fighting the lack of good ideas

digital preservation

I have been an active member on the Stack Exchange family of sites [nearly] since StackOverflow started a few years ago.

Recently a new proposal has been made for Digital Preservation. Many of the proposed questions are interesting (including one of mine) – and I would strongly encourage anyone interested in the topic to check it out.

The topic has resparked a question I have had for a long time – why is it important to archive data?

Not that I think it’s inherently bad to hold onto digital information for some period of time – but what is the impetus for storing it more-or-less forever?

In tech popculture we have services like Google’s gmail which starts users at a mind-boggling 7+ gigabytes of storage! For email! Who has 7GB of email that needs to be stored?! For a variety of reasons, I hold onto all of my work email for the duration of my employment with a given company – you never know when it might be useful (and it turns out it’s useful fairly frequently). But personal email? Really? Who needs either anywhere near that much, or to hold onto it for that long? And those few people who arguably DO need that much, or to keep it forever, can afford to store it somewhere safely.

I think there is a major failing in modern thinking that says we have to save everything we can just because we can. Is storage “cheap”? Absolutely. But the hoard / “archive” mentality that pervades modern culture needs to be combated heavily. We, as a people, need to learn how to forget – and how to remember properly. Our minds are, more and more, becoming “googlized“. We have decided it’s more important to know how to find what we want rather to know it. And for some things, this is good:

If you are a machinist, is it better to know how to reverse-thread the inside of a titanium pipe end-cap, or to go look up what kind of tooling and lathe settings you will need when you get around to making that part? I suppose that if all you ever do in life is mill reverse-threaded titanium pipe end-caps, you should probably commit that piece of information to memory.

But we need to remember to forget, too:

when you need to make two of these things. Ever. In your entire life. In the entire history of every company you ever work for. Well, then I would say it’s better to go look up that particular datum when you need it. And then promptly forget it.

The historical value, interest, and amazing work that is contained in the “Domesday Books” is amazing – and something that has been of immense value to historians, archivists, politicians, and the general public. Various and sundry public records (census data, property deeds, genealogies, etc) are fantastic pieces to hold onto – and to make as available and accessible as possible.

Making various other archives available publicly is great too (eg the NYO&WRHS) – and I applaud each and every one of those efforts; indeed, I contribute to them whenever I can.

I continuously wonder, though, how many of these records and artifacts truly need to be saved – certainly it is true of physical artifacts that preservation is important, but how many copies of the first printing of Moby Dick do we need (to pick an example)?

I don’t know what the best answer is to digital hoarding, but preservation is a topic which needs to be considered carefully.

tax day

Tax Day in the US is “late” this year because the 15th of April was a Sunday.

I was able to prepare and file my taxes early-ish (January) thanks to a proactive employer who got our W2s out quickly.

Every month I look at my pay stub, and am appalled at how much the various governmental agencies claim is “theirs” of MY worked-for pay:

  • 11.3% – Federal
  • 4.7%  – State
  • 3.8% – Social Security
  • 2.3% – Lexington-Fayette
  • 1.3% – Medicare
  • .5% – Fayette County
  • 23.9% total taxes claimed

And it’s only that “low” because I participate in (completely legal) programs to reduce my taxable income (401(k), FSA, etc which reduce my taxable income by about 12%).

We have not yet added-in the state and local sales taxes that are claimed, nor the federal, state, and local fuel taxes (over and above sales taxes in most states). Currently I am not a home owner, but when that eventually changes, I’ll be paying property taxes – a fee to the city/county for the privilege of living there!

Of my take-home pay, if I spend $2000 per month on “stuff” (groceries, eating out, gas, shopping, whatever), about 7% of that is going to the tax coffers of the county and state (and maybe city, depending on where you live). 7% of $2000 is $131 (or if you want to add 7% on top of the $2000, it’s an additional $140).

I am a proponent of pay-as-you-go – in all areas of life: if I want to make use of something that belongs to someone else, or that is maintained by the “people” (eg roads), I do not at all mind paying for that opportunity.

However, I despise double-dipping and multiple-paying on the same service/product. A prime example is the concept of a toll road: if the road is owned/operated by the “government” (which is really the people, but with a delegated responsibility to maintain the facilities), it makes sense to me that it should cost something to have to take care of that road. However, if the government wants to charge a toll for a road, then it must eliminate the fuel tax that every driver pays: by charging a toll and a fuel tax, drivers have double-paid for the privilege of using the road.

Double-dipping affects all consumers in every other purchase they make as well because corporations are charged taxes on their income, and since businesses are in business to make money, they have to cover that cost from somewhere, which means it comes from their customers.

Several years ago I wrote a paper on implementing a flat tax in the United States. In the intervening years, I have become convinced that the premise on which I wrote that paper is not the best (ie, taxing income), but that it was a solid start in the Right Direction™.

What needs to be done instead is far simpler, and would in the process also eliminate the need for most of the IRS, and give substantially more power directly to the people over the direction their government takes.

Abandon the concept of an income tax entirely.

Eliminate taxation on gifts (including estates). Eliminate the “special” Medicare and Social Security taxes.

Implement a flat sales (or “consumption”) tax on all non-food purchases in the country.

One of the beauties of the sales tax is that everyone pays it – whether you are “rich” or “poor”, it is equally, and fairly applied to all – and it’s shown every day on transactions around the country: you buy a $20000 car, you pay $1400 in sales tax. You buy a $40000 car, you pay $2800 in sales tax. That’s a simple, easy-to-understand model, and one that everyone can follow straightforwardly.

According to Wikipedia, in 2007 total tax receipts (income, employment, corporate, excise, gift, estate) to the Federal government was just under $2.7 trillion. That’s trillion – with a “t”. According to this site, total personal income in the US in 2010 was $12.3 trillion (in 2007 it was $11.9 trillion)*.

IF every American who earned an income paid a flat tax on that income (with no deductions, no special categories, no “loopholes”, etc) of 23%, that would *completely* cover the tax receipts of the Federal government. That would be a simple solution – if it wasn’t for what one of my favorite entertainers said:

The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. –Will Rogers

Let’s end that lying now.

In 2011, the US spent $10.9 trillion. Subtract out non-durable goods for the moment (a quick way to distinguish food out of the mix, though I’m sure people didn’t spend $2.5 trillion on food^). That brings us down to $8.4 trillion.If every person who bought something new in the US paid a sales tax of 37%, that would more than cover the tax receipts of the Federal government. With the far more probable $0.5 trillion spent on food at home, that gives $10.4 trillion spent. A sales tax rate of %26 would cover the Federal tax receipts.

Businesses already collect sales tax. Collecting a different rate is simple.

If the “average” citizen saw that on top of his $10 meal at Applebee’s he needed to pay $2.60 in taxes, it might help him budget better. It’s certainly more transparent – and easier to track.

Yes, it would put all kinds of tax attorneys, accountants, and the like out of work – but it would also mean that folks wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of millions and billions of dollars per year to worry about their taxes: pay when you buy. It’s really that simple.

Eliminate the overt, unnecessary complexity of our tax code, and make it the simplest to understand and comply-with in the world.

Oh, and make the US an enviable target for corporations wanting to headquarter/operate here: no taxes on business income would be a clarion call to start/operate here.

*See for more recent numbers
^according to, the average 2.5 person household spends $3750 per year on food at home (untaxable in my plan); there are 325 million people in the US; that’s 130 million households and $487.5 billion (just under $0.5 trillion)

automatically returning a host to the unprovisioned server pool in hpsa

In conjunction with the customized PXE process I wrote about previously, it could be highly desirable to be able to return a server to the unprovisioned server pool in HP’s Server Automation.

This is a specifically-Linux procedure: though I’m sure something similar can be done with Windows*.

run an ad-hoc script against a target server that contains the following:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda bs=512 count=1
sleep 1
nohup reboot

This will erase the MBR and partition table, and then reboot the server.

Before it reboots, however, you need to deactivate and delete the server from SA – otherwise it will not register correctly.

If you’ve already enabled (or not disabled) PXE booting, when it reboots, it will pick the default entry off the PXE menu, skipping the hard drive as there is no valid boot record available to it.

Why would you want to do this?

Well, let’s say you’re doing a lot of build testing (verifying ks.cfg or unattend.xml files, for example) – this could be useful.

Or, maybe you want to get your build process completely streamlined and you’re working with the MBC functionality in SA – again, rapid recycling of machines is highly desirable.

In a later post I’ll discuss freeing the VM from SA in the process (ie, removing it from the ESXi host to fully release resources).

*In fact, you may be able to run fdisk /mbr on a Windows server – but I haven’t tried.


I see Allegiant Air is starting to come around.

For several years, many airlines have had checked bag fees – but carry-ons are free. But it’s having carry-on bags that slows everyone down while inept and hapless travelers try to wedge their carry-on and “small personal item” into overhead bins, under the seat in front of them, or in a neighbor’s lap.

Let’s reverse that policy and allow one carry-on bag per person for free (laptop bag, backpack, purse, etc). Then have all other bags be checked (maybe charge over 3 checked bags – or not, that’d be up to the airlines).

I’d put money down that most everyone’s flights would be substantially smoother that way.

gee, thanks red hat, amd, and vmware

kernel panicAt least the publicly-searchable knowledge base had something.

I tried searching for “Kernel panic – not syncing: Fatal Exception” and “RIP” and “cpuid4_cache_lookup”.

And wouldn’t you know it! There’s a known issue if you try to install RHEL >5.4 x64 on ESXi 4.x if it’s running on AMD 6000 series CPUs. Guess what – we’re on ESXi 4.1 on AMD 61xx CPUs and were trying to install RHEL 5.8 x64.


The only workaround is to install 5.4 and then upgrade – that’s dumb. There needs to be a fix from somewho for this problem!