Disillusionment with government officials

When you’re a kid you feel secure imagining that the people who manage critical government functions are old, wise, and well-qualified.  There comes a sad point in many lives when the cruel facts shatter this illusion.  You wake up and realize that folks running multi-$billion programs are younger than you and, objectively, no better qualified to do their tough job.

For me this moment came about seven years ago at a friend’s house in Cambridge.  Another guest was a high official in the Clinton Administration charged with supervising $billions in health care expenditures.  She was about my age, pleasant, a friend of Bill Clinton’s, and had absolutely no relevant experience for the job.  She was not a medical doctor, had never worked in a hospital, had never managed a large business or budget.

For much of the rest of the country the moment seems to be now, upon learning that the federal government’s $6 billion/year emergency management capability is being managed by Michael Brown, a guy whose last job was running a horse show association.  One would naively have expected a retired military logistics expert to be chosen to head up FEMA.  Instead we get the lawyer/horse guy.

A lot of folks in Latin America remain convinced that the Man (Uncle Sam) is keeping them down.  Considering that the Man is actually mostly guys like Michael Brown they ought to be really embarrassed that they are such pushovers.

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Feeling about New Orleans depends on how much TV watched?

I’ve noticed a wide variation in how disturbed friends and miscellaneous New Englanders feel about the situation in New Orleans.  Some are very emotional while others don’t seem profoundly affected.  I have started asking folks “how much TV news coverage of the event have you seen?”  Feeling distraught seems to be correlated with watching TV.  Those who’ve read textual descriptions of the suffering in newspapers or on the Web aren’t anywhere near as upset as those who’ve seen video clips of people suffering.  Reading the lines “hundreds of people were screaming” isn’t as disturbing as seeing one person scream.

This seems to jibe with something a public TV producer once said:  “Television is useless for conveying information.  If you print out the script for the 20+ minutes of nightly network news it is only a few pages that you could read in a minute or two.  Very few facts are communicated during that newscast.  Television is good for making people feel a certain way.”

Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon?

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Best way to do slide shows from a Web server?

http://philip.greenspun.com/images/tools/slide-shows-spec.txt is a spec for the software that I’d like to run on my personal site for doing slide shows.  The core of this requires either some JavaScript or DHTML programming.  I’m looking for advice from those readers experienced with these tools as to the best way of doing this and possibly for some good open-source starting points.

Thanks in advance.

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Rampant consumerism update

I posted a shopping list the other day and have actually gotten motivated to buy most of the stuff.  Here’s a report so far on how everything is working.

The Infrant 1 TB network-attached storage (NAS) device came pre-configured as RAID 5 spread across four 250 GB SATA disk drives.  The actual amount of available storage is only around 630 GB because of the RAID 5 overhead and 32 GB reserved for journaling.  It took about fifteen minutes to plug in and set up the Infrant, which sells for about $1200; the Windows XP desktop machine automatically recognized the newly available shared folders served by the Infrant.  The Infrant is very quiet (Net wisdom is that this is quieter than the competitive Buffalo NAS), producing about 10 percent as much noise as the desktop PC, which was custom-assembled supposedly as a “silent PC”.  I copied all of my music files over to the NAS using a new Netgear 16-port gigabit Ethernet switch.  Sadly I think that the Infrant is the only devicein my house that is actually capable of gigabit Ethernet.

Step two was to plug in a Sonos whole-house music system.  This also required about 15 minutes of set up.  I pointed it at the Infrant’s “media” share and the Sonos software automatically indexed my entire music collection, which was in two separate trees.  Each Sonos “zone player” box has the following components:

  • 802.11 Wifi receiver
  • wired 10/100-baseT four-port Ethernet switch (so that if you have a single Ethernet drop in a room you can plug in the Sonos Zone Player and then plug the PC into the Sonos)
  • 50 watt/channel power amplifier so that you can use the loudspeakers of your choice
  • audio line input that can digitize a signal from a home audio system or television
  • audio line output to drive a standard home audio system’s preamp or television
  • enough hardware and software to convert MP3, WMA, AAC, and WAV streams into 44.1 KHz CD-style digital audio and then convert that to analog to play over the loudspeakers

You can drive all of the Sonos zone players from software installed on a Windows PC or Macintosh OS X machine or from a nifty big-screen wireless controller that has lots of clearly labeled buttons, three soft keys, and an iPod-style wheel.  My plan is to plug one zone player into my legacy home stereo (so old it has vacuum tubes in the preamp!).  This way if I’m playing a Super Audio CD or LP record I will be able to broadcast that to other rooms and if I have a playlist of salsa music on MP3 I can play that on the fancy power amp and speakers (currently B&W 803s).  The other zone players can go into other corners of this miserably chopped up 2BR apartment (http://philip.greenspun.com/materialism/house-design/ talks about what I really want for a house).  I will leave the system in “party mode” so that all of the players are playing the same file at the same time.

Limitations so far of the Sonos:  for the moment it can’t understand DRM-encoded files, which I think means that it won’t play music from the iTunes store or Yahoo! Music.  The system does support Rhapsody (though Rhapsody itself is a Windows-only product) and gives you a 30-day free trial for that unlimited listening service.

Possible alternative:  If you’re tight on space and enjoy ripping up the ceilings a traditional in-wall system might make more sense.  Each Sonos player is about the size of two bricks and reasonably good speakers are at least the size of a couple of dictionaries.  On the other hand an in-wall whole-house music system is more maintenance-intensive, is hard to upgrade when it becomes obsolete, and will cost $2000+ for professional installation.

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