"Why didn't you just send email?... Did you even have light bulbs then?"

Antique mailbox

Blogging has been light—in fact I'm at least a week behind in my blog reading between work and twins (and even more behind in reading my non-work email), but tonight I'd be remiss not to try and capture an exchange Jacob (age six) and I had over ice-cream this evening...

Jacob: You dated Mom before you married her, right?

Michael: I did.

Jacob: Did you date her when you were in High School?

Michael: I went on a couple of dates with her then. The first one was to see the Disney movie Little Mermaid.

Jacob: Which Little Mermaid, number one or number two?

Michael: Number one. It had just come out and was still playing in movie theaters.

Jacob: So was Mom your girlfriend in High School then?

Michael: She was a friend who was a girl. I had different friends who were girls but never just one "girlfriend" that I dated all the time.

Jacob: Oh.

Michael: The summer after I finished High School—before I started college—I went to live with my friend whose family had moved to Las Vegas and worked to earn money for college and a mission.

I was homesick at first and wrote lots of letters to all my friends and families. Your Mom was one of the best letter writers and by the end of the summer we were sending and receiving letters in the mail practically every day. I guess you could say we dated by mail.

Jacob: Why didn't you just send emails?

Michael: Well, back then most people didn't have email yet so we sent old fashioned letters.

Jacob: Oh. Did you even have light bulbs then?

Michael: Um, yes, we did.

Jacob: Who invented the light bulb again? I forget.

Michael: Thomas Edison.

I briefly thought about digressing into a discussion of the history of email systems (and how I first sent email messages over the Internet without being directly connected to the Internet in the late 1980s), and about bulletin board systems and proprietary online services and a host of related topics, but then I realized that to his generation a world without near-universal email would sound about as strange to him as a world without light bulbs would.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Congress legislates a headache for the IT industry

This past weekend we sprung forward (for daylight saving time) two weeks earlier than we normally would have. Most years it takes my body a couple of weeks to adjust. This year I won't have a problem (because I'm so tired from having been on call for the change) and I can thank my congressmen for that.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, specifically §110, reads:

(a) Ammendment.—Section 3(a) of the Uniform Time Act of 1966 (15 U.S.C. 260a(a)) is ammended—

(1) by striking "first Sunday of April" and inserting "second Sunday of March"; and

(2) by striking "last Sunday of October" and inserting "first Sunday of November".

(b) Effective Date.—Subsection (a) shall take effect 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act or March 1, 2007 whichever is later.

(c) Report to Congress.—Not later than 9 months after the effective date stated in subsection (b), the Secretary shall report to Congress on the impact of this section on energy consumption in the United States.

(d) Right to Revert.—Congress retains the right to revert the Daylight Saving Time back to the 2005 time schedules once the Department study is complete.

This isn't the first time DST has changed since the initial Uniform Time Act of 1966 established DST between the last Sunday in April and the last Sunday in October:

Two decades ago (in 1987) when DST last changed in the United States computers were not nearly as pervasive and networked as they are today. Novell Netware was only a few years old. The US DoD had standardized on TCP/IP a mere five years earlier, and there were only an estimated 28,000 or so hosts on the entire Internet.

The world is a much more complexly internetworked place now. Congresses (temporary?) change of the DST rules necessitated substantial updates to many computer systems.

It took a lot of "busy work" to get ready for what some have called Y2K7. For me Sun Microsystem's belated alert regarding EST & MST backwards compatibility in Java resulted in substantial on-call pay this weekend. (Thanks Sun!) It is at times like these that having Expect in my toolbox really comes in handy.

At many companies that use Microsoft Exchange you'll be pretty much free to miss (or be up to an hour late) for any meeting you don't want to attend for the next three weeks. Yet another benefit of this legislation. :-)

Oh, and there are special tax breaks for consumers available (unrelated to daylight savings) too.

Having delved into the Congressional Record once before, I decided to see if there had been any congressional debate or discussion on the technology impact of changing the DST rules.

Debate on the Energy Policy Act of 2005 came to the House floor on April 20-21, 2005 and then again (after passage by the Senate and a conference committee between the House and the Senate) on July 27-29.

Overall the act was quite controversial, but even those who were almost completely opposed to it saw the daylight saving change as a good thing (emphasis added below):

I have the greatest respect and affection for the Chairman of the Committee, the distinguished gentleman from Texas (Mr. Barton), but I must say in all honesty that this is really a terrible energy bill.

The Chairman comes from Texas, and I'm sure that from a Lone Star State perspective, this looks like a pretty good bill. But most of our constituents don't come from oil producing states. Most of our constituents are energy consumers, and from a consumer perspective this bill is seriously deficient. In fact, I would suggest that this bill is a bit like that old Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western: "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

There is a tiny bit of good in the bill--like extending daylight saving time by a month in the Spring and a month in the Fall. Now, that was a good idea, it really was--and I'm glad that the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) and I were able to get it in the bill.

But in all honesty I think I have to say that for the most part, what we have here before us today is one truly Bad and Ugly bill.

— Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), April 20, 2005, Congressional Record, H2195

Nobody voiced any opposition, questions, or concerns about changing the start and end dates of daylight saving time. Those that even bothered mentioning it uniformly praised the effects it would affect on reducing energy consumption, lower crime, and reducing traffic accidents. (Always without citing any specific studies or reports to back up those claims.)

No one apparently foresaw (not even those who think Republicans are out to get the sick and the elderly) the warnings the FDA would issue earlier this year:

Dear Healthcare Practitioner, Hospital Director and Safety Manager:

This is to alert you to the possibility that some medical devices (equipment), hospital networks and associated information technology systems may generate adverse events because of the upcoming change in the start and end dates for Daylight Savings Time (DST), and to suggest actions you can take to prevent such occurrences.

While we do not know which specific devices might be affected, FDA is concerned about medical devices or medical device networks that operate together or interact with other networked devices, e.g. where a synchronization of clocks may be necessary.

If a medical device or medical device network is adversely affected by the new DST date changes, a patient treatment or diagnostic result could be:

Any of these unpredictable events could harm patients and not be obvious to clinicians responsible for their care.

— FDA Preliminiary Public Health Notification
Unpredictable Events in Medical Equipment due to New Daylight Savings Time Change
March 1, 2007

Am I bitter about daylight savings? No—I lived through the 1993 temporal chaos caused by the government of the Brazilian state of Amazonas just fine.

I am disappointed that there doesn't appear to have been any recognition in Congress—at least on the record—that changing the DST rules in 2007 is a bigger deal than it was in 1987 or during 1973-74.

Let's at least hope Congress will continue to stick with the Gregorian Calendar however!

— Michael A. Cleverly

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The skeleton of a man in the middle

Intermediation

Placing yourself in the middle comes in handy in all sorts of situations. The following skeleton of Tcl code is fully functional and easily extended. I've used it in one form or another for many years now:

socket -server accept listeningPort

proc accept {client addr port} {
    if {[catch {socket -async destHost destPort} server]} then {
        shutdown $client
    } else {
        fconfigure $client -blocking 0 -buffering none -translation binary
        fconfigure $server -blocking 0 -buffering none -translation binary
        fileevent  $client readable [list glue $client $server]
        fileevent  $server readable [list glue $server $client]
    }
}

proc glue {src dst} {
    if {[catch {puts -nonewline $dst [read $src]}] ||
        [eof $src] || [eof $dst]} then {
        shutdown $src $dst
    }
}

proc shutdown {args} {
    foreach sock $args {catch {close $sock}}
}

vwait forever

It's possible to get even more mileage out of it. With just another couple of lines you can bridge SSL coming and/or going.

I love Tcl's event-driven I/O.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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