Category Archives: rants

Buzzards Inc.

It finally happened. With the exception of local stores, like your favorite restaurant, fabric, hardware,  or your mechanic, all large companies are beginning to blur in my mind. I cannot seem to tell them apart.

Whether it is a company that produces products for the utility sector, home and automobile insurance, or specialized software for government, to me, they might as well just be one large company. Their behavior seems to be merging into a set of common behaviors.

Here are some of the telltale signs this is happening.

  1. It is almost impossible to reach someone on the phone. Most companies have had phone menus for many years, but now, these menus seem protected with nearly impenetrable armor. You’ll be prompted with questions to get you past a checkpoint. Some of these questions could easily be used on Jeopardy.
  2. To solve a problem, like you want some information sent by mail, you are presented with impossibilities that would give master players of the original Adventure game fits. You are told that this other department cannot send you that information, because they cannot see it.
  3. Support personnel are reading from a script: “Well, you need to adjust the spark advance and fuel mixture.” Your car does not have settings for spark and fuel, but a 1926 Rolls Royce might.

So, I am thinking it might just be easier to have one company with a suitable name. The Three Stooges had the right idea, with Panther Brewing Company, A Panther President.


Leave a comment

Filed under rants

True Grid

I admit that when I am not at work, I’m like a Toyota Prius at a traffic light. The engine goes off; and only the display seems lit up. Taking care of the birds, gardening, and doing various other errands starts the engine up once again.

In the good old days, when 1200 and 2400 bps modem dial-up lines were the rage, and Digital Equipment Corporation paid for a second telephone line into your home, I was not as connected to my job. I spent a lot of time at my job, but when vacation time arrived, that time really was a vacation; I was not tethered to work.

Then came email; followed by cell phones. Those were followed quickly by ISDN, a clean, dedicated 56K bps line into your home, and ISDN was followed closely by the first DSL lines. The work tether bridge building had begun. Today, we are in constant contact, tethered together almost like the Borg.

Recently, I tried to take my October vacation. It started off with my working both weekend days on a nasty problem involving a root kit virus and a mail list server. The problem is still not solved completely, though people can use the list server for its intended purpose. We still have another weekend ahead to complete the job.

Then, I made the mistake of answering an email on Monday. Why I logged in to view my email was neither my boss’ requirement nor anyone else’s. It was just habit. After that, I went off the grid, and have not listened to a work voice message nor read a work email since.

In most businesses, let alone municipal government, staffing just meets demand or is not enough. A lot of people might not want to believe that about municipalities, but it is true. I am virtually the only person who does what I do, and while I am working to change that — even involving some job risk in the process — nothing changes immediately. So, I am essentially on call, unless my vacation includes going to Antarctica or North of the White Mountains. However, being on call is not the same thing as checking constantly to see if an emergency exists.

I strongly suggest that people go off grid at least once in a while. Who knows that the person who cannot contact you might gain some independence.

Leave a comment

Filed under Musings, rants, work

Calling All Polymer Chemists/Material Scientists

Many, many people have computers. That is a fair assumption, isn’t it? Some people have more than one computer, and some number of those have full, non-wireless installations. Non-wireless installations implies at least one pedestal computer, with cables that connect things up. There are even some of us who have more than one computer that share one monitor, keyboard, and mouse using something called a KVM switch, where K=keyboard, V=video, and M=mouse.

Connecting those computers are cables, made out of synthetic material that looks and feels like rubber, but is more durable and flexible. Ethernet, land-line telephone, and monitor cables come to mind, along with USB and parallel printer cables. (Yes, there are still a few parallel printers out there.) And, if you have my installation of two pedestal workstations and a laptop, KVM cables. It is very nice the cables do their job, but they do more than that. They start to take over.

I believe those of us who have computers, keyboards, mice, USB devices have a shared experience. The cables act like an organism. They cling, intertwine, and glom themselves together, almost like kudzu. They are by any other name a big pain.

Somewhere out there is an enterprising polymer chemist or materials scientist just waiting to make a big discovery and a lot of money. How about inventing flexible, strong cables, that don’t get stuck together. Who knows that by inventing that, you won’t discover a cure to a disease or find cheaper, greener, less expensive fuel.

Leave a comment

Filed under rants

The Mighty Three, Precincts That Is

There probably are not many people arguing that things in general are in a bad way. Our economy is not doing well; the few jobs being created are not all quality jobs; and there is a general malaise about. No one seems to have any new answers, and there is a lot of finger-pointing. I have no insights or fast answers, save one. Make sure you vote: vote in local, state, and national elections. It does matter.

In our town no selectman has ever won election without carrying three precincts; we have twenty-one precincts. That means no selectman has won who did not also carry those three precincts, no matter how many votes received from the other eighteen precincts. Why?

Well, the folks in those three precincts vote in force. They vote in the 90% range for presidential primaries, usually a low turnout. They vote when it is a special election like for property tax overrides, and they vote in our annual town, state, and federal elections.

If a the rest of town does not like policies that get enacted or who got elected, then it might be because a lot of the rest of town does not turn out to vote in the numbers of The Three Precincts.

The rest of town probably has a good reason. Parents are pushed to the limit these days, and our annual town election is on Saturday; state and national elections are on Tuesdays. But we have no excuses. If we do not like this or that trend, eighteen precincts’ worth of votes outweigh three.

Leave a comment

Filed under rants

Hurricane Irene: So, Make Fun of Us Already

Tropical Storm, once Hurricane, Irene is on its way out. Earlier in the week, it was a category 2 hurricane. Storms like that are well-respected in New England, no matter how much video footage you see of people surfing when storms are approaching. Everyone in the New England affected area planned. New York City planned, as did the states of New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Unfortunately, the further north the hurricane traveled, it seemed, the weaker it got. It hit NYC as a tropical storm. Then the pundits started. You saw posts indicating the poster survived several category n (where n is bigger than Irene) hurricanes down here in <insert your favorite state here> . What’s with all these people who indicate we’re Irene sissies, anyway? Is this the same group that walked to school both ways uphill when they were children?

Well, here’s how it is. Each of the states affected by Hurricane Irene has different problems when weather like this happens. New York City might be more like the coast around Boston, when speaking of tidal surges. The islands off North Carolina present their own problems during bad weather. New Jersey closed certain areas due to their unique problems. And, Maryland and Virginia planned according to their special circumstances, coastline, estuaries, and so on, as well as general damage that could and would occur. In short, it appears to me everyone did their job well. Other than the governor of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts wanting everyone off the roads at noon Saturday August 27th, I did not see much overkill, except in the media.

So if people not in Irene’s path think we’re idiots, I probably can’t change your minds. To sum it all up, we planned; the weather forecasters did a pretty good job; it wasn’t as bad as they said; and we are all grateful the results were not worse than they were.

Oh, and for the record I didn’t and won’t make fun of CA residents over Carmageddon Those folks have their special problems, and we over here have ours.

With Irene pulling away, I sincerely hope everyone is well and with as little damage as possible.

1 Comment

Filed under Musings, rants

Bicycle Paths as Societal Mirrors?

We have a wonderful bike path in our town. It was the brain child of two former town officials, who bugged the owners of the old Boston and Maine railroad, Gilford Industries, to donate their train track right-of-way to a bicycle path that would pass through our and other neighboring towns. The two officials succeeded after years of effort and started one of the if not the first dedicated bicycle paths in the country.

Whether or not this is a good thing or is not worth mentioning is to be determined, but it seems users of the bike path mirror society in general. We have the fast-moving lean and mean who weave in an out of slow-moving traffic as if it is the Autobahn; there are those who believe they are the only ones on the path and allow their children to step out in front of riders going at a good clip; and we have the utilitarians who use the bike path to get to work and enjoy the cool of the morning and the shade in the heat of the afternoon.

Finally, there are the idiots who come to a bike path stop sign and assume cars will stop for them as the race across, no matter what’s there.

So, there are my thoughts for this morning. I am glad I can still ride my bicycle without keeling over.

Leave a comment

Filed under Municipal, rants

Managing/Governing By Spreadsheet

My career at Digital Equipment corporation was just starting out at the time spreadsheets came out for personal computers. They were a big deal during those days. People savvy with figures (finance, accounting) could get results faster and hopefully more accurately.

Then, something else happened. It seems like people began adjusting figures in those spreadsheets and then using the resulting figures to lever how businesses operated especially staffing and projects. Somehow, someone decided that knowing just the figures was the way to go. You did not have to know what stood behind those figures.

Either coupled with or influenced by the spreadsheet mentality came the “Monday morning” advisors who tout you can do that — run a department for example– much cheaper. These advisors usually are long on talk, and run if you ask them to perform a task.

Sadly, people who should not have listened to these advisors did, and as a result, things are the way they are.

We are entering annual election time in our town, and I am hearing those worn out words like plans, budgets and tough choices. Sadly, it seems like there is more pulling the spreadsheet out of a hat than understanding the processes and problems behind the spreadsheets.

Leave a comment

Filed under rants

The Buck Stops With You

A RAID controller won’t let you swap out one bad drive in a two disc array. Of course, this would probably be the most obvious reason you would have a RAID controller.

A backup vendor ties an installation to an explicit version of a shared library.

Your database vendor tells you to install a network connection package on one operating system, but the package appears to be designed for another operating system. When you find on your own a second connection package from your vendor, the latest version breaks another component in your installation. You then have to search for an earlier revision of that second package.

A general ledger vendor’s support gives¬† you multiple, conflicting answers to the same question.

You are supposed to pass data to another vendor without a full explanation of that data will be used, and all of a sudden you wind up with new requirements for producing that data that were not present at the beginning of the project.

This all seems to mean that things ultimately depend on you. Sadly, even the best of vendors, companies, or individuals no longer come through. Whether it is lack of caring, not having enough time, or some other reason, it seems to be that way these days.

My goal is to accept it and move on. What else is there?

Leave a comment

Filed under rants, work

Welcome To The Printer Museum

Tomorrow we are having a meeting to explain why our department will no longer support line printers. You remember line or so-called “green-bar” printers, don’t you? Those are the printers that printed with perferated forms, that were advanced by little form “tractors” that stuck into the holes on either side of the paper. These printers print mono-type on “green-bar” paper. (You have to understand that secretly, I love those printers, especially the comforting noise they make as the band strikes the paper.)

Today, one of our employees’ — a really smart, hard working world beater — Hewlett Packard Laser Jet IV printer died. This employee uses a defunct DOS-based database called Professional File, and the LaserJet IV is one of, if not the, last printers with the control panel on the printer. DOS has no graphical printer control panel; which users enjoy on Windows, MACs, and Linux (Gnome, KDE, et al) today.

The people needing the explanation about why we are not supporting the line printers say the printing is easier to read. The person using the LaserJet IV is comfortable with the way things are.

Our AMR transfer project was written nearly entirely in Python. I’m a long-term C/C++ programmer, and in seven years had actually gotten used to Informix’s model of 4GL programs that used calls to embedded C code. I’m struggling with a primitive web application for the AMR project written in Django. Why do all this, when I can write perfectly good Perl CGI pages.

The answer is painful and inevitable. Change happens and you cannot hide from it for ever. Also, we don’t have the interest, space, or budget for a printer museum.


Filed under rants

The Big Pad

You might encounter this if your boss has asks you to attend a meeting you normally attend together. Unless this is the 1980s or 1990s and you are the rising star in a computer company or you are in possession of compromising evidence of one or more meeting attendees, then probably people at the meeting do not care what you have to say.

When you attend the meeting, other attendees might try running roughshod over you to force the acceptance of decisions under duress, but there is something even worse. You decide to present a way to fix a problem. Fixing the problem would mutually benefit everyone, but despite your best cooperative efforts, the other meeting attendees give you the Big Pad treatment.

Now, this is how Big Pad works. The whole time you are speaking, meeting attendees are busy writing on paper. Some even hold up a big pad or notebook in plain view to lull you into a sense that they are taking you very seriously. The larger the paper size and writing implement, the more you can remain certain you are getting the Big Pad treatment.

Years ago, I went to speak to a QC director about how to test wireless technology being rolled out by our company. Out came a really big pad, and I seem to remember a prominent pen or pencil about the size Curly Howard used to “look important” at Carnation Pictures.

For a moment, you might even be lulled into believing that your words are being recorded for history. But the attendees are not stupid. One or two yawn, and someone might even fall asleep. They do not want you to think there is a conspiracy.

Even worse, someone could be signing a stack of papers and make it look like he was writing on a Big Pad. That is what I thought was going on recently. Except I noticed that someone was writing on a new page, after only one line had been written on the previous page. I figured out this person was signing a stack of papers.

Please do not give up. It is good to cover your boss, and if you get the Big Pad treatment, it only means you were worth ignoring.

Leave a comment

Filed under rants, work