My first, and only, direct experience with homeopathy was a bottle of teething tablets I bought on the advice of a friend. That was a few years back. I didn't look closely at them at the time since they came recommended. The did kind of seem to work because whenever the baby was crying and we put one in his mouth he immediately stopped crying. Sometimes that was enough to coax him back to sleep, but often the effect wore off before that. In those cases typically multiple tablets didn't help.

So what does that mean scientifically? Bupkis. I have nothing to compare the tablets to and I have no idea whether they worked any better than a simple sugar pill would have. That's not science, that's an anecdote. Correlation is not causation, etc., etc.

Instead, here's a great article about homeopathy covering its history, theory and state of scientific research. The long and short of it is that to date no convincing evidence has been found to show that homeopathy is anything more than well shaken water. When that occurs it's only logical to conclude that it is in fact not a valid medicine. I mean, at some point we have to move on to other research and leave the losers behind.

I ended up throwing away the teething tablets before the next baby came along. I can't recall whether we ran out or I just chucked them on principle. Either way, I shan't be purchasing any more.


Mail Client Duldrums

Lately I've been feeling rather disappointed by Evolution. I've been a long time user (7 years I think) and for the most part it works great. But it's that "most part" bit that really is starting to grind. The last few iterations that I've tried (whatever is bundled with Ubuntu Feisty, Gutsy, Intrepid and Jaunty) have all had a a few quirks, none of them the same of course, For instance, The Intrepid version had an annoying habit of leaving messages marked as unread, even after I, you know, read them. Made for an annoyance when filing messages away. Worse, many of the messages that Evolution said were read, weren't really marked as such on the server so sometimes messages would magically unread themselves.

So I decided to give KMail another shot. I tried it last year sometime I think it was and decided it just didn't cut the mustard. But I'm a few revs forward on KDE now so it was worth a try. Over the last few days I have found it to be less annoying and much snappier than Evolution so I am considering a permanent switch, but it too does have issues. One major oddity is that when I open up a new folder, the unread messages count will reset while the folder is rescanned. That's just crazy. I can see why in a way, but there's just no need for it. A second complaint is that there's no way to move to the next message without closing the currently open message and opening a new window (I turn off the preview pane).

On the other hand, KMail excels in a quite a few ways. Contact auto completion is much much (much!) faster. I like the idea of the "favorite folders", although to date I haven't made much use of it. I like the way it integrates with my Spam Assassin. It handles multiple identities perfectly (although the configuration is kind of spread out).

Of course the elephant in the room is Exchange support. It's a necessary evil at least at my company (better than Groupwise!). Evolution has an Exchange plugin which works via Outlook Web Access to give you all the features of Exchange in Linux. In theory anyway. While many features do work, not all are flawless. The address book doesn't work for me. My calendar doesn't seem to sync with the server calendar. I've had previous problems with server-side calendar reminders not working, although the version in Jaunty seems to work fine.

Is there anything better out there that I should take a look at? Exchange support would be great, but frankly I don't use all the extra features all that often and if I have to fire up Outlook (via terminal services) once a week, that's not a deal breaker. I would like it to be rock solid, though.



I'm working on an upgrade of a RADIUS server and I need the ability to verify that my changes won't alter the behavior of the server. So what would be really nice is a way to record all the network traffic going to my RADIUS server with a tool like tcpdump and then resend it to my test server and compare the results. As luck would have it, there is such a tool and it's named tcpreplay.

While I haven't run the full tests on my RADIUS server, I have done a few simple tests with ICMP and UDP packets just to verify that it will work with protocols other than TCP, despite its name. It does. Here's an example.

In on root shell, run the following command to capture packets:

# tcpdump -np -s0 -i eth1 -w icmp.pcap icmp and dst host

Then, in another shell, start a ping to the IP address in question:

$ ping -c 5
PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=1.63 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=64 time=1.49 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=64 time=1.55 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=64 time=1.55 ms

--- ping statistics ---
5 packets transmitted, 5 received, 0% packet loss, time 4021ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 1.490/1.567/1.639/0.049 ms

Now you've got a PCAP file that you can feed to tcprelay. This is a very basic, and fun, way to run tcprelay so that you can watch and confirm each packet. There are many other options for how you can alter the replay.

# tcpreplay --intf1=eth1 --oneatatime --verbose icmp.pcap
sending out eth1
processing file: icmp.pcap
reading from file -, link-type EN10MB (Ethernet)
15:45:37.376377 IP > ICMP echo request, id 58216, seq 1, length 64
**** Next packet #1 out eth1. How many packets do you wish to send? 1
Sending packet 1 out: eth1
15:45:38.383298 IP > ICMP echo request, id 58216, seq 2, length 64
**** Next packet #2 out eth1. How many packets do you wish to send? 1
Sending packet 2 out: eth1
15:45:39.391925 IP > ICMP echo request, id 58216, seq 3, length 64
**** Next packet #3 out eth1. How many packets do you wish to send? 1
Sending packet 3 out: eth1
15:45:40.394081 IP > ICMP echo request, id 58216, seq 4, length 64
**** Next packet #4 out eth1. How many packets do you wish to send? 1
Sending packet 4 out: eth1
15:45:41.398076 IP > ICMP echo request, id 58216, seq 5, length 64
**** Next packet #5 out eth1. How many packets do you wish to send? 1
Sending packet 5 out: eth1
Actual: 5 packets (490 bytes) sent in 15.14 seconds
Rated: 32.4 bps, 0.00 Mbps/sec, 0.33 pps

Statistics for network device: eth1
Attempted packets: 5
Successful packets: 5
Failed packets: 0
Retried packets (ENOBUFS): 0
Retried packets (EAGAIN): 0


New Phone: Samsung SCH-i760

My boss surprised me the other day with a new phone. Nothing was particularly wrong with my old phone, but we had a bunch of these new Samsung phones due to some staffing changes so I got nominated for one. Ostensibly it's to make on-call easier since I'll be able to read and respond to emails without having to run home. Hopefully that will work out.

So far I think the phone will work out alright. It's fairly bulky, but so was my LG enV, so no big change there. The screen seems big enough to be functional, although it certainly has its limitations. Can't say I can see much solution there short of packing around a netbook though. I love finally being able to synchronize my calendar, something that in theory the enV can do but which Verizon (curse their souls) forcibly disabled. Mobile email also cool. I've installed some applications such as Facebook, Twitter, IRC, that may or may not be really useful in the long run but are fun to have around.

But of course there's bad news too. The battery life is not what I'd like it to be. I'm not sure how it compares to other smart phones since this is my first, but with any reasonably heavy usage I'm looking at charging it a few times a day, and that's going to be my usage pattern during on-call, so I'm a bit disappointed.

It also runs Windows Mobile. I was rather apprehensive about it, but so far it's doing better than I thought. I'd give it a solid mediocre (which is high praise from me).

The application support is disappointing, although not really unexpected. See, with a Free/Open Source background I expect high quality software to just be available for free. With Windows Mobile, yeah not so much. There are a few but they're somewhat hard to find. I could really use an apt-get if you know what I mean. This is an area where Linux users get pampered and it's tough to go without.

Those are the major drawbacks. The one other minor glitch I would mention is that whenever I'm connected to my wifi it constantly tries to bring up a data connection. Well what's the point of that? To get the thing (I named it Aristotle) to knock it off I set up a dummy ISP connection using the irDA port. Hee, hee.

It's a keeper so far. We'll see how I feel after I go on-call this weekend. If you see this blog full of Brittany Spears posts you'll know it's driven me off the deep end. Your pity is all I ask.


Thoughts on School Lunch

My son is just finishing up first grade, so now is a particularly apropos time to reflect on how it went. Of course this year was his first year eating lunch at school. Long before last September we decided we would be sending him with a sack lunch and it's articles like this that make me glad we did.

We sat down and did the math before we started. For the $1.80 the school wants we can make a sandwich, buy a juice box and some snacks and still have a good $1.00 left over. So monetarily it makes sense. After reading the menus, nutritionally it makes sense too. We do let him eat hot lunch once a month, just for the experience of it (and sometimes when we run out of bread or wake up late). Without fail he chooses pizza day, and who can blame him? Pizza is delicious. We make pizza at home and he eats far more than his small demeanor would imply.

So while pizza is a fine food and is certainly OK to eat occasionally, what do we really expect from our kids? I have great faith in mine and they're smart, sure, but this is the same kid who stuck a BB in his ear requiring a trip to the doctor to remove it. They just don't have all the decision making skills of an adult and we shouldn't expect or require them to. It's our job to provide them with the right choices and show them why they're the right choices so they can make their own good ones in the future.

Getting junk food out of the school is an easy, no-brainer first step. Getting the USDA out, well that's a good next step.


New Credit Card Bill

It looks like the latest credit reform bill is going to become law. I've read through the law and it really sounds fair to me. What always surprises me is when people make comments similar to those contained in this BBC News article, "the industry has warned that the measure could backfire, leading banks to issue fewer credit cards thus making it harder to get credit". I'm failing to see the problem. Many people do have too much credit.

Now I'm not against credit. It's certainly a useful financial tool, without which I likely would not own my own home. But it needs to be done wisely, and that's a challenge when credit companies get to write all the rules such as when you can go bankrupt. This bill will equalize the system and hopefully stem some of the nonsense going on.


A Rose By Any Other Name

Stephen Dubner, the famed economist behind Freakonomics (an excellent book, btw), posed the question, is it time to rename 'Digital Piracy'?" The answer is an unequivocal "yes". Despite what Shakespeare said, sometimes a name can mean everything. I refuse to accept the word "piracy" as anything other than high-seas pillaging. I suppose one positive outcome of the recent surge in Somali piracy is that people are realizing that copyright infringement hardly warrants such a strong word, especially when we have a perfectly adequate one. Let's not let the geniouses at the RIAA, who've had a wonderfully successful program of suing their customers, dictate our terminology on the matter.


Book Review: The Pluto Files

Title: The Pluto Files: The Rise And Fall Of America's Favorite Planet
Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Published: 2009 by WW Norton & Company, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-393-06520-6

Neil deGrasse Tyson was the spark that ignited a firestorm of controversy around Pluto, abut which I'm sure you're familiar. This is his story, but also the story of Pluto. It's a great read, not too long (about 150 pages not including appendices) and how could you turn down a book which includes a song by Jonathan Coulton?

The book has a great, humorous tone. I've always been a fan of Tyson's style anyway, and this book held true to form. The best part is probably the inclusion of letters that Tyson received from angry school children who felt scorned, complete with crayon drawings of pluto. I can relate because my 6 year-old is rather fond of Pluto and I think he went through some withdrawals upon hearing the news.

But my absolute favorite part of the story, the one that caused me to laugh out loud, was the following:

The article goes on to quote Ms. Ackerman [Shelley Ackerman of astrology website beliefnet.com] criticizing the IAU [International Astronomical Union] for not including astrologers in its decision.

Ha! As if! They may as well have asked the aforementioned elementary school children. Astrologers just make me laugh.

For my part, I initially rejected the IAU definition. But as I've had time to consider it and read opinions from Tyson and many of those included in his book (both for and against), I've come to accept it. As Tyson states, it's not about keeping a count of planets, so whether Pluto is a planet or a dwarf planet, really doesn't mean a whole hill of beans.


Labeling Education and Nutrition Act of 2009

Congress is considering a new bill which would modify the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act with requirements for labeling of food in restaurants. I know that there are some requirements now, but I've only ever seen nutrition information at fast food places so I believe the laws only affect them. As I read this bill, it would apply to any business which makes and sells food at least 90 days of the year and which operates at least 20 locations under the same name. That eliminates one of my beefs with proposals like this, that they will unfairly burden small purveyors who can't as easily afford the nutritional testing or calculations required.

I'm still opposed to it however. If this bill became law, it would do nothing to stem the tide of obesity in this country. Nutrition information hasn't stopped Americans from eating far too often at fast food restaurants. Nor has it stopped people from buying pre-packaged meals at the supermarket. It won't do anything in sit-down restaurants either. It's a premise that's well worth some research, but is far from proven effective enough to be cast into law. My gut tells me that it isn't going to discourage anybody from ordering the "unhealthy" items, and as we know from Brian Wansink, "healthy" foods tend to be over eaten because we feel less guilt.

No, the real solution doesn't involve a food priesthood, as Michael Pollan calls it. We don't need nutritionists to tell us what to eat. Stressing about fat calories and daily allowances just causes stress, which won't help anything. Deep down we all know more or less what we ought to be eating, but we've lost it somewhere in our industrialized food economy. Just eat real food and don't eat too much of it. It's really just that simple.


Predictably Irrationally: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Title: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Author: Dan Ariely
Published: 2008 by Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0-06-135323-9

I can't exactly recall how this book got on my list of books to read, and that's a shame because whoever recommended it was dead on. This book is similar in many ways to one I reviewed previously, Mindless Eating, in that it sets out to show how our decision making process is much more complicated than we reason.

Let me start off with an example from the book. The author ran a study which asked students to perform a menial task for which they would be paid. On a computer they selected a virtual room and then were able to click on objects that would pay them a certain amount, based on which room it was. During one iteration, they spiced up the test by making rooms disappear if they were neglected for a certain amount of time. Users tended to waste their clicks keeping the doors open, rather than using them to earn money in a room.

Is this an efficient way to live our lives--especially when another door or two is added every week? I can't tell you the answer for certain in terms of your personal life, but in our experiments we saw clearly that running from pillar to post was not only stressful but uneconomical. In fact, in their frenzy to keep doors from shutting, our participants ended up making substantially less money (about 15 percent less) than the participants who didn't have to deal with closing doors. The truth is that they could have made more money by picking a room--any room--and merely staying there for the whole experiment!

The book is chock full of stories similar to this one, so it's a great read just for the humor. But it does have a number of lessons to be teach as well covering procrastinating, honesty, dieting, saving, and many more topics. It's an invaluable tool to look at how you make your own decisions. Occasionally I found myself thinking quietly, "well, duh!" only to remember a few moments later some choice I had made which was equally as flawed.

My one complaint I suppose is that he often answers questions with more stories, e.g. "how does that work? Well, let me give you another example that explains it." He does eventually come to a conclusion, so no need to fear being left hanging, and the stories are of course interesting so it's not a waste of time. I just found it somewhat humorous that he kept doing it over and over. I suppose that makes him predictably irrational. :)



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