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out of the blue

News flash: Windows is cheaper than Linux!

Lots of people asked me today what I thought about the IDC study that says Windows is cheaper than Linux. I yawned.
Consider the source. Microsoft paid for the thing. You think IDC was going to come back and say Linux is cheaper all around if Microsoft was paying the bill?

Yes, sometimes it’s cheaper. If all your sysadmins know NT and don’t know Unix well, then yes, Windows is going to be cheaper.

But I can think of some times when it’s not. Like if downtime means anything to you at all. My clients scream when I have to reboot an NT server. But I can count on having to reboot a busy NT server once a year due to a lockup or general server stupidity. And virtually every security update is going to require a reboot. I can slipstream a Linux security update almost every time without a reboot–unless it’s a patch to the kernel, which is rare. With the right distribution, I can even upgrade distributions without a reboot. Try that when going from Windows NT or 2000 to something else.

I saw a story on DebianPlanet today about someone bragging he’d done a server migration in 3 hours. You’ll never do that with Windows. But you can do a migration even faster than that–copy everything over somehow to the new server, either through a tape backup or disk cloning, then adjust /etc/fstab as necessary, plop down a generic kernel straight from a distribution, configure the NIC if it’s not a close relative of the old one, and reboot. If you want to get fancy, compile a custom kernel tuned to the new server’s hardware. You can do it all in an hour. We dread the day any of our Windows servers is destroyed by some kind of accident and we can’t find an identical replacement. It’ll take us a minimum of 5 hours to install and update the OS and re-install whatever apps are on it and re-create whatever shares are on it, because that’s how long it takes us to set up a new one out of the box.

And maybe you’ve got picky clients like some of mine. One of them decided out of the blue that they didn’t like how their network shares were named. Never mind that everyone just calls it “the O drive.” Yes, they’re anal-retentive morons, but the client is always right. So one of my coworkers spent a thrilling Saturday un-sharing folders and re-sharing them with new names. On a Samba server, you can just load a text file, change some names, and restart the daemon. Done. The job that took 6 hours and was full of potential for human error is reduced to a few minutes. There’s still potential for human error, but it’s much less because the job isn’t as tedious and boring. And it’s much quicker to fix.

And don’t even get me started on tracking server licenses and CALs. Many organizations, when faced with a Microsoft audit, find it cheaper to just re-buy all of them than to spend the time tracking down the documentation that proves they’re honest. With Linux and open source, there’s no danger of having to pay for something twice, not counting the upgrades. (Those are free too, if you want them.)

My spiritual journey

I guess this is as good of a time as any to write my spiritual autobiography. It’s not as long of a story as some–years of apathy have ways of shortening stories.
I guess I could sum up my current state in a couple of lines: Reach the world. Work within the system and change it from within.

Here’s how I got there.Read More »My spiritual journey

Big trouble

Getting in trouble. At work, we use a content-filtering application called Websense to keep people from visiting sports sites and porn sites and checking their stocks at work. Prior to its installation, one of the most commonly visited sites in our firewall logs was ESPN.com. Well, I set off Websense this afternoon:

Status: The Websense category "Sports" is filtered.

URL: http://www.symantec.com/sabu/ghost/compatible_drives.html

As you can pretty clearly see from the URL, I was wanting to see if the CD-R drive we have is compatible with Ghost 7.5. Websense didn’t see it that way.

I printed that message out and hung it on my cubicle wall. That’s what we do with bizarre and amusing Websense messages.

So I just had to do a little research. It would appear that Sabu is the name of a professional wrestler. I learn something new every day. But that raises the debate of whether professional wrestling is a sport. Websense and I disagree once again.

Hey, I never said I learn something useful every day…

And that leads me straight into this:

How I once almost accidentally stole a piano from some Mormons. It was my junior year of college, and I was living next door to the Lutheran church just off campus. I was walking out to my car, which was parked on the church parking lot, when a guy walked up to me.

“Can you get me into that church?” he asked, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb.

“Why do you need in the church?” I asked.

“I’m here to deliver a piano,” he said.

I had no idea what the church would want with a new piano, but seeing as I hadn’t set foot in the place all year, what did I know? I had a key for emergencies, and this seemed like one. “Hang on,” I said. “I’ll run in and get a key.”

So I came back out with a key, unlocked the door, and the guy wheeled the piano off his truck. “Any idea where they want this?” he asked as he wheeled it through the door.

Seeing as I didn’t even know they were getting a piano, I definitely didn’t know where they wanted it.

“We’ll just leave it here in the Narthex,” I said. “That way Pastor will see it first thing when he walks in, and he can move it where he wants it.” (That’d teach him for not being there when a piano was due to be delivered.)

“This is 305 S. College Avenue, isn’t it?”

I paused. I didn’t know the church’s address off the top of my head, but seeing as I lived next door at 206 S. College Ave., I knew the church’s address wasn’t an odd number. So I told him that.

“Where else is there a church on College Avenue?” he asked me.

There was none. I racked my brain for a minute. “Let me step outside and see what the building number is.” This was Columbia, after all. Maybe they did put even- and odd-numbered buildings on the same side of the street, for all I knew. They do everything else screwy in that town. Then a thought hit me out of the blue. “I wonder what the address of that Mormon thing across the street is?”

So I peered across the street at our squarish, utilitarian-styled neighbor. “Institute of Religion. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” the sign read. Then I looked for a building number. Indeed, it was the address the piano delivery guy was looking for.

He thanked me and wheeled the piano out the door and back into his truck.

I locked the door back up, then went back inside to put the key away. “Have I ever got a story for you,” I said to the first guy I spotted.

And I passed the test…

They got my test results back yesterday, and according to the late Professor Emeritus Wolfe’s analysis, I have the potential to be a competent computer programmer. Of course my high school CS instructor could have told them that and charged a lot less money for it.
As for the question of what programming has to do with a sysadmin job… Well, an NT administrator does have to write logon scripts. I’ll leave the reader to come to his or her own conclusion whether such a test is necessary to determine whether you can write logon scripts or not. It’s not in my best interests to comment on that. I will say there have been a few instances in my professional career where I’ve had to sit down and write some code (besides batch files), be it a quick-and-dirty-utility in QuickBasic or C or KiXtart, or some maintenance programming in Perl. I’ll also say it hasn’t been much of a struggle.

So now I know I’m promotable without changing employers, and that feels good. There’s pressure on me from outside to change employers, and they have some valid points. I guess I like having options.

Dan Bowman sent me a link, which is currently 120 miles from me (I’m in Columbia), which he speculated was a response to what I wrote yesterday. I read it and I concur. The argument there was that you shouldn’t necessarily look for fulfillment in your job when you can find fulfillment in what’s staring you square in the face when you get home: your wife and kids.

There absolutely was a time when I believed that, and there may come a time when I’ll believe it again. My gut reaction to Dan was my standard gut reaction to everything: “Why, that reminds me of a story…”

I had a late dinner a week ago with a buddy and some of his buddies. Technically it was his bachelor party, though some people might argue that a preseason hockey game followed by dinner doesn’t count as a real bachelor party. His 21-year-old future brother-in-law was there. And at one point, the subject of relationships came up. I argued that if you’re alone until you’re 40 when the right relationship comes along, that’s better than bouncing around from wrong relationship to wrong relationship until you finally find the right one. He disagreed.

“Nothing’s worse than being alone,” he said. “I know. I’ve been alone a long time.”

I told him I’ve dated exactly three girls since I turned 18. The first of the three was much worse than being alone. At one point I wouldn’t answer the phone, just in case it was her, for fear of what she’d say. She was always mad at me about some piddly little thing or another. It was cool for about a month. The last two months, forget it. We broke up and I was a whole lot better for it.

The second of the three was always mad at me for some piddly little thing or another too, but at least she didn’t nag. We broke up twice. A few months after the second breakup, she started talking to me again out of the blue. Another female friend asked why we didn’t get back together. All of a sudden it hit me. She had no respect for me. When I told my friend that, her attitude changed 180 degrees. “Forget that,” she said. “Everybody deserves respect.”

The third of the three was worse than being alone too. She was always mad at me because I only e-mailed her every second or third time she e-mailed me, and my messages were always shorter than hers. She only called me once or twice, so I wasn’t afraid to answer my phone, but I was afraid to check my e-mail. She prompted me to write my first-ever mail filter. For some reason I wouldn’t stand up to her. I never understood the relationship, because we never had long conversations, there was no emotion whatsoever, and we never laughed. She didn’t get my sense of humor, and I certainly didn’t get hers. All we could do was talk about baseball. Of course, I could talk about baseball with my guy friends, and they never nagged me.

That lasted roughly six months, if I remember right. I wanted to find out whether being with her was better or worse than being alone. Finally I decided I liked being alone better.

Along the way, I’ve met The One several times. I’m sure everyone knows what I’m talking about. You meet the world’s most beautiful woman, and she turns out to be really nice, and funny, and has several other qualities about her too. But I always ran into a problem. I could never talk to The One. Well, I could talk, but the words never came out right.

So, at best, The One and I would become very casual friends. And that was it.

Then a few months ago I read something that sounded wise. I don’t remember where I read it, but it sounded like it was directed at me. If you’ve met The One several times and you keep blowing it, you’re probably putting too much pressure on yourself. You’re trying to say the one line or one word that’ll win her heart for good, and you’ll never do it, so you’re fighting a losing battle. The article said to forget that approach. Get used to talking to women, it said. If there’s a woman around, talk to her. Not even if you’re not interested in her–especially if you’re not interested in her. Do that, and you accomplish two things. You learn what women think about and what they like to talk about, and you eventually quit putting pressure on yourself, so when you finally do talk to a woman you’re interested in, you sound natural.

So a few months ago I started doing that, to a degree. It’s not like I walked up to every woman I passed in the grocery store and started talking, but since I work with a lot of women, I had that opportunity at work. I talked to a moderately attractive intern at work. I struck out hard. Then I ran into someone who reminded me of someone I used to know, but I couldn’t place her. I walked up to her. “I feel really stupid asking, but you look really familiar,” I told her. I told her my name, and asked if it meant anything to her. Turned out I went to high school with her. We had a couple of long, pleasant conversations, and she didn’t run and hide! I was on a roll!

So I kept on. One thing I learned I should have known all along. There’s a girl at work who’s still in college, working part-time, who was getting some help on a project from someone else. I happened to be in Someone Else’s cube fixing her computer at the time. At one point, Someone Else asked me how you’d adjust the leading in Microsoft Word. I gave her the bad news: You can’t, which was why I wrote a lot of my papers in college in QuarkXPress–I could finely adjust leading and tracking all I wanted, to make a paper whatever length the professor was looking for. At one point, Someone Else went upstairs for coffee, leaving the part-timer and I alone in her cube. She and I talked, mostly about my job. It was pleasant.

The next day, I was in her area, so I stopped in. I asked how her project was coming along. She was completely floored. “It’s almost done. Every second it gets closer and closer,” she said. “Thanks for asking. That’s so sweet!”

Lesson #1: Take an interest in what girls are doing. Especially The One. Judging from this girl’s reaction, she doesn’t get that from guys her age very often. Lesson #2: I already knew Lesson #1, but rarely expressed it. So if you’re interested in what she’s doing, make sure you ask.

So now I’m sure you’re wondering what I’ve accomplished. I’ve talked to all these girls but haven’t found The One lately, right? Wrong. I don’t know if she’s The One, necessarily, but she’s a good prospect. We talk a lot and she doesn’t run away. I know her well enough to know there’s a joke hidden somewhere in almost everything she says, but I don’t know her well enough to catch it every time yet. She understands. I don’t fret when I talk to her, and I don’t dread hearing from her. We seem to understand one another. Good signs, definitely. So what am I doing about it?

I didn’t look for a smooth way to ask her out. I brought it up. She saw it coming. I wasn’t visibly nervous, but I got choked up for a minute. You can’t control your subconscious, after all. “I’ve been thinking,” I said. She saw it coming and seemed to enjoy it–here’s a guy who’s confident, yet vulnerable. My vocal chords betrayed that. (Girls seem to like confidence spiked with vulnerability.)

Then I asked her out.

She said yes. She left herself a small door for escape. Then she closed that door.

And that’s the end of the story, for now.

Now, if I were in the mode of relying on wife and kids for my self-fulfillment, I’d be a basket case right about now. What if she cancels? What if it doesn’t go well? What if it does go really well, but then when I propose to her she says no? What if I never find another girl like her?

That’s thinking way too far ahead. That’s too much pressure. It’s not fair to her. She’s got too many other things to think about to have to deal with all that. Every worthwhile girl does.

I’ve said a few things to her that seemed to really make her feel good. So yes, I get some fulfillment from that. I get some fulfillment from work. I get some fulfillment from this site, though it’s been months since I’ve checked my logs so I have no idea how big my readership is now. I get some fulfillment from the things I do at church. And I get some fulfillment whenever a friend calls up and asks for advice or a favor.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that fulfillment shouldn’t come from one place. All of those things will let you down at one point or another. But if you’ve got enough other things, when one thing lets you down the others can still buoy you up.


Jumbo HD woes. My 15-gig Quantum drive mysteriously started working right from the regular UMDA-33 controller on my Abit BP6 yesterday. Totally out of the blue. That’s what makes this problem so maddening; it’s intermittent. I’m going to stick with keeping the drive connected to the UDMA-66 controller though, since this is a UDMA-66 drive.

And my March article for Shopper is almost complete. I need to come up with a good lead and a good closer, figure out whether I can fit one more trick into the 200 or so words I have left, and then fire it off to London. I could have done another book rehash but I decided to write this one from scratch, and I think it’s pretty good.

A useful modems link. Modems are mostly a thing of the past for me, but I know a lot of my readers (especially those in the UK) aren’t so fortunate. There’s a large and authoritative guide to modems at http://modems.rosenet.net/ .

Snow. There’s a family from Michigan who recently joined our church. I remember one of them saying recently, “I keep telling the kids it doesn’t snow in Missouri.”

Well, not quite like it does in Michigan. But the seven inches or so of the white stuff sitting on the ground outside right now testifies that it can snow in Missouri. This isn’t Florida. So I’m guessing this was a bit of a rude surprise to them–not that they can’t handle driving in it.

Rick Sutcliffe may return to the Cubs. As a television analyst , not as a pitcher.

The Chicago Cubs are looking for a replacement for longtime analyst Steve Stone, who retired this year. Rick, who’s worked for the last two seasons as a part-time analyst for ESPN and for the San Diego Padres, is one of the candidates to replace him.

Rick and I are cousins, which explains the strong feelings I have about the Cubs, the team where he had the most longevity.