When exactly will the “War on Terror” be over?

When exactly will the War on Terror be over? You do wonder. It’s not really a question anyone ever asks. When will it be over and when it is, will our privacy and liberty be restored? Like the War on Drugs or the War on Poverty, it will never be over until it stops being a war at all. One way to “win” is to refuse to fight the same battle as your opponent. Win on your own terms, not theirs.

Not holding my breath on that. What a mess.

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BBWorld 2011

sotto voce: one of a series of long unfinished posts that I’m just throwing out there.

I returned from Blackboard World 2011 on Saturday. It was a good conference. I went early for the Oscelot/Open Source Day, and DevCon. Both were excellent. OSD was a good easy start and a nice small event to get things going. Glad to see Mark O’Neill is still involved while having a critical role within Blackboard and he’s just a nice, smart guy. I also got a chance to get to know Wim and his team from K.U. Leuven, who are great guys and do interesting work. Getting to know them, the various ex-pats from the U.K. (Scots in England, and English in Scotland), and Jose from Monterrey.The Belgian and Monterrey schools are institutions of somewhat similar size and have faced many of the same challenges that we have, and found many of the same solutions. The guys from the U.K. are doing excellent technical work particularly with standards.

Anyway, a week in Las Vegas with lots of free alcohol. What could be better? Well, I’ve been sick for quite a while and it really dialed up this past week. I felt pretty awful and was taking ibuprofen every 4 hours or so. Without it, mind-bogglingly bad headaches started, shooting pains, muscle aches, etc. Very hard to sleep when your scalp(!) hurts to the touch and you are waking up every few hours. Friends with medical experience were quite worried. Anyway, the flight back was tough and I went straight to my regular clinic and a new doctor who very promptly diagnosed Lyme disease. There’s a test which will take a while to come back, but the diagnosis seems right and matches up with the “spider” bite that I had sustained just before I ran the triathlon a little over 3 weeks ago. Since I’d been taking ibuprofen for the swelling, I suspect it masked a lot of the initial symptoms. I’m finally on the right antibiotic and I hope, improving.

— picking up again after a long while —

So, I went on antibiotics for the Lyme disease which immediately started clearing up…and consequently developed Bell’s Palsy, which really freaked me out. Apparently it’s a relatively rare side effect of Lyme’s disease as the 7th facial nerve has been compressed. At one point, I was on an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral (just in case it wasn’t Lyme’s–the test takes a long time to come back), and antibiotic. This was as I was headed to England for an overdue vacation.

Anyway, back to the conference. Since I’d been feeling so bad, I kept putting off the work I needed to do on my presentation. In the end I dragged a co-worker into presenting a little bit, but I did the majority of it with very skinny slides. It turned out very well. The room was full to overflowing and I was asked to do a repeat session, which I ultimately decided to decline. The recording is/was online fwiw.

A long time since, what do I recall of the conference. Not much to be honest. It was a good conference, but the whole experience was colored by my illness. I hope this year it will be more fun.

…pulling the trigger on this one.

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Soccer Commentary and Counter-Productive Takedowns

sotto voce: one of a series of long unfinished posts that I’m just throwing out there.

Good grief, an excellent soccer strategy site is asked to stop using photos of matches in his analysis. God forbid that enthusiasts get interested in all dimensions of the game! It’s a common theme for copyright holders to take actions directly contrary to their own long-term interests, but it springs from fundamental misunderstandings of the internet. See also: SOPA, ACTA, etc.

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Unfinished drafts muttering in the corner

I have six posts now sitting as unfinished drafts. It’s more than time I actually finished them, but that applies to a number of projects in my life right now. Everyone has unfinished projects muttering in a corner I suppose.

Do you want to guess how long this post sat as an unfinished draft?

Yeah…don’t.

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A five-year plan

Still working on those unfinished drafts… ;-)

Do you have a five-year plan?

I don’t.

Should I?

Occasionally, I run across that advice in one of those columns that tells you how to fix your life. It’s attractive. Hey, I’m a person with a plan who is going places…

Well, I think I’m a guy who knows where my towel is (unless my daughter has left them on the floor of her room again), but I’ve not really approached my life that way. Having a family tends to throw a monkey wrench in one’s good intentions. Maybe one day I’ll work out how to be a super dad who makes crafts with his awesome kids while hang-gliding, or maybe the trick is to save that for grandchildren.

Isn’t living in the moment meant to be a good thing anyway? I suppose it is, unless one isn’t living, unless one isn’t anaethetized by modern media, distracted by cat pictures. Hmm…that reminds me, I’m not sure I’ve seen a text from the Dalai Lama recently? Best check my twitter feed….

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Riding the Virginia Creeper Trail

My kids and I did the Virginia Creeper Trail last weekend. It was absolutely fantastic. I cannot say enough how much fun and how gorgeous it was. This is despite the fact that we were completely drenched in a downpour.

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A note on logistics
I called and made a reservation for bikes and a shuttle the day before. We drove to Damascus, VA (a little over 2 hours from Blacksburg), getting to the bike shop about 30 minutes before the shuttle left. This gave us time to get the bikes, buy rain ponchos, go to the bathroom and get our act together. We could have brought our own bikes and just paid for the shuttle. You can also drop off your own bikes at the top and just one of you get a ride up while the others wait. Last, but not least, you can ride up the trail if you wish. It’s a very, very gentle slope, but it’s 15-17 miles to the top, so I imagine you’d have to be in pretty good shape.

Another option is to start and finish in Abingdon, which is 34 miles from Whitetop.

I didn’t realize until we got there, by the way, that there are a number of bike shops in Damascus. This is a good business for the town obviously. We rented at JC’s Outdoors and were happy with it, but the others looked fine too. Anyway, we all piled into the shuttle -about 12 people in all, with a trailer behind with the bikes on it-and were driven to the top of the trail. The ride up is on a very, very winding road and takes 20-30 minutes as I recall. Both kids were a bit queasy by the time we got there.

When we rode, the stretch from Whitetop to Green Cove was closed for repairs (funded by the ARRA by the way), so we started at Green Cove, meaning that the ride was 15 miles. It took 2 1/2 to 3 hours and to be honest we didn’t stop much.

The ride really was all downhill, but that’s not to say that it didn’t require any work. The slope is so gentle that you do have to pedal to keep going (the kids probably a bit more because they’re lighter, have less momentum and are on smaller bikes), and by the time we reached the end our hands were a little tired from braking and controlling the bikes. I saw a young (6-ish?) boy on the trail on a very small bike, and I would imagine that he would have been wiped out by the end (although the rain probably didn’t help). My daughters are 11 and 13 and were generally fine.

38289_10150240791945271_3169959_nThe default thing to do though is just gently pedal and freewheel down the trail. Check out the Youtube videos for a sense of what it’s like. Near the top especially, the trail is a little bit muddier and rockier. At the bottom, it was more tarmac as I recall (I preferred the top). Either way, do not wear clothes that you are fond of! You will get coal(?) dirt all over your clothes, especially if it rains. It’s probably a good idea to have a change of clothes waiting for you in your car at the bottom.

Most of the way the trail runs next to the river and you can stop and pull over in all kinds of places to relax, snack or just enjoy the water. There are numerous bridges that you cross. It’s just incredibly beautiful. There are places to camp if that’s your thing. About half-way down there are a couple of cafes/shops. We stopped at the first one we came to, which was more of small hut, although to be honest the one after that (across a small road bridge) looked like it had more going for it.

It started raining torrentially very soon into the ride when we did it, but the kids were great. They were having a lot of fun and continued to do so, despite being pretty soaked and filthy from the mud flung up by the bikes. They both had a real sense of accomplishment when we got to the bottom and my eldest wanted to turn around and do it again. I’m really proud of their attitude about the whole day.

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I’m looking forward to going back.

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Blacksburg Middle School Move

So, this spring, the Blacksburg High School gym collapsed. I went to a meeting at the middle school as we talked over the plans. The middle school kids are going to have to use the old Christiansburg Middle School.

My thoughts so far. Wow…just wow… the Montgomery County Public Schools (VA) web site is truly, truly terrible. I didn’t think it was possible to create something so unusable. Must be designed by committee.

That aside, I think the schedule they’ve created is a bit ridiculous. It’s compressed in order to align with the bus schedules. 4 minutes in between classes is probably an okay amount of time, but doesn’t allow for relaxing or socializing and it bothers me that the kids’ time is so regimented that they cannot allocate a logical amount of time like 5 minutes.

There’s virtually no time for lunch, and it sounds like that might be tricky to manage. I’m generally not very happy at how compressed their day is. It doesn’t seem like the learning of the children is the primary driver for the schedule. It’s about buses and giving teachers time to prepare for the next day.

The upgrades to the school sound good. They’re putting a lot of money into it. There will be A/C (except in the gym), which I was concerned about before the meeting. People were concerned about 8th graders having to go to the main building to use the bathroom–which could be an issue, particularly for girls. There was general concern about the safety of kids being outside, which felt overly fearful to me. They have two new safety officer positions to help cope with that though. Some were concerned about kids getting wet when it rains, but, really, it’s not like they’ll melt.

From the bussing perspective, the superintendent claimed that most kids will be traveling under an hour each way. It’s still a lot, but not as bad as I feared. One person asked about dropping kids off at the (current) BMS (aka new BHS) so they’d only have to ride from there, which seemed like a reasonable idea to me, but didn’t seem to go over well or just wasn’t understood. The logistics of bussing are tricky, mostly because HS and MS kids travel together and they cannot afford to bus them separately.

The meeting was interesting to my ears, because it generally felt like there were a number of assumptions which were unassailable because that was just how things are done/have always been done.

Overall I felt better afterwards than before though.

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Lord of the Rings

I’ve been re-watching The Lord of the Rings with S recently. So many things about it are wonderful, but there are definitely some bits that drive me a little crazy…of course, I’m not the first to notice these things, but after the initial joy of the movies, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Some particularly grating elements:

  1. Frodo is a complete wimp. In the books, Frodo is funny, strong, and brave. In the movies he spends most of his time fainting, shrinking in fear and being wistful. To take just one example, in Moria he’s the first to draw blood from the orcs when they’re trapped in the room. In the movie, he runs away and hides. More generally, in the books, he’s much more his own agent and in the movies, he’s much more portrayed as the victim. I was trying to decide if this was the actor’s fault, but I really think it’s a directorial decision, since there are moments where he’s explicitly rolling his eyes and going into “zombie” mode. There’s no struggle for the character. By the way, in contrast, Sam is almost perfectly in line with the character in the book.
  2. Putting on the ring is not a big “wooo” world-goes-fuzzy moment in the book. Bilbo pretty much seems to indicate that it’s a blast, and it’s just not that big a deal most of the time. It’s certainly the case that in the book whoever is wearing it can see more or less normally, and hear normally, if not more clearly (Sam in the Two Towers).
  3. The threat grows much more gradually in the book. A variety of regular people and hobbits talk to and in some cases collaborate with the Black Riders. The threat grows as the hobbits get further away from the Shire, but it’s much more like general unease earlier on.
  4. Elves are light-hearted and funny. They don’t talk ponderously and wander slowly around in gray-looking habitats. Rivendell is famous for being the “last homely house” and a place of rest and respite.
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Comcast

I really want to like Comcast, but they’re very incoherent. I’ve had cable/internet service with them for several years and just moved, so I’ve been interacting with their customer service quite a lot.

So a couple of things:

1. You call their customer service and I’d swear that within the first 20 seconds you hear about 5 different (automated) voices. It really gives you the feeling that you’re being shunted around.

2. I had a lot of connection problems yesterday (originally wrote this a month or so ago). I waited forever to get into a customer chat and failed, so I sent an email. Got an email response this morning telling me to call because they couldn’t solve the problem via email. About 10 minutes later I got an automated phone call to tell me that known problems in my area had been resolved. Oh and about 15 seconds after I sent the support email I got a call from someone verifying that my original install had gone well and all was fine. They were a bit unsure what to say when I told them I was having problems, which plainly didn’t fit with the script.

3. At the second try I did get the service hooked up at the new place, but the TV signal has been bad (no HD at all). The service guys told me that the line to my house would need replacing and it would be done on Monday. Nothing better by Friday so I call and there’s no record of that being scheduled or needed, so now a tech has to come to my house, probably to confirm the same issue that another tech already identified.

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GData Python Attributes

Per http://crad.tumblr.com/post/73308257/gdata-python-client-mappings, I don’t know how I would have known if I hadn’t run across that post. Working with a user_entry object, you access and change the family name using user.name.family_name (even though the xml has familyName), e.g.

user_entry = service.RetrieveUser(username)
print "user entry: " + user_entry.name.family_name

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