A Surprisingly Good Year

Looking back at 2013 for me personally, I’m amazed at the improvements in my life, and I’d like to both acknowledge and give thanks.  Let’s take a look at the picture of where I was just a scant year ago:

  • Living with my mother after separating from my wife.
  • Didn’t have a steady job.
  • Saw my kids on weekends, if that.
  • Was barred from buying health insurance by the State of Massachusetts (a joy many in the US will come to know in the coming years).
  • Had massive IRS problems.

In general, the outlook was bleak, and people often asked me how I maintained such a positive outlook.  The answer is simple: when when you’re surrounded by problems, it’s easy to find success.  Just start solving the issues, and you’ll quickly start putting together a bunch of games in the win column.

As I sit here at years end:

  • I have a wonderful job working with great people like Slava Brodskiy and David Zakur at Lycos.
  • I have a nice house on a pond where life is wonderful.
  • Both of my daughters are living with me full time.
  • I released my book last May.
  • While I haven’t completely paid off the IRS yet, I have a deal with them and the contents of my checking account isn’t disappearing regularly anymore.
  • I finally got health insurance again in Sept., even if it does get cancelled again tonight via Obamacare.
  • After 15 years I finally own Reel-Time.com thanks to Kelly Conlin.
  • Re-kindled friendships with old friends like Graham Pettingill, Jay Groccia, Kevin Condon and so many others.
  • Reconnecting with relatives I haven’t seen in years thanks to my cousin Susan Haun.
  • Many wonderful memories of living with my Mom, and the knowledge that my daughters finally have gotten to spend time with her.
  • Finally got to meet Karl Susman face to face after years of friendship via the Interwebs.

There are so many other triumphs, I can’t name them all.  I am utterly thankful, especially to friends like Jim Spencer who helped get me interesting and good paying freelance work, Slava Brodskiy who hire me at Lycos when I needed an opportunity.

The key for me has always been having a network of good friends.  For all of you, I am truly grateful.

There was a post on Facebook “21 Habits of Happy People” and it’s worth all of us taking to heart for the New Year.  My old friend Bruce Wells sums it up wonderfully:

One of the nicest things I had said to me in 2013 was from a co-worker. She recently asked me, “How did I always stay so upbeat?” The question kind of surprised me. I am human, I have bad moments and days. I reflected on the question and answered, “It’s all about attitude. You can decide how you deal with any given moment in your life. I just decide (generally) to have a good day every day”. I thought about the question she asked as I read this article. The article definitely explains this better than I did with my brief answer. Take a few minutes to read this. Absorb what it is saying. Make a commitment to try to live each day by the concepts expressed here. It wont happen overnight. Just continue to work on it day to day and see the results. If we could all work on this the World would become a sooooooooooo much better place. Peace, Love and wishing you an amazing and fabulous 2014.

 

I couldn’t agree more. Decide to have a good day every day.

Cheers and Happy New Year.

You might be from Worcester if…

Okay, here’s one to help you get in touch with your inner Worcesterite.  You might be from Worcester if:

  • You know that they had to fill the Polar Soda Polar Bear with foam because Worcesterites had gone “Catniss” on him on more than one occasion.
  • You know that the Polar Soda bear is named “Orson”.
  • You know that Worcester has 7 hills like Rome, and has 9 colleges within it’s boundaries.
  • You can name the 7 hills of Worcester. (Hancock, Bancroft, Newton, Green, Chandler, Union or Sagatabscot and Mt. St. James, Pakachoag or College Hill. – although Airport Hill ought to also be on the list…)
    Via Wikipedia…

    Worcester is one of many cities claimed, like Rome, to be found on seven hills: Airport Hill, Bancroft Hill, Belmont Hill (Bell Hill), Grafton Hill, Green Hill, Pakachoag Hill and Vernon Hill. However, Worcester has more than seven hills including Indian Hill, Newton Hill, Poet’s Hill, and Wigwam Hill.

  • You can name the 9 colleges of Worcester (WPI, Clark, Worcester State, Becker, Mass College of Pharmacy, Holy Cross, Quinsig, UMASS Med School, Assumption College – Anna Marie is in Paxton, and doesn’t count – sorry…)
  • You remember shopping at the Worcester Center Galleria.
  • You don’t need the Food Network or Guy Fieri to tell you where to get the the best hot dogs in the world.
  • The mere mention of “best hot dog” elicits strong emotions in you as you know the discussion will soon turn into holy war between disciples of George’s Coney Island Hot Dog or Hot Dog Annie’s (but a shout out here to upstart tube steak artisan The Dogfather).  I will settle this here and now by reminding everyone that Annie’s is in Leicester, hence not technically in Wormtown and that The Dogfather is on wheels.
  • Back in the day, you made a run to Clinton and paid exorbitant prices for beer on a Sunday.
  • If you’re from the West Side, you remember going to the Tatnuck Friendlies after a football game at Foley Stadium.
  • You know that all buses go to City Hall.  Or at least they used to…
  • You have eaten at one or all of the following after 2 am.
    • The Parkway
    • The Midhaven or The Acapulco
  • You’ve seen a movie at one of the following:
    • Showcase Cinema, Main St. (now the Hanover)
    • White City Cinema (where Bugaboo Creek Steak House was)
    • Webster Square Cinema (right next to the Mobil Station)
  • You ate at the El Morrocco and know that it was Rodney Dangerfield’s favorite restaurant in the Boston area.
  • You know that Abbie Hoffman was from Worcester.
  • You remember Ralph’s Chadwick Square when it was just the lower floor and had more than one barber’s chair.
  • You saw (or claim to have seen) The Rolling Stones at Sir Morgan’s Cove, know known as the Lucky Dog Saloon.
  • You remember The Metro, and that it started out featuring Roller Disco.
  • You remember when Lietrim’s was just s small neighborhood bar, occupying only what is now their backroom.
  • You know that the smiley face was invented by Harvey Ball in Worcester.  (via Matt Brodeur)
  • You know that NASA space suits were made at David Clark Company in Worcester.  (via Matt Brodeur)
  • You have been to the Higgins Armory Museum and know that it has (soon to be past tense, sob) the largest collection of Medieval arms and armor outside of Europe.
  • You know that Worcester is the second largest city in New England, no matter what the folks from Providence say.  Put that in your waterfire and burn it!
  • You know that as much as the Worcester Tourism Board may call Worcester “the Heart of the Commonwealth” it’ll always be Wormtown to you.
  • You know that the real start of the American Revolution was in Worcester fully 6 months before Lexington and Concord.
  • You know that Elm Park is the oldest public park in the United States and that the current design was created by Fredrick Law Olmstead in 1890.
  • You’ve been to Bancroft Tower, and you know the reason no one is allowed inside anymore.
  • You know why there aren’t any Maple Trees in North Worcester anymore.
  • You know who to blame for there not being any maple trees in North Worcester anymore.
  • You remember Spag’s and you know it had no bags…and going there on a Saturday was fun event even if it was just to people watch.
  • You also know that Spag’s only took cash.
  • You know that Spag’s gave away tomato plant seedlings in the Spring and your family grew them more than once in the garden.
  • You know that the Worcester Lunch Car Company made all most of the diner cars you see around the country.
  • You know that no one makes seltzer like Polar Soda makes seltzer…and for extra points you’ve had their Tom Collins mixer…with vodka.
  • You know that the first oral contraceptive, aka “the pill” was developed in Worcester. (Actually, the comments say it’s from Shrewsbury, so a tip of the hat to all the commenters that got it right, as well as to the town on the long lake…)

Got more items that should be on the list?  Use the comments section below.

Solving Some of the Pain of Wireless Printers

Nearly two years ago I wrote about the pain in the a$$ that is wireless printers. They’re still a pain, but I thought I’d share a little trick that I’ve found that makes them a whole lot less bothersome: configuring a static IP address for them.

HP has a decent video on how to manually setup a static IP address for your printer which you can see here.  On many of their newer printers, if you go to the web page for the printer (it’s current IP address), it’s even easier than that, you just find the link for “create a static IP address for printer”, click it, and it will do it all for you.

For other printers, Google “configure static IP address <your printer model here>”.

The static IP address will keep you from losing contact with the printer every time the power goes out or the router is restarted.  Thus you spend much less time getting the printer to work.

Oh that this trick fixed the printer cartridge problems as well!

Grace Potter and The Allman Brothers at Comcast Center last Friday

No need for a review, I reviewed Grace Potter last month, and there is precious little I could say that has not been said before about The Allman Brothers. I will share this video of Grace and Benny Yurco on stage with Les Brers playing The Weight. Trully moving…even if the smartphone video howls and is generally a C- effort (but it’s still the best of the stuff I find on Youtube).

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4 Words Make a Major Difference

Just a year ago, I proclaimed my freedom from the Tyranny of the Commute in a post on this blog.  The chief culprit in the absurdly long commutes I’d suffered for over a decade was the incredulously Rube Goldberg style design of the the traffic pattern at the on ramp to Rt. 95/128 north coming from the Mass Pike.  Numerous merges and crossover created an automotive version of a battle royale; a free for all in which everyone lost…

This past July, as a test, Mass Highway made a minor adjustment to the traffic flow.

  1. They reserved the right lane of Rt. 128 for traffic merging on from the on ramp.
  2. The put up a programmable billboard with 2 clear messages, using 4 simple words:
    1. Keep Moving
    2. Merge Later
  3. They painted traffic lines on the on ramp to try to get drivers to merge into a single lane prior to hitting the final on ramp.

20130903_084405The results were astounding.  No traffic backups that I can remember for July or August.  Instead of my normal 1.5 hour commute, it has been taking me an hour, or less.

This morning was the big test.  School is back in session.  The normal backups along the Mass Pike occurred, just after Rt. 495, at the Reservoir, then again just after Rt. 30.  Prior to the change, this would be a clear indicator of at least a 30 minute backup at the tolls.  This morning, not a single car waiting, everyone sailed through.

Oh that this change had happened a decade ago!

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals tear it up at Tanglewood

There is hope for music after all, and it comes in the form of a hippy chick from Vermont

Rock isn’t dead; in fact it turned up at one of the least likely venues, Tanglewood in Lenox, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Monday night and it came on the bus that brought Grace Potter and the Nocturnals to town.

From the minute they took the stage, the crowd was on their feet, and they remained that way the whole way through the band’s energetic 2 hour plus show.  From the start, with an up beat “Medicine” off the band’s eponymous 2010 album, Grace had a hold on the crowd.

You like the way she makes you feel
She got you spinning on her medicine wheel
She’s crossing me with magnetic sand
She hypnotize with her mojo hand

- Medicine

The early set was  laced with material off the latest album, “The Lion, The Beast and the Beat”, released in late 2012, with “Never Go Back”, “Timekeeper”, “Keepsake” all featured prominently.

From there, Grace launched into a request for “Treat Me Right”  a song off her first album, released in 2005 entitled “Nothing But the Water”.  Here their jam band roots shown, with a well matured, smoky, sultry version of the song, delivered down tempo.  A thoroughly different treatment than the album, or the earlier faster paced, heavier versions of the song.

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Is your host up to speed?

Over the past couple months I’ve had a customer with on going issues.  The biggest single issue was the site was slow to respond in the afternoon. The site is built on WordPress, and this was a nationally known WordPress hosting company.

Whenever we asked them about the issue, we got the standard response that it was due to “your code”.  However, they could not point to a simple example.  We’re talking about the site taking 10-15 seconds to respond during peak business hours.  My customer wasn’t sure who to believe.

The symptom was clear: the shared server was likely overloaded.  I looked at the error logs in cPanel and I could see they were hosting a whole lot of domains on the server, and that there were a lot of scripted attacks going on across the spectrum of sites that were hosted there.  The same external script hitting site after site after site…

Honestly I did everything in my power to make the site function fast.   I cached the heck out of it, minified the css and script files, etc. using W3 Total Cache.

The hosting company continued to argue the problem was code alone.  However there was one telling fact: they refused to tell us what the Server Load Average was.  Dead give away right there.  They either weren’t even looking at the server, or they knew they had a problem.

Their entire hosting service got the blues two weeks ago when “something” happened and they were down for the better part of a day.  A major hosting company down for a the better part of a day!  So my customer decided it was time to move.

The new server, another shared box, at 1and1.com (I am not recommending them, but I do use them for many things) immediately proved my case; site response improved to  1.5 seconds per page load.  Not bad, and in that case, I had not even turned on caching!

The short version is this: hosting companies are a dime a dozen.  If you think you’ve got a slow server and the hosting company isn’t doing anything, move.  It may be the only way to prove you’re not the problem.

The NSA plus Big Data equals Big Brother

Brand new NSA data warehouse in Utah – where your data goes to never die.

Preface: I’ve done some small amount of work with big data, and have a general understanding of how it works.  I haven’t really seen a decent breakdown of what is happening, and felt it necessary to share. 

Over the past decade, Business Intelligence has really come into vogue.  Companies all have many large and often unconnected databases, full of information about their customers.  Thus is makes sense that they’d want to find ways to connect this data together, to reach across systems to enable them to literally mine the value of their data, allowing them to better understand not only their customers, but the nature of their businesses.

From Wikipedia:

Business intelligence (BI) is a set of theories, methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes. BI can handle large amounts of information to help identify and develop new opportunities. Making use of new opportunities and implementing an effective strategy can provide a competitive market advantage and long-term stability.

It works.

Here is a great, fairly short IBM animation on Big Data.  While you listen, consider the implications of applying such strategies to ALL data…for political purposes.

So the other day, I was talking with another engineer and system architect and mentioned that the government was storing all the data from the license plate scanners in police cars.  He looked back and me and said “Of course they are…if you designed the system, you’d be storing the data too…” and he was right.  I would.

Okay, so let’s look at the data that our government has admitted they are already grabbing:

  • Metadata from phones- ACLU article
    • exact gps coordinates of where each call was made from
    • to whom it was made
    • by who it was made
    • where the recipient was
    • how long the call was
  • Location data from any time you are scanned by a police cruiser  – ACLU article
  • Credit card transactions – WSJ
  • Internet history – WSJ
  • Internet seaches – WSJ
  • Arrests, Civil Suits, etc.

Okay, that’s a pretty major intrusion on our privacy to begin with.  But we can also safely assume the following is being stored:

  • Location data from traffic cams
  • Tax data (they already have it, so why not pull it into their profile, along with all employment related documents)
  • The actual cell phone call itself (the NSA maintains they don’t listen, but they do save them, so they can listen later if they want) – Daily KOS
  • Immigration records (trips out of the country)
  • Travel records (trips inside the country via airlines)
  • Location data via your EasyPass – the time and date of every trip through the tolls you take.

Now, just for laughs let’s consider a couple other bits of information they very well might consider mining:

  • Supermarket advantage cards – that would tell them what you eat, what brand of deodorant you use, the works.
  • Drug store advantage cards – that give them every type of medication you buy, prescription or over the counter(Of course, they won’t need this for long…).

That, my friends, is a crap ton of data.  None of it comes from a warrant, and that’s all without out even the slightest presumption that you’ve done anything wrong.  I’m no lawyer, but I am certain that violates the constitution in both deed and spirit.  And when Obamacare kicks in, that will most likely give them access to all of our health records, right down to our DNA profile.

So why are they collecting it, you ask?  The reason is this: large scale data analysis relies on having the most possible data points to provide comprehensive profiles.

This is a great way for our government to identify possible miscreants before they’ve offended.  However, its not illegal in the US to fit a profile for a potential offender.

It does help them single out people and groups for much closer scrutiny.  However when you put such power at the fingertips of low level government functionaries, it’s virtually inevitable someone’s going to start targeting people based on criteria other than that which we might expect.  Think of the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, or their 3.5 year audit of former NJ Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.

For my progressive friends, let me put that into context: how would you feel if President Cheney was using the incredible power of the federal government to selectively target Harry Reid, George Soros and MoveOn?

Worse yet, our government isn’t just doing this to our citizens, they are apparently doing the same throughout the rest of the world.

As Americans, we need to stand up and put an end to this.  It is intolerable that our government is running rough shod over privacy, the Constitution and our general sensibilities.  Our forefathers fought against this sort of tyranny, and it begins to look more and more as though we will need to fight that fight as well.

As Edmund Burke said:

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

Other stories to read:

 

Warped Tour 2013

Black Veil Brides tear it up

Black Veil Brides tear it up

Last Sept. I promised a certain 15 year old girl that if she managed all A’s and B’s she could basically name her reward. Warped Tour Tickets were it…so I got to go.

All in all, a pretty enjoyable day of music. Quickie reviews of the bands I saw:

Never Shout Never – these guys are real musicians. I think they might have almost fit in better at a jam band festival, but the crowd really dug them, and so did I. Ukulele music for the win… (btw, these pics aren’t from the show, I wasn’t close enough to get any good shots, save the one in the lede).

Black Veil Brides – one look and you can tell they’re a band out of LA. Probably the best stage presence of any of the bands, everything about these guys was nailed down and under control. Loved it when Andy, the lead singer, nearly went into the crowd after some clown giving him grief.

Bring Me the Horizon – as a band, fairly tight. More hardcore than would normally appeal to me. The lead singer, Oli, is a total douche, however, inciting the crowd to “riot” and then trying to turn the entire crowd into a giant circle pit. Without question he sent people to the hospital with his words.

Sleeping with Sirens – For as bad as I say Ollie from BMTH was, Kellin Quinn was that good. He had the presence to see he had a tight crowd, and did the right thing, imploring the crowd to “help each other” so that no one else would have to go to the hospital. The band ripped through their mainstay numbers, and did not disappoint.  Notably some dude in a wheelchair crowd surfed his way to the stage (yes IN his wheelchair). Musically, Sleeping with Sirens, as the headline act, was crisp and well deserving of that stature, starting with If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn with the classic line:  “They say that love is forever, your forever is all that I need.”

Uncharacteristically for a post-hardcore band, he took the time to slow it down, pulling out Second Two: Roger Rabbit to slow things down a bit mid-set.  This was a real audience favorite as judged by the number of fans singing along.  Then from there they whipped it back up to a frenzy with Tally It Up, Settle the Score.  The finished the set with If You Can’t Hang.

“You’re such a pretty, pretty, pretty face, but you’ve turned into pretty big waste of my time.” – from If You Can’t Hang

While waiting to leave I had a long time to talk with one of the Police Officers that works detail at ComCast Center.  I casually mentioned to him “this must be your favorite day of the year”.  He laughed.

“These kids are great.  Last year, not a single arrest.  This year, one, at the very end of the show, and it was really that the kid didn’t know when to shut his mouth.  Tomorrow night, with 3-11, we’ll have a minimum of 70 arrests. The country music fans are the worst; they drink hard liquor.  These kids don’t drink at all.  Listen out there.  Not even anyone screaming in the parking lot.”

I hadn’t noticed it before, but he was right.  Other than the cars running waiting to leave, it was almost as quiet as it could be…

Defending Against a WordPress Brute Force Attack

Security experts are warning about a large botnet attacking WordPress sites using brute force attempts to break passwords. It is important to note that WordPress is not insecure.  It is, however, a big target with a massive number of sites installed, many of which were installed by morons who use things like “God123″ as their password.  Do yourself a favor, protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks – hire a professional to install it or at least to run a security audit on it. If your site is hacked, email me and I can help you get it back. Here is a list of things you can do right now to keep your site safe.

  • Install the plugin to Limit Attempts to Access Admin – this may not stop it cold as some reports have the current attack using over 90k ip addresses.  Still, this is worth while. http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/limit-login-attempts/
  • Change your password (and ALL passwords for your site ) to something that uses at least 8 characters, including numbers, symbols and uppercase.
  • Do not use “Admin” as your user name.  If you do, set up a new administrator account and delete the admin user.
  • You can install a second layer of security by installing an htaccess password.  Instructions here.

If you can’t do this, then please contact me and I can do it for you.