Marc Elliot Hall's Blog


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Tue, 08 Jul 2008

... Also, Clarifications

Continuance for the Cat

In legal terms, a continuance is a judge's decision to allow the parties in a dispute to have additional time to prepare before a hearing, trial, or other legal proceeding.

I have granted Lola a continuance before her final disposition is decided, so that Jan can take her to the vet first. Jan's contention is that it's not normal for a cat to defecate anywhere it can't bury it's feces; therefore Lola must be sick.

Recognizing that a sick animal is entitled to compassionate care rather than punitive action, I have conceded to Jan that an exam is appropriate. Jan has conceded in response that if no medical issue is found, the cat must be returned to the shelter, as we are both unwilling to suffer the additional stress of following Lola around to be sure she's not polluting our home.

On to the clarifications.

  1. Lola is a brown-gray tabby, not simply gray as I stated in my last entry.
  2. As previously noted, Lola is a friendly, social, and occasionally playful cat.
  3. Upon reading my last blog post, Jan was concerned about my characterization of her motives for adopting a cat. After some discussion, she has convinced me that Melody's wish for a cat, expressed on an almost daily basis, was Melody's idea, and not Jan's. Therefore, Jan is absolved of the onus of being the instigator in the adoption.
  4. Yes, I did feed Lola twice a day, even when she was confined to the laundry room.

Not one to be hasty about decisions that cannot be changed, I am prepared to accept that I may be wrong about Lola's fitness to stay in our home, provided that evidence of illness is found.

I expect there will be further blog entries on this subject.

posted at: 10:46 |

Tue, 01 Jul 2008

Appropriate use of the word "shit"

Lola, the demon-spawned cat from Hell

So, my daughter finally convinced me to let her have a cat (which we adopted from the local Humane Society, an eight-ish gray cat with a white breast and white socks, who would be adorable except for a problem, which I'll get to in a moment); but it turns out that it was Jan's idea all along and she's the one who's been taking care of it. At least, she was until she took the kids and drove to California early in June to visit the family out there, including both her father (who came home from the hospital after knee replacement surgery the day Jan arrived) and stepmother, her mother, my parents (who are in-country in between foreign affairs and are leaving for 18 months in Kiev, Ukraine, at the end of August), and most of my sisters and their husbands and children. Which is to say that I've been the one looking after the cat for most of June.

You see, the cat -- normally a well-behaved, friendly, cuddly, short-haired, mostly quiet, good-tempered beast -- started pooping around the house the week before Jan left.

At first, Jan was afraid to mention it to me; but I think she figured that if it happened again while she was gone, she wouldn't be able to play ignorant. So she told me, and I said, "that's not acceptable" (I really, as a general rule, despise cats, but was willing to compromise since it meant so much to both daughter and wife.), which she understood. Jan advised me that I should keep newspaper on the sofa where Lola (that's the cat's name) was prone to shit, so that if Lola shat there again, it wouldn't be difficult to clean up. I responded that I was unwilling to put portions of the house out of use for the benefit of a cat and that I would damn well sit on my $1200 leather sofa, and refused to cover it.

This proved to be a mistake, and on the first Saturday after Jan had left with the kids I discovered exactly how serious a mistake it was.

Given that I knew Jan and the kids were going to be gone, and that I have a tremendous number of projects in the works at the hospital, in the garage, in the basement, and upstairs, I didn't actually go into the living room until that Saturday, after I'd mowed the lawn, cleaned up the kitchen, done the laundry, and cleaned the litter box. I thought the litter box was particularly easy -- there seemed to be almost nothing in it, compared to the week before when I'd cleaned it! So I went into the living room after all these chores so that I could unwind at the piano, when I discovered them.

In the precise center of each of the three seat cushions of the leather sofa, Lola had left a little surprise for me. Also, she left me one surprise on the carpet at the corner of the leather loveseat. Now the reason for the surprisingly clean litter box was obvious to me.

Oh, so obvious.

I shut Lola in the laundry room, cleaned up the mess, and called my wife. "Look up how to deal with it on the Internet," she said.

"No", I said. "This is your cat. We agreed that she was your and Melody's responsibility. I am doing you a favor by watching her while you go off and play. I will not research her behavioral problems."

I was livid.

"You must tell me exactly what to do about it. This is your problem, and you need to fix it. Now," I said.

Jan told me to leave Lola in the laundry room. And to cover the sofa. "That would be pointless," I said. "If she's in the laundry room, she can't shit on the sofa." Jan agreed that this was true. "I can't leave her in the laundry room indefinitely, that would be cruel," I said. "I'll keep her in there for a day or two, then let her out to see if she's learned anything."

As you may guess, there were no incidents for almost a week, before Lola shat on my sofa again, between the time I got up at 6:00 a.m. and fed her, and 6:30 when I came down from my shower.

After rounding up Lola, putting her nose in her shit and proclaiming, "No! No! No!", I threw Lola back in the laundry room and cleaned up the mess.

Then I texted my wife. "Cat did it again. She goes or I go."

Again, the advice: cover the sofa with newspaper. Put the cat in the laundry room. Already halfway there...

So I left Lola in the laundry room all day and overnight to stew, and covered the sofa with newspaper. I let her out while I got ready for work the next morning, but shut her back in before I left. When I came home from work that evening, I let her out. She was aloof, but had clearly used the litter box again. I praised her, fed her some dry food, and went through my evening routine. Just before I went to bed at about 10:30, I shut her back in the laundry room. In the morning, I let her out while I grabbed some breakfast, but shut her in the laundry room while I went to work.

Again, I let her out when I came home, again praising her for using the litter box, and gave her food. Then overnight I let her stay wherever she wanted on the main floor of the house. All good. In the morning, no mess. I praised her, and gave her a dab of wet food with her breakfast before I left for work.

When I came home, no shit. Instead, pee. On my sofa.

Strictly speaking, it was pee on my newspaper, but the principle is the same. Back in the laundry room Lola went, post nose-to-pee, "nonononononono!"

I texted my wife again, "Newspaper didn't work. She peed this time. Find a shelter, or I'll have her put down."

When we talked a bit later, Jan accepted that if there were any further incidents, she would support my decision to send Lola back to the Humane Society, and back me up with the kids.

I am such a soft touch. I should have sent Lola back right then.

But, no, I was going to be flying out to California to be with Jan, the kids, and extended family for five days, and had to get ready for that, and had a zillion things going on at work that needed my attention, and didn't have time to deal with Lola.

Mostly, though, I didn't want my daughter to cry about Lola. The last time Melody went to California, her pet rat was dead when she returned (that's a story in itself, and to be reserved for another time). She'd never leave the house again if her cat was gone after this trip...

So, I didn't take Lola back to the Humane Society. Instead, I re-covered the sofa, left Lola in the laundry room overnight, and gave her another chance. There were no further incidents before I flew out of Saint Louis to Sacramento via Los Angeles. The evening before I left, I called a neighbor, whom Jan had convinced to watch Lola while I was gone, and disclosed the situation. She has three cats (who apparently have never shat on her furniture), so she was comfortable with care and feeding. I told her to call me or Jan if there were any similar events while we were both gone, but never heard from her.

As of this moment, I still haven't spoken with our neighbor, although the day after I returned home I did leave her a voice message thanking her for her service.

However, it has become clear to me that Lola peed on the sofa in my absence, as this morning when I did my now habitual visual inspection of the living room, I noted that some of the newspaper had turned yellow overnight, as though cat urea had chemically altered the cellulose fibers over a period of several days, finally having visible results. Since I had let Lola wander the house freely for the previous 48 hours, It was not really useful to do the nose-to-pee negative reinforcement thing. Instead, I changed the newspaper and went to work. Lola had free rein in the house.

That was another mistake.

While I was at work today, Lola shat on the sofa again. This time, the newspaper caught the mess, which made it much easier to clean up. Before I did so, I grabbed Lola, put her nose in her shit, exclaimed "No! No! No! No! No!", and shut her back in the laundry room.

Which is where she is now, meowing plaintively (Lola is very good at plaintive).

I called Jan (she and the kids are at Mount Rushmore today). She didn't answer, so I left her a voicemail... She's supposed to be back tomorrow night, very late. She's going to have to deal with Lola's return to the Humane Society on Thursday. In the meantime, Lola stays in the laundry room.

Sucks to be me. I should never have agreed to adopt an animal that can't be kept in a cage all the time, like such previous pets as snakes and rats. Damn me for a fool.

posted at: 19:53 |

Tue, 10 Jun 2008

Bone-headed Maneuvering

Server Outage

While the wife and kiddies are out of town, I thought I'd catch up on a few things with the website.

Among my aspirations was to update the operating system kernel to a more current version with various patches and improvements.

Debian GNU/Linux makes this process relatively simple with the marvel of their dpkg suite of tools, including such amazing functionality as apt-get update, apt-get upgrade, and apt-get dist-upgrade. Some prefer to use aptitude instead of apt-get; and some (who might prefer a GUI), use synaptic. But all of these commands do the same thing: grab the most reasonably current version of the software already installed on the system from a centrally-maintained repository, and upgrade it in-place on the local computer, for free. Normally, this is absolutely painless.

Linux is renowned for never needing a reboot; and to a large extent, this is true. However, when upgrading the kernel the very core of the system is being replaced. Because Linux keeps running programs in memory even when they've changed on disk, this requires that the system be rebooted -- because the kernel is a running program. Most other programs can be individually stopped and restarted; but the kernel controls all other programs -- if it's stopped everything is stopped. Thus the reboot requirement.

Unfortunately, I moronically chose to upgrade my kernel with one for the wrong CPU architecture, leaving me with a system that would not restart. Of course, initially, I didn't know that, and had to figure it out.

Being the experienced and skilled technical professional that I am, I had a reasonably current backup of the system. But just to be completely sure, I booted the system using Knoppix to verify that the filesystem on the server was still intact.

To my surprise and joy, it was.

My next step was to take another backup of the system so that I could be absolutely sure that I had all of my current data. This took roughly six hours to complete, as the system has 500 GB of disk and all of that data was passing through a USB 1.1 connection to an identical external hard drive. Normally, an incremental backup is sufficient; but I wanted the previous full backup to remain available if my new full backup was deficient in some way.

Six hours is a long time, and I still have a job: so I let it run overnight, and then went to work the next morning. Sleeping and working prevented me from determining the kernel incompatiblity until last night.

The a-Ha! moment came after multiple attempts to fix the bootloader (I use lilo) failed. lilo would run when I updated the configuration to point to my new kernel; but when I rebooted the system it would hang with a cryptic:

0x01 "Illegal command"
0x01 "Illegal command"
0x01 "Illegal command"

Google results led me to this page, which claims, and I quote, "This shouldn't happen". Yeesh.

After making various changes to the lilo.conf file, each with similar unwelcome results, I was extremely frustrated. By this time, my Web, email, and media server had been out of commission for more than 24 hours. Had it belonged to anybody else, I would have recommended starting fresh and buying new hardware. However, the Wife Acceptance Factor of that decision would have been strongly negative for me.

Not to be deterred from having a functional system, I then elected to re-install the OS and restore my data from my redundant backup. After the eighth failure on the "Install the Base System" step in the Debian installer:

Jun 10 04:23:25 base-installer: error: exiting on error base-installer/kernel/failed-install
Jun 10 04:23:53 main-menu[1323]: WARNING **: Configuring 'base-installer' failed with error code 1
Jun 10 04:23:53 main-menu[1323]: WARNING **: Menu item 'base-installer' failed.

(and similar variations), I then tried installing a different kernel.


By trying to use 2.6.18-4-686 instead of 2.6.18-4-486, I had hosed my system.

The lesson: Intel's Pentium III processor is not compatible with the full 686 architecture Linux kernel.

Next steps: Install all this stuff on the dual Xeon I bought two months ago, and retain the Pentium III as a redundant backup system, instead.

posted at: 10:59 |

Tue, 29 Apr 2008

"And to think your [sic] paid for this"

The Looming Y2K38 Crisis

Following is a demonstration of how easily distractible I am.

A few months ago, I was doing a little training of some co-workers, and wound up composing this email:

01/14/2008 02:07 PM

While explaining to our newest team members this morning how [edit: redacted project name] works, I ran off on a related tangent about Unix timestamps formatted in seconds since the beginning of the Epoch. This further sent me off on a tangent about how Unix keeps track of time. This reminded me of the Looming Y2K38 Crisis.

In case you are unfamiliar with the idea, Unix keeps track of time by counting seconds since January 1, 1970. This is known as the beginning of the Unix Epoch. Today, around 1,200,160,000 seconds have elapsed. The seconds are represented in 32-bit Unix and unix-like systems by a four-byte integer value. Because a four-byte signed integer has a maximum decimal value of 2,146,483,547, on January 19, 2038, 03:14:07, Unix will run out of bits to store our seconds.

And time will stop.

No, seriously, either systems relying on the time will terminate in unpredictable ways, or the apparent time will wrap around back to January 1, 1970.

This is bad, for reasons left as an exercise for the reader.

Some time (ha!) between now and 2038, someone will have to go through every line of code in the Unix universe and validate that on the rollover date the system will not crash or behave unpredictably. This will be a project with a scope similar to the Y2K-bug-stomping-frenzy that concluded last century. It will make the DST patching we did after Congress last altered timekeeping look like making mud pies. Programmers specializing in Unix will be dragged kicking and screaming out of retirement and handed large sums of cash to evaluate critical systems. And, in the end, after months of trepidation and hype, January 19, 2038, will be a non-event -- Because, like the Y2K Crisis, enough people will really understand how bad it could get if systems are left unpatched, that adequate time and resources will be allocated to be sure that everything is fixed in time.

Some have predicted that all 32-bit Unix systems will be long since retired by 2038, and 64-, 128-, 256-, 512-bit systems will have eliminated this as an issue. However, I have personally dealt with embedded systems more than 20 years old already. I expect there are 8-, 16-, and 32-bit embedded systems out there right now that will still be in use in 2038. Traffic signals. Assembly line controllers. Communications equipment. A lot of these run on 32-bit Unix-like kernels. In addition, there will still be business software running in emulated 32-bit environments, too, much like MasterCard is still using mainframes long after Microsoft's predicted migration to all-Windows-all-the-time. Legacy systems have a way of hanging around.

You heard it here, first!

More info (so you know I'm not just making stuff up):

The Boss' Response ...

And to think your [sic] paid for this:(

... And My Reply to the Boss' Response

Hey, I'm just developing my career potential :-)

After all, Consultant-level --- no, Senior Consultant-level --- work requires strategically-oriented, thought leadership about the company's long-term outlook and anticipation of future events that will affect business operations at the limits of the planning horizon. The ability to assimilate, internalize, and communicate these strategic issues is what separates the Senior Consultant from the Engineer.

Further, if training dollars are not available, then it is incumbent on Senior Consultants to provide appropriate knowledge transfer to the various lower-echelon engineering staffers.

Also, I'm paid a premium for my excellent grammar ;-)

posted at: 12:18 |

Mon, 28 Apr 2008

Windows Security for the Insecure

Tools for Keeping Windows Unbroken

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance about his company-issued laptop, and how it had become significantly slower. He also reported some behavior (pop-up windows, extra toolbars, etc.) that are symptomatic of a computer that has been infected by a virus, spyware, adware, or worse. His complaints sounded all too familiar, as Microsoft Windows users have had similar issues since the advent of Windows for Workgroups.

Knowing that I have some experience with computers, he asked me for some advice on what to do. After explaining that his laptop is to the systems I work with as a dinghy is to an ocean liner, I agreed to impart some wisdom.

First, I explained that he shouldn't be worrying about fixing the laptop: it's a company laptop, and therefore the company's responsibility. They need to hire someone with domain-specific competence to do routine maintenance and security auditing on these computers. In other words, they need to hire a geek.

Presuming that, for whatever reason, his employer would not be supporting this computer, I also gave him a brief overview of the wide variety of misuses that his laptop could be engaged in. Here are a few, and let me emphasize that this is not a comprehensive list:

After outlining the risks to him and others that could result from a compromised machine, I agreed to provide him with more information in a follow-up email. This blog entry is an expansion on that email.

Places to seek understanding of the problem

Carnegie Mellon University supports an organization called the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), which watches the Internet for trends in computer abuse. CERT maintains a web site dedicated to helping people keep their computers secure. Two sections of that site of particular benefit to my acquaintance are:

Another popular resource is Security Novice, which outlines best security practices from the perspective of a novice.

Microsoft also provides a reasonably complete explanation of security basics. Naturally, this is geared specifically for Windows users, but then, most PC users are Windows users.

Organizations seeking to fix the problem

Security is a process, not a product. Nevertheless, here are a few free tools that will improve your overall situation, at least initially. If these are so good, why are they free? Principally, two reasons:

  1. They are loss-leaders for commercial products, or
  2. The Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) community is a strong force on the Internet, and has, essentially, developed entire environments for PC users to be productive without spending any money. Some groups in this movement are motivated by pragmatism, and some by idealism; but the result is a full suite of operating systems and applications that rival the corporate software world's offerings in virtually every category.
    F/OSS software includes several variants of Linux, OpenOffice, several of the tools listed below, and many other programs. Development of these programs is sponsored by major companies, like IBM, Sun, Google, and Oracle, as well as largely volunteer organizations, like the Mozilla Foundation, Apache Foundation, and Free Software Foundation.

A comprehensive list is beyond the scope of this blog, so I won't cover things like firewalls and root kit detection. However, the tools I describe below will give you a glimpse into the variety of precautions you can take immediately.

Web Browsing

For browsing the Web, I recommend Mozilla's Firefox, a more secure web browser than Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The biggest reason for choosing a more secure browser is that it is more difficult (although unfortunately still not impossible) for a malicious outsider to use a website to deliver malware to your PC.


Every Windows PC should have an virus scanner and removal tool, and Grisoft has an excellent free program, AVG Anti-Virus (the free one does the job, but you can pay 'em for additional features).

Spyware Detection and Removal

Spyware can be even more dangerous than a typical virus, at least to the computer user whose PC has been compromised. Spybot Search & Destroy is my favorite tool for this purpose.

Adware Removal

Adware is mostly an annoyance; it uses CPU time and RAM that you want for your own purposes to put advertisements on your screen when you're trying to do work. Lavasoft Ad-Aware Free is my choice for this (the free one does the job, but you can pay 'em for additional features).

Email Safety

Finally, if you're using Microsoft Outlook Express for email, that's just asking for trouble. Either use Microsoft Outlook (without the "Express"), or Mozilla's Thunderbird.


These tools will make your life much easier, and won't cost you (or, in the case of my acquaintance, your employer) a lot of money. My advice is to take advantage of them and save yourself many of the headaches associated with using a PC on the Internet.

posted at: 11:45 |

Tue, 16 Jan 2007

150,000 Ameren UE Customers Affected

Power Out for More Than 41 Hours

The whole country, it seems, has seen a massive cold front this last week. Here in St. Peters, freezing rain began falling on Friday afternoon and didn't let up until Monday morning.

As a result of the harsh weather, ice accumulations on power lines and nearby trees caused widespread power outages throughout the region.

My neighborhood was significantly affected, as well: at about 2:00 a.m. Saturday, a series of short outages destroyed my movie-watching experience (Star Trek: the Motion Picture, if you must know). These brief-but-annoying blackouts were followed by a total failure of the grid throughout my subdivision at about 2:15 a.m. and continuing until approximately 7:00 p.m. Sunday.

We were not alone, of course. As of today, many thousands still have not had power restored, and more than forty Midwesterners have died.

This is Ameren UE's third major outage in the last twelve months.

During our outage, the house's interior temperature dropped as low as 57 degrees Fahrenheit. That was cold, but not unbearable. And, fortunately, our hot water heater continued to function despite the lack of electricity, due to a bi-metalic thermostat and natural gas pilot light.

Still, it was an uncomfortable experience, one I don't wish to repeat.

posted at: 16:50 |

Wed, 15 Nov 2006

Is it blackmail?

A Fascinating Apache Log Entry

Apache is the software that runs the HallmarcDotNet web server. It keeps a record of every request for a web page, including where it came from, the date and time, the method and protocol version used, whether the request was successful or not, the size of the file that was sent (if any) in response to the request, the URL that the requester had most recently visited, and the browser and version the requester is claiming to use.

Two or three times a month I run a script that looks for interesting entries in the log: cracking attempts, broken links, recruiters finding my resume, people reading my novel or blog, that sort of thing.

Today when I ran my script, I encountered a fascinating entry - one that piqued my curiosity. Here's the raw text:

mail.fz.k12.mo.us - - [06/Nov/2006:10:46:25 -0600]
"GET /cgi-bin/blosxom.cgi HTTP/1.1"
200 19898 "http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=dubray+dirty+stuff+mo&btnG=Search"
"Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)"

What that means is that someone inside the Fort Zumwalt School District network did a Google search for the combination of terms "dubray+dirty+stuff+mo". For the uninitiated, Bernard J. DuBray is the current superintendent of that school district. A middle school (as it happens, the one my oldest child attends) in the district is named after Dr. DuBray.

It's not a a very imaginative query... Possibly a student, but more likely a disgruntled employee. Or a very good PR flack, looking to get ahead of the opposition.

Do we have a potential blackmailer? Do I call the papers? The police? The network admin at Fort Zumwalt SD?

It probably means absolutely nothing; but it's still fun to speculate. And imagine the possibilities.

posted at: 10:58 |

Tue, 14 Nov 2006

over-thinking energy efficiency

Break room, water cooler, drinking fountain, or restroom?

The other day as I was carrying my NPR All Things Considered mug down the aisle in search of water for my desk plant, I encountered an conundrum: what is the most energy-efficient way of obtaining the water?

This came up because as I was approaching the break room where I normally acquire aqueous refreshment, I noted that the light was out.

"What does that have to do with water?" you ask... with good reason.

A little background is required by way of explanation: here at MasterCard Worldwide, we have motion-sensing lightswitches in all of our break rooms, meeting rooms, and restrooms. This is so that when a room is unoccupied, the light won't stay on indefinitely, wasting electricity. So far, so good. These switches also have a manual override, that allows someone to turn them off immediately upon exiting a room, rather than waiting for the pre-determined time to elapse before the lights shut off. Even better.

Anyway, the light in the break room was out. That's when my conundrum confronted me — Should I enter the break room, triggering the light, running the water in the sink, and filling my mug? That would mean I'm using electricity that wouldn't otherwise be used. Or, should I continue past the break room, and obtain the water from the electrically cooled drinking fountain? Finally, should I also pass the drinking fountain and enter the restroom, where the infrared-sensing faucet would dispense temperature-controlled, gas-heated water into the mug? (Of course I completely discarded the fourth option of entering the break room, triggering the lights, and filling the mug from the electrically-cooled and -heated water cooler.)

I'll not keep you in suspense — I chose the drinking fountain, for three reasons:

First, the lights were already on in that area, and no action by me could turn them off or on. Second, Although the water was electrically chilled, the refrigeration would be activated regardless of whether I turned the fountain knob to dispense cool, refreshing H2O. Finally, the restroom sinks' water temperature is not user-controlled, so the water automatically heats whenever it runs.

What would you have done?

posted at: 20:17 |

Mon, 13 Nov 2006

Halloween Surprise

Marc publishes a new short story

In an effort to appease my daughter (who asked every one in the family to write a short story), my wife (who encourages these sorts of endeavours), and my creative urges, I have written a new short story and published it on HallmarcDotNet.

The Halloween Surprise is a fictional (which my wife is at pains to emphasize, since the character based on her is described as "grumpy") account of a family awakening on Halloween morning. Your comments are welcome, of course. Send them to my first name at HallmarcDotNet.

posted at: 16:45 |

Wed, 01 Nov 2006

Halloween Week

MasterCard's Positive Financial Picture

I'm now back at my regular work location; it took a week to complete all the system testing in Kansas City. Unfortunately, I'll be working again on Saturday, and then I'm on-call Monday through Sunday. That usually means at least four hours one night during the week and another seveal hours over the weekend on troubleshooting. Unpleasant.

You may have heard that MasterCard is a public company, now. We announced our first quarterly result as a public company this week; double-digit profit growth for the tenth straight quarter. The stock price is up 15% on the news. We've now doubled our company's worth in the market since our IPO. It reminds me a little too much of the stock bubble at the end of 1999...

Still, I like knowing I'm part of that success. On the other hand, I haven't been seeing my family nearly enough.

Halloween was busy. Bryan is 13 now; so this was his last trick-or-treat Halloween. He went out as Robin Hood and got loads of compliments on his costume. Melody is nine, and as sweet as ever. She always goes ethnic: last year she wore traditional Mexican garb, and this year she was Chinese. And Thomas... Thomas was adorable as a seven-year-old Greek philosopher.

We live across the street from the local Alderman, who always pulls some strings for special events. As a result, we had a police cruiser and a ladder truck from the fire department in front of the house, distributing junior badges and glowsticks to all the kids. The parade of costumed kids was much larger than it had been in Shingle Springs - suburbia is different than country living. The cutest costumes were a trio of tween girls who were rock, paper, and scissors.

Jan is doing well, although she's a little frazzled. She's been taking prerequisite courses at the local community college in preparation to enter their RN program. She finds them easy, but is annoyed at having to take them at all, given her B.S. in biology.

The program doesn't appear to be very well administered. After all prerequisites have been taken, students are then required to pass a test on dosages, including things like converting drams to CCs, etc. But to take this exam, you have to register for it. It's only offered to a few students at a time. Only eighty students are admitted to the program each year. So, students want to register for the exam early and choose an early test date, so they can be one of the first eighty to pass. However, the program only permits registration on specific dates, beginning on a Monday. Complicated, eh? To make matters worse, you have to register in person. As a result, students began lining up to register on the Sunday morning prior to the opening of registration.

With tents.

The weather forecast was for a low in the 20s with snow flurries possible. So, around eight p.m., the campus director of security intervened and told all the students to go home. He handed out numbered tickets to everyone in line had a security officer stand there and give tickets to anyone who showed up afterward. More than three hundred tickets were issued. Jan was 37.

On Monday morning, when told where they stood in the rankings, there was much anger on the part of students who had driven by, seen no line, and gone home.

Can you believe that kind of poor planning exists in a professionally-run institution?

As part of my duties in Kansas City, I was installing some software in our Trust Center. The Trust Center is, essentially, a bank vault where MasterCard stores encryption keys that permit our data to be securely transfered across connections that might be compromised.

To get into the Trust Center, the system is complicated. It's supposed to work like this: After entering the data center (which is surrounded by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire) by using an electronic key, negotiating a boulder barrier, using an electronic key and a PIN to enter the windowless building, one checks in with the security office and is issued a second electronic badge and PIN. Then, one is escorted to the hallway leading to the Trust Center. There, the visitor is badged in again. At the entrance to the Trust Center, The visitor badges in with the new key and PIN. That brings the visitor inside the outer wall of the vault. Inside the Trust Center, the visitor's fingerprint is scanned, the visitor is issued another PIN for the scanner, and the visitor signs in. After that, the visitor enters the "beer can". It's really more like a human-sized test tube. The two glass walls operate like an airlock (only one can be open at a time), and the floor is a scale. Inside the beer can is another fingerprint scanner. This one is keyed to the visitor's new badge, and it has a separate database from the first. After the door to the beer can closes, the visitor uses the new badge to tell the scanner who one claims to be, and then it scans the fingerprint to verify. If the credentials are accepted, the inner door opens and the visitor requests access to the inner vault. Two "trusted" staff members must be present at all times, and even they are not permitted access individually. These two come out of the Trust Center through another airlock. This one really *is* an airlock... the doors are pressure sealed. All three individuals then seal themselves in the airlock and then open the inner door. The visitor now enters the Trust Center proper. There are cameras throughout this procedure, of course, and in the Trust Center itself several more. The two "trusted" staffers spend much of their time while a visitor is present looking over the visitor's shoulder to be sure nothing illicit is taking place. Very disconcerting for a privacy nutcase like me.

Imagine undergoing this procedure twelve times over four days. And doing it in reverse to get out. And being trapped in the "beer can" with an electronic voice repeating, "Access denied. Please repeat the procedure," over and over. When trying to get *out*.

That's what my week was like.

posted at: 13:31 |

Fri, 23 Jun 2006

Everybody's a Journalist...

Slashdot loves me!

If only there weren't a Karma Cap...

Today, for the first time, I've had a story submission accepted by Slashdot! (One of four showing, all since last autumn...)

The story:

"Dueling Network Neutrality Commentary on NPR

"cube farmer writes " National Public Radio Wednesday featured a commentary by telecom representative Scott Cleland in opposition to Network Neutrality legislation, and Thursday Craig Newmark, the Craig behind craigslist, countered that Network Neutrality is essential for consumers. Who made the stronger case?""

Look for it on the front page soon...

posted at: 15:46 |

Sun, 18 Jun 2006


How I learned to love helmets

I'm mostly healed up from my cycling accident; no broken bones, although I certainly cracked my head a good one, my sacrum got a good whacking, and my right knee has a perfectly-formed arc of puncture wounds from the chainring.

Normally, I wear a helmet whle riding. However, on the Friday evening in question, the family had gone ahead without me. I donned my gloves, sweatband, and helmet; mounted up; and followed after. When I caught up, I noticed that Thomas wasn't wearing *his* helmet. When we stopped, I pointed this out to Jan, and suggested we do a helmet swap so that everyone would have a helmet most closely fitting his or her head.

Reasoning that having three wheels would make me more stable, and that, being closest to the ground, I would suffer the least injury in a crash, I was the designated bare-headed rider. This, unfortunately, proved to be a bad choice.

I was about two hundred yards from the house, ahead of everyone else, and moving about 25 mph when I stupidly applied pressure to only one of my front brakes. The right front brake locked; the cycle swivled around the axle in an amazing demonstration of precession and inertia, flipped, and dumped me unceremoniously onto the pavement.

I don't think I was unconscious for more than a second or two, although I have no recollection of actually flipping onto my back. When I discovered myself lying on the concrete, I first checked that all of my limbs were still attached and that I could feel my fingers and toes. I lay there a moment, wondering how far back Jan and the kids were (they don't generally get up to 25 mph...), whether I could stand up without doing myself further injury, and whether I *wanted* to stand up. A minute or two passed as I lay there, also wondering whether any of the neighbors had seen the incident (apparently not, for which I am on the one hand grateful and on the other concerned -- what if I had been riding solo and been more seriously injured?), and whether I would be run over if I simply stayed where I was until help arrived.

Deciding, finally, that I could move, I struggled to my feet a moment or two before Jan caught up with me. Stooped there as she rode up, I straightened out my cycle and contemplated riding the rest of the way home.

Jan, of course, asked whether I was okay, and if I needed assistance. I briefly explained what had happened, declared my intention of riding home, and noticed for the first time the abrasions and punctures on my knee where the chainring had scraped and then cut me as we rotated about. "Great," I said, "now I'm going to go into shock."

Fortunately, my prediction failed to come true as Jan held the cycle steady for me, I mounted up, and rode home. Between Bryan providing me with ice and Jan bandaging my knee, I received adequate first aid.

Naturally, I remained convalescent all day Saturday; however, I did attend church with the family on Sunday and returned to work Monday.

Overall, I was fortunate not to have suffered more grievous harm; but I am also much more keenly aware of the benefits of a helmet.

posted at: 17:41 |

Wed, 24 May 2006

What's up with kids today?

"Hot-or-Not" list online: ten day suspension

Five St. Louis-area high school students who posted a "hot-or-not"-style list on Facebook were punished by school officials with a ten-day suspension as a result of their insensitivity toward the girls in the junior class. Since Tinker v. Des Moines, schools have had only a limited authority to rein in students' off-campus speech - only speech that "materially disrupts" school operations may be regulated. Are hurt feelings enough to meet this standard?

What kind of ludicrous over-reaching god complex do these school administrators have that they think this sort of behavior is within their jurisdiction?

posted at: 08:09 |

Fri, 21 Oct 2005

What I Did on My Vacation

The report of my activities in Florida

The family and I have returned from our trip to Florida. Apparently, we timed it about right; Hurricane Wilma blew through a week later.

Fortunately for us, we were able to experience the wonders of Silver Springs; Kennedy Space Center; and Walt Disney's Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Disney-MGM Studios parks while the weather, hot and muggy though it was, cooperated.

On a slightly less commercial side trip, we also visited Belleair Beach in Clearwater, on the Gulf Coast. The kids enjoyed playing on the white sand beach, building sand castles and generally getting dirty and sunburned.

posted at: 19:30 |

Tue, 13 Sep 2005


Something I wrote in an email on February 2, 2005, while I was working in San Francisco:

I don't think I mentioned it... On Monday night as I was walking down Hyde Street on my way to pay for my February parking, I noticed a woman on her hands and knees peering into the gutter alongside a parked car. She appeared to be looking for something she had dropped.

Like the good Boy Scout I am, I not only had my multi-tool with flashlight on my belt, but I asked her if she needed some light to help her find what she'd lost.

She mumbled something affirmative-sounding; so as I fumbled to pull the light out of its pouch, she continued looking.

About then, a second woman walked up - seemingly acquainted with the first woman. She immediately marveled that I had a flashlight (and was willing to help).

Then she asked me if I was "just hanging out or what?" Innocuous enough words... But her look and inflection said something completely different.

This is why I avoid interacting with my neighbors ;-)

"No," I said, "I'm running an errand."

"Oh. Okay" she said, as though I'd just told her her pet Gerbil had been hit by a car.

In the end, we never did find whatever item had dropped. I dread to think of what it may have really been...

posted at: 19:30 |

Mon, 12 Sep 2005


Something I wrote in an email on December 20, 2004, while I was working in San Francisco:

Up here on the 14th floor, it can be hard to make out details at street level.

But sometimes I look out the window on one side of my cube and watch the traffic and pedestrians below on Fremont. Lunch hour is the most fun, because the sun is closest to being overhead and fully illuminates the street.

I just lean forward over my desk a little, and I can see the plaza between First and Fremont, where Subway, Baja Fresh, and McDonald's patrons sit and eat. Shadows stretch from the southwest, leaving the plaza about one third shaded. The pigeons are thick on the concrete, eating the sandwich crumbs from beneath the tables; depending on the weather, anywhere from three to a dozen tables are occupied. Today, people are crowded on the planter box edges in the sun, six-inch subs, Big Macs, and burritos at the ready.

The pigeons meander over the plaza, circling, anticipating the departure of the next diner; they are fat from long dependence on scavenging in the plaza.

The same homeless man, wearing dirty jeans with a rip in the right knee, is in the plaza every day. His face is wrinkled like a chain smoker's. And it's dirty, like a four year old after a hard afternoon playing in the sandbox. His uncombed hair, once black, now sprinkled with gray, hangs in his eyes. Today he sits with his back against the pillared entrance to MacDonald's. He is not thin; rather, he has become fat like the pigeons, relying on the detritus of the city for his sustenance. Remarkably, no one ever seems to stop to leave him any money. Is this because he seems so well fed? Or does his unkempt appearance drive people away?

posted at: 19:30 |

Sun, 11 Sep 2005


Something I wrote in an email on February 1, 2005, while I was working in San Francisco:


What a cruddy evening it was... I was dinking around on my other PC, still working on getting functional sound, and broke all kinds of other stuff. So I fixed that,


mostly, and went to bed. I'd barely fallen to sleep, when


the power went out.

If I was asleep, then how did I know the power went out? you



Let's just say that living in a studio apartment with an


uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can


be a frustrating experience. When the UPS detects


that the power is out, it sounds an


alarm. If the power is on and



off, or off for a long time, the alarm can


become quite bothersome. In my particular case, since the UPS sits across the


room from my bed, it was impossible to get


away from the noise!

Needless to say, I slept


poorly... right up until my other alarm went off...

doot which doot I doot didn't doot quite doot sleep doot right doot through doot.

Nevertheless, my cellphone rang blip just as I was once again blip falling into blip a deeper slumber blip. I had to answer blip it, of course blip, as I'm anally retentive blip that way... It was my dad, blip complaining about the blip PC I sent back to him yesterday blip with Jan blip. Apparently, it's blip still not working blip properly.

So if I seem a little groggy today, that's why :-(

It's just as well, though, as the phone ringing awakened me enough for me to realize that it was time to go to work...

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 02 Sep 2005

Back to School

Now that the kids are in school for the 2005-2006 school year, we've had a much more complicated schedule.

Last night, DuBray Middle School - Bryan's school - had its back-to-school night. Jan and I went and met most of Bryan's teachers, and had an extended chat with his pre-algebra teacher.

Check, Please!

Wells Fargo Mortgage seems to be more honest than even Abraham Lincoln. Yesterday, we received a check for $0.02 - that's right, two cents - from them, to reconcile our escrow fund. I suppose after the major fiasco that was our closing day, I should be pleased that they have decided to pay so much attention to little details...

posted at: 19:30 |

Wed, 31 Aug 2005

MasterCard to Go Public

In a super-secret, employee-only meeting this morning...

MasterCard International announced that it plans to restructure the corporate organization, currently owned by several major banks, and sell shares to the general public. The official press release is here. What does this mean for me? I don't know — I wasn't invited.

posted at: 19:30 |

Mon, 29 Aug 2005

Wife's PC Finally Fixed

After much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, I have succeeded in returning my wife's Athlon 3200 PC to service.

The culprit, it appears, was incorrect drivers for its MSI motherboard, which is controlled by an NForce 2 chipset. Now, Windows 2000 is fully installed, along with Microsoft Office Professional and Adobe Premiere, so Jan can return to the video editing projects she's been wanting to work on.

Those Wiley Rascals!

Tonight, the family and I went to see the River City Rascals play baseball against the Kalamazoo Kings.

The Rascals lost, in a rout, to the Kings. It was a most surreal experience. Fortunately, the tickets, at $5 a pop for lawn seating in the nearly-empty T.R. Hughes Stadium, were cheap.

Thomas, at least, had a good time hounding the the Kings players for a baseball.

posted at: 19:30 |

Wed, 24 Aug 2005

NFS-Mounting a VFAT Partition

And other technical gibberish

I've got one Linux machine, "tiny", that has data I want to share with a second machine, "oracle". This seems to be a fairly straightforward NFS operation, except the partition on "tiny" that has the data is VFAT (AKA Microsoft's filesystem), and I want the exported partition to be available to the Apache web server on "oracle". However, although the data appears to be properly available on "oracle" when I mount the filesystem, the ownership of the directories and files remains slightly off (group should be "webusers" based on my understanding of the mount options).

$ ls -la /var/www/
drwxrwx--- 3 nobody users 32768 Aug 16 18:30 tiny/

I'm not using NIS to sync the users and groups across these systems... which may be part of the problem, although /etc/passwd and /etc/group on the two systems both have unique, matching entries for user "nobody" and group "webuser".

In short, although I can browse the /var/www/tiny path from the command line on "oracle", when I attempt to browse via http, i.e., using Konqueror, I get 403 Forbidden errors.

I submitted a request to the nearly omniscient folks on the Vox-Tech mailing list, and they were quite helpful; however, in the end, I wound up backing up my data, reformatting the partition and making an EXT3 filesystem on it, reloading the data, and then mounting that, instead.

posted at: 20:30 |

Thu, 21 Jul 2005

Server Migration Complete

I have finally disconnected my server in California and am now hosting this website as well as my email and other services out of some boxes in my basement here in Missouri.

This took longer than I anticipated because Postfix runs in a chroot jail on my new server... which required some configuration tweaks I was unfamiliar with. Additionally, I learned a few unrelated things about the postfix configuration file syntax...

posted at: 19:30 |

Thu, 12 May 2005


Yesterday was my oldest child's twelfth birthday.

This is a milestone for several reasons, not least that he's now one-third of my age. Since I'm here in the St. Louis area, and he's still in California, I was not present for the festivities.

This makes me somewhat depressed.

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 06 May 2005

Home Inspection

Yesterday was the official inspection day for our new home in St. Peters.

It went well. So well, that the inspector characterized it as "boring". Aside from a few minor issues related to age (old appliances, old plumbing), the house is looking good. Estimated closing date: June 3, 2005.

Broadcast Flag

On the political front, some good news for Free Software afficianados, TV watchers, and Librarians everywhere

the DC Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the FCC overstepped its authority in mandating the Broadcast Flag.

What does this mean to you? It means that as of July 1, 2005, you'll still be able to buy hardware to receive digital TV signals — hardware unencumbered by a mandatory device intended to control whether you are allowed to record programming, watch it at your convenience, or copy it to other devices. Like you can now with your VCR or TiVo.

This is generally considered a good thing, unless you are an executive in the entertainment industry.

posted at: 19:30 |

Thu, 21 Apr 2005

National Do-Not-Call List

Like most Americans, I despise uninvited telephone solicitations.

When the National Do Not Call Registry was established, I was overjoyed. And one of the first things I do whenever I establish phone service -- landline, cellular, VOIP, whatever -- is add the number to the registry.

However, I neglected to do so when I got the phone number for my apartment in St. Peters.

That was a mistake.

I should have known what was going to happen after the third time the phone rang and nobody was there when I picked it up. But, I don't have an Internet connection at the apartment yet, so I couldn't go online to register. And when I was at work, I forgot about it.

Last night, however, right after I got back from the office, the phone rang. I was expecting an important call (from the CTO of Shopzilla). And this is basic phone service -- no Call Waiting, no Caller ID, nothing but Plain Ol' Telephone Service. I only use it for incoming calls when I need to be sure of a clear connection. So who was on the line? A telemarketer.

Don't let this happen to you.

posted at: 19:30 |

Wed, 20 Apr 2005


It only took three weeks; but I am now residing in a two bedroom, two bath apartment in St. Peters, Missouri.

St. Peters is a suburb of St. Louis, and lies between St. Louis and O'Fallon. I am, however, still looking for a house in the area. St. Charles County is one of the fastest-growing places in the United States, so there are many new homes to choose from. Compared to California, they're cheap, too. The locals don't seem to think so, though.

Shingle Springs

Meanwhile, my home in Shingle Springs is on the market

We've already received one offer, but our exposure until now has been somewhat limited. When the place sells, we should be able to pay cash for a home in the O'Fallon area.

The kids are wrapping up their school year in about a month; when school's out, the rest of the family will join me here. Although having quiet time to myself is pleasant, I miss them immensely.

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 01 Apr 2005

St. Louis

So much for carefully keeping record of my adventures.

Today, I am in St. Louis, Missouri, where I am under contract with MasterCard International as a software engineer. I'm still looking for longer-term housing, as the NCAA basketball playoffs are keeping the local hotels completely full, and therefore keeping rates somewhat higher than usual. And my family will be joining me here in the St. Louis area when the school year is over.

I moved here in mid-March, after investing four months in a contract-to-hire position at MarkMonitor® in San Francisco. However, the CEO made some structural changes to that organization, resulting in a re-definition of the project I was working on and the removal of some authority from my boss, the vice-president of operations.

At MarkMonitor, when my first four months were nearly up, I had inquired of my boss whether I was to be offered direct employment or if my contract was to be renewed. His answer was somewhat non-committal, which induced me to update my résumé. Within the week, I'd had several interviews and a contract offer from MasterCard. I went back to my boss with this new information, and emphasized that although I'd prefer to stay at MarkMonitor, I also needed to have some certainty. He was, once again, non-committal.

His reasons became clear the following Monday, when the CEO revealed a new layer between the top and VP of operations - a senior vice president. Of course, by this time, I had already resigned and accepted the contract at MasterCard.

That's the background. I will attempt to keep this blog slightly more updated in the coming weeks.

posted at: 19:30 |

Thu, 15 Apr 2004


After much cajoling and begging, my family persuaded me that we should invest in a trampoline.

Of course, despite having a whole acre, I couldn't find a flat spot on which to set it up. This meant that I needed to create such a place. Many hours of labor at the helm of the rototiller later, and after much scooping and raking of dirt, I (with the able assistance of my wife, children, and nephew), had established a relatively flat surface to site the trampoline on.

Setting up the trampoline and its safety enclosure then required an additional two hours work. Allegedly, this particular model of the Jumpking needs no tools to assemble. This is a ludicrous assessment, however, as a rubber mallet proved necessary to lock the ring into place. In any event, the kids have enjoyed daily workouts on the tramp ever since Saturday's assembly.


Sucker that I am, at the same time as I purchased the trampoline, we bought an above-ground pool as well.

Currently, the pool is in a state of semi-completedness, as the site in our fenced backyard proved to be not quite as level as we'd hoped. This is quite obvious with an inch or two of water on the bottom of the pool... one side is wet, while the other is dry. Thus, I'll need to move it and perform a bit more dirt relocation before it is ready for use. As it happens, the weather has been a bit too cool for swimming anyway, which means there isn't a big clamor from the kids to have it finished.


Over spring break, Jan and two of my three kids headed of to Southern California to experience the delights of Disneyland.

I didn't join them because I had to work; my oldest child didn't go because he had neglected to follow through on a commitment to complete some routine tasks beforehand, and then tried to convince us that he had met his obligations. Jan, Melody, and Thomas had a great time, along with two of my sisters, their kids, and the sister-in-law of one of my sisters with her kids. I got a souvenir, too: a plastic shopping bag from Disney's California Adventure.


While the wife and kids were making preparations for their trip to Disneyland, I planned to clean out my detached garage to clear space for everyone to work on their individual projects

(Thus far, it has been dominated by computer and model projects.) However, my lumber storage sawhorses began collapsing as I worked, which required me to interrupt what I was doing to move the lumber before it was ruined. This distracted me into building a workbench. As you may imagine, the garage never did get cleaned... although it is more useable now, at least.


Since the deck project is now finished and I've been moving dirt around the yard for the trampoline and pool, I've also been filling in various holes and leveling out places to grow some native wild flowers and other plants. I'm hoping that Jan and I can actually successfully produce something pretty to look at this time around. In the last seven years we haven't been particularly green-thumbed.

Media Box

As mentioned previously, my media box project continues. I've obtained a few resources for circuit schematics, as well as all the necessary hardware except a controller and display. More on this project later.


Finally, today is tax day. Although I electronically filed my Federal return a month ago, my State return was ineligible for electronic filing. As a result, I had to print it out, attach a copy of my Federal return and W2s, and mail it in. I finally got that done yesterday. Because I didn't wait until today, I didn't even need to stand in line at the Post Office.

On the flip side, I received a letter from the IRS claiming I owe more than $4000 from the 2002 tax year; it appears that we disagree on this; however, wait times when calling are more than two hours (tax season, dontcha know), so although I'm supposed to contact them to dispute their determination or arrange for payment (hah!) before the end of the month, I haven't yet taken care of this. Recognizing the power of the IRS, however, this is my current, highest personal priority. I'm thinking that tomorrow will be a good day to take care of it.

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 12 Mar 2004


Last Saturday I removed the jacks from the deck; lo and behold! It stayed!

Afterward, I moved my deck furniture up there to enjoy the sun. We've had fabulous weather this week; I really enjoyed being able to recline on the deck and soak in the solar radiation.


I also propped up my fallen fence and replaced the rotted posts... Well, sort of replaced. In actuality, I cut off the rotten ends to make them square, dug out the original cement bases, and poured concrete around new metal brackets to hold the existing posts. That worked pretty well.

Media Box

Although I haven't yet had the opportunity to do any tweaking of my automotive entertainment system, I have selected some old hardware to begin with. I'm using an old Pentium II 350 with 256 MB of RAM and a newer 80 GB hard disk. I still need to find appropriate controller hardware to wire up near the driver's console. More on that in an upcoming entry.


Finally, Wednesday night I began working on my 2003 tax return. Every year, my returns become more and more complex. Fortunately, I've been able to finagle reasonable refunds from the Feds and State of California thus far. This year, though, I had such an unpredictable income stream that I was concerned I might end up owing. As it turns out, though, it's looking like I'll receive refunds on the order of four times my usual modest amount. This is bad, because it means I gave interest-free loans to the government all year; but it's also good, because the refunds represent a large chunk of change to augment my bank account.

posted at: 19:30 |

Mon, 01 Mar 2004


After seven years of stalling, I have finally jacked up my upper deck to prevent visitors from feeling like they are sliding off the edge of the world. Total distance raised: nine inches. I poured four new footings (one to go and one to be left as is) on Saturday, as well. Between this and the retaining wall, I'm hoping to avoid having any future deck-related issues.

Technique: First, I dug out the existing footings so that they could be tilted in place. Over the years as the hill behind the house slid away, they had moved anwhere from two to six inches down and tilted anywhere from fifteen to forty-five degrees off plumb. When the dirt around the footings was cleared away, I laid planks flat on the earth between the footings. On each plank, I placed a car jack; and atop each jack I mounted ten-foot-long, two-by-four studs vertically between the jack and the bottom of the joist at the deck edge. Raising each jack a turn at a time in sequence and then repeating until the deck edge was level and the permanent four-by-four posts were suspended plumb from the bottom of the joist, I then tilted the old footings so they were more true. This wasn't enough, of course, to support the deck on the level; I also needed to add several inches of height to support the deck at its new height. Using cardboard tubing as forms around each existing footing, I poured concrete into place around metal brackets I had fastened to the bottom of each four-by-four post. Now, when I remove the extra support and jacks, the deck will be permanently affixed to a new, more secure foundation.


On the other hand, during our recent bout of late winter storms, my front fence blew over. The posts had completely rotted at the base. Fortunately, this only represents twenty linear feet and two posts to replace. Quite doable.


Bryan read my novel the same night I posted it. He said it was pretty good, but was missing some pieces. This tells me two things:

  1. It's too short. He shouldn't have been able to read the whole thing in one sitting.
  2. Even my ten-year-old can find things to criticize about my creative endeavors.

I guess this means I have more work to do.

Latest Project

My latest foray is into building a new, Debian- based home entertainment network.

I'm starting with a box for my car — not because I'm selfish (although there is certainly some of that) — but because I need a testbed that has a limited propensity to scope creep. More on this in a future blog entry.

posted at: 19:30 |

Mon, 02 Feb 2004


So, the novel is now mostly up on my personal web site. I wrote this puppy nearly ten years ago. I've barely looked at it at all since then. Yes, it sucks. Still, it does represent a creative effort. I should also note that I wrote it before I saw Star Trek: Generations, although there are certainly some similar plot elements.

This morning on my way out the door, Bryan (my oldest child) mentioned that my wife, Jan, had told him that I had written a book. He wanted to see it. What else can I do but allow my offspring, and the rest of the planet, to read it?


Here at C/NET Solutions, I've been dealing with gobs o' trouble, as several of our clients had database meltdowns. My boss, Dan Curran, and I managed to untangle a few of the resultant messes, at the cost of a small piece of our sanity.

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 02 Jan 2004

C/Net Solutions

Here I am now, ending week two at the Public Health Institute's California Cancer Registry Project. Since my departure from nerdbooks.com, I've managed to learn a new application and begin fielding calls from users in their efforts to get around its quirks. Unfortunately, I'm working almost exclusively with Windows-based software now. On the other hand, I'm also picking up a few tricks that I didn't know about before.

posted at: 19:30 |

Thu, 04 Dec 2003


Marc's amazing adventure continues!

After being on the job for less than two months at nerdbooks, I've been offered a new position at a new company.

About a week before I started here at nerdbooks.com, I applied and interviewed for a job at the Public Health Institute's California Cancer Registry Project. By wild coincidence, their Sacramento office is in the same building -- even the same suite -- as a job I held about ten years ago.

But that last bit is irrelevant for your purposes ;^)

The point here is that they offered me the position.

Several times.

I've been noncommittal for weeks now. Yesterday, though, I received an official offer letter outlining everything they would exchange for my time and talents. The job comes with fewer responsibilities (a negative), a salary about 20% more than nerdbooks.com (a positive, although still less than half what I earned at Worldcom), a hefty benefit package (10% of base salary in retirement contributions!), paid vacation (for the first time in five years) and holidays (13, count 'em!), and "regular" hours.

I told my boss, Dave.

"Take it," was all he said.

So, I will. I start on the 22nd.

Fortunately, Dave has been advertising for additional programming help since we eliminated some outsourced help. I oriented/interviewed a couple of candidates this morning. Looks like there'll be yet another transition for nerdbooks.com!

posted at: 19:30 |

Thu, 13 Nov 2003


Two weeks into my latest project at nerdbooks and I've already worked half a Saturday, half a holiday (Veterans' Day), and two other days more than ten hours straight. Not that I'm complaining, mind. It's good to be challenged to produce. On the other hand, my to-do list isn't getting any shorter.

Other Stuff

Brian Lavender dropped by my office unexpectedly the other day. Apparently, he'd heard from Bill Kendrick that I was working again. It was good to see him; I even dropped what I was doing for a bit so we could chat.

So, the office hasn't gotten any better organized since my last entry. I'm afraid that spending all of my time digging through ugly code and servers in need of a makeover hasn't left me with much energy for prettifying my surroundings. One bright spot: I managed to properly label about half of my library so it won't be mistaken for inventory.

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 07 Nov 2003


As noted above, I've got myself a gig. As of last Wednesday, I'm working at nerdbooks.com, an online purveyor of technical books for the geeky set. Although the salary isn't so hot (can you say big pay cut? I knew you could!), I'm working as a programmer doing PHP, Perl, SQL, and related stuff. And, I have a (windowless) office and the opportunity to give myself whatever title I want (since nobody cares what I call myself around here).

On a thanks-I-couldn't've-done-it-without-you note, a big hug and high five goes to my former co-worker, Bill Kendrick, who happened to be leaving the position I now occupy at just the right moment in time. When I emailed him to tease him about an article somebody else posted on slashdot, Bill reported that he didn't know how to break the news to his boss (now my boss) that he'd been offered a high-paying, high-profile gig writing games for mobile devices — something he's much more interested in than the PHP, Perl, SQL, and web-based e-commerce stuff he's been doing here. I, of course, gave him the excellent advice that he should be a gentle as possible: Bill should tell Dave that there was this guy who could step right in and take over (hint, hint); who had experience in the area (hint, hint); who had great technical skills (hint, hint)... you get the idea.

Whaddaya know. It worked!

I've been settling in, bringing in my library (What? You mean I can't manhandle the stock?), purchasing a microwave oven and a clock for my office (no windows means no context for what's going on in the world around me). I've got a pair of white boards and I'm debating whether I should get myself some plants, bookcases, a corner desk-hutch combination, and so forth. The desk I have right now is large-ish and ungainly; and all of my books are stacked on the floor by the microwave oven.

Gratuitous Sales Pitch

Anyway, swing by the nerdbooks.com website and buy yourself a title or twelve. Hey, we've got tens of thousands of books in stock. One of them could be yours today!

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 24 Oct 2003


What's this? A large envelope? Containing... MY DIPLOMA!

It finally came. I am now officially done with all aspects of my BS. Hmm... Except my student loans, unfortunately.


Speaking of the poorhouse, I received my final unemployment benefit check yesterday.

New Prospects

So, I hung out my shingle on Wednesday. I had an ad in the Pennysaver announcing my availability as a computer consultant-for-hire. Feel free to call me at 530-677-5173 to schedule an on-site consultation today!

Job Hunt

Not that I'm counting on receiving your call immediately; I spoke with George Johnson regarding a Walt Disney Corp. job in West Hollywood. He has heard back from them that the rate was too high; but he has addressed that (presumably by reducing his cut) and expects to hear again within a week whether I'll be interviewed.

This week I also spoke with Anne O'Riordan of COL Search regarding a position with Yahoo! She indicated that they've not responded yet to her proposal, but should soon. As we were talking, she also indicated that another position had opened up at Ensenda, a logistics systems company headquartered in San Francisco. It is a contract-to-hire opening for a Perl/Apache/Linux/MySQL/Sybase web-oriented programmer. She asked if I was interested; of course, I said yes. She's going to submit me for that, too.

Then, an email popped in from Al Karaptian of eQuestSolutions about a pair of openings in Alhambra, California for a Perl/Apache/Linux/Solaris/SQL geek. Good news!

Finally, I received a call-out-of-the-blue from Maureen Glick of Hall Kinion regarding an opportunity with Wells Fargo. I'll be pursuing that, as well.

Despite these leads, I'm afraid I've become rather cynical about my chances of landing a high-paying computer-related job in the near future. As a result, I've submitted myself to work as a data-entry operator at Blue Shield in El Dorado Hills through Nelson Staffing. I'm scheduled to go in for skills testing next week.

posted at: 19:30 |

Wed, 15 Oct 2003

My unemployment insurance benefits ran out this week. This means no more unemployment checks, even though my eligibility theoretically continues through February. Did you know that you can run out of money before you run out of time?

posted at: 19:30 |

Thu, 09 Oct 2003

Lots of things going on yesterday:

Unfortunately, Anne called while I was in Lee's Feed (the local pet store/western gear/livestock supply house) with the kids. I had a very difficult time holding a coherent conversation. This, after I had told the kids we were to go in, get crickets to feed the frogs, and come out. Of course, the kids wanted to look at ALL THE FISH. If we had, in fact, gone in, gotten the crickets, and come out, I would have been safely home and in my quiet office when Anne called. I just thought I'd vent on that one.

Of course, when we DID get home, I had forgotten about the bread that my wife had asked me to put in the oven, and didn't put it in until it had risen too much. It was severely swollen; so I patted the tops down a tad before I put it in the oven. I hope I didn't ruin it. [Note: it wasn't ruined; but it came out in a very odd shape.] Bryan wanted to argue with me about watching the potatoes that were to be most of our dinner while I went out to the office, too. I explained to him that he was already on my short list of people to be annoyed with because of the pet store, and that he'd better be paying close attention to the taters.

posted at: 19:30 |

Wed, 08 Oct 2003

I still haven't received my University of Phoenix diploma. So, I called John Hurley at UoPhoenix -- actually SPOKE with him yesterday. That's new... Usually it takes three or four tries before he calls me back. This was only my second try.

Anyway, John confirmed that UoP has me on record as having officially graduated July 31, 2003, with all requirements completed and documented July 23. I asked about the diploma. He said there was no record of a mailing date, but that it should arrive within a week because all other steps have been completed and documented.

Just thought I'd mention that, since today is October 8, 2003.

October 8, 2003.

Why does it take more than TWO MONTHS to print and sign a diploma?


Speaking of months, I STILL don't have a job. Several leads in progress; but that doesn't pay the bills. So, if you know of anything...

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 03 Oct 2003

Yesterday, I acquired 22 slightly obsolescent computers. These include 16 Pentium II 350MHz boxes, a few Pentium I 133MHz machines, a Celeron 400MHz, and a Pentium III 533MHz. All but five are in excellent condition. I'm in the middle of scrounging parts from the less-working PCs to upgrade the others. Most of these machines have v.90 Voice/Fax/MODEMs, 4MB video, at least 64 MB of system RAM, and at least 6GB of hard disk space. If you're interested in acquiring a replacement/spare system cheap, please let me know.

posted at: 19:30 |

Mon, 29 Sep 2003

Over the weekend I visited my sister, Pam, and her family in Orangevale. Pam just had a baby, so both sides of the family were there to witness the new child. I got to talking with Pam's father-in-law, who recently returned from a three-month stint in Antarctica. He had some interesting anecdotes and encouraged me to apply for a job through the Raytheon Polar Organization's contract with the National Science Foundation. Unfortunately, it appears that all of the positions for the current season are filled. Still, that would have been a cool gig!

posted at: 19:30 |

Wed, 17 Sep 2003


I spoke with Karla Caldwell at SJCOE this morning. She confirmed that my application packet is complete as is and that they are doing application screening now. I should know within two weeks whether I have an interview. [Update 10/15/2003: Received note from Karla saying I hadn't made the cut.]

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 05 Sep 2003

It could be worse

Like, I could be the REASON I'm unemployed.

posted at: 19:30 |

Tue, 08 Jul 2003

I keep seeing hits in my Apache logs for this page; so I ought to consider keeping it a little more current.


Among my many adventures, I have been seeking work. At this point, I have applied for many hundreds of jobs but been interviewed in person for only three and over the phone for only six. It is quite discouraging to have a return rate of less than four percent. And still have no job.

Job Search

My current strong lead is a position at O1 Communications, a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) based in Sacramento. A CLEC is a phone company. Since my most recent experience was at Worldcom (another phone company), this is a natural progression. I've had a first interview and have tentatively scheduled a second interview with thier IT Manager, Matt McGuire. As it turns out, Mr. McGuire also worked for a time at Worldcom.

The Home Front

Home improvements abound; I've now used all my blocks, a major milestone in the retaining wall project. Other than some minor touch-up, the structure of the wall is complete. After rebuilding the fence in the backyard for the third time, I have been working on completing the stain. Inside, Jan has been painting the stairwell and touching up interior walls. It's amazing what a little water-soluble pigment can do.

posted at: 19:30 |

Fri, 25 Apr 2003


I've been remiss in keeping this blog current... This will be a lengthy update. First, my travels: In my search for a job (and recognizing that while I'm working I don't have time to vacation), my family and I went to the Southwest United States on a job- hunting/vacation trip. We stopped in Las Vegas (three days), Grand Canyon National Park (one day), Mesa Verde National Park (one day), the Four Corners and Shiprock (one day), St. George (three days), Zion National Park (one day), and Great Basin National Park (one day).

The idea in Las Vegas and St. George was to seek work in two rapidly-growing areas. As it turns out, a quick review of newspapers in each city revealed the same circumstances as may be found locally; not much advertised work in the technology sector. That was disappointing.

Still, I hadn't been to Great Basin National Park before. It has a mid-sized cave system and some spectacular views... Although the road to get there is somewhat drab.

Just prior to my trip, my wife celebrated the twelfth anniversary of her 29th birthday. Not having much disposable income at the moment, my gift to her was a single card and a flowering plant. The plant is already dead; I hope that's not a portent.


Upon our return, I finished up our taxes. I tried something new this year: instead of using Intuit's TurboTax software (which I've used successfully for at least five years), I bought a copy of H&R Block's TaxCut. This is because of the increasingly intrusive and customer-unfriendly policies being implemented by Intuit.

Unfortuntately, I found that TaxCut is not nearly as user-friendly as TurboTax. I experienced a number of problems with TaxCut, including fonts and text entry boxes that didn't line up properly, an interview process that failed to anticipate several (in my view) common income scenarios, improper importation of depreciated assets from previous tax years (although, in fairness, this could be equally the fault of TurboTax), overly complex error checking routines, and a cumbersome (and in the end probably costly) electronic filing process. This last requires more explanation.

After e-filing my federal return (having properly selected the "file federal and state taxes concurrently" option), the software refused to submit my State return until it had received confirmation from the IRS that the return was properly received. Since my federal filing took place on April 15 at about 1:30 in the afternoon and the IRS didn't confirm receipt of my return until after midnight, that meant my State filing was late. I expect that my ~$250 State refund will be significantly diminished by penalties as a result. Needless to say, I am unhappy with this outcome. Will I go back to TurboTax next year? Possibly.

Job Hunt

This front is not progressing particularly well. At present, I am pursuing three strong leads: a nameless startup company in the South Bay Area, a programming position at Sun Microsystems in Santa Clara, and a possible Perl/Linux/NT position in Rancho Cordova through TekSystems.

The Silicon Valley startup is a stock-only deal, where I'd work from home most days coding a web-enabled database application in Perl. I've had several interviews with one of their managers and a technical interview, which seemed to go well. The big drawback to this particular opportunity is that there would not be a salary until they received funding or IPO. In other words, high risk.

Sun Microsystems is seeking a Java/Linux/Web programmer for a six-month contract. Good compensation there; but would require relocating to the South Bay. Do-able, but uncomfortable. Also, I'd have to seriously bone up on my Java. I have no idea what my prospects are for this particular gig, as the recruiter just called me this morning out of the blue.

Finally, my contact at TekSystems, Josh Gurin, indicated that his account reps are working on a possibility in Rancho Cordova that meshes quite well with my skill set. However, this is a very early stage negotiation; they're not sure that the position even exists at the moment.

So, that's how things stand.

posted at: 19:30 |

Tue, 11 Mar 2003


I attended a job fair in San Mateo County last week with several cohorts. It was a complete waste of time. On the positive side, that evening we also hit the Silicon Valley Linux Users' Group (SVLUG) meeting on the Cisco Systems campus. The highlight was an excellent presentation by Seth Schoen of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). He spoke about pending legal and legislative action on the copyright front in a talk entitled "The Empire Strikes Back: Constraining Free Software Development".

The week prior, I hit my second-ever Linux Users' Group of Davis (LUGOD) meeting. It featured an excellent presentation by the ebullient Asa Dotzler of Netscape Communications: "Getting Involved with Mozilla".

posted at: 19:30 |

Sat, 01 Mar 2003

I was notified Thursday that my contract had been terminated by WorldCom. As a result, I have been laid off by TekSystems, effective immediately. Eighteen others working in my unit, both employees and contractors, were laid off the same day.

posted at: 19:30 |

Mon, 14 Oct 2002

In the nearly five months since my last update, a number of major events have taken place. Principally, WorldCom admitted to mis-stating earnings by several billion dollars and then declared bankruptcy. Fortunately, my particular business unit is profitable; as a consequence, I still have a job.

Meanwhile, school proceeds apace. As of this writing, I have only seven class meetings remaining until the conclusion of formal academic work at the University of Phoenix. However, I still have a few tests to take and some paperwork to complete. If all goes according to plan, I will graduate as soon after December 5, 2002, as is practicable.

Additionally, I have been doing a few side projects to earn a few dollars. Among them, I have upgraded and improved the Association of California Community College Administrators' membership database.

Finally, my home improvement projects continue. Having finished the balustrade, I am now working on a retaining wall to prevent the deck from collapsing. Once the wall is complete, I will begin replacing the footings currently holding up the decks.

posted at: 19:30 |

Tue, 21 May 2002

My finger is healing well; and aside from a few minor touch-ups, the balustrade project is complete.

Meanwhile, my wife began painting the house trim and has already completed most of the lower back deck and one of the staircases. She's definitely a harder worker than I am.

I have finally received my grade for my most recent class, an "A-"; this brings my GPA down to a modest 3.94. As they say, "'D' is for 'Diploma'"! I'm not sure how much effort I'm willing to expend in future classes, given the other demands on my time; even if I earn "D"s, I'll still have a GPA above 3.5. Not that I'm likely to do that poorly, mind; rather, I just don't need the additional pressure of maintaining an unrealistically high GPA.

Speaking of realism, WorldCom's stock price seems to have bottomed out; once dropping as low as $1.15. It's now hovering around a buck and a half. Pick up a few hundred shares while it's still a bargain! Like they say, past performance is no guarantee of future results. And, of course, I have a conflict of interest in making a recommendation. Keep that in mind.

posted at: 19:30 |

Tue, 07 May 2002

After much labor, the baluster project is 80 percent complete. Only about 12 linear feet remain to be done. I did the work on Saturday, and stopped when I did because I inadvertently drilled a hole in my left index finger. That's what happens when you get tired -- you make mistakes. Anyway, the hole is not major. I can still type with all ten fingers, play the piano and guitar, and pick my, uh, friends. Yeah, that's it. My friends.

When the balustrade is completed, I will begin the project I've been dreading: painting the house trim. This is a major undertaking, as the front and rear decks run the length of the house and have railings all along. In addition, the support beams beneath the decks are in sore need of a replacement coat. Finally, some of the siding needs touch up as well. If you feel like volunteering to help, please let me know.

I still don't know what my final grade is for my last University of Phoenix course. This is unusual, as grades are usually posted to the student web site within 48 to 72 hours after the last class meeting. The new class, meanwhile, will be invigorating, if somewhat redundant. And, I still appear to be on schedule for a December 5, 2002, completion of the entire program.

Work at WorldCom has been interesting. Although the resignation of Bernie Ebbers last week was a positive event, the continued rumours of WorldCom's imminent demise and the steady decline of the company's stock value have left morale here somewhat low. On the positive side, the unit I work in has positive prospects, ongoing revenue, and lots of work to do. The project that I'm working on, though somewhat embroiled in internal politics, is progressing well.

posted at: 19:30 |

Mon, 29 Apr 2002

I'm now in my second full week back on the job at WorldCom. It's good to be back; not only do I feel somewhat vindicated for holding out on the drug test issue, I now have a larger workspace (an office I share with a QA Analyst) with a window.

This weekend, seeing as now I have income, I bought some supplies for the house. The top priority is installing balusters on the outside staircases. This is because two of my children have slid through the railing, which currently has no vertical protection. My middle child suffered a concussion and many bruises when she fell.

My oldest and I spent part of Saturday afternoon cutting lumber, drilling holes, and driving screws. It's amazing how much more helpful he is now than just six months ago. We finished installing about five linear feet of ballisters in about two hours.

I've finished yet another University of Phoenix class. My learning team and I turned in and presented our final project on Thursday. This was a monster project, requiring many extra hours to complete because we had to implement and document all of the techniques we've accumulated over the past two years to finish the project. And we had to do it within the usual five-week timeframe. As of now, our grades aren't posted. I'm anticipating an "A" or "A-"; but you never can tell.

posted at: 19:30 |

Thu, 18 Apr 2002

W00t! I have achieved a settlement and return to work on Friday, April 19, 2002!

posted at: 14:23 |

Tue, 16 Apr 2002

For some arcane technical reason, I seem to have lost my update from April 3, 2002. This is probably because I restored a vi session and the .swp file was from an older editing session. Oh well. This will reinforce my need for more regular backups.

For the curious: resolution of my dispute with TekSystems and WorldCom seems to be imminent. I say "seems to be" because no contracts have yet been signed. As a consequence, there is no certainty that the issues that remain have been totally resolved. I'll post an update when I know more. As always, details may be scant to avoid jeapordizing negotiations and/or violating confidentiality clauses.

Regarding the job in Monterey: I have learned that, of a pool of 130 applicants, eight were interviewed. Unfortunately, I was not selected for the position from among the eight.

I am continuing to pursue contacts at Sutter Health and Intel regarding jobs there, as well.

Finally, my CMGT 450 course at the University of Phoenix is now in its fourth week. This class is certainly the most difficult to date, principally because of the end-of-course project. The project is extremely large-scale for a standard five-week class time frame. As a result, my learning team and I are pushing hard to complete it in time.

posted at: 19:10 |

Wed, 10 Apr 2002

On Monday I had an interview for a web design and development job at a startup in Monterey. The interview went well, but the pay range is more than $30k less than I'd been earning at WorldCom. Naturally, that and the cost of living in Monterey both will figure into any decision I make to accept a position there, assuming one is even offered. I was assured by my interviewer that his decision would be prompt and that he would contact me this week.

I still have not been able to schedule a firm interview date at Intel; but if they operate anything like most big companies seem to, that isn't a big deal. I will continue to call my contact there every week or so until we get something lined up.

On Thursday, I had a substitute in my CMGT 450 - Applied Studies in Information Technology class. It was Fred Gardner, who is an information technology manager at Sutter Health. I spoke with Fred at length after class and he volunteered to follow up with the IT manager who hires web developers regarding the status of my application there. Very helpful.

Settlement negotiations with TekSystems and WorldCom are currently very active; it appears that we may reach an agreement before the end of the week. This is a most excellent development.

Finally, I replaced the power supply in my wife's Windows 98 PC yet again this morning. It now has an AMD-approved 400 Watt, dual-fanned power supply. $79.00. Ouch.

posted at: 19:22 |

Wed, 27 Mar 2002

First, the good news: After three rather odd phone conversations with a manager at Intel, I have a tentative in-person interview later this week. Also, it appears that TekSystems is now actually in negotiations with WorldCom and my attorney. Finally, I have yet another small project to occupy my time, this one for a local entrepreneur who is launching three web sites: Salesgator, SchoolSoftware, and LearningWare. His sons developed these sites using PHP and my job is to look for optimizations and tweaks to improve performance.

The bad news, of course, is that the usual recessionary excuses apply: "nobody" is hiring in the current economic situation.

It has been an interesting hardware week, as well. I have now replaced the power supply in my wife's Windows 98 PC three times in the last month, twice in the last week. Now I'm all out of spares and will have to buy one (gasp!). Of course, having a power supply fail so many times over such a short period usually means that the problem isn't the power supply; so I don't want to run out and get a part only to have it fail again. As a consequence, I'm considering possible causes and more long-term remedies. This, naturally, means more money expended. Ick.

The PC in question, if you're interested, is an Athlon 500 MHz box with 512 MB of RAM; a two-disk, 80 GB ATA-IDE 7200 RPM RAID 0 array with controller; a single 30 GB ATA-IDE disk drive; a 52X CD-ROM drive; a 3-1/2" floppy drive; a three-port FireWire card (for the digital video camera); a 32 MB 2D/3D accelerator/video card; and sound and USB on the motherboard. I've been dropping 250 Watt ATX power supplies in each time, which have had precisely one connector for each drive with none left over.

If you have any non-obvious advice, feel free to email me.

posted at: 19:19 |

Tue, 19 Mar 2002

Yesterday I had lunch with a partner at a legislative advocacy firm I used to work for. He's semi- retired now, only working four days out of every month. I had hoped to gain some networking contacts from the meeting; but it appears that he is not in a position to recommend me to anyone at the moment.

I also met with John Marcotte at one of his client's yesterday. Although the client seemed to be ready to spend money on a system migration project, his budget was far too low to make it a worthwhile endeavor for us. He has a DOS-based Dbase-driven application that suffers from major performance bottlenecks -- and the vendor is quite customer unfriendly. John and I wound up offering him some advice about finding a different product and some strategies to use that might enable him to preserve his legacy data.

This morning I did a quick-and-dirty project for another of John's clients, this one a small Access database modification. I spent roughly 105 minutes, including asking questions and gathering requirements. So, not much money earned there. Still, it is an improvement and helps me build my credibility with John and his clients.

As for the job hunt, I'm still searching for something medium-to-long term to support my family. By way of statistics, Monster reports that I've submitted 197 applications through their web site and had 42 employers and recruiters review my résumé online. Naturally, I've also submitted through a number of other job sites, as well as individual employer advertisements and web sites. Unfortunately, none of them seem to provide the same summary reports, so I can't quote numbers without counting and adding them up myself.

posted at: 19:52 |

Tue, 12 Mar 2002

It seems as though all of my recently-pursued leads have turned up dead ends. This week hasn't been particularly encouraging. Naturally, I haven't yet heard from Sacramento County about the jobs I applied for there, either. It doesn't help that I've got a nasty cold.

On the positive side, I did have a few rewarding phone calls this morning.

Today I spoke with John Marcotte regarding a part-time opportunity leading into a possible eventual full-time opportunity. His business plan is still somewhat vague, and he doesn't have any customers, yet. It would be nice to get involved in his project; but I still don't know where it's going. We'll see how things develop. He's planning a meeting among his "staff" this weekend to iron out a few details (like what services his company will offer, how much it will charge, and how much the staff will be paid). In the meantime, my job hunt continues.

I also spoke with my TekSystems recruiter, Josh, about a couple of possible jobs in Folsom that I found on Monster. He's going to pass the information on to the associates who handle the Folsom region and Intel, and get back to me.

Because I'm never one to let an opportunity slip, I also got in touch with an acquaintance who works at Intel, on the off chance that he might know about these openings (assuming, of course, that they are actually at Intel). He agreed to enter my résumé into the system for two entirely different jobs. That was above and beyond the call of duty, I must say.

So, life goes on.

posted at: 18:20 |

Tue, 05 Mar 2002


No update on TekSystems/WorldCom legal action.

On Thursday, I hand-delivered two application packets to the Sacramento County Government Employment Office. Talk about a comedy of errors! The job announcement and continuous filing supplemental packet had one address, and the County application had another. Naturally, I went with the address on the job announcement. I was already anxious about meeting the deadline (although it's a continuous filing application, applications must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on the last day of the month if the applicant wants the material to be reviewed in the next month), because traffic was abominable and I didn't arrive downtown until 4:15. After circling the area a few times, I found an open curb space -- $0.25 per fifteen minutes -- about two blocks away. I dropped my quarter into the meter and hustled down to the address on the announcement.

"The Sacramento County Employment Office has moved effective November 2001," said the sign on the door.

I don't wear a watch; but I knew I'd already used up most of my fifteen minutes. I raced past the County Library. Past City Hall. Past the County Courthouse. Three more blocks east and two blocks north. Routing around closed sidewalks, I finally had to jaywalk because three out of four curbs were being replaced and were taped off without advance warning at the other end of the block.

Out of breath, I arrived at the employment office. There was no line at the counter, fortunately. The clerk who assisted me, however, was surly and unhelpful. No smile. No "good afternoon." No acknowlegement, after my breathless, "I went to the old address to drop this off. I hope I'm not too late," that maybe the County should consider updating its job announcement to reflect the current situation.

But, the applications, both for information systems analyst positions, one with a specialization in operating systems and one with a specialization in programming, are turned in. We'll see if the county finds me qualified.

Upon returning to my car, I found that my time had expired. The clock on my stereo said it had been thirty-five minutes. So, I got lucky this time -- no ticket.

Further good news: I spoke with the IT manager at Horizon Instructional Systems about some of the outsourced work he wanted to have done. It looks as though that may turn into a (small) revenue stream. Finally, this morning I exchanged email with John Marcotte, formerly the editor of California Computer News, regarding some possible part-time, perhaps eventually turning into full-time, work. We'll see if my reply email ticked him off or made him think I'm a free-thinking, highly intelligent, geek. Hah!

A final note: it appears that I have blown my 4.0 GPA at the University of Phoenix. I received (and, frankly, I only earned) an "A-" for my most recent course. Heh. Still, I learned something for a change -- and that's an improvement.

posted at: 19:45 |

Mon, 25 Feb 2002

This has been a rollercoaster week.

After receiving a call on Thursday afternoon about a four-to-six week gig in Rancho Cordova, and a confirmation call on Friday morning, I got bad news Friday afternoon: somebody willing to work for approximately half my usual rate got the job (I had already reduced my rate by 25 percent for this gig, hoping for some interim work).

The Fairfield job is looking less and less likely all the time. The recruiter tells me that the decisionmaker has given him new requirements, including Cold Fusion experience for whomever is to be hired. Unfortunately, I have PHP, Perl, and ASP training and experience -- not Cold Fusion. That's frustrating.

I did receive a return call from the Recruiter in the Kansas City area following up on the Sprint job. She indicated that the application process is still underway -- but that she would be going on vacation through tomorrow. So no word there.

The credit union job is still on hold as well.

As for Cincinnati, I called the recruiter there on Friday; he indicated that he would let me know when the situation changes.

Earlier today I sent off a follow-up email about the Horizon Instructional Services project, as well. Let's all hope that something comes of that, at least.

Finally, a potential side job for an investment management firm in Sacramento appears to have been put on hold for at least another week.

posted at: 08:15 |

Tue, 19 Feb 2002

Updates galore:

I also received a call from a recruiter in Cincinnati, Ohio, about a six-to-eight-week contract there working with Perl and mod_perl. It looks like a good possibliity. I emailed him my current résumé and followed up with a phone call today. He says that he's passed my information on to the decisionmakers and they'll be back to me in a few days.

Who says user groups are for losers? I got a line on a project from the Linux Users Group of Davis (LUGOD) mailing list (thanks, Pete!) for Horizon Instructional Systems Charter School (HISCS), doing some Linux-based, web-oriented development for them. This particular project wouldn't start for at least a couple of weeks, and may not happen at all. I've exchanged email with my contact there, however; and it looks like a strong possibility.

Finally, with regard to my action against TekSystems and WorldCom: I won't be giving very specific updates about what's happening there, so as to avoid jeapordizing any litigation. However, after attempting to negotiate directly with TekSystems and being told by them that any complaint I have must be addressed by WorldCom, I have signed an attorney-client agreement with the firm Carter & Carter of San Francisco to pursue whatever legal remedies are available to me. We'll see how that goes.

posted at: 07:31 |

Tue, 12 Feb 2002

Mixed news today.

First, I had a phone interview with the web development manager of a local credit union yesterday. Although I presented myself well, he is still working on options for his board of directors to approve. That means subsequent interviews or offers are still two or three weeks out.

I also spoke a third time with a recruiter about a job at Sprint's headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. That's a suburb of Kansas City, right on the Missouri border. She seemed upbeat about prospects there, but, again, there are obstacles.

This morning I spoke with a recruiter about a position in Fairfield. This is the same job that I've been pursuing for a couple of weeks now. It appears that this position is on hold pending the decision of a new CIO about the strategic direction Solano County government is going to take in the Internet/intranet arena.

Finally, I also spoke with my representative at TekSystems today. This was both to follow up with her on the aforementioned credit union job as well as to suggest that TekSystems and I needed to negotiate a settlement without the involvement of my attorney and the courts. This would both allow me to support my family and mitigate TekSystems' liability in what appears to be an illegal termination. She, naturally, is not in a position to negotiate with me, but committed to find out who is and call me back.

Tonight, I meet with my learning team to finalize our group paper and develop our final presentation. Before our meeting, I need to finish my database project.

posted at: 19:33 |

Sun, 10 Feb 2002

Two weeks to cover this update.

Good news and bad news this week. Bad news was the opportunity in Roseville appears to have been filled internally. Good news was the Fairfield opportunity remains open, I received a call about a job in Kansas City that may turn into somethng workable, and TekSystems has pitched my name to a client interested in implementing a DocuShare system. This last job would probably be a short-term (about a month long), however; so it doesn't represent big bucks.

Regarding my project at school: This is my DBM 405 class, which is focusing on database management systems. My group project is to create an inventory tracking database using Microsoft Access. We are supposed to individually implement the project and use the Learning Team as a quality assurance group. Since only two of us have significant experience with real-world databases, some of the group are finding the project difficult. I am simply lazy: my project is barely started. Still, the final group presentation is Thursday; so I'll be banging away on my implementation tomorrow and Tuesday.

I finally received a copy of my attorney's draft client-attorney agreement on Friday. For a contingency case that goes to trial, he wants 40 percent of the damages. Ouch. I'll be negotiating for slightly more reasonable terms this week.

On Saturday, I cut wood for most of the morning. The wood stack had been mostly depleted; but there was still a large pile of old fence scrap and some big rounds from the oak I lost two winters back. I cut these up and now my stack is about half as big as it was originally. Today, I am stiff from the exertion.

posted at: 09:56 |

Tue, 29 Jan 2002

These updates are getting farther apart; time seems to be flying past.

On Sunday, I had my usual church-related meetings from six in the morning until one in the afternoon. This is a fairly grueling routine, but isn't too difficult the rest of the week, as I seldom receive time-consuming assignments in these meetings.

Sunday afternoon my wife, kids, and I started working on a movie. We are going to make a stop-motion animation film using our digital camera, Adobe Premier, and Lego blocks. So far, we have a rough plot, some characters, and the beginnings of some sets. We don't have a script, storyboard, or any other aspects of the movie done, however.

On Monday, I spent a good part of the day (much more than I'd planned) working on a project for a company in San Diego. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the CGI script to work with their hosting provider's setup. I'm not sure what configuration issues they have there, because I couldn't get a shell login. The script does work on my development host, though.

Today, I've been working on my application packets for information technology analyst positions with Sacramento County government and following up on leads for jobs I had already researched and/or applied for. I also heard again from a recruiter about a job in Fairfield, which looks like a good possibility.

At three this afternoon I'm off to the university to do my homework and meet with my learning team. More on that project in my next update.

posted at: 16:04 |

Sat, 26 Jan 2002

Two days worth of news today. First, I received two strong leads about jobs that look like they'll turn into interviews, if not outright offers. One of the jobs is in Fairfield and the other in Roseville. Either option is far better than Wichita, Kansas. Both jobs appear to be very close to what I'm looking for and match my skill set pretty well, although the Fairfield job would involve a lot less technical work and more interpersonal work than the job in Roseville. Unfortunately, I won't know about an interview for the Roseville job for at least another week; the Fairfield job seems more immediate, but the recruiter who originally called me hasn't sent me the contact information he promised.

I also got a lead on a short-term contract (as in one hour's work short); but that's easy money (if not much money) in the bank.

That was all yesterday. Today, I spent the morning cleaning all my computer parts out of the music room and re-organizing my office; it has been in a steady decline since I began work at WorldCom -- two-and-a-half hours on the road each day meant that I had far less time to keep my stuff organized. As a result, there were piles of paper everywhere, and the mess was beginning to spread (thus, needing to clean the computer parts out of the music room).

I wound up burning a large pile of magazines in a downpour. Every time the rain slacked off, the fire would spring back; but most of the time, my planned bonfire just smoldered.

All in all, it has been a good two days. I hope Monday brings more good news on the job search front.

posted at: 11:21 |

Thu, 24 Jan 2002

Urgh. I had a temporary crown installed yesterday, covering up my root canal from December. The bill came to $445; and I have to go back at the end of February for the permanent crown. Here's hoping I have a job by then...

Today I've been researching jobs with local and federal government. I applied for a job with NASA, for which I am marginally qualified, and am working on my application packets for several continuous filing positions with Sacramento County. They seem like excellent possibilities, but the time frame for filling them may be several weeks out. That's not terribly encouraging.

Tonight I'm off to class at the University of Phoenix. I wish I could recommend the University for technically-oriented people, but I can't. Now, if you're in marketing or business administration, or want a teaching credential. go for it! But for geeks and nerds, Phoenix just hasn't got the right stuff.

posted at: 10:49 |

Wed, 23 Jan 2002

Today I counted up the number of jobs I've applied for over the last week: 36. I also counted up the number of replies I've received: 6. And finally, I counted the number of job offers I've received: 0.

I also spoke with my recruiter at TekSystems, Josh, today. He was upbeat, as always. He did not, however, have any actual job leads for me to pursue.

I also spoke with an attorney about possibilities for legal action. He was positive about those possibilities, but, being an attorney, didn't make any guarantees. He asked me to look a little further for other people in my situation so that there would be a better possibility of a class-action suit being permitted. If you are in my situation (in California, a contractor at WorldCom, employed by Maxim Group and/or TekSystems), or you know someone who is, please email me. In the meantime, I'll be asking around.

posted at: 16:31 |

Tue, 22 Jan 2002

I had lunch today with many of my former co-workers. We ate at On the Border, near Truxel Road and Interstate 80 in Sacramento. I had the Grande Taco Salad, which is quite good. I was surprised by the number of people who showed up to bid Mike Simons and me farewell.

Among those on the guest list was Bill Kendrick, famous for his work on web-based games, games for embedded Linux systems and as past president and current webmaster of the Linux Users Group of Davis (LUGOD). Also there was Brian Lavender, current president of sacLUG, the Linux Users Group of Sacramento.

Shari Bonnard put this event together for Mike and me, and did a fine job. She no longer owes me lunch.

posted at: 17:24 |

Mon, 21 Jan 2002

It all started because, post September 11, 2001, WorldCom changed their policies (or, perhaps, began enforcing a policy -- I'm not sure) to require that all contractors working in WorldCom facilities pass a background check and submit to a drug test. Even though I had been working at Value Added Network Services (VANS) unit of WorldCom since August of 2000, my contracting agency, TekSystems, announced that all their employees would comply with the policy or be fired. Note: in California, employees in non-transportation or security-related job categories can only be required to submit to a drug test if they are given reasonable notice pre-employment or if there is individualized suspicion of drug use. I was not required to submit to a drug test pre-employment (indeed, not having a drug test was one of the primary reasons I left my earlier, stable job for the insecurity of contracting), nor had I previously undergone a background check.

After some negotiation (and changed wording in the release), I agreed to undergo the background check. Hey, I'm a flexible guy; and I have nothing on my record that would cause anyone to suspect me of being a terrorist or potential axe murderer. Besides, if I'm going to be working with sensitive material (like the home addresses of millions of registered vehicle owners), my employer needs to know that I haven't been convicted of stalking or burglary. It's a legitimate business interest to know what my past behavior has been like, legally and ethically, if due process has been followed.

I refused, however, to submit to a urninalysis.

Why? It would have been so much more expeditious to simply take the test and get it over with. As I've explained to everyone who asks, it's because I draw the line at a humiliating, degrading, and demeaning procedure merely to prove to someone I'm already working for that I don't do drugs. If I come to work inebriated or otherwise under the influence, they're welcome to test me. If I miss work because I'm hung over or strung out, they're welcome to test me. But what I do on my own time -- particularly when it has no bearing on my job performance -- is none of their business otherwise.

So. Although at first it looked like there would be some room for negotiation, the situation rapidly deteriorated. It appeared that WorldCom and TekSystems were going to work things out. Then I started to hear ominous warnings that WorldCom was insisting that the policy be implemented. Then, finally, I got the word that I should call in before going to work, as WorldCom and TekSystems liaisons were going to make a decision. If the decision was that no test would be required, I would be free to go in to work. If the decision was that I must take the test, I was to stay home.

I called in. No decision yet. Call again tomorrow. I called in. No decision yet. We'll call you tomorrow. No decision yet. And so forth, until Monday, January 14.

Their decision was not in my favor.

Now I had a decision to make. The choice was to pee in the cup and ignore my qualms, or refuse and be true to my convictions.

'Twas Shakespeare who said it best: "To thine own self be true." I refused the test.

So, here I am. Unemployed. Sort of.

posted at: 13:31 |

Marc Elliot Hall St. Peters, Missouri 

Page created: 21 January 2002
Page modified: 14 November 2006

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