Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why I Voted Obama

In the past I used by Blog as a vent for things that were happening in my life. Mostly bad things. Depending on the era you browse through in my archive, you might think I was a horrible depressive mess. But I have learned by reading my old blog entries that I tend to post more when things aren't going well and that may not reflect well on my life. Who knows how long this stuff will remain online. In a time like this, I owe it to myself to take some time and write a bit about this election.

I have all ready voted for Obama. I live in Ohio which thankfully offered early voting through absentee ballots this year. During the last presidential election I stood in line nearly four hours to cast my vote for Kerry, who ultimately lost after a close race. The night that it was announced that Bush won his second term I was devastated. I didn't understand how it could even be a close race. Bush had done a terrible job. His administration had started a war "against terrorism" with the wrong country. Our nation was sinking in debt. And I was wondering how I was going to pay my mortgage because I was making less and paying more for everything ... than I had in five years.

My wife and I sat down and had a very serious discussion about leaving this country. In the end I think we came to the same decision. That we couldn't leave the place that we had been born and raised. Where our family lives. Where our kids had friends. Where everyone spoke the same language. But it was clear on election day that the country wasn't with us. I imagined a very dark future for the country, and for my family. Unfortunately I was right about what the Bush administration would do with another four years.

In 2004 I worked for a small training center which had been acquired by another small training center. I was about to be laid off and I can't say I didn't see it coming. My area of work had taken a dive in previous years and just never came back. When I was laid off it was almost a blessing because I was about at the end of my rope with my employer (see old blog posts). My wife and I decided to start our own business and try to find that "American Dream".

In the years that followed I watched my wife struggle with a disease that we couldn't afford to treat. I watched my family learn to get along without a father, because I was always on the road trying to keep my business alive. I continuously made deals with my mortgage company in an attempt to save my home. With each "deal" I extended my mortgage, and ultimately raised my payments beyond any affordable means. I went from drinking irish liquor to drinking 40oz's alone in various Motel 6's around the country. In the end I gave up: drinking, my business, my home of six years, and $27,000 in retirement savings. Things got really, really bad.

This is real life folks. I'm not some punchline on Fox News. I'm not some "fool who didn't calculate mortgage rates". I had one of those fixed rates. But it didn't matter. I worked my ass off balanced a couple of jobs, and I lost it all anyway. Using the last bit of my retirement money I was able to keep my car. A Honda with 150,000 some miles on it. Well technically, I used the last little bit to pay what I was taxed for having withdrawn all that money to try and save my ass. The cost of withdrawing retirement savings early: 40%.

In the end I escaped with my family, and a car. And we started over in a new town.

So there is some history. Here is why I have voted Obama.

On Health Care
This is the most important issue to me. Because Health Care needs fixed. As regular readers know, my wife suffers from a chronic and progressive disease which has no cure. Treating the symptoms of this disease can get expensive. I took a job in a hospital first and foremost - so that I could take care of my wife. In years past, she has suffered through some nasty Lupus flares because we simply could not afford to treat her. At one point we were paying $400 a month for her medication, and we had a hard time finding a way to pay for her to see a rheumatologist (which was a requirement for the medication). These days, the symptoms have not gotten any better. But I'm thankful that we can get her some help. McCain's plan for health care is to give you $5 a year to go buy your own healthcare. While some of you may think this is a good idea, just hope you don't ever get sick. Under McCain's plan - I could not afford the insurance I currently have. His plan is reminiscent of when a past employer of mine cancelled our health care package and gave us a "health savings account" instead. The company contribution to this health savings account was $20 per paycheck. It absolutely killed me that the owner of the company had the money to afford better insurance, but decided to put that money into his own pocket instead.

Taxes on the Middle Class
Obama wants to cut taxes for everyone making less than $250k a year. Folks, I know some "small business owners" who have exceeded that. And let me tell you - they will NOT be hurt when they have to pay extra taxes. Do you know what small business owners do with that extra money? $150 haircuts. $2,000 campaign contributions. $80,000 luxury cars. Multi-million dollar homes. This is just what I have seen first hand. Now, how could they better spend some of that money? How about by giving their worker bees a little wage increase once in a while? How about buying into some better health care options? These so called "small business owners" need to be called for what they are. Upper class, wealthy, and greedy white guys. Tax them more. Tax us less. Do you know what I did with my last "stimulus check"? I fed it to back taxes from my "small business" - which only grossed $40k my last year of operation. Note that I paid 38 percent in taxes on my business. You do the math.

The Economy
Do you know what corporations do when they find themselves with an excess of money? They build more buildings. Hell, they make more buildings even when they aren't doing well. They gamble stock. They try new things. If it works, they make more money for their executives. When it doesn't work, they can shut the whole thing down, pay themselves severance and nail all those little drone workers with the damage. That's not right. The first fix for this is for this country to admit it'd greed and gluttony. People should be held accountable. And while that is being fixed, how about we improve the financial situation for the working middle class. Let us have some money and we will waste it on things like FULL tanks of gas. And FULL gallons of milk. I can't afford those things right now. And I'm not alone.

And now I am out of battery juice in the old laptop. I'm also getting a little cold here working above the covers. Electric blankets beat gas bills in an old house like this. I'm going under for the count. I will blog more later.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The iMac Torrent Machine - Part I

I had this great idea. I wanted to build a torrent machine. The idea is that this machine would sit in my basement and download all my favorite TV shows for me. Then when I want to watch them I could connect up to them over a network share and stream them to my XBox (running XBox Media Center or XBMC). As far as hardware goes, there is not a lot to choose from in my basement of horror. When my wife and I moved to a new town I decided to part with 95% of my "basement junk". I don't regret it. But when I decide to go build myself a computer out of spare parts, I find that I am running short on spare parts. It only seemed logical to make use of an iMac. I actually have two of them, and enough PC-100 RAM to stuff in them to get almost a full gig!

My efforts on this project were thwarted in a serious way when Xubuntu Linux failed to install easily to my iMac (see previous blog rant). This morning I changed gears. Screw putting Linux on an iMac. It's too much trouble. I will stick to what works. And that is - OS X! More specifically, I went with OS X Pather. Why Panther? I had a copy. It was what used to be on the iMac before I began hacking it. Starting the installation was easy, but I ran into some trouble. Halfway through blanking out the drive and undoing my Linux disaster, the Disk Utility hung up. After a reboot, the drive stopped responding. When I think back to the history of this drive, it's a shady one. It turns out that this drive is dead. Woops. Maybe this is why Linux was running so pathetically slow. Into the trash with you. To quote Fry on Futurama "I should have left you in the toilet where I found you!".

After installing a different 40GB drive - I proceeded to install Panther. Not a lot to say here. The installation was pretty simple as you would expect. Since I chose to "Customize" my installation I was able to uncheck all the stuff that I don't want or need (iCal, iTunes, Asian Fonts, Printer Drivers, etc). Next was the selection and installation of all the software I would need.

The Software
Firefox - I like Safari as a web browser. It works. But Firefox really kicks it's ass when it comes to speed and functionality. The problem is, Firefox 3 does not support older versions of OS X like the one I am using. It's also worth mentioning that newer versions of OS X like Tiger and forward - do not support old iMacs like mine (there are work-arounds, but screw all that). That being said I was happy just installing the last supported version of Firefox 2 (version 2.0.17) to my iMac. I will not use it very often. Mostly I will only use it to download the other stuff on my list. If you are "following along" with this you can get Firefox 2.0.17 in English for the Mac here:

Java - Java comes with the OS (and gets it's updates that way). So to get Java you must first get your OS up to date. At the time of writing that was about 130MB of space, and about 40 minutes of my time. And that only updates your OS core. You will then have to reboot, and re-run the software updater to pick up Java, and it's three or four updates. Then, you need to restart again, and re-run Software Update again to pick up yet another update. In fact, repeat the update/reboot process until you are no longer able to find a Java update in the list. During these updates I unchecked all the stuff I didn't want or need (iCal updates, ipod updates, etc) and it still took an hour+ of my time to chew through. Yuck.

Azureus - In the past I would only run Azureus (mostly on Windows). It's a pretty nice client, despite being based on Java (fuck you IBM). It was the first client that supported rich features like a speed-scheduler through the use of Java plugins. These days I try to use thinner clients that don't take all my resources away! But this computer will sit in the basement and do nothing but download and seed my torrents. So it can have the resources and run a muck with them. I don't care. Theoretically you should be able to grab Azureus here - but I had some trouble. There were only three mirrors for the OS X version and none of them worked. I ended up doing a Google search and revealed this working link. Note that you cannot install any version of Azureus (now called Vuze) past version 3!! That is because version 4 and later all require Java 1.5 (or later) which is not available (and never will be) for OS X 10.3 or earlier. Aren't limitations fun? There are more upcoming. I downloaded Azureus/Vuze and that is what I will focus on here.

When you start up Vuze/Azureus for the first time, it's like waiting in line at the BMV. A long 3 minutes or so later, you will get this ugly iTunes-ish interface which will populate with all sorts of pictures and crap. Your first step should be to click the Advanced button in the top right corner. This will give you a much cleaner look. . If there is some stupid "friends bar" that the bottom, you can kill it. You don't need that.

Now click on Vuze (from the menu bar) > Preferences. Drop down the Interface category and select Start. Now uncheck everything. Most of these options are for getting new versions or reminding you of new versions. You can't use any of them, so screw em'. You might want to keep "Show splash screen" checked (so you know what it's doing while you are waiting for it to start). Also, make sure you check "Start in Advanced View". Then you won't load into that stupid iTunes look any more.

Next expand Plugins and then click on Plugins on the left. Note that there are a couple of clickable links for the Plugins directorys. Click the top one, and a folder will open. Now, there are two plugins you will want to download and put in this directory. You should create two folders. Call them something like "azspeedscheduler" and "azrssfeed". Then grab the plugins which will come in the form of zipped Jar files. You will copy the Jar files into these folders you just made.

Get the plugins from here:
Speed Scheduler (you need this specific outdated version):
RSS Feed Scanner:

Plugins copied into their respective folders? Good. Restart Azureus! You can do this by clicking Vuze > Restart Vuze. Now wait.

Next we will set up your speed schedule. Click File > Plugins > Speed Scheduler. How you set up your schedule is your preference. For me, I simply say "Limit upload speed to 20kbps" from 6:00AM to 24:00PM, all week long. While I am sleeping, I will do a little more seeding. In the daytime, I want that upload bandwidth because my Cable Modem provider limits me to only 60k or so.

Next, set up your seeding preferences. Ideally we would like to Automatically Remove a torrent once it's been seeded a couple of times. However - the AutoStop plugin for Azureus was dropped a long time ago! While I was able to find a mirror of it on SourceForge, it required newer Java than I could handle. With that, let's just tell Azureus that you want to seed everything to 200%. Click Vuze > Preferences. Expand Queue > Seeding and then select First Priority. These settings are rather confusing which only makes me miss the auto-stop plugin even more. Change the "A share ratio under" to 2:1. This makes you a "legal" seeder. Ideally you should set this much higher (eg 8:1) if you have the bandwidth (I don't). Make sure you click the Save button. The effect of this is that you will seed to 200 percent, and then the Torrent will just sink in the list and get "Ignored".

Remote Access
I want to drop this junker onto a shelf in my basement and forget about it. But I still need to log on once in a while and add new shows. For easy remote connectivity I suggest using Vine VNC. You have to get the older version (v1.2) if you are running older versions of OS X (like 10.3): Yes, I tried the newest version and NO - it did not work.

Adding Shows
Your best bet for adding shows to your RSS feed is to read the documentation provided here: Pay close attention to that "Pass/Fail" value that they cover. Their first example is for setting up Torrents that you do NOT want. In my case, I skipped out on Exclusions all together, and I have been operating just fine. This process took a little bit of trial and error. After about half an hour or so I was all ready downloading shows I wanted. If one of the shows you want to download are in the latest RSS feed - it will get added to your list right away. That's great for testing. In fact, you may consider looking at the RSS feed (the plugin will let you peek at it) and then just pick a show randomly from that list to test with.

Use your Imagination
From here the possibilities are pretty endless. I enabled Windows File Sharing in OS X System Preferences and I am storing all my torrents in the Documents folder (each show has it's own subfolder). So when I browse to \\TV\rayhaque\Documents\torrents I get a folder for each of my shows. Next I am going to map this on my XBox so I can fire it up, and just start watching. I have tried streaming the shows from the iMac right to VLC on Windows and Linux and it works really well (no stuttering, buffering problems, etc). As always - your mileage may vary.

As the days/weeks go on, I will probably post a second half to this experiment. In the mean time, I have some shows to watch. Bye now.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Go To Hell IBM

It's been a while since I dropped a nice rant post. I actually started writing a long rant a few weeks ago, but it never left draft status. When I go back and read it now, it's a long and hateful liberal job which doesn't do much but insult the religious right. Basically, it was completely unnecessary so I shelved it. But IBM will not be so lucky.

I spent a long couple of hours last night getting Xubuntu Linux installed on an old iMac. I have this idea that I will put a PC in my basement which I can remote into and select my favorite TV shows, and then it will download those shows for me as they come out. This is pretty easily accomplished thanks to the efforts of the pirating community, RSS feeds, and Java based bit-torrent plugins. I had countless problems with getting the OS installed which seemed to stem from a long history of mistakes with the PowerPC branch. Going through bug tracker reports and Ubuntu forums I detected a history of video card and IDE module problems which spanned three consecutive releases. I find it odd that it was never corrected. For that matter, it never will be corrected. The Ubuntu community has discontinued support for the PowerPC models (7.10 was the last).

Alas, I was able to get Xubuntu installed and it was even booting without my interaction. Woo-hoo! So today I focused on getting a bit-torrent client installed. I wasn't really out to install a Java based program ... but the more popular TV torrent RSS programs are written in Java. How hard could it be to install Java, right? Very difficult. Here is why. Ubuntu for the PowerPC has no Java package. Why not? Because Sun made Java, and they didn't care to provide it. This is a lot like there being no Flash plugin for a PowerPC running Linux. Why not? Adobe doesn't give a shit.

But wait ... IBM also created the iSeries which used the same processor architecture. Would a Java run-time package for that platform work on my iMac? Yes! So I headed over to IBM's website to download it. I was in for a treat.

IBM was pleased to tell me that this site was now under the direction of "Lenovo". Oh boy! That is the Chinese manufacturer who churns out cheap trash and attempts to market it as a hot name brand. But ... all I want is the download. I was asked to register. No problem. I fill out the form. It's rejected. I check all the fields and hit submit again. It's rejected. Why was it rejected? Who knows. There is no indicator of what field you have filled out incorrectly. After some careful reading I noticed there was a link titled something like "why should my ID be an email address?". Oh, so when you say "Choose your ID" what you meant was "Put your fucking email address here". Thanks for the clarity. I can see the same idiots in China that make your laptops have been fast at work building your electronic forms.

Then comes page two of the form. They want my street addresses. Both work, and personal. They also want multiple phone numbers. Are they kidding? And my password had to be 8 characters. Exactly 8 characters. I hope that's not because they are using DES encryption. Because that was cracked so many years ago. At this point I am so annoyed that I am forming my address out of expletives. And finally I come to the bitter end where ... I am asked to login, and then taken to some bizarro page, leaving me scrambling to relocate the page that I started on with the download link on it.

I select my download. This madness is almost over. I agree to their multi-page license agreement. I click the download button. What do I get? A pop-up box which is trying to run .... a FUCKING JAVA APPLET. Now here is where it gets funny. I am on their page trying to download the Java run-time and Java plugins and they are telling me that I will need Java installed to do that? What the fuck is wrong with these people? I click the "help" link because clearly I am mistaken. Their MUST be another way to get these files. But, there isn't. When you go to the help page, you get a very long explanation of why you should want to install their super duper downloader thing. It's fast! It's secure! It requires Java. Of course there is nothing to find in the way of actual help, and good luck contacting anyone about a problem like this. They really don't care. And why should I? This is where I give up.

IBM: You are fucking stupid. STUPID. Do you know why people build applications in Java? Because the majority of developers are incompetent retards who either flunked out of community college, or just caught a flight from India. Java is a crutch for talentless programmers. How often do you download a piece of software and say "Oh good! It's Java based!".

Okay. That's the end of my rant. I quit on you Java, and I quit on you Ubuntu for the PowerPC. You can both rot in hell.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Patriot Car - Solving the Energy Crisis

My wife and I were watching the presidential debates last night and I was struck with an idea. We have several different intertwined problems in the US right now which could be solved simultaneously. This would not require any particular party to succeed in the election and could in theory be funded by private money. But let's run down some truths:

  • American-made car companies are in trouble - With factory jobs on the line, we have seen many American jobs created in foreign car companies. While this has created jobs, and allowed us to create great machines - it doesn't help our pride in American made goods. Ford, and GMC are dying a slow, painful and agonizing death. They need something to pick themselves up before the Hondas and Toyotas of the world completely drive them under.
  • We are neck deep in an "energy crisis" - It seems silly to say that we are just now getting into a crisis when we long ago predicted that oil would run dry within 80 years (I heard those figures when I was in grade school). Everyone agrees about what needs done when it comes to gas consumption. We need to use less. So let's get serious about designing lightweight electric vehicles and stop with the enormous SUV hybrids.
  • Nobody can afford a new car - This is a really bad time to get folks to start spending money on cars. With the current financial crisis under way, we are all watching what little retirement money we had - roll out into thin air. The joke now is, "most of us will retire at 81, if we are unlucky enough to live that long". If anyone is going to spend money on a car, it would have to be cheap ... or free.

Here is how we win. The Patriot Car. The government goes to the American car companies and makes them a deal. Build a small, electric powered, and safe vehicle which can transport four average sized Americans (or at least 3 fat ones). If your car is a success, we will buy them by the millions.

The car will be funded by the government in the form of taxpayer money. That is, at the end of the first year of the program each family will receive a voucher for their new vehicle. The price and payment is government controlled, so there is nothing additional that the new owner will need to pay other than local registration fees. You go to the local car depot, pick out your favorite color, show some proof of insurance where applicable, and drive away. That' one less gas guzzler on the road.

Why would people drive this car?

  • It's the Patriot car, and it's AMERICAN MADE.
  • You are reducing gas emitions and foreign oil dependence.
  • It's a FREE car. Everyone has one. Go get YOURS.
  • You were spending $100 a week on gas. Now you spend only a few bucks a week for electricity.

So that's it. The Patriot Car. It could do for us, what the Volkswagen did for the Germans.