Friday, January 30, 2009

Everybody is Somebody

Tonight on the way home from work, I heard an interview on the radio. The lead-in was talking about a reporter investigating some strange circumstances surrounding a death.

Apparently, someone had called and told him that while in an abandoned building, they had discovered a body encased in a block of ice at the bottom of an elevator shaft. As the interview went on and the reporter described the case, he expressed how he wanted to bring some dignity to the deceased by burying the body properly.

His quote has been replaying in my head for the past couple of hours. "This was somebody's boy. Everybody is somebody's baby."

The interviewer repeated those words, faltering herself.

A small wave of emotion swept over me. If you're a parent, repeat those words out loud for yourself and you'll understand instantly.

Sit back and think for a minute.

There are wars raging on several continents this very minute. Genocides. Ethnic cleansings. Wholesale exterminations of millions of people because of their skin color, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. We're sending all our nation's kids to fight in places where we're not wanted for reasons that are unclear at best, and all we've got to show for it is a spiraling deficit and a wake of thousands of bodies--somebody's babies.

Hundreds of people in the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Political prisoners in China. Militia kidnapping victims in Columbia.

AIDS babies in Ethiopia. A cholera epidemic whipping through Zimbabwe. Children and farmers crippled by undiscovered mines in Cambodia and Vietnam, leftover from another generation's unrest.

So many Christians are passionate about the pro-life arguments. "50 million abortions since Roe V. Wade." "Life begins at conception."

I'm all for protecting the unborn innocents. But what about the ones that make it out of the womb? Why do we care so disproportionately for those in utero? If we are so damned concerned about life and how it begins at conception, why don't we care about when and where it ends?

We'll rally against the rescinding of the Mexico City policy, but we won't lift a finger for the kids in the Gaza strip being killed by Israeli tanks. We'll hold marches on the Hill on the anniversary of Roe V. Wade, but won't organize a canned food drive for crack babies in Baltimore. We'll chant witty slogans like "be a hero--save a whale; save a baby, go to jail," but won't serve chili at a homeless shelter or make goodie baskets for our troops in Afghanistan.

We'll pray that God will send help for hurricane or tsunami victims. Where's that help going to come from? Someone has to go. Praying that God will comfort those who've lost loved ones is great, but as a pastor friend of mine once said, sometimes the world needs God with some skin on 'em.

When's the last time you volunteered at an orphanage or senior center? Taken in a family who lost their home to foreclosure? Those lives are valuable, too. All those forgotten kids, all those abandoned elderly, all those dirty, smelly, homeless people.

Everybody is somebody's baby.

Filed from my Windows Mobile® phone.

Monday, January 26, 2009

How do you spell Evil? C-H-A-S-E

Like most households, we have a couple of credit cards. We don't really use them, though, being believers in the Dave Ramsey way of life. To a point--I use a credit card when I travel and submit expense reports for reimbursement.

Our expense reporting cycle is typically 3-4 weeks, which is a long time to be out of pocket. On some business trips, I might spend $500-$1,000 or more (on my last trip to the UK, I spent well over $5,000). Our budget is pretty close as it is, so loaning my company an extra couple thousand dollars directly out of my checking account is out of the question.

Around the Thanksgiving holiday, we missed our credit card bil due date by a few days. Not that we didn't have the money--we were celebrating with family and friends from out of town, and the last thing on our mind was feeding the Chase beast.

Until the bill showed up. Finance charges of several hundred dollars in addition to a late fee. I promptly called and complained. They waived the fees, and I thought all was good, right?

Well, December's bill came, which is due on January 31. Much to our surprise, there was a finance charge of nearly $82. There was no previous balance; only about $1,800 worth of charges. Upon calling Chase, they informed us that because we were late, they are going to be charging us a finance charge on each bill's current balance for the next two months (December and January's billing periods). When did that become fair play?

What an asinine penalty. Credit card companies are evil; the more of us that can stop using them, the better off our economy will be.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cognac Mint Frappe

Cognac is distilled from grapes from the Cognac region of France. It bears properties of both wine and liquor. Chances are, if you have a taste for wine, you'll appreciate cognac.

The idea for this drink came from the pages of Esquire; I Googled and found a similar recipe from which I drew the name. It's disarming and delicious; it's a good dessert drink.

Cognac Mint Frappe
2 1/2 oz cognac
1/4 oz white creme de menthe

Shake with ice and strain into a double old-fashioned with ice. Add a splash of water, and serve with a mint sprig if desired.

Why Do We Hate?

Seriously, why do we? What is the anatomy of hate?

We hate what we fear, and we fear what we don't know or understand.

The collective Right has been flooding the media with President Obama's "homosexual" agenda. As a Christian, I have a strong distate for some of Obama's policy stances, but affording equal rights to all Americans is not one of them.

Filed under "Civil Rights" on the White House web site is a section entitled Support for the LGBT Community. A quote from then-Senator Obama introduces the section:

"While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."
-- Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

There are a couple of items on the list that I think are striking fear in the hearts of conservative folks, namely the areas of civil unions/same-sex marriage and adoption rights for the LGBT community.

Civil Unions are "non-marriage" agreements (recognized by most municipalities) between couples. For some reason, heterosexual couples get the same equal protection rights (employer health care and other employer benefits, property rights, emergency medical caretaker rights, etc.) as married couples, but this is denied to same-sex couples. Christians seem fine with this one-sided agreement because it doesn't appear to throw off their moral compass too much.

However, if one really wants to get nit-picky, how is supporting rights for a non-married same-sex couple living together any less "sinful" than supporting rights for non-married opposite-sex couples? According to Biblical standards, they're both wrong, since neither is "married." As Christians, we're taught "don't live together unless you're married," so Christians should be anti-civil unions across the board, regardless of the gender make-up of the couples, right? That makes us seem like religious radicals, so we cop out and say, "well, I guess it's tolerable as long as it's a man and a woman."

The next one on the list is the Constitutional Amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The Constitution has a long history of being used to grant rights, not take them away. The only time in our history that a Constitutional Amendment has been implemented to remove rights was in 1919, when the 18th Amendment was ratified to prohibit the manufacture, sale, or transportation of liquor in the United States. 14 years later, it was abolished with the 21st Amendment.

Then-Senator Obama had an interesting perspectve on this in the Saddleback Presidential Forum, held by Pastor Rick Warren at his church:

I am not somebody who promotes same-sex marriage, but I do believe in civil unions...I think my faith is strong enough and my marriage is strong enough that I can afford those civil rights to others, even if I have a different perspective or different view.

The final one is around expanded adoption rights. Personally, I've gone back and forth on this one. I don't really know what the Bible would say on it, so if anyone has any insight, please feel free to share. Basically, the premise is that President Obama wants to ensure that same-sex couples are able to adopt children.

As a Christian who doesn't approve of that lifestyle, I would be tempted to say that same-sex adoption may place the child in a confusing and complicated situation where they would see things that I find morally wrong.

However, as a pragmatist, I think it's important to look at the other side of foster care and adoption and really look at what's best for the children. About 35% of children are removed from foster care scenarios because of physical or sexual abuse or denial of health services. In adoption cases, statistics for abuse and mistreatment are frighteningly high. What's the benefit of placing a child in an adoptive situation with abusive opposite-sex persons versus loving same-sex persons? I don't really know any statistics either way, but I would tend to think that a loving environment wins every time.

If a child is in an adoption scenario, chances are they've already undergone circumstances beyond the comprehension of most people reading this--death of caretakers, abusive parents or foster parents, or some form of neglect or child endangerment.

Most foster kids never get adopted; they grow up in orphanages without ever experiencing the love of a family. Children that aren't adopted have higher rates of suicide and violence. Why wouldn't we do anything possible to avoid those negative outcomes?

There aren't easy answers to any of these questions, but I think we should all ask, what would Jesus do, and what would He want us to do?

With the woman who was accused of adultery, Jesus didn't say, "Let her have it!" He said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Jesus hung around the tax collectors and sinners of the day. He didn't approve of their lifestyles, but didn't fear and hate them, either. He hung around the holier-than-thous and chastised them for being so legalistic and missing the big picture. He didn't discriminate against theives or adulterous women; he treated them all with a level of respect due any human.

I'm not necessarily pro-gay rights or pro-LGBT community rights. But I am pro-equal human rights, because I think Jesus is, too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dear Mr. President - A Letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

First and foremost, I want to offer my congratulations on your new job.

Gathered among such a great crowd of witnesses, you have committed yourself to your country--to our country--in a remarkable capacity. Only 43 other men have served in this highest civilian calling; some of them are remembered with great admiration, some with disdain, and others forgotten, save for a few pages in the history books.

Like you, they had repeated the oath and accepted the honor and responsibility of ensuring our freedom, promoting our prosperity, and protecting our shores. Some have transitioned in peaceful and prosperous times, some during great turmoil.

This is a time that tries all of our souls.

Every man and woman who voted, whether for you or your opponent, was speaking out to preserve a way of life. We spoke to ensure not just any future for our children, but a better one. Millions have come to our great nation to start over, and at this time of economic crisis, millions are starting again.

You have promised to unite us, to bridge partisan and racial divides and to bring out the best in us. We are not a collection of casual lines on a map. We may look different, we may speak different languages, but we are these united states, a quilt whose material is dreams and whose stitching is hard work.

We want fiscal responsibility at all levels of government. You take your cut of our paycheck off the top. We expect that you handle our money with respect.

We voted for change in our energy policies. Green energy isn't a Democratic talking point, nor is it a Republican curse word. It's the air our children breathe and the water they drink.

We voted for better security and more equality in our health care.

We all either have aging parents or are aging parents. The shattered economy is driving their hopes of secure retirement away. We want to go back to the financial principles that made our nation prosperous before.

We want you to listen to us. We don't want you to govern solely by consensus or poll data, but we do want you to listen to the will of the people.

You will make mistakes. We don't want excuses or finger-pointing. We want you to acknowledge them and take corrective action. We're a very forgiving nation if you tell us the truth.

We voted to bring in a new era of responsibility. You have told us to hold you accountable.

We will.

We will commit to supporting you so long as you commit to supporting the American dreams for freedom, prosperity, opportunity, and equality.

It's a tall order, but you have told us to believe that you can do it. We understand that it may take time, but we're willing to wait so long as you lead us down the right path.

Leaders give us a vision. Good leaders instill the vision in us. Great leaders inspire us to accomplish the vision.

We want you to be a great leader.

If there's anything I can do to help, just let me know.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Toughest Job

So, I'm sick of seeing a lot of chatter from my uber-conservative friends about being Obamanized and needing to wash their hands after talking about him. Seriously? Aren't we past the high school comments?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a good chunk of my uber-conservative friends are single-issue voters (read: abortion). In descending order of importance: abortion, taxes, guns. That prettymuch defines conservatism as far as a lot of people I know are concerned. Not that there's anything wrong with having strong views on those topics--I certainly do--but like to think I have a much more nuanced approach to expressing them and determining whose policies and agenda will be most congruent with my own.

As I expressed in my voting post, I went through a lot to really try to figure out which candidate best aligned to my views. It's not all about guns and gays.

So why are Christians so reluctant to look around? While I understand that most non-Republican candidates and officials fail the abortion litmus test, are there so many other things that make them any more despicable human beings? I don't think liberals have a monopoly on deplorable behavior--lest we forget, in the last couple of years, we've had to endure a number of scandals coming from the Right. So, before we get on our conservative high horse, I think it's important to note that we all have problems and shortcomings, regardless of our race, religion, gender, or political party:

- Republican Senator Larry Craig propositioned an undercover cop in airport bathroom
- Republic Representative Mark Foley (Chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children) sent underage Congressional staff pages sexually explicit messages for past 10 years
- Ted Haggard, Leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and Adviser to George Bush publicly admitted to crystal meth use and paying for male prostitutes (which got turned into a Law and Order episode)
- Bob Allen, Florida state representative and Chairman for John McCain's presidential campaign, paid an undercover cop $20 to allow him to perform oral sex on the officer
- Glenn Murphy, Jr., National Chairman of the Young Republicans who advised Republican candidates to use homosexuality as a wedge issue, spent the night at a young man's house; the host woke up to find Murphy giving him oral sex
- Republican Senator David Vitter linked to prostitution ring
- 10 years of Catholic priest molestation trials and tribulations

Bush has had an extraordinarily hard time as President. He inherited a bubble economy propped up by unrealistic housing growth and within 9 months of assuming office, had to deal with a terrorist attack on our soil.

However, reluctance to make decisions himself and instead leaning on his war-hawking, super-secretive Vice President led us to unpopular, unending wars in two countries, a boatload of legislation that strips away American freedoms (Patriot Act), executive orders for secret CIA prisons and interrogations, and a detainment facility where people are held indefinitely without trials. Not exactly the hallmarks of good Christian leadership. What an odd double-standard we Christians have--as long as he's not aborting babies or accepting oral gratuities in the White House, he's a good President?

Not that I want to use this as an anti-Bush soapbox. On the positive side, Bush been a leader in humanitarian aid to other countries and has protected more natural resources than any other President in history (despite his very pro-energy politics). He's lowered taxes for a lot of folks I know (myself included), too.

Christians seem eager to quote that "the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord" when they get a President that they didn't want, but collectively, we sure are a complaining bunch. When the Israelites grumbled in the wilderness, God sent snakes. It may seem like overkill to us, but it drives at the heart of the matter--trust in God's way. While we say "the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord," we complain that God's hand isn't holding the heart that we wanted.

Regardless of who was elected, it's our duty to pray for them. We're all on the same team here. I can't believe that Christians are so hung up on the litmus issues that they'd rather see the right person for the office fail and feel personally vindicated than see that person succeed and be shown incorrect. What good is vindication when you can't pay your bills or feed your family or your president is seen as incompetent by the rest of the world? It's a pretty hollow victory.

Food for thought.

You know what they say about High Fructose Corn Syrup...

Last night, while watching SNL, I saw back-to-back ads attempting to cast high fructose corn syrup in a better light. I can understand propaganda ads about milk, beef, pork, chicken, broccoli, green tea, or things that least in some way have a potential health benefit.

But corn syrup? In one ad, two women are talking at what appears to be a birthday party. One is pouring a juice drink from a gallon jug into cups, and the other tells her that the juice drink has high fructose corn syrup. The pourer offers a non-chalant "And?" The protagonist says, "You know what they say about high fructose corn syrup...," to which the pourer responds, "That it's made from corn, doesn't have artificial ingredients, and like sugar, is fine in moderation?"


At first, I thought it was just a spoof commercial, since I witnessed it during Saturday night live. But then right after that, I saw another. A couple is laying on a blanket in a park, presumably having a picnic. The woman offers the man a popsicle, to which the man turns up his nose, "You know what they say about high fructose corn syrup." Echoing the "pourer's" comments from the previous ad, she further defends high fructose corn syrup by letting the viewer know "it has the same calories as sugar." Like that's a good thing.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

How Window Autotuning breaks with Check Point SmartDefense

All that's unholy with Check Point SmartDefense

A few months ago, I ran into a problem when copying large files between two tiers of a network in one of our datacenters. I was doing a hardware upgrade on some Hyper-V hosts in a DMZ and was copying the images to a backup server while I swapped out hardware components in the Hyper-V hosts.

I was using robocopy to move the files between the servers, but ran into problems. The error manifested itself as "The specified network name is no longer available." Robocopy reports it as "ERROR 64 (0x00000040)."

So, basically, the copy gets aborted, and since I had the /R switch, it would attempt to retry. Eventually, I was able to make it through the copies, but not without many hours of trials and tribulations.

It's worth noting that none of the hosts on peer networks would experience this error--only hosts going between tiers, which meant they had to traverse a firewall. While the source of the problem (the firewall) may seem obvious, finding the exact problem proved to be more troublesome.

Windows 2008 has a number of new features, including the Next-generation IP stack with the much lauded (and probably equally cursed) RSS and window scaling, as well as SMBv2.

In a very controlled series of tests, we were able to narrow down the source of the problem. The steps we took were:

1. Disable RSS.
2. Enable RFC 1323 timestamps.
3. Set windowautotuninglevel=restricted.
4. Set windowautotuninglevel=highlyrestricted.
5. Set windowautotuninglevel=disabled.
6. Set congestionprovider=disabled.

During this whole time, I was capturing data with Wireshark on both the client and server machines. Something that I thought was interesting was that Wireshark was reporting the SMBv2 packets as "malformed." While Wireshark is definitely a great program for diagnosing network problems, it's not without fault. I thought that the malformed packets might be an indication that Wireshark didn't know enough about the SMBv2 protocol to interpret it correctly.

In the end, we determined that traffic was passing fine when we set the windowautotuninglevel to highly restricted. This setting sets the maximum TCP window size to 64k.

SYN showing window size of 8192 from source

Successful transfer, notice window sized only scaled to 64k

However, with window autotuning set to anything except highlyrestricted or disabled, problems occur randomly during large file transfers.

SYN showing window size of 8192 and scaling factor of 8

Scaled Window size up to 1889024.

Result--failed transfer

I decided to try protocols besides SMBv2. I disabled SMBv2 on both systems via the following commands (rebooting afterwards):

sc config lanmanworkstation depend= bowser/mrxsmb10/nsi
sc config mrxsmb20 start= disabled

reg add HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\LanmanServer\Parameters /v Smb2 /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f

Unfortunately, with the window autotuning level setting set to default, I still had problems transferring data between network tiers.

Armed with this information, the network guy and I started investigating all of the settings on the firewall. We already know that the port for SMB was open, since I could transfer data via 445. Upon investigating the "SmartDefense" console and drilling down into the CIFS configuration, I noticed that there was a checkbox indicating that "CIFS Strict Compliance" was checked. The network guy disabled it and re-pushed the policies. Our transfers went more smoothly, but still not 100% successful.

At that point, we started trying transfers via other protocols, such as FTP. I installed the Windows 2008 FTP server and, using the new Windows 2008 FTP client, was able to successfully send data with TCP windows scaled over 3MB. So, we determined that the firewall was capable of passing some scaled packets.

Like so many things, what makes this issue frustrating and difficult to troubleshoot is the inconsistency and intermittent behaviors. Some times, I could successfully transfer files via SMB that were over 100MB. Other times, I would experience failed transfers after 20 or 30MB. This may be related to the buffers on the either the firewall or server; we weren't able to reliably determine a set of conditions that would predictably produce failures with files under 50mb. But it would happen 100% of the time with our larger test files. Infuriating to troubleshoot.

We disabled SmartDefense altogether, reset all network settings on the servers back to default, and all of the problems vanished.

Check Point is at R62 in this particular datacenter. I don't know if it's a problem with any other versions, but disabling SmartDefense was the only way to get reliable transfers via SMB to happen between hosts separated by the firewall.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rusty Nail

This is one of my new favorites. The Rusty Nail is the quintessential two-ingredient drink of the American recreation room.

Not much to say here, except drink it responsibly. It's a kicker of a drink and goes down smooth, so it's easy to over-consume.

Rusty Nail
3 oz quality Scotch (I currently have Glenlivet 15 Year French Oak Reserve in my cabinet, so that's what I'm using)
1 oz Drambuie

Shake together with ice, and pour into a double old-fashioned glass with ice. If it's too strong, you may want to either add a splash of water or wait for some of the ice to melt.

Some folks make it 2:1, some folks swear by 1:1. You could start out 1:1 and keep adding Scotch until it's just right for you. I'm partial to the 3:1 mix, since it Drambuie has a good bit of sweetness to it. Whatever you do, enjoy.