October 2006 Archives

October 31, 2006

Halloween and Stereotypes

Today I thought I would go a little bit off the beaten path, and blog about the holiday. Halloween has become a marketing wonder in America, building seasonal businesses on scary and funny themes. But what else does it do? From what I can see, it perpetuates stereotypes as well. Is this a bad thing? I suppose it would depend on who you would ask, but I want to explore this claim a bit deeper.

Stereotypes are an "inversion of some positive characteristic possessed by members of a group, exaggerated to the point where it becomes repulsive or ridiculous" (wikipedia). While many use stereotypes or stereotypical behavior as a mechanism to justify discrimination, I would like to use it in a more benign way, that of expressing commonly held beliefs about social behavior. Halloween is the one holiday that I am aware of that allows society to make commentaries on stereotypical social behavior without risking a high level of offense (for the most part).

For an example, let me point you to my office party we had recently. We had the usual dress-ups you would expect (i.e., monsters), and then your pop culture icons (i.e. Lucy Ricardo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and a ghost from Pac-Man). But then you have your stereotypical dress-ups. We had a Green Bay Fan, a Cowgirl, a fashion photographer, and even an LDS missionary. These characters were identified by both their costume apparell, but also by the stereotypical actions or statements they made. They needed to make these statements in order to identify who they were. The key is that they identified themselves by the Stereotype, which thereby reinforced the stereotypes for the characters they were representing.

Now, is this a bad thing? I would argue not. While some stereotypes were, and still are, very degrading, incorrect, and down right insulting, these were merely harmless perpetuations of the extreme. The same can be said for monster characters that perpetuate stereotypes or common beliefs of witches, zombies, mad doctors, etc. It's all part of the fun of Halloween, and being able to laugh at yourself and others. Most people that I know of that create these characters are acting out an aspect of their own personality, and therefore do so in fun.

Of course, then the question would be at which point to we say a caricature is insulting and degrading? I, for one, would be very offended by someone dressed as a Black Slave, a Jewish Swindler, or a member of the KKK. These, I feel, are very much in poor taste, and can see no way for them to be done without a hateful message being sent out. That being said, I have no problem with people representing a "thrifty Scot (some say cheap, like my wife), a beer-drinking German, a sophisticated Frenchman, or a passionate Spainard. These are all stereotypes that we have received in one way or another, and yet they are not taken literally. Why?

Perhaps it's because the world has grown smaller within the 20th Century. We no longer need to rely on stereotypes that have been created in order to identify a particular culture. We, as a global nation, have experienced the cultures for ourselves in one way or another, and understand that not everyone conforms to what we believe define their culture.

So why do we perpetuate any level of stereotypes? Because the exaggeration of anything to the point of comical absurdity is funny. Yes, we do it because it gives us a laugh. It's that absurdity that makes the stereotype remain in the mind, even though you know better.

For instance, when I wear my kilt for any event (and pretty much every event I can think of an excuse for), the first question I get is, "What do you wear under your kilt?" This, of course, is a very personal question, and I remind everyone of that. But it also is a perpetual stereotype that scots do not wear any type of undergarments when wearing a kilt. Just as every scot in a kilt can play the bagpipes, or pinches every penny they can. This is not always so, but the ideas are so comical in one way or another, we can't forget them.

So does that mean that we can only perpetuate stereotypes when they are funny? I would say no, because what is funny to one person is not funny to another. In my youth I would get very offended if someone called my kilt a "skirt". Since then I have lightened up (you can't fight everyone you meet), but others may still be offended. It all comes down to the audience. What does it mean to the audience? How will they take it?

I'm reminded of an episode of Studio 60 (which I generally tend to avoid because of it's popularity, but my wife loves it) where a black actor wanted the white writing producer to hire a black staff writer. They had an exchange regarding affirmative action, writing to culture, etc., and then went to see the black comic for consideration. The comic then began a monologue that was played off of stereotypes so completely that the black actor was offended and disappointed. People were chuckling, but the comic just lost a good deal writing for a big syndicated show.

Also consider the speach of President Chavez to the United Nations, when President Bush was referred to as "the devil". Many of the international community present chuckled, but it seriously hindered Venesuela's chances of getting a seat on the UN Security Council. The stereotypes you choose may have a comedic impact, and yet not gain the response that you were looking for, namely respect.

So in the end, I don't think there is a right answer, or a wrong answer to which stereotypes are used in the name of comedy. But for Halloween at least, we have the chance to test the waters, make a fool of ourselves, and still fit in with everyone else.

October 29, 2006

Parallel's Desktop For Mac: The Review

With the arrival of my wife's iMac, I finally had the opportunity to try Parallel's Desktop for Mac. I wrote about this program earlier, and the excitement that I had in anticipation of it's implementation. It promised a lot that I felt was almost too good to be true, particularly when I read the reviews by other Mac users. Here is the experience that I had.

Why I Needed It
I haven't been very subtle about my love of the Mac, and it's ability to run both open source programs and professionally developed programs well. It's a wonderful setup overall. That being said, there are some few applications that my wife uses that requires Windows. While we have tried everything we can think of to try and work around it, one application in specific did not allow us to move from Windows completely to the Mac. So, instead of filling up our office space with occasionally used Windows machines, we would rather have a virtual machine that will take care of all the nasty Windows applications, while still being within the Macintosh. And, it would let me install Linux and Solaris on it as well, without having to reboot the system. That was a major bonus.

The Install
The install ran fluidly, as with any other native Carbon or Cocoa application. It did need to add some extensions, but overall it ran perfectly. And, as is characteristic of all UNIX-based Operating Systems, it didn't require a reboot of the system (yes, one of the main reasons I left Windows). Once set up, it gives the main program, and the Virtual Machine creator.

Starting it up
Starting it up was a bit different. It began with the Virtual Machine creator, because there wasn't one set up by default. I began by selecting Windows XP defaults, as I intended to install Windows Vista as the Windows machine. I continued through the process, and finally got to the point where I could boot to Windows. I changed the boot sequence, and double-checked the resources being allocated. It gave 8GB of hard drive space to the VM, and 256MB of RAM. Considering the iMac has 2 GB or RAM and a 250GB hard drive, I didn't think this would cause a problem. Then, I entered in my Windows Vista RC 1 disk, wrote down the Product Key, and started the Virtual Machine....

I got a Kernel Panic... I've never had a kernel panic before on a Mac, and was shocked! How could this happen? The resources are well below what Mac OS X Tiger requires to run... Why the Kernel Panic?!? I tried it again, with the same result. Well, time to check the manuals.

Yes, I admit I don't read manuals for a software install. They are all so basic that I have very rarely needed to do anything fancy. Well, this time I checked the process, and made sure everything was exactly as the Manuals suggested. I tweaked a couple of settings, crossed my fingers, and tried again...to the same result. Same Kernel Panic, and needed to reboot the Mac.

By now I was getting pretty steamed. I began to understand the frustration that the reviewers had for the program. As I started to contemplate it's fate (and a possible waste of $80.00), I decided to check out their website to see if they have at least acknowledged the issue. As I started checking things out, it seems that they were not only aware of the issue, but released an update that fixed it! This cooled my temper a bit, and I started the 30MB download. After a short couple of minutes, I started the install and update. Once that was done, I started up the virtual machine...and it booted! It started to try to load Windows VIsta. I say try, because Windows Vista didn't like the BIOS on the iMac, and refused to load. Well, that's fine. The program worked, and that's the main point.

While I tried to remember the location of my old copies of Windows, I gave another Operating System a try. I grabbed xubuntu 6.0.1, and threw it in. I kept the Windows XP settings, and ran the Live Update on the computer. Everything booted like a charm. It did run rather slow, but keep in mind it was a Virtual Machine running off of a CD in another Virtural Machine. It was bound to be somewhat sluggish to say the least. But it worked brilliantly, and I was more excited then ever.

The Conclusion
So the final grade? I would give it an overall B. Yes, it didn't work out of the box, but once I got it to work, it began to hum like a dream. While I would have liked it to run swimmingly at the get-go, I'm glad that it didn't. It gave me a chance to troubleshoot the program, and get to know it better. Afterall, it took me 3 Linux installs before I finally got to the point of using it regularly. And that lead me to Mac OS X, which is my Operating System of choice. This program now gives me the option of not only remaining on the Mac, but utilizing the sttrengths of other Operating Systems, and on the same machine. I'm looking forward to my next Mac purchase (a Macbook Pro), so that I can install all my old Windows 3.11 and DOS 6.22 games, and have a real fun party! ^_^

October 25, 2006

British Humor, and the Looks I Get

Those of you who know me well (which should be about everyone that reads this blog), knows that I am a fanatic when it comes to British Comedies. Ever since I was old enough to stay up past 10:00 PM to watch "Are You Being Served?" on KUED, I have been fascinated with the humor coming from across the Pond. That being said, British Humor is as unique as any national cultural phenomenon. It represents a social commentary that gives a satirical insight into the world as seen by the average Briton.

The following will be a quick mention of several of my favorite comedies, and the statements that I receive from them:

Are You Being Served?
Yes, I had to start with this one. I don't know if it's because I watch this show almost every night (as I own the entire DVD collection), or because it strikes a nerve from my early working days in Retail, but this comedy is brilliant. With a commentary on the working relationship between rivals, seniority concerns, pecking order, and the need to dominate within the lofty positions, the show brings a colorful backdrop to the humdrum daily grind.

The show continues to underscore the growing need for one to find a social status that is higher than they believe they possess. Captain Peacock is always trying to show his position as being lofty, regardless of his evident suburban lifestyle. Miss Brahms is constantly defending her background, regardless of her accent. Customers focus on their social standing in how they address the staff. Social order is very much alive in Britain in the 1970's.

As time moves on to the 1980's, it's less of an issue. Then corruption amongst the management becomes the underlying topic. Old Mr. Grace is constantly betting on horses and spending funds on personal luxuries, as well as his secretaries. Even Mr. Rumbold is placed in difficult situations when he uses store funds to purchase "display" items, which then go on sale over the weekend to himself at a considerable discount. That, and the constant threat of a weak 80's economy, energy costs going out of control, and overseas company takeovers, reflect the economic and political environment in Britain during the 1980's. This perhaps rings true to Americans that had lived during this time, because very similar issues were of great concern here as well.

Finally, I would like to take a minute to talk about the writing. Despite various mistakes in the continuity of the story, the overall writing is brilliantly done. The situations are perfect, the innuendos are well placed, and the studio audience keeps one in stitches. I had to mention the studio audience, because without them, the show would be a complete dud. If you need proof of this, watch "Are You Being Served? The Movie". No laugh track, and no laughs. It was mildly entertaining at best, though the same jokes and situations were happening.

Overall, this was perhaps the best show to get me going into British Comedies.

As Time Goes By
This show dates from the 1990's, and is an absolute joy to watch. Though it's a little slower in its pace, the humor is wonderfully executed. Dame Judi Dench is perhaps my favorite actress from across the Pond, as she has the best expressions and emotional range that I have seen.

This story is about aging, not in the same way as "Waiting for God", but rather about that vacant space between the 30's and the 70's where one finds they are no longer able to do the youthful things in life and how they cope with that fact. The one social aspect that I pull from it, beyond the environmentalism and animal rights positions that are almost taken for granted, is the loss of business under Jean's direction from Secretaries to Computer users. They feel the pinch, and then the pinch is gone when her daughter Judy and secretary Sandi take over the business. I'm not sure why the pinch is gone, but my guess would be that they moved from Secretaries with Notepads to Secretaries with Computer Skills. This leads Jean to feel the loss of her youth by not understanding computers, or the Internet.

All in all, I love this story. Love finds itself again, and is rekindled within very modern and real terms. By far, it is better than I would have expected.

Monty Python's Flying Circus
Currently running on KUED Saturdays at 11:00 PM MT, they have a wonderful prefacing disclaimer that says it all: It's nothing but schoolboy smutty humor. The problem is, I was once a schoolboy, and as a guilty pleasure still enjoy such humor in moderation. There isn't a lot that I can say about Monty Python that couldn't be written in volumes, so I will say this: It has all the humor of any British comedy, but with the political commentary of the early Looney Tunes. That is what really draws me to this irreverent satirical show. That, and the fact that every single Pythoner has earned my respect.

Red Dwarf
I admit it, I watched reruns of Star Trek while growing up. I loved Spock, McCoy, and Scotty (particularly Scotty, as he was a Scot), and detested Captain Kirk for all his arrogance and promiscuity with alien beings. So I became interested in SciFi rather early in life.

That being established, it shouldn't be hard to see why I like Red Dwarf. Who wouldn't love watching a lone space ship, light-years away from Earth in deep space, with a single human, an android, a hologram, and a person evolved from a cat. My love for this show can be underlined with a comment made by Patrick Stewart as he returned to his native England after shooting for "Star Trek: Next Generation". He turned on the BBC, saw Red Dwarf, and started calling his Lawyer to see what he would think... That is, until he heard the punchline. Then he immediately hung up his phone, laughing.

Yes, this show is amazingly funny. It pokes fun at the manual workers who seem to have no ambition beyond a "Hot dog stand" in Fiji, a neurotic hologram of a man who was self defeating in his own arrogant desire to improve his life, and an android that was by far the intellectual superior of anyone, but was too nice to take advantage of that position. Oh, and Holli the ship perhaps embodies the entire computing industry as it can be incredibly brilliant at being stupid. The old saying of "Garbage in, Garbage out" is truly embodied within Holli.

Overall, this show was great until it became rather too raunchy for me in the last two seasons. Perhaps I'm a bit of a prude, but those seasons didn't have the same magic. As additional seasons were not created, I can only guess that the BBC felt the same way. But any previous season, such as the first, is well worth watching.

Allo, Allo
Those of you who know me also know that I love History. While Ancient History is the period I majored in and read about constantly, my father began me at an early age on World War II history. This show, set in German occupied France, appeals to that indoctrination by my father, and is his favorite British Comedy.

Beyond the stereotypes that create each of the characters, it's amazingly light-hearted about the German invasion. The Germans appear to be old softies at heart, just having to shoot a few "peasants" from France on principle. The French are less organized than anyone could possibly be in their Resistance movement, and the English are just plain clueless. Yes, they make fun of everyone, including the Americans that free the small village at the end of the show. For sheer fun, I would highly recommend this show.

The Black Adder Series
I am a big Rowan Atkinson fan, and though I don't list "Mr. Bean" as an all-time favorite, I do the Black Adder series. Again, because it is historically based, it appeals to the Historian within. It covers historical events with such light-hearted cynicism that you can't help but love it. When the Black Adder tricks an enemy to stick his head into a loaded cannon, you are taken back. When the Three Witches from MacBeth tell Prince Edmund (the Black Adder) he will become king instead of MacBeth, that's classic. When Queen Elizabeth threatens to kill just about everyone just for fun, that's brilliant.

Yes, I love this series. If you love cynical comics, and have any exposure to Rowan's work that hasn't offended, then you would love this show.

The Piglet Files
Growing up in the Cold War era, this cloak and dagger show with bumbling spies really hits a chord. I love it because even after the fall of the Iron Curtain, it still shows the English MI5 pitting their wits against the remaining KGB. Hilarious in it's refusal to take intelligence gathering seriously, it continues to make me smile.

There are more that I could post, but I will leave it at this. Perhaps in the future I will post about my favorite British dramas as well. Until then, Cheerio! ^_^

October 23, 2006

Mac OS X Support Essentials: The Test

Well, this last weekend I took the Apple Mac OS X Support Essentials exam, which gives the Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist (ACHDS) certification. I was rather apprehensive, as this was the first exam I had taken within 4 years. I also was completely unaware of the testing methods that the Apple certification uses. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck the whole day until the test was over.

Testing Methods
I had better preface this comment with an explanation of the testing methods commonly used in professional training evaluations. First, there is the performance test. This represents the most effective method of testing knowledge, as it requires the learner to perform as though in a real environment. For instance if you were working with servers for your job, it's logical to be tested within a server environment that allows you to perform the expected tasks as you would in the live environment.

Another testing method is to test the ability to reason through written exams. These exams require the learner to demonstrate their understanding of the material by explaining in an essay or short answer how it could be implemented. While not as effective as the performance exam this method tests the learner's ability to reason and evaluate, without the benefit of traditional test taking techniques.

The last common method that I will bring up will be the multiple choice/true-false exam. This exam is the easiest and quickest to score, as the questions generally have only one correct answer. But it doesn't test anything beyond memory and recal skills. This method is a favorite of teachers when it comes to quick quizes for a guestimate on the learner's abilities, but rarely is it used within higher educational environments for a skills assessment.

The Testing Method Used
The Mac OS X Support Essentials (and all other exams for Mac OS X) are evaluated through the multiple choice/true-false method. And, in order to avoid test taking skill benefits, trick questions abound. The idea is that it requires someone that is very conversant with the terminology. It also requires that one is very familiar with the Mac OS X tools and options that are only found on your Macintosh computer.

Overall Impression
The overall impression I had with the test was mixed. I hate trick questions, because it's so easy to mislead someone into the wrong answer. That being said, it was a fairly quick and painless method of testing. I liked the final scoring options that it gives, as certification levels are known immediately after the exam is complete. I also think that the 2 hours given for the exam is too long, particularly for a multiple choice exam. I finished the exam of 74 questions, 10 demographic questions, and 15 introduction questions within one hour. Perhaps that is because the Adrenaline was pumping.

Final Comments
If you are looking to take the Mac OS X Support Essentials exam anytime soon, it would be a good idea to be sure you are very familiar with the tools within Mac OS X. Know the names, know what is in each window, and know what exactly each tool is designed to do. Other than that, anyone with experience with UNIX and general troubleshooting steps will do well. This exam and certification is designed to prepare a support phone jockey to handle Macintosh Client systems on the network. It also would prepare someone for phone support for Apple.

Passing is 64% (probably low because of the trick questions). If you are looking to become a Certified Trainer, you need to score above that. Because the exact number is not available on the Apple website, I will not post it here. but you can contact Apple Training support at trainer at apple dot com for the Trainer passing level.

This certification is the prelude to the Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC) certification. That requires the passing of the Mac OS X Server Essentials exam. I am currently preparing for this exam, and will post an evaluation of that program as soon as I have a general overview.

And for those interested, I am currently ACHDS certified. ^_^

October 19, 2006

The Fate of Wall Scribblings

I thought I would go a little off topic here, but recently I have been thinking about Graffiti. Why you ask? Because there is a lot of it on the University campus. People seem to need to validate their existence by providing a "permanent" expression of their own intelligence. There are two schools of thought on graffiti: As an expression of artistic desires, or as a public eye-sore that defaces the location.

The Artistic Expression
Many times graffiti can be truly artistic. Several of the remnants of public lavatories in Pompeii have been preserved as historical evidence of prose and poetry. Modern facilities can likewise have well worded and metered phrases, which despite the subject matter can represent someone with true poetic talent.

Likewise, images and lettering on walls can also have a truly artistic flare. Images left behind in caves, on the side of rocks, and even on the side of hills have been the subject of study and wonder since before recorded history. I remember looking at many of the images left on railway stations in Germany with admiration and a tinge of jealousy. And yet, they remain labelled as "graffiti", because it was made in a location without the location owner's consent.

Defacing Property
Defacing property has a long history, and has often been rewarded with harsh punishments. One of the more interesting instances happened in Athens, when many stone phallic symbols were broken from their bases. These phallic symbols represented the god Hermes, and therefore was considered religious in nature. The citizenry called for justice, and the perpetrators were exiled from Athens. That's how serious vandalism was treated.

Graffiti has also been called vandalism, in that it makes changes to the property to which the owner did not commission. It resonates with the basic desire of possession, and the need to control those possessions. The noncommissioned change of such property is a violation of that feeling of control.

The Point
Basically, the real point here is that regardless of your point of view, there is another that will counter it. I am neither encouraging, nor discouraging the practice, though as a qualifier I think the owner should be given the courtesy of being asked. In the end, within a couple hundred years or so, the common scribblings on a restroom wall will probably be studied as a sign of wide spread literacy. Different lavatories will be examined and cross referenced with others to analyze the distribution of literacy and intelligent thinking.

So here is a little project to think about. Next time you visit a public display of graffiti, look for the quality of the expression left. What does it tell you about the creator? How does it compare with other locations that you have observed?

And if you are someone that likes to leave their mark, think about how it can impact the owner of that property. Be sure to give them the same courtesy that you would want from them, whether you receive it or not.

October 17, 2006

Linux Certifications: Which Are The Most Important?

Recently I have been interested in developing a comprehensive Linux training program that has real impact and value to the community. The goal is to create class designs that add value to anyone taking the course. But we then ran into the ultimate question: What Linux Certification is considered the best?

The Certification Schools
I began by doing some digging on Google, and found there were basically four different schools of certifications out there:
1. RedHat
2. Novell (SuSE)
3. Linux Professional Institute (flavor-neutral)
4. CompTIA's Linux + program (flavor-neutral)

RedHat is, of course, focused primarily on RedHat or RedHat-based distributions (like Fedora). While this is ideal for computer centers and administrators using RedHat exclusively, it's very limiting as several very popular versions of Linux are not considered.

Novell's certification is specifically geared to their distribution of Linux, SuSE. Again, while perhaps even more comprehensive in it's two levels of certification, it's still very limited to the SuSE distribution, and therefore not ideal.

LPI is perhaps the most impressive, as it is flavor-neutral. In fact, it focuses on the basic core of Linux, covers compiling as an instalation, and then even overviews the install processes of both Debian-based and RedHat-based packaging. And precious few facilities within the US are fully tied to the Linux Professional Institute.

CompTIA, for those that are familiar with their A+ certification, is basically a quick overview to prepare someone to deal with Linux as HelpDesk personel. It is, by no means, a comprehensive certification.

What was even more interesting was the distribution of the certifications. The two most distributed worldwide was RedHat and LPI, with RedHat leading domestically in the US and internationally, and LPI being more international with a growing domestic market. Novell's certifications would come behind these, because though Novell's NetWare certifications are well known, their Linux certifications are relatively new, and tied to their SuSE distribution of Linux. CompTIA is strong domestically, but I didn't notice an international presence.

The Certification Levels
The leveling also took me by surprise, though not completely. It basically broke down like this:

Basic
1. CompTIA Linux+
2. LPI 1
3. Novell Certified Linux Professional
4. RedHat Certified Technican

Intermediate
1. LPI 2
2. Novel Certified Linux Engineer
3. RedHat Certified Engineer

Advanced
1. RedHat Certified Systems Architect
2. RedHat Certified Security Specialist
3. LPI 3 (Currently in Beta, release date Jan. 2007)

Back to the Question...
So, this brings us back to the question at hand: What is the most important certification to receive, and which would be the best? Well, I immediately identified the LPI certification program as being the most global. Then I also noticed, once I started looking at the topics being covered, that the same class can cover all the other certifications as well. It would take a little bit of tweaking to the curriculum, but overall it would be possible to prepare someone to take all the certifications with the exception of the advanced classes. Those could then be added in later, providing a full gambit of Linux certifications with minimal resource allocations.

So, ultimately which is the best to provide? Because we are able to cover all of them for the same price as one, it doesn't really matter. But given the choice, which would you choose?

October 13, 2006

The Convenience Factor: Choosing Your Operating System

Of late I have been focusing quite a bit of time on my personal choice in an Operating System: Mac OS X. Partly because I will be teaching several courses within the next year on using Macintosh systems, but also because it is the Operating System that I prefer to use. Why? Because I like the convenience of being able to install professionally distributed (and therefore purchased) software, as well as being able to implement various Open Source software that I find I need or want.

But this got me thinking... Why do people choose the operating systems that they use? Often times it would be because of perception in availability, performance requirements, or desires for control over the system in varying degrees. It all comes down to convenience, control, and performance, from that I can see.

Now, making the assumption that Open Source can provide better control on varying levels over the system, and that performance can by association be tweaked within that control, the real question comes to convenience. Does Open Source provide more convenience than closed source software?

That question alone would probably get me in trouble as it is, but it's a question that I have started asking myself. Let me start you off with the following scenario:
My Macintosh has one drawback, it doesn't natively sync with my Toshiba Pocket PC running Pocket PC 2003. The device has slowly but surely become more prominent in my life of late, helping me organize my class schedules while providing me with an excellent eBook reader and video player to keep my son happy on long trips. But it doesn't sync with my Mac at all, with default software installed.

So, being the frugal person that I am, I begin looking for Open Source syncing software that may help me become Windows free forever. I did find some software. SynCE is an Open Source program developed for UNIX platforms and allows syncing with various handheld devices, including a Pocket PC. As I began reading it and downloading the application, it sounded fairly simple. Though I am not by any means an expert in programming, I do know how to compile the odd program if necessary.

Well, I started the configuration, which worked well. Then I tried to make the software, and failed. Why? I was missing some libraries. So I searched for those libraries for the Mac, found, compiled, and ran make install. Then I tried to compile the program again, and it failed. I read through the documentation available (which was scarce), and as I began looking for various obscure discussion boards out there, I found two commercial programs that do exactly what I want.

The two programs I found were The Missing Sync, and PocketMac. Both programs provide basic information syncing with Entourage, Mail, AddressBook, and iCal, and The Missing Sync even supports software installation for the Pocket PC. The Price tag for both is around $40.00 for full features. So the question I have to ask myself is, can I afford $40.00 over the time it would take me to figure out the SynCE problem?

This is the crux of all issues, I found. Whether it is growing your own food instead of buying it in the store, or building your own Linux system from the ground up instead of buying a Windows machine pre-made. It all comes down to convenience and cost. Do you have the resources to take advantage of the convenience of another's labor, or do you need/want to provide your own labor instead?

Adam Smith addressed this in The Wealth Of Nations, in his chapter Of the Real and Nominal Price of Commodities, or of Their Price in Labour, and Their Price in Money (Chapter 5, Book 1). He said, "The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it." This means that in order for professionally developed software to be of worth to me, it would need to represent a smaller investment than the overall time and labor it would take in order to achieve the same ends.

I will leave the actual calculation of this dilemma to economists, but it does place a new light on the benefits of Open Source Projects vs. Professional Closed-Source purchases. In what way does Open Source become an economically viable option? What are the benefits and the drawbacks of using purchased software over Open Source?

I will let you debate this issue for yourself, so that you can look within your own soul and decide how the economics of Open Source figures into your Convenience = Cost of Labor equation. But for those of you who are zealots for Microsoft, Linux, Macintosh, BeOS, BSD, Solaris, etc., I want you to keep in mind that your economic impact may not be the same as someone else’s, so it's too harsh to judge someone on their choice of operating system.

And if you are still wondering, I didn't buy the syncing software. ^_^

October 11, 2006

Tilapia Taste Test

Last night I finally had a chance to taste Tilapia, the fish I had spoken about in previous postings. This fish is interesting as it is hardy, and therefore ideal for farming production. The majority of the fish in the United States are grown in aquacultural farms in South America, with some being grown commercially in Arizona and other Southern States.

When I had purchased the fish from my local Megamart, it was the final step in making a decision on the fish species I would like to experiement in farming within my small urban farm project. It was also the most important, because if the fish didn't taste good I wasn't going to bother with it.

The fish is a whitefish, very similar in texture to catfish. It was frozen whole, but was already cleaned. Being just under a pound, it provided little more than a taste to my entire family, but it was enough. The skeletal structure was very interesting, as the swim bladder seemed to be encased within a miniature rib cage directly below the spinal column. It was also a very bony fish, more so than trout or salmon.

In preparation, I had decided to try the fish smoked. We have a small smoking grill in the back yard that has worked well for trout and salmon, so it shouldn't have a problem with Tilapia. The only seasoning added to the fish was sprigs of lemon thyme and fresh rosemary. The fish was then butterflied, and pressed within a grilling cage. Then, onto the grill! The grill used hickory chips and mullberry logs for it's flavor. Partly because I prefer hickory, and also because I need to get rid of what is left of my mullberry tree that fell over two years ago in a storm.

We had smoked it for 1 hour, which turned out not to be long enough. Because of the colder weather, the fish had not cooked through completely, though the majority was completely cooked. Cooking was completed within an oven in the house.

The overall impression was good. The fish was tasty, in that it tasted like the smoke and herbs that were used to cook the fish. Tilapia generally doesn't have a taste, as it doesn't have a high fat content. It does, however, have a high protein content, which makes it an ideal source of protein. But, the fish does need to be seasoned, so it isn't eaten for it's flavor. I have heard some say that it has a muddy flavor, but I would say that this particular fish did not have that flavor. My guess is it has to do with the conditions the fish was raised, as opposed to the actual flavor of the fish.

So, as far as farming the fish, I think I still will. There is a potentially high retail value for the fish, which makes it valuable. That being said, I definitely intend to augment the Tilapia with another fish that is more flavorful. I will keep you posted as developments come regarding the fish I select to augment the Tilapia tank with.

October 10, 2006

Rouladen: A Traditional German Dish

While I was in Germany, I learned several of the dishes that were native to the country. This is generally difficult with any modern culture, as they tend to absorb cooking skills or recipes from other countries. But there is one recipe that is distinctly German: Rouladen.

This meat dish really means "rolled", or rolled meat. The versions that I have had reflect regional differences, as in the Rhineland they roll just bacon and mustard, in the Pfalz they roll bacon, mustard and pickles, and in Bayern they roll in a bread stuffing. The meat is then slow-roasted. The smell is exquisite, the taste even more so. If you are looking for a good Crock-pot dish, this simple dish will knock your socks off.

The meat can be thinly sliced, but should be no more than a half-inch thick. Anything thicker will be difficult to roll. Ideal meat to use would be a Pot Roast, as it is not highly valued for flavor as steak, and there for less expensive. Also, your local butcher or megamart meat department should be able to slice it for you.

Bacon can be of your choosing. I prefer the fatty bacon in order to give the proper flavor. But I have used turkey bacon, and it works well enough. In fact, there is less liquid with turkey bacon, so if you don't like the liquid cleanup afterwards, that may be a good low fat alternative. The basic concept is that bacon, or some other fatty food, is rolled into the meat. This keeps the meat moist when it roasts. This is why bacon is used, or a bread stuffing with plenty of butter.

If you choose to use a pickle, I would highly recommend either buying German Pickles from a German food store, or using bread and butter pickles. You don't want to use Dill, because it will drown out the flavor, and you don't want to use sweet for the same reason. Something mildly sour is fine.

If you choose to use a stuffing, you can use any that you wish. I made a beef stuffing with beef broth, but as you are already using bacon, a pork stuffing would be fine. If desired, you can also add some minced celery, onion, and even garlic if you so desire.

For mustard, I highly recommend either getting a sharp German mustard, or a good deli mustard with whole mustard seeds. You can use the generic yellow mustard, but the flavor isn't as strong.

Finally, roll the meat together with the stuffing in the middle. Initially I used to put toothpicks in, but have found since that the rolls will seal themselves. Slow roast them for at least 5 hours. That raises the internal temperature high enough to be sure all nasty bugs are dead.

Once done serve with either potatoes, potato dumplings, or spaezel and Jaegersosse gravy, or sauerkraut. Which, of course, depends again on the region you are emulating. Jaegersosse is a brown gravy with mushrooms, and very common in the Rhineland - Pfalz area, or the Black Forest. Sauerkraut is common all over Germany, but is prepared differently. For the Rhineland-Pfalz area up to Hessen, they use wine grapes to sweeten it. In Bayern (Bravaria), on the other hand, they add gound meat to give it a more savory flavor. To each their own, but I prefer the sweet.

All together, if prepared correctly, the Rouladen can be eaten without any condiments. The flavor is almost perfect, not needing any salt or pepper. It's great for a cool fall day, or a cold winter dinner.

October 7, 2006

Urban Micro-Farm: Preparatory Work

Today I began the preparatory work for my back yard micro-farm. This includes relandscaping the back yard in order to provide for five sections: The enclosed patio that is currently only roofed, the new patio, a section of lawn for a swing set, the outside garden, and the attached greenhouse.

The Enclosed Patio
The patio is 20' by 16' that attaches the house to the garage. This has been a goal of mine since my wife and I moved into the house. It's wonderfully open, and well roofed. This just screams, "Become a new room!" The patio currently has become a storage area, but will eventually become a new family room and TV room. It will have three doors: One on the east that will open to the driveway, one to the South that will open to the new patio in the back yard, and one to the West that will open into the attached greenhouse.

The New Patio
The new patio will cover another 20' by 16' of the back yard, and will border the covered patio on the North, the Garage on the East, and the brick privacy wall on the South. This will be made of cinder patio bricks of White and Red. This means, of course, that we will be laying a giant chess board down in the middle of it. We will also set some corner whiskey barrels on the edges to grow herbs.

The New Lawn
In order to provide a relatively safe place for my son to play, I have planned to use a portion of the back yard as a plain lawn. This will be about 20' by 36', giving plenty of space for a small swing set for my son. And, as he grows up, he can use the space between two rose bushes as a goal for soccer. The lawn will be seeded this fall, so that it will take root in the spring and provide a lot of protection to the seeds from the birds.

The Outside Garden
The whole point of a farm is to have a garden. The garden will comprise a 16' by 30' section that is bordered by the house on the North, the attached greenhouse on the East, the lawn on the South, and the privacy wall on the West. Already planted are two grape vines placed on the North side, to block southern sunlight from the house and therefore decreasing the heat from the house. With the fall of our shade tree in the back after a storm, we have noticed the heat increase in the southern rooms. The grapes will make great juice and jelly, while providing much needed shade. Also included will be several raised gardens as the soil quality in the back yard is very poor.

The Attached Greenhouse
This is actually the largest project, and will probably take the longest to complete. Interestingly enough, it's the smallest section as well. It's 6' by 13', and will be set on a foundation with a joyced floor, with a corner having a cement slab. This is because a lot of my experimental projects will be completed in this space which will be heavy, and the cement slab is for a wood fireplace. This section will need to be heated well, because it will house at least two citrus trees, a pineapple plant, and an aquaculture and hydroponics (also referred to as aquaponics) system. This will grow salad greens, some herbs, water cress, and ultimately livestock.

The Preparation Completed
currently I have tilled under the wild garden area for the patio and the lawn area. The garden area will be all raised, so tilling is not required. Next weekend I will level the ground (after the rain has done a lot of the work), and then will lay down some stones. This will set the gound even more by next Spring, when the sand will go down to level the patio and set the runoff grade.

Also completed is the layout for the greenhouse, with a portion of the foundation dug out. The foundation will be poured within the next couple of weeks, but the actual construction will not begin until next Spring. The exciting part is that the plan is set, and the preparations have been begun.

All in all, it's been a great start! Most of the work will be completed in the early Spring for the garden, and by Summer the patios and greenhouse will be completed. Check back for more updates!

October 4, 2006

Review: Mac OS X Support Essentials

Recently the University of Utah's Continuing Education department has began building an Apple Certification program geared to IT professionals. This will be in conjunction with the other IT certification programs that they will have, and the classes will be open to students who want to include certifications with their CS, EE, and IS degrees.

The Certifications
As the eventual instructor for the Apple Certification classes, I have been reviewing the program in preparation for my own certifications. In a nut shell, here is what I have found.

The Certification program is broken into 5 overall certifications:
Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist (ACHDS)
Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC)
Apple Certified System Administrator which requires 7 total credit points (ACSA)
Apple Certified Desktop Technician (ACDT)
Apple Certified Portable Technician (ACPT)

The certifications are dependent on the individual courses and tests that are passed.

The Courses
The courses are broken down as the following:

Mac OS X Support Essentials (alone gives the ACHDS certification)
Mac OS X Server Essentials (together with Support Essentials gives ACTC cert)

Directory Services Integration and Administration (4 credits)
Mac OS X Server Command Line Install and Administration (3 credits)
OS X Deployment (2 credits)
Security Best Practices (3 credits)
Podcast and Streamed Internet Media Administration (3 credits)
Xsan Administration (3 credits)

Apple Portable Service (with Support Essentials gives ACPT cert)
Apple Desktop Service (with Support Essentials gives ACDT cert)

Overall, we hope to have all certifications in place by Fall of 2008.

Mac OS X Support Essentials
I have just audited the course matieral for this class as provided by the Peachpit Press, and found it overall very effective as a general overview for supporting Mac OS X. Keep in mind that this course is only for those help desk personel whose job it will be to make sure their network and the Macintosh computers using it play nice together. It had enough detail that any phone jocky could do the job without too much fuss.

The really good news is that if you have previous experience with Unix networking and management, much in Mac OS X is a review. It emphasizes networking communication methods that Apple has automated for ease of use, but also ways to manage it if security is an issue. This means that the learning curve is potentially small. Most of it focuses on learning the tools that Apple has available to support any generic computer with issues.

I was really impressed with Target Disk Mode, which allows one computer to become a Fire Wire drive while hooked up to another system. This makes disk imaging very simple.

So, in conclusion, if you are interested in generic Macintosh support methods and tools, I would highly recommend the Mac OS X Support Essentials course. Not only does it provide the ACHDS certification upon passing, but it also gives one a clear view of what supporting Macintosh systems can mean. And it's a gateway into all the other certifications that will be offered shortly.

October 2, 2006

What is Happening to Society?

Vary rarely do I comment on current social or political issues in writing. As an Historian, I prefer to analyze the events in all perspectives, while still acknowledging my own biases. But lately I have seen a continued push to marginalize various beliefs because of generalizations that link the beliefs to political affiliations. And because of this, more anger is generated, hate and distrust of others is increased, and people become increasingly agitated against each other.

I would like to preface this by saying that in the case of Power Struggles, one party is very much the same as the other. All make mistakes, all have a vested interest in the wellfare of the people. I keep this nationally generic, as this trend is surfacing all over the globe. I wish I could say this is a new sickness that has infected Government, but it is as old as Politics itself. All past civilizations have had to deal with it, particularly those with representative governments.

During the last years of the Roman Republic, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus attempted to provide the Latins with citizenship within Rome. This was a radical idea, as Romans lead the then powerful alliance in Italy, but kept it's internal politics to itself. As new territories were won from the Etruscans, Gauls, Greeks, and other ethnic areas, the Romans would settle those lands. This was done even though the Latins provided much of the army used to win those lands. And to add insult to injury the rich Romans would end up buying all the lands from the poor Latins, leaving them homeless and desparately in need of food.

But, because the inclusion of an independent ally (note I say Ally, and not Ethnic Group) into Roman citizenship was unheard of, the Senate was against the measure. Other events and needs were also factors, but in the end it polarized the Roman society and lead to a series of bloody civil wars. Both Gracchi brothers were killed, and a series of dictators were the result until it ended with the final ascension of Augustus and the Empire.

Now, before your eyes completely glaze over with this brief history lesson, the point I want to emphasize is that the public became polarized to the point of violence. That violence was a direct result of politicians using every means they could in order to promote their own positions by destroying the credibility of others by any means necessary. Issues were brought up that had no direct correlation with the current social ills, but were perpetuated as vehicles for elections. Violence was encouraged under the flag of "patriotism", and what we call "mud-slinging" was not only tolerated, but encouraged. Politicians played on the fears of the populace by using economic problems, wars or threats of war, and even socially shocking events as ammunition against their opponents.

While many people will say this is the reality of Politics, I would disagree. Politics and power is given by the People, and the People have a right to decide how they want their representatives to behave. So instead of blaming politicians for their actions, I would like to blame the "people" who accept these methods. We are all to blame for not calling on politicians to focus on real issues. How many people in the world are starving? How much crime exists within our neighborhoods? What of the ecological threats to our planet? How much money is dedicated to education and scientific advancedment instead of revealing which senator had an affair with which intern?

Now don't get me wrong, I am fully in support of morality and values within the all social systems. Politicians have a particular responsibility to represent the best of their constituants, instead of the worst. But do we need to continue to hear about it, and generalize an entire political party? So what if there was an affair, or if there was a mistake made. Their constituants will deal with their representative. The rest of us need to keep focused on the end goal: the improvement of life for all. Social, economic, racial, ethnic, religious, and gender specific differences should not become stereotypes. Unfortunately, we all seem to prefer the sensational to the practical. Instead of focusing on issues that have a direct link to the success of humanity, we want to focus on the flaws that make us feel superior to others.

If any political representative happens to read this, or any party chairman (I can dream, at any rate), I would like to call upon you to crawl out of the mire you are wallowing in, and stand tall on real issues. Deserve the respect that is earned for your position. And to all thinking voters, I request that you think about the issues that affect you. Don't vote down party lines, vote for your issues. Force the parties to clean themselves up and actually apply their resources to those issues, instead of spending it trying to tear each other apart. If this can be accomplished, then the Republic will have some meaning again. If not, then I fear we are doomed to the same fate as the Roman Republic. The problem is, can we stomach any political party in existence running an Empire? Can we trust any of our politicans?

It's been said that Americans live in a political paradox: We distrust all governments, including our own, because we don't want interference with our lives. But we are quick to blame the Government for any ills in the world, and require their action to resolve the issue. So we both want to be rid of the burden of being told what to do, but refuse to take the responsibility ourselves for our own mistakes. I wonder which government entity will get blamed for my comments, and which legislation will be called for to quell such questions....
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