Friday, August 31, 2007

New obsessions

The Allman Brothers Live From Fillmore East and Alfred Bester's science fiction from the 1950s: The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination.

I can't say that I've listened to Duane Allman's playing before now. Sure, I've heard it; now, I'm listening, and I'm hearing genius wrapped up in passion. It's fire, like you don't find very much in popular music these days.

Alfred Bester's writing is also incendiary. Lots of writers play with typography now. Bester did it first, and I haven't seen where, 50 years later, anyone has caught up to him. As for his characters and his stories, well, I'm simply blown away. This is the guy whose SF should be part of the American literary canon. Forget Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, and William Gibson. Alfred Bester is a titan; these others are dwarves.

Unix Shell, and other flavors of, Scripting

Okay, everybody that remembers using MS-DOS raise your hands. Not really that many of us, are there? And who uses a command line interface these days? Well, I do.

That's the thing about being a maintenance programmer who loves being a generalist, I get into a wide range of things. One of them being support for an application that displays invoices, and other reports, downloaded from one of those big iron dinosaurs, a mainframe, to an Oracle database on a Unix server. These reports are stored in such a way that the customers select them, on a web page, by the customer number, report type, and date; then, they're converted to PDF format for the customer to look at, treasure, save locally, print, or ignore. I just implemented a new report feed, which meant a new download file and a new load into Oracle. And that meant an adventure in Unix shell scripting. I guess, to be precise, I should say AIX shell scripting, using the Korn shell, not the C shell, Bourne shell, or even the Bourne Again shell.

Honestly, I love scripting languages. That was what was so much fun when I started web development. Microsoft's coding model at the time was ASP, where the HTML, Javascript for client-side processing, and VBScript for server-side processing were all stored together in the same ASP file, just waiting for a user request to come in, data to be grabbed off of a database, the whole thing turned into HTML for the browser to interpret, and we're off to the races with a dynamic web page. The cool thing, for the geek in me, was the immediate response, where I could quickly find out what syntax errors and logic bugs I had subtly embedded in my code. Then, I could spend hours diagnosing and fixing! Nerd nirvana...

Unix shell scripting, that's where I was. If you ever thought DOS commands were cryptic, you ain't seen nothing yet. Isn't it perfectly obvious that find . -mtime +30 -exec rm -f {} \; will delete all files in the current directory that were modified, which includes created, over 30 days ago? No? It wasn't to me, either. And I haven't even touched grep or sed. Google is my friend. Sometimes, though, Dogpile is even better.


Lisa and I saw Stardust last weekend. I already knew that Neil Gaiman is a superb fantasist, having read American Gods, Coraline, and Good Omens ("Have a nice Doomsday"). I now know that he is a skilled movie producer as well. Stardust is a wonderful fairy tale, with thrills, laughs -- who knew, even after Meet the Parents, that Robert De Niro is such a fine comedic actor? -- magic, and frights It doesn't go as far into the dark side as the copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales my dad had when he was a boy, but it couldn't and keep the PG-13 rating, now could it? There were visuals we'd never seen before -- Michelle Pfeiffer is quite a treat :) -- but I guess there was nothing earthshattering. Well, that's alright, I went to the theater to be entertained, which I was, quite thoroughly, not to have my intellectual world turned inside out. And there's nothing wrong with an afternoon's entertainment.

Seen on the streets of Greensboro today...

A bumper sticker: Republicans for Voldemort.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom...

...Lisa and I are traveling to visit her and Dad. Hope she likes the small gifts we have for her, just tokens, really, to reflect the love and respect we have for her. Good food tonight, too; we're taking them to one of their favorite seafood restaurants. I'm looking forward a good meal on the shore of Lake Waccamaw, conversing with people we want to be with and looking out over a lake that may be sunny and calm, or stormy and rough. Either way, the scenery is grand.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hall of Fame

I couldn't be happier about a couple of this year's inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. While a stutter may not be the most debilitating condition in the world, Mel Tillis had to overcome his. He made it first as a songwriter (Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town), then as a performer. His song I remember best is Sawmill, which is pretty much forgotten today.

I'm really over the moon about Vince Gill. His triple-threat talent is undeniable, as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, and his music was a great comfort to me after my first marriage fell apart. He says that he performs for the joy of music, and I tend to believe him. His CDs Next Best Thing and These Days (a four disc set, no less) are his very best, and they've come out after his radio popularity declined. He's known as a great guy, and I'll keep supporting his career for as long as I can.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Backwards compatibility

I've been a programmer for 20+ years. My current job is application maintenance, spanning at least three generations of web development philosophy and technology, for several divisions of a multinational corporation headquartered in Europe. I have users in the US, Canada, Sweden, France, Brazil, and Australia. And my co-workers in the cubicles right around me still ask me questions about mainframe development, which I haven't done at all in three or four years.

I know, both from all the third party software I've installed over the years and from applications I've written and/or maintained, that achieving backwards compatibility is a damned difficult proposition. After all, if programs were physical machines, we'd be talking about millions of moving parts in your PC. That said, it's a real pain in the butt when, say, an Oracle database gets upgraded, and you miss the memo informing you of the need to upgrade your Oracle client. I mean, okay, the production database is version 10, my client is version 9.2, and the test database is version 8; why can't I simply connect to test database to see if the Canadian test data loaded successfully?! After all, my tnsnames.ora file is correct, the DBA told me so. Or, at least it was before I tried to upgrade my Oracle client...

Let's compare it to the version on the test application server. Yep, they're the same. And my desktop tools still won't connect to the test database. Wait, there's another Oracle configuration file, sqlnet.ora; could that be the problem?

It is! Happy happy, joy joy!! Now, SQL*Plus can connect, so I have a command line tool; why won't PL/SQL Developer?

Monday, August 6, 2007


Tom Glavine won his 300th victory last night. That's much better news for Major League Baseball than Barry Bonds tying Hank Aaron's career home run record, but does anyone else wish that the Braves had responded positively to Glavine's overtures to return last winter?

I begin to see point the folks at Fire Joe Morgan are making. During ESPN's coverage of the Mets and Cubs last night, Mets second baseman Luis Castillo was struggling to catch a foul pop up in the winds at Wrigley Field. Joe Morgan remarked that it was because Castillo had spent all of his career in the American League. If Morgan had bothered to look at his employer's own website, he could easily have seen that, yes, Luis Castillo was with the Minnesota Twins for the last season-and-a-half, but he spent the 10 previous seasons with the Florida Marlins.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The first day alone

Yesterday was the first day in a month that Lisa and I were home alone. She swore that once during the day she saw David crossing the hall from his bedroom to the bathroom. We just got that used to their presence.

There's a difference about their summer visit this year, compared to the three previous years. This time, having them here immediately fell into the normal rhythm of our lives, not an alteration to it. I think that's a change in me, not in everyone else. And, I think I like it.

We saw The Bourne Ultimatum yesterday. It's a very good action flick, with a lot of ideas. Matt Damon pulls off Ludlum's character perfectly. He'd make a great Jack Reacher, if any of Lee Child's series is ever filmed. Well, except he's too short.

Now playing: Lee Roy Parnell - All That Matters Anymore
via FoxyTunes

Friday, August 3, 2007

A trip to the airport

We were up by 5:30 this morning for a quick breakfast, a last sweep around the apartment for the boys' things (only some socks, deodorant, and hot pepper jelly were unpacked), hugs from Lisa, and out the door for an hour-and-a-half drive for their flight back to their mom's. The soundtrack for that part of the trip was Lynyrd Skynyrd's All-Time Greatest Hits. David is learning to play guitar -- he has both the talent and the passion for it -- and he loves Freebird.

Traffic was light on the interstate, right into Charlotte, and there was no line at the airline check-in counter. The clerk asked me how old the boys were, and as I told her 16 and 14, I automatically asked if there was any way I could go back to the gate with them. I was astonished and delighted when she said sure, she just needed to see my picture id!

The line through security must've taken 20 minutes, and the boarding passes didn't tell us which gate their flight left from. The departure board did, and we were off to gate A5. When we got to the gate, the flight was already boarding. There was just enough time for one more hug each, and then Andy and David were out of sight down the jetway.

I stayed glued to that window, even through a conversation with a couple of ladies on their way to Memphis. I watched the jetway being moved away from the plane, the plane being pushed back to the taxiway, and then the plane taxiing away. Ten minutes later, I watched it take off. As it did, I swore I wasn't moving as long as it was in sight. And I didn't.

The soundtrack for the ride home was Montgomery Gentry's Some People Change. It was much, much lonelier this time.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

David turns 14 today

Woke up this morning knowing that it would be a day devoted to my younger son. His brother Andy and I wrapped his presents, and then David woke up on his own just before I was going to call him. Surprise, surprise, that a boy would get himself out of bed on his birthday...

Took 'em to Steak and Shake, which they love and I'm not opposed to, saw the Simpsons Movie -- I liked it way more than I expected to -- stopped at the Fresh Market bakery to pick up a cake from Ganache, then came home to make chili for supper.

Lisa will be home soon, and we'll kick this celebration into high gear. Just in time to shut it down and go to bed early, since the boys are flying back to their mom in the morning.

Happy birthday, Son.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

As This Summer Ends...

As this summer ends, I hope that I'm doing right by my children. They live with their mother 700 miles away from my North Carolina home. Gigi and boyfriend Chris have come and gone; now, Andy and David are a couple of days from leaving. This last month they've been here has rocked, but I'm sad that the gig is going back to being part-time Dad again.

If you guys -- Gigi, Andy, David -- ever read this, know that Lisa and I love you, that we're delighted at your accomplishments and potential, and that we're here for you, whatever your problems or joys.