Sunday, September 30, 2007

Consumer Consequences

I just played the consumer consequences game at, and I am ashamed to admit that I scored 7.6. That means that if everyone lived like me, it would take 7.6 Earths to provide the necessary resources.

The most glaring aspects of my life, according to this test (nee game), are my house, my power consumption, and my driving habits.

The way the test works is you start with a score of 1, and as you answer questions your score is increased or decreased, depending on your responses.

The house... I live alone in a single-family house that is listed at 1734 sq. ft. Right off the bat, that cost me an additional Earth. My score was then 2. Well, if you want an explanation as to why I live alone in a 1734 sq. ft. house, it's because I consider it an investment, both personal and otherwise. It's an old house, built in 1909, which I enjoy restoring and improving, so I consider it a financial investment. I also believe it is an investment in the revitalization of the city of St. Louis, which is a movement that, as it's realized, should naturally consolidate people, infrastructure, and resources back into a centralized framework, thus it is a green movement.

Next on the test, the amount of money I spend on electricity and natural gas jacked me up to 4.4 Earths. Ouch!! But I want to know what the heck is up w/their state average for Missouri! According tot his test, the average Missourian pays $22.47 per month for electricity, and $16.56 for natural gas! WTF!? Seriously!? Man, I am using WAY too much electricity and gas. Even after finagling the numbers, to show what my consumption would be if I totally green-ified my house, and cut my costs down by 25%, I'd still be looking at a score of 3.8.

Actually, after playing w/these number, I found a bug. I was trying to figure out how much I would need to reduce my bills by to be flush, and it turns out even if I pay $0 for both my power utilities, I would still incur a penalty, unless I indicate that $0 as being spend on more than 65% renewable energy resources... duh. However, that doesn't really affect my score... just something I noticed.

How do I make my electricity and natural gas come from renewable energy resources? By definition, natural gas cannot be renewable, but if I could, I would gladly heat my house w/something renewable. Unfortunately, even though my house is heated by radiators, heating the water by solar power is beyond my means. By my estimates, it would cost about $15,000 just for the equipment, and that's not even considering the costs of retrofitting my house with it, and where would the PVC panels go? I don't know... maybe it's worth another investigation. As far as I know, there is only one power grid available to me to suckle on in St. Louis, and it's powered by coal.

Given these facts, my questions is this: would I have a more beneficial impact on the world if I focused my energy on pursuing more efficient coal plants for my region, or making the investment in some sort of green heating (and possibly cooling) source for my house?

Obviously, if I do neither, I'm not helping anyone, and possibly committing a sin of any or all of the following: sloth, gluttony, greed, disrespect for God's creation, hypocrisy.

I heartily recommend you take the Consumer Consequences test! I promise you will be shocked at the result. I don't personally know anyone who could get a 1 or below on this test. It would take a very disciplined an energetic individual. Frankly, it makes me feel a little hopeless, because I don't know if I can live up to the standard this test is implying must be met. I have moved so far away from my family, that I must essentially cut myself off from them, or give up my job and move back to the east coast, if I'm to reduce my annual mileage to an adequate level. Likewise, I need to sell this house and move into a small efficiency that is within biking distance of where I work, which would not be so bad if my company had not moved my office from downtown to the soul-sucking suburbs. I do NOT want to live in Sunset Hills. That place is big-box central... OK, self, don't get me started.

We obviously need to make some improvements in our lifestyles to make this a sustainable world. I'm just going to start doing the best I can by getting some recycling bins, finding ways to improve the efficiency of this house, and investigating a different way of commuting to work (including working from home).

Friday, September 28, 2007

Up St. Louis!

For sure, St. Louis has been seeing some great strides in urban progress. I'd be remiss not to mention the news of Centene moving their corporate headquarters from Clayton to downtown's Ballpark Village, which gives the BV a new direction in, and impetus for, life. It has been mentioned in almost every urban blog in the city:

Urban Review STL
St. Louis Business Journal
Mayor Slay's Desk
STL Rising
Vanishing STL

In other news, the Power House is about to be renovated:

At Home

Lumiere Place is almost finished:

Lumiere Place's website
St. Louis Business Journal

In other news this week, Wachovia bought A.G. Edwards, and is moving their headquarters to St. Louis. Admittedly, whether they actually move to the city of St. Louis, or out to a suburb is still unknown, and if they move A.G. Edwards's [significant] staff out of the city, it will be a major blow to the city's economy. However, it would seem more practical to move into A.G. Edwards's existing infrastructure, which was expanded by 1,000,000 sq. ft. in 2003. There is plenty of land nearby the current headquarters that can be further developed if necessary. Hopefully we'll see an influx of new jobs and residents in the city. Although losing a large corporation like Wachovia is a major event for a city of any size, Charlotte has seen unprecedented growth over the past decade, so hopefully they'll absorb the loss with little trouble to their city's economy.

Also this week, Pyramid Companies announced a $450 million dollar project to renovate and develop 6 blocks downtown (an area completely encompassing our old offices... man I wish we still worked downtown!) into a mixed use district to be called the Mercantile Exchange (presumably due to the nearby Mercantile building which anchors that area):

Pyramid's website
Dawn Griffin
life as interns

Also huge downtown revitalization news that is the less recent, but still worth mentioning, Crown Village development, which has been going like gang busters ever since they got their funding a little more than a month ago.

What's New in Old North
Crown Village website
Ecology of Absence

Wow, what a great time for the city of St. Louis! I can't wait to see all of these projects at their completion. St. Louis is really becoming a destination city again.

UPDATE: For the record, has published an article today that sums up this great week of announcements... but in a more professional, thorough, journalistic fashion than my lowly 'blog. The blog being a device so informal its very name is derived from a contraction which was adopted immediately after it was invented. [I strenuously object to Wikipedia's claim the the word blog is a portmanteau. It's not a portmanteau, it's a contraction. Web log... weblog... 'blog. A portmanteau would be like wog or something.]

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mattel Apologizes to China

And it's about time. Mattel has issued an apology via its executive vice-president for worldwide operations, Thomas A. Debrowski.

From the article (the italics are mine):
On Friday, Debrowski acknowledged that "vast majority of those products that were recalled were the result of a design flaw in Mattel's design, not through a manufacturing flaw in China's manufacturers."
Yes indeed, folks. That is mighty big of Mattel to admit that they hung the Chinese manufacturing sector out to dry for several high-profile toy recalls, while all along they knew the problem rested primarily with their own designs.

Isn't it weird how the US mass media published almost nothing to the contrary this entire time? They obliviously went along with letting everyone swallow the implication that China's manufacturing centers are unscrupulous, third-world dungeons that would do anything to squeeze an extra yuan out of their piece of the supply chain.

I don't want to sound like I'm some kind of advocate for the Chinese manufacturing industry, because I'm not. I think it would be great if Mattel did not move its factories to another country to begin with, since all they're doing is shipping the toys right back to America. I mean, if they opened up a factory in China to produce toys for the Chinese market, that would be completely different. All they've done is outsource their manufacturing jobs.

However, I do have a strong respect for the Chinese and I believe them to be an honest, hard working people. It disturbed me to see Mattel, and subsequently our own sycophantic media, drag China's good name through the dirt when clearly the responsibility was at least shared, and as it turned out, primarily Mattel's.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cardamom Porridge

Porridge is just a generic name for some grain boiled in water until it thickens, like oatmeal. I have always just called oatmeal oatmeal, but porridge sounds more quaint, so there you have it.

I decided to try McCann's Steel-cut Oats when I saw them on a shelf at the Schnucks on Arsenal. It turns out they are quite different from the Quaker Quick Rolled Oats I was raised on. For one thing they have a much more robust texture than quick rolled oats, and they have a stronger, and much more distinct flavor as well. They are oats, so they taste like oats, but the taste is more structured than quick rolled oats. They also take much longer to cook - about 45 minutes, between boiling the water and then the oats.... but it's definitely worth it.

I left the above picture unscaled, so you can see what they mean by steel-cut oats. Click on the image to see the up-close-and-personal details of the oats.

I've tried a number of different combinations of flavorings before I finally devised one that preserved the excellent flavor of the oats, and the traditional presentation style, as well as bringing in something new and exciting (at least to me it is... you may not be able to get as excited about oatmeal as I can).

This serves 1-2 people, depending on how much of a main course you make it:

3 cups of water
3/4 cup of McCann's Steel-cut Irish Oats
1 tblsp. unsalted butter
4 tblsp. sugar (to taste)
1 tblsp. ground cardamom seeds (cardamom powder)
1/2 cup red flame raisins (or raisins of your liking)
3 cups milk

Bring the water to a brisk boil, add the oats, and stir until they begin to thicken, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes (the can says 30, but that's always been too much for me... might only need 20 minutes really). Stir the oats occasionally while they're simmering to keep the water and oats thoroughly mixed, and to prevent them from burning on the bottom of the pot.

Once they oats are done, remove them from the heat.

Add the butter, sugar, cardamom, and raisins to the oats, and stir until mixed well. Then let it cool for about 10 minutes. This will give it time to set up nice and thick, so it will hold up better in the milk.

To serve, spoon out a portion of oats into a bowl, then pour about 1 cup of milk over them, or until the oats just peek through. Serve promptly, so the oats are still hot underneath the cool milk. The milk will cool each bite of oats, but the oats will retain their natural consistency and flavor. Yum!

This dish is really outstanding comfort food. It would be great to have for breakfast, but since I don't get up early enough to spend an hour making breakfast, and you really can't re-heat oatmeal (so I've learned), I make it for dinner.

You can really deck this dish out by sautéing the raisins in the butter with almonds, and just admit that it's actually the Indian dessert, Kheer, served as breakfast (or dinner, in my case), but with oats instead of rice.

Here is a video from Off the Shelf Cooking with Ameena for a simple, easy Kheer:

How I Benchmark Postfix

The goal of benchmarking an MTA can be to determine the number of messages that can be relayed through it under ideal conditions, and also under realistic conditions.

Ideal conditions means without bottlenecks. Bottlenecks for a MTA include network and I/O latency, and concurrency. Under ideal conditions, the MTA would never be blocked on reads and writes to/from its peers on the network, or its queues on disk. It would also be able to accept and establish as many simultaneous connections as needed at any given point in time.

Of course, having those kind of resources is unrealistic, but understanding how they affect the MTA's performance is important. When benchmarking the MTA, it is easy to identify the aspects of each element by introducing them individually, or one at a time. For instance, we can start a series of benchmarks by wiring the MTA directly its peers, NIC to NIC, eliminating any latency introduced by going through external network devices such as hubs, switches, or routers. Likewise, we can practically eliminate I/O latency by setting up the queue in RAM. Eliminating concurrency as a factor is much more difficult, since it depends on multiple factors, like CPU, OS, and MTA throughput capabilities. However, by slowly ramping up (or reducing) the concurrency parameters, we can plot a chart depicting performance increases or decreases with relation to concurrency.

Once we've established baseline numbers under ideal conditions, we can methodically introduce realistic bottlenecks until we get to a state that is representative of the actual production environment.

To begin, you need 2 boxes with Postfix installed, including the smtp-source and smtp-sink utilities, which are included w/the Postfix source code. We'll call the host you want to benchmark hostA. Modify hostA's file to relay everything directly to the other host, hostB:

relayhost = [hostB]

On hostB, leave Postfix down. To eliminate latency that would be introduced by relaying to another MTA, we will run only the smtp-sink process, a SMTP bit bucket, on port 25 on hostB, with connection caching and high concurrency enabled:

# smtp-sink -4c :25 1024

On hostA, the spool directory should be on a RAM disk. On Solaris systems, /tmp is a virtual RAM disk, so you can just copy the queue dir over there, and then modify the queue_directory parameter in to point to the /tmp copy. On Linux systems, you can create a virtual RAM disk by using the tmpfs file system. To determine if your system supports it grep tmpfs from /proc/filesystems:

# grep tmpfs /proc/filesystems
nodev tmpfs

If you don't see any output from your grep, you don't support it... otherwise, just create a virtual file system like so, copy your queue directory over to it, and then point Postfix at it by modifying the queue_directory parameter in

# mount tmpfs /mnt -t tmpfs -o size=128m

To ensure maximum concurrency, you will probably want to jack up hostA's MTA's default_process_limit value in I set mine to 1024, but that may be too much for your system. I'm benchmarking with a pair of 4-core Sun T2000s, which are designed to support very high concurrency.

If you can, make sure the two hosts are wired directly to each other, NIC to NIC. Depending on your NICs, that may require a crossover cable. The NICs on the T2000 are auto-sensing, so a regular 8P8C cable will do.

Now the fun begins... On hostA, we will use the smtp-source command to inject 10,000 25 kB messages with 256 concurrent connections, and connection caching.

# date; smtp-source -4dNcm 10000 -s 256 -l 25000 -f -t localhost:25

This series of commands will display the exact time, then send 10000 messages, then display the time again. The command exits when all 10000 messages have been accepted into the queue by Postfix. The benchmark is not over until every message has been relayed to hostB. To determine the exact second that happens, you will need to repeatedly check the mail queue:

# mailq |tail -1; date

When the mail queue is finally empty, the benchmark is over. Calculate messages per minute (MPM) by taking the number of seconds between the first date call (from the smtp-source call) to the last date displayed when the mail queue was finally empty, divide 10000 by that number, and multiply that quotient by 60.

Typical results for my T2000s are between 14600 and 16200. Moving the queue directory to a real disk gives results in the mid 5000s, and then changing from a straight shot MTA->smtp-sink to MTA->MTA->smtp-sink (i.e. starting Postfix on hostB, and having it relay everything to the smtp-sink process) results in numbers comparable to what is actually seen in the production environment, which is between 4500 and 4800 MPM.

I'm cutting this blog entry short now because, although I haven't done anything yet to scale down the concurrency factor, that would only be an exercise in methodology, and for all practical purposes I've already provided sufficient evidence that I/O is by far my MTA's lowest hanging fruit in terms of upgrade potential. Since I'm only operating on a pair of mirrored 15K SAS drives, which are also the same drives that every other file system on the box is on, so I have to make sure routine I/O outside of the MTA is minimized, including logging only to a remote host, except for possibly low traffic logs like the system log. It is obvious that if I ever need more performance out of the box, an upgrade to a high-speed array would be the way to go.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Big East - The B'east!

The Big East is continuing their strong campaign to prove their worthiness of an automatic BCS bid. We now have four teams in the top 25, in both the AP and Coach's polls: WVU, Rutgers, Louisville, and now... South Florida!

I knew it was only a matter of time until the rest of the NCAA realized the potential SF has down there. They are currently the second-highest ranked team in Florida, which is saying something. Above that, they got their 23/24 ranking by beating #17 Auburn, who is no slouch. Congrats, Bulls!

WVU made an outstanding showing against Maryland, running for 353 yards, and allowing only 269 total yards of offense. There was also a special appearance by future Mountaineer great Noel Devine, a true freshman who came in just to run 5 times for 136 yards, and let me tell you, that young man has some MOVES! He juked to the side so far and so fast on one of the runs, that two defenders went to tackle him, and they tackled each other! It was so freakin' classic! He shot out through the lane like a lightning bolt. It was really something to behold. It definitely makes me feel good about our future, since Slaton is about to collect his Heisman and move onto the next level.

Louisville lost to Kentucky, which hurts, but Kentucky was already known to be good, with their star quarterback, Andre Woodson. Wildcats fans believe he should be on the Heisman watch list. If Kentucky goes on to beat Arkansas next week, that will only help ease the pain of Louisville's loss to them.

Cincinnati is actually smoking their competition, chalking up a total of 140 points to 16 over the past 3 games! Krikey! The Marshall Herd are next on the Bearcats's list... another potential feast for the viverrid beasts.

Rutgers, like Cincinnati, has amassed an embarrassing number of points over their opponents, going 138-27 over the past 3 games. Sure, neither team is facing ranked teams yet, but still, that's a lot of points, no matter who you're playing. Between the two of them, 278-43... wow. That's 20 touchdowns (w/PATs) for every 3 of their opponents.

What about Pittsburgh? Why can't the Panthers participate in this Big East Feast? The consensus for their loss against Michigan State this past weekend is turnovers... they had two picks and a fumble. On the bright side, their frosh running back, heavily-recruited LeSean McCoy rushed for 174 yards, and even played QB for much of the second half. So, they may still be able to pull it together for UVA and Navy in a couple weeks.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Apparently, someone else likes the Geico "Cavemen" commercials, because they're going to try making it into a TV sitcom.

Yes, I will admit, I think the cavemen are hilarious. They are so over the top! They are parodies of hyper-sensitive 30-something metrosexual men. They are so politically correct, they're the kind of people that you feel are always criticizing what you say, no matter how careful you are. What's not to love about making fun of that?

If you think about it, the cavemen are a perfect platform for a parody of that demographic, because if they were using real people, it might be more difficult to make them loveable. For instance, take the website that they have created for the cavemen, "Caveman's Cribs". In it, you're encouraged to snoop around his impeccably decorated modern apartment, learning about the depth of his shallowness through the hilarious details left out for you to discover. In the bathroom vanity, you pull open a drawer to find an expensive-looking set of hair treatments by "Beaucoups de Cheveux" (French for alot of hair - haha!), which includes an anti-frizz treatment, a "cleanser" (known to the layman as shampoo), a "hydrating conditioner", and a volumizer. Of course a caveman would spend extra dollars on this! But you know, even if he wasn't a caveman, he would still buy it, because he's just that kind of dick.

I haven't had a chance to look over the whole apartment yet, but my part favorite so far is the magazine on the coffee table. It's called "HIM" magazine, and in small print it reads "The quarterly magazine for men of means". Dude, that is too much. Who would subscribe to that!? You can actually flip through it, and discover an article about another caveman named Joe Dyton, an aspiring actor, and of course several ads that further the pretentious metrosexual stereotype.

I can't wait for this show to come out. I just hope other people will see the humor in it. I'm afraid most people will not have a sufficiently characteristic point of reference to understand it. If you have friends like that, you will probably love it. If not, you might still be able to appreciate it, but more likely you just won't get it.

I could see this show going on for at least two seasons, but it will be important to bring in a couple highly personable spoiler characters who will serve to counter the cavemen's highfalutin personalities with earthy, frank dialog that the average Joe can identify with.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Actionable Information

If you use the word actionable, you suck. First off, it's not even a word, it's a nominalization. Normally, a nominalization is what you get when you take a verb or an adjective, and use it as a noun. However, it works the other way around too. If you use a noun as an adjective or a verb, that is also considered a nominalization.

action: noun
actionable: adjective

Actionable is actually a legal term. If you're not a lawyer, you should know that you especially are misusing the term actionable. It is a term used to describe something that can be legally acted upon. If you're not a lawyer, see if one of these other words is actually the adjective you're looking for: usable, useful, helpful, worthwhile, important, valuable, urgent, interesting.

This is usable information.

This is actionable information.

Egh, it makes my stomach turn. I can just imagine the nincompoops wagging their slobbery tongues at the sound of such an important-sounding word. Its prestige brightens the room, and they all feel a bit smarter, even though they've just thrust another witless, rusty spike into the side of our modern language.

Please stay away from the term
actionable. It does not make you sound smarter. It does make you sound like you're trying to sound smarter.

This picture demonstrates what may be an actionable wedgie. According to this legal blog, Bino's Blogoroni, some wedgies may be actionable, depending on their severity.

I found this photo by searching Google for the term "actionable", and then checking the image results. I think it's perfect for this blog entry, because not only does it provide an awesome visual reminder of what actionable really means, but it also shows exactly what I want to do to people who use the term actionable.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Ski Racing in St. Louis

Hidden Valley Ski Team's dryland training starts next Saturday. I'm helping coach this year, and I'm very excited to be getting back into ski racing.

In Missouri, we're in the CUSSA region, Central USSA. HVST skis in both CUSSA races and WIJARA, the Wisconsin-Iowa-Illinios Junior Alpine Racing Association. Back in WV we raced in PARA (the southern region was later split out into its own region, SARA) when I was growing up, which is strictly USSA. WIJARA is not strictly USSA. On May 10, 2007, WIJARA officials announce that racers would no longer be required to have a USSA membership to compete in WIJARA races. That means kids who do not want to pay the USSA fees, or who can't justify travel expenses for distant CUSSA races, or simply have not decided if they want to compete at the USSA level, can compete in WIJARA races to sort of test the frozen water crystals.

HVST has a team of around 40 kids. Like most teams, the level of talent is varied from outstanding to total beginner. I was really amazed by just how good some of the kids on the Hidden Valley Ski Team really are. I mean, how did they become such good racers living here in St. Louis? I'm going to find out.

If you're reading this, and your parents moved you from a nice mountainous region to Flatlands, USA (a.k.a. St. Louis), listen up! There is quality racing here, and you should check it out.

One of our racers, Matthew Klein, a J4, went to JOs last season (2007). He finished 16th in the first slalom, 4th in the 2nd slalom, and 24th in SG. Yes, I said 4th! We also had two girls, Kelsey Spidle and Cayla Weber, compete in the FIS Championships, which, just raching that level is amazing. They competed against some of the best female racers in the world there, from ages 15 to 32.

Some of the parents here are really into it. They plan training trips for team members to Colorado and even New Zealand in the off-season, where the US Ski Team trains.

I'm really excited to get the season started, and to get back on the hill with some real competition.

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