Where I’m Calling From

I have resisted, to at least a couple of approximations, talking about Mississippi in the wake of Katrina. What my friend Steve has just sent me, though, has me weeping in a hotel room in Kentucky.

My home state’s coastal fringe is destroyed. It is a place I’ve been more times than I can count. I played my first putt-putt games with my long-dead father in the shadow of the Broadwater, with the sound of the waves in the background. That putt-putt is gone, and so is most of the Broadwater. But fuck the putt-putt; whole towns on the coast are gone. So is much of the work of Walter Anderson, and in all liklihood the homes of most of the people I knew who lived in that precarious wonderful place.

My brother’s best friend has hosted his in-laws for weeks, as they have no home anymore. This is not a rare story. Christ, it’s commonplace. This is good, but it’s terrible that it’s needed.

My own mother, nearly 90 miles inland, had trees aplenty fall on her home. She watched an aged pine — with a 15+ foot taproot — become uprooted in Katrina’s winds even that far north. She’s fine, and so is my stepdad, but he — at 70+ — spend days with his chainsaw clearing other peoples’ yards and driveways. These were days his own home had neither power nor water. John is like that.

I grew up in hurricane country. They’re a fact of life. A formative memory is dozing, fitfully, through Frederick in 1979. Ol’ Fred was a Cat 4, and was quite neutered by the time he hit Hattiesburg, but the damage was still astounding. The vast oak my mother watched sway during Camille in ’69 finaly fell during that storm, but somehow didn’t destroy the home it shadowed. Even so, the next day we all saw that tree as the fate we avoided.

Now, this past weekend, Erin and I spend a sleepless night watching a puny pecan swing over our own townhouse. We remembered our parents and our friends closer to the storm, and the stories they’d given us from before we were born — or from earlier that month — and we were far too cavalier.

Just now my friend Steve sent me this site. I think these photos say what I cannot.

So much will never be the same.

If you love Bacon like we love Bacon, watch this space.

richard My friend Richard was badly injured Monday night.

Richard is one of the original Infernal Bridegroom people. He’s been, I think, in every Tamalalia, which is quite a distinction. Most recently, he’s been known and loved as a ballet-esque dancing anthropamorphized representation of Bacon in “Tamalalia 8: Tamarie Makes It Big” and the reprisal of the same number this summer in “Tamalalia X.” He’s also a landlord, and has been dabbling in property ownership for as long as I’ve known him. One of the properties for which he is responsible — via long-term lease, not ownership — is IBP’s home, the Axiom.

Rita hit the Axiom harder than most of Houston. The building itself did pretty well, but the patio was another story. The fence was destroyed, and trees were damaged, including one large tree essentially split in half. The IBP staff took care of most of the clean-up, but asked Richard to hire a pro to come take care of the big tree.

That’s when Richard, God love him, did something surprisingly dense. He went down to the Axiom alone, at night, with a ladder and a chainsaw, and using only the light from his car’s headlights, went to work. And slipped. And fell. Thank God the chainsaw lodged in the tree, but Richard fell off the ladder onto his hands, and ended up smashing the bones in his wrists and hands pretty damned thoroughly.

Alone and unable to get to his cell phone in his pocket, he somehow managed to drive to a hospital. I’m told he used his knees and ran every red light he could in an attempt to attract help via a traffic stop, but no dice. At the hospital, he couldn’t open his door, so he banged his head against his car window until someone came to help.

He’s had surgery already. He’s got a long recovery road ahead of him, obviously, and that’s where it gets ugly: Richard is self-employed, and has no health insurance. Bacon!

IBP is rallying around him — he is one of our own, obviously — but none of us are rich. The Houston arts and performance community will, I’m sure, join this rally — I’m told that Fresharts and Diverseworks have already contacted their memberships, or will very soon. There will be a benefit show/concert/party in the very near future, once we know what the goal figure is; watch this space for information about when and where. If you feel moved to kick the poor guy a few bucks, though, don’t let lack of organization stop you: IBP is holding donations for him. Just send ’em to Richard Lyders Fund, c/o Infernal Bridegroom Productions, PO Box 131004, Houston, TX, 77219-1004.

Ding-Dong, etc.

The Bug Man has been indicted on conspiracy charges. Of course, CNN has said fifty billion times that the DA in queestion is a “partisan Democrat.” However, as Media Matters notes, his record doesn’t support the claim that he’s prone to enforcement along party lines:

While Earle is an elected Democrat, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, a June 17 editorial in the Houston Chronicle commended his work: “During his long tenure, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has prosecuted many more Democratic officials than Republicans. The record does not support allegations that Earle is prone to partisan witch hunts.” This assertion supports Earle’s own claim about his record; a March 6 article in the El Paso Times reported: “Earle says local prosecution is fundamental and points out that 11 of the 15 politicians he has prosecuted over the years were Democrats.”

Best. Sculpture. EVAR.

Excellent statue Via JWZ.

Two bronze sculptures pee into their oddly-shaped enclosure. While they are peeing, the two figures move realistically. An electric mechanism driven by a couple of microproccesors swivels the upper part of the body, while the penis goes up and down. The stream of water writes quotes from famous Prague residents. Visitor can interupt them by sending SMS message from mobile phone to a number, displayed next to the sculptures. The living statue then `writes’ the text of the message, before carrying on as before.

Things we have learned today

Replacing the rear brake rotors on a 1995 Porsche is much simpler than we expected, particularly when you have a good buddy with intimate knowledge of such things, but it is nevertheless kind of unpleasant when it’s 100 degrees outside; and

Bad nameservers in /etc/resolv.conf will prevent incoming SSH connections under BSD-derived *nices. Ergo, if your BSD-derived *nix server is hosted by boobs who take the rest of the colo down at the first sign of hurricanes — including their nameservers — you can expect all attempts to SSH thereto to fail. However, if your BSD-derived *nix server is one of these, you can fix this via this tool by adding some valid, non-boob-managed nameservers to /etc/resolv.conf.

Saturday Morning Rita-ism

So it blew and blew and blew — and in fact is still blowing — but the most dramatic event was a drunk driver hitting the power pole down the street about 11 last night. We — obviously — have power, and still have running water, so we seem to have gotten by just fine. The TV talking heads, though, seem somewhat disappointed they couldn’t do their typical storm-coverage bullshit.

More DRM Suckage

BoingBoing points us to this rant about high-end home audio and the troubles DRM introduces, which triggered this response from John Gilmore, wherein he quite correctly points out that audiophiles who buy into DRM schemes are suckers:

It’s really simple. It’s because DRM is designed to break compatibility. The whole point of DRM is restrictions. The point of all previous audio formats was compatability. CDs play on any CD player. Cassettes play or record on any cassette player. Neither one cares what you do with the audio that comes out. By contrast, DRM is designed to prevent the audio from coming out in any way that the oligopoly objects to. […] Rather than calling for everybody to implement DRM, which would be uniformly terrible for most musicians, most equipment makers, and all consumers, you should be calling for nobody to buy DRM. We can’t stop them from building it — there’s no law against companies selling painful products. The only cure is education — of their customers. Make it an expensive mistake for anyone to sell a DRM product. Because, as you have discovered with your iTunes music, it IS an expensive mistake to BUY a DRM product.

Vote with your dollars, people.

You really need to be paying attention to this stuff, weatherporn notwithstanding

When playing a CD becomes a “privilege,” not a right:

Of course, the industry is trying to accomplish its objective by publicly lamenting piracy. If the public and “their” politicians believe that the entertainment industry is on the verge of collapse, they’ll be much more likely to accept restrictions on use of content that they’ve paid for. For this reason, most industry talking heads keep their comments in check when talking about DRM schemes, but from time to time we’ve seen people truly speak their mind. Such is the case with Tommi KyyrŠ, of IFPI Finland. Mr. KyyrŠ told Tietokone (Finnish) that the ability to play CDs on computers is a “privilege,” and that people who have problems with CDs laden with DRM should just buy new CD players.
“Now, we need to understand that listening to music on your computer is an extra privilege. Normally people listen to music on their car or through their home stereos,” said KyyrŠ. “If you are a Linux or Mac user, you should consider purchasing a regular CD player.” (Translation via tigert.com)
The comments come in the context of a debate over copy-protected CDs. As we have previously reported, CDs with copy protection do not play on all CD players, although this is certainly not just limited to computer CD players. Some older players also won’t play the discs, either.

There’s also this:

I recently bought a car. In the copious documentation that came with it, nowhere did it say I couldn’t drive the car only in reverse, on dirt roads, without pants, or on Wednesdays. As far as I can tell, I can do pretty much whatever I want with that car, and the people that sold it to me don’t have any say in the matter. Apparently any music I buy might not play by the same rules, with the head of the Finnish branch of the IFPI (the international equivalent of the RIAA) having labeled the ability to listen to music on a computer a privilege. So I need some sort of permission or approval to use something I’ve purchased however I like, in this case, listen to music on the device of my choice? That’s the point of DRM and copy protection, to give the content producer an inordinate amount of control. But the effect of these pointless restrictions on music isn’t that they stop file-sharing, far from it. It’s really the opposite — they encourage it. The IFPI and its friends look at the problem from the wrong side. People have minimal incentive to buy expensive, DRM-laden music when they can get unrestricted versions through file-sharing. Instead of improving their product to make it competitive, the labels hope to club people into buying it by eliminating any alternatives.

When you buy DRM music — either from iTunes, or even “locked” CDs like the Velvet Revolver release — you’re buying into this conversion. Don’t support this tomfoolery.

Mo Betta Mo Rita

CNN reports Rita is down to a fun-loving 125MPH Category 3 storm, and is projected to hit ground between Galveston and the TX-LA border. Not quite champagne-popping goodness yet, but definitely more relief.

And so we wait.

Heathen has been uncharacteristically quiet about the approach of Rita; we apologize. Yes, it got scary looking for a bit, and we’re not totally out of the woods, but we’re still staying put. Most of my time has been taken doing disaster prep for my company’s servers; we realized last week that the “NOC” we’d been paying $100 per U per month to host in has no redundant power, no real disaster plan, and was planning on SHUTTING DOWN COMPLETELY for Rita.

Um, no. We’re pretty sure that makes you a “server closet” and not a “network operations center,” especially considering that another server I manage (which also hosts this site) is colocated up at a real, no-shit five-nines facility owned by Level3 Communications, sublet to local provider iLand, for which we pay only a little bit more than that. And they have a fer-crying-out-loud GENERATOR on hand. So corporate backups are in place on that machine (which is actually part of an ongoing reciprocal backup agreement between Spacetaker and Adaptive RFID), and our backup server is actually on my dining room table. The main corporate box is still online, but I’ll probably have to power it down before dinner time due to the lack of any real disaster prep at the HTC NOC.

Now: gotta go write documentation and put batteries in things. It’s starting to get windy outside, and Mrs Heathen To Be is getting antsy.

More to come, certainly.

Grim Meathook Future Defined

JWZ sometimes marks his posts with “grim meathook future.” In response to many queries, he’s posted a bit of the piece that phrase is from, written by Joshua Ellis. It’s fanTAStic. And true.

Feeding poor people is useful tech, but it’s not very sexy and it won’t get you on the cover of Wired. Talk about it too much and you sound like an earnest hippie. So nobody wants to do that. They want to make cell phones that can scan your personal measurements and send them real-time to potential sex partners. Because, you know, the fucking Japanese teenagers love it, and Japanese teenagers are clearly the smartest people on the planet. The upshot of all of this is that the Future gets divided; the cute, insulated future that Joi Ito and Cory Doctorow and you and I inhabit, and the grim meathook future that most of the world is facing, in which they watch their squats and under-developed fields get turned into a giant game of Counterstrike between crazy faith-ridden jihadist motherfuckers and crazy faith-ridden American redneck motherfuckers, each doing their best to turn the entire world into one type of fascist nightmare or another. Of course, nobody really wants to talk about that future, because it’s depressing and not fun and doesn’t have Fischerspooner doing the soundtrack. So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the unfortunate fact is that — unless we start paying very serious attention — it holds what the past holds: a great deal of extreme boredom punctuated by occasional horror and the odd moment of grace.

The comments on that post include another fine acronym: TSOR, or Thirty Seconds of Research. Excellent and useful.

In which BoingBoing propegates a scary meme

There’s a post at BoingBoing wherein a reader in Houston states that he’ll be at Fitzgerald’s during the storm:

I am currently in the Heights in Houston, which is at the highest elevation in the city; about 50 to 60 feet above sea level. I’m still not sure if I’ll evacuate. If not, I’ll be at Fitzgerald’s on White Oak Drive, which is a very strongly built building that has weathered several strong hurricanes and has never flooded.

Um, we’ve been in Fitz. You can see the outside from the inside thanks to shoddy construction and holes in the walls. While we’re pretty sure we’re safe at Heathen HQ, we’re unsure about entering Fitz when there’s no wind at all, let alone a hurricane.

FEMA: Still a clusterfuck

Via JWZ:

FEMA Sends Trucks Full Of Ice For Katrina Victims To Maine The trucks started arriving this weekend, and they’re expected to keep coming through Sunday. City officials say they have no idea why the trucks are here, only that the city has been asked to help out with traffic problems. But the truck drivers NEWSCENTER spoke to said they went all the way down to the gulf coast with the ice — stayed for a few days — and then were told by FEMA they needed to drive to Maine to store it. The truck drivers, who are from all over the country, tell us they were subcontracted by FEMA. They started arriving over the weekend, and city spokesperson Peter Dewitt says as many as 200 trucks could come to the city by the end of the week. The trucks are storing the ice at Americold, a company with a warehouse on Read Street in Portland. People who live nearby say all the traffic has been baffling them for days. The trucks can only unload 4 at a time — so the city is allowing some of them to sit at the International Marine Terminal and at the Jetport’s satellite parking lot. No one NEWSCENTER talked to has any idea when, or even if the ice will go back to the gulf coast. cite

I’ll Take Remedial Texas Coastal Geography for $1,000, Alex

(or: How to Tell Everyone You’ll Be Just Fine)

The major theme of this morning has been “people have no idea how big Houston is, or where urban Houston is relative to the Gulf, and consequently fear the country’s 4th largest metro area is in danger of being Katrina-ized by Rita.” Let’s clear things up a bit.

  • While Galveston is part of metro Houston, the island is easily 60 or so miles due south of downtown. Houston is big.
  • Which brings up the other point: Galveston is an island. I think they evacuate for Category 2 if not 1.
  • The mainland areas being evacuated are all near the gulf or the large inland bay/lake called Clear Lake (it’s not, FYI). That makes them vulnerable to the storm surge.

Put simply:


p class=”center” style=”font-weight: bold;”> WIND is not the evacuation driver.
People flee the SURGE,
and we’re a long-ass way from that.

It’ll take more than a Category 4 to force an evacuation of urban Houston. In fact, according to the evacuation planning map, not even a Category 5 storm does it (on the map, Heathen World HQ is under the I-45 icon at the center). All the areas named in the Chronicle story are pretty far away from our home and my office, both of which are near downtown and therefore very far away from even a Katrina-sized surge.

There are areas in urban Houston that are prone to flooding, and they get water every now and then — and may well as a consequence of this storm — but they’re known to be low, so this surprises no one. They abut bayous or the drainage system, e.g. The vast majority of Houston stays very dry — no one in my neighborhood, for example, had water during Allison in 2001. Allison was only a tropical storm, but she moved slowly and came on the heels of a very wet month; there was nowhere for the water to go. This summer, on the other hand, has been pretty dry (VERY dry lately, in fact).

It’ll get windy. Some trees may fall. Some streets will flood, some fools will try to drive in it, and some people may die through foolishness or bad luck. But Erin and I aren’t planning on going anywhere. Hell, we’ve got a party on Saturday.

Now: where’d I put the rum?

Well, sure, but some of it was boiled, for crying out loud

The Feds have incinerated tons of rations sent over by the Brits to help Katrina refugees because they’re “unfit to eat.”

The food, which cost British taxpayers millions, is sitting idle in a huge warehouse after the Food and Drug Agency recalled it when it had already left to be distributed. Scores of lorries headed back to a warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, to dump it at an FDA incineration plant. The Ministry of Defence in London said last night that 400,000 operational ration packs had been shipped to the US. But officials blamed the US Department of Agriculture, which impounded the shipment under regulations relating to the import and export of meat.

“I guess this means we’ve won the war on terror”

The FBI is ramping up an anti-porn squad to pursue material marketed for and by consenting adults. The title is an anonymous agent quote from the linked story.

Popular acceptance of hard-core pornography has come a long way, with some of its stars becoming mainstream celebrities and their products — once confined to seedy shops and theaters — being “purveyed” by upscale hotels and most home cable and satellite television systems. Explicit sexual entertainment is a profit center for companies including General Motors Corp. and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (the two major owners of DirecTV), Time Warner Inc. and the Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt hotel chains. But Gonzales endorses the rationale of predecessor Meese: that adult pornography is a threat to families and children. Christian conservatives, long skeptical of Gonzales, greeted the pornography initiative with what the Family Research Council called “a growing sense of confidence in our new attorney general.”

Fear anyone that the FRC claims “a growing sense of confidence” in.

The wit and wisdom of sysadmins

This certainly cannot be original to me, but I keep quoting it to people anyway. It’s particularly apt in the wake of Katrina, and with Rita bound for Texas:

Measure your backups in spindles and timezones.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, think on it until enlightenment comes. (Or ask a geek.)

In which we are public about our admiration for our friends

Some truly fine people threw me a tremendous three-day bachelor party last weekend. They know who they are. It was really an amazing, wonderful weekend full of excellent food and too-much-is-not-enough fine-ass booze. It was also pleasantly devoid of scary Galvestonian strippers, for which we are eternally grateful.

So: again, heartfelt and profound thanks to Eric and Frank, my Best Men, for helming the whole deal, and to Carl, Carlos, Chris, David, Joachim, Peter, Thunder, and Tony (and Chelsea) for making the trip past the following sign, which sane people would view with sincere trepidation:


p class=”center”> Not a Hurricane Evacuation Route

Dept. of Art Immitating Life (or, “OMG! WTF?”)

The fantasy/medieval-themed MMORPG known as World of Warcraft is the most popular such game ever for good reason. It’s friendly to the casual player as well as the hardcore, and breaks new ground in terms of how immersive and detailed the virtual world can be. Now publisher Blizzard has (deliberately or inadvertantly) introduced another staple of medieval life: a communicable plague (all errors in the original; [comments added] for clarity:

Heres the skinny: Blizzard adds in a new instance [Ed.: special dungeon zone], Zul’Gurub. Inside is the god of blood, Hakkar. Well, when you fight him he has a debuff [magical curse] called Corrputed Blood. It does like 250-350 damage to palyers and affects nearby players. The amazing thing is SOME PLAYERS have brought this disease (and it is a disease) back to the towns, outside of the instance. It starts spreading amongst the genral population including npcs [non-player characters, such as shopkeepers, trainers, quest givers, etc], who can out generate the damage [meaning the NPC doesn’t die, but does continue to spread the plague via proximity]. Some servers have gotten so bad that you can’t go into the major cities without getting the plague (and anyone less than like level 50 nearly immediately die). [WoW only goes to level 60] GM’s even tried quarantining players in certain areas, but the players kept escaping the quarentine and infect other players. ShackNews forums

The official forums have word of it as well. It seems likely they meant at least some of this to happen, but it’s clearly gotten out of hand on some servers (8MB Windows Media with poorly written text).

(via MeFi)

Pilot Uber Alles

We Heathen are gadget people. No surprise there; we have a blog, for crying out loud. It should therefore come as no surprise that we have, over the years, had a metric shitload of personal digital devices into which we twiddled or scribbled or download the personal, trivial equivalent of the Library of Congress over the years. (Yes, we even had a Newton. Three, in fact. Two of them we still have; the third we traded for some massages several years ago. No, we are not making this up.)

What finally pulled us away from the Newton — which, despite its awful debut, finished life as a spectacular and useful device we’ve still not seen the equal of — was a combination of factors:

  • Steve Jobs came back to Apple and killed the Newt because it was a John Sculley project, and he hated Sculley; nobody wants to use an orphan. (Newton geeks, do not bother me with the no-doubt still “vibrant” online community of die-hard Newton afficianados who make the Comic Book Guy look suave and urbane. We do not care.)
  • The Newton, great as it was, had moved in the opposite direction of the market — instead of small, syncable, and cheap, it got bigger, more expensive, and ditched desktop sync. The latter was a serious, serious flaw — backup is one thing, but desktop access to personal data is key.
  • The rise of the Pilot, which was all the things the Newt wasn’t — i.e., small, syncable, and cheap.

We first used a Palm between our last two Newts in about 1997. Now, 8 years later, we stil use one. This article is a great summary of the history and development of the platform, including its origins with GRiD and Tandy (!) before Palm became its own firm, under the care of US Robotics. (We really wish we still had the first Pilot we used, with THAT logo in it, before 3Com bought ’em.)

(Local PDF copy, in case that one goes away.)

Really, these people have no shame at all

In the wake of the Federal clusterfuck that is his administration’s response to Katrina — including everyone noticing he’d put a guy incompetant to run horse shows in as head of FEMA — Bush announced yesterday that the new point man for the Gulf Coast reconstruction effort will be…

Karl Rove. What. The. Fuck? First he suspends Davis-Bacon, thereby ensuring that whoever does the rebuilding gets to pay the local workers — the ones with no homes, remember — less than the prevailing local wage. Then he puts another non-disaster-qualified guy in charge, who if anything is worse than Brown. Rove is a political hack with a track record of politicizing everything he touches. He does no substantive work; his job is to get somebody elected and protect them once they’re in place. What the hell he can bring to a reconstruction effort — beyond spin for Bush — is a mystery to us.

Josh Marshall:

There’s real news to be reported — how the president is approaching the reconstruction, what plans he’s putting in place right now. He’s put his chief political operative in charge of running the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. Shouldn’t that be raising a lot of questions — a man whose entire professional experience is in political messaging and patronage? He’s also at the center of on-going criminal investigation and the target of a much-rumored indictment. But set that aside. Then there’s what Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI) said in his statement out this evening. “With a stroke of the pen, in one of his first Katrina directives, the President cut the wages of the workers who will undertake our largest reconstruction project since the Civil War.” That cuts right to the heart of the matter. The president’s first major initiatives were deep wage cuts for the people who will do the reconstruction.