Archive for April, 2007

Richter Scales LIVE at CELLspace May 3

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

I recently joined the Richter Scales, a great local a cappella group. Would love to meet any blog readers who are interested in funny, original music as well as some a cappella standards. Hope to see you there!

LIVE at CELLspace

You’ve seen us on YouTube. You’ve read our riveting blog. You’ve heard recordings from our debut album, We Hate A Cappella, on MySpace (if you’re a teenage girl) and iTunes (if you’re her mom). And, of course, you’ve purchased CDs from our web site, RichterScales.com. You may even have seen us serenading the San Francisco International Film Festival or singing the national anthem at Pac Bell Park.

But have you seen us perform a LIVE concert at CELLspace, the community-supported arts center? Heck, no! Because we haven’t done that yet. Lucky for you, on May 3rd, we will, bringing our unique brand of entertainment to San Francisco’s historic Mission district.

The Richter Scales are not just men who sing — we also dance! And by “dance,” we mean “sing some more.” We don’t really dance. Sorry. But we do have a great show planned, including new songs, new soloists, new skits, and plenty of old favorites like the CARA-nominated “I’ve Got Mail.” Don’t miss your chance to see us LIVE, up close and personal, for one night only!

Thu, May 3, 8:30 PM
$10 General Admission

CELLspace
2050 Bryant St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
415-648-7562

Technical Difficulties

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Sorry for the lack of posting. You’ll notice a few posts that have stacked up over the last few weeks. I had a few technical difficulties that I had to recover from, and with a full-time job and 3 kids at home, I don’t have a lot of time for diagnosing tech problems.

I recently had decided to play with Ruby and Rails, so I upgraded a few packages on my FreeBSD system to be able to deploy some toy applications I was writing as a learning exercise. Unfortunately, at some point along the way I broke something, and WordPress started giving me “Fatal error: Call to undefined function: xml_parser_create()”. I tried using Flock to post, and it gave me the same problem, although I had to turn on error logging and look at “blog.log” to see it.

I started doing some digging, and found that xml_parser_create() is part of the XML extension to PHP, so I tried rebuilding that – no dice. Then I updated all my ports, and tried again. Now it won’t even compile. The error is:

libtool: ltconfig version `' does not match ltmain.sh version `1.3.5-freebsd-ports'

Hmm. Google didn’t help on this one. I tried rebuilding PHP 4.4.6, but that failed as well. Googling that problem again didn’t help. Hmm.

After still more digging, I figured out that I’m running FreeBSD 4.1, which has recently been End-of-Lifed, so the ports are no longer guaranteed to work. Arrgh! Now somewhere I’m going to have to find time to upgrade to FreeBSD 6.

I still needed to fix the problem, so I tried using the packages system and installing some old versions of the packages. That totally screwed up everything, so I quickly backed that out.

I went back to the beginning and turned on PHP error logging. When I restarted Apache, I got this in the error log:

PHP Warning: Unknown(): Unable to load dynamic library '/usr/local/lib/php/20020429/xml.so' - Shared object "libexpat.so.5" not found in Unknown on line 0

Now I’m getting somewhere – the library is just not found. I found libexpat.so.6, but not 5. After rebuilding libexpat, I found that the version 2 I have, which I must have upgraded to as part of the Ruby/Rails install, is the .6 library version. I couldn’t easily find the .5 version, but Google pointed me to a great idea. Just symlink the .6 version to .5 to fool PHP. Bingo! It works!

System administration can be a pain – I admire those who do it for a living. I do it once in a while, just so I remember how painful it is sometimes. Now, to post a few entries that have stacked up.

Paying taxes to Microsoft

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

[I started writing this at the Microsoft VC Summit a few weeks ago, but tax day spurred me to complete it.]

Other than hardcore libertarians, I think there are few who would debate that government funding of fundmental research is a good thing. Much of this research is done at top universities funded by government grantd, but there are also institutions like DARPA, NASA, and NIH that are directly funded. Most corporations, with their focus on quarterly earnings, have too short a timeline to spend significant amounts of money on research that doesn’t have an obvious return on investment in a relatively short time frame.

There have always been a few exceptions, and what is interesting is what they seem to have in common. For example, Bell Labs springs to mind as a great exception. They produced literally thousands of innovations, most of which were (at the time) commercially unusable. Another classic example is Xerox PARC. Once again, tremendous innovative and fundamental research, with little commercial application. What is interesting about both these companies is they were essentially monopolies, and highly profitable, such that their products were referred to as “taxes”. Today we see companies like Microsoft and Google engaged in similar research efforts (although Google’s is pretty young still).

I heard Steve Ballmer speak the other day, and he boasted several times about Microsoft earning $20 billion last year. Many who were with me groaned about the egregious “Microsoft tax” and expounded on how much better the industry would be if everyone used Linux and OpenOffice and the $20 billion were returned to the users.

This prompted a spirited discussion at lunch, which included some long-time Microsoft execs. The “Microsoft tax” is pretty small for each individual. Which creates the greater good: giving each computer user a small amount of money back to spend as they wish, or allowing Microsoft to engage in fundamental research that may improve the lives of everyone? Viewed this way, it looks much the same as increasing the income tax 0.01% to pay for NASA. Of course, this only applies to the $1 billion or so that Microsoft spends on research. The other $19 billion that is dividended back to shareholders is more like a reverse Robin Hood – take from computer users, give to MSFT stockholders.

Now, there are plenty of egregiously profitable companies – Exxon Mobil for example – that don’t spend nearly as much on blue-sky research as they could (despite their marketing that says they do). Perhaps instead of legislating lower profits for them, the federal government should consider legislating more pure research? Of course, this would be hard to verify, but it would be a start.

Flying over Yosemite

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Flying back from NYC this afternoon, we flew right over Yosemite national park. We were directly on top of the valley, but from my north-facing window seat I was delighted to identify Hetch Hetchy. The dam was lit beautifully in the late afternoon sun, and Wapama Falls looked like it was roaring. I wish I had a camera. Above it I saw Lake Eleanor, where I hiked one solo one Memorial Day weekend in the snow. Nearby I noticed Cherry Lake, which was the terminus of a 4-day hike across Emigrant Wilderness for me and some friends once. Below the dam I followed the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne, down to New Melones Lake where I could see the houseboats. Old Priest Grade wound its way up the ridge, and the new longer and windier (but less steep) SR120 snaked up the other side of the valley. I even spotted the Columbia airport runway, where I landed after a long cross country one particularly memorable day during pilot training. I felt a bit nostalgic, and almost homesick. I love that area, and I can’t wait for my kids to be old enough to go there with me. A few more years…