

Unfortunately, I may not make it to the azalea run. The degree of pain I am currently experiencing has eclipsed that of the prior episodes. There is not much in the way of swelling, but the discomfort is quite apparent. Perhaps it is an acute event stemming from not having run at all during the past four weeks. However, I have gone for longer stints without running and have never experienced this. If it does not subside within the next few days, I will likely need to seriously consider moving the date of my "retirement" to the present.

17 February 2005


I received notice that I had been selected to receive a GMail account early this afternoon. Frankly, I was a bit surprised...but pleasantly. More importantly, once I got into the account and saw what it had to offer, I switched to it as my primary, personal mail center.

A quick refresher on GMail: It is Google's answer to portal-based eMail services. Whereas Yahoo!, Excite, and the others in the field have gotten more restrictive in the services they provide to non-paying clients, Google has broken the mold by offering up to 1Gb of storage space for active and archived electronic mail. In addition to a massive storage reservoir, other features mentioned in the original press release were speed and built-in search — it is Google after all.

Since its announcement back in April (2004), I have been intrigued by the idea of a GMail account. Google is my search engine of choice; I like their business model and corporate practices for the most part; then there is the geek factor. :-) However, everything I had read seemed to suggest being tapped for a "beta" account required some sort of inside contact. One of my resolutions for this year was to attempt to get one. So, in early January, I visited the Gmail web site. There was no method of submitting a request, but there was a means of having one's name added to a contact mail list. An emphatic statement on the sign-up page stressed that this was not a means of having one's name considered for an account. Rather it is simply a means of being contacted once the service went golden or to be informed of other developmental changes. Nevertheless, in less than six weeks I received an invitation to join. Coincidence or causative? I have no way of knowing. However I eagerly accepted.

To be honest, I was expecting something along the lines of a Yahoo! Mail account; only with greater storage capacity. I was greatly surprised. First, the interface is much more intuitive and informative than most webMail portals. Through the use of smaller fonts, color coding and collapsing trees, much more information is available for the client to glean the inbox content.

Folders have been abandoned in favor of a label scheme. Instead of creating folders and moving — or having messages moved — for purposes of categorized organization, one creates any number of labels. The latter can be applied manually or as the result of rule actions. (Yes, GMail supports the use of filters or rules.) Messages thus tagged remain in the primary inbox or the interface can filter for a specific label; displaying only those messages which comply with the designation.

Another ultra-cool feature is collapsed thread display in the primary inbox. By this I mean that if multiple messages arrive relative to the same discussion thread (e.g. same subject line with "Re:" prepended), then GMail will show a string indicating the contributing authors and the number of messages contained therein. Selecting the subject in the display will redraw the window, showing the expanded thread. After returning to the root display window, all messages in the thread are marked as read. Now for the coolest part. Should new messages in this thread arrive, the entire subject line is shown as "unread" and is moved to the top of the inbox list. When selected for viewing, all previously read missives in the thread are shown collapsed at the top of the page and the new messages are displayed. Referring back to the earlier messages is as simple as selecting the subject line from the collapsed list.

Built-in to the service, and available with no additional fee, are eMail forwarding and POP3 support. Both are pretty self-explanatory. The benefit from the GMail service is that both are availably with a simply configuration selection and are free of charge.

All of these features convinced me that GMail is my new online mail management system of choice. I have configured my identity alias to forward all mail to this account and have created a new POP profile for local management. As I dig around in the settings, I am sure that I will find other jewels. However, all of the above were gleaned through a cursory survey of the service and were enough to enamor me.

Polar reactionaries

Polar reactionaries

Totalitarian states appear to have contrasting limits they wish to extend to their citizens when it comes to cyber freedoms. A pair of interesting reports were broadcast through the media today and illustrate nicely the degree to which repressive governments will attempt to curtail freedom of expression.

The World reported today that the Iranian government has been imprisoning and torturing members of its citizenry who dare to criticize the government or its practices. Dozens of 'bLoggers have jailed during the past five years for daring to comment on Iranian governmental practices. Two prominent dissidents remain jailed and the third fled the country after being released and is now living in London.

Compare that response to the state of cyber access in China. A segment on today's All things Considered covered three aspects of how the 'net is contributing to the expression of individuality in the world's most populated country. From elaborate virtual worlds to blogging to wireless internet access providing a connection for rural residents, China is allowing its historically repressed masses to interact with one another and, to a more limited extent, the rest of the planet.

It seems that in cyberspace, just as in the real world, ignorance and fear lead to repression. On the other hand, fostering an interactive community of relatively free expression will lead to complacency.

16 February 2005

Half-hearted sleuthing

Speaking at the annual RSA Security Conference, Bill Gates announced Micro$vengali's renewed commitment to the protection of consumer systems by firming his company's resolve for guarding against malware and spyware.

In his general session presentation entitled "Security: Raising the Bar", Gates stated that the M$ AntiSpyware utility (currently in beta) will be available to "all...Windows licensees", suggesting there will be some sort of verification scheme attached. He was also revealed that the application will require SP2 or later to install. As a result, a great number of the most susceptible Windows users will be left out of the loop with respect to M$'s offering.

Contemporaneous to this announcement, Gates and other M$ officials suggested that the a "personal" edition of the software would be available at no cost, but that enterprise level installations — with their accompanying management capabilities — would come at a price. The latter smacks of hypocrisy. No one seems to be pointing out three very important aspects of the whole spyware/malware picture.

To begin with, the reason susceptibility to these sorts of programs exists in the first place is due to security flaws within M$'s core products: Windows,IE, .NET and ActiveX. Had the core software been better designed and tested from the beginning, with all recognized flaws been fixed immediately, the loopholes which allow most of these infestations to take place would have been largely mitigated.

Branching from this is a complacency on the part of most Windows users. There are several viable and very capable alternatives to Internet Explorer — the primary doorway by which most malware/spyware infestations occur. Simply altering one's preferred browser from IE to something like FireFox would all but eliminate the foot-in-the-doorway this sort of code enjoys.

A third contributor branches, in turn, from the second; and that is the propensity for Windows users to approve the installation of any and all code without reading the fine print. Most malware and dataminers are advertised, though not in so many words, within the license to which one agrees when installing "free" system enhancements. In essence, one agrees to allow the vendor to track browsing and advertising interests. How is the latter accomplished? Through the use of the dataminers, of course.

Read the fine print, people, and know what you are installing beforehand!

As usual, M$ has come to the party late. Even so, they are attempting to crash the assembly by inferring theirs is the more capable solution given that it comes from the mother ship. In truth, there are numerous reports suggesting the malware component misses many threats unless the system has been booted in secure mode, while the spyware sleuth is no more effective than other, third-party solutions.

The benefits to the average consumer remain to be seen. It seems probable that it will be more smock and mirrors. In all likelihood, surfing the 'net on a machine operated under Windows and other Micro$vengali products will continue to be full of peril for the average user.

13 February 2005

Juke fodder, phase two

One of my resolutions for 2005 is to finally liberate several hundred music tracks currently locked-up on vinyl. Today, I ordered a stylus cartridge and as soon as it arrives, I plan to get to work ripping vinyl.

My turntable has laid languishing for over half a decade due to a worn out stylus cartridge. I have been leery of using one of the "replacement" kits as I did not want to hack the tone arm to regain functionality. A couple of years ago, I did a search on the 'net for an OEM replacement. It was discouraging to see that the prices ranged upwards of $50. The maturation of online commerce and a resurgence in turntable interest — likely more DJ related than anything else — has resulted in lower prices and greater vendor selection. LP Gear appears to have a robust selection of replacement parts. So, I ordered a replacement cartridge and am awaiting its arrival later in the week. Hopefully, the belts are still in usable condition...

On a related topic, I think that the majority of my cassettes are going to be a lost cause. Several attempts to rip the modest (by comparison) collection of tapes Elizabeth and I accumulated in our past lives as teenagers resulted in discouragement. Many...not all...maybe most...of these cassettes suffer from "binder ooze" artifacts. The latter is almost always caused by tapes that spent some of their existence in a car during the height of summer heat. The binder, or glue, holding the imaging material to the substrate migrates to the surface and causes the tape to stick to the heads and/or capstan rollers during playback resulting in an atrocious screeching sound. There are some semi-destructive techniques available to attempt a remedy for an acute salvage attempt. (see the resources below for more information.) However, one or two tries is about all one gets.

Of course, the ideal solution is to simply locate and purchase CD remasters. If we were talking only a dozen or so albums, that might be a doable endeavor. However, Elizabeth and I have a collection of upwards of a hundred or more albums and several score of cassette tapes. At present, it is much more cost effective to make an attempt at salvage of the existing media. Those which turn out to be damaged beyond recovery can then be assessed for some form of digital replacement. Listening to the tracks is going to occur anyway. Why not spend a little extra effort to digitize and archive them?

Some interesting and useful resources that have (and are) guiding my archiving:
Magnetic Tape Deterioration: Tidal Wave at Our Shores
From Tape to CD
Magnetic tape deterioration thread at Conservation DistList
WNYC archiving standards
Dubbing albums to CD FAQ

09 February 2005

Rules of engagement

Virtual communities are a wonderful thing. I believe that they are going to be a major component in the future of the cyber experience. People from all walks of like, all age groups and all philosophical bents converge to engage one another in discourse. However, there must be rules.

Two weeks ago, Teresa Nielsen Hayden posted a treatise discussing thirteen things "about moderating conversations in virtual space". She makes some great points — a few of which I had not really considered. The post itself is only half the gold; read the comment thread for even more insight. This is a must read for host and participant alike.

07 February 2005

Karl Haas 1913-2005

Elizabeth just informed me that she heard on WRR that Karl Haas has died at the age of ninety-one. Details are sketchy at present, but I am sure that one can visit the "official" page for Adventures in Good Music soon to learn more.

Classical music has long been a passion of mine. I have enjoyed listening to it since I was in my early teens. Growing up I had to content myself with albums and the occasional good graces of the ionosphere to do so as the nearest braodcast station was in Dallas and had a wimpy transmitter. It was not until I moved away to attend University that I first experienced the scholarship of Karl Haas. His Adventures in Good Music became a staple of my evening in both Waco (KNCT) and College Station (KAMU and KUHF). Through his willingness to share an extensive knowledge of classical music, he helped me to hone my appreciation of the genre. His show also exposed me to composers and artists I otherwise would have failed to appreciate. I continue to listen to his show here in North Texas — even though there have been, to my knowledge, no new shows in about two years. For me these adventures are a golden oldie of sorts, while for Rebecca and Collin they are an opportunity for them to achieve an appreciation for the Masters as well.

Farewell, Karl. You will be greatly missed by many.

06 February 2005

Miscalculating play length

It is sometimes interesting to see how a utility whose purpose is meant to enhance a given technology can also serve to expose its flaws. More to the point, not so much a flaw as the manifestation of shoddy coding.

As I mentioned last week, Audio Scrobbler works in conjunction with one's preferred MP3 player to record and analyze an individual's listening habits. The service then crunches this data and matches a given subscriber to others who enjoy the same type of music. It works with iTunes by sitting unobtrusively in the background listening for a broadcast of the current track being played. For the most part, it functions as expected. However, a small group of at least three of us have discovered a flaw in a part of the iTunes code which results in the miscalculation of track lengths, which in turn disqualifies the track for submission for tally.

The Scrobbler service has a set of rules by which participants must adhere in order for their listening habits to be eligible for inclusion. One of these is that at least fifty percent of a given track must be played before it will be counted. Skipping about, fast forwarding and the like are all actions which will disqualify a submission. There appears to be a situation whereby otherwise eligible tracks will be disqualified if streamed from iTunes to an Airport Express with crossfade enabled. Once the issue was brought to the iScrobbler developer (iScrobbler is the name of the MacOS Scrobbler client), he was very diligent in devising a workaround for the anomaly. In the end, however, it is an iTunes issue and needs to be addressed by Apple.

An incremental release has been made available. Version 1.0.1 adds a second track play evaluation (there is already a check at T50 as the result of a timer fire upon announcement of the track) at the point where two-thirds of the track has played. If it has reached this position without interruption and within a narrow margin of error for its anticipated play length, it will credit the track to the listener's account.

Again, this is a highly specific error which appears to only affect situations in which iTunes broadcasts a stream to an Airport Express with crossfade enabled. If this situation applies to you, get a copy of the current incremental release to restore full function.

04 February 2005

A better atoll fix

The GM for mt-daapd 0.2.1 was released for general consumption Sunday, instant. Upon receiving notice, I downloaded and attempted to compile and install the DAAP daemon. All appeared to go well. Gone was the error stating that "_ATOLL" was an undefined string. However, once installed, the library did not appear in iTunes. It churned and churned as if it were fetching the database from the server, but only a blank slate was presented at completion. Bummer. Not having the time that evening to troubleshoot, I simply rolled the install back to 0.2.1-pre3 until I could ferret out a cause.

Over the course of the next few evenings, I incrementally walked the nightly releases between the last know good and the GM. All failed until I got to the snapshot from 20040110. That tarball failed an initial compile with the familiar undefined string error for atoll. Using manual substitution in main.c, another attempt at compiling the code succeeded. Installation and launch resulted in the library appearing in iTunes. Bingo!

Checking the release notes indicated that one of the 11 January nightly and the next — 16 January; analogous to the 0.2.1-pre4 CVS submission — was provision for systems which were not ASCII to 64-bit integer capable...umm, Jaguar installs. Nest stop; contacting the developer.

I eMailed Ron to let him know of the anomaly. He was a bit surprised, but offered a quick fix: declaring a substitution in main.c for non-atoll aware systems.

#define atoll(a) atol(a)

It worked like a chharm. Run first on the first anomalous nightly, the compile proceeded flawlessly and readily loaded the library fetch once installed and launched. The fix was then applied to the GM for 0.2.1 and, again, compilation and install resulted in a daemon which preformed as expected.

This fix only applies to those who are attempting to install mt-daapd on a system which is not compatible with the 64-bit ASCII to integer function — to my current knowledge only darwin 6.8 kernels. The substitution call above is placed immediately following the include declarations in src/main.c of the tarballs. Ron has stated that this accommodation will be rolled into the next incremental release. Until then, this will fix the incompatibility.

02 February 2005

The reunion is set

Today's post brought news that plans for the 20th anniversary reunion of my high school graduating class has been officially announced. A year late, the event will be combined with a similar celebration for the Class of 1985.

Rather than duplicate the effort, current and future updates will appear in the news section and archives of the TKG Alumni Resource page. Head on over there now, if you are interested.


continue to the January 2005 archive

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last BBEdited: 2005.03.01