Friday, December 31, 2004
There's a branch of the chain (why don't we call it a 'link' of the chain?) not too far from us, and for most of the time that we've lived here, we would do our drug stuff there. Cleanup in aisle three, cocaine spill, was always fun. But over time, we found that we could order drugs through the mail. It was usually cheaper, and it was usually more convenient. And, more important, it always meant that we didn't have to deal with the people behind the pharmacist's counter. That was the key selling point for us, not having to deal with those folks. Never liked that. Of their two pharmacists, one was supercilious, and of their rotating staff of clerks, most were dumb. Not all, but most.
This afternoon I remembered that again. My partner ran out of a drug, and the mail order people hadn't notified us till late that the renewal was going to be delayed. So, sigh, I volunteered to go. Buckle on the emotional shield, buttress the insulation around the reaction emotions. I knew I would very likely get irritated, because That Is What They Do. Even my mother, who would speak well of Attila the Hun, gets irritated by them.
Told the clerk that I was there to pick up an order. She found it, and her eyes widened. This is expensive! she announced loudly. I love that part. A quiet voice doesn't seem to be in the repetoire of these people. Hey, Mr. Hendricks, that anti-itch cream working out okay for you? Those new style panty liners to your likin', Miz Jackson? While I was there, the clerk spoke loudly to two people. Both elderly, so we know they must have been hard of hearing, right? Sigh.
I told her I'd write a check for it, and she stared at me. This is OVER TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS! she announced loudly. I contemplated a gentle No Shit, Sherlock, but that would have been crude. So I smiled, and said How much? And wrote the check. She looked at it for a moment -- perhaps not used to the concept of people just paying for something -- and handed over the drugs.
Another sale for mail-order drugs, hey?
But one thing saddens me about this. It's not a great insight, but here it is: A retirement home almost necessarily implies a degradation of opportunity.
A degradation of opportunity because almost invariably, when 'spirited seniors' are shown exuberantly enjoying life, 'staying active', its either playing golf, visiting the kids, or being involved with activities such as docent at the museum, volunteer at the library, or magazine-cart-pusher at the hospital. I've read that my generation is the first to generally reject the idea of 'old age', but all of those images that I've mentioned still carry that thought to me. I don't mind getting old, but the idea of getting old and irrelevant bothers me a lot. I don't have a greatly satisfying career now, but I am skittish about giving it up for shuffleboard. I want to do things that matter. (That much of my professional life hasn't met that test, I'll ignore, thank you.)
I don't know how to address that feeling of old = irrelevant. Maybe when I truly am old -- and the older I get, the older Old gets -- I won't care. Or maybe by then I'll have come to a better level of knowledge, a higher level of wisdom.
Right now, though, the prospect is scary.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Reading an article about an AI technology labelled 'Piquant' by IBM. Found a news thread on Slashdot that talked about it and the concepts behind and related to it, to some depth.
About half way through, realized that most AI is actually language parsing and inference.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
I mentioned a few posts ago (at least, I think I did) that I occasionally find myself wishing that I were more up to date on the applications for artificial intelligence. There is no logical reason for this -- I don't work in the field, and given that what little I know is because I'm a self-taught amateur, there is vanishingly little likelihood I'll ever get a job in the field -- but I just like it. The idea of 'artificial intelligence' fascinates me. So much so, in fact, that one day, when I was musing about it in the lightest of ways, I forced myself to stop and answer this question: What exactly would you like to know better about AI? Programming? Applications? Packages? Societal implications? And then watched myself mumble 'um, you know...cool stuff, like HyperActive Bob.' You see the level of my intellectual involvement.
I didn't make up the name of that app, by the way. Its real, and its cool.
Anyway, I was poking around with that concept this morning, and came across a site with this on it:
This elective introduces the study and application of artificial intelligence, and its application to military and strategic domains. It provides an executive level overview of various AI technologies including knowledge-based systems, neural networks, genetic algorithms, intelligent agents, and natural language processing. Students will learn the applicability of each technology, and will be able to determine if AI technologies are appropriate for specific problems. Student research projects will expose students to AI research for center of gravity determination. The elective is presented through a combination of readings, lectures, class discussions, and research. Assigned readings support upcoming topics. Out-of-class project work is conducted in a series of scheduled lab periods. Through class and lab work, students and instructors will collaborate on an ongoing research project called Disciple-COG. The goal of the Disciple-COG project is to build an intelligent agent for analyzing and determining strategic and operational centers of gravity. Students will adapt case studies in center of gravity determination to teach an intelligent agent to reason about the same. Most sessions will draw on the Disciple-COG research to present the AI topic at hand.Whoa, I thought, this sounds pretty cool. Must be some high density think tank, deep in the groves of academe. Some kind of joint project between RAND and the US Army, something like that.
Well, I got the Army part right. That description is for a course intended to give Army mid level officers an executive overview of the technologies and their capabilities, and its taught at the US Army War College's Center for Strategic Leadership, Knowledge Engineering Group, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It's a think tank, but one with real world applications and real world students.
How far AI has permeated our society!
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Here's what is clear: Doctors pay vastly more for malpractice insurance. Insurance companies don't want to be in this business. The number of claims against doctors is flat. The average verdict against doctors who lost cases has tripled since 2000, although the total paid out by insurers doesn't account for the boost in premiums.I don't know if insurance companies don't want to be in the business -- seems to me, if they didn't want to, they'd just stop writing policies. Course, maybe that's happening. And I don't know if claims are flat. Bet that is one of those 'it depends how you count them' things.
He also says that professional discipline of bad doctors is largely ineffectual (is that true? I think so, but only the AMA and state agencies would know, and they're not talking), and that payment of monies to the victims of malpractice doesn't have social value (I don't agree, but there should be limits.)
His final point: the basis for this situation is an erosion of trust. My take is, he's right. I'm less likely to sue if I trust the doctor -- and if I believe there is a vigilant professional inquiry system in place to catch the things I can't see, and determine if I should be compensated for them.
Both professions have problems. There are unscrupulous lawyers -- but not, I bet, most of them. There are incompetent doctors -- but not, I bet, most of them. There are grasping lawyers -- but not, I bet, most of them. There are smarmy doctors -- but not, I bet, most of them. There have to be lawyers who see this situation as a blot on their own profession. There have to be doctors who really want to get it resolved, and not just lifted from them.
But just try to find these people. Find a lawyer to say that most doctors are competent, and that even in the best of medical circumstances, mistakes happen -- and that many patients aren't in the best of medical circumstances. Find a doctor to say that most lawyers are competent, and that when someone is injured due to a doctor's malfeasance, they have a right to redress.
And while you're at it....find the Easter Bunny.
Monday, December 27, 2004
Last week, doing last minute shopping at a Nordstroms, I bought several items for my partner, including a nice red jacket, charged them, went home. At the grand unveiling, she tried it on and liked it. It was then put away along with the other gifts.
This morning, looking at the outstanding credit card balance, I was stunned. Turned out the nice jacket was not $41.50... I'd slipped a decimal point.
I dithered for a bit, then talked with the partner, who, without taking a breath said 'Ship it back'. And its in a box now, waiting to go back.
This evening, she turned to me and thanked me. For what, I asked. "I've never worn anything that expensive before", she said.
Is she great, or what?
We're not sure what we want. We know that it will almost certainly be a ranch style, with one bedroom, plus another room that is usable as a guest bedroom, a living room with big, comfortable chairs, someplace else for the television (we're not opposed to having it where we hang out to relax, just would prefer it to be elsewhere, preferably in a soundly sound-insulated room). Kitchen (room rather than area, would be our preference), possibly with a table, definitely with bright lights. Not necessarily a dining room, but if not then some extra gloss for the kitchen. Tile, hardwood, carpeting, good-quality cabinetry where appropriate. Not lavish, but not skimpy, either. Good sound insulation, especially around the bathrooms (who wants to hear?) . Wired for internet access, of course; wireless connectivity, preferably, and ditto for the modest sound system. A goodly number of bookcases. Security system. Attached two car garage. Total square footage indoors of, oh, about 1800 square feet, maybe something less. Not too much outside area, as neither of us is really a gardener. As for exactly where, we're like a lot of people -- we want to be close enough to a major city (or second-tier city) to benefit from it without having it impact the quality of where we live. Close enough to medical facilities for the inevitable needs. Good libraries - a decent college or university would be good. Some, but not an overwhelming amount of culture. Not too much 'outdoors' stuff -- we don't ski, ride horses, or the like; about the most is bicycling. We like to walk, and a park to do it in would be nifty.
Yep, we ran out of money about half way through that, I do believe.
Sunday, December 26, 2004
After wandering around a bit in a post-sleep daze (I slept well last night, unlike the last couple of nights), I pulled on an overcoat and went over to the supermarket, which I found to my dismay that they didn't have the Washington Post, my paper of choice for Sunday reading. NY Times, yes, Post no. Bummer. I'm willing to believe that it is somehow connected to the cold (its not frigid, but it is chilly - about 17 degrees F) so that they couldn't get the trucks out, or the shipments to the train, or whatever.
That started me thinking a little bit about retirement. We were talking about it last night -- we're pretty much agreed on what kind of house, but not where; I'm still up for Australia, and my partner is thinking 'maybe a bit further north in Pennsylvania' -- but now I have an added item for the ten or so that I wrote on a sheet of scrap paper -- has to be somewhere that, if remote deliveries of the Sunday paper I like are delayed, I can still get it.
And it doesn't have to be the Post -- that's just the best of what's available here. Years ago I subscribed to a service that would send you one Sunday paper from a range of cities, once a month. It would arrive on Wednesday or so, and while there were some duds, some were quite good. I'd do that again, if I could find it.
Happy Post , no pun intended, Christmas!
Saturday, December 25, 2004
Actually, one specific game. Sim City 4 -- Deluxe Edition. It was a gift to the offspring, from her aunt. She asked me to install it, and she then spent some time doing the basics of setting up a city. Watching her from time to time, I thought gee, that doesn't look all that hard. The potential for complexity is surely there -- multiple options, multiple possibilities for each option -- but it looks like you can start slow. I mean, heck, she's just a kid, how hard can it be.
So while she's downstairs, I thought, I'll do this, I'll give it a try. Ten minutes later, I've finally figured out what button to push to start things off. I'm not saying there aren't ten more I could have pushed, just that I found one that started one of the tutorials. Note: One of the tutorials. Looks like there's about seven of them.
Years ago, I played a game called Adventure, also known as Colossal Cave. You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike... That game challenged me, and still does (I found a site that runs a simulation for it; apparently, there's more than a couple). Sim City is light years past Adventure. It awes me. And my daughter just picked...it...up.
I think I can see the end of my years as the All Knowing Father.
I want her to be resourceful and insightful, and this is one of the ways that it starts, when she realizes that she can do it, she can take control of parts of her environment and make things happen. She's moving towards not needing me as a source of insight, and I'm glad for that.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
One of the things that I would do was vacuum the house. When I saw in a comic's column (I think it was Dave Barry) that he would simulate vacuuming by dragging two sticks in a parallel path through the house, I recognized a kindred spirit. Although I knew that vacuuming did something, it wasn't always apparent to me what that something was. But since my partner valued it, I did it. I value her opinion, and I like it when she is happy.
This past weekend, I got to do something very strange (to me) in pursuit of that same goal. I earnestly and seriously told her that I thought it would be a good idea for her to spend time while we were at Nordstrom's to take advantage of their 'bra fitting specialist'. She'd mentioned wanting to do it, every so often, but she was reluctant to spend the money. Her comfort was, and is, very important to me, so I urged her to do it, and she finally agreed. After it was all over, she told me that it was a good idea, because it turned out that she had been wearing the wrong size. I said that I was pleased that she would be more comfortable now. She informed me that, actually, she couldn't feel a difference; it just looked better to her now. Felt the same, looked better.
Can't you tell if you're wearing the wrong size? What exactly did the fitter do, then? I decided not to ask. Even though it sounded to me like the fitter had done the equivilent of dragging two sticks, it seemed a good idea to just accept it. For one thing, I don't wear them, so how could I possibly know what its like, or whats important to someone who does? For another, even if the fitter really did just drag the sticks, my partner is happier now. That's worth a lot. That the fitter did something worthwhile was one of the things I just have to accept, like parallel lines not intersecting.
At least, in a Euclidean universe, she's happy, I'm happy.
Monday, December 20, 2004
A little bit of that comes from looking across the farmer's fields -- he gave up on cows, as being too much work at his advanced age, and now just grows corn -- and looking at the soft blue light on the barn and silos. Its beautiful. The thing is, how often do you get the urge to say that something is beautiful? Its a funny feeling.
Most of it comes from a Washington Post article about a solder who was seriously injured in Iraq, and the slow process of healing, wondering if 'he' will ever come back -- whether his brain is damaged, too, what will his life be like. Its a good article.
And the rest comes from an article about people who go to a homeless shelter for Christmas and put on a carnival. Its a feel-good article that makes me think, as articles like that always do, that I ought to do something like that.
But what really grabs me is that for both of those articles, I know -- I know -- that in less than a week, I'll have forgotten about them.
And that makes me feel less than dirt. I can think of good, solid, reasonable reasons why, and all, but still. Less than dirt.
Saturday, December 18, 2004
An article in the local public TV magazine talks to several people who've been Santa for decades, and they all say that they've gone home with black and blue marks from being kicked, squelching from being peed on, been interrogated as to the name of Mrs. Claus, the names of all of the reindeer, and various other bits of trivia.
They say you 'have to be on top of your game', 'be ready for anything', and 'never promise anything'. They say it helps to have a real suit -- one guy has one made from 800 rabbits; wonder if he mentions that to the kids? -- and a real beard, or at least one 'applied with prosthetic glue'. They relate kids telling Santa that Mom could use new underwear because she walks around all day wearing underwear with holes in it, and, oh by the way, she has a special friend who sleeps over when Dad's away. And sometimes tales much more dire than that.
Gee. And all this time, I thought the idea was just to talk to the kids. Maybe deprogram them from the cult of acquisition, a bit. And to really, really listen. Guess I've got stuff to learn, hmm?
Friday, December 17, 2004
Boy, does that sound pompous. Its a side effect, I think, of the fact that I don't really even understand the question that I'm trying to ask.
Let me put it another way. People have information that must be shared with others. I'm thinking here of something like a cube, with a person at each vertex. Person A wants to know something, and it happens that Person B knows it, but Person A doesn't know that. Person B wants to tell someone something, but doesn't know that Person C is the one to tell. Person C -- you get the idea. Now take that and muddy it up a bit -- Person A doesn't even know that Person B even exists -- and expand it -- there isn't one Person A, there's an Organization A with a lot of Persons inside it. And, oh yeah, the cube isn't just a cube, but a multilevel hypercube.
So how do you make the information flow? How do you even know if its flowing at all?
There are people who are writing and researching this question, and a hundred just like it, coming at it from different points and different attitudes and different goals. I stumbled across just one of them the other day whilst reading through the list of sites at Yahoo that I mentioned in an earlier post. Which one? Um...its in the list of sites that I visited yesterday. Who can remember? But that point was made yesterday. For today, lets just assume that I really do remember the site and say that okay, so I found one person. And I assume there are thousands others. How do I find out what they're saying? I'm not talking about at the deep molecular gotta-know-(fill in the blank) technology down to the twelfth degree before you can even understand the conversation. I'm just saying, how do you find out what's going on, generally, in the world of people who think about stuff like that?
Or is it impossible? Does the information kind of have to resonate and reside solely in that tight universe until it finally gets chewed on enough so that it can be released to the outside world? Because before that point, it just isn't ready for prime time? Just isn't comprehensible to the outside world? Does information have a point before which it can't be released into the wild?
Years ago, I worked in Boston for a computer company, and I thought it would be a novel idea to step across to Cambridge and pick up some computer learning over at MIT. I spoke to a person in their admissions office who was a little unsure of my qualifications to be even thinking about this, and I pointed out that Hey, I did this for a living. They gently pointed out that the things I did every day were things that MIT people had done ten years ago. Day one, I was already ten years too late.
Okay, I know I can't overcome that. But if I want to know more about something -- in this case, how information flows through an organization, how you track it, how you enhance it -- and I'd like to know more about it than Popular Science can tell me, where do I turn? Is it Popular Science, then MIT Tech Review, then straight to the Phd theses?
There's gotta be an intermediate step in there. Doesn't there?
Every year, we have a small, quiet post-holiday season get-together at our house as a way of decompressing from The Holiday Season. While the tree is still up, and the house is still decorated, we invite several neighbors and friends to come over and, as the invitation says,
Come when you want, talk a bit, have some munchies, listen to holiday music, relax. And you don’t even have to clean up afterward. What could be better?The last couple of years, we put this note on an index card and dropped it into their mailboxes, but this year I wanted to do it a little differently. My wife found a notecard in a stationery store while she was in Philadelphia. I liked it at first sight. It has a good heft, the style is nice, the colors are nice. Yes, it's expensive, but not wildly so. I think it's worth it-- so much so that after looking locally, I went to the web site of the people who make it and bought two more packets, just to have them.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
I think I'm more sensitive to this than I normally am because for the last hour or so I have been breathing helium. Specifically, I've been looking at the list of computer-related websites and blogs that is presented at Yahoo, here, working my way down the list and reading the ones that a) sound interesting and b) are understandable by me. In case you're curious, the ratio of the number that they present to the number that I look at to the number I actually understand works out to be about 10: 5: 2. Ah, well.
The one thing that I get out of all the sites that pass this filter is that things are seriously changing in the world of communication. I suppose that 'communication' is a very pale way of describing the mix of information management, portability, and computer-based tools (is there a better word? I mean, a non-buzzword word?). But to read these pages is to see not only the future but in many cases the actual present. Granted, Somewhere Else. Not at the company I work for, not at the place I work; and more certainly not at the semi-rural area where I live. ( Not that living in a rural area must necessarily imply technology that's at the Leave It To Beaver stage, as I've seen a number of articles showing people living thusly whilst still happily telecommuting, surfing the net, and watching ten zillion television channels. It just takes more money than I'm willing to invest. It would be fun to see just what it really would take to get up to that level, though. )
But somewhere, these things are happening, and they're happening now. Wonderful, magical things. Information flowing in amazing ways, from amazing mixtures of sources, just gushing out. Slowly, this gushing is becoming a torrent of possibilities that can and most likely will change our lives. Learning about this torrential flow is exhilarating. It fills me with excitement about the possibilities for improving not only life but all of the things that make life bearable, make it fun.
Of course, being magical, it helps to actually believe in magic. And I mostly do. So though I know that just because something worked for one person, one time doesn't mean it will work for me... and that there is certainly a difference between it working for someone who is a certified technogeek, heavily into acronym-rich concepts, and me, picking one out at Circuit City, still, the idea that its possible is captivating. And I admit it: I'm captivated, enticed, damn near seduced.
But there is a catch, and it lies between my ears. I don't know how to make this stuff work right here, right now. And the reason is that I don't know enough, and I can't remember enough, and I just can't do it enough.
I can't find enough to read that will keep me up to date, so that I know what's possible. When I find it, I can't find enough of it, so that I get past the breathless-wonder articles and down to the ones that admit that it can fail... even if they don't talk about exactly how. When I read enough, with enough detail, I remember only a vague general outline of what I read. And when I do remember in some detail, I can't see how to apply it where I live, where I work. And, when I do find it, do remember, do sense a way to apply it -- I can't change anything except in my own little orbit.
I can accept that. But I want more. Even subject to all the qualifiers above, I want more. Want to believe its possible. Want to figure out whats possible, here, and make it work. Here. Because when I do get it to work, when I can put the pieces together and remember them, understand them, see them fit together, I just know it's gonna be -- magical. Maybe not quite as magical as the articles I read now, but still: magical. I really want to believe that.
Helium? I hope not.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
I went to have my teeth cleaned today. That's a pretty minimal thing for most people, and it should be for me, too. But because I'm pretty good at denial, it's something I can easily forget, or cancel. If I should miss an appointment, its two, three months easily before I even try to make another . I'll defer for any reason at all. Haley's Comet, you say? Better cancel. Holidays on the horizon? Bad time -- better cancel.
I feel quite sheepish, and I know this is not adult behavior (its not even decent kid behavior). I do it because there is always a good chance that while I'm at the dentist, I'll learn something unpleasant. It was on a routine dental visit that I learned that I have -- excuse me, had -- two teeth that needed to come out because they were abcessed. It was on another that I found out I'd need a root canal. And even if none of these occurs, dental visits are almost always fraught with opportunities to have someone say I'm not doing things right, or not doing enough things, or both. Flossing? Not often enough. Wrong kind of floss, too. Brushing? Not well enough -- and have we mentioned brushing your tongue? (When they said that I thought they were joking. Dentists don't joke about things like that.) Replacement of the partial bridge on the horizon? You'd better believe it. Get used to the idea of being partially toothless for a while (dentists don't seem to think this is a problem).
So, whether they're about to spring on me that I need major work done, or am just being personally defective, I don't enjoy the process of going. Nobody does, of course. In fact, I've read once that being a dentist is a very stressful job. You're right there, almost literally in your face, causing some degree of pain to someone else, and that person is radiating a certain degree of discontent right back at you. Who could like that? I suppose its possible to have a non-stressful visit to the dentist, but I'd have to be woken up to drive home.
As it happens, this year I missed the appointment in June because I was going to have surgery on my chin the next month (I said I would defer for any reason at all), and I didn't even try to get it rescheduled until November, thinking that well, it'll be at least two months till -- and they said ah, we have an opening on December 15th, come on it. Arghhhh.
But its done. I acted like an adult, and I did it.
Monday, December 13, 2004
She won't think it's all that funny, and she'll think it's even less funny when the offspring, who knows no limits, starts elaborating on the ideas. No parking! No crowds! Atttend in your PJs!
As Martha might say: It's a Bad Thing.
1 - it does not eat batteries, as the Microsoft Wireless Mouse (yecch, pfah) did. Instead, it has one rechargeable battery. An indicator on the top tells battery strength. The batt will recharge when the mouse is dropped into its holder. If there were nothing else, this would make this mouse clearly superior to the Microsoft Wireless Mouse (grumph, tchah). No more feeding two new double-A's every 30 - 40 days.
2 - It is studded with useful little buttons -- zoom, scroll up, down, sideways, flick up the task bar to switch between active applications. Even its buttons have buttons.
3. - It's more comfortable than its predecessor. The MWM was ergonomic; this one is comfortable. Can't explain the difference, but both of us can feel the difference. This is a Good Mouse.
The other selling point, that it is a Laser Mouse, doesn't mean that much to us. But the three I've listed most certainly do. We like it a lot.
Death to the MWM. Long live the Log Mouse.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
A friend who is a Girl Scout troop leader, and is hyperactive even without that stimulus, is a manager at a local coporation. She has arranged for her troop to have use of the corporate jet for a day trip.
Why do I think that this is unfair?. What I think is, that reaction says something unflattering about me and my motivations. It suggests that I envy good fortune when it comes to others, if I think it didn't have an equal chance of coming to me or mine.
Gosh, self analysis is fun......
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Three noteworthy occurrences in the stream of kids.
One of the kids who had a very good idea of what she wanted had a mother. Said mother took the opportunity of a break in the flow to come over, sit in my lap, and murmur that she'd been very good, and would prefer diamonds, rubies, or a Mercedes. Racy reparte not being in the Santa image, I murmured back " Baseball, Ruby Dee, and Mercedes McCambridge"?
One girl, looked to be about fourteen, who clearly didn't want to be doing this. I gave her the option, as I do with any kid old enough to possibly not want to be doing this, to sit on my lap or stand, and she said Stand, with a great finality in her voice. She stood and even smiled for the photograph, but when we were done, I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, and she just grimaced. "Too old for this?", I asked. "Yes", she replied, striding off, "and so are you."
And one woman, who walked up with a tall adolescent behind her. "This is my son", she said. "He's very big outside, but inside he's very young." He moved awkwardly, did not speak, or even meet my eyes. But when we were done, he looked at me and shook my hand. Made me feel humble.
Some general notes.
When a kid was dressed well -- not squeaky-clean, like for The Formal Portrait, but nice, with complementary colors and the like -- I told them. Sometimes, you get the feeling no one has ever complimented them before on something like that. I don't think its going to change a kids life, to have an unknown adult tell them this, but you never know.
One kid had a really nice smile, and I told her so. She denied it, so I told her again. She shook her head. Finally, I said "Look at me. Look me in the eyes." She did. I leaned really close and I said "This is Santa talking. You have a nice smile." And she smiled.
When I could, I suggested books as gifts. A couple of kids seemed surprised and thoughtful.
Once again, its done. And once again, I'm glad I did it.
Friday, December 10, 2004
The house PC has been resident on a small Queen Ann style desk in the room we call the library (a 10 x 10 bedroom), and over time we've found ourselves starting to run out of space on it. I put my laptop on the corner, and I have the keyboard for our PC on the center of the desk. Two speakers on either far corner, a bankers lamp, and a stack of whatever papers are being worked on -- it gets crowded pretty quickly.
Additionally, the daughter could use an actual desk to do homework on. She does it on the kitchen table (which, now that we use the dining room table much more frequently, has become pretty much entirely dedicated to her homework and projects). She has a small, kid-sized desk out here in the living room, but I doubt she's sat at it since she was three. Strictly speaking, she doesn't need a desk, but, in the timeless tradition of parents, we want to think that having One Place For Her Stuff will encourage neatness and organization.
So the plan is, buy a new, bigger desk for our stuff; move the QA desk out here for her to use (and put a new computer on it, said new computer being the old one that her grandmother will give up if we ever get her new one up to her), and pitch the kid desk. We'll likely give her the thin monitor from this PC, too; as I said, the desktop for the QA desk isn't that large.
First step: Pick the new desk. We're thinking something of quality, with plain, simple lines -- this Craftsman style is what we have in mind -- and we'd like to get it locally. Nothing against the company that I linked to, but you want to touch these things before you buy them. I did drop the store a line, asking if I could get a sample of the finished wood before I buy it. They'll likely say no, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
More as we do it. We need to figure out how to get the 'new' PC to talk to the printer, which at the moment is hardwired to the house PC. The router doesn't accept USB connections, which is what the printer is. This should be a Minor Problem. Should be. Stay tuned.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
He is out of touch. He should be out of office.
I spent some of the time wrapping two Christmas presents. I'm not a particularly good wrapper, but I try, and with the help of a lot of Scotch tape, I get it done. I was going to look into ordering some gifts on line, but that didn't work out. Partially, it was because the site of choice, Bloomingdales, has such a good security system that it won't let me order without giving it the secret password -- and their offer to mail me the secret password seems to have a glitch, as it's been about twenty four hours, and no password has dropped, ker-chunk, into my email box. I suppose it's a good idea, because what I was going to buy was just a little silly something, and I didn't really need to order it. I wonder about the effectiveness of Bloomingdale's online systems, though, when things like this happen. Years ago, the chairman of Scandinavian Airlines Systems said that it was important to keep the tray tables clean, because the passengers could see them, and if they were dirty, the passengers got a 'dirty' image of the airline. They wondered about the things that they could not see, if the things that they could see were in bad repair. I am willing to bet that the failure of Bloomingdales to send me a forgotten password -- or let me just reset it on the fly -- doesn't really call into question the integrity of their electronic operations. But it did cost them a sale.
Instead, I went to a recently opened branch of Coldwater Creek, and I bought two nice pieces of clothing there. The store is in a small shopping center that's recently opened not too far from where I work. They're trying to make it an upscale deal, so along with CC there is a J Jill, a Talbots,an Ann Taylor Loft, a Bombay Company, and some others. Have to say that both Talbots and J Jill seemed to have a bit of a problem with the idea of a guy walking around, looking at women's clothing. I don't think that they thought it was creepy -- the way that the people at Victoria's Secret did, first time I went into one of their stores, years ago -- but they just didn't seem comfortable with me there. I noticed that the salespeople -- all but one women -- went up to women as they entered, but they didn't for me. No matter. I found stuff that I liked in Coldwater Creek. Part of it was that I just liked the way the store was decorated and laid out, which includes that they did not have rock music playing, as J Jill did, and Ann Taylor. Talbots had some nice music, and they did have one nice burgundy silk blouse that I thought about -- but I'd already both the things at CC, so I wasn't too moved. I still want to get more, but if this is all I get, it will be okay.
So this evening, instead of shopping, I wrapped the two presents, and then I watched West Wing for about 90 minutes. One was a current episode that I'd taped last night, and the other was an old one. I will almost always watch West Wing, if its on.
I hear the garage door. I think I'm about to not be alone.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
I was looking at numbers from a performance reporting tool that gave measurements about how well certain things were running. There were about six different classifications of numbers, and each had about 72 measurements per day, and there were a total of five days worth of data. (Why do I feel like ending that with ...how many men were going to St. Ives?)
But I got it downloaded and dumped into Excel, plotted the values, and it told me something useful. In a way, I didn't need to -- it simply gave me a graphic image of something that I (and lots of other people) already expected (that this computer was seriously overloaded) but now I could see it; further, I could compare workloads (yes, the pain is mostly being felt by the least important workloads) and I could look at one workload over time. Performance and capacity people like this kind of thing, so I was having fun.
And unlike the last time, I didn't think 'gee, if this is fun, maybe I should do lots more of it!'. Okay, I did do one more days worth of data, and won out again: the chart clearly showed that although things were still tough on the machine, a change we'd made had had the effect of improving things for them.
I was pleased.
Monday, December 06, 2004
One was, I got the Christmas lights put up outside. We have a couple of evergreens in our back yard -- one was installed when we had some landscaping done about fifteen years ago, and the other was our attempt to have a live Christmas tree indoors which we would then plant outside. Both are huge -- about twelve feet high for one, fifteen to twenty for the other -- and while I realize that by redwood standards, they’re minuscule, they dominate the landscape back there, and we like that. Two years ago, I had the thought to put lights on one of them, and this year, going out to do it again, I found that I had to scavenge another string of lights just to get two thirds of the way up. You’d think the thing was growing, or something. They come on with a timer, and its just so nice to look out in the darkness and see it glowing there.
The other was, we did something spontaneous, and we did it, as my partner likes to say, ‘as a family’. We were eating dinner, and spoke a bit about the movie that my wife and daughter had gone to see while we were up at her mother’s house. This was while I was swearing under my breath, and not so far under, at the Dell That Would Not Start. My daughter said that she liked the movie and all, but the one that she really wanted to see was National Treasure. This took us by surprise. You realize, I said carefully, that this is not a kids movie. There are no cartoons, no princesses, no goblins, no ponies. I hate ponies! she announced. And I want to see that movie.
We shared the Parent Look across the table (can we/should we/is she old enough/we'd have to leave pretty much right away) and the long and short of it was, we did it. And you know what? We had a great time. She got most of the ins and outs of the script( though there were times where she shuddered and turned her face away from the screen, and I had to promise to tell her when it was over). She was riveted by the action (it helped that she'd been to many of those places). And to cap it, on the way home we actually discussed the plot with her. She spoke lucidly about it, and she actually liked the parts that we liked. Amazing!
PBC stands for Personal Business Commitment. When I started working here, four years ago, I thought that this would be an interesting and valuable tool to allow me to see how my contribution -- granted, a pittance -- affected the profit and survivability of the organization as a massive whole. I have always had a serious problem with the concept of Me as a significant affector of corporate success, both because I have found it very hard to believe that what I do in any way affects the organization, good or bad, and because I could not for the life of me think of a way in which it possibly could. Show up, handle problems, install software, keep your head down, and don't leave too early seemed to be the order of the day, and that was what I would do. Now, at last, I would have a criteria that I could use to see how I really did affect the organization. I didn't expect to find that I had much impact, but I was looking forward to finding out.
As it turned out, PBCs were a pipe dream.
They consisted of overblown statements issued from managers four and five organizational levels away from me, and supplemented by the managers between me and them -- statements like 'Contribute to the overall profitability of your business unit by reducing costs by ten percent while increasing market share and customer satisfaction'. All very noble, but how? Where? With what? I am sure that my group's manager would not agree, but my thought was that, basically, they wanted lip service -- they would certainly have liked more, but the truth was that for most people, the regimen I mentioned a few sentences ago was all they could do. They certainly could not reduce overall costs, and as for market share, they hadn't the slightest idea what our market share was, let alone how it might be affected. That was, and is, Other People's Job.
It saddens me to come to this conclusion, and I would very much like to be proven wrong. I am willing to admit that there is at least a chance that so long as I believe I can't affect the organization as a whole, I won't. I settle for doing what I can, where I can, and hope that that's enough.
Insofar as salary and pay in general is partially affected by this, though, there is a certain anxiety regarding whether what I wrote as my 'achievements', though true, will be found up to the mark. I guess I'll find out this month.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
As I think I mentioned earlier, the reason I begged out this year was one that I couldn't really tell them -- that being, that I disliked when the family of the person doing the photography for the event clambered over me for their individual and group shots. It's silly, I suppose, but I felt unappreciated, and I didn't like that part of it, so I just didn't do it this year. We'll see about next year.
That won't be a consideration next Saturday, though, when I do it at one of the local hospitals. They have a good turnout, and they really seem to appreciate the effort that I and all of the others involved put into it. The first year, they equipped me with two rather sexy elves from a local college. Last two years, it was a middle-aged woman, which wasn't nearly as visually interesting, but I had fun anyway. I really enjoy it. I'm hoping that I'll get the chance to see any kids who happen to be in residence in the hospital, too.
Every year, I wonder if I should go out and buy a Santa suit. What I'd really want, I think, is one of the old fashioned ones, with a robe rather than the jacket and belt, and I'd want real boots, too. Then I realize that the setup would cost about $400 or so, and my enthusiasm wanes substantially. Come to think of it, thats exactly the cycle my mind goes through when I mull over getting a big screen TV, too. I think its called Reality Sets In.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
So explain it to me again.
Why, exactly, should I care that Tom Brokaw is quitting? Ditto, Dan?
Is it one of these '"Well, we're news media people, and they're news media people, so we think they're something special, so of course we want to hype it" things?
Or is it "Well, see, people trust Tom and Dan, and we're sorry to see them go because we have no viable replacement for either of them, so there goes our market share'?
I really don't get it.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Last night, as I was putting the new PC away, having finally gotten it to work, I thought about this a bit. In retrospect, I could have shaved hours off the resolution time if I'd realized that the migration software tool that I'd used had carried along certain registry settings, and then second, with the modem, where it somehow trashed (I don't know exactly where) the ability of the system to use the perfectly fine connection. The Dell people seemed to be working through a checklist, but not a particularly good one -- at one point, they said they'd replace the system, but I thought this seemed overkill, given the results of some experimentation I'd done, and eventually, they suggested that I just do a system restore. They recommended the Dell version, but I chose to do the Microsoft one, which says it won't mess with your program files (mostly true) . The Dell one says that it most certainly will. And it worked. Registry looks fine, modem connects with no problem.
It would have been nice to have a software solution that could help me to that solution, though. I tried thinking backwards -- okay, here's the solution, now how could I have best gotten here, and done so in a way that didn't rule out other, equally viable, options -- but I didn't get very far. I've used some of the Microsoft canned solution engines that are in the Help function, and they almost uniformly are too lame to consider as an actual 'engine'. They probably do work for people who need to be reminded that in order to work, the modem (if its an external one) must be plugged in. But past that level of abstraction, they tend to flame out. I get the sense of an infinite loop. Since my own patience is considerably less than infinite, I can't swear that if I'd Just Stuck With It, it wouldn't have eventually come up with the answer. But I don't think so. An experienced person usually knows when to try quick fixes first, and my sense it that the software wouldn't do that. It tries easy stuff.
Basically, I want a bright little AI engine popping up, advising me what might work best, next, and why. Something that learns over time, and can be downloaded and upgraded at will. (For a nice example of what an AI service can do, see the Twenty Questions site I mention in the post just below this. What's particularly interesting is that it shows how it got the answer. Some of its suppositions are totally hosed -- yet they work. Intruiging.) . I'd buy a service that helped me with this kind of question -- even a subscription service. (Now, there's an idea...hmmm....) .
Of course, if the tool were built by Microsoft, it would sneer at any software on the PC that was more than six months old, and simply recommend replacing all of it. The hardware, too.
Side note: Last night, I mentioned to my wife that what I wanted was an answer to this problem, and I wanted it RFN. Whereupon my daughter, who had been reading, looked up and asked what RFN meant. Umm....its an acronym, like ASAP. Know that one?
Monday, November 29, 2004
Sunday, November 28, 2004
I fixed the problem with IE showing the wrong release number. I guess it would be more accurate to say I sidestepped it. What I did was to find where in the registry it was listing that old release number, and change it to the new one. Hey presto, things related to that started working. I ignored the fact that there are about ten other places the old number still exists. What I should do is delete or rename that whole key, then see what happens. And maybe someday I will.
But right now, and for the last four hours, I've been trying to get the damn thing to dial out, and been totally unsuccessful. If I connect it to the router, and thence to the cable modem, all is well. But if I disconnect that and either plug my external modem into the serial port or plug a phone line into the COM port, nada. No dial, no lights, no noise, no nothing.
What Dell tells me is that the modem is working fine -- the Query Modem command makes it spit back messages -- and I am willing to believe that. But it is as useful as a rock, because it just won't dial out. Got something to do with that COM port -- a misconfiguration somewhere. Its driving me so nuts, I'm going to go into the office to work tomorrow -- because I know that if I stay here, I will want to keep diddling with it.
Gah. Thanks, Mike.
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Swapped the connection -- first connected to the router (which is hardwired to my PC; we use it for wireless connectivity to a couple of laptops) then to the new PC, then the router, multiple times. PC refuses to recognize the connection. This cable swapping is getting old really fast. Finally, duh, thought 'Why disconnect the cable from the modem to the router just to connect the new PC? It's a ROUTER, dummy! Get a spare CAT5, connect the new PC to one of the open slots!" So I do that. Turn to the new PC.
And the internet connection....fires right up.
HUH? What the heck is the logical difference between feeding the PC directly from the connection coming from the cable modem...and feeding it that which comes from the router?
Oh, relative to an earlier post about Mike Dell et all lying? The PC came with XP Home and IE5. The Dell web site says XP comes with IE6, can't be changed, badda bing.... But it won't let me do an upgrade to IE6. Keeps saying 'Can't do it, can't do it, can't do it' . And if you go to the screen where it says Add/Remove Windows Components, its not at all clear if it really does deinstall IE when you say to. Looks like it...but I would bet not. So I am still messing with this....thing.
A T-Day to remember.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
I was fumbling for a CD, having finally gotten tired of the one that I'd been listening to, the last several days, and what I pulled out was one that I'd completely forgotten about -- Bering Strait, a Russian country band. I know, that sounds very weird, but they're pretty talented. I popped it in the CD player and immediately dialed up to tracks 10 and 11, which are both hard-driving could-have-come-from-Nashville pieces. You can hear samples here. Got to say, it perked me right up -- though I think that if anyone had heard me trying to sing along with track 11, the catchily titled Porushka-Paranya, I'd probably have had to undergo an immediate sobriety test.
Another CD that I really like was created by a very talented pianist named Greg Maroney, whose music (samples) can be heard here. I came across him quite by accident -- it turns out that his mentor is the brother of a doctor my family used to have (until she quit for a year to spend time with her children; imagine !). His music is peaceful, but not bland; melodic, but not gimmicky. I'll tell you how good I think he is: even the samples on his web page sound good.
And that's it for now. Got to get to sleep so that I can drive up to the in-laws tomorrow. Should be fun. No, really!
What happened was this: I took a dose of a new type of insulin that I’d been advised to slowly ramp up over time. It hadn’t had much of an effect, first two nights, so on the third night, I ramped it up again. And it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. At one thirty in the morning, I shoved my wife awake -- my coordination having gone to hell -- and muttered that I wanted her to ‘check me in ten minutes’. I was shivering and shaky. My blood sugar reading had dropped to half of what a normal reading would be, and I was in sad shape. I recall lying there, feeling my blood pounding, thinking ‘I’m not gonna die....but I’d sure like to, right about now’.
Took about half an hour for it all to calm down, and for all the sugary stuff I'd gulped down to have an effect (I'm talking mass quantities of food, here; and while I'm half asleep, too), and then another half hour for me to get back to sleep, to awaken hours later feeling as if I’d been pounded. Groggy, lethargic -- all the great getting up in the morning feelings. I like to say that I wouldn't mind getting up early if I could do it late in the day. Today, even that didn't hack it, because I did get up late -- or, at least, an hour later. So, I think I’ll go back to the other way of astonishing my wife. This way wasn’t any fun at all.
On a different note, I was thinking about cancer today. I do, every so often, and it is always because I’ve been thinking of a good friend of mine who died last year from it. I suppose an oncologist would say that you can no more say ‘it’, referring to cancer, than you can say ‘vehicle’ without specifying whether you mean a Lamborghini or a Mack Truck. But to me it’s the thing that killed my friend. What I was thinking about, in a very non-biologically-accurate way, is how cancer works its nasty approach, and how it might eventually be stopped and eliminated. I don’t know this, of course; though I enjoy reading about medicine, and I like knowing a little bit of anatomy, I know there are people who know tons more than I who would not dare to offer any but the most general statements about how cancer might be defeated. And in a sense I don’t care any more, because it already killed my friend. I take that personally. Yet I also want to believe that it will be stopped, because evil -- sorry, that’s how I think of it -- must be stopped.
Of course, seeing how good we are stopping all the other versions of evil, perhaps I ought not to hold my breath?
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
I don't do it much, mostly because most of what I read is ephemeral stuff, and partly because when I do, it comes out sounding like one of my fifth-grade BookReports:
This was a really neat book and I liked it a lot. I liked it because a lot of neat stuff happened in it. The author wrote about stuff that I really liked, and that made it fun to read. I was sorry when the book was over. This was a good book and I think you should read it.
The book is Califia's Daughters; the author is Leigh Richards, aka Laurie R. King. She's got a web site where she lays out all sorts of interesting things about her writings. Turns out she's written some other stuff that I've read and liked.
But not like this. Califia's Daughters is elegant. It's captivating. It's got believable characters. It's got mastiffs. It's got dappled sunlight in a quiet room and people dying, quite surprised. It's got seriously evil people. It's got Heroines -- lots of them -- and a couple of Heroes, too.
It's really a good book, and if I was the kind of person who liked to say Highly Recommended, I would.
I liked it. I think you should read it.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Sunday, November 21, 2004
But not to worry, because the Merchants of America have mobilized to make this the bestest Christmas ever! At least, according to the latest issue of Real Simple (I know, an inherent contradiction there, but one which is easily resolved if you think of the magazine's title as Martha Stewart-less Living), which lists a LOT of things you can mail order from people who are quite good at making beautiful little things. And not to be too snide, they really are nice -- the guy who handmakes chocolate using mint from his own garden, for example -- exquisite, I'm sure, if wasted on people like us who think that downing half a dozen Oreos with milk is near perfection.
I do enjoy reading the recipes. Maybe this year, I'll actually make those truffles....
Saturday, November 20, 2004
My oh my.
Laden with Dell specials, and offers for dial up services, and a mixture of programs, some of which were obvious, some of which were not. A pointer to Notepad was in one folder, while a pointer to Wordpad was in another. Some Dell specials having to do with their multimedia offers were over here, while some stuff to do with Real Audio was over there.
System configuration took about fifteen minutes. Moving stuff around on the Start menu, so that it was logically grouped, took about half an hour. Much of that was identifying stuff that the intended recipient would likely never use, and moving it into a subfolder. Some of it was finding things the recipient would likely use -- Word Perfect, Wordpad, Notepad -- and putting them up front under a generic 'Writing Tools' folder.
Went from about twenty up-front folders to about six. Kind of makes me wonder why this configuration isn't drag-and-drop option, right at the menu. I can't imagine it would be that big a deal. But whatever -- its done.
Now we just have to figure out how to migrate the Outlook Express folders, the existing files on the old PC, and all of that. Should make for great fun, come Thanksgiving. I'll definitely be ready for that Italian pumpkin roll !
Stacey's Shmata .... Feet First .... Motherhood Is Not For Wimps
Partial Truths .... Angineer .... Political Fictions
Adventures in Japan ...Searching for Blue Sea Glass
I'm not sure about this, but I think that what ties all of these together is that they are usually (but not always) written by accomplished women, or they're creative, or they're conservative. Perhaps all three, on occasion. Whatever, they're interesting reading.
The other day, my daughter asked what makes a word obscene, and I dithered a lot before saying that I didn't really know -- that there wasn't any objective standard. And then I told her the Beetle Bailey navel story, to illustrate (pun intended) the point. She liked it.
Friday, November 19, 2004
Three reasons come to mind.
First one: I really was (and still am) pissed at the poor level of tools that I have to do the job that I do (or more accurately, to do the job that I like to do, as distinct from the one that they pay me to do). I've used some decent tools in the past, and though they had problems, they were lightyears ahead of where I am now. It bothers me, probably more than it should, that my organization thinks so little of me, and of that function (because no one else has decent tools, either). It makes me feel undervalued.
Second one: It bothers me that I don't have the gumption to just say the hell with this -- if I am doing a job that I really don't want to be doing (don't get me wrong, its not a terrible job, it just isn't what I want to do) but I'm not willing to quit and go find a place to do what I do want to do, then that speaks poorly of me. Its not a world shaking thing, but it does bug me. I've always been this way, though. I don't quit, even when, perhaps, I should.
And third, we have a customer who is bureaucratic to the max, who made a stupid, but bureaucratically sound, decision today. I hate stupidity. I'm always afraid that its catching. Not literally, no, but still. So it just generally torqued me off.
I think thats enough analysis for right now.
Why is it so incredibly hard to get useful software? Is it me? Is this one of those Taxi Driver comments, where I am saying Is it me? Is it ME? It MUST be me, because there’s nobody else here. So, is it me? Am I just expecting too damn much? (A faint voice answers. I ignore it.) Is it that there is so much free stuff, so much incredible stuff available for a cheap price that I have grown totally unaware of just how complex this stuff is, how locked in a design is so that even if it WAS possible to make something smoother, easier, by the time the product actually gets out the door, trailing bugs and bug fixes, the LAST thing that anyone wants to do is make it EASIER?
Last night I got this Bright Idea. I am looking at a problem -- well, that’s part of it. See, Looking at Problems is not my job. Its something I like to do. I’m not all that great at it, but the nice part is, very few people even like to do it, so its not that hard to be better than most people. But its Not My Job. Its what I like to do, what I want to do, what I used to do when I worked where I used to work before I took their early retirement package, but it Isn’t what I do now, and if you aren’t convinced of that, I have a manager who would be glad to tell you. He’s a nice guy, he really is, and in a managerial environment where most managers are dogmatic as all get out, he’s really a good guy. But he’s also a Company guy, and so when he says I know you like to do that, Bill, but THIS is your job, he’s saying So KNOCK IT OFF!
I was looking at this problem, when I thought that it would be nice to get the numbers into Excel and mess around with them a bit. Now, I like Excel. I’m not an Excel wizard, but I can do a couple of things. So I took the numbers, got them downloaded to the PC, read in the file, dorked around a bit, and hey voila, theres a graph. Which told me a couple of things I didn’t know.
About seventy rows of data, three columns wide plus the time. Ok, worth the time.
Okay. So now I say Gee (this is where I should have had someone hit me on the head with a rock), if ONE days data was fun to look at, then getting it for SEVEN days would be even more fun. So I run the job to create the numbers, up on the mainframe, and then I get the reports and I run the Rexx exec to scan the output and create a little bitty extract, download it, open up the spreadsheet.
One download for each day.
And for the next hour, I open up each download, strip off the rows I don’t need, strip off the columns I don’t need, sort it, stick identifying titles on the tops of the columns, cut and paste it into the original spreadsheet, plot the whole damn thing, and look at it. to make sure it fits right.
And it tells me one or two more things. Not seven thousand, not seven. One or two. It would have been worth about ten minutes of my time. Not a whole Damned hour.
Nobody made me. Nobody asked me. And you know what my manager would have said. No ones gonna thank me for the time, where I work most of the people don't even like this stuff, and they don't ask me because they have this OTHER person who says he knows how to do this stuff, though he doesn't really -- like a stopped watch, he's right about twice a day -- so why in the hell did I do it?
Cause I thought it’d be fun. And it WAS fun. But not TONS of fun. If I could have just dumped the data into the Datamatic, said Hey, see this? Take these numbers and do the same thing, it would have been about right. But I couldn’t, because the software, slick as it is, doesn’t Work That Way.
So I wasted a bunch of time doing something nobody cares about but me.
Dammit. And other words I won't say. But I'll think 'em.
I know, I know. Poor little me, whimpering in the corner.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
A lot of the reason was that one of the two classes was science -- basic physics -- and unlike the first time I sat through this stuff, I knew the answers this time. Constant velocity! I wanted to call out, as he was looking for someont to explain what a graph with a flat line halfway up the Y axis was demonstrating. And when he asked what a graph of the speed of a pitched baseball would look like, I was delighted when, of the four kids going up to draw it on the board, only my daughter got it completely right (though he said that he would accept a graph showing the ball with a steady velocity immediately after being pitched, I knew that a purist would naysay it. Me, too, but in my case, it was just being picky). I took a moment at the end of class to tell one girl, who'd had her hand up most of the time, that I was impressed by how often she did that, and she lit right up. I like when I can do that.
The other class, unfortunately, wasn't a class- they were taking a test for the entire period, so I got to watch my daughter screwing up her face, trying to remember stuff that I know she studied, because, dammit, I was there helping. (As a result of which, I now know what the Interior Plains are, not that I've ever heard the phrase any where else. And Lake Effect, that staple of Buffalo weather reports.)
Don't know if I could do that job, but I admire the people who do.
Growth by acquisition or merger (political correctness favors the second, reality the first, as when GM took over Electronic Data Systems as their captive data processor) is an interesting way to grow. When the market is stagnant relative to your past performance, its a quick way to boost profits. Of course, its also a quick way to torpedo yourself -- the most recent major event of that type which I can recall is AOL and Time Warner, but I'm sure there are others.
Doing the due diligence to evaluate the prospective fit is an art, not a science -- though a comic that I saw yesterday in Funny Times put it well: three stern men in suits sitting at a table with Santa, saying 'It's a perfect fit -- you're fat and jolly and we're lean and mean'. And no matter whether the merger is successful or not, there will be fall-out as executives activate golden parachutes, and grunt level employees are shown the door.
I wish them luck. I do hope they keep the blue light special... and I rather like the Martha Stewart cookware. Martha Stewart/Craftsman tools, though...there's a synergistic thought. I can see the ad now -- "Tools With Style".
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
There are larger ones that I could get -- about a foot square seems to be the norm -- but I don't want a larger one, I want the one I have. And to be fair, this one works just fine -- or it will, once I get the congealed mass that used to be the plastic cover out that someone left across the fryer top when it was plugged in; my, doesn't that oil get hot. All I really need is a new cover. I'll have to make one, but heck, what's the deal, some heavy-duty aluminum foil, folded over about six times, ought to do it.
But the problem is that I thought Heck, lets just get a new one. How hard can that be? eBay, Shopping.com, Froogle, JCPenney, must be loads of them. Nope. All the possible replacements are way too big. I'm not looking to fry for the multitudes, here. Besides, it has to fit into the little kitchen garage, along with the ice cream maker and the coffee maker and one or two other things. To handle those potential replacements, I'd need a double-wide kitchen garage, easy. So, no replacement. In this great land of ours, no replacement.
The engine is broken.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
We finally got around to trying the recipe that's posted below. A bit of work, but the results were quite nice -- though we agreed that next time, we increase the number of patties that we make. These were BIG burgers.
Had a Serious Talk with the offspring. That's unusual -- we get along so well with her that usually only a quiet word, or just a raised eyebrow (the Vulcan parenting method of choice), is enough to let her know that there's a problem. This time, though, she'd make a serious mistake two days running -- once, while my partner was visiting a friends house, taking a younger girl for whom she was acting as a 'mother's helper' and hiding with her in the garden when it was time to go, refusing to respond for fifteen minutes. She got the riot act read to her on the drive home by her mother, and was so impressed by it that she came to me and gave back her allowance for the week -- which we had not asked her to do, but which I decided, after reflection, to accept. Then, the next morning, her mother decided to accompany us to church, which set off the offspring, because she likes going just with me -- it's time that is just us, and (more significantly) I let her get away with more at church than does her mother. She threw a royal funk. So we talked, this evening. I warned her it was coming, because I don't think its fair to drop out of the sky like a ton of bricks, if for no other reason than that this is a kid who likes knowing when something unusual is about to happen -- as this was. I think she understands the severity of our feelings, and why we were mad. Once we were done, though, I made sure that she had no doubt what our basic feelings were and continue to be, about her. She's a great kid.
We need a wide trivet -- say, about six inches wide and a foot or a bit more long -- to go on the dining room table, to receive hot bowls and such. Got to be good looking -- polished stone comes to mind, though I've no idea where to find someone to make it, let alone find one already made. This is clearly a Problem of the Idle Rich.
I am reading a couple of books at the same time -- both are science fiction. One, The Miocene Arrow, is elegantly written, though the plot wanders back and forth so that it doesn't get decisively advanced all that much except every fifty pages or so. The other is Califia's Daughters, about what happens to society when the male population is decimated and the prevailing society -- what's left of it -- becomes a matriarchy. I haven't read much of it so far, but I really like the writing style -- direct, forceful, descriptive.
And that's about it. I think this is the most I've posted in one day, ever -- if not, damn close. Must be a literary drought coming....
Adapted from Tammy Wilson, Chef at Baristas
1.5 lbs ground round
1.5 lbs ground chuck
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
5 tablespoons soy sauce
5 tablespoons honey (preferably ThistleDew Farm West Virginia honey)
1/4 teaspoon Emeril's Essence (or Bayou Blast! Essence for a spicier burger)
1.5 teaspoons ground ginger
1. Preheat a grill.
2. In a large bowl, blend the ingredients
3. Shape the mixture into six patties. (Patties will be large!)
4. Grill to taste.
5. Serve on sourdough buns with lettuce, tomato, and onion.
We did plain buns, no additions, and the burger was terrific.
I am still reading the small, intense book about terrorism that I bought at a bookstore in London while we were on vacation, yet in a way I think that I learned as much about why terrorists do what they do from the NYT article, written generally on the topic of the hideous actions taken by kidnappers and terrorists in Iraq. The article is well worth reading, though intense (at one point, about three quarters of the way through, the writer says 'if you're still reading....', because he knows that this is not light stuff, not something that people enjoy having with their Sunday morning breakfast). He goes on to make several key points (not gainsaying all that went before); terrorists who perform and record hideous acts are doing so for two reasons: it raises their credibility with people who are moved by that kind of activity (raises what used to be called 'street cred'), and in so doing it makes them more of a 'player'; further, it brings others into their camp, if not up to their campfire, and inseminating them with the thought that truly, anything is permissible. And the other thing they do is present us, and any who have proclaimed a desire to eliminate them, with this conundrum: if you are seeking to eliminate the swamp rats, you'd better be willing to get face-down into the swamp. High tech, long distance weapons do not kill cockroaches; immediate, on the scene in-your-face actions do. In so saying, they are betting that a civilized nation will recoil in disgust from what is found to be necessary, and retire from the battlefield, leaving them the victors; if they do not, then they become ideologically the same as those they wish to destroy, losing any mantle of righteousness. I do not like this argument, as it is akin to 'yadda yadda yadda..and the terrorists will have won', but it seems to have several kernels of truth, to me.
Auditors -- well, one connection is simple: Auditors are corporate terrorists. And I would guess that they get the same message: truly, anything is permissible. Now, I don't deal with auditors routinely, but I do deal with and work for people who do. From that, I get the message that all bets are off. Used to be, you could be audited against general standards. Accountants had (and still have, I guess ) Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; doctors and lawyers have professional standards; other professions do, too. So your performance in what you do could be checked against those standards, however vague they might be. Over time, standards got tighter, thanks in part to our pals at, say, Enron (who recently filed to have their case moved out of Houston due to inflamed passions there -- said they couldn't get a fair trial. As if that were ever at the top of their personal accountability list. Or even on the list) and WorldCom and all of their ilk. Laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley, referred to by the cognoscienti as SarBox or Sox, came, intending to hold those executives personally liable for the integrity of their financial statements. Okay, thats fine. But now, apparently, we have auditors with a licence to kill. Not literally -- not yet -- but in all practical purposes. I recently was briefed on the results of an audit wherein the auditor wrote up things that he felt were 'inefficient'. Not wrong, not questionable, not opening a liability or exposure -- just 'inefficient'. And the corporation (for which read, the peons in my department) had to scramble before deciding that they could ignore the comments, this time.
I think what's happened is two things -- first, the people affected by the auditors and the audits directly, having to sit with them, spoon feed them information, and cosset them, are distant, organizationally, from the people who direct that they be sat with, fed, and cossetted. They simply don't know what its like. And second, the auditors are being told, find dirt. There's always dirt; if you can't find it, you're not any good at what you do.
This isn't the way it ought to be. Auditors can provide an honest, unbiased, standards-based look at how an organization performs, but they're being turned into corporate assassins by managers who believe that by unleashing auditors without restraint, they are crafting a personal and organizational defense, should legal liability ensue at some point. How could we have known about (fill in the blank) -- we let the auditors see all they wanted to! In essence, they're outsourcing insight of their own organizations, and the devil take the hindmost.
And as we know, corporate executives surely do know how to outsource.
Thinkpads -- well, maybe they don't know enough about outsourcing. I've got a Thinkpad that was issued to me by the company that I work for. Its an acceptable machine -- not as sleek or light as the Dell laptop that my wife's got, and with no where near the battery life (the battery meter was built by IBM's marketing department, I think; in one on-battery editing session, it went from '61 minutes left' to '49 minutes left' in about six minutes. And isn't that what marketing people do -- say performance is going to be about twice as good as it eventually turns out to be?) It's a slow, cranky machine, too -- waiting for it to boot all the way up is about a 5-7 minute process; I sometimes imagine little gnomes inside, down in the engine room, swearing as they shovel coal into the boiler that's being stoked to provide power. I half-expect to hear a steam whistle blow, hear a slow chuff--chuff--chuff.... The Dell comes right up -- not instantly (which is what we all want, I think), but in about half the time. Its nice.
I do know that I have unreasonable expectations when it comes to PC software. I expect elegance and functionality. I get good enough, with bells and whistles. Sometimes the bells and whistles are appreciated, and sometimes -- as in the case of the latest release of Quicken -- they annoy and irritate me enough that I delete the product and swear in the general direction of California (which, last I heard, was where Intuit is based).
Take mainframe capacity planning, for example -- a subject about which I know a little. I think that for, oh, seventy or eighty percent of it, doing the planning is pretty straightforward. Put the numbers in, turn the crank, look at the output for reasonability. That kind of planning should be readily accessible to anyone with an interest. Does such software exist?
Once you add the complication of performance -- not just 'will this workload fit into the space that's open in this box' but also 'will it perform to these standards', then you start getting in to modeling. There are some very bright people working in modeling of computer software, and they know buckets of interesting things, including things that perhaps are only of interest to other modeling geeks. Poisson distribution, anyone? So I would understand that software for them would be more difficult to understand and to use. But I've seen some of it, written by some very bright people, and I've been told by others that this is truly excellent software. Which has led me to the conclusion that either I'm not as knowledgeable as I think about it -- totally possible -- or the emperor really doesn't have any clothes.
I know, I know -- if I'm so smart, why don't I write some of this stuff?
How does inability, so I can't, and lazyness, if I could, hit you?
Friday, November 12, 2004
We were both drifting off to sleep, talking about this and that, and got onto the subject of religion, when I told her that the thought of death terrifies me. She knows that I am not fond of religion - I like the idea of religion, I like virtues they promote, but I don't particularly care for the institutions - so she was surprised to hear me say that, since she personally gets a lot of solace from the practice; consequently, she would think that if the idea of death terrified me, I'd want to be involved more with an organization that promises death won't be a bad thing. I guess it makes sense, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I think that religious people are looking for security in their daily lives and hope for the future, both of which are good things; they also want a sense that their life matters to someone -- I suppose in this context I should say Someone -- because it often doesn't seem to matter to anyone whether they live or die, prosper or fail. I’d like that security, but I can’t seem to find it in religion. Or anything else.
So dying terrifies me. I want to believe that either I just go out, never to be heard from again, or that my consciousness gets recycled into another body ( I like the idea of reincarnation, because it implies that I have the chance to see again people that I would like to see again. I guess it also implies I'll see people again that I didn't want to see again, or at all -- Hitler reincarnated? ) But the possibility that yes, there really is a judgment, that scares me. Because no matter how benevolent a God there is, I just can't see that deity looking me over and saying Yep, come on in. I'm not a bad person, but I'm not particularly Good.
That series of thoughts about the reason for religion got me to thinking about sports teams. I am not a sports fan. I don't understand how people can get excited about sports. Admire it, enjoy it, sure, but to listen to the discussions at my office, they attach their identity to some degree to how well 'their' team did. Tiger Woods not doing so well? They agonize over his decline. The Red Sox win? They are deliriously excited. I wondered if its a spin-off of the religious idea -- that by identifying with the team or the player, they're saying that there is a part of them that is rich, powerful, respected. I'm sure there are people writing sociology papers and dissertations on this kind of thing. I'd love to read them. I might not understand them, but I'd love to read them. The cool part is, half would say Yes and half would say No. Well, some might say It Depends.
I remember reading one of the Aubrey-Maturin naval novels (which I loved, pretty much all of them), wherein Maturin, the scientist (among other things) says confidently "I am a urinator", to the surprise and dismay of the captain, who tries to cut off his conversation, only to have Maturin continue on, it becoming apparent that what he is referring to is the act of diving (I think with the aid of a diving apparatus, not sure). I wondered at the time what word could possibly be taken to mean 'diving' when it currently has the meaning it does. All I could think of was that sleazy joke about Uranus and Klingons.
The author of one of the blogs that I like to read mentions that her favorite musician is Barry Manilow, and then says 'Deal with it". I was tickled by that concept, and by her aggressiveness about it. I think it makes perfect sense that she should like him -- the older I get, the more I appreciate music that's presented well, and done with style and flair. Not to say that there aren't musicians whose work appeals mostly to people much younger than me who do it with the same level of professionalism, but I don't know of them (after all, they're not talking to me). Manilow delivers, no doubt about it. I was surprised, the other day, to realize that I enjoy the singing of Tom Jones. I remember liking his work, oh, thirty years ago, but still? And yet, he fits the bill -- he's professional, he's creative, he does it with flair. He delivers.
Back to sleep.