Saturday, March 15, 2003


The other night I ended up at an article about Natalie Merchant going completely independent, not signing up with her record label again. I went to her web site at and downloaded the sample MP3 files from her upcoming album.

Bearing in mind I have never listened to a Natalie Merchant or 10,000 Maniacs album in my life, and I know of exactly one Natalie song from airplay (during my camping trip to P.E.I. and Nova Scotia in 1998 it was on the radio constantly), my initial reaction is... not bad! I would seriously consider buying the CD. Penny's Farm seems especially catchy, but the fiddle does that for me.

I love hearing my father's cousin Russell in P.E.I. play the fiddle. He and some of his kids and one of their friends actually formed a regionally popular family band, shades of the Cowsills or their TV counterparts, the Partridge Family. I even have one or two of their 45's boxed up with the rest in storage. When I was there for the last family reunion five years ago, Russell wasn't really involved in the band any more in his older age, but he still got up and played with them for a while. That was the best part.

No doubt I'll return to this overall topic sometime, as I could but wish not to be verbose right now.

Update: I found this page on which the band is mentioned, complete with a picture. The related ones are my second cousins.


So what's up with Blogger/Blogspot being down for an hour or so earlier (my previous post was written not that long after the one before, but I couldn't upload it), slow now, and habitually requiring a refresh to actually show me my site on more than one try? Let's hope Google helps this after a while. Not that I won't go get my own host after a while if I keep this up, but still.

And the answer is...

Defective RAM. See, no video on first boot really is usually a memory problem. Now it's happily installing while I do something else for a while. Yay!


I got the machine I'm building all put together, fired it up and... no video. That can be the worst possible problem, especially if there are no POST beeps to go with it. Usually it's a bad or poorly seated video card, or a memory problem. I worried though, as the CPU is not the one I would normally use (400 instead of 533), but the documentation seems to say they are interchangable and 333 MHz RAM is fine either way.

Swapped out the video card as well as making sure each of them was seated well. Moved the RAM to another slot and made sure it was in right. Unplugged extraneous things like front USB and all drives, since to see video of first part of boot none of that's needed. I even tried with no RAM to make sure it was alive enough to know to beeeeeep at me about the lack, which it was.

So I got very frustrated and took a break to eat and surf. I have another stick of 512 MB DDR memory I can try, and I should be able to try an old PCI video card in case the AGP slot on the motherboard is bad. Argh. Almost always I toss them together, turn them on, stick in XP or 2000 as the case may be, boot the CD and install. In a couple hours from only a pile of parts, I have a machine asking about what, if any, network it's going to be on. If this kind of thing happens, normally it's stupidly simple, like a card not in right. Not this time...

Could this be 1918?

I figure it's only a matter of time before we see the equivalent of the 1918 flu epidemic all over again. Could it be this?


Tiny Little Lies has much to say about Clinton, and that's no lie. I have nothing to add; he said it well already.


Jerry Pournelle today has a couple letters on TSA, in its defense, and responses to them. All interesting.

One of my underemployed friends ended up taking a TSA job for lack of anything else. It's secure, provides insurance, and is underpaid by about $10,000 a year. And to think this is better pay than the old security people got. Because the pay is so low, he and everyone else in the first batch of new screeners for Logan were hot to become superivisors when the numbers ramped up. Naturally, after being allowed to believe this would be possible, barriers to advancement were erected to make it almost hopeless, meaning they can look forward to holding the same jobs ad nauseum.

The TSA people are officially "government agents" and are certainly not allowed to say much about their work or training. However, my impression is that it's highly bureaucratic, with silly rules and responses by rote. They don't expect you to think, particularly. For those people they hire who are overintelligent for the job, it's boring, mindless work, and many of the rules no doubt seem stupid.


I like Inwin cases for computers, and I pointedly pay extra for the Inwin 508J because it is amazingly easy to work with, well made, well designed, and has a good power supply. I avoid "fluff" cases with plastic curvy stuff on the from to look cool but that might actually be less functional.

If the company makes a model and calls it 508J, the 508J I purchase today should be the same as the 508J I purchase in six months. Period. Design it well, stay with it. If you change the design, change the designation.

Well, Inwin doesn't seem to like that idea, and it seems typical of case manufacturers. Every freakin time I buy an Inwin 508J case, it's been changed!

I was okay with the change from screws to thumb screws. I was okay with SUB on the front side - even more than okay. I was okay with USB on the front under a little door rather than on the side. So maybe all change isn't bad. I was okay with the addition of a funky support bar blocking access to the case from the side you open to work on it. This is apparently used primarily to help hold monster video cards in place, with "feet" that extend down and brace the top of the card.

As far as I know, the core of the design stayed the same, but do I really know for sure that if they're being change-happy that they aren't messing with the power supply? In fairness, it stayed easy to work with; changes were more disconcerting than bad.

This time they've replaced any form of screws at the back, to open the case, with cheapo plastic flappy things that snick into place. They cause the sides of the case not to be uniformly flat. I could deal with the thumbscrews sticking way out from the back, but leave the sides alone. It gets worse. There's a ventilation port on the business side of the case. No mere slots in the metal, this is a fancy, round, raised plastic grill. It doesn't have the ability to have a fan attached on the inside, so it's just passive ventilation. I can even see what they are trying to accomplish, placing this directly about where the CPU would go. But it's a plastic geegaw! They're trying to be Dell-like, or worse.

Now, if I saw the case I could decide whether I still want to buy it, as opposed to another brand or model. Maybe I would. But the fact is, I did see the case, way back. This is not my case, the one I chose to standardize on. This is just one more "new and improved" example (a rant yet to be written except in my mind), but with no ability to see the change has taken place before buying. Argh!

The Good Guys

I'd meant to comment on this before now, as I first saw this when there were only three entries on the list. I am in dire need of some new clothes, and have been intending to check out Sears, not usually the first place I'd think of, because they are paying reservists the difference between their military and regular pay and I want to support them for doing that. No company has to do such a thing. Think of how much it must cost. But they are, and many other companies doing more than they have to do as well.

The list of companies that are going beyond the call can be found here, and is relying on you to make sure the list is complete. There's an e-mail address you can use to submit employers who may not yet be listed.


I couldn't resist. Just added mass quantities of links, so I shouldn't have to worry about anything more than adding any good ones I missed or discover as they come along. That and organizing the whole mess. Maybe.


Received a bunch of dotnet books today, which was cool. Then I got around to looking at the invoice. Oops! Between these and the last shipment I owe the book club almost $200. No more books for a while!

Friday, March 14, 2003


I definitely have to add more links, as well as organizing them. I find myself coming to my own blog and then clicking on links to visit the blogs I like, but not all of those are here, and the new habit makes some of them less likely to get a visit from me. Trouble is, I have a lot to do and I'm finding writing this at least as addicting as reading what other people write. Adding and organizing links just adds to it. Perhaps sometime in the next week, as a break from other things.

Unemployment, Take That!

In this post labeled "Fighting Unemployment" I talked about the plight of my fine former colleagues and friends who are malemployed; unemployed or making do on proverbial crumbs. It is with great pleasure that I report that one of them has regained gainful employment (become regainfully employed, as it were). He didn't elaborate on the exact nature of the job, but I imagine his dream job would be as the right hand man of George Lucas. Don't think it's anything like that.

One down, a mere fifteen to go...

American Enough For You?

Emperor Misha is taking a troll-squishing poll as to whether he's any less of an American for having been naturalized rather than born one. See the comments for the results and to cast your opinion, even if it is basically (obAOL) "me too." Sanity is winning, no contest.

My grandfathers were both naturalized, and the same thing applies to them. My maternal grandfather was the most patriotic person I have ever met. He was born in 1906, came here in 1908 or 1909, and managed somehow never to get citizenship officially taken care of for most of his life. His wish was not to die without becoming a citizen officially. The bureaucracy kept claiming they had no information on how he came to be here and so forth. My mother and uncle rattled some cages. Finally, after my mother wrote a letter to President Reagan (who my grandfather both reminded me of and resembled), suddenly the INS had mounds of information. They knew exactly when and how he had come into the country from Canada, and everything was golden. The day he went to Boston for the ceremony was the highlight of his life.

Here Be Weasels

Random Nuclear Strikes has an amusing item on how grateful the Germans can be, as submitted by a reader. Go see!

Thursday, March 13, 2003


When I conceived of this blog, I didn't necessarily plan to be anonymous about it. I chose Jay Solo as the name for it because it's a long time alias of sorts, and I wanted something that wouldn't already have been used. It's a name given me by a friend I have known since 1975, whose alias was "Fishwalker." When he moved away, he initiated an exchange of letters under the theme of "Letter Wars." Thus the alias is based on my middle name, which is used by my family due to my father and grandfather sharing my first name and living in the same house when I was a kid, and Han Solo of course. I in turn dubbed a friend I've known since 1973 "Adam-Wan." My second e-mail address ever was was jay.solo at (initially jay.solo at before my friend with a BBS got a domain).

Anyway, there's the source of and reason for the Jay Solo name. I happen to like it.

What I wonder is how much I should mention real names, and not just mine. Most people reading this so far know who I am, because I've advertised in my .sig or told them to read it. I think some of the first ones I pointed it out to visited once, said "that's nice," and never thought to return. If the people I know are aware who is writing, and aware from context who I am talking about when I express mean opinions, then why worry about strangers? I have e-mailed a few fellow bloggers under my real name, so some of the most prominent bloggers know who I really am and could easily refer to me that way if they linked to me (but I think that would require the right combination of posting something truly clever and different, and having them aware of it in a timely manner; that's how one gets instalanched).

Ehh, we'll see. It's going to get awkward to talk about some things without using names, if I insist on mentioning friends and family. Thoughts?

Sad Things

My stepmother's mother is on the verge. She's somewhere in her upper eighties; forget exactly her age. She was always quite a woman, having taken care of her two kids and supported them after her husband died agonizingly at an absurdly young age (which to this day is a factor in what makes my stepmother tick). She also cared for her own mother, who had come from Italy and spoke virtually no English, until she died in her nineties, .

The sad thing is that this woman, Rose, was on her own a relatively short time ago, perfectly functional. She kept complaining and going to the doctors, but nobody could find anything wrong - and I gather didn't try that intensively, thinking she was imagining it. Turned out she had some rare blood disorder. By the time they found that out she'd gone so far downhill she couldn't take care of herself and barely recognized her daughters.

Having had that kind of experience with doctors myself, it especially irks me. Lucky for me that when I needed it most, when I was an infant, I didn't have ignorant hack doctors. And I have an awesome one now.

One of the best pictures I ever took with my inexpensive, non-digital camera was of Rose, framed in a giant window at my father's old house in Vermont, with the pond, blue sky, and Jay Peak off in the background. I plan at some point to post doggie pictures on my Earthlink web space, so perhaps I'll post that one as well. Just have to find it first. The same applies to the dogs.

Which brings me to the next sad item; doggie health. My father and stepmother have had Brandy since she was a puppy. Later they adopted Kashmir, who was retired from the big time, so to speak. She was the mother of a national champion golden retriever. It was Brandy who spurred my stepsister on the road to getting goldens of her own.

Anyway, Kashmir died a couple years ago. Very sad. In the past week it looked like it would be Brandy's time to go. She wasn't acting herself; breathing hard and looking lost. And X-ray showed a growth next to her heart. I've been expecting the bad news any day now. Now she seems better! She's on antibiotics and something else, and it may have been just an infection. Or it could be a temporary recovery.

Meanwhile, my stepmother's birthday is next week, and she was supposed to go to Nevada for a few days while my stepsister is there on business. It would be terrible timing if Brandy died, and vastly worse if her mother died. Not that it would ever be good, of course.

I have two close friends I hang out with all the time. We have dinner most Friday nights, go to movies regularly, hang out at the bookstore, etc. I sometimes joke that the two of them merged would be a great girlfriend. Anyhow, one of their birthday's is tomorrow, and the other's is a week later. March and early April are chock full of birthdays among people I know. The three of us, and another friend whose birthday is late in the month, generally go out a couple times expressly to celebrate. This resembles closely the usual going out to dinner, except we might splurge and go somewhere like Legal Seafood. (Except one of my friends is a mutant who doesn't do seafood unless maybe it's canned tuna, which makes Legal not the best place for her.)

Well, there won't be celebrations for a couple weeks, as the grandmother of one of my friends died earlier this week. There will be funeral stuff and then the traditional mourning period, which I guess is a week. Not all that unexpected, but sad nonetheless. And I never know what to say in these situations.

One of the secretaries for one of my clients lost her father on Christmas. We're a month apart in age, so that really hit home for me. I dread getting that call. Luckily my father, who will be 70 this year, is pretty healthy. He's certainly active! Instead of being retired, he still runs a business. I'm the long distance tech support. Anyway, after the secretary returned, one day when she was looking sad and a bit lost, I went up to her office with chocolate to cheer her up a little. That was as close as I came to being able to express myself about her loss.

That's enough sadness for tonight, and plus I have work today. Especially since I think I may be getting Norwalk again. It's going around the daycare next to my office, and the parents of the daycare kids who work in the building. Argh! I hope I only have a cold.

Stupid Review Tricks

I found out today that Wyldwoods has a journal, for which he is now using Blogger. He has an entry about his annual review, and the fact that in five years the format has changed as many times. How lame. How typical. Also gotta love it when you do a measurably good job, but they think you ought to do better than good so they say you were substandard. Huh? Logic much?

When I worked in receiving, my boss, whom I just about worshipped, use the rather bizarre review they had as a virtual blunt instrument with which to bludgeon me. She and the crazy owner of the company, and the woman in between, who slept her way to company president (a shame; the owner's wife was a nice woman), were the only people in the entire place who didn't think I was great. It was bizarre. They're the ones who mattered, and it was as if they were oblivious or delusional.

At my previous job the ratings you'd get on your management review seemed to reflect what they were willing to give for raises (low ratings, low raises) rather than reality. If they planned to promote you or liked you enough to want to give a good raise, they'd find a way to up the ratings. I'm not sure how much that applied near the end in my department, where I, as a tech lead, did the technical portion of the reviews and spoke reality without regard to policy on raises or whatnot. Perhaps it only seemed that way and really wasn't.

Incidentally, Wyldwoods was one of the Canadians I worked with at my last job. I thought it was cool, working with people from the same neck of the world as two of my grandfathers. My mother's father came from the Kentville, Nova Scotia area when he was 2, brought here by his mother. My father's father came from Northam, Prince Edward Island, when he was 17, moving back to the area from which his mother had come originally.

Anyway, most company performance reviews are lame and could be much improved. I recall it being a topic we covered extensively in my HR Management class in college.

Those Silly Quizes

Not a surprising result for me. Via Glenn Reynolds, whose result did surprise me. This kind of reminds me of the World's Smallest Political Quiz, only different.

Libertarian - You believe that the main use for
government is for some people to lord it over
others at their expense. You maintain that the
government should be as small as possible, and
that civil liberties, "victimless
crimes", and gun ownership should be basic
rights. You probably are OK with capitalism.
Your historical role model is Thomas Jefferson.

Which political sterotype are you?
brought to you by Quizilla


Did I mention my distaste for snow? Why yes, I believe I did. So now we're having more. Just a few inches, but enough to raise havoc and be depressing. Argh. But wait! Sunday is supposed to be 60°... woohoo!

On another note, my primary computer at the office, until I fully replace it with the one I am typing at, seems to have decided to have a dead network card again. So I am over at this other one, unable to copy across the network files I need from the old one, growling at this annoying keyboard. Easy enough to throw in a replacement, but I wish the machine wouldn't eat NICs the way it seem to do.

And finally, half the reason I am even writing this post, following the Rachel Lucas and empathy post, is because Blogger barfed (that almost never happens) and the post wouldn't publish. It'll be in limbo until I do another post. Bogging is cool. The Internet is cool. I sure as hell would never trust purely web-based workplace applications or file storage any time soon. Still not really ready for prime time.


Rachel has it in spades! She talks about it in this post today, and it's part of the reason so many of us love her so much. I have never found Rachel's posts boring. I make boring posts sometimes, but she doesn't. Heretical though it may be to say, some days I find the usually compelling Lileks to be boring. Never Rachel. An example of her empathy, and something I could never do because I am the same way:

And of course there were the four years I spent working at the cancer clinic. My ex could tell you all about how I would sit staring at the television or traffic or friends, stunned and dismayed that the world was going about its business while good people were lying in hospital beds in excruciating, intractable pain. I was 23 years old when I started that job, and by the time I quit, I felt 100 years old.

I find I have to do an internal "shields up, Sulu" and try not to let things affect me. I was so hypersensitive when I was little that it sometimes drove my family nuts. While that was mostly on my own behalf, I react with the same kind of emotional sensitivity on behalf of others. It makes things like the Holocaust particularly disturbing to me.

When I was in junior high school, I believe it was 7th grade, in social studies we saw a film about the concentration camps. It included raw footage of what the troops saw when they first arrived at the camps, uncensored. I hope they still show that every year, to every student, at about the same age. I hope my nieces and nephews all see it, or have seen it, however shocking and however young an age that might be. We can't fight evil by ignoring it or protecting young minds from awarenss of it.

Anyway, my first impulse when I started to read the lengthy post was to e-mail Rachel positive words of encouragement, and relating to her high empathy. Then I reached the positive e-mails from others she included in her post. Wow! Could I say it any better? I doubt I could.


Rachel has it in spades! She talks about it in this post today, and it's part of the reason so many of us love her so much. I have never found Rachel's posts boring. I make boring posts sometimes, but she doesn't. Heretical though it may be to say, some days I find the usually compelling Lileks to be boring. Never Rachel. An example of her empathy, and something I could never do because I am the same way:

And of course there were the four years I spent working at the cancer clinic. My ex could tell you all about how I would sit staring at the television or traffic or friends, stunned and dismayed that the world was going about its business while good people were lying in hospital beds in excruciating, intractable pain. I was 23 years old when I started that job, and by the time I quit, I felt 100 years old.

I find I have to do an internal "shields up, Sulu" and try not to let things affect me. I was so hypersensitive when I was little that it sometimes drove my family nuts. While that was mostly on my own behalf, I react with the same kind of emotional sensitivity on behalf of others. It makes things like the Holocaust particularly disturbing to me.

When I was in junior high school, I believe it was 7th grade, in social studies we saw a film about the concentration camps. It included raw footage of what the troops saw when they first arrived at the camps, uncensored. I hope they still show that every year, to every student, at about the same age. I hope my nieces and nephews all see it, or have seen it, however shocking and however young an age that might be. We can't fight evil by ignoring it or protecting young minds from awarenss of it.

Anyway, my first impulse when I started to read the lengthy post was to e-mail Rachel positive words of encouragement, and relating to her high empathy. Then I reached the positive e-mails from others she included in her post. Wow! Could I say it any better? I doubt I could.

Conehead Relations

Jane's has an interesting France article. Alas, one must be a subscriber to see the other half of it.

Bubbly Stagflation

Today there's an article at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute regarding the return of stagflation. What struck me particularly was the housing bubble discussion it includes:

The rise in housing prices is astonishing in the United States, United Kingdom and Spain. A bubble is forming here too, that will burst when long term interest rates rise or when the unemployment rate is so high that it impairs household marketability. The bursting of the bubble will have a negative impact on consumption (because of the wealth effect) and on bank solubility (which could lead to a credit crunch).

Speaking of Family...
(Or, all about me, part one...)

I am the middle of five children. I have a brother seven years older, a sister four years older, and brother six and ten years younger. I also have two stepsisters, one and four years younger. I have two step-cousins, ten first cousins living or dead on my father's side, and eleven on my mother's side that I know of. That includes no first cousins once removed* or second cousins. My mother had a sister and four brothers, two of whom drowned while lobstering in 1975. My father had two sisters, fraternal twins, and a brother, who died less than two years ago. I have one living grandparent; my maternal grandmother, who will soon be 87. My maternal grandfather died just short of 90. On my father's side, my grandmother died of a heart attack when she was just over 65, in 1976 as I recall, and my grandfather made it so about 84 before everything kind of gave way to smoking damage at once. At least three of my great-grandparents were alive during my lifetime, and they are a story unto themselves. Since I got into ages, the best we've done to my knowledge is a great-aunt of my mother's who nearly made it to 105. Not the Howard Trust, but not bad.

I am the only single sibling. Never married. Not even a date in years. No kids. My older brother tells me I am the one who'd be the better father and should have had kids. Since there's no sign it'll happen any time soon, and I'm old enough that it's starting to seem like a silly idea, chances are it'll never happen. Darn! I was looking forward to passing along my genetic defects.

My siblings have totally made up for my procreative deficiencies. In order of age they have five, two, five, and four kids, which means sixteen nieces and nephews for me. The oldest nephew has two girls of his own, so I have the two most adorable grandnieces in the world. I live to see that my nieces and nephews get any help I can give them, as much as possible, going to college when the time comes, having computers, that sort of thing. It's two late for the oldest two, born in 1973 and 1974, but for the rest, born starting in 1988, my goal is to be financially successful enough in time to make getting through college as feasible as possible. It might end up being that I can only help a little, but if I could foot the entire tuitionbill for every one of them, I would gladly.

In my generation you just didn't do college. I was three years out of high school when I made the decision to go. Had to deal with plenty of guff about taking a "four year vacation." Some were supportive, others weren't, and it felt like swimming againt the tide. A slightly younger cousin went to Zoo Mass. Amherst overlapping my college career, and actually graduated first. To my knowledge, we are the only two who both started and finished a four year college. And yet it had been done before! My great grandmother went to the same college I did, I learned later, and was a teacher when she met my great grandfather and moved to PEI, Canada to marry him. As I said, the great grandparents are stories all their own.

Argh, fading now. Sleep...

* Oh right, I made a footnote. The difference between first and second and once, twice, etc. removed always confuses people, but it's as simple as whether the people in question are in the same generation as measured with respect to a reference generation. So my grandmother's sibling's children are my mother's first cousin. They are not of my generation; we are once removed. My mother's first cousin's children are my generation and we share a great grandmother. We are second cousins. And so forth. Now, sleep, really...

On The Edge

I've been on the edge of a cold for days, not quite "sick" and not quite spiffy either. Ugh. When I stopped by my brother's house tonight to drop off a computer, my niece was initially going to hide in her room so I wouldn't get the plague from her, but I told her I seemed to already be getting it. I got some Coricidin, which helped last time I was coming down with cold-like symptoms. That's an example of advertising actually selling me something! With my blood pressure, I took notice of the ads saying that Coricidin was safe for people like me. It definitely makes me sleepy though, so any time now I will abruptly be unable to stay awake.

I hope this thing goes away before it takes hold. It's not what I need right now, any more than I would need a repeat of my four day bout of Norwalk in December. Now that's nasty.

Time to Get a DVD Player Already

I plan to buy a DVD player. Just haven't waded through looking at them and picking one yet - or just settling on what's inexpensive on the idea it's cheap to replace if it sucks, or if it dies quickly. As of tonight I am up to six in my not-yet-playable DVD collection:

Sleepless In Seattle
The Cutting Edge
Princess Mononoke
Episode Two
Fellowship of the Ring
Beauty and the Beast

The first two I own on VHS, but I fear they will wear out from overwatching. May as well have the DVD, especially for $8.78 that I paid for Sleepless tonight. The third one I couldn't find, and it never really hit the theaters, so I ended up getting it from a dealer at Arisia. The fourth one I meant to see a second time on the big screen and never did. By comparison, despite any jarring issues it might have had, I found Episode One compelling enough that I geeked out and saw it eight times at the theater. Then I was bored when I watched the video. The last one might well be in my top few favorite films of all time. Clearly I am a hopeless romantic, however unexpressed that is in reality due to my shyness. Didn't mention the shyness thing yet, but it's an overarching factor in my life.

Why is it that I can get a DVD of an excellent film for $8.78, but the last couple times I've considered actually buying music I've seen the prices and said (aloud, regardless who might be able to hear) "they want how much for this!?" Record companies will continue to be in trouble until they develop economic as well as technological clues.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


Jerry Pournelle always uses the amusing expression of being nibbled to death by ducks. But aren't ducks a flock, not a herd? Or a pack, for that matter. Just askin'.

We had ducks when I was a kid. They were kind of cool, but as I recall they were very dirty critters.


I made it into Google today! If you query Jay Solo, I am on top.

Day By Day

Dean Esmay has a great interview with Chris Muir, creator of the Day By Day strip.

I Blame The Groundhog!

The following fun piece was written by Davebear and is published here with his permission:

That's right. You heard me correctly. I blame the groundhog. Here it is, nearly the middle of March, and it's still freaking cold and snowy. And, it's all that damn groundhog's fault! All he had to do was say "Two more weeks", instead of "Six more weeks". What's so hard about that?

Oh, sure, I know. He was grumpy from being poked in the ass with a stick and having enough lights blazing in his face to fry an egg, but would have been so easy! Just one little word, and we could be digging out the spring clothes. Instead, we're still digging out our cars. And, I'm sick of it!

Now, it's not that I don't sympathize with the groundhog. After all, I'd be pretty annoyed, too. If I'd tucked myself away in a nice warm hole with a six months supply of grass, only to have some goober in a top hat and tails come along and poke me in the ass with a stick and ask if I could make winter end...well...let's just say they're probably smart to stick with a smaller critter. And, what's with those lights? Do we really need the biggest bank of lights this side of Hollywood blazing away when we harass groundhogs? Is that any way to approach a sleepy woodchuck for a favor? Come on people. No one likes bright lights shined in their face, especially when they've just been rudely awakened and dragged out of bed. Let's use some common sense, here.

And, whose idea was it to put a groundhog in charge of the weather, anyway? I know there isn't much to do in Pennsylvania in February, once you get a few miles outside Philly or Pittsburgh, but who was the nitwit that first said, "Hey! Let's go poke a sleeping groundhog in the ass with a stick, and ask him to bring Spring around a little early, this year?" I mean, why leave it up to one of the few animals dumber than a TV weatherman? What kind of a bonehead idea is that? It's a fat, grass addicted rodent that hibernates all winter, and we allow him to control the weather?!? What were we thinking? What the heck does he care what the weather's like? He's going back to bed for six weeks, no matter what.

And, why this particular groundhog? Has anyone run a background check on this critter? There's something very suspicious about him. Who is this character, and how did he get such a powerful position? We don't even know his real name! What about those aliases he's been known to use; Wood, Chuck, and Punxatawney, Phil? I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but I smell connections, here. It's not like he has any real qualifications for the job. And, there's that nasty rumor that keeps surfacing that he's been known to chuck wood at people. Is this the kind of behavior we expect from a rodent in a position of authority? I don't think so!

Anyway, I've had it with this vindictive little bugger. Let him take it out on the nimrod with the stick, if he's ticked off. It works for us bears. You don't catch Goober and Gomer pokin' us in the ass with a stick while we're sleeping. It's just not right that we all have to suffer because of a peevish groundhog. Who's in charge of these things, anyhow? :yawn: Something's gotta be done! :yawn: I'm tired, now. I'm going to bed. Someone wake me up in late April, and we'll deal with this oversized gopher in the Spring.

Vindictive little rat...

Science Fiction

Science Fiction Book Club has published its list of the fifty most significant SF and fantasy books of the past 50 years (via Banana Oil!). Looks like I've only read about 16 of them, which will shock my speed reading friend who's read about everything that's not a series, and some things that are series. Or so it seems. Not so hard to believe, when she can devour nine books in two weeks. I've never matched that even at my readingest.

Intellectual Property

This cartoon is amusing, and appears to have drawn some inspiration from the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (which I'd never thought to look for online before tonight), if I am not mistaken.

Tech Support Management Stuff Again

In this post I didn't mention anything about the implications of outsourced tech support to the way tech support ought to be managed. Nor did I mention the increasingly common practice of outsourcing globally.

I do not believe either of those practices are things that should never be done. They should be done thoughtfully, carefully, and with all the same considerations in mind. Some of those things simply become harder. For instance, developers are even more likely to see lowly tech support as just that, lowly. People in the company hiring the outsourcer are even less likely to see the tech support staff as part of the same team. Ironically, outsourced staff can end up knowing the product (and customers) better than internal staff; another potential risk.

Foreign support staff who are hired to interact with North American customers should speak easily understandable English, as minimally accented as possible. Even that is sometimes not enough. I worked with people from many backgrounds; Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, Palestinian (from the West Bank originally, at an rate), Kenyan, Irish, Cape Verdean, and even Rhode Islanders. My Chinese friend, from Sezchuan province originally, sounds like she was born in America. I worked with two great people originally from Kenya, both of whom had the coolest, hard to place accents. Not French, not British... different. One of them is one of the most natively brilliant, talented people I have ever met. His accent is pretty mild.

One time when he was on another team, a customer hung up on him. She called back and got his cubemate, who then told her "he speaks better English than I do" and made the customer apologize to our Kenyan friend before he'd help at all. Heh. The other Kenyan on our team was a little shy, but she was amazingly pleasant and more than skilled enough to help the customers. Once in a while someone would object to talking with her because of her accent, which was a shame. And yet I understand a little. Some people I just have trouble understanding, even though I became good at it working in a retail environment way back in the stone age. I became able to tell that "buh ah mahbuhwahs" meant "box of Marlboros," and that carried over to listening carefully and discerning what people were saying on the phones in support. It helps if customers and support techs both make that effort. By outsourcing to a heavily accented location, management invites more grief in that department, but even within the United States we don't all speak clear, broadcast standard Midwestern.

Basically management in a company that requires technical support to be delivered to customers (or even internal "customers") needs to think very carefully about how they implement and treat it. It is not simply a short-term, bottom line decision on how to give short shrift to this thing we're doing because we gotta. It will affect the end user's experience and the company's reputation, which in the longer run means affecting sales.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Traffic Jam

I received this today from my father, and was amused even though I'd seen it before. Some will consider it in poor taste, like my step-cousin who is Hillary's biggest fan. Anyway, here it is:

A window salesman was on his way home from work in NY City, came to a dead halt in traffic and thought to himself, "Wow, this traffic seems worse than usual. Nothing's even moving."

He notices a police officer walking back and forth between the lines of cars, so he rolls down his window and asks, "Officer what's the hold up?"

The officer replies, "Hillary Clinton is just so depressed about all the New Yorkers making her the butt of so many jokes, she stopped her motorcade in the middle of the freeway and she's threatening to douse herself in gasoline and set herself on fire. She says her husband is running around on her more
than ever and the Democrats told her to forget about the presidency in 2004. So we're taking up a collection for her."

The window salesman asks "Oh really? How much have you got so far?"

The officer replies "About 4 1/2 gallons, but a lot of folks are still siphoning."

All About Me

I notice some sites have a "101 things about me" list, an "about" page, or a summary of info about the author over to the left or right. Perhaps I'll throw something like that on here. Good idea? Don't all speak up at once.


Extremely long but brilliant article on Tech Central Station today.

Fax Spam

Before there was e-mail spam, there was fax spam. Junk faxes, using the paper and toner of the recipient, adding wear and tear to unsuspecting fax machines everywhere, and helping keep the landfill economy overflowingly robust.

If spammers harvest e-mail addresses fast, faxers are worse. When I finally bought a fax machine (the superlative Brother Intellifax 2800) to go on the line we'd had for a couple years with that in mind, I put the fax number on our web site. It didn't take 24 hours for the first junk faxes to arrive after posting the number on our site! Are they poised, waiting for numbers to be published that they can harvest? Sheesh.

The reason this is on my mind is I just noticed I'd let the fax machine run out of paper in the last few days. It will hold up to 90 pages in memory pending the addition of new paper, so running out isn't a big deal if there's actual expected or important faxes that would otherwise be lost. So I tossed in some paper and let it spit out the accumulated 16 pages from fax spammers. There's a pump and dump stock scheme fax from OTC Today. I could go to Historical Williamsburg! Only $99 per person, double occupancy for 4 days and 3 nights. I'll grab the girlfriend and go now! Oh wait, there is no girlfriend. Darn, I was so eager to do business with a spammer!

I could get a health plan for only $59.95 a month (individual). I'm sure I believe that! I think I'll stay with my $262 a month plan that sometimes pretends to pay things and only went up twice in the past year.

My company's employees can get laptops for half off! Hmmm... then why do the prices on the fax look so close to what I would expect to pay retail? The quantities that fell off the truck are limited, so we have to act fast or they'll be gone. Naw, I'll go with one of my suppliers, or Dell thank you.

This is so exciting! If I were a homeowner I could refinance now through a faxed offer, which has to be much better than the friendly neighborhood bank where they know you. And definitely better than going with sexy-voiced Jen and her cohort of radio ad fame, no matter how much I enjoy her voice and could listen to it all day. Mmmmm.

How do they know I need to lose fat forever, and would prefer not to diet? Are they spying on me!? Ooh, but they also offer great sex, more often, so maybe this one has merit...

Oops, another pump and dump fax, from "OTC Market Alert!" this time. Or is this really another health fax? It says something about revolutionizing the way healthcare is applied to you. It asked if I was able to post a gain last year. Well, yeah, like ten pounds! Yes, that's definitely a medical error. Blah, blah... something about more easily identifying the best treatments, so the doctor knows how wrong the HMO is when it tells him what to do instead. Alrighty then.

The fastest, cheapest loan period? They have millions to lend and it's burning a hole in their web server. They want to help everyone! But some of us are beyond help.

Last but not least, two copies of a "legal notice" urgently notifying me of a domain extension. Oh no, it looks official so I guess I have to act! Now! Someone might get the .BIZ version of one of my domains and if I might lose my right to claim the name as my very own if I let it get away. Oh no. I wonder when I'll get these notices for all my other domains? What a scam! Trying to scare people into ordering their domain name .BIZ with a fake legalese notice.

There you have it. A week of junk faxes. (Based on the date stamps on them; must have been out of paper all that time.) Maybe it's not the same as the 20 to 50 spams per day I receive in e-mail, but it was always vile and remains so.

Tech Support Madness

South Knox Bubba has a software support rant of possible interest.

Management Madness

Following up to this post on tech support, I have to say that management can make all the difference in the end user's tech support experience.

First, it is helpful if management treats the support techs with a modicum of respect. These are, if you hired well, intelligent, dedicated, skilled people who will help make or break the image of your company and its products. They are part of your overall marketing strategy and product development/feedback loop, not just a pesky addition to overhead to be done as cheaply and thoughtlessly as possible.

  • Pay appropriately, and if you can't, don't pretend you are; try to make up for it by being a great place to work.

  • Don't starve support people for training and resources. Nobody can know everything, and tech support is as much about finding out as knowing answers offhand. However the more you know and grasp in the first place, and the better your resources, the quicker and easier it is to find out.

  • Don't be a sweatshop. People will accept "all hands on deck" more graciously if it's not a way of life.

  • Hire qualified people, and don't hire people who can't learn.

  • If you do hire unqualified people, cut your losses or watch morale suffer. And don't treat people like children.

  • Don't fall for fluff over substance. Meaning, standard greetings and "thank you for calling My Company" closings, and all the customer service mushiness in the book are no substitute for customers calling and having problems solved in a skilled, effective manner. No rudeness, but people aren't fooled by know-nothing support techs shiny with customer service platitudes.

  • Try to find ways to keep people interested. Support can become boring. If it's possible, try to have available career paths, even if it's just moving to different or more advanced products.

  • Have a sense of humor. Allow support staff to be the geeks that they, if you hired well, are.

  • Tech support is the front line for bugs, usability problems, documentation problems, and enhancement requests by your customers. You know, the customers you'd like to keep for the long term rather than just this one product or accounting cycle. Yeah, those people! So give the support techs some credit and some leeway for creativity, an open channel of communication to your product development and other staff, and heck, supportive management that grasps how the pieces fit together.

  • Don't let HR have too much control over technical hiring or derail the hiring of superlative candidates.

  • I am sure I must be forgetting something here, so if I think of more I'll append to the post, or mention it in a future post. I do want to give an example of that last item above, regarding HR. When I was a tech lead, I did tech screenings of applicants, and the department managers did management interviews. Several people had been screened for a prospective new class (the first five weeks at that point was training, so it was a class). One was particularly marginal, only getting a reference check in case we needed all the warm bodies. Of course, "warm bodies" is never the proper approach, but it was what often had to be done as a matter of company culture as it devolved over time. So one of the managers asked HR to do reference checks. Custom was that they would provide him the results, then he would tell them which ones to make offers.

    We had a job fair day and interviewed additional prospects. One of the managers and I handled that, and in the process found one of the most ideal candidates who had ever applied. He would have undoubtedly been up there with our best, most internally revered techs. He was also a nice, personable guy, originally from Indonesia if I recall correctly. We wanted him to be hired. Now. There was an opening in the new class, because Mr. Marginal was not going to be offered a warm body job when we had Mr. Ideal to hire instead.

    As it turned out, HR had broken with traditional procedure and as soon as the references checked out, had offered jobs to all of the previously interviewed candidates, good and marginal. Further, they insisted to the manager that this was the way it had always been done and were supremely irritated that he questioned them on it. We were absolutely, hands down, no second chances not allowed to hire Mr. Ideal. HR, in effect, made the decision to hire Mr. Marginal instead. He proved to be worse than he had appeared in the interviews, being hard to train and not that bright, yet arrogant and secure in his knowledge that he already knew more and was better than anyone else.

    Mothers, don't let your children grow up to be HR weasels.

    Respect people. Respect. Support techs are not serving up fries with that.

    I also want to talk about what I look for when screening candidates, but this is enough for now. More down the line if I missed anything.

    Monday, March 10, 2003

    Can you say "Paradigm Shift"?

    Or historical discontinuity, as that's what this coming up positive would be. Seismic change at its finest... I can hardly wait!

    Hi, My Name Is Jimmy Carter and I'm Rotten As President

    Rachel has a fun little Carter rant. In my case, I was 15 when he became president, and I thought he was a joke.

    Indeed, I remember a couple of us were excited about Reagan's challenge to Ford, though I always liked Ford. I was shocked at the gullibility of the public when Carter won, and his tenure was worse than I could have imagined.

    Little Tiny Lies has this worthy, longer rant about Carter. Heh.

    Incestuous Link

    CRN has an article on blogs today.

    From Darkness...

    Sofia Sideshow has a great post reproducing a lame antiwar e-mail petition.

    Gooey Google Goodness

    I keep querying Google to see if I have shown up yet, but alas, they are being a little slow. Could have something to do with the almost total lack of links to my site by other sites. Oh well. When I finally have an audience, they'll just have to go see the clever (and totally lame) things I've said to date in the archives. I've gotten exactly one e-mail from someone I didn't already know, and that was because he checked out the site after I left a comment on his blog. I should link there and now I can't remember which one it was. Duh.


    I e-mailed most of my .URL files from my Favorites folder at home to myself so I could synchronize. Some I have at work, some at home, and some both places. I keep blog and other publication links in the same subfolder, called publications & blogs at home and publications at work. A relative handful I initially categorized, but most are bunched in together. In the main publications folder at home there were 314 of them. 314. And I have some at work that are distinct from those at home.

    Obviously I have a ways to go in building my list of links over to the left here, and I have been considering how to go about it. Right now I am using, which is cool, but I can say I look forward to entering hundreds of links, and some aren't blogs already. Is it really appropriate for the pages of a cool quote of the day mailing list and one of my favorite movie reviewers to be in a "blogroll" when they are not blogs?

    Ignoring for the moment that I should visit all the accumulated sites and see which ones I really want, I am thinking I could create a quick utility to open each .URL file, parse it and collect the URL and description, then create from it a list in html that could be pasted into my template (same as blogrolling creates when you export your links from it). Or I could make that program store the data on the links, allow me to categorize and prioritize them, and create output in a more sophisitcated way. In the process I could create a way to enter new ones into said utility, and be a linking madman.

    Not this week though. This week it'll be lucky to make time to post, as I really have to get taxes done for the business. Ugh. I definitely want to do something better even if the link list doesn't get much longer, as it looks crowded in the current format.

    Sunday, March 09, 2003

    The Most Beautiful Flower

    I like this item posted by Zander, by an unknown author.

    All Your Bandwidth Are Belong To Us

    One of my partners like to make sure Windows Update runs early and often, so he has a computer in the office that updates at random times when the mother ship instructs it to do so.

    Then the internet connection goes dead. For everything else except that one machine for Windows Update. The router blinks maniacally. That one port on the hub blinks like there's no tomorrow. Everything else gets kicked offline for the duration, and the duration apparently isn't brief. The first time I noticed this and tracked it down to that machine, I assumed it had SQL Slammer or some infection effectively causing us denial of service, so I turned it off. Two other times we've disconnected the cable for that port from the patch panel to restore normal function.

    Windows Update as denial of service? How wude. Nothing, no matter what company it's from, ought to take all bandwidth and kick everything else offline as standard procedure.

    Peanut Butter Rocks

    Acidman has a spot on post about the glories of peanut butter, and provides us with this cool link to boot. I always feel bad for people who are allergic, or who twistedly can't stand the smell without getting sick. Sad for them. More for us.

    Wild Turkeys

    I just added a comment here regarding wild turkeys, and Turkey Swamp where I grew up.

    For giggles I just Googled Turkey Swamp and found that Massachusetts is not the only state with one of those.

    Real Estate Bubble?

    Megan McArdle has a good post on the housing market and current prices. This is something I've been concerned about. Things can't keep going up forever, and someone will get caught holding the bag. Then again, I don't expect the bubble to burst as spectacularly as it did in the past.

    As for rents versus house prices, if real estate goes up, rents will tend to follow, if not uniformly or elastically. (Is that a word?) If the two get far out of sync it should trigger readjustment in the form of rent changes and slowdown of real estate increases.

    But I am not an economist. I considered minoring in economics, and aced the two economics courses I was required to take (after flunking a half-year economics class in high school with a teacher who hated me and vice-versa, go figure), but I have no special qualifications to evaluate these things. My advice is best served salted.

    The first of the college economics courses required a paper instead of a final exam. This was in the fall of 1984 if I recall correctly. My paper was on privatization, which I was amused to learn my professor had never heard of. He learned what it was from me. As usual, I did the paper at the absolute last minute, starting a couple days before it was due. That frustrated the hell out of Bob Poole and someone else I spoke with at the Reason Foundation, as they weren't able to send me any information. I also spoke with someone at a private fire company, and quoted people I spoke with in the paper, which made up for a lack of written sources.

    I Don't Think So

    Let me just say that a blog should never, ever attempt to install something like Comet Cursor on a visitor's computer. Wrongo.

    Check Register Madness

    So I went and ordered Michael Whelan checks from The Styles Check Company and today they arrived, which is very cool.

    I should not have needed to order them yet! I have a significant number of old checks remaining, even if they are plain by comparison. The problem is I ran out of space in the check register, and that was not its only problem. It was bilingual, for starters. Okay, so are many things these days. But does the Spanish have to be in larger type or displayed more prominently than the English? Is that why the deposit and payment columns were reversed from the positions they have occupied in every other checkbook register I have ever used? I kept trying to write things in the wrong columns.

    All of that pales by comparison to a register that comes with 200 checks having space to record 170 transactions. What was somebody thinking?

    So I got the new checks, which are indeed cool, and the corresponding new register, which is indeed English. Alas, I am disturbed that there is only room for 240 transactions for 200 checks. Remember, that needs to include room for deposits, room for mistakes and things like interest and service charges, and room for every ATM transaction. 240 Entries available? What say we try 300 or so instead. I think it's a marketing conspiracy, kind of like the variance between hot dogs and buns per package. The new register may have more spaces, but they are smaller, requiring smaller writing. The new register is actually thinner and flimsier than the old one.

    I've decided it might be worth trying to make my own. The register is just a staple-bound sheaf of folded pages. Creating a similar layout to my own taste should be easy, then print, trim, fold and staple. Voila, end of rant.

    Tech Support Madness

    Dealing with tech support: I couldn't have put it better than Dean Esmay.