Moving Day

Well, I am moving this blog to a new location. It’s going to a new server and content is being synchronized. As a result… well it may be a day or so before I get everything back to normal because I am quite busy with a trip to Denver in the offing.

So check back… the old content will return.

Maybe I’ll actually update this thing. LOL… uh-huh… yeah, right :)

My Car Grew a Pair…

… of doors. Oh… and changed color.

Hmm… lost its front wheel drive.

Gained a 5-speed.

And has a blue and white logo on the hood instead of the constellation of Pleiades.

So what’s going on? Have I lost my marbles? No… but I have left the SVX fold for the last time. My SVX started having some issues which I won’t go into here… suffice to say they were bad enough that I finally decided that the SVX community is going to lose an “owner-member” and gain a “non-owner-member”.

For a few weeks now I’ve been driving a BMW. Yeah, I know; yuppie image but it’s a great car. A real drivers machine. It’s got four doors, a 5-speed and a 3 liter inline six that puts the power to the road through the rear wheels. I’ll review it more later… today I just wanted to update the blog to let everyone know my latest.

More soon… promise.

New Look… Material?

OK, if you checked my blog earlier today, you’d have seen that I added a new theme. Well, I intend to add more content soon, as well. Just to prove I’m not dead :)

Not going to make excuses; life’s been busy. I’ll fill you in soon… but it wasn’t helped by the fact that Ecto (my blog editor of choice) was having difficulty with WordPress (the blog software I use). I forced an upgrade today which fixed all the problems I was having… now maybe I can use this thing again!

Anyway… now that I have a good offline editor, maybe I’ll start writing more. Maybe not… we’ll see :)

Death of a Sysadmin

Here’s a rant I posted to Slashdot today that I thought you should read.

Computerworld posted an article here, that said in item number 9 that PC Network Admins were a dying computer skill. I wholeheartedly disagreed and posted the following to Slashdot as a comment on the article…

Seriously, I would say demand for *good* network administrators is only going to increase because of server consolidation. Why?

OK, let me put it this way: How do you think server consolidation is done? It’s not done by putting multiple applications on a server unless you’re a serious masochist. The best practices with MS systems (and in fact I do this with UNIX systems as well) is to put one application per server OS. Note that I made that point; per OS. The simple fact is that in modern business there’s HARDWARE consolidation going on thanks to virtualization. However, typically there is little consolidation of applications to a single host OS because of the fear of a single rogue app taking down multiple environments.

Ironically, due to the I/O constraints and slight performance hit of virtualization (not to mention the perceived “cheapness” of a non-hardware machine), this virtualization typically leads to server propagation. That is, where an application may once have used 4 servers, it may now use 5 (I see a 25% propagation for virtualized app environments where I work). This means that a good Windows admin will be in higher demand because there are more server INSTANCES than there would be if the “consolidation” had not taken place.

This is also completely ignoring where the perceived “cheapness” of the virtual machines leads to redundant application build-outs where none existed before. An application that was on one server sometimes gets two in a virtual environment because the amount of work of putting up a new instance is so small. The performance often has nothing to do with it because the application so under-utilized the hardware it was on originally that there’s sometimes an increase in performance going to the virtualized environment.

This is good for the industry in my opinion. We also run virtual Linux boxes hosted on our Virtual Infrastructure clusters (VMWare). Sure, Linux’ stability means we could run more than one app per instance… but why? Why not isolate the apps when you can throw up a virtual Linux box in about 10 minutes that has a kernel, basic user-mode tools and no GUI? Then load up your app and you’ve got a Linux box that can boot in 10 seconds flat and be rebooted without the users noticing an outage. Add in some redundancy on a second box and voila; you’ve just improved your end user’s experience, made your application enterprise-ready, but also added to the server propagation I mentioned earlier. This is almost inevitable.

I see no reason this is going to change any time soon. The FA listed the canceling of Network Admin programs at schools as being the reason they see this going away. I call poppycock on that, too. The reason these classes are dying is because they were set up in the late 90′s when “Network Admin” was a high-demand, high-pay career choice and suddenly everyone wanted to be in on the “wave of the future”. Well, reality hit, the bubble burst and we ended up with a job market flooded by people calling themselves “Network Admins” who could barely tell you how binary related to a subnet mask (that’s important to understand, by the way!) Now few people want to school in Network Administration, so these programs are getting canceled because of lack of demand. Now, it’s been a few years since the dot-com crash… so most of the paper MCSEs and CNEs have weeded themselves out of the market. Those few who remain are gunning for management… and power to ‘em.

Me? I’m a Systems Engineer, which is sort of a Network Admin on steroids but with no admin rights on the production networks. However, I have been a network admin and still do some work with many good (and some bad) ones. Demand for them is going to increase, not decrease. However, the days of massive salaries for those network admins has definitely come and gone… but good ones can earn a decent wage, and work in a job that can be incredibly rewarding… but only if one understands what the rewards MEAN. You’ll only stick with the job if you’re good enough to understand that you’ve made a difference… and how. Systems Engineering is the same.

I really feel this way; that consolidation of hardware leads to propagation of server OS’s, not a reduction. What do you think?

New Toy… Again…

Heh… after all my prattling about the E-Ten M700, I’ve bitten the bullet and bought… something else.

What?

Oh… yeah. OK… so I was really sold on the idea of the M700; a slick device with a fast CPU, WM5 and an integrated GPS. The cool factor was definitely there. So what happened? Did the luster fade so fast?

No, not really. I still love the M700, but I’ve been following posts on the E-Ten Users Forum show it to be rather buggy with a rather crappy camera. OK, I don’t use a camera phone much… but if it’s going to have a 2MegaPixel camera, then it needs to at least take passable shots. The shots I’ve seen from the M700 are not good; drab colors and an almost pervasive “scan line” problem. E-Ten doesn’t seem intent to fix it, instead focusing on selling their device through other providers. I waited… and waited… and I can wait no more.

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Alive Again

If you’re a visitor to this site more than occasionally, you’ll probably note that (a) the system has been down for a few days and (b) that this blog has gone through a few changes. Well, there’s a good reason for that. I’ll keep the gory details behind a cut at the bottom of this entry… but what else is new?

Well, I almost hate to admit it, but not much. Life is busy as always; always hectic. My Mac is still working out as an incredible tool to use on a daily basis, in part because of it support for open standards like X, as well as having Windows running in a Parallels VM on my desktop. This basically means I have the power of three environments to play with on one screen; OSX, UNIX and Windows. All this with one machine, one screen, one mouse and one keyboard. Sure, it means sometimes my screen can get a little cluttered, but it’s more than worth it.

Hopefully I’ll get more time to write soon. As the weather warms I hope to be getting out and doing more interesting stuff, too. For now, well if you want to see the gory details of my last few days then click below.

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Four Days with the Macbook Pro

Well, I did it. As I said in my earlier posting, I’m switching to an Apple Macbook Pro. Well, this week I placed the order and went ahead and bought myself my first Mac laptop.

So after four days with the Macbook Pro, what’s my feeling so far? Well, it’s a really nice little machine. I love the wide, bright and easily readable screen as well as the keyboard that illuminates in low light conditions. Although I’m an experienced touch-typist it’s nice to have a frame of reference when it gets dark. This is especially true when you’re getting accustomed to a new keyboard you’ve never used before.

But let’s start with first impressions, shall we? Note that I have a work laptop which is a Dell C610; a 1.6Ghz Pentium M that’s pretty nice; integrated wireless, 40Gb hard drive (small by modern standards, but enough for most stuff I do at work) and generally just a nice machine. I liked it; it was lighter than the D640 I upgraded from, ran cooler and generally just did everything the big old black beastie did, but did it with more subtlety. With that in mind, I was nicely surprised when I opened up the box of my Macbook Pro and found inside a machine that had a metal case rather than plastic, weighed less than my C610 and had a lovely clean design that I really appreciated.

The case is hard to describe to people who’ve not touched it. It’s a nice matte metal casing that covers the entire machine including the screen. This makes the screen quite resistant to flexing. I opened up the catch along the front of the machine. It opened smoothly with only a modicum of feeling. This is a magnetically activated catch that is actually pretty slick. It closes up neatly and when opened leaves no sign that it exists except the holes where the catch itself stows. Very nice, and leaves you with nothing to catch anything on. Nice feature.

The screen itself is large, very bright and easily readable. I like that a lot and I can see it becoming extremely useful. The power adapter is pretty slick, too… and something I don’t see much written about. It’s a small box, smaller generally than my Dell’s power supply. What’s slick about it is that it’s really designed for the traveling user. The power cord that attaches into the laptop itself has a pair of stowing hooks that flip out of the power supply, and this is really easy to use. What’s also slick is the way the power supply provides two different connections on the other side. When you need the reach, you can plug in a long cord to go to the wall. This gives you a more than sufficient reach to plug in just about anywhere. However, the slick part is that they also provide a small plug that replaces the cord. This plug folds away into the power supply itself when not in use, reminding me a lot of third-party travel adapters. When this is attached obviously the reach of power is not that bad, but it’s not great either. However, for the average road warrior I can see this being incredibly useful.

Also on the power supply is the well advertised and covered “MagSafe adapter”. This is a magnetic power adapter that plugs in to the laptop. Supplying a straight pull on the adapter results in quite a significant amount of pulling to get it to come disconnected. However, if you pull it at an angle then it comes free very easily. What’s this for? Well, as anyone who has kids or has used their laptop at a coffee shop can tell you, someone will trip over your power cord eventually. This MagSafe adapter is designed so that it will break loose and provide your laptop with the security of not flying off the table at the behest of someone’s legs. Very nice. Hopefully I won’t need to test it “in battle” for a while, but so far it’s nice.

So the first boot up experience? Well, in one respect it’s similar to Windows; the first boot seems to take forever, and even once you’re run the gamut of registration screens (far fewer than Windows XP I might add) you’re presented with a remarkably clean desktop, the OSX dock and that’s about it. Pretty bare, and to be honest I have to say for a switcher this might be a little intimidating. My experience is most people don’t want to randomly click on things for fear they’ll break their new computer. However, once you open up the apps on the dock or go into your hard drive to browse for applications it all becomes pretty self explanatory quickly. Not sure, maybe a paper or digital tour of features would be a nice idea? I’m a technical person myself, so I knew there was nothing I could break… but I could think of people who might have an issue with it.

Ah well, moving on. The amount of integrated and included software with the machine is quite impressive; a 30 day trial of Office 2004 is quite handy unless you’re planning to use open source alternatives like OpenOffice. I didn’t spend much time with the included “iTools” like iPhoto, but I did spend a little time playing with “Photo Booth”. The Macbook Pro has a built in camera just above the screen, mostly intended for video conferencing. However, a built in utility called Photo Booth allows you to take pictures and apply a number of effects and filters in real time. Something fun to play with…

So far I have to say the only negative thing that I’ve had came up on day one. That is that my OSX CD’s were DOA. This normally wouldn’t be a big deal except that I wanted to install X11 from the CD’s. That’s a UNIX extra that’s not installed by default. Instead you have to install that after the fact. Of course, I couldn’t. Sort of annoying, really ?

Well, I lied there a little. I did have a little disappointment a day or so after I got the laptop. That was the battery life. I know that with modern technology, I can’t complain too much. The dual-core 2ghz CPU chows down a goodly amount of CPU, and the 667Mhz front size bus architecture can’t help. Basically out of a full charge I get just shy of 3 hours of pretty solid use with the wireless on. For many that’s acceptable. Hell, to me it’s acceptable but quite a change from the 6 hours I could pull out of my old Toshiba. Now granted, that was an older machine (PIII-700) with an extended battery pack, so the comparison’s not really fair. The LCD was also about half the size of the Mac’s so that has an impact, too.

For a recent generation laptop that’s acceptable, though a little lower than friend of mine who bought a Dell C620, roughly equivalent in specs to this Apple though without the “style” or the wide screen. I’m willing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt here; Dell’s been doing Intel architecture for years and Apple’s just started. As a result, I can believe the operating system itself may stand for some tuning to get it up to the level that other manufacturers are with Intel architecture machines.

Now, turn off my wireless and Bluetooth and I end up with my battery life exceeding 3 hours, but that’s not a typical configuration for me. Thought it might be in future.

So how does this Intel Mac compare to the PowerPC Macs that have gone before it? Well, running native binaries (called Universal Binaries because they run on Intel and PowerPC architectures), the speed is blinding. In fact, there’s few Macs that can really match it for out and out performance when running a UB app. Against a multi-proc multi-core G5 it might have it’s ass handed to it, but hey, we’re talking about a $2000 laptop against a $4000 workstation here. Not really a fair comparison. However, running PowerPC native applications slows things down considerably.

Now, in my opinion I’ll let a lot slide because having been an assembly programmer at one point or another, I know the problems of getting one architecture emulated within a completely different architecture. It’s not easy, or pretty… and the surprise is not that it runs slowly but that it runs at all. The upshot of all the technical talk you’ll find around is that the old PowerPC architecture is so radically different from the newer Intel architecture that there’s not even a comparison. Functions that exist in the PPC world just don’t even have a comparable function available with Intel… but somehow they make it all work. Thankfully, this translation layer called “Rosetta” is extremely solid and completely invisible to the user. Hell, I’m typing this on Word 2004, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that I have Performance Monitor up as well I wouldn’t even have been able to tell it wasn’t a native app. Can’t wait for the UB version of Office to see what performance gains they make ?

I think it’s safe to say I’m impressed so far. The operating system has had no crashes so far, and the only time I’ve rebooted it is when I had to update all the OS components right after first boot. Of course, you have to do this in Windows as well so that’s not unusual. The laptop goes to sleep when I tell it, and wakes up when I tell it. I did have one surprising awakening, but I quickly figured out that I had a function turned on (by default) to wake up on Bluetooth activity. My BT cellphone and BT mouse both tried to wake up my laptop. And succeeded. My advice? Turn this off… there’s FAR too many BT devices in your average coffee shop these days and if you don’t want your laptop constantly waking up in your laptop bag then you might want to turn it off.

I will post more soon. Just wanted to get up my opinions of this great new tool I have.

Switching Gear(s)

This is it, I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to switch.

For those unfamiliar, Apple had a big marketing campaign about two years ago now to “switch”, i.e. to change from the Windows platform to the Mac platform. This campaign actually met with a modicum of success, at least in part based on the integration Macs have with the very successful iPod. Sure, you’ve got iTunes on Windows as well for a similar interface, and I use it today with my black iPod Nano that I bought about a year ago. It’s OK, but clunky. Add to that it takes forever to start up on Windows XP pro for reasons I have still yet to explain.

Now, I’m not one of those who switched two years ago… and I resisted switching a year ago when I bought my iPod, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Macs. Hell, I have one at home; it’s a seriously upgraded Power Computing PowerCenter 120… now sporting 256Mb of RAM and a G3-400 overclocked to 500Mhz. The old SCSI drives are still a sore point, but I’ve never really seen much need to upgrade it because I tire of it heating up my study with alacrity every time I turn it on. Hell, I even ran OSX on that hardware up until an update around 10.2 screwed something up and it wouldn’t boot into OSX any more. I did a reinstall, but to be honest my heart wasn’t in it; the PC120 was a good machine for its time, but about 18 months ago I retired it to my closet. It’s peering out the open door as I type, looking over my shoulder jealously as I tickle the keyboard of my PIII-700 laptop typing this little missive.

This little laptop, a Toshiba 3490CT laptop with extended battery pack has been a little workhorse. As a pro-grade laptop it has taken beatings that many consumer-grade laptops would have given up the ghost… and it was a little champ during my England vacation last year when I carted it across England and Ireland, then back again. Its compact size, light weight and nice efficiencies made it the perfect biking companion (motorbike!)

It doesn’t run Windows very well any more. It’s got a legal license for Windows 2000 Professional… which is all fine and good until you start adding Service Pack 4 and all the post SP4 hotfixes, then the strain of the circa 2000 hardware starts to really show. The 256Mb RAM limit makes XP a bear… it’s a hardware limit that annoys me to no end. So when I took it on my vacation I put Fedora Linux on it. Worked pretty well, but was not the most efficient use of the harware. Fedora’s nice, but it adds a lot of “weight” to the OS in terms of software I didn’t really need. Earlier this year I put Gentoo 2006 on the box in order to squeeze the last little bit of performance out of the box. It’s been a rock. I only install the software I need, and it gets the job done. It’s still small and light, and boots pretty quick.

So where’s the problem? Well, there are two major problems I see with this laptop today:

(a) Increasing Requirements: In the time since I started using a laptop, I have really expanded in my requirements. Sure, this Toshiba is pretty decent for running Firefox and Evolution (for email), but I’ve pretty much got to shut everything else down if I want to run OpenOffice and actually use it. The 256Mb RAM limit becomes problem numero uno.

(b) The Tinker Factor: The only problem I have with Linux is the desire to tinker is great. Sure, I could stop and get my work done… but I tend to fail because I find something to fiddle with or tinker with. Sometimes it’s because I try to do something new and find I don’t have the software installed. So I start an “emerge” for the software if it’s in Portage and sit back and wait for it to compile. Then while it’s compiling I think of something I can do while I wait, I go off and fiddle with some other part of the operating system (like tuning the power management interface), and by the time the emerge compile has completed I’ve completely forgotten what it was I was going to work on in the first place.

For someone with ADD, that second one becomes a real problem rapidly.

Similar problems exist in Windows. I don’t like the fact that in Windows the user is always a privileged user, and that’s primiarly how viruses spread so easily in that environment. On the Mac, it’s a UNIX-based OS, so the user is a standard user who has to authenticate to a root level to do anything truly significant. Sure, it’s not as tied down as a true UNIX or even Linux, but it’s better in security than Windows. As a result of this, the tinker factor comes back into play, because I spend a lot of time on Windows boxes fixing perceived and known problems, patching, upgrading my virus protection and so forth. As a result, I still don’t get work done.

Add to that the hardware requirements of Windows these days are pretty high; I can’t effectively run Windows on my Toshiba because XP is unbearable, especially once you stick XP SP2 on the box. I’ve tried it, I don’t like it.

OK, so these are my software requirements. How about a cheap, newer Windows box like the Acer I bought Rebekah? Well, the problem is Rebekah is primarily a home user. Consumer grade laptops are usually good for someone who uses their laptop around their house… maybe a local coffee shop. They’re not really designed for the “mobile professional” who beats his laptop around frequently, throws it into a duffel bag, occasionally drops it off a hotel desk while trying to get comfortable in the chair without tangling in the power cord… that sort of stuff. That puts consumer-grade laptops pretty much out for me, which means about 80% of the laptops you buy at Best Buy aren’t an option for me.

I love this Toshiba because it is a pro-grade laptop; it’s sturdy, has a very bright and usable screen and has a 5 hour battery life. I kid you not. OK… so it’s 1.5hours with the built in battery and another 3.5 on the external battery pack (which I pretty much leave permanently attached), but that’s an awesome amount of usage. Especially when you consider these numbers are with a PCMCIA wireless/g card installed. Most consumer-grade laptops you’re lucky to get 2 hours out of… you’d be tied primarily to places you can plug in. Even places with free WiFi Internet access rarely have power sockets you can use.

So again, battery life and sturdiness drive me into the pro-grade laptop market. The laptops start in the $1300 range and rise from there depending on options.

For work I have a Dell Latitude. That’s a good laptop, but not really what I’m looking for. I have no intention of running Windows except as a secondary OS, but obviously that legal license then plays a part; that’s one plus of buying the Dells. However, I’ve never been overly enamored with Windows, and of course if I put Linux on a Latitude then I have the “Tinker Factor” in play again. Kinda defeats the object a little.

As I said, I’ve always had a soft spot for Macs, but why didn’t I switch two years ago? Well, quite simply; although I don’t much like Windows I do have a need to run Windows applications. As such, I need a machine that can handle both. Dual-boot is one option, and virtualization is another. I’m a firm believer in virtualization, but the best the classic PowerPC-base Mac could offer was emulation of Windows… quirky and slow at best. However, this year something radical happened; Apple switched their product line to Intel processors, dropping the PowerPC like a hot potato.

I’ll admit, when it first happened I was a little taken aback. The PowerPC was one of the reasons I liked the Mac; it was a nice architecture and spiritual successor to my favorite CPU architecture to work on; the Motorola 68000 architecture. Sure, it was flawed as hell to program in assembly, but it was also a very slick processor with a nice memory-mapped device interface that was incredibly flexible. I coded for these on the Atari ST, Amiga and Mac in the early days… nice CPU.

However, I analyzed why I liked Macs and realized the operating system (being the part you really use and see every day) was the part that really made the difference. And as operating systems go, OSX is easily the best operating system on the market right now.

Sure, disagree if you like… but consider this: OSX is already widely recognized as the easiest-to-use and gives the best out-of-the-box experience of any operating system currently available. Plus, it’s also UNIX-based… and getting “down and dirty” with the OS is as easy as launching a command window. But you don’t need the command window to run the OS… genius.

I already know I’m more productive in OSX than I am in either Windows or Linux. In fact, I’d say that I’m least productive in Windows because I spend much of my time fighting with the logical inconsistencies or bizarre behavior of Windows. I used OSX for some time, and once the initial “wow factor” wore off (which was significant), I was far more productive than I am in either Windows or Linux.

As a side note, a desktop Mac would be nice, but to be honest I’m tired of being tethered to my desk every time I want to work on stuff. I want mobility; I want to take my computer to a coffee shop like I do with my Toshiba… but instead of tinkering, upgrading or surfing the web I actually want to be able to sit down and just start working… and get stuff done. Maybe I’m growing up, but I have insufficient spare time as it stands… being able to be flexible and productive is going to be a far greater use of my time.

So what am I doing? I’m going to buy myself a Macbook Pro. My ideal specs are a 15 inch model, 2Ghz with 1Gb of RAM and 100Gb HD. Ought to be more than enough for now. In fact, I want to buy this laptop to try to get 6 years out of it; same as this Toshiba has survived (though I’ve not owned it that long). I can expand it to 2Gb of RAM if I need it later, and I can change out the hard-drive if I get a real yearning for speed. Plus, a quick look on Ebay tells me that Apple machines in general maintain their value well.

So what does the MBP give me? Well, a Mac with OSX Tiger (10.4) for a start. It also gives me a modern machine with EFI instead of BIOS, plenty of storage, a dual-core CPU and some really nice features like the illuminated keyboard. Believe me, I can see a need there. I can also pick up a copy of Windows XP (or use the retired license from a machine I broke down recently) and install it using Boot Camp (dual-boot software for Mac to boot Windows on the hardware). Alternatively, I can use Parallels Desktop (virtualization software) to run both OS’s concurrently and get the best of both worlds without having to reboot. I can have Windows running, switch over to use my Windows apps and then go straight back to OSX for my regular work. Priceless.

So why not buy a base Macbook? They’re a lot cheaper, and have the same CPU… but the video chipset is not as advanced and frankly although the Macbook is a damned nice little machine it’s still just a high-end consumer-grade laptop… and all that entails. I’ve played with one and was impressed… but I don’t like the glossy screen (a real pain in the arse in environments with fluorescent lighting) and I think the Macbook Pro has more longevity value for me.

Now, a part of me wonders if I should do it now, or wait until the 64-bit version comes out (rumors are flying about a September launch). However, I need to upgrade my laptop now realistically in order to really start using it properly, and really there’s no advantage now to going 64-bit. It’ll be next year before the OS itself will take advantage of the 64-bit power, but even then applications will take another 6-9 months. Add to that the fact that the 64-bit Merom chip has been released in a package that’s pin-compatible with the 32-bit Yonah (currently used in the Macbook and Pro) in order to provide a “drop-in upgrade”, but the chipset to really unlock the features of this chipset won’t be released by Intel until 2Q 2007. Hell with it, there’s always going to be something new on the horizon.

Maybe I’ll end up buying when Merom-based units come out… maybe I’ll get one. There’s a possibility that Merom-based MBP’s won’t be released until January’s big Macworld show… I don’t feel like waiting that long.

Besides, in my opinion, the 64-bit Merom will buy maybe another 6 months of longevity… because clock-for-clock the Merom is only about 5-10% faster than the Yonah. And given Apple’s history, they’ll support the Yonah architecture for many, many years. It takes a speed increase on the order of 20% for most people to notice… I think I can survive. Besides, going from a PIII-700 to a dual-core 2Ghz monster machine? I’m gonna be too blinded by the light to care.

Of course, I’ll post more as I have an update.

Fourth Lament

I don’t know if anyone really realizes how alone one can be at this time of year. It’s the 4th of July, and to me this is actually one of the toughest times of year.

I came to this country almost 11 years ago now… so this is now 10 times I’ve lived through the 4th of July. It’s interesting, and it’s also sort of depressing. Even my wonderful wife, who understands me so well in so many ways can’t really fathom how this time of year makes me feel.

Today is a day for rampant patriotism. Oh, not the “modern definition” of patriotism that has come to mean “to blindly obey the US government”, I mean the traditional meaning; that of loving ones country. This is a good thing for a country, it reaffirms the feelings of kinship, brotherhood and history. America has a rich history despite its relative youth compared to other countries. The events that built this country from the original colonists into the industrial, powerful country that exists today are indeed interesting and fascinating. It’s a colourful history that Americans should be proud of.

My writing this is not to put down the tradition; I think it’s generally a good thing and actually enjoy it with my wife and kids, as well as with my friends every year. The loneliness comes from the feeling that I am not, have never been and never will be an American. Oh sure, I can apply for citizenship and get it. Even now I’m a “Legal Permanent Resident” meaning that I have the right to live and work in this country for the rest of my life if I so desire. But that’s not really the point; point is that I was not born in this country, and was not raised here. As a result, in some ways the celebration of country and kinship sort of bypasses me because no matter what I do in the rest of my life, I will never be “kin”.

Every year I go to a 4th of July party that a friend of mine throws at his place in the country. I enjoy it, I drink beer, I eat the food and socialize. I enjoy the firework display that he spends more on every year than I think I spent on my last car, but I still feel somewhat isolated from the proceedings.

I’m not regretting my decision to move here, either; this is still a great country despite my disagreements with the actions of the current administration. If I were to be able to go back in time and “re-do” my decision to move here, I’d still do it and I’d still do everything the exact same way. Sure, I have some regrets about actions I’ve taken in the past, but those regrets help define who I have become today.

So the fourth of July. I’m surrounded by people who are enjoying the holiday, yet I feel so utterly alone at this time of year that it seems almost painful. This is compounded by those who feel that since I am British I have no right to celebrate the independence of the USA, and thus I shouldn’t take the day off work, I shouldn’t launch fireworks to entertain my kids… basically I can’t partake in American celebrations if I’m not American. Believe it or not, this attitude is a lot more prevalent than many Americans would like to admit. For a nation composed of immigrants and their descendants this country can be amazingly xenophobic. It never occurs the these people that perhaps then if I am not allowed to celebrate the fourth, then I should be allowed to celebrate Boxing Day and Guy Fawkes Day. How would my xenophobic neighbours react when I start launching fireworks and setting fire to large piles of wood with dummies on top in November? I would be willing to believe I’d get a visit from several divisions of the St. Charles Police Department. Of course, many of them know me and would probably just toast marshmallows on the fire, but you get my point.

Despite the appearance I give, this time of year is hard. I do enjoy the celebration, but I also dislike it. I feel sometimes that I am celebrating something that I cannot actually understand because I wasn’t raised learning American History the way kids in this country are. I have read much about American history since I moved here, that much is true but I still can’t say that I connect with it in the same way as my wife does, or even the way my children are beginning to. I view it with a certain detachment that is a result of the fact that my history has very few connections to that American history except that I was “on the other side”.

Even that’s not entirely the facts though; many of my ancestors were hired as mercenaries in the fight against the British. Sure, I’ve got plenty of English ancestors as well who probably were fighting for the British, but it just shows how tied together the two countries still are. Many of those same mercenaries became Americans in time after the independence of this country. Some of them I know about, some of them I don’t. However, I have no deep connection with these people; they don’t even know I exist.

So I guess the upshot of this is that this time of year I feel somewhat isolated, and alone. As much as my friends try to include me, there’s something fundamentally missing from my psyche that forces me to feel somewhat detached from the celebrations. I can’t control it, and I can’t get rid of it. I understand it, and I know what brings it on but at the same time this cold logical understanding doesn’t help me much when I start to feel that everyone around me is enjoying a joke to which I am not privy to the punchline.

Think of those around you who may not be Americans, for they probably enjoy the fourth but have the same deep feelings of isolation that I do. Include them, and even if it doesn’t help them much it couldn’t hurt for you to look at them and say, “I know what you’re going through today, and I want to help in any way I can.” Be sincere, be real. Even if it doesn’t make the feeling go away entirely, it will reduce it just enough.

Oh, and technical stuff

I almost can’t believe I had to do this, but I’m so tired of “spam comments” being posted to this blog that I’ve written a little cron job that’ll erase every comment nightly in the database that contains a hyperlink. So if you’re going to comment, don’t put any links in your posting!

You have been warned :)