Yes, I’m still alive

I had to take some time away to clear my head and find myself. It’s a survival tactic; the guy other people wanted Dave to be hasn’t been getting the job done.
Besides, anyone who’s worth anything will like the real Dave better than Dave the Chameleon anyway. Those who like Dave the Chameleon better can go find themselves someone else to be a chameleon. There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of people who are willing. But I think it’s rude to ask someone to change before you really get to know him or her, don’t you?

So I’ve been ignoring the site partly because when I’m paying attention to it, it’s really tempting to try to figure out what to write to make myself popular. And partly because it’s a distraction when I’m trying to figure out who I am. Writing is a big part of me, but it’s only part of me.

So I dug out some things I enjoyed in the past. I’ve been reading F. Scott Fitzgerald and listening to Peter Gabriel and U2 (early stuff, long before they got popular) and Tori Amos and Echo and the Bunnymen. The way I used to do things was to go look for stuff that most people overlooked, rather than letting current trends tell me what to like. So none of that’s cool anymore. Big deal.

The majority isn’t always right. Exhibit A: Disco.

I remember when I was in high school, either my freshman or sophomore year, a popular girl a year older than me came up to me and told me I needed to be more of a rebel. I thought about that and came to the conclusion that I was a rebel. She and her crowd were rebelling against authority figures. I was rebelling against conformity.

Oddly enough, I ended up sitting next to her boyfriend in Spanish class not long after that. We couldn’t stand each other at first, but then it turned out we had a lot more common ground than either one of us could have imagined and we became friends.

I can’t help but think of Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was the spokesman of his generation, a generation not at all unlike ours, a generation that lived to excess and partied harder than any generation before, and up until GenX came along, or since. It’s obvious from Fitzgerald’s writing that he saw the excesses and even though it fascinated him, obviously there was a lot about it that he didn’t like. Yet his lifestyle didn’t change much. The result? The Voice of the Twenties was dead, aged 44, in 1940. Although some of his contemporaries recognized his greatness then, he was mostly remembered as a troublesome drunk.

Would Fitzgerald had lived longer if he’d been more of a rebel of a different sort? Well, I’d like to think so.

I’ve also been playing with computers. I pressed my dual Celeron back into duty and upgraded to the current version of Debian Unstable (I last did that sometime last summer, I think). It’s much, much faster now. I suspect it’s due to the use of GCC 3.2 or 3.3 instead of the old standby GCC 2.95. But I’m not sure. What I do know is the machine was really starting to feel sluggish, and now it feels fast again, almost like it felt to me when I first got it.

I’ve also been playing with PHP accelerators. I know I can only speed up a DSL-hosted site by so much, but my server serves up static pages much faster than my PHP pages, so I want that.

I’ve played around with WordPress a little bit more. It appears the new version will allow me to publish an IP address along with comments. I like that. I’m sick of rude people slinging mud from behind a wall of anonymity. I’m sure they’re much smarter than I am. So they ought to set up their own Web sites, so they can say whatever they want and enlighten the masses. If, as my most recent accuser says, what God wants is for Dave Farquhar and people like him to shut up, it won’t take much to drown my voice out.

OK, I’m done ranting. I’m gonna go in to work tomorrow and be my own person. I’m going to do what’s right, and not what’s popular, even when doing what’s right makes me unpopular. I’m going to stay focused and driven. The possibilities ahead are more important than the mistakes of the past and whatever happens to be missing from the present.

And there’ll be less missing with my vacationing coworkers back in the office.

And everything that’s true about work is true about life at home as well. Speaking of which, when I was out this weekend I noticed I was drawing second looks from girls again. Eating healthy again must be helping. That can’t be bad.

Well, this has to be the most disorganized and unfocused thing I’ve written in years. But I need to post something.

I’ll be back when my head’s more clear.

That wasn’t the Sunday I had planned

I was hoping that by now I would be upgraded to WordPress, the successor to the b2 blogging program that I use, and that I would have a running DietLinux box on some system, and that I’d be coming back to you with some cool tricks you can do with a Knoppix CD.
I’m 0 for 3.

WordPress is up and running inside my firewall, and there are some nice things about it, but if I move, I lose some stuff. Such as? Most of the code I had Steve write for me won’t run under WordPress. No recent comments, no scoring whatsoever, and searching gives you the posts, rather than links to the posts, which could be deadly if you searched for the word “the.”

Seeing the entries right away when you do a search or hit a category link is fine on blogs that don’t have a lot of entries, but when I have 1,200+ of them, that’s bad. It’s better to return titles with links to the entries.

What do I gain? The ability to make entries and not publish them just yet. The ability to close entries to comments. Movable Type-compatible pingbacks and trackbacks. In a future version, multiple categories per post. That’s all worth a lot.

So I’ll move. Not just this weekend, sadly.

A big chunk of the day went to fixing Gatermann’s web server. The nice thing about Linux is you never have to reboot it. (If you run Debian, you can even upgrade across versions without having to reboot.) The bad thing about Linux is that since you never have to reboot it, if you power it down, you really don’t have much way of knowing if the system’s going to come back up. After jumping through way too many hoops, we got the thing booted with a rescue disk, and when I looked at it, I couldn’t figure out how the system ever booted the first time. For one thing, I couldn’t find a kernel. Obviously at some point in this system’s life, something went horribly, horribly wrong.

Nothing we could think of would repair it, so we ended up archiving all the important stuff like /etc, then wiped and reinstalled. I’m sure if we’d persisted, we could have brought it back to life, but from the time he got here to the time I started reinstalling, three CDs had played on my stereo. I can install Debian in 15 minutes on a fast system, and 35 minutes on a slowpoke.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad or upset or anything. I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to fix it in 10 minutes though. But then I remember that two of those CDs that played during that timeframe were by The Cure. If two hours straight of The Cure doesn’t make you feel a a little down on yourself, nothing will.

But I’ll have to give Bob and his revolving door of bandmates credit for making me think about it. There was a time when I would have given almost anything to be the biggest Unix guru in St. Louis. That’s over. These days system wizardry is a means to an end. It pays me enough money to give me a house in a middle-class neighborhood, and a car that’s practical yet draws looks, and leaves enough left over to do nice things for people. Although the job can be demanding, I have more free time than Dad ever had. I mean, I found out this morning that three of my friends have started a band and I got to hear a very early mix of their CD. I can get excited, because I’ve got enough time to at the very least go see them. And if they need someone to write some propaganda for them, I can do that.

After dinner, I re-tackled the WordPress project, but that part of my brain’s just fried. I had to laugh at a question Steve asked me in e-mail. He asked why weekends take more out of him than the workweek. I know the answer to that one. Since we’re low-tier aristocrats, we’ve always got stuff that needs to be done. And the stuff around the house can very easily be more draining than the stuff we do for 40 hours a week. And when the workweek gets to be too much, you just call up a friend and take a long lunch–make up the time at the end of the day after everyone else has left and the office is quiet–and talk about home ownership and other low-tier aristocratic things to get your mind off work.

So as much as I’d love to go find some vexing question and solve it and then turn it over to Google to direct people with the question to my answer, I just don’t have it in me. Not today. And thinking about work to try to escape the drains of low-tier aristocracy seems, well, sick.

A Peter Gabriel CD and a book would be really good right about now.

Weekend adventures and Low-profile PCs

Saturday. I finally managed to drag my sorry butt to work about 11 or so. I went to pay my rent at 10; the office was closed even though it was supposed to be open. The manager called me yesterday about 10, wondering where I was (gee, could it be I was at work, and that sometimes I have things to do other than sit by the phone waiting for her to call?) complaining that they needed to get into my apartment to fix a leak. I called and left a message saying go on in. She called back a couple of hours later and bawled me out for having a busted hose (I didn’t bust it) and for having stuff in the closet with the hot water heater, in violation of fire code. “The maintenance guy said you had a bunch of stuff in there, and that busted the hose, and that’s a violation of code so you have to clean it out.”
I checked when I got home. Apparently a snow shovel (necessary because they never clear the parking lot) and a kitchen mop sitting in the corner opposite everything constitutes “a bunch of stuff.” I put the check in an envelope, and since there was no one there to complain to, I scribled a note on the envelope. “I moved my mop and my snow shovel out of the closet. Apparently that constitutes ‘a bunch of stuff.'”

And Friday night I got out my lease and looked at it. I’d never read it thoroughly and I was shocked. For one thing, playing a musical instrument is strictly prohibited. Even with headphones. That’s a load of bull. If you can play a guitar on the Metro in Washington D.C. as long as you use headphones, then if I feel like strumming my bass inside the four walls of my apartment and no one can hear it, that’s my business. But I found what I was looking for. Since I’ve been here two years, the penalty for breaking the lease is one month’s rent. Losing me for the remainder of the lease hurts them more than the month’s rent hurts me, so I started looking for houses.

One of the girls at church (her name is Wendy) had mentioned earlier in the week that houses in Lemay are inexpensive, and Lemay, despite what Gatermann says, isn’t a bad place. For one, there’s a great pizza joint in Lemay. There’s reasonably easy access to I-255 to get around St. Louis. Plus two grocery stores and a department store. And if Wendy’s comfortable walking to her car at night in Lemay, my black trenchcoat and I will be just fine.

At work, an unexpected but totally welcome distraction happened. My phone rang. I was hoping it was the girl from church, but it was an inside ring. I picked up. “This is Dave,” I said.

“Hi! It’s Heather.”

That’s the name of my best friend from college, and it sure sounded like her voice. But she lives in Florida and she’s been bouncing from dot-com to dot-com since college.

“I saw your car outside so I thought I’d give you a call. I’m here with Olivia and we’re just checking on houses with my computer. I thought you might like to meet her.”

Oh. That Heather. She’s a twentysomething Kentucky native who’s lived in St. Louis for about three years. Olivia is her four-year-old daughter. She’s been looking for a house for about the past six months. Extremely nice girl, easy to talk to. Pretty too.

Talking to Heather and meeting Olivia promised to be a whole lot more intersesting than watching SpinRite run on that failing hard drive that forced me into the office on my day off, so I walked over to her area. Olivia saw me first. She hid behind a chair. I recognized her immediately, because Heather’s cubicle is practically wallpapered with pictures of her. I knocked on the side of the cube wall. Heather looked up. “Hi!” she said. She looked around and saw Olivia behind the chair. “Come out, Olivia.” Olivia shyly emerged. “Say Hi.” Olivia waved shyly and said hi. Yep, she’s just like her mom: way tall, and very shy at first. Olivia crawled up into Heather’s lap and started playing with her adding machine. She whispered something to her mom. She looked at her, puzzled. Olivia whispered it again. “You tell him,” she said.

“I like to dig through the trash,” Olivia said.

“Why do you like to dig in the trash?” I asked her. Heather laughed and explained. Olivia keeps everything. When she throws something away, Olivia usually goes digging for it. I told Olivia I used to dig through the trash when my mom would throw my stuff away too.

“Oh! I haven’t told you. We made an offer on a house!” Heather said, visibly excited. I asked her about it. Two-bedroom, nice heated garage, small yard but within walking distance of a park… in Lemay. I smiled.

I told her congratulations, and told her I started looking last night. She said there was a lot of stuff in Lemay. Meanwhile, Olivia and I played catch with beanbags. She has a lively arm on her, not that that should be too surprising. When you’ve got long arms like hers and get them extended, you’ll have some pop. Her first throw hit me below the belt, if you know what I mean. I saw it coming, couldn’t get my arm down there fast enough, and grimaced. Olivia laughed. I don’t think Heather saw. I picked the beanbag off the ground and tossed it back to her. No lasting effects–it was a beanbag, after all. But guys instinctively grimace whenever anything heads that direction, even a Nerf ball. It’s instinctual. Olivia’s next throw sailed past my outstretched hand and plunked the back of Heather’s chair.

“I’m glad you weren’t the second baseman the last softball game I played,” I said to Olivia.

So Heather and I talked houses while Olivia and I tossed beanbags around. I’m like her, I like South County and don’t really want to live anywhere else. She’s been looking long enough to have a pretty good idea what’s available. She printed off a couple of houses for me, and told me a couple of places in Lemay where several houses were available.

Eventually, I thanked her and left. I told Olivia it was nice to meet her.

Then last night, after none of my Saturday plans panned out, I wandered out in search of a haircut and the new Echo and the Bunnymen album. I found neither. I bought some used stuff: Echo and the Bunnymen’s self-titled 1987 release which I’d never gotten around to buying, Peter Gabriel’s fourth album, Peter Murphy’s surprise 1989 hit Deep, and a New Wave compilation that contained a couple of good songs from bands who only recorded one good song, plus a bunch of stuff I didn’t remember ever hearing. The sales clerk reacted to my selections. “Uh oh. Echo and the Bunnymen. Hmm. Peter Murphy. Who was he with?”

“Bauhaus,” I said.

“Was he in Love and Rockets too, or was that the other guys from Bauhaus?”

“Love and Rockets was Bauhaus without Peter Murphy.”

Yep, I was earning the right to wear a black trenchcoat last night. Too bad it’s August. I was impressed that the clerk recognized Murphy, seeing as he was probably born the same year Bauhaus broke up and Murphy’s only had one solo hit, though his post-Bauhaus stuff is really good.

So I hopped in my car, popped in the compilation CD, and went exploring. I found the area Heather told me about. But mostly I explored Lemay–what kind of stuff could I find? Being fairly close to a park would be nice. I found the pizza joint my dad and I used to go to, many years ago. Just about everything I need is pretty close together, and not terribly far from the big commercial district. The houses are older, which can be good and bad, and like Heather warned me, there are some areas that are a little bit redneck, but you’ll find that in a lot of parts of St. Louis. And like Wendy said, Lemay’s not a ritzy place and the people who live there know it, so the pretension you see in a lot of parts of St. Louis isn’t present there. That’s nice.

Low-profile. Dan Bowman sent me a couple of links yesterday to low-profile cases that would be suitable as low-end servers or routers. Over at CSO they’re selling Dell low-profile Pentium Pro-200 systems for $99, with 64 MB RAM, 2.1 gig HD, and a NIC. A Pentium II-266 runs $129. Specs vary on the PII.

That got me thinking and looking around some more. Over at www.compgeeks.com, I found a couple of other things. An ultra low-profile LPX case (sans power supply) is running $10.50. It only has three bays, but that’s plenty for a floppy, CD-ROM, and single HD. An Intel HX-based LPX mobo (with built-in video) runs $19. It’ll take up to a P200, non-MMX though. The LPX riser card is $4.95. CPU availability is limited there; a P90 runs five bucks. Back at CSO, a P166 runs $15.

If you’re really cramped for space, building an LPX-based system is your best bet. But the CSO deal on the Dell is tough to beat. You won’t build an LPX system that even comes close for $99.

03/14/2001

Just a note about yesterday. The missing backslashes in Tony Brewer’s mail were my fault, not his. Manilla uses the backslash as a control character, so unless I double up on them Manilla munches them and you get run-together strings like c:windowscommandattrib.exe.

And a memory tip. I read in The Register yesterday that at least one industry expert expects memory prices are about to climb. With brand-name PC133 128s going for $40, if you’re in the market, go get it.

My sources have been wrong every time I’ve said memory prices looked like they’d level off, so I almost hesitate to say anything, but I’d hate to see prices quadruple next month without me saying something.

Then again, if brand-name PC133s are going for $20 next month I’ll feel equally foolish, so I guess I can’t win, can I?

Speaking of prices, I don’t have any new sources of $35 motherboards this week, but I can probably find one if someone wants…

Given the title of this site, I wish I had some great tidbit to pass on, but I spent half the day playing with ramdisks and the other half trying to figure out why someone’s laptop couldn’t see the router even though the router was seeing the laptop. Not very inspiring.

So enough about computers. Let’s talk about music, seeing as Napster has some ultimatum by today. I think today’s the day the hammer falls if they aren’t filtering out certain titles. This should be interesting, seeing as Sony didn’t provide them with filenames to filter like the court ordered, and there are at least two efforts under way to encrypt/decrypt filenames real-time. Ironically, record companies’ efforts to defeat that effort are supposedly forbidden by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

One of my favorite bands of all time is coming back. I’ve been hearing rumblings off and on about a new album from Depeche Mode for several years, but they actually look to release a new album in a couple of months.

It’s hard to imagine that Mode’s last great album, 1990’s Violator, came out 11 years ago. Songs of Faith and Devotion, their 1993 effort, was overshadowed by the efforts of that year’s up-and-coming alternative rock bands, and the band’s troubles didn’t end there. First keyboardist Alan Wilder left the group, then lead singer Dave Gahan, battling heroin addiction, attempted suicide. After Gahan spent time in rehab, the band released 1997’s Ultra, which was just totally ignored. I’d love to be proven wrong on this, but I suspect this newest effort will be ignored too.

My grandparents’ generation swooned to Frank Sinatra. My parents swooned to Elvis Presley. My generation swooned to The Cure and Depeche Mode. (I’m trying to figure out if this should frighten me.) I guess I should find out what the youth of today swoon to, but I’ve got a feeling after I find out, I’ll understand it about as much as my parents understood The Cure and Mode. And that’s why I don’t think this album will go too far. Mode’s audience doesn’t buy that many records anymore, and to the demographic who does buy records these days, Mode will sound like a relic of a bygone day.

The quality of the album is hard to gauge from the 30-second snippets on their site, but the content isn’t. Mode specializes in two types of songs: spiritual alienation songs and make-out songs. And somehow they usually manage to sound depressed in both types of song. What can I say? They’re talented. People don’t call ’em “Depressed Mode” for nothing.

But I’ve gotten off track. Exciter looks to be a make-out album, with one obligatory song of spiritual alienation (“Breathe,” which is a bit surprising because that sounds like a make-out title if I ever heard one). As for the sound, the synthesizers are much more prominent this time around than they were on the last two albums. They sound like Depeche Mode again, rather than sounding like Depeche Mode following whatever’s trendy that year.

And at the risk of going off track again, do girls take it as an insult when someone dedicates a Depeche Mode song to one of them? They probably should. “Enjoy the Silence” sounds like a love song, and on one level it is, but the lyrics are really just a long-winded, disguised way of saying, “Shut up.”

“Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm…”

Or maybe I’m the only one who pays that much attention to lyrics. Probably.

And speaking of albums that’ve been long overdue… I checked in on Peter Gabriel’s Up over the weekend. Supposedly that’ll be released this summer. Gabriel announced Up in 1998, days before R.E.M. announced their next record, which was also titled Up. As I recall, R.E.M. actually apologized for that. That turned out to be totally unnecessary, seeing as it’s now two and a half years later, R.E.M.’s Up is mostly forgotten (a shame because it was good), and Gabriel’s album of the same name still hasn’t been released.

Let’s see… After four self-titled albums, Gabriel got caught in a rut of two-letter names for his studio albums: 1986’s So, 1992’s Us, and then whenever’s Up. Who’s to say his follow-up, which at this rate would probably come out in about 2013, will be titled It? Fits the pattern, and it’d be a fitting title for a final effort.

Napster and the decline of copyright–part 3

All of this talk of Napster brings up some questions: What is legitimate use?

Making MP3s from CDs you already own is legal, just like making tapes from CDs you own is legal. It’s difficult to say that downloading MP3s made from CDs you already own would be illegal, as you can just make the MP3s yourself. For some people, this is preferable, as encoding MP3s takes a good deal of time on slower systems. However, one can never be certain of the quality of the MP3s online–the condition of the CD, the quality of the source drive, and the quality of the encoder come into play. Those who aren’t audiophiles probably prefer to just download the MP3s, but the existence of the files understandably makes record companies and artists nervous.

So Napster isn’t just out-and-out theft. (Just almost.)

But some tracks on Napster are legal as well. The right to make and distribute live bootleg recordings has been upheld by courts. And some artists, notably The Grateful Dead and, more recently, Phish and The Dave Matthews Band, have given bootleggers their blessing. Other artists aren’t so keen on being bootlegged, but aside from trying to keep recording devices out of their concerts, there isn’t much they can do about it. Such recordings on Napster are legal, but determining whether such a track is what it claims to be can be difficult. I once downloaded a supposed live version of ‘Til Tuesday’s “Believed You Were Lucky,” only to find it was the studio recording with reverb added–clearly a violation of copyright unless you happen to own the original. Many of the live recordings I’ve downloaded from likes of Joe Jackson, Peter Gabriel, and Social Distortion turned out to be from commercially available live albums, some of which I owned, and some of which I didn’t.

And occasionally an artist will release a recording on Napster for promotional purposes–or to hack off their record label. Veteran alternative supergroup Smashing Pumpkins released an album’s worth of unreleased material on Napster last year and said it was their last album.

But policing content on Napster and other peer-to-peer sharing plans is difficult. It’s not a total impossibility, but file renaming can make it much easier for illegal content to get through. Digital fingerprinting would be harder to circumvent, but that, too, could be done, and implementation is extremely difficult. The difficulty of such measures makes me wonder why Napster came into being–it’s not a good business model. Part of me wonders if Napster’s creators just didn’t care whether they were breaking the law or aiding others in breaking the law. While there are legal uses for Napster, I suspect few people are confining themselves to the legal uses.

There are plenty of people calling for copyright reform, and that’s not unreasonable. Under current law, copyrights can be extended beyond the material’s original audience’s lifetime. Under the original law, copyrights lasted for 26 years, renewable for another 26, for a total of 52 years. So that time frame won’t prevent Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney from making a living. But under that law, the pop songs from 1949 would now be freely distributable, and could be performed without royalties. The beloved early rock’n’roll tunes from the 1950s would come available this decade. For those songs, Napster wouldn’t be an issue.

Content publishers seem to be more worried about current copyright provisions than content creators are. Sci-Fi author Jerry Pournelle has stated numerous times he had no problem with the original law, when he was writing his early works under it.

Reverting back to the old law is probably the best compromise. People wanting to freeload will be able to do so, but they’ll have to wait 52 (or if they’re lucky, 26) years. Those who produce and distribute content will still be able to make a living doing so–the majority of people won’t be willing to wait all those years. Abandoned property won’t be an issue either–once it reaches 26 years of age, if it’s not renewed, it’s fair game.

Unfortunately, the copyright law debate is lost in all the Napster rhetoric. And that, I fear, is possibly the greatest casualty of the battle. But it’s no silver bullet either. It increases the pool of material that’s fair game for free distribution, but it doesn’t solve the problem of outright piracy of recent material.

MP3 has plenty of legitimate uses, for the consumer as a matter of convenience and for copyright holders as a matter of promotion, and the courts have upheld those legitimate uses. MP3 usage tends to be a fall guy for all the record industry’s problems, but the record industry had problems before the MP3 phenomenon became rampant. As Andy Breslau said, there are so many avenues of entertainment available today, it’s perfectly natural that the recording industry’s share of the entertainment pie would shrink, just like TV networks’ share is in decline. If and when Napster is forced to close its doors, the industry’s problems won’t just disappear, and the illegal copying of MP3s will almost certainly continue, though possibly not on such a large scale. There’s very little, if anything, the industry can do to stop MP3 swapping through Usenet newsgroups and IRC chatrooms, which was where the MP3 phenomenon began in the first place.

I expect the use of MP3 for promotional purposes to continue, and services such as MP3.com will take advantage of it legally for years to come. But services like Napster, which provide virtually anything you want with no proof of ownership, are probably running on borrowed time, even though the industry is lying to itself about the true impact these services have.

Napster will be forced to shut down, the record industry will continue to make billions and artists won’t get their fair share, and the record industry will continue to┬ácomplain their billions aren’t enough and blame MP3s or something else.

Part 1 in a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

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