Monday, August 30, 2004

Chocolate: good for blood vessels

BEIJING, Aug. 31 (Xinhuanet) -- Greek researchers have found that eating dark chocolate seems to make the blood vessels more flexible. Now for some news to make chocolate-lovers feel less guilty: eating dark chocolate seems to make the blood vessels more flexible, which helps prevent the hardening of the arteries that leads to heart attacks. China Radio International reported Monday. Researchers at Athens Medical School in Greece studied 17 healthy young volunteers and found that eating dark chocolate may improve the function of the endothelial cells in the walls of the blood vessels for at least three hours.

...and the conga line through the center of Hershey, Pennsylvania wraps right past the Penn State Heart Center.....

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Assertions of Power

In an article "Formidable Bush of 2002 Now Merely Life-Size" in today's Washington Post, the following appears:

In its own way, that answer was of a piece with the values Bush has followed at every major juncture of his presidency. It is a brand of politics that believes the assertion of power can create the reality of power - and that it is preferable to act boldly and make other politicians accommodate Bush's agenda rather than try to accommodate their doubts.

The writer presents that as an example of a defective style of governance, but that statement makes sense. In the absence of clearly-stated power, or limits to power, why should a person placed in a position of authority and responsibility refrain from expanding into a vacuum? Clearly, action can generate the assumption that that action was legitimate. Even when there are objections -- the Constitution doesn't allow this; the guidelines didn't intend that -- action generates its own legitimacy, and that legitimacy can ease its way into the popular assumption of 'how things are supposed to be'. To quote that great constitutional scholar, Forrest Gump, 'Legal is as legal does'.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Pursed Lips, Furrowed Brow

When the house air conditioner kicks on, the fan runs at a (presumably) constant rate.

It sucks the air at a steady rate through the air filter

The suction makes a whistling sound.

Wonder if you could estimate the level of clog in the air filter by changes in the frequency of the whistle?

Fun with Other Computers

This has been quite the day.

I got up early to submit a job on a remote computer system. And I spent the day watching the job run, waiting for it to complete. I needed it to complete so that I could say my installation of a product was correct.

And it would not complete. It kept abending -- failing. No idea why. Tried all sorts of things. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

And at around 3:30, the person who told me how to do this blithely mentioned an 'oh, I forgot to tell you.....' so that the step which ran for two hours, last time (before failing) ran in 30 seconds.

Sometimes, I could just go postal.

More fun with Microsoft

Late last night, I found a Microsoft Knowledge Base article which specifically addressed the problem I was having in getting OE reinstalled -- that being, the installer would stop because it detected that the identical verson was already installed. The fix was to zap the registry and tell it that the version was not installed. And then do the installation.

OE still isn't working 'right' -- but we can send and receive emails again. Which is all I want out of an email package.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


Just spent about six hours over two days trying to fix a problem with Outlook Express. It couldn't open the Address Book. And since it seems to do that when you try to open a screen to create mail, I couldn't send any mail.

Unquestionably my fault -- deleted some registry keys without backing up the registry first. Dumb, stupid, criminal, I know.

Restoring the registry keys did no good.

System Restore was as non-helpful as usual.

Did a reinstall of XP -- what they call an 'upgrade', though I don't know why. It was the recommended action (the other being, install from scratch, I guess). Course, that was a hardcoded recommendation on the page -- ie, it didn't ask anything, it just recommended it. Like a sleazy used-car salesman or insurance pusher. Didn't work. Did pop up with some new annoying things, but maybe they were there when I first installed ZP. Got rid of the ones that I could.

Created another ID for the pc, tried using that. Looked promising. Outlook could open the (empty) address book but it couldn't import the address book from the original ID. Pointed it to the folder where it was, and the display didn't show it. Dammit, I know it's there -- File Mangler shows it! (Excuse me, Explorer. Ahem. ) I copied the file to the Temp directory, and then Outlook could see and import it. Ah, progress. But I couldn't get that identity to import my folders. Though, with the gibberish string that MSoft uses to identify the ID, down in the Identities section, I couldn't even be sure I was trying to import the right old ID folders, anyway.

I said ah, crap (and other things), I'll do the install from scratch. Deleted the new id...and suddenly, Outlook with the old ID works. Well, mostly. Now, when I switch from ID to ID, it either a) only goes to the id that's listed in Manage Identitites as the one to use when starting a program, or b) if that box is unchecked, it glibly says hey, I don't know who you are -- so select your id again.

But it works. I can send mail, open the address book.

I can't hardly wait to see how this PC acts with SuckerPunch2 installed, though. Or how many 'improvements' Msoft slipped in there.


Update: I displayed the Registry Keys, and exported them. That was apparently enough to fug up Outlook. Can't open the AB again.

Joy does not adequately express my feeling.

Update: Poked around, deleted some programs, got an alert from XP that an update had arrived (I keep expecting SuckerPunch2 to show up via FedEx, carried in by a burly guy who's knees are giving out from the weight of the code). Updated, rebooted, and now oe kinda-works again. This must be what it's like to live on the slopes of Vesuvius. Was that thunder?

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Bureaucratic Humor

From the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission web site:

"Committed to improving the quality of life for area residents, the Commission strives to create a synergy of economic vitality, environmental stewardship, historic preservation, customer service and fiscal accountability."

Went through there yesterday afternoon, east to west.

Pop quiz:

a) EZ Pass can only be used in lanes with a yellow flashing light.
b) Only EZ Pass can be used in lanes with a yellow flashing light.

Extra credit:
c) How visible are the yellow lights in bright sunlight?

Bonus question:
d) Does the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission web site accept email?

No hurry. Ignore the massive truck with Liberal, Kansas on the driver's door, a driver with a heavy hand on the air horn, and DANGER CORROSIVE EXPLOSIVE on the rear doors of the trailer.

A) Unknown.
B) True.
C) Not very. They're on top of the toll booths, silhouetted against the sky. But you can see them from the plaza. Of course, traffic backs up way before that. See Liberal, Kansas, above. Reflect on ironic humor.
D) Nope. You can call, though.

Who says bureaucrats have no sense of humor?

Friday, August 20, 2004

Not So Thrilling

I usually like what I do, and as a result of just taking a week off, I'm not immediately nauseated by doing it again, this coming week. I suppose it isn't the greatest feel-good thought in the world, but it occurs to me that what I do would be considered pretty damn nice by people who have to actually work for a living. Not that the people at my office don't work -- they do, with varying degrees of energy and enthusiasm -- but they don't work hard, like gardeners and truck drivers. As I heard someone put it once, there are jobs that you shower before, and there are jobs that you shower after. Mine is definitely one of the former. So it's worth doing, even if I have to hold my nose while doing some of it. Offends my technical sensibilities, doncha know.

Some backstory -- when I was hired, I thought it was for a techie job. Turned out it was for a job that a clerk could do. I didn't like that, but since I didn't think I could get a job elsewhere, I settled for whimpering and moaning about it, sayng that I wanted to do other stuff -- techie stuff that I liked and knew how to do. After a while, the fellow who was my group's manager at the time said, well, okay, you can do this other stuff, too. After a while, my group's manager changed, and he asked me if I'd do the primary job for some other accounts, too, and I said that I would. It wasn't strenuous, I liked looking at other places even if the basic task was about as challenging as stirring soup, and it made him happy.

But now the skies darkened. The people at my account, looking to cut costs, said well, hell, we don't actually want to pay for you full time because the stuff you do doesn't take all or even most of your time. Which was true. So, they complained to my group's manager, and he said that he would like to find more for me to do. I pointed out that while I was willing to do more, I would really prefer it to be in the other area -- the one I liked. He said that he understood it, and then came up with several new things. None of them were in the area where I really wanted to work. But okay, they pay me, and all that, so all right. ((grumble, grumble)) Po' me.

Today I found out that while we were on vacation, that same manager had tried to get in touch with me to help them handle a problem. The problem was in the area that I want to work. I felt like that character in one of the Police Acadamy flicks who is found banging his head on a police cruiser. A bystander, asked to explain, says 'There was gun play -- and he missed it.' That's me. Damn, I wanted to do that! But, upon reflection, there was more. It occured to me that while the manager wasn't willing to let me do more work that I liked, he was willing to use those talents if the company needed them. But only then.

At the moment, I'm a bit - - ticked. And I’m finding the prospect of going back to work -- not so thrilling. I will, of course. But for the first time, I'm thinking that an end to my employment here is not five or six years from now (when I was thinking about retiring). It may be sooner than that.

Now, I'm not a person with a lot of initiative, and though my wife says (and means) that I can quit at any time, I'm not ready to do that. Our finances are in pretty good shape, but they do assume that I'll be earning this salary for the next five years. I don't know of any way around that. Though the management articles I used to read suggested that good managers listened to people, and let them (i.e., me) do what they could do well, that doesn't seem to pan out in my local version of Real Life. If I did have initiative and guts, I'd just bail, and do Something Else. Of course, I've noticed that by and large, the only jobs people get when they bail tend to pay a lot less, while demanding more. My golly, some are even 'shower after' jobs.

So.... right now, the job situation is Not So Thrilling. Po' me.


Back from a week off, visiting relatives, and generally trying to forget about work, which is less thrilling than normal, about which, more later. But first, the Superbus.

Visiting in-laws, and it turned out that two relatives of theirs, which I suppose made them relatives of ours, were visiting. Didn't care for them too much --- a bit too loud, mentioning money-related items a bit too often. We met them at a brunch arranged by the relative, at a restored mansion (which seem to pop up in Connecticut all over the place), and I thought that would be the end of them. But they turned up at the relatives's house when we stopped by for a last-night's visit. And with them, they brought -- the Superbus.

That's not what the maker calls it. The maker is Winnebago, and they call it the Journey . Forty two feet long. Twelve feet high with the suspension air bags inflated. One hundred gallon gas tank. Queen size bed. Three televisions -- one full size one over the center driver's console, one smaller one tucked into the wall of the bedroom, one medium size one below, in the storage compartment -- it slides out for use when you're barbecuing on the grill (which also slides out). Satellite dish that erects and locks on while you're driving so that you don't have to wait till you're stopped to watch those TVs. Corian countertops in the kitchen area. Dishwasher. Microwave. Full size Sub-Zero refrigerator. Full size shower. Apartment size washer/drier tucked into the bedroom wall. Two couches in the plush lounge area (twelve feet wide with the sides extended). Small dining table/PC work station. GPS locator. Bose stereo system. Carpetting throughout.

No perimeter defense system or roof-mounted lasers, but heck, what do you expect for only (gulp) Five Hundred Thousand Dollars. But they got it for less. And actually, they weren't as money-arrogant as I thought. Kind of nice, actually. My cousin said that I liked them more, the more I learned about how much money they had. Hmm....that one touched close to home. Guess I'm touchy about that kind of flagrant success.

The Superbus. Making Volkswagen Beetles tremble from Florida to Maine, and points west.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Customer Service

I received a note from a friend, telling me that she was seriously stressed because her laptop had died while she was in the middle of writing an article, so that now instead of doing actual work, she is doing PC recovery. I empathized with her. Unlike most people, she has a live-in tech support guy who can spend all the time necessary to keep her PC (and all of the others that they have) functioning happily and correctly, with all the latest gadgetry. He has the time, tools, and resources to get her PC functional again. But that doesn't ease the pain of having to go through it, or living without what comes very quickly to feel like an appendage of you. Its right up there with waking up to find out that the toilet has died. Having the PC just die on you when you need it is like biting down on a piece of tinfoil.

That instant-to-hand tech support is nice, though. Most of us don't have that. Even those of us who work for computer companies, where we use PCs all the time, don't have it. I work for one, and it is common -- so common as to be unremarkable now -- to have someone lose their laptop because the hard drive crashed, or because a piece of software stopped working, and they have to either a) send the laptop physically away to be fixed (sometimes they get a replacement; last week, a co-worker went from a laptop with Windows 2000 and all of the apps he needs to a desktop running Windows 95 and few of the apps he needed), or b) attempt to fix it themselves (I know of two people who were shipped a new hard drive which they were supposed to install into the laptop themselves). Your hardware dies, and your life stops while you address it. The idea that you need to drive the process of repair, instead of being able to go to a qualified person and have them take care of it, isn't right, either. But no one seems willing to recognize that as a problem, and more importantly, to fix it. The days of on-site tech support are over, at least in my little corner of the empire, and in other companies as well.

The concept resonated with an article in today's Washington Post about the dearth of service in retail stores, which the author partially attributes to the culture of sale clerks who cannot (or will not) take on responsibility for fixing a transaction that has gone astray -- in one example from the article, a desire to buy a bookcase which is in bubblewrap; the sales clerk didn't know if it was available for sale, her manager didn't know and said he'd have to get the store manager, and, when the store manager didn't respond to a page, said that the bookcase was not available. To which, the customer responded by personally finding the store manager, who said that of course it was for sale; there was a small problem with it, but he would knock down the price by 20% if the customer took it. The tale ended happily, but why couldn't the clerk have done the same? The answer comes, I think, from the idea that no one pays the clerk to take responsibility, and the effects of taking responsibility in a failed transaction can adversely affect the clerk's career. The idea of a mission statement -- remember them? -- was to give general guidance to employees when specific policies didn't exist, or would be too cumbersome to elucidate in detail; in this case, a mission statement could well have said that the clerk is authorized to take the same action as the manager. But when there is no good reason for the clerk to do so -- and a happy customer, in and of itself, isn't perceived as a good reason -- and there is good reason for the clerk not to do so -- the manager might disagree with giving a discount, or think that the discount was too high, and perhaps the book case really wasn't for sale -- then the clerk wouldn't want to take the risk, even if there was a mission statement encouraging her to do so.

The tie in between these two concepts is in the area of responsiveness to problems. No one -- yes, even me, glum though I am to admit it -- will respond to ongoing problems, because a) That’s Not Our Job, and b) Our Manager Cannot Be Counted On To Support Us If We Do It Anyway. There is no up-side. If you want to take the initiative to fix the problem, you have to take the risk. And you've got to do the job right -- mere desire, or 'gee, at least I tried', is not enough. I observed years ago that in a large company, if you want them to keep paying you, you can either Fit In, or Be Exceedingly Excellent (not just excellent). If you fit in, and are a good organization person, the organization will keep paying you; if you're Exceedingly Excellent, the organization will want you, and keep paying you. But if you don't really fit in, and you're not BEE, then you live each week knowing that they may decide this is a good week to get rid of you. So if you'd rather not be fired, you don't take chances -- such as giving out of the norm customer service. It's not worth it.

Not the way most people would choose to live their careers -- and yet they do. Somebody should fix that. In our family, one standing rule is: If it bothers you, fix it.

Does it bother me enough?

Friday, August 06, 2004

Fan Fan

We like fans.

If you came to our house, you'd think we like all kinds of air moving devices. We have a whole house fan. We had whole-house air conditioning (really, just the top floor, don't care what the installers promise) retrofitted, we have a couple of battered old box fans, and we have a ceiling fan in the living room, one of the bedrooms, and the library. And now we have another -- one was just installed in our bedroom. All four are Casablanca. Quiet, reliable.

But that latest one goes beyond what we expected. Two days ago, the night time temp was in the low seventies. We slept with the new fan last night, and this morning, not only was it significantly cooler than normal outside, it was cooler up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Is this cool, pun intended, or what?

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Warning: Admiring Parent Ahead

This evening, my daughter again proved what a great kid she is.

For her writing assignment tonight, she put together a short article on what kind of career she'd like, and why, and what she'd like to do if she couldn't do that, and why. Not great literature, granted. But this is a kid who hated writing three sentences in a summer journal -- and now that she gets to pick the topics, she thinks its fun -- sometimes, great fun.

And tomorrow she wants to bake cupcakes for my birthday.

She's terrific. In lots of ways.

Monday, August 02, 2004

I Don't Hate George Bush

... I'm just not planning on voting for him.

I have come to the conclusion that in modern American politics, you are supposed to demonize your opponent. He's stupid, shifty, a liar, not to be trusted. She's crafty, two-faced, not up to the task, has a hidden agenda. I don't agree with that approach. Its been a long time since I heard someone say that in American presidential elections, we take two talented people, either of which could do a decent job, and at the end of it, we call one of them a loser. I don't think we've had an election where that has been true for a while. At best, I would say that we've been lucky -- and I say that knowing that others would not agree. But whether they're both up to the task or not, it seems that we are expected to look only at the worst, assume only the worst. Against George Bush? Then surely when he picked up that blind cripple, he was just doing it because it was fun to watch the crip fall again. Not on John Kerry's side? Then you must agree that when he climbed the tree to rescue Timmy's cat, he was really doing it to peer in the window of Timmy's maiden aunt. We're not supposed to think well of any action taken by the person we don't intend to vote for, and as the intensity of our dislike of the other guy increases, so must our willingness to assume the worst based on the skimpiest of evidence. I don't agree with that, because neither candidate is god or devil.

I don't like George Bush because I don't like his economic policies, and I don't like his failures in international diplomacy. I'm not fond of what he's done to us and to Iraq, either. When you roll them together, I can't see myself being safer, richer, or happier with him around than not. I don't think that things will get better if he gets a second term, and I think there's a decent, though not outstanding, chance that they will if Kerry wins.

Yet for all of that, I think there are things to like about Bush and about his approach to governing. I like the idea of faith-based initiatives; though I think they went overboard, I think the concept was valid, and still is. I like his willingness to proclaim that he is a religious person; though I think he feels that his particular faith makes him probably superior to others of different faiths, and certainly to those of no faith, he's willing to be up front about it, and say that it affects his view of life, and I like that. I think that his policies that reduce the control of government are generally good; though it feels as if he wants to strip away too much, much of what he wants to take away should be taken away. So I'm for him on that.

I think that if George Bush could make me consistently believe that he cares more about people like me, and less about people like corporate chieftans, I might waver in how I feel about Kerry. Concepts like "don't change horses in mid-stream", "better the devil you know than the devil you don't" would come in to play, and I might say "well, aw, jeez....". But he hasn't, and I doubt he will, so I won't. Barring major surprises, I'll be voting for Kerry in November.

But I won't slime George, because he doesn't deserve it.

Dick, of course, is another story entirely.