The No. 1 Mayberry Detective Agency

A few years ago I picked up one of Alexander McCall Smith's books in the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series as I was passing through the airport. These are gentle, very human stories of Precious Ramotswe as she runs her detective agency in Botswana. They feature almost no murder or mayhem. The mysteries aren't convoluted. HBO and the BBC have recently produced a movie and series about them. One day this past week I realized where I'd seen all these characters before: in Mayberry.

Ma Ramotswe is the central figure, solving crimes with common sense and a keen understanding of human nature. She's very much like sheriff Andrew Jackson Taylor in Mayberry in the old Andy Griffith show. Her secretary and assistant detective is a skinny, wired helper with an inflated sense of self-importance: Grace Makutsi. She sometimes even acts like Barney. Ma Ramotswe's love interest is the stable, kind Mr. JLB Matekoni, the analog of Helen Crump. Next door to the agency's office is a hairdresser, the counterpart to Floyd the barber. Mr. JLB Matekoni runs a garage and employs two worthless apprentices. Let's see, in Mayberry were there idiots who worked on cars? Yes, the apprentices fill the roles of Goober and Gomer. Ma Ramotswe occasionally has to go out into the bush, just as sheriff Taylor has to go into the backwoods.  I'm expecting to see Otis and Howard Sprague show up at any time.

Did Mr. Smith lift the forumla from Andy Griffith? I don't think so, but he stumbled onto a timeless forumla that still works well.

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Today's the day we commemorate the Mexican Nationals sinking of the French colonial cargo vessel Puebla carrying mayonnaise to the old world. Happy Cinco de Mayo.

Excellent Article about Evangelical Collapse

The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent article on the Coming Collapse of Evanglical Christianity. I don't think the end-game is quite what he says. I think he's missed the home church movement which will have an impact. We'll see.

Terrific Design

I recently came across this example of terrific design. Why can't we do the same thing in this digital age?

What's Google Doing with YouTube?

There's been a rising chorus lately about how Google should dump YouTube. Such as this article at TG Daily. What people are missing here is the big picture, like Google's relationship to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the world. The largest expenditure for any ISP is their bandwidth charges: getting bits from the outside world. The more bits they get from the outside world, the more they have to pay. This may be per-gigabyte or peak-metered usage from their upstream bandwidth provider. What type of content consumes the most bandwidth, thus costing ISPs the most money? Video. Nothing else even comes close. One of the things Google is doing with YouTube is running up the monthly bandwidth bills of ISPs. Now Google can come along with their new datacenter in a shipping container that's been rumored for years. Google can put these adjacent to an ISPs server room and cache all of YouTube videos there. Thus the bits for YouTube videos will flow from the ISPs server room to the customer. No outside bandwidth will be needed, thus saving the ISP major dollars. What's in it for Google? Essentially taking over the ISPs network operations, which Google can do better and cheaper than the ISP due to pure scale. The ISP will outsource more and more operations to Google and their magic datacenter in a box. At that point Google makes a major profit. Google won't own any ISP proper, thus won't run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission. All they'll be is an outsourcer, running video and content caching, email, web hosting, etc. for the ISP.

In short: Google is using YouTube to drive up the ISPs monthly bandwidth bill so then Google can ride in as the White Knight and save the ISPs a lot of money. All an ISP has to do is give Google a little money for services instead of giving the ISP's bandwidth provider a lot of money for bandwidth.

Terrific Robots!!

Great post at Gizmodo. Robots that truly look like they're science fiction!!

Open Source Blog

I started an occasional blog about open source in the Atlanta area over at TechLinks. I'll be drawing on the going-on I keep up with at ossatlanta.org. We'll see if the corporate types catch on to Open Source.

Website Redesign

We've just redesigned our corporate website: 3by400.com. Drift over and take a look, especially at the design portfolio. We have some very nice sites there.

Leiningen versus the ants

If I could draw, I'd draw a man being squished by a large foot, shaped like a tree-root. I'd call it "Leiningen versus the ents". Most of you won't get that, but it's OK. You can read the original story here.

Questioning The Dalai Lama

I fail to understand why everyone gives the Dalai Lama a free pass. Nobody asks him any hardball questions. Everyone seems to think he's some sort of legitimate leader on the world stage. Face it, he's the deposed despot of an incredibly backward third-world country. If he's supposed to be such a great leader, how come Tibet has been in the world's backwater for centuries?

Another hard statement: he's been responsible for the poverty and ignorance of his people for centuries. "Wait!" I hear you say. "He's only about 70, how can he be personally responsible for centuries of poverty?" Because he claims to be the 14th reincarnation of the one, true, Dalai Lama. This makes him personally responsible for centuries of repression and poverty in Tibet. But wait, if he's not responsible that means that the whole reincarnation thing was just a lie propagated by the ruling priest class to keep the multitudes under control and subservient. So it looks to me like either a) this most 'enlightened' of the world's leaders has been personally responsible for centuries of Tibetian poverty or b) he's not the same Dalai Lama that was born in the late 1300s and his whole religion is nothing more than the front to a power-play by the ruling cast. Personally I go with b) because you get to throw out the whole reincarnation thing as well.

When the National Geographic did a piece on Tibet a few years back, they concluded that the average Tibetan doesn't have any great love for their new Chinese rulers, but they sure don't want the return of the Dalai Lamas, because "At least the Chinese build roads". Well put.

A few years back the currnet Dalai Lama was quoted as saying "The Dalai Lama office was an institution created to benefit others. It is possible that it will soon have outlived its usefulness". I'll let you judge how much others benefited by comparing his palace at Lhasa with the average Tibetan house. Perhaps it was just the ruling priest class that the 'benefit others' applied to, rather than all Tibetans. My guess is that the correct translation of the above quote should have been "It's been a great scam, but the marks are starting to get wise, so let's get out of Dodge while the gettin's good."

The Secrets to Great Chex Party Mix

We've been making party mix for a number of years. Here's my tricks on how to get great Party Mix:

  • Use real butter, not margerine
  • Oven-bake, don't microwave
  • Go easy on the Wheat Chex, make up for it with extra Rice and Corn
  • Use less mixed nuts, make up the difference in pecans

Have fun!!

Secure Shell Little Black Box

Mike Warfield gave a great talk at the October AUUG meeting about system administration with ssh. He suggested a "Little Black Box" to run all your SysAdmin ssh connections through. In light of that, I put up a howto site for Secure Shell Little Black Box. I'll be adding some more info to it hopefully soon. I'll be speaking on the subject at the February meeting of the Atlanta Unix Users' Group. See you there.

Christmas Black Comedies

I love black comedies: works that derive their humor from death. One of the best of recent offerings is Pushing Dasies, which has unfortunately been cancelled. Christmas black comedies are fairly rare, but from childhood I've loved We're No Angels starring Bogart, Ustinov, Rathbone, etc. I recently found a marvelous Belgian short on YouTube called the Bloody Olive. Have fun, and Merry Christmas to all!!