Pagong Chair

POÄNG Chair from Ikea Ariella and I assembled our Pagong chair from Ikea last night. It’s beautiful and bouncy.

We first visited Ikea in 2000 during the first season of Survivor and were tickled to see that Ikea had named a chair after one of the tribes. But we waited almost three years before making the purchase.

Sitting in the Pagong chair last night, I smiled as I thought about the first Surivor season and how we watched with Gil & Becky every week. Maybe I’ll get a Rudy action figure for my birthday.

(Yes, I know that the rest of the world mistakenly calls it the Poäng chair. They’re wrong. If everyone else decided to jump off a bridge, would you do it, too?)

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman’s Crusade for Free Software

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software I finished reading Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman’s Crusade for Free Software a couple of weeks ago (it’s on my reading list for 2003). Sam Williams spins a compelling story about a man who is so passionate about a single idea that he ends up alienating most people he meets.

On the whole, the book is well-written and insightful. I found chapters 10 and 11 (“GNU/Linux” and “Open Source”) the most interesting. These chapters are less autobiographical and more historical. They do a good job of explaining why the Open Source movement is important (the Free Software Foundation is a bunch of religious zealots that don’t care to understand or work with the business world).

When I heard RMS interrupt and insult a speaker at the 2002 O’Reilly Open Source Convention because the speaker used the term “Free Software” to refer to “Open Source” software, I didn’t really understand why he would be so rude. The other chapters in the book, as a whole, tell us why he’s such a jerk. They don’t condone his behavior, but they do offer an explanation of how he came to be the person he is today.

The whole St. Ignucius shtick makes me embarassed to be an Emacs user. I can’t code without it, but I hate the pseudo-religion that RMS attaches to its use.

Lastly, a comment about e-books: Although I could’ve read the book for free online, I ended up getting a print edition. It’s so much easier to read in print that I think it’s worth spending the money on the actual book.

(I downloaded Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom to my Palm Zire last week because I’m tickled by the Creative Commons licenses, but I’m having a hard time with the poor contast delivered by an LCD. There ain’t nothing as easy to read as black ink on white paper.)

Shabbos Dinner at Flexie’s

It was over 24 hours ago, and I’m still kvelling about the meal.

Ariella and I were blessed with an invitation to Friday night dinner at Flexie’s, and as expected, it was a feast worth writing home about. I guess the Big Guy Upstairs wants me to be happy after all.

After kiddush and motzi, we began with the appetizer course. First came around the challah and some eggplant-red pepper tapenade, and some chumus. Next followed three kinds of sushi (salmon and avocado, cucumber, and plain avocado) with wasabe and pickled ginger. We had not one, but two green salads. The first had slices of strawberries and mangoes; I didn’t even have a chance to try the second. Next came fried tofu, bean sprouts, and cucumbers with peanut sauce. Delicious. And just writing about the warm curried salmon with garbanzo beans is making my mouth water again.

The next course was a spicy tofu-noodle soup. Flexie said she thought it was too spicy, but it was just right for me.

Then came the meat course. I’m trying to recall just how many different kinds there were:

  • roast chicken
  • spiced Singapore brisket
  • potato puffs with something non-vegetarian inside
  • curried chicken and potatoes
  • beef ribs (my favorite)
  • chicken egg rolls

When you eat a meal at Flexie’s, you think you’ve died and gone to heaven. No, Toto, this isn’t Kansas. It’s Los Angeles!

All throughout dinner we spoke about Israel, Los Angeles, and Singapore. Who’s the guy that’s running against Sharon that’s going to lose the election? Have you seen the ugly houses they’ve been building in Beverly Hills? Will Ari and Akiva get a great job working security for some Hollywod celebrity or executive?

durian, the king of fruits Eliass and Stuart had us clutching our sides with laughter as they spoke about the durian fruit, a delicacy in Asia. The fruit itself is creamy and delicious, but it’s got some nasty attributes. First of all, the fruit is apparently the size of a soccer ball with spikes all over it, so it’s extremely difficult to open. In addition, although it tastes out of this world, it’s got a rather unplesant odor. Stuart was telling us how they’ve got signs on the subway in Singapore that say “No durian allowed” because it’s so fetid. We wondered if there were durian and non-durian hotel rooms or rental cars.

We didn’t actually get a chance to try any durian at the meal, but Eliass said he’d try to get some in Chinatown and invite us back. I can hardly wait!

With our bellies full, Dr. Herzberg passed out some text for us to study and led us in a shiur about Miriyam the Prophetess. The week’s Torah portion was Beshalach, when the Israelites are leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea. The discussion focused on the phrase “Miriyam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the drum in her hand, and all the women followed her with drums and dancing.” (Exodus 15:20) As usual, the shiur was superb. Dr. Herzberg has a way of making the text come alive.

He was about to lead us in a zemer or two and bentching when Flexie reminded him that he had forgotten something important: dessert. New plates were passed around, and we were treated to fruit salad, a large selection of fresh fruit (yes, there were two kinds of fruit), cake and cookies.

Finally, we finished up with some bentching and some zemirot. Everything was right in the universe. These are the things that make Shabbos so much more special than just Friday night and Saturday. It’s a time for sharing wonderful meals, participating in great conversation, and some learning with your family and friends. Nourishment for the body and soul.

Exactly what I needed.

Psychoanalysis and the Palm Zire

palm-zire.jpg I have some new insight on the Palm Zire I bought last week.

As I was talking to my shrink today, I mentioned buying the Palm and not the PocketPC as an example of the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mantra. Au contraire, he countered, it’s actually the perfect example of not wanting to move out of my comfort zone. I’m too afraid to try something new.

“Michael,” you say, “Surely your choice of what PDA to buy isn’t nearly that profound. You picked a the best product for the amount of money you wanted to spend, so don’t try to read more into it.”

Maybe not. My therapist might have stumbled onto something important here. So much of what goes on in life is completely beyond our control. Sure, I’d like to delude myself into thinking that I can control my own destiny. So I gravitate towards the familiar. It gives me comfort. It doesn’t challenge me. The status quo is just dandy. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

When I got my annual performance review last month, I was really surprised. Exceeds Expectations. What’s shocking about that was I wasn’t giving it my best. Not even close. So what the hell? How was it possible that I was exceeding expectations?

Perhaps I’m so talented that a mere 50% of my effort still knocks their socks off? Fat chance. More likely everyone else is doing a lousy job because the company got so huge and nobody knows what they’re supposed to do. The fact that I average about 20 lines of code a week and can reply to emails within one hour looks good in comparison. Corporate America is all about predictability and mediocrity. Anyone who does too much or tries something too new threatens everyone around them. So I’m doing my part; I’ve got the mediocrity thing down cold.

But I’m afraid to do more. I don’t want to take it to the next level. And I’m not just talking about my job here. I’m talking about the emotional and spiritual stuff, too. What would happen if I really was committed? What would that look like? I’m freaked out about what’s behind door number three.

So I resolve to fix myself by embracing my anxiety head-on. (How’s that for a 2-weeks late for New Year’s resolution?)

Even though it’s going to bring up a bunch of shit that I’d rather push deep down inside of me and forget ever happened, it’s far better than the alternative. The way I see it, if I don’t confront my fears, I’m either going to end up depressed (ha, as if I weren’t depressed already) or the anxiety will fester, magnifying itself to a point where things really start to fall apart.

Compaq Evo Notebook N610c

Compaq Evo N610c The Yahoo! IS department delivered a Compaq Evo N610c laptop to my desk today. My almost-3-year-old IBM Thinkpad 390X has been sent off to the place where All Good Laptops Go To Die.

I had been schlepping the IBM 390X from LAX to SJC pretty much every week since fall of 2002. About 6 months after I got it, the internal 56K modem stopped working. Being modem-less was not such a big deal at home (I’ve got broadband), but turned out to be a pain in the neck when I really needed to check email while travelling. Then about a year later, the CD-ROM drive stopped working. Pretty crappy, but I resorted to sticking CDs in Ariella’s computer and mounting them over the network.

Recently, the battery stopped charging. I could get about 7 or 8 minutes out of it before I needed to plug it in again. At that point, it essentially stopped being a laptop (I couldn’t use it on the plane anymore) and started just being a portable computer. So I finally put in a request for repair or replacement, and the IS department opted for replacement.

I’ve had this shiny new replacement for all of 3 hours, and I’m already set up with Cygwin and GNU Emacs. But there’s still one burning issue I need to resolve: how do I disable the Touchpad? It’s got both the eraser-nub pointer (which I absolutely love) between the G, H, and B keys, but it’s also got a trackpad/touchpad that I’ll never use.

I went to the Control Panel (Windows 2000, by the way, even though there’s a sticker on it that says “Designed for Microsoft Windows XP”) and chose Mouse but there are no Touchpad options. There are 4 tabs that say Buttons, Pointers, Motion, and Hardware. But nothing that lets me disable the Touchpad (or turn off the tap-to-click feature). Any ideas? Maybe I’ll call the IS help-line.

[Update: JR had the right solution. It’s a CMOS setting, so you’ve gotta reboot the box and hit F10 to turn off the Touchpad. Hurrah!] virus

I just got another email from which looks to me like a virus. This is the 3rd or 4th in a couple of days. So I went to both Symantec‘s and McAfee‘s anti-virus pages, and didn’t turn up anything.

Then I tried a Yahoo! search for “ virus”. Nothing. For kicks, I tried a Google search for “ virus” but that turned up no search results, either.

Google AdWords to the rescue

But wait a minute: on the right-hand side of the Google search results, I saw an advertisement that looked like this:

SoBig Virus Information emails may contain a
virus attachment. News and Links.

Someone bought an ad on Google to help spread the word faster than the Google search engine can index pages about the virus! That’s really generous of them! They should add a PayPal donations button to their page. (No such helpful advertisements were found on the Yahoo! search results.)

Hunting around a little further, it appears that this is the W32.Sobig.A@mm virus (the subject line of Re: Movies and attachment of Document003.pif matches what I’ve been getting). But no mention of on the Symantec page. Bizarre.

Recapping the scores: Symantec 0, McAffee 0, Yahoo! 0, Overture 0. Google AdWords: 1.