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January 30th, 2011
11:31 pm

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Movin' on up...
So I've had a bunch of people tell me that livejournal is a huge PITA for them to read and comment upon. I've been blogging here for ~ 6 years, on a whole lot of topics, so it took quite a while for me to overcome natural inertia. However, it's been overcome. I expect that the vast majority of what I do from here on out will be over at wordpress, on my spiffy new blog there. Come, comment, and be welcome.

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January 27th, 2011
11:04 pm

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poking my head out
Driving home last night from the post-burial gathering in Bethesda should have taken about 20 minutes or so, and took more than two hours. One surprising thing I noticed was how much better the roads in DC were than the ones in Maryland. Further, a whole bunch of folks from Silver Spring will be doing shabbat in DC because there isn't any power in their neighborhood. I think if I were ever considering moving, I would want to take reliability of basic services into account, but I don't know anyone who does.

Tonight, we began principal basic-track recording for the new Franchise CD, and I think we have a solid take of Return to Me. Yay!

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January 24th, 2011
03:15 pm

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Men behaving pretty well, actually
So last month, I was in a conversation regarding the book The Lonely Man of Faith, which I had not at the time read, and it was fascinating. One of the participants organized us into a book club, and this past shabbat I had the opportunity to be the least educated person in a room discussing it.

Wow.

Now, I like philosophical discussion; much of it is of the "have you ever looked at your hand? I mean really looked??" variety, but on those occasions when folks are willing to admit what they do not know and really wrestle with concepts and ideas, it can be tremendously uplifting. I get a real kick out of learning new ways of approaching a question, and even the question "what is it precisely which is causing Soloveitchik to be lonely?" had four or five distinct answers provided by the seven people in the room.

The experience reminded me of a salon run by a different friend after her mother passed away - she held a group study of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), and I remember that the experience radically transformed my appreciation of the text, to the point that it's now one of my favorite Biblical books.

So in the spirit of a true symposium we drank excellent wine and the discussion ranged from cabbage to kings, and I found it tremendously pleasant. Perhaps this is why book clubs are so popular? In any case, my candidate for our next book is William James Varieties of Religious Experience, which none of us have read but comes with such high recommendations that I have a hard time imagining how great it must be to receive all of this praise.

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Jeff Doyle is the author of about a bazillion classic networking books, including the authoritative Routing TCP/IP, so I was pretty pleased to discover that he had written a book (OSPF and IS-IS: Choosing an IGP for Large-Scale Networks) about the two significant Interior Gateway Protocols (IGPs) used by service providers. His aim in writing this was to explain IS-IS to people who knew OSPF and vice versa: this was not precisely what I had expected, but I did learn a decent amount more about IS-IS networking and the nature of the scaling properties of both protocols.

So in general, this is a good book, and the first chapter is a lovely overview of the history of the development of the Internet back in the days of BBN and the early IMPs. Sidenote: the University of Utah was node 4, which explains why I was able to get an Internet email address in 1987, but that was really merely due to hanging out with Chris C - I didn't do much with it until the early 90s.

However, the book does have a few flaws. One major flaw from my perspective as someone who was (and is) familiar with both protocols is that there was insufficient depth in the discussion of some of the particulars of summarization behaviors in OSPF and IS-IS: the major discussions of summarization assumed that the big issue would be in concerns related to summarization's effect on iBGP sessions. Another flaw was that most of the assumptions regarding multi-area topologies in OSPF assumed only a single exit point between areas, even as the design guidance was that there should always be more than one ABR. Likewise, the L1 areas shown were connected to L2 backbones via a single L1/L2 router, and the L2 examples presumed a relatively small number of routers in each L2 area rather than the more real-world example of "300 routers in a single L2 area" or the like. Another lack is the discussion of the behavior of the ATT (attached) bit - it should not go without saying that a L1/L2 router will only set this if it knows of L2 routers in a different area.

And then there is a bit of design guidance with which I vigorously disagree: Doyle sets off the options of redistributing connected routes vs setting interfaces as passive and makes the recommendation that the former will scale better than the latter, while completely ignoring the fact that most networks which require multi-area OSPF can set most of the nonzero areas as stubs, thus preventing the type 5 LSAs from being relevant - toss in some good address planning, and while the passive interfaces make more LSAs in the stub area, they don't propagate past the ABR, while the E1/E2 approach would be computationally less expensive but require that the nonzero areas not be stubbed off.

However, these flaws should be viewed as just that: flaws in an otherwise excellent work, and one which should be read by anyone who will be designing or working on service-provider quality networks.

=========

Rabbi Soloveitchik's The Lonely Man of Faith is awe-inspiring and inspirational. I don't believe that Soloveitchik intended it as inspiration - he frames his essay as a discussion of a feeling that he himself has, and that he believes others may have as well: the loneliness experienced as a person engaged in a covenantal lifestyle rather than a utilitarian one.

He lays out the difference between a covenantal approach to God and a religious one - that is to say that the former is ineffable while the latter can be co-opted by humanity's utilitarian nature, and in so doing opened my eyes to the some inadequacies in my own encounter with God via prayer.

The book is short and easy to read, and highly recommended

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January 20th, 2011
09:07 pm

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A strange IS-IS behavior
I have a topology which looks like this:

R1--R2
|| //
R3==R4
||
R5==R6

R1 and R2 are Level-1 devices, and R3 is a L1/L2 router in the same area. R5 and R6 are L2-only routers in the same area. R4 is a L2 router in a different area. R1 through R4 have addresses in 10.10.0.0/16, R5 and R6 have addresses in 172.16.0.0/24, and the connection between R3 and R5 is numbered out of R5's LAN.

R5 is injecting a summary route for the 172.16.0.0/24 into ISIS level-2. R3 is summarizing the 10.10.0.0/16, and leaking the 172.16.0.0/24 into L1 toward R1 and R2.

R1 and R2 see everything I expect - they see the attached bit set, and receive the summary route as leaked. R4, R5, and R6 all see expected behavior as well. However, R3 does not: for some reason it is able to advertise a summary route for 10.0.0.0/16 but does *not* inject a route for that /16 to null0 in its own table. This, to me, is very weird - I would expect to see the route (after all, R5 sees a /24 to null0 in its table), but I haven't figured out why it does not inject it.

One possibility is that it's seeing some of the component routes as L1 and others as L2 routes. Another is that this could be a bug - that router is also exhibiting weird behavior regarding PPP: for some reason it can see (and send a tunnel to) a far-end router's IP address known via PPP injection, but the route is not actually *in* the table. It's a software router, so I think I don't need to worry about weirdo-corruption of linecard FIB or anything like that, but this is a new one on me.

Interestingly, both of these properties are not keeping the thing from actually *working* so go figure - perhaps it's just cosmetic.

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January 13th, 2011
11:57 pm

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language failure
There is an all-too-commonplace event which is lacking an appropriate word. When a person does something publicly and with many witnesses, and that act is a criminal act, s/he is often referred to as the "alleged" so-and-so. This makes no sense, because the burden of a trial is not to determine whether the person committed the actions, but rather whether the person will be punished. For instance, the man who shot Rep. Giffords and others is not an "alleged gunman" - he is a *known* gunman. The only subject of an allegation is whether the shots he fired make him guilty of murder.

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January 11th, 2011
11:43 pm

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Last week and every week (with apologies to Tiptree)
"The right to own weapons is the right to be free." - A.E. van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher


Tragedy calls out for explanation - for meaning to be found - and what happened over the weekend is no exception. Perhaps I should not be surprised at the number of unpleasant things which have been said, ostensibly in the name of finding meaning from senseless violence.

I think that in our all-too-human drive to discern meaning, we are guilty of seeing either the pretty butterfly or the dead dog's head in the rorschach blot: we would be well served by letting the dust settle, and merely observing the events as they unfold.

The Serenity prayer, well known to anyone who has ever darkened the doorway of a twelve-step room, opens with the request to "accept the things I cannot change." Left unstated in that prayer is the assumption that there are, in fact, things that an individual cannot change - there are some answers which will never be known, some motives which will never be discerned, and that attempting to answer the unanswerable is vanity and striving after the wind.

We should consider the possibility that the blot is nothing more than ink on paper, and allow ourselves to feel the powerlessness that results from being tossed about by fate out of our control.

I believe in hashgaha pratit - that is, that God has a reason for permitting the things He does. He does not share those reasons with me, and I could not imagine myself able to understand His reasoning for tragedy - I was neither there when God laid the foundations of the world, nor have I caused the change of the seasons. However, that explanation requires faith in God, which I have, but I know that many do not.

Neither helplessness before impersonal fate nor ignorance before the All-mighty provide much guidance as to the right course of action - and yet there is the burning desire to do something: to act! How can we sit idly by after a tragedy?

I counsel that we should do precisely that: nothing in public policy changed over the weekend. The same arguments in favor of and against either aggressive speech or firearm ownership are still in force, the same debates between the advocates of security and the advocates of freedom are still relevant, and God willing, those arguments will continue to be made by honest believers in veracity of their positions. Personally, I'd love to see folks mellow out - maybe try decaf for a bit - but that goes across the board to partisans of every political persuasion.

Perhaps the best we can do right now is to remember how small and fragile we are, and how little we know.

Note: it was just pointed out to me that George Will's column from today expresses many similar themes.

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January 9th, 2011
02:30 pm

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Ahh, Mr. Garibaldi!
I first encountered Have you Seen My Country Lately when reminiscing about Babylon 5 - Jerry Doyle played Michael Garibaldi, and generally did a good job in a show that I liked a great deal. So when it turned out that he had a book, well, I just had to check that out.

I had no idea that Doyle, in his years since B5 went off the air, came out as a conservative (!), ran for US Congress (!!), and now has a successful radio talk show (!!!). His prose is articulate and well sourced, but he suffers from the hyperbolic tendencies of many folks in politics: he calls his opponents names without regard to the fact that it will make his arguments be taken less seriously. His arguments are actually pretty good - I didn't learn a whole lot of new things from the book (largely because I'm already plugged into some of the not-so-nutty conservative blogosphere, and read National Review). My favorite portion was his anecdotes from growing up: he comes across like a "fake it till you make it" sort of lovable rogue.

One weakness in Doyle's arguments is that he sometimes lumps weaker ones in with stronger ones - as an example, in a section lambasting various members of Congress for their self-servingly spineless behavior, he includes a swipe at Rep. Shelley Berkeley for her failure to make a vote authorizing funding for the Katrina recovery efforts. Berkeley's offense comes across as trivial when compared to some of the others listed (Rangel, Reid, Jefferson, Stevens, etc), and it makes him sound like either a hardcore partisan or someone with a perpetual grievance. However, a redeeming element of Doyle's approach is his actual lack of partisan behavior - not that he doesn't take sides, but rather he does not excuse any anti-conservative behavior on the part of Republicans. Doyle doesn't seem to have the attitude "he's a rascal, but he's our rascal," and I see that as a plus.

This is pretty much a tea-party red-meat book, but it's pretty well written, and the anecdotal sections are great. I'm not sure that this would be the book I would recommend to your garden-variety liberal to give them a better appreciation of the conservative mindset - the name-calling is off-putting, and I think that it weakens the whole.

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January 8th, 2011
11:47 pm

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The coolest thing ever
Sarah and I went with a couple of friends to see Elvis' Birthday Fight Club put on by the Lil' Dutch Burlesque troupe and Art by Jared Productions at the Warehouse theatre.

Sarah Palin was defeated by a drag queen (who gave her the "tea bag express") and Abe Lincoln was shot by the Washington monument. The chicken defeated Col. Sanders (via karate-kid style kick) after sanders started talking about how in his day the light meat and dark meat were kept separate.

Sarah competed in the trivia contest and won (a goofy Banana shaped dish).

The Washington monument was defeated by a robot, and the drag queen lost to the burlesque dancers (who were awesome- I liked Lil Dutch's routine more than Rev. Valentine's), and while the robot battered the chicken, eventually the chicken was able to scratch out a victory.

This is yet another entry in the "why Sarah is the perfect woman for me" category: she was the one who pointed out the event at all, and we both thought it was fabulous.

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December 31st, 2010
12:12 pm

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"A great cosmic orgasm"
The subject line of this post comes from the description of a Gogol Bordello concert provided by Eugene Hütz (their frontman) in an NPR interview.

After having seen them at the 9:30 club last night, I can report that their concerts are less messy than might be imagined by that phrase, but they put on a hell of a good show. In much the same way that Jane's Addiction burst onto the scene and all of the metal guys found themselves out-rocked by a bunch of transvestites, Gogol Bordello shows that "gypsy punk" can rock a hell of a lot harder than the output of the latest corporate-sponsored faux-angsty machine-ragers.

Personally, I'd like to encourage every Jewish simha band to listen to them so that they know what is possible - I could easily see a segue from "Wanderlust King" to Od Yishama, or from "Universes Collide" to Hava Negilah.

I think I'll be studying Gogol Bordello's song structure to try to understand it more - I think that the ability to use a klezmer idiom in rock music successfully is really neat, and I'd like to be able to incorporate more modal compositions in my own songwriting.

Their second opener, "Man Man" was easily the strangest band I've seen in decades - they two xylophones, three keyboards, and a drummer who looked like "monkey boy" - unsurprisingly, they were tremendously entertaining visually. I describe them thusly: "imagine if Frank Zappa hired Devo to play klezmer music, and added Tony Clifton as a frontman."

Amazing show, and Gogol Bordello is totally worth seeing next time they come in town.

=====

I've been doing a *lot* more biking - I biked home from the Arlington County library (near Ballston) yesterday, and have been able to start doing serious errands on two wheels. It's exhilarating, and I think that I'm seeing a tremendous change in my stamina (33rd street is not nearly as hard as it was two weeks ago, and I've had 20 lb backpacks for some of these rides). I'm definitely going to be getting my own bike very soon.

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December 26th, 2010
12:49 pm

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Speculation on knowledge
I've had a few interesting discussions over the last couple of days regarding a hypothesis I'm developing about the current level of education and knowledge among the "educated" classes.

My thesis is that the modern definition of what it means to be "educated" is a much lower level than it was 100 years ago. A couple of anecdotal data points got me thinking along these lines, and I have been finding a significant amount of correlative evidence pointing toward confirmation as I've begun looking. The anecdotes come from the texts of two books I've read (or begun reading) recently - Pragmatism by William James, and On Growth and Form by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson. They are both excellent works, an definitely stand the test of time in their respective areas (philosophy and biology), but in both cases the authors liberally quote contemporary and older works in languages other than English without translation. The expectation of both of the authors seems to be that one is fluent (at least at the reading level) in French, German, Latin, and Greek in addition to English.

However, while the well-educated person in the 1900s may have been able to read all these things, and while s/he may have possessed a tremendous grasp of the classical canon, that person was very much in the minority - only a tiny percentage of people actually attended a university, and the average person was either a laborer, tradesman, or perhaps a factory worker - none of which were occupations which required a canonical education in literature. The educated elite was a very small slice of the population. Nowadays, we fancy ourselves a more egalitarian society, and view education as something which should be democratized and spread to the masses - witness the various and sundry calls encouraging a university education for all. Sadly, one negative effect of the call for ubiquitous university is that trade education has diminished tremendously, and there is a tendency to look down at those who make their living at (traditional) trades rather than in (traditional) professions. As an example, consider a master plumber and a law professor. Which of the two occupations have higher status? Earlier in their careers, you would have a journeyman plumber and a law student - which of the two is more likely to be the subject of familial pride?

The bias against tradesmen is not the subject of my thesis, however; I'm more interested in the character of the education possessed by the elite themselves. It does seem reasonable to presume that a certain percentage of people are temperamentally geared toward intensive, thorough and catholic education, while a larger percentage of people are not - they may be lacking aptitude, desire, focus, or other qualities which render them less able to excel in an environment where these educational standards are the norm.

So my hypothesis as formulated is something like this: the increasing availability, desirability, and uptake of upper-level education has caused a decrease in the rigor of that selfsame education.

A few objections to my thesis have been raised - one objection was that there is more knowledge now than there was 100 years ago, and therefore the effect I am observing is a function of increasing specialization rather than decreasing knowledge. I will concede that doctoral candidates nowadays will be much more specialized than they were 100 years ago, but I do not believe that this analogy would apply to undergraduate or professional-level graduate coursework. Instead, I think that what we are seeing is more of the Dunning-Kruger effect: when a person acquires some knowledge about a subject, s/he can quickly come to believe that s/he has sufficient knowledge of that subject to characterize the boundaries of knowledge vis-à-vis that subject or related subjects. Upon a small amount of reflection, it is apparent that this is an obvious fallacy, and it is all too easy to forget that there are oodles of basic questions in nearly every subject for which the answers are unknown. A good example of an unknown question is "why is inertia an intrinsic property of matter?" Of course, the aphorism variously attributed to Will Rogers and Mark Twain is that "It's not what we don't know that's the problem; it's what we know that ain't so." An example of knowing something that ain't so is (of all things) heliocentrism. Now, that's a little surprising: we're used to the idea that Galileo, Copernicus, and Kepler put away geocentrism for good, but a little-observed effect of Einstein's general relativity is the destruction of any sort of absolute frame of reference. So you can construct a frame of reference where the sun is treated as a stationary point, and calculate motions of other bodies relative to that stationary point, or you could do the same from the Earth's point of view, and neither frame of reference is inherently more true than the other. Now, the math is a hell of a lot simpler using a heliocentric model than a geocentric one, so that does show why it's taught and geocentrism isn't, but the point I'm making in bringing it up is that most people are taught that "the earth revolves around the sun" is an absolute, when it's really just a convenient fiction.

Another ongoing phenomenon is the increasing externalization of knowledge - it is easy to use google and other online repositories to find quick answers to general questions, but of course knowing the answer to a question posed in a specific form does not necessarily mean that you know the answer to a similar question in a different form. I see this as a concerning but unsurprising trend given my hypothesis - if we are approaching "education" with the idea that we want everyone to be educated, we will necessarily allow the definition of "educated" to slip to the level of "able to google for the answers." The larger problem with that phenomenon is that a person can understand the "how" without understanding the "why" and is more likely to apply inappropriate solutions to a new problem. This is the "if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" problem. Consider the trends which percolate through modern medicine, or modern economic theory, and the problem becomes far, far more apparent: the pretension to knowledge not actually possessed is capable of tremendous harm in the short and long terms.

I think the only real answer to the problem is that those of us who are concerned about such things should strive for continuous self-education and try to espouse a modest outlook with regard to answers: as Pirkei Avot says, "teach your tongue to say 'I don't know.'"

As an afterthought, I wonder what term we should reserve for those aforementioned small percentage of people who are able to obtain a truly catholic education?

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