Monday, April 30, 2007


Looked in on my daughter's room last night and she was curled up asleep, hugging her teddy bear. Adorable. The cuteness was only enhanced by her being 21 years old, just back from finishing her junior year of college and having fallen asleep while watching "Tank Girl."

That my kid.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Went to see this with my daughter and it was fucking hysterical!

The "talking science" merit badge

I was a Boy Scout and earned my Eagle Award. At one job interview, I was told that my resume had been put into the first read category simply because it included that I was an Eagle Scout. Apparently, the rest of the resume wasn't enough to land me that job but I'm still proud of it.

But there are more badges i can still earn. The Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique.

My first badge:

The "talking science" badge.
Required for all members. Assumes the recipient conducts himself/herself in such a manner as to talk science whenever he/she gets the chance. Not easily fazed by looks of disinterest from friends or the act of "zoning out" by well intentioned loved ones.

I have always been something of a science nerd and I reached something of a pinnacle when I was able to land a job at the Carnegie Science Center. I worked in the Works Theater doing science presentations. I played with lasers, Van De Graff generators, a big-ass Tesla coil (I also share my birthday with Nikola Tesla), liquid nitrogen and the foundry pouring molten metal. It was great. The best job I ever had.

One time, I went on a trip to Baltimore and visited the Maryland Science Center there (one of the perks of being Carnegie staff is that your ID badge got you into other science centers for free.) After seeing a liquid nitrogen demonstration there, I jumped in and showed them a neat trick they could add to their demos by pouring nitrogen into soapy water.

The harbor there also has the USS Torsk, a submarine of the same class as the USS Requin here in Pittsburgh. But there, tourists simply walk through on their own. When someone aboard asked a question, I naturally piped up with an answer because here in Pittsburgh there are volunteers, many of them retired mariners, who do tours and I had learned a thing or two from them. I spent the next half hour or so doing a guided tour of the sub.

My wife was not pleased that I left her waiting out on the dock.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Workstation locked

Today The Bank instituted a group policy that locks the
workstation after a 15 minutes of inactivity. No longer will people be able to walk away from their PCs and have them indefinitely logged in and available. This is just the latest in a flurry of increased security procedures.

They keep ratcheting up the security features in the system when the real threat continues to come from "human engineering." A Verisign study found that most people would give over their passwords in exchange for a premium Starbucks coffee. A pizza, bicycle delivery outfit or an armload of paper will get one past most physical security. How many hundreds of thousands of people have had their personal information compromised because someone left their laptop in an airport terminal? Demanding that passwords be more and more complex makes it more and more likely that users will write them down and stick them under their keyboards because they simply can't remember them.

Inconvenience equals security.

Oh look, another example. The Bank sent out a memo a while back that they would not be participating in Take your Child To Work Day in part because of security concerns. That day is here and I see plenty of employees with their children all over the office.

So much for security.

Filling in the gaps

Last week, I attended a public meeting with County Councilmen Dave Faucett and Jim Burn for them to present their plan for Allegheny County to have a riverfront park along all of its waterfront. This $100 million project would produce 100 miles of park along Pittsburgh's three rivers and would include trails and other amenities. The councilmen talked about the economic development that this would bring and, unlike a lot of other promised development from other projects (ie, the stadiums), this has actually already happened. Jim Burn, having been mayor of Millvale, talked about the development of his municipality when, after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan, their section of riverfront went from light industrial and abandoned, garbage strewn properties to park.

That was all well and good but I'll admit that I was specifically concerned with the Great Allegheny Passage and the last 9 miles connecting the end of the trail in McKeesport to Pittsburgh. I asked specifically about getting past Sandcastle, Kennywood and Duquesne. They didn't have any news about the Duquesne section but indicated that Sandcastle was still resisting allowing the trail past or through their property but that County Chief Executive Dan Onorato was "going to make it happen" as part of his plan to have the Passage complete in time for Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary

That's next year so they are running out of time.

Yesterday, the Trib broke the story that US Steel was donating a 2 mile piece of property behind Kennywood for the trail. This all sounds very generous but I'm curious how much it really cost. The way I heard the story from several years back was that the property has an abandoned coke gas pipeline on it that the EPA is requiring be cleaned up. US Steel was always willing to give up the property to the trail so long as someone else also took care of the mandated EPA cleanup. The trail groups didn't have the millions of dollars necessary to clean up that mess so negotiations were at an impasse.

I wondered what sort of deal the city made to finally clinch this. Was the county going to foot the cleanup bill? At last weeks meeting, Dave Faucett was asked about some property owners holding out for more money and he seemed inclined to just pay them. Faucett and Burn seem so passionate about making this linear park happen that they're willing to fork out some extra money. Money I'm not sure the city really has. On the other hand, $280 million for Heinz Field, $260 million for PNC Park, $130 million for the new Penguin's arena, $145 million for the convention center, there's a lot of money being spent on these so-called regional assets, a few million to finalize the trail connecting Pittsburgh to Washington DC is a bargain.

The trail corridor is already attracting $14 million dollars a year to the communities along the way and that number is expected to triple now that it's contiguous with the C&O Canal Towpath. Pittsburgh, as the northern terminus of the trail, is due to get a good piece of this pie. That is, if they make the investment and complete the connection.

Later in the day, the headlines changed from saying that US Steel had donated the property to that the County had bought the property.

The official photo-op announcement of the County/US Steel deal was today at 2pm. I watched the new websites but didn't get any additional details.

After work, I attended a trail meeting in McKeesport with Mayor James Brewster (who pretty much ducked out after introducing himeslf), representatives of the Mon-Yough Trail Council, the National Park Service Rivers & Trails Program, the Regional Trail Corp., Steel Valley Trail Council and the Youth Earn & Learn Program. Most of it was about the McKeesport part of the trail and the development in that area but I was able to learn about the US Steel deal and other pieces of the trail.

US Steel cleaned up the pipeline and graded the surface, spending over a million dollars to do it. In "donating" this cleanup they are going to be able to leverage a nifty tax deduction on work that had already been mandated by the EPA. Pretty sweet, huh? The county is paying $500,000 to acquire the property.

I heard details about the trail behind the former tube works, across the Riverton RR bridge, about options through Duquesne and connecting to the Waterfront. There are still the ongoing issues with Sandcastle to contend with.

Dan Onorato is pledged to have the trail connected by Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary in 2008. Using my politico-speak translator it sounds more like their pledging to have it done by the end of 2008. And I'm wondering if they have enough time to resolve all the property disputes and alignment issues AND actually build the trail.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

First against the wall

Naomi Wolf wrote an article for The Guardian entitled "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps". Go there and read the entire thing in all its horrific detail but I'll summarize it here.

"It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy - but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration."

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create a gulag.
3. Develop a thug caste.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens' groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9. Dissent equals treason.
10. Suspend the rule of law.

I note one item missing from this list: disarm the citizenry.

One might think that the 2nd Amendment was in place specifically to prevent this sort of thing, and you'd be right. Thomas Jefferson said, "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." And given that the current administration is also a very staunch support of gun rights you might be hard pressed to imagine them getting away with the above ten steps.

But, in an odd twist of politics, those with the most liberal interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, that the rights afforded refer to all of the people, are those with the most conservative view of all the other rights that the administration is actively trampling upon. And when the revolution comes, well, there won't be much of a revolution because the so-called "gun nuts" of the NRA are already in the administration's camp. They will become the "thug cast" mentioned in step 3.

What we need are more liberals to actually take a liberal view of the 2nd Amendment. What could be a more liberal interpretation than to say that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the people the tools necessary to overthrow the government should it overstep the powers granted them by the rest of the Constitution.? It's why Jefferson put it there. It's why it says the rights "of the people" and not "the rights of the States" or "the rights of the Government to bear arms."

And don't for a minute try to pull that "well regulated militia" line. Just take a look at the dead and wounded coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and tell me that the National Guard and Reserve are a militia. They are soldiers under the direct control of the Commander in Chief. Just read the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007. The 2nd Amendment wasn't written to protect them, it was written to protect us FROM them.

I want more democrats to join the NRA. I want more NRA members to also support the rest of the Bill of Rights by supporting the ACLU. I want the ACLU to defend ALL of the Bill of Rights, not just 90 percent.

I am the NRA. I am the ACLU.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

If you read this, please comment

Blogging is an inherently egotistical undertaking founded on the assumption that everyone should care about what you have to say. My own is no exception and even the title asserts that I am, in fact, smarter than 90-some percent of people on this planet.

The question that naturally comes out of that pomposity is how many people are actually paying attention to what I have to say. If I didn't care, I'd write a diary and keep it under my pillow. Getting a web counter is easy enough. There are zillions of choices. I decided on one that not only plots the hits on a map but shows a daily hit count.

Typically, my hit count is on the order of half a dozen a day. I know a few friends and family that might be dropping by on a regular basis but the map shows hits all over the world. Are people all over the world actually reading my blog. Well, with a billion people surfing the web, it shouldn't be surprising if a few stumble across my website.

I don't usually look at the little map on the right side of my blog page as it had been hovering pretty consistently around the half dozen mark but last week say a ten fold increase in the daily hits. What the hell happened?

I'm guessing it's Virginia Tech. I posted a blog last week tangentially about the shooting about Virginia Tech but mostly about religious wingnuts blaming atheism, evolution and science in general for all the world's ills. I suspect that people worldwide doing web searches for VA Tech information came across my blog, and apparently continue to do so. My hit count will probably remain high for a month, dropping down when people loose interest and the posting drops into my blog archives.

Or, perhaps it's robots and spiders just crawling the web along search links. Perhaps those people aren't actually reading my blog, it's just programs hitting the site.

So, an experiment is in order! If you are reading this, post a comment. I don't care what you say. It doesn't have to be insightful or even relevant. Just click on the comment button and say that you read this posting. Then, and perhaps only then, will I know just how truly insignificant my lone voice is in this big, stinking pile of crap that is the Internet.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Two steps foreward. . .

In troubleshooting my issue with getting wireless connectivity on my Ubuntu laptop last week, I signed onto the WPLUG (Western PA Linux Users Group) IRC channel. I worked with someone there for quite some time with no success. The suggestion was made to upgrade from v6.06 to the due to come out any minute v7.04.

Before going to Erie for the weekend I had time to download the install disk but then realized that the disk is only for a clean install. I didn't have the time to upgrade through the web and left it for when I came back.

Yesterday, I completed the upgrade and suddenly lost my 1024x768 screen. I was stuck with 640x480. Ugh! I sifted through the forum archives, found some troubleshooting efforts but was unable to get it to work right. Since I didn't really have anything installed, I decided to wipe the whole thing out and start from scratch with a clean install.

That seemed to go normally. It didn't solve my wireless issue, however. And then, the laptop would not shut down. It would go through the unload bar and hang at a splash screen. I could manually power off but then the next reboot would hang after the splash at a blank screen. I would reboot again to the same result. The next reboot might come up normally or it may take a few more attempts.

The last lines of the system log before each restart is:
ADDRCONF(NETDEV_UP): eth1: link is not ready
message handler not found under /com/redhat/dhcp/eth0 for sub-path eth0.dbus.get.reason

eth1 refers to the network card so I popped the network card and shutdown. It hung at the splash screen shutting down. It froze again booting up but the next reboot worked. The log had that message handler error again but not the link not ready message.

. . . one step back.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

King of the Peninsula

Joe Root was an Erie native. Born in 1860, little is known about his childhood but at some point he fell in love with Presque Isle and in his teens he made it his home. As one of the peninsula's first permanent inhabitants, he built a number of shacks in various parts of the peninsula to suit the particular activity of any given day. He built his shacks out of driftwood, packing crates and anything else that washed up on shore.

He sustained himself by fishing, hunting without a gun or bow & arrow, gathering eggs and eating wild fruit including cranberries that grew in abundance on the Isle. When hunting, Joe would use a club or rock and his exceptional woodsmen skills to capture his prey. It is told that Joe could mimic any wild birdcall with his high squeaky voice.

Joe Root loved children and they grew to love him in return. A family would show up on the peninsula for a picnic meal and as soon as they would spread their blanket, Joe would magically appear. He would entertain the children with ventriloquism and stories about his friends, the Jee-Bees, unseen little people who could accurately predict the weather. Joe was an accomplished ventriloquist and he would carry on conversations with his hat or hollow tree stump. He would usually get invited to a free picnic meal at the urging of the children. Eventually families would pack extra food when visiting the peninsula in the hopes of seeing Joe Root.

On rare visits into town, Joe would swap stories of his business ideas in exchange for a drink. One idea was of a balloon factory using the prevailing westerly winds to transport travelers to Buffalo. Another idea was a feather factory utilizing the abundance of birds that can be found on Presque Isle. Joe's favorite idea was to begin a circus that would feature wild animals being transported in a wheelbarrow over a highwire stretched from the peninsula and the mainland.

Most people found Joe's ideas amusing and harmless, he never found the financial backing to realize his dreams. Others feared Joe would claim squatters' rights to the peninsula and in an event shrouded in secrecy he was committed to the State Hospital for the insane in Warren Pennsylvania on April 14, 1910 for an act of violence that witnesses say Joe was the victim. Joe died in 1912 longing for just one thing, to return to his beloved Presque Isle. How much would Joe's holdings be worth today if he had owned the peninsula?

Legend has it the sand replenishment needed each year is simply because Presque Isle loved Joe Root as much as he loved her. This is why she keeps slipping away in search of the "King of the Peninsula."
'Ate fried mosquitoes, only the white meat, saved the dark fro breakfast.'Copied from the menu of the Joe Root's Grill, a few blocks up from the entrance to the Presque Isle peninsula, Erie, PA.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Darwin Implicated in VA Tech Shooting

"Only the person who believes in God has a basis to make moral judgments to determine what is “good” and what is “bad.” Those who claim God does not exist have absolutely no authority upon which to call something right or wrong. If God doesn’t exist, who can objectively define what is good and what is bad? What basis could there be to make such judgments? The atheist has no basis upon which to call anything good or bad. They can talk about good and bad, and right and wrong—but it’s all relative, it’s all arbitrary. What’s “good” in one person’s mind might be completely “bad” in another’s."

This was Ken Ham, President of Answers in Genesis, in an essay less than 24 hours after the massacre at Virginia Tech. He goes on to blame some sort of Naturalism conspiracy for forcing an evolutionary agenda in schools, thus destroying the moral, religious culture. This is so wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin.

I haven't been able yet to find a web link to this but I recall reading an article wherein scientists did a social experiment with chimpanzees. One chimp was given a button whereby if it was pressed, he would receive food. However, pressing the button would also inflict a painful electric shock on another chimp. The study found that the chimp would literally starve himself rather than inflict that pain on a fellow chimp.

Chimpanzees don't have gods. They don't have commandments. They don't have churches, clergy or doctrine. They will act with compassion and sympathy and even against their own self-interest, not because they fear punishment for sin or reward for virtue in an afterlife, but because they have morals. Or, at least what we anthropomorphically call morals. Their behavior has been wired by millions of years of evolution towards behavior that supports the community. And chimps are not alone. All communal animals behave more or less in the interests of the community. Humans behave the same way, not because of some divine spark but because we are more likely to survive when we work together.

Let's approach his assertion from another angle. In Ham's contention, godlessness leads directly to lawlessness. If that were true, Norway, one of the most secular nations on the planet, should be absolutely rampant with crime and Nigeria, the most religious, should be a paragon of virtue. The exact opposite is true. Norway is an extremely civil and safe place to live while Nigeria is a death trap.

The religious fundamentalists would have you believe that atheism, the road to which begins with the acceptance of evolution, is lawless. That atheists are without morals and to allow secularism into public life will lead directly to chaos and anarchism. Religion is the only way to impose goodness and order.

Atheists didn't initiate the crusades. Atheists did not oversee the inquisition. Atheists didn't burn witches. Atheists don't firebomb abortion clinics. Atheists don't strap explosives to their bodies and blow up markets. Atheists do not hack their neighbors to death with machetes. Athiests don't behead journalists and post the video on the internet. An atheist didn't ask their followers to drink cyanide-laced kool-aid at Jonestown and no atheists actually drank from those cups. Anyone who says that religion is the foundation of morality is lying. Or delusional.

The Milgram experiment involved three people. One was a person hooked up to a machine to receive painful electric shocks. The second was an authority figure ordering higher and higher levels of voltage and the third was the actual subject of the experiment. This person was ordered by the authority figure to actually press the button that would administer the shocks for which he would be paid for his participation in the experiment. While the recipient of the shocks was actually an actor and no electricity was applied, two-thirds of the subjects did as they were ordered. No one who questioned their orders did so before the voltage reached 300 volts and not one of the people who refused to participate took the additional step of calling for the end of these sadistic experiments.

We could learn a thing or two from our ape ancestors.

History has shown that religion is not about morality, it is about order. The authority of the church, the authority of the bible, the authority of doctrine, each using the word of God to impose order. Not a natural order that would come about when people work together towards a collective benefit, but an order that reinforces the position of those in authority. And that authority fears and hates evolution because to understand evolution is to understand the true interconnectedness of the universe. The web of existence that can only reinforce ones concern for others as it ultimately comes around to affect you. And once that enlightenment takes place, one sees that they, the religious authorities, are really only concerned with themselves and the way they survive in their positions of authority is to keep people ignorant. Ignorant about evolution. Ignorant about science. Ignorant about reasoned investigation. Ignorant about critical thinking. Ignorant about the truth. They replace genuine truth with a concocted facsimile of truth using the Orwellian doublespeak of faith.

Ken Ham blames secularism, atheism, evolution and science for the tragedy at Virginia Tech. I do not make the counter claim that religion is at fault in that incident. There is no evidence that the delusional shooter was religiously delusional. But I do emphatically denounce Ham's claim that the lack of God is to blame.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Last year, I purchased an iPod and had a nightmare installing it, probably because I was using Windows 98. I've been trying to learn Linux and am very pleased to find out that if I plug my iPod in, Ubuntu recognizes it just like any other USB drive. A piece of cake.

Of course, that doesn't allow me to manage the music on the drive. For that, I found the appropriate posting at Ubuntu Forums, enabled universal packages in Synaptic and installed gtkpod.

It took a matter of minutes. That is, once I knew what I was doing. I spent quite a bit of time before that reading up on just what was what and seeking out the clearest instructions.

I'm liking this Ubuntu/Linux thing.

Job offer

I received a call from a headhunter representing a law firm who said that she found my resume on the internet and said that my experience was exactly what they were looking for to fill a help desk coordinator position.

Unfortunately, the job is in San Francisco.

Just to survive San Francisco's cost of living I would have to make at least twice what I'm making now (or rather, what I should be making). And, in calling them back, it turns out that is pretty much the offer. But they wouldn't cover my move and probably not the flight out for the interview. And it's also a three month contract to perm position. It's not that I'm even remotely in a position to take that sort of chance in a move to San Francisco but it's encouraging to know that people can look at my resume and think I'm worth something.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Online shopping

This may come under the category of "too much information" but I've been having a difficult time buying underwear.

When I was a kid living at home, I wore the "tighty whities." At college, however, I began commuting by bicycle and that very quickly destroyed the leg elastic. I set out to find a different style that I wouldn't wreck and found something cut pretty high. There then came a time that I was out shopping for replacements and could not find that style anymore. I settled for a different string bikini style that worked OK but wasn't quite as resistant to destruction. And going out this past week to replace underwear that had worn out I discover that neither style of underwear that I've been wearing for 20 years is available. I drove all over the place and in store after store, the only briefs they had were variations on the "tighty whities."
I don't look anything like this.
When you can't find a product in a brick and mortar store, you go online. I've spent far too much time surfing the web looking at photos om men's crotches in an attempt to find underwear. Buying underwear online?!?!?! Who would have ever imagined? The first stop was Hanes website because they used to have the right style. Not anymore. Thus I spent far too much time surfing the web looking at men's crotches. Eventually, I found an online store that had exactly what I was looking for. . . from Hanes.

That I do not understand. I can understand, perhaps, that a market like Pittsburgh couldn't support a certain style of underwear in big box retailers but why wouldn't Hanes carry it on their own website?

Friday, April 13, 2007

New discoveries of old things

We call it the French & Indian War but Europe knows it as the Seven Years War. Battles took place not only here in North America but also in France, Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, North Africa, India and the Philippines. And all that started right here with France and England squabbling over who would control this point of land at the confluence of three rivers.

The City and DCNR decided last year that they would fill in the Music Bastion of Ft. Pitt to better facilitate the use of Point State Park, not as a state historic park but as a concert venue. This burial of history would be completed just in time to celebrate the fall of the previous colonial fort to stand at the point, Ft. Duquesne, and the founding of the City of Pittsburgh. Their first rationalization was that the bastion wall had no historical significance because it was a merely a reconstruction. In point of fact, it was a restoration, original and new brick rebuilt on the period, intact foundation. Next, they claimed that burying it would protect it from damage. Of course, that would also prevent anyone from studying it or even knowing it was there, save for the historic markers which seem to be all we have left of the great French & Indian War. Finally, they said they had made these plans known several years before and no one had submitted any opposition. Sorry, but I remember those plans. I remember the outcry and I remember specifically submitting my own personal opposition.

When they found human remains last year, they tried to pooh-pooh the
archaeological significance by saying they were probably scattered by previous excavations, had lost their historical context, they had no way of knowing if they were from the period and thus there was no reason the delay construction any further.

Well, now they can't use that excuse anymore. Excavations have uncovered a powder magazine that was part of Ft. Pitt's main wall facing the Allegheny River. There it is, right where it has lain covered for over two centuries, full of nothing but historical context. And if that survived all the development and redevelopment that has gone on at the point over the centuries, what else could still be down there?

The "Forks of the Ohio" is a National Historic Landmark and the City, with their 250th anniversary theme of progress, seems intent on burying Pittsburgh's past. In their zeal to forget that the steel industry collapsed and financially wrecked the region, they are taking down all of history. They are robbing us of our history. And not just our history but the world's history. The City is just hoping that they don't uncover any other surprises so they can get on with the important business turning the point into an underutilized concert stage.

I would encourage you to contact the City and State to prevent them from lobotomizing our sense of history except that they didn't listen to us the first time, ignored us the second time and probably aren't listening even now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Overheard on the elevator

"People can change if they allow the Lord to come in and circumcise their heart."

Errr, what?

Connectile Disfunction

This problem has been a long time developing, beginning with the slow internet connectivity problem that we blamed on Comcast but that turned out to be a bad router. To resolve that issue, we got a new combo router/wireless-AP. We got that up and the router part worked fine. We didn't test the wireless part because we had another wireless access point upstairs that worked just fine.

We have people over on a regular basis and last week when they showed up and tried to access our new wireless connection downstairs they couldn't. This began hours upon hours of troubleshooting. Ultimately, we ended up back where we started. The router was working but not as a wireless access point.

As a result of all the monkeying about, however, my laptop would not longer connect. It could get five bars of signal on the AP but would not get the network. On a reboot, I started getting a "New Hardware" prompt for a PCI Controller that drivers could not be found for. At one point I removed the device from the device manager and was able to get the network to work but the next reboot landed me back where I started again. But this time, deleting the device wouldn't do what it did before.

The final, fatal mistake was to attempt to re-install the wireless card. You see, several years ago, I got a wireless card for my daughter's laptop. I couldn't get it to work on her machine properly so I thought I'd give her the card I had and install that one on my laptop. I don't even remember all the details but there was some driver or something left over on my machine that I couldn't get rid of that prevented installing the card. Eventually I resolved it but I had forgotten about that all last night when I tried re-installing the card and the missing dll files reared their ugly heads.

I had enough. I pulled a few files off the machine onto a USB flash, wiped the hard drive and installed the Ubuntu-flavor of Linux.

Except, that I couldn't get the wireless card to work. It could get five bars of signal on the AP but would not get the network.

Today, in a search of the Internet, I found some documentation that was neither in the operating system's Help nor in the big ass book "Ubuntu Unleashed" that I purchased to learn this stuff:

"Step 5a. If your access point requires a WEP key, it must be entered with a dash after every fourth character, ie (xxxx-xxxx-xx)"

So, with the perceived answer in hand, I finally got home to try it out. . . and the laptop will not boot. It gets through much of the boot and then simply stops with a flashing cursor.

What the fsck.

As I've been writing this I was able to get it to boot from the disk. It looks like I'll be installing it again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Virtual Promotion

I received an email invitation to join a demo of a new password reset utility. Actually, it was not an actual invitation but an email to someone else at Second Level Support and CCd to me indicating that they should invite me to this demo.

In any case, there were two interesting things in the email that had
nothing to do with passwords, demos or invitations. The first is that three analysts were listed as "Trainers", which shows me that the Help Desk now needs three people to do the job that I once did. The other thing is that my title is apparently now "Advanced Level Analyst" instead of just being "Analyst." Oooh. Ahhhh. They think enough about me to give me a more impressive title but not enough to give me a raise. I also note that I am on the list with trainers and yet I am an exile, completely isolated from the training process.

What's the point in that?

Saturday, April 07, 2007


When I was riding in DC a few weeks back, I discovered that some of the brake alignment issues I was having was due to a broken spoke. Actually, it was two broken spokes that cost me $15 to have replaced today. Something else I learned was that the spoke nipples had gotten corroded and were difficult if not impossible to adjust. Should I have more spokes break or if the wheel gets too far out of true, I'll be better off replacing the wheel entirely. That will give me a chance to get the wider rim that it originally had.

When I got home, the tire was flat. Taking it all apart it would seem that the techs at Iron City Bikes had not put the rim liner on properly. This had allowed one of the nipples to puncture the tube when it was re-inflated.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Stupid Procedure #387

A month ago, The Bank instituted new password complexity rules, requiring that certain passwords include special characters in addition to the standard letters and numbers. This has meant a 40% increase in password calls as people try to adapt.

There have been emails sent out to employees concerning this change since as far back as November. The actual implementation of this change was delayed three times and each time included additional e-mails. We at the Help Desk have been directed to send out even more emails. Each time we change someone's password, we are required to send out an email reminding them of the new rules.

If they didn't read the first 5 email instructions that were sent to them, why do we think they are going to pay attention to number 6?

The day before yesterday, Analyst J was directed by a Team Lead to go around to everyone and visually confirm that everyone had this email ready in the draft folder ready to go. It's terribly insulting to be treated like children in this way. Then today, one of the Team Leads sent out an email again asking for confirmation that the email was in the draft folder. Insulting AND a case of management not knowing what managers are actually doing.

Something of an aside related to previous issues. . . I have heard, over my cubicle wall, Analyst J complaining about his having been talked to about using abbreviations. Apparently, he would abbreviate things in his tickets in such a way that the Function Desk would not understand what he meant. His hyperbolic response was to verbally stink about it, saying that he would writ out everything, even threatening to spell out International Business Machines.

So, when he came to my cube to check on the password email, I gave him a look that reflected my disbelief at the way were being treated. He commented that he had the same expression when he was told by FD Analyst T about using abbreviations.

"I was going to get her a gift of heavy flow tampons but was told I

That's an understatement! Remember the comment I made last week about "sexual harassment" and "a lawsuit waiting to happen"? Well, that would have been it right there.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Northern Crown/7th Sea game session #7

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog (And I know there may actually be one or two of you out there) may have noticed that the last posting in the continuing adventures of Orcish Grenadier Kurt von Sturmblähung was #2 way back in September. So, what has happened to sessions 3, 4, 5 and 6? Let me summarize:

After defeating the snake cult, the party's reward was mostly the loot stolen from the cult. Then there was some other sort of secret society causing trouble. The re-disappearance of the guy we were rescuing in the first place. Some high seas piracy gone bad. The snake cult again. Double-crosses. A supposedly good snake guy. Political intrigue. Triple crosses and daring escapes.

This all sounds very exciting when synopsized but there was also several game system changes. When this all started, it was going to be 7th Sea. The GM didn't like the fantasy world that only mirrored the real world so he brought up Northern Crown. This was to be the Caribbean but with magic and orcs. Northern Crown was a D20 campaign so D&D books filled in the rest. OK, then we got started. The city module he was using was Freeburg from 7th Sea. For some reason, he couldn't wrap his head around calling it Port Royal so the whole world morphed back to something more 7th Sea. I simply ignored this change and still considered Kurt to be from Bavaria instead of just some generic orcish mountain tribe. Then, the GM added "action dice". He also changed the way AC worked (absorbing damage instead of affecting to-hit probability). But then he chose a completely different game system. He took our character sheets and converted them to this new system. The new system appeared to be Deadlands, an undead western-genre game that uses multiple dice, poker chips in place of action dice and playing cards for initiative. Finally, last night, something else seemed to have changed. The combat system was using three dice instead of two and he had a book called Savage Worlds.

Having our characters unable to do the things they were originally created to do was frustrating enough but the final straw was the plot hammer.

The GM was running a module. That's all well and good but with all the double and triple crosses the party was reaching the point where we didn't trust anyone. We just wanted to get the hell out of there. But doing so would deviate from the linear nature of the module (of most modules) and the GM wouldn't allow that. The mostly empty boat that we were going to steal suddenly was full of crew members. When that plan went sour and we were arrested, we were going to cross the bay in a "launch." If the odds were even, we would have taken that boat over and made a run for it but suddenly this launch had a dozen crewmembers, something more like a sloop.

This is where the frustration reached a climax and the game collapsed with the GM throwing up his hands and saying "Fine! You attach the crew and all die. Happy now? You got what you wanted." He ranted about all the changes he had made "to make US happy." I made one pass at explaining how changing the game system multiple times was worse than operating in a flawed gaming system and that the linear nature of the campaign wasn't role playing, it was a novella and we were merely along for the ride. (I wanted to use the term "literary masturbation" but I passed on that.) While everyone else tried to assuage his ego, I packed up my stuff and walked out.

This isn't the first time I've done this either. Years ago when he was running a Star Trek game, he did the same "linear plot" thing. I had a Horta security officer as a character and when his inherent abilities (such as disguising himself as a rock and being able to burrow underground) threatened to unravel his plot, he started throwing absurd obstacles in my way. I walked out on that one, too.

I ran a Rolemaster/Middle-Earth campaign for three years and was able to keep people on plot. One key element was to have multiple plot lines. The major story arc and minor side adventures that actually fed into the arc. If they opted out of one plot hook, I could just put those elements somewhere else. The drawback is that even after that three years, we weren't half way through the arc.

I should probably try to run a game since most of my experiences over the past ten years being a player have ended poorly.

The term is Kleptocracy

More tax issues and, for a change, it's not the fault of my employer.

I received a letter from the PA Municipal Service indicating that I had apparently not paid my taxes for 2001, 2003 or 2003. With taxes and penalties they were hitting me up for over $1,600!

It took two hours of calling to finally get through and figure out that I can resolve this (hopefully) by sending them my W2s, which they somehow had no record of ever receiving (though they did have data on how much money I made for those years. I wonder how they got that without having my W2 forms.). Apparently the process works this way: My employer withholds the appropriate boro taxes from my paycheck. They send that money in a big block to. . . somewhere. At some point, the municipalities, through the PA Municipal Service, go to that block to withdraw the money for their coffers. The strange thing is that this is not done annually but every 5 years. So, when the request came through, PAMS suddenly discovered in 2007 that they didn't have the proper verification for four years previously, instantly racking up nearly $600 in penalties and interest.

Seems either slipshod or dishonest to me. Either they lack the capability to process this in a timely manner or they intentionally wait to process so that they can generate more revenue. We are told by this statement at the front of the IRS website to "Keep these records for at least 3 years from the date your return was due or filed" but hidden in Publication 552 is a table that says that "If you do not report income that you should and it is more than 25% of the gross income shown on your return" you should be able to provide that documentation back 6 years. They say, "Keep your records for three years but if we audit you, we'll go back 6 years and fine or imprison you if you can't prove your innocence." Is it any coincidence that the PA Municipal Service is asking for information exactly in that window; records from 4 to 6 years back? Had I thrown away my records after the recommended 3 years I wouldn't have any proof that this money was already paid and I would be stuck with paying them again plus a fine for their having lost my records.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Weather turning

Yesterday's bicycle commute home was blue skies and 75 degrees. Today it was 37 degrees and snow.

Welcome to Spring in Pittsburgh.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Collapse of Intelligence Design

The Dark Ages

Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Seventy-three percent of Evangelical Protestants say they believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years; 39 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 41 percent of Catholics agree with that view.

No, these are not the views of some backward, pre-industrial country. This is Newsweek reporting on the United States. Of the 34 countries polled, only Turkey ranked lower than the US in their acceptance of evolutionary biology.

We like to project ourselves as an advanced and enlightened nation when, in fact, were a nation of delusional morons who believe that an invisible bearded guy living in the sky created us out of a pile of dirt exactly in his image (except for the invisible part, I suppose). No wonder the US is lagging behind of the rest of the world in science research when half of the nation rejects the scientific principal outright.

You realize that when I posted about Get Medieval yesterday, I was talking about a comedic webcomic, right? It was not a suggestion that we reject the Age of Enlightenment, the Renaissance and five-hundred years of knowledge in favor of blatant, state-endorsed ignorance.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Get Medieval

Yesterday, I discovered a webcomic called "Get Medieval", a story of a number of spacefarers trapped on Earth in the Middle Ages. I've been spending hours clicking through the archives until I finally got to what was apparently the last one:

Guys, I have a very sad announcement to make.

Last night, I recieved a Cease And Desist order from Monolith Productions, the company that makes the computer game 'Get Medieval'. They claim I am infringing on their copyright, and I've been ordered to stop producing comics and merchandise under the name 'Get Medieval' within twenty-four hours of recieving the letter. Being as I'm a starving student who can't afford a lawyer, while they're a software company making millions of dollars, I don't have much choice.

Farewell, folks. It's been fun.

Damn! I hate it when lawyers get their hands on something good and. . . . oh. Yea.

April 1st.

Damn. Got me.