Home Page -> Commentary -> 7 Mar 1999

Comment of the Fortnight
7 March 1999
Personal Update

I started a new half-time contracting job shortly after the last Comment of the Fortnight. It's a good company; I like the people I work with. Currently, I'm doing Java servlets (that is, applications written in the JavaTM langauge that run on a web server to do things like database access.

I spent a large part of last week setting up an environment for testing the programs I write. (I'm going to switch to techno-speak here.) I put LinuxTM on my computer, configured the Apache web server to use the mod_jserv module, and installed the MySQL client and server so that I could create databases to test.

I learned a lot from the experience, and am, in general, quite pleased with how all these products work together. If you're installing Apache for the first time, I highly recommend Apache: The Definitive Guide, by Ben Laurie and Peter Laurie, published by O'Reilly and Associates I'm now shopping for a beginning book on SQL, and will let you know if I find something good.

Speaking of Linux, I went to LinuxWorld Expo on Wednesday, 3 March. It was great to see the folks from slashdot in person. My vote for best demo was Caldera's Linux installation program. If it works even half as well as in the demo, it should make Linux installs much nicer. There was a lot of energy at the show; it was one of the few trade shows I've been to where you could spend more money on T-shirts than on software.

The Bicycle Rant

I bought a new bicycle today; this is the first non-coaster-brake model I have owned since 1972, and the first I've ever had with external gears. Here's why.

In 1972, I bought a three-speed bike at a large discount store (whose name will go unmentioned here). It was a terrible piece of garbage to begin with, and you couldn't ride it in the rain since the brakes wouldn't hold if they were even slightly wet. The crowning moment came when someone stole the shift cable -- and that's all they took -- from my bike, thus keeping me stuck in third gear.

I abandoned this loser of a bicycle in the bike parking lot at the H.E. Kenney Gymnasium at the University of Illinois, and I hope someone was able to at least make use of the parts.

People told me that I should buy a ten-speed, but that was out of the question. Back then they were incredibly expensive (compared to a one-speed), and incredibly fragile. If you rode a ten-speed over any sort of bump, you could count on the chain popping off the gears. If you rode over a set of railroad tracks, you risked warping the frame. On top of all this, the handbrakes wouldn't hold if they were wet, just as on the three-speed. I decided I didn't want to spend the extra money for a bicycle that would be more trouble and not last as long, so I went back to one-speeds, and have ridden them ever since.

Until today. My current one-speed was on its last wheels, and the people at Pacific Bicycle (1821 Saratoga Ave., Saratoga, CA) finally convinced me to take a ride around the parking lot on a 21-speed. They told me that really, really, the chain doesn't fall off at a moment's notice, and really, really the brakes will work even if you ride through a puddle. And really, really, the technology had improved since 1972.

Well, some things are definitely better. You can shift without having to pedal backwards, and you can remove and replace the rear wheel without a full set of wrenches and a PhD in mechanical engineering. (You are probably wondering why this is so surprising to me -- don't forget, I had given up on the technology 27 years ago and hadn't looked at it since.)

In any case, they're going to put a few doodads on the bike; a speed/distance computer, the rack from my old bike, and a kickstand; and I'll pick it up on Thursday. Wish me luck with my new acquisition.

Recent Television Viewing (Short Takes)

Alice in Wonderland
Great special effects; horrible screenplay.
The Monica Lewinsky Interview
Saw about 2.5 minutes of it. Enough, already!
The Practice
A drama set around a law practice in Boston. Excellent ensemble acting with superb scriptwriting. There are some wonderful comedic moments in every script.
New York Police Department drama, which just keeps getting better every week. I'm glad to see John Irvin (played by Bill Brochtrup) back in the squadroom. Rick Schroder and Dennis Franz work wonderfully well together. I'd like to see Medavoy and Martinez (Gordon Clapp & John Turturro) get more script time.
Law and Order
This program has an interesting format. The first half of the program covers the police investigation of a crime; the second half covers the trial. Jerry Orbach is superb as Detective Lenny Briscoe, and Steven Hill, as District Attorney Adam Schiff, adds a nice touch to the prosecution.
Lest you think that I only watch crime shows...
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
They're actually getting a story arc! James Darren, in a recurring role as a holodeck lounge singer, adds a touch of humor to the shows. They've had a long series of watchable, if not spectacular, episodes.
WCW Wrestling
Yes, I do watch these live-action cartoons. The plotlines have been fairly good, and the recently unmasked Rey Mysterio, Jr. is incredibly handsome.

Back to top of page