Saturday, July 28, 2007


When I was getting my bike fixed I picked up a brush to keep my new cassette clean and so extend it's life. (Hopefully I'll get more than 1000 miles out of this one.) This particular brush had an interesting warning:

"Not recommended for oral use."

My first thought was what sort of moron would use a brush like this to clean their teeth? Of course, I know all to well what sort of morons there are out in the world that, yes, call something a toothbrush and some pinhead will use it to brush the teeth in their mouth.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


My new wheel came in last week but it turned out that Iron City Bikes did not have a replacement cassette and I had to wait another week while that was on order My new cassette came in today. It turns out that my rear axle was not merely bent, it was broken.

Also, the Specialized Nimbus 700x38C tire I bought back in December is pretty badly dry rotted. This tire hasn't lasted half as long as the Bontrager I have on the front. I'll have to replace that this month which begins another circus of searching for something that meets my needs. Well, at least I've got the right size rear rim now.

I hope.


Last month, I was told by the Site Manager that the $200 "commission" I had received in my paycheck was representative of a future, or rather potential, salary increase. $200 per paycheck meant $100 a week, an increase of $2.50 per hour. He said that if the paperwork for the salary increase didn't go through by the end of this month, I would receive a $400 commission to represent four weeks of salary increase.

My paycheck this week included only a $200 commission, half of what I was promised.

It is, of course, merely a coincidence that the Site Manager is out of the office on vacation starting today and is thus not available to answer my question as to why what he promised me was not what I received.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Commando Rodents

The Islamic Republic News Agency reported last week that fourteen squirrels were arrested attempting to cross the Iranian border to commit acts of espionage on behalf of Western powers.

Here you can see a picture captured using my hidden camera of one of them training in my back yard. There must be a terrorist training camp in the woods behind my house. They could also be part of the Squirrel Mafia, you know, the intelligence gatherers that Kennedy used to spearhead the Bay of Pigs invasion.

I've been thinking of erecting a statue to the squirrel god Ratatosk as a sort of peace offering to make sure they don't do anything untoward should we forget to hang out corn for them.

Sharing the pain

There was a series of staff meetings wherein, among other things, we learned the actual reason behind the latest stupid policy of not actually troubleshooting remote access issues. Since late last year, the Help Desk has experienced a three-fold increase in remote access calls. Most of those calls have been because some flaw in the latest version of the software has cause password violations to occur even when the user is not being prompted for a password. Fully 5% of all are calls are to address this issue.

Well, in taking this increase to The Bank to try to get second level support to do something about it, say, fix the software flaw, the Help Desk is met with shrugging shoulders. They don't see an increase in their workload (because we're doing all the work) and so refuse to believe there is any issue.

"So", I said at the meeting, "what were doing is offloading all this work we've been doing for them onto second level so that they will have to recognize that there is actually a problem rather than burying their collective heads in the sand."

The Tactical Manager said, "Yea. Pretty much."

"Good. Because if you had justified it any other way, you and I would have been having a private meeting after this one."

We've played this political game several times before but this is the first time Management has come out early in the process and admitted that this is what they were doing. It's nonsense, to be sure, but it is nonsense I can understand.

When another analyst asked what we were to say to users who called and wondered why we couldn't help them anymore I jumped in before Management had a chance to make something up.

"We tell them the truth, or at least the root part of it. We say that Second Level Support is investigating a number of root causes for these ongoing problems and we need to direct these issue directly to them so they can figure out what's going wrong and fix it rather than the band-aids we've been applying up to this point."

The Managers immediately nodded their heads in agreement and said they would send out an email to that effect to the entire Help Desk so that there will be a consistent message.

Again, it's nonsense, but understandable nonsense. Just because I have a degree in political science, doesn't mean I like politics.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Wireless Woes

Several times last week I tried to connect to Pittsburgh's free wifi without success. Thinking perhaps it was related to the particular access points I was attempting to connect through (unlikely, but I was running out of good explanations) I pulled my laptop out on the other side of town. Not only could I not get the gateway window to signon, I couldn't even see the wireless AP at all. Kind of sad, I thought, since I could see the antennas on top of the light pole.
I tried again today and couldn't see the half dozen access points that I had seen last week. I began to think something was tragically wrong with my wireless card.

When I got home, I immediately turned on the machine and could not find the AP in my house. I feared my wireless card had gone bad. Thus began the search for answers. I pulled up the System Log and a keyword search found a strange error:

Kill switch must be turned off for wireless networking to work.

Very clearly my cause. Now how to figure out what the Hell a kill switch was and how I had gotten it turned on. I'm pleased to say that it didn't take too long for me to find that the Dell laptop has a wireless antenna symbol on the F2 key. At some point I must have hit the function and this key to kill the wireless. Literally. Fn+F2 turned it back on.

So, what's the kill switch really for? It strikes me as a security feature. If something starts hacking your machine wirelessly, Fn+F2 disabled the wireless and kills the connection. Like yanking the Cat-5 cable out of the port.


Call Center Creep

The latest procedure is that we are no longer to troubleshoot remote access issues other than resetting passwords. The claim is that we spend more time per call on these issues than on anything else. Since the Help Desk is not really increasing their staff to account for the increased call volume, they are working to develop "Call Reduction / Avoidance strategies."

The claim is made that to serve everyone, we need to limit out calls. In fact, what we have decided to do is to sacrifice everyone else's productivity to boot our own numbers. If I do no troubleshooting for a remote access issue, I can turn a 15, 20 or 30 minute call into a 5 or 10 minute call. That allows me to take four calls in the same amount of time. Good for my numbers. Good for the Help Desk numbers.

But what about the person who can't access via remote access? He can't get to his email to service clients. Can't make trades. Can't post wires. Essentially he cannot do his job for the HOURS that it can take for second level support to finally get back to him.

The claim is that this is to "provide timely service to all of our callers" but it doesn't make any sense to me. Sure, I'm not taking those other 4 calls but the additional wait because of that, spread among a score of other analysts, can be measured in seconds. That's not even enough to be recognized by a caller as an inconvenience. And even if there is a lot of people in the queue, at worst those seconds might compounds themselves so that the last person in line may have to wait additional minute to receive service. Compare that to the remote access user who can do NOTHING for hours and it's pretty clear that the Help Desk has its priorities wrong.

And, in the end, I don't think that cutting out the time it takes to troubleshoot remote access calls will not significantly affect our overall numbers.

Dream script

Geis: "While I do believe that a traditional "take this plane to Cuba" domestic hijacking would be good for this country, I did not have any part in this particular incident."

The implication of the quote is actually much better than the somewhat disjointed dream I uttered it in.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter

I admit that as soon as I got my hands on a copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", I turned immediately to the back and read the last chapter. But, since this was, in fact, the most of any Harry Potter novel I have read, I learned a few of the people who don't die but otherwise, it didn't mean anything to me.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Day laborer

I was the first to arrive on site and I don't think I've ever seen so much security for an IT building. Starting with the chain link and barb wire fence and intercom to get buzzed in, three buzz-through security doors and all under the watchful eye of cameras. And that was just to get to the security guard station. After that, a pass car was required to enter or exit any door (except the break room and the restrooms).

The guy running the show was pretty much a kid out of college and most of the other techs that had been called in were my age or even older, trying to make ends meet with this part-time gig. I felt like we had been standing on an LA street corner and some guy in a white shirt, tie and pocket protector pulled up in a pick-up truck and said "I'm looking for day laborers. You, you and you, hop in. You're hired."

The truck was late so it was 45 minutes before we got started. The server room was immense. Thirty or Forty Thousand square feet of server racks. We had plenty of techs so that it worked out to each one would need to install three servers. This was my first time working with racks like this and it was great that the backs of the units had these accordion-line cable runs so that you could tie-town the cables and still pull out the unit without them getting tangled.

I was done with my three servers in one rack in about two hours. We were guaranteed four hours of work so I had over an hour of standing around because there were already too many people working on racks and my presence would just get in the way. I collected garbage and loitered.

I earned $30 a server. I might get a call for the next stage of the install in three weeks.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Followup import

It's not unusual for me to get calls from recruiters based on my resume that they found on the Internet. The vast majority of the time, however, they are not offering me anything I am interested in. Mostly, it's contract work and I'm not willing to take the chance on a few months and the possibility of it going longer. Very often, they are offering less money than I am making now (and even that is less than what I'm worth).

I get enough of them that all come to nothing that I sometimes don't follow up on the call left on the machine. Thankfully, I was prodded not to ignore this one.

It's nothing spectacular; a single day of work for a company that is moving to Pittsburgh and needs 150 servers taken out of boxes and hooked up. I'll be employed by a Technical Services Company who may be calling me from time to time for spur-of-the-moment jobs such as this. For the job Saturday they guarantee 4 hours of work but expect that it will go 6 to 8 hours at $20 an hour.

I sent in all my paperwork today and should be working tomorrow. It'll be good to get my hands on some hardware and refresh my skill set, earn some extra money and pad-out my resume.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

. . . because you'll believe anything.

I remember long ago, back when Saturday Night Live was funny, they did a parody of what was the brand new 2-blade disposable razors. The SNL's Trak-III razor had three blades: one blade to cut the whisker, a second to grab what was left before it could snap back into your face, and a third blade to slice it off. The tag line was "because you'll believe anything." Their satire lost a lot of its punch because in short order some genius came up with just the product they were making fun of.

In my mailbox today was a free sample of Gillette's Fusion razor. Not three, not four, not even five blades, but six. SIX! There are five on the front to do the nasty business of cutting the whisker several times over along with the outer layers of flesh, but also another blade on the reverse side for "precision trimming." Hell, I cut myself just trying to get it out of the package.

This defies belief. And yet I know that before too long there will be a new design with even more blades. Satire becomes absurd reality. How many blades can dance on the head of a razor?
Apparently, as many as want to.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Get bent.

I stopped by Iron City Bikes after work today to see if they could change out the freewheel. It turns out that my rear axle is bent. Fairly badly, too. Well, that what I get for using a freewheel and stressing it out with a Bob Yak trailer. So, I'll be getting a new wheel (knew that was coming) that designed differently so that there isn't the stress on the axle. They had to order the wheel for later this week and it'll end up costing me $100 or so.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A heap of miscellanea

On today's ride into work I had my highest gear slipping with the new chain. That means that it's worn to uselessness in 1000 miles. It used to be that I would get 2000 miles out of a freewheel cassette. And before that, I rode untold miles without the freewheel wearing out. Crap for materials is the only explanation.

So, the theoretical solution is to get a cassette that I can change out only the highest gear, the one that wears out the most. To do this, I'll have to get a new wheel but I was planning on doing that anyway. I'll stop by the bike shop and do the numbers to decide if it really is worth it or if I should be throwing away freewheel cassettes with every chain.

I took my laptop to work today and still couldn't get connected to Pittsburgh's free WiFi. Last time, I called and the tech said there was a known issue in the area. I can't imagine that it's still going on.

On this Mandatory Overtime Monday, I fielded over 100 calls. Second place went to an analyst who took 70 calls. There is something seriously wrong with the system when I take 40% more calls than the next most productive analyst and easily twice as many calls as nearly all the rest. And still I look out on the floor and see as many empty seats as I saw two years ago.

On the plus side, even with all the paid time off I have spent and have allocated, I still have 40 hours to spend by the end of the year. Perhaps a bike riding trip to Ohio. Some mid week hiking. Visiting the brother-in-law in Chicago.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


I bought a replacement bike chain a few weeks ago and now, 100 miles later, finally had a chance to change it out. And, for some unexplained reason, it went easier than it ever has before. The master link went right together. Snap.

Too bad all my bike maintenance isn't this easy.

Screeching Neighbors

When I went out this morning to cut the grass there was a hawk circling overhead. It was calling and another hawk somewhere in the trees behind the house was also calling. eventually there were foru hawks circling overhead, screeching up a storm.

I couldn't identify them. Their tails weren't distinctively red but they could have been juvenile redtail hawks. That would explain why there are four of them all together. I tried to get some pictures but they stayed up high and when they came down low, I didn't get the chance to pull the camera out of my pocket to get a decent picture.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


The skin on the back of my hand pealed off today as a result of the 2nd degree sunburn I got sailing last week. Up until this point, it was very dark and dry but the blisters came up all of a sudden.

Blech. Before too long, I'm going to be like a shedding lizard with my face, arms and legs blistering and pulling away.

Marvel Super Hero RPG, Game Session 4

Having returned to the city it is decided to start on the list of dirty cops that Dr. Impossible gave us. Some inquiries linked with the death of the rest of the group's neighbor leads us to a local strip club where we find one of the dirty cops enjoying a lap dance.

Oh, at this session, Christian Soldier isn't with us and we have a new member. Another neighbor who was killed and came back from the dead (more like "Reanimator" but we keep calling him a zombie). he has telekinetic powers so has earned the superhero name Dead Lift.

The dirty cop goes in the back to screw the lap dancer and Overgrowth goes to spy. I can send out a surreptitious tendril to appear as if he's just standing by the hallway. The prostitute comes out and he spies the copy doing heroin. Doing his good deed, he calls the cops on his cell phone.

If I had known he was going to do that, I would have stopped him because I noticed another patron taking an interest in his standing there. Shortly after Overgrowth called, the lookout gets a call and then rousts Overgrowth from his place. He come back to our table and says he's going around back. I say I'll be approaching from this side.

Dead Lift is busy watching the floor show.

When I get to the back, Overgrowth, having changed to his "vegi-hulk" form, had just slammed them both inside as they had tried to sneak out the back. I pick them both up by the hair and drag them into the back office where we are going to proceed to beat them up.

Yea, we didn't have anything better planned that that. Actually, I decide that since we have one of the bad cops hopped up on heroin, if we drip him off at a hospital or, better yet, at the TV station, his career's is pretty much over. Justice can be served.

Once I drag him outside, I convert to my full demon form and put the fear of Hell into him. I fly him over to the TV station and in classic Spider-Man form, leave him there with a note pinned to his jacket.

"What the wicked dreads will overtake him and his ultimate punishment is yet to pass, but I give him to you as a gift to find justice as you see fit. Were I to exact that justice, this dirty cop would have been left rotting in a ditch somewhere. Enjoy."
---- Brimstone

Later, Overgrowth's cell phone call came around when the police, all of them, raided his apartment. He heard them coming and was able to disguise himself as a shrubbery but they got the list.

We were able to salvage something. The car that Dr. Impossible gave him had a printer to produce a new identity and another copy of the list. Some party unknown killed someone and dumped him in the river and then faked the official record to say that Overgrowth's secret identity had been murdered. It's all fairly messy but we're planning on focusing our attention on the name at the top of the list, the Chief of Police, with every intention of bringing him down. In some sense, it's be so much easier to just kill him but we're still a little dubious about the pedigree of the list were working from and don't want to do the wrong thing.

And Brimstone made the news. It was a few of terrified witnesses, the drugged up cop, and a blurry cell camera picture but the TV station is describing what they saw as "what can best be described as a demon." It was bound to happen and, in fact, I intended it to happen eventually and had hoped I could manipulate it to be the good guy. Or at least not the villain. Vigilante will do.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Change of address

My last couple of attempts to pump gas using my BP credit card had failed so I contacted BP the other day to find out what had been going on. It turns out I hadn't been paying my bills because they have been sending my bill to the wrong address.

I have been a BP customer for 15 years or more now and for some inexplicable reason, sometime after my April bill they decided to change my address and, by a strange coincidence, it happened to be the same incorrect address one would find if you did a search on Google for my phone number. It's the same number on a similar sounding street name in the wrong municipality and zip code but still incorrect.

So, I called today to investigate how this had happened and confirm whether or not BP verifies street addresses on the Internet.

I told the first person my story and she didn't know. She also revealed that the phone number I had given didn't match what was in my record. It had somehow reverted to a number that I had 7 years ago. Since I had called yesterday and had confirmed my account based on the phone number, sometime between yesterday and today my phone number had been changed. I asked to speak to a supervisor. I told him my story and he didn't know, asking if I wanted to speak to a supervisor.

"I had asked to speak to a supervisor. You aren't one?"

The third person was sympathetic to my story but didn't have any idea how my address had been changed.

"You see, that's the wrong answer. The correct answer is 'I'm going to find out.'"

She passed me off to a fourth person who said that address changes come from either the account holder (me) or the Post Office.

"So you're blaming the Post Office?"

She denied that she had said that.

"You just told me that these changes come from either me or the Post Office. I know that I didn't change the address therefore it must be the Post Office that is responsible. It's a simple process of elimination."

She still wouldn't say that it was the Post Office and eventually I was "accidentally" disconnected.

I called back. Got a fifth person and asked to be transfered to the fourth person. That apparently wasn't possible and I got a sixth person. I got to tell my story again and she was more willing to blame the Post Office. She said there was a flag on the account saying that the change of address had come from the Post Office.

"The previous two Account Supervisors I spoke with did not see that flag on my account and yet it magically appears between that call and this one. I'm am seriously questioning your data entry procedures. And so, if this entry appears in my account, what is the date stamp on it? When did this change occur and who authorized it."

She became counter-belligerent with me and continued to blame some sort of automated system with the Post Office.

So, I called the US Postal Service. They could find no record of a change of address request for me. Back to BP.

I spoke to a seventh person who transferred me to an eighth person (by now, I had spend and hour and a half telling the same story over and over). She tried to blame the Post Office but I told her that I had spoken to the Post Office and there was no change of address request.

"If this change happened then there must be some record or documentation of exactly when it happened and who initiated it. If not, then you are a multi-billion dollar international corporation who has no control over it's data and, in fact, appears to be verifying that data on the big, stinking pile of lies that is the Internet. If you can't manage or control your data, then I'm not comfortable with you having my data. It is a formula for fraud and theft."

She initiated an investigation and told me I will be receiving a letter in ten days.

In either case, I'm not going to be a BP customer anymore. My only consideration there is whether I just cancel the account or send them an extensive letter and my card cut up into tiny pieces.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Align and Receive

Mail Support sent out an email message to users this morning informing them that they would be performing maintenance on a number of servers this weekend and for a time while that was going on, mail would not be available. It's a fairly common thing to do and messages like this go out all the time.

But apparently this was new to some users.

I get emails from this dept all the time. I am not with this group. Thank you!

The same goes for me too.

And me too
And we were off and running. Each server supports a few thousand users. Three servers were going to be taken down so six or seven thousand users were receiving the support email. Some people were using "Reply to All" in an attempt to get the messages to stop.
Please Stop "Replying to All"

Please do not reply to all !!
Assuming 7,000 emails sent by support, each "Reply to All" sent out another 7,000 emails to people who didn't want to receive them.
Please don't reply to all when you get these system admin e-mails. We are all receiving this e-mail because we are users on one of the servers listed below. Not because you are or are not part of some group.

OK, it's July 10, 2007 and everyone should know by now how to respond to the sender of a note rather than to "everyone". REGARD, please, email protocol!
Of course, even with these attempts to stop the flood, a number of users weren't paying attention.
Why am I getting all of these emails? I have nothing to do with this.

Everytime someone says take me off or stop the emails I GET AN EMAIL!

Yes please stop this has to do with your e-mail server...not what group your in...look up your profile!
Eventually, one of the Team Leads at the Help Desk attempted to explain:
The group list that used to send the communication is comprised of hundreds of members on several servers. Yes, you are a part of the group. The message is informing you that your email server will be taken down and will not be available during the listed time frame. When you 'reply to all' you are replying to hundreds, possibly thousands of people.
But, tragically, this attempt was ignored and merely added thousands more emails to the queue.
I am not with this group either. please take me off the list while you are at it.

Please, everyone, STOP! replying to all!!

QUIT REPLYING TO ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hey! Using "Reply to All" in an attempt to get people to stop using "Reply to All" is sort of self-defeating, don't you think?
This is funny...Thanks for making my day.

Please do not REPLY TO ALL about how funny this is.
Resistance is futile.
And why are you all sending this to me???? As if I don't have enough to do, but delete 100 e-mails!!!

I have nothing to do with these emails, I think you may of chose the wrong person.



This has to stop!!! This is highly frustrating as well as unprofessional!!!
Here is a Senior VP who hasn't been paying attention:
I just got 45 other peoples e-mails. Does anyone know who is doing all of this ??? We must have a security breach. Not very good for a bank, is it?
No, it's not a security breach, it's morons like you using "Reply to All."
Okay you guys enough is enough. Do you not realize that we all WORK for a Bank. This is a courtesy from our Mail Support Team to let ALL OF US know when the system will be down. Just read it and Delete It!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We all have to be aligned and receive!!!!!!!! Let's all be professional in our emails being sent.
We all have to be aligned and receive! What the hell does that mean? It's some sort of corporate doublespeak that sounds vaguely obscene. Instead of "straighten up and fly right" it's "bend over and take it like the bitch you are."

It was about this time that Support pulled the plug on the routers, lest the tens of thousands of emails crash the server. Of course, the Help Desk's call queue spiked as users complaining about all the "take me off your list" emails gave way to scores of "I can't get in my email" calls.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale

A geocaching associate of mine invited several of us to join him on his sailboat on an expedition across Lake Erie to Long Point, Ontario to log a cache there. I have never been either out on the lake or sailing so I immediately agreed. The plan was to go up Friday and camp dockside at Presque Isle, set out on Saturday the 22 miles across to Long Point, a transit expected to take 4 hours. Cache and camp and then come back on Sunday. Sunday would be against the wind and so would take longer but we should still have plenty of time.

The way that plans and expectations started coming undone gave me warning of things to come but once the die is cast, there is nothing else to be done. The first thing was learning the experience of the Cap'n, most of which was on a smaller boat on Lake Arthur. He had bought this 25 footer earlier this year and had been on several trips out onto the lake but had never transited the width of the lake and not for as long as we would be out.

The 10-15 mph winds out of the west we were supposed were going to change on Sunday afternoon to come out of the southwest. This would make our journey back even longer but, even so, we should have had plenty of time.

Turning on our GPS units on Saturday when we left the dock gave the distance to long point at 26 miles, not the 22 as expected, the difference between measuring in nautical miles and statute miles. This confusion lengthened the transit time.

The Cap'n gave me the rudder out of dock and I did a pretty good job of steering through the Presque Isle channel with the mainsail up. But when we rounded Gull Point and he put up the jib to really catch the wind, I had much more trouble, at one point heeling us over to the freeboards (50 degrees) and almost dumping us out of the boat. I was able to regain control and was allowed to remain at the helm.

Over the next 5 hours I learned quite a bit but was not good enough to make the top speed of 7 mph. The winds were stronger so the expected 1.5-2 foot waves turned out to be 2-3 feet. In the end, by the time we came about into the relative shelter of Long Point Bay, we had traveled about 35 miles, dock to anchorage in 8 hours.

The original plan was that we would camp ashore, or rather two of us would camp and the Cap'n would stay on the boat because he was recovering from a major spinal injury and needed the extra padding that was on the boat. The vast swarms of mosquitoes and the need to get moving as soon as possible to beat the afternoon wind change lead us to decide to stay on the boat. Being a light sleeper, I chose to stay lay out on deck rather than share the cabin with two other guys (with good odds of at least one snoring).

The breeze was cool but not chill, driving away the bugs. The boat swung back and forth at anchor but with few significant waves. The night sky was dark and incredibly filled with stars, the Milky Way as the Backbone of Night stretching horizon to horizon. I almost thought that this moment alone made the entire trip worth it.

The next morning we weighed anchor around 6 am but it was already too late. The winds were out of the southwest and we would have to fight them the entire way. A few hours of sailing and we could still clearly see the Long Point Lighthouse. Then, we had to tack west in an effort to align ourselves up on a beat towards Presque Isle and we were sailng back towards Long Point. That went on for a few hours before we finally got the chance to turn south.

We were sailing into the wind and waves at a 45 degree angle. Waves were up around 4 feet with an occasional 5 foot swell. I was working hard on each wave trying to keep a balance between a smooth ride on the rollercoaster waves and as much wind in the sails as I could. And it was hour on hour of this with only the previous day's experience. I could spend about 4 or 5 seconds at a time to look around t some of the massive freighters that passed by but then had turn turn my attentions to controlling the boat.

At 3 pm we had sailed 30 miles and was still a dozen miles out from Presque Isle. I had held a surprisingly straight and steady course southward but we had drifted east and would have to tack again to get to the harbor.

Then the rudder broke.

The 1/8" thick bar of stainless steel rated at 6,000 lbs that mounted the rudder to the boat snapped like a dry stick. As it twisted in my hands and the boat swung itself into the waves I hauled it in to keep it from dropping to the bottom of the lake. The Cap'n began a mild panic, trying to look over the side and assess the damage instead of doing what was really necessary at that point; bringing down the sails before the wind took us where it wanted us to go. I had to tell him to drop sail.

Fortunately, it didn't take long for us to get the outboard motor started and begin the long, arduous task of pushing us through 5 and now occasional 6 ft waves at 2 mph towards Erie. Once we got to the lee of the peninsula, the waves began to calm somewhat and our speed improved somewhat, maxing out at about 4 mph.

We pulled into dock after 7 pm.

The Cap'n admitted what I already knew; he would not have been capable of sailing under those conditions for as many hours as I did. He said that if the outboard hadn't started, he would have considered abandoned the boat which, even with what little I know, is the absolute last thing someone should do. He might be able to get away with that on Lake Arthur but Erie would kill you for it. My endurance and calm, steady resolve carried us through what could have been a disaster.

I'm still not sure what to make of it all. On the one hand, I have said myself that "too much advance planning makes for a boring story." But, in this case, not enough advance planning could have led to a fatality. To swing it back the other way, I never once felt like our lives were in danger, even with broken rudder and heavy chop.

Just don't ask me to do it again any time soon.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


I got called into the Site Manager's office today. But before things got underway to the matter at hand, I noticed over his shoulder that he was forwarding the release that the Corporation Board, fearing the pressure brought to be by a looming proxy battle from a major investor, had canned the CEO.

That's been three years in the making.

But what the Site Manager really wanted to talk about was what he thought was some sort of mis-understanding in that the Training Team has been trying to schedule meetings and I have been refusing to attend.

"There's no mis-understanding. As I said a month ago, until there is a change in my status; a change in salary, a change in my job description, I simply cannot commit to being part of the training process."

It is apparently a secret but the bonuses we all received last week are actually some sort of backdoor scheme to get some of us raises. For some, the bonus is a one-off. For others, it is in lew of raises that have been requested but, because they were sitting on the CEO's desk when he had to clear out, may be delayed.

In my case, the $200 is representative of the increase to each biweekly paycheck. Another $200 a week means roughly $5,000 a year, not quite a 15% increase in my salary. It initially sounds impressive but, in fact, if bonuses and annual reviews and salary increases had continued, it's still somewhat less than what I should be making four years later.

Here's another catch. It's not yet an increase in salary. In an effort to get money in our pockets and prevent even greater staffing hemorrhage the Site Manager did some creating bookkeeping to get the money out as "bonuses." He also said that if the raises don't go through by the end of July, that paycheck will have both weeks as another "bonus."

But what if the salary increases don't go through at the end of July? What if Corporate decides to deny his request for salary increases?

I made it very clear that, no matter how much Management wants to move forward on their new training plan, I simply cannot. . . will not. . . commit to anything unless I have that salary increase in a written statement or in my paycheck. The Site Manager made a lot of noises about how confident he was that it will happen but refused to put it in writing.

I told them that if I started working on this and it turned out that the raises had been denied, I'd simply go back to my cube to take calls. That would be unfair to the other people working on the project so I'm simply not going down that path in the first place. When the raise is a fact, then things will be different.

He tried one last manipulative ploy in saying that I couldn't say that he didn't give me a chance to signon, implying that if my holding out causes them to drop me from their plans altogether then I'll have only myself to blame. (I'm not sure he understood my smile of recognition at his tactics when he laid out this ultimatum.)

"Let me make this plain. . . You've been working hard on this for six months now. I've been working at this for four years. And I have been burned numerous times. I cannot commit emotional capital to something based only on your word because, ultimately, it's not really your decision and your word doesn't mean anything. That decision will be made at corporate and I've been burned by them, too. I want this to happen but I'm not going out on limbs anymore."

He again tried the "they've been holding up their plans because of you" ploy but I was having none of it. I shrugged.

"If that's the way it's going to be, then so be it. You know my conditions and my conscience is clear."


The rear tire on my bike was flat again this morning and the hole was in nearly the same place as the one two weeks ago; on the inside near the valve. I checked carefully and there was nothing on the rim to cause such a thing. The tire is rated for 80-100 psi and I'm only putting 80 psi in it so it shouldn't be blowing because of that. If it's not being punctured by a foreign object and it's not being over inflated the only remaining cause (short of gremlins, sprites or faeries) is a defective product.

When I was replacing it, everything looked fine until I put it on the bike, then it blew out. Literally.
This I blame on not having the right rims for the wheels, and that I blame on the bike shop in Monroeville that replaced my broken rims with narrower ones. I'll probably get at least the rear wheel replaced sometime this year as the spokes are getting rusted and are, in some cases, not able to be adjusted to true the wheel. While the wheel remains in true I'll let it go but eventually it will need replaced. I'll get the proper rims this time.

In the meantime, I was able to carefully deflate the tube, re-align it in the tire and inflate it normally.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are thieves.

Last week I got a call from the Post-Gazette:

"We're going to be sending you the paper daily next week."

"Err, ok."

And that was pretty much the conversation. All impressions were that I was going to be getting a week of the Post-Gazette as a promotion. I should have known better because yesterday I received a bill indicating that my subscription had been changed from the Sunday-Only plan to a full week plan.

Those bastards have done it to me again. The last time they pulled this shit they got my daughter who fell for the same thing. They give the impression that you are getting something for free as a promotion and then bill you for it.

What I would like to do is call them up and tell them to shove their paper up their ass. This is no way to treat a customer, or rather, former customer. If it were my choice I would never buy the Post-Gazette ever again. But my wife prefers the convenience of having the Sunday paper delivered.

They are not getting off that easy. I just called and spoke with Sonjia at their circulation department. She said that their records show me as only being charged for the 4-day rate (which is not what I want, either) for $35.10. The bill in my hand clearly says "Payment Due $42.25."

"This has happened three times. Each and every time the Post-Gazette calls and says I'm going to be getting something for free, my subscription gets changed and I get a bill. This is not acceptable. I want two things. First, I want the Sunday paper. No packages, no specials, just the Sunday paper. Second, I don't want you ever to call me again."

Sonjia changed my subscription to the $21.45 plan and was clearly not happy to do it. Too bad. You don't deceive me like this and get a pleasant phone call.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Google Earth sucks

I built a number of maps of the Great Allegheny Passage using the "My Maps" feature of Google Maps. The problem is that there were so many waypoints and paths that they didn't show them all on one page. And uploading them to Google Earth only seems to transfer the first page of waypoints. So, I deleted the waypoints from Google Maps and loaded it again into Google Earth so that I could add those waypoints.

Now, I thought it was good because then I could see all of the waypoints at once. I used "save" and "save as" and used both .KML and .KMZ file formats. But, after closing then re-opening the application most of the tracks were simply gone.

I had meticulously clicked out 150 miles of paths on Google Maps only to have them simply disappear.

Oh, and when you use "cut", you can't use "paste." They should have just called it "delete."

And you can't move waypoints from one location to another, for example to change the order so that the flyover makes sense. Or even to group things together, say to put all the tracks in one folder and all the other waypoints in another.

A whole lot of work simply flushed down the toilet.

Security Procedures

Yesterday I went to the City-County Building to obtain a copy of my birth certificate for a Canadian trip I'm taking. (Actually, one must get such a thing at the State Offices but that's not what this blog is about.) As I approached the metal detectors I pulled my iPod out of my pocket and dropped it in the basket. As expected, the detector went off and I stepped back through to take off my belt and put it in the basket. The guard with the wand on the other side of the unit called me through, saying he knew what had caused the alarm. He scanned my front and it beeped at my waist and at my feet. He scanned my back and it beeped again at my feet.

I got my iPod back and he was done.

The wand went off at my waist and the guard assumed that it was my belt buckle. He was correct but I could have had a pistol stuffed in my underwear and I would have been waved through. The fact that the alarm went off for my feet was completely discounted. The steel toes of my boots were what actually set off the alarm but having a knife or a gun stuffed in my boot would have set off the wand exactly the same way.

Security like that is illusory.

Monday, July 02, 2007


We are going to adopt the procedures, tested at the end of the month, permanently. Scheduled breaks are no more. Notify your Team Lead when you would like to take your break. Your Team Lead will grant or deny based on current circumstances.

So, little more than a week since my comments about the "root causes" of the Help Desk's queue problems, it is now official. The Help Desk has officially abandoned the concept of sufficient staffing. They used to tell us that sticking to the scheduled breaks were very important so that staffing levels would adequately cover peak times. Now, since the Help Desk is chronically, and now systemically, understaffed, they're just going to work us continuously until, with bladders full, we beg to take a break.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Marvel Super Hero RPG, Game Session 3

This game consisted of a great deal of talking, misdirection and misunderstanding. For the other characters, Christian Soldier and Overgrowth, they were being picked up by cops when the cops are attacked by armed troops rappelling from an airship. There are fireballs, forcefields, stun guns and a Magneto-looking guy making an offer to join him and change the world.
The play to my character is the airship flying overhead and a holographic projection of his mother, Lilith, asking him to join up.

I'm really going to make this long story short. The guy in charge, Dr. Impossible makes all sort of New World Order offers that scream supervillian. He's got soldiers. Asian chick servants. An airship. A secret island base. The works. Only after meeting the rest of the people he has assembled (they meet every send Thursday) do we finally figure out that these people really are a loose association of heroes lead by this guy with a flair for the dramatic, too much money and not enough genuine leadership skills.

The other players in the game finally learn Damon's codename "Brimstone." and still think evil. They probably should but, though he is a demon, that's not being about evil. Damon's mom seduces Christian Soldier. ("Mom, I though you had much better taste than that.") Every time he speaks, he reveals himself more and more to not be a real Christian. Just a right-wing neo-con wrapping himself in a cloak of righteousness. I don't like him much and none of the other heroes do either. It's going to very interesting as the game progresses and the demon begins training the so-called Christian in how to be a hero.

The first lesson is that heroes don't think.

When there was gunfire at the toy store in th last session, Christian Soldier was standing outside trying to figure out how to advance without any risk and Overgrowth had taken the form of a potted plant, waiting to see how everything went down.

Think of heroes. Not the comicbook fictionalizations of heroes but real people. Firemen who run into burning buildings. Police officers putting themselves between gunfire and bystanders. People just walking by who jump into raging floodwaters to save someone they've never met. These people are all heroes and one of the things they have in common is that they act without thinking. They don't look for ways to proceed safely. They don't consider their own safety. They don't hesitate. They act. As naturally as anyone else might take a breath or blink their eyes they jump into danger to save someone else.

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. And thus, are heroes made."