Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Along the way, I saw a web site that seemed to say it had such a tool, but what got me was its title - I thought it said 'Use Our Handy Import Lizard'.
Lizard? That almost sounds....right.
I found some HTML in the blogger help files --
but it didn't seem to work.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Which is okay. She's just twelve, after all.
But she did pass the qualifying tests to enter an advanced math program. She took the tests last year, barely missed it, and this year passed with flying colors.
We're quietly pleased.
Firefox. It's a good thing.
Got to knock off those peanut butter and anchovy on rye sandwiches, I think.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
So I don't think it's my hobby. Its just something that I like to do.
Like this recipe, from the excellent Holiday Cookies, which was put out by Cuisine Magazine:
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup crisp rice cereal such as Rice Krispies
1/4 cup oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1. Whisk the flour, cereal, oats, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a bowl, then set aside
2. Cream butter with both sugars until light and fluffy
3. Stir in the chips and flour mixture just until flour is incorporated.
4. Drop dough in 3 tablespoon mounds onto baking sheets, spacing about two inches apart.
5. Bake in 350 degree(F) oven for 12-14 minutes or until cookies are set and golden around the edges.
6. Let cool for 5 minutes on the pan, then transfer to cooking rack.
Yields a crisp, somewhat tart chocolate chip cookie.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Its like my belief that organizations would be better places if they spent more time cherishing their employees. (I know; cherishing? Its the best way I could think of to say 'appreciating, encouraging, valuing, helping to grow....) Do I know this? Hell, no. But I believe it. I don't think companies feel this way, at least, the ones over, say, about a thousand or so employees. As I said, I know mine doesn't, and I know that the place where I used to work doesn't, either. Both used to -- I know this for sure on the old place, and I'm told it was true here, too. Actually, I'm told it IS true here, but I don't see it, and I don't think so -- but that gave me an insight. I think that both organizations used to cherish their employees, years ago, and the people who are running the place now, assuming they were in the organizations back then, think its still true. They act as if it is; they think it is; they might even be treating their own directly-reporting employees that way. But whether they are or not, by the time the corporate this that and th'other gets trickled down to the grunt level (mine; as distinct from the operator level, which is subgrunt), its been leeched of whatever humanistic qualities it had. The aroma is still there; the content is gone.
It is my great conceit that I can do something about this. I know that I cannot; yet I beat myself up because I can't think of a way, not one way, to make it better. In a way, its like an article I read in the Mensa journal, back when I was a member, entitled 'If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?" My variant of it goes "If you're so smart, why can't you fix this problem?" Because clearly its possible -- people are written up all the time for coming up with innovative solutions, fresh ideas, forceful insights. But me? Not a dammed one. I must be pretty lame, not to have even one.
So thats my Saturday schtuff.
And, assuming that were possible:
What would persuade me that sending my daughter there would be a worthwhile thing?
Because its always easier -- not easy, but easier -- to let someone else's child die.
My wife says that once again at her company there are rumours of layoffs to occur, and she said that the thing that worries her the most is not that she will be -- she doesn't think she's impervious to that, she's just grimly aware that its a possibility - - but that if she is, it might and probably will affect my intentions of retiring. I admit that thinking about that gave me pause, because I've gotten into the mode of thinking this year, possibly six months past that, and no further. That external events might make me hang around past that, and substantially past, at that, is a little unsettling. That feeling is frosted over with my dismay at my findings of which I spoke yesterday, and its reinforced whenever I hear a manager say that something ought to be done 'in case' an auditor doesn't like how we do it now. I won't go into that now except to observe that wariness of auditors seems to have replaced intelligence and foresight at my organizational level. But if that should happen, and she does get laid off, and I do have to stay around -- I won't be happy, but I'll know that she is happier to be out of that environment. (Its not a sweatshop; its just occasionally mismanaged. There's no word that means 'not managed according to the precepts celebrated in Fast Company', is there? Perhaps 'managed according to the precepts of The Harvard Business Review'. Which isn't entirely fair to HBR. ) Anyway -- though staying past that mid-next-year date would be a high price to pay, I'd pay it. Her happiness is more important to me than mine is.
Whats better than that is for both of us to be happy at what we do, of course. I wonder sometimes how happy people are, as a rule. And I wonder why we lost (if we ever had) happiness at work. Certainly, there must have been a time when people routinely got satisfaction from working. They may and almost certainly did not enjoy it, and even in times where everything was done manually there had to be tasks that were unbearably difficult, soul-draining, and dangerous. But (and perhaps this is my sense of whimsy, or belief in the Easter Bunny) I like to think that when those tasks were done, they felt a sense of satisfaction along with the bone-deep sense of weariness. By god, that tree is finally cut down to size.... that mountain is finally tamed... But the people I work with don't seem to have that sense of satisfaction, and as for the ones last night, they seem to operate on a much lower plane even than that. I want to do something about that. Yes, I know thats ludicrous, to assume that I can do anything about it, when I frequently cannot even manage the evironment of my own job, let alone, my reactions to it. Yet I want to. More accurately, I want an adult to take care of it, and since they seem to be in short supply, I am looking around for alternatives. Easter Bunny, you there?
I learned on Friday that starting on Tuesday I'll be on call for the operating systems. I don't doubt that I can do it, though I know that there will unquestionably be events where I do what I think right and reasonable, and its not the way the current operating system people do it. I am a little apprehensive that I'll make errors, because this is an unforgiving environment. But overall I'm pleased. Its something that I've wanted to be able to do.
Friday, January 26, 2007
I had gone over to our company's computer center this afternoon to tell them what address they should use the next time that they IPLd a specific system. There's a change record to tell the customer what we're planning to do, and the record is supposed to contain all of the information that will be needed if you want the system operators to do the change. Usually, you don't;this is just an approval mechanism, but sometimes, you do. IPLing is something that operators do all the time, so it made perfect sense to me that the address of the pack to use would be in the record. Oh no, I was told, you have to physically go over there and key it in yourself. I thought this very odd, but I went over, and the operator told me that I was mistaken; this information appeared in the 'operator instructions' part of the record. Oho, I said, and went back to the office, where I updated the change ticket to include the IPL address.
Later in the day, I happened to meet the person who'd told me that I would need to go over, and he said that he was about to go over, in case I wanted to go over with him. I informed him of what had occurred, and he seemed quite surprised. Oh no, he said, we don't do it that way. You have to key in the address yourself. Well, I said, I don't have a problem with that, but thats not what the operator told me. So he went looking for the other programmer, who got quite agitated and said that under no conditions were the operators supposed to touch that field on the console. Under NO conditions. He said they weren't paid to do that, and he was going to call the Operations manager to complain that his operators were taking liberties with the system.
Now, this amazed me. I have known for quite some time that I expect more from operators than most of the people I work with, and I know that I do because the company that I used to work for expected more from them than this company expects from them -- heck, even from most of its programmers. (They really don't expect much. If you're one of the top fifth or so, its different. But otherwise, you're just well-paid auditor fodder. Head down, mouth shut. And they don't want to hear your ideas about improvements, either, unless -- well, that's another story.) Over time, though, that other company expected less and less, and the level of operator ability gradually drifted down. So it was not out of the question that our operators would be, overall, unambitious. But I didn't think of them as dumb, and my feeling was (and is) that if they wanted to stretch their abilities, that was a good thing, and they should go for it. Okay, within limits, but still: good thing.
This was not, as they say, the prevailing view, which I discovered on my return to the operations area. The operations manager hustled out to be there when the operator who had told me that it wasn't necessary said, quite stiffly, that she had misspoke (actually, she said that there had been a 'miscommunication', one of those weasel words that I despise), and that under NO conditions did they touch that console without first clearing it with the programmers.... and only then if there was a crisis, at which point they would ask for instructions. They would not think, they would not improvise, they would not try things. They would ask for instructions, and they would do just exactly that.
We walked over to the console and I quietly asked her why it was that way -- why couldn't operators touch this operator console without the clear approval of a programmer? And then this lead operator said what startled me, and startles me still:
"These operators are stupid. You can't trust them. They'll screw it up."
Surely not, I said. They may not be trained, but they're not stupid.
She nodded. "Stupid."
How can people view themselves that way? How can they do that?
Thursday, January 25, 2007
And I'm reading this on the Fast Company web site. And even though the content is what I'd call business fantasy, I'm making comparisons between it and the teleconference. As you might expect, the folks on the telecon don't come out ahead. In the BF, they're talking about improving incrementally, making what they do, and how they do it, better, constantly. On the telecon, they're talking about getting approval, and making sure that managers are shown as the owners of the documented processes, and moving all of the processes into a common database.
The thing is, both are parts of reality in business. People write about the first kind because they're sexy. No one writes about the second kind because they're boring. I'd like to think that it's possible to get rid of the second kind, or have the dull people -- you know, like auditors -- be the only people who bother with it, leaving the jazzy, creative stuff for the rest of us, but that doesn't seem to be the way the world works. There's much more of the humdrum, dull things than there are of the jazzy, exciting things, and it seems the nature of large organizations to be able to take even the truly invigorating concepts and encumber them with barnacles until they collapse -- all in the nature of the corporate icons of 'standards', 'procedures', and so forth. Not to say that those are bad. Just that: has anyone ever leapt for sheer joy at the issuance of a new Corporate Instruction? Has anyone gone in to the office early, or stayed late, because they were so jazzed by the possibility of reading a new Standard, implementing a new Guideline, following a new Process? I strongly doubt it.
I don't question that the company in the BF probably has its own corp of nitpickers -- people who worry about the accurate encoding of items on expense reports and time cards; people who insist that the employees' cars all be parked head-in, and not the reverse; people who insist that the documents in a new database all be written the same way, with the same font, and the same spacing; people who collect, collate, summarize, and forward status reports. But somehow the organization manages to come up with concepts that are worth writing up in Fast Company, too. I wonder: is it only possible to find that magic if you look at the organization in the abstract, distilling out just the magic and leaving the daily drudge behind, just for the purpose of the presentation? And: is it possible that the bigger an organization gets, the better its ability to generate drudge, and the worse its ability to generate magic, becomes? As it becomes more 'adult', does the experience of being part of it -- the line staff, not the folks in charge, though maybe some of them, too -- become less delightful, less something that invigorates? You know my bet.
I bet this, too: if what I'll call the application of magic (has a ring to it, doesn't it?) is going to happen to me, in my life, it has to be because I made it happen, at the personal, micro level. I suspect that, barring an overwhelming concentration of interest and resources from above, thats the only way. The organization's not going to do it. It can't.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Blacks the color of pleasure at our home, at the moment, though, because my wife got her new work laptop -- a jet black Dell Latitude 620. It's quite nice, and its a tad bigger -- more of a letter box screen than the squarish one on my work laptop or our home one. It boots quickly, and it connected almost immediately to our home network -- which was worth looking at, as it seems that when I got the new laptop, I'd never configured the network to accept it -- I just disabled wireless access checking. My bad. Now its back on, and the network knows both my MAC access and hers. Technological coziness. And I found a new command: GETMAC.EXE . Quite slick.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
By now, you may have heard the story of the soldier and the mattresses.
I would like to suggest that the comment by the store employee proves nothing other than that he's apparently incapable of self restraint. Neither does the ownership of the store by someone who's a Muslim. Doesn't prove there's a movement by Muslims, or mattress sellers, or anything.
Maybe there is, but it'll take more than just this one episode to make that case.
Its just one person. Let it stop there.
Because I got a bit of a surprise with my credit card bill (one of my payments seems to have vanished into the aether), I'm being very cautious about what I spend, for a while.
But John and Kira's catalog, I'm keeping.
Monday, January 22, 2007
But when they wouldn't let a guy on one of their planes because he was wearing a t shirt with a picture of bush and a comment about being the worlds number one terrorist.... saying "Whether made verbally or on a T-shirt, comments with the potential to offend other customers or threaten the security of a Qantas group aircraft will not be tolerated." ...
well... I think thats pretty lame.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
I've read through the Fine Homebuilding -- I always enjoy reading that magazine, especially when they talk about specific construction details that might affect what we build as our next home. I get a little antsy referring to that as our retirement home, since that sounds so old, but thats what it would be. We're still expecting that this will happen in somewhere around five to ten years from now. Of course, we've been saying that for a while. This particular issue had an article about the building of a pantry cabinet into a small closet, which I liked because we've wanted to add a rolling shelf to the one we have in our kitchen. When we had the remodel done, we had two shelves of that type put in, and afterwards decided that a third would be nice, but were completely unable to interest the contractor in either selling us the shelf or doing that and putting it in themselves. We took the obvious lesson away from that.
This morning I took two hours and went up to the data center to IPL my test system. To do an IPL means to do an Initial Program Load, kind of like booting your PC. I'd tried to do it on Friday, but it didn't work -- I got the dreaded Wait State, which you get if the storage volume you're using doesn't have the information it needs to be able to start the system. Usually its because you forgot to put it there, but sometimes its because you're pointing to the wrong storage address, as was the case here. I was delighted when it came up. I didn't really doubt that it would, once I had the right address, but it was still a nice experience.
My daughter is rooting through the trash for her retainer, which she misplaced this morning. The good news is, we just found it. The bad news is, she stores it in a napkin at school. Argh!
Saturday, January 20, 2007
So, with that in mind, you might guess what this sleek Fire Ribbon fireplace reminds me of.
First is, I have stuff to read all over the place. I have the latest issue of The Economist, and of Fine Homebuilding. I have a Christmas gift, The Man in the Arena, which is a collection of the writings of Theodore Roosevelt, as well as Team of Rivals. I picked up The Rocking Chair Reader - True Stories of Celebration and Reunion, and The Number - What Do You Need For The Rest of Your Life, and What Will It Cost? at Borders the other day, and today I got two library books - Barry Eisler's The Last Assassin, and Work From The Inside Out - 7 Steps to Loving What You Do. There are a couple of books on the shelf that I picked up at a local used book store a couple of weeks ago. And then there's today's Washington Post, and a newsletter on financial planning that I get from my company (it was the source of that depressing advice regarding retirement age). So, after I get through browsing through various news feeds from Feed Demon, or just cruising around via Stumble Upon, I ponder: What to Read? It's a nice problem to have.
Second, the odd one, is this: the guy who is going to do my dental surgery, putting implants into my upper jaw, told me in November that he thought my blood sugar level was too high for him to feel confident about my healing capabilities. Okay, fair enough -- it was high -- about 12%, by my rough calculation. I got it back down, which means I can call him and say So, are you ready?
The thing is, I'm not sure I'm ready. I am not apprehensive about having the implants put in, and not about the extractions that are going to precede it -- I'm apprehensive about How long will I have no effective teeth in my upper jaw? I know there will be a period after the extraction before the implants and corresponding bone grafts can be done, and a longer period before the implants can be fitted with the framework for my bridge. I'm guessing the first period will be about a month, and the second will be about four months. I know that for some of that, I'll have a temporary upper bridge, much like the smaller one I have now, but spanning my entire jaw. The question is, how long will I not have it? How long will the period of eating only food that doesn't need to be chewed be? And how much of a dork will I feel like?
I talked this over with my wife, and once again, she came up with reasonable advice. Take it slow. You know whats coming, and what needs to happen. Just take it as it comes. Relax. Breathe. Okay, she didn't say that last part, but it was of a piece with what she did say. Though she didn't have any advice about what to read first.
Oh, and that title? Apparently, I'm not the only one who wonders what the plural of conundrum is.
When I was leaving the libe, though, I thought a bit about how irritated I got when they raised their overdue book fines. I don't ordinarily have that as a problem, but it irked me nonetheless. And yet when I pick up three or four books over a relatively short period of time, I am grateful to them for existing, and I want to send them money to thank them -- if I can do it in a way that doesn't say Hey, we have a live one here, put him on the list of people we send recurring letters to, asking for money. I even thought that if they took credit cards -- which they don't -- I'd just give it to them right there. Wonder if I carefully thought of that willingness to donate in a way that I knew was impossible to execute? Nah, I'm not that tricky.
I read in an article about a guy's experiences in getting interviewed by Google that they have, in their lobby, a rolling display of current search phrases being entered. So, if you have a spare moment, do a search that suggests that perhaps Google isn't as non-evil as they'd like to think. It might be fun.
I also thought, while I was out, about Things to Do After Retirement. Two things come to mind. One, being what I'll call a 'minder' -- someone who goes to the hospital or the nursing facility where your aged relative is and checks up on them -- are they getting treated well, are they getting their meds and exercise and whatnot. This is based on the observation that most nurses and nursing staff are hard workers who don't have a lot of spare time; when they they have some, they spend it on the people who are foremost in their minds, and that is usually the people who really, really need it, but also, frequently, are the people that they've been asked about.
And the other is that years ago I heard about people who are couriers for large companies that need something hand carried from here to there. You get a ticket and a package, you fly somewhere, hand it over, and fly back. Not much pay, but obvious tourist opportunities.
Either sounds -- possible.
Friday, January 19, 2007
That bread turned out well -- sweet, good for French Toast or just snacking. I am thinking I might just buy a copy of the book (I'd borrowed it from the libe). I found several used copies, here; since I don't have to return it for two weeks, I'll likely bake one more thing from it, and decide whether to buy or not, based on those results. So far, though, pretty good. It's easy to follow and produces good results. What more could I ask? As it is, we're just about through the challah -- tomorrow we will have french toast and bacon, coffee , and possibly a couple of cream rolls I made the other day with some heavy cream that I'd picked up for an unknown reason. I want to get a new biscuit cutter -- the one we use is a very thin one that bends easy. Of course, given that I roll out dough on the counter, and not on the massive bread board that my wife inherited from her Italian grandmother (this jewel is about two and a half feet wide, and about three and a half feet long), its probably good that I can't press too hard into the countertop. And as for buying one, Real Simple magazine has an interesting alternative.
The GP is continuing to improve. The swelling in her eye has dropped now to the point where she can close her eyelid again. No guarantees, but we're pleased. My daughter made a deal with her uncle, who is, among other things, a sculptor; he's going to make an image of the GP. I think he's a little bemused by the idea, but he's game.
I've been a little surprised at the paucity of comments on this blog lately. One person sent me an email -- I think she used the 'send me an email' link - saying that she could not post comments, which surprised me. I hope others aren't having that problem. It makes me wonder if everyone is still in the holiday rush, winding down and cleaning up. I know we are -- our tree is still up, our lights are in but in jumbled masses. The big project for this weekend will be to de-ornament the tree, and get it out the door for trash pickup on Monday. My wife is always very good at putting the ornaments away, and two years ago she got several large white boxes where she clearly marked on the side what was in each one. That was in response to a combination of events; one being getting finally tired enough of the ratty boxes we had been using to do something about it, and the other being the inadvertant tossing of a tree skirt that we really liked, when we were gathering up junk. I still miss that thing, and though we got a replacement, it hasn't been the same.
I got a newsletter from my company where a financial advisor raised the bar on retirement -- not only did she not think that people should retire before sixty five, which is pretty much the norm these days, she thought that waiting till seventy or seventy five would be a good move. Seventy five! And yet, if it were possible to change careers (which, I think, it is, subject to certain caveats), thats not out of the question. Lord knows I won't be playing golf!
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Now, the bad news. It was a really minor thing....and I didn't find it.
But I don't care. Much. Its fixed, the job works, and tomorrow I get to punch the system and see if it will run with the changes. Which, given my track record with this change, I won't bet on. But I said all along that this is the kind of work I want to do, and I've known all along that learning is painful -- if it was easy, anyone could do it. So I am really pleased to have had this experience, and I hope that it never happens again.
Incidentally, if you're interested (hello? Anyone out there? Ah, well...) I'll explain what happened. First, I put on a software fix. It said that to work properly, it needed another software fix, which I got and put on. That one said it needed eleven more software fixes, which I got and put on. All well and good. And then I tried to make the system accept it....and it wouldn't. Flat out would not. One of my coworkers suggested that the method I was using to get the fix, which had worked just fine with getting fixes from vendors, might not be the right way to get it -- I should ftp it. So I did. Threw away the one I wanted, plus the eleven others, got twelve new ones. Still didn't work.
Did you catch it? I just said what the problem was. Answer down below.
I also got to stay late, the result of diddling around doing things until it was too late to go home and dial in from there, as I had planned. One of our customers had a system test planned, and we needed people from multiple disciplines to hang around in case they had problems. Which, as it happened with mine, they did. You've never lived until you have two or three people reminding you that this is The Customer who's waiting for you to fix their problem, and are you done yet? The nice part is, though, problems in my area tend to crop up in the beginning of things, not all through the event. So once I got them working, I was able to go off and reply to some emails, write others, and do things along that line. Still had to hang around -- we got out of there about three hours after I normally leave -- but it wasn't bad.
I'm not much for conspiracies, but does it seem to anyone else that this administration is more than willing to do whatever it thinks it has to do, and is only grudgingly agreeing that perhaps other parts of the up-to-now-allegedly three part government had any kind of oversight because it lost the majority in both houses of congress? And will still do whatever it wants as often as it can, as secretly as it can? I am beginning to wonder what other nasty little surprises they haven't told anyone about. Not in any way to imply that there aren't things that ought to be kept secret - - of course there are -- but I would bet serious money that there are ticking time bombs in their files just waiting to explode. Their arrogance amazes me -- apparently Mr. Cheney told people the other day who were questioning him (I don't recall the venue, whether it was an interview program or what) that they ought to remember that Bush is the Commander In Chief. Which he most certainly is. But the last time I looked, that only applied to the military. Though I suppose there's a Secret Plan to address that, too. Perhaps we can't go back to kinder, gentler times -- or perhaps they only seemed that way when I was younger -- but I will nonetheless be so glad when this guy and his crew are gone.
The answer? I installed thirteen fixes...and only replaced twelve. Guess which one was bad?
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I had the time to think about this because this morning I opened up a severity 2 problem with IBM technical support to find out why my job to apply system maintenance had failed so incredibly badly, and I actually got someone on the phone who could talk me through researching it (a delight: I was talking to a by-god actual techie, not a level one question taker, and he was coherent, understanding, and patient with my ignorance of these procedures). We talked for almost an hour, and at the end of it, when he asked me to FTP some material to him, I was actually able to do it, and it worked, which is the most trivial of accomplishments for other people, but made me almost giddy with delight. I was jazzed, as they say.
So since I had pushed that problem into the hands of someone much more competent than I, and I had done the other things that I needed to do, I had the chance to think a little bit about podcasts. And what I was thinking was that it was too bad that I had never really followed through on finding some to listen to routinely, because it sounded like such a delightful and useful idea. The problem was, I thought, that I did not have the time to go out and get these things, and download and listen to them. Heck, I didn't even have the time to get them. And then my eye fell upon my PC -- don't worry, I picked it up -- and a little switch in my head went CLICK! And I thought hey, why can't I download podcasts to THIS pc during the day, and then bring it home and transfer it to something that I can listen to as I wish? Or even just plug into this pc, or use the speakers? Well, sure, but how would I find this stuff? Oh, I remembered, there are several podcast directories that you can find via the most simple Google search. Well, but how would I get them? Because, though I may not be the busiest guy around, I do spend time at work actually doing stuff. What I needed, I thought, was something like my Feed Demon news aggregator, but for podcasts. Hmmm.... I wonder....
Feed Demon can download podcasts, at a scheduled interval. Which means that I could set up my work PC to do it in the background while I was working, if I wanted. I could even set up my home PC to do it, provided I was willing to leave the PC on during the day. But either way, yes. Its possible.
I was driving home today when I had a startling thought. The newsfolk were doing a piece on the Middle East, again; every day they do something about that sad area. Today they talked about a guy who was born in Oregon and is now a propagandist for Al Quaeda. I listened for about ten seconds, enough to hear the harsh insanity of the guys words 'We love peace! But if we cannot get what we want, then we love war!' before I turned it off. Who needs that kind of crap while driving? But then I turned it on a little while later, and heard someone saying that while we would listen to that and think it silly and not at all effective, the people to whom it is aimed find it quite interesting. Which gave me the shudders, a bit. How stupid are these people, I thought? And then I thought Or, how desperate are they?
That second thought would not normally have occurred to me but that they had previously done another piece about another explosion in Baghdad, this one at a university. They spoke very, very briefly about one man of many who was missing -- he sold candy and soda from a stand near the university, he was poor, and he couldn't be found -- not with the living, in the hospitals, not with the dead, in the morgue. His wife was searching for him. What must that be like, I had thought, to have that level of desperation? To be living at that level of poverty any way, and then to have it snatched away like that?
So I was primed, perhaps, to think a little more than normal about what’s going on in that area, in Iran and Afghanistan and all of that, and though I didn't have any great thoughts, I wondered, to my astonishment: what if what Bush is trying to do is actually the right thing? And I shivered, because I have so little use for him that the thought that he might actually be right about something would be like doubting my own sanity. But what if he's right? Right for the wrong reasons, persistant because he's stupid, and all of that, but still -- what if he's right, and we should flood the place with troops, spend billions of dollars there, let our people be killed in its defense, all without so much as a casual thank you? What if...
I tell you, its enough to give you the shakes.
Breakfast this morning was a quiet affair. Nothing was particularly wrong, but none of us seemed in a conversational mood -- or even an intellectual one; I put down the latest issue of The Economist, which is pretty rare for me. I did make french toast, but just using regular white bread, not the challah, because I wasn't in a mood to experiment. Of late, I've made about 70% of our breakfasts, but this morning I was moving slowly, so I didn't need the additional grief of finding that the challah wasn't actually right for FB. Call me some - word - that - means - stuck - in - place.
On the bright side, my daughter went to give the GP medicine for her eye, and called out that we had to come look immediately. Oh, God, I thought, now what? But it turned out to be (apparently) good news: the scab had fallen off, and the eye appears intact. No promises that surgery won't still be needed (yuck), and of course the eye is still and will remain nonfunctional -- but I can accept that. It was the hideous image I was dreading.
Speaking of dread, my system problem at work is completely inexplicable. I've opened a problem record with the people who support that software, and, of course, I'm sure that they will Get Right On It.
Welcome to Wednesday.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
In one case, convicted middlemen for Iran bought Tomcat parts from the Defense Department's surplus division. Customs agents confiscated them and returned them to the Pentagon, which sold them again — customs evidence tags still attached — to another buyer, a suspected broker for Iran.
That incident appalled even an expert on weaknesses in Pentagon surplus security controls.
"That would be evidence of a significant breakdown, in my view, in controls and processes," said Greg Kutz, the Government Accountability Office's head of special investigations. "It shouldn't happen the first time, let alone the second time."
A Defense Department official, Fred Baillie, said his agency followed procedures.
"The fact that those individuals chose to violate the law and the fact that the customs people caught them really indicates that the process is working," said Baillie, the Defense Logistics Agency's executive director of distribution. "Customs is supposed to check all exports to make sure that all the appropriate certifications and licenses had been granted."
Oh, yeah, the process is working just fine....
Sunday, January 14, 2007
SO.... I'm sitting out here by myself, listening to a tape (Cristofori's Dream) and leafing through the papers. Occasionally, I think about that system problem I've had all week, that I have to face tomorrow, like going to the dentist. (Though I did meet someone the other day who is about 22 and said she has never had a single dental problem, and therefore does not mind going there. She attributes that to lots of milk drinking. I think it's good genes, but whatever, I envy her. I would imagine most people hearing that feel that way, too.) Its amazing to me (shouldn't be, but is) that I like being technical, and want to do more of it, right up to the point where something goes seriously wrong, like my system problem -- and then I just want to cut and run. Go retire, bake, and so forth. Have I lost my willingness to work? I think: maybe.. or at least, I'm not as willing to encounter the grief thats part of this job. My tolerance is lower, my enthusiasm overall is lower. Problems are fine; problems that cause me to doubt my abilities aren't.
I saw an article in a doctor's blog about the problems that medical practitioners are having with overhead, and a second article about how difficult doctors find it to be to use the computer systems that are being forced upon them. The guy in question was writing quietly and rationally, so I was willing to listen to what he had to say. I didn't agree with him, necessarily -- I have a hard time sympathizing with doctors about money;though I didn't say that there, I did leave a comment there to the effect that doctors aren't the only ones who care about patient outcomes -- but it was good reading, nonetheless. He sounds bright and is clearly literate. His writing can be found here.
Got a response to a post in this blog by someone who signs missives 'Samaha'. I'm guessing Muslim, but I have no idea for sure -- or even which post they refer to. Man, do I wish that the comment function indicated which post was being responded to.
An article today about retirement said that if people were willing to retire in their mid to late sixties, employers would be more likely to hire them. I doubt it. I think if they were willing to do that AND to cut their salaries, then yeah, likely. Older workers have experience and knowledge and all of that...but they have a lot of financial baggage, too. I think that baggage is the primary reason companies look to replace older with younger (while still, ahem, adhering to age discrimination laws).
The guinea pig's eye (eye being a decorative rather than functional term) is somewhat better. It still looks on the hideous side, but not as absolutely gross as before. She looks as if she has a plastic cover over the eye. Unfortunately, thats actual scab -- or something. That we can see the eye around the edges is a guardedly good thing. No guarantee whats underneath, though. Apparently, the problem was glaucoma -- the intraocular (I think thats the word) pressure in that eye was twice what it is in the other. Back to the vet again this week.
An article in the Washington Post says that with many of the old guard Republicans out of office, the younger ones are more fractious, more willing to vote as they feel they should, not according to the will of the leadership. Of course, I'm pleased by anything that throws the Republican organization into disarray, but I think I'm equally delighted to hear them make comments like 'You're freer to vote your conscience' (Jo Anne Emerson, Republican of Missouri). I like the idea that these people are thinking, not moving in lockstep, even if they are likely thinking things that aren't in line with the Democratic platform. If the Democratic leadership has to fight and compromise to get its acts done, I think thats a good thing for the country. We've seen how horrible one-party rule can be.
"Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam." Now, more than ever... (How come no one ever says 'Now, less than ever?' Never mind, thats obvious...) A different article in the Post says that people in Iraq like to point out that the US doesn't hang around in foreign countries where things did not go well (Somalia, Vietnam) and therefore they can count on us leaving there, too. Might be right. Certainly, a lot of people want us to leave there. I doubt very many (for which read: damn few) of the people who do support it could come up with a persuasive argument (and no, I don't regard 'Otherwise, they'd have died in vain' as a persuasive argument). Is there one? I suppose, given my obvious bias, the answer is apparent, at least in my case. Its certainly true that it is very difficult for me to imagine anything that would validate such an action. Barring attack on our country, or likely attack (and either would have to be by a specific country, or clearly on its behalf), nothing comes to mind.
I contacted my local Democratic Party organization to see about volunteering. Wonder if I should mention I'm a Republican?
Saturday, January 13, 2007
As I have mentioned on occasion in the past, my PC's desktop frequently mirrors my mood. Today, feeling grim after repeated failures in the system maintenance that I have been trying to apply over the past five days (even now, my spirit quails at that thought: five days!!!), I changed the wallpaper on this PC to be a closeup of stones, which I had found some time ago.
That's still the image that's on there now, though things have improved somewhat; I swallowed my pride and called a coworker, who, though stumped as to what I could have possibly done to make things so intractable, said that it wasn't a major thing, as it was a test system. Yes, it needs to be resolved, but perhaps we would be able to get through it. Or get around it. Or something. I still feel pretty stupid, and more than a little inept. I'm very good at feeling that way when I can't do something that I think I ought to be able to do; one of the many, many things my wife does for me is push me to get out of that mood, when it strikes. She can't, as a rule, make me laugh, and if I'm in a serious grump, can't really budge me, but once I do start to get out of it, she can help me keep the train moving.
Tonight, some frozen California Pizza Kitchen pizza, and perhaps I'll make some dough for bread, after all.
Still, twelve months? Well, eleven months two weeks? Thats an awfully long time, isn't it?
While waiting for yet another iteration of my program to try to work, I was doing web surfing, and came across a page of Self-Help Articles. I didn't read any of them (not to say I could not use them!), but I thought it ironic that the first of the titles that I noticed was Mens Issues, and then Stress Management. I didn't even see the Sex-Lust entry until the third reading of the page. And when I finally did select one of them?
Friday, January 12, 2007
I would like to unwind this weekend, but we're going to -
- take the daughter for a haircut
- take down the tree
- start putting decorations away
- take down the outside lighting
and I'd like to
- bake some bread
- read one of the three books I have out or the two books I bought three days ago
- get that damn technical work done
Damn, just looking at the list wears me out....
Thursday, January 11, 2007
My daughter says that if they do, she'll make an eyepatch for the guinea pig to wear.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
If you work for people who hold to standards and methods that you think are stupid, should you -
-- go enthusiastically along?
-- stay and adhere to what you can stomach?
-- quit and go elsewhere?
I don't normally think about this, but it was brought forcibly to my mind when my new group manager laid a yearly evaluation on me. Last year, I was rated as above average. This year, below average. The change is due to three events; one is justifiable, one is not (according to me; obviously not according to them), and one is marginally justifiable (again, according to me). He said that I had a great year, but hey, there were those three things, so -- ka-chunk.
I tell myself they're idiots, and it doesn't matter, both because they're idiots and because I'm planning on leaving. Yet I also say that they may be idiots, but its their game, so I should nod humbly and try to earn their approval. Even though it sticks in my craw to do so. And it makes me feel like a weasel.
Except, of course, for the little nagging voice that says that maybe its me, not them, thats being an idiot. And reminds me that most other people seem to be able to handle it. They may not like it, but they handle it.
This will be resolved in 18 months, perhaps 12 months, maybe even in six. So I don't really need an answer.
Still, I wonder....
So, since I always expect that the answer to anything I want to know can be found in a book... and since I was at the library anyway... I picked up a copy of Work From The Inside Out. I've only just started, so I don't know how worthy this book will be, but there are already things that I like:
"It is in the arena of work, and particularly in our day-to-day work lives, that many of us experience the sharpest, deepest, and perhaps most bitter disappointments. We expected work to give back to us everything we put into it and more. We expected work to satisfy our inner yearning for meaning. We expected those around us to do their jobs as well as we do ours. We expected our company to take care of us. Occasionally, we even expected something just for showing up each day."
Monday, January 08, 2007
Also next year, we're going to do more decorating. Not as much as our friend, whose home amazed us, but still: one or two slender artificial trees, more tinsel and ornaments throughout the house. And we'll explore ways to decommercialize the Event, while still reveling in it.
I've started thinking about retirement -- not in the 'won't it be nice to chuck this' (though I still do that) mode, but thinking 'what do I want to do' (photography, bake, mentor, more or less formally, with preteen and early teen kids, encourage girls to grow outside the commercial box, work for a local political organization), 'what financial assumptions have we made and are they valid, what haven't we thought of'. To that end, we picked up a copy of The Number.
The guinea pig is, on the plus side, eating somewhat; on the decidedly minus, it's now blind in one eye; the result of a ruptured cornea, itself the result of ... something. Possibly the infection, possibly a tumor behind the eye. We don't know if we're past the worst part or heading toward it. At this point, we're really reaching for a Good Sign.
Happy double oh seven, y'all.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
"The skills we develop are skills we need everywhere in the organization. Why teach drawing to accountants? Because drawing class doesn't just teach people to draw. It teaches them to be more observant. There's no company on earth that wouldn't benefit from having people become more observant." -Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University [p.233]
I'd like to think that's true, but I doubt it.
I was up early this morning for a product upgrade that didn't work, which means, groan, I get to do it again on another day. My enthusiasm for these things is dropping rapidly. I spent a little of that time thinking about retirement, and what I want to do, which segued into thinking about things I want to do this year that could become recurring activities. Donation of time and money to things I care about, including things to do with kids and schools. Photography, including portrait photography, which I've always admired, and landscape. And some more things, which I might talk about later.
I also spent some time casually leafing through Google image search, where one page happened to have a picture of the Batgirl character. I've always wished I could do decent sketches, so I spent some time looking through what turned up. Turns out there are quite a lot of various takes on what she might look like, from gritty to glamorous. Here's some of my favorites --
Saturday, January 06, 2007
About two weeks ago, it started to get some discharge from around one eye. This had happened before. We got some meds from the vet (V.E.T.:Very Expensive Treatment), and it got better. This time, it did, we did, and it didn't. It looks considerably worse -- like some kind of cancerous lesion or fungal growth. I mean, it looks hideous. Phantom of the Opera hideous. My daughter is quite anguished. The other day, she turned to me and said 'I have a gift for having pets that die."
We got more meds today.
I told my wife later, and she said 'he was sucking up to you'. Yep. And tomorrow he'll tell the other guy that I said such and so, but would he go find out what the real info is?
I give up!
Friday, January 05, 2007
(Would my daughter die if she knew I knew? Maybe. I won't tell.)
She just bounded in and said "I love you, Dadzo", to which I replied "I love me, too".
"No," she said, sticking her nose in my personal space,"you're supposed to say you love me too."
"I did", I said, smiling. "I said I love me, too."
"No, " she said sternly, "you love ME!"
"Right. I love ME."
"....and I love you too."
She ran down the hall, shouting 'And now I can't HEAR you!!!!"
What a kid.
Seeing this article on what can happen when someone gets hold of your password to, say, your retirement fund makes me think that's a damn good idea.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
WASHINGTON — President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans’ mail without a judge’s warrant, the New York Daily News has learned.
The president asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Mr. Bush then issued a “signing statement” that declared his right to open people’s mail under emergency conditions.
That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.We really need to get him out of there before he decides that martial law is clearly necessary... and while he's at it, he needs to extend his term of office 'until the job's done'.
and then theres this:
Not everybody likes or trusts him --
"[Obama's] wife's income as an administrator at the not-for-profit University of Chicago Hospitals nearly tripled to $316,962, from $121,910," the AP reported recently.
"In 2005, she was also elected to the board of directors of west suburban Westchester-based TreeHouse Foods, which calls itself the nation's largest pickle and pepper supplier. For that, she received $12,000 and $33,000 from a subsidiary.
"She was promoted to the hospitals' vice president for community and external affairs in March. Obama said that his wife, who, like him, is a Harvard law school graduate, was deserving of the promotion and raise."
-- but this is still pretty amazing stuff.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
On a different physical note, I'm thinking of contacting a private physical therapist to see about moving my arm improvement along. I was astounded to find that my brother in law's progress is substantially better than mine; though it might be that his surgery was less invasive (for one thing, I don't know if he got a new robojoint like me), its also true that I was dissatisfied with the progress even before finding that out. Knowing nothing about therapists other than that this woman says she lives in my town, and specializes in athelets and arm/shoulder rehab, I'm going to give her a call, see what happens.
Found a new cookbook to try out, via interlibrary loan: Beth Hensperger's Bread Made Easy. Its intended for neophyte bakers, and I'm closer to that than 'experienced', so we'll give it a try.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Monday, January 01, 2007
WASHINGTON Jan 1, 2007 (AP)— President Bush and first lady Laura Bush briefly paid their respects Monday to Gerald R. Ford, joining thousands of ordinary Americans in saying goodbye to the former president.
At midafternoon on a rainy, overcast day, the first couple stood at Ford's flag-draped casket and bowed their heads. Their stay at the U.S. Capitol lasted just a few minutes. Afterward, the Bush motorcade took the president to Blair House, across the street from the White House, where the Bushes visited former first lady Betty Ford for a half-hour and then walked back to the Executive Mansion.
As I mentioned in a response to a comment on an earlier post, I am planning to retire by June 2008, and if it happened that I did it sooner than that -- well, okay, if you insist. What I'm mulling over now (again) is What Do I Want To Do....when it does happen. Think of this as the later stage variant of What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up, which I never did get a reasonable answer to. The best that I can come up with at the moment is that whatever 'it' is, it should be something that I really want to do, it doesn't have to earn me any money (though it shouldn't cost anything substantial), and it'd be nice if it had something to do with kids, or with health care, or with information technology. A brighter person than me could from that series of statements create three or five 'oh, you mean like doing .............' observations, but nothing comes to mind. I do know, incidentally, that retirement is also an opportunity to do something that I've always wanted to do, like become proficient in a foreign language, or learn to plan the piano decently (not professional, not classic, just better than the barroom guy), or bake decent bread, and I'm going to give those a shot. That's about it. I'm not a very deep guy. Thick, oh yeah, but not deep.
And I might think over just what I'm trying to prove with 'information technology' in that list, when I know perfectly well that I will do nothing of the sort. I will not become proficient in Python, let alone other, more esoteric programming languages, and I won't use them in remarkable ways even if I did. I will not find a way to use Microsoft Excel to make the local Democratic party way more efficient and effective. I will not become involved, nay, influential in the implementation of Electronic Patient Records, Computer Based Physician Order Entry, or any of that, in local hospitals, offices, and clinics. I will not pioneer or even figure in the Age of Computer Innovation at the local level. I'm not that kind of guy. I know this, and yet I say those things. Whom am I trying to kid?
Maybe its that I want two things that are incompatible: a challenge.... and something that I really would like to do and can do....
So thats what I'm mulling over.
A week of vacation, New Years Day -- and now another day off, for a 'teacher in service day'.
Be better called a 'teacher out of service day', I would think.
I know that teachers work hard, and all of that. But they couldn't do this during that week?