Professional Billiards Officially in Shambles

I’m just barely old enough to just barely remember when Minnesota Fats, Steve Mizerak, and Mike Massey did something on TV other than trick shots. They played real pool. They played whatever anyone wanted to play, but mainly, on TV, they played straight pool. They wore tuxedos. They playesd in rather large rooms. They had very polished announcers, and polite audiences. It was a respected sport. The times, they are a changin’, and it’s painful to see.


I love billiards. I hate what I’m watching on TV right now. Two punk kids in street clothes, playing in a gaudy, third-rate casino, to the whooping and hollering of people who look like they just came in from the bar. The announcers are poor and out of sync. The production work is shoddy at best. And to top it all off — in case you thought there might be a shred of class left in the sport, the players appear to be wearing, not sponsors’ patches (that would be a sign of class), but stickers. Stickers! Stickers that fall off during matches. Poor. Poor. Poor.

The announcers are Mitch Laurance and Jim Wych. Jim Wych can’t pronounce Efren Reyes for some reason, but seems otherwise knowledgeable about pool. Mitch Laurance doesn’t seem very knowledgeable about pool (in spite of being married to Ewa Mataya), but at least speaks fairly well. Both of them talk far too much about far too little in an attempt to sensationalize what should not be sensationalized.

Pool used to be announced in a similar fashion to that of golf. In my opinion, it deserves that respect, and to announce it in the way it is currently done is to demean the sport to the level of your average wrestling match.

Just stop.

Think about what the sport used to be. Think about why it was successful and popular. Think about who the sport appealed to and why. Yes — things have absolutely changed. I agree that there’s a demand for a more fast-paced game than straight pool, but I still think it’s the preeminent cue sport. However, the fast-paced game of nine-ball is still a chess game at the end of the day, and should be announced respectfully. I also agree that the days of wearing a tuxedo are probably done, though I also agree that there could be a more consistent look amongst the players.

Above all, I’m appalled by the use of stickers to advertise on street clothes. This is truly deplorable. I felt horrible for Danny Basavich when his fell off, which was followed immediately by a miss in one of tonight’s matches. These guys are playing for real money, and it’s an extraordinarily psychological game. A sticker falls, “did the camera see that?”, and then you’re conscious of the cameras, the audience, the world, and your head isn’t in the game. Get rid of those.

I’m disgusted. Later.

Skype Pretty Much Rocks

So I heard about this thing called Skype. It’s a program that you download, for free, and run on Windows, Linux, or Mac, and it lets you make phone calls over the internet, or talk to any other Skype user for free. My brother-in-law and I tested it out. He downloaded it to a windows box, and I put it on my Linux machine. We both got headsets, registered for accounts, and called eachother. The sound is better than a phone, and it’s free. Just a couple of really minor caveats….


For one thing, you really, really should have a headset if you’re gonna use Skype (or any similar app, I guess). The reason is this: if you don’t, it means you’re using your speakers and a microphone. That means that whoever is talking to you will likely hear their voice echoing back over the line, as the sound from your speakers gets picked up by your microphone and sent back over to the person speaking. This can be maddening.

The thing that’s not so wonderful about using a headset is that it’s not as mobile as a phone’s handset. You’re sorta stuck there by the computer while you talk. For me, this is bad, because I’m easily distracted, but I seemed to deal with it ok. A wireless headset would be a step up if it had the range to at least let you walk around the room.

The only other caveat is that, unless you’re talking to another Skype user, it’s not free. In other words, you can’t call your Aunt Sally 500 miles away who doesn’t have a computer and wouldn’t know where to plug in a headset if she did. You *can* use Skype to dial a normal phone number — but then it’s not free. The good news is that it’s still insanely cheap, though.

It should be noted that I’ve only done some basic testing, and I have *not* done anything with regards to security. The security aspect scares me right now, because given that there’s little or no perceptible delay in the signal, it would imply that there’s no overhead being expended for, say, encryption….? I’ll be looking into this this week if I have time.

"Which distro do you recommend?"

I get asked, by more junior Linux users, and people just looking to try it out, which distribution of Linux I use or recommend. It occurred to me that I never actually published an answer to this question, even though it is, by far, the question I am asked most often. I think my stock answer is maybe slightly unusual only because, unlike most of the rest of the Linux-using world, I hate every distro I’ve ever tried.

That’s right: every distribution of Linux sucks in its own special way. Some just suck less. However, eventually, no matter what distribution you use, something about it will drive you insane, and you’ll try another distro to see if it’s any better. What you’ll then realize is that, while it may handle what drove you crazy before much better, it handles something else in a way that drives you even more crazy.

Package management is really the best example I can think of. I’m not even going to talk about the package format, because any self-respecting distro will make it so that the end user doesn’t really have to care about that. What I’m talking about are the frontends. The interfaces that enable users to install software. All of these pretty much Suck (note capital “S”). YaST, URPMI, apt-get, apt4rpm, Synaptic, up2date, yum, autorpm, portage (yes, even portage), pkgtool — they all have features that’ll drive you up a wall sooner or later (some sooner than others I guess).

My favorite? Not that it’ll be relevant in about a year, but today, for a desktop system, I think YaST is pretty good as of about SuSE 9.1. However, it can be quite slow, it can be a little weird to navigate at first (because YaST doesn’t just do package installs), and some of the default configurations are quirky. I still think SuSE is a very slick desktop, and yet I don’t really recommend it much because if a user needs help, and lives in the states, my experience has been that the best help threads are on German mailing lists, and Babelfish does a terrible job with German. You can’t get help from SuSE unless you’ve paid, and even then the help you get is extremely limited, and until recently you couldn’t even get a free downloadable ISO for installation (they’ve recently allowed downloads of the DVD ISO).

But it’s not just package management: what about window environments? If you’ve used a couple of distributions and have come to like KDE, I’d recommend you steer clear of Redhat/Fedora. KDE has always been broken in Redhat, and Fedora appears to be carrying that torch into the community-based distro on Redhat’s behalf. Weird things abound in KDE on Fedora. The most recent one I’ve found is that if you’ve configured a default browser in KDE control center, and then decide you want to try Konqueror, and you open it up and type in a URL and hit “enter”, your default browser will open! Konq won’t load the page! These things become funny after 5 or 6 years.

Maybe you like GNOME? Well, then you have to stay away from Slackware, because Patrick (the maintainer of Slackware) doesn’t seem to have a clear take on GNOME. From what I can tell now, GNOME, going forward, will not be a part of the core slackware distribution, but rather will be handled by an outside third party. I’m not sure how this will pan out, but it doesn’t give me a case of the warm-fuzzies. If someone can shed more light on this, leave a comment (yeah, like anyone is reading this) ;-)

Maybe you don’t like KDE *or* GNOME! Maybe you like Waiamea(sp?) or blackbox or fluxbox or windowmaker or enlightenment or twm or fvwm. For older, more stable desktops like Windowmaker and twm, you can find these as installable options in many major distros. For things like blackbox and fluxbox, you don’t want the distro-supplied version even if they offer it half of the time, because by the time they release the distro, there are already updates that add major feature enhancements. These younger desktops, while cool, are often moving targets. One I forgot and is very nice for sysadmins is xfce. Give it a shot if you haven’t. You can get it in most distros these days.

What about X and the kernel? These two items are in a state of flux in most distros right now. If you’re on the bleeding edge, hardware-wise, you’ll likely want the Xorg version of X and the 2.6 kernel. If you’re on a laptop, you almost definitely want the 2.6 kernel. However, if you build your own machines, you have to be extremely careful — I upgraded a mobo to one that supports SATA drives. I’m not using them. My mobo doesn’t seem to understand that and reports the drives in the wrong order to the OS, and the newest linux distros choke on it and fail to boot. 2.4-based distros work fine. Earlier, NVidia wasn’t so quick in distributing drivers for the 2.6 kernel. All seems ok there now, but fact remains that, while I think these are things users should never have to think about, you do.

What a choice of distro comes down to, in the long run, is answering the question “which distribution best fits my brain”. Asking someone else which distro is best for you is like asking them how you should write a Perl script: there’s infinitely more ways than one to do it, and the solution you come up with will undoubtedly look unlike anyone else’s.

In the shorter term, rather than tell newbies to use distro x or y, I tell them what I think was my most important lesson starting out: pick a distro, and stick with it come hell or high water. When you start learning to fix problems instead of reinstalling, only then should you consider trying something else. Different distros treat things differently enough that jumping from distro to distro until you find one that “just works” will only cause you to pull your hair out. Pick *one*, and stick with it. Find the support forums for it, or find a guru who doesn’t care what distro you’re using. Get it to do what you want, and see if you can get it to do what you want the way you want it done. If nothing else, you’ll learn about yourself. You’ll learn how you like things to be. Then you can ask in the forums “hey, is there a tool that does what x does, but instead of doing it like y, does it like z?”.

Know thy self, for it is all there is of you.

Happy level toward redhat on the rise with RHEL4

Redhat released Redhat Enterprise Linux 4 last week. It was only two weeks ago that I completely slammed Redhat, and for that point in time, I think that was perfectly valid. Now with the release of RHEL4, there are very extremely large changes, and Redhat’s intent going forward is solidified and made much more clear. Overall, things with RHEL4, to the extent I’ve tested in the past week, look pretty damn OK.


I guess there was some miscommunication, or lack of communication from the redhat camp with regard to their roadmap, because I certainly wasn’t expecting what I’m seeing in RHEL4. Redhat EL 4 looks quite a lot like Fedora, whereas RHEL 3 looks a lot like Redhat 9. That’s an enormous change. It also sends a strong message about Redhat’s expectations of the users of their commercial product. The expectation is that larger, slower shops will stay on RHEL 3.x until either RHEL4 is to their liking (and not painful to migrate their applications to), or for five years, at which time RHEL 3 will be end-of-lifed.

RHEL4 changes many things drastically, as opposed to the RHEL3 update releases, which changed fewer things incrimentally. The version of the base default kernel moves to 2.6, SELinux is now included as a default, and versions of most server daemons I’ve checked out are much newer. My pet project, OpenLDAP deployment, is actually doable without compiling all of the components from source. The base version of OpenLDAP moves from 2.0 to 2.2, which in OpenLDAP time represents a sea change.

So far, so good. I’ve played around with some things, and I haven’t found anything that appears disgustingly out of place or very badly broken yet, but I’m sure they’ll pop up, so I’ll follow up when I find them.

Insanely good day

Today I conquered a major source of anxiety, fulfilled a wish of mine and Natasha’s since we purchased the house, and followed up on a dream I’ve had for many years now. It was quite productive.

First, the major source of anxiety: I’m back in college now, and one of the classes I’m taking is a math class. I’ve had a terrible anxiety toward math since my freshman year of high school. It was the first thing I ever failed, and it was at the hands of one of those old, bitter teachers you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy’s kids. Anyway, since that time I’ve had some very limited, small successes with math, but haven’t ever felt confident about it. I think I’ll be coming out of that soon. I took my first major math exam today, and I went in determined not only to do well on the test, but to squash any fears toward the test itself. I knew that to do well in this course, I was going to have to do well on the first test. I aced it — 100%, and I’m hitting the books just as hard for the next one. The fear has been replaced with a knowledge that I have to study hard to do well in math.

When I came home after my exam, Natasha and I decided that we’d take advantage of this extra day off (President’s Day) to try and square away the plans for the flooring on the first floor. We want tile in the fuoyer, and new carpet to replaced some badly (and permanently, irreparably) damaged carpet in the family room. We looked at the tile, and decided to punt on that for now until we feel like we’re closer to being in agreement I guess, and we ordered carpet. The same carpet we could’ve just as easily ordered months ago. Not sure why we didn’t, but anyway the ball is rolling now!

Lastly, a dream of mine has come true: this evening, after looking at flooring, we went to look at pool tables, and we finally ordered one. A 9′ Olhausen table. For those who know something about pool and pool tables, know that I looked at Brunswick, Connelly, some off brands, some used tables, and all that jazz. I’ve worked in pool halls in my youth, and I’ve played pool for money in most states east of the Mississippi, and a couple to the west as well. I’m not going to tell you that the Olhausen is God’s gift to billiards. However, I’m quite sure that I can make a good argument that I got the most bang for my buck, and got the features a good pool player must have, while not spending exorbitant amounts of money on “hype”.

At the end of the day, the Olhausen is a respected brand name, used on the tour, built of all solid wood, with a 1″ slate, a K66 profile, 100% bonded cushion, and the entire table meets or exceeds BCA standards. The playability of the table is as good as any of the old Gandy’s and Brunswicks I’ve played, and is far, far superior to any AMF-class table I’ve ever seen. It is *not* a Connelly. Nothing is a Connelly. However, to my mind and my hands, I couldn’t justify an extra $4000 just for an extra inch of slate (though I tried to convince myself). If you have the money and don’t mind spending it, get the Connelly. I think any reasonable player would be as happy with an Olhausen as any other quality table.

Technicalities aside, I’ve wanted a pool table for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I had friends who had them, and in one or two of them, the table seemed to hold the family together. At the very least, it gave us kids a reason to be indoors somewhere instead of hanging out in front of a quick-check or something, which I’m sure made their parents feel better. In addition, with a pool table in the house, I’ll be able to stay on top of my game without going out until all hours of the night, and I can maybe play some tournaments on the weekends instead of playing for money “as it comes” in the halls. I never liked playing pool for money, but I do like to be competitive, so the small local tournaments will be a blast!

Paying for the privilege of lost productivity

I think the time has finally come. In the past, we’ve seen quite possibly hundreds of studies from think-tanks and research firms trying to quantify the cost of viruses, trojans, spam, etc to corporations in terms of lost productivity, downtime, extra FTEs, etc. The costs are astronomical. In the US, these pesky pestilences cost corporations billions per year.

However, I have never seen a study that attempts to figure out how much time/productivity is lost as a result of end users installing new service packs, firewalls, antivirus software, antispam software, “window cleaners”, and the like, and having their productivity applications fail to work as a result.



Just today, we had someone stop by the office because they were unable to send email through our mail server using Outlook. Our SMTP server requires authentication, which also means it requires an encrypted connection (after all, what good is enforcing security by requiring you to provide credentials over a connection that is a gaping security hole?). After testing, reconfiguring, troubleshooting, rebooting, restarting the application, testing, reconfiguring, and rebooting again, the realization was made that something other than the mail client itself was the problem. Was it the firewall? Was it XP Service Pack 2? Was it the antivirus software? Turns out, after much searching and troubleshooting, that the antivirus software was acting as a mail proxy and interfering with the conversation between Outlook and the SMTP server. It took about 30 minutes to find this problem and fix it, and test it.

This is kind of a scary problem to me. The scary part is that everyone I’ve ever met who runs windows runs (at the very least) one or more of these software products which are meant to improve their “computing experience”. This means that the millions of Windows users out there, instead of demanding that Microsoft fix the problems with their OS, have happily run out and spent more money on more software that wastes more disk space to fix problems that they did not create and should not bear the responsibility for. How is it that Microsoft still finds the nerve to call this a “user friendly” environment?

Inevitably, nobody who runs windows will read this. They won’t read any other technical op/ed or instructional article either. They’ll barely make an effort to click a “help” button. Why? Because Uncle Bill has created just for them an environment that encourages them to be the drooling, brainless, thumbsucking ignoramuses they’ve become. Slowly, over the course of decades, they went from understanding what the words “RAM” and “CPU” actually meant, to referring to these terms as “geek jargon”.

I wish them luck.