Big brass ones.

Sometimes it takes a real pair to do what's right.

Matthew Hoh, a former Marine who served in Iraq and later joined the State Department as a diplomat in Afghanistan, resigned on September 10th. His resignation was announced today in the Washington Post. The article includes a link to his resignation letter.

"However, in the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan, in both Regional Commands East and South, I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end. To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war."

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't been over there, and I haven't seen first-hand what's actually going on. However, I do worry about it, for two reasons: one, my brother's unit is due to deploy to Afghanistan sometime in the spring, and two, other than the initial push to "Get Osama Bin Laden" (which I now believe to have been so much propaganda) I've never really understood why we're in Afghanistan to begin with.

I remember back in high school in the late 80's, hearing in the news about how Afghanistan was "the Soviets' Vietnam", referring to a long drawn-out deployment of forces for no good reason... I thought that maybe we (the U.S.) had learned our lesson about sending troops over to another country for a long deployment with no real purpose. What I see now is that we haven't learned a damned thing, because we're doing it in two places now- Iraq and Afghanistan.

The only thing I can figure is that it's just another excuse to make the U.S. government keep borrowing more and more money from the Federal Reserve...

In any event... My hat is off to you, sir, for having the cojones to refuse to participate in this pointless occupation any more. Bravo, sir!


Catching up

Wow. Lots of things have happened since my last post. Let's see...

  • In this economy, I found a job. I started back on April 17, working for Atlantic.net as their head Linux administrator. The job was almost perfect for me- it was an almost perfect match for the skills I already have, it gave me chances to learn about and play with new technologies, it gave me a chance to pass my knowledge and experience along to the junior-level techs, and I was working with a great bunch of people. Plus, even though I was the lead LINUX admin, my desktop machine was a Mac Mini. =)

  • In September, I was elected Vice President of LEAP, the local Linux user group here in Orlando. Before this I was a director, and I thought I was just running for re-election as a director, but when the ballots were handed out, my name was in there for the VP slot. And even though I didn't vote for myself for either office, I still got voted in as the VP.

  • Then, a few days ago, after just under six months, Atlantic.net laid me off. No warning, no notice, just "sorry, we don't have the money to pay you anymore." Apparently, when they hired me in April, they had just started a massive campaign of web advertising, particularly banner ads. They were expecting those ads to drive a flood of new business in the door, and they were planning to use the added revenue from the new business to continue to afford my paychecks. That new business never materialized, and they're now going back to physical billboards.

    One of the things my boss told me was that if business picked back up, that I would be "on the short list" to come back. At the time it sounded pretty good, however now I have to wonder why he didn't just say "we want to bring you back", unless maybe he didn't want to get my hopes up and have me sitting around waiting around for it. And a friend who is still assiciated with the company reminded me that Atlantic.net is sitting on enough cash to... well, I won't talk about their future plans, but suffice it to say it's more than enough to afford my salary and benefits for another year. So I don't really know what to think at this point, other than the fact that it won't do anybody any good for me to sit and worry about it, or to complain about it, in public or in private. What's done is done.

    I will say this, however... I genuinely enjoyed the job, they're a great bunch of people, and if they were to offer me the job back before I find something else, I would go back in a heartbeat. Knowing the people as I do, I think if anybody is going to figure out a way to succeed in this economy, Atlantic.net will be the company to do it. It's just too bad I can't be part of that.

  • I announced my new "on the market" status on LEAP's mailing list. Within 24 hours I heard from two other list members about potential openings, one of which the guy said he KNEW would be open, and that if anything I'm over-qualified for it. I've also polished up my resumé, and I plan to spend as much of next week as possible searching the job web sites and contacting headhunters. I got used to having money coming in on a regular basis, and while Atlantic.net did give me a severance package, it won't keep me forever. It is, however, enough to give me some time to find something else, and for that I'm grateful.

  • A few days ago, curiosity got the better of me and I signed up for Twitter. I'm not sure if I'm going to use it on a regular basis, but it's there. I wanted "jms1" as a userid, but somebody else grabbed it long ago... I guess that's what you get for not jumping on these things early.

  • I received an invitation to Google Wave. This one I jumped on IMMEDIATELY. The concept of Wave is different from anything I had seen before- it's like email, instant messaging, forum threads, and collaborative document editing, all rolled up into one thing. The best explanation I can come up with is that a "wave" is a message that multiple people can access and edit at the same time. Each person can add "blips" to the wave, which are kinda like emails being added to a thread. The interesting thing is that people can edit the wave AT THE SAME TIME- as in, if you and I are both editing the same wave, we see each others' keystrokes IN REAL TIME.

    My explanation doesn't come anywhere NEAR doing it justice. The best way to explain is to watch video on this page, which is when Google announced Wave at a developer conference. It's about an hour and fifteen minutes long, but it explains things VERY well.

    When you see the video, you will understand why I say that, when this becomes publicly available, it will change how people communicate.

That's about it for now.


Disaster Preparedness

In the early morning of 2009-04-09, somebody climbed down four manholes in Morgan Hill, California (near San Jose) and cut a few cables. This essentially "cut off" much of the area's communications, including the local 911 call center, and the INTERNAL network of a local hospital. The city and county got through it with the help of a group of local ham radio operators, who volunteered their own time and radio equipment to set up temporary communication links between the hospitals, the public safety (police, fire, rescue) agencies, and other relevant sites, while the cables were repaired.

Bruce Perens, known as one of the founders of the Open Source movement, and a fellow amateur radio operator, wrote an article about the incident, where he points out how stupid it is for companies, and especially government and public safety agencies, to allow their core functions to rely on outside parties. The idea is that an organization's technical needs should be hosted in-house as much as possible, so that if the internet or telephone lines go down, they are still able to function- perhaps in a reduced capacity, but they shouldn't be totally "down".

Here's a perfect example. One of my clients is a company whose employees make heavy use of "instant messenger" programs to ask and answer questions, provide updates, and transfer files. It works for them, unless their internet connection is down, in which case they can't connect to AOL's servers. Which means that in order to send a message from one office to another, that message has to go all the way up to AOL's servers in Virginia, and then all the way back down to their office here in Florida. Even though they're in offices which are right next to each other. If this company were using XMPP (aka Jabber) instead of AOL's proprietary system, they would be able to host an XMPP server within the building, and all of their IM conversations would never have to leave the building at all.

I just thought Bruce's article was very well-written, and explains the issue clearly enough that people can understand it. If you are even remotely interested, take a few minutes and read the article.

The link again: http://perens.com/works/articles/MorganHill/


Bookmark Synchronization

I've been using a plug-in called Foxmarks to synchronize the bookmarks between the copies of Firefox on my various machines. Over the past month they have changed their name to Xmarks, and today they offered my browser an update which changes the name and adds... I'm not really sure what they're adding for me, but their big thing is cross-browser compatibility. Apparently they now have plug-ins for Safari and IE, so all three browsers can share bookmarks. I rarely use Safari and I never use IE, so it doesn't really interest me.

What concerns me is privacy, which I'm sure is no big surprise to those of you who know me. My bookmarks are MY business, and if I want to share them with somebody else, I will do so on my own terms.

Foxmarks came pre-configured to set up an account on the Foxmarks server, however they also had a way to store the synchronized bookmark database on your own server. Their web site used to make this feature very obvious. The new Xmarks plug-in still has this feature, however their new web site doesn't mention it at all- their big selling point now seems to be that when you do a search, it recommends other web sites based on how many other people have bookmarked that site.

The sudden shift in focus worries me. Instead of concentrating on providing a useful tool for their users, their primary focus now seems to be their "recommendation" service. It almost feels like a bait-and-switch, as if they've tricked everybody into donating their bookmark lists so they could build up this aggregate database of bookmarks, and are now changing their focus to try and monetize it- I'm guessing by selling the opportunity for advertisers to buy their way to the top of the bookmark recommendation list, regardless of how many people may or may not have recommended them. (Remember, people don't host services like this unless they expect to somehow make money off of it.)

Of course, the only way they could know what other people's bookmarks are, is by reading them from the bookmark files stored on their own servers... that much seems obvious. But I have to wonder, if they've been planning this change all along, if the plug-in hasn't been sending a copy of my bookmarks to them anyway, even though I haven't (knowingly) been using their server?

So I have already un-installed it from my desktop and laptop machines, and will be removing it from the other "sometimes they get used" machines (an old G5 iMac, the Windows and Linux portions of an Acer Aspire One, and the Linux machine on my desk at home) the next time I use Firefox on each one.

I have replaced Foxmarks/Xmarks with SyncPlaces, which does the same basic job but emphasizes privacy by NOT having their own server- basically they WANT you to host the sync'ed bookmarks on your own server somewhere.