24 September, 2007

Adventures in redundancy


You know those great pictorial articles you see in motoring magazines, the ones with gorgeous photography and prose that serves only as dressing on the full-page, glossy photos? Well, this shall serve to illustrate RAID on the Mac the way those illustrate Ducatis, drift machines, and other vehicles we might not get a chance to try. Similarly, you probably don't want to go down this road with your storage.

From the first image, you should notice a few things. Anyone born before 1981 should recognize that Arnold is the drive we'll be using, and DeVito is the "leftover shit." The reason for this, as careful readers will see, is that LaCie has sold us two different drives as "250GB" drives. Note that the size of these volumes is either 232.9 or 233.8 gigs. At any rate, so I went and created 224gb partitions on these drives, and added them to a raid5 volume group. The original intent was to have four drives and one spare, in a striped set (rather than mirrored or concatenated set). I realize this is suboptimal (two spares being a better choice, with five primaries), but I had the five drives, not seven. Note also that I have a 640gb drive as "scratch," so I can make redundant stuff that I want redundant.

What's really cute here is that it takes a line to say "and 1 other" rather than adding another (meaningless) line of "Arnold." Personally, if I were the programmer, I'd have listed disk5s2, disk4s2, disk3s2, and so on, but my guess here is that Mac users are more likely to associate a "name" with a disk than a device number. This is not the case on Solaris, Linux, or any of the Unixish operating systems I've used (although I've never used HFS on any of them).


Creation of the RAID went swimmingly with the striping – it would add four disks to the stripe. However, when it tried to add a spare, it would fall over with the above message. This looks suspiciously like a command-line error that was simply spat to a dialogue. In any case, it doesn't do the important thing: tell me what the hell happened, how, when, and where.

Finally, deciding that with five drives, I could attain a stripe with parity, and reconstruct a drive from a new drive, I just built a RAID-5 with the five drives:


This may look pretty, but it's actually tame as far as RAID goes. Using a Sun 711-12 and twelve Seagate Cheetah 32gb drives, I had ten disks in a R5 stripe, with two hot spares. I got 220gb or so out of it, but I knew if anything went south, all I'd have to do is get a new 32GB drive off ebay, and run on a spare in the meantime. I really liked DiskSuite, and I wish there were a similar package for the Mac. Even Linux's LVM isn't so bad, once you get used to it. I've never liked the lvcreate/pvcreate dichotomy, but not having any control over that at all makes me very sad.

I've now got about 700gb of stuff on a 1.1tb raid which only has redundancy in its stripe. And, its inability to give me a hot spare means I can't even just buy a couple 250's and hang them off the end of the stripe. Lastly, for bonus credit, can anyone answer this question:

Can I attach the first disk in a FW800 bus to the last disk, forming a ring, with the host somewhere in the middle?



Of course, this makes your bus look a lot like a ring, or a SAN. I don't think FW800 is sophisticated enough to really understand this, even though the cables are tres beefy and shielded. They could probably have run a couple gigabit across them if they'd really wanted to. But nobody wants to dual-path drives on a bus, and nobody really needs more than 800 meg of bandwidth on their storage networkbus.

Note also I made a raid of the leftover shit – the "DeVitos" – and got something like 32gb out of them, in a 5-disk stripe. It's kinda like an iPod, hanging there off the bus. And, for those still reading, the name of the final 1tb raid (we've had sort of a theme going) is Wilson, named after Greg House's "friend" (you know, he's sort of a backup, but occasionally, he'll get a conscience and do something completely witless that you didn't really expect (but really did, because he's an unreliable pansy)). And you can't have a raid named "wilson" without another one named "hanks" (commence howling wiiiiiiiilsooooooooooooon), although it's strange to have one be like 3% of the size of the other.

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Ugh

I can't believe I'm actually getting excited about a stupid video game launch. I've actually got my copy reserved at the video game place, and will probably be switching to it preferentially from AC4 and FF:KH. Dammit. The story behind my interaction with Halo 1 can be summed up by Sandy coming out to the living room at 0730 and saying, "You didn't stay up all night playing, did you?" to which I replied "I have to know what happens!"

Part of me wishes it's as long as, say, FFXII, and part of me secretly wishes it will be summed up and finished in seven hours of gameplay so that I can beat the stupid game and go online and bitch about how short it is, rather than lose sleep and (starts with a W and ends with "ork!") over it. Of course, I won't be playing the damned thing online because of the PFY's out there who don't have ork of their own to miss and don't need sleep.

Isn't it funny how the definitions of PFY and PFC seem to line up so closely? Hmm.

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21 September, 2007

Syndication

I have turned off syndication to advogato for now due to my strong ramp-up in writing-related and largely technology-unrelated content. There's no need to pester them about writing a book, especially when it's not anything related to them. Apologies if things get posted as Advogato figures stuff out; when I look at my "account" page, it still says I'm syndicated from here, even though I've blanked the field and unchecked the box.


I'll be back when the writing "well dries up," to borrow JM's phrase (JM: I'd prefer "my swords turned to plowshares" as a metaphor, but perhaps its inappropriate for a mystery novel), or when I spend significantly more time on the subject of open source and/or software development.


cheers
alex

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20 September, 2007

Hints for the email-impaired


I identified a copy of your resume this afternoon in our database and I am interested in speaking with you regarding several UNIX Admin Positions (4) I have available in the Reston/Herndon area. All of these positions are permanent full time opportunities and they are available immediately. Both my client’s are looking for people with at least 5 years of solid UNIX Admin experience. Also knowledge of Oracle and/or SQL (SQL Queries) is required for two of them. I can pay very competitively for these positions and my client’s are moving very fast on these opportunities.


First, it's "clients." I'm a snot about that, even though I'm not perfect in what I write. I do try to make sure emails I send to employers (or employees) are close to perfect if I'm asking for something.

Second, it's unlikely that you're able to "pay very competitively" if you can't immediately quantify that (or at least qualify it, like "pay very competitively for government positions in Reston/Herndon"). Sort of like the adage, "if you have to ask, you can't afford it." So, say eighty-five dollars an hour if you can pay it. If you just say "competitively," the people that might take $85/hr won't know it's that high, and the people that won't take $85/hr won't believe you.

What's the worst that can happen? Somebody actually gets paid what you budgeted for them? I mean, really, recruiters. It's not like you weren't going to ask for 1.75x whatever you pay me anyways. Why not just tell me, and try to hook me with a number instead of an empty promise?

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SuSE vs Windows

I remember at Microsoft there were at least a few people who were very concerned about SuSE as competition. I am starting to believe that the reason they feared it is that SuSE is as complicated and wrong-minded about operating system design as Windows is. I bitch and moan about MacOS being hosed by default, and its documentation being poor at best, but the more I dig into this unholy alliance of Novell and SuSE the more I smell Windows.

There really doesn't seem to be "one state" of the OS in SuSE, much as in Windows and in MacOS. On the Mac, we have this hideous netinfo business mucking things up so that we cannot simply copy /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow (or master.passwd, or whatever) for example. We have also strange filesystems that magically determine where they are to be mounted, which may or may not have case sensitivity, and nobody else can read. How different is that from Novell or Windows?

One of the great benefits (and indeed great curses) of Unix is that everything is a file. This means all you really need to move files around is the shell, which is to say things that live in {,s}bin. Your friends, rsync, tar, cpio, and their less intelligent but just as potent friends, cp, mv, rm, and so on, should really be all you need. When we start referring to "directories" as magical clouds in the sky full of stuff we can't touch, can't back up, and sometimes can't even read (leaving us crippled!), rather than just a fancy kind of file, Unix fails to be what it really is: industrial strength, user-hostile, and totally understandable.

user-hostile is important, if you think about it. When we start to make operating systems friendly, people get this false sense of confidence, and all of a sudden, you've got a user who comes into your office with blood on their hands, saying, "my god! the files! they're all gone! how do I get them back??"

Unix is great because it can do stuff, not because everyone in the world can use it.

(And with respect to Apple's lying about UFS/FFS and their manpages being broken, I'm surprised nobody mentioned fsck_hfs or hfs.util. I discovered these are equally as useless, but at least they, you know, try to be more or less the right tool for the job)

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16 September, 2007

When tools become obstacles

Today I sat down to write. I've been trying very hard to train myself to write when I'm not furious, or depressed, or whatever else drives me to put "pen" to "paper." So, this is significant for me. However, I spent a good amount of time yesterday formatting a manuscript for submission.

The previous agent I worked with had asked for 1.5 space, Times New Roman, left-aligned and ragged, and with only the page number in the header, specifically the top right.

Yesterday's manuscript went out double-spaced, in Courier, left-aligned, ragged, with a weird sort of "cover" for it, a rough word count, a header that included my name, the title of the manuscript, and the page number, and also that all my italics be changed to underlines. Further, all my emdashes (—) needed to be changed to double-hyphens (--) and the spaces before and after removed. Oh, and a double-space after a full stop instead of a single.

Given there's a huge difference between what I had before and what I formatted yesterday, I thought, gee, I'll write myself a Word template so I can just do that automatically. Instead, I've been wrestling with Word's autoformatting for ninety-seven minutes. It will let me auto-replace a full stop with a period-space, but not a period-space with a period-space-space. This is problematic because here in 'Merka, we use periods in numbers (and commas too!). Further, when I go to Format > Auto Format ..., it ditches all the formatting in the document, even though I'm using a goddamn template that says courier new, double space, and so on. Oh, and now it wants to show me my newlines and spaces. It's charming.

I have lost the title. I can't remember it. I know it was a good one. I've also lost Rita Sue. I know what she looks like, I can practically smell her. But I don't remember what she was doing with that gun, and I can't remember why she killed those people.

This is so aggravating. If I do manage to get any writing done today, it's going to be revisions to the manuscript from yesterday (went through a couple people I trust to "galley" it before it goes to submission), or that column on turn-based versus real-time strategy and role-playing games. Neither of these are what I wanted to write, and neither of them are the outlet that Rita Sue was/is for me.

I might also just get so fucking frustrated that I'll play Xbox games until my brain dribbles out my ears.

(if above image goes away)

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15 September, 2007

When and where to lie.


It's okay to lie on your resume. There, I've said it. Now, don't go and start adding those years you spent at NASA designing thermal tiles that they never adopted, or add those publication credits to C&EN about using carbon nanotubes to fight cancer. Those kinds of things stick out and come up in job interviews.

Let's talk a little bit about lying first, and then we can talk about job interviews, which is also a crucial part of lying.

So, let me give you an example of a lie that is perfectly okay to tell on your resume, and in fact one that most people will expect you to tell (even if they tell you they don't want you to lie). The example starts with your being employed at ASNA. You're maybe second- or third-tier help desk. This doesn't mean you answer phones and read scripts to people who scream "OMG THE INTERNETS ARE DOWN." This is more like, you know how to replace hardware and actually diagnose when something is bad ram versus a bad CPU or maybe even a problem with a specific library (this is not to say "OMG WINDOWS IS TOAST REINSTALL"; rather, you understand when the DX10 drivers are kaput and need to be reinstalled, you do so, and the machine is restored to functionality).

Now, let's be real here. You're help desk. You're not a sysadmin. However, in the course of doing your job, you have to know (and you probably learned this on the job) what a subnet mask is. You have to know what IP addresses are, and you have to understand what the term "RFC 1918" means. You might even learn how to telnet to port 25 and understand what's wrong with the local mailserver.

So, here's the lie. We list on our resume:


2005 - present
ASNA, Los Angeles, California
Junior Systems Administrator
Performed maintenance tasks on defective hardware; performed basic troubleshooting of network issues and diagnosed problems with Sendmail 12. Part of a team of twelve, responsible for maintaining workstation, server, and network functionality for 350 engineers in aerospace development environment.


Well, you did that, didn't you? Sure, your boss thought you were help desk, your coworkers knew you were help desk, but because you're a good employee, and because you're a smart, upright hominid, you took it upon yourself to really learn everything you could in the environment you were in. Compare the lie to the truth:


2005 - present
ASNA, Los Angeles, California
Help Desk Technician
Repaired broken desktops, performed RMA packaging and repair to vendors HP and Dell. Reinstalled operating systems (Windows XP, Windows 2000).


The truth isn't going to get you hired anywhere. That second version isn't going to get you a raise, either. Here are the key components of making this transition:


  1. First, your lie is not really a lie because you must have done that stuff, even if it wasn't your primary responsibility.
  2. Second, the upright, tool using hominid in you bought hardware off ebay that was similar to the stuff in the office, or the stuff you want to use in the future, and you read every damn man page, reinstalled a bajillion times, and learned how they work. We'll get back to this in a minute.
  3. Third, they're going to ask you what you did in your interview (and in your phone screen! be prepared for this part!). You have to know this shit cold even if it's a lie. Lies are only lies when people know they're a lie. If you lie and say it was your responsibility to build solar panels for the Mars Global Surveyor, but you know every single atom of those solar arrays, is it a lie? Who could tell? It doesn't matter. The key here is know. your. shit.


Here's the explanation most of the people I work for (who do read this), and most of the people I have worked with (who certainly do read this), and the people I will work for (who usually go digging for stuff like this), are waiting for.

Employers are so busy when they receive resumes for an open position that they can't possibly call all your previous employers (provided, you know, there are more than three or so). They just can't. So they base their entire estimate of whether they want you, and how much they're willing to pay you, on your performance in two places:


  1. Your phone screen

      You may have two or three of these:
    1. A recruiter (if you're working with one)
    2. A tech guy you'll be working with or for
    3. His boss. This is usually a guy who used to be technical, but can sometimes be a complete tool, one of those guys who got into managing technical people because he managed the mailroom effectively for ten years. These guys have usually never done anything else for a living and will either be complete pricks (and thus you won't get anywhere in the phone screen unless he liked your resume — your phone screen is irrelevant if grueling and unpleasant)
    4. This only really applies to government contracting. You may also get the government guy. He's usually pretty thick (this is not to say that government guys are thick, he's just busy with other stuff, and he hires contractors because he doesn't understand what you're going to be doing for him, just that the "boss" guy above says you need to be on the contract)

  2. Your in-person interview.

      You'll probably have at least a few of these, although you may be lucky enough to have just one.
    1. Somebody who you'll be working with. This won't be a supervisor. They'll either be real sharp or real dopes. They know what they do for a living, and they want to make sure that you either have lots of sympathy for how hard their job is, or that you at least know what they do and can do it.
    2. Somebody who is probably going to be your boss. This is probably not the mailroom guy. This is the one you absolutely, positively, cannot screw up with. Everyone else is kind of irrelevant in this process. He is the one that makes the decision. I'll get back to this guy in a minute.
    3. If you're interviewing with Amazon, Google, or Microsoft, most of this stuff goes out the window. This second process, the in-person part, can last for days and include ten or more people. You should just disregard this document.



So there's a technique you need to have. Most people would call it a bluff, but I have a term I like better. Psychologist face. Imagine the dilemma of a psychologist. Let's say you're a normal-ish person (let's put aside for a moment it's not really possible to be a shrink and be normal), and you have this person sitting in your office. They say to you something like they've been having sex with their dog for a few years, and they feel the bitch (sorry) really loves them back. That it's a fulfilling relationship.

Whoa.

You're a shrink. And you can't twist up your face, leap out of your chair, and say "Oh my god, you fucking pervert! how can you DO that? And the dog? The dog loves you? Are you fucking kidding?" No, as shrinks, they have to maintain that perfect composure, look the patient in the face, and say, "You know, most people don't consider dogs to be equivalent to a human lover. I think you may be misunderstanding the dog's natural affection for you, and you are probably using the dog to fill the space in your life where most people find love and sex with other humans."

So this isn't to say that mailroom guy, or your prospective coworkers or whomever are going to tell you they have sex with their pets (although I'm pretty sure one guy I recently used to work for could only find love in the eyes of a dog). But you're going to get asked questions about your lies. Listen to me very carefully. You can't twitch. You can't stutter. You can't even say "um." Learn to use the psychologist face. When you start to speak, you need to collect your thoughts, so look at your interviewer. Furrow your brow and look thoughtful if you have to rehearse your lie in your head. Start with "Well," not with "Um,". Generally, we call this "being articulate," but for purposes of prose here, we're going to call it bluffing your way into a job you might otherwise not have gotten.

Again, you must know your stuff, absolutely cold, if you're going to lie on your resume. But frequently, it's the best (only?) way to advance in your career. Think about this for a moment. If we didn't do this on our resume, we would say that we were doing "data entry" and nobody would take us seriously for a position doing SQL reporting. It's entirely plausible however, that if you worked with a data archival company, and you were paid and titled as a data entry technician (technician!), you probably had exposure to databases. If you were diligent and thorough, you learned enough SQL and Oracle or whatever to lie your way through your next interview, to get that bump in pay and responsibility.

It logically follows that you do the same thing at the next position, and in five years you've gone from Toadie to somebody who is actually running things, even if it's only a small fiefdom or part of some dog-lover's silo.

There's one other component to this. One thing employers do tend to check (although nowhere near a hundred percent of the time) is your references. So this is how this works. Be social. Meet people. Meet them socially, rather than in the workplace. Find people that do what you want to do for a living, and make it clear to them that you understand what they do. If you manage to become friends with them, or at least casual acquaintances, they'll probably let you use them as a reference.

With respect to "employer references," which are sometimes required, you pick employers, hopefully supervisors (although we all know that we don't always leave on great terms), from older employers. Pick a supervisor who loved you when you were doing data entry (remember, he loved you because you were learning SQL and starting to help with more stuff), rather than the last guy you worked for who remembers you more acutely and knows that "systems administrator" was nowhere near your title.

Lastly, and I have CM to thank for this (and she will probably get a chuckle out of reading this), join linkedin. I'm not a real big fan of social networking sites (I've created accounts on all of them, and they all suck), but LinkedIn has this incredible benefit. You can build a resume and link to it. Not only do you build a resume, but people look at that resume (because they have an account, too), and they see that, wow, they know Doug K at Verisign, and Doug knows Amy, and thus Amy knows you (through Doug). Now, in the real world, that doesn't mean dick, and we all know that. But us hominids are social creatures, and we impart great significance to social ties. Thusly, linkedin can be an incredible tool when you're trying to portray reliability, professionalism, or whatever.


So go on. Lie a little. I'm pretty sure everyone's doing it, and I may be the only one actually saying it. But think about that DBA you worked with a few years ago that was just about the dumbest sack of bricks you'd ever met. That guy lied to get where he was. You know he did. And you know what sucks? He lied, and he makes a lot of money. You probably didn't.

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11 September, 2007

Some days you don't want to get out of bed

I wrote myself a little letter to commemorate 2002, which I spent with Dan, briefly. I've lost the letter, since, but the gist is thus: we went and saw Bryan at the columbarium at Arlington Cemetery, and it was perhaps the most intimate moment he and I have ever shared. We talked about XML, we talked about how so many people were dying in so many wars that Arlington Cemetery is being expanded. In fact, they're tearing down the barracks behind the USAF Memorial (although we didn't know this at the time).

On Friday, I received an offer letter to go work at a research institute, doing far less stressful things than I had been doing in the past (although I may get to do some red-teaming on the feds, which is always fun). They were in a hurry to get me to start. So Friday being the 7th, they wanted me to start on the tenth. Sandy came back from Cupertino this weekend, though, and while it wasn't all bucking like funnies, we certainly had no reason to check the mail, email or otherwise. I got the offer letter on Sep 10. I thought to myself, oh, well, I'll just call and we'll start tomorrow.

Oh, shit. It's that day again. Another year has gone by, and the smell of JP-8 from my apartment, the fire trucks and the gigantic hole in the Pentagon have faded. The Humvees with 240 Golfs (I don't think they were fifties, but then it was a long time ago) have gone from the city. We've really all forgotten the intensity of the moment, and what it meant (I suppose the people that perpetrated the act have also lost some of the immediacy of the act and perhaps forgotten what they were trying to achieve, instead just wreaking wanton destruction on their own people). Most of us don't live in 22202 or 22201. Maybe the rest of the world has forgotten already and it's just another "day that will live in infamy." We've got 12/7 and 9/11. But they're just days. How many people go and sit in a columbarium, or place flowers at the headstone of an eighteen-year-old on these days (you can find the ones from 12/7 at Arlington, too).

As Dan and I left Bryan's plaque at the columbarium, we didn't have much more to say. It had only been a year, and both of us were incredibly morose. A flight of Vipers flew overhead, in the missing man formation, low and incredibly loud over the 5gon. The wind picked up, and the fountain in front of us sprayed us both with a modest amount of water, but enough that we got wet. Dan looked at me, with a sort of a smile, one I don't think I'll ever understand. A smile that betrayed something of a broken heart, and at the same time of hope.

He said to me, as he removed his glasses to get the water off them, "It rained the day of Bryan's funeral." Rain, the vipers, water from the fountain. None of it is really related, but when you're reaching, when you need things to mean something, when nothing else makes sense, there's comfort in these random happen-stances. Dan, who reads this, and will probably remember as I do, probably doesn't realize that the time we shared that day was one of my most cherished with him. Time doesn't heal all wounds, but having friends like that helps a lot.

It rained viciously last night, and continues to rain today.

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28 August, 2007

Well that's interesting


Other friends, say, not so for them. Emotional turmoil will slow down the writing, or change it. But, apparently, my internal world is pretty solid. It chugs along no matter what's happening in my own life. It's probably why all the people that try to make analogies between my life and Anita's always amuse, or puzzle, me. For another writer, it might be analogous, but it just isn't for me.

Laurell K. Hamilton, purveyor of fine pulp-vampire-romance-and/or-lesbian-love books, reports that her emotional state doesn't affect her writing, and further, that she has an acquaintance for whom the same is true. What I find strange is that there are people who apparently cannot write when their mood is "down", or the opposite of what they want to write. I suppose this can mean a number of things:

  • I'm a terrible writer and/or nothing like successful writers.
  • I write very dark books
  • I am generally in a very dark mood (along with the above point)

I generally cannot write unless I'm in a pretty foul mood (this, to a point that my wife has started treating my greeting of "I started writing again!" as a warning sign). This may be because the first thing I wanted to write was a very unpleasant book about death, war, and failure. As I look through the stack of work I've started, there's only one thing that could be considered sort of happy, and even that is a happy story about being undead.


This is irritating, primarily because my being in a foul mood negatively impacts my marriage and my work life. I tend to not say hello to people, not acknowledge hello's, work odd hours, and get sick more. But golly, I hate what I write when I sit down and force myself to write. It's the stuff that comes out after I've had a multi-hour-long nightmare or I'm recovering in the hospital that I look forward to reading. It's written better, with more, you know, feeling.


I haven't cited Charlie in a little while, but in his discussion of how Accelerando came to be, he mentions it was a particularly shitty time for him in dot-com land. One has only to read the book to realized that Manfred is generally not a happy dude, and his ex-wife Pamela are not especially happy either. Going down the line, neither Amber nor Sirhan are happy people, either (one can even bring up Sadeq and his deeply neurotic self-hatred; however one cannot discuss same without a discussion of deeply neurotic islamic self-hatred, and that's not anything I want to discuss publicly). Was such a novel — to my mind, a magnificent novel — composed when Mr. Stross was all fluffy bunnies and just-from-the-dryer socks? It seems to me, probably not.

Glasshouse was not quite so bleak. In some ways it was, in the same way that Banks' Excession was (with respect to the GCS Grey Area a/k/a Meatfucker or perhaps Use of Weapons', uh, Chair Incident). However, it lacks some of the hopelessness and shaking-fist-at-god (little g, not big G) that Accelerando had. So it seems to me that perhaps an author is somebody who was initially motivated by enough heart-or-ass-pain to sit down and pound out a few hundred pages, but when they've finished, the pain or whatever diminishes to the point that they are able to operate as an author with less of it. I know the process from page 0 all the way through finishing the book forced me to be a better writer. Perhaps it is after that point that writing something that is more classical and less about angst becomes easier, and possibly something one wants to do. It's certainly not for the money.

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27 August, 2007

Cops, again



This time, the DCA Transit Police:

Listen, you and I both know your car didn't come with that loud muffler and spoiler package. I'm not going to give you a ticket today — be quiet! — but you get out of here!


I offered to drive him to the dealer. I got out of the car to pop the hood and show him that red intake manifold and intercooler that also obviously didn't come with the car. I reached for the owners manual. At all points, I was stymied. Don't you dare tell me the truth, citizen, while I'm busy slapping my nightstick across your face! Makes me sick. This and Mr. You're-Going-To-Prison make me wonder why I ever had any faith in the police at all. Not that Alexandria PD and the DC Transit police are exactly shining examples of provincial authority. It's just that I kind of expect them to try not to suck. This stupid-and-proud business is more befitting LAPD than what are ostensibly police in one of the country's oldest cities (or, indeed, the country's capitol).

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